April 4, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 2 – Into the Black Abyss

It laid limp and lifeless, strewn across the deck in a sad display of failure.


Our busted lazy jack.  After inspection, we found the eyelet on the starboard spreader that the lazy jack was shackled to had detached entirely.  Never to be seen


Humph!  Well, it’s just a lazy jack.  People have been raising and lowering their mains the UN-lazy way for thousands of years, so we figured we would just wing it.  As long as we could secure the fallen line and get our sail up and back in the stack pack manually and zip her open and closed for UV protection, we were fine.  But, it was little bit of a morale blow.  It’s like you know things on the boat are going to break when you undertake a passage like this, but you hate to see it actually happen.  For me, the boat tends to become an extension of me.  It pains me to hear her groan and flex under strain, and seeing things on her rip, shear and break gives me a bit of a sinking, sickening feeling.  I couldn’t resist the urge to lovingly pat the dodger and say “Sorry girl.”  It wouldn’t be the first time I would do that, and certainly not the last, on this trip.  A hard passage sometimes just can’t be avoided – that’s kind of the whole point of going offshore, but, damage to the boat is never easy to swallow – particularly on Day One of the trip.

But, we chalked it up.  It’s just part of it.  We were still on passage and needed to focus on the course, the weather and the hourly log entries.  We secured the lazy jack lines and hunkered back in the cockpit, thankful for sunlight and visibility.


Yes, more sailing selfies!  Phillip’s not much of a photographer and I’m a bit of a fanatic, anal retentive blog-documenter, HENCE – the perfect solution – selfies!  Thank you “flip-around-option” on the iPhone.  And, to quote my fellow cruising buddy Dani – “Without my quality selfies – it would be Phillip and Plaintiff’s Rest, followed solely by the paparazzi.”  

After checking the chart and the weather and making some calculations, we decided at the rate we were going with the southeast wind dead on us, we weren’t going to make it to Clearwater, even on a straight haul, for another two and a half days.  And, we were both a little tired from the rough night already.  Plus, we were expecting a storm to come into Clearwater on Monday or Tuesday and we certainly didn’t want to be crossing the Gulf in that, or sitting in Clearwater waiting it out.  We had always wanted to check out Port St. Joe (we’d heard great things!), so we made an executive decision to pull out of the Gulf and take refuge in Port St. Joe to wait out the weather.  We set our course and noted the 53 nautical miles to go.

We had a great sail on Friday.  It was nice wind and weather most of the day and Otto was doing all the work.  Phillip and I took turns taking naps, reading, writing (the blog AND the log) and munching on turkey and manchego sandwiches.


Late that afternoon, Phillip and I were both stretched out in the cockpit, deep in our own literary worlds, when we were startled by a jolting, nearby “Pffft!”  Phillip and I eyed each other quickly and leaned up.  “Dolphins,” Phillip said.  I figured as much but couldn’t get my brain to process fast enough to get the word out.  Dolphins! was right.  Not a second later, we heard another “Pfft!” right by the stern.  I looked over and saw three dolphins popping their fins out of the water in unison.  “Three!” I squealed, finding myself capable of only mono-syllable words and giddy girl noises.  I scrambled for my phone to snap some shots.

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Having missed the chance to document the last few dolphin sightings for a phone tragically left down below, I wasn’t going to miss this chance.  I started making my way to the foredeck snapping a few shots along the way of what now appeared to be an eight-to-ten member dolphin squad.  I got some great footage: Video HERE.

After a few minutes, eighteen pictures, approximately six squeals, and two videos later, the dolphins finally swam away — headed off to, I hope, intoxicate some other sailing vessel with their slick, sultry dance.  Phillip and I plopped down in the cockpit breathing big sighs of contentment from their visit and let our thoughts lingered toward dinner.  Ahhh … our freezer food.

Before we left Pensacola, we had made two hearty meals that we had frozen in gallon ziploc freezer bags for the passage, beef and pork bolognese and chicken and sausage gumbo.  We had both decided the night before that the sea state was too rough to try to heat up anything down below.  With five-foot waves, any movement down below is timed and orchestrated with the severe rocking of the boat.  After you’ve been on the boat long enough, you can sense a heavy heeling coming and when it occurs, you know you have a one-to-two second window of opportunity to hop up fast and make the quick three steps to the next handhold and then wait again for the next break in motion.  You just get used to it.  Needless to say, the thought of doing anything down below, least of all boiling a big pot of water to heat up dinner, was easily nixed.  Nope.  It was turkey sandwiches, Cheez-its, grapes, chips and Pretzel Crisps the first night.  Anything that could be easily grabbed and eaten by hand.  Toddler food, pretty much.  But, the sea had calmed down to about two-to-three foot waves  by Friday afternoon and we decided it would be best to go ahead and eat our heartiest meal early in the afternoon in case the expected urge for a post-dinner nap struck us we could go ahead and get it out of the way before nightfall.  So, around 2:00 p.m., we set to heating up the first of our frozen bagged meals – the beef and pork bolognese – which was a little bit of an adventure.  I started a pot of boiling water and fumbled around with our pot clamps a bit, trying to get them to hold the boiling pot in place, but our fancy schmancy All-Clad pot was too big to allow the clamps to get a good foot-hold on it, which meant gimbling the stove (allowing it to tip freely with the boat), was not going to be an option.  So, I decided to stand by and keep an eye on it and hold the bags up by hand.

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Not too much work.  Especially considering the reward.  Once the bolognese was sufficently heated, we dumped it into cereal bowls and set to it.

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A nice hearty meal under our belts and exactly what we thought would happen, happened, we took turns taking nice leisurely naps in the sun.  Knowing we had a full night of two-hours shifts ahead, there was no need for apology or explanation.  When one of us got sleepy, we told the other “I’m going to shut my eyes for a bit” and that was that.  “Sleep while you can” was the rule.  If you felt it coming on and the conditions were calm, sleep was the best thing you could do for yourself.  So, shut your eyes and get some!

And, it was a good thing we did, because the second night was even more exhausting as the first.  Heavy – and I mean HEAVY – fog set in.  Visibility was approximately 30 feet around the boat, at best.  It was like driving your most prized possession through the pitched-black knowing full-well it may crash any second into something completely devastating.

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We couldn’t see ANYthing.  It was onward and forward into the black abyss with 25 feet, at least, of the most precious fiberglass, wood and steel charging in front of you.  It was actually a good thing we were offshore because we knew we were nowhere near land and that ship traffic was unlikely, but you still have a fear that something’s going to come barreling through the mist and appear right in front of you at any minute.  As a direct result of All is Lost, I now have a completely irrational fear of spontaneous hull breach by random bobbing shipping container.  Thank you Robert Redford!  I felt like I was easing my way into a busy intersection blindfolded, just waiting to hear the screech and crunch of the crash.  The fog was absolutely horrid!

April 3, 2014 – Keys Log Day 1: Lazy Jack Snap!

Clearwater by Sunday morning was going to be a two-day, three-night haul.  The longest Phillip and I had ever undertaken together, but we were excited about it.  Invigorated by the challenge and adventure of it.  But, it was early in the trip – we were still feeding happily on excitement, adrenaline and the thrill of taking sailing selfies!


Look at me!  I’m headed out to SEA!

We had a great sail out into the Gulf.  The tide was coming out at the Pass and, even with a strong southeast wind pushing against us, it pretty much gushed us out of the pinchpoint at 4 knots.  We motored through to be sure to stay in the channel, but once we were safely out, we cut the engine and clocked over southeast.


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It was around dusk at that time, and I learned another of many important lessons in sailing.  Don’t try to eat light when you’re sailing.  “Oh, I’ll have the salad greens with the low-fat dressing, please.”  No.  That’s not going to cut it darlin’.  We had been working on the boat all morning, packing up the last of the provisions, re-tying the Jerry cans and the anchor, running the solar lights, packing more provisions, filling the water tanks, etc.  A lot of up and down the companionway stairs, hauling heavy items here and there, in general, some hard work.  And, allst I had was a bowl of cereal and a little salad under my belt.  Probably around 600 calories … total, and I’d probably burned about 2,469.82 calories, approximately, by that time.  I was starting to feel a little pekish and convincing myself it was not seasickness.  I’ve crossed the Gulf before, in 4 to 6 foot seas.  I don’t GET seasick.  But, I just felt weak, a little queasy, a little weird.  Then Phillip mentioned the idea of dinner and it sounded like some grand revelation.  Food??  Why yes, yes I would like dinner!  And, let me tell you, I ate my friends.  I started inhaling and choking down my fair share and thensome of the tuna salad we had brought for dinner while Phillip eyed me suspiciously as I shoved heaping forkful after heaping forkful clumsily into my mouth.  And, he told me I needed to eat more.  “You need to eat before you’re hungry,” he said.  And, he was right.  I should have stock-piled some energy hours ago.  But, I wasn’t going to let this happen again.  I started eating!  A handful of almonds, three handfuls of pretzel crisps, followed by chocolate-covered pretzels, peanut butter Chex, trail mix, some snap pea crisps, some more almonds, before I finally just gave it up and inhaled a calorie-dense protein bar – much like the kind boxers scarf when they’re trying to get to the next weight class.  I was ravenous, carnivorous, OM-nivorous.  Eating anything in sight with unabashed abandon.


But, within minutes, I felt better. Much better.  Food.  Who knew?  Ladies – it doesn’t matter if you’ll be slipping into a bikini later, if you’re sailing, you’re burning it off.  Eat early and eat often.

Unfortunately, the wind was right on our nose all evening and into the night.  We were taking long tacks back and forth, trying to make our way upwind but not making much ground.  While underway, we entered our coordinates, as well as our heading, speed, the sea state, weather and other note-worthy items, in the log book.

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The afternoon sail was nice, albeit not very productive, i.e. we didn’t make much ground toward Clearwater, but it was a comfortable sail.  After the sun dropped down, we donned our safety gear and settled in for the evening.

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Later in the evening, the wind picked up to 15 knots, and we put the first reef in the main, followed by the second, followed by a reef in the Jenny.  The sea state was probably 4 to 5 foot waves, thoughout the night, which made for some rough wave jumps and crashes on the boat, all of which sound entirely manageable in the cockpit but horrific down below.  When we started taking our two-hour shifts, it was hard to close your eyes and try to get some sleep when each wave sounds like the hull is cracking in half.  It’s not, and some part of you deep down knows that, but another small part also asks “Are you sure?  Was that a crack?  Maybe I should get up and check … ”   

That first night was pretty rough.  We rode waves up and down, crashing water over the bow, and occasionally spraying us in the cockpit, and took turns getting fitful, disjointed pockets of sleep.  But, the true champion that night was Otto — our auto pilot.  That guy.  I mean.  Damn!  He held through howling 15 knot winds and rolling 5 foot seas.  He held much more than I ever thought he was capable of.  He would, of course, on occasion, lose his ability to grip the wheel.  It would spin freely under his belt, his motor screeching out trying to stop it, and then he would follow up with a cackling cascade of beeps to let you know he was losing it.  As much as you wanted to curse him.  (Okay, I did often – “Damn you Otto!”), you really couldn’t.  He held the wheel probably 80% of the night.  I mean, a little slippage was allowed.  But, the problem was, if you weren’t at the wheel the moment he slipped, by the time you jumped back there, clipped in, got your bearings and turned Otto off it was sometimes too late.  He’d fallen too far off course and you were in a jam, having to turn the boat around in a large circle and catch the wind with a forceful pop around the backside.  Needless to say, it was a long night, and was certainly hard on the boat.

We woke the next morning to find out just how much.  Phillip was holding the sunrise shift and when I started to blink to, thankful to see light pouring in through the windows, Phillip heard me stir, and shouted down to me, “I’ve got bad news.”  Oh-no, I thought.  That’s just what we need.  I scrambled up the companionway to see what he was referring to.  And, there it was, the remains of our lazy jack lines (on our new stack pack) strewn haplessly across the deck.  The eyelet on the spreader that held them up had snapped clean off.

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Well, they must be called lazy jacks for a reason.  Perhaps we could handle the not-so-lazy route for the rest of the trip.  In all, considering the night we had, it seemed a minor loss, really.  One day down and only one piece of (lazy-slash-luxury) equipment down.  We shrugged our shoulders and continued south.  What do you have in store for us Day Two?

February 24, 2014 – That Girl is Stacked!

She certainly is …   Stack-packed to be exact!


We finally got the stack pack installed for the new main sail.  As with everything on the boat, the decision of whether to ditch the old, removable sail cover and go with a stack pack was a tough one.  Finding the right equipment for the boat is somewhat like finding the right woman.  There’s always going to be a compromise.  Some are flashy and beautiful – sure – but they’re also high maintenance (teak decks, for example).  Some are smart, but they “talk” too much (instruments that beep, buzz — or worse — are overly-sensitive: press one too many buttons, and she just shuts down).  There will always be pros and cons.  Take the old sail cover.  I like to akin her to … an old 1950’s housewife.


I mean, you sit her down and she’s got good coverage,

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but it takes some work to get her up and out of the house.  Also, when we used to drop the sail, we had to tie three tie-downs on her after flaking before putting the cover on.


We did, however, only have two lazy jack points that the battens in the old sail would occasionally catch on when raising.  We always had to have one deck-hand at the boom when raising to wrestle and shake the battens loose in order to get the sail up.  The stack pack, on the other hand, has six.

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And, a much narrower ‘shoot’ for the sail to raise through.  I was worried, at first, that this would cause real issues when raising the sail.  But I will say, the battens in the new main sail are far less obtrusive than the old and we’ve raised her now several times in and out of the stack pack with even less issue than before.

Unfortunately, though, the new stack pack is a little skimpier than the old sail cover.  More Sarah Jessica Parker than prude housewife.


Her ‘dress’ doesn’t come around the mast like the old sail cover used to, so she doesn’t cover the spinnaker halyard, the inner forestay and other lines we keep tied on the mast like the old cover did for UV protection.

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The stack pack also stays on the boom at all times so we cannot see the foot of the sail when sailing.

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So far, however, we have enjoyed the ease of dropping the sail into the stack pack (although we still try to flake it down into the pack) and zipping her up and calling it a day.  Much less work than dragging the sail cover up from the galley and fastening her in place.  And, I mean – c’mon … it’s SJP.  Who did you think we were going to choose?

So – new stack pack.  Installed and operating.  Done and done.  On to the next!