Sail Somewhere

Irene & Gary afloat


OK, being completely honest, our sailing escape and this website were a long time coming. I had an aborted attempt quite some time ago that didn’t take. I couldn’t bear the thought of just throwing that part away, so here it is:

February 22, 2015

How not to keep a blog

I’m not completely sure, but my inclination is that waiting 15 months between blog postings is not a recipe for success. I endeavor to improve, but honestly I have not felt much like sharing for many months. When last I typed, Irene and I were counting down the days to a major life change. We had resolved to live our lives purposefully and mindfully and to this end had decided to put our careers on hold, cast away the distractions (stuff) that clogged our daily lives, and embark on a journey of escape and discovery. That’s what I tell myself now anyway as I look at the past year through the sunglasses of my biases. Irene might give a slightly more realistic account. She was preparing to abandon success and security to jump on a sailboat and go unpredictable places.

As you you might have guessed, we did not quit our jobs and go sailing. We did not eschew materialism for some higher calling. Instead, we packed up and moved to South Beach. Not metaphorically. We actually lived in Miami Beach just north of 5th street. For the longest nine months of my life.

I reassure myself that the time and money we spent in Miami was not a total waste. In the literal sense I suppose that’s true. We did manage to learn some lessons and save a little money. Topping the list of lessons is learning that I never want to live in Miami again. I also never want to live in a place and a manner that makes me feel poor. Eating out at overpriced tourist restaurants surrounded by more conspicuous consumption that I have ever witnessed might be an interesting way to spend a weekend. It is not a recipe for long-term happiness. I spent more on marina fees for St. Somewhere over the past year than I spent on the last car I purchased. We spent more on rent than I spent on four years of undergraduate education including room, board and beer.


December 27, 2012

It’s cold in Texas

The life of an airline pilot takes me all over the US and Canada. Some of the cities I visit feel like a mini-vacation, but most do not. That is why I was looking forward to this week with reasonably long overnights in San Antonio and Austin. There’s nothing better than getting paid to fly and escape cold weather in Colorado for a few days during the winter. Not this week, though. It was 30F in Austin last night. So much for a pub crawl on Sixth Street.

There’s also nothing better than spending a night in a hotel built for a warm climate when that climate does not cooperate. I spent Christmas night in a hotel room in San Antonio that was not equipped with a heater. At least I could wear the Santa hat I had been sporting all day to bed.

Today, I saw a toilet seat shaped like a guitar body for sale. It was in one of those trendy stores that just reek with hipsterness and local flavor. It was $200. I’m pretty sure my entire toilet (with seat) cost lest than $200. Regardless, I’ve got to come up with an idea to market something silly to people with too much money.

And now, this week’s exciting boat maintenance update:

I changed my first raw water pump impeller. I can’t believe that I actually paid a guy to do it last year. It took about five minutes and I’m pretty sure I could do it faster next time. The replacement impeller and gasket cost less than a fast food lunch, so the masochist in me wants to look up what I paid in boat mechanic labor and parts mark-up last time. Regardless, I continue to bask in the warm glow of the mechanical knowledge that I’m slowly racking up. Next month’s engine project will be to remove the injectors and have them overhauled by a diesel shop.

In related news, St. Somewhere seems to eat away an inordinate number of heat exchanger zincs. Every month, I’ve been faced with a zinc that’s nearly gone. Luckily, I’ve found a wholesale supplier for them at about a buck apiece. Now, if I could only find a supply of pencil zincs that aren’t a quarter inch too long, I could save money on hacksaw blades as well.

Irene jumped into the boat work fray too. She disassembled the closet in the head, replaced the shower head, painted everything and put it all back together. The old shower head had a nasty habit of being held in the wrong direction (by me) and spraying me in the face when I turned on the valve. The new one actually has an overhead mounting bracket like a real bathroom. No more one handed washing!

I’m also in the process of taking an honest and hard look at the sails and rigging. I will definitely add some deck organizers and the lines for a third reef in the mainsail. I’m also trying to find a bargain solution for an asymmetrical spinnaker. The rest of the sail inventory could probably use some help too, but I’m probably too cheap to replace things that still have a little life left in them. I’ll probably make do and “go to war with the army I have.”


December 7, 2012

My outboard motor keeps me warm

As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Edmonton, Alberta. The temperature is -18 C. Or if you want it to sound warmer, you can call it -1 F. The overwhelming desire to be WARM brings this story to mind.

Recently, Irene and I decided to take the new dinghy for a spin. Let me begin by saying just how awesome it is to have a dinghy. St. Somewhere goes about six knots when the wind is being helpful. The dinghy goes 80. Ok, not really, it’s more like 25, but when you’re used to six, it feels really bad-ass. At night, with the engine running full out, I feel like a Navy SEAL on a nighttime beach assault. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what a SEAL would feel like if instead of a weapon, he was holding a super-size mug of rum and coke.

So anyway, we’re about as far from the dock as possible when the motor quits and will not start. And it’s about to rain. Since its going to rain, every boat on the bay is ignoring the little rubber boat with a guy standing up in it frantically waving his arms. It’s like when you’re at a cab stand and someone lets the little old lady go in front of them because it makes them feel chivalrous. Add some rain, and more likely than not, that old lady is going to get elbowed in the face.

Finally, a boatload (I’ve always wanted to use that word literally) of folks arrive and explain that they will be heading in the direction of our home dock in a few minutes; they just have to stop for some provisions in the opposite direction first. We tell them we will be waiting, and off they speed. As the minutes pass, we finally drift into shore and are greeted by an accommodating, if hard to undstand French ex-pat who builds go-cart tracks for a living. We accept his hospitality and tie up, waiting for our ride.

When the boatload returns, we happily accept a tow the three miles to our dock and become fast friends. Bill and Stacey invite us out for a friend’s birthday celebration and we indulge. Fun was had by all and we’ve promised to take them sailing aboard St. Somewhere sometime.

The motor is now fixed. Something about how water is NOT supposed to be in the carburetor or something. Apparently, I have a lot to learn about outboard motors.

November 24, 2012

Sailing up Tampa Bay

Irene and I were joined by Cap’n Tim for a great weekend. Photo credit to him for this shot as we approached downtown St. Petersburg for a night of silliness with Mark and Kym Bussey. 1-2012-11-24_17-16-16_455


November 19, 2012

Boat Projects and Dead Fish

Greetings from yet another airline coach seat. It seems that lately I’ve been spending way too much time riding around on airplanes. I suppose it’s a symptom of the life that Irene and I have chosen. After a lovely visit with my sister and her husband, I’m once again off to Florida. This week’s boat projects await my attention and I’m sure there will be much to share about them once I’ve stared them and come to realize that they are fifteen times more difficult than I had anticipated. However, here’s an update on recent progress.

The Windlass:
For our non-nautical readers, the windlass is a mechanical device used to raise the anchor. Most, including the once on St. Somewhere, are electric. Over the past several months, ours required some persuasion in the form of repeated strikes with a ball-peen hammer to function. Believe it or not, hitting something with a hammer is a totally normal boat repair strategy. It has been known to work on stuck motors, solenoids, and crew members. Thankfully, I was able to locate the 25 year old (and discontinued for at least 20 years) manual online. The manufacturer recommended disassembling the gears every six months for cleaning and lubrication. From the looks of the thing, it appeared to have been last serviced during the Clinton Administration. Also, a small fiberglass repair had been done near the mounting bolts, conveniently getting epoxy on the nuts and bolt threads. And also, the guy who installed it mounted it in a location that made access to everything just about impossible. Final score: windlass 0, Gary 1. Total game time: 7 hours. Money saved by not hiring a guy to do the work: at least $500. Now I’m also going to add a second electical switch so I can run the motor in reverse to drop the anchor without donning work gloves and yanking violently on the chain. It should make the the anchoring process much more sedate.

The Electronics:
I love/hate Garmin. I love the fact that they make an awesome product that gives me great situational awareness while sailing in an unfamiliar place. I love that they replaced the chartplotter (twice) with a refurbished unit even thought it was several years old.

However, when the proprietary networking cable that allows the thing to get GPS signals and otherwise communicate with the other gadgets started to short out, the love affair was over. I called Garmin to order a replacement. It took a very long time. Long as in -wondering if the cell battery would last through the call- long. So I ask the customer service agent whether we can get the unit shipped overnight (for a ridiculous fee) to arrive tomorrow. I explain that we are moored until we can get the replacement. I give him the address of the marina. He says no problem, the cable will arrive tomorrow. I am happy. He then has trouble getting a billing address and a shipping address that are not the same into his computer. This takes more time. Eventually he gets the address into the computer. By now, enough time has elapsed that we miss the overnight shipping deadline. Awesome.

Two days later we get the cable. Admittedly, this was no great hardship as we were hanging out on Fort Myers Beach, watching the last of the spring breakers spill booze on their overly tattooed bodies. I commence to install the new cable. Things do not go smoothly. The colors of the wires are not a perfect match for the originals, but through a process of elimination I am able to get things matched up. Then, nothing works the way it did five minutes ago. The chartplotter will no longer display AIS information. It will no longer control the autopilot. I waste many hours troubleshooting and finally get the GPS position to work. At least we will not get lost. We sail on.

Over the next few months, I waste a couple of more hours messing with the thing and eventually conclude that I am an idiot and give up.

Last week, on a lark I bought a replacement cable off eBay. It cost one third of what Garmin had charged me. It came with free shipping. In ten minutes, I hooked it up and it worked perfectly. I think I’ll send the bad cable back to Garmin with a polite letter. And a dead fish.

November 3, 2012

Another Random Sailboat Photo

I’m slowly trying to write the backstory that will hopefully give context to future adventures. It’s slow going, and there’s YEARS worth, so I will hold off on posting anything. In the meantime, here’s yet another random sailing photo. This is Irene posing on front of the spinnaker on St. Somewhere off the coast of Sanibel Island, Florida. For all the non-sailors, a spinnaker is a type of sail that is large and lightweight and used for sailing downwind. This will probably be the last photo of this sail since Irene swears that it’s too much trouble and it will soon be on eBay.

October 30, 2012

Wow I can blog by sending an email

Maybe this is obvious to those more technologically inclined than I am, but the fact that I can compose a blog entry on a tablet and have it go live on the web is pretty awesome.

The downside is that my mother will now expect blog postings from the middle of the Atlantic.

October 30, 2012

Yeah, I guess I’m “that guy.”

I am pulling the trigger (and many other cliches too numerous to mention). I’m starting a sailing blog. Yeah, I’m “that guy.” You know the one. Descriptions of all the amazing (highly embellished) things he’s done complete with (heavily cropped and occasionally doctored) photos of the awesome places he’s been. It’s a lot like the Facebook friend you had to block because of all the cat photos. Only with more sailboats. Welcome all. Image Here’s my idea of a logo for the site. I guess it’s really not a logo, it’s more of a one dollar sticker from Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Cafe that happened to have our boat’s name on it. I think seaplanes are bad-ass so, what the hell…

October 29, 2012

Backstory: Part one of a gazillion

One year ago this week, I set sail aboard “St. Somewhere” to make passage from Oriental, North Carolina to St. Petersburg, Florida. The boat was new to me, as was the role of offshore Captain. Through mild deception about the bliss of offshore sailing and the promise of warm Florida sun at journey’s end, I pursuaded my wife Irene and three other trusting souls to join me. The fact that I am starting a sailing blog should serve as proof that the journey ended well enough that I haven’t sworn off the sea. As many pilots have said: a good landing is any one that you can walk away from. The story of that journey as well as many others will follow.

Why am I writing this? Recently, my wife and I made the decision to “pull the rip cord.” By that, I mean that we have, after many years of dreaming, chosen a date to make a dramatic life change. On April 14, 2013, we will say goodbye to Denver, our home for the last 13 years, and make final preparations to begin our latest adventure. Perhaps “begin” is not the right word. Our journey began 18 years to the day before this newest deadline when two cocky twenty-somethings relaxed their defenses long enough to go on a first date. It began in earnest over five years ago when me made the commitment to go sailing someday. Someday is finally drawing near, and I have succomed to the most narcissistic of notions: I am writing it down.

Today is October 29th, 2012. The sun is shining in Denver, the presidentail election is eight days away, and I’m sitting along East Colfax having a breakfast burrito. Why do the worst neighborhoods have the best Mexican food? I suppose some backstory is in order.

The year was 2005 and Cap’n Tim, Irene and I were plotting our next move. I wish I could say that there was some singular moment of inspiration, but the truth is that our decision to go take a sailing class was pretty typical for us at that time. Tim was single. I was married to the most understanding woman on the planet. Tim and I were airline pilots with meager salaries but free travel benefits. Irene was a lawyer who worked too much and had the paycheck to prove it. Every few months the wanderlust would overwhlem one of us, and half a bottle of rum later we would have travel plans. Relationship experts advise against “drinking and dialing.” We were guilty of drinking and reading lonely planet books. The internet didn’t hurt either, and a couple of weeks later the three of us stepped on board a J-80 in San Diego. I had read “Sailing for Dummies” making me the most salty of the three of us. Irene was at the helm, close-hauled into 20 knots of wind, dipping a rail in the water. The look on her face was pricless — a mix of joy and terror. Over the next five days, the terror gave way to bliss.

Two months later, the three of us wrangled a couple of frineds abaord a Jenneau 43 in Tortola, BVI. in retrospect, we had absolutely no idea what we were doing, but damn if it wasn’t fun. The next couple of years brought us back to the Virgins many times. As our skills improved, our confidence grew. With each new anchorage, we learned new lessons and our love for the islands blossomed.

In short, we were hooked.

Bareboater to Salty Dog: A Charterer’s Journey Into the World of the Offshore Sailor

Prior to taking possession of St. Somewhere, I had the great fortune of stumbling into some adventures. Here’s one from 2009.

As the turboprop taxis from the runway on Beef Island, I am a man on a mission. Armed only with a few bareboat charters’ worth of experience, I ditch my traveling clothes for island sailing bum attire and hail a cab. Immediate destination: Nanny Cay Marina. Ultimate destination: Bermuda. I’m not sure exactly how, but I am determined to make my offshore sailing debut in the Atlantic Cup.

Tortola, BVI: May 2009

I’ll never get tired of that first blast of island air when they open the airplane door. I think that the humidity, jet fumes, and tropical heat trigger a visceral response deep in the animal instinct part of a sailor’s brain. In a way that no sight or sound can begin to duplicate, that smell flips a switch resetting my internal clock to island time. Before I even clear customs, my watch is relegated to the duffel bag, and I try not to think about how few days it will be until I have to retrieve it and become a slave to a schedule once again. I’ve been here before and that familiar island vibe resonates with me. But, for better or worse, this trip will be far different from every island sail I’ve ever taken. I step off the plane alone, no crew set to rendezvous, no lovely first mate on my arm. I have come to Tortola solo to test my skills as a sailor. But before I can begin, a few minor things must fall into place. For starters, I need to find a boat willing to have me.

Before anyone dares call me foolish for flying a couple of thousand miles without having any idea how I am going to achieve my goal of sailing in an ocean race, I’ll save you the trouble. I’m plenty foolish. My plan, if it can be called that, is to saunter over to the marina a couple of days before the start of the Atlantic Cup and secure passage to Bermuda as crew. I am convinced that this will not be a problem. Never mind that I have never sailed a boat out of sight of land. Never mind that I don’t know a soul on this island, much less anyone associated with the race. Never mind that I don’t have a place to stay tonight. I’m an airline pilot, and as a flight instructor once commented on my approach to landing (where the goal is to be both slowed down and low enough well in advance), “You’re too high, but at least you’re going way too fast.”

Settled into a hotel near the marina, I stroll the docks and take stock of my situation. It is at this point that the first of many doubts begins to rattle about in my head. “What the hell am I doing here?” being the most obvious. I’m alone, a couple of thousand miles from home, and the plan that seemed sound just a few hours and a couple of time zones ago is starting to look less than inspired. The boats are magnificent, though; maybe it’s worth the trip just to see them. The marina is filled to capacity with ocean-worthy craft. Despite the obvious similarity to a boat show dock, with row upon row of marvelous yachts, this place is beyond cool. These boats are going somewhere. And to my novice sailor’s eye, that makes them romantic beyond words. But, it’s time to get back to reality. If I am ever to set foot on one of these globe-traversing works of beauty, it’s time to start working the crowd.

Nanny Cay Marina, prior to The Atlantic Cup 2009
Nanny Cay Marina, prior to The Atlantic Cup 2009

Adjacent to Nanny Cay Marina, Peg Leg’s Pub is a Tortola mainstay. I have a vague memory of hoisting one too many painkillers here on a previous bareboat trip and the place appears wonderfully unchanged since my last visit. I belly up to the open air bar crowded with sailors. It is at this point that the second of my many doubts takes hold. I am now painfully aware that I am not much of a social butterfly. My wife Irene is the one who’s good at talking to people. Were she here, she would have no problem inviting herself into a conversation and prompting someone to invite us sailing or drinking or both. I am not that guy. The folks around the bar are friendly enough and apparently do not mind my obvious eavesdropping on their sea stories, but I have little to add to the conversation. The man sitting next to me seems to know everyone in the place and many a sailor approaches him to say hello. As he is about to get up and leave, I finally get up the courage to ask him, “so, do you know anything about this Atlantic Cup thing?” He looks at me for a moment like I am an idiot. After a long pause, he laughs and replies that he does know a little something about it. He happens to be Steve Black, founder and organizer of the event. What, exactly would I like to know?

Emboldened by this serendipity, I ask about crewing on one of the rally boats. Steve patiently begins to explain that some boats take on volunteer crew and that I should check out the web site and if I am interested, I can apply online. There’s the Caribbean 1500 departing Hampton, Virginia, in the fall or maybe next year’s Atlantic Cup from Tortola. He candidly admits that with my lack of offshore experience, I’m not exactly a prime candidate. I guess I hadn’t been clear or he simply couldn’t fathom an idiot getting on an airplane and just showing up in the BVI hoping to find his way onto a boat. His eyes widen when he realizes that I am talking about crewing in the race that starts in two days.

Steve Black strikes me as the sort of man who does not suffer fools. We have already established that I am one. Given these facts, what follows is all the more amazing. After sizing me up and determining that I might not be a complete nut case and that maybe flying to Tortola in the hopes of hitchhiking a ride in an ocean race is not completely stupid, he says, “I’ve had a couple of cancellations. Meet me for breakfast tomorrow.” And with a gracious smile he is off.

Over breakfast the next morning, I meet several more sailors. It seems everyone in Nanny Cay is involved in the rally, and Steve knows them all. He proposes that I crew on Zafu 444, a heavily modified J-44 captained by Mike Scott, a retired Canadian physician. He shows me the boat, but Mike’s nowhere to be found. I am told that I should keep checking back for him on my own, and Steve dashes off to handle something important. Later, I return to the boat to find Captain Mike up to his elbows in a repair project. Psyching myself up for the big moment, I try to impress him with my enthusiasm in the hopes he will overlook my inexperience. I cheerfully introduce myself, “Hi I’m Gary.” He replies, “The pilot? Alright then, that makes three of us.” Job interview over.

Captain Mike is the kind of sailor many of us only dream of becoming. He’s been there, done that, and has the t-shirt to prove it. Only in Mike’s case, he doesn’t give a damn about the t-shirt. Like any proper boat race, Atlantic Cup sailors are given hats to commemorate the event. It is not an exaggeration to say that mine is a prized possession. Mike, on the other hand, manages to get his coated in engine oil in about a day. I’m sure it’s fallen overboard by now. Maybe if I had crossed a couple of oceans like Mike, I would be as cavalier about such things. I help as best I can to prepare the boat, but it’s apparent that Mike has been sailing solo for a long time. As such, it takes him longer to explain how to do something than it takes him to actually do it. Thus, my efforts are inefficient to say the least. I am relegated to scraping a dinghy bottom and crawling around in a lazerette, running a new cable for the GPS antenna.

Is it a good sign when your new captain says, “Yeah, the GPS isn’t working right, but we’ll get it sorted out”? The race starts in less than 48 hours and the boat looks like she’s midway through a major refit. Tools, boxes and electronics litter the cockpit. A minor autopilot project remains to be completed (something about it randomly turning the boat in circles when you least expect it). Someone from the sail loft can be seen coming and going with a look of consternation. I compare our state of affairs aboard Zafu to the other boats in the neighborhood. Everyone else is worrying about major projects like the gold lettering on the transom and getting enough steaks into the freezer. We only have some minor issues to resolve. For example, the boat lacks a headsail.

I am confident that all is well when we get the jib hoisted in time to attend a session with some of the other rally participants that evening. The lesson on tonight’s agenda: Drownproofing. I am guessing that I am not alone in my unfamiliarity with the concept, much less the existence of such a word. But it is real, and a seasoned swimming and survival instructor jumps into the pool and shows us the basics of what to do if you fall overboard at sea. What I most take to heart from her demonstration is that I do not want to fall overboard at sea.

I awake the following morning and ponder the fact that we only have a little over 24 hours until race time. A few minor housekeeping chores remain. For starters, we need to provision the boat. Of the few times that I’ve shopped for provisions in the past, I’ve always had the luxury of knowing that anything forgotten could be picked up along the way. This time, things are a bit different. I can’t think of a single grocery store between the Virgin Islands and Bermuda. After wrestling some more with the not-yet functioning GPS, we cap off the afternoon with a trip to the fuel dock and back. This is where I demonstrate some masterful seamanship to my new captain when I forget how to secure a boat while docking.

I wonder whether my line handling demonstration might get me uninvited, but Captain Mike’s patience is greater than I could have mustered. He shrugs it off, and we hop in a dilapidated shortbed for the ride to the airport to pick up our third and final crewmember. All we really know about him is that his name is Dave and that he has a beard. Fortunately, this description coupled with asking everyone in sight with a beard whether his name is Dave is all we need to locate him.

Dave’s been around the block a few times. He lives aboard his sailboat full-time in the Chesapeake and in his younger days would put to sea for weeks at a time as a commercial fisherman. His expertise is reassuring. As we walk towards Zafu, I try to prepare Dave for the sight of the boat that will be his home for the better part of a week. After all, I’ve been staring at it for a couple of days and have become somewhat numb to the chaos. Dave looks at the boat, and in response to his confused silence I venture something like “it’s not as bad as it looks.” Motivational speaking is not my strong suit.

Dave and I leave Mike to his organizing and retire to the pre-race party ramping up behind Peg Leg’s. He asks my honest opinion about the boat and the captain. I can only draw upon my experiences with airplanes and the men who fly them. I tell him that Captain Mike reminds me of pilots who have been doing it for so long that the details take care of themselves. It’s a “kick the tires, light the fires” approach to flying that can only be undertaken after years of hard-earned experience. We decide the proper course of action is to drink lots of rum.

The morning of race day I awake with a start and wonder, yet again, what in the world I’m doing here. My infinitely patient and understanding wife has given her blessing to this endeavor mostly out of self-interest. Her reasoning is that the first time the two of us are offshore alone shouldn’t be the first time that I’m offshore. Back on Zafu, the GPS is fixed, the provisions are aboard, and Dave and I are trying to make sense of the rigging. She’s outfitted with about a dozen winches and more sail trim lines than I can begin to get my head around. Zafu is cutter rigged with a carbon fiber main that costs more than my car. Her cockpit is tiny, the footwell consumed by a liferaft canister and bisected with a massive traveler. The helm has the circumference of a family-sized dinner table and the radar arch looks as stout as a gantry crane. I can only surmise that this baby was made to cross oceans.

As it turns out, I am right about Zafu. She has the outward dimensions of a 44 foot J-Boat, but the similarities end there. Mike explains that she was custom built for a solo around-the-world race 20 years ago. She is heavier by several thousand pounds and her standing rigging appears beefier than that of boats twice her size. Zafu’s chart table looks like a cross between a fighter jet cockpit and a museum exhibit devoted to state of the art electronics from the Atari video game era. The salon sports a pair of narrow settees that will house the crew for the next week, and the head lacks a door, presumably because one would be useless for a solo sailor. She sports a fairly large shower which looks off-limits for showering, filled instead with jerry cans of diesel.

The race starts at noon, and as 10:00 am passes the whole enterprise takes on an air of inevitability. Dave’s concerns about the boat are long forgotten. My concerns are too numerous to codify so I simply continue on autopilot with a few last-minute boat chores. Like a first-time skydiver standing at the airplane door, I let events unfold without thinking and I step off the dock knowing I will not touch land again for the better part of a week. The gravity of this step is lost on everyone but me. So, with all the fanfare of a minivan backing out of a driveway, the docklines are cast off and we motor into the Sir Francis Drake Channel.

March 3, 2007

Postcards to Mom – 2007

Not really postcards. This is the 21st century so they’re emails. In 2007, Irene and I had some adventures. I didn’t even know what a blog was back then, but I did send some emails to my worried mother. These may give some insight into how we found ourselves seeking adventure on the high seas.

March 3, 2007

Hello from the Caribbean,
As I write this, Irene and I are at anchor in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. It’s a beautiful, sunny day with fair-weather cumulus clouds framing the lush, volcanic hills to the south. To the north, several cruising sailboats are rounding Pigeon Island toward Martinique as the tradewinds hold steady at 20 knots. We’ve been generously taken aboard the “Viva Lass,” a Beneteau 47, by Terry, an Brit/Aussie who has just completed a little jaunt across the pond from the Canaries. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, and a little background is in order. As you know, the South America thing didn’t work out so well. After 2 1/2 days in Atlanta, Irene was at her wit’s end. After watching yet another 767 leave the gate without us, we were having some rum punch and crawfish at the little joint down the street from the crew hotel, and I couldn’t get the line from the Jimmy Buffet song “Boat Drinks” out of my head. “I gotta fly to Saint Somewhere” motivated us to start checking loads to the Caribbean. As fate would have it, St. Lucia had seats open so we gave it a shot. Never mind that our luggage was packed for a month in S.A., complete with suit jacket, dress pants and the like. Also, never mind that we were loaded down with books on Spanish, Argentina, and Chile instead of snorkel fins and our Caribbean guide. We nearly missed the flight due to a long security line and had no reservations and no plan, but we were on our way. As the grandmother sitting next to me in coach put it, “get near the water and you’ll find a good life.” She was referring to her life on Long Island Sound, but it somehow seemed to apply, and our adventure had finally begun.

I usually like third world airports. There’s something strangely familiar about all the chaos, humidity, and less than helpful customs agents that puts me in a pleasant frame of mind. We wrote on our customs forms that we were staying at some random hotel with a billboard in the airport, and the agent’s question about it foolishly caused us to admit that we had no reservations. While she held our passports, we were sternly directed to an office to procure a place to stay. Apparently, they have some law down here prohibiting random Americans from helplessly wandering the streets homeless or hitting an internet café to find a hotel. I picked up a receiver and pretended to make a hotel reservation, waved back at the customs agent and we were in.

As I expressed astonishment to a taxi driver regarding his proposed fare, we were approached by a very tan 50ish guy in flip flops. His accent instantly marked him as Canadian and he introduced himself as Don from Calgary. He explained that he had a friend who had driven to the airport to pick up his wife arriving on the next flight, but really didn’t need the ride since he was traveling on his yacht nearby. We briefly talked sailboats until his wife showed, and hopped into his friend’s van. This really pissed off the taxi driver that we weren’t going to ride with in the first place who began yelling in Patois. Patios is an island dialect that sounds like French spoken by a retarded person. We were on our way with a guest house recommendation near the marina and a promise for a ride on Don’s boat.

At the wheel was “Foxy Johny.” No, I’m not making up the name, it’s on his business card. With his wife along for the ride we made our way up steep, winding roads across the island. At his recommendation, we stopped for jerk chicken at a roadside stand and had a nip of the local rum. Things were looking up as we tried to get our bearings on the island. The major airport is at the far south end and all the nice hotels are at the north. This would not be a problem except that the island is 26 miles long as the crow flies and the roads make Independence Pass look like the Autobahn.

After settling in, we stumbled upon a bar in the marina called “Scuttlebutt’s.” It is a cruising sailor’s paradise. Fried fish, excellent rum, wireless internet, and a swimming pool overlooking the docks surrounded us as we rocked away in Adirondack swings. As I eavesdropped, I heard stories of Atlantic crossings and life on a boat. Hearing someone complain that they needed additional crew was all the encouragement I needed. I wrote a sign for the bar’s bulletin board that read “2 sailors looking for boat,” left my email address and enjoyed the sunset.
Not long thereafter Irene invited us into a pair of couples talking at the bar. It turns out that they were cruising sailors, escapees from the U.S., and invited us to dinner. The party continued for hours and ended on “Raven,” a Vagabond 47 owned by Roxanne and Bill, formerly of Texas. Much fun was had by all. It was Bill who gave our email address to Perry, a boat captain in search of some crew. The note read “will sail for food.”

Before we had an opportunity to meet Perry, the boat ride from Don materialized in the form of a cruising yacht race down the leeward side of the island and back. Don and his wife Fiona have quite the sailboat. The “Fido” is an Amel 53 Ketch (meaning that it has a main mast and a mizzen mast). It’s fitted with more toys than a condo – electric winches, watermaker, freezer. Joining us on “Fido” were Larry and Barb, longtime cruisers and racers who proved to be a blast. With Gary’s work at the helm and Irene’s bartending skills, “Fido” finished 4th in the St. Lucia Independence Day Race.

After a barbecue with Foxy Johny and his family we joined the locals for the weekly “jump up” party. Jump up consists of closing off the streets in a residential neighborhood, food cooked on front porches, potent rum punch, and lots of very bad Caribbean music that lasts until 4am.

Finally, we were able to meet Perry. He proves to be a chain smoking, alcoholic German who captains “Karina X.” a Jenneau 53 for a rich guy in Europe. He has crossed the Atlantic a few weeks prior and is looking for someone to crew on his return journey. We say we only have a couple of weeks, but would be willing to go as far as Bermuda. He is very accommodating and agrees to cruise north through the island chain and get us to an island with an airport by mid-March. Unfortunately he cannot leave for one more week. We agree to wait around and toast our good fortune, soaking up the sun, sand and rum for a few days. We head to the southern part of the island to see the sights and our adventure takes a turn for the worse. Souferire turns out to be a shit-hole. Irene and I have been in some real third world holes, but Souferire wins hands down. Local women even hissed at Irene as we walked down the street. I’ve felt safer in a bad neighborhood in Chicago in the middle of the night then at 4pm in this place. We hide in our overpriced hotel room watching videos and escape in the morning.

Returning to Rodney Bay, we receive bad news that Karina X’s owner is coming to town and the trip with Perry is off. We are sunburned and bummed. I begin checking airline loads to get off the island. On what is to be our last full day on St. Lucia, I get a call from Terry, a Brit living in Australia who works oil rigs when he’s not crossing oceans on his boat. He saw our sign and wants some company. We join him for a drink on Viva Lass. We hit it off, and after hearing our stories of the Virgin Islands, has changed his original plan of hanging around St. Lucia and sanding his teak decks, to instead plot a course north. We’re to leave Sunday or Monday for Martinique, then onward to Dominica, Antigua, and the Virgins. We’ll cruise a couple of weeks in no particular hurry and head back to Denver around March 18th. We’ve just finished provisioning for the first few days, and the weather looks good for some passagemaking. Most of the hops will be only day trips with night anchorages up the windward and leeward islands. The last leg before the Virgins will be overnight, open water sailing. The boat looks sound and has just crossed the Atlantic, so some island hopping on a beam reach should not overly test the boat or her newly formed crew. We’ve been living onboard for a couple of days and seem to get along well.

I had no idea that things like this happened except in movies and Jimmy Buffet songs.

See you soon,

March 8, 2007
Travelogue – Part Duex
As I write this, I am sitting under a tree in St. Pierre, Martinique. The small waves of the bay are lapping at the volcanic sand at my feet. The silhouette of Mt. Pele looms above. St. Pierre sits on the northwest corner of Martinique and “Viva Lass” is anchored in the well-protected bay a few hundred meters away. The last few days have been wonderful. We arrived in St. Anne, on the southern coast, after a day sail from St. Lucia. I defer to Terry (who has recently crossed the Atlantic in the same boat) when he says the winds were “rather boisterous.” The swells were at least 8 feet and the winds gusted to over 35 knots. I puked like a fraternity pledge. Irene didn’t – I knew I’d picked a winner in her. Terry nearly did so.
During the passage, we were hailed by “The Red Thread,” a Catalina/Morgan 44, sailed by Greg and Pam. They took photos of us hurtling through the waves and we returned the courtesy. We exchanged email addresses on the VHF and planned on trading the photos. To our delight, we discovered them in the same anchorage, swapped the photos and made plans for dinner a couple of nights later. Ashore, we soon realized that we were ill-equipped for Martinique. Of the three of us, I speak the most French. My vocabulary consists of good day, thank you, and excuse me. Oui! Also we had no Euros and had a shop owner stare in disbelief as I attempted to pay in Eastern Caribbean Dollars and U.S. dollars.
The next day we motored into Marin, which is a large protected anchorage with tons of yachts. We stocked up on groceries and checked email. To our delight, “Wandering Albatross,” a Westsail 32 crewed by Chris and Mary Liz was in port as well. We met them a couple of weeks ago on St. Lucia and hit it off. Once again, serendipity prevailed and they were anchored only a couple of boats away. We got the grand tour of their tiny home, cracked a good bottle of red (available here for about 3 bucks) and invited them over for a barbecue.
Yesterday, we returned to St. Anne, spent the afternoon at the beach by Club Med and helped ourselves to an honest to god shower. Dinner aboard “The Red Thread” was a blast. Greg and Pam are from Denver. Last year, after adopting a pair of toddlers from China, they decided to take several years off, bought a boat and headed out. They’ve sailed from Florida, up the east coast to Maine, through the Bahamas and the northern Caribbean. In a few weeks they’re headed south for hurricane season and then through the Panama Canal and on to the Pacific. They promised to stay in touch. Ironically, they think we’re the adventurous ones, arriving in St. Lucia with no plan. Never mind that they’re living on a 44 foot boat with a couple of toddlers. Other than a little problem with an escaped dinghy headed out to sea before a neighbor spotted and returned it, the night was perfect.
Today we sailed up to leeward coast of Martinique, and tomorrow we’re off for Dominica. Further dispatches to follow.

Au Revoir!

Irene on Viva Lass

March 2, 2007

Here’s a random photo of Irene at the helm of Viva Lass, a Beneteau 473 off the coast of Martinique in 2007.

The boat was owned by an Brit/Aussie named Terry who foolishly thought it would be a good idea to let us live on his boat for a couple of weeks.