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December 2014

A Sad Day At Sea or Anywhere

In 2002, my sister and her husband were the first family members to visit La Luna after we bought her. Neither of them were boaters, so they came when she was on the hard in Robinhood Marine. My sister climbed up the ladder with no hesitation, was excited for us, and helped me measure the galley for storage containers. She wholly supported our lifestyle and our life choices and in 2010 my sister and her husband hosted a family going away party for EW and me before we set sail. My sister and I talked on the phone as often as possible, and she was my source of family info.

My sister died on Monday, and I just found out today. My sister and our two brothers were from my dad's first marriage. A number of years after their mom died, dad married again and I am the only child of that marriage. I am an only child with siblings who were older -- so much so that my older brother was married and a dad before I was born. Still, I am their sister.

As I got older, and particularly in my adulthood, my sister taught me how to be a sister. She taught by example. We share a dad, his work ethic, his distressingly straight hair, his sense of humor, and his love of family. She got the gardening, cooking, and housekeeping genes. We both could talk your ear off until the cows came home, but somehow shared fairly equally in our conversations. My sister taught me how to make oyster stew for Daddy, loved mom's Christmas Chex Mix, and got me hooked on Nora Roberts romance novels. Like me she was a dog lover, and like me and Mom, she saved many more recipes than she would ever use.

My sister was just the best sister. She was an awesome daughter, loving wife, outstanding mom, super aunt, and wonderful honorary grandmom. She told me that she had that bouncing baby boy's photo with her in the hospital and hoped to have more years to enjoy watching him grow. I hoped so, too.

Frankly, one of the deciding factors in our decision to sail back to the Caribbean was so that I could fly home and see my sister. When I told her that in our last good conversation, she said (in her Maine accent), "Oh, you don't have to do tha-at." Yes I did. I am so sorry not to have been there for her and her husband and son. I am so very sorry not to be able to hug our big brother. I am so sorry.

At that going away party in 2010, one of the family took me aside and said, "You know, Barb, some of us may die before you come back, and that's OK." I was frankly appalled, but knew that it was meant in kindness. Now, years later, EW and I remembered that moment, and realize that not only was it well-meant, but it was also a kind of loving forgiveness offered in advance. Since we left Maine we've lost a number of friends and one young cousin. Just over a year ago, the younger of my two brothers died. And this week we lost my sister.

It's not OK. This is when traveling hurts. I know that my family will handle everything just fine, and that they'll take care of my sister's husband and son, and our brother. But it hurts so much to be here at sea and not be there to help, hug, tell stories, make baked beans, cry together, and laugh a bit. This is part of the cruising life, and we accept it. But it hurts.

Currently we are North 17 degrees and 44.79 minutes and West 031 degrees and 13.21 minutes. We are sailing at 4.6 knots heading 270, almost exactly on course. It's a good day at sea, but there's a hole in our hearts. We are sad on La Luna.

To Boldly Go ... Slowly

Greetings from North 17 degrees 48.99 minutes and West 29 degrees 37.83 minutes. The good news is we are now moving more west than any other direction. The other good news is that I was correct in my assessment that we motor south last night and pick up wind from the east. It's not a big wind, and it's a bit north of east so we are currently heading to Guyana, but we are sailing, and we'll gybe tomorrow and head more directly for Guadeloupe.

I've been thinking about Star Trek - the one with Jon Luc Picard - this began after catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror one night. It was still chilly, so I had on my Dallas sweatshirt with the hood up, and the headlamp was shining brightly like a red third eye in my forehead. I thought I looked like a budget home movie cyborg -- but not as sexy as the one Jon Luc fell in love with. Then, since I've had a bit of trouble sleeping, I thought about the one where those tiny organisms invaded everyone's dreams, causing them not to go into REM sleep. Evidently that can create periods of insanity. I plead that as the cause of the next tidbit.

Favorite very kindly and tactfully let me know that the Thunder Alley post had a problem with Port and Starboard. My apologies. This wouldn't have happened if I had given EW time to proof it. I can't fix it until we land and get on-line. Assume when we turned to the north it was to starboard and when we turned to the south it was to port. Thank you, Favorite, and thank you for wishing Dale a happy birthday. You are the best shore manager ever.

Speaking of Favorite. He has emailed us. Actually sent news about what's happening with his life. We were thrilled. We've also had news from my friend Kathy. Plus two people have responded to an email I sent them. That's it. Cue the guilt: Ours will probably be the slowest crossing of the season, as we have light winds and a torn jib. We may make Guadeloupe by New Year's, but certainly not for Christmas. A number of friends and family have our Sailmail address and we'd love to hear from you, but we'd better spread it out a bit.

First group: Over the next couple of days, if you have our Sailmail address and your last name begins with A - F -- please send a short message -- 5-10 sentences, letting us know what's up with you and yours. I'm making this request in groups because the Sailmail is currently downloading at 190-400 bytes a minute. (And you think your on-line is slow!)

And finally, a reminder: Do respond to our emails from Sailmail but do not REPLY. REPLY is an email term for responding to an email by hitting the REPLY button. REPLYing will automatically send our original email back to us. Remember at an average of 200 bytes a minute it takes a while to receive email. Keeping them short, and not using the REPLY feature saves me time, Sailmail time, and the wonderful volunteer HAM operators time.

We love Sailmail.

Love all of you, too. I know that those without our Sailmail address are leaving notes on the blog and Facebook. I look forward to reading them.

This glimpse of real life brought to you by Star Trek. I hope I don't start dreaming about Tribbles, now. They're trouble, you know.

The Buffalo Bills and Vasco da Gama

Remember those people on the dock who opined that they were "waiting until the Christmas winds were constant"? Those people may have been right. This first 10 days has been a bit of a struggle. First we tore the jib, then we battled our way in rough seas, then we simply tolerated rough seas while we continued south, then we turned west to be hit with Thunder Alley. For brief moments in time we have been moving on our course, but mostly we are heading south or south west, and currently under the power of Pinetop.

Still, we kinda like this.

As I told EW yesterday, "This beats real life."

It is just after 10:00 and I'm now off watch. I'll use these four hours for a bit of boat cleaning and TA-DA -- a Shower!

Oh bliss. Oh joy. I'm even going to change the sheets. Then maybe I'll make (er suggest)EW shower.

It's the little things.

Here's a laugh from Thunder Alley. I was white knuckled for the first hour or so, but one really can't sustain that kind of terror for hours. EW had gotten up at my first call. Though he would have let me sleep until there was something I could do, he knew that I couldn't face the lightening alone. He was calm and comforting, acting as if it was his duty and pleasure to be standing on the deck next to me as I counted "One thousand one, one thousand two". (It may not have been to his pleasure, but it was his duty.)

A couple of hours into it, I relaxed a tad and we settled into a routine and rhythm. While I still watched the lightening, worked to cool the oven, and thought about worst case contingencies, EW was enjoying the pyrotechnics and had realized that back west it was Sunday evening.

"I wonder how the Bills did against Denver?" he asked between the crashes of thunder.

I laughed, long and hard, and said, "I love you."

So Howie, how did the Bills do? Inquiring minds want to know.

Today, we are motoring south, hoping to cross an invisible front line in about 50 miles that will mean we have enough wind to allow us to sail. We are resigned that sometimes having no wind is part of the package. "Here's your coffee," said EW, reader of many non-fiction books about life at sea. Which partially explains why he said as he handed me the cup, "You know, I think Vasco de Gama was becalmed right about here." EW, the once again the master of the non sequitur.

At least we have Pinetop, and know where to find the wind, and the patience and opportunity to take our own sweet time getting across this Atlantic Ocean. Maybe we're a bit crazy, but it's a fun kind of crazy.

PS: Regarding those people mentioned in the beginning. There has been yet another nasty front in the Canaries and I'm reasonably certain we left in the one window open to us and we did not want to spend time and money on the dock for two-three more weeks. (Some of you are snickering about what we are spending on diesel. Snicker away.) And, no, we won't be motoring across the Atlantic. Right now we are in a pocket of no wind. Tomorrow there should be wind 50 miles south of where we started today. If we arrive at that point, and there's no wind, we'll drift like Vasco de Gama.

Thunder Alley on December 8th

So there we were, minding our own business and motoring in no wind, when we found ourselves being stalked by a pack of thunderstorms. I was on watch and EW was sleeping. Now there are two things I'm scared of: snakes and thunderstorms: I won't look at a snake in a movie and can't stand the harmless Maine variety; also, I've been known to weep in fear during a storm in Casco Bay. I'm not proud of that, but there you go.

I watched the sky for about a half hour before waking EW. At that time we had heavy lightening on three sides of us, including on the bow. Protocol for the portable electronics would be to put all laptops, and the iPad in the oven. Unfortunately, I was baking bread. I put EW's iPad on top of the cans in food storage and put my laptop on top of the iPad. I am sure that this would have done no good whatsoever, but I felt better and that's important during a thunderstorm.

This first storm (yes, it was that kind of night) had no wind and no rain; it didn't show up on the radar, so it was very difficult to see where it was headed. After watching the lightening strikes for 20 minutes, EW said, "I'm going to take a guess and say we should steer to port. I think it'll pass us." Sounded good to me, so we turned to port -- or north, we had been going west. That storm did move off past our port side, but we still had lightening all around. We kept watch for quite a while, and I fed EW fresh bread and canned chili, then he went back to bed at 10 (2200).

Having lived through the first batch of storms, I didn't wake EW for the second group until the sky looked dire to port, starboard, and on the bow. It was just nasty, but the closest and at that point worst storm also had rain so we could see it on the radar. Both of us realized that unless we turned pretty quickly to the south, we were in for it. So we turned and found ourselves in an thunderstorm free alley. Think of a bowling lane in which the direction of the lanes reverses with every other lane. (I bet that would be quite noisy.) We were bowling along to south, fairly quietly as we offered up no strikes, while both storms bowled past us heading north, with strike after strike and booming thunder.

At 0100, EW sent me to bed for two hours (at this point, EW may have had 2 hours of sleep, I'd had none). When I got up at three, he said that there was one storm now passing to starboard and after that we were done. We also had wind. There isn't supposed to be much wind here today, but as I wrote this, at 0500, we had 12-18 knots -- down from 15-25 when EW had hit the sack. Since we had been dodging to avoid storms, we had left the jib furled during the worst of it. When I got up, we set the jib before EW went down and I was gradually able to move us on course for Guadeloupe.

This was not my favorite night, but I did pretty well and never even felt like crying. Once the bread was done, I left the oven door open so it would cool and was able to store the electronics prior to the batch of big storms in thunderstorm alley. This close encounter with thunder and lightening may help me deal storms in the future, but this does not mean I will seek a similar "cure" for my fear of snakes. I'm drawing a line here and that's it.

As of 0530 on December 9, we are located at 19 degrees 53.30 minutes North, and 026 degrees 37.25 minutes West. We are sailing for the Caribbean on a course of 270, at a speed of 4.9 knots. I can see the moon and stars and that's a very good thing.

If Everything Were Perfect This Wouldn't Be an Adventure - December 9th

The first order of business for the 9th was to make sure we both got some sleep. Instead of getting EW up at 6:00, as we'd planned, I held out until 7:00. He let me sleep until 11:00, and said that we would go back on normal shifts at 2:00. We started out with wind and clouds, and truly had to accept that the wind was our Thunder Alley prize and be thankful, as it wasn't predicted and we didn't expect it to last. By noon, Casey was struggling to steer in a nothing breeze and ocean swells and we had to hand steer. As I write this at 3:30, we have sun, whispy clouds, and blue skies, and are once again on our course to Guadelouope.

EW was a bit disappointed when he asked our speed and that's when I told him that if everything were perfect it wouldn't be an adventure. If it were that easy, everyone would do this. I'm working on a series of essays on following one's dream, the actual sacrifices and challenges, and those that others think are sacrifices and challenges. Here's the thing: Even if "it" whatever "it" may be, is truly your dream, you won't like everything about "it".

Rough passages, thunderstorms, boat projects, and not sleeping with your spousal unit for over a month (hate that), or whatever your dream's challenges are - happen. That all pales for us when we're out here meeting the challenges together, or enjoying a beautiful day with just the right amount of wind from the right direction. (That will happen. I know it will. I know it will.) In the meantime we run the engine (my preference), or mosey along at 2.8 knots under sail power.(EW's preference. As the Captain, he wins.)And we are truly thankful that we have made whatever sacrifices we needed to make in order to be out here sailing our boat on the Atlantic.

A note about communication: Early this morning after the thunder storms, I tried to post the Thunder Alley blog and download weather. Unfortunately many of my normal Sailmail stations were occupied and others had bad propagation. I trust these go through tonight. But this is a good reminder for you reading the blog -- especially for non-sailing family and friends -- if I don't post for a day or two, it doesn't mean there's something seriously wrong. If something serious were to happen, we'd set off the ePirb and the powers that be would alert Favorite. So, no news isn't bad news, it's just no news.

No worries.

West At Last

Yesterday we turned to the west. Finally. Our course is 263, which is quite close to the rhumb line course of 257. The GRIBs show a bunch of fronts over here and it looks as though the Canary Islands may get the higher winds we saw on Passage Weather back before we left Tenerife. I assume all of those fronts worked to give us a favorable shift and the opportunity to head in the right direction.

Little things mean a lot. We placed a mark on the navigation software indicating where we'd like to be two days from yesterday evening. Later, I realized that once we reach that point, we will be close enough to Guadeloupe (1900 miles) to have the marker for our boat and our destination on the same screen. (Told you it was a little thing.)

This new course and the new, lighter winds, have resulted in a much reduced sea, and a quieter boat. Prior to the turn, I made a lupper of soft tacos, the assemblage of which required EW to join me in the galley to hold the iron skillet full of cooked filling and the salsa jar while I corralled the oven pan and the tortillas. Lupper was delicious. (For newer readers, "lupper" is our term for the one good meal each day, prepared for late afternoon in lieu of preparing lunch and dinner or supper. Hence, "lupper".)

The boats in the Atlantic Crossing Group that are well ahead of us all talked about how happy they were to be away from the motion found back here 100-200 miles off the coast of Africa. While we aren't yet into ocean swells, we have been delighted to not be tossed back and forth, port and starboard, with no apparent plan or warning. I am bruised where I shouldn't be (one door and one rough landing on the bulkhead between the galley and the main salon). Life was still good at sea, but it's much better now.

We have a day or so of light winds coming up, which means slow forward motion with our much reduced genoa, but after that we should be back in the sea of 15-20 knots of wind and able to move at 5-6 knots every hour. It may take all of our projected maximum of 28 days, but we will get there in fine shape. And perhaps the bruises will have healed by the time I am able to swim in the Caribbean.

As of 0115 on December 8, we are located at 20 degrees 16.26 North, and 24 degrees 49.20 West heading 263 at a whopping 4.3 knots an hour.

Five Good Things

Some of my Facebook friends have been posting three good things a day. I like reading them, and do believe that thinking about the good things puts one in a positive frame of mind. So there will be some good things mentioned in this post. (I think I've been whining and no wine is drunk on passages. That's a good thing but it's not one of the five.)

I had trouble getting my GRIB weather files down the other night, and when we finally got them we realized that the front we were hoping to avoid by heading south to 24 degrees North will be farther south than expected. We decided to sail to south to 18 degrees north (are you confused yet?) before starting to go west. Some folks plan to sail south to the Cape Verde Islands before heading west, hoping to get out of the northern fronts and more into the expected trade winds or Christmas winds. When EW sailed across on S/V Bear they were able to sail west directly from Tenerife, and made it to Antigua in 17 days. I am so jealous, as we had hoped to go west early on, but we'll take what we get. I'll receive new GRIBS tomorrow morning when I send this out and will confirm our plan to continue south for another day or so.

We've had 20-25 knots of wind, gray skies, steel gray seas, and 4-6 foot and larger waves in a nasty, undisciplined chop. The auto-pilot is working overtime to hold us on course as we surf down the big waves, or get rolled by one hitting us from the side. Things fly and roll on the boat, and the wood decks and joints creak. It's noisy as heck down below, one of the reasons I have a difficult time sleeping. We've discovered I love it when I'm off watch at night and EW has to start the engine to charge the batteries. When I told EW that the engine masked all the noises that kept me awake, he said it was a "Big-A## White Noise Machine". He thinks he's funny. Some sailing folks we've been in contact with are less than 100 miles ahead of us, also in these conditions. They have a different type of mono-hull and they've been taking waves over the stern. Theirs is an aft-cockpit boat so they have much more to be disgruntled about than I do.

Which brings me to Five Good Things:
1. I have many frozen meals that are easily prepared. So far we've had one of our Thanksgiving "TV Dinners" and a meat pasta sauce over spaghetti. We can eat frozen meals 12 days out here if we have to. That's a good thing.
2. Despite my (justified) reputation as a bit of a klutz I apparently have an innate ability to catch wayward galley objects as they fly over the fiddle rail and off the counter.
3. Despite those sharp reflexes, I have successfully stopped myself from trying to catch two knives that tried to escape. I even nimbly moved my feet out of the way of their landing, without falling over.
4. The Kindle (mine) and the IPod (EW's) are loaded with good books. This is not the time to sew, do unnecessary boat projects, or play the guitar.
5. We have successfully gone 48 hours without screwing something up or having something break.

There. Five Good Things is much better than whining.

As I write this a t 18:36 UTC on December 6th, We are located at 21 degrees 54.25 minutes North, and 022 degrees 38.35 minutes West. Our course is 212 and everything is fine.


Fun? You Call this Fun?

So we're at sea. The seas are choppy, confused, and six feet. Our sailing neighbors to the south say they have nine foot breaking waves over the stern. They are having less fun than we are. We are fine, La Luna is fine, Casey the Auto-pilot is working his heart out, and we are moving at 6 knots (5.5 under sail, 6.5 when we're surfing down a wave).

This is not what I think of when envisioning crossing, but it's what we've got for now. I told EW I wanted swells, not waves. He's working on it. In the morning, we'll jibe the jib and head west, and hope that the farther we are from the African coast, the better the smoother the seas.

So, do I like passage making? It's OK. It's EW's thing. But but our experiences this year have been phenomenal: getting ready, sailing across to the Azores, falling in love with the Azores, meeting amazing sailors in the Canaries. If I have to cross an ocean to have these experiences, then I'll cross an ocean.

I'm going to bed, and let this ocean rock me to sleep. The motion is more like a washing machine than a cradle, but I'll take what I get. As of 2024 on 12/5 we were at 23 degrees 57.20 minutes north, and 21 degrees 15.48 minutes west. Bouncing.


One of Those Days

It's important that this post is fair, after all we both have made errors under way. The day we left Tenerife, I messed up the auto pilot and EW thought he'd have to tear the electronics apart to fix it. (Fortunately I thought of and tried a soft restart fix and that worked.) Today was EW's day for a screw up.

As I mentioned yesterday, the first couple of days are all about moving the boat and getting enough rest. I had the midnight to six watch last night, hadn't slept fully on any off watch to that point, and was ready for four hours of sleep when EW came on at six.

He woke me at 7:30. I had been deep in REM sleep, dreaming in Technicolor. It was a "movie" dream. I'm sure if I had been able to sleep for another 90 minutes I'd have the plot for a movie that would make a million bucks. Well, probably not, but I was sleeping soundly when I heard, "Sorry, Bubs, we have to jibe." I grunted but rose up. "I was going to wait," he continued, "but there's a squall coming." I climbed out of the very comfortable bunk, put on my Dallas sweatshirt, and topped it with the life jacket and harness, saying, "Don't ask me to do something hard until I've woken up."

Once we were on deck, I realized that while I had been lured up for a simple jibe to find that we were going to also take down the staysail and set the whisker pole on the jib. Oh joy. Since non-sailors read this blog I won't try to relate all the sailing stuff. Plus some of it makes both of us look downright stupid (If you were to hear the full tale, EW would be the bigger goat, this was his screw-up, after all.) To make a very long story into a short story, the simple jibe before the squall took over an hour and a half (pretty much the rest of my off watch) and included a tangled jib, and a bosun's chair. (You know it's not good when anyone has to go up the mast at sea, but EW didn't have to go up very far, and this part of the adventure wasn't the result of a mistake.)

But we got 'er done, and the boat sailed beautifully all day, until we had to change course and take the whisker pole down in the evening. (Again on my off watch, but I was awake. I've not yet been able to catch up on that sleep I lost this morning.) Oh, and I forgot the punch line: the squall that concerned EW never materialized. He could have waited to wake me up. But I've forgiven him. Mostly.

Tonight on our Atlantic Crossing Net I found out why one of the boats is so far ahead of us. Hobnob left the Canaries almost at the exact time we had done, and they are almost exactly 75 miles south of us. They will sail faster than we do and they have been ahead of us since we started, but that's a huge lead. Turns out that being in front didn't exactly help them as they had no wind for 12 hours, while we were able to sail with 6-10 knots of breeze. It's easy to gain on another sailboat if you use the iron mizzen. (That's engine to all your landlubbers.)

As of 20:25 on December 4th, we were at 25 degrees 59.09 minutes North, and 019 degrees 53.90 minutes West. Our course is 220. Life is still good and I still love EW. (But that may have been in question for a brief moment in time this morning, somewhere between 7:30 and 10:00.)

Sailing and Sleeping

It takes two or three days for us to adapt to the passage life, to learn to sleep in shifts -- 4 or 6 hours here, 1 or 3 hours there. We aren't racing anyone and have plenty of food and water on board, so we don't have to jump up and do sail changes unless there is a big change in the conditions. When I came on watch, we jibed the main. We'll probably jibe back when we change watch again at 0600 -- the wind is shifting to the east. On our first night, we had 20 knots, give or take, between the islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, and along the bottom of Tenerife. Once we left the islands, the winds died to 10-15. Now we have just 5-10. It's a slow night.

We expected the light winds. Though many boats left when we did, others opted to wait for the "real Christmas winds". One couple was particularly gloomy about our passage, opining that we'd better have a good downwind sail, that we'd be out for a while, that they certainly weren't leaving yet.

Right now, with compromised sails, we are sailing over 4 knots in just 7 knots of wind. I'm OK with that. We are supposed to have light winds on the 4th, and then they will pick up to 15 knots. I would love 15 knots of wind across the Atlantic. (EW would prefer 20). Either way, we'll make it across within our 21-28 day timeframe.

In the meantime, I'm preparing easy dinners (On our first night, I roasted veggies with Italian seasoning, tossed them over pasta with some cheese, last night I made risotto and a salad with the last of the lettuce.)I'm not tackling any projects, make sure I drink a lot of water, and try to sleep when I'm off watch. Later on, I'll write more or work on some task or other. These first few days are all about getting our passage clocks working. We are sailing and sleeping.

As of 01:24 UTC on December 4th, we were at 26 degrees 52.39 minutes North, and 018 degrees 37.10 minutes West. We are sailing downwind trying to get a bit more south.