Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving to all!!!

The Barco Crew has been up and working on dinner since 0730. It is currently 0915 and all the supporting dishes are ready to cook or are done. Pies are cooling and cats are complaining. The big chicken goes on about 1230 for a four hour roasting on the Weber charcoal grill.

We have plenty to be thankful for; We still have jobs, which enable us to maintain this very nice lifestyle we enjoy. Our families haven't lost any loved ones over the past year, most of us are still healthy and able to go about our days with little hinderance

We pause to think of all of our Service people who are serving in tough conditions, away from their loved ones so we can enjoy our safety and comfortable lives. They deserve the most thanks.

All the best! To our small readership; May all your days be filled with happiness and love as we remember our blessings, today.

DC, SWWBO, Mao, Mali and Saffy. (And Hyacinth Bucket!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wildebeest wildly wends way westward!

Ok. Maybe South-westerly; But it was in the proper direction towards the Caribbean.

The Spanish Main. El Caribe. "Florida juts like a guiding thumb, to the islands of Rhumba and Rum..." etc.

The first afternoon at sea was a little bit bumpy, the seas were building with the winds which were from the East. There was some frustration still, with the self steering inoperative and the point punctuated by the useless hydraulic piston binding our helm.

Night came the usual time, about when the sun went down, and we divided into two watches of two. The waves made the boat bounce about and I wanted to make sure that the helmsman would be able to manage sail adjustments and any other emergent actions without having to leave the wheel. Plus, nothing like having someone there to give moral support when things look darkest.

"What's the real reason you needed two in the cockpit at all times?"

Me: "Well, I don't feel comfortable leaving the Spousal Unit at the helm alone, without me being there to take care of heavy work... Plus, I knew the "Boys" needed to have someone there for assistance."

The watches were four hours on, Four hours off.

The reality was that when it was my watch, it literally was MY watch. I would let the Spousal Unit take the wheel for short periods, but the rocking and rolling were very difficult for her ankles. For Richard and Chris? They did a half hour apiece with the resting hand taking a snooze in between tricks on the wheel.

The next morning was a bit over cast with gusty winds. The seas were a gray color with little white caps, but otherwise steady. We were settling in and we breakfasted on Hoo Hash and toast with coffee chaser. Nothing notable other than seeing a few commercial ships heading to the East into the Med.

Afternoon was approaching and the seas became more gentle with the winds dropping to eight knots. Very comfortable, main and head sail doing the beam reach thing. This was actually enjoyable!

Night time we were becoming a little weary, sleep being less than four hours between watches. I was becoming snippy ijn my dealings with everyone on the boat.

Third day was a sunshiny day, winds continued to be light and variable. During the my middle of the night turn we were approached by a commercial vessel, who did not seem to respond ot our navigations lights. SO I fired up a search light into the Pilot House. Quickly, the vessel turned slightly and passed us by. I think they were a-snooze at the wheel and our radio calls and light rustled them awake.

We continued on our course to the Canary Islands, and really weren't sure which we would go to. We figured on Gran Canaria, due to the main population center being there (Las Palmas) and the fact that Jimmy Cornell's "Atlantic Rally for Cruisers" begins there for the massive annual sailboat rally from the Canaries to St Lucia.

(Of course, the Wildebeest III missed the ARC departure window due to reasons alluded to earlier...)

The fourth morning was pretty bumpy, with winds building and us reefing our sails.

I took over the morning watch and really had to wrestle the helm to keep us on course.

All of a sudden; THE HELM GOT EASY TO TURN!!!!!!!

That usually means that loss of helm control has occured, a MAJOR MALFUNCTION!

My favorite word came flowing forth like a river. Each sentence began with a F and usually ended with a ing or something like that. I passed the useless helm to Chris and ran below to see if we could salvage steering, otherwise I would have to set up the emergency tiller, big "if" we still had a rudder.

I was even more afraid at that moment, then all of Biscay Bay because there is no rescue off of Africa.

Ripping the mattress and bedding off of our berth, I jumped in to the steering quadrant with both feet.


Cables are present? Check.

Connected? Check

Quadrant in place? Check

Water ingress? Nope!

Wait. What is this hydraulic piston assembly flailing about the rudder compartment?

I grabbed some cable ties and strapped the device clear of the rudder control assembly and asked for a steering check.


The wheel was now free of the terrible binding that the Windhunter piston had placed on the helm and it was actually easy to make adjustments to our course.

Good thing, the seas got even more bouncy with 15 to 20 knots of winds. But still we continued the mission. we were making good time now, about 5.5 knots and we could actually see the volcanic mountains on our RADAR, and we passed to the west of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura Islands. The day was getting better, the end was literally in sight! The Spouse and I were on pins and needles, trying to will the boat to go faster.

I forgot to mention that this day was my birthday, not that I celebrate this kind of nonsense, especially at sea. But what a great present to be within thirty miles of our goal and have had no malfunctions or troubles. (Forget the trivial loss of the steering system; We were going to get all that replaced in Las Palmas, right?)

It was now approaching midnight and the bay was in front of us. Normally, a sailboat should stand off shore and approach a new harbor in the morning with the sun behind us.

F*&^ that! I had channel fever, baby! I wanted ashore a.s.a.p. We had good charts, a GPS and functioning RADAR, right?

We merely had to find the breakwater, go to the East of it and head towards the channel lights that lead you to a small protected marina, surrounded by a inner breakwater.

That's all.

I had the RADAR going and we all argued as to where the navigation lights were and their physical location in front. We began heading towards a brightly flashing red light only to find that it was a traffic signal on flash. Bad head work...

Finally, we found the small entrance and made a left turn to the Texaco fuel dock and it was 0230 in the morning for the logbook landing time.

Muelle Deportivo de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria at Bluemapia

Click icons to view more - Map created by Bluemapia

My birthday present. I was touched, thinking of all the abuse I heaped on the crew and they still gave me a present.

We tied up snugly to the fuel dock and settled in for a quick beer and a nap. At 0630 the Texaco people came on and yelled at me for being at the dock. We quickly took on thirty gallons of fuel and moved off the dock. We were signaled into a berth across the way, so we secured the boat and checked in properly with the authorities and and harbor.

Afterwards, it was showers and Liberty Call for the crew, who vanished into the city.

The Spousal Unit and myself checked out the suitability of the Marina Watering Hole and befriended "Mohammed", our bartender host.

Crossed the street to check out the down town, we hoped to find the hardware stores and supermarkets.

The phone calls back to London with Windhunter were as fruitless as ever, they had lied about shipping our replacement gear for the self steering. I threatened to tell the entire boating world about the uselessness of their product and after sales service. They threatened to sue us for slander.

Lucky thing we were feeling a bit more confident about not having self steering or as we call it now, "Otto-Helm", since we were well and truly screwed for that particular year. If we happened to have another ten grand, we could have had a proper Ray Marine Auto Helm 6000 or 7000, but we had no more money to spend on repairs or upgrades.

We made some small repairs and filled the food bins to the max with cabbages, apples, Spanish Tuna in Olive Oil, olives and the like. Departure for our crossing was waiting on a proper weather window; In the mean time we partied and ate well. We even had a "Mexican Dinner Night" in which we enjoyed homemade Fajitas and Margaritas. The bottle of Gran Marnier we bought for the Margaritas is only half empty and rests in our liquor locker at home, today!

After about seven days in port, things were getting a bit expensive. The dockage was about forty bucks a day, food, beverages and stress were all adding to the costs. Finally, we identified the 20th of December for our departure. It was getting very late for a good crossing so we had to take the first good weather window to move.

I called my Mom in California, she sounded a little worried but knew we would be as safe as can be. She said the Mogwai and Jellicle Cat's were missing us and she hoped the sail would be a good one. It was a short good by, and I hung up. It felt like a final farewell, in a way. I hoped there was no foreshadowing going on...

Paid off the Marina and checked out with immigration; Let's get this show on the road!

1220 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) Position N28* 07.603 W015* 25.562 Course 180T
Wnds NNE 7-15 kts Barometer 1044mb Log 2160NM Engine RPM 2K

Notes; Cloudy, Occ Rain Temps Low 70's kind of cool.

"Finally departing Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Espana. Richard T. and Chris N. Crew."

I had a song in my mind, "Barometer Soup" by Jimmy Buffett.

Barometer Soup by Jimmy Buffett, Roger Guth, Russ Kunkel, Peter Mayer, and Jay Oliver

Follow in my wake
You’ve not that much at stake
For I have plowed the seas
And smoothed the troubled waters
Come along let’s have some fun
The hard work has been done
We’ll barrel roll into the sun
Just for starters

Just for starters
Barometer’s my soup
I’m descended from a deckhand on a sloop
I travel on the song lines
That only dreamers see
Not known for predictability

Come and follow in our wake
You’ve not that much at stake
For we have plowed the seas
And smoothed the troubled waters
Come along let’s have some fun
Seems our work is done
We’ll barrel roll into the sun
Just for starters

Sail the main course
In a simple sturdy craft
Keep her well stocked
With short stories and long laughs
Go fast enough to get there
But slow enough to see
Moderation seems to be the key

Constantly searchin’
Oh my eyes have seen some horizons
And I’ve crossed the ocean for more than just thrills
No I’m not the first
Won’t be the last
You lust for the future
But treasure the past

Follow in my wake
You’ve not as much at stake
For I have plowed the seas
And smoothed the troubled waters
Come along let’s have some fun
The hard work has been done
We’ll barrel roll into the sun
Just for starters
We’ll barrel roll into the sun
Just for starters
We’ll barrel roll into the sun
Just for starters

I just didn't want to do any of that Barrel Rolling thing. I'm serious about the music: It was really in my mind because i had to have something rolling around in my head! Later in the cruise it was mostly Bob Marley, but only after it warmed up.

The thrill and the excitement, and not a little apprehension was stirring our insides. This was going to be a big deal.

Three thousand miles to Barbados, right?

Not on topic: I want to slide this tune in just for Caribbean Soul. Jimmy in Anguilla doing one of my favorites from 1988, it got me through my Fast Frigate days on the USS Lang and the USS Gray;

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weekend Update

We will take a pause from our trip which is on it's way to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

Friday came up and I used our new fangled steam mop and attempted to steam clean house floors. After that was finished I made my way to the Barco Sin Vela, and found that our maintenance had not been performed by Nick and his associates. That left me to pressure wash the Barco in preparation of our performance as Race Committee boat for the Kings Day Regatta, where we would be highly visible to the National Level of J-24 racers.

What I mean to say is that I had to knock the crud off our boat. There was plenty, believe me.

People walking by beheld me in awe, (Having never before seen me at work!) being that I was fully involved in cleaning for the space of four hours and was unaware of any other presence but my needle sharp spray removing gunk from the white surfaces of the Barco. Yuck. (I was made aware of this by people stopping by at the bar where they made mention of my afternoon industry)

It was an early evening, without any sustenance but bar food (Chicken Wings)and a couple of beers to call nourishment. As I had worked a full day, a full night's rest would be required before turning to for the next day's races.

Saturday was spectacularly calm, with nary a zephyr. We called it a day at 1500, there being not a breath of breeze. Naturally, at 1600 the wind was blowing blazes.

This is a series of photo's of a boat practicing spinnaker sets within the confines of a narrow boat dock. Amazing teamwork!

Bed time was 2130 on Saturday, for we had to be up and at'em for a 0830 departure. The winds came out for that days racing, and we had three great races in the St Johns River. This is my favorite picture;

Race Committee begins Start Sequence;

And the Start!

And the WINNER of the first race!

Some pictures of the next couple races;

This is the Regatta Winner, "Half Ass"

The Race Committee was very professional, and all we had to do was bring the boat. It was a great way to show the Barco Sin Vela, and a fun way to watch some great sailing competition.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We depart for Rota, Spain!

The normal refueling and running about was rapidly completed, since we had been underway just four days before. We were completely ready with no last minute issues; All waypoints had been established and entered into both GPS's and the distance from Portimao to the Bay of Cadiz was only about 100 nautical miles away, so it would be a piece of cake.

The winds picked up a bit with about 15 gusting to 20 from the West, and the seas got slightly lumpy. It never was a real problem (compared to Biscay!) which it may have been scary at any other time but I knew it was almost a pleasant ride that would be over soon.

Fatigue did its normal thing to me, and the hours from 0100 to 0500 were a blur, I just knew to keep the boat on a Southeasterly heading and the journey would take care of it's self.

Sunrise found us about ten miles from the Bay opening, and we had a nice cuppa coffee as we passed by the Puerto Santa Maria, which I thought would be full of fishing and local cruisers.

Here is a depiction of Puerto Santa Maria and Old Rota;

Good looking, isn't it?

"Why weren't you going there?" You might ask.

"Oh, we want to visit Puerto Sherry, the newest and most modern sailing destination in the Southwest Spain!"

Sounds great.

We pull into the large and vacant marina, find a berth and tie up. I go up and down the docks and find a small office open. They check us in and the charges will be a bit more than we were used to.

I asked about the closed up restaurants and taverns.

"Closed for the season. We will open back up in the spring... you should have been here back in September!"


We took a cab into the old town and made our way to the Naval Station Rota. Our friend Rocky, was still stationed there and was expecting us to visit.

Only we can't get on base. Really!

I had visited Rota about five or six times while deployed on the Deyo and Elrod, but it had been five years since my last visit. It seems when I went out into town (Twice) I hadn't noticed the rules for entering the base.

The ID in my pocket was still Active Duty, since my Retired ID would not be issued to me until I had completed my travel home. (Heh heh!) I had no orders that gave me any business on base, therefore I am not allowed on station. It was a Status of Forces deal, and to this day I haven't a clue why this is, other than the Spanish don't want U.S. Military retirees lurking near the base not paying the local rates for food and other necessities.

We got hold of the Rockster and he came out to get us.

Through some sort of irregular shenanigans, we obtained a signed leave chit which allowed us access to the base. This enabled us to use the Library, Medical facilities, Pizza Joint, Sports Bar and the one little "Stop and Rob" shop across base, which sold sundries.

Totally unexpected. I thought we would be able to restock our boat with American goodies! In fact, had I known of this horse-squeeze, I would have just stayed in Portimao.

Rock asked us why we weren't staying at the little fishing marina, conveniently located a mile from the base?

I told Rock about the wonderful Puerto Sherry, blah blah... blah."

A quick walk and we arrived at the Marina, spoke to the nice Manager and arranged for a berth at a price that was almost half of the big marina, plus the advantage of a more central location in regards to the nice old town of Rota, proper.

We got a ride back to the Puerto Sherry, spent a very quiet night and vowed to be underway the next morning. And we did.

Upon tying up we met some folks who we sorta knew from London. This established our bona-fides and we settled in to the dock side living right away. Restaurants and hardware stores were a-plenty along with some great super mercados.

Repairs were made (I had to climb the radar mast to clean and lube the rotating antenna), also general cleaning from our previous month at sea.

Our crew, Chris and Richard, were scheduled to arrive five days hence. Chris and Richard are members of the Little Ship CLub in London, Chris was the Rear Commodore (East Coast) and had been with us from Brest to Leixoes. Richard was an instructor for the RYA in competent sailing crew and coastal sailing. We thought that they would be a valuable addition to the Wildebeest "Gnu Crew" ocean crossing team.

The five days went fast, being full of chores and the day to day going out and about. We did the internet cafe every day for emails and contacts with our loved ones at home and interested friends everywhere. But there was something about being in Rota that made me unhappy;

Nothing happens in Rota between 1300 until 1900!!!

Nothing. Siesta.

No food. No restaurants. No bars. No internet cafe.

The problem is that I had never lived in a Mediterranean type town and had no idea of the traditions.

For instance; When I was traveling around the Med with the Navy, we tended to look for a market to buy beer and wine, then go off somewhere to drink it. I never paid attention to the deserted streets or closed establishments. Oh, I remember hearing from the single guys complaining that the night clubs didn't open until 2300; I attributed that the the European model of partying until sun-up.

"Wildebeest III" had a model of living which meant that we held reveille at 0600-ish and we would work through the day until about 1600, call it quits and look for a watering hole. We were in bed by 2200 most nights.

Being fair, the stores in Rota opened at 0900 but were shutting down between 1100 and 1300, just when I have identified a part or item that needed replacing. Also, it makes a lot of sense to be closed during the hottedt part of the day where you went home, enjoyed a great mid day meal with your family and took a little snooze until 1800. The business would open around that time so you would go to work then, and carry on in the cool of the evening. The evening meal is at 2230ish and if you carroused or went to bars, well you went at midnight!

Really, I wish I could live like that but I can't. But I do respect that lifestyle, it is more family centric.

Even the Marina Dog likes his siesta time;

After a couple weeks we were deep into the frustrating war between Us and the Wind Hunter Company. You see, we did not test the Windhunter after it had been installed, the boat had to get out of town too quickly. the assumption was that it would be easiest to do it in Rota with the built in delay of three weeks in port and two extra hands to make it work.

Bad headwork!

The Wildebeest was out on a bright morning testing the Windhunter; This meant being out in the Gulf outside the Bay deploying a towed turbine device (looks like a propeller) with two hundred feet of braided line. We got the turbine spinning and the machine was stiff and trying to break in. The spinning line turned a generator and hydraulic pump. This powers a 1500 PSI ram which operated a control on the rudder. On paper it was a fantastic idea.

The Windhunter would only hold a wind course, not a compass heading, which was unsat. It minimally held the wind course at that. We paid for the top of the line Wind Hunter which steered to compass headings. We expected no less for the huge amount of money we paid.

We tried twice, testing on the water. I could not trust this thing to not send us out of control, so we stepped up the complaints.

First of many frantic phone calls to London.

If we had been in the UK, we could have drove a car to the factory and picked up the parts that they would now send us. Or choked the life out of someone who was putting a cramp on our trip. Nobody sails an ocean without a self steering device, and it was a little late to be ordering another style of device.

We were told our "Logic" assembly was not good, that batch had proved to be less than properly made. The magnetic sensors on the ram were inop, too. A new package with the updated device would be sent via overnight.

So we waited a week, no Logic device. No sensor switches, either.

Called every day; Same result. "It's on its way."

They lied. Never sent the gear. We didn't know this until much later, after wasting three weeks.

Thanksgiving came, we celebrated by purchasing a very large chicken (The oven was too small for a turkey). I did not know that chickens in Spain come with the head and feet attached. I had to remove the neck and feet before the Spouse would go near it. We had a great feast and invited the crew of "Papeche" to dine with us.

Left to right; Tony, Laurie, Chris and Richard.

It was a wonderful dinner and great fun to have our neighbors with us. Tony and Laurie had sailed from Annapolis to the Azores and arrived at Rota a week before. "Papeche" was a Morgan 38 and Wildebeest was a Morgan 43. Papeche was retired Army, I was of course Navy. There are some more Military similarities, but due to OPSEC and a 75 year no talk document I signed, well we will leave it there.

The mood was getting quite tense after Thanksgiving, since all Atlantic sailors know that the window of opportunity is between 25 November through 25 December; I did not know exactly why there was such a narrow window, Hurricane season seems obvious, but I would soon find out!

The Spousal Unit and I were getting kind of upset with our crew, too. It was the stress of the delays, mainly, plus we were getting to know the personalities much, much better. Stuff you would never find out over three years of casual acquaintanceship. Only in very close quarters do some of these traits come out. Not all the fault of the crew.

There were some very serious discussions being privately held between the Boss and me. We would walk to the base and go to the club and be able to chat frankly and alone. We even started feeling that our journey would have to be put on "delay" due to lack of Windhunter parts. The Air Terminal had C-5's that regularly flew to Dover and Travis, and that was a way we could get home, work over the Winter and return in May for a journey into the Med and a target of visiting Turkey and Greece.

On base in Rota; The VQ-2 Don

On one of our evenings at the Sports Bar, a familiar voice mentioned my name and rank that asked why I was in Rota... It was a Lieutenant I flew with at HSL-44, he happened to be on the USS Elrod with my old 44 detachment!

The Spousal Unit had never seen the Ol' Elrod we were welcomed aboard as guests and did a quick tour around the public spaces. My name was still on the plaque listing all the Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialists who had qualified since 1987, so I had that street cred going for me. She finally got to see the ship and spaces that had been a big part of the '90's for me.

The fun thing was to be able to not have to have a "Liberty Buddy" and not have to be back to the ship at a certain time.

Cruising around Rota, it was easy to remember that history was made ther. It had to, with the natural position of the nortern part of the Bay of Cadiz. It is said that Columbus left Cadiz, but the truth is that he left Rota.

Here is a picture (taken through a window in the old city wall) of the Curch where Columbus and his Captains received their blessings from the Church and Crown;

Some more views around the wall and the adjacent beach;

Here is the walk into town;

A view of the Marina. Our boat is fifth from the right;

There was much to consider and more to discuss. Over the space of a week we cajoled Windhunter, whined and argued our next step. Finally, we told the crew of our thoughts; They were quite upset. I understand, totally; They took off time and spent money to come down and be available.

"But we don't have our self steering done."

They were willing to hang out as long as it took to make this cruise happen.

You have to hand it to them; They were equally as miserable as us, more so if you consider that we were controlling the destiny.

We gave a warning that a final decision was coming up that afternoon. It was Sunday and it was 1300. I promised they would know by 1800.

The Spouse and I walked to the base. We checked availability of flights home and put ourselves on the stand by list. Afterwards we went to the bowling alley and had a burger and some cokes. We talked about sailing offshore with and without self steering. Another point was our crew. We liked and disliked a number of things. Could they handle hand steering?

Point for them was that they would probably never get the chance to sail across the ocean again. They were both in their fifties, and these deals are rare.

She who will be listened to said, "Look, if we go home and get jobs, we will probably wind up losing our boat or having it stolen. The longer away the more chance of not doing, I say let's bite the bullet and get on with it. And we need to leave in the next two days or not at all."


Ok. Were going. we informed the crew, who acted a little like they really didn't want to go. But did.

We made one last round of stores and cast off lines at 1600 the next Tuesday. This is the last photo of Rota, the Icon of Mary on the Jetty;

I said a little prayer because we were off on a five day trip to the Gran Canaria island. We would be crossing the approach to the Mediterranean and heading for the great unknown.