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June 2014

Squalls

IMG_0517When we were hand-steering back to Sint Maarten, over a week ago, I had a lot of time to observe our surroundings. In fact, when one is hand-steering at sea, it is one’s job to observe the sea, sky, sails, and instruments – and to maintain our course, of course. Off-watch, both of us slept, so much of each watch was spent alone on deck, contemplating life, looking at clouds, and trying to stay awake. (Not necessarily in that order.)  About 20-30 miles north of the Mona Passage, I watched a line of squalls head East to West as we were moving South.

Have you ever been at sea and observed a line of squalls? These were rather benign little things; a row of puffy gray clouds, white on top, and darker below. The darker clouds held rain, some of which was released in our direction. There are wind squalls, rain squalls, and squalls that provide lots of wind and rain and excitement. These were unexciting squalls, but still required adjusting the sails and donning a light jacket. They marched in an uneven line; some went ahead of us and some went behind; others went right over the top of us.

I thought of how life can provide some squally moments. Some squalls are benign and hard to dodge. Those are the things that won’t matter tomorrow or next week: an argument, spilled milk, a bad day at work. You move through them and move on. Other squalls can cause havoc and damage the boat or sails. These are things that may not be important a month or a year from now, but certainly make you change course or adjust your immediate goals: a fender bender, a failing grade, an illness, or a broken auto-pilot. Whether on land or on sea, some of these larger squalls can be avoided, others have to be endured. How we handle ourselves during the squally moments is an excellent test of our maturity, sense of humor, and adaptability.

IMG_0452For the most part, both EW and I have been handling this well, but I had a bitchy moment this morning. I can’t easily get into my clothing drawers, I can’t put the sewing stuff away, the master stateroom has been torn apart for over a week and, as Mandy from Secret Smile would say, bits and bobs that have been displaced from our cabin have made their way to every other part of the boat. It’s a mess. This morning I wouldn’t let EW make a pot of coffee until I had neatened what could be neatened and cleaned the surfaces I could see. He wisely vacated to the deck and gave me ninety minutes to create my own cleaning squall below. Now he’s off to FKG to get an answer on the viability of this second non-working part. My fingers are crossed that it can be repaired by tomorrow and we can leave this weekend. It’s still not too late to head across, but we will be one of the last fewIMG_0548 boats to leave Sint Maarten for the Azores this season. I didn’t want to be one of the last boats.

Still, this has allowed me to stock up on some good story ideas, evaluate my provisioning (I did good.), make new friends, and visit with ones we haven’t seen for a year. EW got to participate in two open mike nights at Lagoonies. I have upgraded the sea bunk lee cloth, repaired the main sail, and reorganized a few cupboards. As squalls go, having to turn back at 377 miles is much better than losing the auto pilot half way across the Atlantic. (Knock wood, people. Right now. I mean it.) I loved our time at sea (before Casey broke) and look forward to the crossing with more excitement than I did before we left the first time.

Some folks have pointed out that this auto-pilot squall could have been avoided if we had a wind vane. (For you non-sailors: an Auto-Pilot attaches to your steering system and uses electronics and electrical power to steer the boat in the compass direction you choose. A wind vane attaches to the rudder and steers the boat using a hard “sail” to keep the rudder working with the sails to move the boat forward. Many boats have both; some have one or the other.) It can be difficult to attach a wind vane to a center cockpit boat, it had not been done by La Luna’s previous owners, and we chose not to the invest time and money before we set sail. A wind vane is one of many things we would install in an ideal world, but we live in the real world of squalls, and had to make choices. We opted to leave Maine in 2010 in a safe, working boat, instead of  working for two or three more years during an uncertain economy with the hope of making  La Luna perfect. We decided to sail, and it was a great decision.

Thanks for all of your kind words, thoughts, and prayers. We are fine; we are safe, we are eating very well, and we are weathering this squall.

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Photos: 

  • La Luna at sunset in Sint Maartin
  • Master Stateroom amidst the Auto Pilot Squall
  • EW at Lagoonies
  • Shana, S/V Quartette, Mandy, S/V Secret Smile,  and me doing the “Fish Dance”
  • Dave and Trudy, S/V Persephone
  • Gavin, S/V Secret Smile
  • Gavin, EW, and Art – musician, ad man, emcee extraordinaire – leader of Lagoonies Open Mike Night.l

We Pause in the Crossing of the Atlantic

Sint Maarten 357Breathe.  (I put that in for Gabi – who is here! Loyal and long-time readers may remember the yoga lessons we took our first year in Grenada. Near the end of that season, Gabi and her husband Sven sold their mono-hull, JuCa, and flew back to New Zealand. They and their two children, arrived back in the Caribbean about two weeks ago, having purchased a catamaran, Cool Change, and will head back to Grenada when the boat and provisions are ready. It was terrific to see Gabi and she mentioned how much she loves “seeing” me “Breathe” in various blog posts.)

Breathe. Hand-steering for three days totally reinforced our decision to return to Sint Maarten.  Sometimes you just get it right. An engine/fuel filter/solenoid problem also raised its ugly head before we made it to Simpson Bay, so this week is a week of boat mess and repairs. Sint Maarten 449 (Below, is the master stateroom. Clearly we are not sleeping there.) Fortunately, we had met Brad and Shana from S/V Quartette right before we left here. In fact both couples expressed regret that we wouldn’t have more time together. On the one hand: Be careful what you wish for. On the other hand: Brad is a diesel mechanic – a really, really good diesel mechanic. We anchored near them upon our return and Brad spent the better part of two days aboard La Luna working and directing EW. EW has a high regard for Brad’s knowledge. We are very fortunate. I have a list of things to accomplish, about half of which are on board. None of those can be done while EW and Brad are in repair mode. The engine/fuel/solenoid problem is fixed and the engine has been thoroughly examined. EW is changing out some hoses that are tied in to both the engine and the engine driven fridge compressor, at which point “Pinetop” Perkins will be good to go.

While Shana and I were shopping for boat parts and a few groceries, the guys tackled the autopilot. We met them underway in dinghies as they were taking the hydraulic pump into FKG. We had hoped for hose issues, so when I saw large metal parts in garbage bags my heart sunk. This auto pilot was top of the line over 20 years ago, but the Australian company is no longer in business, having been absorbed by someone else. Shana and I headed back to the anchorage while the guys took the part to have the seals rebuilt (or whatever that is called) – if possible.

FKG is an outstanding company. EW says it’s one of the best marine companies he has ever experienced – and that’s a lot of experience to consider. The guy took a look at it and said, “Yep. We have to parts kit for this.” It will be ready at 11:30 on Friday.

We are planning a Saturday or Sunday departure – depending on when I can get my stuff done. Of course there will be some re-provisioning as we’ve had two weeks of using food and water and gotten no-where. For those of you concerned that we are leaving too late – as I had been. I’ve talked with a number of sailors who make this trip frequently.  As one charming Italian fellow said, “Oh. Is good time. All June is good time.”. He is planning on leaving in 5 days because it will take that long to get his boat ready. Mike, our friend/mentor on Quinn will head out about when we do. His boat is smaller and slower than ours so we won’t see him until we all get to Horta.

Our friends from Maine on Koukla are still in Bermuda, waiting for the weather to clear. They had left a week ahead of us and run into no wind about 400 miles north of Sint Maarten. They motored a lot, finally making it to Bermuda between a Low and a Cold Front. Once the front passes they will make for Rockland.

So, here are some things I learned during my longest passage at sea (thus far).

  • I like it. I wasn’t seasick. I slept well. I was easy on my watches. As long as we can avoid the big storms, I’m good.
  • My provisioning worked. I still use Cruising Cuisine, by Kay Pastorious, as my food bible. She had good tips on storing fruits and veggies that seemed to work. I incorporated fresh, hard to store veggies during the first week, making eggplant parmigiano a la Julia Child while underway. I was EW’s hero for that. I posted a print-out listing the twenty some meals on the menu. Some are designated for “early in trip”, others are for “bad weather”. I have enough to provide three meals for two for each of these – some by making enough for two three times, others – like the eggplant – by eating left-overs. I also put up a post-it every few days, reminding EW what is available for snacks, and pushing whatever fruit is ripe now. He takes direction well and we had a good system going.
  • The sea bunk didn’t work. As we were getting ready to leave, EW took over the sea bunk project, telling me that I didn’t need to sew a length of fabric to the lee-cloth. That fabric is designed to attach to the outside bulkhead under the cushion, so that the lee cloth holds both us and the cushions when under way. EW fastened the lee cloth to the ends of the bunk, but various body parts and cushions kept slipping out the bottom when we heeled to port. As soon as the guys clear out, I’m fixing that.
  • EW shouldn’t promise me we’ll be “on a reach” all the way, and I shouldn’t believe him. We had northeast winds for the 377 miles we made good, and southeast winds eight hours after we turned back. We heeled for 6 of the 7 days, and motored for one. I’m OK with that, but it wasn’t what was promised.

That’s about it. Thank you all for the messages via Sailmail. I love Sailmail. We’ll let you know when we set off again. Life is very good here in Sint Maarten, but we are sure it will be just as good in the Azores and look forward to experienced them.

NOTE:

For those of you wondering about our travel “schedule” I include the following notes about our itinerary. Since we are about three weeks late in getting out of here, we have tentatively shortened our goals for Portugal, and after hearing from other cruisers about the costs charged sailors in Senegal, we have omitted that country. This is a rough outline. If you plan to visit, know that you will be picking a date or a location, not both. We cannot guarantee to be someplace on a particular date.

  • July – The Azores. We plan to visit all of the islands.
  • August –  Mainland Portugal. Hopefully Lisbon, then more extensively along the south coast of  Portugal and Spain, including one or two rivers, with a side trip via land to Seville.
  • September – Morocco and the Canaries
  • October – Gambia
  • November – Cape Verdes

This actually gives us 4 extra weeks, some of which will be spent in the Cape Verdes preparing to leave for Brazil. We hope to do that by the end of  December. We could certainly spend more time in the Azores, Portugal/Spain, and Canaries, if the boat and we are doing well. I expect we will take our time sailing from Recife, Brazil down to Uruguay and Argentina, and would arrive in that region around April. We have to take Tango lessons and do some exploring via bus in South America, so we have not put a time-frame on leaving there.  Sailing and adventurous types are invited to visit aboard. Others may want to stay ashore where we are based for a bit.

We are relaxing a bit – and EW participated in an open mike night. More on that later. In the meantime, he thoroughly enjoyed reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. He didn’t enjoy my interruptions with the camera.

Sint Maarten 374

 

I leave you with how EW expressed displeasure. Good day!

Sint Maarten 378


Welcomed Back in Sint Maarten

I loved sailing my O'Day 17, Selene, and could easily spend three to five hours out on Quohog Bay in Harpswell, Maine.
Hand-steering La Luna on the "high seas" is not as much fun. Once we turned around, and after EW got some much needed rest, we instituted a 3 hour watch system. There went extra time for cleaning, cooking, writing, or playing guitar. We ate simple meals, steered, and slept. For over 24 hours we battled a weather helm until EW finally decided to shorten the main. After that I didn't need to use both hands and a foot to get her back on course.

We were tired and once again relieved to be able to state, "At least it happened here, and not 800 miles east of Bermuda." (Or some such random number that would require us to simply keep going until we made it to the Azores. Heading back to Sint Maarten was not a hardship when one considered the alternatives. (I have considered them, however, and EW has agreed that if we must hand steer for thousands of miles we will indeed heave-to for a few hours every other day in order to deal with boat, personal, and food issues. We also made a few errors -- documented for another post or article -- nothing that endangered the boat or ourselves.

I erred in navigation and truly believed that Simpson Bay was much closer to Sombero Island. We should have remained sailing our course farther south than we did. Unfortunately, we started the engine in order to go into the wind toward our anchorage, like a horse bolting for the barn. The result? Early on Sunday morning, when I had originally projected we would arrive at anchor, we were still 20 miles away and the engine died. Once again, EW had kind of predicted it when he thought, "I bet it's time to change the fuel filter." Yep. We had wind, coming directly from where we wanted to be, but it was wind, so we set the jib and EW went below to work on the engine. Back in Maine, after a missed rag in the otherwise professionally cleaned fuel tanks, we had a summer of cleaning the filter and bleeding the engine, so we have the process down. I sail the boat, EW works on the engine and when he's ready, I "try to start it" in order to get the air out of the lines.

For over six hours I had a marvelous sail, tacking all the way to Saba, while EW changed two fuel filters and discovered the starter solenoid was toast. Of course, being EW he had a spare, but was loath to put it on under way, heeled over, in three to five foot seas. We were going to be sailing in to Simpson Bay and anchor under sail. Oh joy.

We tacked back, missed the bay by 5 degrees, tacked out for 25 minutes and made our mark. I was confident that EW knew what we were doing, and that the new Rockna anchor would hold, I still worried about hitting other boats. We made it. It was a hectic few minutes but we anchored at 4:00 PM on Sunday. We stowed some things, raised the anchor light, had wine and cheese and crackers for dinner, and I was asleep by 7:30. After more than ten hours of sleep, we awoke early enough to announce our arrival on the cruisers' net, surprising most folks, and relieving those who had followed the blog and knew we were heading back to Sint Maarten.

On Monday, EW worked on the boat, installing the solenoid, and we engaged Brad from S/V Quartette to help with other mechanical issues, including the auto pilot. I ran around getting laundry done, and shopped for things we had lacked underway. My favorite moment of the day:

EW and I had gone in to Budget Marine, and had just tied Lunah Landah to their dock when we met a couple of cruisers. We chatted very briefly, before she asked me the name of our boat. Once I answered "La Luna", she brightened and turned toward my sweetie and said, "YOU are EW!". Judy and her husband, Jan, are from Canada and have been sailing in the Caribbean for 8 years. I'm not sure how we've missed meeting them, but Judy has been a regular reader of this blog,and recognized EW from the photo I had taken when he was running the Morning Star. Before they got to Sint Maarten, Judy had been disappointed that she wouldn't have a chance to meet us. While she certainly didn't wish us ill, once she read the prior post about our return, she said to Jan, "Maybe we will meet Barb and EW, yet."

Yep. I love this cruising life.