Let’s Talk About This Captain’s Paperwork

My, my, the paperwork for this thing!  It was almost as hard to complete as the Captain’s License exam.  Okay, not really.  That exam was no freaking joke.  But the paperwork was a bit of a hurdle to overcome too.

Applicant Annie, mailing off her paperwork September 13, 2017.

Ahoy followers!  Hello from … now I can officially say it … Captain Annie!  If you haven’t seen on Facebook yesterday, I GOT MY CAPTAIN’S LICENSE!!

Man, I take a lot of selfies!  But, I’m not ashamed; I’m mighty proud of mySELF! : )

That is super duper cool.  But, just like the exam, it was no small feat.  For any of you out there thinking about going for your USCG Captain’s License, too, we wanted to share with you all the process and what all was required for me to obtain my license.  I wrote previously about my experience studying independently for and passing the Captain’s Exam (whew!), article here.  Now that I’ve received the official license, I thought I would share with you all the process of compiling all of the necessary paperwork for my application and my experience with the Coast Guard submitting and supplementing my application.

So, what all is required to apply to become an Operator of an Uninspected Private Vessel (OUPV)?  The checklist published by the National Maritime Center (“NMC”) was, in my opinion, the most organized, easy-to-follow list I found that sets out the OUPV License Application Requirements.  So, let’s start there.  Here’s the link.

Looks pretty straightforward, but I did have some hang-ups.  Perhaps there were blonde moments on my part (likely), but just in case some of you run into similar issues, here’s how the process played out for me:

     1.  Transportation Worker’s Identification Card (TWIC)

No more bank robberies!  You’re in the system now, ha!  A TWIC card is basically an identification credential issued to Merchant Mariners to allow them unescorted access to secure areas of port facilities, outer continental shelf facilities, etc.  To get a TWIC card, you simply visit this website and fill in an application online or schedule an appointment and complete the entire process at one of their processing centers.  You can find an application center here by inputting your zip code.  The center closest to Pensacola was in Mobile, so not a bad 45-minute drive for me.  And, it was a quick 15-minute in-and-out process.  They took my photo and fingerprints and filled out my application.  I was then issued a TWIC card that came to me in the mail about two weeks later.  You will have to include a scanned photocopy of this card, front and back, in your OUPV application packet.

One rub.  I hate my picture!  The TWIC guy (we’ll call him that), told me specifically to not smile.  “Hold a slack face,” he told me.  And, look at me!

There, I do look like a bank robber.   Why couldn’t they have used one of my typical, open-mouth selfies?

At least that way people wouldn’t question as often whether the woman on the TWIC card is me.  But, c’est la vie.  Moving on.

       2.  Evaluation User Fee

This should be paid online, your receipt printed and included with your Captain’s License Application.  Initially, I did not know this and was planning to pay by check.  But, first I checked with my contact at the Mariner’s Learning System (recall this is the company I used to buy an independent study packet for the exam so I could study at my own pace).  I wasn’t sure whether, having purchased their Captain’s License Package, the Mariner’s folks would help me compile my application to make sure it was correct and complete, so I sent an email inquiring.  Lisa over at Mariner’s (who was phenomenal and very patient with my many, many questions) confirmed they do not offer a document check, but advised she was available to answer any specific questions I might have (which were many).  The first of which was this payment issue.  You’ll see here, Lisa sent me the link to pay online and advised me it would cost $145.

You can also access the Pay.Gov payment center through the National Maritime Center here; it just takes a little more navigating to get to the Captain’s License page.

I got confused, however (who me? nooooo …), when I got to the actual payment page as to whether I was paying for an “officer endorsement” or “rating endorsement” and whether I needed to pay my “exam fee” or if that was waived because I had purchased the Mariner’s system.  So, again, I reached out to Lisa and, again, she steered me in the right direction.  Here is what she advised (you’ll see the drop-down menus filled in appropriately below):

Once the payment was processed, the NMC emailed me a receipt, which I printed and included in my final Captain’s License Application packet.  You’ll also notice I had to select a USCG Regional Exam Center during my check-out process.  You have to be sure to send your Application to the same REC you select during the check-out process to make sure all of your license requirements and fee are processed at the same facility.  Here is a list of the centers.  I just chose the one closest to me, in New Orleans.  And, I love NOLA, so I was hoping it would make for a little good luck boost on my application.  : )

P-Dub and I biking the beautiful oak-lined streets of NOLA April, 2017.

    3.  CG 719B Application

 You’ll notice it says “CG 719B” application.  That means it is an official Coast Guard form.  Before I found this detailed NMC checklist, I didn’t know some requirements had to be completed on an official CG form and, as a result, almost made a big mistake on my medical certificate, see #6 below.  Here is a link to the CG 719B Application.  You can fill it out online or print and fill it out by hand.  It’s pretty straightforward, just be sure to read each section carefully and make sure it is a section they want you to fill out or one that is for USCG use.

OATH

You’ll note in this paragraph on the NMC checklist that the Coast Guard requires an oath, stating the oath “may be administered by a designated Coast Guard individual or any person legally permitted to administer oaths in the jurisdiction where the person taking the oath resides.”  Hmmpfh.  Again, I haled Lisa as I wasn’t even sure what the oath should say.  Again, Lisa saved me by directing me to this form in the “Resources” section of the Mariner’s Learning System website, which I was able to print and sign.

Also, lucky for me, Phillip is a registered notary in Pensacola, so I had a readily available notary to notarize my oath.  Done.  What’s next?

    4.  Form I-551 Alien Registration Card

Applies only to foreign nationals, so this was not a requirement for me.

    5.  Signed Conviction Statement

 Thankfully, this “statement” is included in the CG 719B application, Section III, page 5, so completing and signing this section of the application satisfies this requirement.

    6.  CG 719K Physical Examination Report

Here’s where I almost goofed.  As I mentioned, this NMC checklist was the most useful to me because it was detailed and explicit in the types of forms required by the Coast Guard.  Many other “license requirements” checklists I had found on other websites (example here) merely stated a “physical examination” was required, not a CG 719K report.  I made an appointment with a doctor here in Pensacola before I knew anything about this specific CG 719K form.  Thankfully, my doctor (Dr. Tim Tuel with Baptist Medical – “Thank You Dr. Tuel!”) was much wiser than me.  It’s a good thing I told him what the examination was for, just for fun.  As you can imagine, Applicant Annie was excited about this whole process and willing to share with anyone willing to listen.  “I’m going for my Captain’s License!” I told Dr. Tuel, which made him chuckle at my energetic burst.  This tan little toned-up blonde trying to be a Coast Guard Captain.  It is kind of funny when you think about it.  But, Dr. Tuel just smiled and asked, “Where’s your form?”  [Insert Annie’s look of bewilderment here.  Form?  What form?]  I asked, “How do you know it has to be on a certain form?”  To which Dr. Tuel replied, “This ain’t my first rodeo.”  Ha!  Love that guy.  He was a lot of fun.   Dr. Tuel Googled and pulled up the correct form himself right there in the examination room, took the time to fill it out and even printed it for me.  Nice guy, that Tuel.

Unfortunately, he missed one section of the Report (I’m telling you, these things are tedious).  The first response I received from the Coast Guard after sending in my application was this:

That’s right, “Notice of Incomplete Application.”  Uggh.  Not the best feeling in the world.  But, when I read through the email, it seemed it was just a simple mistake of Dr. Tuel failing to state on my CG 719K form which methodology he used to test my vision.  So, I went back to Dr. Tuel with my previous 719K form and asked if he would complete the section and initial it and then re-sign the certificate at the end.  Thankfully, I caught him on a slow day and it was just a 15-minute wait while he finalized my report.

Also, after speaking with Beverly at the USCG, I was advised the completed medical form could be emailed in for processing (as opposed to snail mail) and that was helpful.  So, one glitch there.  Fixed and re-submitted.  Moving on.

    7.  CG 719P Chemical Testing Report

 Ahhh … the drug test.  I knew I was totally clean there.  While I will readily admit that I love my wine and liquor, Captain Annie does not do drugs.  No judgment on folks who do.  It’s just not my thing.  But, mean ole’ Brandon had me really freaked out about it when I stopped by the shipyard to pick up some parts we had ordered right after I had already taken the test, and he told me they were going to analyze my urine for alcohol.  “If you still have alcohol in your system, they’ll pick it up.  Did you drink last night?” Brandon asked.  “Did I drink last night …. Is it a Wednesday?” I thought.  Of course I did!  I think most sailors operate on a pretty base-line low-alcohol level, am I right?  But, what was done, was done.  I had already pissed in the cup, and sent it up the chain, so I just had to be a little freaked out about it for a few weeks before it came back COMPLETELY NEGATIVE.

Take that Brandon!  Ha!  My piss is primo!  (Love that guy.)

But, how did I go about getting a test conducted that would be sure to meet the USCG requirements?  Again, like the medical certificate, the drug screen must be completed on the Coast Guard’s specified form, here, the CG 719P.  The gal at Mariner’s Learning System recommended I contact Quest Diagnostics to handle everything.  It was a breeze.  I called to request a drug screening specifically for my Coast Guard’s License application, paid over the phone (I believe it was $65.00), and set up an appointment online at a local facility.  Luckily, there are two facilities in Pensacola, so this was an easy 30-minute appointment to make and the results were emailed to me by Quest a couple of weeks later on the appropriate CG 719P form, which I printed and included in my Captain’s License Application packet.  Voila!  Next up?

    8.  Front and Back Copy of Driver’s License

Piece of cake!

    9.  3rd Party Release

This is needed if you want the NMC to be able to discuss, release or receive information or documents from a third party (i.e., spouse, employer, etc.).  This didn’t apply to me.

    10.  Evidence of Appropriate Sea Service

This is the real meat of your application (or at least it was for me).  In order to apply for an OPUV 6-Pack license, the applicant:

  • Must be able to document 360 days of experience on a vessel
  • Must have 90 of these days within the last 3 years
  • 90 of the 360 days must be on the ocean or near coastal waters, or the license will be limited to inland waters only.

The license will be limited to uninspected vessels of less than 100 gross tons.  When calculating qualifying sea time, you must have been underway on the water for a minimum of four (4) hours to count as one (1) sea day. (Only one day’s credit is allowed per date.)  And you must document the time on the Coast Guard’s specified Sea Service form, the CG 719S.

I had not been keeping up with my sea time since I started sailing in 2013, but I would recommend anyone who is thinking about going for a mariner credential at some point in the future to do this along the way.  Bring along a few blank Sea Service forms when you know you’re going to make a passage or be on the water for several days and get the Captain or Owner of the vessel to sign off for you once your sea time is complete.  Because I had not been doing this, I had to sit down with a calendar and re-construct my time over the last four years and obtain signed Sea Service forms from the various Captains and Owners I had sailed under.  It was actually a very fun escapade down memory lane and I did a brief write-up and tribute to each of those captains here.  Thankfully, with mine and Phillip’s many offshore passages on our own boat, our Atlantic-crossing in 2016 and the handful of passages and sails I have done on friends’ boats, all within the last four years, it was fairly easy for me to meet the “90 days within the last three years” and “90 days offshore” requirements.  It was really cool, too, to tally these up and see how much awesome sailing I’ve done in such a short time.  I’m quite proud of these days!

Total days experience:  368

Number of days offshore: 112

Wow.  I hope I double those numbers over the next three years.  Sail on Captain Annie!

    11.  Photocopies of all applicable Training Course Certificates

This is why Phillip and I went to STCW school back in June!

While the firefighting was wicked cool, and I got an awesome burn, the first aid, CPR, fire-fighting and water survival training included in this certification sufficed for my Captain’s License “training course” requirements, which is the primary reason Phillip and I took the course.  We went through the Sea School because they had a facility relatively close to us in Bayou la Batre, AL.  After completing the course (there were some moderately difficult tests involved, but the instructors worked hard to make sure you passed), the Sea School sent Phillip and I a packet of certificates for the courses we completed, copies of which I included in my Captain’s License application.

    12.  Course Certificate

Proof that you passed the MPT Captain’s Exam within the last year.  I took my Captain’s Exam on June 26, 2017 at a USCG testing facility (a.k.a. a conference room at a Holiday Inn here in Pensacola) and thankfully passed!  After Mariner’s Learning System was notified of my score, they emailed me a certificate documenting my accomplishment which I printed and included in my application packet to prove I had passed the exam.  That was a biggie.  Whew! 

    13.  Three (3) Letters of Recommendation

This was one requirement that was a little hidden in my opinion.  At least not every Captain’s License requirement checklist I found on the web included this.  For example the NMC checklist I cited primarily above did not mention this.  But, if there was anything I learned from studying for the Captain’s Exam, it was to consult a lot of different sources.  Several other sites I found mentioned this “letters of recommendation” requirement for original license applicants, meaning, those who were seeking issuance of a license for the first time.  ‘Tis me!” I said, and promptly Googled around to see what an acceptable “letter of recommendation” looked like and found this website, with a sample letter of recommendation.

I typed up three of these for three of the captains I had sailed under to sign and complete and that sufficed for this requirement.  But, I have talked to several other applicants during this process who did not know about this “letters of recommendation” requirement.  So, there are many potholes to fall into, so to speak.

The good news?  I found the Coast Guard folks were very forgiving and easy to work with.  They were responsive and notified me immediately of any deficiencies in my application, noting I had 60 or 90 days to fix each one.  So, that was comforting.  After my incomplete Medical Certificate issue was fixed, the next errors the Coast Guard caught were a few places I forgot to sign my own Sea Service forms (doh!) and areas on my Sea Service forms where I had filled in the vessel owner’s name, when I should have put my own.  However, the Coast Guard folks advised I could cross-through the wrong name, fill in my own and initial it and that would remedy things.  And, I was notified of all of these issues and errors via email from the Coast Guard and offered the ability to send in supplemental portions via email.  So, that made things a lot easier for me as I do most of my work remotely via email and digital documents.

In all, the OUPV documentation process took me about four months to complete (although, granted, I wasn’t focused on it every day, but there are many moving parts and you have to rely on the cooperation of other people, so it does take time).  I was advised by the Mariner’s Learning System folks that I had to complete and submit my application within one (1) year of successfully passing my Captain’s Exam (for me, that would be June 2018), so I was well within the time limit.  But, it is definitely a project you want to get started on early as there are a lot of hoops to jump through.

Many thanks to all of the Captains I have sailed under who were generous enough to review and sign my Sea Service forms and provide letters of recommendation and the very patient folks at Mariner’s Learning System and the Coast Guard who helped walk me through the process and answer my many questions.  I hope this post will help shed some light for those of you out there who are also thinking about pursuing a Captain’s License to get a better understanding of the paperwork and requirements involved.

I honestly can’t believe I have obtained this credential.  While Phillip and I decided this would be a good endeavor for me to help shape me into a far more capable and knowledgeable mate (and now sometimes Captain!) on our future travels, it still shocks me a little that I, who only started sailing four short years ago, was able to accomplish this so soon in my sailing career.  The training and education I have acquired have already started to show in mine and Phillip’s passages and cruising, and I am so proud that I am able to offer him, now, so much more insight, input as well as a sounding board for some of our very difficult decisions when navigating, weather routing, deciding on destinations, passages and – oh yeah – docking!  I’m getting better at that, too.  Primarily the goal was to grow my skills so that I can contribute more to help share the “stress of cruising” so that the entire experience is more comfortable for us both.  It’s also a very good benefit to know this license will help decrease our annual insurance premiums (yay!) and will allow Phillip and I to earn money on the occasional offshore delivery that works with our schedule and plans.  In all, it was an educational and enlightening process that I am proud and glad I completed.  If any of you out there are thinking about going for your Captain’s License and have questions this post and my previous “Let’s Talk About This Captain’s Exam” post did not answer, please feel free to email me and reach out.  I’m happy to share.

Now, when Phillip and I head off on our next adventure, it will be Yours Truly more often at the helm, scanning the charts, checking the weather, and shouting to Phillip, “Hey Swab, while you’re down there, tighten that hose clamp.”  Ha!

Thanks to my followers, as well, for your support and encouragement.

Captain Annie, signing off.

Chasing a Blown Impeller: Get Back Here Little Feller!

“The end of a mystery?” Yannick wrote me just a few short weeks ago. That’s a title that will catch anyone’s attention. And when I open the email what do I see?   Yannick’s grubby fingers clutching the culprit. Yannick has been after this guy since we first pointed his 46’ Soubise Freydis south toward the Gulf of Mexico on our way to sail across the Atlantic Ocean last year. Seriously, not two hours into the first day of our offshore voyage, May 29, 2016, the starboard engine on Yannick’s boat overheated and we had to shut her down to investigate. For those of you who watched our movie from the Atlantic-crossing, you’ll remember this little gem.  For those who haven’t seen it yet: Lord!  Clear your calendar tonight, grab some popcorn and carry-out on the way home and call it Movie Night!  Link to view here.

What we found when Yannick took the water pump off and disassembled it was a blown impeller.  The thing had launched several of its vanes.  (Or “impeller fingers” as I call them; it’s a good thing Phillip speaks Annie.)

Yeah, those guys.

By boiling the thermostat from Yannick’s starboard engine, we also found it was not opening completely, so Yannick dutifully replaced both the impeller and the thermostat and the engine then held temp fairly well.  However, the starboard engine continued to struggle at times to hold temp and it was not pumping as much raw water exhaust (“pissing” Annie called it) as Yannick would have liked.  And, apparently, that was still the status of the engine all the way up to a few weeks ago.

That’s when Yannick found the end of a mystery!

This little guy.  The culprit!  Do you know what that is?

That’s right.  An impeller finger!  Wedged in the output end of Yannick’s water pump, only detectable when he took the entire pump off to change the seals.

The lesson here?  When facing a blown impeller, your first instinct needs to be “Get back here little feller.”  Brandon with www.perdidosailor.com has warned us about this many times.  If you throw one or more impeller blades, do not put the engine back together until you’ve found every last piece.  Yannick did not know this blade had been stuck in the back end of his water pump for over a year restricting his raw water exhaust.  But, he extracted it this time and has reported he’s now thoroughly satisfied with his pisser!  : )

Nice work Captain Yannick!

Real-Life Example #2:

I swear it felt Phillip and I were attracting water pump issues that week.  The same week Yannick sent me that email, Phillip and I had another chance to chase down a little feller.  We headed out on a Friday afternoon, like we often do, sailing across Pensacola Bay over to Red Fish Point for a quiet, relaxing weekend on the hook.  Some anchorages around here are absolute party towns where everyone knows your name and everyone starts drinking at 10:00 a.m.  I can only do that for so long before I lose my voice and my dignity.  Phillip and I like to shake it up and spend some weekends in PartyVille (known as Ft. McRee) and other weekends at more secluded, quiet anchorages (like Red Fish Point or Big Sabine).  We’re lucky, Pensacola offers handfuls of both.  Some fantastic photos for you here from our exquisite sunset sail over to the anchorage

We arrived at dark, dropped the hook and were pleasantly surprised the next morning to find the masthead lights we had seen the night before were actually some very good cruising buddies of ours: Mike and Sherry on s/v Imagine, a 1981 Tartan 37’ that they have done a fabulous job restoring.  I did a tour of Mike and Sherry’s boat that you can view here:

After the end of a glorious weekend on the hook, Mike and Sherry weighed anchor early on Sunday morning to sail home but, unfortunately, did not make it very far.  Not thirty minutes after they had left, Phillip got a call from Mike:

“Uhhh … hey Phillip, I’m in the North cut and we had to cut the engine because it overheated.”

Good times.  Sometimes boats can drive you crazy.  Wait.  Scratch that.  Often times.  Thankfully, Mike had a very favorable east wind that, on Phillip’s suggestion, he used to sail his way back through the tight channel to our anchorage so we could help him dissect the overheating problem.  Phillip and Mike dug in and sure enough, found him again.

The culprit!

One of the blades on Mike’s impeller had wedged itself in his exhaust hose and impeded the flow.  So, say it with me now: If you’re facing a blown impeller, what do you say?

That’s right.  “Get back here little feller.”  You’ve got to locate and account for all of the missing impeller blades because you never know where one might wedge itself at a moment when you desperately need your engine.  While Phillip and I had been told this many times, our recent experiences with Yannick and Mike really brought the message home.  And, it’s always fun to learn a good lesson when it happens on someone else’s boat, right?  Thanks for the perfect exemplar Mike!

But, here’s the real kicker.  It’s as if our own gal was getting a little jealous of all the attention we were giving other folks’ raw water systems.

Real-Life Example #3

After getting Mike all buttoned up and running again, Phillip and I weighed anchor ourselves later that morning to motor home from Red Fish Point and—as if on cue—our water pump started leaking on the way home.

While we weren’t sure we had thrown an impeller blade (but I can assure if we had, we would chase that thing to high heaven!), we have experienced a water leak at this very spot several times before.  It’s at the weep hole between the two seals that prevent the oil side of the pump from leaking into the water side (and vice versa).  We’ve had to re-build our water pump twice due to a leak in this area, the last time was the day before we were planning to shove off for Cuba.  Phillip said, “Nuh-uh, Sherwood.  You ain’t stopping this show.”  Ha!

It’s not too difficult of a task, just one we were sick of repeating.  Phillip had researched and found this was a known issue on the Sherwood pump (a leak between the oil and water seals), which caused Westerbeke to start using Johnson raw water pumps instead.  Phillip had ordered one a while back that we were planning to bring with us to the Bahamas as a spare.  Well, it was now high time for that spare.  We decided to just go ahead and put the new one on in hopes of it lasting throughout the season (and hopefully longer) without issue and re-building the Sherwood to bring along as our spare.

Scraping off the old gasket is the hardest (and most curse-worthy) part.

 

Now, that’s a fine-looking impeller.  Always remember to coat it really well with glycerine on the first “dry” crank so you don’t throw a blade right out of the gate.

We also changed out the zinc (it was high time) while we were in there and cleaned out the heat exchanger as best we could.  She had a graveyard of old zincs knocking around in there!

Much better!  Good work Miner Annie!

Putting the new pump in (we painted it Westerbeke red to match!):

Replacing the pump isn’t too taxing of a chore, but you probably need to set aside an entire afternoon to do it. And that’s assuming everything goes as planned.  When, during a boat project, does everything fit, you always have the right tool or part and you’re able to start and finish the job on the same day?  If we learned anything during our three-month stint in the shipyard in the Spring of 2016 it’s that just about every project has its fair share of kinks.  During this water pump project, Phillip and I got a little kinky ourselves and ended up some very bad hoes!  Anytime we talk about hoses on the boat, it always reminds me of that brain-cell-suckingly stupid “Boats & Hoes!” Will Farrell video from Stepbrothers.

And, yes, I sing that out-loud every time we deal with any kind of hose on the boat.  Now, it’ll be stuck in your head.  You’re welcome. Phillip loves my musical contributions.

Phillip and I decided, since we were going to replace the water pump, we might as well replace the super-old hoses on it, too.  We call it the Mitch theory: “While you’re down there.”  But, what all-important lesson did we learn during this raw water project?

NEVER FIGHT BAD HOES!!

Just don’t.  They will bite, cut and maim you.  Look what they did to us!!

     

I got a good “doctoring” (as my Dad would say) from Phillip.

Those are some serious boat bites.  And, I promise you, none of these boat bite pics are in any way edited.  Now, how, you might ask did Phillip and I get so beat up just trying to wrestle some hose onto the new water pump?  Because we’re idiots, is the short answer.  And, we apparently need to go back to Caliper School.  Phillip and I accidentally got the wrong size hose and spent the better part of the day trying to fight 3/4” hoses onto 7/8” barbs.  Yeah, brilliant.  Turns out, hoes don’t like to be tortured.  Boy did they fight back!  I’m surprised we got those too-small hoses on as far as we did.  We should have realized something was off, but what did we do instead?  Kept fighting bad hoes!  Don’t let this happen to you, my friends.  Our boat bit me the hardest she ever has to make sure this lesson stuck for me.  I first got burned by the heat gun we were using to stretch the ridiculously too-small hoses, then the boat ripped my blister open while I was trying to fight them on.  But, after I saw the mark she left behind, I realized she what she was trying to show me:

SOME BOAT LOVE

Even when she bites me, I love that salty gal.  I don’t ever want to think what I would do without her.  It gives me heart burn.  What, too much?  Ha!

Two weeks healed!  I’m kind of digging it now.  It’s like the best boat bite ever.

Hurricanes: The Sometimes Horrible Reality of Cruising

I’ll have to admit, this is one part of being a cruiser I really don’t like.  You thought I was going to say docking, didn’t you?  Admit it!  While that is definitely one.  That and de-docking (Annie term).  I also loathe the threat of hurricanes.  As a cruiser, you don’t just own a boat.  You love her.  She’s not just fiberglass and wood to you.  She’s a friend, a member of the family, your home, your ticket to world travel.  And she holds so many memories.

I remember the day Phillip and I shoved off the dock, April 17, 2013, with our new-to-us Niagara 35 and saying goodbye to her previous owners.  Jack and Barbara had spent twenty-four amazing years sailing her along Florida’s west coast, as well as the Keys and Caribbean, Jack even single-handed her in the Mackinac race several times, and now they both had tears welling up in their eyes as we waved goodbye.  It was like they were sending a child off to college, a mix of hope for an exciting new chapter in her life, but also the pain of watching her leave.  Seeing how tough that decision was for Jack and Barb, I cannot even begin to imagine what it feels like when that precious element of your life is ripped from you without choice, and not to set sail on a new adventure, but smashed to bits, never to be enjoyed again.  By anyone.

My chest aches writing this and thinking of all those, many we know, thousands we do not, who lost their boats in the recent storms.  Hurricanes are just a horrible reality cruisers and boat-owners have to deal with.  And, while many can plan to stay outside of the hurricane box during the season, or haul-out every time a tropical storm watch develops, many simply cannot get out of the path due to other obligations: work, family, money, time, etc.  So, they have to strap their baby down as best they can, say a prayer, and hope for the best as a hurricane barrels down on her, whispering “Hold fast, girl.”

Others find their only option is to try to sail away from the hurricane.  Many—who are unfamiliar with offshore sailing and the impact weather, wind and gear failure can have on the speed and success of a voyage—when they see hundreds of boats destroyed from a hurricane think: “Why didn’t they just sail to somewhere safe.”  It’s not always that simple.  Hurricanes often form quickly and can cover a span of hundreds of miles.  Irma was 400 miles wide.  Four.  Hundred.  Even in favorable conditions, sailboats just don’t go that fast.  On a boat like ours, if you’re averaging 5-6 knots an hour, you’re doing great.  But, that still means you are only traveling roughly 130 miles a day.  If a hurricane the size of Irma is set to hit you in three days, that doesn’t give you a very comfortable window of time to get out of the path, and that’s assuming the path holds, which is always a gamble.  You may find yourself out there in 10-20 foot seas and winds over 120 mph.  It’s rare any live-aboard sailboat can survive that.

Phillip and I recently watched a fellow cruiser and friend from Marathon, along with her boyfriend and dog, who had tried to sail north away from Irma, and they had to be rescued off the coast of Clearwater by the USCG.  (Article here, and I hope to be able to speak with Pamela and Sebastian once they have more fully recovered and learn what happened so we can all benefit from this harrowing, but thankfully life-saving, event.)  Phillip also told me I needed to read John Kretschmer’s At the Mercy of the Sea, before writing this.  While it is the next book on my list, I felt too strongly about this now, while we’re all bracing for, and still recovering from, so many vicious storms.  But if any of you have read that book and would like to share, please feel free to do so in a comment.

I will also admit, having grown up in the middle of New Mexico, I am, thankfully, very new to the horrid reality that hurricanes bring to living on the coast.  Ivan was the first hurricane I experienced.  I was married at the time and my husband’s parents lived in Perdido Key.  He kept watching news footage of weathermen and women, shouting in the spitting rain, picking up twigs and overturned road signs, and satellite image after satellite image for two days, and I really didn’t understand why.  How is watching that going to change anything?  You just board up your house and leave, right?  Then come back and assess the damage.  Little did I know.  Hurricanes do not just cause damage.  They decimate.  I did not know houses could be leveled to mere slabs, with not a scrap of wood or even a personal belonging in sight.  My husband and I drove far west through Mississippi, then down south—literally rounding the west wall of Ivan as it came up through Alabama—to get to Perdido Key.

We waded through water in thick underbrush to try reach his parents’ neighborhood from behind because the roads were blocked.  I did not know at the time the dangers of wading in open water after a hurricane.  Had I, I would have never followed him.  But, I did, and I cringed each time I saw a snake drop from a tree near me while I carried my small black lab, blue heeler mix, Dixie, in my arms.  It was a horrible experience.  When we reached his parents’ street, we found two feet of water in the house, four in the garage.  It was a mess.  Soiled, filthy, wet remains of what once was a beautiful, warm, welcoming home.  And this was just a house with water in it.  Over the course of the next few days, we walked the streets along Grand Lagoon and Perdido Beach Boulevard and that’s when it really hit me.  Washers, dryers, chairs, pillows, and framed photos were piled up on the street in dunes of debris taller than me.  Houses were slabs.  Huge pine trees were mulch.  Condos on the beach looked like they had been eaten.  Whole floors bitten away by some giant monster.  Entire swimming pools, surrounded by concrete and tiled patios and gates were literally gone.  Only sand was left.  That’s when I learned what hurricanes can really do and how easily the ocean, if she’s angry enough, can take whatever she wants.  It is a simple and undeniable fact.  You cannot predict or control the weather and sometimes she’s just going to win.  She’s just going to take.

This is the risk you sign on for when, knowing this, you decide to still buy a boat and set your sights on exotic locations.  Everything has its risks and nothing is guaranteed.  If you drive a car, you risk an accident.  If you buy a home, you risk losing it to a fire or flood.  If you fall in love and give someone your heart, you risk getting hurt.  But you do it anyway.  Why?  Because that’s life.  Not going or giving because you are afraid of loss is not a way to live.  The one thing that is guaranteed in life is that you’re only going to be here for a certain period of time.  It’s finite.  And you’re going to suffer loss, whether you try to avoid it or not.  You will lose things, pets, and people (even the boat equivalent) whether you decide to live your life fully or not.  So do it anyway.

This is at least what I tell myself when I see so much devastation and loss recently from Harvey, Irma, and Maria and when I feel, now, Hurricane Nate bearing down on Louisiana and the panhandle and it knots my stomach. While I hate the feeling, I try to remind myself it is only because I have such wonderful things in my life to lose, which makes them worth all of the stress, work, blood, sweat and money.  So, with that in mind—as I sit and type this on Friday morning, October 6th at 9:42 a.m., waiting for the 10:00 a.m. NOAA update on Nate and deciding whether we are going to haul-out today or not.  That is such a heated question.

No hurricane plan is a guarantee.  No matter how well you secure your boat, if you’re not there (which you shouldn’t be in any storm too dangerous to ride out), you will not be able to stop another boat, (or barge or tree or a hundred other things that are tossed around like bath toys in a hurricane), from colliding with your boat and causing damage.  You can tie up ultra-secure in a hurricane hole, but your anchor may fail or your boat may begin to take on water and eventually sink.  If you haul-out, your jacks could fail, the boat next to you could topple over, or they can even drop your boat while in the straps.  If Plaintiff’s Rest can stay in the water, Phillip and I would prefer it.

Currently, however, we have a mandatory evacuation from our marina and with not a lot of time or hurricane holes around here that are not probably full already, Phillip and I decided to use our hurricane haul-out option and at least schedule a haul-out for 2:00 p.m. this afternoon.  We also got some great advice from fellow boaters on how to secure our boat even further once she is on the jacks which we’re happy to share with you:

  1. Tie all of the jacks together with wire, chain, or strong line to form a reinforced cradle rather than independent jacks.
  2. Tie seizing wire around the cranks for the jacks to ensure they are not able to rattle loose in the intense vibrations from the storm.
  3. If possible, e., in a non-paved marina, embed earth anchors and strap your boat down to those as well.

If Nate’s path continues to track east and our prediction holds as merely a tropical storm warning and if the marina lifts the mandatory evacuation order, we would like to stay at the dock.  If we did, we would secure extra dock lines with chafe guards (we use strips of fire hose, with little dyneema tie-downs to keep them in place in the chalks).  I also did a post recently on Facebook showing all of our prep (including Pam Wall tips!) on dropping all of the canvas and pulling all of the lines up into the mast with photos, which you can view here.  Whether our boat rides out Nate at the dock or on the hard, she will ride with as little windage as possible.

We welcome anyone else’s tips on best hurricane prep measures and best practices you have found in the past to make your boat more secure for a storm.  Feel free to share.

Phillip and I will be as ready as we can be.  After that, we just have to remember how awesome and fulfilling this lifestyle is and hope for the best.  We hope you, and your boats, all remain safe in the eye of this storm.  If Mother Nature decides it’s our time to suffer a loss, Phillip and I will bear that and be thankful we’ve still got very full lives ahead of us to live and we will rebuild together.  We’ve done it before.

UPDATE: We hauled Plaintiff’s Rest out this afternoon.  She’s stripped, tied down and as ready as she can be.  It’s all we can do.  I gave her a kiss and told her good luck.  Hold fast girl.

A Silky Article in Cruising Outpost!

“Call it crazy, call it beautiful, bold, I call it: No regrets.  I will never forget that moment.  That feeling.  Soaring weightlessly, floating freely in satin sheets from the mast of a sailboat, with the vast Gulf horizon as my backdrop.”  Hey crew!  I’m so proud to share this with you, an article I wrote for Cruising Outpost Magazine about silking on a sailboat, even during an offshore passage on SailLibra last year on our way to the Miami Boat Show.  I spy TeddyJ in there, too, with SailLoot.  Man, how time flies!  It’s such a freeing feeling.  I hope some of you out there grab a pair of silks and start silking on your sailboats, too.  Many thanks, as always, to one of my mentors, Bob Bitchin, and his fun and beautiful wife, Jody, for sharing this opportunity with me.  It’s such an honor.  You guys go pick up a copy of Cruising Outpost today and check out these stunning aerial silks photos for yourself!

I even made the cover …. eek!  : )  Happy Little Author Annie here.  See?  I told you guys when I stopped doing the full-length YouTube videos, I was going to do more writing.  I’ve still got a few more articles coming at you this year.  Enjoy!