Most significantly, I’ve FINALLY finished the dodger. Loyal readers may recall that I started the dodger in, ahem, January?
I built the dodger top in the Virgins, started the front panels in Guadeloupe, worked on them in Grenada and finished them in Curacao, then started the side panels in Curacao and finished them in Puerto Rico. Pshew! That’s 11 months and a full circumnavigation of the Eastern Caribbean to finish one lousy dodger. Or, as Philip called the project, the “epicgiantdodgerofdoom.”
Well, it’s finally done, finished, finito. I almost don’t know what to do with myself now. (Oh, right, the other 3/4 of the deck refinishing… right!) It’s really, really nice to be able to leave the companionway hatch and doors open during passages and in the rain. But mostly it’s nice not to have the epicgiantdodgerofdoom hanging over my head. (Except literally, when I’m standing on the companionway steps, of course. That’s nice.)
One of the other projects I finished – well, mostly — was the re-covering of the small cockpit pillows with some awesome fabric my friend Michelle brought me back from Thailand years ago. The old Sunbrella covers were filthy with years of accumulated salt, sunscreen and mildew, and because they were sewn on, I couldn’t remove them to scrub them. (These same pillows were inexplicably, incredibly clean when I got them; I’m not sure if Stef had just made them, or if they somehow miraculously avoided getting them dirty.)
I decided to make removable covers, like the stuff-sacks I’d sewn for storing linens in the saloon. The boat came with nifty, stuff-able cushions, but those had disintegrated so I’d made new ones out of an old tablecloth from Provence. While the cushions aren’t terribly comfortable, it’s a great way to store sheets and towels.
But to have removable covers, I needed to first create inner pillows, as the outdoor cushions are stuffed with polyester fiberfill. I picked up some super-cheap fabric for $1 a yard and wrestled it through the industrial sewing machine, a bit of a hassle because the fabric was way too thin for the machine and bunched up a lot, even with low tension on the thread and presser-foot. But it worked well once I figure out that I had to hold it taut while sewing. Then it was just a matter of sewing a zipper into a simple square, and — viola! — shiny new pillows!
Since I was on such a roll, I also sewed a lifting harness for the new outboard and a hanging net for storing stuff while we’re on passage. W00t!
Now it’s on to the replacement of the wind screens around the back of the cockpit, another epic job. And, at some point, I’m going to have to re-cover the interior cushions once I have access to good fabric. Sigh…boat work never ends!
…AT low tide. Didn’t leave Boqueron today. Just didn’t feel like upping anchor after a long, hard day of work on the boat yesterday, Philip on the autopilot (still broken), me on the dodger (still not quite finished). So we whiled the morning away in the cockpit, me reading and Pip writing, then spent the afternoon prepping the boat for sailing and filling the water, chores we finished up with a trip to shore to fetch gasoline and enjoy a beer, some oysters and empanadas while we watched the sunset.
OUF! It’s been a long time since I last posted; frankly, there hasn’t been much to post about. I’m not a fan of those Facebook “Enjoying my AM coffee” status updates, so choose not to inflict the same on our loyal readers.
The primary news on our side is that Philip is finally back on the boat after 3 weeks in the States. Yay! While I was kept well entertained by loads of friends during his absence, there were entire days I didn’t speak to another human being, so I went a little wiggy once in a while. I did get a lot done on the boat, despite the near-daily rain showers and nightly thunderstorms, but I’ll admit that there were whole days I spent cooped up inside while it pissed it down, watching Seasons 1-4 of Nurse Jackie. Sad, yes, but strangely satisfying to just sit and watch TV for a day. After three months with only 3 real rainstorms, it was kinda nice to enjoy a lazy rainy day or two. Of course, while the rain cut the heat a tiny bit, that benefit was totally offset by the need to keep the boat closed up tight in 90-degree weather, efficiently creating a perfect environment for mildew blooms…. sigh.
Our big tasks before heading to Puerto Rico in a week or two are finishing the starboard side deck caulking (first, it has to stop raining), replacing the anchor chain and finishing the dodger, as well as the usual pre-passage rigging/sail checks, provisioning, etc.
Our new chain was delivered six weeks ago, but we’re only just getting around to swapping out the old, because, well, we’re anchored on it. If you want to know why we bought shiny new chain, just take a look at the horrific state of the old chain — you don’t need to be a yachtie to know that THIS IS NOT GOOD.
First step is removing the rode (rope) from the old chain, of which we’re only using 90 feet or so, and re-attaching it via an anchor splice (fancy knot) to the new chain. Philip cut off the rode today, and Pika helped him read-up on how to do the fancy knot.
He also cut through the old chain with a combo of wire cutters and a hack-saw; because we flipped the chain end-on-end when we were in Annapolis last year, the last 100 feet or so are still useable, and we’re saving it for the second anchor. (Which means it will be dumped in the bilge and probably never be used, but there you go.)
I have been working on finishing the dodger, the canvas that goes over the companionway (boat entrance). I did the top part in winter in the Virgins, the front windows a few months ago here, and am finally getting around to the sides, which will make the area underneath a cozy, secure place for the cats during the next passage. (And, incidentally, keep rain and spray out of the galley.)
I created a pattern by putting packing tape along the edges of where the fabric will go, as well as the cross-bars, then put double-sided tape on top of it, a method recommended by Sailrite because, woah, is that double-sided tape sticky and a total beotch to remove if you don’t use the packing tape first. I’ve cut and sewn the two sides, and am in the process of sewing on the zippers — it’s all a huge pain in the buttenski, as I totally forgot to add two inches to the bottom of each AS I MARKED RIGHT ON THE PATTERN, so had to rip out four long seams and re-sew them as half-inch seams rather than 1.5 inch seams. Luckily, this solved the problem. Then, the presser foot tension was waaaay to high, so every time I sewed a zipper on, it totally puckered up, so more seam ripping for me! I should be able to finish them this weekend, though, and I will be damn happy to be finished with this project.
I also stocked up today on passage food: canned ravioli, beef stew, crackers and spreadable cheese, canned pineapple and orange, chips, candy, etc. I am always amazed by people who actually cook while on passage. Perhaps our boat motion isn’t as smooth as theirs, and I KNOW our galley lay-out sucks, but the last thing I want to do is spend time making real food while slightly seasick and sleep-deprived. Our galley has nowhere to safely secure a cup, much less a cutting-board full of ingredients. I have a hard-enough time not covering myself in hot cocoa when the boat lurches and the cup I’ve had to wedge behind the tap flies across the cabin. What am I talking about? I do this at least once a passage. I did manage to boil spaghetti and throw on some fresh butter and lemon juice a couple of times on the longer passage, though I felt like I was risking my life while draining the boiling water as the boat lurched from side-to-side. Of course, some people have nice, easy downwind passages and do crazy things like make bread, omlettes and other delicious treats. We are the idiots always going to weather. So more often than not, it’s Chef Boyardee for us, yes siree!
This afternoon, I also scored — for only $20 of your earth dollars — awesome new washing “machine,” which is a huge improvement on our old system of two buckets and a plunger with holes in it. The old system only got clothes clean if you sat and plunged for at least five, preferably ten minutes. While the new device isn’t fantastic — its frame is pretty flimsy and the crank handle useless — it gets clothes clean in less than 5 minutes of just sitting and flipping the pod around with one hand while you read a book or cruise the interwebs with your other. Boo-ra!
So, we’re slowly making progress toward being ready to FINALLY — after four and a half months — leave Curacao. There’s no wind predicted through next Wednesday, and still a chance of hurricanes anyway (as I type, Sandy is making her (his?) way steadily toward all those boats staged in Hampton, about to leave for the Caribbean), so we’re just going to keep an eye on the weather and look for the first good weather window. Because we’re headed to the eastern part of Puerto Rico — Culebra, in the “Spanish Virgin Islands” (which are really part of the U.S., go figure) which hopefully will entail moderate winds from south of east . . . because I REALLY don’t want another passage hard on the wind!
Because we’re planning to stay in Puerto Rico for several months, we’re both working hard on our Spanish, Philip on Rosetta Stone and me using a book/CD combo. Yesterday, Philip was saying how much he likes Rosetta Stone, “because it doesn’t feel like work; it feels like playing a video game,” and I realized that’s why I find it incredibly BOOORRRRING: I’d much rather read a book than play a video game. But because it’s really an exceptional program, I’m alternating between book-learning and screaming at the computer screen “I SAID LECHE EXACTLY LIKE THE STUPID WOMAN DID, YOU IDIOT PROGRAM!!” Apparently, the occasional inability of the program to hear what you’re saying irritates Philip less, which might be the first time in two years something irritates him less than me.
That’s all for today. You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.
LAST night there was a tremendous thunderstorm at midnight – thunder and lightening and wind, oh, my! I am normally not scared during storms; we’ve been in this spot for four months now (!!) and the anchors are well set, but since Pip is back in the States, I got a little wigged out. When there are two of us on the boat, I’m pretty confident we can handle whatever happens, but I’d be totally screwed if the anchors started dragging when I’m alone on the boat. So I popped a valium, threw the GPS and the computers in the oven (a natural faraday box – keeps electronics from being fried by a nearby lightening hit) and watched the nearby anchor lights for signs of movement, then collapsed in bed with two scared kitties at one AM. Thankfully, the storm wore out the cats, too, so they didn’t wake me up at 7AM for food like they normally do, and I got to sleep ‘til 10. W00t!
In other news, the local diesel mechanic, Jo, noticed that our engine alignment was off when he was on the boat a few months ago, and the other day he came by to fix it. Turns out the idiots at Port Annapolis Marina (the same guys who took twice as long and charged twice as much as estimated for our re-rig; didn’t tighten the jibstay enough, causing us to almost lose our rig; forgot to put the screws in the port side of the bowsprit platform, causing it to splinter in our first storm, AND crashed our boat into the dock, crushing the bowsprit platform) didn’t re-install the engine mounts correctly when they last worked on the engine, and one of the mounts was grinding metal-on-metal because the moron who replaced the bolts put both on top instead of one on the bottom for the mount to sit on. So Jo came by, and in 6 hours, not only re-aligned the engine but made two entirely new mounts — for only $265 of your earth dollars. Just so you have an idea how awesome this is, we probably would have paid that much just to have one mount created in the States. Go Jo!!
He says that we’ve been losing power because of the mis-alignment (not to mention putting the entire prop shaft at risk of snapping…) so the boat should get higher RPMs now. Double w00t!
I haven’t made much progress on the decks and hatch rebuild because it’s been raining almost every day, not all day, but the decks have to be dry for 3 days before I can caulk, so that’s been out. Instead, I finished about 500 loads of laundry (you’re welcome, Philip) and prepped the teak for the hatch for gluing. THAT was a long and nasty job, scraping off old glue, plywood and nasty caulk.
Last night, I went over to a new friend’s boat for dinner, which was nice, but the highlight of the evening was playing Uno, with people who believe that CHEATING is ok. For instance, you can try to slip a card that doesn’t match in, or place down two or more cards at once, or not draw as many as you are supposed to. Anyone who gets caught has to take two extra cards and forfeit their turn. Now, this is a really lame thing to be excited about, but it made the game too much fun, and even more evil. Of course, I was totally lame at it; I really suck at cheating. There is just something in me that insists on following the rules. But I was really good at catching people, so it all worked out.
We also, as yachties do, talked way too much about boat chores, but I learned a handy new trick I’m looking forward to trying. I’ve been trying to keep the bottom of the boat clean here, diving on the bottom about once a month — a massive task because when you sit in one place for a long time, you end up with a coral reef on the bottom of the boat. I’d been using a simple paint scraper to do the job, which takes FOREVER, but they recommended doing a little bit each day, and using a stainless steel joint taping knife, which like a scraper but about a foot wide, instead of the little 3-inch painters’ scraper I’ve been using. Totally going to buy one of those on my next trip to the store.
WHENEVER we’re sailing, Pooks is one unhappy cat. He refuses to go below and insists on sitting with us on the lazarette seats, which he finds as uncomfortable as we do when the boat is heeled because of the UTTER LACK of any way to brace yourself. In preparation for our upcoming passage north next month, I figured it would be a good idea to build him a cat bed that we can stick under the dodger to provide him a snug haven.
I snagged some fantastic fabric in Willmestad for only a couple of dollars and managed to sew the bed in only a couple of hours, inserting cardboard in the sides to provide some structure. But then I had to stuff the thing — and didn’t have any polyester fiberfill on hand to do so. After considering, and rejecting, torn up t-shirts, I realized that we’d just replaced our manky old feather pillows and had the old ones sitting up in the forecastle. Voila!
Now, let’s pause a moment here to consider the implications of opening a feather pillow on a boat in a gusty anchorage. From the first moment I grabbed a handful of stuffing, huge billows of fluffy down filled the air, circulating on the erratic gusts and covering everything. No, really. Every surface, nook and cranny on the boat was coated in fluffy white stuff.
It built up in drifts in the cabin, settling on the napping Pip and cats in white speckles and sticking to the stovetop and any other tacky surface — including my entire body. It looked like I’d slaughtered chickens all afternoon, and was slowly becoming one myself.
Nonetheless, I managed to cram enough feathers into the bed and proudly presented it to the cats, who wanted nothing to do with it. Of course. I think if we strictly informed them that they weren’t allowed to sit in it, they would. Pooks thinks it’s a good chin rest, though.
This morning, Philip sang:
This is the story of Feathers and Phil:
She’s pretty cool,
But he’s a pill.
That husband of mine makes me laugh, which is a good thing, because it keeps me from keelhauling him when he’s an ass. (Have I mentioned how small a space a 40-foot boat is for two people?)
PHILIP left for the U.S. about a week ago, and I’ve keep myself well and busy since. Between leading yoga and hikes, attending the Monday potluck/game night, learning to play Mexican train dominoes and many visits with our friends from Filia Maris, D-Jay, Sinbad and Apparition, it’s amazing that I’ve found time to get work done on the boat — but I thankfully have! I’ve spent most of my time working on the deck re-caulking project, a monster of a job.
First, Philip replaced the loose screws and any of the teak bungs that were missing/leaking, re-bedding the screws and bungs to make sure they didn’t leak. Then, I remove all of the old caulk with the Fein multi-tool with the teak attachment, a nifty little device that allows me to not only easily remove the old caulk, but also cut the groove between the planks deep enough to hold caulk. The decks were worn down enough that most of the grooves were less than 1/8 inch deep, so I’m actually cutting through the teak and creating new, deeper grooves. Removing the caulk and cutting the grooves takes me about an hour per foot of side-deck, and involves hunching over on hands and knees in the hot sun – an arduous chore! Then, have to sand off any remaining caulk, sand the insides of the grooves, vacuum out the dust and use acetone to clean the grooves. Finally, I tape the deck with masking tape section-by-section and put in the new caulk. We’re using Teak Decking Systems caulk, which gets rave reviews for it’s longevity in internet and boat-repair magazine reviews. I’m hoping to finish the starboard deck before Philip comes back from the States so he can replace the deck hardware, including the stanchions and lifelines, before we leave in late October/early November to head north.
In other news, we’re about to bid farewell to good friends, Claude and Rolf of Tikka and Randy and Diane of Sinbad. These guys have been faithful hiking companions and playmates the past few months, and it will be sad to see them go — though I’m sure our paths will cross again in the future. Speaking of, our old friends Gail and Peter from Jabiru will be arriving next week to join the Curacao party — woo-hoo! It’s funny how boat life is a continual process of meeting new people, saying goodbye far too soon, and bumping into old friends in unexpected places! You make friends fast in this life, but say goodbye often, only to find them again in a new harbor. It’s sad and delightful at the same time.
WHILE we are in Grenada, HB and I are working on various jobs large and small. Today, HB is working on the epicgiantdodgerofdoom while I worked on the easy little job of installing a new engine stop cable.
The old engine stop cable ran from the engine to the helm, a distance of 20 feet with multiple corners. This was so hard to pull that I had to use two hands and HB couldn’t stop the engine at all. It was also massively over-complex for the problem it was solving.
For the last few thousand miles, we have run with the engine stop cable disconnected, and have just opened up the engine box and pushed the fuel shut-off lever by hand. The trouble with this is that it’s dirty and a little unsafe, should fire break out in the engine.
[Note: It's not an engine room unless you can fit a person in it. While I am on the subject, if I hear another yacht broker describe a four-by-six sleeping cabin as a "stateroom," I'm going to set fire to his yellow convertible 3-series beemer.]
So today I made a new cable out of small-gauge wire rope and fed it through a hole in the forward end of the engine box. You can now stop the engine with a gentle pull from one finger. Yay.
The good: being relaxed tourists in a lovely spot.
The bad: running out of propane in a country that uses butane.
The ugly: the refrigerator dying.
It’s been a lovely week and a half in The Saintes. The only village on the island, Grand Bourg, is a charming spot full of restaurants, boutiques and gingerbread houses. While the walk to town is long and hilly, in full tropical sun, it is certainly getting us in shape. There’s a daily market with beautiful fresh fruits and veggies (still too expensive, though) and supermarkets with inexpensive French wines, cider and cheeses.
The other day, we took a long walk up a very steep hill to see Fort Napoleon, built in 1867. The fort has been well restored with a charming, if somewhat eclectic, museum and succulent garden, and the 360-degree view of the Saintes, Marie Galante, Guadeloupe and Dominica was stunning. Laughing over the dioramas depicting the famous 1782 naval “Battle of the Saintes” between Britain and France, which had obviously been made by schoolchildren, Philip and I felt for the first time since we started this adventure like we were actually on vacation. When else do you pay $6 per person to look at random exhibits of bits and bobs that are meant to signify local history but are actually just a bunch of junk in an old fort? Or watch a cheesy, locally-produced video that tells you nothing about the area but includes long pans of sights you would appreciate better standing outside? Nonetheless, it was highly amusing, and amongst the giggles we actually learned a thing or two about the area . . . such as why the statue in the town square looks like a guy with a mushroom on his head. Turns out that he’s wearing a traditional Saintes hat, a straw and fabric concoction that looks like a rounded-off version of an Asian cone hat, covered in bright madras fabric, and perched on top of the noggin. There was no explanation of WHY or HOW this hat came to be the traditional garb of these islands settled largely by Bretons, but there you go. Lesson of the day: the mushroom is actually a hat. Sadly, I have pictures of neither the statue nor the hat.
But it’s clearly time to move on. We’ve been chilling our heels the past few days waiting for the wind to stop coming from the southeast (as usual, the exact direction we need to head) and calm down a bit, but our wait has been made less pleasant by a few events ranging from slightly irritating to downright ugly. On the slightly irritating side of the spectrum, we know we’re running low on water and fuel, but want to wait to Dominica to fill up as it’s literally one quarter of the price for water, and fuel is not taxed there. What this means on a daily basis is that we’re conserving water like crazy: e.g., no real showers (a quick rinse after a saltwater wash only). On the not-so-good side, we ran out of propane yesterday morning, which means that we have no way to cook. Or make AM coffee. Yesterday we stocked up on foods that can be eaten cold, like lunchmeats and salads. Only to come home to a dead fridge.
Now, we have a second fridge (but not freezer) outside; it might be working . . . we’re not sure yet. It’s running constantly but not any significant energy, and it may or may not be cooling – we’re not sure if the plate is cold because of the frozen food we put in it or because the fridge is working. The other fridge/freezer, the main one, is totally kaput. Yesterday it started telling us that there was a voltage problem, then that the compressor had a problem, and it was starting and stopping incessantly until is just stopped working altogether. We ran through the troubleshooting guide and tried everything to no avail. It is either the electronic control panel or the compressor, either of which is possible because the entire thing was rusted/corroded to shit when we got it and has only gotten worse despite applications of CorrosionX. This is what happens when you place electrical equipment in a leaky locker (this is the same locker where there were two fires and several buss bars with dangerously corroded wires; we’re trying to fix the leaks but it’s nigh-well impossible given the setup of the boat).
With the death of the refrigeration, we’ve actually seen the demise of the last system on the boat as we bought it. We had to replace or significantly repair – among other things — the engine, the dinghy outboard, much of the electrics, the batteries, the head and various plumbing systems, the GPS/radar, one sail, and the rigging. The watermaker is deader than a doornail, and the SSB doesn’t work properly (it needs to be “tuned”). We might get out of this for a few hundred dollars, but I’m betting that it will cost at least $1,000 by the time we’re done. Fun times. The real problem is that we spend so much time fixing broken things that we don’t have much time to actually do proper maintenance and work on things like the decks and varnish. Also, the emotional toll of everything breaking isn’t insignificant; it feels sometimes like the boat is crushing us – emotionally and financially – with its slow self-destruction.
So our plan at this point is to get moving and keep moving, and just be tourists for about the next six weeks before setting off for Curacau for the summer/early fall, where we plan to stay put through September and really get a lot of work on the boat done. Curacau is amazingly dry – only 20 inches of rain a year, mostly in Sept/Oct, so it will be good for deck work and varnish in July and August. Hot, but good. We already have friends planning to visit us (there’s a Hyatt right at Spanish Harbor, where we plan to anchor, for those who don’t want to “rough it” on the boat..). We’re really looking forward to just staying put for a while, actually. That said, I’m also looking forward to the next six weeks, which will be exciting and probably not a little exhausting. We will work our way down the island chain, trying to move a couple of times a week – a far faster pace than we’ve had so far – focusing as much as possible on spending our time seeing the islands and sailing between them, rather than lazing around in the cockpit or working on longer-term projects on the boat.
Of course, there’s always the reality of life on the boat, which dictates that an inordinate amount of time will be spent just trying to live life. While our next stop is Dominica, apparently the most unspoiled and wild spot in the Caribbean and a real destination for hiking and exploring, we know our first several days will be spent refilling the propane tanks, filling up on gas and water, and finding the refrigeration guy and having him check out the fridge – and, I’m sure, fixing whatever else breaks on the way there (luckily, only 21 miles, but EVERY time we beat to weather, SOMETHING breaks). So every time you think, what lucky buggers, snorkelling and exploring, remember that there’s a big trade off to this life: the highs come with the lows. And while we’re finally on the more fun side of the “fun-to-suck” ratio for the first time, it’s a constant struggle to remind ourselves of the good stuff and not let the crap get us down.
Oh, and because some folks are asking when we’re coming back to the States: the current answer is, not anytime soon. At the moment – though this all could change (particularly if we run out of money because the stupid boat keeps breaking!!) – we’re thinking of heading further west in September to visit Cartagena, Colombia, then up the Panamanian coast to the San Blas islands then Costa Rica, perhaps spending next hurricane season in the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. It’s just a tentative plan at the moment, but we are definitely not planning to head back to the U.S. in the next in the next two years or so. I’m about to get cracking on my Rosetta Stone Spanish studies, however!
FINALLY! After, er, a while, we have a dodger. Well, we have the top of a dodger. HB spent a Very Long Time working on the dodger (canvas spray hood over the companionway) while we were moored in Christmas Cove. It’s a bit more difficult than a normal dodger because the solar panels are mounted on top of it, so it can’t be pulled tight. This means the fit had to be perfect, which it nearly is. It’s great to be able to have the hatch open in the rain and not get wet.
Still to come are the transparent front and side panels–this is what is known as a California dodger: the windscreens are removable. It’s easier to build and more flexible. Of course, it makes you wonder why the roof part isn’t just made of hard plastic rather than canvas. We haven’t really missed having no dodger, but it will probably be nice to have more shelter from the trades in the cockpit.
In the process of removing the solar panels for said dodger, we discovered why we haven’t been getting much solar power lately. The wires are buggered, the plastic coating having cracked in the sun letting water in. Fortunately we have spares in stock because they don’t make these any more. Somewhat surprisingly, we still don’t get as much power from the sun as I expected because, although we are in the tropics, the sun is still quite low this close to midwinter.