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 guy. He’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!