Family Time

My dad, and our son, Kyle, joined us for eight days aboard Gratitude. We had to remain at the marina for the first few days while modifications and repairs were being made, but we were able to get in several solid days of sailing too. It gave them a taste for boat life. We made some provisioning runs, sailed, motored, and took the dinghy around. Dad and I made some of our own repairs, and the two of them experienced some basics about how boats operate. Kyle keenly observed, “If sailing were a TV show, it would have pacing issues.”

He is right. Cruising life contrasts being immersed in tranquility, beauty, and fun, punctuated by periods of intense action and stress. The stress may be situational (e.g. something intense is happening, and you have to deal with it immediately) or it may be self-induced. Most often, the locus of my stress involves safely stopping the boat. Hovering in place on a river in front of a drawbridge, maneuvering into a dock slip, or trying to get the anchor to grab and hold can get my heart racing. The reason is that there are usually currents, winds, and other boats or structures to contend with.

As an example, on Wednesday night we were asleep at anchor with the hatches open when it started to sprinkle, around 2:30 a.m. Karen secured the hatches, and I decided that while I was awake, I would check to see how our anchor was holding. When I stepped outside, I noticed the winds and tides had shifted considerably, and the monohull sailboat closest to us was now swinging frenetically on his anchor. After about ten minutes of watching him dart and undulate wildly, his stern came all the way over toward ours. His was a lighter boat than Gratitude, so I was, with some effort, able to physically shove him away when he was close enough to hit us, but he swung back again and again. So, I woke Karen, and we spent hours watching him make Spirograph-like patterns before unpredictably careening right back into us. We used our fenders (basically giant, inflated rubber balls) to keep his boat from crunching ours.

Karen took this whole event quite calmly, but I was full of adrenaline. It felt like being in a fight where your opponent kept getting up and coming back, over and over. (Terminator 2 would be too dramatic a comparison, but you get the idea). We debated trying to wake the owner of the other yacht, but ultimately we just accepted our fate and kept watch to prevent any damage. The next morning, we left that anchorage, bright and early, with his yacht still channeling Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

In order to get back out to sea, we needed to pass under the Las Olas drawbridge. Gratitude is too tall to do that without having the bridge up, so you get the pleasure of being “that guy” and stopping all traffic on Las Olas Boulevard and making everyone wait while the bridge raises for you to pass through. This time, however, the bridge only opened one of its two spans. I radioed him to ask if there was a malfunction, and he informed me that he was only opening halfway for me, and I would need to squeeze through. Again – you transition abruptly from a leisurely journey to a quick jolt of stress. And all of this happened pre-coffee!

The Las Olas Bridge when the operator isn’t trying to play chicken with me

But yesterday, we sailed south to Key Biscayne, and we have never coaxed such great performance out of the boat. We regularly made over 9 kts on that trip with only our sails in about 18 kts of wind. The boat was happy, and so was I. We had a great sail and an easy time anchoring. We dinghied over to a restaurant a mile or so away and enjoyed a wonderful, relaxing meal and some sangria.

Gratitude making great time sailing southward

Today, as I write this, we have made it back to the Bahamas. We spent the day “beating” (traveling into the wind), and crossing the rolling Gulf Stream. Once we were at tonight’s destination, we deployed our anchor and went through all the right steps, but when I dove off the boat to have a look, it was laying sideways on the ocean floor instead of digging in. We had to start over to get it to set, but all’s well now.

Not the way an anchor should look.

Tomorrow looks calm for us. We’re sailing south to explore Gun Cay and North Cat Cay. Then we will start making our way to shelter to ride out some approaching bad weather predicted for next week.

Overnight to Bimini

We had the notion to make the 95-mile trip from Chub Cay to Bimini on Wednesday, but we knew we would need every minute of daylight and then some. We tried to tried to weigh (raise) anchor well before sunrise so that we could arrive at our destination and make a docking or anchoring decision during daylight, but the winds were very strong, and we ended up scrubbing the entire idea and going back to bed. We decided it was easier to weigh the anchor around 5:00 pm and travel Wednesday night. We made good time, taking shifts at the helm, and arrived at Bimini as dawn was breaking Thursday morning. We dropped our anchor in Honeymoon Harbor, which is a beautiful and uncrowded anchorage, and we immediately had a visitor come swim to greet us!

A sea turtle – just like the one in our logo

The wind has been quite strong, and because we are close to numerous rocks, I swam our anchor (once at high tide and then again at low tide). Our Rocna anchor had dug in to the sea bed perfectly and had not budged an inch. I will sleep better tonight knowing that.

We are headed back to Fort Lauderdale to have one of the ship’s antennas relocated, which is a definite kink in our plans. About that… the one significant modification we made to Gratitude was installing more solar panels. A. Lot. More. Solar. That just fit the vibe we were going for. We have a water maker which desalinates sea water and makes fresh water, and having a lot of solar capacity seemed like we were closer to being off the grid and self-sufficient.

The trouble is, we were not in Florida when they did the work, and the contractor relocated the large KVH TracPhone satellite antenna directly into the path of the sheets (ropes) that adjust the main sail. These sheets come under a jaw-dropping load at times, and if they get accidentally wrapped around that antenna, it will happily deposit the whole system into the ocean in about a quarter-second, and that would be a very costly mistake.

The Antenna Problem

After a short time of sailing on our own, Karen and I decided that disaster was only a matter of time, and we scheduled an appointment to return and have the antenna moved. Right now, we are about ¾ of the way back to Florida from where we started, with only the notorious Gulf Stream left to cross tomorrow morning, and forecast conditions appear favorable for that.

One more note – I caught my first (edible) fish!

First mahi-mahi caught aboard Gratitude. I didn’t have time to get properly dressed.

Just before we set sail, my friend, Dan, gave me three beautiful salt water fishing rods and reels as a bon voyage gift (and an epic one at that), and he and I went shopping to stock up on the necessary tackle and lures. I rigged everything the best I could (I’m not going to be nominated for any knot-tying awards just yet), and after having my confidence shaken by pulling up three consecutive barracuda (non-edible monsters with ridiculously long, sharp teeth), I caught a beautiful mahi-mahi. It was a thrill! I cleaned it on the back of the boat, and Karen marinaded it in salt, mirin, and sherry (we didn’t have sake), and we grilled it for dinner that night. We enjoyed four large, delicious servings.

Same mahi-mahi. The best tasting fish is the one you catch. Right?

One fisherman commenting about trolling a lure through the Gulf Stream in the days and nights surrounding a full moon wrote “the fun is, you never know what you might bring up.” That’s the conditions we are headed for tomorrow morning when we sail to Fort Lauderdale. I’ll have my lines out. I’m hooked!

Dinghy Drama (A Joint Post)

Andy: Karen and I have both been surprised as to the way we have had to problem solve together. For example, the other evening after shore excursion and a nice dinner out, we lowered the dinghy into the water and inadvertently spooled the line all of the way off of the winch. No big deal, right?

Wrong! The dinghy is rigged to a heavy-duty rack called the davits, and this is connected with a system of pulleys and cables that all came undone when the line spooled off. Now we had a dinghy in the water that was far too heavy for us to lift by hand (I estimate at least 600lbs with the engine, but it could be much more), and the davits more or less collapsed on top of it. To add to the fun, waves were pounding the boat, causing the davits to bang violently against the dinghy steering wheel and console. Due to the collapse, the carbon fiber line that attached everything would no longer reach the winch.

We were up against the proverbial wall and had to problem-solve, and we had to do so quickly. We cut a piece of spare nylon line we had bought a few days earlier for emergencies and tied a sheet bend knot to the carbon fiber line to create an extension. We rigged up the davits again through the eyes and pulleys, and we were finally able to use the winch to hoist the dinghy up out of the water.

Karen: I want to interject that the time it took for all of this to occur was probably about 45 minutes to an hour, up to this point. We were tired, wet from riding the dinghy back to the boat, and eager to get inside and dried off. And, it was getting dark. Instead, we kept fighting the dinghy, the davits, the waves, and then the cables. Then running from locker to locker searching for the right tools and gear and lights to rig a solution. If all this sounds like chaos, trust me – it was!

Andy: Things were looking much better until everything just stopped. The winch breaker had blown. I figured that too much water had splashed into the dinghy, making everything too heavy. After all, water weighs 8lbs/gallon, so I leaned in to remove the dinghy’s drain plug to let the water drain in order to ease the load on the winch. Hilarity ensued when one of the steel connection points attaching the dinghy to the davits snapped clean, and the entire system fell suddenly into the sea – with me tumbling right in with it.

At this point, it was dark, some of our possessions were floating away with the current, and things had basically gone from really bad to worse. (Note: when I hit the water, my first thought was that I was so glad Karen was on deck, and I knew everything would be okay).

Karen: Ok, my first thoughts are a little too salty to repeat here, but they basically ran along the lines of “Are you ok? Are you ok? Let’s get you back onto this boat NOW.” And then I saw one of Andy’s shoes floating away, and thought, well, we’re kissing that pair of shoes goodbye. We gotta get Andy back on this boat!

Andy: I swam back to the boat (after chasing down that shoe), Karen helped me back onboard, and we regrouped. This development was not good, but we did keep our heads and were able to focus on the problem. Before long, we had the dinghy out of the water again and more or less held in place with a system of our own ropes and straps. Which meant we could finally go to bed.

The next morning, we reassessed the situation. Using spare rope, we made new lines and connections to create a greatly improved support system for the dinghy. It had occurred to both of us, overnight, that the last people to work on the boat had rigged the dinghy to the davits incorrectly. They were set too low for us to get the dinghy down to the water, and that was the root cause of our difficulty.

It became evident in the whole process that Karen apparently paid more attention in knot school than I did (we received quite a bit of formal training in sailors’ knots), and she was a rock star at making lines fast and tying knots that would not give or loosen under load. This saved the day!

Karen: Don’t let Andy fool you. He stayed way ahead of me in evaluating and assessing the situation each time it got worse. It was his idea to tie a leader-line onto the cable so that it would reach the winch, and I think THAT is what saved the day. But of course I’ll take his compliment on my knot-tying, all day long.

Andy: Several times in my life I have gone through team-building exercises where I solved problems together with my teammates, but being on a boat has dialed that up to 11 for us. We have had a couple of situations now where we had no choice but to keep our heads and work together. It took both of us to rig our dinghy safely. We are a team.

Karen: My lessons learned: Everything is harder, more complicated, and more time-consuming on a boat. Everything. My hope and belief are that we are on a learning curve, and that maybe things will get easier and quicker and more intuitive over time… and yet I can see that boat life is already very, very different than land life. As we say at CrossFit III: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Sails Up!

We had our first successful sail on Saturday (we sailed on Friday, but I would not describe that as a particularly stellar success – more on that another time).

Saturday, we climbed back on the horse (or the Leopard in this case), motored out to sea, and unfurled the jib. The jib is a smaller, but by no means “small”, foresail at the bow of the boat. We trimmed (adjusted) it, and the boat seemed so happy. You can feel when the sails are right, because the boat rides and performs just the way you want her to. Once the jib was fully out, we shut the engines off. That is when things truly felt amazing. She was making 7+ knots (about 8mph) on 13 knots of wind. The solar cells were generating over a kilowatt of electricity, charging the batteries. Everything was quiet, controlled, efficient, and… just perfect. We sailed around the ocean for hours, tacking into the wind to adjust our course.

We also spent our sail time desalinating about 80 gallons of water, doing laundry, cooking, and cleaning the boat inside and out (or as cruisers put it, “keeping things yachty”). It was a fantastic day.

That night, we dropped anchor in a cove on the quiet side of the island where we would be sheltered from the wind, but I didn’t like the way the anchor addressed the seabed. I ended up “diving the anchor” to have a look at it, and I was still not comfortable with it. We tried three times to get it to dig in and set properly, but it simply was not having it with this floor. Consequently, I was up most of the night, checking to ensure we weren’t dragging. The one consolation was that the stars were brilliant. My worries turned out to be unfounded; by morning, we had not budged an inch. I think a lot of new boat owners have similar experiences.

Very limited internet has requiring a bit more adjustment than I expected. That said, I think it’s a good thing that I don’t have it 24/7.