Is Spam in the Bahamas really $9.00? Find out in the November issue of SAIL Magazine, featuring an article by Yours Truly! Peter Nielsen over at SAIL asked me a while back for a piece with tips on preparing for a trip to the Bahamas. So, Phillip and I put our heads together and came up with a few key factors to consider when prepping for the Bahamas and what provisions and supplies we would recommend stocking the boat with. For us, it all started with the Explorer charts. Those are a must! I hope you all grab a copy of the November issue soon and let me know what you think of the article. Many thanks to the hard-working crew over at SAIL Magazine for putting this one together. We love it!
And, stay tuned next time as we will be announcing our cruising plans this winter in a fun new video next week. You’ll never guess where we’re going!! : D
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.
“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!
Provisioning for passage. Stowing goods on the boat (according to weight). Power conservation while underway. Watch schedules. Sleep arrangements. You name it. A ton of good, hopefully helpful info for you all while we are preparing our boat to shove off for Cuba in just SEVEN days. Feel free to add any of your own offshore preparation tips in a comment below and follow us along on our voyage on our HaveWind Facebook Page where we will post MapShare updates and our GPS location via the Delorme. Become a Patron for personal messaging capabilities so you can talk with us during the voyage, get up to date photos and video posts as soon as we get wifi and join us in Key West for a Patron Party when we get back from Cuba. Oh the stories we will tell!
ERRNNGH. ERRNGH. We interrupt your regularly-scheduled program for this important announcement:
Phillip and I just filed our Permit to Enter Cuba!
Hey crew! I thought I would take a short break from the Atlantic-crossing saga to get you all a bit up-to-date with our current planning for the Cuba trip this winter and what’s been going on with the boat. Patrons are already aware of this through their weekly “Patron’s Extras,” but since they’re getting the complete 2-HOUR Trans-At movie tomorrow, I figured they wouldn’t mind me sharing again with you all here ; ). Let’s dig in.
Our New Rig:
So, the second mast pull. That’s coming out on the video this Friday, the reason for it and what we learned in the process. While it was very disheartening news for Phillip and I to hear, just a few short weeks after we had splashed back from spending the winter on the hard, it ended up (as most things that initially appear to be set-backs) being a not-so-devastating hurdle and another great learning experience for the two of us. I had a lot of fun making this week’s video on it and watching Video Annie go up the mast time and again as well as flail and kick and curse at the top. That’s just pure fun. I hope you all enjoy the video and learn a little in the process.
Going through all of that footage also inspired me to make another video for you all soon covering everything Phillip and I have learned both in the shipyard and with the second mast pull about how to DIY inspect, repair and even replace (if necessary) your rigging. Wait till you see what happened with our new hi-mod mechanical fittings …
You’ll see in the next two videos that, unbeknownst to us, our re-rig was not yet complete when we left the shipyard back in March, but after some more sweaty DIY hours were devoted, she is NOW officially done, stronger than ever and ready to take us to Cuba and anywhere else we want to go over the next ten years.
Heavy Weather Sail Planning:
Once we got all the new rigging in order, our next step was our sail plan. We wanted to make sure we had all possible options for sailing in heavy winds in case we found ourselves in a serious storm out in the Gulf, this was primarily important as we recently decided to sail straight to Cuba when we toss the lines this December. Cuba is the destination we want most to reach and explore this winter and while we’ve hopped along the west coast of Florida before (and love it), this time Phillip and I want to undertake and accomplish our longest offshore passage just the two of us. We also want to get to Cuba as soon as safely possible, so it is the destination of priority. If the Atlantic-crossing did anything for me and Phillip, it was to confirm our mere belief at the time that we would enjoy long offshore passages. We LOVED each of the 4,600 nautical miles we covered from Florida to France, and we are excited to put those kinds of blue-water miles under our own hull, just the two of us.
So, we’re going to do it. Toss the lines in Pensacola and shoot straight for Cuba in (hopefully) a safe, smooth five-day run, our longest yet on the Niagara. The best way to ensure we have a safe passage is to make sure we, the boat and our sails are ready for whatever Mother Nature sees fit to throw out us out there in the sometimes tumultuous, unpredictable Gulf. Hence, the heavy weather sail planning:
Our main sail on the boat is rather new. We replaced it in early 2014 in anticipation of our sail to the Florida Keys that spring.
We had two reefs in the main, rigged with one line at the mast that pulls the tack down to both Reef 1 and Reef 2 from the cockpit, as well as two separate lines that pull the main down to Reef 1 and Reef 2 at the clew, also operated from the cockpit. We have been very pleased with this system as we marked each of the lines the spot for Reef 1 with blue tape and Reef 2 with red tape. That way we just drop the main to its mark then pull the reef lines to theirs, all from the cockpit, making the procedure fast and safe.
One additional option we wanted to add, however, was a third reef point in our main sail for the Cuba trip. It was actually John Kretschmer—in a seminar he gave at the Miami Boat Show we went to back in February, 2015—who said: “The first thing I always do when I’m prepping a boat for delivery across the Atlantic is have the owner put a third reef in the main.” That has stuck with Phillip and I ever since—as did many things Kretschmer said (like how much fun it is to cross the Atlantic going east on the northern route, that particularly influenced Phillip’s decision to join as crew on Andanza this past June). Once again, thank you Kretschmer for sharing your sailing knowledge and experience.
With this advice in mind, Phillip and I got with our local sailmaker—Hunter with Schurr Sails in Pensacola—and talked to him about putting a third reef in our main. I also got a really cool tour of his sail loft in the process. Don’t worry, this will all be coming out in a “How to Rig Your Boat for Heavy Weather Sailing” video soon.
We got the main back from Hunter two weeks ago and took it out to Ft. McRee where we raised her up to the third reef to get a feel for how much (or should I say how little) sail that is and re-ran the reefing lines back in ourselves (a good lesson). It was cool to truly understand how these systems work in order to repair or re-configure them if need be while we are underway.
Case in point, one of the things Hunter told us about the third reef he put in the main was that (in anticipation of heavy weather) we could re-run the reefing lines to be able to pull down to the 2nd and 3rd reef from the cockpit (as opposed to the 1st and 2nd as it is run now) and we can do that now that we have learned how the reefing lines are run. Alternatively, Phillip and I have also discussed merely using sturdy nylon straps or ties around the boom to tie in the 3rd reef, a fool-proof time-tested method but also one that must be executed up on deck, potentially in heavy weather, so we may follow our sailmaker’s advice and run the 2nd and 3rd reef ahead of time. These are all contingencies we are trying to think through and plan for ahead of time in case we do find ourselves in heavy weather in the Gulf, but it is neat to see some of the things we are learning while merely out-rigging our boat for offshore sailing that will translate to some seriously-handy skills when we’re out there cruising.
We also had Hunter make us a new storm sail. In 2014, also in prep for the trip to the Keys, we had our local rigger make us an inner forestay—out of rugged, durable line—that we can rig up for heavy weather (enabling our sloop rig to convert into a cutter). We merely have to hoist Annie up. (It’s a good thing she loves to climb the mast!)
I attach the inner forestay at the mast, then we attach it here to the foreward D-ring on the deck via an adjustable turnbuckle to really tighten her down.
After we had the inner forestay rigged up in 2014, we raised our “storm sail” (from the previous owner) for the first time and Phillip found it was really far too big and flimsy to be considered a heavy weather sail. We were surprised to find it stretched all the way back beyond the mast and seemed to be too thin of a material to proclaim itself capable of handling heavy winds. When I took it to Hunter at Schurr Sails, looking at it and the bag, he thought it was a genoa for a Hunter 30, not in any way a “storm sail.” Go figure.
But, as cruisers we try to never waste! So, Phillip had the ingenious idea to see if Hunter could convert this sail into a back-up genoa that could furl around our forestay by taking off the hanks at the luff and sewing in a the proper bead that would enable it to run up our foils on the forestay. We knew from experience (when our genny halyard exploded on our way to Ft. Myers in 2014 and our genny fluttered uselessly to the deck) that it can be very frustrating to lose the ability to use such a powerful sail.
While that incident was the result of a failure of the halyard, we know there is always the possibility our genoa might get snagged, ripped or otherwise irreparably damaged during our sail to Cuba and, if that occurs, it will be good to have a sail we can hoist in her stead, even if it’s not near as big or powerful. It’s like having a spare in case you have a blow-out. It will at least get you home (or to port). Hunter said this would be no problem and he whipped it up for us, so we now have a back-up genny.
Regarding the storm sail, we had to decide how big (or I guess the real question is how small) we really wanted it. Did we want a (as Hunter called it) “God Help Us” sail that was only 25% of the inner forestay triangle, or a 50% sail that would make us more comfortable in 20+ knot winds but still afford us enough speed to control the boat to get the heck out of a storm?
Decisions, decisions … It was a tough call as Phillip and I are definitely—after our incredible first ocean-crossing this past June—planning on crossing the Atlantic in our boat sometime in the next couple of years, so we do want gear for our boat that serves us well both on our voyage this winter as well as longer, more blue water voyages in the years to come. We decided on a compromise and had Hunter make us a 35% sail (10oz Dacron cross-cut) that we hope will be just what we need for the Gulf-crossing this December as well as ocean-crossings in the coming years. We haven’t pulled and tested that one out yet, but Hunter finished it last week and Video Annie was obviously excited to have it in the backseat of the car.
A New Dinghy:
Phillip and I have been in need of a new dinghy for quite some time. For those of you who have read my first salty saga, Salt of a Sailor, you know all-too-well what happened to our first dinghy—a fantastic 6-seater Caribe model WITH a 2-stroke, 15 hp outboard that we never got to use. For those of you curious, check out the book on Amazon or email me for a free eCopy. It’s a whale of a tale.
All I will say is we will never do davits … Thankfully for our first summer on the boat, our buddy Brandon with Perdido Sailor (he’s been there for us right from the start) loaned us a 4 person collapsible Achilles that has served us very well over the last few years for coastal cruising.
Ain’t she a beaut? Thanks again B!
After our never-doing-that-again experience with davits and our experience with the loaner from Brandon, Phillip and I have found that we like a dinghy that can broken down and stowed below decks, particularly when we’re making a long offshore passage. We like clean decks (as we spend a lot of time sitting up on the deck while underway, most often in our awesome Sport-a-Seats!).
Remember they’ll give you a 15% discount if you use Promo Code HWWT2015! Woot! Woot!
We also like the fact of not having another item we need to strap down and secure on deck in case we get into rough seas. Having a dinghy that travels below decks is definitely preferred for us, so far. When we start traveling and island hopping more (with the ability to tow our dinghy more often) we may change our minds, but at this juncture Phillip and I believe the stow-able dinghy suits us best. And, the one Brandon had lent us—while it was a little small, probably would have suited us just fine for our cruising this winter—but the floor of the darn thing kept leaking. Keep in mind, this dinghy is 15 years old, has been packed and unpacked (by Phillip and I alone) and run up on the beach more times than I can count. So, she’s definitely paid her dues. Trying to prolong her “borrowed time,” however, Phillip and I spent the better part of last summer patching her eighteen times at one point,
and even trying to float the bottom with GFlex in order to stop the leaks. (Brandon thought that was pretty funny.)
No dice. She was still taking on water. So, we knew it was time to upgrade. With everything I have mentioned previously about our needs and desires when it comes to a dinghy. We decided on a 9-foot, 6-seater Achilles that collapses and stows below decks. We debated for a while between the slats that remain in the boat when rolled up or separate floorboards that you insert while assembling. To keep the various pieces lighter, enabling easier transfer from our aft berth in the cabin topside for inflation, we chose the floorboards. Phillip was really excited the day the new dinghy came in! So much so that we blew her up right there in the middle of the living room floor!
Phillip cracked me up trying to row away from the couch! Row, Phillip, row!
The instructions also cracked me up depicting a very detailed “downward dog” move necessary to snap the floorboards in place. Phillip and I found this was a pretty accurate portrayal, though, when we first blew the new dinghy up on deck and started fitting the floorboards in. Don’t knock the downward dog!
We tested our new dinghy out over the long Labor Day weekend and found she worked great. We even towed her behind the boat for the first time and left her inflated at the dock when we got back. I’m afraid we’re getting lazy!
It was a fun rainy weekend but we had a great time anchoring first for a solitary night out at Red Fish Point, one of our absolute favorite places, then towing the dinghy west to anchor out behind Paradise Inn for a little bit of crazy beach night life.
That’s also when we made the “Phillip’s Famous Mojito” video that I hope you all got to check out on Facebook!
Great opportunity to check for leaks!
Behind Paradise Inn (love that place)!
Rain could never slow our “good times” train down. No sir!
Once we felt the boat, rig and safety items were pretty much handled it was time to file our Permit to Enter Cuba! This is the permit (USCG 3300) you have to file with the United States Coast Guard to get permission to enter Cuba:
There are twelve designations you can travel under as your purported reason for wanting to travel to Cuba, ranging from humanitarian aid and education to journalism, professional, etc.
After speaking with several cruisers who have traveled to Cuba recently (thank Wally Moran, with SailingtoCuba.blogspot, for the chart above), many of whom have arguably far less writing credentials or intentions than me, I have decided to travel under “Journalistic Activity,” as I do plan to do many write-ups, articles and videos documenting our voyage to share with others who plan to make the same trip. Phillip and I will let you all know as soon as we hear back from the USCG with (hopefully) approval to enter. Do note the 3300 form is only needed to RETURN to the U.S. from Cuba. I have been told by several sources that all you need to ENTER Cuba is a passport and boat registration.
It does make things a little difficult, however, as you have to “declare” your departure and entry dates on Form 3300 so far in advance. We’re cruisers. All plans are written in sand at low tide. Apparently, the USCG doesn’t think this saying is so cute. They want dates and final answers, and they want them now! We’re planning to pick a date in mid-December and hope all works out. I had a great Skype chat with Wally Moran about our plans to sail to Cuba. Wally has co-authored a cruising guide on sailing to Cuba, Cuba Bound, and manages a VERY helpful Facebook Page (Sailing and Cruising: Cuba) devoted specifically to helping cruisers navigate their way to Cuba, and he gave me some great tips on documentation, registration and getting through Customs. I hope I can piece together enough from that conversation and other resources to make a video on “How to Get Your Permit to Enter Cuba.” Thank you again for taking the time to chat with me Wally!
One of the last big items on our list is the life raft. Phillip and I are actually having Captain Yannick help us with that from France as, if you recall, he had to really scramble to buy a new one and have it shipped to Pensacola in time for our shove-off date of May 28th and, in doing so, he came across a very good deal overseas. We’re still working out the details on that and have not yet ordered, but we are grateful to Yannick for the help and the money we will likely save due to his savvy online shopping skills. It never ceases to amaze me the many diversely-talented people you meet while cruising and their willingness to help you along the way, and vice versa.
Otherwise, this is our last “short list”:
There is not too much left to do now that the boat is ready. It’s mainly ordering and testing out some navigational aids and new communication devices. After seeing the convenience (and pleasure) of having a Delorme on the boat for the Atlantic-crossing, with unlimited texting, enabling us to chat with friends, family, even professionals if needed, along the way, Phillip and I have decided to purchase a Delorme with likely the same or similar package as Yannick did as well as an iPad for this same purpose during our cruising this winter. We will be sharing the tracker link as well as messaging capabilities with Patrons. If you have enjoyed this update and would like to stay current with us as we prepare to cast off in December as well as see our movements in real time and chat with us along the way, please Become a Patron.
That pretty much brings you all up to date. As you can see, Phillip and I are incredibly excited to be embarking on this next voyage now on our newly re-built and re-rigged boat, just the two of us. The Atlantic crossing has only fueled our desire to travel sooner and further on our boat. I hope the movie I made from our first ocean voyage does the same for you. I will put it out for rent on YouTube soon for those who want to see it but would prefer not to go the Patreon route. Watch for the announcement here.
Oh, oh, one more exciting thing that happened this week! Annie got her wisdom tooth pulled out! This time NOT by pliers. Phillip and I had to see it as fortuitous that she decided to only start painfully piercing her way through the fragile tissue of my gums once we were back onshore, although we got some good laughs imagining how the wily and resourceful Captain Yannick might have handled that at sea. “Get me some epinephrine, some Novocain and the vice grips.” I can assure you, he would have done it. Thankfully, it was only four days of irritating turned intense pain then one hour of wide-eyed, wide-mouthed Annie watching needles, rods and forceps being passed before her eyes before this puppy came out. Good times.
I guess we should talk about the really important stuff before we get to the panties.
While there were many, many critical provisions we needed to stock on the boat, fuel was one of the first items to come up during our initial crew briefings at Yannick’s house. If your goal is to get the boat across the pond without stopping, there are only two ways that can happen: wind or fuel.
Andanza carries 90 gallons of fuel, which sounds like a lot but considering the distance we needed to cover (4,600 nautical miles), it would not really get us that far. Yannick had calculated an approximate consumption rate of 0.5 gallons an hour per engine, running at about 1,800 RPMs, which he had determined was the optimal, most efficient range for the engines. He also found running both engines at the same time only added 0.5 knots in speed for double the fuel consumption, so he had decided we should only run one engine at a time as needed. (Know there is some debate out there as to whether this puts unnecessary strain on the propulsion system. What? Boat owners with differing opinions? No way! Yannick researched it and made an executive decision that the decrease in fuel consumption was justified over the potential strain on the sail drives.) Running only one engine at a time translated to roughly 180 hours of tank burning time which would carry us about 1,000 nautical miles purely motoring. The plan was to bring aboard additional Jerry jugs of fuel, each jug giving us an approximate additional 10 hours of motoring, with the amount of jugs TBD considering the additional weight they would bring aboard.
We eventually decided on 11 jugs, stored in the foreward starboard bow. That locker is massive. I can stand up in it!
The funny thing is, as Yannick and Phillip both pointed out, you cannot possibly bring enough fuel to motor across the entire ocean. The boat could not carry it all (and likely could not move with that much added weight). So, once you decide to go anyway, the risk is really the same whether you have 50 gallons, or 90 or 150. We simply brought an amount we thought would help “fill the gaps” when we would have to motor sail or just motor because the wind was not behaving. The plan was to sail as often as we could.
The catamaran has a 100 gallon water tank on the boat. While that sounds like a lot, it also is not much when you consider the washing, cooking, cleaning, and bathing you have to do with that same water, in addition to just drinking it. The boat also had a water maker but we weren’t really sure how well it would work, how much water it would produce and whether that water would even be drinkable. Brandon and Yannick worked on the water maker while Andanza was in the yard and it was reportedly working well, although we all were a little leery about testing it. (To be blunt about it, no one wanted to get the sh%ts!)
Yannick reported to us during the weeks before shove-off that the water maker was working and producing about 3/4 gallon per minute. Quite a bit. He bought a water tester to see how many parts per million (meaning dissolved solids … could be salt, could be fish poop or oil, who knows) and we tested the second batch he made during our first sail on the boat in Pensacola Bay. Yannick told us the first batch registered at 290 ppm and this second batch was now at 66, which is very low. However, we still made him do the actual drinking first.
Phillip couldn’t make it out with us the first time we went out on the catamaran (remember all of that pesky work stuff we were doing to get ready to leave the country) and I told him about the water testing when I got home. His first question: “Where was the first batch made?” Knowing zip about water makers at the time and thinking nothing of it, I told him: “Bayou Chico.” Ruh-roh. Phillip was definitely worried that the filthy water from the bayou had been run through the water maker and we learned later the maker should only be used when you’re in the cleanest water possible. (The Atlantic Ocean would be a great place to start!) But, it seemed to be working fine at the time (Yannick had not yet reported any sh%ts) and it was likely whatever water it made could at least be used for cleaning, bathing, etc. (Another small worry was the fact that the water maker fed straight into the main water tank. Meaning, if the water it made was contaminated, it could spoil our entire supply. For this reason, Yannick always diverted the initial production into a separate gallon for testing before he let it run into the main tank.)
There was also the possibility that the main 100-gallon tank could be contaminated somehow, or that it could crack and leak out. After fuel, water was our most important provision on the boat. We wanted to stock as much water as possible (considering space and weight) to carry us across the ocean. Yannick bought 15 cases (36 water bottles each) of water for the trip and Phillip and I packed the bilges of the boat with a total of 540 water bottles.
Each crew member was responsible for packing his or her own ditch bag with the usual supplies (life jackets, GPS, flares, emergency food and water, etc.) We would also each be bringing our own hydrostatic life jackets with tethers to clip into the jack lines.
Yannick’s boat was equipped with an EPIRB for the vessel (located near the nav station below) and he also had a beacon on his life jacket that would sound an MOB alarm if Yannick fell overboard. Phillip and I brought our own personal EPIRB to keep with us when we were on night watch in case one of us fell over. Yannick also had a green laser light on his jacket that could be seen from (I can’t really remember) like twenty miles or something. For intentional overboard, Phillip and I brought an old wet suit that would be donated to the boat in case anyone had to go overboard (to un-foul the prop for example) and Yannick had a dry suit as well.
We also had many haling devices.
Yannick testing the Delorme’s capabilities in flight. It tracked him the entire way!
Counting everyone’s individual cell phones, hand-held GPSs, iPads and such as well as the two chart plotters on the boat and other electronics (Delorme, sat phone, etc.), Yannick predicted we would have approximately 15 GPS devices on the boat. Needless to say, PLENTY. While a ditch of the boat was not something anyone really thought would happen, we had to plan for the possibility. I can assure you there were many, many discussions about ditch gear. And, with the life raft having arrived (just days before we were set to leave), if in fact the moment did come, we would now be ditching the boat in much better shape.
There she is!
To be honest, our primary concern was significant injury to a crew member (think illness, broken bone or infection) or a man overboard. There were also many discussions about everyone’s respective first aid experience, known procedures, and the proper response and duty of all crew members if a man fell overboard. Yannick explained many times (likely because he had to, the electronics on his boat are dizzying) how to set off the MOB alarm on the chart plotter and what each crew member should do to safely retrieve the fallen crew member and get him (okay, or her!) back on board. Our primary defense to injury and emergencies was what Yannick continually referred to as “discipline.” This included:
Moving around the boat slowly and with caution;
Clipping in at night or in rough seas;
Never leaving the cockpit alone during a night shift;
Monitoring and timely responding to health problems (fevers, infections, malaise, etc.).
We also discussed the known possibility that catamarans, because they do not heel, can get unknowingly overpowered with too much wind on the beam. This was discussed and it was decided we would always put a first reef in at 20 knots of wind, a second reef at 25, and a third reef at 30. The crew agreed we would also always reef at sunset. Sailing cautiously and conservatively was another huge part of our safety plan.
Let’s just say we had way, waaaay too much medical crap on the boat. Yannick had a fantastic supply of antibiotics, which was one of our top concerns. Johnny, having been a paramedic in a previous life, also had great wound care and suture kits to supply. Phillip and I cleaned out all of our band-aids, bandages, Neosporin, Ibuprofen, etc. from Plaintiff’s Rest and contributed that. And, we brought many varieties of seasickness prevention.
While neither Johnny, Phillip Yannick nor myself were prone to seasickness (thank goodness because once we shoved off for France, we were looking at 30+ days at sea), many folks had told Phillip and I that the motion of the catamaran is just “different” and that it’s possible for people who do not get seasick on a monohull to get seasick on a catamaran. So, we were prepared.
I hope as you’re reading through this, you’re starting to get a sense of how much planning really goes into making a passage like this. Yannick was good at delegating items like this (i.e., rounding up everyone’s first aid gear and making a combined, non-duplicative kit for the boat) to each of us so no efforts were wasted. Phillip and I were responsible for preparing the boat’s first aid kit as well as food-planning for the passage. Phillip specifically requested this task as it had already been decided among the crew that he would serve as Andanza‘s head chef for the passage. (You recall Yannick’s “gut it and put soy sauce on it” approach.) I worked on the watch schedule, the window sealing and inventorying the boat while Yannick and Johnny completed the work on the starboard sail drive once the parts arrived from Italy. Hooray!
We all had many, many jobs to do during those tumultuous two weeks before departure.
Clothing and Gear:
Phillip and I found it a little difficult to pack for this trip for two reasons: 1) we needed clothes for extremely hot conditions (think bikinis in the Gulf of Mexico), potentially very cold conditions (spitting rain in the North Atlantic) as well as a few somewhat stylish pieces for France and 2) we needed to be able to fly home with only two checked bags. Our goal was to bring many things with us on the trip that could be shed (meaning thrown away, used as rags, or donated to good will) once we got to France so our packing for the flight home would be minimal. This proved even more difficult as most of our carry-home luggage was already going to be filled with items we needed to bring back–i.e., our foul-weather gear, life jackets, tethers, electronics (sat phone), etc.
For me, the clothing items that proved to be the most comfortable and useful were wool socks, long johns and anything synthetic or quick-dry. I will never set off on a long off-shore passage again with as much cotton as we brought for this crossing. It never (ever!) dried completely. Our plan to bring clothing that could be discarded once we got to shore was good, in theory, but it put us at a disadvantage in that most of the clothes we already had that we were willing to part with once we got to France were cotton and many of the items we purchased were cotton (because they’re cheaper). I now know why high-performance gear is more expensive … because it performs. Phillip and I did have a great time, however, watching the Wal-Martians for a bit and picking up a lot of cheap, throw-away goodies and toiletries for the trip.
Seriously, they had little Eiffel Towers and other Paris icons on them. Some even said “Bon Voyage.” How friggin’ perfect?!
Another really cool item we had was a complete set of Third Reef foul weather gear (jackets, bibs and boots) for the entire crew donated by West Marine. You can tell I was a little too excited when I made the pick-up at the store. It was a very generous offering and the gear proved to be perfect for our cold, wet days and nights in the north Atlantic!
Now for the really important stuff. FOOD. As you’ve seen from our initial briefing with Yannick, we quickly learned he is decidedly not a “foodie,” so Phillip was quick to step in to fill the role of head chef for the passage and handle the planning for food. While the boat did have a rather large fridge (with a small icebox) as well as a separate, almost as large, freezer, Phillip continually warned me: “You have to expect they might go out.” Brandon had actually told us a fun story of a trip he made from Bermuda to New York where the freezer went out in the first few days and he and the crew had to eat meat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert, before it spoiled. “It was SPAM after that,” he said. *gulp*
I wasn’t nearly as concerned about the canned goods conundrum as Phillip was. I’m a bit like Yannick in that, if it was me, I’d be fine opening a can every day, eating out of it and drinking the veggie juice after! Proof:
Phillip, however, is a bit more gourmet. And for good darn reason. The man is an exceptional cook. I am grateful and honored every evening he cooks us up a feast better than I have had at any fine-dining restaurant. These are, seriously, just a few of his at-home creations:
Arugula, pear & blue cheese salad:
Stuffed bell pepper:
Braised short ribs:
For this, reason, Phillip was definitely gunning to be in charge of the food. He spent a lot of time planning the meals and preparing the grocery list for the passage. His plan was to get about a week’s worth of good, fresh stuff we could eat in the beginning before it spoiled. The second week, we would be defrosting things we froze (pork, ground beef, shrimp, etc.) as well as cooking up the last of the hearty vegetables – cabbage, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, etc. Once the perishable goods were gone, it was on to the canned goods as well as non-refrigerated eggs, UHT milk, sardines and the infamous Spam (which actually is quite gourmet these days as part of a pineapple slider!). This was Phillip’s list of planned meals.
I have included a link for Phillip’s complete shopping list for the passage in this week’s Patreon post, “Phillip’s Provision List,” which includes food, safety gear and other equipment needed for the trip.
Then it was time to go grocery shopping … Holy crap did we go shopping!
Yannick met us at the Commissary on the Navy Base in Pensacola so we could get boat-loads (no pun intended) of large quantities of food at a good price. Phillip divvied the list up among us. I had three pages of canned goods, pasta, crackers and snacks to get. Yannick was sent to produce, while Phillip dove into dairy and meat. Shoppers eyed me strangely as I filled my cart with multiple 12-can packs of canned peas, corn, potatoes, pineapples, tomatoes, carrots, tuna and more. I ran into Yannick somewhere near the Velveeta and it looked like he was pushing a bush around the Commissary. His cart was brimming with leafy greens, carrots, cabbage and bags of apples and oranges. He called it his “barge” and then he ran it straight into a 5-Hour Energy display and sent those little cocaine-filled energy bullets rolling everywhere. We had accumulated four “barges” by then and were definitely turning heads all over the store.
Things only got more comical after that. As we pushed our four carts (‘scuse me, barges) toward the check-out lane, people started to stack up behind us, pointing, whispering, then finally asking us what the heck we needed all those groceries for. It was fun to tell them: “Because we’re sailing across the Atlantic!” We were all so proud! Thankfully our checkout girl was phenomenal and she started zipping us right through. “No bags,” said Yannick.
After the 5-Hour Energy incident, several floor managers had come out to help “escort” us through the check-out process, which was probably a good call. As our goods were ooching along the conveyor belt toward the cash register a shoe-boxed size carton of grape tomatoes got the bump, crashed to the floor and sent little red balls rolling everywhere. While Yannick and I scrambled to pick them up, a manager worked to finish unloading my cart and he dropped a half-gallon size bottle of Dawn on my foot where it ended it’s life after in a goopy puddle on the floor.
I swear I can’t make this stuff up. There he is with a handful of Dawn-soaked paper towels cleaning it up! Better put out a “Wet Floor” sign, sir. We’re lawyers you know.
It’s a good thing Yannick was moving back to France, because I don’t think they’d want to see him in there again. That was wild. I’m surprised we were able to cram all of the Commissary crap into Yannick’s Explorer but somehow we did. Yannick called his technique “pyramiding.”
I thought the tailpipe was going to drag. Buying all of the food and getting it in and out of the Explorer proved to be the easy part, however. Once we got it all onto the boat, trying to figure out where in the world it should all go turned out to be the real puzzle.
We stocked every cubby!
Inside the fridge:
We wanted to try, as best we could, to stock items according to frequency of use while being sensitive to location on the boat (i.e., moisture or potential for breakage or spilling), while also trying, as best we could, to inventory the items so we could somehow find them later. This had to occur within about about an hour and a half’s time before the boat needed to be cleaned up so we could finish other projects, actually move aboard and have the boat presentable enough to host a little farewell party at the dock. At the time the boat looked like this:
This was just days before we shoved off. With the time constraints, I will say we did not stock that boat as well as we should have and we paid for it during the passage with the loss of some produce and the occasional discovery of a molded unidentifiable object in a dark corner of the boat. Friends, don’t let moldy unidentified objects happen to YOU. In hopes of helping prevent that, I have included below some offshore provisioning tips (some earned from our very own lessons learned aboard ANDANZA) in case any of you are planning for an offshore passage soon. (I hope so!)
1. Discard all boxes and any unnecessary packaging. Put as many things as you can in Ziplock bags (often double-bagged). I found it useful to tear off the instructions and put them in the bag with the food for identification as well as instructions for cooking.
2. Do not stow “breakables” in hidden or sloshing lockers. If there is a chance the container could roll, puncture or spill, try to stow it somewhere visible or packed in such a way as to prevent collision and rupture.
3. You do not have to refrigerate as many items as you think. We bought several containers of UHT milk (Annie loves her Grape Nuts in the morning) and refrigerated only as needed. We also had cartons of never-before-refrigerated eggs that will keep for weeks if turned over once every week. Also, many vegetables (tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, cabbage, etc.) and condiments (mayo can stay out as long as the utensil used is always clean as well as butter) do not have to be refrigerated. Many people simply throw them in the fridge out of habit. And, little tip on the un-refrigerated eggs: If you’re worried they may have turned, put them through the “float test.” Submerge the questionable egg in water. If it sinks to the bottom, you’re good to go. If it floats, toss it out.
4. Stow onions and bananas separately. They tend to accelerate the ripening of any fruits and vegetables near them.
5. Watch out for the “frozen tundra” around the portion of the fridge that is a freezer. We had many produce items (carrots, zucchini, etc.) get pushed too close to the small box freezer in the fridge and we lost them to freezing. We found packaged cheeses and meats survived the freeze just fine. Beer also worked as a great freezer buffer.
6. High calorie/protein snacks serve you better than candies and sugar. If you’re heading up on deck for your night watch or to handle something that may require energy for hours, peanuts, peanut butter and protein or energy bars were a good idea to grab on the way out. We stocked a lot of Nature Vally granola bars, peanut butter crackers, nuts as well as peanut butter and Nutella for this reason.
7. Mesh bags or hammocks are best for fruits and vegetables. It keeps them dry and visible (great to both remind you to eat them and make sure they’re not “turning”). We lost a bag of oranges because I stowed them in a dark locker and we all forgot about them. You don’t want to know what they looked (and felt like) upon discovery …
8. If you have time, write the name of the canned good in Sharpie on its top. This makes it much easier to see when searching a large locker for a single type of canned good.
9. Freeze as much meat as you can. Yannick’s wife made us a huge batch of frozen pulled pork which was fantastic to pull out every 4-5 days and make for lunch or dinner. All we had to do was thaw, heat and add BBQ sauce. We also had a good bit of shrimp in the freezer as well as two pork loins as well as ground turkey and beef. Oh, and bread. Bread was one of the most quickly-consumed items, but it was still hard to keep up with the growing mold on a damp boat. Freeze as much bread as you can for longevity.
10. Stow away some treats for special occasions. We had some frozen peanut butter M&Ms (my favorite!) that Yannick’s wife tucked away for my birthday, home-made pepper jelly that was poured over cream cheese for Johnny’s birthday, as well some nice cheeses and a bottle or two of wine that we saved for certain milestones or celebratory-worthy events (like making it to the Azores!). “Pop!” went the champagne after we docked. Little culinary boosts like this are great for crew morale.
I also welcome any additional tips you all may have for best packing and preserving food for long offshore passages. Please share them in a comment below.
One of the best things I believe we were able to accomplish while stowing away all of those goods, was creation of a complete inventory list, documenting how many cans or boxes of what went where. It is a lot of work in the beginning to tediously document all of those items, but well worth it while you are voyaging and looking for that one stupid can of sardines! I typed it up that night (I believe it was around midnight May 26th), Phillip printed at the office the next day before we officially moved onto the boat (May 27th) and it served as our official, incredibly helpful “Inventory List” for the entire passage. I have included a link for that as well in this week’s Patreon post. Here is a sample from one of our largest (and only one of what ended up being 14 total) food lockers on the boat:
So, provisioning …. whew. Done.
Are you tired yet? We were! But, we were running on French fumes and Atlantic-crossing adrenaline. Who’s ready to sail to France? Next week, we shove off!!
Thank Patron, Carl (aka “Chief Corrao”) for the shove here. My Patrons make all of this fun adventure sharing possible. Get Inspired & Get on Board!
While they were certainly barreling into the slip, it turned out the “Coming in Hot!” boys didn’t really need our help. About half-way into the slip, the skipper threw it in reverse full throttle and nudged right up to a piling on the starboard side with just the slightest ‘squeak’ and they were in. It was incredibly impressive. He handled that 30′ sailboat like it was a Sea Doo. They offered their thanks and waved us off, and Phillip and I set back to our main mission – DINNER. It was our second night in Venice, and after hob-knobbing and indulging ourselves the night before in the fine-dining atmosphere on the second floor of the Crow’s Nest Marina restaurant …
we decided to get back to our roots this time and slum it with the rest of the salty sailors on the bottom floor of the restaurant – the Tavern. And, what an experience …
They had this guy there playing live music. He appeared to have a little Middle-Eastern influence and just the slightest hint of a lisp. Strange combination, I know, but it gave his vocals this raspy, soulful quality. And, the guitar he was playing had like six strings on each side – a total of 12 – and he seemed to use every single finger on both hands to pluck each one of them. He was captivating. Here – see for yourself:
Good stuff, right? He was awesome. And, in between sets, he liked to play trivia with the audience – real old school music history stuff. Like, who wrote the first version of that song? What band did he originally play with? Way beyond my time, but several folks would call out answers and he would rip them a new one if they were wrong – all in good fun. He was quite entertaining. But, he didn’t turn out to be the actual entertainment. I hope you noticed in the video, the guy that was sitting with his back right next to us. The one the nice waitress had to ask “Sir, could you please scoot your chair forward so we can get by with the food?” If not – watch it again. Because, THIS guy was truly entertaining.
You’ll notice his clapping off-beat at the beginning of the video (when it’s not really a “clapping” kind of song if you know what I mean). We’d been watching him since we sat down. A real, attention-seeking fellow, that man, on the verge of belligerence. First, he tried to hit on a gal sitting next to him (who was with a male companion might I add) and that didn’t pan out. He then tried to guess one of the trivia questions, which also didn’t pan out. And, just when he had finally quieted for a moment, the waitress came by and kindly asked him to scoot his chair forward, stirring the nest all over again. He was offended … to the core. After she walked by, he threw his hands up in disgust and loudly protested. “What am I supposed to do, Gary? Sit like this??” he practically shouted to the guy sitting two feet from him as he scooched his beanpole chest all the way up to the table and hunkered over his food in a dramatic over-exaggeration. “I mean, what does she expect?” Wow. He repeated his scooch and hunker-down show every time the waitress came by and loudly pushed his chair back out in rebellion after she’d passed back by, his arms folded over his chest in a snooty pout. It was the adult equivalent of a tantrum, and … to our pleasant surprise – wildly entertaining. Don’t you just love people??
In any event, we thoroughly enjoyed the soulful music, rustic atmosphere and “live entertainment” at the Crow’s Nest Tavern that night. We ordered up a raw dozen, some rich escargot, a delicious bahn mi sandwich and an insanely-huge piece of Oreo cheesecake.
De-lish! Needless to say, we didn’t last long after that meal …
May 3, 2014:
We woke the next morning to another Lion Kingquality sunrise. NaaaaaaaasuhWHENya … Okay, I won’t go through it again. But, it was gorgeous coming up over Bird Island.
This time it was Phillip’s turn to take the sunrise session and get his African chant on while he paddled the coves and inlets around the marina.
We had been watching the storm in the Gulf, and it appeared the sea state was going to lay down enough to let us head out tomorrow for Clearwater. So, with a passage on the horizon, we set our sights on provisioning the boat. We had a good bit of hearty root vegetables on the boat (sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.) that needed eating, so we decided to make a big pot of sweet potato chili. (It also rained most of the morning, so what better way to pass the time than cook up a big pot of soup!) We tried this recipe initially before we even got our boat, when we were just cooking out of galley cookbooks for fun – only dreaming of what we would actually make when we were on an actual passage, in our actual BOAT! And, we first made it on passage when we were sailing the boat back from Punta Gorda, FL where we purchased it in April, 2013. There we go!
While the chili was a hit amongst the crew initially, we did receive some complaints later from one disgruntled crew member — the infamous Mitch. (Let me just say I spared you some of the more disgusting details about our initial crossing) and suffice it to say that the man thoroughly enjoyed the chili going in — not so much coming out. And, when I was faced with the remnants he had left for me in the head, he boldly blamed the “Broccoli Crappola” we had fed him for dinner …
It was sweet potato chili.
Not a single stalk, leaf or floret of broccoli in it.
But, to this day, the Captain and I still lovingly call our sweet potato chili “Broccoli Crappola” in memoriam. Ahhh … Mitch. You gotta love that man. Since we had all the necessary ingredients already,
we went ahead and made a big batch of it for easy re-heat during passage.
This chili is great because the ingredients for it (basically carrots, sweet potato, onions, black beans, chopped tomatoes) are incredibly hearty and will hold until you’re ready to make it. It’s easy, cheap, delicious and filling. What more do you need on a boat? Recipe here. And, since we’d made a huge batch, there was plenty for us to have a bowl that day for lunch.
Did I mention the cheap part? Venice was certainly burning a hole in our budget …
In the afternoon, we headed over to the marina to do some laundry and clean up and – of all the people – guess who we ran into? Yep! The “Coming in Hot!” boys. As you recall, they were occupying the slip right next to us, so we, of course, as a result of natural marina curiosity, had watched them emerge from their boat around 10:30 that morning, stretch and moan and scratch some things, and head to shore. We recognized them when we came into the laundry area and struck up a conversation. And – it’s always fascinating the kind of people you meet when you travel. So the Captain was in his mid to late thirties, a tech guy, who was on a two-year sabbatical, traveling the world. He had been to the UK, India, Thailand, you name it. He met his soon-to-become First Mate, Will, while riding a train in India. They became fast friends and decided to travel the world together. Their first plan was to buy a bus and convert it into a hostel but they claimed they “got drunk one night and bought a sailboat instead.” And, here they were. In Venice, FL. Not an ounce of sailing knowledge between them and they were just figuring it out as they went. Sure explains the “Coming in Hot!” bit and the dilapidated boat. But, they had an infectious sense of adventure and infinite charisma. Great, great guys. We chatted with them for a while and decided to have a drink or three at the tavern while our clothes were spinning. A quick clean-up and an inspection of the arm confirmed what I already knew – it was still attached and still looked … awesome. It had graduated from elephantitis to jaundice with a nice yellow hue and still maintained a distinct “squishy” feel throughout. … Nice.
They were airing the Kentucky Derby at the Tavern and offering themed drinks (mint juleps and Pim’s cups), Derby swag giveaway and a big prize for the lucky customer who guessed the winning horse.
It was a fun atmosphere and we had no problem plopping down for some cocktails, calamari, a sensational burger and quesadillas. Yum!
With the laundry taken care of, and a big pot of chili ready for passage the next day, we curled up for a quiet movie night on the boat and made a list of the non-perishables (milk, OJ, eggs, creamer and the like) that we would need to pick up in the morning before heading out to Clearwater. We figured it would be about an 15-18-hour passage (approximately 70 nautical miles assuming an average 4-or-so knot speed), so we planned to leave early in the afternoon in hopes of making it to Clearwater the following morning. Like I said, we always try to plan to come into pass in the daylight – even if we’ve been through that pass before. Even familiar passages are more treacherous at night.
May 4, 2014:
Another beautiful sunrise in Venice. No surprise there. (No Lion King chants this time – lucky you).
A brisk morning walk around the docks revealed plenty more of those weird snail-like evolutionary creatures that we had come across in Ft. Myers.
I captured some more fascinating footage for you of their signature flap-swim stroke:
You’re welcome. And, you’ll be glad to know I spared you the Australian-accented nature documentary commentary that Phillip had to endure during the first three filmings: “The snail flaps furiously through the treacherous waters as the sun rises over head … ”
We decided to get another advantageous use out of the free bike rentals at the marina to make our run to the store. Venice was a very clean, friendly, accommodating marina, but a little on the pricey side, so we were trying to limit our last Venice adventures to free bike rides and chili bowls. Another picturesque cruise through downtown Venice, though. The tree-lined streets are perfect for biking of a leisurely stroll.
And, there was a Publix right in the heart of downtown – just a quick bike ride from the boat.
Good thing we had baskets on the front for the groceries!
And, I didn’t crash!! (this time). Funny thing was, when we came back to the boat, it seemed we had somehow missed the invite for the party!
There were boats, dinghies, floaties, redneck yachts and coolers all around our boat!
Apparently, Saturdays at Snake Island can get pretty wild! While we would have loved to have hung around with the redneck crew, we had a Gulf passage calling us. It was around 1:00 pm, and we were hoping to get underway before 2:00pm to ensure a morning entry into Clearwater.
We packed the boat, checked the weather one more time, and headed out!
We were expecting 10-15 mph winds out of the NNE, and a 2-4 ft sea state, which would have been a little rough but bearable. When we made our way out of the inlet, however,
we were faced with NW winds (the exact direction we were going) of 17-20 mph and swells of 4-5 ft. It was a very rough sea state.
Some swells appeared to be about six feet. The boat would heel back and climb over them and the wave would swallow the horizon behind the boat as we barreled down it.
We were averaging 0.5 to 1.7 kts – the epitome of beating to windward. After about three hours of this we had collectively decided we were miserable. We were barely making way beating into the wind in a sea state that was working against us too. The forecast was off. It could improve, but it was anybody’s guess as to when. If we continued to ride it out, we could end up stuck in miserable conditions for 24 more hours just to make it to Clearwater tomorrow. We had learned that patience in timing passages makes all the difference. There was no need for us to rush to Clearwater, particularly not in this horrendous fashion. We decided to wait 30 minutes or so and if nothing changed to turn back and wait for better conditions. And, as you can likely guess … nothing changed. Just thirty more minutes of making 0.7 knots into the wind. Having covered approximately 6 miles of our estimated 70-mile trip over the course of four hours, we decided to call it. We hadn’t even made it far enough away from shore to lose sight of it, so turning back wasn’t too much of a stretch. And, the minute we turned around, it seemed the entire weather system changed. It’s amazing how forceful and threatening the wind can feel when it’s coming on your nose only to have it turn into a light breeze when it’s coming on your stern. We now had big, beautiful following seas and were averaging 5.5 knots easy back to shore. While the six miles out took us four hours to cover, coming back only took an hour and a half. But, the seas were still kicked up, 4-5 foot swells had the boat rocking and rolling toward the inlet. And, you remember what I said about the inlet at Venice — very narrow:
And, very rocky:
The bow of the boat was swaying and rolling in an elegant motion, but only briefing passing at times the mark for the entry of the inlet. Imagine finding a sight for your target in the scope of your rifle, then trying to hit it while making a figure 8 with the barrel of your gun. Phillip and I both tensed when we realized how tricky it was going to be to steer the boat in between those two severely rocky shoals. The only good news was the closer we got, the wider the inlet seemed, but that also meant we were closer. Closer to the rocks and the jetty and the waves crashing on shore. And, just as we were nearing the entry, we saw another sailboat pitching and bouncing on the rocky shore. We weren’t sure at first if it was on the rocky shoal or just extremely close, but as we neared the inlet, we could tell. The boat had run hard aground on the rocks, the hull smashing into them again with every incoming wave.
“As if I need a visual reminder of what could happen if we don’t get this right,” Phillip said in solace, shaking his head and staring ahead, trying to keep the “figure 8” motion of our bow within the realms of the rocky inlet.
Tomorrow was it. We were going to head out around daybreak to make our final passage south to the Keys. We were beyond excited. We spent the morning cleaning and readying the boat for the next day’s passage – re-tying the fuel cans we had filled the day before, re-checking the fluids we had topped off, taking out the trash. You know, real exciting boat stuff. We were planning to meet our buddy Johnny and his wife Cindy around mid-morning to make a mega run to the store for provisions. Cindy had driven down to spend the weekend with Johnny and had been nice enough to offer us boating bums a ride to the store before she left. Don’t mind if we do! Knowing we weren’t going to have to haul our supplies back pack-mule style, we made quite the luxurious list and even planned our attack from produce to paper products. We were going to get all Supermarket Sweep on them – matching sweatshirts and all.
But, sadly … as ready as WE were to do some serious grocery shopping, it seems the rest of the world wasn’t ready for us. We found Ft. Myers tends to take their Easter pretty seriously. Every place was closed. Every … single … place. We drove by Publix. No. Target. Closed. Winn Dixie? Shut-down. I hate to say it, but we finally ended up at the all-American icon of convenience shopping. Mmmm-hmmmm. Wal-Mart. You can always count on old Wally World to be open. We each made our rounds and packed Cindy’s little car to the brim. And, of course – what do you always want to do after grocery shopping? EAT! After planning for and picking up everything we would need to cook and eat for the passage and the following week, all we could think about was food. We stopped at this little McGregor Cafe in Ft. Myers and scored pretty good.
A juicy Rueben sandwich and a lobster cake salad.
Yum! But, the best part was our waitress. Bonnie … the Bunny.
You see? As much as I love to write fiction – I really don’t have to make this stuff up.
Bonnie (“the Bunny”) pranced around the entire time sporting fuzzy purple bunny ears and offering up what she called her “Special Bunny Peeps Cake” to any poor customer who couldn’t turn her away. She even suffered it on the entire wait staff like office birthday cake.
When I walked through the dining area to go to the restroom, there were ten of them in there, at least, all picking with plastic forks at pieces of neon peep fluff on their styrofoam plates. They would stuff mouthfuls in their cheeks and give Bonnie an exaggerated “Mmmmm” smile-and-nod when she would walk by, telling them “It’s my special recipe! I make it every year!”
It was … hilarious.
After our big venture to all of the closed stores, we headed back to the boat and packed her up for the next day’s passage to the Keys. We still had some beautiful afternoon hours left, so I decided to bust out the old inflatable SUP and get to it.
See Annie pump.
Pump Annie pump!
Whew! I tell you. I love that my SUP is inflatable (so we can break it down and stow it down below) but she is a chore-and-a-half to blow up. By the time you’re done, the thought of paddling is exhausting. But, somehow I managed!
I tossed her in the water and set to it.
Go Annie go!
Ft. Myers had lots of residential inlets where the houses are all waterfront along the seawall and you can paddle around in each of them, checking out peoples’ boats, backyards, pools, houses, etc. I love paddling around nice waterfront homes. I like to imagine all the costly upkeep and maintenance they must require and bask in the contentment of living on a boat!
And, I was feeling pretty content … that is, until I returned to the boat and Phillip told me the engine wouldn’t crank. Say what? We’re leaving for the Keys tomorrow. Could you repeat that?
But, sadly, it was true. The engine wouldn’t fire – at least not on its own battery. Luckily, we have two different battery systems on our boat. One battery system is dedicated to starting the engine while the second bank (the house batteries) is much larger and equipped to run all the other systems on the boat. We also have a nifty device that allows us to combine the battery systems together if necessary by the simple flip of a switch. When we combined the circuit and pulled from the house batteries, the engine would crank, but she would not fire from the starting battery alone. Errgghh … What did I say about those big waterfront mansions being more trouble than they’re worth? Well, forget that. We had boat problems!
We traced the connections and wires from the alternator to the battery combiner (which regulates which set of batteries get charged) and found the inline fuses for the starting battery had blown.
This meant the starting battery was not getting a charge when the engine was running. This was good news because it was an easy fix. Replace the small fuses and we figured we would be in business. Then, all we needed to do was run the engine for a bit to be certain the starting battery was in fact charging.
We replaced the fuses, combined the batteries and cranked her up. Everything was running great. We had water coming out of the back and plenty of gas to give the boat a charge, so we let her purr. It was just about dusk, so we poured a couple of glasses of wine and headed topside to watch the sun set.
Ahhh … Isn’t she beautiful? We sipped from our glasses and drank in the pink horizon. Life was tranquil and serene. Everything was perfect … until the alarm went off. Yes, the ALARM. A high-pitched, shrill tea-kettle whistle rang out from the cockpit. Phillip and I jumped up, knocking over our deck chairs and glasses as we scrambled back to the helm as she shrieked angrily at us. It was the high-temp alarm. Picture a car steaming on the side of the road.
It meant our engine had overheated. What next?
We immediately shut her down so she could cool. But, we were stunned. What in the heck had happened? Our temp had been holding fine. Water had been spouting out the back. Then all of a sudden it overheated?? We didn’t know what to think. After she cooled a bit, we got back down in the engine room and started checking out the heat exchanger, making sure the seacock (that allows raw water to pull in to heat the engine) was open and working fine, basically just troubleshooting … again …
But, while we didn’t find any obvious issue with the cooling system on the engine, I did notice something on the battery combiner that we had missed before. There was a little green clip that plugged into the combiner that had apparently wiggled its way out of its slot. This little guy:
Who the heck knows when that happened – likely when we were beating our way into Charlotte Harbor during our last horrendous night in the Gulf – if I had to wager a guess. But, the good news is, we spotted it. An easy fix. Just push her back in. *Click* And THEN our engine battery would get a charge. I can’t stress enough how important it is to know your own boat. Tinker around on it, try to troubleshoot things yourself, try to fix things yourself (to the extent possible) and, basically, just piddle around with the systems. I, personally, like to sing this while I do and recommend you do too:
Phillip won’t admit it, but he secretly digs that tune!
It’s amazing what you’ll learn. Most of the systems on the boat are really simple if you just take the time to figure them out, and the confidence you’ll gain in handling everything on the boat yourself is easily worth it. So – take some advice from Julia Andrews and get to know her!
And, while I say that, as much “knowing” as were doing on our boat that evening, we were still totally stumped by the engine overheating. Phillip jumped in and checked the seacock through-hole on the hull of the boat to make sure there wasn’t some trash bag or something caught up in it.
Nothing. We let her cool completely down, checked the coolant levels and the seacock (again) and decided to re-crank and see what happened. We both sat in the cockpit watching the heat gage like a hawk.
Still sipping our wine, of course. I mean, we’re boat people, but we’re still cruisers …
Thankfully, though, she held at her standard operating temp of 180 degrees.
To this day, we really can’t tell you what happened. The most likely explanation is that something got temporarily sucked up against the through-hole under the boat and the engine could not pull water in to cool itself. Then when we shut off the engine, the suction stopped and whatever it was floated away. We suppose … That’s all we could do. Was suppose. But, it was getting late and, either because of, or despite, all our efforts, the boat was currently running great and was ready to get under way the next morning. So, we supposed ourselves right to bed to get some rest for the passage tomorrow. We were just a 24-hour run away from the Keys!
Well folks, this is it. April 3rd. Shove-off day. Departure day. THE day. And, we were ready. Beyond ready. All the trips to the stores, the packing and inventorying of the boat, the freezer meals, everything was ready. All we needed to do now was fill the water tanks and check the weather. We had been watching the weather for weeks now trying to plan our departure date. Every time Phillip would click his phone to life and start scrolling through the NOAA reports, that song would pop into my head “I can gather all the news I need … “ And, yes, I do sing that every time Phillip checks the weather. And, yes, he still puts up with me. I’m kind of the only first mate he’s got, so …
The weather still looked pretty good on Thursday to make the jump to Clearwater. We were expecting some potential storms on Friday night and Saturday but the highest sea state prediction was 3-5 feet:
Assuming that was more THREE than FIVE, it would make good weather for the trip. So, we made the decision. We were leaving today.
The weekend before we had taken the boat out for a test sail to make sure the Jenny un-furled fine (remember, we had taken it down the week before to have the UV cover on it re-stitched) and, while we were making our way out, we topped off the fuel tank on the boat (it holds 30 gallons, but we tend to sail a LOT so we only had to put in about six gallons this go round – whew!). We filled two 5 gallon jerry cans of diesel to strap down on the deck (just as back-up), filled two 1.5 gallon cans for the outboard on the dinghy, pumped out (very important) and filled the water tanks. So, everything on the boat that needed to emptied was emptied and everything that needed to be filled was, well, you get it.
But, speaking of filling, let me talk a bit about the water on our boat. I get a TON of questions about water: “How much water can you take on the boat?” “Can you make water on the boat?” “Do you have enough water?” The answers, respectively, are plenty, no and yes. We have two forty-gallon water tanks on the boat, on one each side, that we fill from the hose. But, the previous owner of our boat did a great job building a water shelf in one of the large lockers under the vberth:
We have 8 large gallon jugs of water and a flat (24 bottles) of bottled water stored in there as well as another flat of bottles scattered in various cubbies throughout the boat. Phillip also had a great idea to fill the solar shower (which holds 5 gallons) with water just as a back-up for the initial passage. And, that way the first time we used the solar shower, it would already be full. Kudos Cap’n.
So, with plenty of food, fuel, water and WINE, we were fully-stocked and ready to go. We both spent some time the last day calling loved ones to give them a hearty farewell and tell them, re-assure them, and tell them again, our departure date, travel plans and the status of our safety gear and rations. I can’t tell you how many times friends and family asked me about our life-vest situation – hence the reason for my last post. But, this fun, feeble attempt still failed to reassure the masses. So, we provided friends and family with a detailed sail plan and made them all promise that they could only worry, panic or – most importantly – contact the Coast Guard if and ONLY IF they did not hear from us by Sunday evening. We planned to make it to Clearwater early Sunday morning, so if no one had heard from us by Sunday night, it was likely time to fret. But, not a second before!
Despite this harsh mandate and strictly enforced ‘cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die’ NO rescue efforts until Monday, I still received many of the like in the mail from concerned loved ones:
Note the entry at the bottom:
You see? It was Clearwater by Sunday or at least some kind of heroic, satellite phone, mid-Gulf check-in or they would be calling in the dogs! The concern, though, was well-intended and heart-warming. (I heart you Dottie!).
But, we weren’t worried, or afraid. We were cautious, sure, and hopeful that we would be greeted with fair winds and forgiving weather and that nothing bad would happen to the boat or to either of us, but there was always going to be the possibility that it could. That’s a given. Something bad can happen at any time, whether you’re crossing the Gulf on a sailboat or crossing the street. Crossing anyway is the adventure, and that’s what we were after. We were excited to get to the Keys, but the destination was not the real goal; it was the journey. We had both worked really hard to get to this point. To get out there. To cross over.
We tossed the lines and sailed out into the Gulf.
That’s really us! Thanks to our good friend Kevin who was anchored nearby and took the shot! Plaintiff’s Rest is headed south, baby!
Now that we had all of the NON-perishables packed on the boat, it was time to make the last final run to Publix for the perishables.
And, I say “final” because we took quite a beating at Publix in the week before our trip. We had made about three trips already for non-perishables and our freezer food, but this last one was a mighty trip. I thought we might perish! The receipt was almost as long as my legs.
Yes, legs. Plural. One stacked on top of the other.
Ouch! We need to buy stock in Publix. But, we got all of those goodies packed on the boat, so our boat was finally provisioned. We had even stocked up on our ‘specialty’ items. I say that because while we knew we would be stopping often during the trip to re-stock and re-provision, there are some things that you can’t find just anywhere. Take that Publix! We had a few of these, mostly special spices, sauces, novel ingredients and, of course, certain types of liquor and wine. So those we had to plan to pack enough for a month. And, as much as we try to avoid glass on the boat, unfortunately, most of these items are glass because, well, they’re not really sailboat items – hence the term, “specialty.” Which means they get special treatment. Every glass item on the ole’ Rest was lovingly wrapped in bubble wrap for stowage:
A particularly supple specialty item on our list was, of course, none other than WINE. I can tell you many a-cabinet and cubby on the Plaintiff’s Rest are chalk full of wine. Our bottles had over-flowed the liquor cabinet and spilled into the cubbies in the table. We had also sampled many boxed wines to try and find a good one that we liked for cruising, but I’ll tell you – we struggled. I don’t really think we’re wine snobs in any sense of the term, we love a good $8.99 value wine just as much as the next bloke, but it just seemed the particular $8.99’s we liked came in glass bottles. Until … we tried this boxed granache – Vina Borgia from the Aragon Wine Market. It’s a great table red that pairs well with food but is easy for sipping on its own. Just a versatile, filling wine that has worked really well for us. So, three it was, and we shoved them under the sink.
If any of you all have come across a great boxed wine, please, by all means, let us hear about it!
So, the ever-dreaded perishables trip to Publix was done. That was the last item on the list. We were on the eve of the trip. Now it was just watching the weather and making sure tomorrow, Thursday, was still a good day to jump out into the Gulf. We saw a storm brewing in Arkansas that we had been keeping an eye on. It was heading east and set to hit Pensacola on Saturday. We knew if we were going to head out tomorrow, we had to make way east fast. The easter the faster the better! Every time Phillip checked the weather, I would squinch my eyes tight in my best ‘make a wish’ face and hope he wouldn’t say we were going to have to push the trip back a week. I knew it was a stupid wish. We wanted to be careful. We wanted to leave when it was safe. But, we also wanted to GO! I opened one eye just a crack as he checked it one last time before we went to bed that night and hoped for the best.