I’m trying to think back on each and every one of them. How can they have slipped by so quickly? Sure, I spent some sleeping (not many, though), but the rest were spent gloriously lounging in the cockpit watching the water go by, devouring books (devouring food!), and counting a billion stars. While you’re out there, and it’s sometimes a little rough and uncomfortable, you can catch yourself wishing the time away. But, once the voyage is behind you—that incredible experience is tucked away merely as a memory in your mind—you want every hour back. All 96 of them. Photos and video from our Gulf-crossing for you all below!
Phillip and I have crossed the Gulf now, on a five-day, four-night non-stop run, three times on our boat. It is always a passage we plan well in advance for, watching weather windows religiously as well as re-checking and double-checking all of the systems on the boat before we leave, because the Gulf is no freaking joke. Having crossed the Atlantic twice now, Phillip and I always readily agree the Gulf is still one of the most gnarly bodies of water we have ever crossed. Although the Bay of Biscay is now right up there with it! But, the Gulf never fails to throw a challenge at us. It certainly did this time, right out of the gate.
Now that I’ve shared the turmoil we were dealing with in the days before we left when Auto would turn notto, you know it was a stressful time for us for sure, wondering whether we were going to be able to leave or not and—if we did—whether the systems would perform consistently. But, that’s a risk that is always present in offshore sailing. Once everything is working as best as it can, the chance of something going wrong is no reason not to leave. Once our auto-pilot, Lord Nelson, was cleaned and calibrated and performing perfectly and our GPS was restored after a B&G update, our boat was once again back in high-caliber condition, ready to romp. While it was stressful dealing with these hiccups in the days before we left, Phillip and I were still grateful all the pieces came together right before a decent weather window opened up.
And, I say ‘decent’ because the Gulf rarely offers five full straight days of perfect weather. You’re usually going to get into some kind of stuff (think 4-6 foot seas and winds of 20+) somewhere along the journey for some stretch of time. It’s often just deciding whether you want it on the front end or the back end. And, there’s often an equally good chance of wind shifting on to your nose, or dying altogether. The Gulf is like a variety show. You never know what it’s truly going to feel like until you get waaaay the heck out there and, by then, you’re already there. No turning back. Just sit down, buckle in, and endure the show.
In the last weeks of April when we were planning to shove off, Phillip and I were looking at a stretch of nice winds in the Gulf. In the high teens and mid-twenties, mind you, but on the stern. Downwind sailing is my favorite kind of sailing. We were planning to let a front pass through Pensacola, bringing some rain and storms, then ride the back end of that out into the Gulf with some great north wind pushing us out. While we knew the seas would be a bit kicked up from the storm, on PassageWeather.com it looked like once we got about five or six hours off the coast, they would start to lay down. Looked like …
I’m not going to lie, our first day on passage was pretty intense. I’m confident we were bucking our way through steady 7-footers with the occasional 9 or 10-foot wave that would send us careening. I recall many times Phillip and I would be talking and we both would stop mid-sentence when we saw a monster building on the stern that blocked out the sun. Not a word would be spoken until we watched the mighty wave pick up our seemingly light-as-a-feather boat and shove her stern hard over, the bow lunging the opposite direction in response. Phillip and I would hold our breath as our horizon spun 90 degrees and Lord Nelson squealed out trying to get the boat back on course. I am grateful to say, even with some of the biggest following waves he’s steered in yet, Lord Nelson held every time. No matter how hard we were shoved and tossed, he would emit his mighty whiiieeerrrrr and bring us back on course. When Phillip and I would regain our breath after these moments and continue where we’d left off, it always included a sentiment to Lord Nelson. He worked so hard below-decks during that passage, steering us all 96 hours across the Gulf.
Thankfully those rough seas only lasted the first 24-or-so hours. Well into our second day, the Gulf laid down to 3-5 footers with following winds in the upper teens and Phillip and I were glad we left when we did (even with the bumpy start) because the winds pushed us comfortably the next two days and the boat practically sailed herself most of the way down to the Keys. We had to motor for 20-or-so hours the last stretch when the winds laid down but with all of the attention we had given Westie (our 30 hp Westerbeke diesel engine) this past summer, we knew he was eager for the spotlight and ready to run as long as we needed him. And, he certainly did, without a hiccup.
Honestly, the best part about our last voyage across the Gulf was the immense feeling of pride it gave Phillip and me in our capable, comfortable boat. The phrase “dialed in” I don’t even believe can do it justice. Plaintiff’s Rest was not just dialed in, she was performing the best we had ever seen her, while setting her own personal record (a speed of 10.2 kts surfing down a wave), while crossing one of the toughest bodies of water in some of the biggest seas we’ve sailed her in. Through all of that, it was like she was telling us it was … easy. All of the work we had put into her—replacing the rigging, reinforcing the mast, the rudder, the keel, all of that engine work, digging out rot anywhere we saw it, and repairing everything we knew was an issue as soon as we could—had made her so incredibly capable and strong. And yet so simple and comfortable.
While there were, of course, dolphins—which make us (me) squeal uncontrollably, still, every time—and there was phosphorescence at night, brilliant turquoise horizons, shooting stars, the joy of peeling off foul foulies, and all of the things that make offshore sailing so mind-altering for us (no fish though, those wily bastards!), I think the best part about this voyage, for me and Phillip, was the ease and comfort of it. Not because the sea state and winds made it easy or comfortable—they did not—but because the boat did.
“What was one of the scariest moments of your Bahamas trip?” a fellow cruiser asked us the other night during our first post-Bahamas reunion. Ironically, he had asked Phillip first while I was in the restroom, so he got to ask me separately and it was quite interesting for Phillip and I to see how differently we both answered that question. Apparently—and this was unbeknownst to me then—THIS incident was the scariest part of the trip for Phillip. Granted, it happened before the trip, but Phillip deemed this his biggest scare. That, and the knowledge we gained during the process, I felt made it worthy to share.
Our boat, you see, has quite the sense of humor. It’s like she senses a coming departure date, and she knows she’s about to have to work really hard to carry us across the Gulf. So, to balance things out, she likes to throw a little wrench in our final prep plans and enjoys watching us work really hard for a few days figuring out her last-minute equipment failure before we leave. This time it was one of the most important systems on our boat: Lord Nelson.
Many of you may already know who that is. Lord Nelson is our auto-pilot—an HLD 350 hydraulic drive with a Simrad AP26 control head and an AC20 computer—named after the gallant Lord Nelson boat he came off of when we acquired him in 2016. Previously, we had an Auto Helm 3000, a belt-driven wheel helm that was, well, pretty much useless. It was weak and unable to hold in any winds over 10 kts. For this reason—when we were hauled out during our extensive mast stringer repair and re-rig for three months in 2016, we built a new fiberglass shelf for Lord Nelson and had Brandon with Perdido Sailor help us with the install. Lord Nelson is a very strong, below-decks hydraulic auto-pilot that Phillip and I have been very impressed with. That guy’s got a grip, I will tell you! But, as with any “new” system on the boat, you have to work out the kinks, and it became clear to us, not long after his install, that Lord Nelson’s got a little sense of humor of his own.
During our voyage to Cuba, our first long offshore voyage using Lord Nelson, he initially unthreaded his own arm. Phillip and I were beating into some pretty heavy stuff during that passage, so it gave us a great deal of alarm when the auto-pilot’s Simrad device began cackling out and Lord Nelson gave up the wheel. Thankfully, Phillip was close enough to the helm to get control of the boat before we got backwinded (or “all f&*ked up” as Annie would say). Don’t ask me how this weird un-threading happened, because it’s still a mystery to us. We were simply thrilled it was a super easy solution. I hopped down in the port lazarette (we spend a good bit of time in the lazarettes on our boat),
threaded it back on, Loc-tited it for good measure (we love Loc-Tite), and we were back in business. Finding the problem is usually 80% of the battle. All too often on the boat it is a very, very simple fix (i.e., tightening a loose bolt) that causes a very, very big problem (i.e., the auto-pilot’s not holding).
That was Lord Nelson’s first snafu (that’s the word of the day today). Another time, also during our infamous voyage to Cuba—you can tell we learned a TON about our boat during that bash-across. Yes that one …
Lord Nelson started beeping and braying and telling us he was having “rudder response failure.” After an embarrassing amount of tinkering and troubleshooting that did not involve the basics—i.e., making sure all the nuts and bolts and connections are tight—Phillip found the nuts holding Nelson’s base plate steady had wiggled loose during our rambunctious voyage. Imagine trying to push something to exact measurements while your feet are on shifting sand. Thankfully, again, this was a stupid-easy fix (tighten the nuts). Lord Nelson was then able to steer us all the way—through some serious wind and seas across the Gulf Stream—to the entrance to Marina Hemingway. We knew then we had made the right decision in upgrading from our wheel helm to hydraulic Lord Nelson.
When we hauled out in 2018 (to, among other things, reinforce our rudder post, replace our coupling and cutlass bearing, and switch to a composting head) Phillip noticed Lord Nelson appeared to be leaking out of his rear bushing on the rod. As with most any other problem or issue we discover while we’re hauled out, we try to tackle it then and there, when we’re knee-deep in “boat project mode” and have the help, expertise, and tools of Brandon and his crew at Perdido Sailor at our side. Brandon recommended we take Lord Nelson to a local hydraulic shop to have them open him up and replace all the bushings. “While you’re in there,” he reasoned. Sage advice. While that seemed like a simple task, it was anything but. I’ll spare you the entire saga by simply sharing this post and saying once again how unbelievably patient and persistent this guy at Industrial Hydraulic Services in Pensacola was. I am so grateful we fell into his hands.
So, with allll that work we put into Lord Nelson in the prior years, we had very high hopes he would perform beautifully on this voyage to the Bahamas and for many more passages and years to come. I mean, it’s an old (which we prefer), strong system that—when fully-functional—is powerful enough to hold our boat in virtually any and all offshore conditions. Lord Nelson was definitely not a system we had any worries about when we were preparing the boat this past February and March to leave for the Bahamas in April. Apparently Lord Nelson felt differently about it.
During one of our last day sails before we were going to untie the lines and sail south for the season, Lord Nelson shocked Phillip and I both when he beeped out this strange ACXX warning (meaning he required too much voltage to turn the wheel, so he shut off) when he was holding while we were raising the main. After we got the main up, and put Lord Nelson back on, he was fine. No other issues; he held for several more hours in light and some sporty winds under engine and sail. Then again, as we were coming back in, Lord Nelson gave up the ghost (oddly again when we had him holding while we were dropping the main) with the same ACXX warning. It was just … strange. There’s no other word for it, and there seemed to be no discernible reason or cause for it.
This time, being a bit more Lord Nelson-savvy, Phillip and I checked all of his bolts and nuts and wire connections. We un-connected his wires, cleaned them and re-connected. But, he had cut out in such freak moments—that we couldn’t seem to replicate—Phillip and I were unsure whether we’d solved anything or not, which was very unnerving with our planned departure date coming up. I can tell you one of the very first things we will not leave the dock, headed off on an extended offshore voyage, without is a reliable auto-pilot. He’s like a third crew member; easily the most skilled and capable one at holding the wheel. The thought of traveling with a potentially faulty auto-pilot is what Phillip readily admitted gave him the biggest scare of our trip. Having planned and prepared for months, with a good weather window ahead of us in the Gulf, Lord Nelson’s condition was almost a deal-breaker.
Thinking there was a possibility we were going to have to replace the drive unit before we could leave, Phillip and I were frantically searching the web and making calls trying to find a replacement drive, which proved to be a challenge as our unit is so old and unique and no longer manufactured. The only used ones available were overseas and would take weeks to arrive (although we thought about shipping them to Key West and hand-steering there—not a great idea, but one of our last-ditch ones). Newer, different drives all proved to be too big to fit and operate on the shelf we had built for Lord Nelson. When we did find a different newer drive (the Simrad T0) which would fit in our space, they were all unavailable or out of stock. Multiple calls to a guy at our local West Marine resulted in just one (only one unit in the entire U.S., I’m not kidding). It was in New York but, once located, it was deemed already sold. Unless our unit was repairable (in the next two days) our Bahamas trip looked like it was going to be postponed indefinitely.
With our focus now on fixing Lord Nelson, assuming it was possible and that we could do it quickly (two very big assumptions), Phillip did some research and discovered these mysterious motor brushes. A mystery to me, that is, as I still don’t have my head wrapped quite around what it is they do, exactly, or brush per se, if anything. I know they somehow make an electrical connection in the motor, but there’s still some magic going on there for me. I mean, here’s what they look like. Weird little buggers:
However, we were struggling to find what types of brushes had been installed in our unit so we could even buy new ones and hope that fixed it. Remember our unit was made years ago and is no longer manufactured, meaning the employees at Simrad weren’t quite sure what brushes had gone in there to begin with. Frustrated and irritated with our prospects, we got a little desperate.
Two days before our departure date, I stopped into a small motor maintenance shop in Pensacola hoping beyond hope, initially, just for answers: what brushes were in our motor and could the shop order and replace them? Like a punch to the gut, when I told the guy the specs of our unit, he immediately told me he was sure he would not have any brushes in stock that would fit our old Simrad unit. It was his belief, they would not be manufactured anymore and he would have to machine new ones using the old ones as a template. This could take 5-7 days, he told me, if it all went without issue. (When do boat projects ever go off “without issue,” am I right?). I had every intention of walking out of his shop and simply going home to tell Phillip our plight, when desperation and crazy hope overcame me. I drove straight to the boat, sweated my ass off in the lazarette, but I disconnected and disassembled Lord Nelson and removed him. It’s not a super fun job.
Thankfully, having been very involved in his install and our many times trouble-shooting and working on him, I was very familiar with his assembly, so I could do this on my own. Ladies, this is a testament to getting to know your boat just as much as your counterpart so you can be just as capable as he or she when it comes to troubleshooting and repairs (because it will often, time and time and time again, come time for troubleshooting and repairs. It’s a boat … )
A greasy, sweaty mess, I stunned the motor shop guy coming back in with my beast in hand. “This is Lord Nelson,” I told him, as I asked if he could please get inside him as soon as possible so we could get moving on our brush project (and get the heck on our way to the Bahamas!). Motor Man took Lord Nelson, wrote down my info, gave me a ticket, and said he would get on it as soon as he could (hopefully tomorrow).
It was all I could do. But, I would have never guessed my rash decision ended up saving our whole departure.
While I was merely hopeful this magic Motor Man would be able to get inside Lord Nelson, find the brushes, make new ones and have us up and running and heading off to the Bahamas—albeit perhaps a week or two after our originally planned departure date—I had no idea he would call the next day and tell me: “It’s fixed.”
Remember what I said about ridiculously-easy fixes usually being the source of the most ridiculously deal-breaker breakdowns? You want to know what was wrong with Lord Nelson that was preventing him from being able to steer our boat?
He was dirty.
That’s all. Just dirty. Motor Man—who is a great mechanic with an uncanny devotion to customer service and whose real name is Glen at Escambia Electric Motor Service here in Pensacola (and whom Phillip and I will be forever grateful to)—found, when he opened Lord Nelson’s motor up that it was all gunked up and gummy (likely from the hydraulic fluid that had been leaking). He was so greasy and dirty that his brushes (which were in great shape – yay!) simply weren’t able to make good contact. Glen said it was arching and sparking in there, struggling so hard to make a connection to run the motor that it was pulling 15 amps at times. That was the reason for the ACXX message and failure. Once Glen cleaned him all up, Lord Nelson was running beautifully, drawing only 2 amps. That’s it. What a pleasant surprise. He was just dirty.
And, it was our last day before we had planned to leave. All we had to do was pick up our buddy Nelson, re-install him on the boat, then we could pop out for a quick motor-about to make sure he was calibrated and working properly and *voila*! Our we-almost-didn’t-go, auto-turn-notto problem would be solved. That’s it. Boom. Done. You can go now.
It’s rather funny now looking back on it. And, as is so often the case with our boat—I swear she just knows how to break down with grace at the perfect time—this snafu happened at just the right time. Imagine if this ACXX message and an auto-pilot failure had started occurring two days into the Gulf, 100 nm from shore? Phillip and I would have had a very different, much more dangerous offshore experience. But, no, our boat had the wherewithal to show us this problem days before we were leaving in our own protected home waters. I mean, when you realize that, you just want to give her a massive fist bump. Right on, boat. *thunk*
And, please use this story as a reminder: when your boat seems to be giving you trouble and having issues, she may very well be simply trying to talk to you and tell you exactly what is going on with her. You just have to listen and look. Phillip and I are still not near as good as we should be, not quite 100% attune, but we’ve been through enough now to know, if she’s giving us “problems” it’s likely she’s trying to get our attention so we can fix something well before it blows up into something major. She’s usually doing us a serious solid.
So, there you have it: Phillip’s biggest scare of our trip. And, I’ve spared from this story the issues we had with our GPS during these last days as well. Turns out total lack of a GPS signal can be the result of needing to do a simple upgrade of the micro-chip in the B&G. I’ll tell you the thought of leaving without a reliable auto-pilot or GPS was another pretty big scare. But, again, this happened in just a way that we were able to address and fix it in the safety of home waters where we have unlimited wifi access. Thanks again, boat. *bump*
Now, you may be wondering what my biggest scare of the trip was? You’ll have to follow along! It wasn’t until we got near Andros. But, Phillip and I hope repair and equipment failure posts like this one help educate you all and give you some encouragement if you, too (as all boat owners do) often run into problems out there. Think of it as just your boat trying to show you something before it becomes a colossal, no-go-for-you issue and thank her!
Next up on the blog: our five-day sail across the Gulf of Mexico. Stay tuned!
It’s simple: meet sailors, make friends, then offer to crew and bring good booze and snacks! I just returned from crewing on a pretty spur of the moment yacht delivery on a Leopard 48 and I can’t wait to share the footage, lessons learned and boat tour with you:
But, the last time I was in the Gulf prior to that trip was when my good friend Captain Ryan took Phillip and I and a handful of friends and Patrons out for a day sail in the Gulf on the gallant s/v Libra. We had a great time taking a break from work, boat projects and Cuba prep (only 42 days to go!) and enjoying the beautiful blue waters we have right in our backyard in Pensacola. Thank Captain Ryan for making this fun footage possible by checking out his offshore passages at SailLibra.com. Then join a trip on Libra yourself and come have turkey tacos with me in Mexico for Thanksgiving or join us for New Years in Havana! There’s still room! Jump on it firstname.lastname@example.org!
“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!