Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Chi cerca trova

Every now and then someone will ask us what we have found. They are keying off of "Cerca Trova” as in he-who-seeks-will-find.   And at the moment we are wrapping up another cruising season, a strange and rewarding and difficult one.  We have had the most wonderful times and the worst times of our cruising experiences, all without wandering further than the north coast of Cuba.  So, as we sit in Green Turtle Cay waiting out a week of really nasty weather, I am turning reflective ..

There is no time like the present.

I think this is the number one understanding that cruising has driven home. We sold the house, left jobs and friends, threw ourselves off the edge of our known universe, realizing that if we didn't go now we might never. But more than in just the major moves like that, this life principle extends to every decision we make now. If we can get it done now, we do. If we can speed up the boat safely, we do. If we can go explore, we do. If there is a need to get home, we go. Time is not your friend and is utterly irreplaceable.

The sea isn't “angry”, it's utterly indifferent.

There are so many romantic stories about the angry sea, the peaceful sea, the welcoming sea, etc etc etc. Not really. The sea just is. It is entirely up to you do deal or not, to enjoy or not. There is no point in worrying, the sea is not scheming nor prescient. But it is extremely powerful, difficult to predict, and occasionally dangerous. And the gear to deal with it is equally powerful and dangerous. So this way of life requires a 24/7 presence of mind that is unmatched in nearly any other lifestyle. Which is much of the attraction, and the source of much stress.

Plans must be allowed to be just plans.

Things change out here in milliseconds, or in hours. What you were expecting is not what you find.  You make bad decisions and have to recover.  It is said that the most dangerous piece of equipment on a boat is the calendar. But even without putting dates to goals, simply setting goals that you are unwilling to change can cause real problems and certainly will cause lots of stress. This season we have tried to go with the flow a lot more. We did achieve some things we had always wanted to (protracted stay waay down south in the Jumentos, get ourselves to Cuba, learn to effectively spearfish, anchor where-ever not just at known anchorages, …) but we didn't force it and are winding up the season feeling a lot more accomplished than worn out.

People are way more important then anything else

It was the Cuban people we enjoyed. It is our family we miss so much. It is our fellow cruisers who makes ports the most memorable. It is the good-byes that are the hardest.  When we reach out for help, we have never been disappointed and sometimes overwhelmed.  it's the individuals we will remember long after the sunsets have faded; the chatty Cuban taxi driver who was a Russian-trained aerospace engineer, the matriarch of Duncan Town,  the odd and kind guy running the simple docks where we are tied up now through the thunderstorms, the people from literally miles around who responded to our call for help when our mainsail headcar was breaking down and we were days of travel from any civilization.

We can do a lot more than we think we can.

I have annoyed our kids for years with often hitting them with the Henry Ford quote “think you can or think you can't, either way you are probably right”. And so you might think that I 'get it'. I still don't really trust my ability to get us out of trouble. We sweat a lot about staying out of trouble and thereby make our stress and limit our own adventures.  We fixed that failing headcar by building our own "car loader" based on an idea from two neighbor boats and multiple hours with me hanging in the bosons chair while Jennifer handed me itty-bitty ball bearings to force back into the car races.  I can fix nearly anything now for which I have good documentation and the right parts. And some skills I just will never develop – we had our refrigeration system repaired while on the hard at Fort Lauderdale Marin Center last month and the guy who did the work was an absolute magician who used very limited instrumentation and lots of experience to get our itty-bitty system (by his standards) running better than it ever has, and I don't really know how he did it.

When it's time to stop we will know, and we will stop

We went into this knowing it wasn't going to be for the rest of our lives. This year has been slow enough that there has been lots of time to feel time passing in between the mechanical failures and personal-bests. Our family is moving on and we aren't there as they do so. I am close to being ready to stop. It has been really painful at times this year and had me at the point of looking for jobs and rental houses, and so have to come to grips with that future when we will indeed stop. But not quite yet...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


So, What Do We Do All Day?

Here's a typical day in the life on anchor:
0600 – get up, start coffee
0615 – download weather data, review vs yesterday's plans
0630 – tune in Marine Weather Center on SSB and listen to forecast and passaging recommendations
0715 – prep, eat, clean-up breakfast
0800 – local cruisers' net on VHF
0830 – start generator, monitor the batteries charging, run water heater, run watermaker, and start clothes washer if needed.
Plan the rest of the day and any small fix-it / cleaning projects
0930 – Finish up email, FB, blogging,
1030 – start main tasks of the day: move the boat; snorkeling/lobstering; big repairs or maintenance; inventory on provisions or supplies; cleaning; trip to town for food, parts, or fuel (a grocery run can take 3 hours!); professional work tasks; hide from horrible weather in our bunk and read; planning our next route segments; etc.
1200 – lunch
1230 – continue the day's tasks
1500 – check in on progress of solar charging and status of batteries
1630 – happy hour
1730 – start dinner
1900 – wrap dinner
1930 – movie or book
2100 – shower and abed
0100 – up to check anchor and get any radio traffic, eg sailmail and weather faxes

This all varies with location, plans, and weather. Like in the last five days we have been boat-bound by a fierce cold front which had us extremely busy looking after the boat as the front came in and bashed us around in the anchorage, and now it's really cold and blowing hard so we are doing small inside projects like replacing broken window screens and cleaning detail things like hatch trim and all those computer wires that seem to sprawl when you aren't paying attention.

Underway, it's very different. We stand 4-hour watches, generally, so a 24 hour day has 3 watches each. We are more relaxed about day watches and we tend to blur who is running the boat vs who is doing support stuff like meal prep. We generally will make breakfast just after dawn. Dinner is the big meal of the at-sea day, we will both take the time to sit for 15 minutes of gracious living as my family would say (the boat can run itself for that time with no attention). Nights are generally (hopefully!) quiet with the off-watch person asleep and an extra reef pulled in to ease the boat's motion and speed. Heavy conditions are different in that the boat takes much more attention and the work is much harder., gracious living gets replaced with just looking after ourselves and the boat.

Not a lot of sitting around in the sun. “It's not a vacation, it's a lifestyle.”

Saturday, November 19, 2016

1000 Hose Clamps Corroding in Unison

We had a nice week with Cedric and Gisela. But we didn't go very far. The weather was looking difficult for going north into the Exumas National Park and we were thinking we would just jog southeast to Long Island .. when the windlass broke. It really broke, with loud crunchy metal-breaking noises, which left the chain-grabbing gypsy spinning free and the motor running without doing anything. Dead gearbox. So we called Joe Hanko, asked him to ship us the replacement stuff, and we came up with Plan B to hang out in the harbor which is so large it really is more of a sound. The challenge was how to handle the anchor, because as the weather clocks around with front passages, we like to move around the harbor to anchorages with protection from wherever the wind is from at that time. In the interim, we worked the anchor up as a group (thanks Cedric and Gisela for the heave-ho'ing!) and tied up to a mooring ball for a night. But that was right next to the local beach bar hang out and it was Saturday night, and the wind was due to clock around on us and .. So we were motivated to move.

We did eventually work out how to both hoist and drop the anchor as a team, and moved from one side of the harbor to the other, closer to town and with good protection from the north and west, in anticipation of a strong front. Ahead of fronts, the weather usually goes warm and sunny and balmy and nice, so we took that day to zip across to a rarely-visited beach and spent the day there playing inn the water and picnicing in the sun. That night Cedric and Gisela took us to a brand-squeaky-new restaurant in the harbor that is a farm-to-table style place and we had a lovely evening with the moon rising over the restaurant's lagoon, great food, service that is still working out their kinks, and a fun ride from Elvis' water taxi to/from our boat in the dark.

The next day, departure day for Cedric and Gisela, we got them in to town and on a taxi to the airport about an hour before the front arrived. And it arrived with nearly 30kt gusts from the northwest, threatening squally clouds, lumpy white-capped seas in the harbor; boy were we glad we had worked out how to manually anchor and had moved.

Then the next day, after the whoopdeedoo died down, then up-anchored by ourselves and worked our way at high tide into an all-weather anchorage back of town called The Litter Box – it is very shallow such that only catamarans can get in and is all sand, ha ha ha. And now we are hanging out waiting for our windlass parts to get here ..

So why do I call this post “1000 Hose Clamps Corroding in Unison”? Because that's kinda what is going on – lots and lots of parts all slowly going bad due to the corrosive environment. I am sure that's what happened to the gear box, lots of metal gears on the foredeck exposed to copious soakings with salt water (the housing and seals and drains all designed to keep the salt water out do work, mostly). But in the meantime, as we have traveled along this fall we have replaced roughly a dozen hose clamps, stainless steel bands that keep the hoses on their hose barbs (when they come off the hose barbs the ocean comes in through the hoses), which had rusted through and just fell off when bumped. We learned this again when the salt water wash down pump died. It gives us water to hose off our anchor (remember the anchor?) as well as supply pressurized water to our toilets to flush them. This pump of course was attached to its hoses by hose clamps, two of which were corroded through. But we actually had a replacement pump on board!! And more hose clamps. So the swap-out took about 15 minutes and we were back ready to do business. Next up is to replace the sacrificial prop zinc's. They are mounted next to the props, and are “sacrificial”, they corrode before the props. So when they are almost gone, we put new ones in place. Zincs are cheap, propellers are not. That requires that I get in the water and I am waiting for a quiet warm day, we have earned it.

But its a great place to be stuck. So while keeping watch on all the hose clamps, and trying to figure out why the generator will start one day and not the next ...I'll get on those zincs, and check on parts shipment. The big project will be the windlass gearbox when it arrives,...and since this is the Bahamas (100 miles and weeks away by mail), it could be awhile.

First Night Out

5 NOV 2016

It almost doesn't get better than this. Sailing down the Tongue of the Ocean on a quiet, brilliantly starry night at 5kts in light seas, listening to Keith Jarret's lovely and emotional Koln Concert, the sky-glow of Nassau off to port. We shot across the Gulf Stream today starting in unpleasant conditions of winds 15-20 directly out of the north east that were working the 'Stream into one of it's well-known wind-against-current churn-fests. But we got through a rain bank and found the wind abating and the sun out. We crossed onto the banks north of Bimini after a 6 hour run from Key Biscayne settled in for the long stretch over the banks. It was wonderful to be back in clear turquoise water again! Dinner as the sun set behind distant Bimini. We cleared the Northwest Channel light at midnight and set off down the Tongue of the Ocean under full sail. And so here I am, on watch at 04:00 on this lovely night.

We are headed for the Exuma chain where Jennifer's brother Cedric and sister in law Gisela are due in to spend a week with us. So we have a deadline to get there but the weather seems to be cooperating and we are scooting right along.

Musing on Perches

4 OCT 2016

We are heading south from our summer roost in northern Massachusetts to get back to Cerca Trova.  We had a first frost up there and the furnace was running day and night, so it was time to go.  We spent a lot of the summer in Austin or in Utah, so we only had a few weeks at our roost because we really want to get out of Florida and as far south as we can early in the season before the cold fronts really start running hard.  Which means we have to get a move on. 

But our rushed summer also left us musing about where we will perch when we do, inevitably, move back ashore.  We know we will not cruise forever, we are not getting younger and the cruising gets slowly more difficult, we get tired of the nomadic living and the scrounging for resources, we miss our family and realize we are missing time-spent with them that cannot be replaced.  So, we will move ashore.

But where?  We have become intolerant of raw weather but love the bracing rip of a good clean winter storm.  We feel disillusioned by the selfishness of Western civilization but crave the enlightenment and comfort.  We will want to get off the boat but can't be away from the sea. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Summer Break and Lists

It's been a busy summer. After tucking into Stuart, FL for some needed repairs, we have been traveling junkies. Two graduations, a wedding, trips to see family in SLC and Mass have been wonderful, but we are ready.
The temps are starting to fall, the swamp maples tinged with red, and we are busy with our lists. There's the spares list, the provisioning list, the ETOH provisioning list ( it gets its own list!), the general supplies list, the Amazon list, the Defender list and of course,....the Repairs list. Thankfully, we managed to complete most of our repairs in June and July, but there are a few remaining ones we still need to knock out.
We head back in early October for Stuart, then up to Ft Pierce to finish up our repairs and provisioning, then we are off. It's time.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

There is no paranoid

There is no paranoid

3 JUN 2016

Stuart, Florida, USA

It is said that there is no Paranoid, only Prepared, Lucky or Dead. And of these, Prepared is the one we have control over.

There are a lot of ways to be prepared. It is partly about carrying spare parts. But the boat is built from 30,000 parts and you can't carry a whole new boat with you, you have to choose. Coming across from Mexico last month, our boom vang sheared off the mast and left our main sail only under limited-at-best control. Obviously, we weren't carrying a spare boom vang.   But, being prepared, we had enough blocks on board to rig a temporary soft vang and used the spare main halyard to keep the boom from crashing down on to our cockpit-top Bimini cover. Score one for Prepared.

And then there's the weather. We do the best we can with the usual shore-side internet-based data sources, but even with modern supercomputers running models that predict out 7 days, the predictions beyond three days are not much better than general trends. And it often takes more than three days to get where you are going. So we also have a subscription to a weather services guy who specializes in supporting cruisers and he communicates this information by shortwave to most places in the world. That really helps us to stay aware, and therefore prepare for what's coming, or choose to not go at all. 

And then there are hurricanes. It really doesn't matter much if you know one's coming. Yes, you can prepare, on the dock, by stripping off everything loose above decks, double tying the boat, choosing your marina wisely, closing all stopcocks and breakers before you leave. But when the wind and storm surge is so strong they will drive straws through palm trees and strip asphalt roads right off the ground, there's only so much you can prepare. That's what insurance is for. And Luck.

Or not: Long Beach Island, NJ after Sandy went through