Ch. 9: Reef Early, Reef Often

The cruising community is really very small.  Meet cruisers in one port and you know you’ll likely run into them somewhere on the other side of the world.  It’s also a very giving community.  Lend some cruisers a hand here, and you’ll likely have a hand held out for you in the next anchorage.  As the salty crew of Andanza hopped off the boat in Key West, we were greeted right there at the dock by a couple of cruisers we knew from back home in Pensacola.

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Amanda and Saunders are live-aboards who had just started their cruising adventure a few months prior.  They were living out on the hook in Bayou Chico while Phillip and I had our Niagara on the hard during the big repair/re-fit earlier this year, and it was cool to see them now actually out there, doing it—exactly what Phillip and I would soon be doing—living on their boat and cruising to different ports and cities.

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Amanda and Saunders were definitely earning their good “cruising karma” that day by making the two-hour run with us n Key West like pack mules, lugging bags, schlepping supplies, even offering their bike if we needed it as we made our way quickly to the local West Marine, the grocery store and the hardware store.

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We tried to grab lunch at one of mine and Phillip’s favorite spots in Key West.  Phillip and I discovered it when we cruised down to the Keys in 2014 and it was the only place in Key West we were willing to sacrifice two meal cards for and dine at twice: Paseo’s.  We kept talking it up to Amanda and Saunders who had only been in Key West for a few weeks and hadn’t experienced this gem yet for themselves.  “The bean and rice bowls are as big as your head!” I assured them, “with gooey melted cheese, fresh tomatoes, avocado, corn, sour cream, like eighteen different ingredients in every single bite.”

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I was getting a little carried away.  But it is an awesome little Caribbean joint.  And, they have whole roasted ears of corn slathered with butter and dusted with salt, pepper, paprika and fresh parsley.  Easily the best corn I have ever had (even over my grandma, Big Mom’s, famous BBQ corn).

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Paseo’s is also (although Phillip hates when I use this word) super cheap!  A $12 bowl can easily be split between two people and have you both waddling away absolutely stuffed, which is why I knew Amanda and Saunders, as cost-conscious live-aboards, would LOVE it too.

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But I think our desperate Caribbean love jinxed us because when we finally made our way to Paseo’s, it was closed that day.  Dag nabbit!

But we grabbed some samiches at another little bistro, “To go!” Phillip said, and started lugging all of our goods back to Andanza.  Then a guy with a golf cart pulls up and asks if we want a ride.  We had ventured about 8 blocks out chasing the Caribbean cuisine so we said “Sure!” and hopped in.  He seemed so excited to play even just a tiny role in our offshore adventure when we told him we were about to cross the Atlantic.  Amanda and Saunders felt the same, like they were sharing in it just a little by joining us for a brief moment in Key West.  It was heart-warming to see people so ignited by our journey and willing to help.

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When we made it back to the boat, we found Yannick had just completed the daunting fuel top-off back at the boat, having filled not only the two fuel tanks, but also the additional jerry cans we had brought along that we had dumped in while motoring across the Gulf.  He was a hot, sweaty mess, but sporting a smile as he helped us bring the goods aboard, stow them away and get ready to toss the lines and head back out.

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We waved goodbye to Amanda and Saunders and the folks at the dock and were back out in the Gulf in a matter of thirty minutes, munching our sandwiches and talking about our next waypoint.  The stop in the Keys was so fast, it almost felt like it didn’t even happen because we were excited to be back underway.  Out there, holding our shifts, traveling across a bounty of blue water, is where we wanted to be.  The crew of Andanza had been five days at sea and it had only fueled our desire to stay out longer and sail further.  “To France!” we cheersed that evening over dinner in the cockpit.

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I held the 2:00 a.m. shift that night and learned, or I guess taught myself, a good lesson in offshore sailing.  While I had considered myself a fairly alert sailor, before setting off on this voyage, I realized I was fooling myself.  I would often read during my night shifts, listen to music, write stories in my mind, which is fine, intermittently, but you should make yourself—for the entire shift if you are able, but at ten or fifteen minute intervals at least—focus entirely on the boat and your surroundings.  Entirely.  You got that?  Ask yourself: How is she doing?  How are the seas treating her?  How is the sail trim?  Where is the wind coming from?  What has its pattern been the last half hour?  Are you on your heading?  Is she holding steady?  If the engine is running, what’s the temp?  The oil pressure?  What is the sea state?  Do a 360 around the cockpit, looking in every direction.  Check for chafe on every line.  Force yourself to not be complacent, not for one minute.

Once we made our way around the tip of Florida and started to turn north up the east coast, the winds finally found us.  They were on our stern during my shift that night and threatening to kick the boom over into an accidental jibe.  I had brought my book up with me to the helm, out of habit, but that is the last time I believe I will ever read on a night shift at the helm.  Because I was worried about a jibe, my thoughts crystallized into acute focus on the boat and I found myself, early during the morning hours of June 3rd, asking and answering all of those questions, quizzing myself almost, on the status of the boat.  Once I was able to answer all of the questions, it was time to start the inquiry again and after six or seven rounds of this, I found an hour had passed rather quickly and I had thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of being intimately connected with the boat and her surroundings the entire time.

The thought of then picking up a book and reading while on watch felt a bit like driving and texting.  Like I was going to miss something and cause an accident.  I am not in any way saying reading during a night shift is dangerous or should not be done.  What I simply realized, for myself that night, was that I enjoy my shifts more when I direct all of my mental efforts toward the boat.  Time passes quicker and I feel safer.  This discovery came to me merely the fifth night of our passage across the Atlantic and it marked a mental milestone for me as I spent each of the dozens of night shifts I held after (as I am sure I will hold each night shift on a boat in the future) in this fashion—in complete fixation on the boat.

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After my shift, I crashed hard in our berth.  Another benefit of exerting significant mental energy on the boat is exhaustion.  I never found myself struggling to fall back asleep after my night shift was over, even in surprisingly noisy or rough conditions.  When I groggily came to the next morning around 9:00 a.m., I found Phillip cheerfully making toast in the galley.

“We caught a mackerel,” he said with a smile.  “It’s in the fridge.”

“Sweet!” I replied and thought I could sure get used to this lifestyle.  But it’s all encompassing.  My first cup of coffee in hand and I stepped out into the cockpit to find Johnny and Yannick had dissected the starboard engine once again.  Rusty, greasy pieces were laid out on a tablecloth on the cockpit floor like they were playing the game Operation.  Yannick turned to Phillip with a little stone that had come out of the elbow in his hand and said:

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I admired Yannick for his resilience and his sense of humor, even in the face of what might seem to many a daunting boat project.  Hearty are the French.

Johnny and Yannick were trying to solve, yet again, unsatisfactory performance of the cooling system in the starboard engine.  Johnny said the flow coming out of the exhaust was too light while the stream coming out of the pisser was too strong.

And, I don’t know if I can take credit for that one as an “Annie term” as it seemed everyone called the tiny squirt stream out of the engine the “pisser.”  After a few days on passage, and multiple conversations about the coolant systems in the engines, I found myself simply saying it, not knowing when or how I had learned it.  While I did learn some French on the voyage, the first language I started to pick up was Diesel.

Johnny believed, because the pisser was strong but the exhaust was light, that there might be a clog between the two, so he and Yannick had removed the exhaust elbow from the engine and were now taking turns blowing through it, the grease from the piece leaving crusty black marks around their lips.  I could tell Yannick knew I was trying not to laugh at them when he handed the dirty elbow to me saying I might be the most well-equipped crew member to “give it a blow.”  Ha ha.

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We were surprisingly able to have a pretty good time doing most anything on that boat, even greasy projects.  I’ll spare you the days and details spent dicking around with the coolant system on the starboard engine as it seems it was a multitude of issues that converged into one big problem: the engine not holding temp.  Once the elbow was cleaned out (as it was found to be partially clogged), Johnny also discovered the cap on the water pump was not fastening down tight enough to enable the system to seal.  Having heard good things about them, Yannick had put SpeedSeal fast caps on his water pumps, in case the impellers had to be changed often or quickly during our passage, but it seemed the screws on the cap weren’t holding well enough to allow the pump to draw water in.  Think of a straw with a hole in it.  The suction was compromised.  However, after some creative tapping in the cap and creation of a few “magic bolts” Yannick was able to fix the issue and the starboard engine had no more coolant problems after that.

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Notice I said no “coolant problems.”  Engines are such fun.

Thankfully, we were able to undertake all of this engine work while still making great progress up the north coast as the winds were holding steady and strong.  It was somewhere off the coast near Ft. Lauderdale when we first broke the 10-knot barrier on the boat.  Some fun raw 10-knot footage for you here:

 

Yes, it required a Whoo Hoo!  You’ll hear plenty of Annie “Whoo Hoos!” in the 2-hour MOVIE.  We’re only one week out now from the premiere!  Get your ticket to view on Patreon.

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The fastest I have seen our Niagara go is 8.3, and that was surfing down a wave.  I’m confident I never want to see her go faster than 10 knots.  Moving so fast on a sailboat was a wild feeling.  It seemed no matter how much wind you put on her stern, Andanza could take it.  No heeling, no groaning, she just went faster.  It was strange, almost frightening to watch the wind climb to heights that would tighten my throat on our Niagara—15, 20, 25 and upwards—and the cat held fast.  And it was a good thing, too, because a thick, blue wall was forming off our starboard bow as we sailed around the tip of Florida and right into our first storm of the trip.

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“Let’s go down to second reef!” Yannick thundered from the mast.  In the slick, glassy waters of the Gulf, we had barely raised the sails, much less had any need to reef them so this was our first time running a reef drill.  Looking back, I’m sure every member of the Andanza crew will tell you we should have done this sooner, even if just for a drill.  Or better yet, intentionally just as a drill.  Safety was definitely a very high concern for the Captain and crew and we had talked many times about reefing often, every day at sunset, etc. but we had missed the all-important need to actually DO IT, several times over, so that we as a collective crew could reef quickly and efficiently, like a well-oiled machine.  Now here we were, in 28 knots of wind, watching it increase and preparing to execute our first reef drill.

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2 Responses to Ch. 9: Reef Early, Reef Often

  1. Came out from the lee of Grenada headed for St Thomas on a Bahia 46. Flat water and fast sailing, no reef and full jib. Really cool. All of a sudden, wham, the boat flew out of the water, over a wave and speared the next one. Green water everywhere. We took a reef and rolled in some jib. Did it again. Took the deep third reef and showed a meter of jib. 10 knots with bow-wave water everywhere. Not heeling. Cats don’t heel. The rigging loads are enormous. Faster all reefed down and way more comfy. So different from a mono hull. It was a quick delivery, day and half if I recall correctly. Sail on. Norm

    • anniedike says:

      Wow. Love your writing Norman. So precise and vivid. Yes, I was shocked out how much wind the catamaran could take on without registering (much) difference in the performance of the boat. She just bashed around some more and went faster but, you’re right, no heeling. It’s almost frightening because you think at one point she have to lift a hull. Thankfully for us she never did. Thanks for following along and sharing.

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