Things I WON’T Miss about Cruising

new cushions! It’s just after 5AM, and I’m sitting in the cockpit, bundled up in long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a quilt, sipping hot coffee. The many cockerels of Salinas (where cock fighting a bit of a thing, apparently) are singing their morning chorus, although the sun won’t be up for another two hours, and there’s a manatee snuffling about just outside the cockpit. I know everyone who knows me is shocked and horrified that I’m awake before dawn, given my legendary dislike of early mornings, but I feel great — largely because I collapsed into bed at 8 last night, utterly exhausted after working my ass off for days.

P1030364Since the beginning of the new year, I’ve sewn new cushion covers for all the inside cushions, replaced the galley faucet and begun painting the entire interior. Oh, and hosted a friend for a week’s visit.

 

P1030403

It was fantastic to hang out with Kacy. The cushion covers look marvelous, even though we have to keep them covered with old sheets to protect them from spills/cat hair/cat claws, etc. The faucet is something I should have done two years ago (in my defense, I couldn’t find one that would fit two years ago…) and only took a day; it would have taken two hours but for the inevitable ONE corroded, stuck bolt that had me on my back under the sink doing sit ups for three hours trying to release it. The first coat of new paint on the interior has made a striking difference, again prompting us to ask why we didn’t do these jobs two years ago. (Oh, right, we were concentrating on CRITICAL system repairs..) But the bottom line is, I’ve been BUSY, and it’s exhausting.

Which is why, when I was talking to my friend Rachel the other day and asked with some trepidation how I felt about returning to work, you know, working all day, my immediate thought was, “Wow, that sounds nice right about now.” You know, sitting in a chair all day, interacting with smart people, using my brain for something other than trying to figure out how to remove a bolt for three hours, actually having weekends when you don’t feel guilty about not working … nice.

But it’s not just that. I had to laugh because the boat “work” is only the beginning of boat work, and the second part of my response to whether I’m worried about returning to work was that I am very willing at this point to work for 8 hours of my day in exchange for the conveniences of modern life (like, say, water that just comes from a tap without having to fetch it in jugs) and enough money not only to afford normal, small luxuries, but actually pay people to do things for me, like, say, eat a meal out to avoid the labor of making dinner. There’s a wonderful freedom of living on a boat, and lots of amazing things you get to see and do, but the perception that most people have that you’re on vacation, or not working, or living the dream, is just total crap.

In that spirit, let me list some of the things I won’t miss (and, yes, I’ll let you know what do miss later on):

  • Waking up in the middle of the night worried about a storm (that wouldn’t even have woken me up an a house)
  • Cooking in a tiny kitchen with a two burner stove
  • Not having refrigeration/hauling ice to the boat daily if we want cold food
  • Having to re-arrange the entire fridge (now a cooler) just to get one little thing out of the bottom of it
  • Taking Army showers (get wet, turn off water, soap up, rinse)
  • Taking showers only every other day or less
  • Hauling 4 5-gallon water jugs, which weigh 40 lbs apiece, from the marina to the boat in a dinghy, every two days
  • Running around covering all the cockpit cushions and closing every window every time it rains
  • Vacuuming every other day to keep the filth at bay in a tiny space
  • Just how dirty boat life is
  • Making up my bed each night (not making it, actually taking cushions off the couch and putting sheets on, etc) and disassembling it every morning
  • The pump toilet
  • Calluses from pumping the toilet (I’m not kidding.)
  • Stinky bilge water
  • Having to remove the cat litter, laundry, washing machine and various towels from the shower before taking a shower — and put it all back afterwards
  • Getting to shore and realizing I forgot my shoes
  • Schlepping heavy groceries several miles on foot, loading them into a dinghy, then trying to find space for everything
  • Running out of cooking fuel in the middle of a dinner, miles from anywhere with a propane refill station
  • Dinghy rides to shore in the rain
  • Dinghy rides to shore when it’s windy/choppy and you get sopped in salt water
  • Scrubbing the bottom of the boat every month (ew!)
  • Doing push-ups to get in cabinets located behind the kitchen table
  • Not playing music because it gobbles computer battery, and thus energy
  • Limited electricity
  • Slow/limited internet access
  • Constant injuries from the motion of the boat and/or physical labor
  • Never-ending repairs
  • Limited budget = no luxuries
  • Rolly anchorages that lead to not only injuries as you slip and slide, but totally make it impossible to sleep well
  • Washing clothes by hand (seriously, a week’s laundry takes most of a day)
  • Fear. Fear that my house will sink, or a nearby lightening strike will take out all the electronics, or something we can’t afford to replace will break, or we’ll get injured in the middle of a passage, etc.

Of course, the sky has just turned apricot as I snuggle with my kitty, lounging in the cockpit and writing, listening to the manatees and eagle rays disturbing the pink water around me. There will be a lot I’ll miss, too.

Huge News from the Picaroons…

NO, I’m not pregnant. But I am planning to move Bangkok in about a month.

Screeeeeech! WHAT?

Yep, Bangkok. Thailand.  Where one night makes a hard man humble, at least, if you’re a fan of cheezy ’80s musicals.

It’s not 100% definite yet (still need to sign a contract, could still fall through, etc., etc.), but basically I have an offer to consult with UNICEF (the awesome UN children’s agency) starting in February.  It’s a three month gig to start, with the possibility of a year’s extension, so we’ll leave Pip here in Salinas while I do the three months, then if the job works out for a longer period, I’ll fly back here and we’ll take the boat to Annapolis and put her up for sale, then move to Bangkok again in (probably) July.  It’s all rather fluid at the moment, but that’s the schedule at the moment.  It changes daily, so stay tuned.

I’ll be working on a project to get finance ministries (you know, the budget guys) in the region to set aside more money to making children’s lives better.  That’s the simple version, but you get the idea.  I’m super excited about the project.

I’m also excited about Bangkok; when we decided to stop cruising this past summer, I had a bit of a crisis, wondering how — without the freedom afforded by a traveling home —  I’d ever get the chance to really delve into some of the places on my bucket list: Tuscany, Turkey, Thailand…  (Like the woman in Eat, Pray, Love, I like alliteration in my travel.)  But Philip really doesn’t like this life, and I like Philip more than I like traveling, so we decided to head back toward DC and work for a couple of years while figuring out what the next adventure would be.

Then, out of the blue, comes an opportunity to move to Thailand, perhaps for 3 months, perhaps for a year and 3 months. ?Which just goes to show how important it is to remain open to opportunity.  I’ve spent a lot of my life saying no to things, in order to have things I want later on.  I’m really, really, really good at deferred gratification. Seriously, I was that weird little kid in second grade getting upset about an A- because I had to get straight A’s to get scholarships for college.  That’s how we were able to have this big sailing adventure — we saved and scrimped and planned and learned for 10 years.  And then we get out here, and it’s not working, and OMG, NOW WHAT????

For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a plan.  No next step, beyond, OK, let’s start a job search and head toward the Mid-Atlantic in the spring and see what happens, maybe we’ll end up in Baltimore, or maybe not.  It was liberating, and scary.

But the amazing thing is how the universe just came through on this one.  If someone had offered me the opportunity to move to Bangkok and work for UNICEF four years ago, I would have declined, no matter how cool I thought the opportunity, because we had a PLAN to get on a sailboat and have great adventures.  I would have missed the chance to have an amazing adventure, because I was planning an adventure.

Yoga (and Buddhism) talk a lot about non-attachment, the idea that the root of all suffering is grasping, or attachment, to people, stuff, ideas, or even just wanting things to be different than they are.  Or attachment to your plans, and goals…  If the cruising life has taught me anything, though, it’s how to avoid being attached to your plans and remain open to possibility.  Cruisers say that plans are written in the sand at low tide, which is a goofy expression, but apt when you are living at the whims of the weather and bureaucracy and boat repairs.  Over the past two years on the boat, we’ve finally learned that you don’t make plans in life, and it’s better to have big goals (like, visit cool places and be happy) rather than specific targets (like, I’m going to Colombia in September), because shit intervenes, or maybe you just realize that there are also awesome opportunities on a different path.

 

Life is Good: Great Passage, PR Rocks, and Election Afterglow

THE Picaroons are very, very happy right now.  We are chilling in the morning sun in Boqueron, a huge, calm bay on the western coast of Puerto Rico.  The water has been more or less glassy for the past 24 hours since we arrived, with the exception of a light sea breeze from the west yesterday evening that nicely cooled down the boat.  The climate here reminds us of how hot and muggy Curacao was; the air is clear, crisp and relatively cool, so despite the warm temperature and hot sun, you don’t end up sweating like a pig and filthy at the end of the day.  Philip compared it to the difference between steaming in a sauna and sitting in a cool room with a nice, hot fire.  We even slept with BLANKETS last night — first time in a year!

After a full year of pretty difficult sailing experiences, it was refreshing to spend four days at sea with moderate winds (ranging from 12-15 to 20-25) and seas.  On Monday, we got going at about 9am, but getting up the stern anchor took us a full hour — something we fully expected, as we’d not moved it in four and a half months.  The stern line was entirely coated in barnacles and a stinging, fern-like plant that immediately turned into stinky, brown mush as we pulled the line onto the boat.  We had already decided that it wasn’t worth trying to save the line, as the barnacles had worked their way into the fibers and would weaken it, so we just chopped it off and handed it to Peter of Filia Maris to donate to the windsurfing school to use on their buoys.

We had the double-reefed main up before we left Spanish Water, rounding the corner into the open ocean in 25 knots of wind and some pretty steep NE swells/wind chop.  The 7 miles motorsailing to the southeast, straight into the wind and swell, to the end of Curacao weren’t a lot of fun, and took us four hours of bashing into jarring waves, but thankfully didn’t dispirit us for the days ahead.

After we rounded the eastern tip of the island, we fell off the wind into a starboard tack about 60 degrees off the wind and got Monica, the Monitor wind vane, going on the first try.  We didn’t change this point of sail for most of the next four hundred miles.

After a rough first 24 hours with strong winds (27-30 apparent) and high seas on top of a NE swell, things calmed down by the second day and we spent the next three days talking about how if all of our sailing had been so nice, the past year would have been very different.  It wasn’t pleasant to live on a bouncing 20 degree heel for days on end, particularly with our ballroom cockpit that has no sideways-facing seats and just a big couch on the stern, but we managed by essentially lying flat on our backs on watch, popping up once ever ten minutes to check for ships or other dangers.

It’s a good thing that Monica worked well, because we discovered just as we left Curacao that Otto the autopilot wasn’t working (again — but this time it seems to be an electrical wiring issue, which should be fairly easy to identify and fix).  Otto wasn’t the only casualty of the trip — on the first day we discovered that we’d lost all of our water.  We were close enough to turn back, but because we had tons of gatorade and other bottled drinks, and 5 gallons of fresh water in a jerrycan, as well as 10 days of survival rations in the ditch kit, we decided to keep going.  We thought that perhaps the problem was one we’d encountered before, where on the starboard tack, the water settles into the port tank and the pumps attached to the other tank can’t get to it.  Sadly, though, it looks like we did spring a leak somewhere, so today’s task is to find the problem and repair it.  No big deal…

Once the seas calmed down a bit about halfway through the passage, we were making a very respectable 5 knots or more, and the crushing boredom of the previous few days was alleviated by finally being able to read without hurling.  We sailed until about 10 miles out then fired up the engine to motor into the bay, marveling at the glassy calm once we entered the bay.

Boqueron, the town where we’re anchored, is not a clearance port (you have to check into customs and immigration each time you enter, and sometimes leave, a country).  The guidebooks we have indicated that you were supposed to anchor in Mayaguez, about 15 miles up the coast, but some people just went straight to Boqueron and took the bus to Mayaguez to clear in, a practice that was officially verboten and really frowned upon by a couple of tetchy customs officers, who then required you to sail your boat up to Mayaguez. When we arrived, we were slightly nervous about this scenario, and to boot had no idea how to get a bus to Mayaguez or if it even went to the industrial port area where customs is located.

Luckily — and this is what I LOVE about cruisers — shortly after we arrived and anchored next to another boat flying their yellow quarantine flag (indicating that they also hadn’t cleared in yet), we overheard on the VHF a conversation between that boat and another about clearing in.  Mojo, the boat next to us, had a phone and was planning to call the U.S. customs officials to get information about clearing in.  During the conversation, a third boat that was a few miles out, called “Break,” how you indicate to folks on the VHF that you want to enter their conversation about clearance procedures. Emboldened, I called “Break” and joined in, and — in true cruiser style — John on Mojo welcomed me and took our boat name to add to the list of folks for whom he was collecting information.  Now, here’s the cool part — even though John found out that he could just clear in over the phone because he had a local boater card, he went ahead and made several other calls for those of who thought we needed to go to Mayaguez, informing us that it was fine to stay in Boqueron and even arranging a taxi service to pick us up.  What a guy!

We got the taxi from the dinghy dock with another couple and their young son and were in Mayaguez within a half-hour, where we learned from the Customs officer that we didn’t need to come at all and could have just called in ourselves, because we have the necessary “User Fee Decal,” a ridiculous term for a registration with customs for U.S. boats re-entering U.S. waters. So, if you’re a U.S. boat entering U.S. waters, you should know that you can skip the whole re-entry procedure by getting your user fee decal in advance and just calling customs when you get in.  Awesome!

While up at customs, I asked the officer what the procedures were for checking out; in most countries, you have to clear out of customs and immigration to get your “clearance papers,” which most countries require when you check in.  The officer looked at me strangely, and said, “Um, you just leave.” In the past year of dealing with Caribbean bureaucracy, I’d totally forgotten that the U.S. has no procedures for clearing out – w00t!

It’s odd to be back in the States, but not really back in the States.  The street signs are the same as in the U.S., albeit in Spanish, and we passed tons of familiar fast-food joints and other chain stores.  People seem to be incredibly polite and friendly, with American-style openness overlaying Caribbean warmth. Everyone we met was totally bilingual – which will make it easy to manage, but harder to learn Spanish!

Once back in Boqueron, starving and totally exhausted after only a couple hours of sleep the night before, we grabbed a quick lunch and scoped out the provisioning options, which are miserable.  There are only mini-markets, and no place in town to buy fresh vegetables.  Yetch.  We’re going to have to do a run to Mayaguez by bus or rental car later this week, which isn’t a bad thing, as we need to get a mobile modem and hit the WalMart for some essentials, but it would be nice to be able to grab fresh food right in town.  Besides, a car rental would allow us to explore the area a bit — there’s apparently a national park nearby, a huge dry tropical forest well-known for its 130 species of song birds.

Clearly, we have a lot of adventures to come in Puerto Rico.  We’re both thrilled to be here, especially after a relatively easy passage, and looking forward to the next few months.

Big News: We’re Heading Back to DC!

Although cruisers’ plans are written in the sand at low tide, we’ve changed our plans and decided that rather than heading west to Colombia and Panama in the fall, we’re going to head north for another season to Puerto Rico, the DR, Bahamas, etc, then make our way back to DC for a year or two to make some more money.

This is a good thing.

We will have been out of DC life for nearly three years at that point, and while the primary purpose of returning for a land sabbatical is to top-up our cruising kitty, which has been hit hard by the many, many, many boat repairs, we’re both missing our friends and family, and I’ve even found myself looking forward to working again on the issues that matter so much to me.  Not to mention the fact that this life is gruelling, and both of us could use a break from the adventure and hard work.

The biggest challenge, however, seems to be finding a place to dock the boat.  Most of the marinas in DC proper don’t allow live-aboards because they are on national park land, and the one that does doesn’t have any space available.  We’re looking at a small marina out by Fort Washington, which also might not have space, so we might end up near Annapolis, which would kind of suck.  Not only would it require a buying car (UGH), but it would mean a long commute and a real lack of proximity to our friends.

In any case, we’re rather looking forward to coming back!

8/17: Important clarification — We are heading back to replenish the cruising kitty, but we aren’t running out of money.  We just want to avoid hitting our savings too hard, and would like a higher standard of living than we have at the moment, and and we really miss our friends and family!!  So no worries, peepsicles!

Curacao

WE are safe and sound in Curacao after four relatvely painless days, notwithstanding an hourlong beast of a slog upwind and up current when we overshot our last gybe. This place is amazing, an odd mix of desert cliffs and cacti above mangroves.

Today we are resting and cleaning up the boat, and tomorrow we will head into town to check in and provision. More later when we have internet.

One Year Later: By the Numbers

ON June 16,2011, Picaroon cast off the dock lines and set sail from Annapolis, MD, headed for Solomons Island.  (She did have some help in the form of two crazy humans and two miserable cats.) We only made it two rivers south to the Rhode that day, diverting because winds on the nose meant we wouldn’t make Solomon’s by nightfall – a story that would become increasingly familiar as we voyaged, but we had finally left on our adventure, albeit over 8 months after we originally planned to leave.

And here we are, one year later, sitting in the cockpit in gorgeous Grenada, enjoying morning coffee, after one of the hardest years, nay, the hardest year, of our lives.  And one of the best years.  All kinds of awesome and horrible, wrapped up in one.

In honor of our one-year anniversary, we’ll be doing a series of posts reflecting on the lessons and laughs, trials, tribulations and triumphs of the past year.  OK, and more prosaic posts, like the other day’s on finances.  So hold on to your seats, loyal blog readers, ‘cause here we go!

Miles traveled:  3,755 NM, or 4,318.25 of your land miles

Number of countries visited:  11 countries – U.S., Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Barts, Nevis, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada.  But only 7 nation-states, as the USVIs are part of the U.S., technically, and the French islands are all part of France, and Bermuda and the BVIs belong to the UK.

Average moving speed: 4.06 knots per hour, or 4.67 of your land miles per hour.  Sad, we know.  Did we mention how often we were beating into 30 knots of wind?

Highest speed: 7.6 knots – hull speed.

Hours spent moving: 924.5, or 38.5 days

Days on which we moved the boat: 93, or 25% of the days since casting off

Longest passage: 9 days (from Bermuda to the BVIs)

Gallons diesel used per month: 20

Gallons water used per day: 8

Blog hits: 23,313 visits by 7,078 people (55,264 page views).

Words written on Pip’s book: 39,502

Articles Heather had accepted for publication: 6

Pairs sunglasses broken or lost:  9

One Year Later: What We’ve Learned

Because of the popularity of our first “what I learned” posts, I thought it might be fun to do a series of posts reflecting on what we’ve learned in this first year out.  Here we go!

Weather forecasts are astoundingly unreliable

We learned this lesson early: setting off for our first offshore coastal hop from the Chesapeake Bay entrance to Cape May, NJ, we were relying on NOAA’s predictions for 10-20 knot winds to keep us moving without too huge a challenge on our first big trip on a new-to-us boat.  Hahahahaha!  Our the very first day, we diverted back into Hampton, VA after struggling with 25 knot winds (we’re old hands at it now!) and ended up dragging anchor in the middle of the night in a 45-knot gale (the first of many on our trip).  Who knows why we trusted NOAA again when they forecasted several days of 15-20 knot winds for the offshore passage, but two days later we were again in a 45-knot gale . . . 20 miles offshore, a rough to learn a new boat, particularly when the rigging decided to undergo its initial creep and loosen the mizzen mast, and the bow platform splintered in the waves.  But it didn’t get much better after we started paying for Chris Parker’s forecasts – while more correct much more of the time than NOAA’s, we still had numerous days on the passages to Bermuda and the BVIs when the winds and waves were significantly stronger than predicted, and from a wholly different direction.  After that, we started reading the weather forecasts with a grain of salt, looking for general trends rather than expecting accurate forecasts.

One Year In: Finances

Having completed one year on the road, I thought it might be useful to take an overall look at our finances.  In general, we’ve done quite well while cruising, once you take out the cost of the boat refit and preparations for cruising – the new rig and complete overhaul of the engine.  In fact, without those costs, we’ve managed to spend an average of just over fourteen hundred dollars a month, which, with a savings of around four hundred a month, should pay for yearly maintenance costs and the occasional repair.  For example, we expect to spend money this summer/fall on a new anchor chain and a haul/bottom painting, which will probably eat up the entire “savings.”  Of course, we’re hoping that South and Central America will be cheaper than the Eastern Caribbean, at least for stuff like food, so maybe our costs will go down.

Item                                                     Monthly Avg      Total spent

alcohol                                                $154.89               $1,858.66
boat maintenance/supplies      
$132.64               $795.87
boat repair                                        
$1,382.15            $16,585.80
bureaucracy – port fees, etc       
$115.48               $808.34
cats                                                       
$42.30                $507.59
charts and guidebooks                 
$27.98                $335.73
clothes                                                 
$17.32                $207.80
communications                             
$26.69                $320.29
diesel and gasoline                         
$110.20             $1,322.36
eating and drinking out               
$109.73              $329.19
entertainment                                  
$144.23              $1,730.72
food                                                       
$490.60             $5,887.18
household                                          
$46.28                $555.33
insurance                                           
$13.33                $39.98
marina/mooring                             
$55.84                $670.03
other                                                     
$28.33                $340.00
personal care                                    
$53.26                $639.09
stuff                                                       
$39.34                $472.13
transportation                                 
$68.37                $820.38
utilities: boat                                    
$48.82                $292.91

subtotal: expenses                           $2,854.53         $32,866.52
minus boat refit                               
$1,418.08          $15,629.12
savings minus boat refit   
            $429.95

Just for clarification, here’s how I categorize things:

Alcohol:  Alcohol not bought in bars.
Boat maintenance and supplies:
The regular costs of running and maintaining the boat, e.g., oil, fuel filters, and general trips to the chandlery.
Boat repair:
Any major expenses repairing broken things.
Bureaucracy:
Port fees, customs, etc – also includes use of “mandatory” moorings, like in Nevis.
Cats:
Food, litter, vet visits.
Communications:
Internet and phone calls; we do most of our calling on Skype so this is pretty much just internet.  I count the cost of the first beverage at a cafe with free internet here, but the second goes in eating and drinking out.
Eating and drinking out: 
A new category started a few months ago; previously was in “entertainment.”
Entertainment:
Tours, concerts, museum fees, etc
Food:
Groceries and the occasional street food while out and about.
Household:
Toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, sponges, new dish towels, etc.
Insurance:
Actually, the cost of our renters’ insurance, which covers our possessions from theft.
Personal care:
Toiletries, laundry.
Stuff:
Things we buy that are tangible, like books, sunglasses, souvenirs, etc.
Transportation:
Flights, buses, etc.
Boat utilities:
Propane, water, trash disposal, pump-out.

Some notes on the past year:

Alcohol:  Ouf, we’re rather ashamed of this.  In our defense, we don’t spend a lot in bars – generally – and alcohol is wicked expensive in the Caribbean.  We really cut down on drinking in 2012, but you wouldn’t know it because the costs remained about the same.  Still, we’ve cut back even more and are planning to only drink for social occasions in Curacao – good for our livers and our pocketbook.

Bureaucracy: This includes the cost of Pip’s passport renewal, about $300, so the actual cost of port fees for the time we’ve been out of the U.S. is actually about $76 a month.

Diesel and gas: I would really like to have figured out the average cost per gallon, but our records on this suck.  I think it’s probably about six bucks a gallon average since we left the states.  If you’re planning a Caribbean cruise, try to avoid buying any petroleum products, including engine oil, in the French islands, as they have very high taxes.  I think diesel was eight bucks a gallon there.  The bargain spot was Portsmouth in Dominica, where it’s a duty-free $4.68 a gallon, cheaper than the states.  I think we’ve used about 140 gallons of diesel since we left the states, about 20 gallons a month.  This has actually decreased since we decided not to have a fridge (the solar can almost keep up with everything else, including charging electronics, our biggest draw these days) and no longer have to charge the batteries; we did a lot of motoring/motorsailing earlier on when we could have sailed simply because the trip was only an hour or two and we needed to charge the batteries anyway.  Now, we’re only having to charge once every week or two, so we’re sailing more.

Food: We’re spending about the same amount in the Caribbean as we did in the states – not a surprise as that’s what folks say happens, but we aren’t eating nearly as well.  We’re still eating very well – you know I’m a total foodie and will never live on rice and beans – but really buying only stuff that is reasonably priced.  We haven’t been able to catch a lot of fish to supplement, as some people expect to do, but I haven’t tried terribly hard.  Except coffee, which is non-negotiable and deadly expensive in places.  On average, this works out to about $8 per person per day, which is pretty damn good if you ask me.

Household: If you are coming to the Caribbean and have room, buy lots and lots of paper towels, toilet paper and any other paper products you use.  They are astoundingly expensive here.

Marina/Moorings: We haven’t stayed in a marina since we left the states, and actually only stayed one night in a marina while cruising in the U.S., that because our anchorage became untenable in high winds.  We spend a bit on moorings in the BVIs and USVIs, as many harbors don’t have any room for anchoring, so you have to pay to play: $25-30 per night in the BVIS, which is generally a total rip-off, and the national park in St. John charges $15 per night, which is totally worth it.  Apart from $120 for 10 days on a mooring in Pointe a Pitre when Philip went back to the states, we’ve spent very little on moorings since (we put the mandatory mooring in Nevis under bureaucracy, since we didn’t have a choice and would have anchored if permitted).  Pretty much everywhere, you can anchor for free.

Personal care:  In the states, we got haircuts.  Now, I cut our hair, so that’s a bit saved.  That said, we’ve found that there aren’t Laundromats like in the states when you get outside of the Virgins, and even if there are, it’s about the same cost as having your laundry done.  We are generally spending about $60 a month down here to have our laundry done, which is only about a third more than Laundromats in the states were costing us.  We do a small load from time to time on the boat to save money, but, if you’re thinking, “Oh, we’ll do all our laundry ourselves to save money,” be forewarned that it’s a heckuva lot of work and requires a lot of water, which isn’t free or easy to get.  I spent a week in Pointe a Pitre doing a month’s worth of laundry: two small (5 gallon) loads a day took about 2 hours each day to wash, rinse, dry and fold, and that doesn’t include the time fetching more water.  All in all, that month’s laundry took me about 15 hours of labor and 70 gallons of water, which is 4 trips to shore burning gas in the dinghy and $17 worth of water at $.25 a gallon.  So, we are doing small loads to keep up and just paying for our laundry to be done these days.

Stuff: We don’t buy much stuff.  Never have, but we’ve really cut down on the boat.  After all, you not only have to find a place for it, but really should get rid of something for each new thing you bring on board. That said, a surprising amount of this total is new sunglasses.  They go overboard or get broken A LOT.  I’ve gone through four pairs of sunglasses in the past year, losing two pairs while leaning overboard and having two just break because of the rough lifestyle.  Of course, I went through this many in the states, which is why I had one decent-ish pair for sailing ($20 ones with polarized lenses, instead of the $5 plastic crap ones I bought from street vendors for everyday wear), but even those went overboard, so now I get the cheapest I can find that still have UV protection, knowing they’re going to go bye-bye within a couple of months.  Philip has a good pair of prescription glasses that he ONLY wears while sailing during the day; these have survived well, but even he has lost several cheap pairs to the great blue.  And, no, I do not wear croakies.  Probably should, but Ugh, uncomfortable.  Anyway, the point here is that if you have the same tendency to kill your sunglasses, you might want to consider buying a half dozen or more from your favourite street vendor before leaving on a cruise.  Even if you’re good with glasses, it might be a good idea to have spares on board in case you do lose your good ones, because they’re not cheap down here

Transportation:  We used a credit card that accrued airline miles for everything – including our big re-haul —  for years before setting off, so we had over 100,000 miles accrued when we set off.  We used American, which works well in the Caribbean as they seem to fly everywhere here.  With a flight last fall to AZ to see my family and two flights home since, that’s gone, so this might be artificially low, though each flight was between $100-$200 in taxes and fees and taxis to the airport.  We haven’t rented cars at all, preferring to take local busses for around a dollar a ride, so other than the flights, we don’t spend much here at all.

Boat utilities:  We use a propane tank every six weeks, and they cost between 15-20 bucks to refill, consistently.  Water ranges from 10-25 cents a gallon, and our 110 gallon tanks last us about 2 weeks, sometimes more.  Trash usually costs a couple bucks to dispose of, and pumpout is a non-issue here, as there are no pumpout facilities, but averaged about ten bucks a week in the states.

Rite of Passage

IF you’re playing the home game, you are probably doing the numbers in your head and thinking “Hm. 250 nautical miles in 5 days. That’s . . . not very fast”. Well, you’d be right. Yes, we left York Town on Monday and arrived in Cape May on Friday, but in our defence, we did hit a couple of snags along the way.

Hampton Flats or The First Gale

We left Chisman Creek on Monday morning expecting a smooth, long reach down the Bay and out into the Atlantic in a nice F4 breeze. By mid-afternoon, however, we were beating hard into Force 6, listening to the NOAA weather station’s soothing robot lady voice tell us that this part of the Bay was experiencing only 5-10 knots. Not believing her, we decided to put into Hampton Flats–a small anchorage next to Fort Monroe, which guards the entrance to Hampton Roads. The anchorage was a little choppy, with about 15 knots coming off the river, and noisy, what with the highway bridge right next to it.

We awoke at midnight to a howling gale. The boat was slamming up and down, sideways on to an angry 3-foot chop. We got on deck quick-sharp, still naked, with that mix of adrenaline and grogginess that is becoming altogether too familiar since we left land, just as the anchor started to drag. The anemometre pegged the wind at 45 knots–Force 9! About a hundred yards behind us was the rock breakwater in front of the fort, and the engine, once we cranked it up, didn’t have the oomph to power forward without risking overheating. HB put a precautionary call in to the US Coast Guard in case things went truly pear-shaped while I rounded up the cats and did other tremendously useful things. After a few minutes of dragging steadily down on the rock wall, the anchor snubber–a length of nylon warp that cushions the boat if it pulls up against the chain–came off. This turned out to be a good thing, because it made us realize we should probably drop a bunch more chain out. This we did, letting out 175’ which held, finally and for the rest of a very sleepless night.

So yeah, that was kind of dramatic. On reflection, we only had 75’ of chain out, which in 20 feet of water plus 6 feet up to the bowsprit is only a 3:1 scope–not nearly enough! No surprise that we dragged once the wind perked up. However, nothing came of it so we can chalk that one down to learning.

The following morning, feeling more than a little tired, we drove out into the Bay, set a course past Thimble Shoal Light for the centre span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridgetunnel. The Chesapeake Bay Bridgetunnel is mostly bridge, but in the centre dips under the water for a 500 yard span to let big boats through. The resultant gap has a fairly strong 2 knot current. We knew this, and had timed our approach to take advantage of the ebb which took our speed over the ground up to over 7 knots and made navigating a little interesting.

Not long thereafter we were in the Atlantic Ocean! Clear green water interrupted by leetle swimming crabbies and pink jellyfish and dolphins. The wind was fair and behind us, the sky was blue, we were making great time and all was well with the world.

The Second Gale

Our first night passage was uneventful. HB took the middle watch, from 0000 to 0400, and reported tracking a couple of thunderstorms to the south, neither of which ever got closer than 20 miles away according to our radar. Night time on a small boat is quite magical; the stars are bright this far from the city lights, even with a three-quarter moon off the stern lighting up the waves. We saw the occasional freighter off in the distance, but otherwise the sea was ours alone.

I was on watch at dawn, which was gentle and beautiful and marred only by the waking of the blackflies, which infested our boat some point off the coast and bit like hot needles. At one point the galley was so overwhelmed by them that we would run through it as quickly as we could, slapping at our ankles.

The following night, at around 0100, the wind started to pick up, reaching about 30 knots (F7) before HB woke me to take down everything except the mizzens’l and heave-to. We’d played around with heaving-to the previous day and never managed to make it work well. Under mizzen alone, the boat would swing between beam-on to the wind and nearly tacking, making for a safe but somewhat uncomfortable motion as we rolled.

We stayed hove-to for the next 12 hours, alternating between huddling on deck and barely sleeping, fitfully, below as the wind rose to Force 9, topping out at about 45 knots. The sea was an awful chop: short 8-foot waves that rolled us 35 degrees from side to side and made even simple tasks extraordinarily difficult. The boat never felt in any danger and we had plenty of sea room (several thousand miles of it, aksh) but we were making about 1.5 knots leeway in exactly the opposite direction we wanted to go.

We were neither of us much seasick, but extreme fatigue made us really stupid: both of us were working on about 3 hours of sleep over the past 72 hours. It was extremely hard to sleep. The motion was vile, during the day the blackflies were sufficiently bad to keep us awake even when totally exhausted. This fatigue made it very hard to think. Minor problems took on much greater proportions, and the whole time we were operating in a sort of thick fearful fog which we only really shook off when forced to confront the problem of the masts falling down . . .

An hour into the second dog watch, HB called me on deck to deal with the help her tighten the mizzens’l, whose luff was sagging. In doing this, I noticed that the base of the mizzenmast was pumping back and forth. This is not a good thing. The chocks which wedge the mast into its hole had come loose during the gale, probably because the rigging wasn’t sufficiently tight. Partly this is the fault of the riggers, who didn’t complete the process of tightening the jibstay when they fixed the bowsprit. However, I can’t entirely blame them, since I had since noticed it was a bit slack but couldn’t actually tighten it because the #%*ing roller furler installation makes it impossible to get a spanner [wrench in American – HB] on it. We managed to get the backstays tensioned and reinstall the chocks, but in the process noticed that the bowsprit platform was breaking and coming off with every pounding wave. This I can cheerfully blame the riggers for, and will do so in writing, because they had neglected to screw it back on! I had to crawl out onto the bowsprit in waves that frequently dunked me up to my waist and lash it down.

That, thankfully, was more or less the last crisis, and very much represented the climax of the whole voyage. The wind started to slack off a little, and although it was another 12 hours before the seas would ease, we were able to raise a jib and start making some way again. We’d lost more than a day of mileage.

We got into Cape May late afternoon yesterday and are just starting to get the boat back to normal.

The Adventure Has Begun . . .

June 16: Rhode River

. . . EVEN if we only went two rivers down.

We set off this morning at 6:45 from Port Annapolis, hoping to make it down to Solomon’s Island, 49 miles away.  Traveling with us was Richard, the lovely South African with whom we watched the start of the Annapolis-Newport race the other day.  Only minutes outside the channel marker for Back Creek, however, the engine overheated.  Again.  We were pretty bummed because we thought we’d fixed the problem by replacing the temperature sender and the water pump, but the disappointment didn’t last long once we finally got our sails up, by which time Richard had totally smoked us.

The wind was blowing about 10 knots directly from the south, i.e., the direction in which we wanted to travel, but we thought we’d give it a go anyway.  During the morning, it picked up to first 15, then 20, then . . . We’d been making between 4 and 5.5 knots, even getting up to 6 knots briefly, but our speed started to drop as wind and sea picked up.  Moreover, with the wind shifts seemingly conspiring to keep us tacking back and forth across the Bay all day, we weren’t making much headway toward our destination.  At about 11:00 or so, we were just south of our old haunting grounds of the West/Rhode Rivers – from which it’s 40 miles to Solomon’s — e.g., 8-10 hours if we could sail directly there.

Yeah.

So we turned tail and ran back into the Rhode, anchoring in our favorite spot by noon, as Richard continued on toward Solomon’s.   He made it to the Choptank after battling 30 knot winds all afternoon, so we are more than happy with our decision.

I called a diesel mechanic to see if he could come out to the boat this afternoon (no dice), but it turns out that we probably didn’t need one anyway, because Philip was an idiot and didn’t think of checking the thermostat until Richard suggested it.  Yup.  Buggered. I’m sure Philip will write an amazingly witty yet technical post to tell you all about it, but suffice to say that we think we won’t overheat tomorrow when we, once again, try to make it to Solomon’s.  Winds are predicted to be 5-10, from the south again, so we may motor much of the way.  Normally, we’d hang out here until the winds shifted back, but we want to get down to Newport News in time to see Dad and Stef, and we’d also like to party a bit with Richard in Solomon’s this weekend.

It’s absolutely fabulous to be underway.  For one, I think this anchorage is the best on the Bay, even if almost anything would be quieter and nicer than Back Creek.  More importantly, after a YEAR of work on the boat, we are finally adventuring.  Yes, the past year has been quite the “adventure,” but when I say the word, I mean travel.  Even if it’s only 9 miles away.