“Bouncing cement really captures it.” I love that line. Because it does. It just does. “Each time water trapped between the two hulls rumbled, thundered and finally bashed its way out, I had to convince myself that we had not just hit a whale.” So true. And, yes, yes, I know that is just the offshore-on-a-catamaran experience which Phillip and I became very familiar with during our Atlantic crossing last year on Yannick’s prized 46’ Soubise Freydis, Andanza. Island hopping and on the hook, multihulls are a total floating condo, spacious and stable. But, with boats, there are always trade-offs. When Phillip and I announced last year that we would be crossing an ocean on a catamaran, many followers told us that we would “be converted.” I can assure you we were not. There’s just something about monohulls and the way they feel (and heel) under sail that we have fallen in love with. Like the fiesty little French gal we met in the Azores put it: “They dance with the ocean.” Real treat for you here followers! Many of you have often asked me and Phillip our opinion on monohulls versus multihulls. Now you can read our thoughts on the matter in my latest article in SAIL Magazine. Many thanks to Peter Nielsen and the hardworking crew at SAIL for publishing another article of mine. It means a great deal! Go grab a copy and let us know your own thoughts on mono versus multi in a comment below. Enjoy!
Man … I look a little TOO excited! But, it is exciting! Another article penned by Yours Truly, Author Annie, in SAIL Magazine, this time their Multihull Sailor edition, covering our Atlantic-crossing in 2016 on the esteemed Captain Yannick’s 46′ Freydis. I had a lot of fun with this one from start (catchy title, no? ; ) to finish, tying together a memorable moment from each of our thirty days at sea across the Atlantic Ocean. I have included the complete text from the article below so you can read at your leisure, but definitely pick up a copy when you get a chance and see what a great job the folks at SAIL Magazine did with the photos and eight-page layout.
Phillip and I also had a great time making and sending Captain Yannick a fun video letting him know about the article (it was a total surprise) and how it appears he’s right up there with the Vagabonds now. Mr. Big Time!
There she goes, crossing the Atlantic Ocean herself, off to Nice, France to find her way into Yannick’s hands. Go, little magazine. Go! Let us know when she arrives Yannick!
Without further adieu … I give you:
FIRST TIME WITH A FRENCHMAN:
A Virgin Crew Sails a Catamaran from Florida to France
Dolphins and diesel fumes. A blood orange moon rising on starboard as the muffler melts on port. A taut, glowing veil before a sun that will shine down later on its wet, shredded remains. We were thirty days at sea. A virgin ocean-crossing crew aboard a French-built multi-hulled rocket, bashing our way non-stop from Florida to France. That was the plan anyway, before the tide came in. The actual unscripted voyage, however, with all of its detours and unexpected deviations, proved infinitely more memorable than our foolish man-made scheme as daily it was feats and failures and one of the most exciting, exasperating experiences of our lives.
In the Days Before One: Fate has twisted plans for our French Captain. With both retirement as a fighter pilot in the French Navy and his family’s next chapter as live-aboard cruisers on the horizon, Yannick has one solitary goal in mind: sail his 2005 46’ Soubise Freydis single-handed, non-stop from Pensacola, Florida home to Roscoff, France. Fate, laughing, devastates his boat with a lightning strike that suffers Yannick six costly months at the yard but also an impressive re-fit and a loyal, motley bunch to serve as his Atlantic-crossing crew.
Crew emerges first in the form of Johnny, a weathered sailor and diesel engine mechanic who helps Yannick repair his engines and who—at 71, still surprisingly healthy and with bucket in hand—seeks to scratch “cross the ocean” off his list. My boyfriend, Phillip, and I—slugging away on a devastating re-fit of our own Niagara 35 at the yard—catch wind the Frenchman on the freaky-looking cat is taking on crew and shamelessly ask for passage. Having crossed only in cavernous carrier ships to remote, scorned places in his youth as a U.S. Marine, Phillip is chasing his lifelong dream to cross the pond in a small boat. A tomboy turned lawyer turned “this sucks, I quit” vagabond so I can seize the very type of opportunity a trans-at affords, I sign on for fist-clenching adventure and blue water experience. Two weeks from cast-off, the newly-formed crew scrambles to replace blown windows, step the mast, test new sails and pack the cat with thirty days’ worth of food, safety gear and supplies in the sweltering Florida May heat.
Day One: Heat pours out of the starboard engine locker as Yannick lifts the lid two hours out of the Pensacola Pass, with the high temp alarm still ringing in the crew’s ears. Boiling the extracted thermostat reveals impaired coolant flow and installation of a new one affords us a slightly high, but steady temp on the Lombardini albeit with a “lot of piss,” I note. The Captain finds it comforting enough to keep motoring across the glassy Gulf and amusing that the first language I start to pick up on is Diesel, not French.
Day Two: “It’s French for ‘Cheers,’” Yannick tells us as the crew “Santés” over an immaculate steak dinner in the cockpit. The motoring, while monotonous, affords us beautiful satin sunsets in the cockpit and leisurely time for quid pro quo French-English lessons. “Well how should I say it?” Yannick asks when I snort at his post-dinner inquiry of “How are you going to clean your dirty body?” Chuckling, I reply, “Would you like to take a shower?”
Day Three: Showers of glitter trail behind them as they zip and glide through the dark waters below the bow. Yannick and I forge a lifelong memory during a midnight shift change when we are mesmerized by a pod of dolphins slicing through phosphorescence. Forty-six feet away from the chugging engine on starboard, their breathy puffs and water lapping on the hull are the only things we can hear.
Day Four: “Did you hear an oil alarm?” Johnny asks, raising his head and greasy hands out of the starboard engine locker, a silk sheet of saltwater behind him, trying to figure out why, at 5:06 a.m., the starboard engine shut down on its own. Replacing a clogged fuel filter proves an easy engine fix. Making drinkable water with a faulty water-maker proves not and starts the slow parade of minor equipment failures and boiling of the Captain’s blood.
Day Five: Blood rains down from the fighting tuna on his hook as Phillip thunders “Fish on!” to the crew. Soon, boat sushi is bouncing in our bellies during a swift, sweaty two-hour stop in Key West for fuel, ice, water, “And a not so crappy can opener!” Yannick shouts, orchestrating our pillage from the boat as the crew shoots into the town like darts.
Day Six: Rain darts into Yannick’s eyes at the mast while he directs the crew’s first attempt reefing as a squall off the tip of Florida brings winds over thirty on the port beam. A merely intense but brief storm proves fortuitous as the crew learns their many mere discussions about safe practices did not serve them near as well as drills would have. The afternoon is spent doing reefing drills where the Captain has made separate reefing instructions for each crew member and taped them up at his/her designated post.
Day Seven: “Post A connects to Post B,” Yannick reads from yet another manual. I watch in half-admiration, half-exhaustion as the Captain flutters from one boat project to the next, cleaning out the elbow of the starboard engine exhaust, tapping new holes in the water pump, even sawing a chunk out of our only cutting board to make a mount for the windex that allows it to account for the fancy rotating mast on the Freydis. “That’s fine,” our head chef, Phillip, grunts from the galley. “If you use it all, I’ll just cut on the counters.”
Day Eight: Cans jump on the counters. Teeth jar in mouths. The bashing of the water on the hulls of the catamaran is like a nervous system message so strong it bypasses your brain. Muscles flinch without instruction. The crew grows accustomed but never comfortable with it. When two hundred nautical miles are slaughtered in a day, we know: with the bashing comes bumpy but beneficial speed.
Day Nine: “It is used, primarily, for speed,” Yannick says, trying simultaneously to learn and teach the crew the purpose of his rotating mast, one with so much windage it can be trimmed like a sail. Strictly monohull sailors, the crew stares at him dumbly, not nearly as intrigued by the ability to use the mast as a fourth reef as the initial inquiry that started this free physics lesson: With a rotating mast, what happens if you overtighten the shrouds?
Day Ten: The shrouds continue their murderous shudder with each crash of the boat. As non-catamaran sailors, the crew knows not how tight the shrouds on a Freydis should be but, as mere sailors, they know they should not be so loose as to vibrate and clang to their death with each romp of the boat through the Atlantic. The Captain sends satellite messages to professionals, checks hourly the chain plate on the port side and tears through texts on rig tuning.
Day Eleven: “Tuning must be done very slowly,” Johnny and I chuckle to ourselves, cotter pins in our teeth, wrenches in trembling hands, as we tighten the shuddering shrouds on each side the following morning and wonder how anyone could possibly do this quickly. Coupling this “slowly” advice from a rigger back home with a turnbuckle thread measurement from the previous owner, Yannick supervises the rig tuning and we slowly ease the shuddering of the rig underway.
Day Twelve: While underway on a cat, it is a myth you do not have to stow anything. Bowls slosh off counters. Wine glasses topple (but are quickly refilled) as the crew members “Cheers!” a record 243 nautical-mile day and peak boat speed of 19.5 knots. Steady winds of twenty-three and eight to ten-foot rolling seas entrance as the catamaran climbs and skids down each magnificent wave.
Day Thirteen: “Magnificent,” Yannick sneers as he eyes the melted end of the muffler Johnny has extracted off the port engine at dawn. Phillip and I now know we were wrong in thinking the eased winds and smooth motoring the night before had been a gift as we now cough up plastic melted fumes while clambering out from our port berth. Undeterred, Yannick earns his “MacGyver certificate” for the trip by reassembling the melted exit point of the muffler with the PVC tiller extender arm for his outboard, a blow torch and some hose clamps.
Day Fourteen: Hands clamp and tug the head of the spinnaker as she billows ethereal and enormous in the water behind the starboard transom. Her halyard cinched only in the winch but not clutched at the mast allows the sinister waters of the Atlantic to suck her down between the hulls and drag her all the way back to the stern. Yannick, in a sacrificial attempt to salvage both the sail and the rudder on starboard, emerges blood-spackled, dripping on its remains splayed out on the trampoline, wet, twinkling and tattered.
Day Fifteen: “Tattered glittery skirts,” I hear Yannick telling Phillip as he hunts for a hard drive. Mourning the loss of our spinnaker, Yannick claims, will be eased by a video he and the other wearisome pilots used to watch during long hours on the carrier ship. It is a four-hour rendering of the glittered, scantily-clad, cosmetically-enhanced women who populate the neon-lit night clubs of Ibiza, and he is right. We find ourselves immensely comforted by thumping pink panties.
Day Sixteen: “They’re my Paris panties,” I explain as Yannick eyes a pair of rather fifth-grade looking underwear with little Eiffel Towers and “Bonjour’s” on the lifelines. “I bought them special for the trip,” I say with a smile as Laundry Day proves special bonding time for the crew and reminds us all how truly few blue-water days we have left.
Day Seventeen: Left, only left. It freezes the wheel only when Yannick turns left. The ten-year old electronic auto-pilot on the cat starts to show its first signs of wear when it refuses to disengage when de-powered and allows steering only to the right in what the Captain dubs “ratchet-fashion.”
Day Eighteen: “Hand me a ratchet.” Yannick’s requests come muffled from the starboard engine locker as the auto-pilot’s housing refuses him any attempt for disassembly or repair underway. Auto-Turn-Notto will die. Soon. All we can do is watch and listen as each mechanical movement of the wheel is followed by a grind and squeal.
Day Nineteen: “Whee!” I can’t help it. Gleeful squeals leak out of me at the top of each wave. The boat moves underneath me like a stallion galloping at speeds equal to the 22-knot winds that hold during my entire night shift. But when a wave kicks the the stern out and shoves us almost ninety degrees off our heading, the thought that it might soon fall on me to right us, I stop squealing and decide to get my bearings.
Day Twenty: Bearings and bolt threads that were once intact and operating in the cavity of the auto-pilot now pour out into a pile of metal dust on the salon table. “R.I.P. Auto” reads the log book as I head up to hold my first night shift hand-steering. “Dress warm. Wear gloves,” Phillip warns.
Day Twenty-One: Warning him we “should not do it” would have been better, but the crew knee-jerks initially and simply tells the Captain we “can do it” as he struggles to decide whether to hand-steer the remaining eight or nine days to France versus stopping in two days when we reach the Azores to repair the auto-pilot. A stern discussion between the fighter pilot and the Marine results in a wise decision to stop our non-stop voyage mid-Atlantic.
Day Twenty-Two: “Mid-Atlantic Yacht Services,” she answers over the sat phone as the crew books a slip at Horta Marina and schedules auto-pilot repairs with MAYS fifteen hours out from the Azores. Morale soars as we see whales and our first sighting of land in sixteen days and immediately tanks when bad injectors on the starboard engine cause it to shut down an hour out from port.
Day Twenty-Three: I’m on port with the big “boat-saver” fender as we shove off from the hundreds of colorful, weathered boat insignia on the Horta dock. After nine incredible days downing beers at Peter Café Sport, exploring volcanos, and indulging on impossibly fresh cheese and beef from the very cows chewing cud and watching you eat from the hillside, we leave the Azores under port engine alone but steer our catamaran north to France by daintily clicking buttons on a screen.
Day Twenty-Four: The screen lights our faces as the crew indulges in book after book, movie after movie, matinees, even double features in beautiful fifteen knot winds on the stern. Crossing an ocean with a functioning auto-pilot makes even devil’s work too much for our idle hands.
Day Twenty-Five: My hands are tied. Yannick has outright busted me. “Oh, it’s a time change day,” he says in a mocking high-pitched voice. “Oh, we need to conveniently jump forward an hour again during Annie’s shift again,” as he squints his evil French eyes at me. Putain! Time change occurs during Phillip’s shift that day and I take revenge by choosing My Cousin Vinny as the movie that night as it seemed, among our rather impressive 500GB hard-drive of movies, the most … American.
Day Twenty-Six: “Try not to act so American.” Yannick advises us as we approach Roscoff. “No selfies, eat slow, wait for the check, and don’t revert to Spanish when you can’t recall your French” he looks at me. “We know the difference.” Fun, lighthearted discussions about our expected arrival in two days seem to jinx us as the day ends with a rather harrowing hoist of the Captain up his seventy-two foot mast after the main sail came flying down on its own inexplicably around dusk. We suspect the topping lift, inadvertently left taut, may have chafed through the main halyard. This mystery, however, is instantly tabled when the Captain’s descent brings worse news: the rig is compromised. The troubling shuddering of the shrouds earlier in the trip has caused five of the sixteen wires on the starboard shroud to snap just below the swage at the mast. Worried a wind-filled main or worse, change to a starboard tack, could dismast us, the crew decides to remain on a port tack, flying only the genny for the remainder of the now four- to five-day trip. Yannick spends the night poring over rigging textbooks and catamaran specs.
Day Twenty-Seven: Yannick spends the morning documenting potential cracks at the base of the mast and re-tightening the spinnaker halyard we ran to a starboard cleat in case the shroud goes. I find him later standing in silence, his heavy head laid against the bulkhead in his berth. The crew tries to rally le capitaine with the cinematic masterpiece that is Hot Tub Time Machine and succeeds when we settle upon Yannick’s mantra for the trip—“I’m on my waa-ay. Home sweet home!”—blasted at decibels that could be heard from Roscoff, rounding out the movie’s final score.
Day Twenty-Eight: I score no sympathy points from the Captain in my plight as I pass him at 2:00 a.m., flashlight in hand, on my way to the port engine locker. I can’t decide whether I want to prove or disprove my mind’s wild concoction—down in the auditory carnival that is my berth—that the port engine has become submerged, fallen out and left a gaping hole in the hull of the boat. Yannick laughs when I seem vexed at the sight of a completely safe, dry engine and says, “Tonight, I’ve only slept twenty minutes.”
Day Twenty-Nine: Twenty ships surround us in the English Channel. The radar screen that has offered only an empty halo around our boat for weeks is now filled with dozens of vessels. The excitement of the night shift is bittersweet as we all know it is our last on this trip. In an amazing show of endurance and inspiration, the boat and Captain, equally tired and compromised, carry on, both fighting their way to France.
Day Thirty: Fighter pilots scream by in a heroic show of unity seeing their former comrade coming home by way of sailboat across the Atlantic Ocean. Yannick waves heartily at them from the bow, his smile so big I can see it from the stern. A small crowd cheers as the crew and boat see it, the finish line, the final feat in sight as we prepare to dock the gallant Freydis in Roscoff. Yannick’s son’s is the first voice we hear in France as his small, powerful pipes rip through the air: “Bonjour Papa!”
Johnny’s inspecting melted pieces. Yannick’s cursing in French. I’m coughing my way out of our berth. It’s 4:00 a.m. the morning of June 10th and the muffler has melted its way off the port engine.
Tempers and temperatures were high as heat spewed out of the port engine locker and Yannick fired off questions: “What happened?” “Was there an alarm?” “Did the engine shut down on its own?”
We learned Johnny, who had the 2-4 a.m. shift that night (or morning I guess I should say), had become becalmed toward the end of his shift. That made sense as the winds had continually decreased during my 12-2 and we were bobbing now in maybe 8 knot gusts. Ooohh. Johnny said he had cranked the starboard engine to keep us moving. She cranked fine but he did not see water coming out (good for Johnny for looking) so he shut it down. That, in and of itself, did not alarm anyone as we had been fighting a multitude of problems with the coolant system on the starboard engine since we left Pensacola. First it was a bad thermostat, then the cap on the SpeedSeal wasn’t allowing suction, then the exhaust elbow was clogged, yadda yadda. But, we had not had an overheating issue with the port engine … yet.
Johnny said he shut down the starboard engine and cranked the port. It cranked fine and was reportedly running fine and discharging water. It ran for a few minutes while Johnny handed over his post to Phillip who came on at 4:00 a.m. Johnny said he went down below to rest but when he got to his berth on the port side he could tell the engine did not sound right. Sleeping like a log right above it, I couldn’t tell you if it was making any sound at all, as I slept right through the crank. It was amazing what you could learn to sleep through out there. But, even if I had heard it, I’m not 100% confident I could tell you whether the sound it was making sounded “right.” Thankfully, Johnny was listening and knew what to listen for. He rushed up to the cockpit and immediately killed the engine. I’m sure Phillip gave him an awfully funny look but when it came to the engines, we trusted Johnny. The temp was in the red when he killed the engine although no high temp alarm had gone off. Don’t ask me why. We never solved that mystery. Johnny explained to Phillip that it didn’t sound right as he made his way down into the port engine locker. Heat and melted plastic fumes emerged when he lifted the lid. Cue Yannick, who wakes to the smell of boat problems.
Yannick was pissed. Understandably so. Those engines were driving us mad. He was stomping around, getting tools, asking questions no one yet knew the answer to. He brought the muffler out into the cockpit so we could all get a better look and even I (the muffler dunce) could see one end was completely melted off.
After further inspection, Johnny found the impeller was missing a phalange and he thought it had likely lodged just the right way, acting like a valve, and prevented water flow through the muffler which caused the engine to overheat.
A broken impeller was totally expected. Yannick had plenty of spare impellers. An impeller that would break, shoot a piece off and wedge itself in a way that would maim the muffler was not. But our Captain was creative. He and Johnny started mumbling ideas out about trying to rebuild the exit port of the muffler and Yannick stood with a mission in his eyes. He started walking around the cockpit looking quickly in lockers, under cushions, then finally overboard in the dinghy and he shot a quick finger in the air. “Aha!” it said.
Yannick pulled the PVC extender for the tiller on the outboard out of the dinghy and started lining it up with the muffler’s melted hole seeing if they were the same diameter. Just when you think she’s not, often times she is. Fate was on our side gentlemen. The PVC extender for Yannick’s outboard, a part that certainly wasn’t needed while we were 1,000s of miles from shore and a part that could be easily replaced once we got those 1,000s of miles behind us was a perfect fit for the muffler. All Yannick needed to do was form the muffler back around it to create an exit tube that would jettison the exhaust water overboard. While we were aware we could bypass the muffler if necessary, as it appeared Yannick’s PVC fix was going to work, we all decided to help him pursue it.
Johnny had the good idea to use hose clamps to help shape the melted end of the muffler around the PVC pipe as Yannick heated it and that really helped to sculpt the two pieces together.
An hour later, it was almost shocking to see we had a working muffler and a port engine running once again smoothly. Like it had never even happened. This feat naturally became the hot topic of conversation on the public MapShare entry that day for our followers via the Delorme and several of Yannick’s friends from France said it did not surprise them as Yannick apparently used to dress and act a bit like the famed MacGyver in his youth. That surprised us. Particularly the part about the mullet. But the more I mulled it over (no pun intended), I started to see a resemblance.
Yannick’s friends claimed he had earned his “MacGyver Certificate” for the trip and we all seconded that motion. If you can believe it (What? Yannick working on the boat? No!), this only seemed to fuel Yannick’s boat project fire and he spent the rest of the morning cleaning the boat, filling the tank with jerry cans stowed in the forward starboard locker and fiddling with different features on the B&G.
The man does not stop. Other than when he went on an occasional crash binge of Breaking Bad played through sound muffling headphones, I think this was the only time I found him passed-out mid-project.
Those days, during the first week of June, were definitely some of our wettest of the trip. We were flying! Bashing our way to the Azores in usually 20+ knots of breeze, averaging 200+ nautical miles each day. But, it was spitting rain and splashing us in the cockpit, with persistent cloud cover that prevented anything on the boat from drying.
And, I do mean anything. The clothes you were wearing. The clothes you just washed. The kitchen towels. Our bath towels. The linens. Everything was moist. My hands remained pruny for three days straight before the outer layer gave up and eventually started to peel off.
We also kept trying to shuffle this one “shitty towel” off on one another. Johnny had apparently come into the port head at one point to find it had fallen in the toilet. Yay! And, although I washed it, it never would dry and the toilet stench somehow remained. It hung in the cockpit for days as a reminder and Johnny, Phillip and I (who shared the port cabin) would ask one another: “Didn’t you have the towel with the gray stripe?” “No, mine was green.” Anything to distance ourselves from the shitty towel.
“That’s not my towel,” says Johnny.
After three or so days of wet drab, the winds finally laid down briefly, a sliver of sun peeked through the clouds and the crew was able to enjoy our first dry, calm dinner in the cockpit since Key West.
Thank our head chef Phillip for pork tenderloin, brussels sprouts and turnips. Yum!
It was good to see everyone together, squinting into the sun, but the beautiful sunset was a deceiving sign of what was to come.
I remember waking later that night (it was June 10th, I know, because Johnny’s birthday was the following day and the crew was planning a small at-sea celebration) to the sound of the sails shrieking. Below, in your berth, everything is amplified. It’s like a sound carnival. Normal squeaks and groans are twisted, amplified, perverted even, into frightening sounds of boat carnage. A wave crashing the hull is the engine falling out. The squeak of a line being sheeted in is the sound of the mast cracking over. If you are awake (which thankfully you learn to sleep through many of these) you cannot convince your mind otherwise without going topside to confirm. This is what I had to do that evening around 11:30 p.m. to re-assure myself the shrieking I had heard below was not, in fact, the sound of the sails ripping at every seam.
I found Yannick at the helm. A big smile on his face. “We’re making 12 knots,” he said as I came up. Was he concerned why I had roused and come topside? Was he worried about me getting sleep for my shift (which was coming up next)? Heck no! He was making 12 knots. Yippee! Yannick was right, though, it was fun up there. The winds were ripping and Andanza seemed to be romping like a giddy stallion. Nothing sounded scary up there. But, it wasn’t quite my shift yet and I knew I still had two hours of “fun” ahead of me topside starting at midnight so I didn’t stay long. “I’m going to get 12 more minutes of sleep,” I told Yannick as I made my way back down below. And surprisingly, I was able to fall back asleep rather quickly, even amidst all the bashing and shrieking. When my phone alarm went off at 11:50, it felt like someone was pulling me up from twenty feet below the ground. I was so deep.
And, of course, when it came time for my shift, the wind was nowhere near as “fun” as it had been for Yannick. She was all fidgety and dissatisfied—sometimes cranking up to 17 knots, other times dropping to 11 and threatening to spill the sails. I had to keep shifting our course a bit here and there to keep the canvas full and appease her. It was one of those irritating shifts and then, right when I heard Phillip rustle below and I started congratulating myself on making it to the end, the sea gods really decided to test me. I was clicking the auto-pilot over a few degrees to keep the wind off the stern and apparently I got a little too “click happy” and overwhelmed the B&G. This happened rarely, but on occasion, like a computer when too many tasks are initiated at once, the B&G would shut-down and re-boot. It is a quick process, maybe 45 seconds to a minute, but what happens when the B&G shuts down? So does the auto-pilot and if you don’t have your wits about you, you can easily get yourself all turned around and the sails all goobered up (a technical term in sailing).
Thankfully, because I had been so feverishly clicking, I knew the exact course we needed to be on (a heading of 82) and I was able to grab the wheel and hold her there while B&G came back. I was secretly hoping it would all be booted back up and running fine by the time Phillip got up there so he wouldn’t see I had crashed the system. Don’t tell Yannick either (until he reads this). Shhhhhh! But, I got lucky. The minute Phillip made his way into the saloon and started putting on his headlamp. The B&G came back up. I turned on the auto-pilot and set it for 82 and BOOM. Hands off the wheel.
“Everything going okay up here?” Phillip asked.
“Yep, just some finicky winds. But everything’s going fine. Great actually. Good night,” says Guilty Annie.
I have to say that was sometimes my favorite moment. The end of a successful night shift. It meant I had remained diligent, watched the instruments and my surroundings, nothing went wrong during my shift, and it was no longer my shift. I could shut down (mentally) and hand over the reins. Don’t get me wrong. Solo night shifts are often some of my most memorable, fulfilling moments of an offshore passage, but they are also often the scariest and the most stressful. It’s kind of like a tightrope walk. It’s beautiful, mesmerizing and stunning when you’re up there, but you’re also glad when you’ve made it safely to the other side. Whew.
After my shift, I crashed again. Falling quickly back into that 20-meter deep hole where everything was still and quiet and warm. The sound of footsteps at first became muffled noises in my dream. Branches beating a car window or something. They started to wake me but I lulled back again. Then more branches, they broke the glass of the windshield and suddenly I realized I’m not driving. I’m in my berth, the sounds of the water on the hull are now crisp and I hear them again. Footsteps, jogging from the bow to the stern, followed by Phillip’s voice. Something, something, then “I can’t!”
I kick the covers off, moving slower than I would prefer, and try to shake the sleep off as I stand up through the hatch over my berth. I don’t understand what I’m seeing at first. It’s Phillip, kneeling on the starboard transom, holding onto something that’s over the side of the boat. It is colorful in his hands. I blink a couple of times, trying to make sense of it, then the images form an answer. Phillip is holding the head of the spinnaker. I know it is the head because it is an acute triangle and it’s that unmistakeable crinkly green of Yannick’s furling spinnaker. I can then see the spinnaker halyard making it’s way down from the mast between Phillip’s arms. If that is the head … My mind questions the possibility of it until I emerge from my hatch and see the truth of it.
The spinnaker billows out ethereal and green behind the stern of Andanza, floating, flailing, sinking the water. She is so big and trails so far behind the boat. I try to start pulling in the sail alongside Phillip, but she is swamped, weighing ten times what she would with a sea of water in her belly. Yannick pops his head up from under the starboard hull, spits out salt water and says: “It’s ripping on the prop.” There isn’t time for questions, although they fill my mind anyway. Why? How? I feel Johnny’s hands near mine pulling as well but whatever inches we pull out seem to be sucked back into the water the moment we let go to re-grip. Just bobbing, the current is still strong enough to give the ocean more pull on the wet body of the sail than our weak hands can muster from the transom.
Yannick tells Phillip to crank the port engine and put the boat in reverse so we can get the sail on board. I can see he is fighting and yanking, trying to keep the sail off the starboard rudder. While I’m sure his first concern in going overboard was to rescue the sail, now that the sail is threatening our much more important prop and rudder, the tables have turned. With the port engine slowing us down, Johnny and I are finally able to make some visible headway with the sail, pulling several soggy feet up and over the toe rail at a time, but it is still a massive chore. The sail begins to bob in the water and creep toward the port hull and we all shout: “Watch the prop on port!”
Yannick is fighting the sail in the water, trying to keep her both off of the rudder on starboard and away from the prop on port, an almost impossible feat while submerged as Johnny and I slowly make progress. The more sail we recover, though, the less the grip the waters have on her and we can finally see an end in sight. Johnny and I heave a final two, three times and finally she is recovered, a wet, green mess covering us on the deck. Johnny and I just sit, soaked, our chests heaving, and rest as Yannick makes his way up the starboard ladder. He is breathing just as hard and his chest and stomach are covered in red whelps, lashes and bleeding cuts.
“I want to see it. Help me bring it to the trampoline,” he says. While none of us want to—Johnny and I both saw and felt many rips in her as we pulled her onboard, our wet hands sometimes gripping at the edge of a gaping hole and ripping it further—we follow Yannick’s orders and haul the sail into the stark sunlight on the tramp. Yannick spreads the remains of his spinnaker out, spreading the jagged chasms open, confirming what he already knew to be true. Phillip and I try to console him: “It can be repaired. We’ve ripped our kites many times and had them stitched back up.” “You saved the prop and rudder. That’s way more important,” but our murmurs seem too limp and weak to reach him. Although Johnny and I had no clue how the spinnaker went overboard (we were both asleep at the time) no one asked what happened right then. We were curious, sure. But, it didn’t matter. The sail was gone.
While I’m glad I snapped these pictures now that the incident is over, behind us and we’ve learned the lesson from it. In the moment, right when I did it, I felt a horrendous guilt as Yannick leaned over, knees to his chest, his wet hair dripping onto the remains of the tattered sail, mourning its loss. Yannick has said the same about many of the moments I captured from our trip that were not the fun highlights that you want to re-live but, rather, the more frustrating, trying times. That is, while he didn’t particularly enjoy the fact that the camera was rolling in the moment, he is grateful, now, for what I captured and have enabled him to share with others. But, I will say it is hard in the moment to decide what to record and what to simply let slip away as a mere memory.
After talking with Phillip later, I learned Phillip had woke early and was making coffee while Yannick held the helm around 6 a.m. The winds that had been easing off during my 12-2 a.m. shift the night before had settled into a steady 8-9 knots and Yannick and Phillip thought, rightfully, that it would be a good time to raise the spinnaker. They hoisted the spinnaker and Phillip said she raised and filled just fine. He remained at the bow while Yannick went back to the cockpit to sheet in the spinnaker sheet and that’s when the sail started to billow. Phillip didn’t know why at the time but she fluttered and sank overboard and was swept quickly between the two hulls of the boat.
Afraid the weight of the sail full of water would damage the bow sprit (if not rip it off entirely), he and Yannick released the tack of the spinnaker from the bow sprit and that is how I found them, with Phillip holding the head of the spinnaker over the starboard transom and Yannick having jumped overboard to try, initially, to prevent the sail from shredding on the prop or rudder and then, subsequently, to prevent the monstrous sail from damaging the prop or rudder on the starboard side.
Discussion after the incident told us the spinnaker halyard had been cinched into the winch at the mast but not clutched down above the winch. A very simple mistake that, with just the right gravitational forces, wind, water or bouncing of the boat, caused the halyard to come out of the self-tailing jaws of the winch and allow the sail to billow and sink overboard. While sailing itself really is simple—there are a handful of lines that must be pulled and cleated in a certain way—it is sadly almost too easy to suffer a grave loss by making a very simple mistake. Say, wrapping the line around the winch counter-clockwise, instead of clockwise, leaving a sea cock closed, forgetting to shut a clutch, etc. All of these things can cause a sometimes dangerous, costly loss. It’s hard to say whether the fact that the mistake can be so simple is a good thing or a bad thing. You’re glad when you find the mistake and realize how easily it can be prevented next time, but then you kick yourself at how easily it could have been prevented this time. But what’s done is done. C’est la vie. You just have to build muscle memory to where you do all the simple things in the right order as a matter of habit.
Yannick sat alone with his tattered spinnaker for a few minutes before unzipping her bag which lay on the tramp and started gently packing her back inside. I can’t really tell you why, but we left the spinnaker like that (“in a body bag” we called it, half in jest, half in truth) on the tramp for several days.
Even though none of us really enjoyed the sight of her up there, it felt like stuffing her back down into the forward locker on port would feel a bit like a betrayal. Like a final burial. So, she rode with us under the sun and through the waves on the buoyant tramp of the Freydis for a few days before we finally stowed her away.
Yannick impressed us all that morning. While he does have a temper and he does have a tendency to focus on a problem until it becomes a festered infectious thorn, he also has an uncanny ability to sweep aside a crappy situation and turn back into his jovial self rather easily. He himself calls it: “Highs and lows. When it’s good times, I’m on the highest of highs, but when things start to suck, I fall to the lowest of lows. I’m either really happy or really pissed off.” Right after the really crappy spinnaker incident, Yannick decided to get really happy and he told me to make sure we still had Johnny’s birthday celebration lined up. Phillip had decided to make Johnny a “birthday breakfast” that day of egg and cheese burritos (although Johnny ended up getting a birthday lunch, a birthday snack and a birthday dinner too). By the end of it, we were telling him: “You get a day, not a week.” But, we did have fun putting together a little Hallmark-worthy (or so I thought) celebration for Johnny that morning, not hours after losing the spinnaker. June 11th, 2016, Johnny Walker turned 72:
A few short days later also marked a tipping point in the trip as the crew watched the number of nautical miles put behind us pass 2,300 leaving a little less than 2,400 nm to go before we crossed the Atlantic ocean on a small sailboat. That was a pretty cool feeling. I put together a video commemorating it, “Trans-Atlantic: the Halfway Point” for my Patrons while we were underway that I was able to share with them once we made it to the Azores. Enjoy!
I hope you all are enjoying the tall (although very true) sea tales from our Atlantic-crossing. If offshore voyaging is something you would like to experience or scratch off your bucket list, be sure to check out my “Voyages” tab and see all of the awesome blue water trips the s/v Libra will be making this winter across the Gulf of Mexico. Patrons get a $250 discount on any voyage and there are still a few bunks left on the trip to Isla Mujeres with me over Thanksgiving as well as the New Years Eve trip to Cuba to celebrate the new year with Phillip and I in Havana. Book today!
Also, if you haven’t yet seen the Atlantic-crossing movie and would like to, she is now available FOR RENT on YouTube. Check it out!
And, (yes AND! we’ve got a lot of cool stuff going on here at HaveWindWillTravel), we are just a few weeks out from drawing our 3rd Gift of Cruising “Go Offshore with Andy Schell” winner. If you would like your name to be put in the pot, become a Patron, read through Andy’s FAQs on his website and EMAIL ME to opt-in for a chance to win!
I don’t toy with the idea; it toys with me, pecking and picking at the back of my brain. “You should go,” it says. And I should. At least I believe I should. Maybe not believe, but think. I think I should. Shouldn’t I? When the idea starts to grip and pull me hand-over-hand into its graces, there is only thing that pulls me fast-and-hard back. That is Phillip.
Friends, followers, I dare say it is time. While filming my adventures, making videos and taking pictures is fun, it is merely a pastime compared to my true passion: writing. I find the endeavor of trying to capture and re-create my surroundings in such detail you feel you are right there, breathing the air next to me, a deliciously-thrilling challenge. I am up for it, and it is time. I want to tell you the tale of my first Atlantic-crossing, from start to finish, complete with plenty of photos. As I come across footage, while making the Atlantic-crossing movie, that corresponds with these posts, I will share it in an exclusive video on Patreon as well. Although I hope my words will conjure crisper images, mostly I hope you enjoy the feeling of the journey as I experienced it.
When I say “Phillip” was the main reason for my not wanting to go I do not mean he had asked me not to go or that he did not want me to go. Quite the opposite. He was the first person to encourage me. Much like the trip I had bravely set off on not one year prior—where I agreed fly to the Bahamas alone and crew for five days on a boat with total strangers in the Abacos Regatta—Phillip encouraged me to sign on for the Atlantic-crossing even though he knew not at the time whether he could join. No, it was not Phillip’s desires or concerns that held me back, it was the thought of embarking on this incredible journey without him—leaving him behind to stand on the shores while I cast off to cross an ocean—that gave me serious pause. Had Phillip merely said, “It’s up to you,” I likely would not have gone. But he did not. “You should go,” he said, as if his was the voice of the Idea. And so I decided I would.
We all eyed him in a mix of astonishment and admiration. Alone. It was Yannick. Our Captain. Our faithful leader on this voyage, and the man we now congenially refer to as “the Wandering Frenchman.” I didn’t know him well at the time. This was probably my third time speaking with him. And I sure didn’t know in a matter of months I would be stepping foot aboard his boat to cross the ocean with him. At the time Yannick was just another boat owner who was having work done on his boat at the yard at the same time Phillip and I were hauled out this past winter re-building our rotten stringers, replacing our original 1985 rod rigging and knocking out a few hundred other “while you’re out of the water” projects. Yannick’s 46’ high-performance French-built Catamaran was docked at the yard at the same time undergoing significant repairs after suffering a lightning strike in September, 2015.
I’m sure this is no secret. It seems many boat owners—males in particular and Brandon and Phillip in a unique form of particular—can stand around and talk about boats for hours, days even. While Brandon mentioned Yannick’s catamaran often during these “boat conversations” at the yard, merely as a matter of course, we could tell he was especially surprised at the astonishing array of electronics Yannick was having him install on his catamaran: a back-up chart-plotter, radar, AIS, forward scan, numerous alarms, a siren, even! It wasn’t until the “alone” conversation that we learned why.
Yannick is a fighter jet pilot in the French Navy. He had been in Pensacola for two years working as a flight instructor but was soon slated to retire, at which time he planned to move he and the family—his beautiful wife Clothilde, their five-year old son Nils and five-month old daughter, Clemence—back to France where they would plan to move aboard the catamaran in the following year and then begin cruising northern Europe. All he needed to do was get the boat back to the France. All he wanted in order to do that was some high-end electronics and a siren. Yannick’s initial plan was to sail his catamaran single-handed, non-stop over 4,600 nautical miles from Pensacola, Florida to Roscoff, France.
I clicked on the GoPro the minute this news broke, out of habit (what a story!), and I’m glad I caught it on film. Yannick explained one of reasons he hesitated to seek out crew to help him make the passage was what he called the “human factor,” meaning: “Who do you want to take with you across the ocean?” Definitely a legitimate concern. It’s a small boat and a lot of days. It’s fun to look back on this clip, though, and realize none of us knew at the time, as Yannick was telling Phillip and I about his “human factor” theory, the pesky “humans” he would taking with him across the ocean would be us.
Video from our first conversation with Yannick about the crossing, up now in a Patrons-only post on Patreon.
I will admit, his plan seemed a little outlandish. While Yannick had brought his catamaran up from the Caribbean to Pensacola on a 16-day run with a hired captain, aside from that he had virtually no other offshore experience on his boat. What he did have, though, was confidence. He seemed so resolved, so pragmatic about the whole thing, I honestly believed he could do it. Surely someone who flies jets at supersonic speed can handle a slow boat across an ocean? Some of those skills must translate? Well, they do and they don’t. I will say at the outset one of the most interesting aspects of this voyage was watching someone as capable and smart as Yannick have to adapt in many ways to cruising. The weather, the elements and the boat simply do not treat you any differently based on your resume.
At no point did Yannick seem to be uncertain in his decision, though. At no point did he seem to be desirous of bringing crew aboard to help him make the passage. He seemed determined—excited even—to do it alone. “I like a challenge,” he said. Phillip and I chatted about our interesting conversation with Yannick a little here and there over the course of the next couple of weeks (this was mid-March), thinking how cool it would be when we would finally be ready to cross the ocean on our boat, but that was the extent of it. It wasn’t until Phillip came home from work one day a couple of weeks later, after having stopped at the shipyard on the way home, with a new piece of information and a seed to plant.
“Johnny?” I asked, a little confused. I wasn’t even sure Johnny and Yannick knew each other, at least not well enough to meet Yannick’s “human factor” and I didn’t know ocean-crossing was something Johnny had always wanted to do. Johnny Walker (no relation) is an old friend of Brandon’s and a well-known diesel engine mechanic in the Pensacola marine industry. We had worked with Johnny on several occasions over the past few years in tuning and maintaining our engine, borrowing some rare tools as needed from his impressive collection. (Remember the torque wrench we broke when re-torquing our keel bolts?) We also had the opportunity to buddy sail with Johnny on our way down to the Keys in 2014 when he and his son, Jeremy, were sailing his Morgan 38 down to Key West at the same time.
Needless to say, Johnny was an old friend, an old salt and, specifically, a proven and reputable sailor and mechanic, and he was now on board for the Atlantic-crossing.
“Johnny’s going,” Phillip said, with a playful gleam in his eye. I knew he was looking at me funny for a reason and I knew this information was key for a reason, but it was like I couldn’t get the rusty gears in my head to turn fast enough to put it all together. Why is it so important that Johnny’s going? Phillip could tell I needed help connecting the dots. If Johnny’s going, Yannick is now taking on crew. If Johnny is going, maybe others could go to …
“You know who else Johnny thinks would be a good fit to make the passage?” Phillip asked. Then it clicked. Me! Us! Me? Once again it seemed a little outlandish. I might be crossing the ocean this year? The idea was very new. My first thought was honestly how cold it might be and what gear I would be wearing. My vivid imagination apparently wanted to see it first before I could process the actual details.
Once I got past the fashion block, however, and started to truly digest it, my second thought was Phillip. I couldn’t imagine embarking on an ocean-crossing voyage without the single person who turned me into a sailor in the first place. I can’t go without Phillip. Or at least I shouldn’t. I can’t.
As luck would have it, right around the time this outlandish idea emerged Phillip had a rather large block of time on his calendar, for a trial that was scheduled in June, that could possibly open up assuming certain things fell into place with his case load. Now it was not just an idea, it was a hope: Phillip and I making our first ocean-crossing together this year! All of that depended upon Yannick, however, as we hadn’t even been invited yet. Phillip and I were dreaming about the voyage long before Yannick even considered the idea of welcoming us aboard for the trip.
This was the gut-wrenching part for me. The one, singular thing that held me back from jumping immediately on the idea was the one, singular person I truly wanted to make the trip with. We were nowhere near sure at the time that Phillip could make the trip with me. We spend just a few hours apart and I begin to miss him. Now we were talking weeks, months perhaps. I ached just thinking about it. But, it was an incredible opportunity and it was Phillip who did, and always does, push me to greater experiences. “You should go,” he said, and I knew he was right. The one thought that comforted me in agreeing, at first, to sign on without him was how much I knew this trip would mean to him. Phillip has crossed oceans before, in large carrier ships. He has traveled much more of this awe-inspiring world than I have. But one thing he has not done, that he has always wanted to do, is sail across an ocean. My hope was if I was able to secure us two spots as crew for the passage, he would move mountains to be able to join me. So it was decided. I, at least, was going.
My blood pulsed hot through the veins of my neck as I scrolled through my contacts in my phone, looking for one in particular: Johnny Walker. I needed to tell him one thing: If Yannick would have us, Phillip and I wanted to come.
Fun video following my initial conversation with Johnny that I shared on Patreon April 8, 2016. Thanks, as always, to my followers, friends and Patrons who enable me to share this journey. Get on board!
Wow, this is REALLY exciting news! I reached out to Andy Schell a while back, mostly to say how much Phillip and I appreciate what he does and the stories and lessons learned that he shares through his podcasts at 59-North.com. Some of the conversations Andy has had with sailors are the most candid, revealing exchanges I have heard on any sailing podcast or platform.
When Andy finally made his way back to the Keys after his sail to CUBA, he wrote me back and magic happened. First, let me say how surprising it was to see his name in my inbox. If you’re a Star Wars fan, it would be like getting a direct email from George Lucas. Whoa. We talked about doing a potential interview and Andy said something to me that definitely stuck:
“I want to share the stories that have not yet been told.”
And he does. While Andy speaks with many well-known sailors, Pam Wall, John Kretschmer and the like, he also speaks to many not-so-well-known sailors, folks you have never heard of and have no idea what their sailing experience is. Why? Because he senses a story there, some intimate experience with the wisdom of the high seas, and he seeks to share that with his followers at 59-North. For this reason, Andy asked me for something I hadn’t yet considered. The writer in me knew this crossing would definitely provide a story not yet written, but Andy was also wise enough to see a story not yet told, which is why he asked for an exclusive. I am honored, humbled and excited to tell you he got it! While it may take a little time for Andy to record and produce it, the first place you will hear my trans-atlantic story will be with Andy Schell at 59-North.com.
You know as soon as the interview goes live, I will share the link to listen to it here. I can only imagine the lessons I will be learning (perhaps right now!) and the stories I will be savoring while we are out there sailing 4,000 nautical miles to France. Andy, you better have a big blank tape ready for this one!