november 2 2006 : lanzarote, canary islands
The Canary Islands passage is over. Aside from our problems with the sails there really wasn’t anything to talk about. The engines worked fine as they throbbed away, one after the other, for the entire trip. There was barely any wind, making the lack of sails sort of a non- issue. Dolphins visited us one time, the dinghy stayed inflated, and we ate chili dogs. It was much more reminiscent of past passages, before the Mediterranean crossing.
Unfortunately the weather hasn’t changed at all. We are still stuck in some sort of weird weather pattern where it does nothing but rain. As we got to the island in the morning it cleared up enough for us to have a look. The island of Lanzarote is covered with over 300 volcanic cones and really that is all you see from the water. It gives it a weird sort of “another planet” sort of look. After a few hours along the coast we arrived at Puerto Calero Marina where they told us we were very lucky because they only had one spot left. Lucky apparently, despite the fact that we had been in email contact with them and they knew we would arrive that day. It’s a nice little marina with plenty of restaurants and bars and should be a good place to leave the boat while we tour the island. As of right now though, the forecast calls for another week of rain before the sun finally makes an appearance again. So I suppose we’ll just have to get a bit of boat work done while we wait.
november 4 2006 : lanzarote
We still haven’t left the marina. We’ve just been hanging out on the boat trying to get our work done so we can relax the rest of our time here in the Canaries. The screecher halyard went back in with no problems, which was a nice surprise. We also resealed another hatch. It would be really nice if it were possible to strip everything off the boat right down to the fiberglass and just start off fresh caulking and sealing everything on the boat that could possibly leak water. Then yesterday we got hold of a welder who said he’d be out to take a look at five o’clock. So we waited, and waited, and waited. He never showed. Untrustworthiness seems like some sort of disease common among workers in the marine industry.
“Oh, you guys are hurrying; we’ve been out twelve years.” It had been over two months since we heard those words. We had almost begun to think that it had ceased being the cruiser catchphrase. But there it was again, redeeming our faith in the competitiveness of long distance cruisers. When somebody says they’ve been cruising for twelve years, does it really count if they spend every single winter back at their land home in the States? Shouldn’t there have to be a caveat? Like maybe, “We’ve been cruising off and on for twelve years.” The way the rules stand now a person could live on a boat for a year, move back to land for five years, then come back to the boat and say they’ve been cruising for six years. There really should be a governing body in charge of rulings on these things.
The same day another person mentioned that I both looked and sounded just like my celebrity look alike. It had been a long time since we heard that too. So it was nice to get those two things checked off our list as well.
november 8 2006 : lanzarote
There really hasn’t been a whole lot going on here in Lanzarote. Ali and I spent another day removing hatches, cleaning them, and resealing them in an attempt to keep the water out. We changed the oil, filled the diesel, and did a bunch of boat stuff that made it appear we were on our way out of here even though we have no intention of leaving for another three weeks or so. But with the terrible weather we have been having we thought we may as well get the boat in order.
Another boat project we continued with was the port engine that is still acting up, with air in the line, and the bogging down RPMs. It seems like we have finally isolated the problem as being the fuel pump. A few people told us it was probably a leaky membrane. There happens to be a full Volvo dealership here at this marina so we went to them to order the part. As I’ve now realized is totally typical of engine parts, we couldn’t just order the piece we needed to replace we had to order an entire fuel pump rebuild kit for $118, or we could simply buy a brand new pump for $122. We dropped the extra four bucks and are now just waiting for the part to arrive.
With the forecast finally about to change, and promises of the sun actually shining, we decided to rent a car to get us away from the boat for a while. The car rental company was in the next town over so we grabbed a cab to take us over there. Puerto del Carmen ranks very near the top of the ugliest tourist towns we’ve ever seen. It’s truly hard to imagine that anybody would ever want to go there, especially on holiday, yet it seems the Brits and the Germans flock to the place in droves. We picked up our car and got the heck out of town. We drove off towards the national park to have a look at the volcanoes which completely covered the landscape. It looked beautiful, unfortunately we had jumped the gun as far as the weather went and it was still cloudy and raining. Touring the island was going to have to wait another day. With not much else to do on a rainy day we turned the car around and drove to the mall for a KFC dinner and some grocery shopping. Exciting stuff.
Today we woke up to blue skies for about the first time in a month. We were so excited we were out on the road by nine o’clock, well before anything actually opens here on the island. We headed straight back towards the national park where the greatest concentration of volcanoes and lava flows seems to be. The scenery was pretty dramatic with black lava flows ending abruptly alongside scrubby desert type landscape, and all of it leading in every direction towards a volcano. The volcanoes themselves ranged in color from red to tan to black and in shape from perfect cones to exploded calderas.
We turned off the main road at the entrance to the national park itself and after paying our 16€ fee we drove through the gates and down the road expecting to enjoy a nice drive along the road that looped through the park. So we were a little surprised when we came around a corner 500 yards in and were confronted by a parking lot filled with dozens of tour buses, hundreds of tourists, and a guy directing us into a parking spot. We asked why we had to park and found out that this was the parking lot for the restaurant where we could have lunch before getting on a bus to take us through the park. Turns out that the road in the map wasn’t for us, it was for tour buses only, and our money at the gate bought us two seats on one of these buses swarming with humanity and the chance to eat an extremely overpriced lunch with all of them as well. We knew instantly this wasn’t our scene so we drove the car right back down the road and asked the gate attendant for a refund, not at all expecting that he would give us one, but he handed the money over without a word. Apparently we weren’t the first people to feel a little deceived by the tourist trap.
We drove around some more and went to check out the main surf beach Playa da Farma. There was absolutely no swell today and some really strong wind making it a terrible day for surfing, but there were a few people out in the water and you could tell that it would be a nice spot on a different day. So after scratching a surf off the list for the day we instead grabbed a beer and a snack at one of the little places in town. We’ve become addicted to the papas arrugadas, which are really nothing more than boiled new potatoes that come with a selection of mojos, spicy sauces for dipping them in.
On our way back to the boat we stopped at the Cesar Manrique Museum. Manrique is Lanzarote’s most famous citizen, an artist who has left works of art scattered all over the island. The museum is actually his home which was built into the lava flows and had a very Hugh Hefner Playboy mansion feel to it. There were outdoor rooms inside lava tunnels with psychedelic furniture and swimming pools with lava overhanging waterfalls. No doubt a swingin’ place back in the 60s and 70s. The art itself was okay but to be honest Ali and I have no art appreciation in our bones. It seems that no matter how many museums we visit on this trip we just don’t see what the artists see.
november 11 2006 : lanzarote
It sounds so lame to complain about the weather all the time, but it really has been terrible lately. A couple of days ago the sun finally came out, however the wind came along with it. It’s been howling out of the SE at around 30 knots for days now which has brought the Sahara Desert over to us. At times you haven’t been able to see much beyond the end of the marina through the dust. Our welder has come out to the boat twice but both times has had to cancel the job because he just couldn’t weld with that much wind.
We did get out and drive around the north end of the island which was really scenic and had some great views over the entire island. We visited the Jameos del Agua which is a lava tunnel which filled with seawater. Then Cesar Manrique came in and added a restaurant, swimming pool (no swimming allowed), and a mediocre volcano museum. It was truly the lamest tourist site we have visited on our trip and we felt like the biggest suckers for having been drawn in. We were ready to leave after three minutes but stood around for thirty in an effort to feel like we got our monies worth. The only things worth seeing on this island are the things that are free. Just driving around and going for a walk through a field of cacti or climbing around a lava flow.
Today we were out driving around again and noticed that there was not a single person out and about. We drove through small town after small town without seeing anybody. All the homes are one-story white blocks with little green windows, all of which were closed up tight with nothing but the deserted streets outside. For a Saturday it seemed especially strange not to see any children out running around. Eerie. We did find a nice little pizza place for lunch where we finally came across a local. The owner of the place was thrilled to hear that we weren’t from England, apparently he gets tired of hearing that every person that visits his island is from thirty minutes outside of London. He gave us the lowdown on his year on the North Shore in Hawaii and gave us his number to call for a surf condition report in a couple of days once the weather dies down.
Aside from driving around there really hasn’t been much to do. The wind direction and strength means there is no swell for surf and it is way too nasty to sit at a beach. A few more days here on Lanzarote and we should have our welding done and be ready to move on to another island for a change of scenery and hopefully a change of weather.
november 15 2006 : lanzarote
Well if nothing else, Lanzarote has been a productive stop for completing boat work. Two days ago the wind finally stopped blowing and our welder actually returned without us even having to call him. A small miracle perhaps. He got right to work and within a couple of hours had fabricated two new support poles and had them welded on and shined up. It looks great, and after having the old ones welded three separate times in three separate countries, we are happy to have the job finally done right. While they were working on our boat three other cruisers walked up and asked them if they could have a look at something on their boats. People ask us all the time if it is possible to make a living out here doing work for other cruisers. The answer is absolutely not. However, I think if you could weld stainless steel you could do pretty well for yourself.
We also received the new fuel pump which was probably one of the easiest parts on the entire engine to remove and replace. It was only about a fifteen minute job and it seems to be running good again. The problem is that it seemed that way last time we thought we fixed it, but after we were away from the dock and at sea we had problems. I’ll feel good about this project after we motor over to Tenerife which is where we are headed tomorrow on an overnight passage.
Next on the list was to finally get the propane situation fixed. Our old propane solenoid had rusted through and was leaking so we had ordered a replacement. Of course I ordered the wrong one. To remedy that situation I ordered two small brass fittings to convert it from a 3/8″ opening to 1/4″. Four dollars in parts, twenty-five in shipping. Those arrived and I went to finish the installation. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t thought things through all the way. I actually needed one of the fittings to go from 3/8″ male to 1/4″ female. Uhhh, oops. Now it seemed I would have to have the welder stick the two pieces together. But when he saw the problem he said we should just go to this store down the road that would have the part. We went there, showed the picture of the part from the West Marine catalog to the guy and he reached right under the counter without even moving his feet and produced the part we needed. Could have saved ourselves a lot of time and hassle had we known about that shop in the first place. I had just been under the impression we wouldn’t find anything but metric parts.
Anyway, back at the boat I reinstalled the solenoid and told Ali to fire up the stove. Nothing happened. Typical, I thought. So now that it didn’t work I decided to have a look at the instructions. That’s when I saw that it said the solenoid needed to be installed after the Low Flow Regulator. Our old solenoid had been installed in front of it. A quick switch and we once again have a working propane system. Meaning, basically, that Ali can boil water for coffee again. Phew. We even ran into town and had our tanks topped off which should probably be the last time we have to do that on this trip.
With everything working and put back together again we ganged up on cleaning the boat. There had been so much dirt in the air the past week that the boat literally had sand dunes forming at the base of the mast.
After having all of that fun on the boat we returned our rental car yesterday, but first stopped off to put some gas in the tank. Lanzarote takes all of about 30 minutes to drive across from end to end but for some reason has more gas stations per square mile than any other place on earth. A fascinating observation, I know. With the car returned and the sun sort of shining through the remaining Saharan haze, we wandered down to the beach. Judging by the soccer jerseys and flag tattoos it seemed the entire population of England was there as well. We joined them, side by side, for an afternoon of sunburning our now pale white bodies. After a few hours of sun we crossed the road to the United States for lunch at Macca’s and beers at the Route 66 Bar.
november 18 2006 : tenerife, canary islands
We left yesterday morning in dead calm waters, our favorite sailing weather. We puttered along the coast for a few hours and then headed out to sea for the 140 mile overnight crossing to Tenerife.
During the day we had one squall come ripping over us. There was only one dark cloud in the sky and we watched it come from miles away. By this time we were actually sailing, and for a minute I debated dropping the main before the storm hit. However we could see another sailboat that was right in the middle of it, coming from the other direction, and he had full sails up. Within seconds the wind went from ten to thirty knots with freezing cold rain blowing sideways through the cockpit. Bum galloped through the short waves, and within a couple of minutes came out the backside. It seems like every cruising book I’ve ever read talks about passages filled with squally weather but I would guess this was probably only about the third squall that we’ve ever been hit by.
Around dark, despite the forecasts for nice gentle breezes from behind, we found ourselves getting bounced around in rough seas and thirty knot winds. It’s always disappointing when we only have a one day passage and we find ourselves in crap weather. This time it stuck around until early morning when it gradually died down and left us to a nice cruise the rest of the way in.
Santa Cruz is a big city by Canarian standards and the marina here is right across the street from the town center. We had emailed ahead for a quote and a spot and had found that the price was the same as in Lanzarote. So when we got to the marina office we were a bit shocked to find that there was a new tax in force this year that hadn’t been included in the price. Apparently the Canarian government has decided to apply a special tax to non-Spanish flagged yachts who visit a public marina. What this meant for us is that for a one week stay our marina bill would be 178€, and the special government tax would be 124€. About $25 USD per day in tax for the use of lights and buoys. Funny, when we rent a car nobody charges us for street lights and stop signs.
After checking in we washed the boat down and then headed over to the showers. On our way back Ali was walking across the boat with the keys in her hand when they suddenly flew out, bounced once, and disappeared into the murky brown water. To be fair we both have a knack for dropping things overboard, it’s just that my things tend to be a screwdriver or bolt, hers are keys and cameras. Being the dutiful husband I am, I donned mask and fins and jumped in for the retrieval. I swam down and down and down with one hand in front of me the whole time waiting to hit the bottom but I never made it. Back up at the top I dropped the dinghy anchor in the water and found that the water was over 40 feet deep here. The deepest marina we’ve ever seen. Those keys are gone for good. Now we had to break in to the boat. Fortunately that consists of nothing more than shaking the door really hard. New keys in hand we set out for town to find dinner and drinks.
november 20 2006 : tenerife
Still no improvement in the weather. In fact in the last couple of days it actually deteriorated further when the wind shifted to the east and brought a fresh African sandstorm with it. With all the sandstorms lately we are starting to feel like those boat crew workers that you see cleaning the big yachts every single day even though they never go anywhere. That’s us now, full time boat washers who never go anywhere.
Walking aimlessly around town the other day we noticed a poster for K-1 Canarias, a big kickboxing competition going on last night. Desperate for something fun to do, indoors, we went to see it. Judging by the number of police outside the arena we figured we were in for a crazy night, and thought we might even get some video of a street fight at some point. Our hopes for all out mayhem were dashed however when we got inside and were told at the concession stand that there was no alcohol served. “How are young guys all pumped up on testosterone after watching fights all night supposed to take out their aggression if there is no beer involved?” I wondered. The crowd was strictly young locals. All the women were dressed like they were going out for a fancy dinner and then out to the club, while all of the guys were dressed as if they had just come from the local gym. It was a fun group to watch. The fights themselves were okay. Only a couple of them really got into it and beat each other good. The other fights were more like an exhibition. All in all though it was a pretty fun night out.
With nothing to do today, and visibility down to a hundred yards, we walked up to the grocery store to buy a few more things for the Atlantic crossing. I don’t know why we bother really. We drag our feet up and down the aisles with absolutely no desire to cook any of the food on the shelves. In the end we find ourselves in the checkout line, like today, with nothing but candy bars, lollipops, bags of chips, and chocolate donuts.
While waiting in line there was a young boy in front of us. He was about five years old and stood staring at us. At first I thought it was because of our language, but then realized he was just staring in amazement at all the good stuff we were buying. I wished I could just rustle the little guy’s hair and tell him that someday when he was a grownup he could buy whatever he wanted too. But my Spanglish wasn’t that good, so I just gave him a smug smile and nod instead.
As I write this there is a guy halfway across the marina who is whistling. Is there anything more annoying in the world than a whistler? Someday, when I rule my own country, I am going to ban whistling and make it punishable by death. Is that too extreme? I think we really need to get out and away from the boat today.
november 23 2006 : tenerife
Despite forecasts calling for yet more rain and clouds, we decided to be optimistic and rent a car for a few days. Our first day out was extremely uninteresting. We’re sure the views from the mountains we were driving through were fantastic, but we couldn’t see them. After a pizza dinner, in which the salami pizza included a giant fried egg on top and the vegetarian pizza included the likes of corn and carrots, we called it a night.
Day two with the car started out a little better. There were occasional glimpses of sun through the clouds this time. We drove up into the mountains with no real destination in mind and just stopped off at little towns for drinks throughout the day. The towns up in the hills are nice, totally local, a completely different feel than the coastal cities. Late in the day we found ourselves about as far from the boat as it was possible to be, probably a good three hour drive away. So we decided to call into the tourist resort town of Puerto de la Cruz and get a room for the night. It was fun to suddenly find ourselves in Germany. Neither of us had ever been before. Seems like every European country has a stronghold somewhere in the Canary Islands. The English had their town in Lanzarote and the Germans had this particular corner of Tenerife. Fortunately for us I had two years of high school German so I was able to confidently ask anybody in town for permission to go to the bathroom, or count to ten. Since we were in a German town in the middle of Spain we decided to eat at a Mexican restaurant. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
Thanksgiving morning I awoke to the sound of Ali throwing up her burrito. Actually, that’s not technically true, the burrito had been puked up in the middle of the night, Ali just hadn’t woken me for that one. Who would have ever guessed that while in the Canary Islands you should avoid Mexican restaurants which have absolutely no other customers? I mean really, somebody should write this down in a travel guide somewhere. I didn’t get sick though, and we figured out why. After our meal the waiter had brought out two shots of some disgusting alcohol. Ali wasn’t about to touch hers, so being the gentleman I am, I downed them both. Seems clear to us now that they serve those shots in order to kill the bacteria you’ve just ingested with your meal. That’ll teach Ali not to take her shots.
When we finally walked out of the hotel today we were confronted with something we hadn’t seen much of in the last month. The sun. It nearly blinded us. We drove back up into the mountains, this time headed for the highest mountain in all of Spain, El Teide, at around 11,000 feet. This was by far the best drive on the island. The road up to the mountain winds through a National Park and there were amazing views at every corner.
We just spent the afternoon cruising slowly across the island and stopping at a beach for some sun. On our way back to the boat we filled up the last of our diesel jugs and grabbed a final few refrigerated items at the grocery store.
Tomorrow we’ll give the boat a final wash, fill up the water, strap the dinghy up, and check out of the marina. The next day we’ll be off. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean should take us right around three weeks, putting us in Grenada just in time for Christmas with the family.
november 25 2006 : tenerife
A few nights ago we went out to Thanksgiving dinner with a group of cruisers. Not one other person was under sixty years old, and it really highlighted for us just how different our cruising experience is from most others out here. Don’t get me wrong, everybody was very nice and welcoming to both of us, but they’ve all got kids older than us. It’s too bad everyone waits until old age to go sailing.
One thing that struck us about the conversation was how everybody wanted to make fun of the ARC. The ARC is a cruiser rally in which a couple hundred boats band together to make the Atlantic crossing, sharing weather information and helping each other out if needed. It seems unnecessary to Ali and I, and we wouldn’t do it because we feel we would lose the sense of independence and adventure, but I can see how certain people would feel safer about crossing an ocean as part of a big group.
The thing about the dinner conversation was that it seemed like everybody that was making fun of the rally, was really just jealous. In fact they sat and talked about how they were going to leave the day after the ARC and listen in on the participant’s radio nets. Their only problem was that so far they had been unable to obtain the radio frequencies or report times, and there were long discussions about who they could coerce into giving these to them.
Another thing we found interesting was that each of these boats had taken on at least one, and sometimes two or three crew for the passage. And they were all busy setting up their own radio net. It sounded just like they were organizing a mini ARC, except without the big party at the end.
All of this ARC talk of course led to conversations about the weather. Cruising weather, ad nauseam. For hours and hours the talk centered around some guy named Herb whom they all use to give them weather forecasts every time they go anywhere, even in the trade winds. This Herb guy seems to take a lot of abuse for somebody who is just doing these cruisers a favor. They bitched about him endlessly but still hung on his every word. When Ali and I pointed out that we just use GRIB files for our weather, we were treated to a long discussion about just how inaccurate this method is. I explained that it is all we have ever used and we hadn’t run into any truly bad weather on our entire trip. But then our food came, and with it the end of the weather conversation.
The next morning we were up early to run our errands. Return the rental car, pay the marina, clear out with the police, wash the boat, make sure the dinghy wasn’t leaking, and do laundry. That night Ali was out on deck when one of the guys from dinner the other night came by to wish us well. He asked if we had gotten all of our provisioning done.
“Yeah, we grabbed a couple of bags at the grocery store the other day,” she answered.
“Oh, you don’t do menus?”
“Menus? Uh, no.”
“So you just sort of look at the food you’ve got and say, ‘Well that should be about right for three weeks,’ then?”
“Pretty much. In a bind there is always Ramen noodles right?”
To that he just smiled, shook his head, and before walking off said, “You guys sure have a unique way of cruising.” Wait a second, is that a compliment, or…
A little later another couple came over to say goodbye. They weren’t leaving for two more days and the lady told Ali that she had started cooking and freezing their meals a few days earlier. “Oh just 20 meals or so, to get us through the first week.” Twenty meals would get us to the Caribbean Ali thought, before saying, “Oh, that’s a good idea.”
This cooking thing is serious business to cruisers. I wonder if it is because so many cruisers have starved to death while crossing the Atlantic. I’ll have to look that up. Actually the issue may have more to do with being in a monohull instead of a catamaran. Apparently they worry a lot more about cooking than we do because if the seas are rough it’s too hard to cook when their boat is heeled way over. Or maybe it’s not that, maybe they just really like to eat. I don’t know.
I have this image in my head of sitting at the table perusing a menu while Ali stands next to me holding a notepad and tapping her foot impatiently. “Um, I think I’ll have the chili dog. Or maybe the spaghetti. No wait, the tuna fish sandwich please. What’s that? Rippled or plain? Hmm, I think I’ll have the rippled potato chips please. Thank you.”
It’s now the next morning, our day of departure. Actually we’re not going anywhere. The wind kicked up overnight and we woke this morning to thirty knots. We’re not in that big a hurry to get moving, though now we have absolutely nothing left to do today.
Wait, strike that last comment. Ali is busy right now. She decided she was going to make herself a hard boiled egg for breakfast. She’d never done this before but it seemed simple enough. Boil water, plop an egg in and wait a few minutes. She popped the first one in and it actually went “POP!” it broke and oozed all over the place. She tried again and again. POP! POP! POP! She just gave up, defeated, and eggless. Come to think of it this may be the reason why we don’t have menus and pre-made meals.
november 27 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
We’re on our way, the last major passage of our journey. It’s a pretty exciting time actually. I can’t wait to reach the Caribbean, look at the map, and see that line across the Atlantic behind us. Ali isn’t quite as excited as I am about the passage but she is certainly in high spirits, which is pretty good for a woman about to spend three weeks at sea with nobody to talk to but me.
We definitely made the right decision not to leave the other day when the wind was howling. Instead we woke up yesterday morning and, still in the dark, slipped the lines and motored away from the dock in calm water. For about two hours we cruised along the coast before the wind came up, along with the sun. We pulled the screecher out and settled down to enjoy the best day of sailing weather we’ve had in at least six months. However this morning our wind disappeared and we are motoring once again. The forecast shows nothing but good sailing weather for a few days so we’re sure it will fill in soon.
november 28 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
On our second day out with overcast skies, the wind kept appearing and disappearing. We spent twenty-four hours motorsailing for thirty minutes, then sailing for thirty minutes.
During my two a.m. watch I was standing outside as a ship passed behind us, disappearing into the distance. Then suddenly another light popped up in front of us. While trying to figure out what it was I ran through a quick mental checklist. It was up high against the horizon, which meant one of three things. One, it was a spaceship. Not likely, since everybody knows they only fly in the desert. Two, it was a rather bright star. Mmmm, maybe. Or three, it was a sailboat with his anchor light on. That seemed unlikely since I had been standing outside and hadn’t seen it earlier.
I kept looking closer, and that’s when I realized that I could see the light reflecting on the water. That pretty much ruled out the star theory. They’re not usually bright enough for that. A few seconds later I could just make out the white body of a boat. It was a sailboat, very close and right in front of us!
It didn’t make sense though because he was only displaying a white anchor light. No running lights. I yelled down for Ali to come up and then turned the boat thirty degrees to the right. A minute later we didn’t seem to be getting any farther away, and we realized that he was sailing across the front of us from left to right. We tacked over the other direction and passed just behind him. We shined our spotlight on the boat and about thirty seconds later it shined one back at us.
In the last couple of days about 250 boats have left the Canary Islands all headed for pretty much the same region of the globe on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Despite that this guy decides to run with no lights on. Idiot. Then when he sees us he flicks on an anchor light so we can’t even tell what direction he is going. That’s exactly the sort of thing that Ali worries about, but that I have always told her not to because nobody is that stupid.
Today our wind filled in a bit and we had a really good day. We had a couple of accidental gybes in the morning but once our sail setup was squared away it was nothing but smooth sailing. We’ve got the full main up and swung way out on one side, with half the jib out tied off to a cleat on the other side, wing-and-wing.
november 29 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
Into day four now and we’re motorsailing again in some light fluky winds. I’ve calculated that we can motor about eight hours a day on average without running out of fuel. We’re probably a tiny bit ahead of that at the moment, but from what I can tell, once we get a few hundred miles farther south the trade winds should fill in more permanently and we shouldn’t have any problems. That’s our hope anyway.
We had another accidental gybe last night. They aren’t a big deal in relatively light winds, it usually just involves us turning on an engine and driving in a circle until we’re facing the right way again. That’s the easiest remedy. However this gybe set Ali off on a mini meltdown. We each go through these on long passages. Mine usually come after hanging upside down in the engine compartment for five hours “fixing” something, only to start the engine up again and find that I’ve accomplished nothing. Ali’s meltdowns generally make her sound as if my sweet little girl has suddenly been attacked with a case of Tourette’s Syndrome. “F@#*!, I f@#*ing hate this f@#*!, Why the f@#* can’t we sail this f@#*ing boat?!, What the f@#* are we doing out here?!, I’d rather be anywhere else than f@#*ing here!”
Usually something imaginative like that. The key for both of us is to keep quiet while the other person vents. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. Either way, after a couple hours of sleep the whole incident is forgotten and we’re good for another week or so of carefree sailing.
The only reason I even mention it here is because we seem to get a lot of email from people, generally men, whose wives aren’t the least bit interested in going sailing with them. These guys ask us how they can get their wives to be onboard with the idea and go with them. We try to be encouraging in our responses, but the truth is, if Ali were going off like this and I felt like I had in any way dragged her unwillingly out to sea, I don’t think I could live with it. Being out here with somebody who didn’t really want to be would be about the worst thing I could imagine because there is simply no quick relief in sight when you are out at sea. So there is the real answer to that question guys. Sorry, buy an RV instead.
We caught a couple fish today. We hadn’t thrown the lines out in quite some time, and were excited to see that we had two hooked so quickly. The first one I pulled in was a tiny mahi mahi female. I unhooked her, Ali said, “Awww, she’s cute. It’s okay baby,” and then I threw her back in. I pulled up the other line and it was her male companion, also tiny. I unhooked him, Ali said, “Awww, he’s pretty. It’s okay baby,” and I threw him back in. Those mahi mahi are incredible. Popular wisdom says they mate for life. Apparently scientists disagree, but it seems that nine times out of ten when we catch them, it’s in a pair. It’s almost so cute that we want to join PETA and stop fishing all together. But then we remember how good they taste and get past that idea.
november 30 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
You know the movie Duel, about the guy driving his car through the desert while being harassed by a big semi for hundreds of miles? We’ve got the 2006 version of that movie all worked out now.
One night we’re out sailing along in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when a boat suddenly appears and cuts right in front of us with no running lights on. He freaks us out a little but then continues off to the horizon.
Two nights later we are having a beautiful night of sailing with just the screecher out in twelve knots of wind from behind. Around seven p.m. we have one last look around, before the sun goes down, and there is nothing but ocean in any direction. Four hours later, Ali wakes me up to tell me there is a sailboat right behind us with no lights on. Sure enough, in those four hours a boat has closed from somewhere over the horizon to within a couple of hundred yards of us. Ali shines a spotlight on him and he gives a quick flash back. I go back to sleep.
Now at one a.m. the wind has climbed to around twenty knots. Ali goes to bed while I sit up to watch the sailboat that hasn’t moved from his spot behind us. Seems a bit strange that in four hours he covered all those miles to get behind us but then in the next three, he couldn’t manage to pass us.
An hour later the moon sets and the sky goes pitch black. Now I am really annoyed because this guy can see us, but we have no idea where he is, and therefore have to rely on him to avoid hitting us. I wait a while and then flash the spotlight across the horizon behind us. I get nothing in return. I do this a few more times over the next hour before he finally gives a quick flash from a bit off our port side. That’s better, I think, at least now he is passing us.
Around four a.m. I see a whole bunch of lights flashing around on the dark boat before a faint red one (not a running light, which would have been green on that side) is finally left on. I switch with Ali and go to bed. Thirty minutes pass before Ali wakes me and says they seem to be getting closer again. I have a look and tell her they must have tacked, but not to worry about it. I try to call them on the VHF but they haven’t answered all night. Fifteen minutes later she calls me outside again in a panic and shines the spotlight to show me why. The boat is just fifty yards in front of us now, and angling slowly across our bow. We light the boat up and yell for them to turn a light on and to get the hell away from us. I then turn us twenty degrees to the left to tack away from them.
Two minutes later Ali is standing on the other side of the boat screaming. The other boat has done a one-eighty and is now charging straight at us. At the last second I crank the boat hard over to the right as they pass across our bow a mere fifty feet in front of us! It’s absolutely insane. We are five hundred miles from shore in the Atlantic Ocean and are struggling to avoid hitting some maniac in an unlit boat. When I cranked the boat to the right we spun around up into the wind and were just sort of sitting still. The other boat had done the same as they passed us and were now sitting alongside of us just thirty yards away.
We were finally able to have a good look at the boat. It was flying a French flag and looked like a normal cruising boat, about forty-five feet long, though we couldn’t see a name on it. In the cockpit there was one guy at the wheel and another guy scrambling around. At this point Ali and I were both absolutely screaming at them as they just stared at us, not saying a word. If we had been in cars on the highway, this is the point I would have been dragging them out through their car windows and beating them senseless on the side of the road. Fortunately, I guess, we were on boats, so instead we turned on our engines, spun around, and took off as quickly as we could.
The other boat then did the same, and also turned on all of their lights. The boat lit up, which ruled out our earlier thought that maybe they had lost all of their power in a lightning strike or something. We were both galloping through the waves at six knots, with them just a hundred yards or so behind us. Then just like that, they went dark again. Our radar, which is really only useful for spotting ships, wasn’t picking them up either. We altered course a bit and kept the motor on to try and put some distance between us. It was now five a.m.
A little after six the sun finally started to rise. We couldn’t see the other boat so I went back to bed. As the sky continued to brighten Ali spotted them, and again they were right behind us, a mile back. This time we’d had enough and just wanted to get as far away from them as we could. We tacked way off course and cruised along for an hour and a half at a ninety degree angle to them. They kept their course and were soon out of sight.
That was easily the most bizarre incident we’ve ever had. At this point neither one of us can comprehend any possible reason for what happened. Our first thought had been that they were just idiots who didn’t think it was a big deal to cross that close to another boat in the dark, unlit, far out at sea. If so, and if they don’t understand English, then maybe they thought we were yelling for help or something. But if they had been coming back to help us I don’t think they would have come roaring back across our bow, cutting us off under full sails. So that doesn’t make much sense. Aside from that, we’ve really got no idea.
For the movie script we thought maybe they would just keep doing this sort of thing every night for a couple of weeks, depriving us of sleep until we went completely insane and jumped off the boat together, where a school of hungry sharks would quickly devour us. Something like that.
Seriously though, if these guys come back again tonight we’re going to have a big problem.