BV3 (VIDEO): A New Breed of Geckos in Key West!

There were!  Everywhere we went.  More than we expected.  Geckos here.  Geckos there.  Geckos extraordinaire!  You’re right, not real geckos.  I’ll admit I know not the native local habitat of geckos.  The desert, I would imagine?  This was—as I mentioned—a different breed of geckos.  The cruising kind!  Of all the fun, exciting things we were expecting to find in the Keys, a gecko overload was not one.  But that’s the beauty of chance and fate.  He stopped me by the pool in Stock Island with a sentiment I’ve heard often: “I know you from YouTube,” and there it happened.  We had stumbled upon a pair of newbie cruisers who were about to purchase, splash and move onto their first liveaboard sailboat the next day and it just so happened they had bought the s/v Lazy Gecko.  It’s amazing the happenstances that can happen out there and it is a constant reminder how truly small the cruising world is.  Fun video for you all of the lazy splash below and a surprise visit from a rather famous cruising couple.  But first, let’s get back to our Bahamas-Bound saga.

If you caught the video from our five-day voyage across the Gulf, you’ll know I got rather sick on that voyage.  The sickest, I can easily say, I have been in my adult life.  In true Annie-style, I spent the first few days of our trip trying to hide it from Phillip, telling him it was “just a sore throat,” “a little head cold, it’s almost gone.” But every time I swallowed, it felt like a fresh layer of skin was ripped off of my throat and swallowed down, leaving it raw and seething.  Day three my voice began to go out so there was no more hiding it.  I sounded like Patty and Zelma from the Simpsons.  You remember this fun clip:

 

That’s one sexy rasp!  Day four, my throat having been way more than “just sore” now for almost a full ninety-six hours, Phillip and I were both pretty sure I had strep throat.  And every day began with a clattering cough trying to hack phlegm up and swallow it down.  Appetizing, right?  Just wait.  Day seven, I woke in the middle of the night to the odd sensation of my eyes oozing.  I would wipe some gook out of my tear ducts, but then I could feel it puff back up under my lids, ooze out of my duct, pool up on my nose and literally drip off the bridge of my nose onto my pillow.  Nice.  Several hours in I could mash it out of my eyes by running a thumb across my puffy lids and squeezing it out like a tube of toothpaste.  Did I find it odd my eyes were oozing?  Sure!  Worrisome?  Nah.  All told, my sore throat had healed and my morning cough wasn’t too taxing.  I figured whatever nasty shit was in my head was finally making its way out—albeit out my eyeballs—and I chalked the drainage up to be a good sign.  Annie didn’t take a lot of selfies during that phase, but here was one pic Phillip snapped of me my first red-eye morning and you can see it’s not pretty.

 

Waiters and waitresses seemed to be afraid to serve me, or at least touch anything I had touched.  Probably smart.  While waking up several mornings in a row with lashes caked so heavily with snot clusters I had to manually pry my lids open was not fun, it did prove to be the last of my wicked strep-bronchinus-infection (we called it) and finally, somewhere around Day Ten, the Captain considered me fully-healed.  Hooray!

Why am I sharing all of this with you?  Because gross bodily stuff is really cool and interesting.  At least I think so.  But, really, I wanted to share all of this to pass along another important cruising lesson on first aid and medication: ANTIBIOTICS.  When Phillip and I shove off on an extended cruise, we like to try to get a couple of rounds of preventative antibiotics prescribed so we can have them on-board in case one of us gets a wicked infection in a location where we are not close to a clinic … like 100 miles offshore in the Gulf.  Did we have antibiotics aboard to treat Annie’s wicked illness?  Yes.  Points for us.  But, was Annie too stubborn and stupid during the first four days of her illness to take them?  Yes.  Take back those points.  I hate taking medication and I really thought it was just a pretty bad cold that was I was just about to overcome.  So, I waited.  I felt like taking antibiotics for “just a head cold” would be a waste.  I usually have them prescribed for a UTI, which I am known to get every couple of years and I wanted to be sure I had them for that if one of those flared up while we were crossing.  I would much rather have the gnarly shit I did than days and days of an untreated, raging UTI.  Any ladies out there who know the feeling would probably totally agree.  But when Phillip finally won out and I did start taking the antibiotics, I made another mistake.  (Me?  Stubborn?  Noooo … ).

I am always a ball of sunshine!

You can probably guess what it was.  Obviously, I’m trying to spare as much medication as possible and I still believed I could kick that thing on my own.  So, I did what I often do when taking antibiotics: stop-mid dose and save the rest.  That has often proved helpful.  Here, it proved decidedly detrimental.  I took the antibiotics for two days (the last two of our voyage), and I started to feel better, so I stopped.  “Must save the rest now for a burning bladder, Annie,” I told myself.  Then what happened?  My eyes started oozing and my morning cough began and my illness lasted an extra five days.  As Phillip later pointed out, if you stop an antibiotics regimen too early, the illness isn’t eliminated but, rather, educated on how to fight that particular antibiotic and it rears back twice as strong.  Mine certainly did.  So, two lessons for you here fellow cruisers (all lessons are free today): 1) carry preventative antibiotics aboard on long passages (as I mentioned, my ob/gyn nurse prescribes them for me for potential UTIs); and 2) take the whole damn dose.  Don’t pull an Annie.  Oozing eyes are not sexy.

But, back to our saga.  We made it to Key West!  Stock Island, rather, as this was the marina where we kept our boat most of the spring last year after returning from Cuba while we flew back and forth to work in Pensacola and play in Key West and we were very pleased with the security, cleanliness and efficiency of the marina at Stock Island Village.  While it is a little pricey, it is also a fabulous facility, now with a completed hotel and nice pool, lounge and bar area available for free to all marina residents that we highly recommend.

  

We heart Stock Island!

And, we were so glad to see it had not been damaged or wiped out entirely by Irma!  One of the really fun things we discovered about this marina, immediately after our return from Cuba, was that there is a little Cuban restaurant within walking distance that everyone claimed was “very authentic.”  Having just sailed 90 miles from that wonderful island last December, with plenty of Cuban ropa vieja, picadillo and plantains still making their way through our tummies, we were highly skeptical, but definitely intrigued.  And the little Cuban gal that runs that tight ship at Deluna’s did not disappoint.  We got a mojo pork, with beans, rice and fried plantains that definitely held its own up against our high Cuban standards.  And, when we came back to Stock Island this time, we were pleasantly surprised once again by this little Cuban cuisine gem.

“We’re having a little dock party tonight over at Deluna’s to announce our Christmas parade winners,” one of our new boat neighbors told us after he helped us dock and tie-up.  “Ahh … cool.  Maybe we’ll check it out,” Phillip and I said, not knowing whether we would in fact as we had been planning (and talking, and dreaming, and drooling) about it for days.  Our first dinner ashore after crossing the Gulf we had both agreed would be Roostica, a fabulously-decadent little pizzeria bistro in Stock Island that makes delicious wood-fired thin-crust pizzas with names like The Diablo, The Island Pie, Truffle & Mushroom.  Are you getting hungry yet?  We were.  Phillip and I—splayed out wet, exhausted and salty in our stinky foul weather gear sloshing around on passage—had been daydreaming about every oily, buttery, cheesy bite for four days.  After our first hot shore shower, it was the first place we were planning to go.  But then our dock neighbor said:

“They’re serving food and drinks, too.  For free.”

Free?!  That’s “cruiser” for “We’re going.” So we did.

And turns out by “food” they meant a tantalizing Cuban feast!  Braised pork shoulder, black beans, succulent yellow rice, yucas (Cuban-style mashed potatoes), fresh Cuban bread (“Pre-buttered? Shit yeah,” Phillip said) and sweet, fried plantains.  As much as you could eat, with a full wine glass coming every 15 minutes?  All for free?!  The decision was immediate and mutual.  Sorry Roostica.  We knew it would be there for us another evening.  The Delunas folks had tip jars out and we gave generously then hopped in line to fill a heaping plate.

Then another …

And another.  I’m not kidding.

Yes, thirds.  We had thirds.  I don’t think I’ve had thirds since Thanksgiving 2009.  Holy smokes did we eat.  But it was the perfect “Welcome back to Stock Island” event.  And then we were just stumbling distance from our boat.  Our bellies so full we could have rolled home.  It was a great way to end our first night ashore.

The next day we were planning to walk or jog to Key West.  The beach stretch on the south side of the island is really beautiful and we’ve enjoyed trekking from Stock Island to Key West on foot before.

 

We wanted to eat at one of our favorite places in Key West, a little French creperia that makes (don’t tell Yannick) better crepes than we had in France.  Sorry, but it’s just true.  Savory ones with mushrooms, chicken and beschamel sauce.  Or sweet ones with dark chocolate and bananas foster.  God, can you tell we’re foodies??

Another item on our agenda while in Key West was a reunion visit with an old friend from Pensacola.  Our buddy, Russ, who worked at www.PerdidoSailor.com in the shipyard under Brandon for a while, had left Pensacola a few years back on his 1969 42’ Pearson to begin his own cruising adventure and he had landed, as many do, in Key West where we heard he was working on one of the charter schooners there.  There are only like a thousand charter schooners in Key West.

But I must share one little secret Russ and I had.  Back at the shipyard in Pensacola, Russ and I … we got really close.  Physically.  I mean it!  We did.  The two of us were cramped in the bilge of our Niagara 35 for a week together rebuilding our rotten stringers back in the winter of 2015.  There’s not a lot of room in there and there was a lot of work to do.  We had to get close.  Roll that fabulous shipyard footage!

Two videos covering our rotten stringer repair for you here if you haven’t yet seen them: #52: Stumped by the Rotten Stringer Repair and #53: Rotten Stringers Repaired with Coosa Board and Fiberglass.  Russ and I put a lot of work (and 185 pieces of glass) into that repair, making our baby stronger than ever.  And, man did we rock those Tyvek suits!  High fashion.

Ahhh … good times with Russ.  It was very fun to have a reunion with him and hit up a few of the dive bars and delightfully tacky joints around Key West Harbor.  Everyone loves Schooner’s Wharf!  Say “Hey!” to Russ!  Cheers!

Another item on our to-do list while we were in Key West was give our baby some TLC.  Plaintiff’s Rest had worked quite hard chugging us across the Gulf, particularly in those gnarly conditions outside of Tampa, winds of 25 kts and 6-8 foot seas.  She had done a fantastic job and definitely deserved some pampering.  We gave her a good scrubdown right after we docked, which we usually do every time we make a passage and come into a marina.

Oh, and I did mention that bilge pump in BV1 … we discovered our forward bilge pump, a 500 gph Rule, had gone out.  For whatever reason.  Just quit working.  We figured that probably contributed to the bilge water accumulation I mentioned in BV2.  Ahhh … that explains a lot.  Good thing we brought a spare!  We popped the new one in, not too bad of a chore.  Re-wired her and we were in business.

And, Stock Island has a West Marine there so we were able to get another “spare” to replace the now-used spare.  Good to keep stock of your spares!  We also changed out the oil in Westie.  He’d run a good 38 hours bringing us across the Gulf and we usually change the oil every 50 hours, so we figured an early rotation wouldn’t hurt.  Our previous owner made a few small modifications to the engine which make it rather easy to change the oil, and a much cleaner process.  He rotated the oil filter from sitting horizontal that it now screws up and down vertically (containing the spill) and he put in an extended tube we connect to our manual pump catch-bin to pump the old oil out.  All told, this chore only takes about thirty minutes and isn’t too bad at all.  Westie certainly deserved it.

Chugging 38 hours across the Gulf had burned a little bit of oil:

And some coolant, which we topped off as well:

Using a mirror to check the gasket around the thermostat in our raw water system to make sure there wasn’t any green ooze around it signifying a leak.  “Nope!  All dry!” shouted Diesel Mechanic Annie.

And, Stock Island has a nice facility where you can dump your used oil, making this chore even easier.  Always good to properly dispose of your nasty fluids.

We also noticed some additional rust that had creeped into our stainless since we last polished (in July) and, while we had time to do it in Pensacola, we literally didn’t have the right weather for it.  The Spotless Stainless recommended the product not be used in temps less than 78 degrees.  “We’ll do it when we get south then!” the Captain decided and it was done.  We gave our gal a beautiful spit shine at the dock in Stock Island and she was glistening!

One thing we would have never expected to happen while we were there in Key West, though, was an unlikely run-in with a pack of geckos!  Do geckos run in packs?  Perhaps it was a herd, or a flock, but it was way more than we expected to find in one place.  FOUR!  And, I’m not talking about reptilian geckos.  We’re talking about the human kind.  Here’s how it went down.

Phillip and I had been lounging by the pool at the Stock Island Marina our second day there (Roostica night!  Shit yeah!) and I had a guy stop me by the awesome little tiki bar they built there.  “Hey, I know you from YouTube!” he said.  I smiled and laughed, because I do get that quite often, and promptly apologized for my Patty-and-Zelma voice.  While I did feel and sound like crap most of our Key West days, I never let it stop me from having a good time or meeting fun new cruisers!  “I’m Steve,” he said.  “My wife and I just bought a boat.  We’re going to splash tomorrow then move aboard.”

Super cool, right?  Well, wait until you see the boat they bought!  This vessel has quite the following.

Steve told me that afternoon at the bar—he and his super cool wife, Ashley were there having their necessary “Holy crap, we just bought a boat” drink—that the boat they bought was the s/v Lazy Gecko, so Phillip and I knew they were getting an awesome 1985 Alberg 37.  And, Phillip and I had planned to come watch them splash, hand over a bottle of champagne and enjoy seeing two newbie cruisers launch their cruising dreams.  But, what we didn’t know was that the geckos.  THE GECKOS.  Jeremiah and Brittany were going to be there, too.  They had flew in just for the day to finalize the deal, make sure the engine ran for the new geckos and help get Steve and Ashley secure on their new boat and safely off the dock.  When Phillip and I were walking toward the shipyard and I saw Brittany pushing Rhys in his little stroller, I jumped for joy!

It was so fun to get a spontaneous surprise visit with the Geckos.  We have only been able to connect with them in person on very few occasions.  One time they were coming through Pensacola and stopped to get a quick tour of our boat.  It was very fun to finally meet them in person.

Then we got to spend another millisecond together when we were all at the Miami Boat Show in February last year.  Say Hey to Teddy J with SailLoot!

We had also collaborated remotely doing a virtual tour of their beautiful Alberg, which you can watch here.  You’ll see Steve and Ashley are getting one heck of a bluewater boat.  In all, we’ve always enjoyed hanging out with them and it was a lot of fun to have a quick impromptu reunion in Key West.  We’re very excited for the new geckos, sailing under the name “Bella Vista” and we’re eager to see where their plans take them.  Phillip and I had some influence on their first destination.  I’ll let some of you guess where we encouraged them to go!  For now, meet the new Geckos and say hello to some old friends.  Jeremiah, Brittany, we’ll sure miss seeing you guys on the beautiful Alberg, but we’re really excited to see what the sailing future holds for you.  I’m sure Bella Vista is going to take the Alberg to many new and exciting places!

Love these crazy sexy two!

“I need an Annie selfie!” Brittany said.  “You got it!”

Bon Voyage Bella Vista!

So, tons of fun in Key West, right?  We love that quirky little colorful town.  Tons of great restaurants and tiki bars, too.  Not to mention sunset at Mallory Square.  The street performers.  Boat parades.  Pool parties.  All kinds of perks.

    

But, Phillip and I had our sights set on the Bahamas for a reason.  It was time to go!  But, one must never be in a hurry when cruising.  We knew one of the toughest jumps we might have to make on this journey would be across the Gulf Stream.  Pam Wall and so many other experienced cruisers had advised (very harshly but necessarily) against crossing the stream in any kind of north wind.  The Gulf Stream is a powerful current that runs south to north along the east coast of the United States and trying to cross it with any kind of north wind we had heard was like trying to run on a treadmill while someone is spraying a fire hose in your face.  Very lumpy seas and forceful current-meets-wind conditions.

When Phillip and I left the dock in Pensacola we were prepared to sail straight to the Bahamas if the weather would allow, we figured it was unlikely but possible.  When we got the weather data our fourth day of the journey across the Gulf from our router, it showed a front coming through the next couple of days with steady north winds, so a complete Pensacola-to-Bahamas passage was not advised.

We also knew we might be holed up either in Key West, Marathon or some other key (we had heard Rodriguez Key makes a good jumping off point) possibly for weeks waiting for a good window to cross the Gulf Stream, which would not be ideal but totally tolerable.  We were thrilled to find, however, that just a few short days after our landfall in Key West, a wonderful weather window was opening up soon that would likely allow us to make the jaunt from Key West all the way up to West End in the Bahamas.  Here is the window we were watching:

 

We checked the GRIBS, checked with friends and confirmed with our weather router this was our window!  On Wednesday late-morning, December 20th, we tossed the lines in Key West headed for West End.  Next up on the blog, we make the jump!  BV4: Crossing the Stream – Key West to West End.  Stay tuned!

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Article in SAIL Magazine: Conquistadors and Cruisers!

“Nice piece in SAIL!  Made my lunch!”  Ha!  This is so cool!  I had several friends and followers send me messages in the Bahamas letting me know I had an article that came out in the February issue of SAIL Magazine.  You see?  Even when I’m over here in the tropics, I left seeds of sunshine back there for you guys at home!  Definitely get out (even in the snow – ha!) and pick up a copy of the February issue of SAIL Magazine to read my Conquistadors and Cruisers article.  It was a write-up Peter Nielsen at SAIL (thank you for trusting me again, Peter, with another piece!) requested from me about what makes Pensacola such great cruising grounds for sailors.  Phillip (my absolute Idea Guy) had the idea to compare the benefits that cruisers appreciate while sailing in Pensacola’s beautiful waters to what Tristan DeLuna recognized when he sailed to Pensacola from Mexico and established the FIRST European settlement in the states in Pensacola in 1559.  Some very cool history for you here.  ENJOY!!  And, pop quiz, for 500 points: If any of you know what the word “Panzacola” (an Indian tribe that Pensacola was named after) means, throw it in a comment below.  Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.  Give it a go!

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BV2: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times (Night Shifts)

You’re out there.  Nothing but denim blue water lapping the sky as far as you can see.  The sun has just set, so each chop has a bright pink cap reflecting the magenta sky.  Colors and senses are heightened.  The boat is floating along nicely with 10 kts on the stern and you’re hoping it will stay that way through the night so you and the crew can make comfortable way during the oncoming night shifts. You hope …

Ahoy HaveWind followers!  Bahamas Voyage Chapter Two coming at you!  I wanted to share with you a little bit of what it’s like to hold a night shift alone offshore on a sailboat and tell you about two particular night shifts on our Gulf-Crossing: my best night shift ever and my worst.  Some very fun happenings in here for you.  Enjoy!

I saw it,” I said to myself.  Perhaps out-loud.  I can’t even be sure at this point.  During my night shifts, I talk, sing, whisper and think for two hours straight and I can’t easily differentiate which of those play only in my mind or which make it to my lips.  But I saw it!  I love it when I’m staring right at it when it happens.  It’s one thing to catch a streak out of your peripheral vision and turn to see, yes, in fact a shooting star finishing its impressive blaze across the sky.  But is an entirely different experience to have it happen to the very star you are staring at.  At first it is fixated star in the sky.  A beautiful white point.  Then you see it.  The very white point you were looking at light up, blaze brightly, and suddenly streak, screaming almost as if you can hear it, across the sky.  “I saw it,” you’ll find yourself saying as if to confirm to whatever cosmic spirits are out there—the dolphins, your magnificent boat, Neptune, whomever—that, yes, you did indeed see it.  “And it was beautiful.”

Shooting stars are one of the most mesmerizing parts of holding a night shift on a sailboat offshore, many miles away from the glowing shore.  Just you.  And a million stars.

But they are not the most mesmerizing.  I did not know it until I first saw it with Yannick during our Atlantic-crossing back in 2016 on his gallant Soubise Freydis 46’ catamaran.  I was holding a night shift alone somewhere north of the Bermudas and I really thought my mind was playing tricks on me.  While shooting stars overhead were common, I truly thought I had just seen one in the water.  I peered again, straining my eyes into the dark blue chop and there it was—a streak of glitter.  I stepped one foot out onto the deck and looked over.  This was as far as I dared to venture alone while holding my shift.  Yannick’s very strict rule for our four-man ocean-crossing crew—and it was a good one—was that no one was allowed to go forward on deck alone while holding a night shift.  But, from this arched-over position I could see it.  Flashes and trails of glitter gleaming behind what appeared to be an ethereal outline of a dolphin.  Then I saw others, all of them seeming to be making their way to the bow.  We had seen pods of dolphins swim, romp and play in front of Andanza’s bow many times while on our ocean voyage, and I just knew they were doing it now—glowing in the dozens at the bow.

Yannick was sitting in the saloon below downloading a WeatherFax chart.   He was often awake throughout the night, while the rest of the crew was holding shifts at the helm, researching issues, studying manuals, looking at the weather, doing any number of a dozen things that required his focus everyday all day across the entire ocean.  I told him what I thought I had seen and, as stern and steadfast as he was a Captain, he was also an adventurer at heart.  “Let’s go see!” he said and allowed me to follow him, clipping in along the way, as we made our way to the bow.  And there they were.  It had to be fifteen to twenty of them.  The small, zippy little dolphins we’d seen throughout the Atlantic crossing, weaving in and out of one another, their bodies aglow, the disturbed water behind them forming a glistening trail.  That was the most mesmerizing thing I had seen dolphins do.  Until …

My second night shift during our Gulf-crossing toward the Bahamas.  I finally saw dolphins in phosphorescence in the Gulf.  These are the not the small, zippy critters of the Atlantic.  No.  As residents of the Florida coast, many of you may know how lucky we are to typically see dolphins just about everyday we venture out onto the water.  And, how big and gallant their movements.  The dolphins of the Gulf are much larger and more lumbering than those we saw in the Atlantic.  And now, as I saw them during my night shift on our Niagara, they appeared so large, outlined in phosphorescence, it was almost as if they were small whales, slipping sleepily in and out of one another.  The first one I saw that swim up toward the cockpit, his entire body outlined in a web of sparkles, he seemed so big and so close that I jumped when he dipped under the boat for fear he would touch my feet.  I felt that connected to them.  They were elegant and wondrous.  Although the same “going topside alone at night” rule applies a bit more loosely on our Niagara (technically Phillip and I have a genteel agreement to wake the other if we need to go forward, but we’ve also both broken it when conditions are calm and we’re not going forward to handle some dangerous equipment failure or make a challenging sail change), I ventured forth.  Clipped in mid-ship and watched them—majestic, glowing creatures bringing us across the Gulf.  That.  Was.  Mesmerizing.

So, shooting stars and glowing dolphins.  Can night shifts offshore aboard a sailboat be like this?  Of course!  I’ve often had many of my most memorable moments from an offshore voyage occur during a night shift, because there is simply nothing that can replicate the beauty of the dark, the overwhelming multitudes of stars and the gentle lapping of dark water on the hull.  Night sailing is an experience all its own.

But, I have also often had my most frightening and frustrating moments of an offshore voyage occur during a night shift.  It is amazing how different the conditions feel on the boat when you are robbed of the security of visibility.  At night, you often cannot see how big the sea state is (or, more appropriately, how small).  It all feels big because it can only be felt and heard, not seen.  All of the sounds the boat makes are also amplified because your hearing takes over for vision.  Sails flogging, rigging rattling, halyards snapping all sound infinitely more dangerous and harmful at night as opposed to day.  Every adverse consequence of rough conditions—the pitching of the boat, the groan of her bending, flexing structure, the crush of water against her hull, the thunderous pop of a sail that fills with wind—sound and feel worse at night.

My third night during our voyage across the Gulf to the Bahamas was easily one of the worst night shifts I have held on our boat.  Granted, it does not compare to some of the night shifts I held on Andanza, when we were battling a failing auto-pilot, hand-steering in heavy winds, navigating ships in the dark, but this was definitely my most challenging aboard our our monohull.

As many of you know, if you followed us via our Delorme posts across the Gulf or in the Gulf-crossing video we recently put out, Phillip and I faced a pretty gnarly front outside of Tampa while we were making our way down south to Key West.  It wasn’t anything too daunting, 20-25 kt winds and 6-8 foot seas, all on the stern thankfully, but it did make for a very tiring 24 hours underway.  And, the culmination of happenings combining to create a pretty hairy situation happens as it always seems to happen.  Phillip and I call this the “onion theory.”  A dangerous situation during a passage is usually not the result of one catastrophic event.  It is usually a culmination of several unfortunate occurrences or situations that add on top of one another, much like layers of an onion, to result in a conglomerate bad situation.  Let’s say you have a small equipment failure.  The auto-pilot goes out.  The transmission needs constant refilling.  The engine overheats on the hour.  Whatever it is, it calls for more attention and effort from the crew.  This then creates added exhaustion in the crew.  Then perhaps the weather turns, calling for a grueling sail change or rougher conditions on the boat which further tires the crew.  Then perhaps a bad decision is made, to try and power through a rough front or handle a sail change alone, likely made because the crew member or captain is tired, irritated and this adds to poor judgment.  You can probably see a pattern here: minor problem after problem, stacking on like layers, adds up to one nasty, dangerous situation.  Phillip and I were operating under pure onion theory our third night crossing the Gulf.

To begin with, that morning, Tuesday, December 12th, started with winds that built to 20 knots right after we woke.  Just as we were strategizing whether to reef down further—we were flying the Main at Reef 1 and “Wendy” (our 90% offshore jib) full out at the time—Phillip heard a “kachunk” at the helm and “Lord Nelson,” our hydraulic auto-pilot, then began his cacophonous peel of beeps letting us know he was giving up.  Phillip grabbed the wheel immediately to keep the 4-6 foot building seas that were following us from smacking the boat off-course, threatening to backwind the sails.  While we both didn’t want to ponder the thought, it was very possible our auto-pilot would be out for the rest of the voyage and Phillip and I would be hand-steering the remaining 2.5 days of our passage.  This was simply one scenario.  But one neither of us were ready to accept yet.  While I wasn’t sure, we both did have an idea as to what may have happened.  The best problem you can have on a boat is one you’ve had before—because then you know exactly how to fix it.

One day when we were sailing our boat down in Key West after our voyage to Cuba the previous year, Lord Nelson gave the same kerchunk sound and thew up the wheel.  We investigated down below and found his piston had simply come unthreaded from the ball and socket joint that attaches to the brass arm he uses to turn the rudder.  Kind of an odd thing to happen, but it did seem possible with just the right amount of turns and spins, eventually he had turned 180 degrees enough times to de-thread himself.  The best part about that problem, though, was that we were close to shore in very calm waters with no immediate need for auto-pilot to steer the boat.  So, we hand-steered the half hour back and waited until we were sitting still at the dock at Stock Island, and I was able to—then, rather easily—remove the ball joint from the brass arm, thread it back onto the piston and reattach the joint via a pin and (what I call) a “bobby pin” cotter pin, because it’s shaped like a bobby pin.  This was easy to do then because we were not steering at the time.  The boat was not underway and the rudder and steering quadrant were completely still.  Everything is a thousand times easier when you’re sitting at the dock and the boat isn’t moving.

Now, as we were making our way across the Gulf in building winds and seas, when I spilled the contents of our port lazarette where we mounted our hydraulic auto-pilot when we spent three months in the shipyard in 2016 and saw that the same thing had occurred, I was relieved to see it was what I had expected.  This meant I knew the solution: thread the joint back on and re-mount it to the quadrant and *voila!* Auto is back.  But, I was not 100% confident whether I would be able to do this underway, while the rudder was in constant movement, reacting to the wind and waves in order to hold a safe course for the boat.  But, I undertook it anyway and was surprised to find with a little luck, good timing and patience I was able to remount the arm underway.  So, Lord Nelson was then back in business, but we weren’t out of the woods yet.

My repair had taken about an hour and the winds were now holding steady at 22-23 knots.  That is a lot for our 35’ moderate displacement boat.  As Phillip and I both suspected, once we turned the wheel back over to Lord Nelson, he would hold as long as he could but in those seas and winds, the boat would often get knocked so far off course he didn’t have the ability to get her back on course and he would wail out in a series of beeps and, once again, give up the wheel.  This might mean our auto-pilot would not be able to hold 90% of the time in those conditions and those conditions were expected to last at least the next 24 hours, which would mean virtually 24 hours of hand-steering.  A potential scenario, but not one we were willing to accept.  Yet.  While Phillip continued to hold the wheel and handle the lines in the cockpit, I went forward to set further reefs in hopes this would enable Lord Nelson to steer the boat in those seas.

This was the first time we had hauled our Main sail down to the third reef.  We had our local sailmaker put a third reef in before our voyage to Cuba but we sailed that entire passage primarily under Reef 2 and that worked well.  Now it was time to re-configure the reefing lines in our boom to pull Reef 3 at the clew and we also used our Cunningham to pull the Main down taught to Reef 3 at the tack.  Thankfully, our previously-broken Cunningham was one of the items on our very long list to replace before we shoved off for the Bahamas.  It was not a piece of equipment we had used before as we’re not as much racers as we are cruisers, but good on Phillip as he added it to the list as a “just in case” and it proved invaluable here.  While you can always tie a reef down in the main sail manually with sail ties, it is very hard to conjure the muscle needed to fight the wind in order to hold the canvas down while tying a knot.  But, after 40 minutes of tugging, pulling and grunting, I was able to put a very flat, secure and satisfactory third reef in the Main.  Phillip and I then tugged, pulled and grunted and were able to put a very satisfactory second reef in our offshore jib.  This was very little canvas out, but our boat is not as heavy as other builds (Tayanas, Westsails, etc.) and she heels very easily in 15+ winds.  A steady 25 knots was the most we had sailed in offshore for an extended period of time.  But, with less canvas up, we were thrilled to see Lord Nelson was able to hold most of the time.  But, because he was still susceptible to the occasional one-two wave punch that would send our Niagara careening off the back of a wave then pulling speedily on the next one back to weather and overpower him, Phillip and I had to hold these shifts sitting attentively behind the wheel ready to grab at any moment as the auto-pilot lost its footing approximately 2-3 times an hour during these conditions.

Again, not too bad of a situation.  Many crews hand-steer all the time.  So we were still living in luxury land with an auto-pilot that held the majority of the time.  But, per onion theory, we had added one layer in having to maintain post behind the wheel with a constant eye to the wind and waves to allow us to grab the wheel and take over in the blink of an eye.  Also, the additional effort exterted to repair the auto-pilot, reef down the sails and move safely around the now pitching and tossing boat, I would say our increased exhaustion would really put us two layers thick.  A state in which remained all day as the winds held fast at 22+ and the waves built to a steady 6-8 feet, with the occasional 10-foot monster.

With that setting, cue my worst night shift on our boat:

We were tired.  Not exhausted but generally worn down from the rough day and both Phillip and I knew holding night shifts in these conditions was going to require even more attention and focus than the day had mandated.  But we settled in.  Phillip was up first as I crashed hard down below.  While it has taken us several years to build my sea skills and Phillip’s trust in my ability to single-hand the boat when needed, we are very much now an equal team.  Phillip and I maintain a two-hour night shift rotation when underway offshore and when one is holding the helm the other goes down for a very much-needed and often very-deep sleep.  I was so deep in mine, Phillip barely woke me when he clattered down below to clean up and shut the companionway hatch.  He said I just grumbled something incoherent and rolled over when he told me he had just been swamped by a wave and “about a gallon of water” had crashed down into the cabin.  Didn’t bother Off-Shift Annie.  She went right back down.  ZZZZZzzzzzzz.

But I would experience my own swamper.  Just wait.  For now, Annie you’re up to hold your first night shift in this mess.

Phillip and I had both agreed, that in these conditions, considering the pretty intense movement of the boat and our need to sit behind the wheel to take over each time Lord Nelson could not hold, that we would remain clipped in at the helm during our respective shifts.  So, I clipped in near the binnacle and settled in.  Our auto did great most of the time and I only had to take over a few times when a ten-footer would shove our bow violently to the east, leaving Lord Nelson shrieking in panic.  Holding the wheel in conditions like those is actually calming.  Pam Wall taught me this trick as she often tells her student sailors that when the seas feel rough and the boat feels out of control.  It’s kind of like riding shotgun in a very fast car on dangerous, winding roads.  It’s much more frightening when you’re not holding the wheel.  “Here, steer!” Pam will shout to her students.  “I promise.  You won’t be afraid at all if you hold the wheel.”  And it is so true.  It gives you a much stronger connection to the boat, her stability and her capability to handle those conditions.  For that reason, for most of that shift, I hand-steered as a means of maintaining focus and attention and a calm disposition in those conditions.

My first shift turned out to be fairly uneventful, albeit tiring.  However, when Phillip and I changed shifts, he (wisely having checked our battery state before coming topside) decided we should crank and motor-sail for a bit to give the batteries some much-needed juice.  On our boat we have a 450 hour bank, but we have always been told (and we always try to follow the rule) that you should not draw the batteries down below 50% to preserve their lifespan.  At that time, with the cloud cover that day and added energy drained by Lord Nelson’s impressive efforts holding the wheel, we had pulled off about 160 hours and, if we continued through the remaining six hours of the night without putting juice in, we would easily exceed our 50% mark (i.e., 225 hours off).  Hence the need to crank.  So, Phillip cranked and I fell deep into slumber.  That is, until I heard a piercing wail from the engine.  Not ten minutes after Phillip cranked, our Westerbeke 27A (“Westie” we call him) had overheated.  As you have probably noticed, we have names for most of the crucial systems on our boat because, trust me, calling them by name makes them fight harder in the clutch.  And we were definitely in the clutch.

I shook my head to try and flail off the fog of sleep, and unfortunately the first thing I saw, after I heard the loud beep, was the light indicating the bilge pump was going off.  A leaking boat and a faulty engine are not a combination you want to have on any boat anywhere, but especially not 100 miles from shore in some “stuff.”  That’s one too many onion layers for me.  I decided to wait to tell Phillip about the bilge pump light, though, until we handled our first emergency: Westie.  I checked around the engine, as Phillip manned the helm, for leaking raw water, coolant, etc. anything that would indicate our engine was struggling to cool himself.  Nothing.  We cranked again.  Waited and watched as the engine quickly came back to temp.  Phillip shifted into gear and not a few minutes later, Westie rang out again in protest, his temp needle quickly passing 180 and broaching 190.  Phillip shut the engine down, shaking his head.  We didn’t really have a good answer for it.  And, in the darkness of night, with most of our efforts geared toward handling the boat in those conditions, it didn’t seem we were going to be able to solve that particular puzzle right then and there.  We hoped the batteries wouldn’t drain to a life-threatening level before we could get sun once again on our solar panels and troubleshoot the problem the next morning in daylight.

I also then told Phillip about the bilge pump light I had seen go off.  “I saw it, too,” he responded.  I think both of us had momentarily withheld the information from each other hoping perhaps what we had seen hadn’t really happened, but now that we could both confirm it, it had to be true.  We considered the “rocky rolly water,” which on our boat is the water that accumulates in pockets unseen—we have yet to find them or find signs they are damaging anything in their accumulation, we hope and suspect it’s above the headliner—but it comes “rolling” out in various places only when the boat is “rocking” while underway.  Hence the name.  It’s a fairly harmless amount and, as I mentioned, we haven’t seen any deterioration in any critical area because of it.  Nothing like rotting our mast-step stringers or anything.  Ha!  What, too soon? ; )  And, while our boat is farily leak-free, it is not 100% in heavy rains and a heavy sea state and it’s likely it never will be.  There are just far too many tiny little screw holes and entry points to keep all water, when coming forcefully from all angles, out.  So, I checked the bilge.  The water was sitting below the top of our center keel bolt—a very low, non-alarming level—and didn’t seem to be rapidly increasing.  The bilge pump was also not going off frequently enough for either of us to even try to time it.  It must have been once every 45 minutes to an hour if I had to guess.  So, we attributed this, too, to a non-crucial issue and one we were similarly not going to be able to thoroughly investigate and solve in those conditions at night.  So, a little water intake and an overheating engine.  C’est la vie, for now.

After assessing the bilge situation, Phillip settled in to hold the rest of his shift and I headed back down below to indulge the rest of my sleep-shift.  The first few days of the voyage, and particularly during this 24-hour period, Phillip and I had been sleeping in full foulies as it took far more energy to get out of those nasty things than we needed to exert towards it.  And, if something were to occur topside that would require our immediate attention (a line chafing, a sail blowing out, etc.) it would be best if we were able to jump from the settee and immediately spring topside to handle it.  The loud crinkle and discomfort of sleeping in full third reef gear in no way hindered our ability to fall out of consciousness for two hours at a time, trust me.  Case in point: the minute my salty body crashed back on the settee I fell into a dead sleep.  When Phillip shook me to, I felt like it had been another mere ten minutes and he had unfortunately ran into another wake-the-crew-worthy problem right at the commencement of his shift.  Boy, was I wrong.

“It’s time for your shift babe,” he said as he continued to shake me.  I literally felt like I had been asleep for two minutes.  An hour and forty-five slipped by in an alarmingly-small spec of time.  As I sat up on the settee, I could feel that I was tired.  This was confirmed when I slipped on my pfd, dragged my body up the companionway stairs and sat down heavy behind the wheel.  It was going to be a long shift.  But we did have good news.

During his shift, Phillip had stolen downstairs on a quick calm spot to grab Nigel Calder’s engine book—the holy grail of diesel engine maintenance manuals.  If Nigel ever reads this (Ahhh!  Such flattery!), or if any of you out there know him personally, please send Nigel our forever thanks.  He has enlightened and saved us more than once out there.  Thank you Nigel!  Phillip is a great Captain and a tenacious student when it comes to our boat and her many complex systems.  He had spent the majority of his shift both watching the helm and reading Nigel’s book to try to glean some knowledge into why our seemingly fully-operable engine was overheating.  And, he told me he had read that sometimes in heavy conditions, i.e., big seas that pitch and toss the boat, the extra pressure and energy exerted by the prop to churn and propel the boat in those conditions can cause an engine to overheat.  Aha!  Phillip had potentially found our battery-charge solution.  Perhaps we could not put a load on the engine in those conditions, but we might could run her without a load (in neutral) just to put juice in the batteries.  This was the theory.  Cross your fingers.

Phillip passed the key up to me and we both watched wearily but eagerly as the engine roared to life and begin to increase in temp.  140.  160.  Then right up toward 180 where we always like to see Westie’s needle broach this point then do a little light hop back and hold just under 180.  Without shifting the transmission into gear and running Westie under no load, it did the trick!  Westie was purring and holding temp and our batteries, currently nearing 180 amp hours drawn off, were now getting a lifeline of juice pumping in.  Thankfully we also have a high-output alternator on our engine that pumps in about 70-80 amps/hour when the batteries are really low.  “Go Westie, go!” I whispered from the helm as he held full on during my shift.  So, things were looking up.  Lord Nelson was doing a fabulous job, again holding 90% of the time without so much as a squeal or complaint.  The sails were in excellent shape, holding flat and firm with the 23 knots of wind on our stern.  We were still tossing about in some pretty big seas, but the boat was handling it very well.  It seemed like I was going to have, all told, a pretty uneventful shift (considering our prolonged run in those conditions), but just when you start to think that, and you’re on your last 15-minute stint, that’s when it happens.

I was holding the helm, thankfully strapped in and thankfully attentive to our heading and wind direction in case I needed to grab the helm at anytime, when I heard it.  This thunderous crush of water over my left shoulder.  While visibility that night wasn’t ideal, the cloudy sky had obscured our ability to see the horizon and visually spot waves before they assaulted the boat, there was definitely enough light for me to see this monster.  I can’t tell you how big it was.  Maybe ten feet, maybe twelve, but she was crumbling and churning toward me, taller than the bimini.  I instinctively put my hands on the wheel knowing I would likely soon have to take over when she lifted our stern as if our boat weighed nothing and came crashing in over the stern rail.  I was astonished at how much water could come in instantaneously.

I was sitting just like this and where I had once been perched high and dry, now an entire bathtub of water sloshed, well up to my thigh in the cockpit. 

I didn’t have time to think about it though.  The wave had caused our boat’s stern to kick out severely to starboard as our bow jumped over to port.  The boat was turned now almost ninety degrees, with the other 8-footers behind her threatening to hit right at the beam.  Lord Nelson threw his hands up and screamed in revolt.  I clicked auto off and flung the wheel hard over to starboard watching for probably a good 5-10 seconds while the boat steadily charged her way back on course.  I was shocked to see when I finally had the boat back on course and could allot the mere seconds available to take my eyes off the compass to look around the cockpit and the water was still draining.  The cockpit was still filled up to my ankle which was propped up on the bench, serving as my brace for the heeling.

At that moment I had to just laugh.  What a wonderfully-powerful thing.  The Gulf.  To be able to completely fill the cockpit anytime she wanted to, but what a wonderfully-capable boat to take it, drain it and keep going.  It was just … uncanny.  While I can say it was a little frightening, sure, it was, but mostly it was thrilling.  And I’m not an extreme sports, risk-my-body-for-fun adrenaline junkie.  All evidence to the contrary with the silks and kite-surfing and all, I’m really not.  I ski very slowly because I worry about injuring my knees … again.  I don’t do silks drops because I fear injury or another wicked skin burn will result.  And, while I love to kite-suf, it’s rare I attempt the many and numerous ten-foot launches Phillip will throw down in one session because I’m afraid of busting an ankle on the landing or crashing my kite.  I’m never thrilled at the threat of bodily injury or a life-threatening adventure.  But this felt nothing like that.  We have a very capable boat and crew and while a rush of water in the cockpit isn’t ideal, it didn’t feel threatening in any way.  It was just … thrilling.

And Phillip cracked up laughing when I was reliving my whole “cockpit swamper” to him during shift change, trying to convey how much water had actually come into the cockpit, and he assured me his own swamper was “Waaayy bigger” because it had actually tumbled into the cabin below.  “Remember?” he said.  And I did vaguely recall him clattering around down there trying to sop up water and seal up the cabin while I was in half-zombie mode.  “Whatever, my wave was way bigger.”  It was kind of fun having a wave contest out there.

But, last fun event of this night shift saga.  I know, there’s more?  Of course there’s more.  The onion theory, remember?  We still have one.  Wait, no … two more layers to add on before this storm would let us out of its grip.  Toward the very end of my shift, after the cockpit swamper and after it appeared Westie had put in enough juice (not under load) to allow us to make it safely to morning on batteries with only about 90 hours now pulled off, I went down below to check our battery status one more time and then headed topside to kill the engine, which I thought would be nice for Phillip to at least have a shift where he didn’t have to listen to Westie’s constant rumble and—on top of everything else we were closely monitoring—also watch the engine temp to make sure it stayed at 180.  Ha.  Thinking.  I should just stop doing it out there.  The minute I killed the engine, I heard an awfully-dreadful noise.  An intense straining of some sort.  It sounded like cables perhaps being pulled against something they shouldn’t be or straining under too much effort?  I thought immediately of the steering cables and—for the first time since this troublesome night began—fear pulsed like electricity through my nerves.  If the steering cables were about to be sheered through, we really would be in some serious danger out there in 6-8 footers.  There would be nothing thrilling about waves that constantly thrashed and swamped us broadside eventually threatening to tip us if we couldn’t steer in them.

I immediately jumped up and begin toppling the contents of the port lazarette out to look at our steering quadrant and the steering cables.  As I did, the sound intensified which worried me more.  I didn’t want to be right on this one.  After a few minutes of content-spillage I was finally able to lean in upside down and get a look at the cables. They appeared fine but the sound was definitely coming from somewhere near the quadrant and definitely sounded steering-related as it seemed to intensify at certain times when Lord Nelson was working hard to get the boat back on course after a monster wave.  But the cables on port looked fine.

I spilled the contents of the starboard lazarette.  The cockpit was beginning to look like the front yard at Sanford & Sons.  I can’t count on two hands all of the stuff we fill in those lockers and it was scattered everywhere—our life raft, dock lines, bungee cords, our bail bucket, our fishing gear, snorkel gear, various hoses for washing the boat and deck, our grill, our wash bucket, a crate of cleaning fluids, you name it.  It was all splayed out on the cockpit floor and benches.  I crawled over all of it to drop upside down into the starboard lazarette and look at the cables on that side.  Thankfully they appeared fully intact, but the sound was even worse on the starboard side.  It groaned and shrieked out with each turn of the quadrant one side to the other.  I looked at the wheel stoppers, the pulleys for the cables, the saddles clamps that attached the cables to the quadrant, anything I could think of and then I saw it.  There on the back of the quadrant, the hind curve of the quadrant was actually touching the fiberglass brace that supports our rudder post.  The quadrant was, very vocally, grinding a notch into the fiberglass.  I hung there limply for a moment pondering the oddity of it.

That’s the kind of crazy stuff you can’t even dream up that occurs out there.

It was a problem I couldn’t fathom.  One we’d never thought would occur for sure.  One that just baffled me.  While I was a little relieved to know the steering cables weren’t shredding and tearing their way into pieces, the fact that the quadrant was dropping was not very comforting either.  What if it continued to drop?  What if the pressure became too much and neither Lord Nelson nor the crew could steer.  What if the rudder dropped right out.  What a crazy stupid thing to happen.  ”Holy crap!”  I kind of thought I was dreaming.

I popped back up to the helm and took the wheel to see what the pressure felt like.  Surprisingly it was almost imperceivable.  Almost nothing at all.  But you could definitely tell when the quadrant made contact because the squeaking grind would ring out and would hold while you went back and forth on that portion of the quadrant.  But, Lord Nelson was still holding just fine so it definitely wasn’t too much pressure for him, which was a good sign.  All told we had solved a couple problems and added a few more.  It seemed our onion was waxing and waning.  One other thing I saw when I was upside down in the starboard lazarette was a hole on the forward side of the fiberglass support for our rudder post.  Phillip later told me it is a packing hole.  Whatever it was.  I saw it leaking.  Not terrible, but definitely a little 2-3 driblet gush when the boat took a particularly-hard turn to starboard.  At least this provided some answer to our “Why is the bilge pump going off every hour?” quandary and, again, didn’t seem to be life-threatening.  Just a little gush every ten-or-so seconds.  “C’est la vie, for now,” I told myself as I headed down to wake the Captain.  Well … the other Captain (I can now say!  : ).

“Phillip, wake up babe, it’s your shift,” I said.

“What?  Wait … now?  It’s my shift already?” Phillip groaned.

Clearly he was suffering from the same I-just-fell-asleep-10-minutes-ago syndrome I had when he had woke me two hours ago.  Ha!  Get up babe!  It’s your turn.

“Yep, it’s your shift.  And the rudder is dropping and the boat is leaking.  Have fun!”

Aren’t boats great.  We did figure out that quadrant issue.  What a freak thing to occur, right?  We’ll share the very simple-but-odd solution soon.  If any of you know what happened and how to fix it, feel free to leave it in a comment below.

Next up on the blog – BV3: A New Breed of Geckos in the Keys.  Stay tuned!

Posted in Bahamas Bound, Sail Skills, Storm Prep | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

BV1: Packing, Weather Planning & Passage Day One

On the first day of packing, my Captain gave to me (must be sung in true partridge manner): “A spare bilge pump for the aft cubb-beeey!” Okay, so the packing took WAY more than twelve days, but we’ll get back to that bilge pump just you wait.  ; )

Ahoy HaveWind followers!  I’m so excited to start sharing tales from our Bahamas Voyage with you.  When Phillip and I make plans and start setting our sights on foreign shores, it always ignites in us a flame of excitement that burns all while we’re doing the 1,243 chores that have to be done to fully prepare the boat, ourselves, our co-workers, family and friends, our budget, and, more importantly, the boat (even more!) for the trip.  At first it’s just a flicker, that gets brighter and hotter as we near our departure date, but I can always feel it, roaring like a furnace when we’re finally out there—off on our voyage, underway, and I can take a thousand pictures but it will never do it justice.  “It’s all right here,” Phillip and I say, as we tap on our temples.  But, for you all, it’s all right here, on the HaveWind blog as I share with you our voyage, our adventures, our worries and concerns and lessons learned as we sail to the Bahamas.  First up?  Bahamas Voyage One (“BV1”): Packing, planning and weather routing (as this all plays such a huge role in when we leave and how prepared we are when we do) and our first day on passage.

As you know, our planning for this voyage began early this summer when Phillip and I made an extensive list of all the boat chores we needed to accomplish before we would feel our boat was as ready as possible to spend a winter island hopping.  Fun recap of our summer chores for you here. Once the chores were done, the next step was packing and provisioning the boat.  That means stocking the boat with the necessary supplies, tools, fluids, spares, etc. to efficiently repair, troubleshoot and maintain her both while we were underway if necessary and then more extensively as we stop from port to port.  Boat projects never stop.  Even when you’re cruising.  Or, more accurately put, especially when you’re cruising because if you’re actually using the boat day to day, you’re likely spotting more issues ahead of time and you’re more inclined to jump on repairs, leaks, squeaks, etc. to keep your boat and, more importantly, your cruise going!  I’ve put together an extensive list of our boat supplies inventories if you find it helpful here.

While we have certain cubbies we often use for boat fluids (i.e., the propane locker in the cockpit and a locker under the aft berth because they are fully-sealed and will not allow toxic fluids, if spilled, to leak to the bilge), one very big difference we made in our stowage plans this year has already proven super helpful, and I will give the credit to our hearty French Captain from our Atlantic-crossing in 2016: Yannick!

Yeah … that guyHe’s funny.  Like a clown.  And he likes Joe Pesci. 

 On Yannick’s 46’ Soubise Freydis, in his “captain’s berth” (the starboard gunnel), he had an entire shelf system as well as a deep compartment under his vberth where Yannick had filled Tupperware after Tupperware bin with every kind of boat supply imaginable: tapes, glues, Loctite, sewing kits, electrical repair kits, heat shrink, odds and end hoses, epoxy kits, varnish and sandpaper kits, etc.  I could go on.  But, each bin was filled with certain types of materials and labeled accordingly: “Tapes & Adhesives,” “Electrical,” etc.  And it turned out to be a super-efficient way to pull the necessary tools and supplies for a particular job.  So, upon examining our boat this year to find better ways to stow and stash supplies such as this, Phillip found ourselves eyeing a very convenient locker under our own vberth that I believed could serve a very similar Yannick-inspired purpose.  It is this locker here:

It is the access to our macerator thru-hull and our previous owner had built a very sturdy shelf in the locker to stow gallon water jugs on.  While we had followed suit for years and stowed water there as well, we found they sloshed around and sometimes punctured and they also took on the slight smell of macerator hose.  Not my favorite flavor of water : (.  But now we had an entire empty section for what I was now going to call our “Supplies Cubby.”  We measured and were able to easily fit four rather large Tupperwares in this section labeled: 1)   Tapes &  Adhesives, 2) Epoxy, 3) Electrical, and 4) Engine Spares.

This has already proven to be a very accessible, very organized compartment to store the many, many boat supplies we access often while cruising.  So, thank you Yannick!

Another revelation while we were packing this year: The locker in our aft berth that is fully-sealed can fit not only the spare two gallons of diesel oil (in addition to the one in our propane locker and in our oil-change kit in the hanging locker), as well as spare transmission fluid, outboard oil and Sea Foam but also (and I kid you not), six additional bags of wine.  Six.  Wow.  That’s what?  24 bottles of wine!  Two cases?!  I love bagged wine.  Have I mentioned that?  With the first six stowed, the other six were easy.  Ha!

They also fit nicely around the aft locker compartment just forward of that one which houses our starting battery and MPPT controllers for our solar panels.  That was a lot of heavy, spillable weight stowed aft and low and, for the most part, in lockers that would contain the spill if any.  Although we desperately hoped for no wine spillage on the trip.  (Okay, or oil spillage … I guess that stuff’s important too ; ).

One of our goals in packing and provisioning the boat this time was to find new, previously-unused cubbies and compartments of the boat that were being under-utilized.  In addition to the new “supplies cubby” under the vberth, we also decided this time to stow as many soft, light goods as we could under the very large compartments under the vberth.  Trust me, I can fit completely inside the larger bin.  See?

I spent a lot of time personally in these when we were in the shipyard both painting every square inch of the bilge (which I can still report is a clean, sanitary Bilge-Kote grey in virtually every locker I look … sniff … ahhh) and in glassing in the anchor chain locker to run the anchor runoff water rather than anonymously to the bilge to mingle and mask other potential leaks but, rather, to our new sump box.

Any of you who have seen our shipyard videos know what a monster chore the sump box was.  Not the most difficult project of the re-fit, mind you, but still a very extensive project to capture and route water from five different sources and channel it to the sump box, then plumb the sump box to pump overboard via the head sink.  But, one of the absolute benefits of doing this, particularly with regard to the anchor chain runoff was that funneling the anchor water through a hose to the sump box would make each of the three very large, very useful compartments under the vberth now dry storage areas as opposed to wet.  Thank you Sump Box!

For this reason, and to continue our efforts to move weight aft and low on the boat, Phillip and I decided to use the two rather sizeable cubbies under the vberth mattress directly aft of the anchor chain locker for stowing spare halyards and lines, spare sails (our storm sail, namely) and canvas, as well as spare domestic soft goods (e.g., quilts, blankets, long johns and foulies that would be needed for the cold voyage across the Gulf, but not after we reached the Bahamas).  Then it’s strictly bikini time, baby!  We also fit many additional work sheets and work towels in there, a spare set of sheets for the vberth, as well as two kites, two wetsuits and my aerial silks.  I told you it was a big compartment.  We decided to use vacuum bags for stowing these items both to shrink them to reduce space and to protect them as well in case there was an unexpected leak in these compartments.  I put a post up on Facebook about these bags and most seemed to love them; however, several followers said their seals often failed or they were somehow compromised and they “puffed back up again.”  Phillip and I will let you know after the season if we experience this as well.  So far, we are super pleased with the ease of use and utility of the vacuum bags.

Other areas we found we were able to use for food and supplies storage were three cubbies under the central floorboard in the saloon.

We also noticed two forward cubbies that we eventually plan to add a few L-brackets and a fiddle of wood (to prevent items in the bin from slipping down into the bilge) which will convert those to storage cubbies as well.  All in due time.  Phillip also had the very good idea to buy a box of the super industrial strength black contractor dumpster bags and we wrapped many food items with the potential to spill (or explode) in these in hopes of containing spills in case any cans, bottles, bags, etc. became punctured and started to leak.  This proved an exceptional idea as we contained several spills we found after crossing the Gulf, one of which was four exploding beer cans in a contractor bag in the port lazarette that contained every drop of that stinky beer.  Thank you Hefty Bags!

What’s next?  I know, I know.  The packing and provisioning can get a little tedious.  And, Phillip and I truly did spend the better part of the month before departure double-checking lists of necessary fluids, spares, supplies, food, drinks, etc. to make sure we had in fact packed everything we needed and wanted for the trip and it’s a darn good thing we did because—as it always tends to happen—as you get into the handful of days or weeks before your trip, emergency-type errands come up, or friends and family you haven’t seen in a while confess they simply can’t let you go without a goodbye dinner, or whatever other agenda item you can imagine that will occupy your time crops up and, if you’re not already packed and ready, you can suddenly feel overwhelmed.  Phillip and I actually had some very consuming, stressful work things we had to handle in the weeks before we left and had we not spent months preparing for our departure before-hand, I would have pulled a couple clumps of hair out I’m sure.  Luckily for Phillip, he has no hair.

The last items on the list were, of course, food, food and more food.

  

While Phillip and I had created and maintained a very tedious digital inventory of food for our Cuba passage (completely cubby-located and word-searchable), to be honest, we found trying to keep up with this (by pulling out the computer and crossing off every single can, packet or pouch used as it was used) proved far too tedious.  We decided this time rather than choose what you would like to eat before-hand, instead we’re going to play the “food lottery.”  Now, we simply choose the locker we’re going to eat out of, and it’s like a smattering of random Christmas groceries that you now have to get creative with and make a nice meal out of.  It’s really rather fun, and we’ve been excited each time we open a new locker (or look behind a new box or bag) and find something we bought and packed long ago that we’d been excited to eat for months.  “Ooh, the laughing cow cheese!  Hell yeah!” Annie squealed often.  That and Sriracha peas were always a squeal-worthy find in my book.  As a hint, however, we have since had another cruising friend tell us they used taped notes in the interior door or lid of each locker with each food item listed and they scratched it off on the pad as they remove an item.  I can see this working far better, although some lids are harder to lift and write on than others and some of our compartments would have a list 182 items long.

I’m not kidding.

Speaking of (and last mention of packing, I promise, although it is quite important!) where did 75% of ALL of our non-perishable food items go??  This was a new place for us to discover and utilize and I was shocked (stunned actually) at the sheer quantity of food this one compartment swallowed whole with a mere shrug.  Pssshhh … that’s all you got?  Where is this magic black hole food cubby on Plaintiff’s Rest?  Under our port settee.  This is an area we have never used before and we would have never thought to have used it had we not replaced our starboard water tank this past summer.

Having done so and (as many of you know) having spent weeks wrestling, cursing, kicking and squeezing our new water tank back in place next to our diesel tank under the starboard settee, we became very familiar with the space and size of the cubbies located under each of our saloon settees.  Once we saw we could fit many long spare hoses and pieces of wood and starboard (“construction materials” we call these) by the starboard water tank, I started to wonder what else we could fit all around the portside water tank.  75% of our food, that’s what.  I’m serious.  We packed the shit out of this compartment.  It’ll be Food Christmas in there till 2019.  Now, we did Ziploc EVERYthing.

Even anything already bagged or even double-bagged.  We omitted as much cardboard and packaging as we could (keeping the identifying information and cooking instructions) and, by doing this, the compartment under our portside settee now houses the majority of our food stores for the entire winter.  We darn sure aren’t going to starve (or want for Spam!) in the Bahamas!  We also weren’t going to run out of Irish Spring or Arm & Hammer toothpaste (Annie’s favorite) either.  We packed probably four months’ worth of toiletries (including paper towels and toilet paper, mostly in the hanging locker) aboard, as well as a huge bag of travel-size toiletries as goodie giveaways for the locals (in exchange for fresh-caught fish, we were told : ).

Alright, so with the non-perishable packing complete, the last stop was one to the farmer’s market (Bailey’s in Pensacola is phenomenal) for a bunch of the heartiest produce we could find (beets, carrots, cabbage, spaghetti squash, onions, apples, potatoes, etc.) which we wrapped and labeled in brown paper bags and stuffed along the shelves of our aft berth, our produce hammock and the bookshelves in the saloon, being careful to stow onions and bananas far away from the other produce so as not to speed their ripening).  We intended to get non-refrigerated eggs, which we like to have aboard (just remember to rotate them upside down once a week), but apparently the chickens we usually get them from didn’t have a productive winter.  But c’est la vie.  With the non-perishables, the rest of the wine and mixers and the alcohol finally aboard (8 handles of various rums, vodka, gin, and Kahlua, primarily in the port lazarette in a contractor’s Hefty bag), we simply had to cram three weeks’ worth of clothes on the boat and go.

So, once the boat is ready to go, what’s next?  Do you just go?  Whatever day you want to?  Tell all your family and friends and have them all planning to come to the dock for a big send-off?  Unfortunately (and I’ll admit Pam Wall was the first to tell us this), this usually never works out well and can often put you in a very tight pinch trying to pick a departure date in advance and stick to it.  Pam always advised us not to tell friends and family specifically when you expect to leave or arrive as it will inadvertently create a schedule that will stress everyone if it is not met.  Once you’re ready to go, you then have to look for (AND WAIT FOR) the right weather window.

Most cruisers understand this and won’t expect you to state before-hand what date specifically you are planning to leave or when you’re planning to arrive in port.  Family, friends and co-workers, however, who worry about you taking to the high seas, often struggle with a flexible plan, but trying to alter your schedule or commit to a window that’s not as favorable to perhaps ease their fears or fulfill promises perhaps in hindsight you feel you shouldn’t have made, may force you to leave on a day that is not the best for your voyage plans.  I know I’ve preached this before, but I do so because Phillip and I made this very mistake on our first offshore voyage and it cost us considerably, so it is worth repeating.  If you’ve read Salt of a Sailor, you’ll know what I’m talking about: A SCHEDULE IS THE MOST DANGEROUS THING YOU CAN HAVE ON A SAILBOAT.  Friends, family and co-workers simply have to learn that departure and arrival dates must remain flexible and weather-dependent.  Keep training them, and you’ll have better cruising days ahead, I promise.  Never try to sail according to a schedule.

So, Phillip and I had planned (weather permitting!) to leave on Saturday Dec. 9th.  It was ironically going to be a very fortuitous date to leave as the big “work thing” I mentioned that we had to take care of took place on Dec. 7th (so getting that behind us was a big “Whew!”) and then our buddy Brandon with www.PerdidoSailor.com was having his big annual Christmas party on Friday, Dec. 8th.  Can you say Happy Holiday Sendoff for Plaintiff’s Rest?!  Hell yeah!  And with a tacky Christmas Sweater Contest and an often rowdy and risqué Dirty Santa exchange to boot?  We were stoked.  What a way to go!  Roll that delightfully-tacky footage!

 

Seriously, I found a sweater with a unicorn vomiting sprinkles.  Can you GET any tackier (or awesome)??  The answer is no.

Good times, right?  Our joke that night, when everyone and their dog asked when we were planning to leave, was “As soon as we sober up from this party!”  Ha!  (You see?  Keep it vague.  Then there’s no commitments.)  Although I will note our buddy Kevin, a fabulous Pensacola broker who helped us find our beloved Niagara, said, in response to that and in all earnest: “Oh, that’ll be Sunday then.”  Turns out he was right.  But, not because of our hangovers.  (Pssshhh … I never get hangovers.  What are those?!).  It’s because the weather window wasn’t right.  But, a word on weather predictions.

They are just that.  Predictions.  Often close, often off, and just as reliable as you would surmise any “prediction” to be.  Now, while they do get more reliable the closer you get to your ETD, they still are not fool-proof and we have often found their predicted strength of the wind is often 5 kts less than it should be in the Gulf and often 20-30 degrees off on the direction.  That is almost to a “T” what we experienced this time.  So, feel free to weather route along with us.  This is the window we were looking at if we left on Saturday Dec. 9th.  There was a front that was passing through and we were hoping to catch a nice few days of north wind on the back side to ride across the Gulf.

 

Looks a little gnarly huh?  That’s what we thought.  Jumping out in 20-25 knots of “stuff” didn’t sound like the best way to make the passage.  But, we did debate leaving Saturday afternoon (from our dock that wouldn’t put us out in the Gulf, actually experiencing offshore conditions for another 6-7 hours), so around 10:00 p.m.  The forecast then seemed to show a bit of heavy winds (20-25) decreasing to 18-23 after midnight then to 15-20 over the course of Sunday morning and even lighter Sunday afternoon.  That sounded like a pretty good window to ride the last of the front.  We were expecting some light winds the first few days and a potential front that would pass over us about mid-way across the Gulf but it looked like 15-20 kt winds, all on the stern with following seas, so that seemed doable.  From my experience, at least, if you’re planning to cross the Gulf in one passage, which is a great experience, it’s likely, if you’re going to get any “good wind” at all, you’re probably also going to run into some “stuff” (and by that I mean 15-25 kt winds potentially) either at the beginning, somewhere in the middle, or at the end.  Otherwise, you might be looking at three days of glass, which is beautiful, but as sailors, we’re not too keen on three days of motoring.  It’s just rare to see five straight days of steady winds, holding speed and direction.  While we never intentionally choose to sail in dangerous weather, a predicted 15-25 (which could be less or more) on the stern with following seas is a circumstance we were willing to accept for an expected fun, sporty sail across the Gulf.

With our window chosen, we spent one last lavish evening at the condo with Chef Phillippe whipping us up an exquisite bacon-indulgent cassoulet.  YUM.

We then woke bright and early Sunday morning carrying our last packs to the boat. Bahamas-bound Annie was actually excited to be donning her fashionable offshore bib.  Who doesn’t love overalls?

 

One sure-fire sign it was high time to leave Pensacola and sail south?  There was ice on the boat.  A light frost had fallen on Pensacola that evening and we had to crack everything on the deck apart to get the boat going.

 

Phillip tossing our last line!

We had kept a heat light on in the engine room to keep Westie warm and he purred right up.  Annie de-docked like a champ and soon we were on our way.  Our boat fully packed, our lists crossed off and nothing but big blue water ahead.  That is one of my favorite feelings.  The stress of preparing for the voyage seems to melt off and pull back toward shore, like fingers once gripped, now leaving your shoulders.  Ahhh …

And, remember those 18-23 kts of wind, predicted to lay down on Sunday afternoon?  Well, it seemed they decided to take a nap early, because by the time we got out in the Gulf—around noon on Sunday—we were motoring along in 6-8 kts of breeze.  You see?  The weather.  Just a prediction.  But, it was a nice window of opportunity to throw up one of our favorite sails.  Our spinnaker, better known as “Spinny!”  This is our first year to fly the spinnaker (I know, bad sailors!) and we have really loved hoisting her up and watching her beautiful, blue, white and red belly billow and fill.  She really is a gorgeous sail and it’s a lot of fun to see, and feel, the boat flying under spinnaker alone.  Even in two layers of long johns, our foulies and three hats (yes, three!), we were thrilled to be out there on the water, sailing our magnificent little boat.  It was a fantastic kickoff for the passage.

As Phillip and I eased into our offshore routine and doled out night shift assignments, we knew the days ahead would include some very tiring moments, likely some equipment failure or other boat issues, for sure, many wet, uncomfortable hours, but they would also include the sound of nothing but water lapping the hull, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets and moments that can never be re-created ashore.  And, we can’t wait to share them all with you.

Next up, BV2: Best Night Shift Ever!  Stay tuned!

 

Posted in Bahamas Bound, Boat Stuff, Good Grub, Good Juice, Gulf Crossing, Provisioning | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

VIDEO: 5 Days Across the Gulf of Mexico

Go offshore with us, followers! As Phillip and I sail our Niagara 35 five days across the Gulf of Mexico in some sporty bluewater conditions. This was one of our more intense offshore runs with 24 hours of 20-25 kts of wind and 6-8 (to sometimes 10) foot seas, but the boat and crew proved more than capable and we had a helluva time laying another 500 nm under our keel on our way to the Bahamas. We can’t wait to share the rest of the voyage with you through blog posts, photos and more fun videos! Hope you enjoy this first offshore leg! Buckle up! It’s one heck of a ride!

Posted in Bahamas Bound, Gulf Crossing, Sail Skills, Videos | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

’Twas the Night Before Shove-Off

‘Twas the night before shove-off, and all through the boat

Not a creature was stirring, not even a goat!

(A goat on a boat??  Think it, I don’t!)

The produce hammock was hung above the settee with care,

In hopes that Annie & Phillip soon would be there.

 

The many spare pumps and parts were nestled snug in their cubbies,

As visions of blue water told them they would soon no longer be landlubbies.

While Wendy in her UV cover and Westie in his nest,

Had just settled in for a long winter’s rest.

 

When out on the dock, there arose such a clatter,

Westie perked up to see what was the matter.

He peeked out the portlight in the quarter aft berth,

Roaming the marina, his eyes in great search.

 

The moon lighting the water with a bright winter glow,

Gave the brilliance of day to the bobbing boats below.

When, what to Westie’s wondering eyes should appear,

But Annie & Phillip, with a dock cart and eight boxes of beer.

 

With Annie steering the cart, so lively and quick,

Westie knew in a moment, a midnight departure they’d picked.

More rapid than eagles their many bags and boxes came,

And they whistled and shouted and called them by name.

 

“Now Produce!  Now Rum!  Now Stuff for Drink Mixin’!”

“Here’s our Foulies!  Our GFlex!  And other Stuff for Leak Fixin’!”

To the lockers and cubbies, in the bilge in bins big and small,

“Stash away!” they shouted.  “Stash away it all!”

 

As bags and cardboard and packaging did fly,

They stashed it away all, so they could sail light and dry,

Out into the great Gulf, where the water is so blue,

With a boat full of provisions, supplies and Christmas goodies, too!

 

In a twinkling, Westie heard over his head though he could not see,

Footsteps behind the helm and the high squeal at the turn of the key.

As his glow plugs began warming, the silent tension could be cut with a knife,

Until the ignition sparked and Westie grumbled and sputtered and rumbled to life.

 

Phillip and Annie were dressed in their foulies from their heads to their toes,

All bundled and ready to point their bow south with light winds on the nose.

With Wendy at the bow, this year they would be more prepared for headwinds,

Although with Spinny on board, they were hoping for more sailing downwind.

 

But, Westie knew, oh he knew, finally to the Bahamas they were headed,

All the work and cost of the projects that had to be completed first they had dreaded.

But now here they were, with every last project complete,

And Plaintiff’s Rest was more ready than ever to whisk them off their feet.

 

It would be a Christmas adventure, with their Rosemon aboard, as a miniature tree,

And warm fuzzy Santa hats to wear with board shorts and bikinis.

Their broad smiles and bright eyes were certainly telling,

When Annie shouted “Cast-off!” from the helm, jiggling like a bowlful of jelly.

 

She’s been docking the boat more this year, although it makes her shake in her knees,

But she’s getting quite better, Westie knows, because, while doing it, she no longer pees.

Annie calls to Phillip, “Jump on board!  I’m good!” Her Annie arms penguin-flapping,

And Phillip smiles, hops on and hollers, “Take us out, Cap’n!”

 

The boat rounded the pier, her sights set on the Bahamas alright,

And Westie trilled with excitement, knowing he was in for a voyager’s delight,

When he heard Phillip and Annie exclaim, as they sailed out of sight:

“FAIR WINDS AND FOLLOWING SEAS TO ALL SAILORS TONIGHT!”

Posted in Bahamas Bound | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Pack Smart, Pack Safe & Book Giveaway #3

“Thru-hulls?  Oh, hush!  Nothing goes through my hull.”  You gotta love Mitch!  And every other new boat owner out there who is in that particular stage of boat-buying grief: Denial. When he thinks he is the only person in the world who just bought a boat that can’t sink.  As Phillip and I are preparing our boat for the big, blue water passages ahead, I have a much greater appreciation now for all of the gear, supplies, and spares we need to carry aboard not only to make our boat comfortable and well-stocked so Phillip and I enjoy the passage, but more so the safety gear and supplies we must pack to keep her and the two of us SAFE.  And by that we mean supplies that both: 1) ensure the boat is prepared to handle rough conditions, inadvertent collisions, fire, power shortage, or one of any other hundred equipment or engine failures that can happen out there; and 2) in the very unlikely, but possible, situation where Phillip and I need to ditch or distance ourselves from the boat, that ensure we, too, are prepared to do that as safely as possible.

While these are not the things you want to think about when planning for a voyage (i.e., a potential emergency), it is something you need to prepare for.  And, the more I have truly opened my eyes to cruising this past year and pushed myself to learn and master the more difficult tasks such as navigation, steering, docking, weather planning, and emergency response, I see the need more than ever for the safety gear we carry aboard.  I am also noticing that each time Phillip and I set off for another 4-5 day (or even 30-day) offshore run, we learn a few more lessons and add a few more very handy items to our safety gear and spares list.  I will share below the new spare items we have added to the list this year as a result of our experiences in sailing from Florida to France with the esteemed Captain Yannick on his 46’ catamaran and mine and Phillip’s longest-ever five-day offshore passage to Cuba, both in 2016.  And, since our Holiday Book Giveaway #3 will be a signed copy of my third sailing book, None Such Like It (of the tale of our Amateur-Kretschmer-like experience delivering Mitch’s Nonsuch across the Gulf of Mexico), I’ve included a fun excerpt from the book below from our efforts to fully prepare Mitch’s boat to safely handle an offshore passage.  Enjoy and good luck on the trivia!

None Such Like It, Chapter Two: DENIAL

Having gone through the process of trying to outfit a new-to-us boat for a pretty extensive offshore passage on the Niagara, Phillip and I knew, if we were going to be making this trip with Mitch, that that we needed to start making lists early.  It’s amazing the things you remember to bring the second time around.  Before Mitch even went down to Ft. Myers, Phillip and I jotted down critical safety equipment, spare parts and other items that would be needed for the boat and crew to safely make the passage from Ft. Myers to Pensacola so Mitch could verify whether any of the items were already on the boat while he was there for the survey/sea trial.  We sent Mitch with our rudimentary checklist and told him to inventory the items, note what was missing and what might need to be replaced, replenished or re-certified before we headed offshore in the Nonsuch.  

LIST FOR MITCH

  • The house batteries─What’s the situation?
    • How big of a bank?
    • Starting battery and house?  2 bank?
    • Charged by the alternator?
    • Power cord, battery charger, etc.?
  • Is there an autopilot?
  • What safety gear does the boat have?
    • Flares
    • Fog horn
    • Life jackets
    • Smoke signals
      • Check expiration dates on all of those
    • Ditch bag?
    • First aid kit
    • Emergency underwater epoxy kit
  • Does the boat have a 12 volt (cigarette lighter) charger?
  • What spares are on board?
    • Impeller
    • Oil filter
    • Fuel filter
    • Alternator belt
    • Zincs
    • Gaskets
    • Hose clamps
    • Fuses
  • What fluids are on board?
    • Oil
    • Coolant
    • Transmission fluid
  • Is there a repair kit for the sail?
    • Sail tape
    • Needle, thread
    • Whipping twine
    • Cotter pins, etc.
  • Make sure the head functions
  • Does the boat have a life raft?
  • Do all sea cocks function just fine?
    • How many and where─identify and try all
  • Dock lines, fenders, etc.?
  • Cockpit cushions?
  • Make a list of what tools are on board
  • Make a list of galley supplies on board dishes-wise─pots, pans, silverware, etc.
  • What’s the bilge pump situation?
    • How many bilge pumps?
    • Are they wired together or separately?
    • High-water alarm?
    • Check for manual bilge pumps─how many?
  • Check for emergency tiller, make sure it works
  • Make sure there’s wooden plugs, nerf balls, whatever for plugging holes
  • Fire extinguishers?
    • How many and expiration date
    • Smoke alarms, CO2?
    • How many and where?
  • Spotlight
  • Radio and VHF─check them
    • Handheld?
  • Reef the sails during the sea trial─learn the procedure

While Mitch really was taking it all like a champ, checking and double-checking the list with us, I knew he was having trouble understanding the real need for some of these things.

“Nerf balls,” Mitch screeched at me over the phone one day while he was getting ready to make the trip down to Ft. Myers, and I figured that was a reasonable question if he didn’t know that that magically-squishy material, an accidental invention by NASA I’m sure, is wickedly effective at stopping leaks.  But, figuring when it comes to Mitch is where I went wrong.  Turns out he knew they could be used to stop leaks, he just didn’t expect any leaks.  

“Yeah, Mitch.  You can use them to plug a leak.”

A moment of silence and then: “But, isn’t that what the sea-cocks are for?” Mitch asked, sincerely curious.  “Water starts to come in, you just close them, right?  That’s what they do?”

I was glad he couldn’t see my face because I could not hide a smile.  That’s when I knew it.  He had reached stage two.  Mitch was knee-deep in denial.  I knew because I had been there.  When Phillip and I were looking at our Niagara for the first time, I kept looking around the interior for a good bulkhead wall to mount a television on.  Yes, a television.  When I finally showed Phillip the “perfect place” I had found for it—the wall between the saloon and our separate shower stall—I only found one slight hold-up.  

“We’ll just need to take this lantern out,” I told Phillip, all Bambi-like.  

“We’ll need the lantern,” Phillip told me flatly.  When my blank stare back didn’t convey understanding, he tried another route.  “How are you going to power the T.V.?” which was met by an even blanker stare (if that’s possible).  Then Phillip tried to walk me out of my denial, into the land of the knowing.  “Honey, we have to run wires and power it.  We need the lantern for light and warmth.  I don’t think I want a T.V. on the boat.”  

It turned out he didn’t.  Neither did I when I finally understood what we were truly buying and outfitting—a completely self-sufficient mobile home where we had to engineer a way to generate every bit of light, power, refrigeration and energy needed.  I’ll be honest, it baffled me when I first learned the two-prong AC outlets on the boat simply would not work when you’re on anchor.  They’re such a tease!  I thought they would always magically have power at any and all times, just like they do on land.  In Innocent Annie Land, boats out on the blue are still connected to the grid.  

I was up to my eyeballs in denial.  Like me, Mitch was now refusing to believe he had just bought a complete mobile home that sat, at all times, half-dunked in water with the ability to sink.  

“You’ll want the nerf balls, Mitch, trust me.  The sea cocks don’t always work.”

But that didn’t really frighten him either.  I truly believe Mitch felt he had purchased the only boat in the world upon which sea-cocks never seized up, because he maintained his stance, renouncing all things possible.    

“Well, what about the spares?  How many of those impellers and fuel filters and zinc things do I really need?”  

“However many make you feel comfortable,” I told him, thinking a little fear and weight on his shoulders might help give him a little bit of a reality check.  Pssh!  He thrust it off like a rain-soaked jacket.

“Oh, nothing’s gonna break twice.”

After a while I kind of admired Mitch’s euphoric “can do” attitude—as in “my boat can do anything.”  It was actually nice to not have the significant worry and responsibility of making the trip on our own boat.  For Phillip and me, the fact that we were embarking on this journey on Mitch’s boat made it less stressful and more pure fun.  It was also exciting for us to think back through that mental process of rigging out a boat for the first time on an offshore passage.  It’s a little frightening, a little exhilarating, certainly a fun prospect for adventure.  I remembered when Phillip and I wrapped up our own survey/sea-trial and reached that point where it was really happening, we were really about to buy a boat and we were really about to sail her out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Wow, that photo was taken April 12, 2013, the first day Phillip and I ever sailed on our boat.  Can you believe that?  Time doesn’t just fly, she soars!  Because she does, it makes me even more grateful to know we spend most of our days on the boat, on the water, in the sunshine, soaking it all up, even as it’s soaring by.  Phillip and I have been busting our hump this summer and fall getting our boat ready for another offshore adventure this winter and I believe she (and we) are more ready than we’ve ever been.  And I also believe that our “ready” benchmark will continue to notch higher and higher with each passage we make because we always seem to face a new situation (in addition to the ones we’ve faced before) that teaches us a lesson and prompts us to add something new to the safety/spares list.

Fuel filters.  You can never have enough fuel filters.  We changed our primary just last week and are bringing 5 spares!  We also changed the oil, transmission fluid and coolant and stocked up on extra fluids.

In addition to all of the safety items we usually carry (EPIRB, hydro-static life vests, jack lines, life raft, handheld VHF, handheld GPS, Delorme, Weems & Plath SOS light, flares, compasses, first aid, not to mention our dozens upon dozens of engine spares (oh heck, here’s a detailed inventory list from our Cuba voyage HERE if you want to see everything), Phillip and I have added the following to the list this year, just … in … case:

  1.  A spare raw water pump for the engine: It is our old re-built Sherwood which we replaced this year with a new Johnson one (because the Sherwood often leaked around the two seals that separate the oil side from the water side).  After seeing the struggles Yannick faced with his raw water pump on the starboard engine across the Atlantic, we thought a complete spare pump would be a good idea.
  2. A spare alternator for the engine: We recently found the old one our previous owner, Jack, had taken off our Westerbeke 27 when he replaced it with a higher-output one.  We had it checked by B&M Starter and Alternator here in Pensacola, who verified it runs great.  So, just in case our alternator goes kaput and there is not enough sunshine to allow the solar panels to power our battery bank, we have a spare alternator we can put on the engine to ensure we have continued power for radio transmission and the bilge pumps in case of an emergency.  Speaking of bilge pumps …
  3. Two spare bilge pumps: While our boat technically already has four (a 500 gph one in the forward bilge, a 1,000 gph in the center bilge, which sits under our sump box that has a 500 gph pump, as well as our manual bilge pump that is operated from the cockpit), we thought it never hurts to have more.  So, we purchased a back-up 500 gph and 1,000 gph to replace the pumps in our forward and center bilge areas if need be.
  4. A spare carburetor for the outboard: Okay, so this isn’t technically a safety item.  The dinghy is more of a luxury, but if a failed carburetor would stop us from being able to see and feed the Swimming Pigs, or get to a killer kite-surfing spot, or even just get to shore so we can be served drinks by a chesty bartender who smells like coconut rum, I might consider that an emergency ; ).

Phillip was a grease monkey this week, rebuilding both the raw water pump and the spare carburetor.

Now, since we’re having so much fun talking about spares and packing safely for an offshore voyage, even those where Phillip and I are merely helping to deliver a boat as opposed to sailing on our own, I decided to base our book giveaway trivia this time on a very important spare that we certainly could have used on the Atlantic-crossing.  This one is for all my diehard YouTube fans out there.

TRIVIA:

What was the first and foremost spare Brandon said we should have carried on our Atlantic-crossing on Yannick’s catamaran, a system which did ultimately fail us and forced us to pull in for repairs in the Azores?

When you need one of these, none such like it will do!  First follower to answer correctly gets a signed copy of None Such Like It.  And … GO!  And, if any of you do not know the answer because you haven’t yet seen our two-hour YouTube movie on the Atlantic Crossing, then you’re in for a holiday treat.  Pop some corn and call it Movie Night!

Hope you all are enjoying the holiday season.  Phillip and I are excited to take you along vicariously on our holiday cruise!  ’Tis the season … to go to the Bahamas Mon!  Ha!

Posted in Annie's Books, Atlantic Crossing, Countdown to Cuba, Gulf Crossing, Provisioning, Voyage to Cuba | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments