BV5 (VIDEO): West End to Mangrove Cay “First You Start Wit da Coconut Rum”

“What’s in the Goombay Smash?” I asked the our dark-skinned Bahamian bartender.

“Well, first you start wit da coconut rum … ” she started in.  When she finished, Phillip piped up:

“What’s in your Bahama Mama?” he asked.

“Well, first you start with da coconut rum … ” she rattled on again.  Every drink it seems, in the Bahamas, “starts with the coconut rum.”  And you have to say that with an “Island accent, Mon.”  You can also probably guess Phillip and I said it plenty during the entire trip.  Every happy hour began with us concurring: “First you start wit da coconut rum.”

Heck yeah!  Cheers!

Ahoy followers.  In HaveWind time, we have just entered the Bahamas.  How cool is that? Last time we took you along on a beautiful, glassy passage across the Gulf Stream.  Thankfully, we had a wonderful window open up for us which allowed a smooth two-day passage all the way from Key West to West End with winds of only 5 kts or less (albeit north) in the Stream.

Our decision to explore the northern Abacos first was both weather- and wind-dependent. We knew, right off the cusp of hurricane season, in December and January, that frequent north fronts pop up which are usually brief but intense, but the “Christmas Winds” (often 15-25 kts) definitely blow.  Fellow cruisers (shout-out to BaBaLu if you see this Bob! : ) had told us the barrier islands in the northern Abacos offer many good anchorages and marinas, that could provide reliable protection during those frequent fronts.  For this reason, rather than choosing to shoot straight across the Great Bahamas Bank first and head first for the more remote, spacious islands of the Berries and Exumas, we decided to ride the Stream as far north as we could (to West End) so we would enter the Bahamas near the Little Bahamas Bank and begin our exploration up north in the protected Abacos.

Here are some of the various routes cruisers often choose to traverse the Bahamas:

We also knew the first thing we would want once the winds started to blow, would be a nice stretch of beach on the Atlantic shore to allow us to tear up some ocean surf on our kites.  The fact that we like when the wind blows 20-25 kts was one very big advantage for Phillip and I, because we did experience many, many, (many!) windy days in the Bahamas in December and January.  If this was typical of a winter season there (which the locals seemed to say it was, albeit a bit colder and windier), then plan to have your wetsuits for winter water activities because the water was a bit cold (around 68 degrees once we got further north and into the Atlantic).  And, as far as the wind goes, either make sure you have enough books and games to occupy you for those days spent on the boat or … just a suggestion … but you can always pick up kitesurfing!!!  It’s never too late!  Phillip and I had some wicked sessions in the Bahamas, that we cannot wait to share with you!

But, first, we must check in!  There are only about two dozen places you can check in (i.e., clear customs) in the Bahamas.  We chose West End because it was the furthest north point of entry.  We were pleased to find the channel to West End was well-marked and easy to navigate.  As you guys already probably know, Phillip and I always try to plan to enter a new port during the daytime, and we came in around 8:00 a.m., well after the sun had risen, so the channel was easy to spot using our Explorer Charts and Steve Dodge’s Guide to the Abacos.  Highly recommend those.  If you are planning a trip to the Bahamas, they’re the first thing you should buy and start studying.

The deck hands at West End were really nice, too, helping us get docked safe and sound and telling us everything we needed to know about the check-in process.  It was really exciting to see our baby girl docked in the exotic (okay, exotic to meee) Bahamas for the first time!  Just look at her!

The cruising permit for the Bahamas is $150 and allows the boat to stay in the islands for one year and you (the cruiser) are permitted to come and go for 90 days, then you have to renew if you are planning to stay longer. More info about the customs process and cruising permits if you are interested here.  We found the check-in process to be super easy.  They opened at 9:00 a.m. and it was just a quick 15-minute run-through, then we were stamped and official!

Our next chore (as it always is when we dock up after an offshore passage), was to wash the boat down.  Even at $0.35/gal for the water at the marina, it was well worth it.  Our baby was salty.  But once clean, she was ready to proudly don her new colors!  The brilliant yellow, blue and black of her Bahamian courtesy flag!  See you later “Q!”

We really knew nothing about West End and found it to be a fantastic little quaint resort with a tiki bar and restaurants, beach games, poolside cabanas and music, surfboards and paddle boards all lined on the beach for you to play with and use on the stunning Atlantic coast.

  

What was the most important “toy” on the beach, though?  These huge hammocks for napping!

Because boy did we.  One goombay smash and a belly full of conch salad and this team was out!

“First you start wit da coconut rum … ”

“Add some tasty conch salad, yum … ”

“Then you’re out for the count, Mon!” ; )

That siesta will probably fall up there in one of my Top Ten favorite naps.  Man, I may need to recount those some day, as a few are whirring through my mind right now.  That would be a fun blog!  Do you think you could recount your Top Ten siestas?

Our next big treat in West End was something we had both been looking forward to, you could literally say, for years.  I’ll never forget Pam Wall’s energetic little booming voice when we first saw and heard her speak at the Miami Boat Show in February, 2015.  “Go to the Bahamas!” she squealed.  Visions of green waters, sea turtles and palm trees instantly filled my head.  And Pam chimed back in with “Fill yourself with their fresh Bahamian bread!”  Mmmmm …   Phillip and I had been talking about that Bahamian bread ever since.  Pam probably mentioned it 8-10 times in her speech.  They should make it a drinking game.  Go to one of her Bahamas seminars and each time she mentions “Bahamian bread,” you each take a shot of rum.  I can promise you’d be a happy sailor after that speech.  *hiccup*

But, I didn’t know where we were going to get the bread initially.  Did they only serve it at restaurants, or perhaps in bakeries?  Or only the locals baked it for themselves and you had to know someone who knew someone who could buy a loaf for you?  I had no clue, but that’s what makes it an adventure.  I had just wrapped my first “spa experience” of the trip (this is what Phillip and I now call a nice hot marina shower, thanks to some friendly cruisers in Pensacola Cay who coined the term for us).

Ahhh … a whole new person!  Post-shower selfie to send to the (other) Captain!

And, I was setting up our cockpit table on the boat with a perfectly-chilled bottle of wine that we had been saving for this specific event: the day we made it across the Gulf Stream and had finally docked in the Bahamas.  I was waiting for Phillip to finish his “spa treatment” to join me.  I don’t know if you know this, but Phillip is a bit of a shower diva.  If he is craving a luxurious long, hot shower, he’s going to get it.  Trust me!  I’m usually back from the showers before him, but I was perfectly content to wait.

Just then I saw a cheerful-looking elderly black woman with what appeared to be her granddaughter happily walking the docks, her granddaughter heaving and pulling a dock cart that was about twice her size behind her.  I didn’t know what she was doing, but I watched for a bit as she and the adorable little girl walked the cart down our finger pier and the woman began to look eagerly at each boat, I sensed looking for people aboard.  I also sensed she may be trying to sell us something that I figured I wasn’t going to want.  I’m not much of a souvenirey-type person and I didn’t know if the locals would try to panhandle a bit or sell you their wares.  I had no clue and I was prepared to politely decline and send her along so Phillip and I could enjoy our celebration alone.  But, then she said those magic words.  Words I could in no way turn down.  Words that would have prompted me to invite her right down into our cockpit and pop the bubbly with her myself.

“Would you like to buy some fresh-baked Bahamian bread?” she asked.

A little stunned, I struggled to answer at first.  Thinking to myself, ”Oh, so this is how you get it?  They just come dockside and sell it?  How freaking convenient!”

“Yes!” I practically shouted.  “I want two!”  And two I got.  A fresh white loaf (I figured you have to try the original) and, upon the woman’s expert recommendation, a cinnamon raisin loaf as well.  Only $5.00 a piece for those heavenly loaves.  Phillip and I then enjoyed a true Bahamian feast.  Crisp popped champagne  to celebrate all the months and prep work that went into our voyage to the Bahamas with fresh Bahamian bread to boot!  Still warm from the oven.  Pam, you would have eaten the whole thing!  (We almost did!)

Definitely a memorable moment worth celebrating.  Cheers!  The celebration continued with our first night out on Bahamian soil at a glorious, decadent little restaurant right next to the marina where we indulged on even more Bahamian bread and lobster tail.  Mmm-mmm-hmmm!

While West End was a very cute little place, Phillip and I had already made our mind up that we wouldn’t stay long.  It was just for us to check-in, clean the boat, fill the tanks and get ready to toss the lines the following morning to make our way into Little Bahamas Bank.  Our study of the Explorer Charts in the many months before our departure date told us there were essentially two routes you could take from West End into Little Bahamas Bank.  One is known as the “Indian Cut” and–we were told–this route could be, in some places and depending on the tide, a “very skinny six feet.”  Leery of this option, particularly as it would be our first trek into the Bahamas, we opted for the longer route up north to Memory Rock, where there is a well-known inlet right next to Memory Rock that, albeit narrow but if followed closely, allows a good 10-12 feet of clearance into Little Bahamas Bank, even at low tide.

“Yeah, that one,” I remember telling Phillip many months ago.  “The ten foot one.”

We do not like skinny water.  Some more info on those two different routes, Indian Cut and Memory Rock, for you here.  While our time in the Bahamas has definitely made us (because you just have to get used to it) more tolerant in shallow depths, we still do not opt to risk depths that are too shallow for our boat if we can avoid it.  With many Bahamian cays and harbors now behind us, I can now say we have traveled in depths of 5.8’ and we didn’t touch bottom.  While our manufacturing specs on the Niagara claim we have a draft of 5.2′, that’s a testament to the boat when it is dry.  Not when it’s loaded down with the many, many bags of wine, booze, canned goods, water, oil, engine parts, sails, etc.  All that stuff that is necessary for cruising, but that brings the boat down lower in the water.  Well, we can now safely saw we are least not 5.8’.  But how close we were to hitting bottom at that point in time, I do not want to know.  Thankfully we knew it was soft, so we were clenched and braced for a sandy bump or two.  But we’re thrilled it did not happen!

Phillip and I had also decided to leave West End as early as light would allow so we could navigate Memory Rock in the bright, safe light of day as well as make it to our first intended stop, Mangrove Cay, also before the sun went too far down so we would have sufficient light to safely anchor.  Our next intended stop thereafter would be Great Sale Cay before we made our way north into the Sea of Abaco.  Here is a map of our destinations:

I’ll admit, Phillip and I were both a little nervous about navigating Memory Rock.  Much of our work, education and training this past year (particularly my Sea School and Captain’s License courses) were meant to prepare us for encounters just like this–hairy, rocky inlets that would require keen and precise navigation to ensure our prized possession and our ticket to world travel didn’t collide into a reef or rock and cause significant damage.  Following the explicit Explorer Charts headings and Pam Wall’s incredibly helpful and adamant advice to “not turn east into Little Bahamas Bank until you are with 1/4 mile of Memory Rock.  1/4 mile!” she screeched to us via the Delorme (which by the way proved very helpful in making navigation and weather routing decisions such as these).

So we didn’t.  We watched the depths as they dropped from 20 to 15 to 12 ft and did not turn right into the Bank until our GPS coordinates were within .25 of the coordinates for Memory Rock.  Then we turned, watched the depths, which remained between 11 and 13 and carefully traversed our way along the path detailed by the Explorer Charts.  Soon we found ourselves back in a safe 17 feet of water breathing big sighs of relief, so happy we had our first “hairy” entrance behind us.

While planning and dreaming about the Bahamas for many months in 2017, navigating the sometimes tricky and dangerous reefs and rocky inlets was not something Phillip and I were looking forward to.  But it’s something you have to accept and prepare for if you want to travel to places like this.  It’s the “eustress” (I call it) of cruising, the good kind of stress.  And, it was well worth enduring this time, because Phillip and I were rewarded with crystal-clear, lush water soon after we made our way into Little Bahamas Bank.  Both of us could not stop staring.  There were so many shades of jewel-toned greens, crystal blues, pearly whites, all swirling and flowing underneath our boat.  The water was breathtaking!

  

It was the first time we were watching our boat traverse over the crystal waters of the Bahamas, and I swear it’s like you could feel her perking up, raising her bow, looking around and taking it all in.  Plaintiff’s Rest was just as excited to be there as we were.  We knew when we saw those colorful, can’t-really-describe them waters that we had made it–into the Bahamas!  We motored over to Mangrove Cay just in time to drop the hook, with an hour or two of daylight so we could do our first Bahamian anchor check, which can practically be done from the boat, because you can see down, even to 13 feet and almost make out the anchor exactly.  You’ll see in the video!  But we were ready to get wet!

   

A quick dip and it was soon time for happy hour, a stunning sunset, and a special Chef Phillippe dinner on the boat.  (I believe it was Cuban-style mojo pork tenderloin with black beans and yellow rice that night, but don’t quote me on that.  We eat so good on the boat, every night is finer than a five-star gourmet feast!)

Our plan was to get up with the sun again the next day so we could make it well within daylight to our next stop, Great Sale Cay, and spend more time playing and exploring there before nightfall.  And while I would have never believed it, the water that day was even more beautiful, easily the most breathtaking of our entire trek through the Abacos.  Just.  You.  Wait.  There’s a little preview of it at the end of the video, and some footage we are very excited to share, coming at you next time.  Can you say a Silks Session at Sunset??

Yeeeessss.  That’s all coming to you next time.  For now go with us!  Check in at West End, down your first Goombay Smash (followed by a hammock crash) and join us as we make our way into Little Bahamas Bank!  Enjoy!

Posted in Aerial Silks, Bahamas Bound, Good Juice, Landlubber Outings, Videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

BV4 (VIDEO): Across the Gulf Stream to West End

“Never cross with a north wind!”  Can you hear it?  Pam Wall’s little energetic voice?  She repeated this warning many times when we first saw, heard and met her at the Miami Boat Show back in February, 2015.  I had no idea that amazing little enthusiastic woman would soon thereafter change my life.

Love that bubbly little lady!

After listening to her inspiring “Cruising the Abacos” seminar (and finding ourselves in dire hunger soon after for some “fresh baked Bahamian bread,” Pam always squeals when she says it) Phillip and I had originally decided back in 2015 that the first place we were going to cruise our boat to outside of the states would be the Bahamas.  And that decision held firm for a long time until we heard Cuba had thankfully opened up for American cruisers.  Heck yeah!

While the Bahamas were hard to pass up, we knew they would be there waiting for us the next season, and with the tumultuous state of American-Cuban relations, we weren’t sure Cuba would be.  That was when we decided to set our sights first on Cuba, and it was a fantastic decision.  Mine and Phillip’s cruise to Cuba in December, 2016 was a monumental, memorable voyage for us both.  It was our longest offshore passage (five days) just the two of us and it was the first time we had sail our beautiful little boat from the shores of one country to another.  What an incredible feeling!  I still remember when we watched the sun come up over the horizon on the fifth morning.

“That’s a Havana sunrise right there,” Phillip said and he played “Havana Daydreaming” most of the morning as we made our way towards the inlet to Marina Hemingway, singing heartily along as his late Uncle Johnny would have, who had also wanted to sail to Cuba but he unfortunately was not able to do so before he passed away.  I know Johnny was there with Phillip in spirit and I can still hear Phillip’s voice from that morning as he sat on the foredeck and sang.  “Oh he’s just scheming … his life away.”

Thankfully, we’re not just scheming.  We are going!  Our voyage to Cuba was a phenomenal trip and only told Phillip and I that we are ready to travel further and longer, just the two of us, on our boat.  So, in 2017 we decided we would set our sights on the Bahamas this season and enjoy the wonderful pristine patch of islands we have so close by.  It’s amazing to think that jewel-toned paradise is really only a 12-hour sail from the states.  How lucky we are!  All we needed was just a sliver more luck to give us a nice “no north wind” window of favorable conditions to allow us to sail from the Keys and across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.

In the months before our departure date from Pensacola, Phillip and I (well, and I will admit Phillip far more than me) spent many hours studying the Explorer Charts for the Bahamas making decisions about where we planned to enter the Bahamas, where we wanted to check in and what islands (called “Cays” in the Bahamas, pronounced “keys”) we wanted to sail to and visit and in what order, although knowing every plan is and will always be weather-dependent.  Having just recently completed my first Bahamas article for SAIL Magazine (thank you again, Peter Nielsen, for requesting more articles from me!) which will focus on preparing and packing for a trip to the Bahamas, Phillip and I both agree an intense study of the Explorer Charts and determinations as to where you want to go in the Bahamas and what route you want to take to explore them is a great first place to start when preparing to travel to the Bahamas.  Much of what you will need aboard will depend on how you are planning to traverse the Bahamas and what you are planning to do there as supplies are readily available in some places, limited and altogether unavailable in others.

After talking with fellow sailors back home who had cruised the Bahamas many times and taking into consideration what time of year Phillip and I were going (during December-January, when we knew we could expect many sudden and intense north fronts, the “Christmas winds,” and some chilly water and weather), we decided to make our way as far north as possible first and check in at West End.

We would then start dotting our way along the Sea of Abaco seeking protection from the northerly islands as needed when storms and heavy north winds were expected.  (And boy did they come.  I recorded 36 kts of wind on the boat one afternoon in Green Turtle Cay.  Just wait.)

With the plan to enter the Bahamas at West End, Phillip and I knew we wanted to “ride” the Gulf Stream as far as we could north before jumping out to make entry into West End.  Initially, we weren’t sure we would get a window large enough to allow us to sail all the way from Key West to West End.  If we did not, our plan was to dot along the Florida Keys to Marathon then perhaps Rodriguez Key while waiting for a good window to make the jump.  But, when we saw a beautiful two-day window blooming on the horizon, we started to top off the provisions and ready the boat to make way.  While we had a ton of fun in Key West (we always do!) meeting the new Geckos and getting to spend some time with them, seeing our old pals Brittany and Jeremiah and getting to watch their beautiful Alberg splash, as well as enjoying the many great restaurants and poolside views, we are always eager and excited to get back underway.

On Wednesday, December 20th, with expected 10-12 kt winds the first day (which would offer us a fun, comfortable sail around the Keys) and light, fluky winds of 5 kts or less the following day (which would allow us to at least motor safely across the Gulf Stream), Phillip and I decided to toss the lines and seize the window!  You’ll see in the video, Annie de-docked like a boss (I tell you I’m getting much better at this), and we then had a fantastic cruise all the way from Key West to West End, just shy of a two-day run.

   

Man, that’s living … 

So, is that.  With all the work comes all the rewards.  

There’s the entry to West End!

Don’t tell Pam this, but we totally broke the rule because you know what kind of winds we had throughout the entire Gulf Stream?  That’s right.  North!  We crossed with a north wind, Pammy.  I’m sorry!  But, when it’s howling at 3 kts, a north wind isn’t really going to affect the boat that much, particularly when it had been blowing from the south for a short time before.  Meaning, the sea state was just starting to turn around and we essentially crossed on a smooth, glassy lake.  It was beautiful though.  While I always prefer to have wind to sail, there is nothing that can replicate the beauty of a hull sliding through silk at sunrise.  It’s just stunning.

I hope you all enjoy the video.  I have had such a great time filming just for pleasure and putting these videos together for you all, just for pure fun.  Not to make any money from them.  Not in hopes they will get a lot of hits so I can get YouTube ad money.  Just because our views were amazing, so I clicked the camera on occasionally, and because the videos are such a vivid personal scrapbook for us.  I really will be excited to sit down when I’m 70 and watch my Atlantic-crossing movie.  Can you imagine that?  I wonder if YouTube will still be a “thing” then?  Who knows.  If any of you have read Dave Eggers’s The Circle (one Phillip and I both read in the Bahamas), apparently we all will soon be be filming and uploading every moment of our existence for all the world to see.  Heck, with the immediacy of Instagram and Facebook these days, we’re almost there.

But you know where you can truly unplug and get away?  Out there.  On the big open blue.  I can’t tell you how good it feels to be out there, nothing but satiny water all around you and nothing you have to do but eat, sleep, mend the boat and read.  I could sail offshore forever, happily, I do believe.  I hope you all love this bit.  As always, I try to capture the beauty of the voyage, the work and maintenance it requires, and the reward of having your beautiful, strong boat carry you from the shores of one country to another.  Next up, we’ll begin sharing the Bahamas with you, one Cay at a time.  Be ready to pick your jaws up off the floor because it’s breathtaking.  Stay tuned!

Posted in Bahamas Bound, Boat Projects, Equipment Failures, Sail Skills, Videos, Voyage to Cuba | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

BV3 (VIDEO): A New Breed of Geckos in Key West!

There were!  Everywhere we went.  More than we expected.  Geckos here.  Geckos there.  Geckos extraordinaire!  You’re right, not real geckos.  I’ll admit I know not the native local habitat of geckos.  The desert, I would imagine?  This was—as I mentioned—a different breed of geckos.  The cruising kind!  Of all the fun, exciting things we were expecting to find in the Keys, a gecko overload was not one.  But that’s the beauty of chance and fate.  He stopped me by the pool in Stock Island with a sentiment I’ve heard often: “I know you from YouTube,” and there it happened.  We had stumbled upon a pair of newbie cruisers who were about to purchase, splash and move onto their first liveaboard sailboat the next day and it just so happened they had bought the s/v Lazy Gecko.  It’s amazing the happenstances that can happen out there and it is a constant reminder how truly small the cruising world is.  Fun video for you all of the lazy splash below and a surprise visit from a rather famous cruising couple.  But first, let’s get back to our Bahamas-Bound saga.

If you caught the video from our five-day voyage across the Gulf, you’ll know I got rather sick on that voyage.  The sickest, I can easily say, I have been in my adult life.  In true Annie-style, I spent the first few days of our trip trying to hide it from Phillip, telling him it was “just a sore throat,” “a little head cold, it’s almost gone.” But every time I swallowed, it felt like a fresh layer of skin was ripped off of my throat and swallowed down, leaving it raw and seething.  Day three my voice began to go out so there was no more hiding it.  I sounded like Patty and Zelma from the Simpsons.  You remember this fun clip:

 

That’s one sexy rasp!  Day four, my throat having been way more than “just sore” now for almost a full ninety-six hours, Phillip and I were both pretty sure I had strep throat.  And every day began with a clattering cough trying to hack phlegm up and swallow it down.  Appetizing, right?  Just wait.  Day seven, I woke in the middle of the night to the odd sensation of my eyes oozing.  I would wipe some gook out of my tear ducts, but then I could feel it puff back up under my lids, ooze out of my duct, pool up on my nose and literally drip off the bridge of my nose onto my pillow.  Nice.  Several hours in I could mash it out of my eyes by running a thumb across my puffy lids and squeezing it out like a tube of toothpaste.  Did I find it odd my eyes were oozing?  Sure!  Worrisome?  Nah.  All told, my sore throat had healed and my morning cough wasn’t too taxing.  I figured whatever nasty shit was in my head was finally making its way out—albeit out my eyeballs—and I chalked the drainage up to be a good sign.  Annie didn’t take a lot of selfies during that phase, but here was one pic Phillip snapped of me my first red-eye morning and you can see it’s not pretty.

 

Waiters and waitresses seemed to be afraid to serve me, or at least touch anything I had touched.  Probably smart.  While waking up several mornings in a row with lashes caked so heavily with snot clusters I had to manually pry my lids open was not fun, it did prove to be the last of my wicked strep-bronchinus-infection (we called it) and finally, somewhere around Day Ten, the Captain considered me fully-healed.  Hooray!

Why am I sharing all of this with you?  Because gross bodily stuff is really cool and interesting.  At least I think so.  But, really, I wanted to share all of this to pass along another important cruising lesson on first aid and medication: ANTIBIOTICS.  When Phillip and I shove off on an extended cruise, we like to try to get a couple of rounds of preventative antibiotics prescribed so we can have them on-board in case one of us gets a wicked infection in a location where we are not close to a clinic … like 100 miles offshore in the Gulf.  Did we have antibiotics aboard to treat Annie’s wicked illness?  Yes.  Points for us.  But, was Annie too stubborn and stupid during the first four days of her illness to take them?  Yes.  Take back those points.  I hate taking medication and I really thought it was just a pretty bad cold that was I was just about to overcome.  So, I waited.  I felt like taking antibiotics for “just a head cold” would be a waste.  I usually have them prescribed for a UTI, which I am known to get every couple of years and I wanted to be sure I had them for that if one of those flared up while we were crossing.  I would much rather have the gnarly shit I did than days and days of an untreated, raging UTI.  Any ladies out there who know the feeling would probably totally agree.  But when Phillip finally won out and I did start taking the antibiotics, I made another mistake.  (Me?  Stubborn?  Noooo … ).

I am always a ball of sunshine!

You can probably guess what it was.  Obviously, I’m trying to spare as much medication as possible and I still believed I could kick that thing on my own.  So, I did what I often do when taking antibiotics: stop-mid dose and save the rest.  That has often proved helpful.  Here, it proved decidedly detrimental.  I took the antibiotics for two days (the last two of our voyage), and I started to feel better, so I stopped.  “Must save the rest now for a burning bladder, Annie,” I told myself.  Then what happened?  My eyes started oozing and my morning cough began and my illness lasted an extra five days.  As Phillip later pointed out, if you stop an antibiotics regimen too early, the illness isn’t eliminated but, rather, educated on how to fight that particular antibiotic and it rears back twice as strong.  Mine certainly did.  So, two lessons for you here fellow cruisers (all lessons are free today): 1) carry preventative antibiotics aboard on long passages (as I mentioned, my ob/gyn nurse prescribes them for me for potential UTIs); and 2) take the whole damn dose.  Don’t pull an Annie.  Oozing eyes are not sexy.

But, back to our saga.  We made it to Key West!  Stock Island, rather, as this was the marina where we kept our boat most of the spring last year after returning from Cuba while we flew back and forth to work in Pensacola and play in Key West and we were very pleased with the security, cleanliness and efficiency of the marina at Stock Island Village.  While it is a little pricey, it is also a fabulous facility, now with a completed hotel and nice pool, lounge and bar area available for free to all marina residents that we highly recommend.

  

We heart Stock Island!

And, we were so glad to see it had not been damaged or wiped out entirely by Irma!  One of the really fun things we discovered about this marina, immediately after our return from Cuba, was that there is a little Cuban restaurant within walking distance that everyone claimed was “very authentic.”  Having just sailed 90 miles from that wonderful island last December, with plenty of Cuban ropa vieja, picadillo and plantains still making their way through our tummies, we were highly skeptical, but definitely intrigued.  And the little Cuban gal that runs that tight ship at Deluna’s did not disappoint.  We got a mojo pork, with beans, rice and fried plantains that definitely held its own up against our high Cuban standards.  And, when we came back to Stock Island this time, we were pleasantly surprised once again by this little Cuban cuisine gem.

“We’re having a little dock party tonight over at Deluna’s to announce our Christmas parade winners,” one of our new boat neighbors told us after he helped us dock and tie-up.  “Ahh … cool.  Maybe we’ll check it out,” Phillip and I said, not knowing whether we would in fact as we had been planning (and talking, and dreaming, and drooling) about it for days.  Our first dinner ashore after crossing the Gulf we had both agreed would be Roostica, a fabulously-decadent little pizzeria bistro in Stock Island that makes delicious wood-fired thin-crust pizzas with names like The Diablo, The Island Pie, Truffle & Mushroom.  Are you getting hungry yet?  We were.  Phillip and I—splayed out wet, exhausted and salty in our stinky foul weather gear sloshing around on passage—had been daydreaming about every oily, buttery, cheesy bite for four days.  After our first hot shore shower, it was the first place we were planning to go.  But then our dock neighbor said:

“They’re serving food and drinks, too.  For free.”

Free?!  That’s “cruiser” for “We’re going.” So we did.

And turns out by “food” they meant a tantalizing Cuban feast!  Braised pork shoulder, black beans, succulent yellow rice, yucas (Cuban-style mashed potatoes), fresh Cuban bread (“Pre-buttered? Shit yeah,” Phillip said) and sweet, fried plantains.  As much as you could eat, with a full wine glass coming every 15 minutes?  All for free?!  The decision was immediate and mutual.  Sorry Roostica.  We knew it would be there for us another evening.  The Delunas folks had tip jars out and we gave generously then hopped in line to fill a heaping plate.

Then another …

And another.  I’m not kidding.

Yes, thirds.  We had thirds.  I don’t think I’ve had thirds since Thanksgiving 2009.  Holy smokes did we eat.  But it was the perfect “Welcome back to Stock Island” event.  And then we were just stumbling distance from our boat.  Our bellies so full we could have rolled home.  It was a great way to end our first night ashore.

The next day we were planning to walk or jog to Key West.  The beach stretch on the south side of the island is really beautiful and we’ve enjoyed trekking from Stock Island to Key West on foot before.

 

We wanted to eat at one of our favorite places in Key West, a little French creperia that makes (don’t tell Yannick) better crepes than we had in France.  Sorry, but it’s just true.  Savory ones with mushrooms, chicken and beschamel sauce.  Or sweet ones with dark chocolate and bananas foster.  God, can you tell we’re foodies??

Another item on our agenda while in Key West was a reunion visit with an old friend from Pensacola.  Our buddy, Russ, who worked at www.PerdidoSailor.com in the shipyard under Brandon for a while, had left Pensacola a few years back on his 1969 42’ Pearson to begin his own cruising adventure and he had landed, as many do, in Key West where we heard he was working on one of the charter schooners there.  There are only like a thousand charter schooners in Key West.

But I must share one little secret Russ and I had.  Back at the shipyard in Pensacola, Russ and I … we got really close.  Physically.  I mean it!  We did.  The two of us were cramped in the bilge of our Niagara 35 for a week together rebuilding our rotten stringers back in the winter of 2015.  There’s not a lot of room in there and there was a lot of work to do.  We had to get close.  Roll that fabulous shipyard footage!

Two videos covering our rotten stringer repair for you here if you haven’t yet seen them: #52: Stumped by the Rotten Stringer Repair and #53: Rotten Stringers Repaired with Coosa Board and Fiberglass.  Russ and I put a lot of work (and 185 pieces of glass) into that repair, making our baby stronger than ever.  And, man did we rock those Tyvek suits!  High fashion.

Ahhh … good times with Russ.  It was very fun to have a reunion with him and hit up a few of the dive bars and delightfully tacky joints around Key West Harbor.  Everyone loves Schooner’s Wharf!  Say “Hey!” to Russ!  Cheers!

Another item on our to-do list while we were in Key West was give our baby some TLC.  Plaintiff’s Rest had worked quite hard chugging us across the Gulf, particularly in those gnarly conditions outside of Tampa, winds of 25 kts and 6-8 foot seas.  She had done a fantastic job and definitely deserved some pampering.  We gave her a good scrubdown right after we docked, which we usually do every time we make a passage and come into a marina.

Oh, and I did mention that bilge pump in BV1 … we discovered our forward bilge pump, a 500 gph Rule, had gone out.  For whatever reason.  Just quit working.  We figured that probably contributed to the bilge water accumulation I mentioned in BV2.  Ahhh … that explains a lot.  Good thing we brought a spare!  We popped the new one in, not too bad of a chore.  Re-wired her and we were in business.

And, Stock Island has a West Marine there so we were able to get another “spare” to replace the now-used spare.  Good to keep stock of your spares!  We also changed out the oil in Westie.  He’d run a good 38 hours bringing us across the Gulf and we usually change the oil every 50 hours, so we figured an early rotation wouldn’t hurt.  Our previous owner made a few small modifications to the engine which make it rather easy to change the oil, and a much cleaner process.  He rotated the oil filter from sitting horizontal that it now screws up and down vertically (containing the spill) and he put in an extended tube we connect to our manual pump catch-bin to pump the old oil out.  All told, this chore only takes about thirty minutes and isn’t too bad at all.  Westie certainly deserved it.

Chugging 38 hours across the Gulf had burned a little bit of oil:

And some coolant, which we topped off as well:

Using a mirror to check the gasket around the thermostat in our raw water system to make sure there wasn’t any green ooze around it signifying a leak.  “Nope!  All dry!” shouted Diesel Mechanic Annie.

And, Stock Island has a nice facility where you can dump your used oil, making this chore even easier.  Always good to properly dispose of your nasty fluids.

We also noticed some additional rust that had creeped into our stainless since we last polished (in July) and, while we had time to do it in Pensacola, we literally didn’t have the right weather for it.  The Spotless Stainless recommended the product not be used in temps less than 78 degrees.  “We’ll do it when we get south then!” the Captain decided and it was done.  We gave our gal a beautiful spit shine at the dock in Stock Island and she was glistening!

One thing we would have never expected to happen while we were there in Key West, though, was an unlikely run-in with a pack of geckos!  Do geckos run in packs?  Perhaps it was a herd, or a flock, but it was way more than we expected to find in one place.  FOUR!  And, I’m not talking about reptilian geckos.  We’re talking about the human kind.  Here’s how it went down.

Phillip and I had been lounging by the pool at the Stock Island Marina our second day there (Roostica night!  Shit yeah!) and I had a guy stop me by the awesome little tiki bar they built there.  “Hey, I know you from YouTube!” he said.  I smiled and laughed, because I do get that quite often, and promptly apologized for my Patty-and-Zelma voice.  While I did feel and sound like crap most of our Key West days, I never let it stop me from having a good time or meeting fun new cruisers!  “I’m Steve,” he said.  “My wife and I just bought a boat.  We’re going to splash tomorrow then move aboard.”

Super cool, right?  Well, wait until you see the boat they bought!  This vessel has quite the following.

Steve told me that afternoon at the bar—he and his super cool wife, Ashley were there having their necessary “Holy crap, we just bought a boat” drink—that the boat they bought was the s/v Lazy Gecko, so Phillip and I knew they were getting an awesome 1985 Alberg 37.  And, Phillip and I had planned to come watch them splash, hand over a bottle of champagne and enjoy seeing two newbie cruisers launch their cruising dreams.  But, what we didn’t know was that the geckos.  THE GECKOS.  Jeremiah and Brittany were going to be there, too.  They had flew in just for the day to finalize the deal, make sure the engine ran for the new geckos and help get Steve and Ashley secure on their new boat and safely off the dock.  When Phillip and I were walking toward the shipyard and I saw Brittany pushing Rhys in his little stroller, I jumped for joy!

It was so fun to get a spontaneous surprise visit with the Geckos.  We have only been able to connect with them in person on very few occasions.  One time they were coming through Pensacola and stopped to get a quick tour of our boat.  It was very fun to finally meet them in person.

Then we got to spend another millisecond together when we were all at the Miami Boat Show in February last year.  Say Hey to Teddy J with SailLoot!

We had also collaborated remotely doing a virtual tour of their beautiful Alberg, which you can watch here.  You’ll see Steve and Ashley are getting one heck of a bluewater boat.  In all, we’ve always enjoyed hanging out with them and it was a lot of fun to have a quick impromptu reunion in Key West.  We’re very excited for the new geckos, sailing under the name “Bella Vista” and we’re eager to see where their plans take them.  Phillip and I had some influence on their first destination.  I’ll let some of you guess where we encouraged them to go!  For now, meet the new Geckos and say hello to some old friends.  Jeremiah, Brittany, we’ll sure miss seeing you guys on the beautiful Alberg, but we’re really excited to see what the sailing future holds for you.  I’m sure Bella Vista is going to take the Alberg to many new and exciting places!

Love these crazy sexy two!

“I need an Annie selfie!” Brittany said.  “You got it!”

Bon Voyage Bella Vista!

So, tons of fun in Key West, right?  We love that quirky little colorful town.  Tons of great restaurants and tiki bars, too.  Not to mention sunset at Mallory Square.  The street performers.  Boat parades.  Pool parties.  All kinds of perks.

    

But, Phillip and I had our sights set on the Bahamas for a reason.  It was time to go!  But, one must never be in a hurry when cruising.  We knew one of the toughest jumps we might have to make on this journey would be across the Gulf Stream.  Pam Wall and so many other experienced cruisers had advised (very harshly but necessarily) against crossing the stream in any kind of north wind.  The Gulf Stream is a powerful current that runs south to north along the east coast of the United States and trying to cross it with any kind of north wind we had heard was like trying to run on a treadmill while someone is spraying a fire hose in your face.  Very lumpy seas and forceful current-meets-wind conditions.

When Phillip and I left the dock in Pensacola we were prepared to sail straight to the Bahamas if the weather would allow, we figured it was unlikely but possible.  When we got the weather data our fourth day of the journey across the Gulf from our router, it showed a front coming through the next couple of days with steady north winds, so a complete Pensacola-to-Bahamas passage was not advised.

We also knew we might be holed up either in Key West, Marathon or some other key (we had heard Rodriguez Key makes a good jumping off point) possibly for weeks waiting for a good window to cross the Gulf Stream, which would not be ideal but totally tolerable.  We were thrilled to find, however, that just a few short days after our landfall in Key West, a wonderful weather window was opening up soon that would likely allow us to make the jaunt from Key West all the way up to West End in the Bahamas.  Here is the window we were watching:

 

We checked the GRIBS, checked with friends and confirmed with our weather router this was our window!  On Wednesday late-morning, December 20th, we tossed the lines in Key West headed for West End.  Next up on the blog, we make the jump!  BV4: Crossing the Stream – Key West to West End.  Stay tuned!

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Article in SAIL Magazine: Conquistadors and Cruisers!

“Nice piece in SAIL!  Made my lunch!”  Ha!  This is so cool!  I had several friends and followers send me messages in the Bahamas letting me know I had an article that came out in the February issue of SAIL Magazine.  You see?  Even when I’m over here in the tropics, I left seeds of sunshine back there for you guys at home!  Definitely get out (even in the snow – ha!) and pick up a copy of the February issue of SAIL Magazine to read my Conquistadors and Cruisers article.  It was a write-up Peter Nielsen at SAIL (thank you for trusting me again, Peter, with another piece!) requested from me about what makes Pensacola such great cruising grounds for sailors.  Phillip (my absolute Idea Guy) had the idea to compare the benefits that cruisers appreciate while sailing in Pensacola’s beautiful waters to what Tristan DeLuna recognized when he sailed to Pensacola from Mexico and established the FIRST European settlement in the states in Pensacola in 1559.  Some very cool history for you here.  ENJOY!!  And, pop quiz, for 500 points: If any of you know what the word “Panzacola” (an Indian tribe that Pensacola was named after) means, throw it in a comment below.  Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.  Give it a go!

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BV2: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times (Night Shifts)

You’re out there.  Nothing but denim blue water lapping the sky as far as you can see.  The sun has just set, so each chop has a bright pink cap reflecting the magenta sky.  Colors and senses are heightened.  The boat is floating along nicely with 10 kts on the stern and you’re hoping it will stay that way through the night so you and the crew can make comfortable way during the oncoming night shifts. You hope …

Ahoy HaveWind followers!  Bahamas Voyage Chapter Two coming at you!  I wanted to share with you a little bit of what it’s like to hold a night shift alone offshore on a sailboat and tell you about two particular night shifts on our Gulf-Crossing: my best night shift ever and my worst.  Some very fun happenings in here for you.  Enjoy!

I saw it,” I said to myself.  Perhaps out-loud.  I can’t even be sure at this point.  During my night shifts, I talk, sing, whisper and think for two hours straight and I can’t easily differentiate which of those play only in my mind or which make it to my lips.  But I saw it!  I love it when I’m staring right at it when it happens.  It’s one thing to catch a streak out of your peripheral vision and turn to see, yes, in fact a shooting star finishing its impressive blaze across the sky.  But is an entirely different experience to have it happen to the very star you are staring at.  At first it is fixated star in the sky.  A beautiful white point.  Then you see it.  The very white point you were looking at light up, blaze brightly, and suddenly streak, screaming almost as if you can hear it, across the sky.  “I saw it,” you’ll find yourself saying as if to confirm to whatever cosmic spirits are out there—the dolphins, your magnificent boat, Neptune, whomever—that, yes, you did indeed see it.  “And it was beautiful.”

Shooting stars are one of the most mesmerizing parts of holding a night shift on a sailboat offshore, many miles away from the glowing shore.  Just you.  And a million stars.

But they are not the most mesmerizing.  I did not know it until I first saw it with Yannick during our Atlantic-crossing back in 2016 on his gallant Soubise Freydis 46’ catamaran.  I was holding a night shift alone somewhere north of the Bermudas and I really thought my mind was playing tricks on me.  While shooting stars overhead were common, I truly thought I had just seen one in the water.  I peered again, straining my eyes into the dark blue chop and there it was—a streak of glitter.  I stepped one foot out onto the deck and looked over.  This was as far as I dared to venture alone while holding my shift.  Yannick’s very strict rule for our four-man ocean-crossing crew—and it was a good one—was that no one was allowed to go forward on deck alone while holding a night shift.  But, from this arched-over position I could see it.  Flashes and trails of glitter gleaming behind what appeared to be an ethereal outline of a dolphin.  Then I saw others, all of them seeming to be making their way to the bow.  We had seen pods of dolphins swim, romp and play in front of Andanza’s bow many times while on our ocean voyage, and I just knew they were doing it now—glowing in the dozens at the bow.

Yannick was sitting in the saloon below downloading a WeatherFax chart.   He was often awake throughout the night, while the rest of the crew was holding shifts at the helm, researching issues, studying manuals, looking at the weather, doing any number of a dozen things that required his focus everyday all day across the entire ocean.  I told him what I thought I had seen and, as stern and steadfast as he was a Captain, he was also an adventurer at heart.  “Let’s go see!” he said and allowed me to follow him, clipping in along the way, as we made our way to the bow.  And there they were.  It had to be fifteen to twenty of them.  The small, zippy little dolphins we’d seen throughout the Atlantic crossing, weaving in and out of one another, their bodies aglow, the disturbed water behind them forming a glistening trail.  That was the most mesmerizing thing I had seen dolphins do.  Until …

My second night shift during our Gulf-crossing toward the Bahamas.  I finally saw dolphins in phosphorescence in the Gulf.  These are the not the small, zippy critters of the Atlantic.  No.  As residents of the Florida coast, many of you may know how lucky we are to typically see dolphins just about everyday we venture out onto the water.  And, how big and gallant their movements.  The dolphins of the Gulf are much larger and more lumbering than those we saw in the Atlantic.  And now, as I saw them during my night shift on our Niagara, they appeared so large, outlined in phosphorescence, it was almost as if they were small whales, slipping sleepily in and out of one another.  The first one I saw that swim up toward the cockpit, his entire body outlined in a web of sparkles, he seemed so big and so close that I jumped when he dipped under the boat for fear he would touch my feet.  I felt that connected to them.  They were elegant and wondrous.  Although the same “going topside alone at night” rule applies a bit more loosely on our Niagara (technically Phillip and I have a genteel agreement to wake the other if we need to go forward, but we’ve also both broken it when conditions are calm and we’re not going forward to handle some dangerous equipment failure or make a challenging sail change), I ventured forth.  Clipped in mid-ship and watched them—majestic, glowing creatures bringing us across the Gulf.  That.  Was.  Mesmerizing.

So, shooting stars and glowing dolphins.  Can night shifts offshore aboard a sailboat be like this?  Of course!  I’ve often had many of my most memorable moments from an offshore voyage occur during a night shift, because there is simply nothing that can replicate the beauty of the dark, the overwhelming multitudes of stars and the gentle lapping of dark water on the hull.  Night sailing is an experience all its own.

But, I have also often had my most frightening and frustrating moments of an offshore voyage occur during a night shift.  It is amazing how different the conditions feel on the boat when you are robbed of the security of visibility.  At night, you often cannot see how big the sea state is (or, more appropriately, how small).  It all feels big because it can only be felt and heard, not seen.  All of the sounds the boat makes are also amplified because your hearing takes over for vision.  Sails flogging, rigging rattling, halyards snapping all sound infinitely more dangerous and harmful at night as opposed to day.  Every adverse consequence of rough conditions—the pitching of the boat, the groan of her bending, flexing structure, the crush of water against her hull, the thunderous pop of a sail that fills with wind—sound and feel worse at night.

My third night during our voyage across the Gulf to the Bahamas was easily one of the worst night shifts I have held on our boat.  Granted, it does not compare to some of the night shifts I held on Andanza, when we were battling a failing auto-pilot, hand-steering in heavy winds, navigating ships in the dark, but this was definitely my most challenging aboard our our monohull.

As many of you know, if you followed us via our Delorme posts across the Gulf or in the Gulf-crossing video we recently put out, Phillip and I faced a pretty gnarly front outside of Tampa while we were making our way down south to Key West.  It wasn’t anything too daunting, 20-25 kt winds and 6-8 foot seas, all on the stern thankfully, but it did make for a very tiring 24 hours underway.  And, the culmination of happenings combining to create a pretty hairy situation happens as it always seems to happen.  Phillip and I call this the “onion theory.”  A dangerous situation during a passage is usually not the result of one catastrophic event.  It is usually a culmination of several unfortunate occurrences or situations that add on top of one another, much like layers of an onion, to result in a conglomerate bad situation.  Let’s say you have a small equipment failure.  The auto-pilot goes out.  The transmission needs constant refilling.  The engine overheats on the hour.  Whatever it is, it calls for more attention and effort from the crew.  This then creates added exhaustion in the crew.  Then perhaps the weather turns, calling for a grueling sail change or rougher conditions on the boat which further tires the crew.  Then perhaps a bad decision is made, to try and power through a rough front or handle a sail change alone, likely made because the crew member or captain is tired, irritated and this adds to poor judgment.  You can probably see a pattern here: minor problem after problem, stacking on like layers, adds up to one nasty, dangerous situation.  Phillip and I were operating under pure onion theory our third night crossing the Gulf.

To begin with, that morning, Tuesday, December 12th, started with winds that built to 20 knots right after we woke.  Just as we were strategizing whether to reef down further—we were flying the Main at Reef 1 and “Wendy” (our 90% offshore jib) full out at the time—Phillip heard a “kachunk” at the helm and “Lord Nelson,” our hydraulic auto-pilot, then began his cacophonous peel of beeps letting us know he was giving up.  Phillip grabbed the wheel immediately to keep the 4-6 foot building seas that were following us from smacking the boat off-course, threatening to backwind the sails.  While we both didn’t want to ponder the thought, it was very possible our auto-pilot would be out for the rest of the voyage and Phillip and I would be hand-steering the remaining 2.5 days of our passage.  This was simply one scenario.  But one neither of us were ready to accept yet.  While I wasn’t sure, we both did have an idea as to what may have happened.  The best problem you can have on a boat is one you’ve had before—because then you know exactly how to fix it.

One day when we were sailing our boat down in Key West after our voyage to Cuba the previous year, Lord Nelson gave the same kerchunk sound and thew up the wheel.  We investigated down below and found his piston had simply come unthreaded from the ball and socket joint that attaches to the brass arm he uses to turn the rudder.  Kind of an odd thing to happen, but it did seem possible with just the right amount of turns and spins, eventually he had turned 180 degrees enough times to de-thread himself.  The best part about that problem, though, was that we were close to shore in very calm waters with no immediate need for auto-pilot to steer the boat.  So, we hand-steered the half hour back and waited until we were sitting still at the dock at Stock Island, and I was able to—then, rather easily—remove the ball joint from the brass arm, thread it back onto the piston and reattach the joint via a pin and (what I call) a “bobby pin” cotter pin, because it’s shaped like a bobby pin.  This was easy to do then because we were not steering at the time.  The boat was not underway and the rudder and steering quadrant were completely still.  Everything is a thousand times easier when you’re sitting at the dock and the boat isn’t moving.

Now, as we were making our way across the Gulf in building winds and seas, when I spilled the contents of our port lazarette where we mounted our hydraulic auto-pilot when we spent three months in the shipyard in 2016 and saw that the same thing had occurred, I was relieved to see it was what I had expected.  This meant I knew the solution: thread the joint back on and re-mount it to the quadrant and *voila!* Auto is back.  But, I was not 100% confident whether I would be able to do this underway, while the rudder was in constant movement, reacting to the wind and waves in order to hold a safe course for the boat.  But, I undertook it anyway and was surprised to find with a little luck, good timing and patience I was able to remount the arm underway.  So, Lord Nelson was then back in business, but we weren’t out of the woods yet.

My repair had taken about an hour and the winds were now holding steady at 22-23 knots.  That is a lot for our 35’ moderate displacement boat.  As Phillip and I both suspected, once we turned the wheel back over to Lord Nelson, he would hold as long as he could but in those seas and winds, the boat would often get knocked so far off course he didn’t have the ability to get her back on course and he would wail out in a series of beeps and, once again, give up the wheel.  This might mean our auto-pilot would not be able to hold 90% of the time in those conditions and those conditions were expected to last at least the next 24 hours, which would mean virtually 24 hours of hand-steering.  A potential scenario, but not one we were willing to accept.  Yet.  While Phillip continued to hold the wheel and handle the lines in the cockpit, I went forward to set further reefs in hopes this would enable Lord Nelson to steer the boat in those seas.

This was the first time we had hauled our Main sail down to the third reef.  We had our local sailmaker put a third reef in before our voyage to Cuba but we sailed that entire passage primarily under Reef 2 and that worked well.  Now it was time to re-configure the reefing lines in our boom to pull Reef 3 at the clew and we also used our Cunningham to pull the Main down taught to Reef 3 at the tack.  Thankfully, our previously-broken Cunningham was one of the items on our very long list to replace before we shoved off for the Bahamas.  It was not a piece of equipment we had used before as we’re not as much racers as we are cruisers, but good on Phillip as he added it to the list as a “just in case” and it proved invaluable here.  While you can always tie a reef down in the main sail manually with sail ties, it is very hard to conjure the muscle needed to fight the wind in order to hold the canvas down while tying a knot.  But, after 40 minutes of tugging, pulling and grunting, I was able to put a very flat, secure and satisfactory third reef in the Main.  Phillip and I then tugged, pulled and grunted and were able to put a very satisfactory second reef in our offshore jib.  This was very little canvas out, but our boat is not as heavy as other builds (Tayanas, Westsails, etc.) and she heels very easily in 15+ winds.  A steady 25 knots was the most we had sailed in offshore for an extended period of time.  But, with less canvas up, we were thrilled to see Lord Nelson was able to hold most of the time.  But, because he was still susceptible to the occasional one-two wave punch that would send our Niagara careening off the back of a wave then pulling speedily on the next one back to weather and overpower him, Phillip and I had to hold these shifts sitting attentively behind the wheel ready to grab at any moment as the auto-pilot lost its footing approximately 2-3 times an hour during these conditions.

Again, not too bad of a situation.  Many crews hand-steer all the time.  So we were still living in luxury land with an auto-pilot that held the majority of the time.  But, per onion theory, we had added one layer in having to maintain post behind the wheel with a constant eye to the wind and waves to allow us to grab the wheel and take over in the blink of an eye.  Also, the additional effort exterted to repair the auto-pilot, reef down the sails and move safely around the now pitching and tossing boat, I would say our increased exhaustion would really put us two layers thick.  A state in which remained all day as the winds held fast at 22+ and the waves built to a steady 6-8 feet, with the occasional 10-foot monster.

With that setting, cue my worst night shift on our boat:

We were tired.  Not exhausted but generally worn down from the rough day and both Phillip and I knew holding night shifts in these conditions was going to require even more attention and focus than the day had mandated.  But we settled in.  Phillip was up first as I crashed hard down below.  While it has taken us several years to build my sea skills and Phillip’s trust in my ability to single-hand the boat when needed, we are very much now an equal team.  Phillip and I maintain a two-hour night shift rotation when underway offshore and when one is holding the helm the other goes down for a very much-needed and often very-deep sleep.  I was so deep in mine, Phillip barely woke me when he clattered down below to clean up and shut the companionway hatch.  He said I just grumbled something incoherent and rolled over when he told me he had just been swamped by a wave and “about a gallon of water” had crashed down into the cabin.  Didn’t bother Off-Shift Annie.  She went right back down.  ZZZZZzzzzzzz.

But I would experience my own swamper.  Just wait.  For now, Annie you’re up to hold your first night shift in this mess.

Phillip and I had both agreed, that in these conditions, considering the pretty intense movement of the boat and our need to sit behind the wheel to take over each time Lord Nelson could not hold, that we would remain clipped in at the helm during our respective shifts.  So, I clipped in near the binnacle and settled in.  Our auto did great most of the time and I only had to take over a few times when a ten-footer would shove our bow violently to the east, leaving Lord Nelson shrieking in panic.  Holding the wheel in conditions like those is actually calming.  Pam Wall taught me this trick as she often tells her student sailors that when the seas feel rough and the boat feels out of control.  It’s kind of like riding shotgun in a very fast car on dangerous, winding roads.  It’s much more frightening when you’re not holding the wheel.  “Here, steer!” Pam will shout to her students.  “I promise.  You won’t be afraid at all if you hold the wheel.”  And it is so true.  It gives you a much stronger connection to the boat, her stability and her capability to handle those conditions.  For that reason, for most of that shift, I hand-steered as a means of maintaining focus and attention and a calm disposition in those conditions.

My first shift turned out to be fairly uneventful, albeit tiring.  However, when Phillip and I changed shifts, he (wisely having checked our battery state before coming topside) decided we should crank and motor-sail for a bit to give the batteries some much-needed juice.  On our boat we have a 450 hour bank, but we have always been told (and we always try to follow the rule) that you should not draw the batteries down below 50% to preserve their lifespan.  At that time, with the cloud cover that day and added energy drained by Lord Nelson’s impressive efforts holding the wheel, we had pulled off about 160 hours and, if we continued through the remaining six hours of the night without putting juice in, we would easily exceed our 50% mark (i.e., 225 hours off).  Hence the need to crank.  So, Phillip cranked and I fell deep into slumber.  That is, until I heard a piercing wail from the engine.  Not ten minutes after Phillip cranked, our Westerbeke 27A (“Westie” we call him) had overheated.  As you have probably noticed, we have names for most of the crucial systems on our boat because, trust me, calling them by name makes them fight harder in the clutch.  And we were definitely in the clutch.

I shook my head to try and flail off the fog of sleep, and unfortunately the first thing I saw, after I heard the loud beep, was the light indicating the bilge pump was going off.  A leaking boat and a faulty engine are not a combination you want to have on any boat anywhere, but especially not 100 miles from shore in some “stuff.”  That’s one too many onion layers for me.  I decided to wait to tell Phillip about the bilge pump light, though, until we handled our first emergency: Westie.  I checked around the engine, as Phillip manned the helm, for leaking raw water, coolant, etc. anything that would indicate our engine was struggling to cool himself.  Nothing.  We cranked again.  Waited and watched as the engine quickly came back to temp.  Phillip shifted into gear and not a few minutes later, Westie rang out again in protest, his temp needle quickly passing 180 and broaching 190.  Phillip shut the engine down, shaking his head.  We didn’t really have a good answer for it.  And, in the darkness of night, with most of our efforts geared toward handling the boat in those conditions, it didn’t seem we were going to be able to solve that particular puzzle right then and there.  We hoped the batteries wouldn’t drain to a life-threatening level before we could get sun once again on our solar panels and troubleshoot the problem the next morning in daylight.

I also then told Phillip about the bilge pump light I had seen go off.  “I saw it, too,” he responded.  I think both of us had momentarily withheld the information from each other hoping perhaps what we had seen hadn’t really happened, but now that we could both confirm it, it had to be true.  We considered the “rocky rolly water,” which on our boat is the water that accumulates in pockets unseen—we have yet to find them or find signs they are damaging anything in their accumulation, we hope and suspect it’s above the headliner—but it comes “rolling” out in various places only when the boat is “rocking” while underway.  Hence the name.  It’s a fairly harmless amount and, as I mentioned, we haven’t seen any deterioration in any critical area because of it.  Nothing like rotting our mast-step stringers or anything.  Ha!  What, too soon? ; )  And, while our boat is farily leak-free, it is not 100% in heavy rains and a heavy sea state and it’s likely it never will be.  There are just far too many tiny little screw holes and entry points to keep all water, when coming forcefully from all angles, out.  So, I checked the bilge.  The water was sitting below the top of our center keel bolt—a very low, non-alarming level—and didn’t seem to be rapidly increasing.  The bilge pump was also not going off frequently enough for either of us to even try to time it.  It must have been once every 45 minutes to an hour if I had to guess.  So, we attributed this, too, to a non-crucial issue and one we were similarly not going to be able to thoroughly investigate and solve in those conditions at night.  So, a little water intake and an overheating engine.  C’est la vie, for now.

After assessing the bilge situation, Phillip settled in to hold the rest of his shift and I headed back down below to indulge the rest of my sleep-shift.  The first few days of the voyage, and particularly during this 24-hour period, Phillip and I had been sleeping in full foulies as it took far more energy to get out of those nasty things than we needed to exert towards it.  And, if something were to occur topside that would require our immediate attention (a line chafing, a sail blowing out, etc.) it would be best if we were able to jump from the settee and immediately spring topside to handle it.  The loud crinkle and discomfort of sleeping in full third reef gear in no way hindered our ability to fall out of consciousness for two hours at a time, trust me.  Case in point: the minute my salty body crashed back on the settee I fell into a dead sleep.  When Phillip shook me to, I felt like it had been another mere ten minutes and he had unfortunately ran into another wake-the-crew-worthy problem right at the commencement of his shift.  Boy, was I wrong.

“It’s time for your shift babe,” he said as he continued to shake me.  I literally felt like I had been asleep for two minutes.  An hour and forty-five slipped by in an alarmingly-small spec of time.  As I sat up on the settee, I could feel that I was tired.  This was confirmed when I slipped on my pfd, dragged my body up the companionway stairs and sat down heavy behind the wheel.  It was going to be a long shift.  But we did have good news.

During his shift, Phillip had stolen downstairs on a quick calm spot to grab Nigel Calder’s engine book—the holy grail of diesel engine maintenance manuals.  If Nigel ever reads this (Ahhh!  Such flattery!), or if any of you out there know him personally, please send Nigel our forever thanks.  He has enlightened and saved us more than once out there.  Thank you Nigel!  Phillip is a great Captain and a tenacious student when it comes to our boat and her many complex systems.  He had spent the majority of his shift both watching the helm and reading Nigel’s book to try to glean some knowledge into why our seemingly fully-operable engine was overheating.  And, he told me he had read that sometimes in heavy conditions, i.e., big seas that pitch and toss the boat, the extra pressure and energy exerted by the prop to churn and propel the boat in those conditions can cause an engine to overheat.  Aha!  Phillip had potentially found our battery-charge solution.  Perhaps we could not put a load on the engine in those conditions, but we might could run her without a load (in neutral) just to put juice in the batteries.  This was the theory.  Cross your fingers.

Phillip passed the key up to me and we both watched wearily but eagerly as the engine roared to life and begin to increase in temp.  140.  160.  Then right up toward 180 where we always like to see Westie’s needle broach this point then do a little light hop back and hold just under 180.  Without shifting the transmission into gear and running Westie under no load, it did the trick!  Westie was purring and holding temp and our batteries, currently nearing 180 amp hours drawn off, were now getting a lifeline of juice pumping in.  Thankfully we also have a high-output alternator on our engine that pumps in about 70-80 amps/hour when the batteries are really low.  “Go Westie, go!” I whispered from the helm as he held full on during my shift.  So, things were looking up.  Lord Nelson was doing a fabulous job, again holding 90% of the time without so much as a squeal or complaint.  The sails were in excellent shape, holding flat and firm with the 23 knots of wind on our stern.  We were still tossing about in some pretty big seas, but the boat was handling it very well.  It seemed like I was going to have, all told, a pretty uneventful shift (considering our prolonged run in those conditions), but just when you start to think that, and you’re on your last 15-minute stint, that’s when it happens.

I was holding the helm, thankfully strapped in and thankfully attentive to our heading and wind direction in case I needed to grab the helm at anytime, when I heard it.  This thunderous crush of water over my left shoulder.  While visibility that night wasn’t ideal, the cloudy sky had obscured our ability to see the horizon and visually spot waves before they assaulted the boat, there was definitely enough light for me to see this monster.  I can’t tell you how big it was.  Maybe ten feet, maybe twelve, but she was crumbling and churning toward me, taller than the bimini.  I instinctively put my hands on the wheel knowing I would likely soon have to take over when she lifted our stern as if our boat weighed nothing and came crashing in over the stern rail.  I was astonished at how much water could come in instantaneously.

I was sitting just like this and where I had once been perched high and dry, now an entire bathtub of water sloshed, well up to my thigh in the cockpit. 

I didn’t have time to think about it though.  The wave had caused our boat’s stern to kick out severely to starboard as our bow jumped over to port.  The boat was turned now almost ninety degrees, with the other 8-footers behind her threatening to hit right at the beam.  Lord Nelson threw his hands up and screamed in revolt.  I clicked auto off and flung the wheel hard over to starboard watching for probably a good 5-10 seconds while the boat steadily charged her way back on course.  I was shocked to see when I finally had the boat back on course and could allot the mere seconds available to take my eyes off the compass to look around the cockpit and the water was still draining.  The cockpit was still filled up to my ankle which was propped up on the bench, serving as my brace for the heeling.

At that moment I had to just laugh.  What a wonderfully-powerful thing.  The Gulf.  To be able to completely fill the cockpit anytime she wanted to, but what a wonderfully-capable boat to take it, drain it and keep going.  It was just … uncanny.  While I can say it was a little frightening, sure, it was, but mostly it was thrilling.  And I’m not an extreme sports, risk-my-body-for-fun adrenaline junkie.  All evidence to the contrary with the silks and kite-surfing and all, I’m really not.  I ski very slowly because I worry about injuring my knees … again.  I don’t do silks drops because I fear injury or another wicked skin burn will result.  And, while I love to kite-suf, it’s rare I attempt the many and numerous ten-foot launches Phillip will throw down in one session because I’m afraid of busting an ankle on the landing or crashing my kite.  I’m never thrilled at the threat of bodily injury or a life-threatening adventure.  But this felt nothing like that.  We have a very capable boat and crew and while a rush of water in the cockpit isn’t ideal, it didn’t feel threatening in any way.  It was just … thrilling.

And Phillip cracked up laughing when I was reliving my whole “cockpit swamper” to him during shift change, trying to convey how much water had actually come into the cockpit, and he assured me his own swamper was “Waaayy bigger” because it had actually tumbled into the cabin below.  “Remember?” he said.  And I did vaguely recall him clattering around down there trying to sop up water and seal up the cabin while I was in half-zombie mode.  “Whatever, my wave was way bigger.”  It was kind of fun having a wave contest out there.

But, last fun event of this night shift saga.  I know, there’s more?  Of course there’s more.  The onion theory, remember?  We still have one.  Wait, no … two more layers to add on before this storm would let us out of its grip.  Toward the very end of my shift, after the cockpit swamper and after it appeared Westie had put in enough juice (not under load) to allow us to make it safely to morning on batteries with only about 90 hours now pulled off, I went down below to check our battery status one more time and then headed topside to kill the engine, which I thought would be nice for Phillip to at least have a shift where he didn’t have to listen to Westie’s constant rumble and—on top of everything else we were closely monitoring—also watch the engine temp to make sure it stayed at 180.  Ha.  Thinking.  I should just stop doing it out there.  The minute I killed the engine, I heard an awfully-dreadful noise.  An intense straining of some sort.  It sounded like cables perhaps being pulled against something they shouldn’t be or straining under too much effort?  I thought immediately of the steering cables and—for the first time since this troublesome night began—fear pulsed like electricity through my nerves.  If the steering cables were about to be sheered through, we really would be in some serious danger out there in 6-8 footers.  There would be nothing thrilling about waves that constantly thrashed and swamped us broadside eventually threatening to tip us if we couldn’t steer in them.

I immediately jumped up and begin toppling the contents of the port lazarette out to look at our steering quadrant and the steering cables.  As I did, the sound intensified which worried me more.  I didn’t want to be right on this one.  After a few minutes of content-spillage I was finally able to lean in upside down and get a look at the cables. They appeared fine but the sound was definitely coming from somewhere near the quadrant and definitely sounded steering-related as it seemed to intensify at certain times when Lord Nelson was working hard to get the boat back on course after a monster wave.  But the cables on port looked fine.

I spilled the contents of the starboard lazarette.  The cockpit was beginning to look like the front yard at Sanford & Sons.  I can’t count on two hands all of the stuff we fill in those lockers and it was scattered everywhere—our life raft, dock lines, bungee cords, our bail bucket, our fishing gear, snorkel gear, various hoses for washing the boat and deck, our grill, our wash bucket, a crate of cleaning fluids, you name it.  It was all splayed out on the cockpit floor and benches.  I crawled over all of it to drop upside down into the starboard lazarette and look at the cables on that side.  Thankfully they appeared fully intact, but the sound was even worse on the starboard side.  It groaned and shrieked out with each turn of the quadrant one side to the other.  I looked at the wheel stoppers, the pulleys for the cables, the saddles clamps that attached the cables to the quadrant, anything I could think of and then I saw it.  There on the back of the quadrant, the hind curve of the quadrant was actually touching the fiberglass brace that supports our rudder post.  The quadrant was, very vocally, grinding a notch into the fiberglass.  I hung there limply for a moment pondering the oddity of it.

That’s the kind of crazy stuff you can’t even dream up that occurs out there.

It was a problem I couldn’t fathom.  One we’d never thought would occur for sure.  One that just baffled me.  While I was a little relieved to know the steering cables weren’t shredding and tearing their way into pieces, the fact that the quadrant was dropping was not very comforting either.  What if it continued to drop?  What if the pressure became too much and neither Lord Nelson nor the crew could steer.  What if the rudder dropped right out.  What a crazy stupid thing to happen.  ”Holy crap!”  I kind of thought I was dreaming.

I popped back up to the helm and took the wheel to see what the pressure felt like.  Surprisingly it was almost imperceivable.  Almost nothing at all.  But you could definitely tell when the quadrant made contact because the squeaking grind would ring out and would hold while you went back and forth on that portion of the quadrant.  But, Lord Nelson was still holding just fine so it definitely wasn’t too much pressure for him, which was a good sign.  All told we had solved a couple problems and added a few more.  It seemed our onion was waxing and waning.  One other thing I saw when I was upside down in the starboard lazarette was a hole on the forward side of the fiberglass support for our rudder post.  Phillip later told me it is a packing hole.  Whatever it was.  I saw it leaking.  Not terrible, but definitely a little 2-3 driblet gush when the boat took a particularly-hard turn to starboard.  At least this provided some answer to our “Why is the bilge pump going off every hour?” quandary and, again, didn’t seem to be life-threatening.  Just a little gush every ten-or-so seconds.  “C’est la vie, for now,” I told myself as I headed down to wake the Captain.  Well … the other Captain (I can now say!  : ).

“Phillip, wake up babe, it’s your shift,” I said.

“What?  Wait … now?  It’s my shift already?” Phillip groaned.

Clearly he was suffering from the same I-just-fell-asleep-10-minutes-ago syndrome I had when he had woke me two hours ago.  Ha!  Get up babe!  It’s your turn.

“Yep, it’s your shift.  And the rudder is dropping and the boat is leaking.  Have fun!”

Aren’t boats great.  We did figure out that quadrant issue.  What a freak thing to occur, right?  We’ll share the very simple-but-odd solution soon.  If any of you know what happened and how to fix it, feel free to leave it in a comment below.

Next up on the blog – BV3: A New Breed of Geckos in the Keys.  Stay tuned!

Posted in Bahamas Bound, Sail Skills, Storm Prep | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

BV1: Packing, Weather Planning & Passage Day One

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 guyHe’s funny.  Like a clown.  And he likes Joe Pesci. 

 On Yannick’s 46’ Soubise Freydis, in his “captain’s berth” (the starboard gunnel), he had an entire shelf system as well as a deep compartment under his vberth where Yannick had filled Tupperware after Tupperware bin with every kind of boat supply imaginable: tapes, glues, Loctite, sewing kits, electrical repair kits, heat shrink, odds and end hoses, epoxy kits, varnish and sandpaper kits, etc.  I could go on.  But, each bin was filled with certain types of materials and labeled accordingly: “Tapes & Adhesives,” “Electrical,” etc.  And it turned out to be a super-efficient way to pull the necessary tools and supplies for a particular job.  So, upon examining our boat this year to find better ways to stow and stash supplies such as this, Phillip found ourselves eyeing a very convenient locker under our own vberth that I believed could serve a very similar Yannick-inspired purpose.  It is this locker here:

It is the access to our macerator thru-hull and our previous owner had built a very sturdy shelf in the locker to stow gallon water jugs on.  While we had followed suit for years and stowed water there as well, we found they sloshed around and sometimes punctured and they also took on the slight smell of macerator hose.  Not my favorite flavor of water : (.  But now we had an entire empty section for what I was now going to call our “Supplies Cubby.”  We measured and were able to easily fit four rather large Tupperwares in this section labeled: 1)   Tapes &  Adhesives, 2) Epoxy, 3) Electrical, and 4) Engine Spares.

This has already proven to be a very accessible, very organized compartment to store the many, many boat supplies we access often while cruising.  So, thank you Yannick!

Another revelation while we were packing this year: The locker in our aft berth that is fully-sealed can fit not only the spare two gallons of diesel oil (in addition to the one in our propane locker and in our oil-change kit in the hanging locker), as well as spare transmission fluid, outboard oil and Sea Foam but also (and I kid you not), six additional bags of wine.  Six.  Wow.  That’s what?  24 bottles of wine!  Two cases?!  I love bagged wine.  Have I mentioned that?  With the first six stowed, the other six were easy.  Ha!

They also fit nicely around the aft locker compartment just forward of that one which houses our starting battery and MPPT controllers for our solar panels.  That was a lot of heavy, spillable weight stowed aft and low and, for the most part, in lockers that would contain the spill if any.  Although we desperately hoped for no wine spillage on the trip.  (Okay, or oil spillage … I guess that stuff’s important too ; ).

One of our goals in packing and provisioning the boat this time was to find new, previously-unused cubbies and compartments of the boat that were being under-utilized.  In addition to the new “supplies cubby” under the vberth, we also decided this time to stow as many soft, light goods as we could under the very large compartments under the vberth.  Trust me, I can fit completely inside the larger bin.  See?

I spent a lot of time personally in these when we were in the shipyard both painting every square inch of the bilge (which I can still report is a clean, sanitary Bilge-Kote grey in virtually every locker I look … sniff … ahhh) and in glassing in the anchor chain locker to run the anchor runoff water rather than anonymously to the bilge to mingle and mask other potential leaks but, rather, to our new sump box.

Any of you who have seen our shipyard videos know what a monster chore the sump box was.  Not the most difficult project of the re-fit, mind you, but still a very extensive project to capture and route water from five different sources and channel it to the sump box, then plumb the sump box to pump overboard via the head sink.  But, one of the absolute benefits of doing this, particularly with regard to the anchor chain runoff was that funneling the anchor water through a hose to the sump box would make each of the three very large, very useful compartments under the vberth now dry storage areas as opposed to wet.  Thank you Sump Box!

For this reason, and to continue our efforts to move weight aft and low on the boat, Phillip and I decided to use the two rather sizeable cubbies under the vberth mattress directly aft of the anchor chain locker for stowing spare halyards and lines, spare sails (our storm sail, namely) and canvas, as well as spare domestic soft goods (e.g., quilts, blankets, long johns and foulies that would be needed for the cold voyage across the Gulf, but not after we reached the Bahamas).  Then it’s strictly bikini time, baby!  We also fit many additional work sheets and work towels in there, a spare set of sheets for the vberth, as well as two kites, two wetsuits and my aerial silks.  I told you it was a big compartment.  We decided to use vacuum bags for stowing these items both to shrink them to reduce space and to protect them as well in case there was an unexpected leak in these compartments.  I put a post up on Facebook about these bags and most seemed to love them; however, several followers said their seals often failed or they were somehow compromised and they “puffed back up again.”  Phillip and I will let you know after the season if we experience this as well.  So far, we are super pleased with the ease of use and utility of the vacuum bags.

Other areas we found we were able to use for food and supplies storage were three cubbies under the central floorboard in the saloon.

We also noticed two forward cubbies that we eventually plan to add a few L-brackets and a fiddle of wood (to prevent items in the bin from slipping down into the bilge) which will convert those to storage cubbies as well.  All in due time.  Phillip also had the very good idea to buy a box of the super industrial strength black contractor dumpster bags and we wrapped many food items with the potential to spill (or explode) in these in hopes of containing spills in case any cans, bottles, bags, etc. became punctured and started to leak.  This proved an exceptional idea as we contained several spills we found after crossing the Gulf, one of which was four exploding beer cans in a contractor bag in the port lazarette that contained every drop of that stinky beer.  Thank you Hefty Bags!

What’s next?  I know, I know.  The packing and provisioning can get a little tedious.  And, Phillip and I truly did spend the better part of the month before departure double-checking lists of necessary fluids, spares, supplies, food, drinks, etc. to make sure we had in fact packed everything we needed and wanted for the trip and it’s a darn good thing we did because—as it always tends to happen—as you get into the handful of days or weeks before your trip, emergency-type errands come up, or friends and family you haven’t seen in a while confess they simply can’t let you go without a goodbye dinner, or whatever other agenda item you can imagine that will occupy your time crops up and, if you’re not already packed and ready, you can suddenly feel overwhelmed.  Phillip and I actually had some very consuming, stressful work things we had to handle in the weeks before we left and had we not spent months preparing for our departure before-hand, I would have pulled a couple clumps of hair out I’m sure.  Luckily for Phillip, he has no hair.

The last items on the list were, of course, food, food and more food.

  

While Phillip and I had created and maintained a very tedious digital inventory of food for our Cuba passage (completely cubby-located and word-searchable), to be honest, we found trying to keep up with this (by pulling out the computer and crossing off every single can, packet or pouch used as it was used) proved far too tedious.  We decided this time rather than choose what you would like to eat before-hand, instead we’re going to play the “food lottery.”  Now, we simply choose the locker we’re going to eat out of, and it’s like a smattering of random Christmas groceries that you now have to get creative with and make a nice meal out of.  It’s really rather fun, and we’ve been excited each time we open a new locker (or look behind a new box or bag) and find something we bought and packed long ago that we’d been excited to eat for months.  “Ooh, the laughing cow cheese!  Hell yeah!” Annie squealed often.  That and Sriracha peas were always a squeal-worthy find in my book.  As a hint, however, we have since had another cruising friend tell us they used taped notes in the interior door or lid of each locker with each food item listed and they scratched it off on the pad as they remove an item.  I can see this working far better, although some lids are harder to lift and write on than others and some of our compartments would have a list 182 items long.

I’m not kidding.

Speaking of (and last mention of packing, I promise, although it is quite important!) where did 75% of ALL of our non-perishable food items go??  This was a new place for us to discover and utilize and I was shocked (stunned actually) at the sheer quantity of food this one compartment swallowed whole with a mere shrug.  Pssshhh … that’s all you got?  Where is this magic black hole food cubby on Plaintiff’s Rest?  Under our port settee.  This is an area we have never used before and we would have never thought to have used it had we not replaced our starboard water tank this past summer.

Having done so and (as many of you know) having spent weeks wrestling, cursing, kicking and squeezing our new water tank back in place next to our diesel tank under the starboard settee, we became very familiar with the space and size of the cubbies located under each of our saloon settees.  Once we saw we could fit many long spare hoses and pieces of wood and starboard (“construction materials” we call these) by the starboard water tank, I started to wonder what else we could fit all around the portside water tank.  75% of our food, that’s what.  I’m serious.  We packed the shit out of this compartment.  It’ll be Food Christmas in there till 2019.  Now, we did Ziploc EVERYthing.

Even anything already bagged or even double-bagged.  We omitted as much cardboard and packaging as we could (keeping the identifying information and cooking instructions) and, by doing this, the compartment under our portside settee now houses the majority of our food stores for the entire winter.  We darn sure aren’t going to starve (or want for Spam!) in the Bahamas!  We also weren’t going to run out of Irish Spring or Arm & Hammer toothpaste (Annie’s favorite) either.  We packed probably four months’ worth of toiletries (including paper towels and toilet paper, mostly in the hanging locker) aboard, as well as a huge bag of travel-size toiletries as goodie giveaways for the locals (in exchange for fresh-caught fish, we were told : ).

Alright, so with the non-perishable packing complete, the last stop was one to the farmer’s market (Bailey’s in Pensacola is phenomenal) for a bunch of the heartiest produce we could find (beets, carrots, cabbage, spaghetti squash, onions, apples, potatoes, etc.) which we wrapped and labeled in brown paper bags and stuffed along the shelves of our aft berth, our produce hammock and the bookshelves in the saloon, being careful to stow onions and bananas far away from the other produce so as not to speed their ripening).  We intended to get non-refrigerated eggs, which we like to have aboard (just remember to rotate them upside down once a week), but apparently the chickens we usually get them from didn’t have a productive winter.  But c’est la vie.  With the non-perishables, the rest of the wine and mixers and the alcohol finally aboard (8 handles of various rums, vodka, gin, and Kahlua, primarily in the port lazarette in a contractor’s Hefty bag), we simply had to cram three weeks’ worth of clothes on the boat and go.

So, once the boat is ready to go, what’s next?  Do you just go?  Whatever day you want to?  Tell all your family and friends and have them all planning to come to the dock for a big send-off?  Unfortunately (and I’ll admit Pam Wall was the first to tell us this), this usually never works out well and can often put you in a very tight pinch trying to pick a departure date in advance and stick to it.  Pam always advised us not to tell friends and family specifically when you expect to leave or arrive as it will inadvertently create a schedule that will stress everyone if it is not met.  Once you’re ready to go, you then have to look for (AND WAIT FOR) the right weather window.

Most cruisers understand this and won’t expect you to state before-hand what date specifically you are planning to leave or when you’re planning to arrive in port.  Family, friends and co-workers, however, who worry about you taking to the high seas, often struggle with a flexible plan, but trying to alter your schedule or commit to a window that’s not as favorable to perhaps ease their fears or fulfill promises perhaps in hindsight you feel you shouldn’t have made, may force you to leave on a day that is not the best for your voyage plans.  I know I’ve preached this before, but I do so because Phillip and I made this very mistake on our first offshore voyage and it cost us considerably, so it is worth repeating.  If you’ve read Salt of a Sailor, you’ll know what I’m talking about: A SCHEDULE IS THE MOST DANGEROUS THING YOU CAN HAVE ON A SAILBOAT.  Friends, family and co-workers simply have to learn that departure and arrival dates must remain flexible and weather-dependent.  Keep training them, and you’ll have better cruising days ahead, I promise.  Never try to sail according to a schedule.

So, Phillip and I had planned (weather permitting!) to leave on Saturday Dec. 9th.  It was ironically going to be a very fortuitous date to leave as the big “work thing” I mentioned that we had to take care of took place on Dec. 7th (so getting that behind us was a big “Whew!”) and then our buddy Brandon with www.PerdidoSailor.com was having his big annual Christmas party on Friday, Dec. 8th.  Can you say Happy Holiday Sendoff for Plaintiff’s Rest?!  Hell yeah!  And with a tacky Christmas Sweater Contest and an often rowdy and risqué Dirty Santa exchange to boot?  We were stoked.  What a way to go!  Roll that delightfully-tacky footage!

 

Seriously, I found a sweater with a unicorn vomiting sprinkles.  Can you GET any tackier (or awesome)??  The answer is no.

Good times, right?  Our joke that night, when everyone and their dog asked when we were planning to leave, was “As soon as we sober up from this party!”  Ha!  (You see?  Keep it vague.  Then there’s no commitments.)  Although I will note our buddy Kevin, a fabulous Pensacola broker who helped us find our beloved Niagara, said, in response to that and in all earnest: “Oh, that’ll be Sunday then.”  Turns out he was right.  But, not because of our hangovers.  (Pssshhh … I never get hangovers.  What are those?!).  It’s because the weather window wasn’t right.  But, a word on weather predictions.

They are just that.  Predictions.  Often close, often off, and just as reliable as you would surmise any “prediction” to be.  Now, while they do get more reliable the closer you get to your ETD, they still are not fool-proof and we have often found their predicted strength of the wind is often 5 kts less than it should be in the Gulf and often 20-30 degrees off on the direction.  That is almost to a “T” what we experienced this time.  So, feel free to weather route along with us.  This is the window we were looking at if we left on Saturday Dec. 9th.  There was a front that was passing through and we were hoping to catch a nice few days of north wind on the back side to ride across the Gulf.

 

Looks a little gnarly huh?  That’s what we thought.  Jumping out in 20-25 knots of “stuff” didn’t sound like the best way to make the passage.  But, we did debate leaving Saturday afternoon (from our dock that wouldn’t put us out in the Gulf, actually experiencing offshore conditions for another 6-7 hours), so around 10:00 p.m.  The forecast then seemed to show a bit of heavy winds (20-25) decreasing to 18-23 after midnight then to 15-20 over the course of Sunday morning and even lighter Sunday afternoon.  That sounded like a pretty good window to ride the last of the front.  We were expecting some light winds the first few days and a potential front that would pass over us about mid-way across the Gulf but it looked like 15-20 kt winds, all on the stern with following seas, so that seemed doable.  From my experience, at least, if you’re planning to cross the Gulf in one passage, which is a great experience, it’s likely, if you’re going to get any “good wind” at all, you’re probably also going to run into some “stuff” (and by that I mean 15-25 kt winds potentially) either at the beginning, somewhere in the middle, or at the end.  Otherwise, you might be looking at three days of glass, which is beautiful, but as sailors, we’re not too keen on three days of motoring.  It’s just rare to see five straight days of steady winds, holding speed and direction.  While we never intentionally choose to sail in dangerous weather, a predicted 15-25 (which could be less or more) on the stern with following seas is a circumstance we were willing to accept for an expected fun, sporty sail across the Gulf.

With our window chosen, we spent one last lavish evening at the condo with Chef Phillippe whipping us up an exquisite bacon-indulgent cassoulet.  YUM.

We then woke bright and early Sunday morning carrying our last packs to the boat. Bahamas-bound Annie was actually excited to be donning her fashionable offshore bib.  Who doesn’t love overalls?

 

One sure-fire sign it was high time to leave Pensacola and sail south?  There was ice on the boat.  A light frost had fallen on Pensacola that evening and we had to crack everything on the deck apart to get the boat going.

 

Phillip tossing our last line!

We had kept a heat light on in the engine room to keep Westie warm and he purred right up.  Annie de-docked like a champ and soon we were on our way.  Our boat fully packed, our lists crossed off and nothing but big blue water ahead.  That is one of my favorite feelings.  The stress of preparing for the voyage seems to melt off and pull back toward shore, like fingers once gripped, now leaving your shoulders.  Ahhh …

And, remember those 18-23 kts of wind, predicted to lay down on Sunday afternoon?  Well, it seemed they decided to take a nap early, because by the time we got out in the Gulf—around noon on Sunday—we were motoring along in 6-8 kts of breeze.  You see?  The weather.  Just a prediction.  But, it was a nice window of opportunity to throw up one of our favorite sails.  Our spinnaker, better known as “Spinny!”  This is our first year to fly the spinnaker (I know, bad sailors!) and we have really loved hoisting her up and watching her beautiful, blue, white and red belly billow and fill.  She really is a gorgeous sail and it’s a lot of fun to see, and feel, the boat flying under spinnaker alone.  Even in two layers of long johns, our foulies and three hats (yes, three!), we were thrilled to be out there on the water, sailing our magnificent little boat.  It was a fantastic kickoff for the passage.

As Phillip and I eased into our offshore routine and doled out night shift assignments, we knew the days ahead would include some very tiring moments, likely some equipment failure or other boat issues, for sure, many wet, uncomfortable hours, but they would also include the sound of nothing but water lapping the hull, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets and moments that can never be re-created ashore.  And, we can’t wait to share them all with you.

Next up, BV2: Best Night Shift Ever!  Stay tuned!

 

Posted in Bahamas Bound, Boat Stuff, Good Grub, Good Juice, Gulf Crossing, Provisioning | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

VIDEO: 5 Days Across the Gulf of Mexico

Go offshore with us, followers! As Phillip and I sail our Niagara 35 five days across the Gulf of Mexico in some sporty bluewater conditions. This was one of our more intense offshore runs with 24 hours of 20-25 kts of wind and 6-8 (to sometimes 10) foot seas, but the boat and crew proved more than capable and we had a helluva time laying another 500 nm under our keel on our way to the Bahamas. We can’t wait to share the rest of the voyage with you through blog posts, photos and more fun videos! Hope you enjoy this first offshore leg! Buckle up! It’s one heck of a ride!

Posted in Bahamas Bound, Gulf Crossing, Sail Skills, Videos | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments