CW’s Sailing Adventures

September 24, 2009

Trinidad to Savannah II - (114)

 When I left you last month; Dena, JD and I had picked up a 43’ cutter named Surprise in Trinidad and were moving it 2000nm to Savannah, GA. We had sailed up behind the Caribbean island chain, and west of St. Thomas, sailed out into the open Atlantic. From there we sailed northwest, staying outside of Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas.

The conditions were perfect, we had full warm tradewinds aft of the beam. Aft winds make for a flatter boat and a smoother ride. We had some clouds but mostly it was beautifully sunny. The wind was strong enough so that we were usually reefed. I like this because it gives us the option of going faster if we want to by shaking out a reef. We mostly ran with a reefed main and full stays’l. We furled the big headsail as conditions warranted it.

And we had great crew. Good crew makes all the difference. The boat is a small place and you want people who get along easily with others and keep their good sense of humor, even when things seem a little crazy. Good crew respects your space, cleans up after themselves and keeps their gear in their area. It’s also nice when each crewmember finds their niche on the boat -- a thing that they can do that helps the boat run smoother.

Surprise had no solar panels or wind generator and without wind steering, we had a big draw from the autopilot. Other big amp consumers were the refer and the old school nav lights. This all made for a lot of generator running -- about 2 hours, twice a day. Ouch. But that’s all I really had to complain about. We were still enjoying great meals and lazy downwind sailing conditions to go with our beautiful sunsets.

And then there were the ways to pass the time. We were playing the crew watch game with a point gained for spotting a whale, a pod of dolphins, a turtle and, of course, a ship. Two points awarded for spotting a ship on another crewperson’s watch. Points also awarded for guessing when we would arrive at 1000nm out, 500nm out and five points for guessing our arrival time. Winner gets their first big shore meal free, courtesy of the rest of the crew.
We had JD’s 24th birthday out at sea. Dena baked him a cake from scratch, of course, and we had pizza for his birthday dinner! We played Trivial Pursuit. Not the normal way, we just read the cards and tried to answer the questions. And Dena kept pulling out candy that she had brought.

Before I left home I photocopied the relevant sections of the pilot charts. The pilot charts give you a lot of information including the average wind and sea and current conditions in a given month. They were telling me that we could pick up a knot or more of current if we cut in closer to the Bahamas and later cut over to the Gulfstream. They will also tell you the frequency of squalls of each area and, in hurricane season, the direction those monsters are likely to take. Other info provided is typical swell height, water temperature and on.

Before we cleared the top of the Bahamas the wind shut off. We fired up the engine, furled the headsail, dropped the stays’l and sheeted in the main. I use a preventer on the main to stop any side to side movement. You’ll get away with that movement for very short sails but over longer adventures that movement wears the gooseneck. I suspect that this is why you hear a lot about gooseneck failures when out cruising. Our windless condition turned into days of motoring. JD finally asked, "Is this what powerboating feels like?" I couldn’t recall. We still had sunny and warm but now we added flat and rumbly. We made the most of it with bucket deck showers (fresh water rinse) in the hot part of the day and sunset coldies to welcome the night.

After days of calm motoring the wind switched back on, light at first. With full sail we trimmed for every tenth of a knot so we could keep the motor off. I had turned the boat more west to dump us into Gulf Stream so we could pick up some free northing. Before we knew it we had spotted land and were prepping for some river navigation.

Where I live there isn’t a lot of shallow water. To get Surprise from the Atlantic to her up-river Savannah home I had to put on my east coast murky shallow water navigation hat. We came in at night and there was some confusion as to what the bouys were trying to tell us. We decided to anchor out at the sea buoy (in 15’ of water) for a couple hours ‘til daylight.

As we made our way in I called my local friend Wade and he gave us the low down. “They‘ve moved some buoys out there because of the shifting shoals and the new wreck." From his description of the route we must have just missed the wreck beneath us. Soon as we got to the actual river, things turned real nice. We cruised by big green areas and then plantation homes and resorts. We found the boat’s intended home at a boatyard but it looked like she wouldn’t make it under low bridge just before it. We took it slow and discovered we had room.

We got her parked and had our arrival coldies … first thing in the morning. Customs tracked us down a little later -- cute girl, real easy check in. JD was researching ways he could get home. He had been great crew so Dena offered the kid one of her buddy passes with United. Jerry, the broker we were working for, took JD to the airport. In the mean time my friend Wade swung by and dragged Dena and I over to Tubby's for lunch and another coldy. Then he took us all the way out to Tybee beach across from Hilton Head. It was a bitchin little beach party town. On the way back we hit Joes Crabshack, the real one, not the Mickey Mouse franchise you see everywhere (I go there too). Wade showed us the 65' yacht that he runs and offered us to stay onboard! I wasn't sure I was ready for aircon just yet and thought I should keep an eye on our little boat until we turned her over.

In the morning we three went down to the Savannah waterfront for lunch before putting Dena on a bus to head south to visit her vacationing parents. Savannah is a beautiful city. The older architecture is very kewl but mostly for me; it's the trees that make it. Wade told me that there is a local ordinance that says you can't take out a tree without replacing it. We need that rule at home. Thank you Wade for your unbelievable hospitality -- southern style. It was much appreciated.

Early the next morning I flew to DC to offer my friends Laurel and Joe advice on greening their home and creating a more comfortable and healthier environment for their new baby boy.

September 9, 2009

Trinidad to Savannah I - (113)

 My friend Wade called from Georgia and asked if I wanted to deliver a 43 Slocum cutter named Surprise from Trinidad to Savannah, GA. The timing was perfect. One of the things Ive done to cut back on flying is to give my Carib and east coast deliveries to east coast skippers. The exception being, when Im already passing through because of a rare Lats & Atts excursion. This was one of those times.

Crew is always an issue. The voyage would be 2000nm, which is a good sail at 2-3 weeks. Its hard to find someone that can get that kind of time off. I put together my wish list and started at the top. My girlfriend Dena wasnt hard to convince that a nice warm sail through the Caribbean might be fun. She provisions, she cooks, she does her watches and stays cheery no matter how badly the weather behaves. We didnt need one but we took a third crewmember to lengthen our off watch time from 3-on, 3-off to 3-on, 6-off. Jondavid had sent me an email a while back. I hadnt sailed with him before but he sounded like a good kid. I booked everyones flights and we met up in Trinidad.

The owners wanted to meet me before they left their boat. The husband wanted to be sure I knew something about boats. It was good to have him there showing me the boat he had refit mostly himself. He beamed with pride as he showed me her clever systems. Still, he didnt seem very happy to be leaving. We found out that he and his wife were selling the boat. She had agreed to cruise for 5 years and the time was up. While she hopped about the boat, he seemed a little somber. I felt bad for him but at least he got his 5 years.

Trinidad was beautiful as usual. Chaguaramas, the big boaters bay with all kinds of refit facilities, was more empty than I had ever seen it. Economy eshnonomy; isnt this the time that you head out and go cruising until things improve? Theres no place cheaper to live than out cruising if done simply.

Keep in mind that when flying into Trinidad with a one-way ticket, you have to have a stamped letter saying you are leaving by boat. The Crews Inn marina had arranged our paperwork. Trinidad Customs and Immigration was unusually painless though the last official stressed the importance of leaving on time. We provisioned and left the dock at 1201 a minute late, per my paperwork. No one chased us down.
We motored out through the last pass and into the deep blue Caribbean. We had a nice trade wind breeze on the beam. It was good for sailing, though the direction made for a rolly ride. When starting out on any sail, we stow everything and batten all the hatches. We can loosen up later after weve slain the boat gremlins and things are going smoothly. For both the crew and the vessel, Ill often start out a little off the throttle. Usually, one extra reef will do it.

Surprise was cutter rigged with the headsail having most of its bulk down low. The staysl was cut very high. The sails complimented each other well, filling the voids from the other. We found that the boat didnt like sailing without the staysl so we left it up and just furled the big headsail in stronger winds. Though she wouldnt point high, the boat sailed great off the wind, loving the good Carib breeze.

It took a day or two for the residue of land to rinse away but it happened, as it always does. Soon we were all about the sea -- in tune with every sound, wave induced motion and cloud in the sky. We got the boat dialed in and then opened her up. Surprise was not a light boat but with the full trades she ran well averaging over 6 knots in comfort.

The crew was doing great. Sailing hard across the Caribbean, Dena was in her element, splitting her time between playing in the galley and catching rays. Like magic, amazing meals continued to appear from the seagoing galley. JD was a learning sponge. He had gained some experience skippering a friends sailboat up through the Bahamas and back across to the states. On Surprise, he added to his bag of tricks. He got some tips on dialing in a boat which keeps her safe and comfortable, while still sailing fast.

My plan was to cruise north, staying to leeward of the Caribbean island chain, using them for protection in case of a big storm. We didnt see any big weather but we did get the mini squalls that filter through the islands. The pockets of weather gave me a chance to test out my new foul weather jacket. Theres a lot of boat gear out there and when a company gets it right I like my seven fans to hear about it. Back when we were circumnavigating people made fun of us. We assembled Low Key with simple gear (read bullet-proof). But then we had bought these high-end Gill foulies. We relied on simple, but never skimped on comfort. When the weather is bad and you have to spend some extra time out in the elements you do not want to be wet and you do not want to be cold. My old jacket was amazing but the miles were starting to take their toll. I saw the new black offshore Gill and had to have it. I wouldnt have thought it possible but theyve improved on the design (more on my website).
I got cell reception as we blew by St. Croix, so I left a message for Eric Stone who was living and playing on St. Thomas. We were thinking of stopping for fuel anyway and so I thought Id find some evening entertainment for my hard working crew. But sometimes its not so good being fast. We chose to skip the fuel stop and had sailed out of range before Eric had a chance to call back to invite us to his gig that night.

After passing St. Thomas we broke out into open ocean -- no more little islands to dodge. We were free and had room to adjust course to take advantage of wind and current changes. It was beautiful out there with sunny days, good aft wind and moderate seas.

Before we knew it we were having our 1000nm-to-go party. Dena is a vegetarian and though she will cook meat she enjoys the challenge of making faux-meat dinners that omnivores will enjoy. We cranked up the Eric Stone and set the cockpit table while the the tasty smells from the galley distracted us. We three sipped red wine and ate veggie hamburgers laced with smuggled-in CA salsa as the sun glowed orange, then red, and set into the sea.

On many evenings, JD and I enjoyed appetizers while the rest of the meal was being created. It looked like pate to me but JD wasnt fooled, Is this cat food?

Apparently Dena had opened a can without a label. It looked like meat so she put it on a plate and sent it up. I asked her if she had sampled it first before serving it to us. She told us, Im a vegetarian, I dont eat cat food.

The Gulf Stream, a tricky entrance and some Savannah hospitality -- next month.