December 2012 ~ South at Last

Chronological Order

Day 826 - 839 ~ White ChristmasDecember 31st, 2012

These days transpired just like yours.  Presents were wrapped and shredded open.  Hams and turkey were consumed in large quantities.  Desserts were demolished.  Friends who were sure we had forgotten all about them were seen and caught up with.  In short it was pretty much just like your average American Christmas.

I enjoyed cooking and baking in a real kitchen again and reveled in the luxury of endless hot water, massive refridgeration and a huge oven.  For the first week, I kept jerking up every time I heard water running unchecked only to remember it didn't matter.

Managed to get out to see our house, which we were pleased to find the renters were keeping in top condition.  The cabin down at the beach looked just like the day we left it.  Incredible to think of all that time and all those miles leaving everything else in our lives untouched, as if frozen in time.


Day 837 ~ The CabinDecember 29th, 2012

Arose before light to knock out a few projects before Lisa got up.  Ate breakfast, made plans with another friend and then headed to the cabin to check on things there.  Lisa stayed behind in the warm house.  It wasn't too difficult getting down the snowy road.  Once inside, all looked good with no leaks, as if only a few days had passed since we last visited.

Spent the evening catching up with a local Soldotna family who I've known for over two decades.


Day 836 ~ Drive to the Kenai PeninsulaDecember 28th, 2012

Still undecided about Kenai.  Weather forecasts warming to 37 degrees.  Could mean okay roads, but also could mean icy.  Lisa knows me best and finally made a decision to go despite weather predictions.  Rushed around packing and managed to get out the door by 11:10a.  Ended up a little late for Lisa's 11:30 appt in town, but were back on the road by 12:30p and heading south.

Roads were wet and slimy, but decent.  Made good time and the sun came out through the pass.  Arrived at our friends' house to 8" of new snow.  Busted through the berm and began to shovel, something I haven't done for two and a half years.  We unpacked and were just starting with a movie when my brother called and invited us over.  Aside from the Torkelson family Christmas chaos, it's been over two years since we've visited, so we headed over to catch up on life.

Finished our movie once back at the house and then crashed amid peace and quiet.


Day 833 ~ Christmas DayDecember 25th, 2012

We have snow for Christmas this year, first time in 2 years.  Cold too.  Been hovering around zero since Lisa arrived early November.  These Caribbean bones are protesting.

Took advantage of a day with no work.  We had a late morning, ate breakfast then opened gifts.  Later, I went out sledding with the girls.


Day 832 ~ Christmas EveDecember 24th, 2012

Christmas Eve day began with Swedish pancakes.  Jim & Jaymie came over with their girls to spend the afternoon with us.  I whipped up a batch of homemade chicken nuggets for lunner, then we all dashed off to our church for the annual Christmas Pageant.  The girls all chose to be angels for the Christmas story.  Afterward, they enjoyed a petting zoo.


Day 830 ~ Torkelson Family ChristmasDecember 22nd, 2012

With my folks in town and our house rented, the annual Torkelson Christmas Fest defaulted to the next largest house, Ben's, out in Wasilla.  We scurried around gathering gifts and punch makings and headed out with Lisa's Mom and Dad who were also invited to the festivities.

Not all siblings were able to be present, but we did end up with a sizeable number; fourteen out of the 16 cousins buzzed around along with their coordinating parents.  Food was consumed, gifts were circulated and lots of playing and visiting happened.  The kids were hoping to sled outside, but with temps hovering around zero with the traditional Valley winds, they all opted to bypass the frost-bite factor.


Day 828 ~ Saving FaceDecember 20th, 2012

Lisa and I went to Anchorage to show my face to several key clients and to prove that in fact I do still exist. 

Girls worked on their birthday projects.  Anara is turning 3 and we were invited to celebrate with her and her family.


Day 827 ~ SleddingDecember 19th, 2012

The girls worked on making bean bag gifts for Anara's birthday.  Later I went sledding with the girls 'til I got cold.


Day 826 ~ Passport PostingsDecember 18th, 2012

The passport application process is the same for minors regardless of whether or not they've had a passport.  Both parents with birth certificates in hand are required to be in person when submitting the documents, along with the $80 govt and $25 post office fee.  Being able to get home was a blessing in more ways than one.  I also brought the birth certificates with me from the boat, but they too succumbed to a crazy wet passage.  When I opened the fire-proof box (obviously not water proof) right before I flew out, most of our documents were still swimming in sea water.  Somehow the waves had shot up through a drain hole and saturated the storage area under the settee within the vicinity of it; the box just happened to be put dead-center.  Once in Alaska, Lisa had carefully pulled each document apart and set them out to dry (thank goodness for the dry north air).  Now we just hope that the government bureaucrats will accept salty and crusty papers and return them before 6 weeks.

With parents and key documents in hand and leaving between the hours of 10a and 3pm (our window of opportunity), our first order of business was to go to the post office to mail in the girls' passport applications.  Lisa has had the applications ready and double-checked for several days now.  We also just purchased tickets for the girls' return to St Maarten to give us enough time to save us a $60 per child expediting fee.  Despite the long line, the process of ordering, stapling and paying was kept to a minimum and we were on our way within the hour.

Lisa and Nana had doctor appointments in town and returned with Nana's best friend to play for the day.  We still had snow so they went sledding for most of the time.

That night, the girls and Grandma attended a middle school band concert to watch another friend play.  I stayed behind to catch up with clients.


Day 825 ~ Surprise VisitDecember 17th, 2012

Flew most of the night and managed to find a quiet spot to lay down in the Philly airport. saved the day by calling my attention to B Terminal and the free pillow/blanket offered by the information station attendant.   You just have to ask and, sure enough, the guy was on duty at 1:20am. 

Arrived a half an hour early in Anchorage.  Since I never bothered to change into pants, I stepped off the plane in my shorts.  Got a bit of a shock when I walked into the great outdoors at negative 3 degrees.  Lisa needed to make one last stop at the bookstore and then we headed for home.

Lisa had prepared the girls well.  She told the girls she was going 'Christmas shopping' and running a bunch of boring errands.  All true as she knocked out all but one stop before the plane arrived.  When she returned, she asked the girls to come help unload the car as usual, only I was waiting in the entryway.  Amid screams and squeals of delight, one by one, the girls came down and were quite surprised.


Day 809 - 824 ~ Meanwhile in Alaska...December 16th, 2012

December was as busy as November. 

Just inside the month I discovered another little glitch, I realized that the girls' passports expired, but last August to boot.  Not sure what made me think of this four months late, but I did and the scramble began.  Of course, all five of us were together on Long Island with access to a car for five weeks in October, not to mention the other towns we passed since that date.  I found the major glitch to be that the process requires both parents in person with birth certificates in hand when submitting the application unless I have the actual documents and a notarized letter explaining his absence.  With Peter enroute and the birth certificates on the boat, this could be challenging.

Peter and his crew took the boat from New York to Bermuda to Sint Maarten and I was trying to figure out how to get him home in time for Christmas.  I knew it was a long shot to aim for December 16/17, especially since he didn't arrive until the 7th.  After several searches trying to combine miles within the US with a pay connection for the international leg, I stumbled upon a partner deal for 60K miles and $100 which would get him the whole way, first class to boot.  With plenty of miles, almost no cash and three open return choices, a flurry of emails followed and we settled upon Dec 17 - Jan 7.  Score on that one and now to figure out how to surprise the girls without blowing my cover.

We continued with kid play, shared meals with friends, Grandma and Grandpa arrivals and lots of fun.  On the date of Peter's arrival, I told the girls that I would be Christmas shopping and errand running for a good part of the day (knowing that they really don't like those type of 'town days').  When I returned with a car load of groceries and other items, I called the girls under the guise of helping to unload the car.  Each came down and each gave a squeal of delight to see the rather large and yet unwrapped Christmas present contained within.  I consider the fact I managed to override all three super-duper radar surprise detectors a huge victory.


Day 824 ~ Headed HomeDecember 16th, 2012

My flight doesn't leave until mid afternoon, but after a quick breakfast and some clean up, got the itch to go pretty bad.   Haven't seen the fam for 6 weeks now and it's getting hard to stay focused on fiberglass.

Packed and ready to go 4 hours early.  Start walking with my bags and ended up flagging down a local bus that dropped me right in front of the airport for a whopping $2.

Sat around the terminal for 3 hours waiting for my flight to depart.   That kind of thing used to drive me nuts, but compared to waiting for weather, it's now a piece of cake.


Day 823 ~ Last ScrambleDecember 15th, 2012

Since it's a weekend and I am flying home tomorrow, today was a 100% boat projects day.   Started with some shopping at the local Ace Megacenter.   I have never seen one of these in the states, but it's Ace's attempt at being 75% of a Home Depot.   It's great because some of their goods are boat stuff at normal prices or just normal stuff boaters need at, that's right, normal prices.   Imagine that.

We have been living with a Modified Sine Wave inverter (the thingy that makes electricity like normal houses have) for the entire cruise.   It makes trouble with our GFCIs and sewing machine and, overall, results in less than satisfactory situations.   So today I sucked it up and bought a new inverter after being assured it would have ample power to run our 120v refrigerator system, which we never use but hate to just ditch entirely since it's a 5 Boat Buck system.

Well, I got distracted with cutting out and fitting the water tank baffle which is now ready to epoxy in place (not a minor victory in its own right).   I then realized that tomorrow is Sunday and the boat place is closed after which I'll be gone for 3 weeks.  If this new inverter isn't going to cut it, I need to know now and get it returned while I still can.

It only took 15 minutes to get the old hard-wired inverter charger ripped out.  And yes, I did remember to insulate the huge 1/0 hot wire that is coming from the house bank.  If that thing touched the negative I don't even want to think about what might happen; a stack of plastic cups kept it in its own world.  Come to think of it, there are people I know who seek life at the bottom of a plastic cup, but that's another story.

Now, I could have found the manual from the old inverter and used its wiring diagram to figure out which was the charge and which was the feed lines to the 120 breaker panel, but that would be cheating.   Why not just try one set, and if that doesn't work, try the other.   Sure enough, the first guess was wrong, but when I flicked the switch on the second configuration, shazaam!  The vacuum cleaner started humming along.

It was now time for the acid test.   I turned off the vacuum and flipped the switch on the fridge.   It made a groan, then a clunk and stopped.   The new inverter started flashing error codes.   E 10  - E10 -  E10!   I looked it up.   Too heavy of a load.   Really?!    Just to be sure the fridge wasn't toasted to start with, I ran an extension cord out the window to the boatyard power.   The fridge took off running like a champ.   Hmmm.

I checked the clock.  It was 4:40pm.  Better get cracking.  Unwired the unit, bagged it, boxed it and found the receipt from this morning's 8am run.  Straddled the bike with this huge box under one arm and started peddling like mad the 1/2 mile distance back to the store.  However, as I rounded the corner something didn't look right.   There was yellow CRIME SCENE tape strung across the road and blue lights flashing.   Someone had run into a power pole and knocked lines down across the road.   Great!

By walking with the bike in one hand and the inverter in the other, I managed to dodge all manner of roadside trash and obstructions to work my way around the perimeter for 100 yards or so until I could mount up again.  In the Caribbean, a downed power pole is the perfect excuse to stand around talking loudly and doing nothing.   Not that anyone requires and excuse actually, but when one presents itself, it's cause for plenty of smiles.

I wheeled into the parking lot of Budget Marine with moments to spare.   The return receipt timestamp was 4:57pm.

Later, I hooked up to wifi at the yacht club and had a dinner of Haagen Dazs.  Two nights of yellow veggies evens things out, right?


Day 822 ~ Crunch TimeDecember 14th, 2012

Today the sky opened up and rained down boat progress.  At 7:30am, I was cleaning engine rooms in preparation for the alternator guy to come.  He arrived about 8am and we ran both engines using a fresh water hose feed (after getting the right end of the hose in the pipe that is).  He was able to quickly troubleshoot the port side and get its 100amp Balmar cranking out amps.

The starboard side was more involved but we wrapped things up by about 9:30 nonetheless.

The engine guys who I have been harrassing for a few days to just "come take a look" showed up unexpectedly today at 10am, in force with tools, and dove right in.  We briefly discussed strategies and, before I knew it, they were jacking up the engine and ripping off the saildrive.  Despite all the predictions of possible complications and difficulties, it wasn't all that bad.  Sure, there were some tough bolts that liked their 17 year homes, but the guy laying on the engine knocking his knuckles around knew exactly what he was doing.  Turns out, it wasn't just the seal that was bad, but the entire shaft and bearings.  The prognosis will be in terms of what it will take to get parts or determine if they are even available.

Back in the water tank pits, I managed to cut off the old through-hull fitting without losing an eye or a lung, although it was nasty contortionist work for sure.  Made serious sanding progress as well to the point of having another hour or two of prep before being able to cut the glass and start mixing epoxy.   That's a great feeling.

Ran around settling up bills and finding a few more miscellaneous parts.   Tackled two teleconferences with clients in the Skype room at the local Mailboxes, Etc. type place, then returned and fitted the new watermaker through-hull valve and ripped out the old filter system.  (Once you get a feel for the special type of motivation that boat projects require, it starts to come more natural like, can you tell?)

By 6pm I found myself wanting to do more, but felt strangely fatigued.  Gee, I guess it was a busy day and, now that I think about it, the only thing I ate was breakfast.


Day 821 ~ MultitaskingDecember 13th, 2012

Up at the usual 6:30am and tackling projects shortly thereafter.  My goal for today is to test various sanding methods for the inside of the water tank and make the first round of cardboard templates for the piece of Garolite fiberglass panel that will be cut to fit.  At $232 a sheet, you definitely want to first build a template before touching the real stuff.

All went smoothly so, by 9am, I was fishing for another project.   On a boat, that's what the Pentagon calls a "target rich" environment.   The key, of course, is to focus in on projects that really benefit from being out of the water.   Changing a thru-hull fitting valve definitely fits that definition.  When the old one is removed, you have a hole in your boat to the outside.   Not a big one, but open to the outside nevertheless.

The valve that controls sea water flow into the watermaker is probably 15 years old.  The last time I turned it on, the handle snapped off in my hand leaving a little nub.   Fortunately, vice grips worked to turn this as needed, but it was certainly time for a change.  The real question is, when I unscrew the old brass valve, will it snap off the through-hull fitting itself?   That's an entirely different matter to replace, and one of the great reasons to do the deed now.  Of course, the only way to reach said valve is by lying on your stomach over the port engine and tucking you feet up and over the exhaust line.  It's a bit of a trick each time just getting in and out.

Thanks to the spiffy hose clamp pliers, the old hose came off easily.  Then, with big wrench in a sweaty hand, I started to crank on it, really easy then hard, harder and hardest.  A wave of relief cooled the brain for a moment as the old valve spun on the fitting thus making it a 15 minute, $40 fix instead of a 4 hour, $200 one.

The old valve had seen better days.   Like all of us, he was once new and shiny too.

Next, I ripped into the port engine control panel and swapped out the Stop actuating switch.   This was a 15 minute job that only took a half hour.   Woo hoo!   And the new one works to boot.   Perhaps this boat repair thing really isn't that hard after all.


Day 820 ~ Making ProgressDecember 12th, 2012

My mission today was to get all the old plumbing ripped out of the tank wall.   This proved to be easier than expected.  When does that happen?  Well, it does, albeit rarely.

Since my daily goal was met by 9:30am, I tackled a really nasty side job: replace the starboard bilge pump.   Being a catamaran, we have two bilges, port and starboard.   For reasons that defy all understanding, the port is a normal bilge, not nice but not nasty.   The starboard is nasty, nasty, nasty.   It smells terrible and looks worse.   I have theories that involve girls with long hair and brushes, the destination of said hair and what slowly happens to it in the 1/2" of water that the pump can never push all the way out...   But, that's just a theory.

With the BIG GLOVES on, I dove in.   Again, it's amazing what a little can-do attitude can do.   I have been dreading this job for months, yet had the old pump out in three minutes; this should be a piece of cake.   I dug out the new replacement pump which I purchased, seemly, eons ago in the fair metropolis of Deltaville.   The instructions were very clear that no check-valve should be used.   Yet the old one has a check-valve.   Hmmm.

With clouds and wind today it was still fairly cool, so about 10am I headed out to do another dreaded job:  clean 12 months worth of slime, rust stains, barnacles and goo off the bottom of our dinghy.   This is never a pleasant job and Ken tackled this last year in Deltaville without too much complaining.

Well, thanks to Alexina, we know a little more about what kinds of chemicals really work.  Oxalic Acid does the trick.   Buy it in powder form and the net cost is around $2 a gallon instead of $10 per quart of the pre-mixed liquid stuff labeled "Rust Stain Remover".  All that is required is to mix up a batch and start squirting.  Then, be patient and let it sit and work for 5-10 minutes before applying the elbow grease.  It works great on gel coat, but only so-so on the vinyl tubing.  Two hours of muddy (all the washing turned the ground underneath to a mosh pit), sweaty, overhead scrubbing and the deed was done.  Not quite as good as new, but far, far better than she had been.

Client stuff the rest of the day sitting in a French cafe and having to smell fresh baguettes coming out every hour or two.   I resisted though, yesterday was a bit much.

Sitting in a dark boat now in the yard with a few hatches cracked.   The mountains that block the Trades here result in dead calm minutes followed by 30 knot blasts from any direction that howl through the rigging, flip hatches over onto the deck with a bang! and send unsecured towels sailing off into the night, floating like escaping sailboats, out over the barbed wire walls towards the shimmery, watery horizon.


Day 819 ~ Getting StartedDecember 11th, 2012

Having learned the hard way, when nasty boat jobs are to be done, the best approach is to start before breakfast.   Once the food hits bottom and the sun is rises, it gets progressively harder to find the motivation.   As the temperature increases, the get up and go factor sinks out of sight.

So, first thing, it was time to rip the top off the starboard water tank.  The water tank fix has been long delayed, procrastinated and avoided, but now is the time.  I laid in bed many a night theorizing how difficult it was going to be, what steps to take first, etc.  Turns out the first step was to grab a chisel, a hammer and dig right in.

Being a big nasty job, the only way to tackle it is in stages and with daily goals.  When that objective is met, you move on.  Otherwise, these kinds of projects will consume your entire day and leave you depressed at the end because you aren't done.  Of course you aren't done, it's a huge job.

So, my target today was to get the top off and, from there, assess how to proceed.   As most boat projects go, after 3.5 hours of sweat dripping off the chin work the top was off.   I can now see that there will be room to get an entire head and torso into the tank to tackle the next stages.  Oh joy.

Spent the rest of the day doing client stuff.  Boring.


Day 818 ~ Hard Times AgainDecember 10th, 2012

Today is the day.   It broke sunny and blustery as seems to be the pattern this week.  A few rain showers blew through.   I dinghied over to the boatyard and introduced myself to the staff with whom I have recently been trading emails.   They gave me the lo-down on the shower situation, "Caribbean hot water only" (which means ambient temperature).   No wifi. Ack!  It's a plot. I mean, how hard would it be?   Ten minutes alone in that office and we would have weefee.

Oh well, no point in beating your head against a wall.   The bridge opens at 9:30am for inbound traffic and that's the bridge I want.  It's already 8:45am so I bust it back to the boat.  I already put bumpers and dock lines out, so at least that was done.   I fired the engines and started the single-handed process of raising the anchor along with its 60 meters of chain.   This means, roll in some chain until it gets too tight. Run back to put the boat in gear for 20 seconds while trying to steer in the general direction in which you think the anchor is located.  Dash forward again and wind up as much chain as fast as you can before the boat falls back on the anchor.  Repeat, several times.

In light winds this is pretty simple.   But, naturally, today it's blowing 18-22 knots so the moment I put the engine in neutral the wind starts to take over. Well, I started promptly at 9:00am and by 9:12 I had the anchor hanging from the bow roller.   Could have been much worse.   Nothing like a clean sand bottom to make it all work smoothly.

I maneuvered into the queue of waiting boats and we all danced around trying to hold position amid blasts of wind up to 26 knots that would shift 90 degrees one way and then another.   In a cat with both engines in working order, this wouldn't be all that hard. With only one, I just had to keep thinking in circles.

We finally got the green light.   The Gunboat 62 in front of me shot forward.   I had already informed the bridge that I was going to be a bit slow, so thankfully they didn't slam it shut on me.   As I neared the neck the wind piped up to 31 knots, but it was pretty much right on the nose.   While there was probably 10 feet to spare on each side, it sure didn't feel that way.

I wound around the mega-yacht docks and lined up on the chute.   The winds were whipping again, but now at 45 degrees off the nose.   I kept the speed up to maintain steerage and "grip" in the water.   Thankfully, several hands were running toward me on all sides so moments later, after tossing them lines, all was secure.   No dings for scrapes.  Ahhhh.

I hauled out and they power-washed the bottom.  Took a couple of hours to get it all chocked up, but eventually we were set.   Mixed feelings for sure.   The dust and grime of land just isn't something boats are made for, or sailors for that matter. However, as I type this in an 85 degree salon, a decent breeze falls in off the mountains.   Funny thing though, all I can think about is getting back in the water.


Day 817 ~ Scrambling for ConnectivityDecember 9th, 2012

St. Martin is one of the most "first world" islands in the Caribbean, or perhaps the most, depending on who you ask.   But when it comes to internet, wifi and connectivity, it's a royal pain.   Only two networks are visible from the anchorage, one locked the other a pay to play.   Fine. I try the latter but it's so slow I can't even get to the payment screen, not a good sign.

With some client pressure on, the only option was to hit the bar scene.   At the Yacht Club, things went ok until the afternoon crowd rolled in and the noise level went through the roof.   I paid my 3 dollars for a grapefruit soda and tried Plan B.

The "Upper Deck" is the boutique bar on the second floor of the hotel next door.   "Free Wifi!" states their sign.

Up I went. And there it was, the perfect spot.   Quiet, a dimly lit corner with a 120v receptacle tucked under the table.   "Ha, ha," I chortled.   I ordered a Sprite and the barkeep gave me the super secret wifi password.   I found the network and connected quickly.   Ahhhh, this was going to be great.

However, nothing happened.   No emails coming down, no websites coming up.

I ran a few checks.   I was connected fine to the wifi, but its connection to the larger internet wasn't working.   I walked back to the barman.   "I can't seem to get the internet to work," I explained with my best look of friendly bafflement.

"Nope, doesn't work today," he said flatly. 

Welcome to the islands, Mon!   You can have the password, you can have the power, you can pay for your Sprite but you just can't have it all.


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Day 816 ~ Pebble ProblemsDecember 8th, 2012

Ahhh, a full night's sleep, or close anyway. Feel almost human today. Sunny warm morning breezes coming through the hatch are a great way to greet the day. Paul is anxious to see some more of the island before his flight leaves so we load up first thing and head to town. We catch breakfast at McDonald's (because they have free wifi and we are all in need of some connectivity.)   Then we took a dinghy tour over to the Bobby's Megayard where we are scheduled to get hauled on Monday.

Smart choice. I am thrilled with the location, and the lifts and dock are all brand new and very well done. To boot the shoot in which the boat gets hauled is 38' wide, a bit more generous than the 24'9" width we had to cram into last time. I was nervous about getting in single-handed, but this is going to be a piece of cake. The entrance is well marked and straight so I'll have plenty of time to line up on things.

We ran into another Lagoon catamaran on the hard whose owner was aboard. Just like the customs guy in Bermuda, this guy turns out to be from Paul's hometown of Peterborough, Ontario. They are soon chatting about common acquaintances, etc. Small world.

On the small world theme, I walked back from the grocery store with a few essential items (Haagen Dazs, for one). I rounded the corner and was amazed to see a dinghy at the dock with a 'No on Pebble Mine' sticker plastered on the outboard. Now who in the St. Maarten knows one hoot about Alaska's Pebble Mine? Turns out the guy is from Eagle River. Go figure.

Got back after dropping off the guys and tackled some nasty, nasty projects, namely unpacking and scrubbing the big fridge a la canned storage area which had an inch of sea water sloshing around in the bottom. Yuck. Rodalon to the rescue!

In keeping with sailorly tradition, I haven't shaved since we headed out to sea and what seems an eternity ago but was in fact just a couple of weeks on Thanksgiving Day.   Things are pretty itchy these days and the heat doesn't help much so it was time to switch back to civilized mode.   Seemed to take forever and, of course, couldn't be done without drawing blood a couple of times.

Did the dishes, and then decided it was time for a swim. Since it's been a long time, the tropical water felt great. I swam up and checked the anchor, which was completely buried in pure sand. Got to love that after all the East Coast mud.

Headed back to town at sunset in search of some decent internet and, hopefully, a cozy, quiet place to work. Found a nice spot where the wifi acted like it was working, but didn't actually have connectivity. Darn. Back to the yacht club where the music and yell-talking, interspersed with laughter, sounds festive and fun, but isn't particularly productive.

Sent a few emails and then decided to bag it. Feeling pretty whooped again, what with all the passage nights, or lack thereof, catching up again.


Day 815 ~ Attack of the BureaucratsDecember 7th, 2012

Friday Morning
I came up about 5:30am.  Light was breaking nicely (seems we have gained back some daylight) and the morning was beautiful. There were still occasional puffy Trade wind clouds but the dominant feature was those super high wispy clouds that are more artistic than anything else. Made for a beautiful sunrise. They glowed rose red for a while and there was some debate about what really qualifies as, "red sky in morning, sailors take warning."  Having seen much redder mornings, I interpreted this one as, "pink sky in morning, sailors eat breakfast."

We had cereal and canned pears with a dash of the remaining yogurt. Tried that Chobani stuff. Yuck. It's loaded with slimy fillers. If the ingredients list is more than you can say with one breath it's not worth eating. Funny isn't it, but excuses always require more words than the real deal.

The sun came and clouds scuttled past.  Our average speed since our day to day trip reset last night at 6:30pm shows 8.1 knots.

We are closing in on the islands.  At about 11am Michael caught first sight of land in the distance.

Friday Afternoon
This is always the slowest part of the trip, no matter how smartly you are sailing. You can see land, precious verdant green, but it seemingly takes forever to actually get there. We spotted the peaks of St. Maarten about 20 miles out, long before lower lying Anguilla was visible. While that's only 2.5 hours, those were the slowest of the trip.  It didn't help any that I had also finished my book.  On the plus side, it appears our timing is good so we'll negotiate the coast and anchor in the daylight, which is always nice.

We cleared the eastern tip of Anguilla at 1:10pm and now had 24 miles to make to work our way down the east coast of St. Maarten then turn right and head due west to Simpson Bay.  The sailing was fantastic. The wind was 19-20 knots directly on the beam, the sails were pulling hard and we frequently hung out in the 10s for long stretches while frequently touching 11 (11.7 was the highest I saw).  The sun was coming in over the peaks of St. Maarten turning the water into "molten silver solder" (Paul).  The spires of St. Barts, St Eustasia and St. Kitts to the south appear as distant castle fortresses of the sea, just beckoning one to keep going.

We rounded the southeast corner of St. Maarten and jibed the main.  Now wing and wing, with the huge genny flying straight into the setting sun, the light took on its apricot pre-dusk glow.  Behind us the water shifted silently from indigo blue to velvet blue to ink blue to black as waves slowly overtook us, lifting the stern and giving us gentle nudges forward. The ride was gentle, slow and comforting.

As we neared Simpson Bay the wind increased. This was not good as, after 48+ hours, it was time to get the genny down and her soft roller does not like windy conditions.  I briefed the crew on their jobs and went forward to wrestle the beast. I knew that if Nina, Lisa, Nika and I could do it, surely three adult guys would win.

The first roll went terribly, so I let it go and took a second crack at it.  This one went better but, as Michael dropped it, the top 1/3 of the sail filled and started doing its favorite "whompa whompa" dance and throwing the 3 pound steel head swivel whooshing past our heads in deadly arcs. Michael did a good job of getting the halyard down fast and keeping his eye on the swivel.  Thirty seconds later we had the genny lashed to the tramp and were back in business.

We jibed again and took a nice reach right into the bay.  We noticed what looked like a serious military type RIB following another catamaran. Weren't sure if they were in trouble of the sailing or with the bureaucratic type.  We fired up the port engine and turned into the wind.  While Paul held our course, I got the main down in one clean drop. That's always a good feeling.  I then heard Michael say, "Hey, we got company."

I glanced over and there was the RIB. It was a Dutch Coast Guard craft with 5 gun-toting uniformed guys aboard, and they all had that we-mean-business look.  I motored onward toward the anchorage and motioned to them that I intended to anchor and then talk to them. They nodded their approval and waited for us to finish.

Took a bit to get the anchor going and down.  The boat engine was another matter.  The stop switch on the port side engine has been touchy for a while but, as I rammed my thumb into it, I could just sense that this was the end. The dousing of rain and seawater over the last couple of weeks were more than it could take. The engine just purred on.

Been here before. I had the engine compartment hatch up in a flash and was kneeling on the warm engine a moment later. A quick flick of the wrist, and it was over.  We had arrived.  The Coast Guard boat pulled up and four black booted commando wannabes came aboard. They did ask permission, but we had the distinct impression that the request was a formality they practiced rather than one that waited for an answer.

Sure glad we had raised the quarantine flag 15 minutes ago.

While one officer reviewed our passports and ship's papers, another asked to be escorted below.  He inspected our bilges, looked under some bunks and asked the usual array of questions. When he saw one bunk with piles of books in disarray he asked if it was rough out there.

"Yeah, a few times," was all I could say.

They were done and gone in 20 minutes, but the clock was ticking. It was 5pm now and a Friday to boot. If Customs was still open, I was going to be shocked. Gathered all the necessary papers we got the dink splashed and started. Went full throttle and found the Immigration office immediately.  The door was unlocked.  A single slow moving bureaucrat inhabited one of several bullet proof glass-faced offices. He gave me the appropriate forms and the minutia ensued.  I had to write everything twice, once for immigration and once for customs. Hey, how about you share a form and just copy it? Or, better yet, do what the French do and just have a computer where cruisers type it in once and press "Submit".

It was all over 20 minutes later and they locked the door behind me. Guess I'm glad we flew the genny.

Back at the ranch, the boys were interested in finding some internet to deal with flight plans and perhaps find some real food. Up to this point, it's been cold cereal and a chicken salad sandwich today.

I didn't know right off where a good place would be, but as we rounded the corner of the lagoon entrance, the Sint Maarten Yacht Club with its huge dinghy dock stood out.  Wifi was 'no problem for customers' and I was pretty certain that the boys wanted to wet their whistles.  We hopped on their "buy a beer" wifi network and started the email catch-up craziness. The boys found flights and the wait staff brought food and drink. Paul treated us all to dinner and we debriefed on a what, in hindsight, was the perfect weather window, the perfect sail and the ideal arrival.

DayDreaming Spot
12/07/2012 01:25:31 AKST

DayDreaming Spot
12/07/2012 08:24:50 AKST

DayDreaming Spot
12/07/2012 09:49:07 AKST

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Day 814 ~ Picture Perfect SailingDecember 6th, 2012

Thursday Morning
I was up about 5am and relieved Paul. Sailing at this angle, the solar panels have been shaded 80% of the time. As the wind lightened last night and this morning, the wind generator could no longer keep up with the autopilot. The batteries this morning were at 12.4, so I started the port engine and ran it for about an hour to recharge. Hate to do it, of course, as I hate the noise, etc, but want to keep our new battery investment from getting slammed right from the get-go.

We had an absolute picture-perfect morning. Stars so thick you can clearly see the Milky Way and all kinds of lesser clusters. Probably some galaxies if I knew what I was looking at. Saturn popped over the horizon just as Jupiter was setting. Even though the moon is at 50% or so, it still lights the place up nicely, even casting a swaying shadow through the salon windows.

It's 5:57am now and there is a faint glow growing on the southeastern horizon. Yesterday, it was actually hot for a bit, so changed into shorts for the first time in months. The evening air was just perfectly cool and soft with 65% humidity. Ahhh, this is the tropics.

Sweet sailing now at 11:30am. Genny went up at 7:30am with 10-12 knots on the beam, nice easy motion, nearly pure sunshine and 200 miles from St. Maarten.

Thursday Evening
Thursday was about as perfect of a sailing day as can be imagined. Winds were 12-16 directly on the beam with the swell coming from the aft port quarter.  No slamming or craziness, just a nice even motion and good boat speed. The genny is pulling pretty hard so we are zipping along and averaging somewhere in the 8s but with plenty of 9s and 10s as gusts come through.  Made a huge batch of spaghetti about 4pm and was a bit surprised that the entire pot was eaten. Yours truly doing more than his part to help out. It's a good sign really, hearty appetites mean happy tummies; happy tummies mean happy sailors.

Wind built a little through the afternoon until we are consistently in the 19-21s with only occasional dips around 17. This is right on the edge of genny territory. Yes, we have flown her in 30 knots apparent wind by accident where nothing broke, but that doesn't mean nothing ever will.

As a result, I am constantly on edge. We unrolled the jib about 30% of the way to help reduce the load on the genny during gusts. It may or may not do much but provides a little mental comfort. The speed is fantastic and the GRIBs say we should have 14 knots on the beam so I have no clue from where this 21 stuff is coming. The faster the boat goes, the nicer the motion is, so I hate to take the genny in. Doing some calculations, if we can keep this speed up (average 8.1 knots = 194.4 mile day), we should arrive in St. Maarten with plenty of daylight. This might even mean getting to Customs before they close thereby getting the crew ashore by evening for some much-needed refreshment.

The sunset was gorgeous. I was on watch about 9pm when I heard a whack then a wet slimy thrashing sound, like flipping through the pages of a soaking wet dime store novel. For half a second I was flummoxed. Aliens landing? Then I recognize the pattern of sound. A fish gasping for air. I shone my headlight back in the cockpit and, sure enough, there was a nice 9" flying fish thrashing about. I guess I should have had a heart and thrown him back, but Michael was excited to see some earlier, so I decided to save this one as an exhibit. I turned the trash can over him to contain the slime factor to one spot and went back to my book.

Later I found multiple flying fish hits on our clear dodger. Those little suckers were 8-9 feet off the water line when they impacted, leaving blurs of slim and scales behind. Of course, Sea Pearl captured her share as well.

I got sleepy about 10pm and Paul came on watch. Paul and Michael are fantastic crew, always ready to take over as needed. I returned at 3am and they had switched. Michael said he felt fine, so I went back down for a couple more hours. Occasional gusts to 26 knots and rushes of speed made sleeping difficult. The winds are picking up some. With the genny flying I am constantly on edge knowing that a really big gust at any time could create really big problems. Also, spray and deck washing on the port (windward) side is common, so hatches have to say shut. At one point I heard a thump, splash and then rush of falling water in the galley. I had opened the hatch while cooking, and forgot to shut it. Water was sloshing over the countertop. Argh.

DayDreaming Spot
12/06/2012 01:17:07 AKST

DayDreaming Spot
12/06/2012 22:11:29 AKST

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Day 813 ~ Third Day SunshineDecember 5th, 2012

Wednesday morning
I got up about 5am and relieved Paul, who tipped over right in his seat and was out like a light.  I sure wish I could sleep anywhere.

The dawn came ever so slowly revealing a confused seascape and the usual blanket of puffy Trade wind clouds.  The wind has definitely backed and lightened even more. The seas are coming from the port aft quarter in long rolling strides that pick the boat up and slowly turn her to port, then release her. It's a much more comfortable motion with only rare cases of some boarding spray. Spirits are high under a bluebird sky. It's 80 degrees now in the salon and the air has a very tropical flavor. We are now on the same latitude as Cuba.

As is usual for the third day, things seem to be nearing normalcy. I am actually hungry for the first time since we left. Not real keen on spending much time in the galley yet, but the idea of a real solid meal actually sounds motivating. The crew is pretty laid back, eating little or nothing or whatever I offer in bird -like helpings. Perhaps today will be different.

Day One we make about 172 miles, Day 2 was 183, and today we are on track for another 180+. Other than rolling in some headsail at night to slow down, we haven't touched the sail configuration since we started.  Pretty tough to complain about that.

Wednesday Evening
Winds are slowly, slowly lightening. We are starting to see lows in the 15 knot range and steady at 19 or so most of the time. Haven't seen a 24 now for half a day. Surprisingly, the sea state fluctuates. It's even and steady for a while, then rough and tumbly with a cross swell making for a sloppy, splashy motion, then evens out again.

By evening the lighter winds have allowed the sea to lay down some and the ride is pretty even and comfortable without any banging or crashing. Michael actually slept below in his room today, so that says something. Up to now he's been sleeping upstairs amidships where the motion is milder because the forward port hull has been a virtual zero gravity chamber.

We had leftover chicken soup for dinner and a pan of homemade croutons topped off with a can of peaches. The cooking so far, I have to admit, has been pretty sparse, but today was a feast day, relatively speaking. We had three, count'em three, meals. Oatmeal for brekkie, warm sausage sandwiches for lunch and now a round 2 soup for dinner. It's just like a real cruise; all we need now is low paid wait staff.

I kept watch until about 10pm when Paul took over. Not sure what all happened after that, but when I came up at 2:45am Paul was on again (or still on) and said he felt fine, so I went back down until about 5am. I slept better as the motion, for the first time, allowed me to open my top hatch and actually get some air flow.

DayDreaming Spot
GPS location Date/Time:12/05/2012 09:04:47 AKST

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Day 812 ~ Liquid IslandsDecember 4th, 2012

Tuesday Morning
Wind pretty much unchanged, varying from 19-23 knots directly on the beam. The seas remain livelier than is really comfortable resulting in frequent bridge deck slams, occasional leaping crashes and large washes of boarding spray that run up and over the top of the salon at times. If we could fall off 10 degrees the ride would improve markedly, but Puerto Rico isn't where we want to go.

The GRIB files insist that the wind will shift favorable behind us at any time, but so far it all remains a vaporous illusion. A 10-15 degree shift behind us would improve the ride considerably. I can't help but think how miserable Lisa and the girls would be bouncing around like this. Paul and Michael take it all in stride crammed in corners of the cockpit and salon, sleeping as needed in nearly sitting positions and eating like church mice.

I think I know why the Aloe Vera is hurting so badly. The front inboard hatch came undone as it is wont to do and poor Aloe got a good dousing of sea spray. This is not going to help things. It probably needs to be completely repotted and nursed back to health, but the thought tackling that at the moment is pretty daunting. It's not going to make me popular, but our floral mascot may have met its doom at last.

The brownies were popular through the night, so at least the crew is eating something. As soon as the motion calms down a bit I think I'll be able to actually cook something other than scrambled eggs.

Tuesday evening
Paul had mentioned chicken soup at one point, so it seemed like a good idea.  Spending time down in the galley isn't all that comfortable, so I cheated and used canned chicken.  It still took 30 minutes to finish, but hit the spot in the way that chicken soup always seems to do when you're suffering from lack of sleep and can't quite shake the damp chill that lingers.   It seems every coat I own has a slight salty dampness to it.   Go figure.

Every couple of hours we'll get slapped on the port stern pretty hard and a nice deluge of spray will come aboard and slosh around the cockpit for a second.   If we happen to be standing outside at the moment it hits, the 20+ winds whip the top of it into little salty beads that blast over you.   Not enough to really get wet, but enough to leave you a little stickier than before.

We ate dinner in the cockpit but spent most of the evening in the salon to avoid any more dousings. The wind finally seems to be moderating a bit and moving aft of the beam as the GRIB files had predicted.   Instead of seeing highs in the 27s and lows at 20, now we have highs of 23 and lows of 16.   We keep thinking the sea state will moderate some as the wind tapers off, but there doesn't seem to be much change.   Plenty of decent sized 10-12' swells with some surface chop and an occasional cross swell thrown in to keep us on our toes.   Michael calls these "wave islands"; triangular pinnacles that rise up seemingly from nowhere.   If they are close, you look up at them, thus they are an "island".   Of course, on occasion, one rises up right under our bridge deck with an accompanying slam and clatter.

I took watch until about 9pm then handed off the baton.   There was a huge crash and burst of boarding water about 11:30pm which brought me up to check on things.  All was well, albeit drenched. Both Paul and Michael were up and alert, so I turned in again after a few minutes.

DayDreaming Spot
12/04/2012 06:16:58 AKST

DayDreaming Spot
12/04/2012 11:22:59 AKST

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Day 811 ~ Brownie ManiaDecember 3rd, 2012

Monday Morning
Finally got down and must have drifted off sometime around 5am. It was already getting light and I managed to sleep until about 8am. I felt quite a bit better and came up to find Michael on duty and another squall doing its thing. The headsail was still tiny but our speed remained 9-10 most of the time.

I took over, tweaked a few things and watched the weather. Overall, the seas seemed to be lessening and, by 9am, I decided to unroll the full headsail again as winds generally stayed in the 18 knot range. Another squall arrived shortly after, but didn't have the same punch. The next one dissipated right in front of us. Hopefully the sun will change things for the better.

Monday Afternoon-Evening
As the morning progressed the humidity lessened and the cloud formations settled into the normal Trade wind fare of puffy marshmallows. The wind slowly clocked from 50-60 degrees on the nose to a broad 90 degree reach. Eventually the seas shifted some as well and the ride moderated with less leaping and slamming to more even rocking and rolling. Most items have stayed where they belong in the cabinets and shelves so the boat doesn't look nearly as crazy as it did a week ago.

We trade off sleeping and watch periods informally. Both Michael and Paul are capable of sleeping in any conceivable position regardless of noise, light, hunger or cold. Ideal sailor material. We haven't eaten much so far, so I made a loaf of bread in the afternoon and then whipped up some tuna fish salad. Warm tuna sandwiches served for dinner about 7pm.

Checking our logs, it appears we'll make 174 miles today. Not too bad. We could certainly be going faster, but that results in more flying and crash landings so we opted to sail most of the night with just 1/3 of the headsail out and a reef in the main. I retired shortly after and was up at midnight sharp. Michael was on watch so we traded and he was soon sound asleep on the settee. Paul slept most of the evening outside in the cockpit. The temperature is definitely warmer even tonight than it has been.

Moved by some weird urges, I made a pan of brownies about midnight and downed a couple slathered with generous accents of peanut butter. I'm guessing it was just calories that were needed as I felt quite a bit better through my watch and was actually able to focus on reading.

I woke Paul at 3:45am and we watched a huge cargo ship pass us about a mile off our stern. Despite its close proximity, the wind and rushing water blocks any sound.

DayDreaming Spot
12/03/2012 06:55:46 AKST

DayDreaming Spot
12/03/2012 19:20:04 AKST


Day 810 ~ At Sea AgainDecember 2nd, 2012

08:37 EST
Guys come in the afternoon, 3pm-ish. We'll leave tonight as tomorrow there is very little wind. As it is, the first day or two will be pretty light.

Sunday afternoon
I was filling water into the starboard tank from a jerry jug when I heard a holler. I looked around and saw two figures on the wharf waving at me. I dinghied over and found that Paul had arrived sometime before. Collected his bags and headed out to the boat for some final prep work, last minute emails, diesel filling, etc. About 2pm we headed back to shore and did a quick grocery run getting a few last items of produce, a pineapple, some pears, apples and yogurt. Pineapples are a risk at any time, but you feel it more at $6.99 a pop.

We selected a few hot dishes from the buffet line and ate our lunch sitting on the wharf with a good view of the Yacht Services building where Michael was going to be dropped off. I had spaced out the fact that today was Sunday so everything was closed. We relaxed and chatted a bit with guys from the boats tied alongside. About 3:15p we saw a taxi pull up and deposit someone, so walked over and introduced ourselves.

Paul, while waiting to find me, had chatted up the Customs officer who was on duty. Turns out that they are from the same small town in Canada and know many of the same people. Paul asked if we could check out without having to come tie up at the dock, saving us 30+ minutes of daylight. Sure, no problem, for an old home town friend. That was a huge relief.

With Michael in tow, we presented ourselves to the Customs desk and were duly processed. A ton of forms, signatures and what not. You'd think someone would figure it out and just do a computerized system like the French islands have. Oh well, at least in Bermuda, the customs guys do all the writing then just ask you to sign.

We were given our "weapon" back (a flare gun) and that was that. We puttered out to the boat and got things going. Raised the dink, pulled in all the bumpers and dock lines and started working on the anchor. With the port engine starting problem fixed, she fired fast and with authority -- a great feeling. Had about 65 meters of chain down, so it took a while cranking it up bit by bit. The bottom here appears on top be sandy but, even so, we had to work to break the anchor free.

It was about then I realized I didn't have any charts up and running. Grabbed the iPad, but at 1% power it immediately died. Smooth. Got it plugged in and finally got the laptop working so at least we could follow our old track out.

We motored slowly, straight into 18 knots of headwind, out through Government Cut and then slogged our way slowly through mishmash of cross swell and chop that is generated by the shallow water and waves reflected by Bermudian cliff sides. It seemed to take forever, but eventually we cleared the hazard marked areas and raised the main sail. I had Paul drive while I did the muscle work and in a few minutes all was in place. We fell off the wind at last and felt the sail start to pull.

The nerds at NOAA say we'll have 12-15 knots on the beam, perfect genny wind, so I spent 20 minutes getting it rigged and talking through how it worked with Paul and Michael. We were just at the point where it was time to turn downwind and let her fly when I noticed several large T heads forming upwind of us. The forecast for Bermuda was for scattered squalls. Hmmm. We were ghosting along at 5 knots pointing into 10-12 knots of wind under a bluebird sky. However, something didn't feel right and instead of raising the genny I bunged it down to the tramp and unfurled the small headsail. At last, we shut down the engine after probably an hour's worth of motoring just to get us clear of Bermuda and its reef system.

Sunday night
We had a spectacular sunset of vibrant colors and huge clouds to the east, light with rhubarb hues. As the depth feel to 3,400 and then 4,000 meters, the sea was wrapped in its most glorious silk. If I had to pick a Home Depot paint color name it would be something like Essence of Electric Blue.

The new crew were still wired from their sudden shift in life, from retiree and engineer to 'fly me far and drop me on a boat' land. I made some tacos and immediately afterward decided that if they weren't going to sleep, at least I should.

Good luck. I had only been down a few minutes when I heard a moan and whistle and felt the boat surge forward. I prairie-dogged up and found the wind at 27 knots with gusts to 30. A dark squall line was approaching and soon large rain drops and spray where streaming through the cockpit like machine gun fire. We were leaping off of waves and crashing down with a bang. I immediately unsheeted the main some to spill off air, turned downwind a bit and took several wraps out of the head sail. The reduced sail area should have slowed us down some but, even so, we were hitting 10 knots routinely. We fell off our course a bit to ease the motion.

And so went the entire night. We were slapped with over eight squalls, one about every 40 minutes, right after another like marching soldiers. Each time one would pass, the wind would ease back into the predicted Trade wind pattern, 16-18 knots on the beam, the swell would lay down a bit, and the ride was nice and easy. Then, 30 minutes later, wham, 30 knots and rocket ship time. I flopped around in bed for the better part of 4 hours, 8pm - midnight, getting up and trimming sails or adjusting course as the wind seemed to dictate.

I finally gave up at midnight and relieved Michael. Despite the melée, Paul was sawing logs on the cockpit bench, seeming oblivious to the raging din. He was wrapped from head to toe in foul weather gear and didn't seem to notice the rain or occasional crashes into wave tops. That's a skill I envy.

I read and tweaked our sails and course from midnight until about 3:45am, when my eyes were just too heavy. I woke Paul and he took over while I headed back down in hopes of some shuteye. Fifteen minutes later, it was howling again, so I came up and turned us off the wind 10 degrees to ease the motion some and rolled in more headsail in hopes of slowing us down. It didn't really change much. My sleeping shorts got soaked in the process. Another smart move.

DayDreaming Spot
12/02/2012 12:31:28 AKST

DayDreaming Spot
12/02/2012 21:00:11 AKST


Day 809 ~ Serious SailorsDecember 1st, 2012

Jeff left yesterday, Steven left first thing this morning. He woke me at 5:30am and I dropped him off at the wharf about 6am.

Weatherwise, it turns out we could have gone Thursday AM after all. The low that was forecast has shifted, lightened and the wind hole has filled in. Oh well. However, based on the weather we had at the time I am confident we made the right call. To back it up, all the experienced boats stuck around too.

Actually, looking at the weather this morning, leaving tomorrow, Sunday, might work. I have emailed the potential crew to see if anyone can show up. They sound all enthusiastic in the abstract, but we'll see who really is completely flexible.

13:20 EST
Just got confirmation from two crew members that they will be on planes tomorrow AM for arrival here in Bermuda. We'll try and leave tomorrow afternoon and make St. Maarten Friday-ish. Wow, I am impressed. These guys are serious about getting some sea miles under their belts.