It isn’t a bad place to have to wait for the Lagoon, I will say that. La Rochelle is exquisite right now. Mist that fills the harbor every morning. Vivid yellow leaves the fall leisurely from the trees to the cobblestones, always mesmerizing me when they fall right before my eyes.
And the food! Fruits de mer! There are a thousand little restaurants, pubs, bistros, and—my favorite—fromageries! I’m afraid I have knowingly cultivated a full-fledged cheese addiction, and I, in no way, regret the decision. They eat cheese for dessert here. I mean … I love these people. J’aime La Rochelle!
Hello crew! From the stunning Atlantic-coast village of La Rochelle. I wanted to write you all a quick note from France before we shove off next week and begin our Atlantic adventure! I wanted to share a little more about our plans, our new friends, Kate and Cyrus, and why Phillip and I made such a drastic change to our cruising plans this year. When we were working in the shipyard this past summer, we had pretty-set plans to sail our Niagara 35 slowly and intermittently from November through the Spring of 2019 from Pensacola, to the Exumas to explore what we missed last year, then eventually to Grenada for hurricane season. Yet, we decide instead to hop on a new boat, with new crew, and sail back across the Atlantic Ocean?!
We must be crazy right?
We kind of are … : )
Or just in full-fledged pursuit of adventure! So, how did this whole opportunity unfold? How did we meet Kate and Cyrus? As Kate and Cyrus would tell you, all great stories begin with either “Once upon a time,” or “This ain’t no shit.” Well, this, my friends, is no merde!
We actually crossed paths with Kate and Cyrus while cruising but did not know it. Phillip and I were making our way back up the west coast of Florida after our cruising in the Bahamas this past season and we made an unplanned duck into Destin to get out of some not-too-comfortable conditions out in the Gulf: 18 knots on the nose that was set to continue well past midnight, well before we would be able to get to Pensacola Pass to get out of that mess.
So, we navigated the entrance to Destin Harbor for the first time, which was not easy. It’s a bit of a tricky zig-zag, shoaly entrance, but we made it. And it was one of those moments, when you finally get out of the stuff, the boat is settled and in one piece, and you drop the hook and feel your nerves finally start to settle out. Once the hook was set, Phillip and I both promptly made a boat drink (because that’s exactly what you do in that moment) and were kicked back in the cockpit heaving happy alternating sighs of satisfaction, when this large catamaran cruised by.
I saw a gal on the bow filming, which, being a bit of a fellow videographer, caught my eye. I could see she had a remote for the winlass around her neck, and I shouted some comment about how it would be awesome to be able to drop and raise the hook with the push of a button. We shared a lighthearted exchange or two and said “Cheers!” before their catamaran cruised on out of the anchorage. I had no clue at the time that cheery blonde on the catamaran would soon become one of my very good friends, someone I would cross the Atlantic Ocean with, but it was. That was Kate!
Kate and Cyrus were sailing with a captain to gain sea time towards their RYA licenses, and they were making the overnight run from Destin to Pensacola for bluewater experience. The catamaran they were sailing on, s/v Makarios, actually stays in a slip in Pensacola just a dozen or so boats down from where Phillip and I keep our Niagara 35. While Kate and Cyrus noticed our boat name, s/v Plaintiff’s Rest, as memorable when they were cruising through Destin Harbor, they didn’t think much more of it until they went the next week to Sea School for the necessary credits toward their USCG licenses. Ahhh … STCW Sea School, that was a fun time.
It was their Kate and Cyrus saw the insignia I had left on the Sea School wall, put two and two together (HaveWind with the boat they saw in Destin), and Kate then decided to reach out to me. There were here exact messages!
It’s connections and stories like this that will always make me feel grateful I created this (once very little) traveling sailing blog that has somehow reached so many. Seeing young cruisers like Phillip and I, and many others who are sharing their stories via blogs and videos, Kate and Cyrus decided to similarly sell the house in Minnesota and downsize to life on a boat. It was really neat, as we began to chat further, to learn about their plans to start a crew-chartered boat, CruiseNautic, on their Lagoon 42 in the USVIs as their quote-unquote retirement. Kate and Cyrus had already created their platform and signed up with Dream Yacht Charters to act as the broker for the boat purchase by the time we connected. The boat, a brand new Lagoon 42, was supposed to be completed early- or mid-November and their vague plan was to sail it from France to the Canaries to the USVIs from mid-November to early-January. A very fun plan indeed!
I’ll admit, Phillip and I get offers to crew often at HaveWindWillTravel, which is very cool but most of them do not work with our schedule or our own cruising plans. This one, however, seemed to fit a particular niche for Phillip, the offer of an amazing journey during the holidays when his work is a bit slower. When I told Phillip about the offer—mostly in jest—one evening while cooking dinner, I was surprised by his response:
“We would complete our first Atlantic Circle,” he said.
And, I remember thinking, then and there, there was a real chance this was actually going to happen. Phillip is an avid sailor and lives for offshore sailing and once he was thinking the voyage would fit with his work schedule and offer him something that is a true bucketlist item for him—completing an Atlantic Circle by sailboat—it was very likely he would work hard to make this happen.
That was July. Only three months before Phillip and I had planned to set sail in our own boat headed eventually for Grenada. But, the more we continued to talk about Kate and Cyrus’s offer, the opportunity to cross the Atlantic Ocean again was like this luminous jewel on the horizon. Another epic voyage. Another month of amazing challenges, memories, and bonds between new friends. How do you turn that down if it’s even remotely possible?
Look at these two. The answer is you don’t.
Phillip and I figured we would have plenty of time to sail our boat all over the Caribbean in the coming years, but another Atlantic crossing with a young fun couple felt like an opportunity we could not turn down. And, we are very grateful for the commitment and work we have put toward making our lives, careers, and income as flexible as it is so that we can seize opportunities like this when they come along. Phillip was the man who initially taught me the incredibly important concept of time-value. That is, to make sure I valued experiences and time more than money and things, and it was his support and creativity that helped me begin my online marketing business (which has since grown across many avenues and platforms) that allows me to say, with resounding excitement—“YES!”—to adventures like these.
Once we began emailing, at first, then Skyping, with Kate and Cyrus to both get to know them and to discuss more details about the voyage, their travel plans, etc., Phillip and I started to get that tingly “Holy crap this is really happening” feeling. It’s a prickle beneath our skin that tells us there is one amazing, eye-opening adventure in our future. And, each conversation we had with Kate and Cyrus told us the four of us were very like-minded, in pursuit of the same goals, with a similar approach to challenges and provisioning, and collectively a very knowledgeable and fun crew. While Kate and Cyrus do not have the extent of bluewater experience that Phillip and I do, we all compliment each other in different ways. Cyrus is a mechanical engineer by trade, capable of dissecting and repairing virtually any system, with a good bit of sailing miles under his belt on he and Kate’s Precision 26 on Lake Lanier. Big plus for an offshore voyage.
Kate also grew up sailing with her father on Lake Lanier, and is an adventurous, fun-loving, talented singer and songwriter. Another huge plus for an offshore voyage. Here is Kate jamming out with her Fleetwood Mac cover band!
I can’t wait to sing a duet with her during the passage!
The four of us clicked very easily and we all had a good feeling about crew comraderie for the voyage. The good thing, though, we knew we would be spending several weeks together in France in a tight little Airbnb—a great place to see if we really did mesh well together, before shoving off for good.
Kate, Cyrus, Phillip, and I been here a week now, cooking dinners together, sharing stories, laughs, worries, concerns, and we all get along fabulously and foresee an amazing experience ahead. It’s a goal worth every 12-hour days’ work we put into it. Offshore voyaging is such a reward. And, doing it with friends and fellow sailors who share the same joy and awe of it as Phillip and I do, makes it even more memorable. We cannot wait to share this voyage with you!
Here is a fun video tour of La Rochelle—our haling port for the moment—as well as some very fun photos from Paris and our rendezvous with the infamous Captain Yannick from our first Atlantic-crossing in 2016. We are soaking up every minute of this journey and looking forward to seeing and getting on the new Lagoon 42 next week!
Pics from Par-eeh!
This guy …
Boy did we miss Yannick!
And, it was great to have such a personal and knowledgeable tour guide in Paris!
Who me? More to come about this medal of honor.
Love this man!
Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
This guy had a happy ending. Google Victor Noir Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Fun story there!
Shopping in the sail gear shop brought back some fun memories from our first Atlantic Crossing!
Ten. Thousand. I almost can’t believe it myself, but that’s my number. 10,025 to be exact. I’ve been keeping track and when Phillip and I sailed our gallant Niagara 35 back into the Pensacola Pass on our recent return from the Bahamas, it was not only a fantastic feat successfully completing another offshore voyage, it was also a pretty cool milestone for this little sailor, who began sailing only five short years ago.
Headed off on my very first offshore voyage: April, 2013
Captain Annie at the helm, returning from the Bahamas: April, 2018
Ten thousand … This calls for a ditty, no?
Five years, 5oo HaveWind posts, and one captain’s license later, and I dare say I just might call this little gal a bluewater sailor.
When Phillip first planted the seed, “I’m going to buy a boat and cruise around the world,” I immediately, without hesitation, heartily agreed! “Not without me!” was my creed.
Our very first photo at the cockpit together during our first voyage.
So, we started boat-shopping and, little did I know, the many, many new, exotic places I would go! In the bilge, in the fridge, “Get down in the engine room,” he said.
So down I went, bumping my knees, my knuckles, my head. On that boat, I’ve cursed, and sweated, and bled. There are so many, many things, you see, that have to be fixed, cleaned, fixed again, and re-bed.
But the good news is, as long as her hull, keel, and rigging are sound, you can work on her while you sail her anywhere, as long as you don’t run aground! Because the worst, absolute worst, thing you can do to a boat, is to leave her sitting stagnant, unkept and going nowhere, just sitting afloat.
Not our boat, oh no! Our beautiful Niagara, with her magnificent thirty-five feet. She’s often cast-off, sailing away, on a gentleman’s (or perhaps not-so-gentle) beat.
That wise, seasoned boat has taught Phillip and I so much about both her and the sea. Because out there, and you may not believe me, but she feels really rather small to me. The time that she grows, seems unwieldy and impossible to stop, is only when we are approaching a treacherous dock.
But out there, in bluewater, while romping and running, she seems so agile and nimble. Like a horse at the derby, impossibly stunning.
That’s where she and her crew love most to be — moving, gliding, slipping under sunsets at sea.
My heart and courage exposed, this amazing man and boat have challenged me, to push myself, try harder, learn more, travel further, set myself free!
So I did. I changed my career, my address, my focus, all so I could head out to sea. And the rewards have been limitless: Cuba, the Bahamas, Mexico, France, the Florida Keys!
All connected by big, brimming, bodies of blue, just waiting to challenge and test you, too. Each passage, each mile, will teach you something new.
Forty-six hundred of them took Phillip and I all the way across the Atlantic, with a hearty, hilarious French Captain named Yannick.
But the Gulf of Mexico, never to be out-done, over and above the Atlantic, has, thus far, won. The Gulf has handed us our most trying times, tossing and bashing us to windward, threatening to snap lines.
Thankfully the storms and rough seas generally do not last. You just have to ride it out, get the boat comfortable, and usually in twenty-four hours or less, it will pass.
And soon you’ll find yourself motoring without a lick of wind, albeit across the most beautiful glass you’ve ever seen.
And you’ll make the mistake of asking Mother Nature to blow. Just a little. Like ten to fifteen.
Or seven and a quarter, perhaps, just enough so we can be #spinning!
While a perfect passage (in our world, a nice downwind run), from shore to shore is admittedly rare, the toying, tempting promise of it is what makes us accept the dare.
Because when you get there, no matter how near or far your “dream there” might be, it’s an incredibly cool feeling to have the honor to say: “We sailed here, you see.”
And for Phillip and I, I believe one of our most memorable offshore voyages will forever be: Cuba. Because it was a trying, eye-opening, exceedingly-thrilling passage where we bypassed the Keys. And Phillip and I both felt great pride in telling people: “We sailed six hundred nautical miles, here to be.”
Hope you all have enjoyed this little sailor’s first 10,000 nautical miles here at HaveWind. Here’s to the next ten! Cheers!
Errngh, errngh! We interrupt your regularly-scheduled Bahamian program for this important announcement. Peter Nielsen with SAIL Magazine submitted an article of mine to the 2017 Boating Writers International Writing Contest and I won third place in the “Boating Adventures” category. Thank you Peter! Sitting in the cockpit one morning on Plaintiff’s Rest in Marsh Harbour, harvesting a sliver of wifi, and I never dreamed the email I would find in my box. Peter Neilsen saying: “You won!” Won what? I thought. Unbeknownst to me, Peter had submitted one of my articles from 2017 in for the contest and I took third place! I’ll take third place any day! I’ll take any place any day! I didn’t even know anything about BWI or the contest but I was so excited, when I Googled it, to see two of my favorite sailing/world-traveling idols grace the cover of the webpage. Little ole’ Annie Dike up there with the likes of people I have looked up to since I started sailing and writing: Tasha Hacker and John Kretschmer. WHOA. More info about the contest and my prize-winning article below!! Thank you, Peter Nielsen, for believing and betting on me. I couldn’t be more humbled and proud!!
Want to know which article of mine placed? Feel free to take a blind guess in a comment now and see if you get it! One hint … it had a bit of a racy title. Those are always attention-grabbing and, apparently now, contest-winning!
I remember when that article first came out in stores! I was so excited!
Want to be the judge? Feel free to read my article and let me know your opinion of how my story performed according to these BWI criteria:
How complex is the story? Does the author use solid knowledge of the subject or information from multiple sources to craft a balanced and informative piece?
Is the lead effective? Does the introduction draw the reader into the story?
Does the story flow well? Good transitions? Good structure?
Is it well researched? Accurate (or has the writer relied on press releases)?
Is there a distinctive personality? Or voice?
Effective use of language, metaphor, imagery, sentence structure?
Beyond the basics of reporting the story, is there originality? A fresh approach?
Is the story fair?
How well does the story accomplish its intended mission? Does it entertain? Educate? Inspire?
Finally, how well did the judge like it personally?
Seeing this article again, and the photos included in the layout brought back about a thousand memories. Crossing the Atlantic on a 46-foot catamaran … what an adventure. And timely to reflect on that just as Phillip and I recently made our way back across a portion of the Atlantic, crossing the Gulf Stream from the Bahamas back to Florida. We were just texting Captain Yannick via the Delorme while we were out there, telling him it reminded us of the many, many memories we made with him aboard his boat, Andanza, the first time we traveled in those blue waters. Below are all of the photos I submitted to Peter Neilsen for the article. What an incredibly challenging, rewarding, and unforgettable adventure! And now, a monument in the BWI archives! Go little French Story go!
I mean, with the name “Pensacola,” we had to at least stop and see. And then we decided December 25th it shall be! Merry Christmas in blog time followers! I hope you all are enjoying our Bahamas Voyage vicariously. Fun video and blog post for you below from our “holiday on the hook” at Pensacola Cay!
It is always so fun to go back through our photos and footage and share these stories with you. Pensacola Cay. We were destined for it, right? And boy what a beautiful little stop it was. Each island in the Abacos offered something unique and memorable. Pensacola afforded us the first stretch of clear beach and enough wind for kiting. So, it was the first time we kited on the Atlantic ocean. That is not something I’m likely to forget for a long, long time. This was our first kite spot!
For us, kiting is not just a hobby, it is a sort of freedom. As with the sailboat, you are moving, propelling forward actually, by the sheer virtue of the wind. You steer by skillfully working the kite and board together just as the boat does with the wind, keel, and rudder. It’s a powerful, sometimes frightening, but more often freeing, exciting feeling to know you are harnessing the wind. There’s no rumbling motor. No stinking fumes going into the air. Nothing but nature is moving you along.
Time for a jump-off! Annie …
Man, did you see that mega-hop?! I cleared like a foot and a half! Okay, now Phillip …
I think we have a clear winner! Man, Phillip can really fly. I’m still working on jumping. It’s just not something that is coming naturally to me. So far I can either launch and land a mega-hop (yeehaw!) or launch a huge leap and yard sale it at the end. I hate to say that kiting, just tacking back and forth and maneuvering the board without jumping, is so fun to me that I often don’t practice jumping as much as I should because it might mean I’ll lose my board, crash my kite, potentially end my session. “Over a silly jump?” my mind screams. “Nuh-uh, not this kiter!” But, I love that I can push myself to that goal anytime I want to and it’s always there: a fun, challenging reward if I attain it. This—the challenge, thrill, peacefulness, and simplicity, i.e., harnessing the wind to maneuver—along with, of course, the high-flying jumps and flips, is what draws us to kiting. And to look out the opening of that beautiful little cove at Pensacola Cay to see the Atlantic ocean! An enormous body of water that we crossed in a boat not much bigger than ours only one year ago, was a really cool feeling. Like everything is connected together—time, places, and people—by water. This was us on that same body of water, not so long ago!
The water in the Bahamas, however, while warmer than Pensacola’s mid- to low-sixties winter waters, was still a little chilly. Likely seventy degrees if I had to guess, along with air temps in the high sixties and low seventies. Definitely nice and cool for a day on the boat, but a little chilly to get wet and windy in just a bikini alone. Oh, you’re right, Phillip doesn’t always wear the bikini – ha! But we had brought all of our wet gear for this reason, so we donned what I call our “platypus suits” and didn’t let it stop us!
It was so “cold” there, Frosty came to join us!
I was kind of surprised by the landscape as well. Many of the cays in the Abacos are formed solely on limestone, so in some areas the only walkable shore is a jutty, jagged patch of very unforgiving limestone. Didn’t stop us from traversing it, but you definitely wanted to tread carefully!
We also often stumbled upon what we began to call “conch graveyards.” I, a very naive and silly Bahamian cruiser to begin with, thought all those conchs must have decided it was “their time,” so they huddled together and crawled to shore, a heaving pile of shell and slimy innards drying under the sun. I mean, how else would they all end up piled together in a collective, crumbling heap?
Yes, I know now (after the patient and kindly Phillip told me) they’re there because that is likely where a local fisherman harvested and cracked them. Ahhh … that makes more sense. A concher left them there. Yes, “conchers” are real in Annie Land. So is the blonde hair! Phillip is rather nice to put up with me. But, my very silly questions about all the intriguing things I always seem to find when we’re exploring definitely keep him entertained. As do these beautiful views. Just walking around the islands, making footprints in the sand, and picking up shells is one of our favorite pastimes.
I had thought about keeping this guy, but after holding him five minutes (which left a hand that stunk for five hours!), I decided he was never coming near our boat. Do you see that little brown dribble coming out of the bottom?
Yeah, he seemed empty when I picked him up. I mean there definitely was not a live squirmy conch in there when I peeked inside. But every time I sloshed water in and swished it out, more of this brown goo would come out and I’m sure it was his poor decaying body, but my God that stuff was potent. Sorry little man, but you’re staying with the other stinkies! We do not bring stench aboard Plaintiff’s Rest!
With “dollars” everywhere, we felt mighty rich! : )
It was also great to see our boat anchored out in the Sea of Abaco. After all the planning and prepping and work it took to get her there, it was like you could feel how happy she was to finally be floating in these beautiful green waters!
And, just our luck, a few billowing, beautiful clouds rolled in and brought us a refreshing rain storm. That’s right, for Christmas, we gave Plaintiff’s Rest a much-needed, well-deserved, indulgent freshwater rinse. I listened closely and could hear her singing during the storm. Do you know what she sang?
“Siiiiinging in the rain. I’m just siiiiinging in the rain! What a gloooorious feeling, I’m haaaaaapy again!” (That’s what she always sings when it rains ; ).
It was a well-timed, rather-welcomed rinse for the boat and all of our kite gear stacked up on the deck. And, the storm left behind a crystal clear sky for the sunset. It’s happy hour on our boat. Cheers!
And you know you’re living right when you watch the sun both set and rise every day:
I know, I know. Sunrises. Sunsets. Cocktails and bikinis. Yes, it really is just like that many days. When we’re not changing the oil on the boat, or cleaning the dinghy, or on a gas and provision run. It is paradise. Dozens of times over with each little cay you stop at in the Abacos. But, as I mentioned, each cay seemed to offer something unique that made it stand out in our memories and distinguish each cay from the other. Do you know what our favorite thing about Pensacola Cay was?
That’s right! The SIGNING TREE!! It was something Phillip had read about before we even got to the Abacos, some big tree on the back side of Pensacola Cay where boaters leave old buoys, or life rings, or pieces of driftwood (all kinds of creative nautical trinkets) often with their vessel name, the crew and the date written or painted on it.
It reminded me a lot of the sea wall at Azores which is covered with colorful paintings left behind by cruisers who have been there.
Some of the items hanging from the Signing Tree were very creative. One had a message in a bottle. Another, a carved silhouette of their boat. One, a toilet seat! I’m not kidding. And, from s/v Plaintiff’s Rest? Your very own signed copy of Salt of a Sailor, another one of my “traveling books.”
Phillip and I like to occasionally leave a book behind in a port or place where we hope one cruiser will read it then pass it along to another and another and another, so that the book gets to meet a lot of different people and see many different parts of the world. ”Go little book, go!” we often cry as we leave her behind.
“All you have to do is be a little brave and really resourceful. Happy cruising!” I wrote inside.
Then we triple-bagged her and hung her from the Signing Tree. I hope someone, somewhere, someday tells me they found the traveling Salt of a Sailor that we left at Pensacola Cay. What if the little books is still there when we go back? That would be fine too, but I’ll have to open it to see if folks are taking it to read, then putting it back! I put a little log in the front where people can leave a note with their vessel name and crew. So, it’s kind of like a “signing book” too.
We’re making some fantastic memories along the way. Hope you all enjoyed Pensacola Cay!
Next time, we’ll take you underwater on our very first colorful snorkel in the Bahamas! Stay tuned! glug, glug, glug … : )
“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?
Check expiration dates on all of those
First aid kit
Emergency underwater epoxy kit
Does the boat have a 12 volt (cigarette lighter) charger?
What spares are on board?
What fluids are on board?
Is there a repair kit for the sail?
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.?
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?
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
How many and expiration date
Smoke alarms, CO2?
How many and where?
Radio and VHF─check them
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:
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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!
“Bouncing cement really captures it.” I love that line. Because it does. It just does. “Each time water trapped between the two hulls rumbled, thundered and finally bashed its way out, I had to convince myself that we had not just hit a whale.” So true. And, yes, yes, I know that is just the offshore-on-a-catamaran experience which Phillip and I became very familiar with during our Atlantic crossing last year on Yannick’s prized 46’ Soubise Freydis, Andanza. Island hopping and on the hook, multihulls are a total floating condo, spacious and stable. But, with boats, there are always trade-offs. When Phillip and I announced last year that we would be crossing an ocean on a catamaran, many followers told us that we would “be converted.” I can assure you we were not. There’s just something about monohulls and the way they feel (and heel) under sail that we have fallen in love with. Like the fiesty little French gal we met in the Azores put it: “They dance with the ocean.” Real treat for you here followers! Many of you have often asked me and Phillip our opinion on monohulls versus multihulls. Now you can read our thoughts on the matter in my latest article in SAIL Magazine. Many thanks to Peter Nielsen and the hardworking crew at SAIL for publishing another article of mine. It means a great deal! Go grab a copy and let us know your own thoughts on mono versus multi in a comment below. Enjoy!
There they were. Dozens of bobbing boats. Striking reds to canary yellows. Their hulls glistening from the wet shine of the water. Then, hours later, they were laid over on their side in the dismal mud. Looking more dismal themselves because of it. This happened twice a day and took our breath away.
But what do I know about these seemingly disheveled boats? They must have been in shipshape! Friends, we were in Roscoff! Captain Yannick’s village back in France that we sailed to across the Atlantic Ocean from Pensacola last summer.
These photos were literally from our first few hours in France. A couple of wide-eyed ocean-crossers wandering the cobblestone streets!
And, we had the perfect built-in tour guide. Yannick himself, who took us around, showed us the fantastic, ancient churches in the downtown square, the cobblestoned streets, the beautiful waterfronts and delicious bakeries, and the even more ancient and even more fantastic castles right next to his very own home. Yes. Castles. People live in castles in France! And, before we were off to Paris, Yannick made sure we got the very best crepes Roscoff could offer.
It was a mesmerizing, humbling visit. But one of the things Phillip and I remember most about that stunning coastal village were the tides. Breathtaking tides that rose and lowered more than twenty feet at a time, twice a day. The beautiful bay we walked along every day to go get our croissant and café, a colorful, glistening pool of boats in the morning was a brown, dry lake bed of boats in the afternoon.
I’d never seen anything like it. The rather large boats were cleated to the seawall in such a fashion that they would simply sink until their hull touched bottom and then remain fastened tight and upright to the wall. The boats on mooring balls or anchor, however, out in the bay would drop down with the tide until their hulls, too, reached the bottom and fall gently to one side or the other as the water slipped away. Many of the sailboats actually had wooden props fastened to their sides to help hold them in a more upright position. They stuck off like training wheels in the mud. Can you imagine knowing your boat was going to “run aground” (although I guess that’s technically a “lay aground”) twice a day? Other than the training wheels, how would you prepare your boat for that? I’ll tell you: By keeping her shipshape.
And what does your mind automatically spout out after that? That’s right. And Bristol fashion! But do you know why?
Friends, I had the idea to write a fun blog post for you all after we finished our varnish project this summer to share some of the lessons we learned along the way. (And of course the rewards. Yes, yes. Total boat wood porn is coming I can assure you. Be excited!) I then had the idea to call it “Shipshape and Bristol Fashion” and realized I didn’t really know the origin of the phrase. You know me. I love words, and I love to learn how phrases we commonly throw around originally came to be. For example, do you know where the phrase “wet your whistle” comes from? I’ll be honest, I always thought it was because our heads are a bit whistle-shaped, with a round bulbous head and a then a thin little neck sticking off. So, I thought wetting your “whistle” (your neck and noise-maker) would mean taking a drink. As usual, I was very wrong, but happily so. Turns out, many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim or handle of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get some service.
You see? Isn’t that cool to learn? So, what about this quirky “shipshape and Bristol fashion” phrase? Phillip and I were throwing it around often during the weeks we recently spent putting many, many coats of varnish on our wood, but if I was going to write about it, I wanted to know about it. And, as a learning adventure often is, it turned out to be a very fun Aha! moment for me and a unique trip down memory lane.
The Origin of Shipshape and Bristol Fashion
Apparently over some 200 years ago, the Port of Bristol was a thriving English seaport where many large vessels came via the Bristol Channel to bring cargo to England via the Avon River. Much like Roscoff, the tidal range in the Port of Bristol was significant, rising and falling some 14 meters (45 feet) each day. Talking about having to use the Tide Tables to calculate high and low tide! Ships moored in the Port of Bristol would lay aground at low tide and, because of their keels, would fall to one side. If the cargo, goods and supplies aboard the boat were not stowed away tidily or tied down, everything tumbled and valuable cargo could be lost and spoiled. Meaning, boats that were kept tidy and in the highest standards of seamanship were considered to be “shipshape and in Bristol fashion.” I can assure you the lovely Plaintiff’s Rest isn’t quite there yet …
(as we are elbow-deep in boat projects this summer), but she will be! And, most importantly, her wood definitely is right now, as we just completed our varnish project for (hopefully) the next couple of years! Thankfully, our Niagara 35 doesn’t have a tremendous amount of wood. Frankly, for us, it seems the perfect amount. Just enough to give her a nice, classic sailboat accent but not enough to overwhelm us with the upkeep. And, we’re hopeful now, by using a new product this year (Awlwood) we’ll have to do even less upkeep on the varnish in years to come. For a brief HaveWind varnish history, we stripped the majority of our wood (the eyebrow, handrails, stern rail, grate, swim ladder steps, cockpit table, etc., everything but the companion way) bare back in 2013 and put 10 coats of Schooner’s Gold on it.
We lightly scuffed and threw a couple more coats on again in early 2015. However, this year, we knew it was time to scrape down to bare again on some pieces (particularly our eyebrow which had been flaking since last fall). But we said “Screw that, we’re going to Cuba instead!” Ha! And, it wasn’t a mistake. But, varnish was definitely high on the list this year. The handrails still looked very good. We had our local canvas guy (Tony with Coastal Canvas) make us some custom handrail covers back in 2015 and they have worked very well to protect and preserve the varnish on our handrails.
Our eyebrows, unfortunately, do not hold up as well because each time it rains, or the deck gets wet from spray or dew, the water eventually rolls down and sits until it evaporates on the top of the brow. That’s why our brow looked like this by the end of 2016:
That is definitely not Bristol fashion. Shame on you Plaintiff’s Rest crew!
Our stern rail also needed to be brought down to bare wood as it gets a lot of exposure on the back to spray and rain with no protection.
While we were pleased with the Schooner’s Gold we had used in 2013, Brandon with Perdido Sailor told us about a new product that he had been hearing good things about: Awlwood made by Awlgrip.
Brandon said he’d heard if applied right and enough coats, this stuff can hold up for three years before it even needs light coats in between. What did we say? Heck yeah! While wet wood on a boat is pretty, brightwork is not our favorite thing to do. So, we were excited about trying out this new product. While the application process was a bit tedious (because the product is designed to chemically bond with the wood, that’s what apparently makes it last so long), Phillip and I were very pleased with the end-product, the color, coats and glassy look and we’re optimistic that it will last as long as promised. We applied two primer coats (which had to cure 24 hours in between), two initial gloss coats (which also had to cure 24 hours in between), then an additional eight gloss coats two a day (just for good measure). We also scuffed and re-applied a few preventative coats of Schooner’s Gold on everything else (the handrails, companionway, grate and cockpit table). For now, the varnish on the entire boat is done. The wood is glassy and stunning and, on the outside at least, we’re proud to say Plaintiff’s Rest is in shipshape and Bristol fashion:
Now that the project is behind us, we’d like to share with you …. (drumroll please):
Our Lessons Learned and Top 10 Varnish Tips
1. Be a good stripper!
While we have heard there are products out there that help release old varnish from the wood, we’ve found a five-in-one scraper and some heat is the easiest method. Elbow grease is usually your best friend. But for varnish that is still really thick (like on our boat the section of the eyebrow that is protected under the dodger), I put about 15 seconds of heat on it until the varnish bubbles, then it comes right off.
2. Filling Cracks & Gouges
Unfortunately, one of the bad things about stripping with a five-in-one tool is the occasional gouge in the wood. While this didn’t happen to us often, I’ll admit to taking out a few chunks when I was heavy in the stripping. Sorry gal! But, aside from the occasional gouge, we also had a few cracks in our eyebrow and stern rail that we wanted to fill and smooth out before varnishing. We could have used wood putty but Brandon recommended just filling them with epoxy for a much heartier fix, so we did that.
I was worried at first, however, that the epoxy would show through the Awlwood because our epoxy patches were so dark, almost brownish-black. But, after nearly a dozen Awlwood coats all told, they completely blended and the wood now looks smooth and the color uniform.
3. Washing the Teak
The wood prep process for the Awlwood was, I’ll admit, a bit tedious but it should be well worth it if that stuff really sticks for three years. We had to strip the wood down completely bare and wash it.
Yes, wash the teak. And it was crazy to see how much orange came out of it. Like we were literally washing the orange oils out. And it was so sad and grey afterward, I was afraid it wouldn’t get back to that beautiful teak hue (but never fear, it did!). At Brandon’s recommendation, we used a half-gallon of ammonia with a half-gallon of water, a couple tablespoons of Cascade dishwasher detergent and a squirt of Dawn and it worked like a charm. We washed our brow and stern rail a few times scrubbing with a Scotch Brite pad against the grain of the wood.
4. Ditch the Tape!
While Phillip and I thought we were doing a great job back in 2013 carefully taping off all of our handrail bases and the eyebrow so we could varnish without leaving a drop on the deck, we wrong … so very wrong.
It was way harder (and took weeks longer) to pull and pick all the tiny little flecks of blue tape that remained after we’d finished varnishing. You can see them here around the handrail base as the tape would tear when we were pulling it off.
Now, did we make a mistake in leaving that tape out for a couple of weeks in rain and weather (which caused it to deteriorate and meld to the boat)? Yes, but the varnish, itself, that seeped onto it around the handrail bases and under the brow also caused it to adhere to the boat. And it didn’t even prevent all of the leaks onto the deck anyway. I spent many afternoons on anchor with a dental pick trying to get all of the little blue flecks and yellow varnish drops off. And, the worst part. The tape pulled chunks of white paint off of our port lights, making them look very un-Bristol like!
No more tape! Now we just paint carefully and keep a little wet tray of acetone- (or brushing liquid)-soaked Q-tips nearby while painting to catch any accidental dribbles. It’s really not that hard to not get it on the deck, or wipe it up quick if you do. We will never tape again!
5. Watch the Weather
But, even if you do, it’s going to rain. Trust me, it just is. It’s like washing your car. The minute you check the weather, decide you’re safe and get a good, wet coat on, thunderheads will start to appear. You’ll hear rumbles in the distance. And you’ll start frantically fanning or blowing on your wood hoping it will cure in time to fend off those mean little rain drops. But if, like us, you decide to put on many, many coats, there’s just a chance one time, right after you put a coat on, it’s going to rain!
“Fight back varnish! Hold the line!” we would tell it. And, two things we were pleased to see with the Awlwood: 1) the further we got into the coats, the quicker they began to dry (sometimes in just under 15 minutes), and 2) even if you did happen to get a light drizzle that left little pockmarks in your last coat, it was easy to sand down and lay another coat on.
6. Watch the Dew!
This was a bit of a new one for us. Because we’ve been doing boat projects around our somewhat normal day jobs, we were rising very early in the morning to get one coat of varnish on in the a.m., then returning in the afternoon/evening to get another coat on before nightfall. I will say, it did become a very nice routine seeing the sun rise over our girl’s stern every morning. Good morning pretty girl!
But, coming to the boat to do varnish in the early hours meant we often found our boat covered in drops of dew.
While that’s no big deal–just dry the wood and varnish–where we made a mistake was to just wipe the wood, not the entire deck. We often found then, while we were laying on a coat (and walking around the boat causing her to list from one side to the other), the rest of the drops on the deck would converge and come running down to our wet varnish in little streams leaving dried drop marks behind later. So, if you’re going to do the dew, make sure you dry the entire deck too.
7. Our Thoughts on Awlwood
As I mentioned, this was our first time using the Awlwood product. While the prep process and application guide were a bit of a headache, I’m thinking it’s going to be well worth it in the end. The first two coats we did were the primer and we could tell as we applied them how well they were truly bonding with the wood. The color immediately stayed “wet” and the primer left the visible grain of the wood behind which told me it wasn’t just coating but actually seeping deep down in.
Then the first few coats of the gloss started to bring out just a touch of shine.
But after all layers were applied the brow was just as glassy as the handrails and we could tell from a close inspection of the wood how truly thick the Awlwood varnish on her really is. I don’t think we’ll have water intrusion, even on the top of the brow, for a very long time!
Another nice benefit of the Awlwood product Phillip has told me is that if you get a nick in the varnish later (say something hits the brow and knocks a chuck out down to the wood), unlike Schooner’s varnish you can fill the nick with Awlwood gloss and essentially “varnish it away” without having to go down to all bare wood again. This is because the primer remains bonded with the wood, so only the gloss coats can be chipped and they can also be repaired without having to go through the entire process again. That’s pretty cool!
8. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
At least don’t sweat it out doing it outside … if you don’t have to. If you have a home, condo, garage, shed, etc. where you can set up all the portables to do coats inside, that makes it so much nicer than sweating it out doing in the hot sun on the boat. It also allows you to get more coats on after sunlit hours or when it’s raining or wet outside.
Man look at the mirror shine on the table! You can literally read the Schooner’s can in the varnish!
Sorry … I get a little excited about wet wood! ; )
One thing we do NOT paint inside anymore, though? Is these!
Our stinking swim step ladders! Why? Because we decided to …
9. Get a Little Plasteak With It
I know, I know. We’re supposed to be purists, mostly. While we do love the wood on our boat and are happy to do a little varnish work every few years to keep it looking its utmost Bristol-ey, these guys were just “Killing us Smalls!” As you all know, we have a boat for a reason. We love the water. We love to sail. We love to kite-surf. And, we love to swim. Which means our swim ladder spends a good bit of time in the water when we’re out on the hook. And we found, even when we stripped these down bare and slapped something like 12 coats of Schooner’s on, that within just 6 months (only 6?!), they were already starting to flake and turn yellow. Phillip and I finally said “screw it” and ordered up some Plasteak steps for the swim ladder last fall.
They look totally fine next to the varnish on the stern rail and we have never regretted the decision. Our steps still look absolutely brand new going on about a year and a half now.
9. “I’d Do Ten”
And you have to say that in a “Brandon voice” — all gruff and scratchy. We love that guy.
Ironically, speaking of Roscoff, that was an open-mouth selfie (Yannick’s favorite) that we took to send to Yannick in Nice, France.
And, we’ve been saying that for years. Anytime the number ten comes up in conversation, Phillip and I cock our head back and blurt it out: “I’d do ten.” Why? Because that’s what Brandon told us waaaaay back (he’s been with us from the start) in 2013 when we were just starting our very first varnish project. Phillip and I were ordering up our Schooner’s, researching application methods, etc., having no idea entirely how big the project was going to be or how many coats we would put on. I’m sure we were both thinking something like three to five. Then we asked Brandon and, after a thoughtful pause, he said “I’d do ten.”
I’m sure that’s what Phillip and I both looked like. Ten?! Are you for freaking real?? But, he most definitely was. And, so that’s how many we did the first time. And this time, we really kind of did 12 because we did two primer coats and then an additional 10 coats of gloss. But, what we learned in varnishing is that the prep work is really the hardest part. Once the wood is ready, slapping the coats on is nothing. Sometimes it only takes a quick, rewarding 15 minutes at the boat. And, if you’re going to take the time to prep the wood, why not spend just another couple of days putting ten coats on as opposed to just six or seven. You’ll be glad you did two years later when your varnish is still Bristol and banging! At least that’s our mantra. Plaintiff’s Rest’s wood is most definitely in shipshape and Bristol fashion now and we’re expecting her to stay that way for a couple of years at least. Hope these varnish tips have helped. Happy Painting Peeps!
Man … I look a little TOO excited! But, it is exciting! Another article penned by Yours Truly, Author Annie, in SAIL Magazine, this time their Multihull Sailor edition, covering our Atlantic-crossing in 2016 on the esteemed Captain Yannick’s 46′ Freydis. I had a lot of fun with this one from start (catchy title, no? ; ) to finish, tying together a memorable moment from each of our thirty days at sea across the Atlantic Ocean. I have included the complete text from the article below so you can read at your leisure, but definitely pick up a copy when you get a chance and see what a great job the folks at SAIL Magazine did with the photos and eight-page layout.
Phillip and I also had a great time making and sending Captain Yannick a fun video letting him know about the article (it was a total surprise) and how it appears he’s right up there with the Vagabonds now. Mr. Big Time!
There she goes, crossing the Atlantic Ocean herself, off to Nice, France to find her way into Yannick’s hands. Go, little magazine. Go! Let us know when she arrives Yannick!
Without further adieu … I give you:
FIRST TIME WITH A FRENCHMAN:
A Virgin Crew Sails a Catamaran from Florida to France
Dolphins and diesel fumes. A blood orange moon rising on starboard as the muffler melts on port. A taut, glowing veil before a sun that will shine down later on its wet, shredded remains. We were thirty days at sea. A virgin ocean-crossing crew aboard a French-built multi-hulled rocket, bashing our way non-stop from Florida to France. That was the plan anyway, before the tide came in. The actual unscripted voyage, however, with all of its detours and unexpected deviations, proved infinitely more memorable than our foolish man-made scheme as daily it was feats and failures and one of the most exciting, exasperating experiences of our lives.
In the Days Before One: Fate has twisted plans for our French Captain. With both retirement as a fighter pilot in the French Navy and his family’s next chapter as live-aboard cruisers on the horizon, Yannick has one solitary goal in mind: sail his 2005 46’ Soubise Freydis single-handed, non-stop from Pensacola, Florida home to Roscoff, France. Fate, laughing, devastates his boat with a lightning strike that suffers Yannick six costly months at the yard but also an impressive re-fit and a loyal, motley bunch to serve as his Atlantic-crossing crew.
Crew emerges first in the form of Johnny, a weathered sailor and diesel engine mechanic who helps Yannick repair his engines and who—at 71, still surprisingly healthy and with bucket in hand—seeks to scratch “cross the ocean” off his list. My boyfriend, Phillip, and I—slugging away on a devastating re-fit of our own Niagara 35 at the yard—catch wind the Frenchman on the freaky-looking cat is taking on crew and shamelessly ask for passage. Having crossed only in cavernous carrier ships to remote, scorned places in his youth as a U.S. Marine, Phillip is chasing his lifelong dream to cross the pond in a small boat. A tomboy turned lawyer turned “this sucks, I quit” vagabond so I can seize the very type of opportunity a trans-at affords, I sign on for fist-clenching adventure and blue water experience. Two weeks from cast-off, the newly-formed crew scrambles to replace blown windows, step the mast, test new sails and pack the cat with thirty days’ worth of food, safety gear and supplies in the sweltering Florida May heat.
Day One: Heat pours out of the starboard engine locker as Yannick lifts the lid two hours out of the Pensacola Pass, with the high temp alarm still ringing in the crew’s ears. Boiling the extracted thermostat reveals impaired coolant flow and installation of a new one affords us a slightly high, but steady temp on the Lombardini albeit with a “lot of piss,” I note. The Captain finds it comforting enough to keep motoring across the glassy Gulf and amusing that the first language I start to pick up on is Diesel, not French.
Day Two: “It’s French for ‘Cheers,’” Yannick tells us as the crew “Santés” over an immaculate steak dinner in the cockpit. The motoring, while monotonous, affords us beautiful satin sunsets in the cockpit and leisurely time for quid pro quo French-English lessons. “Well how should I say it?” Yannick asks when I snort at his post-dinner inquiry of “How are you going to clean your dirty body?” Chuckling, I reply, “Would you like to take a shower?”
Day Three: Showers of glitter trail behind them as they zip and glide through the dark waters below the bow. Yannick and I forge a lifelong memory during a midnight shift change when we are mesmerized by a pod of dolphins slicing through phosphorescence. Forty-six feet away from the chugging engine on starboard, their breathy puffs and water lapping on the hull are the only things we can hear.
Day Four: “Did you hear an oil alarm?” Johnny asks, raising his head and greasy hands out of the starboard engine locker, a silk sheet of saltwater behind him, trying to figure out why, at 5:06 a.m., the starboard engine shut down on its own. Replacing a clogged fuel filter proves an easy engine fix. Making drinkable water with a faulty water-maker proves not and starts the slow parade of minor equipment failures and boiling of the Captain’s blood.
Day Five: Blood rains down from the fighting tuna on his hook as Phillip thunders “Fish on!” to the crew. Soon, boat sushi is bouncing in our bellies during a swift, sweaty two-hour stop in Key West for fuel, ice, water, “And a not so crappy can opener!” Yannick shouts, orchestrating our pillage from the boat as the crew shoots into the town like darts.
Day Six: Rain darts into Yannick’s eyes at the mast while he directs the crew’s first attempt reefing as a squall off the tip of Florida brings winds over thirty on the port beam. A merely intense but brief storm proves fortuitous as the crew learns their many mere discussions about safe practices did not serve them near as well as drills would have. The afternoon is spent doing reefing drills where the Captain has made separate reefing instructions for each crew member and taped them up at his/her designated post.
Day Seven: “Post A connects to Post B,” Yannick reads from yet another manual. I watch in half-admiration, half-exhaustion as the Captain flutters from one boat project to the next, cleaning out the elbow of the starboard engine exhaust, tapping new holes in the water pump, even sawing a chunk out of our only cutting board to make a mount for the windex that allows it to account for the fancy rotating mast on the Freydis. “That’s fine,” our head chef, Phillip, grunts from the galley. “If you use it all, I’ll just cut on the counters.”
Day Eight: Cans jump on the counters. Teeth jar in mouths. The bashing of the water on the hulls of the catamaran is like a nervous system message so strong it bypasses your brain. Muscles flinch without instruction. The crew grows accustomed but never comfortable with it. When two hundred nautical miles are slaughtered in a day, we know: with the bashing comes bumpy but beneficial speed.
Day Nine: “It is used, primarily, for speed,” Yannick says, trying simultaneously to learn and teach the crew the purpose of his rotating mast, one with so much windage it can be trimmed like a sail. Strictly monohull sailors, the crew stares at him dumbly, not nearly as intrigued by the ability to use the mast as a fourth reef as the initial inquiry that started this free physics lesson: With a rotating mast, what happens if you overtighten the shrouds?
Day Ten: The shrouds continue their murderous shudder with each crash of the boat. As non-catamaran sailors, the crew knows not how tight the shrouds on a Freydis should be but, as mere sailors, they know they should not be so loose as to vibrate and clang to their death with each romp of the boat through the Atlantic. The Captain sends satellite messages to professionals, checks hourly the chain plate on the port side and tears through texts on rig tuning.
Day Eleven: “Tuning must be done very slowly,” Johnny and I chuckle to ourselves, cotter pins in our teeth, wrenches in trembling hands, as we tighten the shuddering shrouds on each side the following morning and wonder how anyone could possibly do this quickly. Coupling this “slowly” advice from a rigger back home with a turnbuckle thread measurement from the previous owner, Yannick supervises the rig tuning and we slowly ease the shuddering of the rig underway.
Day Twelve: While underway on a cat, it is a myth you do not have to stow anything. Bowls slosh off counters. Wine glasses topple (but are quickly refilled) as the crew members “Cheers!” a record 243 nautical-mile day and peak boat speed of 19.5 knots. Steady winds of twenty-three and eight to ten-foot rolling seas entrance as the catamaran climbs and skids down each magnificent wave.
Day Thirteen: “Magnificent,” Yannick sneers as he eyes the melted end of the muffler Johnny has extracted off the port engine at dawn. Phillip and I now know we were wrong in thinking the eased winds and smooth motoring the night before had been a gift as we now cough up plastic melted fumes while clambering out from our port berth. Undeterred, Yannick earns his “MacGyver certificate” for the trip by reassembling the melted exit point of the muffler with the PVC tiller extender arm for his outboard, a blow torch and some hose clamps.
Day Fourteen: Hands clamp and tug the head of the spinnaker as she billows ethereal and enormous in the water behind the starboard transom. Her halyard cinched only in the winch but not clutched at the mast allows the sinister waters of the Atlantic to suck her down between the hulls and drag her all the way back to the stern. Yannick, in a sacrificial attempt to salvage both the sail and the rudder on starboard, emerges blood-spackled, dripping on its remains splayed out on the trampoline, wet, twinkling and tattered.
Day Fifteen: “Tattered glittery skirts,” I hear Yannick telling Phillip as he hunts for a hard drive. Mourning the loss of our spinnaker, Yannick claims, will be eased by a video he and the other wearisome pilots used to watch during long hours on the carrier ship. It is a four-hour rendering of the glittered, scantily-clad, cosmetically-enhanced women who populate the neon-lit night clubs of Ibiza, and he is right. We find ourselves immensely comforted by thumping pink panties.
Day Sixteen: “They’re my Paris panties,” I explain as Yannick eyes a pair of rather fifth-grade looking underwear with little Eiffel Towers and “Bonjour’s” on the lifelines. “I bought them special for the trip,” I say with a smile as Laundry Day proves special bonding time for the crew and reminds us all how truly few blue-water days we have left.
Day Seventeen: Left, only left. It freezes the wheel only when Yannick turns left. The ten-year old electronic auto-pilot on the cat starts to show its first signs of wear when it refuses to disengage when de-powered and allows steering only to the right in what the Captain dubs “ratchet-fashion.”
Day Eighteen: “Hand me a ratchet.” Yannick’s requests come muffled from the starboard engine locker as the auto-pilot’s housing refuses him any attempt for disassembly or repair underway. Auto-Turn-Notto will die. Soon. All we can do is watch and listen as each mechanical movement of the wheel is followed by a grind and squeal.
Day Nineteen: “Whee!” I can’t help it. Gleeful squeals leak out of me at the top of each wave. The boat moves underneath me like a stallion galloping at speeds equal to the 22-knot winds that hold during my entire night shift. But when a wave kicks the the stern out and shoves us almost ninety degrees off our heading, the thought that it might soon fall on me to right us, I stop squealing and decide to get my bearings.
Day Twenty: Bearings and bolt threads that were once intact and operating in the cavity of the auto-pilot now pour out into a pile of metal dust on the salon table. “R.I.P. Auto” reads the log book as I head up to hold my first night shift hand-steering. “Dress warm. Wear gloves,” Phillip warns.
Day Twenty-One: Warning him we “should not do it” would have been better, but the crew knee-jerks initially and simply tells the Captain we “can do it” as he struggles to decide whether to hand-steer the remaining eight or nine days to France versus stopping in two days when we reach the Azores to repair the auto-pilot. A stern discussion between the fighter pilot and the Marine results in a wise decision to stop our non-stop voyage mid-Atlantic.
Day Twenty-Two: “Mid-Atlantic Yacht Services,” she answers over the sat phone as the crew books a slip at Horta Marina and schedules auto-pilot repairs with MAYS fifteen hours out from the Azores. Morale soars as we see whales and our first sighting of land in sixteen days and immediately tanks when bad injectors on the starboard engine cause it to shut down an hour out from port.
Day Twenty-Three: I’m on port with the big “boat-saver” fender as we shove off from the hundreds of colorful, weathered boat insignia on the Horta dock. After nine incredible days downing beers at Peter Café Sport, exploring volcanos, and indulging on impossibly fresh cheese and beef from the very cows chewing cud and watching you eat from the hillside, we leave the Azores under port engine alone but steer our catamaran north to France by daintily clicking buttons on a screen.
Day Twenty-Four: The screen lights our faces as the crew indulges in book after book, movie after movie, matinees, even double features in beautiful fifteen knot winds on the stern. Crossing an ocean with a functioning auto-pilot makes even devil’s work too much for our idle hands.
Day Twenty-Five: My hands are tied. Yannick has outright busted me. “Oh, it’s a time change day,” he says in a mocking high-pitched voice. “Oh, we need to conveniently jump forward an hour again during Annie’s shift again,” as he squints his evil French eyes at me. Putain! Time change occurs during Phillip’s shift that day and I take revenge by choosing My Cousin Vinny as the movie that night as it seemed, among our rather impressive 500GB hard-drive of movies, the most … American.
Day Twenty-Six: “Try not to act so American.” Yannick advises us as we approach Roscoff. “No selfies, eat slow, wait for the check, and don’t revert to Spanish when you can’t recall your French” he looks at me. “We know the difference.” Fun, lighthearted discussions about our expected arrival in two days seem to jinx us as the day ends with a rather harrowing hoist of the Captain up his seventy-two foot mast after the main sail came flying down on its own inexplicably around dusk. We suspect the topping lift, inadvertently left taut, may have chafed through the main halyard. This mystery, however, is instantly tabled when the Captain’s descent brings worse news: the rig is compromised. The troubling shuddering of the shrouds earlier in the trip has caused five of the sixteen wires on the starboard shroud to snap just below the swage at the mast. Worried a wind-filled main or worse, change to a starboard tack, could dismast us, the crew decides to remain on a port tack, flying only the genny for the remainder of the now four- to five-day trip. Yannick spends the night poring over rigging textbooks and catamaran specs.
Day Twenty-Seven: Yannick spends the morning documenting potential cracks at the base of the mast and re-tightening the spinnaker halyard we ran to a starboard cleat in case the shroud goes. I find him later standing in silence, his heavy head laid against the bulkhead in his berth. The crew tries to rally le capitaine with the cinematic masterpiece that is Hot Tub Time Machine and succeeds when we settle upon Yannick’s mantra for the trip—“I’m on my waa-ay. Home sweet home!”—blasted at decibels that could be heard from Roscoff, rounding out the movie’s final score.
Day Twenty-Eight: I score no sympathy points from the Captain in my plight as I pass him at 2:00 a.m., flashlight in hand, on my way to the port engine locker. I can’t decide whether I want to prove or disprove my mind’s wild concoction—down in the auditory carnival that is my berth—that the port engine has become submerged, fallen out and left a gaping hole in the hull of the boat. Yannick laughs when I seem vexed at the sight of a completely safe, dry engine and says, “Tonight, I’ve only slept twenty minutes.”
Day Twenty-Nine: Twenty ships surround us in the English Channel. The radar screen that has offered only an empty halo around our boat for weeks is now filled with dozens of vessels. The excitement of the night shift is bittersweet as we all know it is our last on this trip. In an amazing show of endurance and inspiration, the boat and Captain, equally tired and compromised, carry on, both fighting their way to France.
Day Thirty: Fighter pilots scream by in a heroic show of unity seeing their former comrade coming home by way of sailboat across the Atlantic Ocean. Yannick waves heartily at them from the bow, his smile so big I can see it from the stern. A small crowd cheers as the crew and boat see it, the finish line, the final feat in sight as we prepare to dock the gallant Freydis in Roscoff. Yannick’s son’s is the first voice we hear in France as his small, powerful pipes rip through the air: “Bonjour Papa!”
Ahoy crew! A real treat for you here. An interview with our very own Captain Yannick from our Atlantic-crossing on a 46′ catamaran in June of 2016. After all of the photos, stories, blog posts, even a two-hour movie that I have produced talking about our ocean-crossing, Yannick said he needed to “set the record straight.” Ha! He was really happy to do this interview, though, as it was an incredible adventure, such a learning process and an eye-opening experience, it’s definitely worth talking about. Yannick is also a very interesting, multifaceted guy with a lot of great insight and perspective and he shares a lot in this discussion about his boat-shopping process, recovering from the lightning strike and his thoughts and preparation for an ocean-crossing. Thank Jeffrey Wetting with Shooting the Breeze Podcast for putting this together by leaving him a review on iTunes. I hope you enjoy the interview.
Many thanks to Yannick again for letting Phillip and I and the infamous Johnny Walker join him for a life-changing, challenging, fulfilling voyage across the ocean. It brought back many memories hearing his French accent talking about our trip. We miss you Yannick!