Ch. 8: Carnage at Sea

I watched him in anticipation as Johnny eyed it and swished it around a time or two.  Water dripped from Yannick’s nose onto his forearm as he, too, strained to see.

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Having confirmed the prop was not fouled, Yannick was more curious than anyone as to why the starboard engine had cut out again on the early morning of June 1st.

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“It doesn’t have enough fuel in it,” Johnny said.  Yannick’s head craned back quizzically.

“How do you know?” he asked, locking eyes with Johnny.  This was the same kind of direct stare that often made me second guess whatever I had just told Yannick and start to mumble.  Yannick has a rabid desire for scientific, rational answers.  He needs things to make sense for him logically before he can accept them and move on.  While it is fun to watch this trait play out as he devours another technical manual or draws a diagram for you of how the flaps on an airplane wing work, it can be a little intimidating when his ravenous thirst for logic is directed at you.  At least that was how I felt when he would shift those probing eyes in my direction.


I want YOU to give me answers.  Annie says *gulp*

It didn’t seem they had the same impact on Johnny, though, with his unquestionable knowledge gained from experience.

“I can feel it,” Johnny said simply, circling the fuel in the filter round and around, along with his thoughts on it, likely thinking back on everything he and Yannick had done to the engines in the weeks before we shoved off.  It didn’t take long for the two of them to come to the conclusion that the fuel had been polished (because it had been sitting for the tank during the months of repairs) but that not all of the fuel filters had been replaced afterward.  Another lesson learned.  And, it was pretty impressive to see Yannick whip out a plastic bin with at least ten spare fuel filters (I told you he was pragmatic) and put a new one on.  Once again, we seemed to face a pretty daunting problem—an engine that would not run—and we were able to reach a fairly easy solution, implement it and move on.  I could already tell all of these little “it doesn’t have enough fuel in it” experiences were going to serve Phillip and I well when we set off to sail our own boat across an ocean.

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Within a matter of forty minutes, we went from Captain overboard to check for a fouled prop and a disassembled fuel system to a fully-functioning engine and bagels on the burner all before the start of my 6:00 a.m. shift!

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Once the buzz of the incident fizzled off, Yannick (who had just finished the 4-6) went back to his berth to sleep.  Johnny headed back to get some more rest as well and Phillip began to fiddle in the galley making coffee. I sat, a little tired at the helm, knowing I was about to be there for another three hours and secretly wishing the fuel incident had occurred just an hour or two later as a nice distraction mid-shift.

Does that sound horrible?  Of course it does!  Hoping for some sort of equipment failure just so I could be entertained with repairs during my shift.  Yannick’s going to howl when he reads this.  That’s not quite what I meant.  I never hoped for a failure, but I will admit I did—occasionally, on some lackluster shifts—hope for some sort of occurrence (dolphins at the bow, a ship sighting, some interesting conversation over the radio, very benign things like these) to break up the monotony of my watch.  That’s only because the minute you were relieved from your post a whole world of wondrous activities waited!  You could then read to your heart’s content, cook up an extravagant meal or sit down and write a vivid, gloriously-detailed story, just for the heck of it.  Outside of cleaning the boat and assisting the Captain with his many-a-boat projects (which was rare, Yannick truly took on most of the boat work in solitude, declining assistance often) that’s really what our days out there were filled with and it was heaven!

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It was funny to watch each crew member start to gravitate toward one of the four rotation days they liked better than others.  The 6-9am, 7-10 dinner shift, followed by the 4-6am “sunrise shift” the next day was definitely my favorite.  Sadly, that day was always followed by the stupid 4-hour shift day, which was actually my idea initially.


“We’ll do one long shift each day, right in the middle of the day when everyone is awake so it will help make the shift go quicker,” is what pre-Atlantic Annie thought.  Well … even when everyone is awake, that doesn’t mean they’re really inclined to do anything that makes your four hours at the helm go any quicker, and why should they?  It’s their off-time.  Outside of boat maintenance or other necessary chores, they should be doing whatever the heck they want, whatever helps them relax and best prepare for their next shift.  Oftentimes, you were left to fend for your creative self during that four-hour shift.  I sometimes counted each of the 240 minutes.

I actually got pretty crafty in finding at least one way to shave this four-hour sentence down when I would ask the Captain, very benignly, very nonchalantly, right at the start of my 12-4: “Yannick, we need to switch time zones today.  Do you want me to handle it?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Yannick would say, his thoughts consumed with yet another diesel engine diagram.


I would walk away with a wicked smile, take my post at the helm at noon and immediately change the clocks to 1:00 p.m.  Muuuhahahaaa.  Sadly, this very peculiar pattern of time changes always occurring very conveniently during Annie’s 12-4 shift was soon discovered by the wily Captain Yannick.  The next time I asked if he wanted me to handle the time change, blinking and batting my doe-like eyes, he went straight to the watch schedule taped on the saloon wall to find, yes, indeed, it was Annie with the 12-4 that day and he replied:

“No,” with a playful grimace.  “I’ll handle it later.”

Dag nabbit!  I did have a good run, though.  Four of the seven time changes we had to make from Florida to France did occur during my four-hour shift.  My God I’m terrible!  Who wants me to crew with them now?


But, I was paying my dues that morning.  Watching the horizon.  Watching Phillip read contentedly in the saloon, counting the minutes.  Then suddenly a match struck and the minutes started to burn.   It was somewhere around 7:30 the morning of June 1st when we heard the first startling whizzz of the fishing reel on the port transom.  Phillip was up and was piddling around in the galley when I heard it at the helm.  My heart started pumping, my eyes darting around the instruments, the engine panel, the chartplotter thinking surely this sound was some kind of alarm that was telling me, as the helmsman, that something was very wrong with the boat.  Your mind (or mine did, at least) went instantly there when a loud noise sounded out.  But, this sound was a good one!  As my frantic thoughts finally stopped swirling and started to come into focus it finally dawned on me.  FishFish on.  The fishing rod!  Then Phillip, far more capable of actual spoken words than me at the moment, shouted it out as he scrambled out of the saloon.


I checked everything at the helm to make sure I could leave my post to help with this awesome new development.  We had a fish on the line!  The line we’d had out for three freaking days now.  “All good here.  FISH ON!” the instruments told me, so I went.  With some tag-team reeling and some creative baptisms-of-rum at sea, we pulled in our first fish of the trip!  A hearty tuna!

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She made a mad bloody mess on the port transom kicking and flailing around until we had her tamed, but boy was she a beauty.  That slick, silver body, contrasted with the rich crimson blood spilling out.  Such a right and proper feeling of carnage!  Often I feel bad for a fish when we catch one and I watch it flip and kick itself to death, but this time, it felt right.  Like we were out there, living on the sea, and this was the bounty she had provided us to keep us fed and motivated and moving along.  I can’t explain it, but I felt like the fish was a gift and I was grateful.

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After an hour spent filleting her and scrubbing the blood off of the transom, my shift was then magically over!  The Distraction Fairy shined down upon me those days.  On days that she didn’t I imagined her a crafty little thing flying above the dodger, hiding from my line of sight, deciding whether I deserved something fun that day or not, like a naughty Tinkerbell.


Obviously I had a lot of time to think about it.

Phillip and I decided to chill the fish filets for a few hours so we could make a huge sushi spread for lunch.  This was one of the those fun moments you had only talked about in the many weeks before we shoved off, when we were discussing fishing equipment, sushi ingredients, and how much fish we might eat during the passage.  Now those visions and predictions were here.  Sitting in the form of four hunky maroon filets in our fridge.  Phillip and I had experimented one evening before the trip making our own sushi at home from fresh tuna bought at Joe Patti’s.  I had never made sushi before but it was really very easy, as long as you have all of the ingredients on hand (most of which keep for weeks except for the cucumber or avocado) and there’s something about home-made sushi that just tastes better.  (Well, assuming you get the rice mixture right–not too much vinegar, not too much sugar.)

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Phillip likes rice on the outside.


I prefer them seaweed out with cream cheese!

The cool thing about making the rolls yourself is you can make them however you want!  And we were about to put that sushi-rolling experience to use making an awesome spicy tuna spread from a fresh fish pulled right out of the Gulf. As with many things I had already experienced in my life—baths, afternoon naps, sushi platters—the version of those things experienced while we were underway crossing an ocean became instantly “the best,” because the sushi platter we all feasted on in the middle of the bright blue Gulf on June 1st was the best of my life.

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I also had another “best of my life” that day.  (Some days out there were full of them.)  Soon after our filling sushi lunch, when the entire crew (except for Yannick who had the 12-4 that day, take that!) was reading and dozing, we were all snapped wide awake when Phillip spotted a pod of dolphins off the port bow, rippling in the water, dipping and jumping and coming our way!  Phillip, Yannick and I all made our way to the bow of the boat and watched as eighteen (by my count at least) bottle-nosed dolphins zipped and played in the glimmering jewel-toned waters of the Gulf.

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I had never seen that many dolphins at one time, all converging, swooping and swishing together.  It’s amazing how agile and aware they are of each other and how quickly they are able to meet up, communicate through clicks and whistles and them swim instantly in sync.  I don’t care how many times I see them, dolphins will always take my breath away and make me sit, jaw dropped, the goofiest grin on my face and stare like a kid at the Wonka factory.  I ran down below to see if Johnny wanted to come up and see the show but it turned out he had the best seat in the house from the escape hatch in his berth, and I caught it all on film!  Friends, I give you a fun little clip I shared with Patrons back in June:

Play Video: “Dolphins at the Bow!”

pat2Another fun project I decided to tackle that day was to try out the OCENS sat service Phillip and I had purchased for the trip.  (Detailed blog post outlining the various services and packages we considered, what we purchased and why HERE.)  And, after some fiddling and holding of the sat phone up to the heavens (seriously), I successfully sent my first email that day from the glassy Gulf of Mexico!

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I wrote it ahead of time (it was my first “Atlantic Log” post for Patrons with a picture), so the only time I spent “on the clock” was about four minutes acquiring a signal, inserting the text, uploading the image (recall OCENS has a feature that automatically compresses the photo for you to decrease the upload time) and sending the email.  With a data rate of $1.39/minute under our package that meant roughly $6.00 each time I wanted to send a write-up with a photo, which in my mind was perfectly quick, affordable and worth it to enable me to send followers an up-to-date report and photo while abroad.

My only disappointment was my misunderstanding that the emails could only be sent from my phone so the typing took longer, but when I am forced to write less, my writing is always better.  One of my absolute favorite quotes about writing is from Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write something short, so I wrote something long instead.”  This is so true.  It’s easy to babble.  So, the “phone limitation” (as do many things that are initially perceived as a limitation) turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

The GRIB service could be useful, too, in that we could download a fairly detailed (wind, wave and current) GRIB file for the region of the Atlantic we were sailing in at the time in about six minutes (so roughly $8.00 each time you downloaded).  Yannick, however, had such great weather service in the form of a hired weather tracker, who analyzed the weather patterns and sent us new coordinates roughly every 24 hours, a friend who did the same (just for fun and who proved to have a keen eye for heavy weather diversion), as well as WeatherFax on the boat, we didn’t really need the additional GRIB service available under our sat phone plan.  But, it’s always good to have a back-up system, so Phillip and I did not regret the purchase.  What we vowed to get next time we head offshore, however, is a Delorme!  That thing was awesome.

Yannick had purchased a Delorme package that allowed for unlimited texting on the iPad via the Delorme app and that service proved to be invaluable, both in terms of seeking out answers or help when dealing with a non-urgent boat, navigation or medical problem and to simply stay connected to friends and family while underway.  Phillip and I will definitely be getting a Delorme for our cruising this winter to Cuba and beyond, for this reason.  We also shared Yannick’s tracker link with Patrons so they could follow us each step of the crossing and message us along the way, and we will do that again with our trip to Cuba as that was a really fun experience to share with close followers, friends and family.  (Get your Delorme ticket now!)


“It’s going to take you two months to cross at this rate!” some of our friends and followers were saying during those sluggish days in the Gulf, when we were motoring bare poles on a sheet of satin, barely making five knots.  And, at that rate, they would be right.  The winds were non-existent in the Gulf.

Even the birds were beating us to Key West.

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Do you see the bird here?

While glassy waters are beautiful, they don’t offer much in the way of sailing.  This crew was ready to get around the tip of Florida, into the frothy waters of the Atlantic and find some stinking wind!  Be careful what you wish for.  Those first few slow days, we all simply counted our blessings that the engines, swapping from one to the other approximately every 10-12 hours, were still chugging us along and kept trucking toward Key West so we could re-fuel and re-provision.

Seeing as we were headed to port for one major supply, the Captain wisely decided to check to see if we needed others.  Which provision comes to mind first?  If you said water, you would be correct!  Yannick enlisted me that afternoon as his trusty water maker mate and I controlled the water maker panel from Johnny’s berth in the port bow while he diverted the product into a separate container so we could taste and test it before sending it into the main tanks.


I watched Yannick sip, smack and frown, sip, smack and frown before he brought the bottle to me and handed it over without saying a word, which did not bode well.  I dutifully tipped it up and repeated Yannick’s sip, smack and frown, just the once.


Sadly, a system that had been making non-salinated 60 parts per million water was now making a salty 290 ppm concoction that wasn’t going to keep anyone happy or hydrated.  We chocked it up to the making of the first batch in the pure, pristine waters (ha!) of Bayou Chico.  Whoops.  Whatever had caused it, though, it was clear we would not be making any potable water on this trip, so in addition to fuel, we also needed to stock up on water (and lots of it) in Key West.


“Land ho!” I shouted when she came into view off the starboard bow, although I’m not even sure what that phrase truly means.  Why the ‘ho’?  ( says it’s used “as a call to attract attention” … I guess that’s fitting for many reasons.)  But, knowing what something really means has never stopped me from saying it.  I can’t tell you the origin of “Whoo Hoo!” but now having watched over a hundred hours of Atlantic-crossing footage, I can confidently tell you I say it too much.  (Movie will be coming out Sep. 22, 2016 on Patreon! I’m allowed to say it this time … Whoo Hoo! : )  It was exciting, though, to see shore emerge on the horizon after our five serene but slow days crossing the Gulf.

The Captain gave the crew two hours to jump ship and run our errands in Key West.  This was no leisure visit.  We were on a mission.  Key West in 3 … 2 … 1 …  GO!



If you all are enjoying this story, I have (soooo many) more!  Become a Patron for an additional weekly post giving you an up-to-date report on mine and Phillip’s current adventures and boat projects and our preparations for sailing “To Cuba and Beyond” (said in a Buzz Lightyear voice) this winter.   A HUGE thanks to my many supporters and followers who make all of this fun sharing possible. patxtra