Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Once we got back into calmer water Lynn said he was bored, but we weren’t about to let him go again! Gini commented that she would never feel nervous about executing a golf shot after that. We arrived in Hope Town not long after, an incredibly picturesque harbor crammed with sailboats. Maybe because the Bahamians don’t really follow strict rules, the mooring we thought was reserved was not. We spent the better part of an hour calling the various marinas hoping for a spot. We were eventually successful, but had to take a slip…the last place in town. Gini commented that she now knows how Mary and Joseph felt when there was no place at the Inn!
Lynn and I are ecstatic to have achieved our goal and to have discovered how seaworthy our boat is. We made it!!! And just in time for Christmas!
We spent the first hour debating whether we should press on. We were all certain that Bill and Mary would choose to turn around, but they hung in with the group. The waves were tolerable and we decided it was not bad enough to abort the plan. Many hours later, as we were only maintaining 2-3 knots against the current, we were kinda rethinking our decision! It’s very cool to pass through the Gulf Stream as the depth meter reading continuously increases until it gets so deep that it can no longer read accurately. Ours stopped working at 381 feet. It is an eerie feeling realizing that you have 4000 feet of water below the boat. Once in a while the depth would read something much more shallow, which Chuck said was probably a big fish passing under the boat!
We were again travelling in the dark; although this time we did have a much bigger moon to light our way. But the going was pretty rough and very slow. The wind, which was predicted to be 10-15 knots, was on the order of 20-30 knots, sometimes more. Consequently, the waves, which were predicted to be 2-4 feet, were more like 6-8 feet. It was a very long night. Like watching an empty gas tank while searching for a gas station, I found myself incessantly checking the GPS for progress. I think I counted every 0.1 nautical mile we travelled. Gini laughed that I must have declared “I think it’s getting calmer…don’t you think?” about a hundred times throughout the long night. We all stayed in the cockpit and had a sort of slumber party, but nobody could actually sleep!
Around midnight, Lynn and I said farewell to our good friend Jerry Queen who lost his battle with cancer on December 16th. We sent our thoughts of him to be carried by the Gulf Stream. We talked about the things we remembered...like his big hugs and contagious laugh. He was a great friend who lived life to the fullest; we will really miss him. Like Peg Gieseking said, we wish we could have had one more happy hour. Bye Jerry...you're gone but never forgotten.
Unfortunately our autopilot was not able to manage in the rough water so the helm had to be constantly manned. I have to thank both David and Lynn who took turns all night. We all just hung on waiting impatiently to reach the Mantanilla shoals where we expected the conditions to improve significantly in the shallow water. We were sadly mistaken. As we finally arrived at the longed-for waypoint, we ran into a squall and had to manage for another few hours until the water finally calmed down. All tolled we spent about 17 hours tossing and turning. Luckily it was not until we had found calm water that our trusty engine started to object to the treatment we had inflicted upon it and began making a strange noise. We hoisted the genoa (the big head sail) at which point the engine conked out completely. Upon inspection, Lynn discovered the fuel filters needed changing, which he masterfully accomplished while underway. The engine once again purred its way for another 8 hours to reach our destination of Great Sale Cay (pronounced Key). At long last we anchored in a lovely bay with beautiful blue-green water surrounding us. There were 10 boats in the anchorage, where we managed to have dinner, work on the engine for a few hours (David and Lynn that is) and hit the sack feeling thoroughly exhausted. I think Mary summed it up the best when she said, “that crossing was so rough it rearranged the padding in my bra!”
The next day we started out early again and headed for Green Turtle Cay. This was a lovely, relaxing day of travel. We hoisted both sails and motor sailed for about 8 hours, close-hauled most of the way and doing about 8 knots. We had fun taking pictures of each other’s boats. When we arrived at Green Turtle, the three captains went ashore to check into customs. Once done, we were all free to roam about the island. We promptly headed to the Green Turtle Club for a celebratory drink, a “Tipsy Turtle”. We spent the next day there and toured in rented golf carts, their main mode of transportation. We were all impressed by the beautifully manicured and well-maintained properties, whether rich or poor. The town of New Plymouth was very quaint; I love the pastel colors on the houses. That night we watched White Christmas. Gini and I couldn’t stay awake but Lynn and David persevered to the happy ending. We went to bed nervously awaiting the Whale Channel crossing…that’s for the next chapter…
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
We have been working on our boat since arriving here…OK; Lynn has been working on the boat with help from David. He has successfully installed a new engine blower that conked out somewhere in the ocean, crimped the electrical wire that was causing problems and fixed our outboard motor. Today Lynn climbed the mast to fix the halyards for hanging flags (He seems to enjoy doing this but it makes me very nervous).
Unfortunately, Lynn has not been able to get the ice maker working, which, as you can imagine, has been causing a fair amount of angst. We are now planning to order a new ice maker and have it drop shipped to the Bahamas…because goodness knows we would be lost without it! Gini and I have spent our time shopping, cleaning the boat, cooking, doing laundry and, oh yah, sipping afternoon cocktails. I even managed to get some actual work done today (I made the misguided decision to work 12 hours a week)! We also had a nice visit from Todd and Ben, David and Gini’s son and grandson.
We have been having regular meetings with our cruising companions to assess the weather and plan our next leg. We have decided to leave from Fort Pierce, which is 10 miles south of where we are now. We then head out into the ocean in the early afternoon for an 8-12 hour crossing of the Gulf Stream until we reach the Little Bahama Bank entering at Matanilla shoal. Then we head to Great Sale Cay where we will anchor for the night (that’s the next night after spending the first night in the ocean). After that we go to Green Turtle Cay and check into customs. There we will again spend the night and wait for the weather window to navigate around Whale Cay (something we are told it is advisable to respect!) to our final destination of Hope Town Harbor. I was mistaken in my previous blog because I didn’t realize that we have another night at sea. Oh well, that’s OK, we are well rested.
Meanwhile, our temporary home has been lovely, nestled close to the mangroves with dragonflies hovering and the occasional dolphin surfacing for a breath (Todd confirmed that we are seeing Bottle Nose Dolphins). I do consider myself very lucky to be here.
Monday, December 17, 2007
The title of this blog pretty much defines the open ocean cruising experience. We left the ICW just north of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and it took 24 hours to travel to Charleston where we jumped back in to pick up David and Gini. We spent about an hour refueling and loading our new crew and their provisions. We were back out in the ocean about four hours later and had fallen only three hours behind the others. We then travelled south, about 20 miles off shore, for another 48 hours when we re-entered the ICW at Cape Canaveral. With the exception of the last 4 hours, the conditions were ideal. The wind was only about 10-15 knots and the waves were usually less than about 2 feet, very comfortable. The time is spent at the helm, eating occasionally, dozing now and then and tracking our course. There is not much out there, just a few big ships passing us now and then in the night. The stress part occurred only a few times, including a phantom boat passing much too close for comfort in the early morning fog. We never saw the vessel, but their radar blob passed right over ours and we saw their wake…pretty scary. Our autopilot also went screwy a few times and it took some delicate maneuvering to coax it back on course…we decided we probably got too close to the Bermuda Triangle. I’m glad to say that our night travel is behind us now until the journey home.
Travelling in the dark is not too bad once you get used to it. One of the more aggravating things was that our enclosure kept fogging up, so every once in a while we would attach the harness and venture out with the squeegee. But that only lasted about 15 minutes. The toughest times were the hours between midnight and 7 am when the sun came up. It was really challenging to stay awake and I found myself nodding off. Good thing the autopilot kept us on course! We spelled each other off more in the daylight hours when we each took a few hours off to sleep. For me these were fitful naps as I kept dreaming we were running aground or hitting a boat.
Because the conditions were so good and due to our timing, the group decided to push on about 100 mile further south than our original planned entry point. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t as good as we reached Cape Canaveral and the waves increased to about 7 feet and were hitting us broad side. This makes for pretty uncomfortable cruising as the boat rocks back and forth about 45 degrees on each side. We then discovered that we had not stowed our stuff as well as we thought and articles were crashing about below. Nothing breakable of course but there were bags of pretzels and clothing strewn about. There’s not much you can do while underway, you just hang on and pick up when you get out of the weather. We were all pretty happy when we pulled into that harbor (harbour for the Canadians reading this blog). Again, we were never in any danger, just uncomfortable. It’s strange that the relief and exhilaration of leaving the ICW for open ocean was later replaced by the relief and calm felt at once again returning to the security of the ICW.
Unfortunately, as we entered Cape Canaveral, Bill radioed us from Meant-To-Be to inform us that they had smoke coming from the engine. They had to quickly pull over to assess the situation. The problem was that they were in a restricted zone and were boarded by security within a few minutes. Despite being almost arrested, it turned out to be a relatively minor problem that should be easily fixed. We have continued on to our final Florida destination at Vero Beach, where they will join us with only a one day delay. A few words about our fellow travelers. Mary is the self-named double P, which refers to poop’n and puke’n! This first happened as we came down the Chesapeake Bay in nasty conditions and her body had this unfortunate reaction to the fear she experienced. I think she was incredibly brave to venture again into the ocean after that. The last few hours before arriving in Cape Canaveral apparently had the same effect, topped off by their smoking engine. It is very fortunate that this happened when we had returned to land because it would have been a much more serious situation in the ocean. I’m afraid Mary might have thrown herself overboard. We all plan to toast their arrival at Vero Beach. I did get permission from Mary to write this in my blog; she wants Nicole Kidman to play her if there is ever a feature film about this memoir.
We are now motoring our last 10 miles to Vero after a lovely relaxing night with dinner and wine and a perfect sleep. This is where many of the south bound cruisers gather to rest up, re-provision and do any needed maintenance after beating up their boats. We have a battery charging problem and ice maker to fix (you may remember Lynn’s extreme addiction to ice). Other than that our boat had faired very well. So, the end of this leg of the adventure is now in sight and we await the next, which will be crossing the Gulf Stream.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
The weather has been absolutely perfect after the horrendous night in the Bay. It has become steadily warmer and we have been slowly shedding our winter duds. I was even in a sleeveless shirt for a short time today. The scenery is very serene and if not for the stress of avoiding running aground, we would be totally relaxed. We have had a number of exciting wildlife sightings, most outstanding of which are the dolphins (porpoises? I never know the difference) that have been playing and racing with our boat. Something I have heard they will do but have never experienced. It was really exhilarating to see…the picture don’t do it justice. Other sightings, in order of excitement caused, are a bald eagle, pelicans, herons, egrets, cormorants, anahingas (sp?), an american coot and several other unidentified water fowl (sorry Dad!)
Today was another uneventful day until we decided to follow a barge out an inlet to the ocean to try to buy back some time lost waiting for a broken swing bridge to be fixed. The barge drew 7 feet (which means it needs more the 7 feet of water below it) so we figured it would be safe to follow since we draw 5.5 feet. Wrong!! As we followed the Evelyn Doris, she hit the ground hard and got severely stuck just as they were making the turn to head out to open water. Lynn had time to quickly back off and we opted to follow Chuck and Dale out instead. They did a masterful job and we made our way easily out to the ocean. It was very exciting to venture out to open water and it definitely felt great to stop worrying about 7 foot water depths.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Anyway, back to the start of this story, cold doesn’t really describe it. It snowed through the night and the wind was sustained at about 30 knots with gusts as high as 40…not quite what the weather man predicted. We tried to use our little ceramic heater in the cockpit but it kept kicking off. Our feet were definitely numb and we were chilled to the bone. As we reached the lower part of the Bay, the waves picked up significantly; we estimate they were about 5 feet (although they felt like 10 feet). They were rolling into the port stern, so it felt kinda like we were surfing. The only thing that made us feel better was the knowledge that we would be much worse off had they been hitting us abeam or we were crashing into them.
After many hours of this action I discovered that I don’t seem to suffer from motion sickness and for that I am extremely thankful. Daybreak came finally and we reached Norfolk at about 2 PM on Thursday afternoon. Lynn and I have decided that we have no desire to repeat that particular voyage and would opt in future to do the bay crossing in two days.
We anchored in Hospital Bay, Norfolk, in very calm water. We were all bagged!! After a hot shower, Lynn and I had a nice mug of hot chocolate (mine with “splash” of Baileys) and tried to watch the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but kept dozing. We eventually gave up and hit the sack at about 8 PM. With our generator purring and our heater finally working, we slept soundly and woke at about 7 AM for our planned 8 AM departure.
Today is a beautiful day. We are very cozy in our cockpit enclosure (I’m not even wearing a jacket) and have hopefully left the very cold weather behind us. We have successfully navigated the 13 bridges (6 of which have to open to let boats pass) and one lock south of Norfolk (which we managed somewhat more gracefully than the last time when we ended up facing backwards in the lock!). Our plan is to travel about 60 miles to the top of Albermarle Sound and anchor there for the night.
So, Mom, Dad and Lynn’s kids, now that you have read this…let us reassure you that we were very safe the entire time, just a little uncomfortable. We are now listening to the Beatles on our IPOD (thanks Tracy!) and have polished off delicious chocolate chip cookies (thanks Jeff!). We are feeling so happy to be here.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
It has been a fun few weeks as the excitement builds and we enjoyed several great Bon Voyage parties. It started at work with a surprise party that caught us both off guard. Before Lynn realized the party was for him, he quipped “Nobody ever gave me a party like this!” Thanks to all who pulled that together (Amy, Erica, Susannah, Stephanie, and Nancy, the extraordinary cake maker). We then had a fun happy hour with a bunch from work. My family had an early Christmas gathering. Thank you Mom and Dad for the great dinner and my bro’s and their families for travelling in inclement weather to get together before I left. Lynn’s kids and grandkids had a lovely breakfast brunch and showered us with Christmas presents. Again, very unexpected and much appreciated. We managed to cram the whole gang of 16 on the boat…a new record.
We do feel very lucky to have such wonderful friends and family. Anyway, we will finally be off in a few hours and will keep you posted.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
So, let me tell you about our boat refurbishing odyssey. As I said earlier, we pulled our boat out of the water in the fall of 2003 expecting to work for a season and launch the following summer…well, we didn’t actually launch until three years later. What did I learn in three years?
Surveyors are crooks
All boat repairs are more time-consuming and costly than expected
Lynn is a perfectionist, but very handy
One boat unit = $1000.00
BOAT is actually an acronym for Bring on Another Thousand (or boat unit…see #4)
You know you are in trouble when you start thinking “it only costs one boat unit, that’s not bad!” It’s a good thing that we got a good deal on the boat by purchasing in Georgia because the money we saved has all gone back into repairs and upgrades. We have certainly used much of our equity, both cash and sweat. But, we now have a beautiful, seaworthy vessel. Here’s a short list of the main improvements we have painstakingly, I mean lovingly, accomplished…
New bottom (24 blisters estimated by our surveyor turned out to be more than 200)
All new electronics
New rigging (twice, but that’s another story)
Refurbished mast and furling motor
All new lifelines
New stainless steel swim platform (designed by Lynn)
New stainless steel arch (also designed by Lynn)
New cockpit enclosure
New main sail
Refurbished winches and windlass
New stainless steel portholes
All new upholstery and décor
New Corian countertops and sinks in galley and head
New microwave and freezer
Revarnished all teak
Etc, etc, etc…the list really does go on and on…
Although the boat is 24 years old, almost everything is brand new. I don’t really mean to sound like I’m complaining because, although it has been challenging at times, we really have enjoyed the project and feel very satisfied to have brought our boat back to her former beauty. The most rewarding moments have been when strangers ask if it is a new boat…which has happened more than once. Our launching party last year was also a wonderful event, with friends and family there to celebrate the long-awaited splash. We even popped a bottle of Dom Perignon for the occasion.
We have now been living aboard for about 5 months and thoroughly enjoy the experience (except for the occasional bickering that inevitably occurs due to close quarters J). We continue to make improvements in preparation for the big departure in December. Just this weekend Lynn installed our new freezer and I started varnishing the teak cabinets in the salon (one coat down, five to go!). Twenty six days to go…
Saturday, October 20, 2007
We were immediately impressed by the roomy interior that had lots of amenities not commonly found on a sailboat, like light and space. Not to mention the enviable sweet stuff like a separate galley and salon areas, a stand-up fridge, and best of all a separate shower in the aft head. Of course we continued to look at other boats, cause that's what you are supposed to do, but we kept coming back to the Gulfstar (kinda like searching endlessly for the perfect wedding dress and finally buying the first one you tried on). Anyway, Lynn searched the Internet and found a boat of the same design for sale in Georgia, which is quite amazing because there were only 17 of its kind built. Well, after numerous trips to survey the boat and much help from our broker Jack and Lynn's brother David, we purchased her.
We knew our new boat needed a lot of TLC because she had been sitting idle for many years. For example, all the windows leaked and we thought...that's OK, we'll just replace them, what could be easier?...more on that later. The first job was to move the boat from Georgia to Havre de Grace. For that we had a few crazy volunteers, including Lynn's previously mentioned brother, David, our sister-in-law, Gini, and our good friend Cindy. The trip took 11 days and turned out to be a blast. I was expecting long, boring days afloat so took along a bunch of books to pass the time. Not one was opened. The weather was great and the scenery and wildlife was varied and beautiful, from the serene winding marshland in Georgia to the forested shores in North Carolina. We also stopped in many nice places, if only for one night, including Beaufort SC, Charleston, and lots of quaint small towns and Marinas.
We quickly settled into our routine and crew positions. Lynn was obviously the Captain and his job was to bring the boat in and out of the dock and then sit at the bow smoking his cigar with David. He also occasionally stripped down to the buff while David splashed him with a full bucket of water to cool off from the hot Georgia sun (I have pictures for anyone willing to pay the price). David was the First Mate and took over whenever Lynn was otherwise occupied. He was also an experienced sailor so his advice was often called upon. Cindy and I were the navigators and helmsmen, using the handheld GPS to make our way from bridge to bridge and ultimately state to state. Actually, Cindy was officially classed as a helm hog as it was rather difficult to pry her hands from the wheel she enjoyed it so much. Gini was the galley wench and kindly made many of the meals and all of the 5 PM cocktails (OK, it was 5-o'clock somewhere:)). Thanks for introducing us to Vodka Gimlets...we may never be the same. She was also our resident naturalist and could be found most often with the binoculars spotting birds...I think she extended her life list by a few species. By the end of the trip we had all earned nicknames, like Dinghy, Backwards, Water Spout, and Lighthouse. I'll let you try to figure out who's who.
I will tell you that Lynn's nickname was Iceman, not only because he is addicted to massive quantities of ice, but he manages to remain eerily calm during moments of high tension...like approaching a closed bridge in 30-knot winds, a strong current, two marinas with boats launching, a small rowboat immediately off the bow, and loss of our dinghy off the stern cleat (clue to one of the nicknames previously mentioned)...all at the same time! I have never figured out why Lynn will utter a string of unmentionable and very creative curses when he does something like drop a screwdriver, but stay calm and focused when facing a seriously stressful situation. I, on the other hand, don't seem to sweat the small stuff (or so I think...Lynn might choose to differ), but can completely lose it when the going gets tough. Oh well, at least we aren't both crazy at the same time. But, I digress. In the end, after lots of laughs and camaraderie, as well as many mini-adventures (e.g, ending up backwards in a lock, spotting both real and imagined wildlife, dodging water spouts - another clue -, running aground temporarily and taking the wrong turn once, OK twice, to name a few), we made it home safe and sound to our first home port in Fell's Point, Baltimore...just in time for Hurricane Isabel!
Lucky for us our boat weathered the storm with only a small amount of damage (if you consider ripping off a portion of the rub rail small). We then pulled the boat out of the water in Havre de Grace for what we planned to be ONE SEASON of maintenance...but, that's another long, sad story, with a happy ending of course...