CW’s Sailing Adventures

December 9, 2008

Open 60 Ocean Planet - #104

I was at a boatshow a few years ago. The show had a racing boat "coffee grinder" set up so that studly young sailors like myself could amble up and prove our winch grinding worth (over 60 seconds with, surprise!, increasing resistance). The boatshow ran its course and as one giant deck ape after another posted their score I watched my standing drop until I was somewhere in the middle of the women's division but that's not my point! Bob was hanging out with some little guy (everyone looks little next to Bob), named Bruce Schwab from an organization called Ocean Planet. I met him, he didn't say much but he seemed like a good guy. I later noticed Bruce's name posted above all the big guys at the top of the grinder competition. A sleeper.

Three years later … my friend Hank runs a service out east that finds boats for crew and vice versa - I got one of OPO's emails that mentioned space available on Bruce Schwab's latest adventure, a cruise from the east coast to the Caribbean and on. Bruce, it turns out, is the only American to have finished the Vendee Globe – a singlehanded sailing race, non-stop, around the world. The boat is one of the super fast Open 60's designed for the event. I couldn't afford it but I wanted in on the adventure. We worked out a trade, my labor in exchange for a crew spot on the short Maine to RI jog.

Two days later I was in chilly, drizzly (though fall beautiful) Maine on the deck of Ocean Planet getting a briefing from Jason from Argo Rigging – SF. He was heading back to CA and was trying to explain to me about the work that still needed to be done before departure. I felt like I was on an alien spacecraft. Almost nothing looked familiar. Where were the rigging and spreaders? How did the (all carbon) mast get turned sideways? Where were the tracks and cars? Why was the top of the keel poking through the deck? This was truly a different kind of boat.

I do enjoy learning new stuff … especially about boats. OP has a carbon mast that sits on a bearing on the floor of the boat, forward of the keel. There is another bearing that it runs through at the deck. The two bearings not only support the mast while sailing but they allow the mast to rotate. My instinct was that the whole idea was not a good one. Bruce assured me that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages and that the boat and rig had survived two wide-open full-race circumnavigations.

The glossy black, carbon mast was round, large at the base and tapered as it climbed into the clouds. Connected at the base of the mast, the oddly shaped boom (box shaped with spreaders, don't ask) had two carbon poles rigged from it upward and forward where they attached to the mast. What were they for? They were the vang, inverted of course.

The rigging was unconventional as well. There were no stays. There were three headsail furling drums. Two laying on deck and one lashed to the long bowsprit ready to have a spinnaker or gennaker attached and pulled out over the water. Each headsail was furled around a built-in PBO stay which helped keep forward tension on the mast. With the giant, nearly square main up, the rig got some aft tension from the main sheet. Additional aft tension was provided by port and starboard running backs – backstays that could be hauled forward for jibes and tacks.

The only thing I recognized on deck were the lines and winches. The winches were standard self-furlers but the lines just looked familiar because Bruce had stripped the covers off of Dacron line and slipped them over super high strength, low stretch spectra cores. Sheets were not lead through blocks on tracks but through rings that were infinitely adjustable by other lines. Where there were blocks they were lashed by spectra line to holes in the deck, all to save on weight. Did I mention that most of the deck fittings including all of the stantions were made of some odd colored, no rust metal – titanium of course.

Below, the center of the cabin was dominated by the nav station. When racing, Bruce sits in a car racing seat in front of his control panel which holds all of the boat's gauges and the boat laptop which was used for navigation and weather. Looking up through small circular sealed ports Bruce can see the rig. Between the companionway and the control center was the "galley". It was a carbon built, waist high console just big enough to hold a small sink and a fully gimbaled one burner "stove". Inside the console were the valves that controlled the 700 gallon ballast tanks that were glassed into each side of the hull making the wide boat a little narrower inside. Ballast tanks enable Bruce to keep more sail up (than is reasonable for most people). When our boats heel over we reef. Bruce just pumps more water to the high side.

We worked on the boat for a week. Bruce had a crew member that was joining him on the first couple legs. Julie was from San Francisco and had recently completed some sailing courses. Of course there were other people helping out: local Steve Dodge who was retired and spending his time volunteering for various charities and Will an all around boat repair and upgrade guy that would be joining us on that first leg to RI.

Up at dawn (what?) Julie, Bruce and I would grab a bite and head from Bruce's house down to the boat. It was amazing driving through the blazing colors of Maine in the fall listening to Bruce to tell stories about his races and his fellow racing legends. Ocean Planet's base is Robinhood Marine Center, a full service marina and boatyard and just a great group of people. We worked on the boat for a week. I learned the ins and outs of operating OP, how to splice modern line and how to haul a boat with a 15 foot keel. The answer is that they don't. The yard has to crane the boom off and then lift the keel up through its keel box and block it up. With the keel up the 55 ton Travellift can get her ashore. We did partially haul OP to do some keel work while I was there but left the keel down (dipping into the water at high tide).

Departure day: I'm all bundled up in gear I haven't had to bust out in years. I'm making my way out to the boat, playing on the dock, sliding on the frost. An old local dude walks by with a light jacket, looks at me and says, "You know it's time to leave when there's ice on dock". In my book seems like you've missed your window at that point.

We skated out of town on a calm morning. Will, Julie and I took turns cranking to get the mailsail up. I eyed Bruce back at the helm smiling and wondered how he did this alone over and over again. We had a screaming fast overnighter from mid Maine to Newport RI. In 10-15 knots of wind we seamed to average 12. I learned the whole thing about heading up into the wind to catch it and then letting the boatspeed bring our apparent wind around so that we could use it on a run. Crazy right? Bruce also mentioned that good offshore racers are paranoid and lazy. Paranoid because gear failure can't sneak up on him/her and lazy because they think things through first so they don't have to do things twice (thereby revealing the secret to my unlikely success).

We pulled into famous Newport on a beautiful afternoon. So much warmer than Maine somehow. Bruce and Julie took off to overnight at a friend's house. I spent my last night alone onboard. I had a yummy freeze dried dinner-in-a-bag lit by the purple glow of LED cabin lights sitting at my command center before retiring to a comfortable pipe berth. I drifted off to sleep in an empty pipe berth with the vision of me and OP surfing through the southern ocean, blowing by another French boat.

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November 8, 2008

Panama to FL II - #103

Although I am getting my share of foreign landfalls the dream stays entrenched for me by knocking out projects on Low Key. I am gathering the pieces for an electric motor set up including some borrowed parts from a golf cart. A key part to off the grid bliss is getting the most from our solar panels. I'm adding a Solar Boost charge controller to my set up. Everyone should know about these. They extract 30% more juice than the old technology. You can get them from our friends at

When I left you last month Wade and I had just been boarded by the Coast Guard off Nicaragua while delivering a 43' Beneteau named Camaraderie II from Panama to Miami. Shortly after that we rounded the top of Nicaragua and were on a beautiful broad reach toward Mexico. Mostly we ran with just the full headsail, rolling her up some for the odd squall. The weather was great, the seas were low, the boat was going fast. It was warm and sunny most of the time as we skimmed along through that deep blue Caribbean water. The boat lacked shade in the cockpit. Wade and I rigged a tarp to provide relief during the hot part of the day. We had dolphins by day, shooting starts at night - both are good luck you know.

We had run the fuel tank dry before making the turn for Mex. Running a tank dry can clog filters. If you're not getting your fuel polished it's not so bad to run the tank down to get that stuff to filter out. We took advantage of the calm downwind conditions to empty a fuel jug into the tank and change the primary fuel filter. Note that with most boat diesels, the engine revs up when getting starved of fuel. A switched on crew immediately shifts to neutral while shutting the engine down. If done quickly, no engine bleeding is required. In ideal conditions, always let a diesel run in neutral for a couple minutes to cool down before shutting her off.

Almost five days after leaving Panama we arrived in Mex at a little island NW of Cancun called Isla Mujeres. There was a regatta on that had filled the swell plagued outer marinas and so we pulled in to the Marina Puerto IM. We hopped up on the dock with our coldies and stretched our legs.

There on the dock was a big Jacuzzi. That's right, a Jacuzzi. Mrs. Longacre, a Lats contributor, was having an afternoon soak and a coldy. A different cruising couple, these two out of Galveston, were kind enough to offer us a few pesos so that we could catch a cab into town. How nice is that??

I met with the marina's agent Herman who offered to check us into the marina and in and out of Mex … on a Sunday. We agreed on a price and then Wade and I hit the town. IM is close enough to Cancun to get some of the tourist crowd but isolated enough to still have it's own pueblo flavor. Downtown has beautiful white sand beaches that run into that light blue Caribbean water. We ate and had some coldies on the regatta pier where all the sailing folk were hanging out. Up the cobblestone streets I grabbed some gifts for friends and family back home.

After dark we wandered in a couple blocks to the main thoroughfare. This is where IM shines. It is an avenue that travels the length of the little town and is lined with restaurant/bars. Each one is has a different theme and feel. We picked and chose our pit stops carefully on the criteria of: funny crowd, special drink, street entertainment? Ya, street entertainment. Our last stop had a kid, euro backpacker type, playing the conga across the walk street from our table. His friends emerged from the shadows and joined in with various instruments. The tempo and volume built and the crowd gathered. One of the tattered performers starting dunking ropes in a liquid he pulled from his backpack. Our impromptu street jam turned into a tribal fire dance with a jungle beat. The dancer swung his burning ropes all about as he jumped in and out of the rings of fire. The line of female tourists sitting behind us exploded in cheers, oohs and ah's.

First thing in the morning we pulled around to the fuel dock to fuel and await our agent. He showed up with some surprise fee increases. Normally I would have turned him away and completed the check in/out myself but that would have meant at least another 24 hours in port. At my daily delivery rate that wouldn't have made sense. He had me and he knew it.

We headed out into the sea making the change from the Caribbean to the Gulf of Mexico. We had good conditions as we beat toward the western tip of Cuba. That is to say as good as we could expect. We had 20-30 knots apparent off the starboard bow. It was sunny and the seas were manageable and we had that tail current giving us a hand (or is it a foot to the backside). The gps gave us our speed toward the waypoint (Velocity Made Good) which kept us knowing when we had found the thick part of the current. Also important is tacking around to find the lowest seas. Again and again we found both which made for a blistering bash to windward making 6-7 knots VMG the whole leg. Shooting stars, phosphorescence, and on and on – it was as nice of an upwind ride as we could have hoped.

Two days later we arrived at Hemingway's Island, little Key West. I called the CG on my cel phone and they told us to take a berth and walk in to Customs. We fueled and then got tied up at the City Dock (the cheapest at $2.50 a foot a night). Customs was closed by the time we got there so Wade and I headed into town to see if there was any chance a sailor find a couple coldies and maybe some entertainment. We found both. Wade and I started out at my old favorite, Sloppy Joe's for well earned hamburger, some brew and a sidewalk view. We caught the margarita contest over at Hogs Breath. The highlight for me was hanging out at Wade's favorite, The Green Parrot, listening to Irish Kevin pluck a four string homemade 'guitar' and sing about life in the bayou. We took a walk through the Haitian quarter and ended up back in town at some rooftop bar partying with a bunch of naked people. It happens.

I lost Wade for a couple hours but he rolled in 'round sunup. We left Key West on the tide (meaning when I felt ready). It was a beautiful day. We took advantage of Wade's local knowledge and ran up inside the reef 'tween the buoys and the Keys, flat and fast. That evening we headed outside to avoid the crab traps. It was nice out there too.

The next morning we arrived in Miami and pulled Cam II into her new home at Dinner Key Marina, safe and sound and in record time. We put away the boat and cleaned up. My friend Kim, author of Yoga Onboard, picked us up and took us to a dinner spot before dropping Wade off at his car and me at the airport.

October 8, 2008

Panama to FL - #102

For those of you wondering what happened to the Venezuela bound boat, she was motored over to Cartegena where she is having work done. Though Venezuela is renowned for inexpensive refitting, my friends living in the area tell me that Cartegena has a couple of boatyards that also do good budget work.
Back to Bocas: The Lats and Atts offices are in a building that overlooks the marina where my boat is. On my bicycle commute between Low Key and my desk I ride by "A" dock where the big boats get put. A few slips down from Lost Soul's old spot was a new Beneteau 43 - Tommy Bahama edition. Over time, I watched Camaraderie II get fitted out for cruising and then suddenly she was gone - another success story.
The next time I saw the boat she was on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal at my home away from home, little Bocas del Toro. Cam II needed to be moved up to Miami - 1200nm to windward. On my friend Chuck's recommendation I found myself back in Bocas to sail off into the Caribbean once again.
You know the drill by now. The crew search email went out. Eric Stone provided me with Wade who used to be a shrimp boat captain in the south. Wade was finishing up another job and so I arrived in paradise before him. The boat was still in new condition which was a wonderful contrast from my previous local adventure. You could tell the owners had spent some time at the boatshows, they had one or two of everything. A lot of it was stuff that I find distracting from the simple joys of cruising. I fit most of it in the aft stateroom which meant Wade would be sleeping in the saloon.
If I haven't mentioned it I'm a fan of Bocas. My friends Chuck, Ann and Charky run the marina and bar/restaurant and if that is not enough of a reason to like the place the little town, just a water taxi away, is a nice spot too. I was able to fuel up, do the first food run along with most of the checkout before Wade even got there. I got to work with a female port captain, a first for me in a Latin American country. The Customs girls who came out to the boat were nice too, no machismo just quick business with a sweet smile.
I met Wade at the mini airport and got him checked into and out of Panama in one go. We got the provisioning done and I took him out for a 'last meal' and some Seca con Leche at one of the Bocas over-the-water bars where we were served by a couple of dusky Latin lasses. I had a final check of the weather. is my new favorite - 8 days of animated downloadable wind strength and direction, free.
First thing the next morning we got in the water and cleaned the bottom. She had a sporty bulb keel and folding Max-Prop which always makes for a faster passage. Cam II only held 53 gallons of diesel which is a concern in a 1200 mile mostly upwind passage. There would be fuel stops.
We said our goodbyes to friends old and new. That was the part of cruising I never got used to. We eased her almost 9 foot draft over the beautiful reefs to get to the channel and then turned for the freedom of the sea. We pulled the inmast furling main out, being careful to keep a little tension on the furling line. One of the vertical battens jammed in the mast. We learned that with the topping lift at just the right length and the boat at just the right angle to the wind we could … just kidding, the inmast furling jammed no matter what we did.
We had to motorsail the first leg 350nm to get up and around the top of Nicaragua so we could fall off to a reach and sail the 400nm to Isla Mujeres. You know the upwind settings, when keeping a tight schedule: main sheeted hard to center, motoring at cruising rpm, turn the boat off the wind until the main just fills and you have some heel. This should also keep you from pointing directly into the chop or swell. It's fast, it's more comfortable.
It was the middle of the night when we spotted her, a very large dark spot on the horizon. The boat stuck out like a sore thumb, not fooling anyone. She seemed to be traveling at the same speed and direction as us. I hailed the "Northbound vessel" twice with no response. I turned out our lights and adjusted course. She didn't follow.
I came up for my morning watch. Wade was reading a magazine. He gave me the pertinent details on conditions etc. for the watch changeover and headed for his bunk adding, "And there's a Coast Guard cutter following us." Are they allowed to tool around at night without their lights on not answering the radio? Maybe.
At 0830, with a big plume of soot shooting out the top of the boat, 270 feet of Coast Guard cutter came barreling up. I was impressed … with the squandering of my countries resources. There was a radio conversation and soon we were boarded. As with officials in foreign countries, we were real hospitable. The CG asks then checks for guns etc. They take ID's and in Wade's and my case, CG licenses. Then the digging begins. Of course we went through the lockers, settees, bilges and on. I had to remove and put back everything in that well packed aft cabin, twice. They rubbed swabs around the boat which were taken back to the ship for testing. I've seen it all before, just not so drawn out.
Four and a half hours later they left us. Anyone heard of drug sniffing dogs? I should say that every one of the kids that the bridge sent to do their dirty work were super nice and even funny. But with marks on the side of the boat where their skiff had been 'landing', black boot streaks on the teak decks, scuff marks throughout the new interior from belt-hung guns and flashlights; I felt a little used.
The good news is that they found something. It wasn't all for naught. At 0830 the next morning they boarded us again for another four and a half hours. They had reportedly found a trace of a substance that could be used to cut illegal cocaine. Wade and I had a couple coldies on the aft deck while we mulled over what a great story this was going to make, regardless of the outcome.
I let them do most of the work this time as they went through everything again and added some measuring for hidden compartments and some whacky holding tank pumping experiment. Nothing else was found, they split and we didn't see them again. You should know that I appreciate the CG and believe they are an integral part of maritime … you can fill in the rest.
As they had required us to change course we missed our fueling stop at a little Columbian island I like. I had to recalculate our fuel usage. We lowered the rpms and continued on. The next afternoon we ran out of fuel. If it had happened forty minutes earlier we wouldn't have made it around the reefs that extend out from the upper corner of Nicaragua. Wouldn't have made it without having to tack out, that is. We unleashed the headsail and Cam II screamed off on a reach toward the paradise of Isla Mujeres Mexico. Tune in next issue for our visit to one of my favorite Mexican ports followed by stops in Key West and Miami.

September 8, 2008

Change - #101

If you tuned in to CWW to find out where the best Margarita in Isla Mujeres is, you'll have to check back next month. Once a year I do a column about the bigger picture, the sweeping issues that affect cruising most. This is it, one man's perspective.

Beth Leonard, cruiser extraordinaire and author of Voyager's Handbook wrote, "Going cruising separates your many many wants from your very few needs, and in getting down to those needs you discover what it is that defines you as an individual. You let go of all the things you've been told that you should want, you should have, you should need and you find out who you really are and what you really want to do and how you really want to exist on the planet."

At the peak of my pre-cruising rat-race daze I drove an old full size Bronco. I worked all week and stole away on the weekends to whoop it up with friends, water skiing Pyramid and motocrossing the hell out of the foothills north of LA. I had a beer belly cookin', I was living the good life. Still, there was something missing, something unfulfilling about my chock-full motor-head/work guy calendar.

It was cruising that exposed me to things more real; real adventure, real intrigue, really living. My small world was subjected to a broader perspective. Ripping along a tree lined path at a 110 decibels had it's moments but what was the point, where was the challenge? Hiding in my helmet I was isolated from the best part, the stuff along the trail itself. Cut ahead to my first open ocean squall – dizzy with distress in the face of a force greater than any I'd experienced, violent wind and waves ripping and tearing at our vessel as we lay in submission, far too far offshore to swim to the safety of the nearest beach, to far even for an ego as powerful as mine. Combine that experience with a hundred tropical island landfalls, amazing reefs snorkeled and evening sunset coldies with new friends in odd places and I was hooked on a different kind of living.

I've since developed an affinity for a new way of living, one molded from a few blissful cultures I've witnessed while cruising other countries. Work less, own less, and enjoy more. It's how I live now. Quality is the object of this alternative way of life. New Zealand comes to mind as an example. Have a look around and you'll find that the houses there are mostly simple one-story 50's looking abodes. Like their simple vehicles their homes are clean and well maintained. Small homes and simple cars mean more disposable income but also bigger yards and gardens. Quality time outside abounds. "Does your food travel more than you do?" Here in the states the answer's a resounding yes! Not in NZ. And who needs a big house full of flatscreens and gadgets when you are traveling all of the time. Kiwi's are rarely home. They take long-ass vacations, sometimes for months. And they don't have to leave the country. Like us, they live in an amazingly diverse place.

It is a thing that often seems just out of reach. In my 39 years, Quality is what I have grown to understand to be the object of this game we're playing. The one who wins the game isn't the one with the most toys. That's what the corporate version of the American dream would have you invest in. If you expose yourself enough to true living you can see that the real object is to notch up more and higher Quality experiences. We dance around it, pretending that other things are more important. Quality is not so elusive. It can be found in everything we do from the simplest of life's chores, to watching your kids play, to a grand exploration of an uncharted island. Quality, alongside balance, are the elements that provide a steady flow of intuitive answers to the hard questions that cross my path.

It's tough at the top. That's where we still are as a nation, if by a shoe string now. It's hard to see the cracks in the wall as you stand up there but come on down for a minute, head out to cruise other countries and you just might get far enough away to notice. From the start, Cruising has given me a strong dose of reality and I have been courting Quality solutions for our big picture ever since.

I've been back long enough this time around to get a good dose of the malcontent circulating my country. All of the petty bickering is not helping our situation. I've learned that the extremists, on both ends of our political spectrum, aren't going to solve our problems. They are too far gone. Those that spend their days bashing the other side, denigrating their fellow Americans, do their country a disservice and we should turn a deaf ear to them. What is needed now is for you and me to come together in the middle. All of us giving a little.

Our national standing in the world may not mean anything to the permanently shorebound but to a cruiser, the way we are perceived and received abroad means a lot. From where I stand, four issues separate us from national, and in turn, cruising bliss. They are all four connected and they all have solutions found in cruising.

Do we continue to beg for oil at the peril of our troops, our economy and our planet or should we finally step up and field the permanent solution. Don't let them convince you that our nation and her people are too weak to build an independent renewable energy future. It is well within our fortitude and skill set and we are ready. It's time to own instead of rent.

Energy crises you say? Not if you live on a cruising boat. If you pulled the plug tomorrow, cruisers all around you would continue to live nearly unaffected. We would flip on our windgenerators and angle our solar panels to catch the drifting sun. And we would conserve. We would try to help the people ashore because that's what cruisers do. In the evenings though, as the shore-bound panic for lack of front yard floodlights we would insist on a sundowner, if just to increase the day's dose of Quality.

Like on a cruising boat, our nation's energy options are vast. Wind power, solar power and ocean energy alongside conservation make cruising remote paradises feasible. On land we can benefit from a few bonus energy producers, among them: geothermal and hydroelectric. Of course we shouldn't leave out ethanol from surplus plant matter, biodiesel from algae and discarded cooking oil and alcohol from food waste as transitional fuels and for those new multifuel engines. Hydrogen production and storage have just had major breakthroughs. Let's not forget the no gas station, no tune up solution to transportation: the electric vehicle.

Where I live we already have lightweight electric trucks and cars zooming all over the place. Oddly, most are imported from China as GM considers bankruptcy (why are they stalling on electric cars?) As I write this, the electric powered sloop across from Low Key is silently motoring out for a sundown sail. Low Key's next for that program.

"May you live in exciting times," as the Chinese curse goes. This is an amazing time to be kickin' around this little blue planet. We are at the end of an era, one way or another. As cruisers we know all too well how precious the environment is. We live in the country that is best suited to lift humanity out of the carbon age. We were designed for this challenge. Enough motoring into the wind, it's time to change course. It's time to set the sails.

August 6, 2008

Oregon to San Diego - #100

I get a lot of work moving boats uphill - upwind, upswell, upcurrent - and it's work I'm glad to have. But every now and then I get a nice downhill run. At the end of '07 I brought a just-commissioned Beneteau 43 from San Diego to Oregon with the owners and their daughter onboard (issue #91). There were some bumpy parts but it was an easy trip. Last month that same boat was ready to come back.

My brother Rusty lives on a lake in the pine forest above Seattle and so I popped in for a visit. This time we took out the "lake boat" - a section of floating dock with lounge chairs, a cooler and an electric motor. I then drove the 500 miles to Brookings Oregon. That is amazing scenery, steep and green without much development. I stopped at Depoe Bay. They have an amazingly jagged harbor entrance. I felt compelled to have a quick coldie at the Pirates Booty. A perfect dive, the locals welcomed me in like family. It made me want to stay … until my beer ran out.

I was the first to arrive at the boat. The docks at Brookings are full of old fishing boats and derelicts. Our new white Beneteau had just been polished and stood out like a pearl in a bin of shucked oysters. It was going to be me and the family again only this time we would have both of their twenty-something daughters. Looked like I would be sleeping in the saloon again. I dropped my stuff off and walked over to the seaside diner to get my last meal. I love those little local places.

When I returned to the boat the clan had assembled and was raring to go. We checked the engine and secured gear and fired her up. The boat was new before we left on her maiden voyage, the trip that brought her up. They tried to get someone to do the first engine service while she sat in Brookings but never found anyone qualified. This was unfortunate but as Captain Ron says, "If it's going to happen, it's going to happen out there." And so we left.

Just as we passed the outer wall, engine alarms started going off. We shut her down. Motor shmotor, this was a sailboat. We would just sail for a while. I went to crank out the in-mast furling. It jammed. "It's OK," the dad explained, "the same thing happened on the harbor checkout cruise. The dealer said that it's normal. You just have to crank it in and out a few times until it un-jams." Two words: Stack Pack.

Down below in the ER I could see shreds of the belt hanging below the belt cover. The replacement belt was a little small. While I was contemplating the situation I overheard the mom on the cell phone leaving a message for their Beneteau guy to call us back adding, "It's an emergency". I cringed. We try not to use that word around boats unless we mean it. While awaiting the thrumming of helicopter blades; three of us pushing, pulling and prying got the belt on.

Back on deck it was raining high-end ball bearings. Someone had mounted the boom track too far forward and when the furling main was brought all the way out it pulled right off the track. Remarkably they are still making these track cars with loose bearings. For icing we had the standard Raymarine issues with intermittent gps signal, random resetting and kindergarten software.

But finally we were at sea, home sweet home, cruising merrily along down the coast. It was end of winter so it was chilly. I didn't bring my heavy foulies, I like to travel carry-on when I can. With 5 onboard I was expecting short watches. As I was making up the watch schedule it was explained that the kids would not be doing their own watches. That sounded nice, some quality time sharing watches with mom and dad, something that families don't do enough of in my opinion. Then pops started to not feel well, he had a stomach issue, which left just two of us doing watches. I have to say that mom and the girls, admirably, picked up the slack. I talked to him about doing his laying around while sharing a watch up in the cockpit but he was too ill for that.

Me and mom had a talk. If dad was on the verge of death maybe being at sea was not the safest place for him. We decided to get him to shore. We pulled into beautiful Bodega Bay. One idea that filtered through was that the parents would drive a car back down to San Diego while the girls and I carried on with the delivery. Right about the time Dad caught wind of that plan he made a miraculous recovery. We fueled up and headed back out to sea.

A note when cruising the west coast. We had been seeing a lot of crab pots so I consulted a local fisherman (common cruising oracle). Bodega's Jonny Cod informed me that we would see pots out to 60. Seems I had been seeing pots out to 150 feet deep. No, he corrected me, fathoms, which is 360 feet. That's some ambitious crabbing I thought. Cold dark water is the one thing I admit to being afraid of (besides Canadian midget strippers). With no kelp cutters on the prop I moved our gps track out past the 360' line.

We blew by San Francisco without incident. On the radio the Coast Guard was issuing a weather warning. Seems we would soon be running in 40 knots of wind. I had confidence in the boat and thought to carry on. The boss and I talked it over and decided that they weren't fired up to weather the blow at sea. We pulled into Moro Bay. On the upside I had not come into Moro from sea before. On the downside we were going to miss the first good wind of the trip and a prime opportunity to put the boat through her paces. It's a great way to find out about things we may want to adjust or change on the boat. Another downside is that bad weather can close an entrance to a bay like Moro which would trap me. I guess I'm afraid of that too.

We pulled up and parked in front of the Moro Bay Yacht Club. What a great group of people. We also met young Dane heading out to cruise ( Back onboard another plan was hatched. With our new schedule the girls were going to miss their flights out of San Diego so the family decided they’ed all hop in a car and drive down. I started the crew search. She works a lot and so is rarely available. Great company, great food and seasick-proof, having Dena available to crew an easy downwind leg was like getting Babe Ruth off the bench for a local softball game.

After spending two nice days trapped in Beautiful Moro Bay, Dena and I fueled and headed out through a still breaking bar entrance. The trip continued uneventfully. Like a typical leg cruising: smooth downwind conditions, dolphins everyday, passing through islands at night (Channel Isles), taking hors d'oeuvres and sunset coldies on the aft deck. In trade for servicing a head pump-out misstep (wasn't me) we won a few hours at our favorite local island stop – Two Harbors, Catalina. Beautiful boat, socal weather, Buffalo Milks and a live band on the deck of the Harbor Reef Bar.

Up early, a sunrise to sunset run brought us to our destination, funky San Diego, where the parents took Dena and I out to dinner overlooking the bay. A perfect wind up.

July 6, 2008

100nm delivery II - #99

If you tuned in last month … we had picked up a boat in Bocas del Toro, Panama. She was a 43' fiberglass cutter that had been neglected and de-engineered to the edge of dereliction. Mike, Stacia and I had been enlisted to deliver the old cruiser to Venezuela - 1200 miles to windward through peak trades.

While back in Bocas, to help her sail upwind at her full potential, we had moved weight aft off the bow going so far as moving the primary anchor and full chain rode from the bow back to the saloon. We left the smaller hook with a short length of chain and a couple hundred feet of nylon line for our emergency anchoring needs. We also took the dinghy off the bow, cleaned and rolled it up and dropped it into a cockpit locker.

The list of predeparture boat issues was long but now we were finally at sea. Her saving grace was that she sailed upwind like a cat on a run. Someone at some point had rigged her with a racing headsail and rod rigging and her sleek shape and deep drop down keel lended themselves to upwind ripping. We had hoisted the old main in the channel and when we turned the corner we unrolled the headsail. Though covered in green mold (never seen anything like it) the sturdy Quantum sail otherwise seemed good as new. With the sails deployed the boat took off like a shot, slicing through the mounting ocean swell.

My immediate plan was to duck into Colon for fuel thus extending our motorsailing range for that first leg to Cartegena. It was practically on the way. And then stuff started to break. We put in the first reef and the reef line broke. Same thing happened with the second. A few hours later, in single reef conditions with two reefs in, the main exploded – earlier than predicted.

And we had other issues. We were sinking. The bilge pump would not maintain a prime even when we could keep the strainer unclogged. Along with the salt water there was oil and diesel sloshing around the bilge soaking up years worth of debris that had been swept under the floorboards. The bow nav lights went next. Water in the bilge had shorted out some exposed connections that had been, for some reason, installed there. The autopilot would not steer a straight course even with all adjustments tried. The high bilge fluids had started seeping into the water tank creating an interesting diesel taste from our washed dishes. Mike joked, "The only thing that hasn't broken yet is the head". Then we got serious and knocked on wood.

I always bring a bunch of automotive fuel filters to boats that haven't been moved in a while. With this boat I was prepared for the worst. With no fuel polishers available in Bocas we replaced the engine filters and I installed an automotive filter inline before the primary to keep the big chunks from entering the fuel system. Just before pulling into Colon I changed them out again.

We rolled into Colon in the morning and stole a spot at the dock in front of the Panama Canal Yacht Club. Mike went ashore to ask if we could stay in the space we were in. He got a big no from the harbor master. Mike described the guy to me. He sounded like the guy that was there last time. I knew his weakness. Equipped with a couple coldies (mordida) I tracked the harbor master down on his boat. He decided it would be alright if we went over and backed up to the quay. I liked that spot better anyway, less crowded, better breeze.

Once the boat was happy Mike, Stacia and I headed straight into the PCYC. It is one of my favorite spots. Most people are in a rush when taking in the sites and sounds of Colon and the PCYC as they nervously prep for their canal transit. I don't think they take the time to appreciate a place like this. I sit in awe thinking of all of the sailing legends that have drunk at that canoe shaped bar. Later, we headed back to the boat for some Mike Z seared tuna and a laptop movie, a slight hint of diesel wafting through the air.

We were at it first thing in the morning. We did another filter change and did a thorough check of the rest of the ER. Mike checked the gear oil and found that it was white. Seems the gearbox had sucked in some salt water when it was partially submerged. He flushed it. We pulled the sails off the rig and laid them out on the quayside lawn and took measurements.

There was rioting in Colon proper, what else is new, so our visit to town was put off. I finally got a hold of the owner and gave him a recap and we discussed options. There was no delivering the boat quickly without a mainsail this time of year. We talked about finding a ship to deliver her to the eastern Caribbean where we could limp into Venezuela. Plan B was for me bring in a new main and other parts when I returned after the Lats Share the Sail.

My team started the search for a shipping agent that could get us on a ship. We could see them in the harbor, container ships with yachts stacked on top headed to all parts of the world. Internet at the club was super slow and so we traded off doing online searches and then making calls at the pay phones. 8 man hours to do something that would have take 30 minutes back at my desk at Lats. The bids did finally come in. None of the yacht moving ships were picking up locally anytime soon and regardless, the shipping fees were astronomical. I look at it as job security. I also went through the boat and took pictures of different pieces of gear so that I could find replacements once back in the land of boundless internet.

When we moved the boat off the quay we decided to swing the electronic autopilot compass. We went into the channel and started doing the big slow circles required. The unit finally beeped that we had successfully completed the task. All set, I hit the auto button, let go the wheel, heard the motor run for a sec and then nothing. It had seized up. Seized up with the helm over to port. Without helm control you can often keep a boat drifting down the middle of a channel using just forward and reverse. I kept the boat catawampously in safe water while Mike hopped down and disconnected the motor arm from the quadrant.

I didn’t want to leave the boat at the fixed cement docks at the yacht club. Boats were having trouble with their fenders staying put. I had heard good things about the marina across the harbor and so we moved to Shelter Bay. While the PCYC is admittedly a slum, and I mean that in a good way, Shelter was plush. The docks were of the new cement and wood floating variety, there was a new restaurant and the whole place was well protected from the constant ship swell that plagued PCYC.

Just a few boats down was a boat I met when I was in Cartegena on Low Key. Bruce and his family had holed up in this marina and he was now running the boatyard. Our project boat would be in good hands at Shelter Bay while I was gone. Thanks to Mike Z and Stacia for keeping such a great sense of humor and for just being generally jovial in the face of near adversity.

June 8, 2008

100nm delivery I - #98

I had a few weeks off before we all had to fly down to New Zealand for Share the Sail. I had cleared my schedule so that I could put the finishing touches into the circumnavigation book. The phone rang, as it does. It was one of those Skype numbers that begins with a bunch of zeros and would mean that I would soon be booking airfare to somewhere warm. It was our old friend Chuck. He was running the Bocas Del Toro Marina in Panama. Bocas is the premiere hurricane hideout on the west side of the Caribbean. Chuck had a client in the marina who wanted his boat moved to the dock in front of his house in Venezuela. Venezuela? Love to.

I emailed the owner and got some trip specifics and returned him a quote. I explained that I had plenty of time to do the job when I got back from Share the Sail. At the end of the email I added another quote. This one was the higher price that I would do the delivery for if he needed it done immediately … in the windiest time of year up through the roughest part of the Caribbean. I figured that if the boat was ready to go we could knock the trip out in a couple of weeks. He assured me it was and opted for the rush job.

I needed crew. This was going to be a brutal upwind slog into 20 foot seas. It was shaping up to be a tough sell. Mike Z was the first to take the bait. He had a pro fisherperson friend that wanted to come along too. I received the signed contract and the wired $ and booked the last minute flights.

I met Mike and Stacia coming off their plane in Panama City. Cute young Stacia was a sailboater at heart, but for a day job, she crewed on a working Alaskan fishing boat. We rushed through customs and caught a cab to the little domestic airport by the canal. We missed the flight by a few minutes.

Plan B: I had made “reservations” at a hostel in town in case we didn’t make our connection. Hilberto dropped us in the middle of a slum, a fact that Mike Z didn't let go unremarked upon. Some mental instable met us at the rusted security door and walked us up the dark stairwell. He stopped on the second floor and started picking the locks on a large steel door. Just then a Dutch backpacker hopped past us headed up the stairs. We wished our little friend luck and followed Hansel.

It was paradise. The hostel was a pleasant happy place with smiley younger euro types who were all about making cheery conversation and generally not doing anything important. It was my kind of place. We had our own room with a fridge. We brought back a bunch of coldies from our exploration of town. I don’t often find a group that is more financially challenged than I but most of these people qualified. I shared some coldies with some appreciative fellow world travelers (good luck in your sailing career Willow).

To get to Bocas we had to get cross town to the smaller airport to take the tiny hopper flight. Once on the island we took a cab to the wharf where a water taxi took us around to the marina via the surf break where we had to first stop and drop a surfer into the lineup. Chuck, who always reminds me of a big, bearded, gravel-voiced Viking, met us at the dock.

Chuck showed us to our new home. Our home was a mess. Mold was everywhere. The fridge had been turned off with food in it and there was a foot of brown liquid in the bottom. There was old smelly bedding and dirty clothing around from some unlucky boatsteader. And then there was a smell, that stood out from the others, which we could not find the source of … at first. It turned out that the freezer, hidden under the settee, had also been turned off a couple months prior. It was half full of what used to be meat.

The deck was a mess but what concerned me was all of the lines and halyards that had been sitting in the tropical sun for what had to have been a couple of years. The headsail was rolled up but the cover and corners still looked good. I hoisted the mainsail. This was the first point when I felt like we might have a problem. The sail was older and borderline brittle. When motorsailing to windward, the mainsail is everything. Motoring with the wind just off the bow, the mainsail keeps the boat moving forward as she plows through swells.

We worked into the evening knocking off just in time to get a late meal from the little marina restaurant. Charky used to run our ad department at the main office in CA. Lured by Chuck and Ann, she headed south and took on the ‘challenges’ of running a bar/restaurant in paradise. Char welcomed us into her place with open arms. It was great to see everyone and get caught up.

I slept great, as I do on boats, but I guess I was the only one. The next morning, around the breakfast table at Charky’s, the crew described the sounds in the night. Seems we would have some friends along for the cruise - cockroaches and a possibly a mouse.

Most skippers that I know would be booking flights home at this point but I wouldn’t be deterred so easily. I emailed the owner my first impressions. I gave him a brief breakdown on the condition of the boat. Also, I wanted him to understand that when the mainsail failed our voyage would quickly as we pulled into the next port. If time allowed, without a main, one could tack around the Caribbean Sea for a month or so and eventually get into Venezuela. But time was an issue for us.

Good news, Chuck tracked down the previous skipper. Richard was a fan of Lats and Atts. He was glad to come down and show us the boat. He was the one that brought the boat down from Annapolis. He made the wonderful carib run through many palm lined islands coasting through clear blue seas arriving in the awesome cruising grounds of Bocas. After years of neglecting the boat, when the boss called and wanted her brought back upwind, Richard jumped ship. He had found a lady in Bocas and decided to move into town where they will live happily ever after on their US pensions.

After lunch I slipped below with a big trashcan, gloves, and a scarf to cover my mouth and nose. I couldn’t possibly ask my crew to clean out the freezer. I had had a couple beers at lunch in preparation. Mike Z implored me to have just one more coldy before facing the demon freezer. I acquiesced. I’ve seen dead bodies but the site of the mini ecosystem combined with the powerful stench was certainly a more memorable experience. Taming a rough sea in an ill prepared boat seamed trivial in comparison.

Day 3: I got the owner on the phone and he gave us the thumbs up to continue and to try and make it as far as we could. And so we fueled, checked out, provisioned and still made it back to the restaurant for Thursday night Tuna steaks. First thing in the morning Stacia and I hopped in the water and cleaned the bottom of the boat while Mike Z finished the prep topside. That afternoon we motored out the pass and finally, out to sea.

I’ll have to submit part dos next month. There were too many good lessons on this one to hack it up to make it fit. Hasta luego.

May 8, 2008

Cruising Sail Trim - #97

Last month I wrote about our cruise from Hawaii to Guam. It was a 3500nm downhill tradewind adventure. Being a 41’ full keeled boat they estimated it would take us 36 days. It took 25. It’s a myth that sailing slower is more comfortable. A slower moving boat is more likely to be rolly. You would have to have someone smarter than me explain the physics to you but the faster the keel is moving through the water the more stable your cruising platform. Though I enjoy being at sea, I cruise for the destinations. We all know the old cruiser adage, “If you’re adjusting the sails more than once a week, then you’re not cruising”. Playing with the sails is part of the fun for me as is sitting back and enjoying my boat chugging along efficiently. Ninety percent of my circumnavigation was sailing downwind. Hopefully, most of your cruising will take place on downwind routes. The following are a few of the things I do to get a boat running off the wind both comfortably and fast.

The best way to get the boat to sail on deep downwind angles is to set a poled out, large size, genoa. Some cruisers use two headsails at once, both poled out. Even with our Guam-bound full-keeler, we found that we had plenty of horsepower with just the one large headsail poled out. We could run as deep as 155 degrees off the wind without the autopilot trying to execute surprise jibes - our only limitation.

Quick definition: a jib's clew does not reach the mast. A genoa's clew reaches to the mast and beyond. They are both headsails. I mostly call the sail at the front of the boat a headsail to avoid a verbal foible (say that 3x fast and then go check out your headsail).

To rig the headsail on a spinnaker pole you need two lines besides the headsail sheet. If your boat is set up for spinnakering you call these lines the topping lift and the foreguy. Without these dedicated lines you can use a spare halyard and a line tied forward (be aware of chafe at the mast sheave). Run the sheet through the outboard end of the pole. Attach the topping and foreguy, attach the pole to the mast and then hoist the topping. Unfurl the headsail and adjust the three lines so that the pole is horizontal and an inch or two forward of the shrouds. When crossing the lake they call the South Atlantic Ocean, the wind would often die at night and we would douse the headsail leaving the pole up, tied to a shroud, for use in the morning.

Why use the three lines? Chafe. I dodged a lot of work and expense on my voyage by always securing the spars. With a three line brace keeping things from moving around, the pole doesn’t grind at the mast ring and the sheet doesn’t chafe in the end fitting. An additional benefit is the ability to adjust the pole and thus the sail shape. Same goes for the mainsail boom. Your boom should not be moving around on any point of sail. I see it all the time and I suspect that it is the reason for so many at-sea gooseneck failures. Secure the boom. Low Key used two mainsheets (2x standard block and tackle with a cam cleat). This got rid of the traveler, opened up the cockpit, made boom adjustment more accurate and stopped the boom from moving around. Off the wind I would move one of the sheets forward to act as a foreguy/preventer/stabilizer. Again, the two sheets and the leech of the sail created our three line brace. If I wanted a more full sail downwind I could tighten up the main topping (the topping should never be tight upwind).

If you find yourself in the unenviable position of leaving on a long downwind voyage without a spinnaker pole don’t fret, there‘s another option. A boomed out headsail will get you there just slightly off the pace. Try as I might I could not find a spinnaker pole in all of Oahu. We hung the boom over the side of the boat, rigged a line to pull the end of it forward (a foreguy) and used the topping lift to adjust the height. Then we ran the heads’l sheet through a block clipped to the top of the end of the boom. You guessed it, jibing was a chore.

To determine perfect block placement for any headsail sheet you want to adjust it so the luff breaks evenly from the top to the bottom as you come up into the wind … in cruising, just eyeball it so the leech and the foot have a similar curve. For our rig this meant putting the boom end pretty low. This made for a wet end every now and then. Boats that break booms do so because they use a vang downwind. Vangs are rigged to the middle of the boom. When the end of the boom eventually dips in the water, and it will, the boom snaps at the vang attachment. When you secure your boom with lines to the end, the weight of the water is sent through the foreguy instead.

When the wind eased up and the boat would slow to a knot or two we’d pull up the mizzen and sheet it hard to center to reduce the rolling. Same when waiting for wind or motorsailing through a calm if there is still some swell running it is good to have the main and/or mizzen up, sheeted in, to keep the boat from rolling side to side. The slapping noise you will get used to. It’s the howl from the galley when supper launches across the saloon that we are trying to avoid.

With the wind on the beam you can fly all sails. As the wind moves aft the main starts to blanket the headsail so we take the main down and pole out the headsail. As the wind goes further aft the mizzen starts to blanket the headsail and so bring it down if you‘ve got one. Your headsail is most powerful when it is not getting bad airflow from other sails.

Motor on during squalls? What's that about? Don't add to your potential problems (ie: lines swept over the rail and into the prop). If you have tons of sea room and you can sail in the direction you want to go then reef down until you are comfortable. Caught by surprise? Turn and run. It reduces the pressure on the sails while you figure out what the hell you’re going to do. Keep in mind that running can keep you in the squall for longer - a good thing if you‘re on course.

On a separate note: I know that the big guy has written a wonderful accounting of our New Zealand sailing adventure later in this issue. I want to say hey to a few people that helped out. Thank you to Cheryl and Jody for looking after the trip details when I was off on other sailing adventures. Thanks to cruisers Rick and Robin and Randy and Sheri. Also, the wonderful Kiwis that made our NZ visit so perfect. Our thanks to: Phil for the great cruising info and for being an instant friend. John M. and the Island Cruising Association for helping with our big Party (and for being there for cruisers). Brenden, Daryl, Loraine and Dan and the rest of the shore crew for prepping the boats and always being so cheery. Tiny for ‘volunteering’ (great to see you again) and lead vocals. Olivia, we love you. Shane and Helen, you guys rock!!

April 6, 2008

3500nm to Guam - #96

I am parked in a forest next to a light blue lake (from glacier run off!) sitting in a van we rented to explore the south island of New Zealand. It’s a pre Share the Sail New Zealand inland adventure. I’m guessing this van has never seen terrain the likes of which it’s traversed this week, but that’s another story.

I just got word from our wonderful and talented editor Sue that they have found space in this issue for my Hawaii to Guam sailing adventure. As an addendum, the following is a quick recap of our visit to Guam and our stop through of Japan.

I was hired to sail a boat from Hawaii to Guam. The owners wife and dad accompanied myself and my best crew Mike Z. on the long sail. The feature story leaves off as we are arriving at the island of Guam. We pull in in the middle of the night. Sarah is able to raise her husband Tony on the radio. He is on shore and has been awaiting our arrival. Tony is with the Navy which has a large base on the south end of the island.

We contacted the Navy on the VHF and got permission to enter the secure harbor. We made our way to the dock where the enlisted kept their boats as per our instructions. We were greeted by Tony and a few of the local cruisers … in the middle of the night. How nice is that? Tony had a bucket full of iced coldies and a bottle of Crown for Mike Z. All was right in the world.

Tony called us up about ten-ish the next morning and asked if Mike and I would like to do a dive while we were on the island. Tony, an explosive ordinance diver, had a storage unit full of gear just ashore. We loaded up their black jeep and Sarah took us over the hill, still on the Navy base, and parked at the edge of perfect clear water. This coral parking lot even had a stairway for divers to enter the sea. We swam out of the small cove and found a great wall dive that dropped down 80 feet or so. The wall was covered in a flurry of corals and fish of all kinds. Visibility seemed endless. It was the nicest, easiest dive I’ve ever had.

The boat was parked in a great spot. The only problem was that if we left the base we could not get back in without an escort. Before I left home, Sue had told me to look up some friends of hers and Bob’s that lived on the island. Sue and her husband Mike had sailed with Doc Hazen and his wife Patty all the way from California to Tahiti on a Cal 34 on the first leg of their cruising adventure which led them to Guam. Doc and Patty had since set up shop on Guam, Doc Larry Hazen having started a medical practice. I was warned that Doc was a crazy one.

I got a call out to their house from the base. Patty answered. She had never met or talked to me but she was quick to offer us their truck to explore the island and insist that we stay at their house until our flight out. She met us at the entrance to the fortified complex and whisked us away.

Mike and I hit the road. We made the mandatory stop at the ocean front Jeff’s Pirates Cove for gifts and coozies. Over the next two days we circumnavigated the island. It was on the second day that we discovered the tourist beach. Guam is a pretty mellow place, out in the middle of the ocean between Micronesia and the Philippines. It has a bunch of low key islanders and ex-patriots living a blissful life in mostly simple dwellings. Out on the lee side there happens to be the most perfect white sand beach with calm turquoise water. Of course the resorts have also found the area and built huge hotels in front of a long mall stuffed with all the high end stores a Japanese tourist could want - Gucci, Prada, Dulce Gabana, Armani and on and on. We rolled up and sauntered through the lobby of one of the monstrosities making our way out front for a seaside coldie and some tourist watching.

But somehow, that left me wanting. It was just what the brochure promised but a little manufactured for my taste. We got back in the truck and headed out. At the north end of the row of big resorts was a small gravel road, not obvious at first from the main road. We headed down it. It ended up on a beach. We parked. To the north there was a cliff that jutted out into the sea. Barely noticeable was a small pathway cut into the hillside. It seamed to lead out and into the ocean. We followed it. It took us along the side of the cliff and at the end was a stairway that led down to the water. But that wasn’t the end. The path took a hard right. There was a C shaped cut through the solid rock a few feet above the sea level.

After traversing the “cut” we found ourselves on a perfect little beach surrounded on the other three sides by cliffs. In the middle of the beach we found a bunch of huts and tiki beach cabanas. We ventured into the mini eco resort. We sat down in front of a palm frond stage. A backpacker looking dude offered us beers which we accepted. On the stage two island girls swayed to and fro in an ancient island dance set to tribal music. Paradise found.

Days exploring in the truck and nights cavorting with our hilarious guests Larry and Patty, our Guam visit, though short, was wonderful. Alas, we did have to finally fly out. When Mike Z found out we had a four hour stopover in Japan he rang up the airline and extended it to three days. I got online and booked us a couple of bunks at hostels.

I'm a fan of cleaner happier living and so I instantly liked Japan. It’s not just clean it’s organized and it’s filled with those little cars that get a million liters to the kilometer. Even the houses are small, brightly colored and tidy. Unlike the Japanese I see on the TV, these people were not loud and silly, they were mostly subdued though it didn’t take much to get them laughing. It was an odd contrast. Quiet industrious people living in Disneyland.

Our second hostel was right downtown Tokyo. We got to ride the subway. It was not cheap but as long as you didn’t actually walk out of a station you could travel all over greater Tokyo seeing the trackside sites for no extra charge. We bought some food and coldies at the grocery store around the corner. I was surprised to find food prices about what they are at home. We took our loot back to the hostel where the big football (soccer) game was on. The Italian backpackers poured out of the woodwork to crowd around the TV to root their team on. We sat back a bit with people from all over the world who wanted to practice their English. It was a festive scene.
After doing some quick Christmas shopping all on one very busy block of shops I was back at the airport and on a plane. As I often do after a longer delivery I looked down in amazement from my window seat to watch the tops of the swells whiz by as we sailed upwind at over 500kts.

March 8, 2008

Puerto Vallarta to Mazatlan - #95

Bob called me into his office. As I walked down the hall I wondered what I had done this time or at least, what he had caught me doing this time. I got back there and he let me know that my traveling, boat moving, technical skills were requested in a margarita rich environment. That's right, I was headed to Puerto Vallarta. For those who don't get south much PV's on the mainland across from Cabo San Lucas in the greener part of Mexico. The new owners of the Lost Soul were busy breaking-in their new boat and wanted a little guidance. I had overseen much of the refit and so I got on a plane. Lucky for me, young Dena was available to take a week off and join me on this adventure.

I appreciate it every time, stepping out of the doorway of a small plane onto the stairway to the tarmac and taking in all that is tropical from the humid warmth to the sweet jungle smell. We grabbed an airport coldie for the cab ride to Nuevo Vallarta. Paul found us wandering around the docks and greeted us with a friendly smile. I had forgotten what a grand impression the Lost Soul makes when you first walk up on her. Wherever she goes she is the most beautiful boat in the harbor with her piratical lines drawn out in black and white and complemented by her deeply varnished wood. The boat had never looked better. Paul and Ginny had been keeping her up. We got to know our new hosts over a coldie on the aft deck.

The plan was to take Lost Soul on a little round trip to Mazatlan and back. Rob joined up with us later that night. He's a kewl expat who does real estate in the area when he is not out sailing. Before sunup, about an hour before high tide, we departed for Mazatlan. The crew and I had a plan for departure. When all was set I gave a nod to indicate for everyone to take their positions. They did that and cast off the lines too. Next thing I knew we were adrift and with some current twisting us up. I had to throttle up quickly to pull the boat out before she swung her long bowsprit through the little 40' Hunter next door. The good news is I got the boat out of the slipway without incident, that is if you consider leaving one of the crew behind as 'without incident'. We picked up Paul down the dock a bit.

We unfurled some of the main and ran out into the dark predawn sea headed toward the entrance to Bahia Banderas. I checked that everything was running smoothly in the engine room and then came up and set the watch schedule. Just as I was headed down to reacquaint myself with the forward stateroom a large navy looking boat came up from astern with its spot light on us. We got the guy on the radio. They were the Mexican Coast Guard. They had some questions for us. We couldn't get him to speak English which of course is required on channel 16. No matter, Rob was nearly fluent and he answered the barrage of questions. I guess the boys on the cutter were just out practicing their technique.

We ran all day without much wind which means two things, motor on and not much swell. We were able to head straight for our destination without having to crack off the wind to avoid slamming. We didn't have swells to contend with but we did have rows and rows of fishing lines to avoid. We were fifty miles offshore. If you drew a line from one peninsula to the next, you know, the most likely rhumb line for all boats cruising the coast, you would find yourself in the middle of these miles long fishing lines rigged perpendicular to shore. During the day we did our best to avoid them. What did we do at night? We didn't worry about them. Lost Soul, rigged with every conceivable piece of boatshow gear happens to have kelp cutters on the prop. Apparently, they were working perfectly.

We pulled into Mazatlan when the dredge was working. That is a tight entrance as it is. The dredge waved us by. Dena spotted iguanas to starboard at one of the nice waterside hotels. We pulled up for fuel and the girls went ashore to get the check in process started. Paul, Rob and I fueled up and headed over to our slip for the night. It seemed like a nice spot to be parked stern-to where our big aft seating area would overlook the dock. I took three shots at it and much to the enjoyment of the dock cruisers I couldn't get it done. Without the training wheels working, I mean the bow thruster, and with a nice breeze on the beam I couldn't get her to back straight even with the helm hard over and moving fast. We could have dropped the bow anchor but decided to flip around and pull straight in.

We all got our showers and met up at the marina's cruiser café where frosty beverages could allegedly be found. We caught a bus into town and found the best little restaurant right above the sand over looking the bay. The sun set over carne asadas and margaritas. Afterward we happened upon a custom convertible VW taxi with high viewing bench seats. Manuel dropped us at the Captain's restaurant where we joined with the locals and danced the night away.

We took off from Mazatlan the next morning. It was a nice day. It would have been perfect but there was no wind. That made for flat calm motoring. Even though we went further out we still encountered the fishing maze. Downwind this time we arrived back at PV quickly but had to wait for the tide to come up to get into the marina. I went through the docking procedure with the crew giving each instructions. It would be tricky with the tide running perpendicular to the narrow slip. I would have one shot at it. If I missed we would be swept into the shallows. We came in slow and just up current of the slip I clicked into reverse and started my turn to port and throttled up. With a left handed prop this brought the bow around hard to port and across the current. This is about when I noticed that one of my crewmembers, the one that was enlisted to man the roaming fender was standing empty handed. I let out an, "oh sh#%". Not something I would recommend as it tends to distract the crew. I got the big girl into the slip just as the current helped us against the dock … at a spot without a fender. Yep, I rubbed off some paint. After all the adventures Lost Soul had delivered me safely to and through, this was how I chose to repay her? It was my fault for not checking that everyone was ready to go before pulling in. Rob tried to comfort me confident that his guy could rub it out.

We all met up at the yacht club for one last pow-wow before Dena and I had to depart. It was great sailing on Lost Soul again. Hopefully it won't be the last time.

I'm finishing this up at an airport in Costa Rica. I'm headed to Bocas del Toro, Panama to deliver a Gulfstar 41 to Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela. Yep, 1100 miles upwind in the breeziest time of year. We're expecting close to 40 knots on the nose off Cartegena. Wish us luck.

February 8, 2008

Diesel Tune Up - #94

I've been getting questions about oil and filter changes and diesel fuel bleeding. There are a few tricks I've learned over the years (if you have more, please let me know).

The basic oil change goes something like this: Warm engine. Stop engine. Put down rags. Remove drain plug, oil, and filter. Spin on new filter. Replace drain plug. Put in new oil.

After checking the manual for your engine's specific needs, consider the following. You warm the engine to make the oil flow out more easily. Some engines will drain better if the dipstick is out. The best 'rags' are those oil-sorbent sheets they have at marine stores. They suck up oil and repel water which makes them great for bilges too (keep them clear of the bilge pump intake).

My favorite system for removing old oil is to attach a hose to the oil drain hole (using fittings, found at big marine outlets). You can then pump the oil out using a hand or electric pump. Be careful with your pump selection, pumps with plastic parts may melt (info gleaned from first hand experience). With a reversible pump you can send the new oil back into the engine when it's time. Be sure and keep the oil line securely capped when not in use.

Before removing the oil filter tape a ziplock freezer bag to the side of the engine so it will catch the oil as you unscrew the filter. Then drop the filter into the bag. Oil and diesel tend to burn through some plastics so put a strip of sorbent sheet in the bottom and double up the bag as convenient. Remove the filter by hand or with a filter wrench or, in a pinch, with a screwdriver driven through the middle. Make sure the replacement filter is the right one before implementing this last method. Dip your finger in the new oil and run it around the rubber seal on the new filter before installing. I install mine tight hand tight for easy removal next time around. Fill engine with new oil until the stick shows almost full - done.

Save empty oil containers for the next oil change. Drop off when full at next marina/fuel dock/boatyard (for recycling!). Be aware that the oil filter will take up some oil when you next run the motor. Avoid running with too much oil. This can harm a diesel. Check oil level often. This might be a good time to check your impellor (salt water pump).

Most professional yachts change oil every 100 hours. Coming to cruising yachts near you: instead of constantly buying new oil and having to cart the old ashore, clever yachts use synthetic oil which resists break down. At oil change time they send the dirty oil to an onboard polisher which removes the impurities and leaves the oil like new for use in the next oil change.

My fuel tanks get me about 150 hours worth of motoring and so I align my oil filter changes loosely with my fuel fill ups. Before filling the boat with fuel, knowing that I am about to change out my primary fuel filter, I run whatever fuel I have left through the old filter and into an empty tank. This way I know I am starting with clean fuel. Always splash a little diesel additive in while fueling. Biocide is good but enzymes are better - Star Brite makes a good one.

Racor. I know of no better primary filter system. Get the kind with the clear bowl on the bottom so you can see water and dirt when it collects. Filter changes are easy. Wrap a sorbent sheet around the middle of the housing. Unscrew the top, pull out the old filter and slide in the new. Replace the gaskets and wet with fuel. Flip on the fuel pump switch until the housing is nearly full (priming). Replace the top.

The secondary filter is mounted on your engine and is usually a two micron and a bitch to change. I use two micron filters on the primaries, the Racors, (instead of 10) so that I don't have to change the secondary as often. Racor makes fuel pressure gauges which mount on the filter and show you how dirty the filter is. I've had a Racor water sensor go off on a yacht once that saved us some trouble. Want to be able to change filters without shutting down the engine? Install two Racors, with Y valves, so that you can switch filters while running. Install the electric fuel pump before the Racors. Sounds obvious right? I have worked a few boats that had their fuel pumps between the Racors and the engine making filter priming very difficult. Mount the pump switch nearby. Want to do some fuel polishing while dockside? Put a Y valve between your Racor and the engine to route the clean fuel back into the return system. When installing Racors orient the in/out fittings fore and aft to prevent air from getting to the engine after a knockdown.

If you ever run a tank dry or create an air leak in your fuel system you will wish you had practiced your bleeding proceedure at the dock. Check your manual for the process for your engine. You should keep the tools you use for bleeding mounted in the engine room. Bleeding Low Key's diesel takes about thirty seconds. Again, the electric fuel pump makes things much easier. Do you know what your engine sounds like when it runs out of fuel? You should know this and be comfortable in the bleeding procedure early on in your cruising career.

Capt Woody - You mention a radar detector in several articles. I am in the process of equipping my boat for cruising, and have a few questions about the detectors.
1) Who makes them? 2) Where do you buy them? 3) What is their range? 4) Are they loud enough to wake you up? 5) What is the power draw, is it less than leaving the radar on? Thanks for your answer - Brian S.V. Luna Si

Brian - I got my radar detector from C.A.R.D.. You can get them straight from the manufacturer I don't know what they claim but I was picking up boats from a couple miles to over the horizon. I put my antenna under the dodger but there was enough wire to have mounted it higher. Radar can be a huge amp consumer. In my opinion, radar is for fog. I had fog for 1 hour on my circumnavigation. Staring at a screen when we should be scanning the horizon is an accident waiting to happen. The detector was a great thing for me. When singlehanding I would set it up and go to sleep and the alarm would alert me to ships approaching from any direction. It has two loudness settings and a sound off setting when ships are everywhere. The loud was plenty loud enough to wake me up even with the engine on. They claim .045 amps. Whatever it was, I couldn't detect it with my mounted amp meter.

January 8, 2008

Q&A - #93

Capt Woody,
It's long been a dream of mine and my wife to one day sail around the world. We've been planning routes forever. We think that the Cape of Good Hope might be something we don't want to put ourselves through. So we thought we would take the Red Sea/Suez Canal option. But recent rise in Piracy and developments in Mid Eastern Muslim/ American relations are making us question that option. We have friends that recently did the Suez, but they formed up kind of a convoy of sail boats as I understand it. I know you took the Cape route on Low Key and as I remember I think you even were alone at that time. What are your feelings on this? George

That's a tough call. I love the Med so next time I think I'd run the gauntlet and head up the sea for my first go at the Suez. Weighing everything, I would say that the S. Africa option is a safer one. Dangerous seas are more predictable than dangerous humans.

Along the SE coast of Africa you have powerful lows that sweep up from the south pushing 50+ knot winds up against a southbound six-knot current. This creates monster square waves that fall on boats and crush them. The good news is that these systems are very predictable. Like weather all over the planet the wx systems run on a cycle (three or four days). You usually get a couple days of beautiful weather followed by a day or two of weather that you would prefer that you were in port for, enjoying a brai (bbq) with your SA friends.

One thing the books and locals don't tell you right off is that the problem-causing current hugs the coast pretty tight. I made landfall at Durban, S. Africa, sailing straight in from offshore. While closing with the coast I simply kept in contact with the weather guys there, via SSB radio, who let me know what my weather windows were looking like. Worst case scenario you would have to tack back out or heave to and wait for a front to move through before crossing the current and making landfall. I got the wx guy's frequency and schedule from the cruising guide for the area. The other great source of cruising information is to talk to other cruisers who just came from the area in question or listening to cruisers comments who are currently in the area on the SSB nets.

The other South Africa option is to come around the top of Madagascar (world class snorkeling/diving), hit the Comoros and come down the coast from Mozambique. That way you are already on the coast and can hop your way down from port to port avoiding crossing the dangerous area. Once in Durban I waited for a weather window and then made my way around to Cape Town. Search as I did, I never saw 6 knots of current but I did get enough to find Low Key a 212 mile day. We were tossed around some but it was a great ride.

The Red Sea is an honest concern. Boats that attempt to go too close to Somalia are, as a rule, pirated to benefit the rebel faction of the civil war. Is traveling with a group of boats a good idea or are you just a bigger target? Boats I was talking to that had come out of the Sea said they felt reasonably safe because of all the US Navy traffic. Another boat was delayed at the Suez because it was US flagged. That is a common reception now for US vessels all over the world (a fact which won't deter plans for my next cruise).

Hey Woody,
… I was wondering if you were going to do a second budget circumnavigation would you do it in Low Key again or would you say it is too risky? Just a question I have wondered for awhile. Thanks Woody. Mike

Y'all can refer to my cruising style as being 'budget' all you want. The fact is that the way I rig for cruising saves me a ton of time and money that would be spent keeping unnecessary gear (and boat length) operational.

I think another full rounding with Low Key's current keel design is pushing it. The keel has no 'floors' (like mini bulkheads) and is glassed to the hull with very sharp bends at the 'turn of the bilge'. The result is a keel that flexes from side to side. I'm told that glass will flex only a couple million times before it starts to show weakness and eventually fail. The fact that Low Key made the rounding being sailed hard with thousands of hours of serious keel flexing is a testament to fiberglass's amazing durability. She would be perfect for me if the keel was wobble-free. I like the design and weight of Low Key for my kind of cruising - faster.

The delivery business is booming and so … I am looking at bringing Low Key up to my own cruising standards (did someone say swimstep?). To reinforce the keel I would bulk up the glass around the forward hull to keel joint. I did the aft end of the keel glassing in Australia when the keel concern first arose. Inside I would add floors in the deep bilge. While I've got that part of the floor pan out I'd check on the compression post to hull junction though I'm sure it's fine. I like all the other design aspects of boats like my Cal 33. Wide aft, flat bottom, skeg hung rudder make for good surfing. The deep fin keel helps her point. The deep fin combined with the wide flat bottom provides stability (the boat has minimal heel) on all points of sail. The hull is solid glass. The trade off to the flat bottom is that it bangs upwind. When Low Key and I cruised, if a cruising area was upwind we would either wait until it wasn't or choose another destination.

To recap, things that I consider important in an offshore cruiser are: a supported rudder (skeg hung or otherwise), a solid glass hull at least up to the waterline (for impacts with the ocean's increasing debris), strong rigging (so I can sail as hard as I'd like), glassed deck to hull joint (because I've seen a cruising deck in the sand that had been relieved of its hull) and, not usually an issue, no loose keels.

I am writing this from Hawaii. I have arrived in Pearl Harbor to deliver s/v Inconceivable 3400nm to Guam. I enjoy sailing boats to all destinations but I haven't been to Guam nor have I sailed through these particular waters (through Micronesia) and so I am fired up for the new experience. While we wait for the last crew member (Lloyds requires 4); Tony, Sara and I are prepping the Morgan Out Island 41 for her adventure.

Most of the boat moving jobs I get are upwind, up current, during hurricane season, are boats that are in sketchy condition or are otherwise trips that the owners don't want to do. This one is different. We are expecting downwind conditions and Tony and Sara have set up this boat very well. I don't usually have concerns before a delivery but I am a little worried on this one. We are looking at 30 days of reasonably uneventful voyaging. I could get bored (at the top of a short list of things that I fear). I am looking forward to getting caught up on some inventing (just a hobby so far) and some reading (I've got Bob B's newest book King Harbor). I suppose there are worse things to be worried about. Stay tuned for a full report.