december 2 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
It’s been somewhere around a week now and everything continues to go pretty well. We didn’t have any repeat showing from the crazy Frenchmen. Although two nights later we did see another sailboat about a mile or two in front of us who, when it got dark, didn’t turn on any running lights. We haven’t had much experience with seeing other cruising boats while out at sea, so this has come as quite a shock to us. We had no idea that so many boats ran dark at night. Seems utterly ridiculous to us, especially on this passage with the large number of boats all sailing more or less along the same line.
We had another accidental gybe. This one broke our topping lift, the line that runs from the top of the mast to the end of the boom. Fortunately the sail itself kept the boom from falling down on top of our solar panels. We have a preventer that keeps the boom from swinging across in a gybe, but the sail itself still flops over with a lot of force and is what snapped the line. The only repair we could come up with for now is using the spare halyard to hold up the boom. The problem with this set up is the spare halyard exits the front of the mast a few feet below the top. Everything works fine except for the fact that we can’t raise the sail beyond the second reef. With the wind currently between twenty and thirty knots it doesn’t really matter since we would be sailing with a reef in anyway.
The five day forecast doesn’t show the wind letting up, so it looks like we’ll just continue on like this. When and if things do calm down I’ll have Ali hoist me up the mast where I can grab the remaining half of the line which has wrapped itself around the staysail. Once I’ve got that I should be able to tie on an extension as a temporary repair until we get to the Caribbean.
So for now we’re happily cruising along at over five knots. We tend to be pretty conservative sailors I think, which has caused us to sail quite a bit slower than we would if we pushed the boat a little harder. But we feel more comfortable this way, and really, what is another two or three days on a passage like this?
december 6 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
The last few days we’ve had true trade wind sailing. The trade winds are much stronger than we expected, but they are certainly consistent. For three days we didn’t touch a thing and the boat sailed straight for the Caribbean. Because of the problem with the topping lift, we’ve had the main double reefed during this time, so it’s kind of a good thing the winds stayed strong.
When the wind did die down for a few hours, to under twenty knots, we started looking for alternatives. We managed to re-rig our spare halyard to the other side of the mast which allowed us to raise the main all the way up, as long as it was out on the starboard side. I considered going up the mast to do a proper repair but decided that the seas were just too rough. In an emergency I could have gone up, but for this it wasn’t worth the risk.
Of course once we were finally able to raise the main all the way the wind fired up and we had to drop it down to put a reef in. Last night the wind rose to thirty-five knots and we were surfing some pretty big waves. At one point the GPS read 14.5 knots. That was with two reefs in. After that we dropped it down to the third reef which leaves a mainsail about the size of a bed sheet up, along with a handkerchief of a jib. This morning we are continuing on like that despite the slightly lower winds. Just 1500 miles to go.
december 7 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
Day eleven, I believe, and it looks as if we will hit the halfway point today. We are really way the hell out here in the middle of nowhere now.
We received an email yesterday about an ARC boat for which a MAYDAY went out. The article said that the crew called for help because they were concerned for the skipper’s mental health. That’s just a fancy way of saying that the skipper went crazy.
I’m not always the most sensitive guy, so normally I’d get a good chuckle out of that. But having been out here on these long ocean passages I can sympathize with this nutcase. Sometimes the isolation is maddening and you just really wish you could be anywhere else in the world. Similar to being locked up in jail I suppose. Not that I’d compare sailing across oceans with being locked up, but I think a lot of people, after having made a long ocean passage, could probably see the similarities.
Anyway, somebody came to the rescue, took the skipper and both of the crew members off, and abandoned the boat at sea. All they did was leave a light on. According to maritime law that boat is now up for grabs.
december 9 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
The past couple of days have passed with more of the same strong winds. It never seems to change out here. Which I suppose is the purpose of sailing in the trade winds. We have pretty much left the sails alone the last twelve days, with only the occasional change between reef points. At night we almost always throw in another reef. If nothing else, it helps relax the person trying to sleep.
This morning we were sailing with one reef in the main, but were feeling sort of silly since the wind was under twenty knots. We figured most sailors would be flying with full sails out and loving it, so we decided to pull ours all the way up too. After about an hour of this I went out to Ali, who was sitting at the helm carefully watching the wind, and said, “I know I’m a sissy sailor but I think we should put the reef back in.” She enthusiastically agreed. As soon as that was done we both went inside, neither of us needing to worry about an accidental gybe anymore. Maybe we’re too conservative for our own good, but we always feel more comfortable being underpowered versus overpowered.
Later on I saw a boat a half mile away just bobbing sideways in the rough seas. It seemed pretty obvious something was wrong so I gave them a call on the VHF. Secretly I was hoping that nobody would answer and that I had just stumbled across that abandoned boat, but they answered right away. Damn. Turned out they had broken some rigging and were now awaiting the arrival of some supplies from a ship that the ARC people had routed to them. We didn’t envy them as we sailed past.
At the moment the forecast is calling for decreasing winds beginning tomorrow. Despite wanting to get the passage over with, we are looking forward to a break from the strong winds that we’ve had for nearly two weeks now. It’s amazing how exhausting the noise of the wind and the breaking waves can be. Flatter seas, and maybe even a sail change to the screecher, would be a welcome relief right now.
december 10 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
Under a thousand miles to go, let the countdown begin. Today was the kind of beautiful day that most people probably envision when they daydream about their own cruising. Fifteen knots, beam reach with the screecher sail, blue skies with puffy clouds, and just a hint of whitecap on the top of the waves. If only they were all like this. Or hell, even one a month would be nice.
december 11 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
december 13 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
The happy days can’t last forever. Yesterday the wind disappeared on us. When I went to fire up the engine I turned the key and got nothing. I had noticed the last time it started that it had been a slow crank, but figured after a few hours of charging it would be fine. I figured wrong.
We spent the rest of the day jumping and charging batteries. Not the easiest project without jumper cables. I had small chunks of wire running all over the place to make it work. Upon closer inspection we found that the starter batteries weren’t being charged at all. Somewhere in the extremely confusing mess of wiring between the alternators, starter batteries, house batteries, and regulator, there is something wrong. I’m sure to have that figured out in no time at all.
Last night we were motoring with the screecher out, more for the visual effect than anything else. There was just a whisper of a wind, but occasionally the sail seemed to give us a tiny boost. At one point I went outside to find the sail hanging limp and the wind at a whopping one knot. I went back to reading my book inside, and wait for my turn to go back to bed.
Within less than a minute I could sense something had changed. I went outside and found the screecher backed with the wind suddenly up on our nose and rising. I tried to quickly roll it in, but the wind had already picked up to over twenty knots and the sail was flaying wildly. I yelled down to Ali and together we tried to get the sail tacked over to the other side of the boat where we figured we could at least sail downwind and ride it out. But in the midst of all the flapping the lines had gotten tangled and we couldn’t get the sail across.
In a last ditch effort we started to drop the entire sail down onto the trampoline. We had it halfway down and piled up when suddenly I heard RIPPP! then again, and again. The sail was shredding in my hands, and in seconds it was garbage. We unhooked it from the front of the boat, wrapped it in a big ball and threw it in the cockpit.
Now, with the wind really howling, we rolled out the jib and raised the main. But something was wrong with the main. That remaining piece of line from the topping lift had now managed to get stuck on the sail track and was keeping us from raising the main beyond the second reef. As a torrential downpour descended on us we left things the way they were and huddled inside to stay dry. Why these things always have to happen at three a.m. I’ll never know.
It was only a month ago that I mentioned we had never had a problem with blowing out a sail, whereas it seemed everybody else we talked to and everything we read made it seem like such a common occurrence. I guess we brought this bad mojo on ourselves.
After a couple hours of the heaviest rain either of us have ever seen, the wind once again did a disappearing act and we spent the rest of the morning motoring. By the time the sun came up the seas had gone flat. We took the opportunity to have Ali raise me up the mast so I could run a new line for the topping lift. Even with just a little bit of swell running it was a struggle to hang on and keep from being tossed around like a tetherball. The new line was up just in time as now, amazingly, we are flying along at seven knots under full sail with a nice twelve knot wind at our back. Now if this could just keep up for four more days we’d really be in business.
december 14 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
december 15 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
A couple nights back it looked like I was going to have to make a call for the crazy chopper to come pick Ali up. I woke to find her berating our mainsail for its insubordination, and clanging in the light winds. After it received a good dressing down I adjusted a couple of things which seemed to put it back in line. At least it stopped making so much noise.
When I woke again two hours later Ali was a new woman, helped in large part by the fact that the wind had filled in a bit and we were sailing. Truth is we’re both going a little nuts at this point, ready to jump down the other’s throat for the slightest infraction, or perceived infraction. Fortunately we both know the real cause of these little outbursts and are able to let it slide. We are definitely ready for landfall.
The days have been beautiful with just a couple of big white puffy clouds, sunny skies, and perfect temperatures. But as darkness rolls in, the sky changes. About an hour before sunset the cloud cover starts to build and rain squalls appear in every direction. From that point on it is just a matter of time until we get hit. There is no moon right now, so once the sun goes down it is truly pitch black and we are sailing blind.
We have been at this long enough now that we seem to have a sixth sense about the weather. Last night Ali felt a sudden drop in the temperature and woke me up. I came outside and we just managed to get the jib rolled up seconds before a squall hit. We dropped a reef in the main and rode out the short lived thirty knot storm that brought plenty of rain with it. Night watches, needless to say, have been a bit of a pain in the butt.
At the moment we’ve got a steady breeze from behind and are flying along nicely with nothing but the main out. We’re pretty excited about it since we really need to average about six knots over this last four hundred miles in order to beat our families to Grenada. Somehow we didn’t think the timing of this passage through very well and have left ourselves no leeway for slow sailing. My mom, brother, and his fiancée, arrive on the 19th. Followed closely by Ali’s entire family on the 24th. It should be a great Christmas as long as we actually get there for it.
december 16 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
Last night Ali felt the now familiar change in temperature heralding the coming of another squall. She woke me up to help in case we needed to drop some sail when it hit. Fortunately this time the wind wasn’t that strong and we were able to keep running away downwind of it. But there was no outrunning the rain.
It came down in what seemed like solid sheets of water. I actually had to tilt my head down and tuck my chin into my chest in order to take a breath; otherwise I might as well have been trying to breathe underwater. The rain hung on longer than usual, but an hour later everything was back to normal, leaving us with a nice sail the rest of the night.
This morning we came across another boat. At first because of the angle it looked like there were no sails up, and I figured that it was another boat with rigging problems or better yet, an abandoned boat. But a few minutes later we heard from him on the VHF, he just couldn’t sail very well in this swell and wind direction. Another monohull who couldn’t run downwind. My dreams of becoming a pirate and commandeering another boat were dashed again. Even Ali had gotten excited over the thought of the two of us sailing single-handed side by side into the Caribbean with our new found booty.
It’s been a struggle to keep ourselves entertained these past three weeks. In our efforts we’ve littered the ocean with messages in bottles and I’ve grown a moustache. I figured that I couldn’t really be considered a salty dog without a handlebar mustache. Plus, it makes Ali laugh all day long. Literally every time we make eye contact. No matter though, I’m certain I appear much more “Captainly.” Of course, this thing will never step foot on land.
december 17 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
december 18 2006 : atlantic ocean crossing
Our last day of sailing before Grenada, after 22 days and 2800 miles, and it has easily been the nicest of the entire trip. The best sailing weather for us is when there is just a hint of whitecap on the waves and the swell is gently rolling up from directly behind us. That’s what we had today. Combine that with a strong current pushing us along and we are now looking at an early morning arrival.
Overall this has been about the easiest passage imaginable. For twenty-two days the only time the wind veered away from within thirty degrees of square on the stern was during a couple of short lived squalls. In fact, if it hadn’t been for us getting caught with the screecher out in one of them we could have called this a perfect passage.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to imagine where the writers of sailing books find all of their drama. Maybe they make it all up. It has to be better than writing, “Today I finished another book, played Yahtzee, and took a nap in the sun. Tomorrow I plan to start a new book, play Gin Rummy, and take a nap on the couch.” A real page turner that one.
december 19 2006 : grenada
At 2:30 a.m. we pulled up outside of Prickly Bay. It looked like a pretty straightforward entrance on the charts so we hadn’t really thought anything of showing up in the middle of the night. We inched our way slowly into the bay, but when I shined the spotlight around I began seeing buoys that weren’t listed on our charts. We had no idea what they were for and didn’t think running the boat onto a reef at this point would be a very cool thing to do, so we turned back outside the bay and anchored away from any hazards. Then at first light we pulled into the bay to find the customs man and get ourselves cleared in.
Prickly Bay was filled to the brim with boats, which I have to admit is exactly the nightmarish picture I’ve had in my mind of the Caribbean for the past couple of years. We’ve gotten a ton of emails telling us all about the great places to see in the Carib but we have kind of taken them with a grain of salt, not really sure if this would be our sort of place. A packed anchorage with nothing but cruisers swarming all over town isn’t really our scene.
However after just a few minutes onshore I changed my mind. Grenada is so perfectly Caribbean. The customs office was inside a pink house with plenty of purple and yellow thrown in to liven it up. There was a cute little thatched roof beach bar with a couple of locals already helping to support it at this early hour, and an outboard repair shack next door with kids out front getting their makeshift fishing poles ready for the day.
The customs and immigration guys were extremely nice. I sat back listening to reggae Christmas music until our paperwork was complete. With that done we moved to the next bay over, True Blue Bay. This is where our families are meeting us for Christmas. In fact, my family was due to arrive in just four hours. How’s that for timing?
The marina at the resort is just one small dock, but they had a nice big spot waiting for us and two helpful guys there to jump on and get all the lines set up perfectly. The first thing we did, as always after a passage, was give the boat a good wash. It’s amazing how much better the boat feels to you once it is clean and safely tied up. Once the day’s boat work was finished we went up to check in at the resort and make sure everything was ready. The girls at the desk were about the friendliest people we’ve ever met. And when one girl walked around the corner and saw us she said, “Oh good, you finally made it.” She knew exactly who we were just by looking at us because she had read our website after seeing our email address.
Well everybody showed up right on time and we retired to the bar overlooking the bay to catch up, eat Mexican food, and drink Carib beer. Pretty much a perfect day in our eyes, an end for the excellent Atlantic passage we’d just completed and a great introduction to the Caribbean for us.
We put together a video of the Atlantic crossing. This video is nothing but sailing scenes, sort of a video collage of what we spent the last three weeks looking at ourselves.
december 21 2006 : grenada
As always seems to happen when family visits us, Ali and I go from being the tourists to being the tour guides. So after a day of lying around by the pool we rented a car yesterday and took our little crew out to see the island a bit. It was a fun day and we were constantly amazed by the number of people everywhere. It seems like hardly anybody is working during the day and instead all are busy preparing for Christmas. The streets of the capital were overflowing with people. The Grenadians are easily the friendliest, most outgoing people. Ali spent the day in the backseat waving to people, carrying on conversations at stoplights, and yelling “Merry Christmas to you too,” to dozens of strangers as we slowly wound our way through the mountains. The scenery of the island was really beautiful too. The interior is a rainforest and everything is just dripping with foliage. The homes are mostly very modest wood planked boxes, painted brightly if the paint could be afforded, but even driving through the most run down sections it never felt poor.
We visited a waterfall, and a volcanic crater lake, before descending from the interior and back along the coast. We found the second largest town on the island, weaved slowly through the throngs of people on the streets and finally found a place to park. Across the street was a tiny roti shack where we were excited to have one of our favorite snack foods again. Josh had the chicken roti which came complete with whole bones in it. Apparently here they leave that cooking chore for you to take care of. We walked around the market a little bit watching everybody do their Christmas shopping and tracking down a Christmas reggae cd for ourselves.
A little side note. We are plugged in to shore power for the first time since we were on the hard in Panama. This is the greatest thing ever, unlimited power. No wonder people never leave the dock.
december 24 2006 : grenada
Really not a whole lot happening here in Grenada the last few days. Which is what a family vacation is all about I guess. We spent one day on Grande Anse Beach which is a huge two mile stretch of perfect soft sandy beach. We parked ourselves about midway along the beach and hired chairs from a little local beach bar shack. The beach really is nice, with balmy 92 degree water, and absolutely no other tourists in sight. Despite spending 99% of the day in the shade with 30 SPF lotion on, any and all pale white skin turned a Spider-Man costume shade of red.
The next day, armed with a bottle of Aloe Vera, Josh and Amanda stayed at the resort and nursed their burns. So it was just mom and us for a visit to Mourne Rouge Bay. The bay was an absolutely perfect half moon of beach with trees providing shade, and about the only people there were a handful of locals who rented chairs and sold cold beers cheap. Of course the serenity was shattered a few hours later when the booze cruise came bumpin’ into the bay and disgorged 50 really drunk gray hairs. I’ve never seen a booze cruise boat with a median age of over 60 before, but it didn’t seem to slow things down. We laid there watching as one couple made out and danced before toppling over hard onto the deck of the boat. Good free entertainment.
We’ve been busily trying different restaurants around the island every night and so far we have yet to have a single bad meal. The food here has been incredible and a pleasing change to our normal staple diet of which you are all well aware of by now.
We have also spent a couple of hours every day getting the boat back in shape. Ali gave the boat one of her hardcore top to bottom interior cleaning/detailing, the outside, including lockers, got a thorough wash, the torn sail got folded up nicely, and the dinghy received a fresh batch of super glue. I forgot to mention just how good the dinghy did on the passage. It had a very slow leak for the first 20 days which required pumping up three times a day. Not bad at all. On day 21 the leak increased and the pumping became an every two hour job. And on day 22, with the end so near she finally gave up entirely and hung limply by her lines no matter how much air was received. On the dock here I found that a new seam had completely let go, but after some delicate surgery she is holding air again and is ready to finish the trip north to Florida where she can retire along with everybody else there.
december 27 2006 : grenada
On Christmas Eve Ali’s family arrived. I can’t even tell you how great it was to see them all. It had been two years since we’d seen her sister Toni, her husband Troy, and their two kids, Lea and Curt. And those two kids are what we have missed the most about being away from home these last few years. As always though, within seconds it felt like no time at all had passed and everybody was happily being a family again. It was late by the time they arrived, so after a quick dinner and drinks we all called it a night.
Christmas day our new group of twelve met for breakfast at the restaurant where the kids opened a couple of small presents. It was definitely a whole new kind of Christmas morning for them without having piles of presents stacked to the ceiling but they didn’t say a word about it and it hardly even seemed to register with them, or anybody else for that matter, that it was Christmas at all. We took over one of the resort pools for the afternoon and, being the aunt and uncle who can never say no, the kids took advantage and completely wiped us out. That night Amanda took over the kitchen and whipped up enough food to feed us and at least half of the island. It was great. We ate, drank, played with the kids, reminisced about Christmas’ past, and generally just had a terrific Christmas all together.
The next day was Boxing Day, and we called up our resident taxi driver to have him make two trips with us all to Morne Rouge beach. Cab fares are exorbitant here on the island. So high in fact that our driver often regales us with stories of his twice yearly vacations with his family to exotic locations. Being in the warm weather year round he seems to favor places such as New York and London. When was the last time you had a cab driver tell you about a trip he just took to London? First class! Anyway, Morne Rouge beach had six people on it the other day when we visited. When we came around the bend this time we found hundreds if not thousands of people covering every inch of sand. Seems a cruise ship was in port. But hey, that always makes for some fun people watching. We spent the afternoon there swimming, buying hair braids, necklaces, t-shirts, sarongs, beer, and just about anything else that the vendors walked by with. It was another perfect day, and after about an hour on the beach the entire place cleared out leaving nobody but us and a whole bunch of local families to enjoy the stretch of sand.
december 30 2006 : grenada
It’s 7 a.m. and Ali and I are alone for the first time since arriving in Grenada. It’s been a great, and very busy ten days. The other day we loaded everybody except Josh and Amanda onto the boat for a little trip over to Hog Island. The wind was blowing 15-20 knots, a bit more than I would have liked for this family of landlubbers but I figured it was only a quick three mile trip close to shore so we couldn’t get into too much trouble. We were surprised to find that everybody loved the rough water.
Actually it wasn’t that rough, but it was enough to get the bows bouncing up and down. Most of the family chose to sit up on the trampolines and get drenched, which they did. By mile 2.5 however we had at least three people onboard who were getting close to the chunk blowing stage. When I saw Toni scooch over to the starboard railing looking a little green I had to gently remind her that facing into the wind while throwing up is never a good idea. She quickly changed rails. Fortunately about this time we made the turn into a beautiful fully protected bay out front of Hog Island.
We spent the afternoon there swimming, eating the last remnants of the Bumfuzzle junk food, and drinking the last of the Canary Islands beer. We also had our first encounter at sea with a Bum follower. A nice couple anchored right in front of us came over in their dinghy yelling, “It’s the famous Bumfuzzle!” Since we had our families with us this was of course perfect timing and we quickly invited them aboard for beers. With our families fully sunburned and suitably impressed with our Hog Island, Grenada, celebrity status we pointed the boat back out to sea for a much, much smoother downwind ride back to True Blue Bay.
The next day my family was headed back home while the rest of us sprawled out in the shade by the swimming pool. I must say I’ve been suitably impressed with my mom who, in the last three years, has traveled some pretty amazing distances to visit us in four different countries around the world.
Yesterday was Curt’s sixth birthday and we celebrated by spending the day at Grande Anse Beach. We had a great time there, pulling up beach chairs at the Lazy Dayz Restaurant and Bar again, and doing all the typical beach things like building sand castles and feeding stray dogs.
After the beach we drove down the road to pick up Curt’s present. Last week Ali and I had noticed a small shack on the side of the road with a sign on top saying, STEEL PANS FOR SALE. We stopped in to have a look and found that the tiny shack was actually a one room home with the owner sitting on the couch having a chicken dinner. He told us he didn’t have any pans at the moment but could make us one. We said we’d be back in a week. So yesterday we turned up with the whole family in tow and found our man Michael having a chicken lunch. He graciously set it aside and came out with our new steel pan. After setting it up on his stand he gave us a demonstration and tried to teach the kids to play. Curt was a little shy about the whole thing, but Lea was quick to grab the sticks and give it a go. She’s been playing the recorder in school recently so gave us a quick rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb which was quite good. Then before we left Michael played Happy Birthday for us. Nice guy.
We had some surprisingly good pizzas delivered for dinner. You would have thought it was my birthday I was so excited. After cake and ice cream, we all called it an early night and said our goodbyes. Ali’s family had a four a.m. wake up call to look forward to and we had a day of doing absolutely nothing to look forward to.
december 31 2006 : grenada
With 2006 coming to a close we’ve started to have a look back at what we accomplished. It was an amazing year, and a busy one. Here are a couple of the numbers. We visited 17 countries as we “sailed” 13,000 miles across 4 major bodies of water, the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Mediterranean, and the Atlantic. With the Red Sea and Med having prevailing winds against us we burned 825 gallons of diesel. We spent 87 nights, three full months, at sea on passage, as well as about 20 day hops.
We still find the Red Sea region to be the most interesting and the most fun of the trip. Looking back on the Med now we simply didn’t find the cruising there to be our style. As you all know by now, we like to leave the boat and actually see a country away from the touristy cruiser coasts. To do this in the Med meant paying extremely expensive marina fees. We’d prefer to visit Europe by land.
Overall the year was a great one. Looking back now it doesn’t really feel like we did that much sailing, perhaps because it was done in such large chunks. Although we must admit it is pretty exciting to look at a map and view the prospect of having no more long passages before hitting home again.