If you have seen our Atlantic-crossing movie, I know you want to meet this man.
We’ve had so many followers and Patrons ask me so many questions after watching the movie: “Why non-stop?” “Why did you have so much trouble with the engines?” “What other spares would you have brought?” All valid questions that Phillip and I are happy to answer, but who better to ask than the Captain? Yannick definitely loves to talk about his boat and the lessons learned from the Atlantic-crossing and he has graciously agreed to offer up some of his time to share those with you, my followers. He is a very interesting man, with many diverse talents and pursuits and I’m excited for you all to get to know him better.
So, here’s the deal. We can only handle so many on a call. Just like the Patreon Skype session with Phillip and I discussing the Atlantic-crossing, we will open it up to the first ten folks to sign up. First come, first serve. Reach out to me in a comment below, or on Facebook or via email. GO! I will record the Q&A session like I did last time and share later with you all here so everyone will get the benefit of the discussion. Also, I will share with anyone who signs up to participate but who has not yet seen the Atlantic-crossing movie a link to view the movie for free so you all can watch it over Thanksgiving (while I’m voyaging to Isla Mujeres!) and start deciding what you would really like to ask Capt. Yannick about the voyage. You can also rent the movie ($2.99 on YouTube) here or Patrons get free viewing. The call will be Thursday Dec. 1st at noon, CST. (As Yannick is seven hours ahead, this seemed to be the only reasonable overlap of time that wouldn’t force him to give an interview at 2:00 a.m. his time. My hope was that any 9-5’ers who wanted to participate could take lunch at your desk and jump on the call.)
Thursday, Dec. 1st at 12:00 p.m. CST — Skype with Capt. Yannick
“You know, I knew it was going to be things breaking, stuff needing to be fixed, repaired, maintained, but I thought it would occur at a rate that I could keep up with it. If it’s like this all the time, it’s no fun.”
I quoted that right from my log that day. I remember when Yannick said it. He had just come out of the “engine den” beneath his bed on starboard yet again and was blowing off some completely understandable steam and frustration with the amount of systems on his boat that were giving him trouble.
Yannick’s engine den.
As I have said many times, while an ocean-crossing is going to be hard on any boat and luck has a lot to do with it, looking back on it, Phillip and I believe the reason Yannick was having to deal with so many issues was because his boat had not been sailed recently. She had been very well-maintained and newly refitted and upgraded, but she hadn’t been out on a passage in over a year. She hadn’t been shaken down. That’s what we were doing … for 4,600 nautical miles. And, while Yannick truly was a trooper through it all, facing one headache after another, like anybody would, he did have his “this sucks” moments. Frankly, I think he handled it better than I would have had it been my boat. I’ve had my moments …
And, sadly, after all Yannick had suffered so far (engine troubles, the watermaker, the generator, the spinnaker), the worst of our problems still laid ahead. The first of which started to rear its ugly head when we found Auto would turn-notto. I wrote about it to my Patrons in my mid-crossing Atlantic Log #3:
Atlantic Log #3: Auto Turn-Notto:
This is what it usually looks like when you’re on watch on Andanza. If the conditions are calm or otherwise manageable, the auto-pilot does all the work and you can easily kick back, hands free and read a book during your stint as long as you periodically monitor the conditions (wind speed and direction and engine temp if motoring) and do an occasional 360 to check the horizon for ships and obstacles (few and far between out here) or, more likely, rain clouds or squalls. Since we left Pensacola Bay on May 29th, the trusty auto-pilot has been holding us on a steady course to France about 99.94% of the time (give or take). The crew is very aware of our luck in this regard and happy to do anything which keeps “Auto” happy, fed and functioning to continue this trend. This would be a very different passage if we had to hand-steer this boat all the way across the ocean and we are very aware of that.
Through a freak series of events, we learned yesterday, however, that if Auto WERE to shut down unexpectedly, we might not be able to properly steer this boat. When we put Auto on standby yesterday to test something completely unrelated, we were surprised to find … Auto turn notto (to the left anyway). It was wild. Once Auto was on standby, you would turn five, maybe ten degrees to the left, then the wheel would tension up and become too tight to turn any further. You could turn to the right just fine but when you went back to the left you’d lost whatever ground you had traveled to the right, leaving only another five, maybe ten degrees then the same insurmountable tension. Yannick described it as “ratchet steering to the right.” Surprisingly, each time we re-engaged Auto, he would take over just fine and turn to the left with no problem—almost as if he was mocking us. “See guys. It’s easy,” he would say with a laugh.
Because Auto kept successfully re-engaging, it was kind of a not-yet-big problem. As it stood, Auto was working fine, but if he went out (and we all, of course, separately imagined this happening to us during one of our lonely night shifts), we would have a good bit of canvas up, with often 20+ apparent winds on the beam and only the ability to turn right. NOT a situation in which you want to find yourself. So began our hunt for the cause and potential fix.
We started with the steering cables and the chain behind the helm. A long series of turning, tugging, pulling and checking ensued only to find the tension was not in the cables. The afternoon continued with many focus group sessions, diagram-drawing and plenty of head-scratching. After several hours we finally determined it was the arm itself of the linear drive Auto that—for whatever untold reason—did not want to disengage and allow the quadrant to move freely to the left when both put on standby and turned off completely. That Auto is one stubborn dude!
After some more configuring and brain-storming, we decided if Auto was to go out the proper procedure would be to remove the cotter pin and disconnect his arm from the quadrant so we could hand steer (to both the right AND the left!). Unfortunately this procedure will likely take place in a frenzied hurry while the boat is drifting off wind with canvas up and ratchet-to-the-right steering only. Again NOT a situation any of us are looking forward to but it is one we are prepared for and can handle thanks to some inspection, forethought and communication. Until Auto goes out, however (a prospect which may not happen) it is, as I mentioned, a not-yet problem. For now, we thank our lucky Auto karma and continue during the day to hold hands-free watches while devouring read after juicy read at the helm. It’s my watch now so you’ll have to forgive me, but I really must get back to this book: Horn Island Dream, written by our very own Pensacola small business owner at Intracoastal Outfitters, Wes Dannreuther!
“That won’t last another 500 miles.” Johnny’s not one to sugar-coat things. And he sure didn’t here.
He knew the fact that the auto-pilot arm would not properly disengage when we put her on stand-by was a sign the unit was deteriorating. No one disagreed with him, but we really didn’t have grounds to say otherwise. When Auto was on, everything was sunshine and hands-free steering. So we decided to not let it be a big problem until it WAS a big problem. The Sea Gods seemed to reward our faith by sending us a few days of sunshine, relaxing hours spent reading with fish on the line! Remember in the last segment when we told Johnny what to wish for on his birthday? It must have worked. Can you say: “FISH ON!”
Or better yet, get your “Sushi on!”
Yannick’s best tuna smile!
Soon the winds found us again, though, bringing steady streams of 20-25+, thankfully aft of the stern, and we were really bashing and crashing through some big seas.
The waves were set apart, mind you, with long periods in between so it wasn’t too rough but it did make for the occasional wicked bash on the catamaran floor and definitely a wet, spitting ride in the cockpit.
For that reason, Captain Yannick shut us all in the cabin and we monitored the instruments from the interior nav station during our respective shifts. All the more reason we were praying Auto would hold out there.
But Johnny’s prediction was holding true. It wasn’t 400 miles into Johnny’s predicted 500 that Auto started his “death squeal.” Yannick monitored vigorously and decided to take off the auto-pilot arm to see if he could disassemble the unit and perhaps repair it underway before it eventually died altogether.
Unfortunately he found the unit was crimped shut by the factory making manual disassembly and repair underway impossible. Yannick re-attached the arm and set to making an auto-pilot failure contingency plan as the unit squealed in the background. The B&G began to register “no rudder response” often, perhaps every 1-2 hours. But if you turned the auto-pilot off and back on, it would pick back up and work just fine. When this began to happen every half hour, however, Yannick knew it was done and all hands were ready and waiting on deck when the auto-pilot eventually gave out on the evening of June 16th.
Now, why did Auto die? Because he was 82 years old! In auto-pilot years that is. Yannick’s RayMarine linear unit had over 10,000 miles on him and he had already steered the four of us over 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, so, he really was on borrowed time. You couldn’t really fault him. He’d done his job. Like several systems on Yannick’s boat, it was simply time to replace or upgrade. Yannick knew he was going to have to do it, but whether or not to stop what was supposed to be a NON-stop trek across the Atlantic ocean to try and replace the broken auto-pilot in the Azores or have the crew hand-steer another 8-9 days to France and replace it there was Yannick’s dilemma. We all knew going into this voyage with Yannick, one that if you recall he was fully committed to make entirely on his own, that Yannick did not want to stop. He had even said this himself in the power point presentation he made for us to help us prepare for the trip.
But, also within this power point, Yannick set forth his four hopes for this voyage, one of which was that we all would:
I swear, that is straight from the Captain’s checklist. But Yannick also wanted to get his boat across the pond to France as quickly and safely as possible. This was no pleasure cruise. It was a yacht delivery with a strict mission and the crew was instructed to “have fun” within the bounds of that mission. No one faulted Yannick for this. No one said a thing when we sailed right past Bermuda. We had all signed up for a potential non-stop voyage. But, now, safety was playing a role in Yannick’s mission. Whether or not the crew could hand-steer the boat all the way to France (which we all told him we could and we all were committed to do if that was his decision) would not answer the more important question of whether or not the crew should hand-steer the boat to France. We all began to dress warmly, donning gloves, hats and full foul weather gear for our now far-more intense hand-steering shifts at the helm while this very hard decision fell on the shoulders of our Captain, Yannick.
Fun little video I made for you all from the Atlantic-crossing movie footage capturing some of the heavy bashing we were doing those days and the unfortunate demise of our auto-pilot. The saga continues. Stay tuned!
Also, exciting news! We will be drawing our Andy Schell offshore voyage giveaway winner THIS WEEKEND. I will announce the exact time soon and we will try to live stream the drawing if we have good wifi on the hook, so you can watch us pull the lucky winner out of the hat. If you’d like to be IN that hat, opt-in! Become a Patron, read Andy’s FAQs and email me for a chance to win this awesome Gift of Cruising!
Johnny’s inspecting melted pieces. Yannick’s cursing in French. I’m coughing my way out of our berth. It’s 4:00 a.m. the morning of June 10th and the muffler has melted its way off the port engine.
Tempers and temperatures were high as heat spewed out of the port engine locker and Yannick fired off questions: “What happened?” “Was there an alarm?” “Did the engine shut down on its own?”
We learned Johnny, who had the 2-4 a.m. shift that night (or morning I guess I should say), had become becalmed toward the end of his shift. That made sense as the winds had continually decreased during my 12-2 and we were bobbing now in maybe 8 knot gusts. Ooohh. Johnny said he had cranked the starboard engine to keep us moving. She cranked fine but he did not see water coming out (good for Johnny for looking) so he shut it down. That, in and of itself, did not alarm anyone as we had been fighting a multitude of problems with the coolant system on the starboard engine since we left Pensacola. First it was a bad thermostat, then the cap on the SpeedSeal wasn’t allowing suction, then the exhaust elbow was clogged, yadda yadda. But, we had not had an overheating issue with the port engine … yet.
Johnny said he shut down the starboard engine and cranked the port. It cranked fine and was reportedly running fine and discharging water. It ran for a few minutes while Johnny handed over his post to Phillip who came on at 4:00 a.m. Johnny said he went down below to rest but when he got to his berth on the port side he could tell the engine did not sound right. Sleeping like a log right above it, I couldn’t tell you if it was making any sound at all, as I slept right through the crank. It was amazing what you could learn to sleep through out there. But, even if I had heard it, I’m not 100% confident I could tell you whether the sound it was making sounded “right.” Thankfully, Johnny was listening and knew what to listen for. He rushed up to the cockpit and immediately killed the engine. I’m sure Phillip gave him an awfully funny look but when it came to the engines, we trusted Johnny. The temp was in the red when he killed the engine although no high temp alarm had gone off. Don’t ask me why. We never solved that mystery. Johnny explained to Phillip that it didn’t sound right as he made his way down into the port engine locker. Heat and melted plastic fumes emerged when he lifted the lid. Cue Yannick, who wakes to the smell of boat problems.
Yannick was pissed. Understandably so. Those engines were driving us mad. He was stomping around, getting tools, asking questions no one yet knew the answer to. He brought the muffler out into the cockpit so we could all get a better look and even I (the muffler dunce) could see one end was completely melted off.
After further inspection, Johnny found the impeller was missing a phalange and he thought it had likely lodged just the right way, acting like a valve, and prevented water flow through the muffler which caused the engine to overheat.
A broken impeller was totally expected. Yannick had plenty of spare impellers. An impeller that would break, shoot a piece off and wedge itself in a way that would maim the muffler was not. But our Captain was creative. He and Johnny started mumbling ideas out about trying to rebuild the exit port of the muffler and Yannick stood with a mission in his eyes. He started walking around the cockpit looking quickly in lockers, under cushions, then finally overboard in the dinghy and he shot a quick finger in the air. “Aha!” it said.
Yannick pulled the PVC extender for the tiller on the outboard out of the dinghy and started lining it up with the muffler’s melted hole seeing if they were the same diameter. Just when you think she’s not, often times she is. Fate was on our side gentlemen. The PVC extender for Yannick’s outboard, a part that certainly wasn’t needed while we were 1,000s of miles from shore and a part that could be easily replaced once we got those 1,000s of miles behind us was a perfect fit for the muffler. All Yannick needed to do was form the muffler back around it to create an exit tube that would jettison the exhaust water overboard. While we were aware we could bypass the muffler if necessary, as it appeared Yannick’s PVC fix was going to work, we all decided to help him pursue it.
Johnny had the good idea to use hose clamps to help shape the melted end of the muffler around the PVC pipe as Yannick heated it and that really helped to sculpt the two pieces together.
An hour later, it was almost shocking to see we had a working muffler and a port engine running once again smoothly. Like it had never even happened. This feat naturally became the hot topic of conversation on the public MapShare entry that day for our followers via the Delorme and several of Yannick’s friends from France said it did not surprise them as Yannick apparently used to dress and act a bit like the famed MacGyver in his youth. That surprised us. Particularly the part about the mullet. But the more I mulled it over (no pun intended), I started to see a resemblance.
Yannick’s friends claimed he had earned his “MacGyver Certificate” for the trip and we all seconded that motion. If you can believe it (What? Yannick working on the boat? No!), this only seemed to fuel Yannick’s boat project fire and he spent the rest of the morning cleaning the boat, filling the tank with jerry cans stowed in the forward starboard locker and fiddling with different features on the B&G.
The man does not stop. Other than when he went on an occasional crash binge of Breaking Bad played through sound muffling headphones, I think this was the only time I found him passed-out mid-project.
Those days, during the first week of June, were definitely some of our wettest of the trip. We were flying! Bashing our way to the Azores in usually 20+ knots of breeze, averaging 200+ nautical miles each day. But, it was spitting rain and splashing us in the cockpit, with persistent cloud cover that prevented anything on the boat from drying.
And, I do mean anything. The clothes you were wearing. The clothes you just washed. The kitchen towels. Our bath towels. The linens. Everything was moist. My hands remained pruny for three days straight before the outer layer gave up and eventually started to peel off.
We also kept trying to shuffle this one “shitty towel” off on one another. Johnny had apparently come into the port head at one point to find it had fallen in the toilet. Yay! And, although I washed it, it never would dry and the toilet stench somehow remained. It hung in the cockpit for days as a reminder and Johnny, Phillip and I (who shared the port cabin) would ask one another: “Didn’t you have the towel with the gray stripe?” “No, mine was green.” Anything to distance ourselves from the shitty towel.
“That’s not my towel,” says Johnny.
After three or so days of wet drab, the winds finally laid down briefly, a sliver of sun peeked through the clouds and the crew was able to enjoy our first dry, calm dinner in the cockpit since Key West.
Thank our head chef Phillip for pork tenderloin, brussels sprouts and turnips. Yum!
It was good to see everyone together, squinting into the sun, but the beautiful sunset was a deceiving sign of what was to come.
I remember waking later that night (it was June 10th, I know, because Johnny’s birthday was the following day and the crew was planning a small at-sea celebration) to the sound of the sails shrieking. Below, in your berth, everything is amplified. It’s like a sound carnival. Normal squeaks and groans are twisted, amplified, perverted even, into frightening sounds of boat carnage. A wave crashing the hull is the engine falling out. The squeak of a line being sheeted in is the sound of the mast cracking over. If you are awake (which thankfully you learn to sleep through many of these) you cannot convince your mind otherwise without going topside to confirm. This is what I had to do that evening around 11:30 p.m. to re-assure myself the shrieking I had heard below was not, in fact, the sound of the sails ripping at every seam.
I found Yannick at the helm. A big smile on his face. “We’re making 12 knots,” he said as I came up. Was he concerned why I had roused and come topside? Was he worried about me getting sleep for my shift (which was coming up next)? Heck no! He was making 12 knots. Yippee! Yannick was right, though, it was fun up there. The winds were ripping and Andanza seemed to be romping like a giddy stallion. Nothing sounded scary up there. But, it wasn’t quite my shift yet and I knew I still had two hours of “fun” ahead of me topside starting at midnight so I didn’t stay long. “I’m going to get 12 more minutes of sleep,” I told Yannick as I made my way back down below. And surprisingly, I was able to fall back asleep rather quickly, even amidst all the bashing and shrieking. When my phone alarm went off at 11:50, it felt like someone was pulling me up from twenty feet below the ground. I was so deep.
And, of course, when it came time for my shift, the wind was nowhere near as “fun” as it had been for Yannick. She was all fidgety and dissatisfied—sometimes cranking up to 17 knots, other times dropping to 11 and threatening to spill the sails. I had to keep shifting our course a bit here and there to keep the canvas full and appease her. It was one of those irritating shifts and then, right when I heard Phillip rustle below and I started congratulating myself on making it to the end, the sea gods really decided to test me. I was clicking the auto-pilot over a few degrees to keep the wind off the stern and apparently I got a little too “click happy” and overwhelmed the B&G. This happened rarely, but on occasion, like a computer when too many tasks are initiated at once, the B&G would shut-down and re-boot. It is a quick process, maybe 45 seconds to a minute, but what happens when the B&G shuts down? So does the auto-pilot and if you don’t have your wits about you, you can easily get yourself all turned around and the sails all goobered up (a technical term in sailing).
Thankfully, because I had been so feverishly clicking, I knew the exact course we needed to be on (a heading of 82) and I was able to grab the wheel and hold her there while B&G came back. I was secretly hoping it would all be booted back up and running fine by the time Phillip got up there so he wouldn’t see I had crashed the system. Don’t tell Yannick either (until he reads this). Shhhhhh! But, I got lucky. The minute Phillip made his way into the saloon and started putting on his headlamp. The B&G came back up. I turned on the auto-pilot and set it for 82 and BOOM. Hands off the wheel.
“Everything going okay up here?” Phillip asked.
“Yep, just some finicky winds. But everything’s going fine. Great actually. Good night,” says Guilty Annie.
I have to say that was sometimes my favorite moment. The end of a successful night shift. It meant I had remained diligent, watched the instruments and my surroundings, nothing went wrong during my shift, and it was no longer my shift. I could shut down (mentally) and hand over the reins. Don’t get me wrong. Solo night shifts are often some of my most memorable, fulfilling moments of an offshore passage, but they are also often the scariest and the most stressful. It’s kind of like a tightrope walk. It’s beautiful, mesmerizing and stunning when you’re up there, but you’re also glad when you’ve made it safely to the other side. Whew.
After my shift, I crashed again. Falling quickly back into that 20-meter deep hole where everything was still and quiet and warm. The sound of footsteps at first became muffled noises in my dream. Branches beating a car window or something. They started to wake me but I lulled back again. Then more branches, they broke the glass of the windshield and suddenly I realized I’m not driving. I’m in my berth, the sounds of the water on the hull are now crisp and I hear them again. Footsteps, jogging from the bow to the stern, followed by Phillip’s voice. Something, something, then “I can’t!”
I kick the covers off, moving slower than I would prefer, and try to shake the sleep off as I stand up through the hatch over my berth. I don’t understand what I’m seeing at first. It’s Phillip, kneeling on the starboard transom, holding onto something that’s over the side of the boat. It is colorful in his hands. I blink a couple of times, trying to make sense of it, then the images form an answer. Phillip is holding the head of the spinnaker. I know it is the head because it is an acute triangle and it’s that unmistakeable crinkly green of Yannick’s furling spinnaker. I can then see the spinnaker halyard making it’s way down from the mast between Phillip’s arms. If that is the head … My mind questions the possibility of it until I emerge from my hatch and see the truth of it.
The spinnaker billows out ethereal and green behind the stern of Andanza, floating, flailing, sinking the water. She is so big and trails so far behind the boat. I try to start pulling in the sail alongside Phillip, but she is swamped, weighing ten times what she would with a sea of water in her belly. Yannick pops his head up from under the starboard hull, spits out salt water and says: “It’s ripping on the prop.” There isn’t time for questions, although they fill my mind anyway. Why? How? I feel Johnny’s hands near mine pulling as well but whatever inches we pull out seem to be sucked back into the water the moment we let go to re-grip. Just bobbing, the current is still strong enough to give the ocean more pull on the wet body of the sail than our weak hands can muster from the transom.
Yannick tells Phillip to crank the port engine and put the boat in reverse so we can get the sail on board. I can see he is fighting and yanking, trying to keep the sail off the starboard rudder. While I’m sure his first concern in going overboard was to rescue the sail, now that the sail is threatening our much more important prop and rudder, the tables have turned. With the port engine slowing us down, Johnny and I are finally able to make some visible headway with the sail, pulling several soggy feet up and over the toe rail at a time, but it is still a massive chore. The sail begins to bob in the water and creep toward the port hull and we all shout: “Watch the prop on port!”
Yannick is fighting the sail in the water, trying to keep her both off of the rudder on starboard and away from the prop on port, an almost impossible feat while submerged as Johnny and I slowly make progress. The more sail we recover, though, the less the grip the waters have on her and we can finally see an end in sight. Johnny and I heave a final two, three times and finally she is recovered, a wet, green mess covering us on the deck. Johnny and I just sit, soaked, our chests heaving, and rest as Yannick makes his way up the starboard ladder. He is breathing just as hard and his chest and stomach are covered in red whelps, lashes and bleeding cuts.
“I want to see it. Help me bring it to the trampoline,” he says. While none of us want to—Johnny and I both saw and felt many rips in her as we pulled her onboard, our wet hands sometimes gripping at the edge of a gaping hole and ripping it further—we follow Yannick’s orders and haul the sail into the stark sunlight on the tramp. Yannick spreads the remains of his spinnaker out, spreading the jagged chasms open, confirming what he already knew to be true. Phillip and I try to console him: “It can be repaired. We’ve ripped our kites many times and had them stitched back up.” “You saved the prop and rudder. That’s way more important,” but our murmurs seem too limp and weak to reach him. Although Johnny and I had no clue how the spinnaker went overboard (we were both asleep at the time) no one asked what happened right then. We were curious, sure. But, it didn’t matter. The sail was gone.
While I’m glad I snapped these pictures now that the incident is over, behind us and we’ve learned the lesson from it. In the moment, right when I did it, I felt a horrendous guilt as Yannick leaned over, knees to his chest, his wet hair dripping onto the remains of the tattered sail, mourning its loss. Yannick has said the same about many of the moments I captured from our trip that were not the fun highlights that you want to re-live but, rather, the more frustrating, trying times. That is, while he didn’t particularly enjoy the fact that the camera was rolling in the moment, he is grateful, now, for what I captured and have enabled him to share with others. But, I will say it is hard in the moment to decide what to record and what to simply let slip away as a mere memory.
After talking with Phillip later, I learned Phillip had woke early and was making coffee while Yannick held the helm around 6 a.m. The winds that had been easing off during my 12-2 a.m. shift the night before had settled into a steady 8-9 knots and Yannick and Phillip thought, rightfully, that it would be a good time to raise the spinnaker. They hoisted the spinnaker and Phillip said she raised and filled just fine. He remained at the bow while Yannick went back to the cockpit to sheet in the spinnaker sheet and that’s when the sail started to billow. Phillip didn’t know why at the time but she fluttered and sank overboard and was swept quickly between the two hulls of the boat.
Afraid the weight of the sail full of water would damage the bow sprit (if not rip it off entirely), he and Yannick released the tack of the spinnaker from the bow sprit and that is how I found them, with Phillip holding the head of the spinnaker over the starboard transom and Yannick having jumped overboard to try, initially, to prevent the sail from shredding on the prop or rudder and then, subsequently, to prevent the monstrous sail from damaging the prop or rudder on the starboard side.
Discussion after the incident told us the spinnaker halyard had been cinched into the winch at the mast but not clutched down above the winch. A very simple mistake that, with just the right gravitational forces, wind, water or bouncing of the boat, caused the halyard to come out of the self-tailing jaws of the winch and allow the sail to billow and sink overboard. While sailing itself really is simple—there are a handful of lines that must be pulled and cleated in a certain way—it is sadly almost too easy to suffer a grave loss by making a very simple mistake. Say, wrapping the line around the winch counter-clockwise, instead of clockwise, leaving a sea cock closed, forgetting to shut a clutch, etc. All of these things can cause a sometimes dangerous, costly loss. It’s hard to say whether the fact that the mistake can be so simple is a good thing or a bad thing. You’re glad when you find the mistake and realize how easily it can be prevented next time, but then you kick yourself at how easily it could have been prevented this time. But what’s done is done. C’est la vie. You just have to build muscle memory to where you do all the simple things in the right order as a matter of habit.
Yannick sat alone with his tattered spinnaker for a few minutes before unzipping her bag which lay on the tramp and started gently packing her back inside. I can’t really tell you why, but we left the spinnaker like that (“in a body bag” we called it, half in jest, half in truth) on the tramp for several days.
Even though none of us really enjoyed the sight of her up there, it felt like stuffing her back down into the forward locker on port would feel a bit like a betrayal. Like a final burial. So, she rode with us under the sun and through the waves on the buoyant tramp of the Freydis for a few days before we finally stowed her away.
Yannick impressed us all that morning. While he does have a temper and he does have a tendency to focus on a problem until it becomes a festered infectious thorn, he also has an uncanny ability to sweep aside a crappy situation and turn back into his jovial self rather easily. He himself calls it: “Highs and lows. When it’s good times, I’m on the highest of highs, but when things start to suck, I fall to the lowest of lows. I’m either really happy or really pissed off.” Right after the really crappy spinnaker incident, Yannick decided to get really happy and he told me to make sure we still had Johnny’s birthday celebration lined up. Phillip had decided to make Johnny a “birthday breakfast” that day of egg and cheese burritos (although Johnny ended up getting a birthday lunch, a birthday snack and a birthday dinner too). By the end of it, we were telling him: “You get a day, not a week.” But, we did have fun putting together a little Hallmark-worthy (or so I thought) celebration for Johnny that morning, not hours after losing the spinnaker. June 11th, 2016, Johnny Walker turned 72:
A few short days later also marked a tipping point in the trip as the crew watched the number of nautical miles put behind us pass 2,300 leaving a little less than 2,400 nm to go before we crossed the Atlantic ocean on a small sailboat. That was a pretty cool feeling. I put together a video commemorating it, “Trans-Atlantic: the Halfway Point” for my Patrons while we were underway that I was able to share with them once we made it to the Azores. Enjoy!
I hope you all are enjoying the tall (although very true) sea tales from our Atlantic-crossing. If offshore voyaging is something you would like to experience or scratch off your bucket list, be sure to check out my “Voyages” tab and see all of the awesome blue water trips the s/v Libra will be making this winter across the Gulf of Mexico. Patrons get a $250 discount on any voyage and there are still a few bunks left on the trip to Isla Mujeres with me over Thanksgiving as well as the New Years Eve trip to Cuba to celebrate the new year with Phillip and I in Havana. Book today!
Also, if you haven’t yet seen the Atlantic-crossing movie and would like to, she is now available FOR RENT on YouTube. Check it out!
And, (yes AND! we’ve got a lot of cool stuff going on here at HaveWindWillTravel), we are just a few weeks out from drawing our 3rd Gift of Cruising “Go Offshore with Andy Schell” winner. If you would like your name to be put in the pot, become a Patron, read through Andy’s FAQs on his website and EMAIL ME to opt-in for a chance to win!
“If we snap one of those battens, I don’t have a spare,” Yannick tells the crew after we put in the third reef.
Thankfully the storm off the tip of Florida was intense but very brief, lasting a grand total of about twenty minutes with peak winds of 32 mph. We may not have needed to go all the way down to third reef, but after our (very first ever) drop to reef one did not go so well and the winds were still building at the time, Yannick instructed the crew to drop to reef two—for safety as much as for practice. While reef three was primarily practice, it was necessary all the same as the crew had never done it before and we needed to learn exactly how to secure the sail down to that mark. The third reef in Yannick’s main does not have a line at the tack (the mast) running back to the cockpit; rather, it is cinched down to the boom at the tack with just a strap. So, it was good practice to put the third reef in simply to learn the set-up. With the third reef in and winds holding at 28 mph, it was then just a fun romp in the rain, a nice shower for the salty boat and crew.
Video Annie was clearly having a good time:
However, just like washing your car to make sure it doesn’t rain, Johnny put the kibosh on our rinse by breaking out some soap to take a shower. I’d say I felt bad for him, all lathered up and sudsy the minute the rain stopped, but he looked so funny. Like an unhappy cat in the tub!
Yannick, ever the problem-solver, remained focused on the crew’s poor reefing performance. “I’m going to write up instructions,” he said as he headed down below right after the storm. It wasn’t like we had botched the whole thing but reefing can be difficult when you are on a 46 foot boat, cannot hear one another over the wind and waves and you’re not confident, without communication, which lines to release or pull and when. It needs to be coordinated, rehearsed and performed like a tire change at a pit stop—quickly, efficiently and safely. In order to do that, you need to know—before sails start popping and snaring and lines are whipping about—in which order to do things. I was all for instructions. Type away Yannick.
And type he did. And printed them too! Later that afternoon we each had a typed-up instruction sheet taped at each of our designated posts setting out each step of our specific reefing procedure and we started doing reefing drills.
By the second drill we were all far more comfortable with our respective roles and the communication that needed to occur while reefing. While our reefing was improving, we were still struggling with the boom. Yes, the boom. Or I was at least—having the luxury on our Niagara of a boom vang—having to deal with the added problem of a boom, if not held up by the main sail or topping lift would come crashing down on the bimini. Whose boom hits their bimini? This irked me! Like an entirely new, complicated task stacked on top of all our tasks was just what we needed. Imagine you’re making coffee in the galley (think of all the things you have to do—fill the pot with water, light the stove, measure the grounds, etc.) and if you let go of the stove, it will fall out of the counter and crash onto the floor. That’s a little what this crashing boom felt like. If the main sail is not holding it up, the topping lift must. Once the main sail is raised, however, the topping lift must be slacked or it will chafe the main halyard. So, it’s kind of like swapping hands, but keeping a constant hold on the stove while you’re working in the galley. It was just one more thing.
Luckily, the additional tasks relating to the boom were added to Yannick’s reefing procedure at the mast. His list was definitely longer than any one else’s. In case you are curious, here is a rough reconstruction of our reefing procedure on Andanza:
Phillip turns slightly into the wind
Annie furls the genny in to third reef – with either Johnny on port or Phillip at the helm easing the sheet out [We did this so it wouldn’t beat Yannick up at the mast while reefing the main.]
Phillip turns back off the wind while the crew prepares to reef the main
Annie checks clutches for tack on deck and for clew on boom are all closed
Yannick at mast tightens topping lift (so the boom won’t crash on the bimini when we release the tension of the main)
Phillip turns slightly into the wind
Yannick at mast begins to lower the main
Annie on starboard pulls line for reef one at the tack down to the mark
Johnny on port winches the line for reef one at the clew down to the mark [while my line could be pulled by hand, meaning if we were on a port tack the genny sheet could remain on the winch, Johnny’s task of pulling down the reef point at the clew was much harder and had to be done at the winch. If we were on a starboard tack, he had a separate clutch on port that could hold the genny while he used the genny winch to pull down the reef at the clew. Winching the sail down at the clew was definitely the hardest job as it held the most wind]
Yannick raises the main back up to tension the sail back up (so it can raise the boom)
Yannick then releases the topping lift (and we all hope the boom doesn’t crash on the bimini)
Phillip falls off and puts wind back in the sail and we all inspect sail shape, line tension and check for chafe points
Yannick also liked to use a long Velcro strap at the clew to help ease the tension of the reef line that held the clew down. As I mentioned, that was by far where the most tension was held. Listening to that line squeal and stretch to its limit as Johnny winched down the clew point was not enjoyable for anyone. And, because it held so much tension, it also squealed and squeaked with each slight movement of the boom as the boat knocked around over waves. Yannick hated this. He’s not a fan of anything that squeaks. So, he would always go up on the bimini after we put in a reef point and run a long piece of Velcro through the reef point at the clew to hold some of the tension at the clew and instruct Johnny to then let out some of the line that held the clew down. Yannick was happy when the Velcro and the line “shared” the load.
In all, it’s a good thing we got our sail tactics rehearsed and operating like a well-oiled machine because the winds were screaming, holding steady around 23 knots for three days! After our lackluster, glassy days in the Gulf, it felt like Andanza shot like a slingshot around the tip of Florida and up the east coast. It was fun to see folks who had been clearly watching us on the Delorme (albeit in silence) finally chiming in with comments like: “Now you guys are moving!” “There’s the wind!” and “No more motoring!” And they were right!
Yannick got some great panorama (i.e., GoPro on a stick) shots during those days:
We had a Mahi grab onto the line the day after our Key West stop and I had to wonder if the line actually grabbed onto him, because we were hauling at 13 knots.
I had never caught a Mahi before and I was mesmerized by the colors. Brilliant yellows and shiny greens, followed by a kaleidoscope ripple across her scales as she gulped her last breaths.
While I said previously that I didn’t feel bad for the tuna we had caught in the Gulf, that it felt like a gift, that did not ring true here. The Mahi was so beautiful. I really hated to pierce its stunning skin with my knife. Then Johnny says, “Throw the hook back out quick. You can often catch the mate.”
Apparently, these amazing fish mate for life and, once the connection is made, they swim together for the remainder of their piscine years. Now, not only had I stripped this sad fish in the water of his lifelong, by his side, every-day mate but then he had to watch me slaughter her before his very eyes. I know he was just sharing some probably very helpful, valuable marine-life knowledge but Jesus Johnny! I did not need to know that. The Mahi was succulent, light, fluffy and white and I hated every bite of it. Poor fishy.
The sailing those days was some of the easiest I’ve done in my life. It was Brandon, back home, who had told us this many times in the days before we left. “You’ll get on a tack and stay there for six days,” he said. “Chafe will be your biggest problem.” That Brandon, he knows his stuff.
He was so right. Once we had steady wind in the sails, with the auto-pilot holding like a dream, there was really nothing to do as far as the sailing went. While Yannick continued (continued! continued!) daily to work on boat projects, the crew kind of fell into an easy routine. Books were devoured. I recall specifically Johnny starting one, finishing one and starting another in one day.
Phillip and I found ourselves doubled over one day watching Johnny napping one days in the cockpit.
Sleep was absolutely indulged. Can you spot Johnny in this pic? That was his favorite sleep spot!
I distinctly remember Johnny had Phillip and I doubled over in laughter one day when he woke up from a particularly-deep nap. Sure, he’d had his mouth wide open, jaw dropped, overcome with sleep. We’ve all been there. You wake up on occasion, acutely aware your mouth is ajar, subjecting anyone around you to whatever funk is coming out, yet you find the weight of your jaw is simply too heavy to lift. So you just leave yourself wide open and let yourself drift happily back away. That wasn’t the funny part. What was funny was this. So he’s out. Mouth open. Heavy breaths of his chest up and down. Phillip and I were sitting on the other cockpit benches reading and we both watched as Johnny stirred. Pulled his heavy jaw up, smacked a few times, blinked around the table and let his gaze fall on a little bowl in front of him. It had been Phillip’s and it had been once filled with cookies. Now, only little cookie bits remained.
Johnny eyed the bowl, reached a lumbering hand toward it, dumped it into his mouth, closed his eyes while he chewed and swallowed (as if the act of consuming crumbs was so tiring he had to rest his eyes while he did it). Then he eased on back, laid his head against the boat and was soon back in his blissful, slackjaw slumbering state. Having both watched the entire scene in silence, Phillip and I busted up, snickering and giggling and joking about how now, at least, Johnny’s breath would smell like cookies. Johnny was funny. I made him post the group Delorme message that night where he said the trip was affording him “Days of undeserved rest.” Some moments like that, as well as Yannick spitting his words at us in the rain from the mast, talking about the third reef and battens snapping, will stick with me. Some moments from the trip are crystallized in my memory where other periods of time, days on end even, feel like a blue water blur.
Comraderie among the crew grew like vines. First it’s just a seed in the sand. Two things put together but not really connected. Then over time, as the two are exposed simultaneously to elements and experiences, little shoots start to emerge. A joke is shared, a frightening moment, a hand lent out with just the tool you needed, a story from one another’s past and before you know it, you’ve connected with the person. Roots have reached out and the dirt has welcomed their hold. You start to understand the person in a way you didn’t before. You’ll start to sense when they’re content to be left alone, when they may need your help but haven’t yet asked for it, when they’re in the mood to hear a funny story, but more importantly, when they’re not. Case in point:
When Yannick’s sitting in a pile of tools, frowning at the broken end of the windex: NOT a good time to tell him a funny story about your high school prom (he cares not).
When Phillip’s searing steaks on the grill on the transom, smiling and salivating: PERFECT time to strike up a rousing rendition of Son of a Son of a Sailor.
When Annie’s staring at her computer screen, tapping her lip trying to write something brilliant: NOT a good time to strum up a political conversation about Obamacare. (She cares not.)
When Yannick’s splayed out in his berth, asleep, drooling with Breaking Bad play on his laptop: BAD time to tell him there’s a screw loose on the bimini cover.
When Johnny’s looking for the tonic water to go with his swig of gin: GREAT time to ask him to write the crew message for our bottle. The message Johnny came up with:
Andanza was here, with its ruthless crew. (Give the date.)
You were lucky, you weren’t here too.
It is fun the moments you share out there. Phillip spent those days cooking up a storm every day with often a fun, creative bite for lunch (egg salad sandwiches, sushi, seafood pasta, BBQ) and, often, a rather gourmet dish for dinner (pork curry, beef stroganoff, shrimp alfredo). Thankfully, we were sailing then, no longer motoring, so Johnny finally got his days of deserved rest, reading and relaxing. I read and wrote and filmed and created and ate Phillip’s wonderful dishes. That man can sure cook! We make a good team ’cause I can sure eat!
And, Yannick continued to work. We all stayed out of his way primarily, with the long-standing premise that if he needed or wanted our help, all he needed to do was ask and we would jump to his call. Rarely did he. This system worked well, until two worlds collided. When Yannick started cutting into Phillip’s cutting board (literally) to construct a new base for his windex (which he had to mount on the port side of the mast) to account for the Freydis’ rotating mast.
Yannick and Phillip bartered and negotiated and it was decided Yannick could have a chunk, not the whole thing and Phillip was granted free reign of the cutting board that came with the Magma grill. It’s all about coming to understandings and respecting each other’s space. This is how you all get along on a boat.
But, let’s talk for a minute about how the boat gets along. Have any of you made an offshore passage on a catamaran? If you have, please chime in in a comment below. I would love to hear from you. The bashing on the catamaran shocked me. Stunned me. It was teeth-jarring at times. When water trapped between the two hulls rumbled, thundered and finally bashed its way out, I had to convince myself each time that we had not just hit a whale. While I had felt our 1985 Niagara 35 slam into a wall of water plenty of times and suspected a hull breach, this was different. It was a special breed of bashing, a violent, shrill collision that made me sure, not just suspicious, the boat had cracked in half. The bashing on the cat stopped sentences. It stung bare feet on the galley floor. It was like a nervous system message so strong it bypassed your brain. Muscles flinched without instruction. The crew grew accustomed but never comfortable with it. With the bashing, however, came a great deal of speed. With winds of 23+ holding steady, we were averaging 10 knots most day, even clicking off a record 243 nautical miles in one day. We were flying, bashing, sleeping while sailing into the heart of the ocean.
We were also shuddering. Once the wind found us and we started to do some actual very sporty sailing on the trip, the shuddering began. We heard it first on the port side because we were on a starboard tack. With each lurch and bash of the boat into eight-foot seas, the lazy shroud on the port side would let out a shrill metallic ringing. It vibrated like a plucked guitar string with each romp of the boat. The sound (as all sounds on a boat are) was amplified below and in mine and Phillip’s berth on the aft port side.
Annie trying to record some of the wicked sounds of the boat. Folks who have seen the movie, was I able to capture them? Did it sound like you were there? Do tell!
While I could try to find the words to describe it, the best way to truly convey our concerns would be to say it sounded like it was damaging the boat. Imagine a sail flapping, snapping and popping. Even a non-sailor would likely cringe and think to themselves: Make it stop. As a sailor, you know the sound means trouble for the boat and your immediate instinct is to fill the sail with wind or drop it, to rescue the flailing part somehow. With the shuddering of the shroud, the entire crew felt that way, but Johnny, Phillip and I, as strictly monohull sailors, had no experience sailing a catamaran offshore. We had no experience with a boat that only has three stays or, better yet, one whose mast rotates.
Once I found out we were dealing with a boat rigged up with lines to pull on the lazy shroud to lessen the vibration when on an opposite tack, I knew I had nothing to offer.
What is the proper tuning of that rig and what vibration is permitted or intolerable with a rig like that was an impossible question for the crew to answer.
While Yannick had the most offshore experience with the boat, it was limited to a sixteen day run bringing Andanza from Martinique up to Pensacola and he said he didn’t recall as much shuddering on that trip and didn’t know exactly how tight was the right amount of tight in light of the rotating mast. He sent out texts and emails to various professionals back in Pensacola via the Delorme (another benefit of having available satellite communication) but it was late in the evening when those were sent out and the crew knew we likely would not hear from anyone until the following morning. In the meantime, the shroud continued its murderous shudder with each romp of the boat.
Yannick worked tirelessly to tighten the slack line for the shroud and checking the chain plate on port. It looked solid at the time, but every time the boat went head to head with a wall of water, the wave would bash into the hull with a thunderous slap and immediately the metallic ring of the shuddering shroud would follow. Slap. Shudder. Slap. Shudder. Sleep came in fretful snatches that night. I woke around 2:00 a.m. to find Yannick checking the chain plate (for the fifth time) on the port side. He just looked at me sitting up in my berth and walked back up, his face telling me nothing had changed, but that meant nothing had improved either.
When Yannick is checking the chain plates because the shroud is clanging itself to death: NOT a good time ask him if everything is okay.
Fun story? I hope you all are digging the Atlantic-crossing saga because I’m sure having a helluva time telling it. The full-length movie from our voyage is up now for Patrons on Patreon and coming to rent on YouTube Oct. 7th. If anyone has already seen it, let folks know what you thought of it in a comment below!
How much experience do you need to cross the Atlantic Ocean?
That is honestly one of the questions that flitted through my mind as we pushed away from the dock in the morning heat, May 28, 2016. That and “Happy birthday to you.” That was playing in my mind as well. (Are you singing it now? You’re welcome.) I turned 34 that day and I couldn’t think of one (much less 34!) reasons why I should NOT be going on this trip. We were about to sail to France. Sail. I could not get my mind wrapped around it. Every time I mentioned the trip to friends or family I would say “When we land in France … ” and I would have to stop myself, back up, and say “When we dock in France” and instantly I would envision Kate Winslet walking up to the gallant, towering Titanic.
Because those are the kinds of boats that “dock” in France, right?
Well, not this time. We were going on a 46-foot boat with a virgin crew to an ocean-crossing. While everyone has to have a first time, it’s probably a little uncommon for four sailors to embark on their first crossing together but we were. While Johnny had about thirty years sailing experience under his belt, many passages in the Gulf, around the Bahamas as well as one solo voyage to Jamaica, he had never crossed an ocean. Phillip and I had crossed the Gulf several times before (well, to be honest, I’ve been told hugging the shore doesn’t even count as crossing) but a six-week trip to the Florida Keys and back on our Niagara was the longest voyage we could boast. While Yannick had sailed Andanza with a hired captain from Martinique up to Pensacola when he purchased the boat in 2015, that was his only blue water passage on the boat and it was still not across an ocean. Would stepping on this boat for this voyage frighten some of you?
To be honest, that collective limitation did not worry me. No matter how much experience you have, if you get stuck in a storm or the boat is compromised beyond repair, a hundred ocean crossings under your belt may not save you. Truthfully, what worried me the most, was my own personal lack of knowledge of the boat, i.e., how best to handle her, how her systems operated and how they should be maintained, repaired and rigged, and most importantly, how to sail her because I didn’t feel like I really knew how to do that all that well. Yet. That was the thought that made my heart race. An emergency occurring. The crew needing me to do something, the right thing, to help save the boat or lives, and I would not know the right thing, or perhaps anything, to do to help get the boat and the crew through the situation. I feared paralysis brought on by ignorance. I still feel to this day the answer to that question—How much experience do you need to cross an ocean?—is none. Obviously because we all did it without any, so while it may be helpful, it is not a necessity. What you really need, in my humble opinion, after good mental and physical health is (in this order): luck, a level head, patience and an eagerness to learn: the boat, the seas, the stars and from your mistakes. Oh, and a sense of humor. You need a sense of humor.
After that, you shove off. That’s what we did. And somehow we made it.
We woke to a fiery sunrise on Andanza the morning of May 28th.
It was crazy to think we would be leaving the dock that day actually headed for France.
Crew morale was incredibly high, thankfully, as I forced them all to gear up (in the middle of May heat) in our foul weather gear for a “Thank You West Marine!” crew photo.
See? Totally worth it.
It was hot, though. After five minutes of sweating, the crew was about ready to kill me.
We all were sporting next to nothing under those heat lockers.
Farmer John style:
To be honest, I can’t quite remember what brought on this strange pose. I think I called him Ronald McDonald in his red-and-yellow ensemble and there was some mention of a hamburger craving. That’s all I remember. That Yannick. He’s a funny one. And, I’ll know exactly what he’s thinking as he reads this:
That bit was re-enacted (too) many times during the passage.
It was a quick doffing and donning of our foul weather gear, though. We stripped and stowed those away as they would likely not be needed anytime soon in the hot, muggy Gulf and prepared to shove off, although we would not be heading out into the Gulf that day. Why no Gulf, you ask? Brandon and his wife, Christine, that’s why and an alcohol-induced cajoling the night before at our little farewell party at the dock.
I mentioned there was alcohol …
While Brandon and Christine had the best of intentions talking us into spending one night on anchor at everyone’s favorite anchorage—Ft. McRee—for the stated purpose of “a good night’s rest” before the passage and one last “check of the systems,” mine and Phillip’s lawyer sides saw right through them. We all knew what they really wanted was to have one last hoorah on the hook before we sailed across the Atlantic.
We did too! So, it was settled. One night at McRee, then we would be off. While we knew we would not be headed out into the Pensacola Pass that day, it was strange to think it might be our last sighting of Andanza next to a U.S. dock.
Brandon was planning on bringing his boat out for the night as well, a Gulf Star 45, s/v 5 O’Clock. With all of the work he had put into Yannick’s boat at the yard, all of the time he had spent helping us all prepare for the passage, an evening on the water with he and his family truly seemed like the perfect send-off. Plus, I (selfishly) could also not imagine a better way to spend my birthday! Yes, remember it was still my birthday! There were so many cool things about that day. One being a sail-by farewell from two of our other local fellow cruisers: our broker, Kevin, aboard his Pearson 36 Cutter and Andrew, aboard his Sabre 34.
The crew had a very fun sail from the Navy Base to Ft. McRee with a few of Yannick’s French friends aboard (who were very cute I might add). It was the first time all four of us were on the boat, sailing away from Pensacola and we were all prickling with energy. I think Phillip put it best when he said:
Okay, so maybe we were going to have to drop it just for the night while on anchor, but that was all. Just one night. And, it was very fun being the celebrities at the anchorage. Phillip and I spend so many weekends there that we had two, three, four dinghies, if not more, pull up, filled to the brim with our cruising buddies, wanting to say “Bon Voyage!” It was humbling to see how excited and invested our friends were in the trip. They were all planning to follow us on the Delorme and it really was cool to know they would be here, doing what we would normally be doing every weekend during that month, while Phillip and I were moving each day across the ocean toward France. And, getting to say goodbye on the water was really where Phillip and I feel truly at home, so there was something special about that.
I was also really touched by the things Yannick’s wife, Clothilde, had left aboard the boat specifically for my birthday celebration: a super scrumptious hazelnut coffee cake that she made, as well as birthday candles and party favors. It was funny to watch Yannick scrambling around looking for them when it came time to blow out the candles. He did find one rather large candle, which he sunk down into the frosting and that I noted was quite _______. (If you have a word you think is fitting here, leave in a comment below and check out this week’s Patron’s video extra: “Birthday Trivia”)
To be honest, though, I hated to say it, but I told Christine toward the evening, that Phillip and I were so itching to go, to get out there on blue water, that the hours honestly kind of started to slow down for us. All of the crew kept looking out past the beach toward the Gulf, craving that offshore, nothing-but-blue-horizon feeling of being on an offshore passage. We were ready to take the plunge!
It was tough to sleep that night we were all so excited. Rum helped, though. The stories told that evening on Brandon’s boat I can hardly recall. I doubt he does either. But it was a fantastic night with friends, warm hugs and good cheer.
When I started to stir in bed the next morning and realized this (yes, finally THIS) was the day we would be truly headed out the pass and offshore, I didn’t care what time it was. I ripped my eyes open and nudged Phillip. “This is it,” I said. He was awake in seconds, nodding and smiling. “I know,” he said, tickling with the same excitement. We were leaving today!
And, early too. The entire crew was awake before 6:00 a.m., brewing coffee and talking about the weather. The seas looked calm in the Gulf so Yannick plugged in a placeholder coordinate outside of Key West and that was that. We had our first leg of the trip plugged in. It was actually really cool to think this time Phillip and I headed offshore we would just be going, non-stop. While we love to coastal cruise and check out all of the neat inlets, ports and harbors along the coastline, we love to be underway too, so the thought that we were about to leave Pensacola Bay and not set our sights on Port St. Joe, or Clearwater, or Tarpon Springs or anything north of the Keys was truly exciting. Phillip and I had no clue whether we were going to like this—long offshore travel—we had an instinct, and it turned out to be right, but at the time, we had no idea. But that was the whole point of going.
The crew of s/v Andanza weighed anchor that morning and made our way through the North Cut on our way to Pensacola Pass around 6:45 a.m. We had one last surprise visit from another local cruising group (thank you Bridgette, Tom and Karen!) via dinghy on our way out the channel.
They circled around us shouting “Bon Voyage!” and snapping photos. It was such a cool moment, such a proud moment, to know we had worked so hard to get here and we were doing something many wished they could, wished they had, wish they still will, and I was right there, not one day into 34 and I was doing it, with my best friend beside me.
Hearts were beating and sighs were heaved as the rookie ocean crew motored our way out the Pensacola Pass. We had a great time spotting the last bits of land. Johnny watched Portofino disappear on the horizon. Phillip threw out the fishing line. And then … (notice anything suspect here?)
The starboard engine shut down.
I think Video Annie summed it up best. This was literally two hours into our trip:
I don’t toy with the idea; it toys with me, pecking and picking at the back of my brain. “You should go,” it says. And I should. At least I believe I should. Maybe not believe, but think. I think I should. Shouldn’t I? When the idea starts to grip and pull me hand-over-hand into its graces, there is only thing that pulls me fast-and-hard back. That is Phillip.
Friends, followers, I dare say it is time. While filming my adventures, making videos and taking pictures is fun, it is merely a pastime compared to my true passion: writing. I find the endeavor of trying to capture and re-create my surroundings in such detail you feel you are right there, breathing the air next to me, a deliciously-thrilling challenge. I am up for it, and it is time. I want to tell you the tale of my first Atlantic-crossing, from start to finish, complete with plenty of photos. As I come across footage, while making the Atlantic-crossing movie, that corresponds with these posts, I will share it in an exclusive video on Patreon as well. Although I hope my words will conjure crisper images, mostly I hope you enjoy the feeling of the journey as I experienced it.
When I say “Phillip” was the main reason for my not wanting to go I do not mean he had asked me not to go or that he did not want me to go. Quite the opposite. He was the first person to encourage me. Much like the trip I had bravely set off on not one year prior—where I agreed fly to the Bahamas alone and crew for five days on a boat with total strangers in the Abacos Regatta—Phillip encouraged me to sign on for the Atlantic-crossing even though he knew not at the time whether he could join. No, it was not Phillip’s desires or concerns that held me back, it was the thought of embarking on this incredible journey without him—leaving him behind to stand on the shores while I cast off to cross an ocean—that gave me serious pause. Had Phillip merely said, “It’s up to you,” I likely would not have gone. But he did not. “You should go,” he said, as if his was the voice of the Idea. And so I decided I would.
We all eyed him in a mix of astonishment and admiration. Alone. It was Yannick. Our Captain. Our faithful leader on this voyage, and the man we now congenially refer to as “the Wandering Frenchman.” I didn’t know him well at the time. This was probably my third time speaking with him. And I sure didn’t know in a matter of months I would be stepping foot aboard his boat to cross the ocean with him. At the time Yannick was just another boat owner who was having work done on his boat at the yard at the same time Phillip and I were hauled out this past winter re-building our rotten stringers, replacing our original 1985 rod rigging and knocking out a few hundred other “while you’re out of the water” projects. Yannick’s 46’ high-performance French-built Catamaran was docked at the yard at the same time undergoing significant repairs after suffering a lightning strike in September, 2015.
I’m sure this is no secret. It seems many boat owners—males in particular and Brandon and Phillip in a unique form of particular—can stand around and talk about boats for hours, days even. While Brandon mentioned Yannick’s catamaran often during these “boat conversations” at the yard, merely as a matter of course, we could tell he was especially surprised at the astonishing array of electronics Yannick was having him install on his catamaran: a back-up chart-plotter, radar, AIS, forward scan, numerous alarms, a siren, even! It wasn’t until the “alone” conversation that we learned why.
Yannick is a fighter jet pilot in the French Navy. He had been in Pensacola for two years working as a flight instructor but was soon slated to retire, at which time he planned to move he and the family—his beautiful wife Clothilde, their five-year old son Nils and five-month old daughter, Clemence—back to France where they would plan to move aboard the catamaran in the following year and then begin cruising northern Europe. All he needed to do was get the boat back to the France. All he wanted in order to do that was some high-end electronics and a siren. Yannick’s initial plan was to sail his catamaran single-handed, non-stop over 4,600 nautical miles from Pensacola, Florida to Roscoff, France.
I clicked on the GoPro the minute this news broke, out of habit (what a story!), and I’m glad I caught it on film. Yannick explained one of reasons he hesitated to seek out crew to help him make the passage was what he called the “human factor,” meaning: “Who do you want to take with you across the ocean?” Definitely a legitimate concern. It’s a small boat and a lot of days. It’s fun to look back on this clip, though, and realize none of us knew at the time, as Yannick was telling Phillip and I about his “human factor” theory, the pesky “humans” he would taking with him across the ocean would be us.
Video from our first conversation with Yannick about the crossing, up now in a Patrons-only post on Patreon.
I will admit, his plan seemed a little outlandish. While Yannick had brought his catamaran up from the Caribbean to Pensacola on a 16-day run with a hired captain, aside from that he had virtually no other offshore experience on his boat. What he did have, though, was confidence. He seemed so resolved, so pragmatic about the whole thing, I honestly believed he could do it. Surely someone who flies jets at supersonic speed can handle a slow boat across an ocean? Some of those skills must translate? Well, they do and they don’t. I will say at the outset one of the most interesting aspects of this voyage was watching someone as capable and smart as Yannick have to adapt in many ways to cruising. The weather, the elements and the boat simply do not treat you any differently based on your resume.
At no point did Yannick seem to be uncertain in his decision, though. At no point did he seem to be desirous of bringing crew aboard to help him make the passage. He seemed determined—excited even—to do it alone. “I like a challenge,” he said. Phillip and I chatted about our interesting conversation with Yannick a little here and there over the course of the next couple of weeks (this was mid-March), thinking how cool it would be when we would finally be ready to cross the ocean on our boat, but that was the extent of it. It wasn’t until Phillip came home from work one day a couple of weeks later, after having stopped at the shipyard on the way home, with a new piece of information and a seed to plant.
“Johnny?” I asked, a little confused. I wasn’t even sure Johnny and Yannick knew each other, at least not well enough to meet Yannick’s “human factor” and I didn’t know ocean-crossing was something Johnny had always wanted to do. Johnny Walker (no relation) is an old friend of Brandon’s and a well-known diesel engine mechanic in the Pensacola marine industry. We had worked with Johnny on several occasions over the past few years in tuning and maintaining our engine, borrowing some rare tools as needed from his impressive collection. (Remember the torque wrench we broke when re-torquing our keel bolts?) We also had the opportunity to buddy sail with Johnny on our way down to the Keys in 2014 when he and his son, Jeremy, were sailing his Morgan 38 down to Key West at the same time.
Needless to say, Johnny was an old friend, an old salt and, specifically, a proven and reputable sailor and mechanic, and he was now on board for the Atlantic-crossing.
“Johnny’s going,” Phillip said, with a playful gleam in his eye. I knew he was looking at me funny for a reason and I knew this information was key for a reason, but it was like I couldn’t get the rusty gears in my head to turn fast enough to put it all together. Why is it so important that Johnny’s going? Phillip could tell I needed help connecting the dots. If Johnny’s going, Yannick is now taking on crew. If Johnny is going, maybe others could go to …
“You know who else Johnny thinks would be a good fit to make the passage?” Phillip asked. Then it clicked. Me! Us! Me? Once again it seemed a little outlandish. I might be crossing the ocean this year? The idea was very new. My first thought was honestly how cold it might be and what gear I would be wearing. My vivid imagination apparently wanted to see it first before I could process the actual details.
Once I got past the fashion block, however, and started to truly digest it, my second thought was Phillip. I couldn’t imagine embarking on an ocean-crossing voyage without the single person who turned me into a sailor in the first place. I can’t go without Phillip. Or at least I shouldn’t. I can’t.
As luck would have it, right around the time this outlandish idea emerged Phillip had a rather large block of time on his calendar, for a trial that was scheduled in June, that could possibly open up assuming certain things fell into place with his case load. Now it was not just an idea, it was a hope: Phillip and I making our first ocean-crossing together this year! All of that depended upon Yannick, however, as we hadn’t even been invited yet. Phillip and I were dreaming about the voyage long before Yannick even considered the idea of welcoming us aboard for the trip.
This was the gut-wrenching part for me. The one, singular thing that held me back from jumping immediately on the idea was the one, singular person I truly wanted to make the trip with. We were nowhere near sure at the time that Phillip could make the trip with me. We spend just a few hours apart and I begin to miss him. Now we were talking weeks, months perhaps. I ached just thinking about it. But, it was an incredible opportunity and it was Phillip who did, and always does, push me to greater experiences. “You should go,” he said, and I knew he was right. The one thought that comforted me in agreeing, at first, to sign on without him was how much I knew this trip would mean to him. Phillip has crossed oceans before, in large carrier ships. He has traveled much more of this awe-inspiring world than I have. But one thing he has not done, that he has always wanted to do, is sail across an ocean. My hope was if I was able to secure us two spots as crew for the passage, he would move mountains to be able to join me. So it was decided. I, at least, was going.
My blood pulsed hot through the veins of my neck as I scrolled through my contacts in my phone, looking for one in particular: Johnny Walker. I needed to tell him one thing: If Yannick would have us, Phillip and I wanted to come.
Fun video following my initial conversation with Johnny that I shared on Patreon April 8, 2016. Thanks, as always, to my followers, friends and Patrons who enable me to share this journey. Get on board!
“You’re going to hate sailing forever. It’s like wanting to try cake for the first time and instead of trying one slice, you eat the whole cake instead.”
This is what one YouTube follower told me when I shared the exciting news that I was going to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. Now that I have completed the journey and can respond with the benefit of first-hand experience, my initial reaction remains the same: “I have never regretted eating an entire cake.”
It seems the decision to join a handful of fellow sailors and embark on an undeniably risky, yet promising new journey can invoke some extreme guttural reactions from friends, followers and especially family. The wide range of responses we received to our announcement (ranging from the excited to fearful, the encouraging to foreboding) undoubtedly surprised me. Thankfully, none of the naysayers swayed me and I can now say—with the benefit of hindsight—I am so glad I made that voyage.
While the crew of s/v Andanza did endure some difficult passages as well as our fair share of equipment failures and frustrations, I enjoyed every bit of the arduous, eye-opening journey and am thankful for the valuable lessons and insight I took away from my first ocean crossing. I am also excited to share all of it with you. Before I got into the incredibly-fun task, however, of one of my favorite parts of any adventure—the telling of the … story—I thought it might behoove you all to first share a few fun, educational and entertaining “Top Ten” lists Phillip and I put together soon after we finished the voyage. (Many of you who followed along via the Delorme link on Patreon heard about many of these along the way. Others you will find we did not share publicly at the time so as not to worry followers about our occasional precarious state.) In all, I hope you find them, as I did, enlightening, insightful and a fun way to kick off this Atlantic-Crossing Saga!
Top Ten Things that Broke:
(Not necessarily in half or in two but they did break in some fashion and not necessarily in the order of breakage)
The main halyard
The starboard engine injectors
The port engine muffler
The starboard shroud
The port shroud (much more on this later but know the true gravity of the failure, which we discovered upon our rig inspection after making landfall, was alarming).
Top Ten Phrases (and Expletives):
“Ahhhh … putain!” (French for f%@k. Grumbled by Captain Yannick after each breakage)
“Arthur!” (A reminder to trim the mast. Yes, you read that right. The mast.)
“Request received” (Intended to confirm receipt of a request while offering no guarantee of its grant in order to prevent useless repeating of said request)
“That is not good thinking” (Offered by Captain Yannick when he didn’t like your request)
“Recommendation voice” (The oddly high-pitched inaudible tone Annie’s voice takes on when she lodges a request)
“Hundred percent” (Phillip’s way of saying he’s sure about something, 100%)
“What’s our voltage?” (An inquiry into the state of the batteries)
“Get some rest” (According to Yannick, something Annie said every time a crew member went below for sleep)
“I think this is a do-over” (Johnny’s way of saying he liked Phillip’s cooking)
Top Ten Things We Ate:
(Lawyer disclaimer: This is in no way an endorsement of these items as being the most healthy, cost-effective or best items to bring along for an ocean-crossing. These were simply the items that were, in fact, stocked and consumed in voluminous amounts on Andanza):
Peanut-butter cracker packs (I’ll leave it to Johnny to say how many he truly ate … )
Nature Valley granola bars
Ground coffee (made every morning, several batches in the French Press; Nespresso made in the machine for Yannick)
Bread (loaves as well as hot dog and hamburger buns, bagels and naan, many frozen for longevity)
Pork (many batches of frozen pulled pork as well as pork tenderloins and bacon)
Hearty produce (carrots, cabbage, turnips, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, etc. – devoured and disposed of early on as a result of poor packing that lead to quick spoliation)
Various coveted snacks (the wasabi peas were diminished early but later followed by Chex Mix and Cheetos; Yannick hoarded the beef jerky)
Canned tuna and chicken (often used by Chef Phillip to make tuna and chicken salad sandwiches for lunch)
Canned fruits/vegetables (peas and corn primarily for cooked dishes; mixed vegetables, carrots, asparagus, pineapple, peaches primarily for me – eaten out of the can, including the requisite drinking of the “veggie juice”)
Water! Bottles primarily. (We packed approximately 15 packs (36 12 oz. bottles each) of water in the bilges of the boat, as well as 80 gallons in the tank and approximately eight back-up gallons stowed here and there. We re-filled the tanks in Key West and the Azores and bought a few more gallons but, as Yannick put it, he is “confident we brought some Pensacola water with us to France.” Even after suffering the loss of the water-maker very early on, we had plenty of water.)
Monster drinks (Yannick. Nuff said.)
Powdered tea (Arizona brand, made in a large pitcher with water from the tanks and kept in the fridge)
Wine (We had a good bit of beer and wine aboard—some brought aboard for the passage and a good bit leftover from our farewell party at the dock. In true French style, Captain Yannick allowed each crew member a single beer or glass of wine each day while off-shift. I think it helped to deter thoughts of mutiny. Thank you Yannick!)
Canned teas and sodas (primarily Arizona Green Tea, Coca-Cola and A&W root beer)
Dasani water squirts (this was just for me, good for flavoring the water and easily “marking” my bottle as “the pink one” – any time a water bottle was removed from the fridge it was to be marked with Sharpied initials immediately upon opening under threat of being “keel hauled.”)
Port wine (as the occasional after-dinner sweet treat!)
Water from the tap (although it tasted fine, for whatever reason it was shunned)
Top Ten Things We Did:
Read! (One of my favorite parts of the passage were the long stretches of time that were utterly devoted to reading! While Johnny devoured (sometimes one a day!) books about piracy, submarine warfare and other battles on the high sea, Phillip and I clicked through a long-awaited list of books we had been meaning to read for quite some time and had a fantastic time discussing each of them afterward, our particular reactions to certain characters, plots and scenes and our general takeaways from the book. I will share our reading list soon. Oh, and Yannick read manuals, dozens of them, as well as maintenance textbooks, instructions, labels, and more manuals, for hours at a time. The Captain indulged in no pleasure reading on the trip.)
Slept! (I will miss the naps! Never in my life have I had the pleasure of indulging myself a deep, soothing daily nap, sometimes two! Now, while this was necessary for the 2am, 3am or 4am wake-up to hold your two-hour night shift, for me it was well worth it. Some of my fondest memories were lifting my sleepy lids to reveal a beautiful dancing blue horizon and then falling right back to sleep. The sleep was necessary yet savored.)
Worked on boat projects. (This was primarily the work of the Captain but it deserves the number three slot because this is what Yannick did approximately 70.3% of his off-shift time).
Held watch. (Each crew member held a 3-hour shift during the day, sometimes two depending on the rotation, as well as a 2-hour night shift, sometimes two shifts a night also depending on the rotation. This is the watch schedule we used (rotated every four days) when the auto-pilot was working. We created a secondary, shorter-shift schedule after the auto-pilot quit as it took much more energy and focus to hand-steer as opposed to simply “Supervising Otto.”)
Talked. (Many a debate was sparked on Andanza! Mostly they were fun and intriguing, sometimes they were a little heated, sometimes they were a little tedious, but I was pleased to find it was easy to politely decline to engage in conversation if you wanted to sit quietly and read, write or just stare at the wall, and the other crew members took no offense.)
Cooked. (Phillip was our head chef on the trip and he often cooked a warm meal for both lunch and dinner every day, even while manning his shift (a.k.a. “supervising Otto”) at the helm. I was his soux chef, but he bore the real burden of preparing the meals, something he very much enjoys doing, but I would suspect Phillip devoted 2-3 and maybe sometimes 4 hours a day to cooking.)
Cleaned. (Dishes primarily. I might have spent an hour a day doing dishes and cleaning up the galley, although the crew readily chipped in often. With Phillip doing the bulk of the cooking, I felt the best way I could contribute was by doing the bulk of the cleaning. The crew also devoted the occasional 1-2 hours every week or so to cleaning the boat, although looking back I believe everyone would agree we could have cleaned the boat more thoroughly and more often).
Watched movies. (Yes, we did this plenty, primarily toward the end of the trip. But, if I had to guess I would say we all gathered and watched a dinner feature—when the boat and conditions allowed—probably every other evening while on passage. The best part of this gathering was often the heavy debate struck over which of the hundreds of movies we had available on hard-drives that the crew should watch (i.e., whether we should watch another “dude movie” (Yannick’s term) or an “actual, good movie” (Annie’s term) and the endless ridicule that would fall on the unlucky crew member who made a very poor movie choice (just ask Phillip about Big Trouble in Little China.)
Watched shows. (While Yannick spent approximately, what was it I said 70.3% of his off-time working on or researching issues on the boat, the remaining 29.7% was spent watching entire seasons of Breaking Bad and other drama series. While he had downloaded season five of Game of Thrones on his computer, the wife banned him from watching it without her and enlisted the entire crew to ensure this pact was held sacred. Clothilde — there was no Thrones viewing, I swear!)
Wrote. (I, of course, did the bulk of this, but Johnny did his fair share, hand-scrawled in a little spiral-bound notebook (often with the jovial prodding among the crew that he was writing America’s next great novel) and Yannick did his fair share as well tediously-documenting his daily list of maintenance and projects accomplished on the boat.)
Top Ten Lessons Learned:
Crew dynamic is key. (Nigel Calder actually told Phillip and I this during his lecture at the Strictly Sail Miami show in 2015 and he was right. Nigel said, “I can teach anyone to sail or work on the boat. What I cannot teach them is how to get along.”)
Cotton is the devil. (Do not bring any cotton on board for any blue water passage. There were some towels and shirts that remained moist, if not thoroughly saturated, for three weeks straight. I’m not kidding. Quick-dry, synthetic blends are a must.)
Don’t forget who is in charge. (If you forgot, it’s the weather. You have to be flexible. Even if you have allotted ten extra days to make it to port, be prepared to need fifteen. Things never go according to your plan, or your back-up plan or your last-resort contingency plan.)
Carry spares. (Many, many spares. Particularly impellers, zincs, fuel filters, and the typical lot. But, if you have the space and can handle the weight, other larger spares may come in handy, like a spare water pump, auto-pilot, starting battery, etc.)
Sail responsibly. (Don’t take unnecessary risks. Go only as fast as you absolutely need to.)
Take care of yourself. (Rest and eat well. No matter what kind of physical shape you are in, ocean-crossing is far harder on your body than you realize.)
Monitor all systems. (Try to remain aware, at all times, of the status of each system: What is the engine temp? How long has the generator been running? How much water is left in the tanks? When was the last time the sails were trimmed?)
Look for chafe. (Walk the boat multiple times a day, every 3-4 hours would be best, with the specific purpose of looking for chafe. Lines chafe through much quicker than you think.)
Clipping in needs to be a habit. (Especially at night. If it’s not habit, it will not be done the time that it needs to be done most, i.e., in an urgent situation. Make yourself do it every time so that you build muscle memory and it becomes habitual.)
Organize and stow. (Keeping things secured and stowed away inside the cabin is a must, for both safety and comfort of the crew. Everything needs to have a place and it needs to go back to that place when you’re done using it. Make this a habit too while you’re at it.)
AND ONE FOR THE ROAD:
Time is truly the only commodity.
If there is one huge lesson I took away from this passage it was how incredibly rich each moment was, how in the moment I felt (with very little to truly stress about other than the boat, the weather and what book I was going to read next) and how quickly the whole trip was over. Phillip and I are already planning our own ocean crossing on our beautiful Niagara sometime in coming years. This voyage definitely told us this is something we want to do: cross oceans.
If you’re thinking about getting a boat, thinking about cruising, thinking about traveling the world, please take one small piece of advice from this wild-eyed adventurer who has been lucky enough to do some of it early on: DO IT NOW! Whatever you can do in your current situation to allow yourself more time and opportunity to get out there on the water and experience cruising, do it now. Even if it is just small steps. Take them.
I will be doing the same by working even harder to create more content and more sources of remote income that will allow me to do what I love (write) to earn income that allows me to do what I also love (travel). Maybe I should call this blog HaveWillpowerWillTravel because I am more committed than ever! Here is the grand plan:
The Atlantic-Crossing Tale! I will post a vivid weekly article on the blog replaying each colorful day of our Atlantic-crossing adventure, beginning next week with “Ch. 1: The Wandering Frenchman” which will cover our first encounter with the adventurous Captain Yannick, his initial plan to make the sail across the Atlantic single-handed and my personal decision to join him and the rest of the crew for the journey. This series will likely one day be melded into the Atlantic-Crossing book!
The Atlantic-Crossing Movie! I will also be working over the next couple of months to make a high-quality, polished short film covering our Atlantic-crossing from May 29th in Florida until we docked in France on July 5th. This will be free initially to all Patrons as my personal thanks for your continued support and will publish thereafter on Vimeo.
My Gift of Cruising Campaign! I will pick back up with my Gift of Cruising campaign this Friday on the YouTube channel where I will reveal my second Gift of Cruising! A phenomenal six day, five night on-the-water coastal cruising and bareboat chartering course offered by our very own Lanier Sailing in Pensacola. I’m kind of (super) excited about it! If you are too: Get on Board!
My Weekly YouTube Videos! I will continue to publish a video once a week on Fridays covering mine and Phillip’s travel adventures and progress in preparing our Niagara and ourselves for cruising south this winter! Yes, that’s still happening. I’m kind of (super) excited about that too. I will also continue to include the occasional boat tour to help you all out there in the boat-shopping phase get a better understanding of the compromises and capabilities of various boats.
If you all have found any of this content helpful and you’re excited about the Atlantic-Crossing content to come (or, more importantly if you’re looking to go cruising and would like the chance to win a six-day coastal cruising class to help get you cruising more safely sooner!) please get on Patreon, become a Patron and help Phillip and I continue sharing this incredible lifestyle on the water!
My thanks to all who have followed, supported and joined us vicariously on this incredible ocean-crossing. We have many stories to share and much more traveling to do!
Wow, this is REALLY exciting news! I reached out to Andy Schell a while back, mostly to say how much Phillip and I appreciate what he does and the stories and lessons learned that he shares through his podcasts at 59-North.com. Some of the conversations Andy has had with sailors are the most candid, revealing exchanges I have heard on any sailing podcast or platform.
When Andy finally made his way back to the Keys after his sail to CUBA, he wrote me back and magic happened. First, let me say how surprising it was to see his name in my inbox. If you’re a Star Wars fan, it would be like getting a direct email from George Lucas. Whoa. We talked about doing a potential interview and Andy said something to me that definitely stuck:
“I want to share the stories that have not yet been told.”
And he does. While Andy speaks with many well-known sailors, Pam Wall, John Kretschmer and the like, he also speaks to many not-so-well-known sailors, folks you have never heard of and have no idea what their sailing experience is. Why? Because he senses a story there, some intimate experience with the wisdom of the high seas, and he seeks to share that with his followers at 59-North. For this reason, Andy asked me for something I hadn’t yet considered. The writer in me knew this crossing would definitely provide a story not yet written, but Andy was also wise enough to see a story not yet told, which is why he asked for an exclusive. I am honored, humbled and excited to tell you he got it! While it may take a little time for Andy to record and produce it, the first place you will hear my trans-atlantic story will be with Andy Schell at 59-North.com.
You know as soon as the interview goes live, I will share the link to listen to it here. I can only imagine the lessons I will be learning (perhaps right now!) and the stories I will be savoring while we are out there sailing 4,000 nautical miles to France. Andy, you better have a big blank tape ready for this one!
It’s funny, all of this talk about how this ocean voyage would be a great chance for us to get away, disconnect, unplug and one of the first things Phillip and I talked about and looked into was a way to stay connected. Such is life these days. But, we did want to explore options for a satellite phone primarily: a) for safety (to call emergency responders or medical personnel if someone got injured on the boat or we were in distress); but also b) for communication (to stay in touch with our family, partners and staff while we were underway). Two very cool discoveries came out of our research. First, one I already knew but am always eager to share again: The overwhelming generosity of this incredible woman: Cruising and Sailing Consultant, Pam Wall.
The minute I even mentioned that I was going to be making this voyage (and honestly before Phillip and I even had time to think about a sat phone), Pam offered to send me hers so I could use it for the crossing. WOW. The woman has a heart a warm, buttery heart of gold, I swear. I didn’t even know you could use someone else’s phone, but Pam enlightened me there as well, ensuring me I could borrow her phone for the trip, take over her contract or activate my own contract using her phone, then send the phone back to her when I made it back to the states so she could still have it for hurricane season this July and on. This way I would only be out the cost of the service, not the phone itself (most of which exceed $1,000).
You see? Super generous. This is why she was my first Gift of Cruising giveaway and will forever remain a fantastic friend and trusted cruising consultant in my book. I can’t say this enough: “THANK YOU PAM!” If you have not yet checked out Pam’s wealth of circumnavigation, ocean-crossing, cruiser friendly knowledge via her blog or in person at the many boat shows where she speaks and shares her exceptional wealth of cruising nuggets, please enlighten yourself: PamWall.com.
The second discovery? The awesome, incredibly helpful team at OCENS Satellite Systems and Service, whom Pam recommended Phillip and I contact in order to get service set up for us on Pam’s satellite phone.
I worked with three folks at OCENS — Matt Haase, Robin Olson and Jeff Thomassen — and each of them went above and beyond to speak with me over the phone and respond to my many (many!) emails asking my many (many!) questions about how all of this satellite service stuff works. The blonde is real people, I definitely needed to be walked through this! They were all incredibly patient, well-informed and always at the ready to help us make the best decision for the service that was right for us. OCENS was also very generous in offering me a discount on several of the hardware and software packages in exchange for offering testimonial, photos and write-ups via my platforms once we return discussing our experience using OCENS services for weather, email and voice calls while crossing the Atlantic. Grateful little sailor here, so I will say it again: “THANK YOU OCENS!”
Here is what Phillip and I decided to procure from OCENS and why:
Where the satellite phone is great for voice calls, what do many of us want to do these days? Email. Text. As well as receive GRIB files for weather. (And, selfishly, I would like to send at least one photo or two if we can while crossing!) This little gismo, the Wifi SideKick basically makes the satellite phone a hotspot for wifi. Also, it enables you to use your personal phone, as opposed to the satellite phone, to check email, text, etc. It is not super fast (think roughly dial-up speed), but you can get GRIB files, send a photo, etc. in only a few minutes.
Now, while Pam’s phone is fantastic, it is an older model (the Iridium 9505A), which means the connection port is a little older and will not readily fit the wifi sidekick.
However, this was something the OCENS folks quickly discerned by asking me the model number of my phone in order to make sure they sent me the necessary adapters so that the wifi sidekick would work with Pam’s 9505A model. Thank you OCENS. So, now we have a hotspot, not just a telephone. What’s next?
The more I keep reading and learning about this service, it really impresses me. As Phillip initially explained to me (and I believe this is how many other satellite providers work), instead of unfettered access to your personal email account, the “email service” you are provided is access to one singular email account. So you would have a particular address created, “AtlanticCRX@gmail.com” for example that you could tell folks about and send/receive emails at that address only through the sat phone. That is my understanding anyway.
With OneMail, you get access to your own (the one you use every day that everyone already knows, “email@example.com” for example) address. So you get to see what fires are burning in your box while you’re making your crossing. I also found this particular feature to be highly intuitive and useful — the inbox snapshot I’m going to call it. Once you connect to wifi, OneMail auto-dials through your satellite link, takes a snapshot of the From, Subject and Size of the messages waiting for you in your Gmail inbox and downloads them to your connected smartphone or tablet in just seconds and then auto-disconnects to give you time to read through those valuable “From, Subject” pieces of information while you are OFF-line. Then, when you’ve chosen which burning emails you want to respond to (by swiping or tapping them to highlight them), you then re-connect and respond through OneMail. Pretty cool, huh?
And (and!) notice that little notation at the top of that screenshot — “See how OneMail compresses your photos, click HERE.” That is another really cool feature that I, in particular, as someone who makes a living documenting and sharing my travels, was interested in. So, the SideKick can send approximately 15KB of data a minute. Not super fast, but certainly not slow from the middle of the ocean. Photos we take on our schnazzy little smartphones, however, are often multiple megabytes. (This is where the rocking camera on the iPhone comes back to byte you … get it? Anyone? Anyone? ; ) But, with the OneMail app, the program will automatically truncate your photo in a way that does not drastically reduce the quality but enables you to send the photo in 3 minutes, as opposed to 145. Check it out!
Yeah … I know. Super cool. Like I said, much to Phillip’s dismay, this little blogger would LOVE to send just a few photos real-time during the crossing to my fans. I’ll go into detail below about the Airtime package we purchased, but know that it only provides 150 minutes for the month. If I sent one picture at the 2.1 MB size, we’d be out of airtime minutes immediately. So, sending photos … may be more possible than I thought. What’s next?
We’re getting GRIB files people. This is some serious weather data to really help us navigate safely and effectively across a big body of often unpredictable water. With the GRIB package we will be able to pull up current, rich data on ocean and global winds, waves, ocean currents, surface pressure, temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, etc. and download the file to the iPad. The OCENS folks tell me it takes approximately 2-3 minutes to download a GRIB file and, much like the OneMail service, once the data is on the iPad, it automatically disconnects to help preserve your all-important airtime minutes. What are those? you may be thinking. I’ll tell you.
Once you have all the cool hardware (sat phone, wifi Sidekick and adapters) and software packages (OneMail and GRIB Explorer Plus), you then purchase “Airtime” (data plans) to allow you to do all of the awesome stuff you want to do with the phone, i.e., make calls, send emails, get GRIB files, etc. It’s kind of like those old phones you used to buy and then “add minutes” to. Phillip and I opted for the PostPaid plans where (like phone minutes) you prepay and once the airtime plan is activated, you have a certain number of minutes available to use on the phone for your 30-day period. The minutes do not roll over.
Looking at the chart above, Phillip and I opted for the 150 Airtime package to allow sufficient voice minutes for Phillip to be able to handle any potential office emergencies and check in with his partners every 4-5 days or week. We expect the Atlantic-crossing will take 3-4 weeks, could be shorter, could be longer, but this package will ensure we have enough voice call minutes for a 30-day window and it will automatically begin anew if we are still out there at the end of the 30 days. While we hope to make it to France within the 30-day window and cancel as soon as we dock so as to avoid another thirty-day charge, it’s good that the airtime will automatically kick in as we wouldn’t want to lose service unknowingly just days from shore in case of an emergency. You’ll see the 150 minutes plan offers unlimited texting. So, texting does not cut into the minutes at all. Voice calls do and use of the internet (sending receiving emails, internet research and downloading of GRIB files) do. Meaning, we will be charged accordingly each 30-day window:
Voice Calls: The $119 Airtime fee gets us 150 minutes, any overages will cost $1.39/minute.
Text Messages: The same $119 Airtime fee offers unlimited texting (160 character limit per text).
Wifi (email, GRIB downloads, internet in general, etc.): $1.39/minute.
From my research and conversations with the OCENS folks, it appears checking and responding to emails (that do not have attachments) will likely take 3-4 minutes (depending how fast you type and how much you say — keep it short!), GRIB file downloads take 2-3 minutes, sending photos takes approx. 3 minutes. So, each time you connect to the wifi, you need to keep a mental ticker going at a rate of $1.39/minute, and as you make calls, you need to be cognizant of your 150 minute limit.
In all, after activation fees (as Pam’s previous contract on the Iridium had run, so service had to be re-initiated), hardware prices (the Sidekick and necessary adapters for our 9505A model), software prices (GRIB Explorer and OneMail), as well as our 150-minute airtime package, we were looking at about a $400 charge overall for exceptional sat phone service for a month offering unlimited texting, plentiful voice calls, as well as exceptional weather data and email capabilities. It certainly beat buying a new phone ourselves and initiating all of these services, which likely would have run us over $1,500. Once again, thank you Pam!
As I mentioned, the folks at OCENS were all exceptionally informed, immediately responsive to my numerous questions and have proven top-notch in the customer service department thus far. Not to mention the various discounts they offered me as sailing and cruising blogger with a highly-public profile upon which to share word of their awesome services. If you are interested in learning more about OCENS many services for your own blue water travels, I recommend you give them a call and speak with Jeff Thomassen. Tell him Annie with HaveWindWillTravel.com sent you!
And … there’s a reason we’re getting sat phone service you know. In part, for YOU! Would you like to receive photos and Atlantic-crossing write-ups from us while we’re underway? Get inspired and get on Patreon for the Atlantic-crossing journey!
Tricia and her family are about to embark on a trek across the United States in an RV to see if she, the hubby and their three children can acclimate to a simpler, more satisfying life before they officially buy a boat, move aboard and cruise and she had a lot of questions about my transition to a more essentialist lifestyle. Tricia’s story in a nutshell (this definitely reminded me of my fat lawyer living, McMansion days) probably sounds very familiar to many of you:
There was no question that we had subscribed to the mentality of more, more, more. From the outside looking in … we had everything. At a cost. It was stressful to keep up with everything we had rationalized as things we needed. Over time, we referred to working as “feeding the shredder.” At the time, we didn’t realize we were associating our happiness with our achievements and possessions. But we knew we were not fulfilled. No matter how great the next thing was… the enjoyment only lasted until we got used to it as our new normal and then it was just another bill. The worst part is… we would have never stopped if it wasn’t for October of 2008 there’s no doubt we would still be in the pursuit of more. That’s when the stock market fell out of the sky and what that meant for us…60% of our bookings canceled in two months. We were forced to start making big decisions about what was really going to be prioritized. And after two years of a lot stress … the final big decision was, we’re not going continue to feed the shredder.
I hope you enjoy the interview! If you’re working toward a goal of more freedom, fun and fulfillment in your life, Tricia and I will both tell you: “Live Your Dream!”