It’s funny, seeing it now—in black and white in hindsight—I’ll admit the answer seems so clear and easy, but it sure wasn’t then. I guess when it’s you out there, only two days into what was supposed to be an incredibly exciting adventure, an awesome offshore accomplishment, and you have sails and promising winds, it’s quite tempting to want to continue. Conquistadors and explorers have been crossing the ocean for centuries without engines, right? They also did it without satellite navigation, AIS, sat phones and texting devices, a whole host of equipment Phillip and I use extensively when we sail offshore. Bottom line is, after we lost the ability to use our engine when the fresh water pump blew, it was a tough call for Phillip and I deciding whether to continue our trek east, then south down to the BVIs, or tuck our tails, turn around, and sail back to Spanish Wells, Bahamas. Many factors played into our decision, and it was a great exercise in balancing risk versus reward. Read on to see what you would have considered had you been in our shoes and let us know: WWYD?
“So, that’s it? No engine?” I asked Phillip, although I already knew the answer.
“That’s it,” he said matter-of-factly.
Then we bobbed for a few quiet minutes. The wind was blowing maybe 4, the sails were flogging gently, somewhere a halyard banged. The quiet was deafening. I didn’t realize before how much sound-space the engine had filled now that he was dead. R.I.P. Westie. Phillip and I were only two days out on an expected 7-9 day passage from the Bahamas down to the BVIs when Westie (our 27A Westerbeke’s) fresh water pump bit the dust.
While we were still floating safely, not taking on water, with sails and rigging still in perfect condition to carry us, Phillip and I had a tough decision to make:
CARRY ON UNDER STRICTLY SAIL 6-7 MORE DAYS TO THE BVIS
TURN AND SAIL 1-2 DAYS BACK TO THE BAHAMAS?
While we do prefer (always) to sail in the right conditions, rather than motor, Phillip and I are not 100% purists. We don’t sail into and out of the marina or our slip just for the heck of it (like we often saw many heartier sailors (kids even!) do in France and the Azores). We don’t sail narrow cuts or channels if we’re afraid the wind may shut down or push us onto a shoal. Simply put, we prefer to sail when sailing is safe. And, I’m not in any way ashamed to say we rely on our engine for many things: propulsion when sailing isn’t productive or safe, a charge to our batteries, maneuvering in marinas and in and out of slips, even as an extra bilge pump if we were taking on immense amounts of water (a trick I have, thankfully, only read about, never experienced myself, but that I will always keep in my back pocket). At the end of the day, the truth is we put a lot of work, time, and money into our engine because we value it.
Phillip and I are also very risk-averse. When your first offshore passage (ever!) is one where you have to lean over the stern rail in rough seas and 30-knots of wind to cut your own flailing dinghy off with a hacksaw, you tend to give the open ocean its well-deserved respect and due.
But, that said, Phillip and I really wanted to make it to the BVIs. We have yet to sail their on our boat. It is the first step of another BIG goal we have: to do a Caribbean Circle. We had a work and weather window in November that had lined up beautifully (when does that ever happen)? And, we were expecting good, solid east winds over the next 4-5 days that could have possibly enabled us to finish the voyage under sail alone quite safely. And, there’s no reason to shy away from it. We simply didn’t want to give up. We didn’t want to quit. We probably debated this decision a laughable hour longer than was necessary just because we were so frustrated by it. But, after extensive discussion about the pros and cons of either choice, Phillip and I eventually decided to turn back and sail back to Spanish Wells in the Bahamas. Here are the top reasons for our decision:
1. Loss of Power
Battery power—or, more accurately, the inevitable loss of it—was easily our number one concern. While we have 200 watts of solar on our boat, they are not able, by themselves, to keep our bank completely charged 5-7 days underway, particularly with the auto-pilot working twenty-four hours a day, as well as the navigation instruments, AIS, and nav lights at night.
While we can (and have) foregone refrigeration while underway to save on power, cold drinks and food were the least of our power worries. Phillip and I knew we would want auto steering the boat as much as possible. We would want AIS, particularly at night, to avoid ships. We wanted our nav lights shining like bright beacons at night to ward off other boats. We wanted our bilge pumps to be strong and vigorous if in the very unfortunate occurrence we started taking on water. All of those things require power. The thought of gradually losing power over the course of 6-7 days, losing the ability to see other ships, and be seen by them at night, as well as a potential inability to access our digital charts for navigating, all while the wind (particularly light ones) pushed us whatever direction it felt like was just, hands down, a scary thought. An unacceptable thought.
2. The Navidad and Mouchoir Banks
My good friend, Pam Wall, had warned us about these reefs on the north side of the Dominican Republic when we first told her of our plans to take the I65 Route from the Bahamas to the BVIs, and she urged (quite strongly, in pure, energetic-Pam fashion) that we sail a hard-and-fast route dead east (“Not south!” she shrieked) for the first 3-5 days of our voyage before turning south to avoid these reefs. “They eat yachts,” Pam said, quite bluntly, which put the fear of Mouchoir in us.
Being out there with no means of propulsion other than sail, and potential winds that could push us up onto those yacht-eating rocks was easily our second reason for turning back, but there were others as well.
3. Navigating a New Inlet and Port Under Sail Alone
While Phillip and I knew we were going to be coming in—whether we decided to sail to the BVIs or back to the Bahamas—under sail alone, having navigated the entrance to and from Spanish Wells several times now (during this trip in 2019 and previously when we sailed the Abacos, Eleuthera, and a sliver of the Exumas in 2018) we felt we had become somewhat familiar with its channels, depths, and shoaling. Navigating a brand-new inlet always stands the hairs on our necks and gets our hearts pumping. The thought of doing that under sail alone with no contacts there in the BVIs was a mark against continuing the voyage without an engine.
4. We Thought the Sail Back Would Be Short and Easy
Aside from not carrying a spare fresh water pump, this was our one whopping mistake in this whole ordeal. Having just poked out into the Atlantic a day and a half, we thought the sail back would be a quick 1-2 days zip back. Super easy. No problem. We figured it would be a bit of a bummer, with beat-down morales, retreating back from whence we came. But, all we thought we would be was a little bummed. We had no idea we would be psychologically battered. As wild as it sounds—even with the two ocean crossings Phillip and I have done and some of our more horrendous bashes in the Gulf—that three and a half day sail back to Spanish Wells in little to zip wind was BY FAR the absolute worst passage Phillip and I have ever been on. The. Worst. Have any of you ever been mind-numblingly, infuriatingly becalmed? Just wait … We have stories to share my friends. And a casualty. There was mutiny out there. Stay tuned!
Do you see it in the photo? That fish is off the hook! Literally! Looking back, I still can’t believe Phillip and I actually got that one into the cockpit, but the pics are proof: WE DID!
Ahoy followers! After that stretchy sidebar, it’s now time to get back to our Bahamas saga. When we last left our hapless crew, Phillip and I (well, actually I) had just accomplished my best de-docking ever leaving Bimini (and, don’t worry, there will be plenty more not-so-great dockings after). We were heading out early in the morning after a five-day hunker-down (that’s a military term I think) in Bimini when we had some steady east winds upwards of 18 kts on us for several days. While it did make for some great kiting in Bimini, after five days, most of the boats on our pier were ready to toss the lines and get going.
The winds were predicted to be a light ESE, that Philip and I were hoping would turn more south than east. (And, I hope you’ll notice my clever “hope” foreshadowing here. As is often the case when we try to predict the wind, we are wrong. I would call it bad foreblowing as opposed to foreshadowing but I wouldn’t want to entice toooo many foul jokes : ). The winds were nice enough to start. We were hauling away from Bimini toward our entrance into the Great Bahamas Bank with plans to make an overnight passage to either the west harbor on Nassau or—if things were going well on the passage—all the way to the Exumas, which was our ultimate goal this first leg of the trip. Always good to have planned “outs” and “plan Bs” at the ready.
It was a brisk romp in about 18kts of breeze (not what we expected, so much for the foreblowing) but it was comfortable making our way toward the Great Bahamas Bank.
Phillip and I are still very pleased with our decision to trade out our whopping 135% genoa for our 90% offshore working jib when we’re cruising island to island (or country to country) and know we’ll be doing a good bit of offshore cruising. Unlike “Genny,” our little “Wendy” (aptly named by one of my HaveWind followers) is super sporty and rarely gets overpowered. It was really a fun day sailing all the way into the Great Bahamas Bank and beyond.
While I didn’t expect it, after spending only five days and four nights on the dock in Bimini, I had already missed offshore voyaging. That may sound a little silly having just crossed the Gulf Stream to get to Bimini, I’m serious! When you actually get going and find yourself weighing anchor (or tossing the lines) and getting the boat moving—to an entirely new location—every 3-4 days, 5 days starts to seem just one to many. The moment you’re back offshore, moving again, you realize how much you missed it.
And, it didn’t hurt that the stars over the Bahamas Bank that night were just decadent. A white smattering of them, like salt on the sky. And, I remember seeing several shooting stars that evening (and making several wishes). That I cannot share! (It’s a Star Pact.)
The next morning, I had the sunrise shift, which is totally fine with me. I love the shift where the sky transitions from night to day. It’s amazing to watch it change seemingly slowly at first and then so quickly. It still stuns me sometimes—when Phillip and I are in work mode, doing all of our busy marketing and lawyer work on land, where we don’t see near as many sunrises and sunsets as when we’re on the boat cruising—that this still happens out there. Out there, every morning (when it is clear), the sky turns from this velvety purple, to mind-boggling magenta, to a warm welcoming pinkish-yellow. Every day. Whether you see it or not. It’s not like wondering whether a tree that falls in the forest makes a sound. No. I’m confident every single sunrise is beautiful, exquisite, whether seen or not.
But, that serene “Ahhh … life is wonderful” Annie-moment didn’t last long as we were coming towards the entry into the Northwest Providence Channel and the Tongue of the Ocean. In reality, it is a rather wide entrance. But, when a barge is coming through at the very same time, it is a rather narrow entrance. Phillip had only been asleep about 40 minutes when I was debating waking him again. Not that we try to be prideful, in not needingto wake the other crew member (known on our boat as the “other captain” : ) up—well, Phillip might be … a tad … he still is a Marine, or helpful, in letting the other person sleep more when we know they are tired.
No. On Plaintiff’s Restwe try to always follow the standing “When to Wake the Captain Rule” which I have written on before. That rule is: It’s time to wake the Captain when you’ve thought: Maybe I should wake the Captain. Standing rule. Applies all the time.
And, with a 600-foot barge coming toward the NW Providence Channel inlet the exact same time I was with a CPA (closest point of approach on our AIS) narrowing from 0.8 of a mile to 0.6 down to 0.3 in about 20 minutes, I knew it was time to wake my “other captain.” While Phillip was not thrilled with his 40-minute-only nap, he is always very diligent in getting up and getting alert quickly when there is a potential issue. Although this one was a little embarrassing in that by the time we passed the barge just before the entrance, it was clear 0.4 nm apart is a perfectly safe distance in the daytime with everyone motoring along in calm seas. The entrance to the channel suddenly felt monstrously wide leaving me plenty of room, which mighthave left me a little embarrassed for having woke Phillip. But, I was not. This is the very reason for the rule. It alleviates the need to feel embarrassed or ashamed. (And I like it that way.)
But that little “adventure” was just the start of our harrowing day which turned out to be MY scariest moment of the entire trip. I have written about Phillip’s before. It was our “Auto Turn-Notto” dilemma before we left for the Bahamas (which, granted, was before we left for our trip) but that was Phillip’s answer when he was asked: “What was your scariest moment of the trip?” That was his. This was mine.
As we started to make our way into the Tongue of the Ocean, things got a little bumpy. The predicted “light” ESE winds were 18+ kts right on the nose. While Phillip and I had been hoping they would turn south sooner as predicted, they had not. And, ironically, although they had been blowing like stink dead out of the east for days, we would have welcomed an east wind now as it would have been more on our beam, rather than the nose. But, nope. We had those two kinds of winds that often occur together: winds of the wrong speed and in the wrong direction. “My favorite!” said no sailor ever.
While we were … somewhat comfortable … it was a bit of a bash-around bumpy ride, and the thought of continuing in that fashion for another 6-7 hours to Nassau or (worse) another 18-24 to the Exumas was … not very appealing. After some discussion, thought, and chart-checking, Phillip and I decided to pull into Andros. We had never been there before, but a good friend of ours from back in Pensacola (Captain Jack if you’re listening – here’s your “shout-out!”) had highly recommended it as a more untouched part of the Bahamas and a great spot for kitesurfing. Two things we love to find the most while traveling: tranquility and kite access. So, we decided to head for a new anchorage to us, a place we had not originally intended to go during this trip to the Bahamas, but NOT “going with the weather” was a lesson we had learned in the past.
The wind and seas were telling us to get out of this mess, so that is exactly what we chose to do. Morgan’s Bluff looked like a safe little harbor that would offer us awesome protection from the ESE and S winds for the evening while this stuff blew over.
It seemed, from the info in the charts, there was not much to do ashore, but we didn’t care. Phillip and I can make a lot of fun out of “not much” if we need to, and that’s only if we need. We are perfectly content to sip sundowners in the cockpit, cook aboard, and watch the sun go down. So, it was Morgan’s Bluff or bust!
But, that also meant coming into a new, narrow entrance in some kicked-up seas with winds on the nose knocking the boat all around. Good times. While the B&G chartplotter showed a nice little curve of an inlet with plenty of depth and very clear markers for it, that map was for FantasyLand! In reality, there were no markers in sight. Although this is common in many places in the Bahamas (they simply don’t have the government funding, or the need, to maintain navigation markers as rigorously as we do in the states), it’s often not a big deal because the Explorer Charts are soooo accurate. If I haven’t stressed that point strongly enough, I’ll happily do it again: If you’re planning to go to the Bahamas, get and study the Explorer Charts before you go and use them while you navigate! www.explorercharts.com.
Phillip was at the helm while I was religiously trying to match the lats and lons on the Explorer Charts to what was showing on the B&G as we made our way into Morgan’s Bluff in Andros. Maybe for some of you this is easy (following lats and lons on a diagonal). Annie proved to be not so good at it. To my credit, I asked Phillip to let me helm this time on the way in while he navigated (since I did such a piss-poor job of it when we made our way into Bimini) but he said he was “in the zone.” I would have loved to have been in his zone, because I was totally screwing up my zone. I don’t know how else to explain it other than a brain fart.
For some reason I was watching and monitoring the lats just fine, counting each degree as one, but stupidly my brain decided to attribute ten degrees to every one on the lons so I had us coming in almost dead from the north straight toward Morgan’s Bluff as opposed to making a wide curve to the east and coming in inside the inlet.
Once I realized my mistake I could see we were weaving through some rocks along our path toward the harbor with no seemingly safe space to turn around, so there was just nothing we could do but hope the rocks were deep enough not to cause any problems. That was one of the worst gut-wrenching moments I’ve had on our boat, feeling the boat rise and fall with the waves and thinking I might be the cause of our keel striking a rock. It literally made me feel sick, and I hope I never have that feeling again (although I’m sure I will). The only other time I’ve felt physically ill because of something that might happen to the boat was when Hurricane Nate was seemingly making its way to Pensacola in 2017. Yuck.
I will also go ahead and admit here I didn’t disclose the full gravity of our situation to Phillip at that time for two reasons: 1) I knew we couldn’t change or improve it at that point so why worry him further, I thought; and 2) I became too distracted anyway when right as we were bashing through the hairiest part, we got a
Isn’t that when it always happens? Phillip and I had been trolling the entire time since we left Pensacola, all the way around the Florida Keys, across the Gulf Stream, and once again when we got into the Tongue of the Ocean, and that entire time fish after fish had bitten off our lure. Phillip and I joked often—when people, in person or on Facebook asked whether we’d caught any fish on the trip: “Of we’ve done plenty of fishing,” we’d say. “We just haven’t done any catching.” And, it’s true. We lost lure after lure to those feisty fish in the Gulf. I had to laugh thinking all those hours we spent when we were sailing over tothe Bahamas, in calm seas just watching the fishing line hoping for a bite, reeling it in time and again “just to check” we’d say, and throwing it back out. Any of those times would have been the perfect time to snag a big fish. But, no, Neptune has to throw one our way when we’re beating and bashing along, off of the safe path (thanks Annie), making our way into a new, unknown harbor. That’s the perfect time to be hauling in a fish!
So, haul we did! I took the helm and Phillip started pulling slowly and steadily winding our hand reel in. I will say I was grateful for the excitement of the fish in that moment to dissipate some of my boat nerves. In that sense the fish was a blessing. But, boy was he a monster?! Here’s one quick little video of him popping out of the water.
The first time I saw him zip to the outside of the boat, breach the surface and sink back down, I knew he was big. Phillip could tell by how hard he was having to pull—using his entire body to arch back to get some length in the line so he could then fold the hand reel over to get another 10 inches on the guy.
It was a slow and steady fight but Phillip finally brought him close enough where I could try to gaff him, which can be very hard to do with a fighting monster three feet below you, on a bobbing, swaying boat. But I finally got him right under the gills and by some wicked twist of fate it was at that very moment the hook came out of his mouth, which meant my gaff was the onlything standing between us and the biggest fish we’ve ever seen behind Plaintiff’s Rest. I was terrified he was going to kick and flail and fight his way off—and, believe me, he tried—but I kept turning the hook in hopes it would hold—and, thankfully, it DID! When I hauled that bloody beast over the lifesling (leaving a nasty bloody trail on it but I didn’t give a you-know-what) and flopped him into the cockpit floor, Phillip let out a “Holy crap, that guy is huge!” And he was. That was the biggest fish we have caught to date on Plaintiff’s Rest. He was as long as my leg! And, that’s not a tall fish tale. We have proof!
That photo, however, was the second picture I made Phillip take because I wanted to capture the full length of that guy before I hacked him up and, in trying to do so the first time, the fish flipped off my gaff right when Phillip clicked the camera. So, we captured a fish in mid-air!
It was such a wild, heart-pumping moment pulling that guy in while bashing our way into Andros, scary but fun, frightening but exhilarating. Cruising often feels like that. All the times between the leisure, lavish cocktails-and-bikini days. How did my friend Pat define cruising? Oh yeah: Serene, tropical days interspersed with moments of sheer terror. Yeah, that about sums it up. Oh, that and the fish! I made a bloodbath of our cockpit cleaning that big boy up.
But look at that filet. It’s bigger than my thigh! (And I’ve got some meaty thighs!)
As Phillip and I often do when we catch a fish that big, we cut up equally-sized (to the best of our ability) filets and bag some for the fridge, but more for the freezer so we can enjoy fresh fish at any time during our travels. The Mahi we cooked up that night, was probably some of the best fish we had during our entire trip to the Bahamas. (I’m sure the sheer terror of the moment combined with the monstrous fight getting him into the boat, followed by the hour-long cleaning of the fish, then the boat had some impact on the flavor, but it was a well-earned reward).
And, I kid you not, that fish fed Phillip and I, two filets each (at least, sometimes 2-3), six dinners over during our Bahamas trip. It had to be 8-9 pounds of edible fish. That guy was such a blessing! A long-awaited one, and certainly a wildly ill-timed one, but a blessing all the same!
Thank you Neptune!!
Next up, we’ll share one of our favorite new places in the Bahamas. A spot Phillip and I never thought we would stop at this trip but one we cannot wait to go back to explore further: the beautiful, untouched, but well-resourced, Andros. Stay tuned!
Reason No. 1: My GoPro Broke Our First Day in the Bahamas.
Why is that a good thing? Because it was the universe telling me to just live in the moment—to see, taste, and feel it, rather than film it. Ahoy crew! Now that Phillip and I have completed our Bahamas cruise and tucked in safe for hurricane season, I’m excited to share all of the fun stories and photos from our incredible Bahamas voyage with you all here on the blog. I decided—as a fitting birthday tribute (this little sailor turned a proud 37 on May 28th : )—to first share the 37 highs and lows that Phillip and I have agreed made this last voyage to the Bahamas our best trip yet. The reasons might surprise you. Remember: it’s usually not the cocktails and sunsets you remember the most.
No. 2: We Had a Great Send-Off
Our friends in Pensacola are keepers, I will tell you that. Brandon made (try to wrap your head around this) bacon-wrapped, beer-battered onion rings along with a massive rack of ribs, well mainly just as a Saturday BBQ—that man loves to grill—but Phillip and I commandeered it as our “send-off feast” and it was incredible! Our buddy (and original boat broker, who helped us find our Niagara 35), Kevin, also brought us a nice bottle of champagne (complete with its own boat bubble packing!), and we had one rip-roaring last hoorah at our favorite Ft. McRee anchorage before leaving. Yes, those glasses do say “Party Rock!”
No. 3: We Had Two Captains Aboard
Double the knowledge, experience, and credentials; double the ease of cruising. Nuff said. With both of us now equally capable of steering, navigating, AND docking, Phillip and I both felt an increased sense of confidence when we left the dock in April.
No. 4: We Had Plenty of Wine
No. 5: We Had Plenty of Storage Space for Said Wine
No. 6: We Scored on Salsa!
Yes, salsa is serious on our boat. I always prefer it at room temp (and, yes, I have eaten a whole jar in one sitting to enjoy the full-warm goodness before it went into the flavor-sucking hole that is the fridge. We also always try to reduce foods we bring on the boat that have to be refrigerated, so when we found these perfect single-serving sized cans at Wal-Mart that taste like they were just chopped on a beach-side salsa stand, we were stoked! These guys made for a wonderfully-tasty treat often on Plaintiff’s Rest and we were able to reduce trash by throwing the cans overboard when we were underway offshore! Win-win. What do you say? “Arriba!!”
No. 7: We Got Lucky (on a Weather-Window)
While Phillip and I both often readily agree it is rare to find a perfect “good” downwind five-day weather window across the Gulf, we did find a rather peachy four-day one that suited us just fine. While our first day out of the gate was a bit sporty, I’m excited to tell you in a future post how well our baby girl performed in 20 knots of wind (albeit on the stern—my favorite kind) and 6-8 (sometimes 10) foot seas. It was a romp. Whew!
No. 8: Despite a Last-Minute Breakdown, Lord Nelson Held the Entire Time
This is my next story coming up on the blog: Auto Turn Notto: The Problem That Almost Prevented Our Departure. It’s quite an interesting saga. It never ceases to amaze me how often massive problems (the auto-pilot is not working) are caused by the tiniest of conditions (a bolt is not tightened or a connection is loose, for example). But, Phillip and I certainly learned a ton about our hydraulic auto-pilot in the process, and we hope you will too. After solving this problem—we *hope*—we now have Lord Nelson running in a condition that will last us ten more years of cruising. That was our hope when he had Brandon with Perdido Sailor help us install him during our extended stay in the shipyard back in 2016.
No. 9: We Left Under the Most Beautiful Sunrise I Have Ever Photographed
No. 10: We Had Another Successful, Safe Gulf-Crossing
Crossing the Gulf of Mexico is no friggin’ joke. Phillip and I have told many, many cruisers that, despite our multiple Atlantic-Ocean crossings, the Gulf still ranks as one of the most gnarly bodies of water we have crossed, often packing the worst punch. We have spent too many a day and night bashing and crashing across the Gulf. So, anytime we have a successful, no damage, no injuries crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, we will happily and unapologetically celebrate it. Ahhhh ...
No. 11: We Were Only in Foulies for One Day
Previous Gulf-Crossings, particularly those undertaken in November or December have seen us in stinky, sweaty fouls for days. Yuck! Phillip and I were thrilled this time, leaving later in the year (April), to start pulling off those foul (in many ways) layers, just north of Tampa!
No. 12: We Got in a Massive Fight in Bimini
Doesn’t sound like a good thing, does it? Well it’s not when you’re in the thick of it. But, if you come out stronger and closer on the other side, it’s worth it. Couples have to fight occasionally to let the steam out and regroup. I had made a stupid error in my lat-lon navigation trying to help Phillip (who was holding the helm at the time) into the entrance to Bimini (bad on me) but Phillip responded with a comment that cut me to the core (bad on him). And, it doesn’t need to be repeated. It wasn’t an expletive, just hurtful. But, the upside was my response. While I usually swallow that hurt down, trying not to “rock the boat” so to speak, I knew Phillip and I had many tight-quarter days ahead on the boat, so I spoke up and let it out so we could vent and heal and it was the right decision. I’m getting better at this adult stuff, I’m telling you!
No. 13: We Got Stuck in Bimini
Again, doesn’t sound like a good thing, right? For Phillip and I—who really like to stay on the move when we’re cruising, staying usually only 2-3 days in one place before moving onto the next—a forced five-day stay in one place can be a bit of a bugger. Buuuuttt, that is only true when there’s no wind there or no good place to kite. If it’s blowing like stink for days and we have the ability to kite, Phillip and I are happy to park it and get on that wind. We spent three glorious days in a row kiting the snot out of 20-25+ winds in Bimini. It was awesome!
No. 14: We Failed (Initially) at Fishing …
Shouldn’t sound like a good thing, either? No “fish on” to shout about. For the first week of our cruising, when we were doing most of our offshore voyaging and expecting to catch most of our fish, Phillip and I didn’t catch a damn thing. Those crafty fish stole lure after lure, laughing at us the entire time. But, it was this extended fish failure that made our first catch that much sweeter.
No. 15: Then We Caught Our Biggest Mahi Ever!
It was glorious. That beautiful bounty of the sea fed us six times over, three filets a piece. I’m not kidding. Neptune rewarded our initial failed attempts in droves.
No. 16: The Weather Forced Us to a New Place
Morgan’s Bluff! Have any of you been there? While Phillip and I were not sure whether we were going to stop in Andros this year, as the Exumas were certainly calling (and while I would not call it a “schedule” per se, as commuter cruisers, we do have limited time and have to make destination decisions accordingly), the weather made the decision for us. Coming into the Northwest Providence Channel, the wind turned more southeast than we anticipated and began building to 18 and upwards—not a comfortable wind speed on the nose on our boat. So, it was either beat into that all the way to the Exumas or tuck in at Morgan’s Bluff, a place we knew nothing about but that brought us one of our most memorable moments of the entire trip:
No. 17: We Ate Our First Dilly (It’s Kind of a Big Dilly-yo)
This was such an unexpected and eye-opening experience. While Morgan’s Bluff does not have much to offer if you just dinghy to shore—a pretty beach and one little bar—Phillip and I were lucky enough to find a local to hire to drive us around the entire island and give us a three-hour tour (that, thankfully, did not leave us shipwrecked!). Kanendra, the dock master there at Morgan’s Bluff, along with her daughter, Diamond, took us around and showed us the cave where Captain Morgan allegedly hid his treasures, the blue hole (where the limestone core has fallen through and you can dive straight through to the ocean), the cute little resort bungalows you can rent, along with the extensive devastation that still exists from Hurricane Matthew. It was enlightening and incredibly interesting. And, Diamond, herself, a child of only eight, was adamant about sharing a particular experience with us—eating our first dilly fruit. Diamond picked this one herself and Phillip and I ate it right on the stop, getting all sticky in the process. It was the sweetest fruit I believe I’ve ever eaten and an awesome moment!
No. 18: We Did Sooooo Much Sailing
This surprised even us: Phillip and I sailed so much, we started to run low on battery power because we hadn’t cranked the engine in a while sailing almost the entire way from anchorage to anchorage. We were very lucky, both across the Gulf and the Stream, and with almost every island hop, to have steady winds on our stern that just pushed us along. It was incredible. Phillip and I did some of our favorite sailing, ever on our boat, on this last trip.
No. 19: We Reefed Right!
This was a little trick we learned from Andy Schell and Mia at 59-North. You wrap the reef line once around the boom and then tie it to allow the reef line to cinch the sail alll the way down to the boom to get a flatter, more effective reef. The days we did have to sail to windward in winds that require us to reef (generally 15 kts and up), this trick helped us put a tighter reef in and sail more comfortably to weather.
No. 20: Two Weeks In, We Still Had Enough Wine!
No. 21: We Studied the Charts and GRIBS Together
I realize only now—with six years of cruising and a Captain’s License under my belt—how little help I was during mine and Phillip’s first cruising years. Sure, I was a hard worker. I crawled down into holes to try and fix things. I cooked. I cleaned. I got greasy and helped where I could. But, I never pushed myself to get knowledgeable enough about the more difficult things, like navigation, weather-watching, and making wise passage decisions. Now that I have, Phillip and I enjoy checking the weather together (that is an every morning and every afternoon event and conversation we have when we’re cruising), studying the charts, and deciding “Where to next?” together and we then share the roles navigating in. At least this way if we run-aground, we can share the blame! Let’s hope that never happens … although I’m sure it will again someday.
No. 22: We Were Exceedingly Impressed With Our Boat
She never ceased to amaze and impress us. Granted, Phillip and I put a lot of time and money into her and try our best to be very diligent, pro-active boat owners, but that does not mean you’re going to have a boat that performs 100% of the time. I’ll say our baby girl did everything we asked of her (which was often to run hard for 24 hours-plus under sail, engine, or both, with Lord Nelson doing all the steering) about 95% of the time. She was just a beast out there—moving comfortably in all types of weather, practically sailing herself all over the Bahamas. Pretty much every system worked, every bit of the time. While this is a HUGE reason we always strive for less, more simplistic systems on our boat, it was clear to Phillip and I, those choices (and the work they required) were totally worth it. I am immensely proud to say our boat is “dialed in.”
No. 23: We Made It to the Exumas!
That, in and of itself, was an accomplishment, as we were not sure our time allotment would allow it. We were not able to make it to the Exumas last year when we did the Abacos—although our diversion to the Berries brought us a fantastic encounter with new friends and an amazing experience that was the subject of my latest article in SAIL Magazine—Phillip and I both still had a desire to see and experience for ourselves the breathtaking beauty so many have told us is unique only to the Exumas. And, boy were they right. Photos just can’t capture it, but they can try!
No. 24: I Was Published Underway!
This was such a treat! To have an article of mine, “People With Gusto: the people you meet when cruising”—ironically about the Berry Islands in the Bahamas—come out in the latest SAIL Magazine while Phillip and I were sailing to the Bahamas. It was fun to be a bit of celebrity in certain marinas along the way where people had seen the article. Thanks again to Peter Nielson and the SAIL Magazine crew for running my piece!
No. 25: We Met The Amazing Jessie (from Jessie & Kate)
Speaking of meeting amazing people while cruising, we were lucky enough to cross paths with this inspiring young sailor/photographer: Jessie from Cruising Outpost’s “Jessie & Kate on a Boat” series. Leave a comment below if you enjoyed their articles in Cruising Outpost. Jessie was such a warm, candid person and so fun and interesting to talk to. You can imagine she and I immediately meshed and scurried to the corner to chatter like schoolgirls. I’ll admit to a little girl-crush on her; I’m not scared. Jessie is phenomenal. She and her husband, Luke, came into Bimini on the way back from their Atlantic-Circle honeymoon. I mean … damn. Reminds of the amazing Pam Wall. I am so inspired by these hearty sailing ladies! Keep it up salty gals!! You can follow Jessie’s continued adventures on Instagram at www.instagram.com/jessiebrave/.
No. 26: We Were Able to Scrub Our Own Bottom
Many thanks to Mantus on this one! When Phillip and I learned they had designed a smaller, more portable scuba set-up, we snagged one so we could use it during our cruising to dive a really cool reef that might be perhaps a little too deep for repeated snorkel dives and also to scrub our own bottom. This saves us about $100/month if we can do our bottom ourselves, so it has proven well-worth the investment for us. Plus, it’s convenient to have a little scuba set-up just for fun on the boat.
No. 26: We Got to Dive This!
No. 27: We Got to Cheers Everyday to Views Like This!
No. 28: We Got to Wake Every Morning to Views Like This!
No. 29: We Got To Swim Everyday In Waters Like This
No. 30: We Got to Swim With Friendly Guys Like This
No. 31: We Got to Eat Food Like This
No. 32: We Got to Walk Beaches as Amazing as This
No. 33: We Got to Harvest Our Own Conch
No. 34: We Got to Snorkel Pretty Much Every Day
No. 35: We Got to Spend an Entire Vacation With Our Best Friend
No. 36: We Had a Life-Changing Swim With a Turtle
I’m proud to say because I was IN the moment, not filming it, I don’t have an image, but I don’t need one. My words and memory will do it justice, just you wait. I named him Rasta because he was so chiiiilllll.
Ten. Thousand. I almost can’t believe it myself, but that’s my number. 10,025 to be exact. I’ve been keeping track and when Phillip and I sailed our gallant Niagara 35 back into the Pensacola Pass on our recent return from the Bahamas, it was not only a fantastic feat successfully completing another offshore voyage, it was also a pretty cool milestone for this little sailor, who began sailing only five short years ago.
Headed off on my very first offshore voyage: April, 2013
Captain Annie at the helm, returning from the Bahamas: April, 2018
Ten thousand … This calls for a ditty, no?
Five years, 5oo HaveWind posts, and one captain’s license later, and I dare say I just might call this little gal a bluewater sailor.
When Phillip first planted the seed, “I’m going to buy a boat and cruise around the world,” I immediately, without hesitation, heartily agreed! “Not without me!” was my creed.
Our very first photo at the cockpit together during our first voyage.
So, we started boat-shopping and, little did I know, the many, many new, exotic places I would go! In the bilge, in the fridge, “Get down in the engine room,” he said.
So down I went, bumping my knees, my knuckles, my head. On that boat, I’ve cursed, and sweated, and bled. There are so many, many things, you see, that have to be fixed, cleaned, fixed again, and re-bed.
But the good news is, as long as her hull, keel, and rigging are sound, you can work on her while you sail her anywhere, as long as you don’t run aground! Because the worst, absolute worst, thing you can do to a boat, is to leave her sitting stagnant, unkept and going nowhere, just sitting afloat.
Not our boat, oh no! Our beautiful Niagara, with her magnificent thirty-five feet. She’s often cast-off, sailing away, on a gentleman’s (or perhaps not-so-gentle) beat.
That wise, seasoned boat has taught Phillip and I so much about both her and the sea. Because out there, and you may not believe me, but she feels really rather small to me. The time that she grows, seems unwieldy and impossible to stop, is only when we are approaching a treacherous dock.
But out there, in bluewater, while romping and running, she seems so agile and nimble. Like a horse at the derby, impossibly stunning.
That’s where she and her crew love most to be — moving, gliding, slipping under sunsets at sea.
My heart and courage exposed, this amazing man and boat have challenged me, to push myself, try harder, learn more, travel further, set myself free!
So I did. I changed my career, my address, my focus, all so I could head out to sea. And the rewards have been limitless: Cuba, the Bahamas, Mexico, France, the Florida Keys!
All connected by big, brimming, bodies of blue, just waiting to challenge and test you, too. Each passage, each mile, will teach you something new.
Forty-six hundred of them took Phillip and I all the way across the Atlantic, with a hearty, hilarious French Captain named Yannick.
But the Gulf of Mexico, never to be out-done, over and above the Atlantic, has, thus far, won. The Gulf has handed us our most trying times, tossing and bashing us to windward, threatening to snap lines.
Thankfully the storms and rough seas generally do not last. You just have to ride it out, get the boat comfortable, and usually in twenty-four hours or less, it will pass.
And soon you’ll find yourself motoring without a lick of wind, albeit across the most beautiful glass you’ve ever seen.
And you’ll make the mistake of asking Mother Nature to blow. Just a little. Like ten to fifteen.
Or seven and a quarter, perhaps, just enough so we can be #spinning!
While a perfect passage (in our world, a nice downwind run), from shore to shore is admittedly rare, the toying, tempting promise of it is what makes us accept the dare.
Because when you get there, no matter how near or far your “dream there” might be, it’s an incredibly cool feeling to have the honor to say: “We sailed here, you see.”
And for Phillip and I, I believe one of our most memorable offshore voyages will forever be: Cuba. Because it was a trying, eye-opening, exceedingly-thrilling passage where we bypassed the Keys. And Phillip and I both felt great pride in telling people: “We sailed six hundred nautical miles, here to be.”
Hope you all have enjoyed this little sailor’s first 10,000 nautical miles here at HaveWind. Here’s to the next ten! Cheers!
You’re out there. Nothing but denim blue water lapping the sky as far as you can see. The sun has just set, so each chop has a bright pink cap reflecting the magenta sky. Colors and senses are heightened. The boat is floating along nicely with 10 kts on the stern and you’re hoping it will stay that way through the night so you and the crew can make comfortable way during the oncoming night shifts. You hope …
Ahoy HaveWind followers! Bahamas Voyage Chapter Two coming at you! I wanted to share with you a little bit of what it’s like to hold a night shift alone offshore on a sailboat and tell you about two particular night shifts on our Gulf-Crossing: my best night shift ever and my worst. Some very fun happenings in here for you. Enjoy!
“I saw it,” I said to myself. Perhaps out-loud. I can’t even be sure at this point. During my night shifts, I talk, sing, whisper and think for two hours straight and I can’t easily differentiate which of those play only in my mind or which make it to my lips. But I saw it! I love it when I’m staring right at it when it happens. It’s one thing to catch a streak out of your peripheral vision and turn to see, yes, in fact a shooting star finishing its impressive blaze across the sky. But is an entirely different experience to have it happen to the very star you are staring at. At first it is fixated star in the sky. A beautiful white point. Then you see it. The very white point you were looking at light up, blaze brightly, and suddenly streak, screaming almost as if you can hear it, across the sky. “I saw it,” you’ll find yourself saying as if to confirm to whatever cosmic spirits are out there—the dolphins, your magnificent boat, Neptune, whomever—that, yes, you did indeed see it. “And it was beautiful.”
Shooting stars are one of the most mesmerizing parts of holding a night shift on a sailboat offshore, many miles away from the glowing shore. Just you. And a million stars.
But they are not the most mesmerizing. I did not know it until I first saw it with Yannick during our Atlantic-crossing back in 2016 on his gallant Soubise Freydis 46’ catamaran. I was holding a night shift alone somewhere north of the Bermudas and I really thought my mind was playing tricks on me. While shooting stars overhead were common, I truly thought I had just seen one in the water. I peered again, straining my eyes into the dark blue chop and there it was—a streak of glitter. I stepped one foot out onto the deck and looked over. This was as far as I dared to venture alone while holding my shift. Yannick’s very strict rule for our four-man ocean-crossing crew—and it was a good one—was that no one was allowed to go forward on deck alone while holding a night shift. But, from this arched-over position I could see it. Flashes and trails of glitter gleaming behind what appeared to be an ethereal outline of a dolphin. Then I saw others, all of them seeming to be making their way to the bow. We had seen pods of dolphins swim, romp and play in front of Andanza’s bow many times while on our ocean voyage, and I just knew they were doing it now—glowing in the dozens at the bow.
Yannick was sitting in the saloon below downloading a WeatherFax chart. He was often awake throughout the night, while the rest of the crew was holding shifts at the helm, researching issues, studying manuals, looking at the weather, doing any number of a dozen things that required his focus everyday all day across the entire ocean. I told him what I thought I had seen and, as stern and steadfast as he was a Captain, he was also an adventurer at heart. “Let’s go see!” he said and allowed me to follow him, clipping in along the way, as we made our way to the bow. And there they were. It had to be fifteen to twenty of them. The small, zippy little dolphins we’d seen throughout the Atlantic crossing, weaving in and out of one another, their bodies aglow, the disturbed water behind them forming a glistening trail. That was the most mesmerizing thing I had seen dolphins do. Until …
My second night shift during our Gulf-crossing toward the Bahamas. I finally saw dolphins in phosphorescence in the Gulf. These are the not the small, zippy critters of the Atlantic. No. As residents of the Florida coast, many of you may know how lucky we are to typically see dolphins just about everyday we venture out onto the water. And, how big and gallant their movements. The dolphins of the Gulf are much larger and more lumbering than those we saw in the Atlantic. And now, as I saw them during my night shift on our Niagara, they appeared so large, outlined in phosphorescence, it was almost as if they were small whales, slipping sleepily in and out of one another. The first one I saw that swim up toward the cockpit, his entire body outlined in a web of sparkles, he seemed so big and so close that I jumped when he dipped under the boat for fear he would touch my feet. I felt that connected to them. They were elegant and wondrous. Although the same “going topside alone at night” rule applies a bit more loosely on our Niagara (technically Phillip and I have a genteel agreement to wake the other if we need to go forward, but we’ve also both broken it when conditions are calm and we’re not going forward to handle some dangerous equipment failure or make a challenging sail change), I ventured forth. Clipped in mid-ship and watched them—majestic, glowing creatures bringing us across the Gulf. That. Was. Mesmerizing.
So, shooting stars and glowing dolphins. Can night shifts offshore aboard a sailboat be like this? Of course! I’ve often had many of my most memorable moments from an offshore voyage occur during a night shift, because there is simply nothing that can replicate the beauty of the dark, the overwhelming multitudes of stars and the gentle lapping of dark water on the hull. Night sailing is an experience all its own.
But, I have also often had my most frightening and frustrating moments of an offshore voyage occur during a night shift. It is amazing how different the conditions feel on the boat when you are robbed of the security of visibility. At night, you often cannot see how big the sea state is (or, more appropriately, how small). It all feels big because it can only be felt and heard, not seen. All of the sounds the boat makes are also amplified because your hearing takes over for vision. Sails flogging, rigging rattling, halyards snapping all sound infinitely more dangerous and harmful at night as opposed to day. Every adverse consequence of rough conditions—the pitching of the boat, the groan of her bending, flexing structure, the crush of water against her hull, the thunderous pop of a sail that fills with wind—sound and feel worse at night.
My third night during our voyage across the Gulf to the Bahamas was easily one of the worst night shifts I have held on our boat. Granted, it does not compare to some of the night shifts I held on Andanza, when we were battling a failing auto-pilot, hand-steering in heavy winds, navigating ships in the dark, but this was definitely my most challenging aboard our our monohull.
As many of you know, if you followed us via our Delorme posts across the Gulf or in the Gulf-crossing video we recently put out, Phillip and I faced a pretty gnarly front outside of Tampa while we were making our way down south to Key West. It wasn’t anything too daunting, 20-25 kt winds and 6-8 foot seas, all on the stern thankfully, but it did make for a very tiring 24 hours underway. And, the culmination of happenings combining to create a pretty hairy situation happens as it always seems to happen. Phillip and I call this the “onion theory.” A dangerous situation during a passage is usually not the result of one catastrophic event. It is usually a culmination of several unfortunate occurrences or situations that add on top of one another, much like layers of an onion, to result in a conglomerate bad situation. Let’s say you have a small equipment failure. The auto-pilot goes out. The transmission needs constant refilling. The engine overheats on the hour. Whatever it is, it calls for more attention and effort from the crew. This then creates added exhaustion in the crew. Then perhaps the weather turns, calling for a grueling sail change or rougher conditions on the boat which further tires the crew. Then perhaps a bad decision is made, to try and power through a rough front or handle a sail change alone, likely made because the crew member or captain is tired, irritated and this adds to poor judgment. You can probably see a pattern here: minor problem after problem, stacking on like layers, adds up to one nasty, dangerous situation. Phillip and I were operating under pure onion theory our third night crossing the Gulf.
To begin with, that morning, Tuesday, December 12th, started with winds that built to 20 knots right after we woke. Just as we were strategizing whether to reef down further—we were flying the Main at Reef 1 and “Wendy” (our 90% offshore jib) full out at the time—Phillip heard a “kachunk” at the helm and “Lord Nelson,” our hydraulic auto-pilot, then began his cacophonous peel of beeps letting us know he was giving up. Phillip grabbed the wheel immediately to keep the 4-6 foot building seas that were following us from smacking the boat off-course, threatening to backwind the sails. While we both didn’t want to ponder the thought, it was very possible our auto-pilot would be out for the rest of the voyage and Phillip and I would be hand-steering the remaining 2.5 days of our passage. This was simply one scenario. But one neither of us were ready to accept yet. While I wasn’t sure, we both did have an idea as to what may have happened. The best problem you can have on a boat is one you’ve had before—because then you know exactly how to fix it.
One day when we were sailing our boat down in Key West after our voyage to Cuba the previous year, Lord Nelson gave the same kerchunk sound and thew up the wheel. We investigated down below and found his piston had simply come unthreaded from the ball and socket joint that attaches to the brass arm he uses to turn the rudder. Kind of an odd thing to happen, but it did seem possible with just the right amount of turns and spins, eventually he had turned 180 degrees enough times to de-thread himself. The best part about that problem, though, was that we were close to shore in very calm waters with no immediate need for auto-pilot to steer the boat. So, we hand-steered the half hour back and waited until we were sitting still at the dock at Stock Island, and I was able to—then, rather easily—remove the ball joint from the brass arm, thread it back onto the piston and reattach the joint via a pin and (what I call) a “bobby pin” cotter pin, because it’s shaped like a bobby pin. This was easy to do then because we were not steering at the time. The boat was not underway and the rudder and steering quadrant were completely still. Everything is a thousand times easier when you’re sitting at the dock and the boat isn’t moving.
Now, as we were making our way across the Gulf in building winds and seas, when I spilled the contents of our port lazarette where we mounted our hydraulic auto-pilot when we spent three months in the shipyard in 2016 and saw that the same thing had occurred, I was relieved to see it was what I had expected. This meant I knew the solution: thread the joint back on and re-mount it to the quadrant and *voila!* Auto is back. But, I was not 100% confident whether I would be able to do this underway, while the rudder was in constant movement, reacting to the wind and waves in order to hold a safe course for the boat. But, I undertook it anyway and was surprised to find with a little luck, good timing and patience I was able to remount the arm underway. So, Lord Nelson was then back in business, but we weren’t out of the woods yet.
My repair had taken about an hour and the winds were now holding steady at 22-23 knots. That is a lot for our 35’ moderate displacement boat. As Phillip and I both suspected, once we turned the wheel back over to Lord Nelson, he would hold as long as he could but in those seas and winds, the boat would often get knocked so far off course he didn’t have the ability to get her back on course and he would wail out in a series of beeps and, once again, give up the wheel. This might mean our auto-pilot would not be able to hold 90% of the time in those conditions and those conditions were expected to last at least the next 24 hours, which would mean virtually 24 hours of hand-steering. A potential scenario, but not one we were willing to accept. Yet. While Phillip continued to hold the wheel and handle the lines in the cockpit, I went forward to set further reefs in hopes this would enable Lord Nelson to steer the boat in those seas.
This was the first time we had hauled our Main sail down to the third reef. We had our local sailmaker put a third reef in before our voyage to Cuba but we sailed that entire passage primarily under Reef 2 and that worked well. Now it was time to re-configure the reefing lines in our boom to pull Reef 3 at the clew and we also used our Cunningham to pull the Main down taught to Reef 3 at the tack. Thankfully, our previously-broken Cunningham was one of the items on our very long list to replace before we shoved off for the Bahamas. It was not a piece of equipment we had used before as we’re not as much racers as we are cruisers, but good on Phillip as he added it to the list as a “just in case” and it proved invaluable here. While you can always tie a reef down in the main sail manually with sail ties, it is very hard to conjure the muscle needed to fight the wind in order to hold the canvas down while tying a knot. But, after 40 minutes of tugging, pulling and grunting, I was able to put a very flat, secure and satisfactory third reef in the Main. Phillip and I then tugged, pulled and grunted and were able to put a very satisfactory second reef in our offshore jib. This was very little canvas out, but our boat is not as heavy as other builds (Tayanas, Westsails, etc.) and she heels very easily in 15+ winds. A steady 25 knots was the most we had sailed in offshore for an extended period of time. But, with less canvas up, we were thrilled to see Lord Nelson was able to hold most of the time. But, because he was still susceptible to the occasional one-two wave punch that would send our Niagara careening off the back of a wave then pulling speedily on the next one back to weather and overpower him, Phillip and I had to hold these shifts sitting attentively behind the wheel ready to grab at any moment as the auto-pilot lost its footing approximately 2-3 times an hour during these conditions.
Again, not too bad of a situation. Many crews hand-steer all the time. So we were still living in luxury land with an auto-pilot that held the majority of the time. But, per onion theory, we had added one layer in having to maintain post behind the wheel with a constant eye to the wind and waves to allow us to grab the wheel and take over in the blink of an eye. Also, the additional effort exterted to repair the auto-pilot, reef down the sails and move safely around the now pitching and tossing boat, I would say our increased exhaustion would really put us two layers thick. A state in which remained all day as the winds held fast at 22+ and the waves built to a steady 6-8 feet, with the occasional 10-foot monster.
With that setting, cue my worst night shift on our boat:
We were tired. Not exhausted but generally worn down from the rough day and both Phillip and I knew holding night shifts in these conditions was going to require even more attention and focus than the day had mandated. But we settled in. Phillip was up first as I crashed hard down below. While it has taken us several years to build my sea skills and Phillip’s trust in my ability to single-hand the boat when needed, we are very much now an equal team. Phillip and I maintain a two-hour night shift rotation when underway offshore and when one is holding the helm the other goes down for a very much-needed and often very-deep sleep. I was so deep in mine, Phillip barely woke me when he clattered down below to clean up and shut the companionway hatch. He said I just grumbled something incoherent and rolled over when he told me he had just been swamped by a wave and “about a gallon of water” had crashed down into the cabin. Didn’t bother Off-Shift Annie. She went right back down. ZZZZZzzzzzzz.
But I would experience my own swamper. Just wait. For now, Annie you’re up to hold your first night shift in this mess.
Phillip and I had both agreed, that in these conditions, considering the pretty intense movement of the boat and our need to sit behind the wheel to take over each time Lord Nelson could not hold, that we would remain clipped in at the helm during our respective shifts. So, I clipped in near the binnacle and settled in. Our auto did great most of the time and I only had to take over a few times when a ten-footer would shove our bow violently to the east, leaving Lord Nelson shrieking in panic. Holding the wheel in conditions like those is actually calming. Pam Wall taught me this trick as she often tells her student sailors that when the seas feel rough and the boat feels out of control. It’s kind of like riding shotgun in a very fast car on dangerous, winding roads. It’s much more frightening when you’re not holding the wheel. “Here, steer!” Pam will shout to her students. “I promise. You won’t be afraid at all if you hold the wheel.” And it is so true. It gives you a much stronger connection to the boat, her stability and her capability to handle those conditions. For that reason, for most of that shift, I hand-steered as a means of maintaining focus and attention and a calm disposition in those conditions.
My first shift turned out to be fairly uneventful, albeit tiring. However, when Phillip and I changed shifts, he (wisely having checked our battery state before coming topside) decided we should crank and motor-sail for a bit to give the batteries some much-needed juice. On our boat we have a 450 hour bank, but we have always been told (and we always try to follow the rule) that you should not draw the batteries down below 50% to preserve their lifespan. At that time, with the cloud cover that day and added energy drained by Lord Nelson’s impressive efforts holding the wheel, we had pulled off about 160 hours and, if we continued through the remaining six hours of the night without putting juice in, we would easily exceed our 50% mark (i.e., 225 hours off). Hence the need to crank. So, Phillip cranked and I fell deep into slumber. That is, until I heard a piercing wail from the engine. Not ten minutes after Phillip cranked, our Westerbeke 27A (“Westie” we call him) had overheated. As you have probably noticed, we have names for most of the crucial systems on our boat because, trust me, calling them by name makes them fight harder in the clutch. And we were definitely in the clutch.
I shook my head to try and flail off the fog of sleep, and unfortunately the first thing I saw, after I heard the loud beep, was the light indicating the bilge pump was going off. A leaking boat and a faulty engine are not a combination you want to have on any boat anywhere, but especially not 100 miles from shore in some “stuff.” That’s one too many onion layers for me. I decided to wait to tell Phillip about the bilge pump light, though, until we handled our first emergency: Westie. I checked around the engine, as Phillip manned the helm, for leaking raw water, coolant, etc. anything that would indicate our engine was struggling to cool himself. Nothing. We cranked again. Waited and watched as the engine quickly came back to temp. Phillip shifted into gear and not a few minutes later, Westie rang out again in protest, his temp needle quickly passing 180 and broaching 190. Phillip shut the engine down, shaking his head. We didn’t really have a good answer for it. And, in the darkness of night, with most of our efforts geared toward handling the boat in those conditions, it didn’t seem we were going to be able to solve that particular puzzle right then and there. We hoped the batteries wouldn’t drain to a life-threatening level before we could get sun once again on our solar panels and troubleshoot the problem the next morning in daylight.
I also then told Phillip about the bilge pump light I had seen go off. “I saw it, too,” he responded. I think both of us had momentarily withheld the information from each other hoping perhaps what we had seen hadn’t really happened, but now that we could both confirm it, it had to be true. We considered the “rocky rolly water,” which on our boat is the water that accumulates in pockets unseen—we have yet to find them or find signs they are damaging anything in their accumulation, we hope and suspect it’s above the headliner—but it comes “rolling” out in various places only when the boat is “rocking” while underway. Hence the name. It’s a fairly harmless amount and, as I mentioned, we haven’t seen any deterioration in any critical area because of it. Nothing like rotting our mast-step stringers or anything. Ha! What, too soon? ; ) And, while our boat is farily leak-free, it is not 100% in heavy rains and a heavy sea state and it’s likely it never will be. There are just far too many tiny little screw holes and entry points to keep all water, when coming forcefully from all angles, out. So, I checked the bilge. The water was sitting below the top of our center keel bolt—a very low, non-alarming level—and didn’t seem to be rapidly increasing. The bilge pump was also not going off frequently enough for either of us to even try to time it. It must have been once every 45 minutes to an hour if I had to guess. So, we attributed this, too, to a non-crucial issue and one we were similarly not going to be able to thoroughly investigate and solve in those conditions at night. So, a little water intake and an overheating engine. C’est la vie, for now.
After assessing the bilge situation, Phillip settled in to hold the rest of his shift and I headed back down below to indulge the rest of my sleep-shift. The first few days of the voyage, and particularly during this 24-hour period, Phillip and I had been sleeping in full foulies as it took far more energy to get out of those nasty things than we needed to exert towards it. And, if something were to occur topside that would require our immediate attention (a line chafing, a sail blowing out, etc.) it would be best if we were able to jump from the settee and immediately spring topside to handle it. The loud crinkle and discomfort of sleeping in full third reef gear in no way hindered our ability to fall out of consciousness for two hours at a time, trust me. Case in point: the minute my salty body crashed back on the settee I fell into a dead sleep. When Phillip shook me to, I felt like it had been another mere ten minutes and he had unfortunately ran into another wake-the-crew-worthy problem right at the commencement of his shift. Boy, was I wrong.
“It’s time for your shift babe,” he said as he continued to shake me. I literally felt like I had been asleep for two minutes. An hour and forty-five slipped by in an alarmingly-small spec of time. As I sat up on the settee, I could feel that I was tired. This was confirmed when I slipped on my pfd, dragged my body up the companionway stairs and sat down heavy behind the wheel. It was going to be a long shift. But we did have good news.
During his shift, Phillip had stolen downstairs on a quick calm spot to grab Nigel Calder’s engine book—the holy grail of diesel engine maintenance manuals. If Nigel ever reads this (Ahhh! Such flattery!), or if any of you out there know him personally, please send Nigel our forever thanks. He has enlightened and saved us more than once out there. Thank you Nigel! Phillip is a great Captain and a tenacious student when it comes to our boat and her many complex systems. He had spent the majority of his shift both watching the helm and reading Nigel’s book to try to glean some knowledge into why our seemingly fully-operable engine was overheating. And, he told me he had read that sometimes in heavy conditions, i.e., big seas that pitch and toss the boat, the extra pressure and energy exerted by the prop to churn and propel the boat in those conditions can cause an engine to overheat. Aha! Phillip had potentially found our battery-charge solution. Perhaps we could not put a load on the engine in those conditions, but we might could run her without a load (in neutral) just to put juice in the batteries. This was the theory. Cross your fingers.
Phillip passed the key up to me and we both watched wearily but eagerly as the engine roared to life and begin to increase in temp. 140. 160. Then right up toward 180 where we always like to see Westie’s needle broach this point then do a little light hop back and hold just under 180. Without shifting the transmission into gear and running Westie under no load, it did the trick! Westie was purring and holding temp and our batteries, currently nearing 180 amp hours drawn off, were now getting a lifeline of juice pumping in. Thankfully we also have a high-output alternator on our engine that pumps in about 70-80 amps/hour when the batteries are really low. “Go Westie, go!” I whispered from the helm as he held full on during my shift. So, things were looking up. Lord Nelson was doing a fabulous job, again holding 90% of the time without so much as a squeal or complaint. The sails were in excellent shape, holding flat and firm with the 23 knots of wind on our stern. We were still tossing about in some pretty big seas, but the boat was handling it very well. It seemed like I was going to have, all told, a pretty uneventful shift (considering our prolonged run in those conditions), but just when you start to think that, and you’re on your last 15-minute stint, that’s when it happens.
I was holding the helm, thankfully strapped in and thankfully attentive to our heading and wind direction in case I needed to grab the helm at anytime, when I heard it. This thunderous crush of water over my left shoulder. While visibility that night wasn’t ideal, the cloudy sky had obscured our ability to see the horizon and visually spot waves before they assaulted the boat, there was definitely enough light for me to see this monster. I can’t tell you how big it was. Maybe ten feet, maybe twelve, but she was crumbling and churning toward me, taller than the bimini. I instinctively put my hands on the wheel knowing I would likely soon have to take over when she lifted our stern as if our boat weighed nothing and came crashing in over the stern rail. I was astonished at how much water could come in instantaneously.
I was sitting just like this and where I had once been perched high and dry, now an entire bathtub of water sloshed, well up to my thigh in the cockpit.
I didn’t have time to think about it though. The wave had caused our boat’s stern to kick out severely to starboard as our bow jumped over to port. The boat was turned now almost ninety degrees, with the other 8-footers behind her threatening to hit right at the beam. Lord Nelson threw his hands up and screamed in revolt. I clicked auto off and flung the wheel hard over to starboard watching for probably a good 5-10 seconds while the boat steadily charged her way back on course. I was shocked to see when I finally had the boat back on course and could allot the mere seconds available to take my eyes off the compass to look around the cockpit and the water was still draining. The cockpit was still filled up to my ankle which was propped up on the bench, serving as my brace for the heeling.
At that moment I had to just laugh. What a wonderfully-powerful thing. The Gulf. To be able to completely fill the cockpit anytime she wanted to, but what a wonderfully-capable boat to take it, drain it and keep going. It was just … uncanny. While I can say it was a little frightening, sure, it was, but mostly it was thrilling. And I’m not an extreme sports, risk-my-body-for-fun adrenaline junkie. All evidence to the contrary with the silks and kite-surfing and all, I’m really not. I ski very slowly because I worry about injuring my knees … again. I don’t do silks drops because I fear injury or another wicked skin burn will result. And, while I love to kite-suf, it’s rare I attempt the many and numerous ten-foot launches Phillip will throw down in one session because I’m afraid of busting an ankle on the landing or crashing my kite. I’m never thrilled at the threat of bodily injury or a life-threatening adventure. But this felt nothing like that. We have a very capable boat and crew and while a rush of water in the cockpit isn’t ideal, it didn’t feel threatening in any way. It was just … thrilling.
And Phillip cracked up laughing when I was reliving my whole “cockpit swamper” to him during shift change, trying to convey how much water had actually come into the cockpit, and he assured me his own swamper was “Waaayy bigger” because it had actually tumbled into the cabin below. “Remember?” he said. And I did vaguely recall him clattering around down there trying to sop up water and seal up the cabin while I was in half-zombie mode. “Whatever, my wave was way bigger.” It was kind of fun having a wave contest out there.
But, last fun event of this night shift saga. I know, there’s more? Of course there’s more. The onion theory, remember? We still have one. Wait, no … two more layers to add on before this storm would let us out of its grip. Toward the very end of my shift, after the cockpit swamper and after it appeared Westie had put in enough juice (not under load) to allow us to make it safely to morning on batteries with only about 90 hours now pulled off, I went down below to check our battery status one more time and then headed topside to kill the engine, which I thought would be nice for Phillip to at least have a shift where he didn’t have to listen to Westie’s constant rumble and—on top of everything else we were closely monitoring—also watch the engine temp to make sure it stayed at 180. Ha. Thinking. I should just stop doing it out there. The minute I killed the engine, I heard an awfully-dreadful noise. An intense straining of some sort. It sounded like cables perhaps being pulled against something they shouldn’t be or straining under too much effort? I thought immediately of the steering cables and—for the first time since this troublesome night began—fear pulsed like electricity through my nerves. If the steering cables were about to be sheered through, we really would be in some serious danger out there in 6-8 footers. There would be nothing thrilling about waves that constantly thrashed and swamped us broadside eventually threatening to tip us if we couldn’t steer in them.
I immediately jumped up and begin toppling the contents of the port lazarette out to look at our steering quadrant and the steering cables. As I did, the sound intensified which worried me more. I didn’t want to be right on this one. After a few minutes of content-spillage I was finally able to lean in upside down and get a look at the cables. They appeared fine but the sound was definitely coming from somewhere near the quadrant and definitely sounded steering-related as it seemed to intensify at certain times when Lord Nelson was working hard to get the boat back on course after a monster wave. But the cables on port looked fine.
I spilled the contents of the starboard lazarette. The cockpit was beginning to look like the front yard at Sanford & Sons. I can’t count on two hands all of the stuff we fill in those lockers and it was scattered everywhere—our life raft, dock lines, bungee cords, our bail bucket, our fishing gear, snorkel gear, various hoses for washing the boat and deck, our grill, our wash bucket, a crate of cleaning fluids, you name it. It was all splayed out on the cockpit floor and benches. I crawled over all of it to drop upside down into the starboard lazarette and look at the cables on that side. Thankfully they appeared fully intact, but the sound was even worse on the starboard side. It groaned and shrieked out with each turn of the quadrant one side to the other. I looked at the wheel stoppers, the pulleys for the cables, the saddles clamps that attached the cables to the quadrant, anything I could think of and then I saw it. There on the back of the quadrant, the hind curve of the quadrant was actually touching the fiberglass brace that supports our rudder post. The quadrant was, very vocally, grinding a notch into the fiberglass. I hung there limply for a moment pondering the oddity of it.
That’s the kind of crazy stuff you can’t even dream up that occurs out there.
It was a problem I couldn’t fathom. One we’d never thought would occur for sure. One that just baffled me. While I was a little relieved to know the steering cables weren’t shredding and tearing their way into pieces, the fact that the quadrant was dropping was not very comforting either. What if it continued to drop? What if the pressure became too much and neither Lord Nelson nor the crew could steer. What if the rudder dropped right out. What a crazy stupid thing to happen. ”Holy crap!” I kind of thought I was dreaming.
I popped back up to the helm and took the wheel to see what the pressure felt like. Surprisingly it was almost imperceivable. Almost nothing at all. But you could definitely tell when the quadrant made contact because the squeaking grind would ring out and would hold while you went back and forth on that portion of the quadrant. But, Lord Nelson was still holding just fine so it definitely wasn’t too much pressure for him, which was a good sign. All told we had solved a couple problems and added a few more. It seemed our onion was waxing and waning. One other thing I saw when I was upside down in the starboard lazarette was a hole on the forward side of the fiberglass support for our rudder post. Phillip later told me it is a packing hole. Whatever it was. I saw it leaking. Not terrible, but definitely a little 2-3 driblet gush when the boat took a particularly-hard turn to starboard. At least this provided some answer to our “Why is the bilge pump going off every hour?” quandary and, again, didn’t seem to be life-threatening. Just a little gush every ten-or-so seconds. “C’est la vie, for now,” I told myself as I headed down to wake the Captain. Well … the other Captain (I can now say! : ).
“Phillip, wake up babe, it’s your shift,” I said.
“What? Wait … now? It’s my shift already?” Phillip groaned.
Clearly he was suffering from the same I-just-fell-asleep-10-minutes-ago syndrome I had when he had woke me two hours ago. Ha! Get up babe! It’s your turn.
“Yep, it’s your shift. And the rudder is dropping and the boat is leaking. Have fun!”
Aren’t boats great. We did figure out that quadrant issue. What a freak thing to occur, right? We’ll share the very simple-but-odd solution soon. If any of you know what happened and how to fix it, feel free to leave it in a comment below.
Next up on the blog – BV3: A New Breed of Geckos in the Keys. Stay tuned!
On the first day of packing, my Captain gave to me (must be sung in true partridge manner): “A spare bilge pump for the aft cubb-beeey!” Okay, so the packing took WAY more than twelve days, but we’ll get back to that bilge pump just you wait. ; )
Ahoy HaveWind followers! I’m so excited to start sharing tales from our Bahamas Voyage with you. When Phillip and I make plans and start setting our sights on foreign shores, it always ignites in us a flame of excitement that burns all while we’re doing the 1,243 chores that have to be done to fully prepare the boat, ourselves, our co-workers, family and friends, our budget, and, more importantly, the boat (even more!) for the trip. At first it’s just a flicker, that gets brighter and hotter as we near our departure date, but I can always feel it, roaring like a furnace when we’re finally out there—off on our voyage, underway, and I can take a thousand pictures but it will never do it justice. “It’s all right here,” Phillip and I say, as we tap on our temples. But, for you all, it’s all right here, on the HaveWind blog as I share with you our voyage, our adventures, our worries and concerns and lessons learned as we sail to the Bahamas. First up? Bahamas Voyage One (“BV1”): Packing, planning and weather routing (as this all plays such a huge role in when we leave and how prepared we are when we do) and our first day on passage.
As you know, our planning for this voyage began early this summer when Phillip and I made an extensive list of all the boat chores we needed to accomplish before we would feel our boat was as ready as possible to spend a winter island hopping. Fun recap of our summer chores for you here. Once the chores were done, the next step was packing and provisioning the boat. That means stocking the boat with the necessary supplies, tools, fluids, spares, etc. to efficiently repair, troubleshoot and maintain her both while we were underway if necessary and then more extensively as we stop from port to port. Boat projects never stop. Even when you’re cruising. Or, more accurately put, especially when you’re cruising because if you’re actually using the boat day to day, you’re likely spotting more issues ahead of time and you’re more inclined to jump on repairs, leaks, squeaks, etc. to keep your boat and, more importantly, your cruise going! I’ve put together an extensive list of our boat supplies inventories if you find it helpful here.
While we have certain cubbies we often use for boat fluids (i.e., the propane locker in the cockpit and a locker under the aft berth because they are fully-sealed and will not allow toxic fluids, if spilled, to leak to the bilge), one very big difference we made in our stowage plans this year has already proven super helpful, and I will give the credit to our hearty French Captain from our Atlantic-crossing in 2016: Yannick!
Yeah … that guy. He’s funny. Like a clown. And he likes Joe Pesci.
On Yannick’s 46’ Soubise Freydis, in his “captain’s berth” (the starboard gunnel), he had an entire shelf system as well as a deep compartment under his vberth where Yannick had filled Tupperware after Tupperware bin with every kind of boat supply imaginable: tapes, glues, Loctite, sewing kits, electrical repair kits, heat shrink, odds and end hoses, epoxy kits, varnish and sandpaper kits, etc. I could go on. But, each bin was filled with certain types of materials and labeled accordingly: “Tapes & Adhesives,” “Electrical,” etc. And it turned out to be a super-efficient way to pull the necessary tools and supplies for a particular job. So, upon examining our boat this year to find better ways to stow and stash supplies such as this, Phillip found ourselves eyeing a very convenient locker under our own vberth that I believed could serve a very similar Yannick-inspired purpose. It is this locker here:
It is the access to our macerator thru-hull and our previous owner had built a very sturdy shelf in the locker to stow gallon water jugs on. While we had followed suit for years and stowed water there as well, we found they sloshed around and sometimes punctured and they also took on the slight smell of macerator hose. Not my favorite flavor of water : (. But now we had an entire empty section for what I was now going to call our “Supplies Cubby.” We measured and were able to easily fit four rather large Tupperwares in this section labeled: 1) Tapes & Adhesives, 2) Epoxy, 3) Electrical, and 4) Engine Spares.
This has already proven to be a very accessible, very organized compartment to store the many, many boat supplies we access often while cruising. So, thank you Yannick!
Another revelation while we were packing this year: The locker in our aft berth that is fully-sealed can fit not only the spare two gallons of diesel oil (in addition to the one in our propane locker and in our oil-change kit in the hanging locker), as well as spare transmission fluid, outboard oil and Sea Foam but also (and I kid you not), six additional bags of wine. Six. Wow. That’s what? 24 bottles of wine! Two cases?! I love bagged wine. Have I mentioned that? With the first six stowed, the other six were easy. Ha!
They also fit nicely around the aft locker compartment just forward of that one which houses our starting battery and MPPT controllers for our solar panels. That was a lot of heavy, spillable weight stowed aft and low and, for the most part, in lockers that would contain the spill if any. Although we desperately hoped for no wine spillage on the trip. (Okay, or oil spillage … I guess that stuff’s important too ; ).
One of our goals in packing and provisioning the boat this time was to find new, previously-unused cubbies and compartments of the boat that were being under-utilized. In addition to the new “supplies cubby” under the vberth, we also decided this time to stow as many soft, light goods as we could under the very large compartments under the vberth. Trust me, I can fit completely inside the larger bin. See?
I spent a lot of time personally in these when we were in the shipyard both painting every square inch of the bilge (which I can still report is a clean, sanitary Bilge-Kote grey in virtually every locker I look … sniff … ahhh) and in glassing in the anchor chain locker to run the anchor runoff water rather than anonymously to the bilge to mingle and mask other potential leaks but, rather, to our new sump box.
Any of you who have seen our shipyard videos know what a monster chore the sump box was. Not the most difficult project of the re-fit, mind you, but still a very extensive project to capture and route water from five different sources and channel it to the sump box, then plumb the sump box to pump overboard via the head sink. But, one of the absolute benefits of doing this, particularly with regard to the anchor chain runoff was that funneling the anchor water through a hose to the sump box would make each of the three very large, very useful compartments under the vberth now dry storage areas as opposed to wet. Thank you Sump Box!
For this reason, and to continue our efforts to move weight aft and low on the boat, Phillip and I decided to use the two rather sizeable cubbies under the vberth mattress directly aft of the anchor chain locker for stowing spare halyards and lines, spare sails (our storm sail, namely) and canvas, as well as spare domestic soft goods (e.g., quilts, blankets, long johns and foulies that would be needed for the cold voyage across the Gulf, but not after we reached the Bahamas). Then it’s strictly bikini time, baby! We also fit many additional work sheets and work towels in there, a spare set of sheets for the vberth, as well as two kites, two wetsuits and my aerial silks. I told you it was a big compartment. We decided to use vacuum bags for stowing these items both to shrink them to reduce space and to protect them as well in case there was an unexpected leak in these compartments. I put a post up on Facebook about these bags and most seemed to love them; however, several followers said their seals often failed or they were somehow compromised and they “puffed back up again.” Phillip and I will let you know after the season if we experience this as well. So far, we are super pleased with the ease of use and utility of the vacuum bags.
Other areas we found we were able to use for food and supplies storage were three cubbies under the central floorboard in the saloon.
We also noticed two forward cubbies that we eventually plan to add a few L-brackets and a fiddle of wood (to prevent items in the bin from slipping down into the bilge) which will convert those to storage cubbies as well. All in due time. Phillip also had the very good idea to buy a box of the super industrial strength black contractor dumpster bags and we wrapped many food items with the potential to spill (or explode) in these in hopes of containing spills in case any cans, bottles, bags, etc. became punctured and started to leak. This proved an exceptional idea as we contained several spills we found after crossing the Gulf, one of which was four exploding beer cans in a contractor bag in the port lazarette that contained every drop of that stinky beer. Thank you Hefty Bags!
What’s next? I know, I know. The packing and provisioning can get a little tedious. And, Phillip and I truly did spend the better part of the month before departure double-checking lists of necessary fluids, spares, supplies, food, drinks, etc. to make sure we had in fact packed everything we needed and wanted for the trip and it’s a darn good thing we did because—as it always tends to happen—as you get into the handful of days or weeks before your trip, emergency-type errands come up, or friends and family you haven’t seen in a while confess they simply can’t let you go without a goodbye dinner, or whatever other agenda item you can imagine that will occupy your time crops up and, if you’re not already packed and ready, you can suddenly feel overwhelmed. Phillip and I actually had some very consuming, stressful work things we had to handle in the weeks before we left and had we not spent months preparing for our departure before-hand, I would have pulled a couple clumps of hair out I’m sure. Luckily for Phillip, he has no hair.
The last items on the list were, of course, food, food and more food.
While Phillip and I had created and maintained a very tedious digital inventory of food for our Cuba passage (completely cubby-located and word-searchable), to be honest, we found trying to keep up with this (by pulling out the computer and crossing off every single can, packet or pouch used as it was used) proved far too tedious. We decided this time rather than choose what you would like to eat before-hand, instead we’re going to play the “food lottery.” Now, we simply choose the locker we’re going to eat out of, and it’s like a smattering of random Christmas groceries that you now have to get creative with and make a nice meal out of. It’s really rather fun, and we’ve been excited each time we open a new locker (or look behind a new box or bag) and find something we bought and packed long ago that we’d been excited to eat for months. “Ooh, the laughing cow cheese! Hell yeah!” Annie squealed often. That and Sriracha peas were always a squeal-worthy find in my book. As a hint, however, we have since had another cruising friend tell us they used taped notes in the interior door or lid of each locker with each food item listed and they scratched it off on the pad as they remove an item. I can see this working far better, although some lids are harder to lift and write on than others and some of our compartments would have a list 182 items long.
I’m not kidding.
Speaking of (and last mention of packing, I promise, although it is quite important!) where did 75% of ALL of our non-perishable food items go?? This was a new place for us to discover and utilize and I was shocked (stunned actually) at the sheer quantity of food this one compartment swallowed whole with a mere shrug. Pssshhh … that’s all you got? Where is this magic black hole food cubby on Plaintiff’s Rest? Under our port settee. This is an area we have never used before and we would have never thought to have used it had we not replaced our starboard water tank this past summer.
Having done so and (as many of you know) having spent weeks wrestling, cursing, kicking and squeezing our new water tank back in place next to our diesel tank under the starboard settee, we became very familiar with the space and size of the cubbies located under each of our saloon settees. Once we saw we could fit many long spare hoses and pieces of wood and starboard (“construction materials” we call these) by the starboard water tank, I started to wonder what else we could fit all around the portside water tank. 75% of our food, that’s what. I’m serious. We packed the shit out of this compartment. It’ll be Food Christmas in there till 2019. Now, we did Ziploc EVERYthing.
Even anything already bagged or even double-bagged. We omitted as much cardboard and packaging as we could (keeping the identifying information and cooking instructions) and, by doing this, the compartment under our portside settee now houses the majority of our food stores for the entire winter. We darn sure aren’t going to starve (or want for Spam!) in the Bahamas! We also weren’t going to run out of Irish Spring or Arm & Hammer toothpaste (Annie’s favorite) either. We packed probably four months’ worth of toiletries (including paper towels and toilet paper, mostly in the hanging locker) aboard, as well as a huge bag of travel-size toiletries as goodie giveaways for the locals (in exchange for fresh-caught fish, we were told : ).
Alright, so with the non-perishable packing complete, the last stop was one to the farmer’s market (Bailey’s in Pensacola is phenomenal) for a bunch of the heartiest produce we could find (beets, carrots, cabbage, spaghetti squash, onions, apples, potatoes, etc.) which we wrapped and labeled in brown paper bags and stuffed along the shelves of our aft berth, our produce hammock and the bookshelves in the saloon, being careful to stow onions and bananas far away from the other produce so as not to speed their ripening). We intended to get non-refrigerated eggs, which we like to have aboard (just remember to rotate them upside down once a week), but apparently the chickens we usually get them from didn’t have a productive winter. But c’est la vie. With the non-perishables, the rest of the wine and mixers and the alcohol finally aboard (8 handles of various rums, vodka, gin, and Kahlua, primarily in the port lazarette in a contractor’s Hefty bag), we simply had to cram three weeks’ worth of clothes on the boat and go.
So, once the boat is ready to go, what’s next? Do you just go? Whatever day you want to? Tell all your family and friends and have them all planning to come to the dock for a big send-off? Unfortunately (and I’ll admit Pam Wall was the first to tell us this), this usually never works out well and can often put you in a very tight pinch trying to pick a departure date in advance and stick to it. Pam always advised us not to tell friends and family specifically when you expect to leave or arrive as it will inadvertently create a schedule that will stress everyone if it is not met. Once you’re ready to go, you then have to look for (AND WAIT FOR) the right weather window.
Most cruisers understand this and won’t expect you to state before-hand what date specifically you are planning to leave or when you’re planning to arrive in port. Family, friends and co-workers, however, who worry about you taking to the high seas, often struggle with a flexible plan, but trying to alter your schedule or commit to a window that’s not as favorable to perhaps ease their fears or fulfill promises perhaps in hindsight you feel you shouldn’t have made, may force you to leave on a day that is not the best for your voyage plans. I know I’ve preached this before, but I do so because Phillip and I made this very mistake on our first offshore voyage and it cost us considerably, so it is worth repeating. If you’ve read Salt of a Sailor, you’ll know what I’m talking about: A SCHEDULE IS THE MOST DANGEROUS THING YOU CAN HAVE ON A SAILBOAT. Friends, family and co-workers simply have to learn that departure and arrival dates must remain flexible and weather-dependent. Keep training them, and you’ll have better cruising days ahead, I promise. Never try to sail according to a schedule.
So, Phillip and I had planned (weather permitting!) to leave on Saturday Dec. 9th. It was ironically going to be a very fortuitous date to leave as the big “work thing” I mentioned that we had to take care of took place on Dec. 7th (so getting that behind us was a big “Whew!”) and then our buddy Brandon with www.PerdidoSailor.com was having his big annual Christmas party on Friday, Dec. 8th. Can you say Happy Holiday Sendoff for Plaintiff’s Rest?! Hell yeah! And with a tacky Christmas Sweater Contest and an often rowdy and risqué Dirty Santa exchange to boot? We were stoked. What a way to go! Roll that delightfully-tacky footage!
Seriously, I found a sweater with a unicorn vomiting sprinkles. Can you GET any tackier (or awesome)?? The answer is no.
Good times, right? Our joke that night, when everyone and their dog asked when we were planning to leave, was “As soon as we sober up from this party!” Ha! (You see? Keep it vague. Then there’s no commitments.) Although I will note our buddy Kevin, a fabulous Pensacola broker who helped us find our beloved Niagara, said, in response to that and in all earnest: “Oh, that’ll be Sunday then.” Turns out he was right. But, not because of our hangovers. (Pssshhh … I never get hangovers. What are those?!). It’s because the weather window wasn’t right. But, a word on weather predictions.
They are just that. Predictions. Often close, often off, and just as reliable as you would surmise any “prediction” to be. Now, while they do get more reliable the closer you get to your ETD, they still are not fool-proof and we have often found their predicted strength of the wind is often 5 kts less than it should be in the Gulf and often 20-30 degrees off on the direction. That is almost to a “T” what we experienced this time. So, feel free to weather route along with us. This is the window we were looking at if we left on Saturday Dec. 9th. There was a front that was passing through and we were hoping to catch a nice few days of north wind on the back side to ride across the Gulf.
Looks a little gnarly huh? That’s what we thought. Jumping out in 20-25 knots of “stuff” didn’t sound like the best way to make the passage. But, we did debate leaving Saturday afternoon (from our dock that wouldn’t put us out in the Gulf, actually experiencing offshore conditions for another 6-7 hours), so around 10:00 p.m. The forecast then seemed to show a bit of heavy winds (20-25) decreasing to 18-23 after midnight then to 15-20 over the course of Sunday morning and even lighter Sunday afternoon. That sounded like a pretty good window to ride the last of the front. We were expecting some light winds the first few days and a potential front that would pass over us about mid-way across the Gulf but it looked like 15-20 kt winds, all on the stern with following seas, so that seemed doable. From my experience, at least, if you’re planning to cross the Gulf in one passage, which is a great experience, it’s likely, if you’re going to get any “good wind” at all, you’re probably also going to run into some “stuff” (and by that I mean 15-25 kt winds potentially) either at the beginning, somewhere in the middle, or at the end. Otherwise, you might be looking at three days of glass, which is beautiful, but as sailors, we’re not too keen on three days of motoring. It’s just rare to see five straight days of steady winds, holding speed and direction. While we never intentionally choose to sail in dangerous weather, a predicted 15-25 (which could be less or more) on the stern with following seas is a circumstance we were willing to accept for an expected fun, sporty sail across the Gulf.
With our window chosen, we spent one last lavish evening at the condo with Chef Phillippe whipping us up an exquisite bacon-indulgent cassoulet. YUM.
We then woke bright and early Sunday morning carrying our last packs to the boat. Bahamas-bound Annie was actually excited to be donning her fashionable offshore bib. Who doesn’t love overalls?
One sure-fire sign it was high time to leave Pensacola and sail south? There was ice on the boat. A light frost had fallen on Pensacola that evening and we had to crack everything on the deck apart to get the boat going.
Phillip tossing our last line!
We had kept a heat light on in the engine room to keep Westie warm and he purred right up. Annie de-docked like a champ and soon we were on our way. Our boat fully packed, our lists crossed off and nothing but big blue water ahead. That is one of my favorite feelings. The stress of preparing for the voyage seems to melt off and pull back toward shore, like fingers once gripped, now leaving your shoulders. Ahhh …
And, remember those 18-23 kts of wind, predicted to lay down on Sunday afternoon? Well, it seemed they decided to take a nap early, because by the time we got out in the Gulf—around noon on Sunday—we were motoring along in 6-8 kts of breeze. You see? The weather. Just a prediction. But, it was a nice window of opportunity to throw up one of our favorite sails. Our spinnaker, better known as “Spinny!” This is our first year to fly the spinnaker (I know, bad sailors!) and we have really loved hoisting her up and watching her beautiful, blue, white and red belly billow and fill. She really is a gorgeous sail and it’s a lot of fun to see, and feel, the boat flying under spinnaker alone. Even in two layers of long johns, our foulies and three hats (yes, three!), we were thrilled to be out there on the water, sailing our magnificent little boat. It was a fantastic kickoff for the passage.
As Phillip and I eased into our offshore routine and doled out night shift assignments, we knew the days ahead would include some very tiring moments, likely some equipment failure or other boat issues, for sure, many wet, uncomfortable hours, but they would also include the sound of nothing but water lapping the hull, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets and moments that can never be re-created ashore. And, we can’t wait to share them all with you.
Go offshore with us, followers! As Phillip and I sail our Niagara 35 five days across the Gulf of Mexico in some sporty bluewater conditions. This was one of our more intense offshore runs with 24 hours of 20-25 kts of wind and 6-8 (to sometimes 10) foot seas, but the boat and crew proved more than capable and we had a helluva time laying another 500 nm under our keel on our way to the Bahamas. We can’t wait to share the rest of the voyage with you through blog posts, photos and more fun videos! Hope you enjoy this first offshore leg! Buckle up! It’s one heck of a ride!
The wind chicken did what? Another really fun article here for you guys that was just recently published in SAIL Magazine’s July 2017 issue about our five-day voyage across the Gulf of Mexico this past December to Cuba. As I mentioned … I’m so glad we went when we did. It was a little comical, though, watching us plan for all sorts of calamities out there and then ironic to find the ones we worried about never occurred, but what did happen, we could have never guessed. “If it’s gonna happen … ” right? Full article below. Hope you guys enjoy the salty read! A big thanks to SAIL Magazine editor, Peter Nielsen for commissioning this one from me.
Wind Chicken Gone Wild
“I don’t think the rudder post is supposed to move like that,” I told the Captain.
“It turns with the wheel” he said dismissively. “Starboard to port,” eyes still closed, hands clasped on his chest.
“I didn’t say turn. I said move. Athwartship.” His head snapped up. That did the trick. Severely nautical terms usually did, although they still surprised me when they would occasionally tumble out of my mouth. As if I didn’t know the person who was talking. It wasn’t long ago I thought sailing was only for people who wore blue embossed blazers and said things like “halyard, forestay and yaaarrr.” Barely three years a sailor now and I still feel very new to it because new things seem to happen every time we go out.
Five days. Four filthy long johns. Three rudder nuts. Two sailors and one wayward wind chicken and we finally made it to Cuba. This was our longest offshore voyage, 500 nautical miles across the Gulf of Mexico, just the three of us—Phillip, myself and our champion, a 1985 Niagara 35—and while we had many expectations and preparations in place for what might go wrong, the things that actually did go wrong on that passage could have never been predicted. If this voyage taught me anything, it’s that sitting around trying to dream up predicaments that might occur out there is a foolish man’s game because it’s the things you cannot predict that will teach you the most.
“Athwartship,” Phillip repeated involuntarily as he leaned over and watched what I had been watching on the cockpit floor. The rudder post cap was moving athwartship about a half inch to port, another to starboard with each pitch of the boat. If you thought your eyes were playing tricks on you, the grey scrape of butyl it left behind each time confirmed they were not. While offshore voyaging undeniably increases your tolerance for wear and tear on your boat, a wobbly rudder post in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico is not something I think I will ever develop a stomach for. The rudder freaks me out. It’s the only thing that steers the boat and if it falls out, it leaves behind a gaping hole that sinks the boat. I hate the rudder. At least I hate when it’s moving. Athwartship.
After some investigation, we found the nuts on the three bolts that hold the rudder post cap to the cockpit floor had somehow wiggled loose. Why call them lock washers if they don’t? Our first attempt at fixing this problem was a sweaty upside-down hour, hanging head-first into the port and starboard lazarettes slipping in the only thing that would fit between the cockpit floor and the quadrant—a flat wrench in a flat hand—and tightening each nut one millimeter of a turn at a time. This held for about eighteen hours then the dreaded rudder post movement returned. Now it was time to get serious. Or crazy. Where once barely a hand and flat wrench fit, we now wanted to get a nut in there too. And some Loctite.
“Get me the doo-dads box,” Phillip said. Believe it or not, that is its official title. It’s an old fishing tackle box full of odds and ends. The land of misfit nuts.
Finding nuts, however, to double up on the bolts was a far easier task than actually threading them on, hanging upside down again, single-handed, this time with slippery Loctite fingers. It was like adding tricks to a circus performance. Now walk the tightrope while juggling knives and balancing a sword on your chin. We can totally do this! You see? Crazy. You have to be. Just a little.
“Maybe we can steer it down.” It’s hard to believe even looking back on it that the “it” I was referring to was our Windex, better known on our boat as the “wind chicken.” This was another wild card the Gulf dished out for us on our way to Cuba and definitely falls in the “I can’t make this stuff up” category. Our second night on passage was a tense one, battling steady 19+ headwinds with heavy heeling and bashing into four-foot seas. With the rails buried on starboard and waves cresting up and soaking the genny, we were heeled so far over the wind actually climbed the mast and lifted our windex arrow up to the top of the VHF antennae and began whipping it around like the bobble end of a kid’s bumblebee headband. This is the exact type of outlandish situation you can never dream up ashore.
Phillip and I … begging with the wind chicken to come down.
One stupid piece of plastic—probably made in China and probably worth about ninety-eight cents—was now thrashing around violently port to starboard, up, down, around in circles, threatening to snap off our primary portal for communication, our eyes and ears on the horizon and our solitary method for finding, tracking and contacting other vessels in the blue abyss. If the arrow snapped the antennae off, our VHF and AIS would shut down like a light switch. All because of a ridiculous piece of plastic. You see? So crazy you can’t make it up.
Phillip and I weren’t sure if there was supposed to be some little stopper ball that was intended to prevent wind chickens gone wild and perhaps we had missed it in the package or failed to install it correctly when we stepped the mast after rebuilding our rotten stringers earlier that year. Or perhaps the thought that the arrow could be lifted up and turned into a bull whip on the end of the VHF antennae is so far-fetched no wind chicken manufacturer has ever thought to design around it. It was such a wild, crazy, stupid thing to be happening—threatening to disengage some of our most important systems—yet there was nothing we could do but sit, watch and curse it. Until we had the idea to “steer it down.”
Phillip kind of shrugged his shoulders, shook his head but took to the wheel anyway seeing no better option. And, thankfully with some creative sail trim and steering we were able to reduce the heeling of the boat enough to change the angle of the wind on the mast. When the severity of the whipping lessened, the wind chicken finally started to shimmy its way down, like a grass skirt on a hula girl, to its resting place at the base of the antennae. Whew. Down. What now?
That was actually a common sentiment out there. With the boat moving twenty-four hours a day, using many systems and running them very hard every hour of every day, the likelihood that something might break, start to wiggle, or even whip around like a disoriented bat was actually pretty high. One of the best things about voyaging with a partner is the sense of accomplishment you feel after you’ve tightened the rudder post or fixed the bilge pump or rigged up a new halyard or whatever other thousand things you can tackle together out there. Because that’s exactly where you will tackle them, is out there. It takes a little crazy to get you to go and, after that, just more and more wind chickens gone wild until nothing completely freaks you out anymore. When you feel an odd thump, smell a strange burning scent or hear an alarm go off, often your first thought is: What now? But your next is usually: I can do this. Upside down. In the lazarette. With Loctite. Totally! “Get me the doo-dads box.”
The current of the Gulf Stream is no joke, particularly when it is pushing you into head winds. Watch as we reef up and cross a pretty kicked up sea state across the Gulf Stream, sing to our first Cuban sunrise, deal with an issue with the furling gear on our headsail, navigate the entry to Marina Hemingway and make landfall in Cuba. HaveWindWillTravel is traveling this year! There’s a great Patreon update for you as well in here as we will soon be getting a video update from each of our previous Gift of Cruising winners and get ready to give our 4th gift away — a 100% free offshore voyage on SailLibra at the $500 reward level. WHOA. Become a Patron to be eligible to win and help us create cruisers out of each and every one of you! Hope you all are enjoying the journey to Cuba. We can’t wait to share that beautiful, culture-rich country with you.
Last time we documented power management underway, now we’re dealing with a rudder post that won’t stay … put anyway. Follow along as we fix our boat in exotic places (i.e., on the way to Cuba). You’ll also hear extensively from Phillip in this episode about preparing for a lightning storm, navigating ships at night and getting accustomed to our new electronics. We also hope we will be able to meet some of you during our travels in Florida this February. Thanks as always for your support and following along.