Wildebeest III Arrives in Southampton for refit and launch...
The charts for our UK sailing have been found and I can start this tale back up. Buck
has been talking about clutter and and such, but he has nothing
on me. There is fifteen years of junk piled up in two back bedrooms with the bric-a-brack of three boats, charts, navigation tools and study materials never to be used again.
The charts were in two boxes, one in the cat bedroom and the other in a closet of the unused gym.
I tried out the new scanner, got the Southampton river scanned, but could not get the file to save where I want it. So that means I will try to get it up by evening.
Enter the Wayback machine
...; October 1996, The Spousal Unit and myself were living in a ground floor flat on Bishops Bridge Road in West London. Our "Wildebeest III
", a 1985 Morgan 43, had arrived in Southampton Dock for further transport to our new home at St Katharine's Dock, East London.
After the boat arrived in Southampton, we spent about ten days making the two and a half hour drive, (Three of us jammed into a Nissan left drive pickup) performing the maintenance required for a boat that would be required to make the arduous trip around the South East of England, where our boat could rest in a harbor which would be our home for the next couple of years. We sanded the bottom, applied two coats of ablative cuprous oxide paint
to protect the hull from barnacles and algae, and generally re rig and update the boat for some hard use. Oh, and we changed the name of the vessel from the pansy name of "Wende
" to the more manly "Wildebeest III
", being the third vessel of that fine moniker.
You can see my 1994 Nissan Pickup, Left Hand Drive.
Among many challenges, one particular snag we ran into was the lack of navigational charts being available for purchase of the South Coast of England. It seems that September and October are the months when sailing courses are taught throughout the coastal areas of the UK. So this meant all the charts were gone and the merchants hadn't thought about reordering. This was my first taste of the inefficiencies of living in England and we would enjoy many more before our time there was finished... Merchants will not keep stock of anything
on hand. By the way; There were no electrical cords or charts to be had. Anywhere. How about London, at Adlard Coles Chandlery, by Liverpool station? No. How about the the big chandlery at Lymington, by the boatyard? No. None. ..."Can't be helped."
I stopped by the CINCUSNAVEUR Command Center, where Operational Specialists and Quarter Masters were naturally gathered. Yes, they had some of the charts, but they weren't supposed to give any away. Digression time
It reminded me of that M*A*S*H episode where the Doctor's are trying to get an incubator, but the Supply Sergeant has three on hand; Indeed, he is required to have three on hand and if he issues out one, why he would only have two
left, wouldn't he? Digression off
Quartermaster Chief; "We are supposed to have three charts, and if we give you one, we would not be compliant with our rules, sorry."
It just so happened that there would be a big formal party to celebrate the Navy's birth anniversary. Friday came and we dressed in our best formal wear and celebrated the Navy's birth day in style, while still trying to gather all the materials for the trip. It was a great Ball, held at the Park Place Hotel by Hyde Park in London. Our new N3, Captain Kirk Lewis stopped by my table and asked how the boat saga was going?
I got my charts and an American Flag the next day. Funny how that works out...
Relaunch complete, we head down the Hamble River for the English Channel...
The Wildebeest III had a new stern and bottom paint job and the time for getting underway was upon us. We took a train to Portsmouth and a taxi to the Hamble Boatyard. Once there, we set about preparations to set sail the following morning. After setting up charts and making a good plan we decided to do a last meal at one of the pubs by the Royal Air Force Yacht Club.
Dinner consisted of pints of London Pride Bitters and plates of steaming Lamb Shoulder with mashed potatoes. I remember this because the price was so reasonable, about three British Pounds a plate! We limped back to the boat fully gorged and ready for sleep.
The next morning, we had pre departure jitters.
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Reveille was at 0500, and we started the mighty Perkins 4/108 and slipped our berth about ten minutes later. We headed Southwest down the Hamble and soon found ourselves in the Solent, which is the most popular sailing region of the UK. Once in the Solent, we kept in the center of the channel, passing the Isle of Wight on our starboard heading East while passing close aboard the Napoleonic Water Forts.
Due to tidal push, we passed Isle of Wight rapidly, since we luckily had the tides with us. This was the first time I had ever felt real tidal ranges and the effect on slow moving sailboats. We literally flushed like a toilet into the sea. I could see the Beachy Head Light in the distance and thought that our journey to London would go smoothly and fast.
Ok everyone, say in loud unison; NOT!
After passing out of the Solent into the English Channel proper, I noticed that Beachy Head was staying the same size. It wasn't getting larger. We were beginning to rock side to side from the big Southerly breeze and the nice swells that came with those winds.
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I was getting a little seasick
... Ok, I'm lying. It was serious seasick and the greenness of my gills was threatening to become a "technicolor yawn"! My insides had never felt that way on a boat, maybe a little bit of queesiness, but it always went away in a few hours.
This is the voice in my head talkin'; "Maybe it's because you have never actually sailed
Oh yes, I was feeling it. And I was thinking about all the years of smack talking, talkin' loudly about sailing and cruising.
Heck, it was all I could do to keep from puking.
One good thing we discovered, the Spousal Unit has the insides of IRON
! She could go below, despite all the bouncing around, mark a point on the chart, get sandwiches and generally hold the crew together.
The sun was beginning to set, got a quick picture of a seasick skipper;
Brighton. Zoom in on this, it is a great vacation spot and has a beach of pebbles, vice sand.
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After about six hours, the tide literally turned and we began flying towards the East. We soon passed by Brighton, which was the last Marina opportunity until Dover. Dover is a complete madhouse of movement, with a couple of ferry companies and a Hovercraft outfit leaving and entering the Dover terminal, shooting across the Channel to Calais, Dunkirk and LeHavre.
Biggify this Dover Picture and zoom in. Fascinating place to visit and a great way to go to France. Verrrry Busy
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The sun was setting on us as Brighton was left in our wake. I went below to snooze for a while, hoping to feel a little better. Plus, I was hoping things would settle down and maybe even sleep and wake up in calmer waters.
As we approached Dover, all hands were summoned to keep a watch for fast ferries feverishly flying for French freedom.
That was seven words starting with "F". I win!
We began a slow turn to the Northeast. That was when I was given the helm and informed that I had to keep a course to the next waypoint. The Spousal unit and our nice Crew, "Dave Kyser." went below to catch up on their naps while I gamely kept the 'Beest on her heading.
We were using a Garmin 45XL Hand held GPS, it was the most modern small unit at the time. Very accurate and very expensive. When you set a waypoint, a specific geographical place on the globe, the GPS will show a "highway" with the miles to go and direction indicated on the top of the screen. The picture literally looks like a road, with a right and left side with a line up the middle. The goal is to stay between the lines and don't drift too far to the right or left of your road.
I got the following picture of a Garmin 45XL from an auction site
Please go there and buy this item. I still love the old Garmin 45XL!
Here is a good picture of the Highway:
I was diddy-bopping along, heading Northeast and feeling very tired and not so seasick. I knew I was to the right of the path I needed to stay in, but the coast of France was about ten miles to the right and Kent was about eight miles to the left. What could possibly go wrong, right?
There was no chart in the cockpit. I couldn't know that we were on a collision course with the Goodwin Sands, right in the center of the English Channel!!! A known idiot collector of the highest magnitude!
Many wrecks, a mariner has to keep a sharp eye on their chart and position regularly to avoid an impromptu get together with the solid sands.
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A cluebat hit me on the noggin when I saw the depth meter go from three hundred feet to 45 feet in moments.
Oh, and the sound of big waves crashing on something
. At first, I stayed quiet waiting to see what it was and whether I was imaginimg things, again. Finally though, I played it safe and called all hands on deck.
"What's the matter", Dave asked quickly.
I gave a quick, "Depth just went from 300 to 45". We are clear of land.
"What's the Lat/Long?" Dave responded.
I gave the Latitude and Longitude.
After a moment of nervous quiet I get an agitated, "Turn to 280 degrees".
Huh? I didn't quite understand the call...
"Turn the boat LEFT, NOW!!!" Was Dave's yell.
So I did. Dave brought the chart up and showed how close we were to becoming the newest victim of the Goodwin Sands. Scared the H E double Toothpicks out of me, it did!
My resolution was that I was going to do what it took to get my navigation up to UK standards. I felt completely rebuked for not paying enough attention to keeping the position inside the GPS "Highway".
"But I was only a half mile to the right, what's wrong with that? Look at how far we are from France", I whined to myself.
Meanwhile, we still had to get out of this mess and it was getting to be 0300...
Wildebeest III enters the Thames...
So, There I was
It was now about 0430, and the boat was hauling along pushed by a fair tidal current, doing about 7 knots and this time, I was sticking to the navigational program while desperately trying to keep awake. Dave was noticeably nervous too, and would poke his head up every few minutes to ensure that I hadn't nodded off.
Cold, damp, rocking back and forth while fighting nausea was not my idea of a good time.
We passed Ramsgate and soon entered the Thames Estuary and made the turn to the west. The winds calmed way down and the sun made its slow rise on our backs. Some coffee and morning style snackage made being awake a bit easier as we continued our mission to the St Katherine's Dock by the Tower Bridge.
The Kentish coast was to our South, a mile or so away. Most people would think that our journey was getting easier, right?
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We were just past Margate and were steaming along quite happily, enjoying brekkies and coffee when the Customs Boat came flying up on our port side.
"Heave to, please", the Nice armed Customs man requested via loudspeaker.
I pulled back power and quickly, two men were onboard giving us all the look of "What are you doing..."
They began the 20 questions;
Who are you. Passports?
Where did you come from? Last Port?
Next Port? Where is your Original Importation Certificate
"I gave it to the Customs Officer in Southampton", said I.
The Customs Guy; "Well, we need to have the Original, or we can seize your boat until you pay the 18% importation Fee."
Remember a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I made about 30 Original
, signed copies?
Hah! I love it when my plan comes to fruition!!!
I gave the nice Man my "only original", and he made a note and of course, took it with him.
"What am I going to do if another Customs Boat comes along and needs my original Importation Certificate?"
"Oh, don't worry. They won't ask for one, since I have it." Said Leader Customs Dude.
After a few moments of regular chit chat, they gave us a "Cheerio, Welcome to the United Kingdom" noise and they were off.
Soon, we came upon some really ominous looking Forts on the water. I went to this website Maunsell Forts
to let you see what we came upon on the misty waters.
They looked like "Imperial Walkers", or whatever George Lucas called them in the Star Wars series. Here is a advertisement for a Toy "Walker"
These were looking much more creepy in the foggy morning as we passed by slowly. Totally cool!
(Thanks to subterrain.org.uk
for allowing non-profit use of these great Hywel Williams images!)
Apparently, these structures were finally abandoned in 1956 and squatters came in the mid-sixties and set up "pirate radio stations".
We zoomed merrily along, not really cognizant that we happened to have lucked on the right timing to have the tide push us into the River Thames, proper. We passed the Isle of Sheppey and the sunk Liberty Ship with warning signs all around. It seems that this vessel is still filled with thousands of 500 pound ordnance for the Army Air Corps and they government just didn't want to disturb the ship and its lethal cargo.
If a flea was to flatulate within 300 yards, we could all go up in a giant bang!
Note; I tried to find the wreck on Google Maps, but mysteriously, it won't show.
Things that make you say, "Hmmmmm."
We finally got into the River, and things were really looking up for us, a mere thirty miles away from our destination. Dave went below to make an early lunch, which turned out to be Campbell's chicken soup with no water added. Pretty salty, but what the hey. Some people don't know cooking
We were now getting into the London Docklands and it was very industrialized. This was when the fanbelt on the motor decided to let go.
Instantly, an alarm started squealing, letting me know that the Perkins 4-108 was now overheating.
I immediately pulled the boat to the right, heading for the nearest dock to effect a quick repair. We tied up quickly and I went below looking for a fanbelt. I knew that there was at least four of them on board, so no problem.
While I was going through every locker in my hasty search, a Dock Official came up and said, "Uh, you need to leave, now".
I asked why, since we were trying to fix our boat?
"Look over there, mate. That ship is pulling up here and he will smash your boat because he needs to tie up now."
I start motor without fan belt, get underway in one minute and raise sails.
We were well and truly Clucked. Dammit!
Now we began the most scary and exciting sail in my short career, tacking back and forth on the river trying to make way West, into a westerly wind. With no motor. There was only about another thirty miles to go, at a speed of five knots...
Tighten and set sail on port tack, go about two hundred yards, TACK!
Go on Starboard tack about two hundred yards, TACK!
Back and forth, trying to make way using all of our remaining strength to keep the boat intact and safe.
So as we were bashing back and forth on a crowded and industrial river, I was down below tossing the boat looking for a fan belt.
"Didn't you make sure we had enough spares?" Asked my smarmy crew.
"Yes, I made sure there were spares
, especially for the motor!"
I went through every locker, every drawer. No fan belts. I tried to use my cellphone to find phone numbers to any marinas on the Thames. I got the number to Gallions Reach, called them, but the damned British Vodaphone cell phone kept cutting out. All I got over the phone is that the marina was after the green crane.
Green Crane? WTF is the Green Crane
??? I could see two green cranes. Neither of them hid the opening to a two hundred year old locked dock!
32 hours of straight underway time had really affected my temper and any coherent, rational headwork was seriously lacking. Now, I was in a full blown panic because I was responsible for a boat and three souls and we were running out of options, stuck in a situation of trying to tack against a wind and a now turning tide.
The Thames flows with a tidal flow and current in excess of five knots. This is bad, since we can only go max - maybe seven knots under power.
Finally, I figured we were within VHF hailing distance and I tried calling. Turns out my two U.S. radios only work one way, either outbound or inbound. We set one radio on International, and would call out while listening on the "U.S" set radio. (This was our cross to bear for the entire four year stay.)
Gallions Reach called back that they had us in sight!
We made about three more tacks and seemed to just reach the marina, but when we turned towards the gate the tide would pull us back to the East! Maximum cursing and
I made a snap, command decision: I turned on the engine, ready to let it destroy itself in a last savage thrust to make it to safety.
Since there are no anchorage places in Downtown London. We would have to let the tide take us back to the Isle of Sheppey to find an anchorage.
I powered the boat while under combination sail/engine power right up to the Lock that led to the quiet, "We're closing-in-ten-minutes" marina. I secured the engine as soon as the lines were in the dockmaster's hands! We muscled the boat into the dock and over to a berth.
We scurried about and secured sails, put away gear and policed the boat to make sure it would be ready to move the next day. My crew needed rest and two of us needed a beer, yesterday.
It was now about 1700, and we had completed the most harrowing journey in my short sailing career, we had traveled about two hundred mile in varying conditions with a total lack of expertise and we felt very lucky to have had no real problems driving our new boat. We called up a mini-cab to take us home for some showers and clean clothes. It was Tuesday after all, and that meant Little Ship Club
There was a great sense of relief as we grabbed our bags. I went into the cabin one final time and grabbed the charts and opened up the Navigation Desk
I pulled the top up...
And found FOUR FREAKING FAN BELTS!!!!
In the Navigation Desk. Not in a parts locker or tool box.
It goes to show; Whatever is lost will be found in the last place place you look.
Sail on, Wildebeest!
We head back to our flat, on Bishops Bridge Road...
" came and brought us out of the Docklands and returned us to our flat on Bishops Bridge Road. No small journey, this had us crossing through the City and into Westminster during the busiest time of day. It only cost us about a hundred bucks.
Can't be helped.
Here is the Map.
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We arrived at about 1830 at the Little Ship Club on Bell Wharf Lane and ran into the Club President, Robin Knox-Johnston. I was looking like quite the hero to our crew-person, Dave. We made the introduction and left those two chatting while we wandered the Club like real sailor-men, bragging about our brave trip from the Hamble River.
A quiet Moment by the Bar
Before we acquired the sailboat Wildebeest III
, we were treated like eccentric cousins who were probably in the Club on a lark and we were probably not true boaters. Most foreign members of the LSC tended to be Embassy types who liked boating but really liked drinking at a Private Club in London. Who doesn't? I guess we dashed all those stereotypes and went on and bought a boat. This made us suddenly interesting
Our friend Paul Ferris (Truly, the most fun and craziest person, evah!) had been a very welcoming member to us and who had been sailing on the Thames his entire life, came over to offer his help on moving the 'Beest to its home at St Katherines Dock. This is a good thing, since I had to be at work at the Headquarters on Wednesday, and could not hope to possibly get any more time away from my Naval Duties.
In the backsground is the Naval College at Greenwich.
Paul is a very funny, knowledgeable Jack of All Trades, known internationally for his pranks and for photographing what ever his exploits might have been... Here is a typical Paul quote;
"Ohhh, you should have BEEN
there, we had soooo much fun. "Here's the evEEEdence
(Digression; We were walking on the eastern side of Bequia, an island south of St Vincent. Some menacing islander youths came approaching Mother-in-Law, Spousal Unit and myself, and they were carrying machetes
. At the final moment of approach, I was getting ready to be mugged and was preparing to defend/fight/run when one of these youths points to Mother-in-Law's camera and say in a fun tone, "EvEEEdence
After staying up until 2330, drinking many beers and having closing drinks with The President, we stumbled on home via cab.
At 0700 the next day I returned to the Navy, while Spousal Unit met up with Paul at the boat for further transit to St Katherines.
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The Tower of London is immediately to the West of St Katherines Dock.
The Lock at St Katherines, Wildebeest III
making an entry.
I couldn't wait to get off work and see the 'Beest at her new home. I got over there about 1800 that evening and discovered that our new home was in a great spot which was right by the London Futures Exchange. CNN always shows St Katherines West Dock on their International Financial News, so we were near famous stuff!
The bad news was that there were no power cords available to get AC power to our boat. This situation would last a month.
More bad news; We needed to move on board in the next week, otherwise we would have to sign another year lease on the flat.
Moving aboard Wildebeest III was a challenge, more on That;
We were out of our flat by the end of the month, so that meant some rapid planning and execution. There was furniture to store and two closets worth of clothing. Fortunately for me, I had a little pickup truck to haul this gear.
There are no "pickup trucks" in the UK. Funny looking Japanese and Italian Bob-Tails, but no proper pickup trucks. A family might own an "estate car", which is similar to the old station wagons, only smaller.
My other challenge was to find a Storage Facility. In the land of the Great PX, these places are everywhere
. Too much crap in your house? No problem, mon. Drop it off here for a hundred bucks a month and we will make your problem disappear
Of course, these storage joints have 24 hour access.
Not in the UK. Open Monday through Friday, 0800 to 1800. Saturday from 0800-1300.
That's right, we close on Saturday at one o'clock. Because we would like time with our families, too.
EMBRACE THE SUCK!
The good thing about those insane hours? I had to be done by 1300 on Saturday, leaving me plenty of time to sit at a Pub (The Old Monk) and whine about the injustice, like a little girl.
Can't be helped!
SO, I get as much of our trash stowed as possible, packed half of our clothing onboard an unheated boat and commence to living aboard.
The Cats were the last to arrive, they whined, cried and growled as we dragged them on the boat.
They really took to the close quarters, never thinking of leaving, but I think they really dug people watching and sitting outside. And kitties really liked the close proximity to their favorite human, the "Bringer of Food".
They were also useful for warming, especially since the temperatures soon dropped to freezing. We finally got some power cords, I had to take a train to Lymington, which is on the western side of the Solent, near the Isle of Wight. We made a night of it and stayed in a hotel and partied up in one of the local pubs. We met a very interesting character there, who said he had a Pub/Inn that we should come back and visit. I don't have the name, although I know we made a log entry with his info. This person will return to my story in three years.
One thing about being a foreign boat owner; We really met many people who were interested in being friends and would give tips on how to overcome Shop-Owner caused obstacles. Plus, many of our new friends wanted to go sailing with us.
But our first problem was to be resolved with power cords, this meant we could put in a transformer (220ac to 110ac) to run our battery charger and we could plug in a heater. This is why we needed a heater. These photos show the ice in the water, I used to throw coins onto the ice and hear the "Ting Ting" of metal on hard ice.
We had some great friends on a wooden sailboat, "Fran". To stay warm on weekends, we would visit "Fran", a 60 foot wooden boat owned by an Expatriate American. They had a coal stove onboard. Toasty!
They were very good friends who enjoyed a cup of cheap wine and having guests.
The next challenge happened when the propane (for the stove) ran out. In America, this is not a problem... But in the UK, well, you need a local merchant to help out. The local propane dealer in the East End refused to help us in any way. They wanted us to spend 400 pounds to redo our system to meet British standards. When I asked to buy parts to make this happen on our own, they threw us out of the store saying they can't help us unless we complied with the law!
"Please leave, we have regular customers to serve."
The Spousal Unit was near tears, and I was threatening the shop keeper with violent actions.
We were sick and tired of freezing, there was ice on the water and we wanted to be back in Florida in the worse way. Fortunately, there was a boat a couple of berths down called "Mad River". These were proper cruisers who had some solutions for our cooking dilemma; You can decant Propane from one tank to another!
One would take a length of propane hose with two male ends and hook to a full tank, then, connect it with an empty tank. Turn the full one upside down, place the receiving tank on the ground or hold it lower than the full one. Open the receiver tank and then the full tank. The compressed gas liquid will flow to the empty one. The drawback is that you can't really get the receiving tank quite as full, but this was no matter since we now had a method of passing gas.
Months later, I finally took a train to a camping shop in West Ruislip, a couple doors from the pub and train station. They were very helpful with my situation, sold me a couple tanks and told me to use teflon tape on the hose threads to connect them to my existing American system.
Like I mentioned a couple days ago; There are shopkeepers in the UK who are happy to help anyone out. Just don't count on it in London.
Next up: Our First Frostbite Rally!
The Marina, St Katherine's Dock, owned and managed by Taylor Woodrow, was actually quite the dynamic sailing community. Each year, they sponsored a "Frostbite Rally" (How true!) where sailboats from throughout the Thames River community would come out, endure very cold weather for a chance to shake out the sails and race to Erith Yacht Club. And back. You see, a person cannot just sail any old way they desire... You must comply with the tides. No other way to go east or west without the water pushing you. Unless you have a motor. Big motor.
Digression time: I have been reading Samuel Pepys
' diary online, and I noticed that when ever the author had business at the Docklands (Pepys was based closer to Charing Cross) he would take a boat. 1. It was safer. A person could get hurt once he passed by the Tower and entered the very dangerous East End. 2. It was faster. If you go with the tide, you could really get up to 7 or 8 knots! So I noticed in his diary that he would inevitably wind up having a meal or staying all day at his business location. When the tide reversed he could get a boat and man to take him home. Oh, there was that little problem of Plagues and such...
So, in accordance with the tides, we had a start time of High tide starting to ebb. We could get to Erith in about an hour and a half, or so.
Naturally, I had absolutely no idea of the tides and wherever the heck Erith Yacht Club was or the distances involved. I got a local Pub Manager, Nigel, and my buddy Paul Ferris to crew for us. No doubt, it would be a great time!
Friday comes, and we waited in vain for Paul to show up. Finally, he shows up in a suit and tie, completely hammered at 0500 Saturday, Race day. I was not amused. All Paul could say was, "You should have been there, Tatty Bogle's was awesome, there were so many hot women, I have eveeedence..."
I put him to bed and got out and began preparing the boat for departure.
About 1100, we got underway to make progress through the crowded Marina to the lock and once outside we had to loiter around the starting line. Trying not to hit other boats or the Tower Bridge as we dawdled about. Paul was up and at'em at the crack of noon, seeming none the worse for his all nighter in So-Ho.
In fact, Paul asked for a can of cold Grolsch as he began to survey our sail situation. He started running up and down the boat, pulling this, adjusting that, while carrying a diminishing beer, while nursing what had to be a full blown 'gover, I was impressed.
As we traversed the West dock's bridge and entered the lock, people were beginning to notice our bimini top and full plastic forward enclosure. In fact, the locals were laughing at what they called "The Bloomin' Greenhouse". There was much hilarity, indeed.
We made our way out and headed for the Tower Bridge, about a hundred yards away. The Start line was at the Royal Naval Reserve Dock. All the boats zigged and zagged, I tried to keep us to the West, near the bridge to avoid colliding with the aggressive racers.
Again, we were made fun of and mocked for having the "liveaboard boat" with a greenhouse. The British are very proud of their sailing skills and are fierce racing competitors. But I still felt a twinge of resentment for being mocked. F*%^ those Guys...
Finally the starting gun sounded and we had a flying start. I think we were last over the line, but no bother. There was a fine Westerly breeze, blowing maybe ten knots. Add in the water speed of five knots and we had a net speed of about five knots of wind, so the breeze was a bit sparse, and we wobbled about.
We passed one, then two, three, then twenty boats or more in fast procession. It turns out that our old, blown out main and 150 Genoa were baggy and round, making an excellent shape for down wind running. Paul and Nigel, our crew were flitting about adjusting trim while I steered us gently, trying not lose speed with excess rudder inputs.
Here, we are passing Greenwich and the Cutty Sark.
I was really surprised that we had actually passed all
the boats, save one, a brand new 49 foot Swedish boat with new sails and a ringer crew. (read ringer as "Professional") I think if we had another five miles that we would have passed them, too!
Approaching the Erith Yacht Club
, we heard the finish gun. It was quite confusing to me, since I didn't use a chart (didn't have one!) and had no idea where we were. Paul and Nigel were the only one's who knew what was going on.
They were cheering and yelling, hootin' and hollerin', the nearest competition behind us was over a mile back!
Ok. It was a second place finish, but hey; The tone was much
more respectful that evening in the club bar. Plus, we barbecued four T-Bone steaks on our grill, while tied up in the mooring field. Many lustful glances were made as the meat bubbled and burned over the open grill.
At the bar, located on a beached disused ferry, we made merry in that great ferry bar and made friends with some of the other boats and crews. There was too many "Barley Pops", and I got the notion that our friends were keeping us up late. Maybe on purpose.
Reveille came at the crack of 0700. We shrugged off the cobwebs and faced a freshening breeze out of the West. We were second over the start line and began the tacking up the Thames routine.
I forgot to mention that the cats were onboard. They puked and cried from fear, especially with the slam and crack of each tack. One cat took refuge in our bed, burrowed under the blankets shivering in fear. The other one took to hiding in the wine bottle locker, each tack shoving full wine bottles back and forth.
Nevertheless, we had a mission on that windy and rainy day: Make it home! As we zig and zagged, we got progressively closer to the apartments and businesses (All built of brick!) and dodged large mooring balls. Paul would say, "Wait for it.... wait..."
I would say, "water is getting shallower, we're gonna hit bottom!"
Paul would continue cooing, "... miles of room, gallons of water--TACK!"
This exchange went back and forth, about thirty times. Finally, even Nigel was having enough of Paul's recklessness; "Dammit Ferris, this is their Home, for Gawd's sake!"
"Miles of room, gallons of water... look; we're gaining on them!"
View of the boats behind:
Finally, we arrived at the Tower bridge and I think we wound up third over all, before the PHRF times were adjusted. We locked through and enjoyed a great post race party. We were "Mentioned in Dispatches". Not too bad.
A couple days later, we received a note from the Taylor Woodrow organization, we were invited to Lunch with the Former Lord Mayor of London, Sir Robin Gillet (Lotsalaphabetafterhisname). I have pictures of that lunch, but haven't dug them up. They were nice enough to give us a Plaque in honor of our participation in the Frost Bite Rally of 1997:
Too much fun!
Next, Wildebeest III departs London and crosses the Channel for Calais!
The infamous Calais Trip; or—Our first voluntary voyage to the unknown!
The New Year with our boat started really slowly, we had much to learn about living aboard in a foreign country without the accessibility that we take for granted in America.
For instance; if I need a new t-shirt at 11:00 PM, I have the option of finding an open 24 hour Wally World or Tarzhey. For that matter, if I need a tuxedo shirt, I can get one after 6:00 PM at just about any open Men’s Store in Jacksonville.
Not in the City of London. Nor in Westminster. Shops close at 6:00 PM sharp on Oxford Street. In the City? Shops are closed by 5:00 PM.
Fuhgeddabout boating supplies and parts. There were three “Yacht Chandleries” near the Thames River. One is Adlard Coles, a fine shop near Liverpool Street Station, they were more for charts and navigation supplies and a good place to get nautical publications. Closed at 5:00 PM. There was another one on the highway, about three hundred yards from the Old Mint, but they closed at 6:00 PM, but did not have quite the inventory. Finally, there was a really nice Chandlery by the Charing Cross Station, closed at 6:00 PM and more of the marine stuff that a tourist or non-boat owner would want.
None would have whatever I really needed at the moment, but they could order for me any part if it was in their catalog.
Catalog sales in the 90’s?
You bet. You see, there was not much different between me outfitting my boat and say, Ernest Shackleton
preparing to order provisions and supplies for his Antarctic Expedition in 1914. The catalogs and the telephones were the same. Actually I’m being unfair; Shackleton had better access to marine supplies.
The Londoners are fiercely proud of their resistance to change. Why even bathroom plumbing is the same as it was before the war. WWI, that is. The hot water faucet is still on the left and the cold water faucet is on the right. Water apartheid.
But one good thing about Londoners and boating; I could not have picked a better place to learn about real sailing. Other than a small elite in Florida, the average St Johns River sailor has no idea how to really navigate (like your life depends) or for that matter how to do small tasks like reef sails (make smaller sail area when wind strength grows) or anchor when conditions require.
So as annoyed as I was at the time, I can look back and understand that I had to learn about patience.
I still have no patience, but I can try to be better nowadays…
The real problem was that I had a job that required me to be at one place from 0730-1700 and my personal life had needs that could not be met except between 0900 and 1700.
Fortunately for me, I had a boss (0-5) who’s boss (0-6) were very, very supportive of an enlisted person trying to do something untraditional that gave plenty of personal interaction between a US Navy Sailor and the London sailing community at large. This meant that I had some liberal flexibility in afternoons/days off.
Owning a live aboard sailboat had some challenges, though. I had to learn how to heat the boat in winter, with a U.S. based electrical system. I told you how we acquired propane for cooking. Lucky for us, there was a Safeway across the street. So the food thing was taken care of.
As we were gaining social acceptance and knowledge, naturally, the topic of conversation turned to the big Little Ship Club Rally in Calais, France. This event has been held since 1926 (War years excepted) and it is the first big event of the Sailing Season for the East Coast of UK sailors.
Read this cruising news article from the West Mersea Yacht Club
Naturally, Wildebeest was going to be at the Calais Rally.
I put on a brave face, talking incredible crap about looking forward to the trip and all that. The other thing is I have a lot of faith that things work out, so I go along with the flow.
Maybe the weather will cause us to wave off?
Not at the end of May Bank Holiday, traditionally one of the nicest weekends of the year.
I saved some money and invited my Mother to come out, and also my partner in crime, Rich. Rich was in the Navy, serving at VR-58 at NAS Jacksonville as a Jet Mechanic. I loaned him the money to come out, also. This trip to Calais would hopefully be the highlight of our collective sailing careers. here is Rich the year before, on Wildebeest III:
Mom was flying into London Heathrow, Friday morning of the trip. I had CDR Pete Schwab’s favorite London Chauffeur go pick her up. This fellow was a great driver, he would throw a quick tour of the City at no extra charge to our Official Guests, and I asked him to give the tour to my mom as well.
Rich was flying into Gatwick, I explained how to catch the train to Victoria station and gave him the phone number to call when he got there, and I would get a cab to run him to St Katherine’s Dock.
This trip was becoming a logistical exercise; We had to ready the boat for sea, drop off the Siamese onto a friend’s boat for the weekend, gather special foods and most importantly: DO Not Forget the Mount Gay Rum!
After much running about on Friday morning, Rich called; I went and got him personally. He was not amused, having spent the last fifteen hours traveling without sleep. He began whining almost immediately.
I told him to shut the F&^%* Up, and for him to enjoy himself; this is going to be the greatest trip, evah!
We got back to the boat at about 1130, with the tide about to ebb; we had an hour to play with regard to locking out of St Katherine’s Dock and to depart to the East down the Thames. There are no openings except during high tide. Plan accordingly!
Mom showed up at about 1145, she was completely dizzy from her fifteen hour travel and the rapid tour of all the London Must-See sites out and about downtown, the Buckingham Palace, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, the Strand, Fleet Street, the Tower and finally St Kat’s.
We bundled Mom onboard and almost immediately got underway.
“What, no time for a sandwich?” sayeth the Mom.
With the boombox blasting out the first cut of my then favorite disc; “Barometer Soup”, by Jimmy Buffett
, we headed out the Thames River.
While speeding along with a following current, (we must have been doing about ten knots over the ground!) we pointed out the Cutty Sark, Greenwich, the Naval College, and, oh look; on the left is the “Prospect Of Whitby
"We’ll be sure to stop there next week…", I told Mom and Rich.
On past the Docklands, I pointed out the ruin where “Full Metal Jacket
” was filmed which was supposed to be Hue City in the film. (Kubrick didn’t like to leave London, apparently)
Passing the Thames Barrier
Soon, we found ourselves approaching Sheerness, and our overnight destination at Queenborough. We tied up at a buoy about four PM, and settled into some dinner and wine, celebrating our two guests and the great journey.
We finally got to sleep around 9:30PM, looking at the tide going out by 4:00 AM, so be sure to wake up early!
I was wound up, and it was tough to get to sleep and equally tough to wake up at 3:30AM…
Reveille was held, I noticed a fog. Uh-oh. The tide waits for no man, and we nervously slipped our mooring and headed South down the Swale, heading for the Thames Estuary. We noticed another boat quietly departing, also. No doubt, heading for Calais.
It was dark and foggy. We drove with all eyes peeled for markers, using the trusty GPS to take us to our next waypoints. We were out of the Swale and began heading south east, the tide carrying us swiftly towards the channel. It was wet, the winds were relatively calm and I could have turned a lump of coal to a diamond, with the tenseness I felt. There was a swell following us, and you could hear the water breaking on the shore, I was really feeling the fear.
Should we turn back to the safety and “known” situation at Queenborough, maybe go to Calais tomorrow, when the weather will be clearer? Press on?
The braver character in this story, Super-Spouse, tells weenie boy to quit second guessing and press on.
Breakfast and coffee was served up to Rich and I, it was toast and jam, with English Bacon for everyone in the crew. Good stuff!
Mom was slow to get up; she had jet lag keeping her down so I saw her sitting up trying to have coffee while the boat was hobby horsing up and down. Not looking too pleased about this trip, at all!
Soon, we found ourselves at Margate:
View Larger Map
The seas were picking up and the Southwest winds soon picked up to 15 knots. I whimpered to myself, “Here is where the fun begins!”
I called for Rich to help unfurl the head sail, because there was no way we were going to be able to just motor across twenty plus miles of choppy seas, right?
But to stay on the safe side, I was going to leave the engine running, 1. Because it did not start right up when I needed it a couple of weeks ago. 2. To increase our movement through the water. The Channel was looking fairly rough (It was nothing, believe me…) and I wanted to minimize the time spent in the open water.
Did I mention the two lanes of rapidly moving shipping, passing right to left?
The 150 Genoa rolled out and filled with air with a resounding “boom”, and we were off for the races! Wildebeest III was at a 45 degree angle, pushing shoulder into the mounting waves, I could feel that this boat was running like a thoroughbred, wanting to run as fast as it could. I mean, the boat felt truly alive!
A new experience, for sure. My oncoming Mal De Mer disappeared instantly, and I rode the wind and waves for the first time, feeling the vibration of the wind through the helm, and hearing the boom of water bouncing off our hull in a foamy wake.
As we rode the waves, I checked my Mom, who was hiding in the Vee Berth, lying on her back with her feet firmly pressed on the ceiling, holding her in place as the front end jumped too and fro.
“Mom, if you want to rest, you can go back to our berth; it is a lot calmer back there.”
“I’m fine”, she quietly replied. “Just leave me here… okay?”
I went back to the helm after noting our position. We were about a third of the way through and it had only been an hour and a half in the channel. We dodged a couple of freighters and maintained our beeline to the harbor of Calais.
We started seeing large ferries, traveling East and West, and the fog started to lift. It was still breezy, but I was really getting into the hang of driving the boat. I must admit that I was feeling more exhilarated than I had ever felt while sailing. We got to the dogleg turn into Calais Harbor; there is actually a Red Light/Green Light for entering the yacht harbor, due to ferry ships buzzing in and out at rapid clips.
The turn was made and we immediately got waked by a monster of a ferry, causing us to rock from side violently, until the Westerly wind caught our sail and balanced us out. This is when our fifty pound transformer, perched precariously on a counter decided to enter freefall and crash into our nice wooden deck, pointy side down creating a transformer sized divot. Spousal Unit gave me a wicked “what for” look rebuking me for not having placed the box in a more secure spot.
Sorry. I didn't think it would budge.
Green light for go came up and we whizzed as fast as five knots would take us into the waiting area, where we tied to a mooring ball awaiting the bridge opening into the yacht basin. It was about noon, local, I had been on the helm continuously for about eight hours.
What a trip! I was giddy, like a little girl at her biggest birthday party. With the sunshine we all came up on deck chatting with other yachts, and we said hello to the boat that followed us out of Queenborough. It turns out they had no idea where to go, but noticed that we had an American flag and RADAR, figured we knew what we were doing and so followed us out and along.
Looking at the next Google View, you can click on the minus sign and see the entrance to the Harbor, but at the bottom of the picture you can see the little boats moored, waiting for the Basin Ouest bridge/Lock for an opening:
View Larger Map
After about a half hour, the bridge opened and about ten of us made a mad dash to get in, and once in we milled around looking for a dock to tie up.
Being 13 meters, we did not want to be on the outside of a smaller boat. Remember the flail-ex at Queenborough, a couple weeks back? We don’t want to cause damage to a smaller boat, so I looked for a large boat. Just so happens that “Gallivant”, owned by Tom Davie (Former Commodore of the Little Ship Club!) was free, so we tied up. We made secure with fore and aft lines, spring lines and about a six pack of fenders.
Good thing we were tied to Tom, we did not have a ladder and a ladder is required to get on and off the boat onto the quay (pronounced “key”) at low tides. The tidal range was about eight feet.
We went ashore to sign in. I noticed a row of flag poles with flags of all the boats and nations present in the basin. I didn’t really think about mentioning our nationality, since I knew that Customs would be upon us in a minute. We said Bon Jour and all that, paid our weekend dues and went out to get a snack and drink at the Calais Yacht Basin club.
After the club closed for the afternoon, went to the Wildebeest III and noticed a UFO 34 sailboat called, “Don UFO” tied up outside us, with two odd looking ladies flitting to and fro.
“Oh, boy,” thought I, “Just what we need, frumpy English Ladies…”
Just then Roger (Nowadays of Beaujolais) pops out of the hatch!
Roger from later onboard Wildebeest III
Roger in Panama, two months ago.
We can’t seem to get away from this guy.
Roger and his boat partner “Terry” brought two passengers from the “Skippers and Crew” from the Little Ship Club.
By the way, we had briefed Roger all about our little deal from the past trip to Queenborough, but you can’t have bad luck in passengers twice, can you?
(For those of you familiar with foreshadowing, the last paragraph drips with it.)
Terry, Roger, Mom, Rich, Spousal Unit and I settled into some snacks and shared some wine and beer. Come sunset, we would all cruise over to the Basin Yacht Club for the Friday night party. We stopped by HMS Puncher
(Royal Naval Training Ship) for a beer with the CO and XO.
HMS Puncher is invited annually to be part of the Little Ship Club’s Rally at Calais. This reminds the Club membership of close ties with the Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve before the War, and the Royal Navy shows gratitude for the memory of the Little Ships of Dunkirk (Many of those civilian vessels flew the Little Ship Club Burgee).
Anyway, Puncher always shows hospitality to the LSC members by carrying plenty of beer and wine. So we introduced ourselves as Active Duty USN, having sailed the ocean blue from London to Calais, and boy are we parched!
This began a boisterous night of sailor-like craziness and fun. Mom decided to try out the French Rums, and the rest of us enjoyed to local wines and beers.
Closing time came at 11:00 PM, and it having been a long day, we left for the Wildebeest III. With a convenient stop at the HMS Puncher with the Captain of said vessel, who invited us for a nightcap of champagne.
Reveille came at the crack of eight, hearing rustling coming from next door. During all of the hoo-raw of the night before, Spousal Unit had invited Roger and Terry and the crew of Gallivant over for Beignets and coffee.
It all seemed like fun the night before, but now we had to scramble about and straighten out the wreckage and make room for guests. I started coffee and the beignet mix, while SWWBO started heating the frying pan. We managed to serve about four dozen beignets and about four pots of desperately needed Melitta filtered Coffee.
We began the second clean up cycle when I noticed a sound of a beer can being opened;
Terry had reached into my special cooler and helped himself to a Pabst Blue Ribbon! WTF!!!
“What’s a Pa-st Blure Ribbon?” That is the spelling of what I
“Only the finest beer made in America.” I replied.
“I haven’t heard of it, do they export it?”
“No, only in wartime”, I snarked.
“Pity, this is a fine Lager”, complimented Terry.
I raised up our Frigate-sized National Ensign up the rear shrouds, to allow every shellback, polly-wog, snipe, and land-lubber the opportunity to know that the USN was in da howse!
You could actually hear a gasp, when people saw the huge Colors hit the breeze. John Stoneham, from Gallivant decided to raise his “Special Ensign” to answer ours, but his began to tear in the freshening breeze.
I. Felt. Horrible. That flag was a special end of World War II ensign that incorporated all of the Allied Flags in one. And it was very old and frail.
In typical British Stiff Upper Lip fashion, he shrugged it off and said he would have it repaired. John felt that our ludicrously large flag needed an answer Flag. (But he really enjoyed the nerve we had in displaying the flag, especially that it was indeed a Naval Ship’s Ensign.)
SO, now back to the cockpit, join Terry and Roger as they lay waste to my precious case of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. As the moments passed, other sailors came by wanting a can of this illusive Blue Ribbon treat, all passed compliments for a fine and excellent import, and how they really preferred it to Budweiser.
The case was gone by noon, and everyone broke up for the afternoon. Some went to town, others for naps.
Mom emerged from the Vee-Berth around 11:00, none the worse for her big evening out. We got situated and walked into down town Calais, to check out the local scene.
More later, and especially more on the Pigeon Sisters
Having fun while in port in Calais' Basin L'Ouest
I started the last post waxing on and on about there being no stores open in London past working hours. This was a constant theme over four years, the inability to acquire anything when needed.
We Americans don't like to wait. This is why we have refrigerator's large enough to store a gored ox, we don't feel the need to stop by the market on a daily basis. Plus, we want to ensure that we have plenty, the market may run out of something when we need it most.
Especially cheez whiz.
My friend Rich, was flying in to the UK, as was my Mom. We were coughing up some serious cash for all this to happen, not to mention the expense of living in London.
The price for participation in the London Rally was supposed to be about fifty or sixty pounds a person, included dinner at the Chamber of Commerce Clubhouse, drinks on Puncher and Champagne breakfast at Puncher on the Sunday morning, with "Bacon Butties" making up breakfast part.
are usually English Bacon, butter served warm on a baguette. Sometimes, some Brie will be slipped in there, very tasty.
The Wildebeest version is called a "Bult
" which consists of any kind of bacon, tomato and mayo. The lettuce is UA.
Back to the tale.
After the expense of our guests, we asked Norman Hummerstone, the Host of the Calais Rally, if we could pay the cost of two dinners but that we would skip the meal and make other arrangement's for our boat's crew.
reason we were skipping dinner (we could just put the cost on a credit card) was that my friend did not have a jacket and tie. Absolutely no chance in us finding a Men's Store in short notice to get a jacket and tie.
Remember the stores are closed!
After we arrived at Calais, we checked in with Norman at the club on Friday night. He quietly pulled me aside (This is a large almost eighty year old man of quiet dignity) and says, "I expect that your guests will join me for dinner, tomorrow night."
"Thanks, Norman, we have to decline, one of our guests does not have the required jacket and tie, sorry". "Also, we did not pay for them."
"You will bring your guest's just the same. Make the Gentleman look presentable." Norman was making a pronouncement, not a discussion.
. That was indeed, that.
Fun in Calais, again!
About 1700, we returned to the Wildebeest to change into glad rags. Rich put on his nicest rugby jersey and Dockers, I wore a suit and tie. Mom and Her Lynneship were dressed in finery.
Off to the Chamber of Commerce Club
we went, where a fine dinner was being prepared.
We went upstairs to the bar where we were greeted by our Host, Dr Jean Plancke
, Honorary Life Vice President of the Little Ship Club and Co-HMFWIC of the Calais Rally.
I noticed the little red rosette that Jean wore on his suit, Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. I immediately knew this to be a very important person, and I was happy to extend respect to this War Hero and grateful to have an opportunity to share a drink with this man.
The call to seats was made and we looked for our names at a table. Norman came over and asked us to have our seats and pointed to the head table, where our boat name was prominently marked next to Doctor Jean Planck.
What an honor. I was humbled that we had sailed over and were invited to sit with Jean and his lovely bride.
My Mom was glowing with pride and she too, knew that this was incredible and we were going to be in for a dinner of a lifetime!
As we took our seats, wine was poured for us and I took a small sip and immediately, Jean called sharply for the waiter and gave a wave. The wines were snatched back and the funny thing was my Mom; She was about to take a sip and the glass was yanked out of her hand as it was half way to her mouth!
Jean spoke quickly, asking the waiters to bring wines that were to his liking.
Oh yes, this was turning out to be interesting!
We chatted about boating, and I was sure to ask Jean about his relationship with the Little Ship Club.
Jean and Norman were known as the "Calais Twins", they share a birth day from 1920, and I think that the two have been friends since the War.
Jean was in the Resistance, and I think Norman was involved in that, too. Norman's Regiment
, "Queen Victoria's Rifles
World War II
In World War II after initial deployment to France as part of the BEF, the regiment lost two battalions at the Defence of Calais (2nd Bn KRRC and 1st Bn the Queen Victoria's Rifles(TA)) where a Green Jacket Brigade held up the German advance to enable the evacuation of the allied armies at Dunkirk. Redeployed to northern Africa the unit began to see success, continuing with actions in Italy, Austria, Germany and in the Battle of Greece and Crete (where its 9th Battalion, The Rangers (TA), served with 1st Armoured Brigade Group). The 1st Battalion served in the 4th Armoured Brigade that failed to link up with the 1st Parachute Division at the Battle of Arnhem. Post war the unit was deployed in Germany.
The Queen Victoria Rifles had defended Calais
during the German Blitz.
No wonder Norman and Jean were such friends.
And I was dining with these folks
I am not worthy
. That's what was running through my head.
Did I not say that the trip was going to be great???
More side notes: What I was about to learn of that days events was when I had raised our "Battle Flag" earlier that day, no one had seen that there was an American boat in the harbor. There was no flag showing our representation up by the Yacht Club. Apparently, someone reported our flag being sighted and Jean Plancke had gone NUTS because he felt we had been slighted and proper hospitality had not been shown to the American Guests! Sort of a a French "faux pas" (How often does a person get to use Faux Pas in a French situation?) which he felt was a tremendous insult to us (Wildebeest III) and the American Allies in general. So the call was made to find an American Flag, tout suite, and get it up the flagpole out front.
This is no exaggeration.
We had a wonderful dinner with White wines for starters, Red for the Beouf, and finally Port and Champagne for dessert.
Speeches were made in French and English, Norman gave a short speech welcoming all and closed with this hilarious joke; An English person having breakfast is always happy with the menu because "one egg is always an oeuf".
Dr Jean made a speech also, and then I was called on to thank everyone for our wonderful dinner and to thank our hosts for having us.
Then the dinner was over and post dinner drinks and short speeches were made with each table giving a speech where they would insult other tables by "damning with faint praise". I suppose this is a European version of playing the "dozens". We were thoroughly entertained and the evening was fabulous.
2200 came and it was time to shut down the hall and let the staff go home. We shook a hundred hands and left to HMS Puncher for nightcaps. Our party had grown from the crew of the Wildebeest III, to now include Don UFO (Roger) and also the Paul of Ferris (He was the gent who helped us race in the Frostbite Rally).
We arrived at Puncher about seven minutes later, but noticed that the vessel was silent. Having a nice buzz, I asked the quarterdeck OOD to send for the Captain, who from last night was my "Buddy".
The Captain came up and invited us into the wardroom for a quick glass of wine and beer. He explained that he wasn't feeling too sociable due to one of his Officers having caused a severe discipline issue the night before. I won't mention what it was, but it was worse than you might think and it meant the end of an Officer's Career.
It was a real buzzkill and I was shocked.
We were invited back next year and we took our leave and went to the boats.
Was the party over?
Oh no, it wasn't
We got back to Wildebeest, Mom went to bed. So Roger, Rich, Spousal Unit and me went over to Don UFO, where there was allegedly some potent potables available for drinking.
We climbed onboard a darkened sailboat and loudly crashed into the cabin where we found the "Pigeon Sisters" in their bunks wearing footy pajamas and night caps!
They began to rebuke us loudly, like scalded cats and demanded we leave this boat immediately
because they were trying to sleep!
The Pigeon sisters were not at the dinner.
This struck me as hilarious, so I sat down on one of their bunks and began drinking another beer asking them how their night had been and why don't you join us for some cocktails?
The Pigeon Sister who's bunk I had sat on shook like a terrier passing a peach pit. She was mad.
Roger thought that his guests were not appreciating the fact that it was eleven thirty on a Saturday night, a time for all good sailors to be out of their bunks and indeed, they should be partying with other sailors!
We made quite merry at the expense of these prudish dolls, (Especially at the footy pajamas) but after about ten minutes, we decided to leave them and return to the Wildebeest, where I knew for a fact there was champagne and Rum.
About this time, while sitting in the spacious cockpit, other boats took notice of the Americans.
Tom Davey came over from Gallivant, (We were tied to Gallivant) asking (slurred) for whisky and for us to play some of that Jimmy Buffett music.
Then people came from other boats and we had a literal Parrot Head party in Calais France. People thirty yards away called for us to quiet down but Wildebeest, Gallivant and Don UFO were not to subside. There was singing and a dancin' on the three boats. I think there had to be about twenty people in our cockpits and alcohol was flowing and never seemed to run out.
Remember the Scottish Lass from the Queenborough trip? She wound up on our boat by mistake, looking to join the party, she didn't notice who the hosts were! We howled with laughter when she recognized that she had wandered back in our cockpit and tried to get away from us when I said "hello"!
The next thing I remember, I was describing my total dissatisfaction with my Vodaphone Cell phone, and when pressed why I kept the phone I answered, "You're right!"
I threw the phone into the harbor!
Oh, that ended the party. Especially when someone mentioned to the Spousal Unit of my deed, and she came over to me and asked if I had actually thrown a hundred seventy five dollar phone into the water.
Oh well, it was indeed late. Maybe about eight o'clock in the morning, everyone went home to bed.
About ten thirty, someone came to the boat asking if we were going to go to the meeting at the Yacht Club?
No way. I was into the worst hangover of my life, I was going to just lay in state and hope to just die. The Spousal Unit trudged up there like a soldier, and it was a good thing.
Towards the end of the meeting they called for the "Americans, where are the Americans?"
She , dressed in ballcap and dark rayban sunglasses went up front and received an award of a Normandy Flag and a tea tray.
Awards had been given for smallest boat traveling the greatest distance, Yacht Club with most attendees, etc. We got an award for being the "American boat."
Did I mention the hangover? It was so bad I am still
feeling it, twelve years later!
We left the Wildebeest in company with Don UFO looking for the famous Moules and Frites (Mussels and French Fries), you can get a bucket full of both for about three bucks. I almost puked. Both of us were feeling rough, my Mom (feeling really chipper) said, "That's what you get for staying up too late".
We got back to the Wildebeest about four o'clock and slumped into the cockpit. Tom Davey and John Stoneham took pity on us and tried to get us up by giving us "Medicinal Madera" and homemade "Meade" .
Tom happened to make Meade from his beehives, and fashioned this ancient drink from the Bee Excrement.
So did the Madera.
We finally felt more human by about eight o'clock, so we celebrated this by going to bed.
Not Gallivant. Tom and his crew went out partying. Not good...
There was still one more day before having to return, they were going out
The Return home from Calais.
We moved the boat at about 0400, got underway for London. As we were preparing to go, Tom and his crew were up, too. Only Tom had fallen into the cockpit of Gallivant the night before, shattering his right wrist. He came up hung over and in pain, the Spousal Unit splinted his wrist so tightly that Tom felt he was able to sail back. Gallivant had a good crew so we left them to their sailing, we had our own adventure ahead. Gallivant got home with no issues.
Don UFO left when we did, the Pigeon Sisters were sullenly in their crew attire ready for the journey, while Roger was looking a little tired from going out Sunday and staying late.
This story comes out later about Don UFO's trip; Roger gave the Pigeon Sisters the helm and control of the boat, asking them to maintain a Northwesterly course while he took a little nap. When he awoke somewhat refreshed, he discovered that the girls had steered the boat on a SOUTH Westerly course and that they were on the way to Cherbourg! I guess they didn't know which way the sun rises, and all that. We had such a howl laughing about that trip.
The Sisters were never allowed near the helm again.
For that matter, they soon vanished from the club.
I guess Wildebeest and Don UFO were rough on crew.
We were sailing to the Northwest and I went below for a snooze.
About an hour or two later, I could hear some arguing, as Spousal Unit was telling Rich to head to the right to avoid the Goodwin Sands. Rich was saying no, we were on a good course Was I going to have to come out there with the belt?
I had to come up and take the helm. A few minutes later, I pointed to a berm of beach that appeared in the middle of the Channel and said, "Goodwin Sands; Graveyard of the Channel."
We skirted to the East of the sands and headed for the Estuary. We caught the tides perfectly and were moving about ten knots over the ground with fair winds and nice sunny skies. Before we knew it, we found ouselves circling St Katherine's Dock waiting for a lock in.
Secured the Wildebeest at our dock on the East Basin by 1730, a great weekend was had by all.
The biggest lesson learned was that Wildebeest was a fine sailing boat that could take a big pounding in the ocean and keep her crew safe and dry. Another thing was the confidence was building for the big trip that was going to be inevitable, the trip home.
The Crew of Wildebeest now had some serious street cred with the Little Ship Club boating membership. The English Channel is not a smooth lake or river, but a highly congested bit of world class waterway. We were approaching Junior Varsity status as boaters.
I wrote up a article for the Little Ship Magazine chronicling our trip, we won the Alderney Tankard Award for our description of the weekend to Calais. Not too bad.
Another great benefit was we developed a really close relationship with Norman Hummerstone, MBE, FRIN. He became the Grandfather I never had who's knowledge and mentoring made us into better sailors and more importantly safer on the water. He also took an interest in helping my career along. There are some great sea stories coming up about that
You might ask, "What ever happened to the Calais Twins, after ten years?"
In May of 2007, Roger (Don UFO and Beaujolais) was getting married in Wales and asked us to be there. After arriving in London we knew that Norman would be in Calais for the Rally, so we hopped on the train for Dover hoping to get a hovercraft to Calais.
The Hover craft was a little more pricey, but you get to the other side in about twenty minutes, vice two hours, so it seemed the way to go. We will get there, have lunch and scoot on back to the Little Ship Club, where we were staying. We looked on the internet and saw that Hoverspeed website, and decided to go.
Once we arrived at the Dover Train Station, we hopped into a black cab and asked the driver to take us to the Hovercraft Port.
He looked annoyed and said, "Are you taking the piss on me?"
I was confused. "No, we would like to go to the Hoverspeed Terminal, why?"
"Mate, there hasn't been hovercraft service for the past two years. You have to take the ferry."
We did not notice that it was the stupid Google Cached website of the hoverspeed service.
We went to the ferry terminal, knowing that we were screwed. The next ferry was full so we had to wait another two hours to get underway to Calais. We called Norman and explained the situation, asked if we could stay the night on his boat. He was gracious and said we could, so we had lunch and made our trip across a foggy channel. Arrived in Calais, took a cab to the Basin Ouest, and found a cheerful Norman at his dock. he invited us aboard and offered some champagne, you wouldn't know we hadn't seen him for eight years.
We talked and talked, he said he would have to leave for an appointment, after we finish the bottle.
I mentioned that I had heard that Jean Plancke had passed on and that we were glad to have known him.
"I hadn't heard that," said Norman, "I don't think he has, either".
"I'm having drinks with him at five o'clock."
So we walked the mile to the club, crossing the old bridge and passing by the Lock and the Harbor. This Gent is 87 years old and walking like a person forty years younger.
Arrived at the Commerce Club, headed up old familiar stairs to the bar, we were greeted by our old friend Dr Jean Plancke, who pretended to remember us from the last century.
We were proud to buy the first two rounds of drinks with these heroes from another, better era.
We finished up and said our good-bye's, and took Norman out to eat. Afterwards, we returned to the boat and had Port and Cheese.
I want you to know that it was now 2100, we had been boozing and eating since 1600. So we start on the Port and Norman wants to watch a film on his portable DVD player.
We polished off the bottle and prepared for bedtime.
What will I need to do to be like Norman when I get another forty years on?
By the way; Did you notice the rack of bottles?
This is just the "Ready Bottle" rack. There are six kinds of Gin, six of Whiskey, both blended and Single Malt, Various Aperitifs and more Port and Champagne in the concealed lockers. And maybe one bag of crisps and a jar of olives for your dining pleasure.
Back in London...
After we returned form Calais, we were suddenly considered as one of the "Cool Kids". We partied and carried on as if that was what we did in America, not. The Londoner's have this sense of joie de vivre that requires a "Roman" style party for every reason. Holidays, festivals, Friday, it's all good and will require a gathering with everyone dressed in their Sunday best.
If your Sunday happens to be an inauguration into public office, that is.
We found out early June that our friend, Paul Ferris had resigned from the Little Ship Club.
Resigned? Paul? Committee Leader Paul? Member for past twenty years?
(You forgot to mention the London Rally, Paul hosts
Guess who gets invited to fill those big shoes with two weeks notice, who also happens to live in the marina hosting the Little Ship Club London Rally?
So with that bit of depressing news, (Our friend resigning, that is) we prepare for this party. The Rally was for the Fourth of July, that year. So lucky for me I had a three day weekend.
I arrange for dockage for the boats that will be visiting, and I set up a menu for the dinner to be held at the LSC. We decided that dessert would definitely be American style apple pie with an American style crust. Not the dense, thick and chewy British crust, this would be a crust made with shortening like Mom made. The filling was specially made using less sugar and corn starch so that you could taste apple and not gooey paste.
The Catering Staff was quite cross with my heavy handedness, but I told them it's my way or the highway.
Speaking of my way and highways, the Little Ship Club had a strict Jacket and Tie policy.
Here are some typical views of the clientele of the Little Ship Club:
. The theme of MY Fourth of July Rally was "Independence Day" If you folks want me to do this on such short notice, well, we will need to adjust the rules.
Collared shirts and nice casual for the ladies. The Commodore was fit to be tied
I met a young person working at the Navy Exchange who claimed to be a free lance DJ, so I offered him a hundred pounds to do the Rally party on Saturday night.
It was all coming together, and we couldn't wait to spring the final surprise; We were going to have a "Tea Party", protesting Taxes and everything else that oppressed us!
The big weekend comes and the first thing that goes wrong is the DJ. This person decides he can't do the gig and does not bother to call me. I call him all day and finally get hold of him an hour before I need to be there and he says he can't come.
Panic in the grey room, NOW!
I run over to a neighbor boat, Cornelius, and ask if I can borrow his stereo, and I invite him to the dinner along with his lovely girl from Sweden. Then we cab the gear to the party.
Commodore's Table behind SWWBO. Notice how we weren't good enough to sit with them.
Cornelius is next to Ulrika
About fifty guests are there (way more than I expected, but so many wanted to see us mess up!)
I give a welcome speech which went sort of like this;
The Crew of the Gnu would like to welcome everyone of you to this year's London Rally. We were given the responsibility of doing this on short notice, but we hope that you will enjoy yourselves none the less.
We would especially like to welcome those of you who braved the Mighty Thames River, who dodged flotsam, jetsam and logs bringing their boats safely to St Kat's!
Break for hilarious laughter.
I'm glad you found that funny...
(Someone says giggling, "He said 'Logs'
So off to dinner. We had a great meal and the Commodore (Wearing a Cravat because he always wears a tie) Gets up to do the "Loyalty Toast";
"Ladies and Gentlemen, please stand for the Loyalty Toast: "To the Queen.... Coupled with the President of the United States."
There was a nanosecond of uncomfortable silence... "The Queen!"
The laughter broke out almost immediately!
Oh that was precious. President Clinton had just had the news sent around the world that involved the Oval office, a blue dress and some young chick who happens to like cigars.
I chose that moment to give a speech about the Fourth of July, and its meaning to all of us Americans, and to an extent, our British Brethren, who we have so much in common with. This was when I explained the Boston Tea Party and the root of our Rebellion against Taxation Without Representation.
"Now, I would like to invite all of you to come forward, grab a pinch of tea from this tin, and join me in tossing tea into the Thames to protest all that oppresses us."
Just then, I grabbed a hand full of Tea and turned to toss it into the Thames.
The Thames river level had subsided. It was at low tide. The water was about thirty yards away from the Club Dock!
To save face I blurted out, "I see the Thames is a proper, British River, and it will not tolerate any tea party shenanigans!"
Everyone was of good cheer and tossed pinches of tea into the mud and I set to turning the stereo on.
"Barometer Soup" was again the first song to start off the Nautical Themed Dance and the night went on to be quite enjoyable for the hosts and the Club.
The next morning, My good friend Cornelius was good enough to host our Sunday Morning Mimosas and Snacks on his 60 foot sailing Barge, and many of the Rally participants came by to partake and join in on the boating camaraderie.
An added feature was an appearance by the local contingent of the "Swedish Blonde Bikini Team".
Summer was really coming together, nothing like sailing vessels and good friends to make a happy time.
(Pictures in a couple hours, I promise!)
Commodore Hunter Peace and Tom Davey
Norman and Debbie and the others from LSC
sorry about the double hit earlier. What a maroon!
John Cadley from "Fran"
Someone chatting Number One from the Swedish Blonde Bikini Team
(Biggify this picture: That's the Wildebeest about 50 yards behind me. It's infested with Siamese Cats!
John and Emma from "Fran" (They were very, very kind to us over the years.
Preparations for ocean crossing begin;
So this is what I had in mind when sailing; The End of the Journey. And Rum, reggae and relaxation.
Before we could actually go anywhere, there would have to be some training.
This is the Royal Yachting Association's recommendations for anyone who would like to go sailing and the costs of the courses, in 1997:
Looked like we had a lot of catching up to do. No wonder most boaters we met in Europe were old as a stump. It takes five years before you can ever become a skipper!
Not really. It does take an investment in time, and the British are vary patient. They are willing to wait and learn properly. That's why they don't understand Yank's.
For instance, besides important stuff like "Rules of the Road", Weather, and Navigation, there are things we need to know like "How to read a Map" (No, no, it's not a Map it's a Chart) and how to mark on the chart. With pencils.
Using this tool. It's called a Portland Plotter in the UK and a Breton Plotter everywhere else;
Here is an example of getting a boat's position by referencing known objects on shore;
What you use is a compass, find a light house or some prominent object. Get your bearing from object, draw a line on your chart. Then check another object, but make sure for accuracy that the second line is at least 90 degrees off of the first line. Usually that would be it. A third line is a luxury, but I find that we have moved so I will wind up with a "Cocked Hat".
Once you get a good position marked, use a circle as the position mark. A circle represents a Fix, which is considered accurate. An "X" will be used to represent a assumed position and may or may not be accurate.
Whenever I mark a fix, I always add Course, Speed in Knots and Time. This way if we lose power anyone can back track to last position and somehow figure out where we are located.
One thing that I had learning about was the physical forces that affect a boat's navigation. FIrst is water. That water is flowing and the flow is usually related to tides. Every six hours the tides will change. Some places are heavily tidal; Like Northern Europe and South Carolina. Others have a tide, but the tide is only a foot or two, Like Jacksonville.
Ahhh, Bach! (Gratuitous M*A*S*H reference)
Here is a look at the tidal effects at Dover:
The wind is another force to consider, like you don't have enough to consider
while underway in the English Channel. The winds effect is called "leeway", lee being with the wind. You can estimate your leeway by taking an angle of the wake in relation to the boats forward movement.
By 2200 of those class nights, my brain was going to explode
Here is an example of a course line and some fixes. Note the circle that says' Avoid this" and notice how my fixes got very close to the avoidance area. The time was 0355 and 0422.
I was seasick and very tired. Two things that lead to piss poor performance and fatalities at sea.
Now, I take this when I am starting a trip:
So far, Cinarizine, the active ingredient in Stugeron is not allowed by the FDA in the United States. But I can get all the weird and creepy drugs that are supposed to make me want to sit in bath tub in an open field, or play "Viva Las Vegas" with my dysfunctional musically talented friends. I feel better, already.
Moving towards the fewtchums...
We still owed money on the boat and time was running up on us like Hockey attackers approaching a Goalie!
The Coastal Skipper course was completed and we now knew better at how to be a hazard on the water. This included a better appreciation of weather systems and how they behave.
Example; Warm front comes in, you get wind and rain. As the warm potion passes over you, the winds will clock around to the (put your back to the wind!) left and then the cold portion of the front. Crazy winds from your left and cold rain. When that passes you get the dry cool portion with winds veering to the right of what they were. This is all England weather, and these fronts pass with speedy regularity.
The important thing to remember is that I was talking about RAIN!
I would whine like a red headed step child about the crappy weather, but your British sailor loves
his home weather.
1998 was nothing but rain. Every time we were on the boat? Rain. It got so that we expected rain if I got anywhere near the barbecue. WE figured I could do a lot more good for the world famine problem if I could set sail for Somalia and Ethiopia, open a barbecue joint on the water front.
A tarp was put up over the entire boat to help keep us dry. Most boats have a little leak, here and there. We had a couple of annoying leaks, but the prescribed method of using a topical filler was inadequate because there never was time to dry!
A routine started in late 1997, where we would rent a car from the Navy Exchange every other Friday; It turns out that the contracted rental company was based at the basement of the Tower Hotel, so it was really convenient to get our car when we got home from work. The cost was about $45.00 a weekend, so why bother with owning a car.
The biweekly plan was to get car, drive on the A206 (North Circular)until we got to the M11. Once on the M11 head towards Cambridge and get off on the A11 towars Norwich Newmarket, got to A14 blah blah.
I still can drive it instinctively.
View Larger Map
We would go to the Mildenhall RAF and stay at the Visiting Quarters. A weekend would run about 60 bucks. Once we got to the room we would spread out, switch on the cable (Woo hoo!) and start laundry. We would do two weeks of laundry and watch tv.
The Air Force lives very well, let me testify.
After laundry, we would go by the Officers Club or the NCO Club (We were actually members, members were given a Platinum MasterCard which could be used for anything. I kept a zero balance).
Once at the club, you asked for a reservation and if there was a wait, you could go to the convenient Casino which just happened to be ten feet away. Hmmph.
Spousal Unit got into slot machines, although she would only use one roll of quarters. Frequently, dinner would be on the casino because of her fair record of victories.
The Starlifter Restaurant was pretty good; Steak dinners were about eight bucks and a bottle of Korbel bubbly was an incredible ten bucks!
We would order the California champagne and the servers would usually treat us like we were doing a special occasion, like an anniversary. It got embarrassing when we would just say, "No, nothing special, just celebrating Friday".
This would usually be disregarded as us being unnecessarily bashful.
After dinner, we would go into the lounge for drinks and dancing. I really liked the Reggae nights.
The Air Force folks had all the comforts and trappings of the USA, all on a two-base American archipelago called Lakenheath and Mildenhall. Since they had all of the American luxuries, the people stationed there received just regular pay.
London was considered very, very expensive (it was
) and those of us actually working and living there were looked at with pity.
But living in London got me double pay. Even the folks living in Navy housing at West Ruislip and out west of the city were given extra pay, since commuting cost over twenty bucks a day just to get to the Grosvenor Square.
So given all that, renting a car and living in spartan conditions made us relatively well to do, compared to my peers in the Air Force.
I sure liked the washing machines, though.
During '97 through '99, there was that little bother in the Balkans. Spousal Unit and myself would notice the dirty, grimy Infantry types who looked like they got off a transport from Bosnia, landed for the night on the way home, without civvies. Since beer was just about three bucks a pitcher, I felt it was my duty to call the attention of a waitress, and direct her to bring five pitchers of beer to the table with the ten dirty guys. Keep the change.
We did this everytime we were there, and yes, we always did it anonymously. We insisted that nobody knew that the clean cut squid in the corner with his wife, was quietly thanking these guys for a job well done. It amused us to watch them eyeballing the room warily, trying to suss out who would do this random act of kindness.
The wait staff always kept cool, since they liked the five buck tip.
It wasn't like it was our
Sunday morning we would wrap it up and make the drive back and drop off the car at the Tower Hotel. With a stop to the Class Six store and the Commissary on the way!
Twelve Packs of Grolsch were $4.50. I would usually get fifteen. Same with wine.
We had friends that would stop by and it wouldn't be nice to not offer a beer or wine, would it?
Barbecue and party on 'Beest:
This is the exact moment I discovered that I was going to be leaving the Navy. During our Summer Party, advancement results came out and I was not selected.
I got a call from the Command Center and they said the results came out, and that there must be a mistake, my name was missing from the list.
I am intensely disappointed, and lucky for me, Roger, Tom Davey, Norman Hummerstone and a number of other friends from the Little Ship Club were there to keep me from feeling worse than dirt. I had very influential people from the local sailing community, nobody else had such friends.
There was one more promotion cycle to come and the '90's had been very sparse for advancement.
But I had a trip to plan for. There could not be the chance that I strive hard for advancement, filling in more blocks (Meaning deploying down range to the Balkans) while boat planning, work, and stores had to be accomplished. On the chance of promotion which may not happen.
That decision was made at the instant of this photo was taken.
Note the little rag catching rain leaking in through the portlight.
Background; I had been through a board six months before for Sailor of the Year. Naturally, I blew that board away with my knowledge, background and public speaking. I knew the other three candidates completely. None had the experience or qualifications that I had. None had deployed for supporting the Balkan Initiative "**". I looked in the eyes of the seven people on that board and each silently acknowledged my passing their board.
But, I did not receive that award. They called me back in later that day and all seven said that I was the more qualified candidate, it was just that they wanted to help the other fellow (A Cryppie with no sea service) who was looking at having to retire if he didn't get promoted, so I should understand...
That person did not get the promotion and he retired two months later. Note: That nice person knew what had happened to both of us and offered to help me get a job with SAIC in JAC Molesworth, which would have been really cool...
So every person in my job specialty who had been promoted that year, each had been the Sailor of the Year at their commands.
That Monday after the party, I walked in and dropped my request for retirement. My bosses were stunned, since they thought I had only about fifteen years in the Service and was ineligible. Nope. I had one year to go.
There was a new life to be planned for and I was not going to wait for anything, again. I made myself ineligible for the next promotion cycle by requesting retirement. There has been many nights that I have agonized over the hasty decision, since they promoted everyone the next Summer, I am a loser!
This was my plan
and this is how it was executed;
And now for Action part of the Plan...
I had better get cracking!
We had gotten to where we knew the countdown numbers and we were amazed at the compression of time that seemed to sneak up. T-Minus twelve months and counting, there are no holds on the countdown and come August of next year Wildebeest III is going to be somewhere else. At first it was almost euphoric, but reality set in harshly. Here is what we needed to accomplish:
1. New Sails;
Our mainsail and genoa (genoa is a big front sail, in our case it was a 150 genoa, huge for Europe, but average for the light winds of Florida) were about thirteen years old and stretched out, making them inefficient. We needed new sails which would help increase boat speed and make the boat sail closer to the wind.
The decision was made that we would get a new main sail, a 130 genoa and a assymetrical cruising chute. The cruising chute would be like a spinnaker, but without a pole.
I made a trip to the Oakland boat show in California and spoke with a couple of sailmakers and decided on Hood Sails. It was going to cost $11K for those sails and they had them cut and sewn in a matter of a week. They sent the sails by mail to the Heathrow airport where I had to clear them through customs.
We installed the sails and discovered the main sail was not right so that took a local Hood sail technician to visit and make the adjustments. The UK Hood representatives worked hard to make us happy with the Hood product and they came out no less than four times. Hood is/was a great company to do business with and I would recommend them to anyone who was looking for sails.
But $11,500.00 for sails! And they were less than some of the sailmakers. Ouch.
2. Navigation Equipment;
There was my Garmin handheld and supposedly we had a Loran (Huh?). We were taking Norman's Open Ocean Yachtmaster class which placed high emphasis on celestial nav using a sextant and chronometer.
I acquired a Celestaire Sextant and after the course felt ready to conquer the oceans!
That celestial nav really kicked my butt. The heart of the skill lays in having a relatively accurate timepiece, which nowadays, your thirty dollar Casio is accurate to a second per month. (Funny, I bought one of those Casio's and it still works like a champ.) Using The Nautical Almanac and the tables therein, you sight a Planet/star or the Moon with your sextant, bring the visual image to the horizon and note the time.
Sounds easy and with practice it is. I never used it, after all the hassle of passing the course I decided I did not trust my skills so I bought a better GPS to use. We had three GPS's receivers, one of which was kept wrapped in plastic and foil and it stayed in the "bailout bag" along with extra flares, VHF radio, water maker and fishing kit.
3. Communication Equipment;
There are many knowledgeable sailing cruisers out there and most think that there is a need for long range communication. I agreed, until I saw the cost of a Single Sideband radio, antenna tuner and associated equipment. Not to mention the hassle of getting licensed for all that. If it was as simple as installing a Citizens Band Radio, I would be all for it. Who would we talk to?
We had two VHF radios and a handheld. That was all we needed.
4. Self Steering;
Now we get into some crazy stuff. Most of the time while sailing, people use some sort of autohelm. There are mechanical, electronic and a hybrid of electro-mechanical. There was an Autohelm 4000 wheel pilot currently installed, but it was unable to handle seas. The Autohelm 4000 was designed for smaller boats used on smooth waters. Not a 27 ton 43 footer.
I got these photo's of a Autohelm 4000 which is for sale here.
Clearly, this system was not going to handle steering our boat. I studied the internet and all periodicals, trying to find the right system for helming our boat. Our unique problem was that we had a center cockpit, which means we are about ten feet away from the stern where most of your mechanical self steering systems operate.
Here is a great vid of a Servo-Pendulum system which would have been great, but the distances of the line going to our wheel.
Roger of Beaujolais suggested we lead the lines into the hull directly to the steering quadrant. Good idea but that would mean losing the aft lazarette storage area through which the lines would travel. Not gonna happen.
Here is the ScanMar brand of self steering, it has a wonderful reputation;
ScanMar has a good price/value. But we were looking at lines being attached to the helm, and lines fail.
So we came onto this product;
This is a most novel development and if the claims made by the designer and manufacturer are justified, then this is just what the cruising catamaran needs.
The system works by towing a drive rope with a small propeller at its end, this in turn is connected to a hydraulic torque converter system which provides fluid power to the control rams operating the rudders. A wind vane is trimmed to the wind and controls the direction desired. A later version does use a flux-gate compass, but this is still under development.
The clever bit is that the unit is designed to provide battery charging as well. The moment the control rams are not actually being operated, the unit switches automatically to charging in a split second, delivering a substantial amperage. Sufficient to run fridges etc at quite modest boat speeds.
The loss from the towed propeller is said to be less than 0.5 knots. A major catamaran manufacturer is currently conducting sea trials and may include the Windhunter as standard equipment following the successful conclusion of these tests.
Your Association is also planning to repeat these trials with an Iroquois as a test bed and we will report at a later stage. Check out the ad. on the back page. (see below - Webmaster)
WIND HUNTER SELF STEERING
STEERS THE VESSEL
CHARGES THE BATTERIES
NO ELECTRONICS OR MICROCHIPS
This most important development in marine engineering technology naturally provokes repeated questions as to how an autopilot can PRODUCE power instead of CONSUME power. Further, electronics are the foundation stone of logic processing and if we require push button remote control conveniences it not so that we must live with the shortcomings of questionable reliability in a marine environment and the unlikely hope of electronic fault rectification at sea.
An autopilot without electronics ?
Push button fingertip control?
Windvane self steering?
No such thing as magic.
Just too good to be true. Windhunter Tec. Advice Service
081 500 0180
081 501 0050
Note: There is NOTHING on the internet talking about this system anymore. They have vanished. Never existed.
We paid about six thousand dollars for this device and spent another four thousand having a custom installation. We wanted this thing to work.
You tow a propeller and shaft about three hundred feet astern which spins as the boat goes forward. The line transfers the energy to a pump/generator which creates about 1500 psi hydraulic power which operates a left/righ ram which is connected directly to the rudder. The generator creates about eight amps of DC power which is transferred to the boats battery bank.
We lost about a knot of forward speed due to the drag of the turbine, which was fine when we were in high winds/high seas conditions. It helped keep the boat in control.
Here is the windhunter with the red vanes off but in the electrical generating mode, twirling away;
5. Barometer. We picked up a large brass one used. It looked and worked wonderfully. I figure an old barometer is as good as a new one and until we can figure out how to afford a weatherfax (See Single Sideband radio, above), it will have to do.
Ok. We have gotten all the equipment, all we need now are stores and to finalize water and cooling issues.
This is getting to be fun!
The final Winter in London was like this...
Time was indeed moving forward, late in 1998. We were suddenly looking at nine months to go, and all of the little ends were suddenly coming together.
One way I could see the time growing short was from riding the 15 bus every morning, passing Piccadilly and looking at the Millenium countdown clock by the Coca Cola sign. It had spun from 1460 days to the Millenium celebration (back in early 1996) down to about 400 days.
There was the issue of that boat loan I took out in 1996, for 75K from Navy Federal. At 10.9% interest, for twelve year term.
Add in the 16K it took for delivering the boat from Jacksonville to Southampton. Oh, and the almost 12K for sails, which were arriving any minute, you can see that we had quite a bit of fortune involved in this little sailing fantasy.
About the boat loan payments; It was about $963.00 a month, not counting the insurance. Back in early '97, I felt quite overwhelmed by the costs, especially at the interest. I think we were at $22.39 a day in interest, or $671.00 a month.
How the heck can you get something paid off like that
I was scared. It took until about March of '97 before we had the loan amount below the original 75K. I became a fanatic about dumping every spare dime onto that usurious loan.
Spousal Unit had a great job, working for an American Health Company called "Foundation Health", at the Conoco Building near Oxford street. She says that if you can picture Edina and Patsy from "Ab Fab", then you get the picture of how this company had been run into the ground by its Management Team. The director had hired her Lover (who had no sales skills) to be the sales director. Naturally, all this came to a screeching halt when the California folks came out to audit and find out why things were not working out. Come August of '97, Foundation closed its doors and we were in a pickle; We really needed the paycheck. Fortunately for us, the National Health Service at Moorefields Eye Hospital needed a manager, so the day was saved.
Back to bills; We put every spare penny on that boat loan, and like magic, we had all of it paid off by December of '98! In view of this achievement, we invited all of our local friends over to Friern Barnet for a Thanksgiving party. Tom Davey kindly allowed us to use his manse, and we moved right in, we used his apples from his orchard for apple pies and cooked two turkeys on weber kettles in the back yard. But lucky for me, that was the moment I had a tooth infection which made my back molar feel like it was about to explode from my jaw. I used cold water to help keep the pain down and wound up being the only sober person at the party. (I went in on the following Monday and the nice dental team at Blenheim Crescent did a rapid root canal which alleviated my suffering). Staying sober at that party would have been impossible otherwise, so I was indeed lucky because the pain made me be a better host.
That party was a great way for thanking all of our British and European friends for treating us like family over the previous three years and also their support which kept us focused on our goal of sailing away.
Our sails arrived and were installed, uninstalled and reinstalled. Adjustments were made to our equipment and the boat was slowly made ready for a final visit to Calais.
What were we going to do with the Kitties?
I dragged them to the vet in West Ruislip, got a health certificate and brough them to British Airways, where they flew to San Francisco to stay with my Mom for the next year, or two.
They were not amused.
We cleared out of St Katherines for the final time, heading East for France, Memorial Day weekend of '99. The plan was to bring the boat to Lymington to the Berthon Boatyard for refit and self steering installation.
I will cover the trip and the visit to Berthon in the following paragraphs.
How about another run to Calais while planning a retirement ceremony?
Finally, I return to talking about boating. Current events are such a drag on a person's initiative and motivation, aren't they?
Back to May of '99:
There was lots to do in '99. First, at work we were still deep in the Bosnian campaigns, so we had planning work with the Ministry of Defence and our Joint Staff/EUCOM brethren in Stuttgart. I made several trips to Germany in support of our "not" war effort. Aditionally, I had to plan the trip to Calais and the transportation of kitties to California, where they would stay until we collected them.
We had paid off the boat, so all the money coming in was allotted to boat projects and equipment. We also knew that some yard work would be required (although I had no idea the true costs), I let a Little Ship Club member talk me into bringing the boat to Berthon Yachts in Lymington.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Didn't I learn anything from the time our boat was in South England (Hamble) in 1996?
Evidently, not. We planned a trip to Calais, with us departing right after dropping Mogwai and Jellicle at Heathrow airport for the long trip to San Francisco.
Out the Thames we headed, with Chris Nicholson, East Coast Rear Commodore as our crew, with the first stop in Queenborough. There was much fun and frivolity at the Queenborough Yacht club and our second crewman (I forgot his name) met us there. The normal 0400 departure came the next morning, into very windy and choppy conditions. It was so rough that I refused any relief from the helm from 0400 to 1300, after we had made it to the Calais port entry.
The charming Spousal Unit on the helm in the Thames, with the Star of the Miniseries, "Hornblower", 'The Grand Turk' approaching for a pass to port side.
Here is a video of sailing near the Grand Turk, plus one other trip with Tom Davey and Roger on board Wildebeest III;
We arrived in Calais, tired but with invigorated, and Chris needed to leave to get his car back in London. After Calais he was headed to Sweden for a vacation.
The running gag at the LSC was that the senior East Coast member (Chris, as Rear Commodore) was going to all the sailing rallies via auto instead of by boat which was the expectation.
When Chris returned the next day, the crew and I conspired to get Chris to park is car on the quay next to our boat. Then we got him occupied on another boat while Jonathan and myself tied his car to the dock like a sailboat.
I thought it was funny...
Chris. Was. Angry.
Oh, the entire marina came by to laugh at the car posing as a boat. Chris mellowed out when he saw that it was in good fun and that his car was undamaged. But he was a little miffed that his position of Rear Commodore may have not been getting proper respect.
The normal parties and dinners were held and we were much more disciplined, so no outrageous antics for this final visit.
We were underway for Lymington by Monday morning, 0500, following a nice tide which shot us forth like a Wildebeest heading for an oasis. The seas were smoother and thought we had to wear full foul weather garb, we were fairly warm and comfortable.
Me taking a nap on top of a chart.
One noteworthy thing; The winds became steady out of the South, we had the sails set that we could use the small self steering unit which kept the boat on a easy Westerly course. I felt so comfortable that we turned on the RADAR and had dinner down below with no one on the helm.
Ok, I popped my head up every five minutes and kept an eye on the RADAR for traffic.
We made Lymington at about 2230 that evening. This was a fantastic, fast sail! We had planned on taking until the next morning, so this threw our plans out the door. We tied up and were on a train to Waterloo, arriving about 0130, tired but ready to face the next challenge.
The Berthon people brought the Wildebeest in and craned her out and began work on the engine as requested. They also set her up in a part of the yard which was convenient for staying aboard, which I felt was very nice of them to do. I don't think they allow people to actually stay over night while in the yard, but that was why we had friends from the club who were close to the owner of the Marina.
Meanwhile, I had two more months in the Navy and we had to stay on a friend's boat. Very inconvenient.
By this point in my career, I was totally through with the Navy. My lovely Spouse could not bear with the idea of me just walking away with my paperwork. Oh, no. That would not do at all! Most of the retirement ceremonies were held in the basement bar of the 7 North Audley building. I had been to Captain's ceremonies, Commanders and Master Chiefs. All got the same treatment.
Here's what would normally happen;
Bell rings the guests in, walking by "bullets" with a white rope and Side Boys. A Bosun would whistle the Retiree in. Retiree walks in front of podium, where the Chief of Staff or his Designate (Usually a Captain 0-6) would salute the retiree and ask him to be seated. The Chaplain (Another 0-6) would lead the prayer and the Colors would be paraded in. Afterwards speeches, tears, applause for a career well-done and a keg of beer with snacks would be served. All in a room that holds fifty people and has a bar...
No. F%*$@#. Way. Was I going to do all that. I would rather walk away with a kick in my ass than go through that canned and undignified event. I had seen heroes and villains get the same "good bye".
Enter Norman Hummerstone and the Royal Green Jackets Regiment.
My Lovely and Caring Bride got with Norman (right in front of me) and said that I should have a proper ceremony, one with dignity and style, reflecting our life and the future that we would soon be living. Norman agreed and he was nice enough to call on his friend the Major, who was in charge of the Green Jackets drill hall.
Little ol' enlisted puke me, a retirement ceremony at a proper Drill Hall, off of Oxford Street in the shopping district in Westminster!!!
Free of charge.
Here is what happens at a retirement ceremony at the Royal Green Jackets;
This is a Watercolor of the what had been formerly named "Queen Victoria Rifles" Officers mess. We all had the grand idea of buying this on the spur of the moment, had everyone sign their name and box it up and mail it to Holland Michigan. We did not see this painting for over a year, and did not realize that there is a cryptic hostage note written up top, by Emma's Kiss. More on the kidnapping in a moment!
Back to the story:
We were getting the Royal Green Jackets hall on Davies Street. The only catch was that we could have as many people as we wanted as guests, but they had to have the names for the security check. Also, anyone staying for lunch would have to pay 21 pounds, and the limit of people attending would be to 26.
No problem there, as most of the guests were military. We did have a contingent of Little Ship Club people, so the crowd looked like a wedding. In order to reduce costs, I talked the Corporal in charge of dining into letting us bring a case of Port in without paying the crazy prices that were normally charged.
What a party!
Everyone showed at 1130, the four Captains were shown in and Commander Buck was the MC. I was given the normal roasting, then Norman Hummerstone (Representing the Queen Victoria Rifles and the Royal Green Jackets Regiments) gave a short speech about American and UK relationships, and a thorough explanation of just what a Regiment was.
Spousal Unit receives award
The final speech was mine. My comments supposed to be humorous, with the main points being that I had been in the Naval Service since my seventeenth birthday. I mentioned that I had nightmares of not being in the Navy, and I looked forward to nightmares of being IN the Navy. (I still do!)
I closed out my comments with a reading of this poem, by Don Blanding:
Mystery South of Us
Florida thrusts like a guiding thumb
To the southern islands of rumba and rum,
To the mystery-cities and haunted seas
Of the Spanish Main and the Caribbes.
Where the ghosts of Columbus and Pirates Bold
Seek the islands of Spice and the Streets of Gold.
Where the wandering phantom of Ku-Kul-Kan
Haunts the temples he builded in Yucatan,
Where the jaguars prowl and the lizards crawl
On a broken altar and sculptured wall,
Where Mayan rulers in arrogant pride
Dreamed and schemed and suffered and died.
The inlaid thrones and the sacred urns
Are filled with orchids and stag-horn ferns,
The witching moon of the tropic skies
Caresses the lips and the dead stone eyes
Of fallen idols of lust and blood
That lie in the mold and the reeking mud
Of fever-jungles The dust and bones
Of men who quarried and laid the stones
Of fabulous cities are turned to earth,
The echoes of prayers and chants and mirth
Of vanished people and priests and kings
Are heard in the night-wind’s whisperings.
Florida thrusts like a guiding thumb
To the southern islands of rumba and rum,
To the lands of mystery that lie below,
To the places I know I’m going to go.
This is a Copywritten poem from 1941 Don Blanding
They whistled me "ashore" for the final time and I headed out the door with my Spousal Unit and walked over to the Running Horse Pub.
Once there, all you could see was an ocean of White Navy uniforms, as my shipmates hoisted up pints in my honor, toasting my transfer to the Fleet Reserve. After an hour or so, we were called back to the Royal Green Jackets Mess for the celebratory luncheon. There were more than a few Lieutenant Commanders who tried to use their influence to get an invite for lunch.
Here is an exchange I had with a disappointed non-guest: "Look, I told you to RSVP and let me know if you were coming. None of you had any idea of the good deals I have been involved in and my connections in the Community. Sorry."
You see, because I was an Enlisted cat, most people thought that I was "Just Like any other typical Enlisted Dude". Meaning that I kept to a routine of coming to work, go home and get loaded on beer. Come back to work and do it all over again. These nice Officers never really took the time to get to know me and my career. This is why they were all stunned that I had twenty years in (They really thought I had maybe thirteen/fourteen years in) and was able to leave on half pay!
But the Lieutenant's knew. I worked very closely with a number of 0-3's and they were very aware of my off work shenanigans. This was why we had five of them present for the Lunch. They would never let a good deal pass by, especially if it involved me and the Little Ship Club.
A proper roast beef was presented to us all, and the wines and waters flowed. Finally, it was time for Port and toasts. We destroyed twelve bottles of Sandeman Port that afternoon.
And we were just getting started!
Foreshadowing alert: Someone has forgotten to leave the figurines on the table!
They asked us to leave the Green Jackets Mess at 1600. We moved next door to the Running Horse, had another pint and had the grand idea of returning to the Little Ship Club itself, for final cocktails.
View Larger Map
Double plus bad headwork.
No matter. We all caught cabs and headed to the Club, where the Staff was trying to pull a fast one on us Members. Get this; The LSC is supposed to be open on Fridays, until Eight PM (2000). They may shut down at Six PM if there are no members present.
Well. It was Five Forty-Five PM (1745) and we twelve were present and accounted for and wanting our drinks. In our midst was TWO former Commodores, ONE Life Vice President, One very Prominent City of London Solicitor, One US Navy Commander, three US Navy Leftenants, and me.
The staff tried to say they were closing, and Norman was hearing none of it. We took the bar by force (of our personalities!) and hoisted up the drinking flag. While all of this was going on, the Manager was arguing with Norman and Tom, and one of the Lieutenants slid over to a large easy chair and passed out.
"No matter! Keep the beers coming every five minutes, until someone pukes. Then come every seven minutes." (To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield in "Back to School")
Finally, the Club got us to leave and we headed back to St Katharines Dock, where the
good ship "Fran" waited with a barbecue and even more beer and wine.
But first, Norman wanted a few private minutes with us, so we went to another pub for a couple more ESB's. The pub was an old one, one of Norman's favorites that was due to be demolished for some project. I remember two more pints with Norman and Peter, before I knew it I came to in the cab at St Katharines dock. I stumble back to the boat and I see all of our friends from the club (Minus the US Navy contingent) barbecuing spareribs on the deck of "Fran".
"Oh no... I gotta sleep I mumble", as I climb into bed in the Vee-berth.
A few minutes later, the Spousal Unit rouses me out and says, "look, these people came here for you, the least you can do is sit with them!"
And with that, I walked back to the salon and sat up for another couple hours and had even more beer and wine.
What a party. The next day was "Eleven" on the hangover richter scale. There were bodies strewn everywhere. We began the clean up and my new career as a civilian.
The Lieutenant who passed out at the Little Ship Club was brought back to the building, by his drunken peers. Thusly, did our young Officer did make his way to the Command Center, where he was found by Roving Marine Guards, passed out by the door. A Security Alert was sounded and the entire building was put on Lock-Down, since a Lieutenant in whites had to have been assaulted if he was out cold in a passage way.
His career was over but he did not care since he had planned on resigning his commission in the next month.
I received a phone call from the Corporal at the Green Jackets; Someone had apparently "nicked" a sterling silver custom made figurine from one of the tables.
WHAT THE F-Bomb!!!!! "How much is this thing worth?" I asked.
"About six thousand pounds, it's custom made, depicting a Queen Victoria Rifleman in WW1 attire".
I went nuclear, instantly. There was a rapid cab ride back to the building, where I publicly chewed out those Lieutenants and threatened them in front of a very stern and equally upset Commander. They protested their innocence and I stomped off to my office. A few moments later my boss came in and said that he had a few words with the Lads and said they would help to pay for the figurine, though he believed that they were innocent.
I went over and apologized to the Corporal and assured him that we would get that Statuette back, even if I had to make everyone suffer for this little stunt. The Corporal was actually nice about it, he said people swiped those centerpieces, all the time, usually, a day or so later, the piece shows up after the thief realizes it is worthless to any one but a Royal Green Jacket/Queen Victoria Rifles member.
A very strange phone call was received by me about three o'clock, Someone very close to us called to say "hi". I casually mention that we are missing a very important item... He admitted that he was aware of its location; I got real quiet and said, "I don't care where, or who. That Statuette gets Couriered to the Royal Green Jackets, IMMEDIATELY!" "I DON"T F^#@ing CARE IF IT COSTS YOU A THOUSAND POUNDS, DO IT NOW!!!"
What had happened, a practical joke was devised early in the afternoon. The object was carried out and hidden carefully. The problem was that we had all gotten so hammered, they forgot about the running gag until I mentioned the missing silver! They didn't know why they had that thing!
Today, I think it is entirely hilarious, and it was a great joke that really worked too well. The main problem with their plan was that the ransom note was written on the painting that wasn't seen again until July 2000 when we were in Michigan!
This was a legendary end to a okay/fair career.
Stay tuned for more Rock and Roll.
Off and running!
We gathered our stuff and rented a car to bring us to Lymington, where Wildebeest III was on the hard getting serviced.
I left instructions for the mechanics to replace all hoses, fluids and fix that pesky oil pan leak. We return to find they did most of it, but blew off fixing the oil pan leak because it was "Too Hard." Despite my whining nothing ever did happen about that. But they did spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning the bilges, which the mechanic did exceedingly well.
The tough thing was having Berthon technicians install the Windhunter self steering.
Background: I have the mechanical acumen of a small soap dish, so I can be trusted to use tools on small things, like replacing something or tightening a nut. Creating something out of nothing, even with careful instructions, is a sure path to failure. I just cannot imagine how to attach anything if the holes aren't already there.
The windhunter had three main components; A Fluid Logic device that looked like R2-D2 that sits on the rail. A generator that hangs over the side and a Ram piston device connected to the rudder. The manufacturer claimed that it could all go together with minimal tools.
It took Berthon at least seven working days to install this contraption at a cost of two thousand pounds. But it was solid work, since the railings would have been ripped right off had I followed the instructions and merely tied the contraption on.
Sorry for the crappy photo.
Look; The whole reason for going to a high cost yard like Berthon was to get quality work. They failed on the engine work, and they were making us mad that the install of the self steering was taking so long. Of course, any contractor will try to get a good deal like cost plus time. Then, they will take their time in doing a good job.
Lesson learned? Firm fixed price. Firm time of work completion with punitive costs for time over run. The contractor will cry and wail, but they will take two weeks to do what can be done in three days.
When we got the bill, I about puked. It was Ten Thousand pounds!!! I had a conniption and went straight in to talk to the owner of the yard. I complained of the time it took and that I was paying craftsman rates while I knew for a fact that it was a junior apprentice doing the work. My next bill was equally outrageous, but it was for L5900.00. I paid it and the owner was grateful for us paying and kindly gave us a 12 bottle case of champagne for our troubles.
Berthon was a good yard, just be ready for the high expense. They did work with us and treated us very nicely. I would use them again, just not to install a Windhunter.
We did the bottom paint ourselves, and I took the time to rebuild all the winches, install an electronic and traditional compasses, new instruments for knot log, wind direction and log and depthfinder. We had a tuneup for our new Hood sails and a dodger was purchased and installed. (A dodger is the windshield on a sailboat).
Funny thing about the UK and the pricing schemes; Anything boat related is generally priced about one and a half times what you pay in the Land of the Big P.X. The glaring exceptions are Dodgers and Life Rafts. I got a custom made dodger made and installed by a Craftsman for about four hundred pounds (about $650). Amazing, since the criminal class who make the same thing in the U.S. will charge $1500. Same with the life raft. In America you can expect to spend about $4K for a decent raft. UK it was 900 pounds. We supposed that it is because more people will buy a liferaft or Dodger in the UK since these things are considered a requirement vice a luxury. Most UK sailors have formal classroom training whereas U.S. sailors tend to learn on the job.
Not to mention the fact that Dodger and Bimini stitchers are paying for their children to go to Harvard. Or, just greedy.
We were going through cash like a Philanthropic Congressman spending tax money on Social Services.
We purchased about six hundred bucks worth of canned and dry foods, figuring a year without seeing American prices. The rental car was riding so low that the shocks were inoperative. I had to use a hoist to bring all the food aboard. Our gear and spares were jammed into every little storage space, so much that we had no idea where everything really was. I had hoped to have about twenty to thirty thousand bucks in the cruising kitty when we left. But the preparations cost us about thirty grand, so we actually had about $6K for this trip of a lifetime, and my paycheck was about to get cut to half of basic pay on 29 October. Bummer. I really had no idea of how we would get challenges piled on to us from every direction.
Note: Today, with hindsight I know how to do all this at a quarter cost. We paid for some really stupid unnecessary services and equipment.
Finally, after a month we were dumped in the water and told we had to leave by the end of business today. (Next go-around, I will leave when I'm good and ready... Like the next morning.) We were only about three weeks behind in our schedule, little did I know the effects would be felt in the coming months.
In the week up to departure, we made careful plans for our itinerary; Our first crewman, Chris Nicholson, was available in a couple weeks. We planned on him joining us in Brest, France. This would happen in Mid September. Our other crew for the crossing, Richard, would meet us in Rota Spain.
My pass port was due to for renewal in November, and I had to come back to do my final check out from the Navy at the end of my terminal leave. I thought we would be in Rota by end of October, so I could get a military flight to the UK and wrap up those loose ends. With that being our good plan we got underway on Labor Day 1999, at sundown. We passed the Isle of Wight for the final time, with the Needles on our port side as we headed south to Guernsey, Channel Islands.
The little rocky things in the background, we passed about two hundred yards to their right.
Photo from The Needles Park, UK.
The sailing and cruising life I had hoped, prayed and planned for over fifteen years was now beginning. I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT WAS HAPPENING TO ME!
Our course was set for Guernsey:
Underway, Shift Colors!
As the sun was slipping under the waves, I happily headed the Wildebeest III on a course of about 180 degrees, magnetic. Our goal was to make the Alderney Race with slack tide which would enable us to safely traverse that exciting bit of water. Alderney Race is the water that flows between the Channel Island, Alderney and the North French Coast. There are no beaches, it is all rocky cliffs and deep, fast and treacherous waters. This was a trip of about sixty miles, we should be able to maintain about five knots, so it should be about eleven hours and we will be there. We gave a cushion of about two extra hours, to be sure of making it for the tidal gate.
The tidal flow is probably about three knots and if you get a situation of water flowing on an Easterly course with winds from the East, well, you will get towering waves and all the adventure you can ever dream of.
About 0200, as we were trying to keep awake while avoiding the criss-crosing commercial traffic, I noticed us getting a little close to an avoidance area which might be an obstruction. Steering and paying close attention while keeping the dinner down, and we were both feeling seasick from stress, Westerly winds and the accompanying chop. No problem, Mon!
The Wildebeest III was keeping up gamely as we motored south. We hadn't had a chance to do a shakedown sail, so we were motoring and trying to make miles. The watch was about an hour on and off for the both of us, depending on level of fatigue. Sleep was in fits and starts, while trying to hang on to the cockpit settee and not fall onto the deck..
About 0600, the sun began its rise and we began to feel the rejuvenation of the new day. The Perkins 4/108 continued the 2000 RPM drone with nary a murmer or complaint. We tried to make a snack and some coffee, but She Who Will be Obeyed was having a tough time. I asked her to take another Stugeron pill and imagine this; that tiny pill did get stuck in her throat which inspired her to to do a technicolored yawn into a nearby, convenient bucket.
I could clearly see the little pill sitting triumphantly in the mess, it having done the opposite of its intended use.
Get this; She was never sick again for the next year or so at sea!
Every hour on our course South, we marked our position on the paper chart and we noticed by 0800 that we were not going to make our intended goal. So I raised the Genoa sail and we turned on a course that would take us to Cherbourg, a major port city in Normandy. This was when the motor decided to burp and die. My fatigued mind foolishly decided that we were in the midst of a catastrophe. Oh, if only I knew what was really in store for us...!
It could be that fatigue was talking crap again in my tired mind, but what did I care? Something I knew was gonna happen, happened!
So like the proverbial chicken with the missing head, I started running about, and in my mind I was accomplishing something, but in reality was doing nothing but making noise. The classic "Chinese Firedrill", with much yelling and screaming. I had not quite reached the "Clusterfuck", but trust me, it was coming on fast...
I looked at the engine, yes. It is indeed an engine, hot, with no apparent leaks or obvious damage. In fact, the engine looked good as new, so why won't it start?
Outside, the wind was picking up, and the swells were of course, increasing in size. The lovely Bride was finding it difficult to keep a course, and was telling me that her ankle was hurting and she needed a break.
Well, I am a wannabee sheep dog in life, having served our Country for years and in this situation, serving "She Who Will Be Obeyed". I went completely out of my mind with growing anger with the boat and our disintegrating situation and especially my unhappiness with Lynne's feeling any sort of discomfort. My mental accuity departed from firedrill and went straight to "Enabling Situation: Clusterfuck."
There was a rapid bleeding of the fuel system, and a changing of the fuel filter. I did this in record time and pumped the fuel lift lever to repressurize the system. I ran back up to the cockpit and tried to turn the motor over.
Back to the moter to bleed. Pump the lever about 35 times, repressurize.
Rinse, repeat, Rinse.
By now, the wind had picked up to about 20 knots, (Not a big deal, except to me!) and we had too much sail out, which made the heavy Wildebeest difficult to handle. Being the one legged man in the ass kicking contest, I enabled myself to make even more poor decisons. Why not?
You probably noticed a bad trend, right? It was getting worse, and alcohol was NOT a contributing factor. Just more bad headwork stacked on top of ungood breaks. Usually, when sailing we had the benefit of extra crew, which meant that there would have differing viewpoints and potential options that would lead to a sensible solution to this cascading disaster.
Not this time.
The engine finally fired up, and for a brief moment I began to relax. Now, time to roll up the sail and continue to head into Cherbourg.
The weather was blustery and there was a bit of fog and cloudiness. You could see the shore of Normandy on our right, about three miles away. I turned the boat to the North to roll in the 130 Genoa sail.
Rolling! The boat reacted to seas and wind by rolling strongly from left to right.
The sail complained, as it was still holding tight to the wind, and the port sheet (Which was about 5/8 inch thick) began to snap and whip in the wind. The starboard sheet was doing the job and stayed taught, but the excess line from the port side began to snap dangerously near our heads. I began trying to roll up the jib with the roller furler.
What I should have done was ask for someone to tighten the loose line. But noooo, rather than delegate this important task I was quite busy trying to pull in the sail that I assumed that SWWBO would read my mind...
This is when the roller furling line departed the hub of the roller furler. Our brand new sail had stretched and there was not enough furling reel line to continue rolling sail, so the furling line disconnected from the freakin' hub, and the Genoa started unrolling out in the wind at lightning speed.
Now, the port sheet had tied into a huge knot and started flogging the boat and equipment! A sine wave formed on the forty foot line, and the one pound knot would would head away then build speed and with a snap! it would strike the boat!!
First victim was the bimini frame, which is about head high. The knot struck a blow which caused the metal to buckle and snap apart. We had to pull back to keep from being struck.
The seas were too rough to turn into the wind, so all we could do was run before the wind and waves, all the while the lines were flogging the boat. I ran forward to drop the sail, ducking and dodging the flailing lines. This was the first real emergency we had ever faced while sailing, and it was not fun.
First thing was to identify the halyard that holds the jib/genoa up. I grabbed the blue line and untied it. The wind pressure was holding the sail up and I had to pull on the sail to ease it down. The Spousal Unit was doing a bang up job balancing the boat in the wind and waves.
The sail got about half way down when those damned lines began whipping about me. A mighty tug and the sail completely fell down!
Into the water. While moving at five knots.
Lines were now in the water, threatening to get tangled in the prop. The Sail was partially stuck on the mast and in the water, filling with water. This condition is know as "shrimping"... Big problem was there was only me to pull this giant stiff sail back onboard.
...Now was full panic time. I yelled for the motor to be pulled out of gear, we drifted with the wind and waves while I was pulling with everything I had to get the sail back onboard. Or be ready to cutaway $4500 bucks of new genoa. We had been underway for about nineteen hours and already this.
I pulled, dragged and quietly went about making this happen. Not! I was quietly wailing and gnashing teeth. All my wife could see was sail somehow piling up slowly, and could hear the occasional curse and squawk of my favorite word, which just happens to start with an "F". Finally, after about ten long minutes I got the entire sail out and tied it down to the deck, there was no more energy. I crumpled on top of the sail and had a breather.
"Darryl,..... Are you ok?" "Are you having a heart attack?"
"No... I'm ok, just trying to get my breath!" I yelled back.
"Oh. Ok, I couldn't see you. That was an amazing effort you put in!"
Just like her. Has to say something nice and loving. While I huff and puff like a scared little girl.
Time to Man Up! I crawled my way back to the cockpit, we put the motor in gear and resumed heading to Cherbourg. This was when we opened up our Cruising Guide book to see what the harbor actually looked like;
If I had known that the entrance to the harbor had a West facing break water, I could have just sailed in with the entire sail up, got into the calm harbor and taken down the sail without any drama, and we would have looked like heroes. Nope, we had to learn that complacency and jumping to false conclusions will cause us to make decisions which will not have good results. Piss poor planning does indeed cause poor performance, I should have planned on secondary ports and had charts and guide books ready. We could have avoided all that silliness by just planning to take a little bite at a time, have gone straight to Cherbourg and waited for a good weather window of opportunity that would be two hours away vice fifteen hours away. Plus, Cherbourg is a wonderful nautical city.
We got off lucky that day and were able to motor up to the Port de Pleasance, which is in the Petite Rade. We spent the next couple days thinking about causes and effects, fixing our roller furling and planning better. Our learning curve would have to be steep, but we had just gotten a great lesson about the sea and we had a much better times after this harrowing day. I make it sound more scary than what it was, just like a little drama queen would do. But I am trying to illustrate what was running through my head at the moment.
As for our team work and mutual support? Never stronger. We worked off of each other's weaknesses and strengths, and the bonds of great marriage were becoming bonded with the concrete of shared adventure. I wouldn't think of sailing with anyone else.
We tied up at the Port De Pleasance marina and checked in. Brought our entire bag o' identification papers, passports, receipt of check out from last port of call, ownership papers for Wildebeest III. The Marina staff spoke Anglais, so we were in.
This tall ship was parked across from us, I would say the scenery was pretty cool, nautical and all that.
That afternoon, we walked around town getting a feel for the local stores, restaurants and most importantly; The Bars. Back to the boat for an early evening, we slept like logs until sunrise. Had our coffee and pastries, feeling quite satisfied with ourselves.
About 0900, there was some motion on the water. A motor boat was pulling a line of "Optimist Prams", which is a small sailing dinghy used to teach children how to sail. These kids were about six years old. We thought they looked like little ducklings following the mother duck. But make no mistake; these kids knew how to sail. We considered American Helicopter Mom's, and how there was no freakin' way an American kid would be allowed to sail a small boat without the obligatory team of Lawyers following each boat.
What a great way to learn about self reliance and problem solving.
There was a little excitement that afternoon, I heard a call for help outside and found a sailboat trying to dock in the one vacant spot behind us.
It was a Beneteau 36 or 38, and the motor had apparently crapped out on approach, so they were trying to sail up. Good luck with that, the wind was howling in from the North and the boat wouldn't stop. I motioned and yelled for the skipper to drop the headsail as I tried to keep them from ramming us. The Beneteau stopped, but was starting to turn from the wind blowing the hull. Other boaters from the dock came to our aid and grabbed lines and pulled the sailboat safely to its dock with no further damage. The Skipper invited us aboard for beers and wine to thank us.
Turns out that this type of boat had a fuel tank pick up that would not allow the motor to pump fuel if the boat was at any angle. Pain in the butt!
The next morning, we were underway again, for St Peterport in Guernsey. As we approached the Alderney Race, the winds were out of the East and the water was still flowing from the West, so we had about eighteen foot waves which were sharp and steep. For about and hour we bucked into this mess, with water breaking on the pointy end of the Wildebeest. At about twenty minutes from the Race itself, the tide shifted and the seas began to calm, we motorsailed around the corner and began heading South in very smooth seas. The air temperature was about 75 degrees and the winds were about twelve from the East. Glorious weather!
Soon, we could see Guernsey, and also the other channel islands. We were definitely enjoying this beautiful day on the water.
We began making preparations for entering St Peterport, we had out charts and guide books ready, and we started making our approach.
We noticed a catamaran that was behind us, they seemed to be following precisely our course.
This was an opportunity for fun!
We watched this boat slowly following, and I decided we needed to make a sudden 90 degree turn to the East, as if we were avoiding a rock.
Sure enough, at our point of turn, the catamaran mirrored our course change!
I did it again; Yep. These guys are stupidly following us.
We tied up to a mooring ball and awaited the harbor lock opening. We got inside the port and tied up to the quay. The catamaran pulled up behind us, and I asked innocently, if they had any charts?
"Nope!" "We were hoping someone would know the way in!"
It was four hippy surfer Dudes. They literally had recently purchased this boat and were supposed to sail to Barcelona, Spain. They hoped to do some surfing and maybe some skiing when the winter came. Their only navigation tool was a GPS and an Esso Road Map.
I made the skipper walk with me to the Chandlery, and we bought him a "Reed's" Cruising Guide for Western Europe, and instructed him to buy charts.
We really got to liking these young dudes, they only wanted the chance for fun and adventure, and just wanted to get out there to get it done. They were also very polite and had a special talent to put away any excess beer that we happened to have.
Locally, we got to know a St Peterport Lifeboat skipper who was so happy to meet us that he took it upon himself to show us the Peterport Pubs. He was involved with a sailing charity and he hoped we could make a sizable donation to youth sailing. I had to explain that we were quite poor, the boat may look "wealthy", but the crew ain't.
I changed out the fuel filters and did minor maintenance, then we spent an afternoon setting up way points for our next destination, Brest France.
We left with the tide on the third morning, ready to another overnight cruise. The weather was incredibly good, and we headed Southwest with our Catamaran buddies astern, following us.
About an hour and a half out, we got a radio call from the Catamaran, they were heading back to St Peterport for some malfunction. We never saw them again.
We noticed dolphins following us. The were Siamese Dolphins! Take a look at the coloring, and tell me they are not Siamese!
We took this as a good omen, because we really liked our Siamese Kitties who were safe in California.
We continued our sail through the night. Again, there was fatigue, but all systems were running reliably, and we were able to handle the boat safely. This cruising business was starting to shape up. But a trip to Brest was not just a little jaunt. It was the longest journey ever attempted by the Wildebeest and her crew. We would have to enter unprotected Atlantic waters and go into a Bay.
Onwards, to Brest!
We had a nice northerly breeze pushing us along at about five knots, the seas were manageable. A helmsman must pay close attention to the passage throught the water, you can be going West on a heading of 270 degrees magnetic, but your passage over the ground could be more like 200 degrees and even though you are looking at unobstructed water in front of you, your boat may be about to hit land on your left!
So this meant hourly positions being marked on the paper chart, each little circle having time, course and speed listed next to the mark. Just in case we lost GPS, we could quickly come up with an estimated position and never be more than a mile or two off.
That rocky coast of Brittany be not your friend, especially when ewe be sailing in the moonless night.
The ferries were zooming in and out of Roscoff, heading to and from Plymouth and the UK. There is nothing like a little action to keep one awake and on the toes avoiding the hazards of being an unseeable 43 foot dot in the dark water with speeding ferries the size of city buildings approaching, hauling cargo at 25 knots. Awake I was!
Finally, the sun began to rise and we were approaching the channel between Ushant and Brittany
A black sailboat was passing us about a half mile away to the North. Why, we know those guys from St Katharines Dock! It was a sailboat from New Zealand, and they spotted us, too!
We got a VHF call, and they passed on the weather situation and told us we should continue our trip and bypass Brest and make for LaCoruna, Spain. The weather was to be smooth for the next four days making a crossing of the Bay of Biscay a safe and easy passage. "Go, while you have the chance!"
Time for digression:
Back in the day, cellphones did not reach the shore. The weather is NOT broadcast on VHF in Europe, like it is here in America. Oh no. The British (Who are not open to change and improvement) still broadcast the "Shipping Forecast" on LW radio. Just what is LW? It is between AM and FM, and you must have a special receiver (Which I did NOT) and tune your radio in at some weird time, like 1212, 1812, 0012, 0612.
I am wrong. I just went to the BBC weather site and here is a quote;
This file is updated 4 times a day at or after approximately 0015, 0505, 1130 and 1725. It is read out on Radio 4 at 0048, 0520, 1201 and 1754 (local time). All broadcasts are on LW on 1515m (198 kHz) and some transmissions are on VHF. You can also listen using the link on our website. It gives a summary of gale warnings in force, a general synopsis and area forecasts for specified sea areas around the UK. The radio bulletin also includes the coastal weather reports (0048 and 0536 only) but these are not currently available on our site.
If you miss the forecast especially about your area? Hard Cheese. None for you, and all that.
At those times indicated, every seafaring Englishman has a pencil and pad, and they will transcribe the forecast in their best shorthand. No repeats! Better get it copied right the first time, dirtbag.
The weather is forecasted according to areas, each has a unique name like "Tyne", "Dogger", "Trafalgar", etc. Here is a diagram of the areas:
Evidently, the BBC has caught up with the times and they publish the forecast online.
Awfully nice of them, right? At least today's Mariners can get all the info with no mistakes via computer. Here is a quote for today's weather;
And now the Shipping Forecast issued by the Met Office, on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, at 1130 on Thursday 08 October 2009.
There are warnings of gales in Viking North Utsire South Utsire Forties Fisher German Bight Shannon Rockall Malin Hebrides Bailey Faeroes and Southeast Iceland.
The general synopsis at 0700:
Low Biscay 1010 losing its identity. Low Viking 997 expected eastern baltic 1000 by 0700 tomorrow. High just west of Fitzroy 1021 expected Dogger 1024 by same time. Developing atlantic low expected 200 miles southwest of Iceland 980 by that time.
The area forecasts for the next 24 hours:
Viking North Utsire South Utsire:
Northerly or northwesterly 6 to gale 8, occasionally severe gale 9 at first. Rough or very rough. Squally showers. Mainly good.
Forties Cromarty Forth Tyne Dogger:
Northwest veering southeast 5 to 7, occasionally gale 8 in Forties. moderate or rough. Squally showers. Mainly good.
Fisher German Bight:
West or northwest 6 to gale 8, occasionally severe gale 9 in Fisher. moderate or rough, occasionally very rough. Squally showers. moderate or good.
Humber Thames Dover Wight Portland Plymouth:
Northerly veering southerly 4 or 5, occasionally 6. Slight or moderate, increasing moderate or rough in Plymouth. Occasional rain. moderate or good.
Cyclonic becoming southwesterly 5 or 6. Slight or moderate. Showers, thundery at first. Moderate or poor becoming good.
Variable 4 becoming southwesterly 5 to 7. Moderate or rough. Rain or showers. Moderate or good, occasionally poor later.
Sole Lundy Fastnet:
North or northeast 4 or 5 veering south or southeast 5 to 7. Slight or moderate, occasionally rough. Occasional rain. Moderate or good.
Northerly veering southeasterly 3 or 4, increasing 5 to 7, perhaps gale 8 later. Slight or moderate increasing moderate or rough. Rain later. Moderate or good.
South or southeast 4 increasing 6 to gale 8, perhaps severe gale 9 later, then veering southwest 5 to 7. Slight or moderate increasing rough or very rough. Rain or showers. Moderate or good.
Variable 4 becoming south or southeast 6 to gale 8, perhaps severe gale 9 later. Moderate or rough, occasionally very rough. Showers then rain. Good becoming moderate or poor.
Southeast 4 or 5 increasing 7 to severe gale 9, perhaps storm 10 later. Rough increasing very rough. Showers then rain. Good becoming moderate or poor.
Northwest veering southeast 5 to 7, perhaps gale 8 later. Moderate or rough, occasionally very rough later in southwest. Showers then rain. moderate or good.
Northerly 5 or 6 backing southeasterly 6 to gale 8, perhaps severe gale 9 later. Rough, occasionally very rough later. Showers. moderate or good.
Variable 4 becoming southeasterly 7 to severe gale 9, perhaps storm 10 later. Moderate or rough increasing very rough. Rain or showers. Good becoming moderate or poor.
To a European, it all makes sense. To an American who wants it all, now!, not so much.
I found a site that explains more fully, the evolution of the UK Met office weather reports on the BBC. I did not realize the popularity of the four weather broadcasts a day on the LW Radio, and how people who didn't have a maritime reason still enjoyed the broadcasts! Read the link if you are interested, or don't. I'm just makin' the info available.
Sooooo, we get the word to continue our passage to Spain but had we planned for Brest and our scheduled crewman, Chris, was supposed to meet us there for the Biscay crossing. Chris was paying for a ferry trip to join us and it would not be nice if we left him standing in the Port with no idea where we were.
On to Brest!
We made the turn to the South and we noticed that we had caught the current flowing towards the Rade de Brest. Hauling the mail, it seemed, and we were doing about nine knots over the ground. Whooo hooo, this was fun! About five miles from the entrance to the Bay, we noticed other boats passing us to the West, heading North. They were waving and trying to get our attention.
"Oh, look. How friendly, they are waving to the American boat!" I hope/cheerfully said.
"I wonder what they are trying to say?" the Spousal Unit asked rhetorically.
Just then, our speed dropped to about two knots. The tide had literally switched as we pondered what the situation was.
And we could not turn to the South East without being pushed quickly towards the rocky shore. We raised up the main and tightened the jib and increased the throttle to the max speed of 2800 RPM, tacked quickly to the West. This made us go on a course of 300 degrees, away from our destination.
There was much head scratching and quiet cursing, we had planned to be at the Rade de Brest for the tide to be flowing IN. That was apparent to us, problem was that there was an offshoot of the tide that was flowing to the NORTH, and into our face! So we headed out to sea, planning our next tack which should bring us further South. We made the tack and tried to head 150 degrees, but we just could not make any Southerly progress and there was a huge set of rocks blocking the entrance to the Bay.
Frustrating. Now we knew what the people were trying to communicate to us and they were teling us we should have began our approach further out to sea, and not hugging the coastline. Three attempts were made to make the course to the right of the rocks. No joy.
We were now into the third hour of this unplanned event and we were already fatigued and running out of options. We tightened the sails on the final tack and ran the motor up to the max (3000 RPM!) and went INSIDE the rock, with as much sail angle as possible, to let the keel pass any potential shallows.
Slowly, we made it to the rocks and slid inside and passed without touching bottom. Too cool!
As we passed the rocks the current grabbed us and we flushed into the Rade de Brest like surfing the swirling swell of a toilet. Woo-Hoo!
It was about fifteen miles to go, the breezes were right and it was a grand sail. Should have taken us three hours to make the port, but it only took an hour. Hauling the mail, I say! Once there, I called the port on VHF 16 and they directed us inside the visitor dock. We tied up and made the mile and a half walk to check in to the Marina.
They had gone home. We noted the door to the public showers and we walked back all the way back to the Beest, gathered up our shower equipment and found a sympathetic Anglais speaker who gave us the lock code to the Showers. We even brought some Franc coins (Because the French don't believe in "free" showers) so we hoped for hot showers and a warm dinner to help bring us down from the adrenaline rush. (Not-so-fast...) We went into the gender specific bathrooms, found the shower. I hopped inside mine, took off my clothes and glasses, tried to put the five franc coin into the meter box for the water.
The shower box only took tokens. To keep the thieves at bay. Put back on the clothes and met the Spousal Unit outside. She was so angry that she began to just cry out of frustration. I do not handle tears very well, I would rather a hot poker stuck in my eye than have She Who Will Be Obeyed cry about anything.
We hobbled our way back to the Wildebeest (Her ankles were giving out and she was in arthritic pain), I pulled the stored gear from our bathtub and filled it with hot water and suds. Our hot water heater only held five gallons, so I had to heat up water with the stove and filled the tub up to chest high, got her a glass of white wine and left her to soak the frustration away.
Meanwhile, I made Shipwreck casserole:
One casserole pan, add: Can of potatoes, rinsed. Can of Black Beans, rinsed. Can of roast beef. Can of Campbells Cheese soup to cover. Bake for twenty minutes until steamy. Dinner was grand!
Dinner completed, I took my shower after the water heated up and then off to bed. Our crew Chris will be here in a day or two.
We were docked on the end, on the long dock to the left side.
There will be fun and disappointment coming right up. Also, more photos.
Stay tuned for more Rock and Roll Radio.
Our visit to the Port City of Brest, France!
The very next morning, we checked in properly with the Brest Port Officials and get tokens for showers. They were about two bucks apiece, can you believe that?
Note: The French don't care for showers, but don't mind if you pay for them.
We purchased about 20 tokens, to be sure of not running out in the future. We scampered over to the heads and happily stood for our five minute showers. We returned to the boat extra clean and very happy to be in France.
Going ashore meant a trip to find the local stores and Boulangerie's. We hopped a bus to the town (Brest is actually quite small!) and took in the sights.
Returning to the Wildebeest, I performed a thorough inspection of the rigging and engine room. All through-hulls were opened and closed and filters cleaned. I noticed a small water leak coming out of the diesel motor intake water impeller pump. For the first time, I opened the pump and changed an impeller. As usual, water still leaked. Darn! Opened it back up, looking if a gasket had become pinched. Nope, water leaking heavier now. This is what happens when I mess with things that are kinda working; they break even more.
This was when our crewman, Chris N. showed up to the boat. We welcomed him aboard, had lunch and some wine and beer to celebrate. Chris showing up meant we were that much closer to continuing the mission, heading to Spain.
All was moving in the right direction excepting that the weather started closing in. The forecast was for winds to pick up to 40 knots for the next week because some Autumnal low pressure systems were inbound, and our water pump was not right. Some decisions were gonna have to be made;
1. My passport was expiring on 30 November. That meant needing a replacement, and the nearest place to do this was Paris or London.
2. I was still on terminal leave from the Navy. Now, just to annoy me and get in my way, someone in the Personnel Department had ordained that I had to check back in on the 30th of September, only to finally check out on final terminal leave. One can't have more than 60 days of leave in one fell swoop, can they? I dislike capricious rules, really.
Since we were going to be stuck in Brest for weather, the decision was made for me to travel to Roscoff, hop a ferry to Plymouth and then take a train to London and knock it all out. Spousal Unit and Chris can remain on the boat and ready us for the next leg.
I managed to get on a bus for the train station and I took a train to
Roscoe ROSCOFF and ambled over to the ferry port. The ferry wasn't leaving until the next morning, so I had to stay in a hotel for the evening at great expense. Next morning, underway onboard the ferry and riding in first class. Ahh, this was the way to cross the channel!
Once arriving in Plymouth, I walked to the train station, bought a funny looking paperback and settled in for the three hour ride to Waterloo.
On the back of the book;
What the publisher is saying ...
"Just when you thought the south Florida crime novel was played out and gasping for fresh air, along comes Tim Dorsey to give it a hot spike of pure adrenaline called Florida Roadkill. Think Hunter Thompson leaving Las Vegas and taking Fear and Loathing through the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail. Think Thomas Pynchon on a psychotic break. Think Elmore Leonard mainlining speedballs, or James W. Hall tripping on Ecstasy. Think Quentin Tarantino whispering in Carl Hiaasen’s ear, “You don’t go far enough -- out!” This is a wild-at-heart, pinball-machine of a novel, teeming with oddball kooks. crazies and maniacs as they careen through Florida on a kaleidoscopic crime-and-violent-mayhem spree, with stops in Tampa, Palm Beach, Cocoa Beach, Miami Beach, Key West and the Dry Tortugas. Ultra-sex, mondo-drugs, Satanic rock ’n’ roll. Lap-dancing coke whores, money-laundering life insurers, ruthless retirement-village scammers. Five million bucks in a suitcase dropped in the trunk of the wrong car, with a whole convoy of homicidal wackos in pursuit – and every damn one of them stops in Miami to take in the last game of the World Series. The dumb bad guy is hooked on cocaine and cartoons; the smart one is obsessed with Sunshine State lore; the babe is a walking wet dream who’s twice as deadly as the men. And get this: There are two good guys, and one of them is a lawyer. This is Florida in all its decadence, corruption, dysfunction, cupidity, stupidity and bizarro violence. But native Floridian Tim Dorsey still loves his home state – the pure Florida that hasn’t been completely paved over – and he eloquently communicates his abiding passion for its beauty and history. But mainly, Florida Roadkill is a hyperkinetic, ultraviolent, crazily lyrical and hysterically funny crime fiction with a post-modern spin. From murder by Levis 501s to the Running of the Hemingways in Key West, this novel is overdosed, overdriven and over-over-the-top.”
I began reading this book on the train and feel bad for the surrounding passengers... I was in full stitches, trying vainly to repress my giggles and guffaws. In no time I was in London and at the end of the book. "Florida Roadkill" became the cruise-crew required reading novel, and I heartily recommend it. Many of the jokes in transit came from this book, such as, "Beer Me". It's a real fun read, trust me!
Back to the mission: So I cabbed over to Oxford street, went to Drugstore that did instant passport photos. Five minutes later, pictures in hand I headed over to Grosvenor Square and to the Embassy.
I still had my "Striped Badge" which identified me as working for the Operations Directorate and in particular, showed me as being in special programs with striping which indicated access to TS/SCI material. I clipped my badge on and walked in the embassy acting like I was there on business, especially as I was noticing a line full of people that headed out the door which terminated at "Passport Services" window. This was my cue to ask a helpful person at a nearby desk, "I need to renew my passport, and I am from across the street..."
"Oh, yes. Come this way." Said the nice lady as she eyed my ID Badge.
I was led to the Passport Counter, where another nice Embassy employee opened a previously closed window for just me.
"Here, fill in this form, hand me your passport and pictures".
Moving quickly, and feeling the heat from the glare of forty sets of eyes on my neck, I filled out the info on the application and passed it over. There was a "thanks" sound followed by a "wait over there instruction."
Five minutes of innocently looking around, and my name was called. My passport was warm and more importantly, good til 29 Sept of 2009! I guess my day was progressing my way, and it was only 2:00 PM!
Passed through the Marine Guards at the Headquarters, I walked up the circular square stairway to the fifth floor for the final time. I turned in my leave papers and received my final papers. They told me that I could turn in my Active Duty card when I got to Jacksonville and replace it with a Blue one after my terminal leave was up on 30 October.
"Have a safe trip home!" which were the final words I heard from the nice Personnelman Third Class to me as an Active Duty Serviceman.
It was now 2:30 PM, civilian time. I walked down the stairs slowly, soaking in the final smells and sounds of a Naval Force Command that I had spent the past four years of my life as a part of, now becoming just a stranger. My valuable Striped Badge (which identified me as a person cleared to view vital Intelligence) was turned in to a bored Marine Lance Corporal, who called the ID clerk over to dispose of it properly. I was signed out of the building for the final time, walking away from what was my life from 1978 to 1999.
With that part over with, I walked quietly out the doors and caught a cab for the Little Ship Club where I would meet up with a few of my friends for dinner and drinks.
I stayed that night with Simon and Wendy Phillips, great friends from the club. Wendy made a sack of sandwiches the next day for the train ride to Plymouth, which I consumed over the three hour trip. Cheese and Onion sandwiches. In the UK, they eat a great many foods that they consider "comfort foods". Like a yeast paste known as Marmite. Also known as "Bovril" and "Vegemite".
Some people adore the taste, some detest it. In fact, there are television commercials in the UK showing people trying to run away from a Supermarket Sample of the hideous product.
No, Wendy knew not to give me sandwiches made of Marmite. She kindly made Cheese and Onion sandwiches. You shred cheddar cheese, the very sharp variety, not that yellow stuff you get in America. Mix with a healthy amount of chopped yellow onion and use mayonnaise as a binding agent, spread on on white bread and you have a lunchtime treat... Sort of.
Never in my life had I eaten such a thing. "Onions, front and center. Attack the breath; GO!" But I was grateful to have something to eat on the long train trip. I think the first two sandwiches were ok, but the third and fourth were literally like the "Pork Chop Hill" of luncheon dining. Baloney would have been a bit better, but that's how it goes when someone gives you a free lunch. Thanks to Wendy, there were also apples to dessert upon after those nice sammiches. It was a very kind thing for her to have made me a lunch to snack on while watching the rainy British Countryside whiz by. Soon I was back on the ferry and back in my hotel room at Roscoff. Again, I had to wait overnight for the train ride back to Brest.
Once home at the Wildebeest, the weather forecast was still bad and we would not be able to depart until at least five more days had passed. Plus that darn water pump was needing attention to ensure our motor would behave for the Biscay crossing. I pulled the pump off the engine, and Chris looked through the English to French phrase book for the term; "Le Pompe de Eau". We hiked to the local Perkins shop to order the pump. The clerk pointed to the English word, "Tomorrow" and wrote out the Franc amount equivalent to $350.00.
After that bit of fun, Chris and I stopped by the local wine shop and purchased ten bucks of pain killer, and slogged it all back to the 'Beest. The next morning, the winds were still howling at about 35 knots, and rain clouds kept washing us down. We were enjoying the second pot of coffee when a feeble sounding knock was heard on the coach roof.
Spousal Unit opened the hatch and leaned out, "Yes? What can we do for you?"
An attractive, tired looking and wet young lady with a Dutch accent introduced her self as "Magritte", and said, "I knew you could speak english, because of the American flag, could you tell me where the showers are?"
I jumped in, "Where'd ya just come from, which one is your boat?"
She pointed to a little 25 foot aluminum boat and said she just got in from the Azores. "It's been a seven day passage..." And she started to cry.
Yikes, sailed in from the Azores, and in the weather we are enjoying?
She went on saying she needed a shower desperately, and she hadn't eaten much in a week. We gave her two shower tokens and told her the code and where to go. We also invited her to lunch when she was ready.
About an hour later, looking infinitely better, Magritte came back to the boat to tell us her tale.
Spousal Unit asked what she would like for lunch, we had three kinds of leftovers and a microwave.
Magritte squeaked, "You have a microwave???"
Turns out that Magritte's boat had engine problems and the sails had been blown out. Because her boat was so light in weight, she had to strap her self in the cockpit while the boat was thrown around in the Biscay gale driven seas. When she could get below for a minute to find food, she would start her alcohol stove and set a can on the flame until the can exploded. Then she would scrape out what was left and eat. I guess she had lost her can opener, too.
Note: Am I the only person who knows how to use a knife or screwdriver to open a can? I would have used a knife (I showed her how to take a heavy knife to pop open a can) and ate the food cold. Europeans always seemed to think that canned food has to be cooked.
Remember that little nugget. Canned foods and cooking. You will hear of this problem again...
Anyway; the motor would run on Magritte's boat about five minutes, then shut down from overheating. Sounds like an impeller problem to me! When your tool box is full of hammers, every problem looks like a nail. Thermostat is more likely the problem. Just remove it and hope for the best, is what I would have done...
As we looked her boat over, we realized Magritte was on the wrong side of the breakwater and more importantly, she was facing the bay and the increasing winds. Our mission soon became one of moving the boat and securing it on the safer side of the seawall ASAP, and secure her boat before the coming storm beat her boat more. Only problem was that it was only Chris and myself immediately available for this task. The winds were increasing and consequently, so were the waves. We needed more manpower.
There was this large wooden sailboat, about two boats down.
It looked ominous and there was a crew of about six onboard. They looked like "skinheads", violent European youth who enjoyed fighting and drinking. The uniform of such youngsters is Levi jeans, Doc Marten Boots and shaved heads.
I nervously approached "Aida" and knocked and I asked if anyone spoke english? The skipper came up and answered that he did, what do I want?
The explanation of a young Dutch lady needing their assistance, and that we would give them a dinner of Chili and a Keglet of Heineken if they would kindly help pull the small boat about a hundred yards.
There was a moment as the skipper went below to consult with his friends. I wondered if I was crazy to ask and would there be trouble..?
About ten seconds went by when a rumbling came up from the inside of "Aida"! Six strong and tall Norse Vikings came on deck in a rush.
"What, a Damsel in distress??? "We don't need beer and food, we do this for free, HA!"
And with that they ran to the boat, practically picked it up (I'm exaggerating!) and dragged the ailing sailboat past the jetty and brought her around behind the Wildebeest. We all exchanged names and made new friends. The offer for chili was still there and was they accepted and asked to host a celebration party on "Aida". Magritte offered to buy a case of beer, so the plans were set in motion; Dinner will be at Six PM on Aida.
A pot chili was made up on Wildebeest in the homemade method we enjoyed. We chilled our keglet of beer and at the appointed time we made our way to "Aida". Upon a great welcome aboard, we learned from Horvath and Per that the boat had been hand built by the six friends from Norway. Their plan was to sail to Trinidad for Carnival, where they would bring out their bongo drums to the shore and play. They very gentle and fun loving Vikings, they were. And hurt feelings they had, indeed, when I said that we were afraid of meeting them before that morning!
Magritte is in the background talking to Horvath. Dig that hanging table! Chris is the grey haired chap on the right.
More party shots:
We can put a hurtin' on some beer!
After chili and beer? Bongo's must be played!
The Spousal Unit's handwritten log of the party:
We ran out of beer and steam about eleven o'clock. Great new friends and great party.
Our pump came in the next day and was installed without problem or delay. Part of final departure preparations were made and we loaded up with wine and food, filled up the tanks and soon we were underway for LaCoruna three days later.
Our goal was to get to the West of Cabo de Penas. We wound up on a course to the East of that noble goal...
Crossing Bay of Biscay
Mister Peabody says, "Into the Wayback Machine, Sherman".
Finally, we had completed repairs on the Perkins 4-108 diesel, loaded food and water, and during a very breezy Friday afternoon, we began our quest underway for La Coruna, Spain. For excitement, we got pinned by the wind to the dock and we had to get the immediate help of three people passing by on the dock to shove us off. Once we muscled our way off and got underway, Wildebeest drove over to the fuel dock and loaded up with a full bag of diesel, 50 gallons, plus filling four 5 gallon jerry cans.
I hoped it would be enough fuel, because this was going to be the longest offshore trip we had ever attempted on any vessel.
Underway for the second time that day, we passed through the entrance of the Bay of Brest in blustery 15 knot winds, with a light (but growing) chop. We came about on a course of 200 degrees heading south-south west for Spain.
Dinner was a large can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Which soon became a bit of a problem...
I had always enjoyed Hormel Products, especially the non refrigerated microwaveable foods, they are nutritious, easy to store and are very filling. We had stocked up with 20 large cans of Beef Stew because we could. Our new problem was that after eating our bowls of stew, we were feeling a bit ill from being bloated and the sea sickness was finding its way into our souls. Part of this is dreading the unknown dangers that the sea can present to the new Captain and crew. Our crewman, Chris, puked about every ten minutes, and I was not far behind with my sympathy puke, too. Actually, I was able to keep the technicolor yawn down, but felt like it could happen at any moment so it was important to me (anyway) that I keep up the appearance of stoic resolve for all watching. But during my off watch times I was bundled up on the floor, out of sight from Spousal Unit and Chris, barely keeping dinner down and trying to get a bit of rest in between watches.
About 0200, I was feeling much better and was on the helm and I noticed some strange lights up ahead. It was large and I could sense it was an Aircraft Carrier, but I kept quiet since there was no moon to illuminate the sky and I might look dumb. The lighting just wasn't quite right but then they vanished. Maybe I was hallucinating, right? The end of watch soon came and I was relieved by the spousal unit and then I got to go below for another snooze. About twenty minutes into her session on the wheel, she called me up asking if there were any big ships in the area. I replied that there were, perhaps possibly an Aircraft Carrier. I came up on deck and sure enough, a big object was spotted displaying the lighting that a smaller ship would ordinarily show.
Note: It's called "Deceptive Lighting". Makes a ship look like it isn't what you might think she is. Only problem was that a hatch (Door; to you land lubbers) had been left unsecured and I could see passageway lights of a big passageway, the kind normally on a Naval Vessel. The decision was instantly made to let a feminine voice challenge the ship via VHF. This was particularly because the Carrier did not respond to any of my calls I had made an hour or so back. These Navy folks will answer a Lady, for sure...
She gets on the VHF and calls, "Unidentified Warship; This is U.S. Sailing Vessel Wildebeest Three to your North... I am heading South, what are your intentions?" All of a sudden, I could hear hatches being slammed shut and the regular navigation lights came on! It was the French Carrier, "Charles De Gaul" and they pushed the pedal to the metal and departed almost instantly, without a reply on the VHF 16.
About an hour later, I heard the DeGaul calling another vessel, and they identified themselves as the "French Warship DeGaul". Too cool.
Wildebeest III continued pinching against the winds on our heading to La Coruna, but the winds were coming out of the Southwest, so it was difficult to make way towards our destination. Fortunately, the wind had dropped to about eight knots, so it was comfortable, and we were motor sailing. The sun came up like it usually does every morning, just around day-break and we all felt decidedly better. We continued pinning our way to La Coruna, on the more Western part of the Iberian Peninsula. Clouds started building up through the day and we reefed our mainsail and tried tacking into the building winds. About 1700, the wind had built up to about 25 knots, and we rolled up the sails and motored directly into the growing chop. I was getting worried about the building weather and especially about what I would do to keep us all safe and comfortable. We tuned a hand radio into the BBC Shipping forecast. TheBBC mentioned winds of 16-20 knots. We wondered where in the Bay of Biscay could these winds be? They were gusting above 30 knots and concern/fear was definitely growing as the skies darkened.
The special deal with Biscay can briefly be described as such:
Bay of Biscay, vast inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, southeastern Europe, bounded on the north and east by France and on the south by Spain. The maximum width and length are 640 km (400 mi). The southern coast is precipitous and rocky. In the southeast between the mouths of the Adour River and Gironde estuary, the coast is low and sandy, with many lagoons. Low marshland prevails for 320 km (200 mi) north of the Gironde, but beyond the Quiberon Peninsula the coast is moderately elevated and rocky. Numerous streams run into the bay from the mountains of Spain and through the rivers Loire, Charente, Gironde, and Adour in France. The chief ports are Gijón, Santander, Bilbao, and San Sebastián in Spain; and Bayonne, Bordeaux, Rochefort, La Rochelle, Nantes, and Lorient in France. Among the principal islands in the bay are Belle-Île, Noirmoutier, Ré, and Oléron. Navigation is difficult and dangerous because of the prevailing northwestern winds and a strong current.
Gee, that doesn't sound so bad, does it?
The winds drive the Atlantic Ocean into this large bowl. The problem is that the depths in the ocean are averaging a couple thousand fathoms, but Biscay is about a hundred fathoms! Plus you pile up waves, which reverberate off the rocky coast add some extra winds and you have the recipe for disaster, if you happen to be on a sailboat.
Define "Embayed": (navigation) Pertaining to a vessel in a bay unable to put to sea or to put to sea safely because of wind, current, or sea.
Being embayed is a condition where the current and wind will not let a sailboat tack into safer waters. Usually, if you have no motor you will crash into the rocks and be destroyed
By sundown, the winds were 35 knots gusting to 40. We rolled all remaining sails and battened down all hatches and covers. I turned the boat into the wind and settled into a routine of foolishly smashing into the waves head on. We rocked violently in the moonless night and would have to turn my head each time I heard the crash of a wave on our bow, because the spray would rocket into my face like from a firehose. The seas tried to make the boat broach to either side, which would really risk our safety if we lost control. This was turning into the worst sailing/boating situation I had ever been involved with on my own and I had no idea what to do, other than try to endure and hang on for better weather. The knot log instrument said we were maintaining about four to five knots, so I presumed we were making up some miles heading west, which was good. By morning, when the winds had calmed we could resume sailing to La Coruna on an easier tack, with he winds coming from our starboard beam instead of being close hauled to winds on the starboard bow. The night slowly slogged on and I traded two hour watches with Chris, and the boat was a mess. I slept in the cockpit so I could be available in a second's notice to help as we tried to keep the Wildebeest on her Westerly course. Finally, the longest night I have ever faced (This side of SERE School) was fading, the winds and seas were beginning to ease. Time for breakfast! I crawled below into the tossed cabin and searched for something fast, portable and good. Especially something not marked Beef Stew. Digging around a locker, I found a large can of fruit cocktail and managed to get one spoon from a drawer. The boat was moving around too much to get more utensils. Climbed back to the cockpit and opened the can and the three of us shared the one spoon and devoured the tasty fruit.
I tried to snooze for a half hour to regain my energy, but it was still too bumpy to do anything down below. At 0930, I noticed the engine starting to sound a little muffled. Time to do a proper security check of the boat. I went forward and opened a floorboard to inspect a through hull and found water. I shut the valve (in case it was the leaker) and moved quickly to the engine room. I opened the door and gasped.
Water was up to the oil pan. The bilge was about three feet deep and water was up to the OIL PAN!!!!!
Had I not looked, we could have lost battery power and have really been in a pickle. I checked the circuit breaker panel and noticed the "Bilge Pump" switch in off position. I switched it on. It tripped off.
Again and again.
I grabbed for the chart to plot our position. In my mind, We were sinking. I called up in the most calm voice I have ever muster; "Could you start pumping the hand pump, hmmm?"
"Just start pumping, ok?"
I heard the sounds of pumping and I started plotting our position. This was our situation... during the night, I knew that we were far from land and did not do my normal hourly position plot on the chart. I presumed that we were about fifty miles further to the west than what we really were. The GPS clearly put us at 150 miles due South from Brest. We had beat ourselves up and stayed in precisely the same spot all night, and to make matters worse we had burned about ten gallons of diesel for nothing.
And we were sinking.
"Hey, the pump jammed!"
This was when I went very calm cleared my mind of nonsense and started to think fast about our situation. We had a life raft, the wind and water were still choppy, but the boat was still afloat, so we can still fight to save her. I noticed the water level had not risen, so maybe there was a big chance that we were going to be ok... I climbed into the cockpit and made the news known to everyone;
"We are 150 miles from anywhere. The main pump is inop and the hand pump has clogged... We are in a lot of trouble because we have a leak and I don't know where it is. The good news is that the water is not rising so we seem to have stabilized, the bad news is that we are out of helicopter range for an easy rescue. We will have to save this boat, there is no other choice."
"Chris; you have the watch until I relieve you. Lynne J.; I need you down here to pass tools and help me because I am going to pull the battery and tie it aside, then I will pull the bilge pump out from below the battery and see if I can fix it..."
The Wildebeest had three type 4D Gel-cell batteries, each was bolted down securely to a wooden platform. Each battery weighs at least eighty pounds, so you want them to be tied down to ensure they don't become airborne. The platform the batteries were installed on covered the bilge and consequently obscured the bilge pump.
I disconnected the #3 Battery cables and wrapped them in rubber and set the cables aside I unbolted the battery tie downs and pulled the battery away from it's mount and dragged it over by the nav station. The Spousal Unit sat next to the battery to make sure it did not slide back towards me. I unscrewed the battery table decking and opened an area I could reach into to get the pump. There was about two and a half feet of water over the pump, I found it and asked for a straight edge screwdriver. Using two hands I guided the screwdriver to the hose clamps and loosened. I got the pump free from the hoses and pulled it up to where I could see it. I disconnected the power cable and began to figure out how to clean and rebuild the pump. It was filthy with clotted oil, which the water from the leak had spilled from the engine bilge.
Many paper towels and degreasing agents later, I took the magnetic switch apart, cleaned it and reinstalled. I pulled the pump apart ripping out the little fibers and strings and gunk which had jammed the pump. I reattached the switch and pump assembly and reconnected power and dug my arms into the bilge again for reinstall.
I got up to triumphantly turn the circuit panel switch to "on", and the switch tripped.
And again and again.
Pulled pump back out and redo the whole process. Finally, after about three hours of hard work, the pump came to life, and the water was drained in no time at all. And there was no new water filling in. Saved again! But I wondered where the leak was?
By now, the time had progressed to 1300 and we had a lunch briefing for the crew. Every stitch of clothing was sopping wet, no storage area was untouched by the previous flood. We were still in the middle of nowhere, with a boat of questionable sea keeping ability. The winds and seas were what they were, we are gonna have to suck it up and sail. We probably cannot can't make it to LaCoruna with the current and projected winds. But surely there is another port, right? Any suggestions...?
The mainsail was raised to the third reef and the headsail was rolled to it's third reef, this was a short as the sails can be... The Wildebeest is a Sailboat; Let's Sail!!!
The Spousal Unit opened up the Cruising Guide to the Costa Del Muerte, the rocky Northern Coast of Spain and found a safe harbor; Gijon, Spain.
|Gijon. Look at that protected harbor!|
Gijon has a breakwater we could sail into and best of all; It was directly South of us. That meant we could set the sails tight and sail into the wind (the fastest point of sailing) and hold a course of 180 degrees. The wind was from the West and was about 26 knots.
The Wildebeest began her run South with a bone in her teeth and the smell of Land in her nostrils. We began going as fast as eight knots, with the swells hitting us off the starboard bow. Night began to approach and the winds began the same nonsense from the night before, only this time, we were in fighting mode. No more cowering with the motor on and sails rolled up. The shipping forecast still told us that our winds were 16 to 20 from the Northwest but our winds were 26 to 32 from the Southwest. While Chris and I were swapping watches, about an hour on and off, the Spousal Unit stayed below charting the hourly positions and draining water from the storage lockers with a bucket. About every fifteen minutes I would hear a pathetic sounding, "Bucket, please". And I would open the hatch slide, grab the bucket of slimy water and pour it out of the cockpit. (Next time, we will pour it into the sink to drain out, but doing it this way kept our minds and bodies on the job of sailing. She kept up at this for over eight hours while the boat rose and shook with each blow she received from the rollers coming from the open ocean. And Lynne could not see what or where we were going, just marking the chart every half hour and holding on tight. What a trooper!
Steering the Wildebeest was tough. We were trying to move on course of 180 degrees, but the seas would smash into us trying to turn the hull to the left. The winds would gust heavily, which made the sails pull us to the right. It was a fast balancing act, where the wheel would be spun hand over hand in what ever direction needed to keep course stability the nose of the boat would climb a swell, reach the peak and fall left or right, depending on what the present force happened to be.
I would sharply snap my head to the left and a spray of water would spray the back of my head, which had coveralls and a hat to keep me relatively dry. Feel the boat start to turn to the left, speed picks up, I gotta muscle the boat's heading to the right... and;
Turn your head or take a punch to the kisser!
All night long.
0600 came and as the big orange ball rose and the clouds began to thin, we could actually see the stars and the horizon ahead. We had survived the night! Our spirits began to rise and coffee smells began to ease out of the open cabin. The winds had dropped to a very manageable 15 knots and the seas were smoothing out with a promise of a beautiful day. The Wildebeest became very easy to handle and she was keeping her speed up, we had another 25 miles to go to the harbor and it was a beautiful day to be sailing. The sun was warm as it became higher in the sky and the winds dropped even more, so much that I began to consider continuing on to the West to our original destination of La Coruna. This idea was promptly rejected by She Who Will Be Obeyed.
"We're going to
Dijon GIJON" she ordered...
We arrived in the port town of Gijon Spain at about 1400. I signed us in and we were assigned a berth. We tied up and tried to find some dry clothes so we could get ashore. The last twenty seven hours saw us travel about 180 nautical miles, easily the best distance we had ever seen while sailing. In retrospect, it was the finest sailing I have ever done in my life.
We got some dry clothes on, pounded the pavement to a "Theederia", where there was some seafood tapas to be had. Our waiter spoke no english, and we of course, spoke no Spanish but he ordered the best value platter with the Fruita Da Mare and brought out wonderful wines and beers for the three sailing vagabonds.
We noticed that the Waiter would stop by a table and grab a bottle, which looked like a bottle containing hooch. He would solemnly stare straight ahead and pour into a pint glass, about a quarter full. The Waiter would slam the glass down and the patron would grab the glass, pound down as much as he could in one gulp. Then with careful disdain would fling the dregs over the floor.
I had to have me some of that fire water, oh yes! We managed to communicate to the Waiter that we wanted a taste, he shook his head like we would be sorry and gave me the business.
He poured and then pounded the glass on the table and I started to sip and the waiter said, "NO, NO"!
He motioned I needed to pound it down in a fell swoop.
So I did.
A familiar taste, no burn of hard liquor (I expected at least a hard cider...) It was English Cider.
Like Strongbow. Ahhh, We were in a "Theederia", which is spelled "Cideria". Duh!
One: Know your boat and all systems. I got lucky because I vaguely knew how to find the bilge pump.
Two: Have back ups. I should have known that the shower drain pump was just two feet away from the bilge, I could have cut a hose attached to shower pump and pumped out the bilge in less than fifteen minutes. Also, I could have used the engine water pump to do the same.
Three: Make sure you know of any modifications and how they can mess up your boat. Someone used a loop of line and wrapped it around a lazerette hatch. This defeated the sealing characteristics of the hatch, thus letting in hundreds of gallons of water that was unnoticed until almost too late.
I am responsible for all that happens when it goes bad, credit goes to those who were instrumental in keeping us not only afloat, but to actually go and have the most glorious sail anyone can ever hate. The Spousal Unit and Chris were the stars!
We did 180 miles in 27 hours. We have never matched that performance (onboard Wildebeest III), since.
We have full respect for the Bay of Biscay. Most sailors know it is the most treacherous waters in Western Europe. It can lull a person into lazy sloppiness, then the bay slap the cluebat of reality upside yo' head!
One day after we arrived, the rescue boats were bringing in boat after boat. There was broken masts, broken legs and broken spirits. Some said they would never sail again. One boat had a skipper have a heart attack and his wife tried to sail into Ribadeo (Next Harbor to the West of Gijon) harbor without good charts. Our Danish friends from "Fair Rose" tried to help guide them in. The story ended badly with the lady crashing her boat on the deadly rocks with no survivors.
Wildebeest III had no idea of the deadly drama going on just twenty miles away. We had barely made it in safe before the big blow started, which was occurring while we enjoyed seafood, beer and Cider.
Gotta take the good deals, even if they don't look like good deals.
We were just starting on our adventure...
There was a serious hunt for leaks and also fine tuning the boat and systems. With respect for the clarity of hindsight, we had a fairly tough go of Biscay and as we hinted earlier, we should have crossed at least a month previous. It seems that we were constantly two steps behind the power curve on each leg of this voyage. For example, we were hunkered down in Gijon, and every night the weather seemed to get worse. Winds were high and so were the waves crashing ashore. Gijon as a port wasn't inexpensive, either. This was making us all apprehensive about moving forward on this journey. I mean, what next? People have died, gotten hurt and yet we are only a couple of hundred miles into a four thousand mile passage across the Atlantic.
Back to the job at hand, we need to prepare as best we can for the future legs of our quest. After cleaning the Wildebeest and all of her bedding and clothing, we needed to check for watertight integrity. To do this I poured water over every portlight and hatch, and included all of the lifelines and stanchions. All checked out and remained dry. I couldn't fit into the stern lazarette, (Lazarette is a funny boat word for locker) so I asked The Spousal Unit to climb inside, I closed the hatch and applied water from a hose.
"Stop, stop, stop the f$%^& water!" She yelled.
The source of our massive leak was the lazarette hatch itself. Our crew Chris had made a loop of nylon webbing that he had placed around the hatch to make easy access in lifting said hatch. (The lifting lever had broken and I hadn't fixed it). The waves would break on the bow, water would run down the deck and drain into the lazarette, which in turn drained into the bilge. During that overnight passage into the big swells, we literally took on all of the water. No wonder the bilge pump had failed from the constant ingress of ocean waters.
Good. That mystery was solved. We also washed all of our clothes and dried them on the dock. In the afternoons, we would walk down to the market sector and wander about, buying beer, wines and local foods. On one such outing, we found a Chinese restaurant.
"These guys are everywhere!" Said I, "Even in the Middle East, you can find a Chinese restaurant."
We walk in and naturally, they spoke English, so we took a chair and marveled at the great food and the fact we were seeing Asian people speaking Castilian Spanish (Cathtilian Thpanith), and they were very nice and kept my Thervetha (sp. int.) topped up. After dinner we continued the evening promenade.
Every evening, especially on Sundays, the entire populace of Gijon would come out in their Sunday best clothes and each group walk as a family up and down the seawalk. You could tell that this was a time for quiet reflection as well behaved children and proud parents/grandparents would show off their families in a show of dignity I had never witnessed before.
This made us want to walk along, despite that I was wearing blue jeans and polo shirt.
In the mornings, we would wrap up the household chores and make for town. We stopped once at some seafood place and discovered Crawfish. So we grabbed a sack o' crawdad's and headed back to the 'Beest.
First, we talked Chris into leaving the boat for the evening. Then after he departed, we gave our extra special dinner guests a little bath in salty water. One of the bugs was slick enough to climb out of the sink and onto the counter.
We call this photo: A Study of Dinner in Gijon
A little remoulade was made and garlic bread was created in the oven. Dinner was really nice and it was a great way wrap up our Gijon visit.
Wildebeest III needed about forty gallons of diesel, and naturally, no fuel dock. This meant humping four jerry cans one half mile, carrying forty pounds in each arm. All morning long, it was. Plus we paid road taxes on the diesel so it was a double burn. In Europe at the time, you paid for tax free diesel for marine use. Unless you had to buy at a gas station. Same in America, but marinas selling fuel raise the price of the diesel so you get no break for the lack of taxes.
Loaded and underway at about 1500, we were off and running like a herd of turtles, with about a 100 NM trip ahead of us.
It was pleasant enough, for the first six hours. Soon the sun was down and the winds started picking up from the North West. We were motor sailing to ensure we got our five knot planned speed. The crew was kind of nervous, but we passed Ribadeo and a number of ports along the way safely. You could tell the ports by the bright lights in a dark field of menacing, rocky shoreline.
I took my first break at about 2200, went below and jammed myself between the galley table and the berth. We were bouncing and swinging quite a bit and I did my best to try and sleep, but no; I was going to lay there is this state of hyper-awareness, not quite getting necessary rest. I knew there would be a price to pay when I stood my watch, and everyone else would be snugly dry in the cabin, sleeping.
Chris took his relief at midnight, and I hopped up on deck to a roly-poly sea, with winds remaining at about 18 knots from the North West. I was relieved at about 0300 and finally snoozed for real for about an 3 hours or so, when we found ourseves in range of La Coruna.
We entered the harbor with no idea where to go and the docks looked chock a block with boats. We found a mooring and settled. The dinghy was still secured, so I did not bother to check in. About 1000, some harbor master came out and yelled at us to move, so we complied. He had us tie up to a moored fishing vessel, so I felt a bit miffed.
It would have been nice if we could get a shower and maybe an afternoon ashore, but not this time.
This is the view off the stern.
We opened some beer and wine and had a little dinner party with our shipwreck casserole. We set Taps at 2100 and had a wonderful rest. The next morning, up and at 'em was at 0600, we decided to get underway ASAP to avoid paying dockage fees. After all, they didn't let us ashore and they probably just wanted the Wildebeest to just go away. Them good deals, ya know.
It was a beautiful morning and the breeze was a gentle 12 knots from the North. We opened up the sails and commenced the down hill run to Oporto, the real target being the fishing village of Leixoes, pronounced La Zhoys.
First, though; We had to get by Finisterre, just to the southwest of La Coruna.
Finisterre is a cape that juts out into the Atlantic, and the Latin term means "Lands End". This is where you get the influences of Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic ocean beating each other for dominance of the sea both in current and weather. Nasty, at least for us.
|from "Finis7803" by Caltrop at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Finis7803.png#/media/File:Finis7803.png|
More of those Siamese Dolphins!
We had dolphins following us out to sea and it was calm enough at first. About 1300, the winds increased to about 22 knots and it was getting REALLY bumpy due to wind against water current. I tried to pull in the head sail and again, just like Cherbourg, the sheet knotted up and began its sine wave battering of the boat and me, in particular. A knot had formed in the line and it whipped into my face. It was like a punch in the cheek and eye and it laid me out and flung my glasses out of the cockpit. I quickly moved to get my glasses, which were swirling in the water (onboard the boat) by a drain, and grabbed them back before they rolled over the side. I also had a small shiner and fat lip for my efforts.
Back to the fun; We managed to get the head sail rolled up but left the main up for stability and some forward motion, we were sorta motor sailing again.
The swells became enormous, and we would climb up and dive down. They were at least 25 feet and I was nervous, but what could we do? We reached Finesterre about 1800, near sundown. Nothing notable, just more rocky cliffs. The swells started easing and we settled into rolly poly chop-chop again. I went below for the first sleep, so Chris could enjoy what we Naval Aviation types call "Pinky Time". Pinky time helps transition to night time which is of course, Dark as Hell. It can be disconcerting for someone to just step out on deck and be expected to drive the boat when it is as lightless as a politician's soul out there.
We noticed a large number of fishing boats trawling back and forth, connected by nets to each other.
Just something else to have to worry about! It was still quite bumpy when I got the call at about midnight to come up on deck.
"Skipper, there are flares to the west; shall I adjust course to try to help?" Called Chris.
I scooted up on deck, and for sure there was another flare being launched. This was a tough one, I had never been in this situation as a civilian, and certainly my thoughts were on effecting a "rescue".
Cooler thoughts prevailed... "No, Chris. Maintain course."
"We have to alter course and lend a hand, its the RULES!" Shouted Chris.
I was not liking his tone of voice. This is my boat and I'm responsible for all on board.
"Chris, this is my f@%&*ing boat, I say what we do. "There are plenty of professionals out here to help that fishing boat. Look at the two vessels that are hightailing to the west?"
"You can hear the Mayday on the radio, the Coast Guard will be here in minutes with a helicopter and we have this mast which will just present a hazard the rescuers.... Besides, we are five miles away, it would take an hour to get there and it will be over by that point."
I could understand Chris' concern, but I knew the risks we would be taking just to get involved. If there were no other boats and no Coast Guard, I would have bustered as fast as a Wildebeest can on over to lend a hand, gladly. About a minute after our argument, a Spanish Coast Guard Dauphin Helicopter passed our bow heading to the site of the emergency. I felt vindicated.
The seas were still bumpy and it was difficult to move around. And we were tired. Chris announced, "If I fall over the side, Skipper, don't do anything extraordinary to rescue me. I want you to stay safe."
WTF? What an asshole.
"Chris, are you nuts?"
"The seas are such that I wouldn't want anyone to risk themselves to rescue me, that's all." Chris bravely opined.
Now I had heard it all!
"Don't be silly, if anyone falls over the side, of course we will make all efforts to rescue. "I just didn't want to get in the way of that other rescue, but for our crew, I would make all effort." And with that I took over the watch for the next couple hours. The boat would lean all the way left, then swing to the right. Up the wave and down, over and over again until dawn, when Biscay had finally lost its grip on us. The seas smoothed out and it was lovely, indeed.
As we began preparations for entering port, we found this stowaway had committed suicide on the Wildebeest. We made great guffaws on this Gar.
Aside from the little deal with rolling up the headsail, there were no major flaws in this leg. The Wildebeest had pretty much gotten all of our little details ironed out, and that was a good thing. Chris was leaving us in Leixoes, (YAY!, Privacy) so the Spousal Unit and myself would be sailing alone as far as Rota, Spain. Plus, our friends the "Fair Rose of Sharon" from Denmark would be in Leixoes along with some others we had met in Brest.
Finally, some fun!
We tied up in the little harbor to the left of the big ships, Douro River.
Our first days in Portugal were to be spent in acquiring that necessary cooking gas; propane. But there was only this messy stuff called Camping Gaz. It burns dirty because it is a blend of butane and propane...
We return to Leixoes, Portugal.
Arriving at about 1100, we quickly checked in and asked if anyone knew where propane could be found. Since acquiring Propane is a hassle in Europe, one has to know where to find it. A helpful marina dude said he knew where to get propano, so we gave him our four bottles and hoped for the best. Later that afternoon, we got four very heavy bottles and rejoiced. Wildebeest III was set for the next month, or so. What we got was a mixture of propane and something else which caused a lot of sooting of the cooking pots. I think it is called Camping Gaz
. It was not pleasant but it got the job done.
Back to our journey;
We made the rounds of the small marina and found a couple of friends from Brest. So we got together for beer and snacks and renewed friendships. After all, one never knew if they were going to see these same friends again.
Bad weather and luck can strike anywhere, or you might just go home because you get frustrated with the weather or with boating. It happens.
Chris bid us farewell, since he had business back in London, and we found ourselves alone for the first time in a month. Woo hoo!
The next day an expedition to the City of Oporto was declared. There was much planning and charts consulted, we discovered a bus that would take us into downtown. One of the young Danish fellows was going with us, and I noticed he was wearing "Shower Shoes" (Military description) civilian nomenclature: Flip Flops.
"You're not wearing those downtown, are you?" I snark/asked.
"Why not?" I wear them everywhere." Sayeth the 19 year old slacker.
"What if you get a 'Blow out', then where will you be?"
"I never have that problem, these are most comfortable for me when traveling."
Moron. What is with society, when half the people are walking around with very substandard footwear? How will you run if there is a fire, or a ghetto uprising? We take the public transport and find our selves in downtown Oporto
, an ancient seafaring city.
Everywhere, I notice beautiful dark haired maidens, all looking like they just stepped out of downtown Hayward, California, with snug black slacks and lovely long, raven hair. Stunning! At the same time, you see proud ladies wearing dark skirts; they are married and have children. I am the master of the obvious, no?
Ok, we can identify the targets for dating, iffen you happen to be looking for someone available for to date, they are conveniently labeled. Simplifies the date tracking devices for the single male. Too bad I missed this place in the 70's. Or is it?
This is now the time when our 19 year old Danish hipster has a flip flop malfunction. He is walking barefoot on centuries of spit and dog offal. Of course, I smirk with a "I-told-you-so". In these parts, there is no Surf Shop that sell replacement flip flops, so be prepared to endure. On the good side, there are indeed many wine shops!
Walking along the river Douro, we see the Port wineries and naturally, we just have to visit one of these.
Local background; The Douro
is a natural highway for transporting the fine wines that have been grown since before the Romans.
We saw the Sandeman winery and found we had a hour or two before the next tour. So we went to the train station to check out the depression era artwork.
At the local train station, they had these wonderful tile murals depicting the Portuguese tradition of adventure and navigation. Prince Henry figures large in these murals.
The pride in their Catholicism is everywhere, too.
The language is closer to Italian than Spanish, so I was completely lost. The Spousal Unit had three years of Latin and had the same result. No matter, the locals were as nice as can be and we were completely welcomed.
So we go the the Sandeman Cellars.
I normally will not pay for a tour of anything, this is from years of experience with USO tours and living in Florida. Anyone can get more out of a visit by studying library references and other publications concerning the area toured. Plus, there is no constant chorus of, "Stay with the tour, we're moving... keep up with the tour..."
This time, I paid the fee. It was informative and interesting. And we bumped into one of the Lieutenants from the retirement ceremony! Talk about pleasant surprises.
Here is a photo of this nice fella with the charming Emma, from the retirement ceremony. (I have pictures of this gent in Oporto but since he is still on Active Duty OPSEC requires me to use something to obscure the identity).
We had a great reunion dinner and we invited the LT and his Spouse to stay on the 'Beest, saving them a hundred bucks on lodging. We tried to talk them into sailing with us to Lisbon, but they had air reservations that could not be changed.
The next day we did breakfast and bid our guests farewell. The weather was warm and lent itself to cleaning the Wildebeest and preparing for our next trip to Figueira Da Foz, a mere five hours away. We fueled at the fishing docks and were underway the following morning, about 0600.
Off to Figueira Da Foz
We had about 65 miles to cover so we were underway just before sunup. The ocean was incredibly calm, but after the butt whippings we had enjoyed in the past couple weeks, we were very reserved. I had the main and head sail up and motorsailed with the trusty Perkins 4-108 chugging along. We were doing a respectable six knots and were surprised to find ourselves entering the little bay while the sun was high in the sky. Dolphins were our escort the entire trip and it was truly a beautiful coastal European day on the water. The breeze was warm and the sun bright and we were almost lulled into complacency, but not this time!
I did a security check several times and found that water was entering the boat (Still!)
and this time, I could see it seeping in around the rudder post. Interesting. Berthon Boatyard had replaced the rudder gland packing, and they did not tighten the assembly back. Incredibly lucky that we did not lose the rudder during the violent ocean motion we had in the Bay of Biscay. Easy enough repair, all I had to do was tighten the five inch nut. Should be simple, right?
I did not have a pipe wrench capable of turning this nut. So now I spent my time agonizing about the water entry and closely monitoring the bilge pump's operation and the levels of water. This is just another example of having a boat yard do work and kicking us out without doing a proper shake down cruise with the list of repairs, Just to see what is still broken or unrepaired.
We arrived at about 1600, and we slid into the little marina at closing time. Our friends the "Vikings" spotted us and with loud whoops of welcome, they guided us into an available berth and grabbed our lines. Totally cool arrival!
I stole these pictures from
Stolen from Manor Houses dot com cruising guide.
Over sunset cocktails we swapped yarns of our journey since Brest. The Vikings had an engine failure about twenty miles out of the harbor and used their ten foot dinghy with a 7.5 HP outboard to tow their boat in for the last ten miles. Once in port, the lad's turned to and did a complete rebuild of their diesel in the ten days that they had been in Figuiera Da Foz. Awesome! I sure wish I had a crew like this to do our voyage... can you imagine? They rebuilt their diesel in ten days!!! All I can think of is my lack of talent and the wasted years of not being a mechanic. Oh well.
I asked if they had the appropriate wrench? They were getting underway the next morning and, "No, we don't have the right wrench."
Like anything I do, it has to be a full production. The next morning I began my search of every hardware store in the town. Nobody had the pipe wrench I needed, and it was the following day when I found a plumbing supply store. Sixty dollars later I had my wrench and I hustled back to the boat. I got to the rudder post and in eight or nine turns, had tightened the rudder gland. Just like that. Sixty bucks. (I still have that pipe wrench in the tool bin.)
Afterwards, we went to the internet cafe and checked out the weather situation; The weather forecast was not good for the next few days so we settled into a routine of waiting, dining out and enjoying the local atmosphere.
The weather forecast five days later was for the remnant of hurricane Irene to make landfall in our vicinity, so we had to batten down the hatches and secure the boat for a blow. The marina manager came out and ordered all of us cruising sailboats to prepare to be moved to more secure berths. We all met at 0900 the next morning to move about fifteen boats. I was glad to see a virtual NATO of cruisers all pitch in a hand so that the moves were made in an efficiently quick and safe manner. We put four line handlers on each boat with three or four line grabbers at the new dock to catch lines. This meant that the skipper could fire up his motor, move and be tied up in about ten minutes vice the inevitable banging around that a non-assisted boat would endure.
Like NATO, the only boat who refused assistance of any kind was a French owned Super Maramou 53', he didn't want any of us coming near his boat... Just like NATO.
Capitaine French dude did not trust the English, Americans, Danes and Finns anywhere near his bateau. We stood by to assist anyway when he lost control and started beating his stern into two Portugese sailboats. The French boat was the only damaged boat along with a couple broken outboards and rudders.
The rest of the time afterwards was spent enjoying the company of our polyglot fellow mariners, and we enjoyed the weather below decks emptying our wine lockers and beer cellars. I also broke out the video and television so we could catch up on the box of video tapes my Mom had mailed us for our trip. So every day, we would venture out to check the weather on the internet and close the evening with dinner and dessert of locally vinted Ports.
For three weeks this went on, finally the weather forecasts began to be more favorable for a two day journey to Portimao, which is on the Southern Algarve coast. We were bypassing Lisbon because of the delays, and we needed to make way towards Rota, Spain. Asap. In retrospect; Figuiera da Foz
was one of the best ports we visited. The cost was about ten U.S. bucks a night, and the fellowship with the other boaters was phenomenal. One such new friend was a young man tending his 36 foot Cat Boat. He greeted us in unaccented American English, and we struck up a conversation, especially because his boat had a Portuguese flag.
As we chatted, we asked where they had lived.
"Oh a small town in Northeast Florida, you wouldn't know it."
Ok, I'll bite...; "Oh, you'd be surprised."
"We lived at Jax Beach."
Ah. "What street?" Was my reply.
I went on and mentioned I lived there while stationed at Mayport. What an incredibly shrinking world, we are sitting in a harbor in Central Portugal and we meet Jax Beach locals. Good times, indeed!
Despite the great marina and new friends, we were increasingly disappointed when learning about some of the local dinner choices. Dining could be exciting due to language restrictions, for example; on the Spousal Unit's birthday, we went to a nice restaurant with the specific idea of ordering steak. I was afraid that I would make a mistake and order say, "Shoe covered in Cheese", or some other ghastly gastronomic glob while mangling the local dialect.
The highest price steak on this particular menu was "Steack Espeziale". It may have been spelled Steack Espeziale, or some variation of that concept.
We thought, Oh boy, this should be good...
Imagine our surprise and disappointment when a small over cooked sirloin comes out covered with a fried egg and a dark brown gravy obscuring the egg and steak?
So we scraped off the offending eggs and choke down our dinner. Another family comes in and they are from a Danish boat on our dock. They mention that they are looking forward to a steak, and I warn them about the "Especial" part. So they order the steak sans "Especial" and they get a beautiful sirloin unfettered by gravies or sunny side up eggs. But I get a surly look from the waiter for scraping off good food. No matter, we were off to the Casino to see our favorite Maitre D, who invites us to his bar (He was the owner of another place up the street) where we get a private tasting of his best Ports.
The three weeks was a bit frustrating, since we wanted to be in warmer weather but again, one has to take the good deals where you can make them.
Will we ever leave Figuiera da Foz?
Yes. We will.
Three weeks of constant weather disappointment, and we were itching to go. The rainy season was upon us and temperatures were dropping to 70 degrees and I was getting worried about being trapped in a pleasant cage. Great food and nice people, I could see us staying another year.
The Florida locals we had met went out on their 38 foot Freedom sailboat with a goal of visiting the Madeira islands, just a four day journey. They came back with a broken main sail wishbone and tales of a very tough sea, having only made it two days out before turning around and limping back.
With the Bay Of Biscay caper so fresh in our minds, we worried that we might have a bumpy ride to Lisbon.
want to go to Lisbon, right?
Review the chart. We are at the middle point between Leixoes and Lisbon.
Finally, the weather looked good but it was late in October, we needed to make a real nautical statement to the boating world, so we decided to make the two night passage to Portimao, bypassing Lisbon. We pulled the 'Beest over to the fishing fuel pier, got creosote and oil on the sides of the boat and we filled up with diesel and were soon underway by mid-afternoon.
So far, the winds were gentle from the North West, and we happily began motorsailing for maximum transit speeds, riding the swells and watching the ever present Siamese Dolphins swimming by our bow wake.
Evening soon came and we began swapping out the helm duties, the Spousal Unit taking it from 2200-2400. She woke me up from a half sleep at midnight and I took my turn on the helm in the cool night. I think I was hallucinating by 0300, and I had her take the next hour. Generally, when it got like this I would snooze in the cockpit so I could be at the ready if anything happened. Not very comfortable but it made me feel useful.
When you are at the helm in the middle of the night, all you could see is the red LED lights on the compass along with the red glow of the Garmin 45XL hand held GPS mounted on top of the instrument panel which consisted of three square indicaters.vThe left indicater was a multi use indicater which I used for a True Compass and depth. The center indicater was a Raymarine Autohelm 4000 which showed a digital magnetic course, but I could only use the Autohelm in flat seas. Finally, the right hand multi-indicater was used for wind direction and speed.
The bow lights glowed red and green, but that was about all the light we emitted. Inside the boat, we had red lights near the deck so we could trip about in the dark keep our night vision. The coast had sporadic lights so it was easy to stay clear and we passed Lisbon at about 0430 with me back on the helm.
Traffic was the odd fishing boat, they were lit up like christmas trees so it was easy to remain clear of boats and trawls.
About surise I passed control over to She Who Will Be Obeyed and went below for a good snooze. I came back up about 0830 and took the helm back. Breakfast smells began to waft outside and we shared a fine meal of canned hash, toast with coffee. Then the Spousal Unit went below for four hours while I let Otto-Helm drive us through the calm water. I liked when the Autohelm could steer and I looked forward to having the newfangled Wind Hunter self steerer in operation after Rota Spain. After lunch, we both were up and doing our normal chatting and patient watching of the weather. It started to get cloudy but the winds were still fair and under 12 knots out of the North West. About 1800, we started seeing the thunder storms ahead, and I knew we were going to get it but good. There was no port to duck in, so we continued towards Cape St Vincent. I tucked my head down at 2000 to get some rest before the evening fun started... But first I rolled up the head sail and reefed the main.
About 2300, I heard a quiet voice (Her ankles were beginning to hurt- a sure sign of fatigue) I stiffly rose to take the helm as She Herself folded up to her smallest package under the dodger.
A brief memory of a film came to mind in the humid darkness, this;
|"Could be worse..."|
I could hear that goofy, upbeat voice say, "Could be worse; Could be raining!"
The downpour started at full throttle. No pause between drops with a growing pitter patter of pennies from heaven for me; Nope! Full. Florida. Pour.
With Thunder and lightning.
"Sorry". She said.
Meanwhile, I'm thinking about electricity, water, and metal steering wheels. So I'm looking like an idiot, balancing on my right foot and holding the wet, metal, conductive steering wheel in my right hand, hoping desperately that a great jolt of blue happiness doesn't pass through the propeller/motor interface and send all 5 gigavolts flying outta my butt!
A second later, only one hundred yards away; BOOOOOOOOM!
Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. For the next two hours. I swear I shook like a little girl with every new stroke.I casually glance at my loving wife, curled in a fetal position under the awning, dry. She made apologetic motions.
It could be worse, indeed.
The fireworks stopped awith the rain, about 0200. We swapped duties and I curled up in the warm place she left up front and managed to get an hour worth of snooze. Back at it about 0330, as we pass Cabo Sao Vicente and make our turn to the next waypoint, finally on the Southern part of Portugal in the Golfo De Cadiz, but more properly called the Algarve Coast of Portugal;
This photo is from http://www.algarve-portal.com/en/cities/sagres/OBJ/cabo_vicente/
The weather was now very quiet, and there seemed to be hundreds of seagulls just sitting in the water watching as we ghosted on by. Portimao was ahead, maybe five or six miles and it was looking like we had made better time than we thought... We would actually have to slow down a bit in order to let the sun rise for our tricky approach. We were tired, but knowing that sleep was coming soon made us have to move just a little bit careful, a bit more deliberately. I started making an approach to what I thought was the Portimao river, only to find I was actually heading to the beach! (Someone else did exactly that a couple days earlier...) After a bit of boat prodding, we were able to see the opening in the cliffs for the river and headed for the Municipal dock in the fishing town of Portimao. It is the same dock seen in the photo below.
The dock master told us we could only stay four nights, since cruisers were encouraged to go to the new marina at the Praia Da Rocha. Where ever that was, we had no idee. The Cruising guide made no mention of this new marina development, so we were here and wanted to take a shower and catch some rest. That was fine with the Dock Master, just be gone in four days.
We refilled with water and secured our stuff and went on a brief walkabout.
Click to embiggen the chart, you can see where we parked the Wildebeest in relation to everything else.
We had a good sleep and the next day we took a trip to the Praia Da Rocha; Beach of Rocks and Cliffs.
We saw the Marina, it was under construction and this is a recent pic;
We stopped by a cliffside restaurant for lunch (Eight bucks for both of us, with one drink each! included) The photo below is the picture taken by our waitress.
Here is another. I really wished that lunch could last forever, like Jimmy Buffett said in the song by the same title.
After lunch, we headed back to the marina and walked to the new development.
As we approached the gate, we saw our old friends from Brest, "Fair Rose of Sharon", from Denmark. Actually, their Golden Retriever saw the Spousal Unit. Dog started the happy barking thing and sprinted down the dock at full throttle. Animals LOVE She Who Will Be Obeyed. All of them. It's embarrassing.
We had a great afternoon swapping tales of the trip from Leixoes. "Fair Rose" spent the stormy two weeks stuck in Lisbon, at $60.00USD a night. Their bank account was very depleted, but they hoped to go home and get jobs for a bit before resuming the trip. Bummer. But there was beer and wine to enjoy, and some wonderful dining to be had.
We returned to the boat in the wee hours, but despite the desire to move to the Praia Da Rocha marina, we decided we had better stay at the municipal Marina so that we could be back on the journey to Rota. Time was getting late! The final night, we decided to not eat at a restaurant but check out the chicken kitchen, "Cozinha".
There was a line outside the door, and English was not spoken or understood. This was a "locals only" place and it was worth the hour wait.
I had no idea that such heavenly grilled chicken existed! It was run by a Brazilian family and the Chef was a cigar smoking black lady who stood over a twelve foot wide wood grill wielding three foot tongs. She placed marinaded split chickens (Split in the back, not the breast) that were flattened for cooking ease. We muscled our way to the counter and grabbed a tag. Numbers were called, and people paid. No ordering.
Pay = Receive.
Somebody who was helpful nudged us when our number was called. It was like standing in a Mosh Pit, and instead of Punk Rock we were there for a great dinner. It was smelling good. We paid our four bucks and scurried back to the boat. After eating such a wonderful meal, we felt remorse, because we only bought one chicken and we were leaving in the morning. Just one chicken. It's been ten years but we talk about that chicken to this day.
And the witchdoctor lady smoking a cigar who created such a spell.
Off to Rota!
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 was never was to be 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 but 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!" Bummer.
We took a cab into the old town and made our way to the Naval Station Rota. Our friend Rocky, (Rocky recently passed 30 Nov 20, Sadness) 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) and 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 to visit 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 our friend, Rocky D'Andrea and he came out to get us.
Through some sort of irregular shenanigans which I will not elaborate on,(Possible Forgery!) we obtained an official 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. But not the Exchange or Commissary. This was 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 and gone direct to the Canaries from Portugal.
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 locally and we settled in to the dock side living right away. Restaurants and hardware stores were a-plenty along with some great super mercado type stores. 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. Only the 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 so 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 hottest part of the day where you went home, enjoyed a great mid day meal with your family and took a little snooze until 1700. 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 deeply into the frustrating war between Us and the Wind Hunter Company. You see, we did not test the Windhunter after it had been installed, because the boat had to get out of town a bit too quickly. the assumption was that it would be easiest to do the testing in Rota (Gofo de Cadiz) with the built in delay of three weeks in port and two extra hands to make it work.
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 hydraulic ram device which operated a control on the rudder. On paper it was a fantastic idea. This particular 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 supposedly 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 supposedly mail to us. Or I might have choked the life out of someone who was putting a cramp on our big 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 the batch had proved to be less trustworthy and not 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, and we had been co-involved in a particular operation 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 of our crew 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 might have to be put on "delay" due to lack of Windhunter parts. The Air Terminal had Air Force C-5's that regularly flew to Dover and Travis AFB's, and that was a way we could get home, make a few bucks and work over the Winter returning 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 and not present with someone from the Navy... It was a Lieutenant I flew with at HSL-44, he happened to be on the USS Elrod with my old Air 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 Church 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 and argued with Windhunter, whined and considered our next step. Finally, we told the crew of our thoughts; That we might not be sailing and 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 of the voyage. 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 they brought to the mission. 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 opportunities are very 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 any sailing. 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 really 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 islands. We would be crossing the approach to the Mediterranean and heading for the great unknown.
Wildebeest III wildly wends 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 each other there for mutual 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 a 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 kinda 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 and pointed it 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 bright light rustled them awake.
We continued on our course to the Canary Islands, and really weren't sure which one 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 an effin 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 absolutely 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.
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, too. The seas got even more bouncy with the 15 to 20 knots of winds. But still we continued the mission for the Canary Islands and we were making good time now, about 5.5 knots over the ground and we could actually see the volcanic mountains on our RADAR! We soon passed to the west of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura Islands. The day was getting better, and 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, by the good people at Windhunter, 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 Forget that! I had channel fever, baby! and 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.
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, even 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 we can be. She said the Mogwai and Jellicle Cats 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."
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?
Day two through four
21-22 Dec 99
0400Z 26° 51.618N 016° 06.724W
Log: 2290 (145 miles into this trip)
Course: 240° Mag
Winds NE 15 Kts
Barometer 1039 Steady
Comments: Clouds breaking up Gran Canaria is disappearing. Full moon making visibility better. Worst wind gust up to 34 Kts, hdg changed to 180*Mag to avoid storms at 0800.
We were on a four hour rotation, as mentioned before. The Spousal Unit and myself stood the 2000-2400, 0400-0800, 1200-1600. Four hours in between standing at the helm, and Richard/Chris watch did not cook or navigate. We carried quite the load when you think about the rocking and rolling, and add that to housekeeping it meant I was getting plenty tired.
Our crew was tired, too. After you got off watch you had four hours off to catch sleep, make head calls and eat. Not much time, especially when you add in the noise and fatigue that might make it tough to get to sleep in the first place.
Our course was still towards the Cape Verde Islands, I had always heard that a sailboat would want to get within a hundred miles of the Cape Verde Islands to ensure catching the Tradewinds to the Caribbean. Heh. The winds were already from an easterly direction, I just could not recognize a "Tradewind" if it was carrying a sign.
The Wildebeest kept plowing along, just a headsail up due to changing winds; I did not want a surprise jibe which could do damage to the standing rig, so I had minimum sail. No problems, we were doing about 5.5 knots and heading South/South West. By midnight, we had settled into a southwesterly direction and the winds were steady from the East, and we were comfortably moving along, changing watches every four hours.
23 Dec 99
0000Z 22° 18.367N 20° 00.888W
Log: 2618 (328 miles into journey)
Course 210° Mag
Winds NE 20-25 knots Barometer 1038 Steady
Comments; Need to check if Wind Hunter is actually generating electricity (Ignored)
Winds have increased over night to steady 25 knots gusting 28-30, seas have increased in size commensurate with winds.
The seas were making us bounce around and there was no way I had the energy or inclination to review whether the stupid %^&* Windhunter made any electricity. I only know that it was howling like a banshee as the boat went up and screamed down the swells. It was almost like the Wildebeest was screaming out of fear as we climbed and dove in the troughs of the swells! But the one benefit of having the turbine towing behind was that it slowed the boat down when we were cresting a wave and began a speedy descent into the trough. If you let the boat do what it wanted, it would default to a sideways situation which would could mean a resulting condition known as a "Knock Down" where the boat is slammed on its side with the mast hitting the water, naturally another wave swamps the vessel and you are now in extremis. Extremis being in peril of losing mast and possibly flipping over.
The towed turbine was helping us stay straight and slow. Good thing, particularly when you are tired. The racket it made as it spun was scary, though. During the day, the pace was a little more calm, though still a bit brisk compared with Coastal Europe. We were off the coast of Western Sahara (Currently a part of Morocco), about 75 miles and I was waiting for those trade winds.
Here is the first of many "Flying Fish Fatalities" we encountered.
More excitement, later.
Atlantic Crossing, Days Four through Six The fun begins!
About 0800, 24 Dec 1999, we made a course change to 270 degrees, first real time of heading directly west. The Captain and Crew of the Wildebeest III agreed that we were indeed, in the f$%#*& Tradewinds.
Our crew, Richard (Royal Yachting Ass'n Coastal Skipper instructor) and Chris (RYA Coastal Skipper, Competent Crew) felt very knowledgeable about trade winds and what they feel like. So every time I would announce that I thought we were in the Trades, they would argue with me and remind me that I didn't know what I was talking about. So on that fourth day, with increasing wind speeds and growing seas, we agreed that we were in those trades, and really had been in them for the past two days. Know it all jerks.
With the winds now at a steady 25 knots, gusting to 28-30, I guess they were "Tradewind Like".
This is not "Leading Proactively, from the front". This was an example of trying lead by consensus and letting events drive our actions and us being more reactionary. A better way to describe the situation is that I was reactive, and exposing all of us to failure.
Chris and Richard were fatigued, and so was the Spousal Unit and myself. Four on and Four off was not letting any of us get the required rest. We needed a defined course of action to remedy the situation. But I was afraid to change anything because I didn't want to argue about it. Soon, our situation began to define our course, the Bulls&*t flag would have to be raised and a new routine was to be set.
Digression switched on for a few moments;
I have described the four on four off watch system, this was a good way to ensure that two hands would be available to react to sudden changes in sail trim or unique situations requiring extraordinary effort or physical strength thus not endangering the watch resting below decks. Off course, all hands were available at any time, but we had not been in any really bad situation requiring such level of efforts. Just the "what if" monster of doubt lurking always in the play room of my mind.
Meals: We ate three meals a day, breakfast at about 0800, lunch around 1300, dinner about 1800. All meals were hot because the lessons of military life were ever present. A Crew requires warm, good nutritious meals, or everything will soon go to HE double tooth picks. Seriously. The cook was by default the Spousal Unit. She knew where all the food was packed, I would be driving so I couldn't really help. Our crew were lifelong Bachelors, used to having women prepare and serve them meals. That's just how they grew up, not necessarily a flaw in character.
There was a time or two, when we could smell something being prepared to eat, we would get out of our cabin to see what was smelling good, only to find out that there was only enough for those two.
Thanks, fellas. There are a thousand streets named for you in Germany... and they are all called "Einbahnstrasse"! One way...
Breakfast would be Cream of Wheat or Oatmeal. Sometimes it would be Hoo Hash. Along with toast and coffee. Lunch would be sandwiches or after the bread ran out it could be Spanish Tuna (Huge cans!) packed in olive oil served with cabbage slaw and olives. Dinner would be pasta, or beans and franks (The Crew LOVED bush beans and canned hot dogs!) or some other wonder dug up from the pantry. Each meal had dessert; Cookies, candy or that wonderful treat: Fresh Baked Cobbler.
Bisquick Fruit Cobbler Recipe - Bisquick Cobbler Recipes
This is a absolutely delicious dish made from different types of fruits.
Fresh or frozen cherries, apples, raspberries or peaches(4cups), cornstarch(2tbsp.), lemon juice(1tsp.), sugar(1cup), lemon rind(1tsp.), salt(1/8tsp.), water or liquid from fruits(2cups), milk(1/3cup), butter(3tbsp.) and bisquick(1 1/2cups).
Method of preparation:
Take a large sauce pan. Mix cornstarch and sugar in it. Add slowly 2cups of juice or water in the saucepan. For sour taste add lemon juice and lemon rind in the mixture. Then boil this mixture for 5 minutes. After boiling pour the hot mixture into a baking dish. Keep the dish aside.
Take a bowl. Mix (1 1/2cups) Bisquick, 3 tablespoons of melted butter, 2 tablespoon of sugar and (1/3cup) of milk. Beat the mixture until it gets blended and then drop with spoon into the hot mixture in the baking dish. Bake it for 20 minutes at 400 degrees in oven.
Serve it with milk or vanilla ice-cream.
Heh. She would mix crunchy topping in bowl, take a can of Pie Filling, pour into a bread pan. Pour dough on top and bake for a half hour. Serve.
Back to the current digression:
Before the other crew would take their watch, we would have a thermos of hot water so the Crew could make tea and soup in a cup. There would also be cookies, raisins, peanut and M&M's trail mix and a gallon of Kool-Ade (Better known as "bug juice). We needed to make sure that energy levels were kept up.
Here is a photo of the main cabin of the Wildebeest on Christmas Eve.
Looks calm and peaceful, huh? It wasn't.
1226 24 Dec 1999
021° 30.173N 020° 47.489W Course 270° M
Log: 2695 (415 NM into the trip)
Winds NE at 20-25 knots
Barometer:1035 Steady Skies clearing.
Winds seem to be settling, but the waves are still large, with gusting winds prevail. A further reef is placed in headsail to reduce size presented to wind.
2342 24 Dec 1999
021° 22.539N 021° 57.376N Course 270° M
Winds ENE 25-30 Knots
Barometer 1037 slightly rising, increasing clouds
Not much change, winds seem stronger. Merry Xmas!
It was getting much more rolly, the winds would gust and it took more effort to keep the boat from broaching in the swells. I mentioned the food situation earlier in my digression, and the attitude onboard the Wildebeest was getting as strained as the equipment due to fatigue and my lack of clarity on our mission.
Mission? Yes. Mission: Get to Barbados (or across the Atlantic) in one piece, preferably with all hands still present! It also seemed that rest time was not as fulfilling, mainly because the boat would be thrown in various angles not conducive to sleep in a flat bunk. Particularly when I was trying to sleep. The crew was not as attentive to keeping as straight a course as when I happened to be steering.
Now, when I happened to mess up and let the boat gybe, (Suddenly lean and swing on a new course with a terrific BANG!) it was not necessarily because I was inattentive or got lazy. Oh no. Now when the other watch let that happen, I would get thrown out of bed and become angry because they were inattentive. And lazy.
I'm one way like that.
Nobody was getting sleep and it was really affecting morale. The wind increasing it's speed and volume was forcing a decision I did not want to make...
Here is a photo from about 0630 on Christmas day:
I was trying to catch a few minutes break from steering and it was pitch dark. The Spousal Unit is in a lot of pain in her ankles, and there are tears she was trying to hide from that pain. I flashed the picture and stood up to take the rest of the watch. Something was going to happen today; I knew it. The wind and seas were wearing us down and something was going to give, that day.
But first, I went to bed hoping that patience would prevail and the weather would sweeten up.
Why the he** are these winds so strong??? The barometer is steady, there is no reason for such heavy winds. Frustration. I laid in bed for a couple of sleepless hours, praying that we would catch a break.
0800 25 Dec 1999
021° 18.688N 022° 52.308W Course 270° M
Winds NE gusts to 38 knots!
Last four hours the winds have been from 15 to 38 knots! @ 0530 we had a large wave break over starboard quarter. Will make a decision this afternoon about putting out sea anchor for tonight.
The Bravo Sierra flag was about to fly, but I was still trying to make excuses and use positive attitude to will the weather to be more calm.
1200 25 Dec 1999
021° 10.319N 023° 17.954W Course 270°M
Winds 25Knots barometer 1038 Ptly Cloudy
Wind still howling, no indication when it will let up.At 1600 winds seem to let up but came back with vengeance
Went to bed after eating, hoping and hoping that winds would settle down.
I got up for my watch at 1600 and really began to wrestle with the helm and my decision that I knew would be made. Finally, just before sunset, we really started to be thrown about and our crew was unable to handle the boat. The Spousal Unit called me up on deck to make the decision; She raised the Bravo Sierra flag and said that we could not go on...
25 Dec 1999
021° 07.534N 023° 56.269W
Winds 30-35 gusting higher, Barometer 1036 Ptly cldy
Decision made to let out sea anchor as winds are still increasing as sun is setting. Sea anchor deployed and boat lying 50 degrees to wind. Anti chafing put on line at anchor mount.
Watches are now changed to three on, six off for anchor watch.
The winds were now gusting to 43 knots, and there was no effing way I would be able to do four hours fighting that, especially since I was two hours into my rest time and was not sleeping.
We looked at the seas, the winds and the weather. I started the motor to stabilize the boat and gave the preparatory order to deploy the sea anchor.
This is what a sea anchor looks like on a nice day:
Photo from Paratech. I really like their products!
I studied Lin and Larry Pardey's book on Storm Tactics, they recommended that a vessel heave to or use a sea anchor in case of tough weather. I purchased a Paratech 18 foot sea anchor for about $700.00 through West Marine. I also purchased fifty feet of anchor chain and four hundred feet of three quarter inch anchor line to go with the Sea Anchor. It was all packed in a large sail bag along with a twenty four inch float ball. The assembly was tied to the bow cleats, and all we would have to do is kick the sailbag over the side and the sea anchor would unravel and deploy itself. I set it all up to be usable at 0300 in a blinding rain.
This was my big storm tactic. The nuclear option.
Again, Figure from Paratech. Don't sail without their products on board!
I presumed that once deployed, the Sea Anchor would probably cause damage or be destroyed (About $1200 bucks of gear!) and if we were going to use it, there had better be a darn good reason because I really did feel it was a "Go or Blow" option.
The crew was staged and I started to roll up the headsail using the furler line. Mind you, we still had steady 36 knots gusting to forty and the boat was still sailing, but the engine was engaged forward.
I gave a mighty pull on the furling line and the sail wrapped super tightly on the foil and we got the sail 80% in when the furler line popped out of the Profurl barrel. I fell on my butt with a great harrumph.
The 130 Genoa had been half rolled up for minimal sail exposure to the heavy winds. If that sail came all the way out and caught the wind, well it would be catastrophic! At minimum, I would be fighting to lower the sail in heavy weather, just like the first day off of Cherbourg.
Worst case is we could lose the mast. A hundred fifty miles off of Western Sahara, with no possibility of rescue.
I let out a howl of frustration and ran instantly up to the bow of the boat and grabbed the furler barrel with my hands, as I had to stop the sail from opening. The boat was sea sawing up and down in the waves as I yelled for someone to please, please bring a line to secure this thing before we are wrecked!
Chris was out of the cockpit in a second with a spare bit of line. But he was taking time to clip his lifeline as he moved.
I calmly yelled my favorite word (That one that starts with "F") and told him to hurry, it's slipping...
We got the sail hand turned back to the secured position. After a three minute breather, we crawled back to the cockpit where I was rebuked for not having my harness clipped in. I still could not believe the the piece of crap furler line failed at that moment!
We tossed the bag containing the Sea Anchor over the side, I took the boat out of gear and waited. A few moments later, our bow was facing the swells and we were pointed East, and our movement came to a halt. We were anchored. Afterwards, we pulled in about 100 feet of line and tied another line to the anchor line with a preussig knot to the line and let it go again. This would hopefully keep us pointed at 45 degrees off of the swells and the boat would form a "slick" and any seas would break on the slick and not on us. Partial success.
We set three hours on six hours off watch rotation and had christmas dinner (spaghetti). Then, passed out small goodies (whiskey chocolates, candy bars) to the crew. Set the watch, I took the first and sent everyone to bed.
Hopefully, Boxing Day will have better weather.
Boxing Day, first morning on Sea Anchor.
1200 26 Dec 1999
21°10.098N 024° 09.384W
Winds NE 25-30 Knots Bar 1038 Steady Log 2899
Winds still blowing, remain at sea anchor.
Riding on the sea anchor is not the easiest thing to do. The boat groans and stretches twisting to the forces of the ocean on the hull. Three on and six off has done wonders for the rest and rejuvenation of the crew. I set quietly in the back bedroom listening to the various sounds. I worry, constantly.
Imagine your self at a beach, only you are in the surf and can't touch bottom. That is how it feels.
About 1300, I went forward to repair the Roller Furler that was broken the night before. I brought all the tools I could think of (of course, I had to go back at least three times to get the right tools!) I cautiously crawl up to the roller furler, which is hard mounted to the forward most portion of the boat. Pointed directly into the approaching waves. I can't kneel there because the angles are too extreme for placing my hands and tools in the fittings. This means I must sit closely to the hub. My feet necessarily dangle off the front of the boat into the air/water interface. The Wildebeest was hobby horsing, with us pointing about 30 degrees downward, feet touching water, than lifting up to about another 30 degrees up. Call it an altitude change of about twelve feet down, an elevator ride up about 15 feet, then down again.
With my feets a-dangling.
"Hand me a allen wrench."
"Hand me a bigger one."
"Pass me the half inch."
And so on.
Here is the entire assembly:
The head sail wraps around the foil above the drum. The drum is rotated by a winding line that spools and unspools around the drum. Our problem was that the line pulled out of the drum, and I have to take the drum apart (while moving up and down, rapidly) and not lose any parts.
A line drawing of the Drum:
Take drum apart and place parts aside.
This is where I need to replace the line.
So I took the OLD line and stuck it in the hole, tied it and put the assembly back together. Sounds very simple and when at a dock, it is.
I had to manually wrap the line around and around, since the sail was still bent on the furler. This took another 20 minutes, but progress was being made. The sun was shining bright and it seemed that the winds were even coming down from a howl. The world seemed to be going sorta my way, and I went below to get some rest after putting away the tools.
The boat continued stressing and straining to the sea anchor. After about an hour, I heard a snap and a banging on the stern; The swim platform decided to say "heck with it" and broke in two!
We couldn't just ignore it and let this go, since we now had teak banging the fiberglass hull and would soon put a hole which would let in water. Better move fast! So I grabbed a bag of tools and walked back to the stern. I needed to use a sling and lower myself to the level of the two connection points. I had an old helicopter gunners belt around my chest with the bitter end secured to the boat and the line held/adjusted by Richard and Chris, holding me so I could use two hands to perform the work of removing the platform.
The tools needed were 7/8ths, half inch and vise grips. Really, I needed three hands but two would have to do. I dropped one wrench into the ocean, so there was a scramble for a replacement. Finally, I took off the upper and lower brackets and I let the teak platform go to the sea. (Hindsight: I should have tied a line to the platform and secured it onboard. I thought of that just as I saw it floating away...)
This is the platform; You can see the hardware fittings that needed to be removed on four points. I was hanging by my toenails!
I was so relieved for having crossed off another emergent task that I climbed back aboard and headed back to bed. Whew!
Dinner was served about 1800, and a nervous but rested crew maintained our sea anchor watch.
0600 27 Dec 1999
21° 12.192N 024°17.796W
Winds NE 20-25 slightly down, seas a bit bumpy, but improving
The door on my cabin erupted with a knock at about 0550. My snooze was interrupted by Chris saying, "Skipper, we need you on deck... Medical Emergency, Richard is possibly having a heart attack. Please come, we need to get him below..."
Oh, F#$%! This can't be happening. The Spousal Unit hurries out of the cabin while I put on my foul weather gear (Which I just took off an hour ago...) to go help Richard.
We found Richard slumped over by the helm and looking quite ill. The Spousal Unit pulled out her Ships Medical book while Chris and I pulled Richard to the hatchway and attempted to maneuver him down the ladder. He was made comfortable on the cabin settee while his vitals were being checked. Chris offers this, "Skipper, we may need to consider turning to the Cape Verde Islands, so we can get medical help."
"Let's just wait until we can identify what is going on... please take the anchor watch while we do this."
Richard seemed to be a little weak, so I gave him liter of orange juice, opened it and told him to drink it. I asked him what was the last thing he had eaten.
"The Whiskey Chocolates..." But other than that, just the dinner from 12 hours ago..."
I asked how much water he had consumed?
"Just this," as he shows me a liter plastic bottle.
This is where the frustration I had simmering came forth in a massive ass-chewing of our crew. Richard had not eaten enough nor drank enough liquids! The boat was flush with food and drink and these two guys couldn't think to ask or take what they needed! What the situation had been that the crew would not get any food unless we served it. Since I had snarled about them cooking food the other day, they took that as don't eat anything unless they had permission.
There needed to be a clarification. I showed them how to open a can of beans, and showed them that you could eat canned food without cooking it first. Then I explained the dangers of dehydration, how we all need at least three liters a day of water and we needed to drink a liter per watch.
"Further more, if you are hungry, eat! If you cook, make enough for everyone! "Finally," I pointed out, "that we were NOT going to Cape Verde. Put that out of your minds, now. We were all going to Barbados, and if anyone dies, I will strap their dead asses to the mast to show the authorities!"
It seems that the crew were kind of hoping we would pull into the nearest islands where they could bail out and leave us hanging. Heh! We made a really nice breakfast for everyone and made some apologies for the cruise being a bit more interesting than we intended. I let the crew sleep for the next four hours while I came up with our new plan;
1. The Wildebeest is at a turning point; We are in trouble and we need to get moving.
We checked the charts and saw there was two more weeks to go. The winds were now about 20-24 knots, the skies were clear and we better pull up the anchor (if possible) and go.
2. The Watch system is unsatisfactory and is fatiguing crew.
I made the decision that we would go to a Two on Four off rotation, 24-7. This would leave one person free for cooking duties and navigation. The two person watch would be superseded by single manning.
3. The Crew shall understand that we want their time onboard to be as pleasant as possible, please alert the skipper to ANY needs or desires. There's no reason for anyone to go hungry or thirsty. This ain't a life raft.
At 1030, we roused the crew to get underway. I stationed Richard and Chris up front to pull in the anchor line, the motor was started and we moved forward slowly as the slack was picked up. There was 400 feet of line so the going was slow.
There was a large red float attached to the canopy of the chute, so we weren't in danger of watching the chute sinking as pressure was taken off. We finally got to the chain and I maneuvered the boat to the trip float which collapsed the canopy. I went forward to help manhandle the chain aboard while the Spousal Unit did fine tuning on the boat handling. At 1100 we stuffed the chute in the yellow bag, wrapped the chain and anchor rode into the big sail bag and we had our sea anchor ready to be deployed at a moments notice!
Secured the assembly in back and turned the boat to a course of 270 degrees magnetic, and let out the headsail, only allowing half of the sail out so we had a reduced sail area which translated into an easier to handle boat.
1106 27 Dec 1999
Winds NE 20-25 knots
Log 2920 Engine running 2K Partly Cloudy
Sea Anchor in and ready to deploy. Underway for Barbados. Winds and seas have calmed considerably. Still a bit bumpy.
Set the normal underway routine...
27 DEC 1999
28°55.733N 026°36.740W (Finally figgered how to add "°" Thingamajig!)
Winds E 20 knots Barometer 1038 stdy Log 3053
Weather Clear with slight haze. Course 270° M
Seas are still fairly high, calming. Flying fish everywhere!
Getting into the routine of Two on, Four Off. We have left the routine set on Greenwich Mean Time so that the watches occur at same time for circadian rhythm and allows us to maximise rest.
An annoying leak has formed on the starboard side, looks like a stanchion (Lifeline holder) is letting water. The water pools on the countertop over the fridge.
Standing the two hour watch is tough in the middle of the night. You wake up groggy, climb into the still wet foul weather overalls, wrap the jacket on and over the jacket put on the float coat harness.
Walk into the dimly lit cabin (don't wake Richard!), grab a couple apples and a jug of water/lemonade. Climb ladder. Get a sense of Vu ja Day as I rub my eyes and see Chris leaning tiredly over the wheel.
"Anything worth mentioning?" I ask.
"No Skipper, winds are steady, nothing to report." Is the usual reply.
I will heave myself into the cockpit seat, on the port side. I take a moment to let my eyes focus on the outside. The boat rocks from side to side, forward and back with waves crashing on the hull sides. Chris wearily slides right while passing me the bitter end of the harness clip which secures the helmsman into the boat.
The rules are that anyone in the cockpit (especially alone) shall be clipped into the tether. Also, no one leaves the cockpit for any reason at night. Period.
Emergencies will require the helmsman to call for "All Hands on Deck" alert and wait for assistance. Nothing that happens outside will move so quickly that we can't give it a few minutes to react properly.
While steering, the boat moves like a living beast; Forces try to make the stern swing right and left. The helmsman must counter with opposite force on the wheel. A quarter to half turn is constantly required as the boat slides rapidly down a wave. An eagle eye must also be on the red l.e.d. lit compass, to keep the course bouncing between 45° of the chosen course. 18.5° on each side of 270°, our prime course.
Numbers are approximate. This is what you would look at on the compass;
Tougher at night.
Inside my head was a mix of "what if" questions and Bob Marley music (The album "Kaya").
One cool thing was watching the stars pass over head on clear moments. We were directly under Orion's Belt which you could literally steer by, as it moves inexorably to the Western skies. This would all be a pleasure, except I was scared that some sort of emergency would come next and I would be unable to have a solution, and we would all have to be in a liferaft.
1945 28 DEC 1999
Winds ENE 19-20 Knots
Skipper smelled electrical burning. Isolated smell to the battery charger from shore power. Source isolated from rest of electrical system, will repair at next port. Seas calming more.
We are now two days into the trip after the sea anchor. I had been relieved from watch and was in bed trying to get some sleep. As I was dozing I got a definite whiff of wires burning. It was not my overactive imagination.
"ALL HANDS; FIRE FIRE FIRE! CLASS CHARLIE ELECTRICAL FIRE IN THE ENGINE ROOM... I AM SECURING ENTIRE ELECTRICAL POWER UNTIL I FIND SOURCE OF FIRE, I HAVE A FIRE EXTINGUISHER IN HAND..."
Always the melodrama queen, I am! I had everyone up and ready to assist as I secured the two battery switches which controlled all power. I also shut the switches on the breaker panel for good measure. I could see a wisp of smoke coming out of the bottom of the Newmar Phase Three battery charger (Newly installed in August!)
Seawater from that stanchion leak mentioned earlier had migrated to the charger, got inside and shorted out the electronics. So much for five hundred bucks of gear. I disconnected the three battery connection leads and taped off the ends. Went back to bed hoping that the worst was over. Slept like a rock!
Spent the next couple days in relative harmony with an unvarying routine of Two on, Four off.
Routine is good!
Over and over. I see dawn, have breakfast. Sleep for three hours, come up near noon to take the wheel and have lunch. Go sleep for afternoon, have dinner. Take watch to sunset. Sleep until about 2300, take helm again. On and on...
31 Dec 1999
Winds ENE 15-18 Knots (That's more like it!) Barometer 1035 Log 3426 Sunny
Course 280° M
Winds are pleasant, shifting, may have to change course steered to 240°M.
1200 miles into this trip and it is getting to be monotonous. Not a bad thing, since I care not for any drama. We are approaching the millenium, the one that the computer programmers have scammed everyone into expensive program repairs to ensure that computers will still operate into the next century. Still, at midnight I planned on listening to Radio Canada on the shortwave receiver to see if the GPS satellites are all falling out of the sky! (This is a reason to sail with a sextant and a nautical almanac!)
The weather was so nice that we shook out the reefs in the headsail to maintain our six knot passage, and all were in good cheer for the comfortable seas and the knowledge that everything was as it should be. I chilled a bottle of Mumm's Champagne that would be poured for all at sunset.
Celebrating New Year with Chris;
SWWBO looks thrilled:
Each got a coffee cup full of champagne, we toasted each other and the New Year. Afterwards, I went to bed and when it was my time to wake up for watch I had the most difficult time trying to regain consciousness! After ten days of no alcohol, I really felt the effects, so it was a good thing we did not allow the British tradition of "Sunset G & T's". (Many sailboats will celebrate sunset with a Gin and Tonic for each crew and it is a time to relax from routine and chat)
The sea is stimulating enough without adding alcohol.
01 Jan 2000
Winds NE 20 Knots Barometer 1031 Log 3486 Course 270°M
Happy New Year!
Yep. And I am standing my two hour on the helm. Same as it ever was...
The Weather is here, I wish you were beautiful
The Skies are so clear, but don't run away...
Line from a Jimmy Buffet song from 1979.
The skies were indeed clear, the weather was getting warmer and there was no need to wear foul weather gear in the afternoons. Night was a time for squalls, which could turn a nice evening into a roller coaster for about 15 minutes at a time.
I would come on to the 0300 watch and see the clouds looming ominously and all I could do was hang on for the sleigh ride. Winds would pick up to as much as 40 knots and rain would completely blind me except for the damn compass.
It didn't care, the LED lights would glare brightly as the heading needle would bounce about as I struggled to keep her on course.
View Atlantic Trip in a larger map
As you can see from the map, we were a little over half way (although if you click on the map and embiggen, you can see the entire journey) each pin on the map represents the 1200 position of each day. Monotony is a good thing, as long as the entire crew tries to keep course (You can clearly see the variations) and we keep to the safety plan. That pesky leak was still dumping water onboard, the starboard side was completely soaked. Good thing nobody slept on that side, they'd get a head full of water!
The water was kept at bay by leaving towels on the countertops to soak up the water. The electrical system was getting sluggish, no doubt from water soaking the wires. Both heads and the stove system were affected, and the forward head light took a few seconds to start.
The Spousal Unit and myself had a little chat about this and decided that there were no Marina's with repair facilities at Barbados, we would have to anchor offshore. Wildebeest needed a yard period after this journey. I had sailed to Rodney Bay before, back in '94 when I chartered a 39 foot Beneteau. I was weakly familiar with the harbor and knew that there were fabulous facilities where we could get anything done to repair the Wildebeest.
The decision was made to change destination in less time than it took to type this. We reported our decision to Richard and Chris, and naturally they reacted in a not so nice way. They had not been consulted on this plan change, naturally, they felt slighted.
"Tough. We are going to St Lucia because we can dock properly for repairs.
It can't be helped..." Was the Skipper's response.
0753 04 Jan 2000
18° 00.338N 043° 55.00W
Winds NE 35 Knots Barometer 1029 Log 4126 270° M
Big squalls since 0530, had one with winds in excess of 42 knots for ten minutes.
I came on watch about 2300 and asked if there was anything going on, Chris just mumbled, "nothing", and I snapped myself to the boat and slid behind while grabbing the living wheel.
First thing I notice was that the boat seemed sluggish, handled like it was being held down. Chris was stopped before heading below for his nap, "Take the wheel, the boat seems heavy and I want to see why..." I went below and went forward, opened up the floor boards in the guest cabin. Water is now sloshing around. I reached in and closed off the seacocks which supplied water to the head and enabled drainage. Gotta be sure they have not failed and are leaking all of this water in.
Walked swiftly back to the engine room; Sure enough, water back up to near previous record levels, just below the engine bilge.. A quick look to the electrical panel showed the bilge pump switch "Off", so I switched to "On".
Reminds me (and probably ewe!) of another time back in Biscay, hmmm?
Bilge remained in "Off". Bilge pump failure, again. I woke up Spousal Unit, told Chris to stay on the helm as I had other matters to quickly attend to.
In the middle of the night. A bumpy night.
Pulled the Four Delta battery out, slid it over to towards the chart table. My favorite girlfriend held the handle to keep the battery from smacking me in the head while I was reaching into the bilge for the pump. I am liberally cussing and cursing as I cut, clean and retrieve the errant pump.
"Would you mind keeping quiet, I'm trying to sleep..." says Richard.
I seriously considered pulling Richard out of his bunk and making him fix the pump, after I slap some respect into him. Instead I told him to do something anatomically impossible. Having this new event unfold was not what I needed. I wanted quiet routine, not repairs. My patience and demeanor was near the "Freaking Out" level of care. Chris, still in the helm, was doing as best as he could to try to keep Wildebeest from rocking too much, but he had been on watch for over three hours so I couldn't get too mad at him. I just pushed on with the rebuild and reinstalled the pump. Then I pulled it out again to repeat the whole crazy scene. Next time I will have two spare pumps at the ready. Remove and replace. Rebuild at leisure, right?
The pump worked after the second rebuild and I was completely shot, and not a little seasick. Chris told me to go below and forget the last hour of my watch. I mentioned my gratitude to him for being part of the team, unlike another person. Snarl.
Richard had to get up for his watch in an hour, so I guessed we were even. The water was soon pumped out and we went back to normal watches, and I got an extra hour of rest.
About 1245 on the next afternoon, I was running the motor for battery charging. We had just finished lunch when I noticed a little change in the quality of the 2000 Rpm diesel sound. I shut down the motor because I knew it was a broken fan belt. Located the spare in minutes and I asked Richard to replace the belt. Ten minutes later, I did not hear sounds of a triumphal completion of that small task; I passed control over to Chris and went in the engine compartment myself, to see what was going on.
Scene of the belt failure and repair;
Richard was having trouble getting the belt in, so I relieved him and used a screwdriver to slide the belt onto the pulleys. I was sternly rebuked by Richard because "One does not use a screwdriver to force the belt on, does one?"
"One does, when he wants to get the motor running asap". I snidely replied.
The Wildebeest crew was getting a little testy in relations with the Skipper and his Boss. This had been building little by little until we were practically not on speaking terms. The Skipper was not helping things by responding in kind.
Can you tell it wasn't me that took this photo?
I had heard of this kind of thing happening on other boats, but surely not to us with friends we had known for over three years! I had tried to be conciliatory, but there were some tensions in the air and they were not going away soon. That itinerary change was a big part of the resentment, I could understand why they were a bit miffed, so I tried to be nicer in my dealings with the crew.
Sleeping and off watch, I could hear the winches tightening up the headsail as the boat rocked up and down, sideways, to and fro. I quickly came up on deck wanting a fight because I did not want the head sail being abused any further by shortening it too much.
"Do you need any help up here?" I yelled at Chris and Richard... "because it sounds like you aren't handling the winds too well!"
This is where Chris angrily replied, "You can bloody well handle this yourself! I've had it!"
Well. That told me! I could not have a mutiny on my hands, nor could I just walk away from a challenge to my authority. I yelled back a warning and went back to bed, this was not over but I was not going to lose any sleep on this.
We held a crew meeting at 1200 where we aired out all grievances, I took my criticisms, but not too personally. I gave back my concerns and we agreed to disagree, but we all pledged our intention to get through the next few days with all of us being as civil to each other as possible.
This is what happens when you have an extraordinary voyage in tough conditions, all with a crew who had never sailed out of sight of land, ever. Also, the Crew had a valid point, I wasn't communicating anything with them, since I was trying to hide my own self doubt and apprehension from them and myself.
(Note: I have read through this at least three times and had the Spousal Unit review it. I want to be precise about the times and people and do not wish to badmouth anyone unnecessarily; We were all involved in a very stressful three weeks and nerves were on edge. The Spouse and Myself are still friends with our crew, and any misunderstandings of the time are definitely water under a far away bridge. My apologies to all for bringing up a description of tense moments. I would do many things differently and better with the help of experience and hindsight.)
Two rules that a Captain needs to know about sailing long distance;
1. Don't sweat the small stuff.
2. Other than big physical damage and life threatening events; it's ALL small stuff.
Weather is getting warmer!
During the last few days, the temperatures were really getting warm and a sense of expectation was building. I was listening to Radio St Lucia on my shortwave. I was concerned when public service announcements were repeated that, "January is Leprosy Awareness Month...".
(Photo stolen from "Keeping Up With Appearances" Show website)
I stole that great picture from here.
What does one do while sailing long passages?
Worry. Eat. Sleep. Chat.
Learn how to play cribbage. Go visit a Caribbean Island. I don't know...
One thing we did as a crew was try to come up with the longest sentence (extemporaneously. of course) describing the actions of flying fish, with particular regard to using words that started with the "eff" sound;
"Flying fish fleeing fishfeeding ferocious felines".
"Fish flying from foam, fast, furiously".
We did this for hours. Especially when a "flock of free flying fish freaked from fleeing, flop furiously, floundering fuzzily, finely feeding ferocious feeders.. "
You get the picture.
1149 11 January 2000
wind ENE 22 Knots Barometer 1029 Log 5080 Ptly Cloudy Course 250° M
We were within a day or two of St Lucia, there was still enough of the journey left to mess up, so I was on pins and needles, waiting for the next foul up! I had the Bob Marley muzak playing on the boom box and we were all getting the island fever. The winds were still a bit strong, but knowing we were down to the last 48 hours made all of our spirits light.
There was a lively discussion between Richard and the Spousal Unit about the pro's and con's of night and day island arrivals. Richard was particularly concerned with the possible effects of coral reefs.
St Lucia is a volcanic island, literally a cone-shaped mountain rising out of the water; The water is deep all the way to near shore. (I was grateful for this because I was going to pull into port whenever we happened to arrive!)
About 1600, late afternoon, we could see the islands of St Lucia and Martinique. We still had another thirty miles to go, but boy did we have a major case of channel fever!!! The adrenaline was building up (The same feeling when you were five years old on Christmas morning, waiting for Mom and Dad to get out of bed) and I could not get any sleep in between the last few watches. We got between Martinique and St Lucia and felt the effect of both land masses, the seas were a little more confused so I took the helm as we made the last three waypoints.
0409 Z 12 January 2000
6 NM from first St Lucia Waypoint, motoring towards harbor.
We all felt like a graduation ceremony was at hand as we changed course to South and then East-Southeast and entered Rodney Bay. I dodged a couple of anchored, unlit sailboats and all hands were on deck to help with visual navigation, looking for buoys and other Navigation Aids. Entered the little cut into the Marina itself, only seven years since my last visit as a Sailor on a chartered sailing boat. It was 0215 Local and it was the best night of my life!
Daylight view of Rodney Bay;
0834 Z 12 January 2000
We are here!!! Total miles sailed: 3068 NM 22 days, 20 hours 34 Minutes average speed 5.6 knots.
We searched nervously for an open berth, noticed a couple boats that we knew from London and a few other ports of call we had made over the previous five months. An open dock was spotted and I pulled in. We all excitedly tied up and I secured the motor ending 3100 miles of sailing.
I hopped on shore with wobbly sea legs and looked for the Customs or Marina office. I found it, but no one was home. Found the head, instead (Poet, but don't know it) and decided to make a comfortable, land style head call.
Back aboard, we had a dilemma; When a boat makes landfall, only the Skipper may disembark and conduct business. (I already did... heh heh) But I could tell that no one would be at the marina until another four hours passed. I made the decision to allow all hands to go ashore and use the facilities. Showers, head calls, all that. We issued brand new T-shirts to our crew (They had no clean clothes, neither did we!) so that everyone would look and smell sharp for our arrival picture. An instruction was passed to all hands; "No one shall leave the Wildebeest until a complete field day had been completed, including all personal areas, heads, lockers... everything was spotless."
After the morning cleanup, we broke out a bottle of Mumm's Champagne to toast the completion of Atlantic Crossing 1999-2000, Wildebeest III.
Left to right; Richard T., She Who Will Be Obeyed, DC Cat, Chris N.
I imagined sailing would be like this photo. It's not.
Coolest. Photo. Ever.
St Lucia Daze
(Photo taken that very morning!)
Daze is right.
After three weeks of incredible pressure and little sleep, I was suddenly loose in the Caribbean, Captain Ron Land; voodoo, hoodoo and all of that chit!
I checked into the office and they required (and kept!) the receipt for checking out of Spain! I have no idea why, but that's what happened.
Cleared customs and walked back to the 'Beest. The Crew and myself began the big clean up where we scrubbed every surface. Dis----gusting!
Richard and Chris packed up their belongings and almost ran me over trying to get away from us and get to the hotel. The plan was for one more visit the next day to settle up for expenses, so we made a date for 1000 the next day.
Ok, that's all over with. The Spousal Unit and myself went in search of a super amrket for fresh foods. This meant going to the bus stop and waiting for the "Caribbean" style bus. There was a cow tied to the pole whose main function was to keep foliage down.
Chickens (Cluck Cluck) ride in the bus, in cages. In fact, Free Range chickens pretty much are on the hoof all over the island! We get to the market, buy some overpriced foods and head back. We stop by the boat to unload before we decide to do some sight seeing. That's code word for "Let's find that great Pub, Club 'A' and sample the fine foods and liquid refreshments".
We visited a boat we knew from London on the way. Dragged the couple along, and made them join us. The tab came to about 75 bucks for our first evening out, we ate decent food and I drank entirely too many "Piton's". But we were back onboard the 'Beest by 2100 and slept the sleep of the just. We were safely inport and life was indeed good.
I woke up with a decent little 'gover at sunup, and I made my way to the showers for a nice bit of unlimited running water. While walking with my head down, watching my steps, I heard an English accent say the following;
(Note: I am wearing a "Wildebeest" t-shirt)
"Wildebeest... Wildebeest???? WILDEBEEST!, Darryl????"
Normally, I take a moment or two to recall a name. This time, my beer soaked brain cells clicked and I merely glanced up and said, "Uh, hi Graham."
Graham was a acquaintance from the Little Ship Club in London, we had spoken a number of times in the past year. He was totally buzzed at seeing us in St Lucia. On the dock at 0800.
"Oh, it is so goood to see you!. Come along with me to my boat, there is someone there we can surprise..."
I shuffled along behind him as we made our way to his sailboat. I stepped onboard and a very familiar head popped up in response to the uninvited boarder.
"Dahdddyll!" It was Roger, My brother from another mother, the guy who keeps popping up every where!
Totally jazzed, since no one knew where we were or if we had stayed in Europe. We dragged Roger and Graham back to the Wildebeest, where Roger stepped onboard uninvited, and as the Spousal Unit came up to challenge the boarder, she too squealed with joy at finding our friends!
Chris and Richard came by and we joked about having an Official "Little Ship Club"
meeting in the tropics! What fun. We had a bottle of Mumm's to celebrate the big reunion, we broke out the chips, dips and olives and had a grand impromptu dock party, all at 1100.
Too much fun!
We made a date to meet for dinner and this photo is evidence;
Lf to Rt: Graham, DC, Spousal Unit, Roger and guests...
I could get used to this life!
Richard and Chris kinda left suddenly as they were completely finished with Captain and owner of the Wildebeest. We were not happy with the circumstances of their leaving but we were quite happy to finally have the boat to ourselves, with all the privacy we wanted.
The remaining Wildebeest crew remained in St Lucia, readying the 'Beest for further travel. Rodney Bay Marina is first class in every way, including the costs. It was about $40.00 bucks a day, and after three days of partying we got to work.
Electrical system on the starboard side had completely gone out. We hired an electrician to rewire that side. The Autohelm 4000 which we hoped to use in calm conditions also was falling apart, so we replaced it with a used unit. That battery charger that failed? There goes another $600.!
So far, we had spent about $1250. in repairs and replacements, and that doesn't cover the Marina and the restaurants. Also, we needed courtesy flags and on, and on. This shows that even though we were trying to relax, there was always some work or project to do.
Digression Alert: One thing about St Lucia (And most other Caribbean islands); The begging is rampant. There are no government services other than tax collection and police, so the populace is left with crushing unemployment and inherent racism. The lighter you happen to be, the better your situation job wise. So local citizens walk the docks of the marinas where the wealthy white boat owners happen to be, seeking any kind of honest work; Cleaning your boat, your laundry, homemade flags, foods and drinks and anything else. The desperation is there and they get mad if you don't give them work or money. This is because the developers from the U.S and Europe came in, bought land cheap displacing existing farms and other local infrastructure, built ridiculous resorts, hotels, marinas and shopping centers promising a better life for all the islanders. Then, once the buildings were finished, the developers sold their interests making all the money, left the islanders to their own devices. Only the locals were no longer welcome on those resorts, hotels and Marinas. No wonder the locals hate us and consider us all selfish millionaires.
And me making a princely sum of $1300 a month. Riches if I was living in a tin hut without water or electricity.
So we faced another inner question which kind of loomed ominously, but needed an answer; What is our goal with this cruising thing? Will we drop out of society completely, or will we return home to "normalcy"?
When we arrived in St Lucia, we had about $1500.00 in credit card debt. There was no savings left and I was on half pay. At this current rate we were spending what looked like $2500.00 a month and naturally, this was unsustainable. Maybe if I was a retired officer, we could go on and on (And many retired officers do exactly this) but not as a retired "E".
My proposal to the Spousal Unit was this: Plan A; We can continue as is, have the best time of our lives, keep the spending down as much as we can without compromising quality of life. We can make our way North and pay it all back once we return to work.
Or, Plan B; We can shut down the expense by getting out of St Lucia, find an anchorage somewhere and live as frugally as possible, rice and beans and no Marinas, no bars and stay on our budget.
We pondered this for an evening over cocktails and local foods, paid by credit card.
She Who Will Be Obeyed went for plan A.
While our friends Roger and Graham were in St Lucia, they told us of another friend from London who was nearby, on the island of Bequia, running a 70 foot charter sailboat.
This guy, below in the square. (2016 note: Paul is still in Rodney Bay, St Lucia!)
Our friend had lost his wife to his former friend, she stole his kids and kept the family home. So our friend left England and moved to Bequia and start a new life in the palm trees.
We can't have sailed 5000 miles with out seeing our old buddy, could we? Of course not. Our next stop would be Bequia, just a 14 hour sail South of Rodney Bay.
Meanwhile, we thought we would tour the island after we completed our repairs. A cab driver walking on the dock persuaded us to hire him for the day ($80.00!) Here are some photo's of that tour of the entire island:
This is Castries Harbor:
Another Rodney Bay view from the Road:
Some folks would call this "quaint", or would gush about the local "Culture". I don't and neither do these nice people doing what they must. Laundry time outside of Castries:
Heading South along the West coastal road, we passed Marigot Harbor. Beautiful little hurricane hole, there are cottages there renting for less than 300 bucks a week:
Arriving at Soufriers, you can see the Pitons closely. They look like two bullet shaped breasts rising up off the coast:
We stopped by a rainforest by the Pitons:
The driver kept stopping for us to get great photos, but he always stopped where there were beggars waiting to approach us to "Help". The driver knew all these folks and was trying to get us to pass some more of our wealth around. I had to explain that our whole budget for the day was going to him and there was no more for the rest of the populace, so if you could, can we just pass the stops, hmmm?
We were brought to the volcano and took the tour. The rocks and the ground were extremely hot and at times you would choke from the sulphur rising in the air. We walked into and around the caldera for a few moments, but I was choking and the stench was overpowering:
Naturally, when we returned to the van, our driver was more interested in going a bit quicker, since we didn't want to help any of his friends. We whizzed by the airport in the south island (A former U.S. Naval Airstation) and headed up the eastern coast, which is the windward side. It also started to rain.
We literally circled the island in about three or four hours and we were dropped off at the marina by the nice driver. We were glad to have had the chance to see the countryside, but it pretty much wrapped up St Lucia for us.
There were a couple boats planning to leave like we were, so we thought we would go by and see how the planning was done on other boats. One boat, a 47 foot Sparkman Stevens had a crew of two, both were professors at UC Berkeley, tenured, so they were traveling on full pay. Their boat was beautiful, and we thought they were long distance sailors who had cruised to St Lucia after a Panama Canal passage.
They bought their boat in Tampa and hired a professional skipper to help them sail from Florida to the Virgin Islands. They complained that he was a "horrible alcoholic" (Whatever that is, I was chugging my third beer by this point) and they whined about what a tough passage it was doing the so-called "Thorny Path" to the Caribbean. We clucked comforting "Gee, I feel your pain... noises" while thinking of the ups and downs of 23 days in the Altantic. The "Thorny Path" has a boat island hopping (Day Cruising, no overnight passages) from Florida to the Bahamas, to Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and finally the Virgin Islands. Afterwards, the winds are not on the nose the whole way, but rather off to the left.
The professors were wonderful hosts and we watched them plan the trip with engineering precision; They turned on the weather fax and the Single Side band, called "Herb" in Canada (by the way, Herb ROCKS! He does weather reporting for sailboaters in the Atlantic at no charge, God Bless him!)And chatted with other cruisers on the radio getting advice and commentary from boaters in the region.
When we left the professors doing their "thing" the Spouse and I shared a deep laugh about what Noob's these two were. We were sailing a hundred miles, not launching the freaking shuttle! (Not trying to be a snob, but sometime a boat will find itself on an overnight passage! Otherwise, just take an airplane to the islands and stay in a hotel)
We made our waypoint entries into the GPS, reviewed the weather at the internet cafe and bedded down for a 0430 departure.
Off to Bequia!
Map was lifted from here. Go visit the website, it's worth it!
So here we are, anchored in Admiralty Bay, Bequia. We were all the way in the back, by Princess Margaret Beach in in choppy Christmas Wind driven bay waters. Not too fun, really. The first night was pretty hairy, the winds howled. I was wary of dragging anchor, but that didn't happen until the winds stopped. Then we dragged all over the place.
Later, I called a taxi boat to take me ashore to check in, I show our documents and passports to the easy going Customs Agent and was given a permission of unlimited stay. Not too shabby, I really am starting to catch on to the slowness of life in the Windward islands. Just to show what a regular joe I can be, I stopped into the Rasta Fruit and Vegetable market and let those guys clean my wallet out for three bags of veggies. I bought some "Christophenes", (what ever that is), which we dined on with dinner. All these nice veggies cost me about 35 Bucks, outrageous ripoff, but they never bothered me again when I walked by their hut. I figured that the Rasta's wanted their vig...
To return to Wildebeest I hired a taxi boat to bring me back where we picked up the Spousal Unit for further transfer to see our friend Paul. I asked the taxi driver if he knew "Paul", who was the skipper of a 70 foot sailboat and a hundred foot power vessel. I got a puzzled look in reply, the driver shrugged and called some other taxi boat drivers on the VHF in that interesting, almost unintelligible island patois. Someone on the radio replied a bunch of fast words where I picked up "Redpants".
"Ohhh, Mon, you mean 'Redpants'? I know heem, I take you dere."
Nobody uses their real names in Bequia. I think it adds to the confusion and concealment. For instance, my Taxi boat driver was known as "African". His real name was 'Winston', but he got real firm about being called "African". African was pretty useful in that he knew everything about everyone. We gathered the Spouse and flew to the sail boat that Paul (I mean Redpants) was supposedly onboard. We pulled up alongside and I shouted out "Paul!!!!"
I heard a little commotion below decks and I called his name a second time. That's when this apparition jumped from a hatch, naked. His girlfriend (a natural brunette, I might add) came up on deck in the raw, too!
"Arrrggghh, cover up!" I begged.
African moved close to the moored sailboat and we paid him as we climbed aboard.
Cold beer was pressed into my hand as Paul and his girl began cheering our arrival and the party soon began. Paul had been a member of the Little Ship Club for years and it was Paul who helped us when we purchased our sailboat and moved aboard in London. Us having completed an Atlantic crossing pleased him to no end, especially that we had traveled specifically to see him.
Redpants was his new name, since he always wore faded red shorts. His personality is one of bubbling enthusiasm, he is never unhappy and insists that life go along with him in a constant, crazy state of party. His beer drinking abilities are legend.
2009 note; I haven't spoken to Redpants in eight years. There is no doubt in my mind that I could run into him tomorrow, and we would hoist some "Green Teas" and continue on whatever conversation we had holding in 2001.
Redpants introduced us properly to "African" and a few other influential personages, and we were treated like old hands almost immediately. That evening's party was brutal, but we got the taxi boat back to the 'Beest because I wanted to have a proper anchor watch.
The next day, we got our dinghy (purchased from Paul back in London!) inflated and the motor mounted and we were now mobile. On the third day or so, we finally got a calm to stop the brisk winds. I noticed the Wildebeest had a boat dragging down on her, so I yelled the warning to the occupants who told me that we were the ones dragging.
So we were. Darn it!
I hauled in our anchor and called Redpants for assistance. Our anchoring spot had been scoured out by the recent hurricane, so holding was difficult at best. We chatted with Redpants and African, and we were given a mooring by the Frangipani Bar, conveniently next door to the "Whale Boner" bar.
At first, it was a really cool mooring it was costing ten bucks a day. But it was secure and 20 yards from shore, so we sucked it up and paid. We soon got to know the locals and the Ex-Pats. Admiralty Bay was a buzzing hive of little boats driven by outboards, with Cruise Ship passengers ferrying back and forth and yachtsmen vying for position at the landing docks.
Every morning at 1100, Redpants and a few cruisers and local residents would meet at the New York Bar, which was called "The Office" during the day. At night, the bar reverted back to "Locals" only, meaning pale faces were not welcome past 1900. No real threats, but it was understood by us to just not be there. Besides, at 1900 you wanted to be at "Church" or over at the Frangipani, or maybe a couple other places for the evening "Jump Up". Back to the evening activities, later. For now, we remain at the "Office" where we met the owners of the Moon Hole House (They were called "The Flintstones"), another fellow by the name of "Bill", who was the Chairman of the Board.
"Bill" was the most interesting person I had met on Bequia; He had been born in Palestine, served in WW2 in the Palestine Constabulary. After the UK had left Palestine in '48, he emigrated to the U.S. Once in America, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a Private and worked his way up to Captain. He retired in 1970. He married a Canadian lady and moved to Canada. Somehow, he got a commission with the Canadian Coast Guard as a Lieutenant, and stayed another 16 years until he had to retire due to age.
So this guy lives in Bequia, owns a beautiful home on the mountainside with two military pensions, and he lives well.
Typical morning at the Office. Bill is the distinguished drinker on the right. Redpants is on the left of the Spousal Unit.
View from Bill's house, overlooking Friendship Bay;
There were a number of folks who were on the Board of Directors at the Office. I thought it was a dubious distinction, at best. That honor indicated the bestowee was a drinker of the first order, something I always try to perform but never acknowledge. (The Navy frowns on alcohol (ab)use so one always denied their true drinking habits) Besides, drinking at 1000/1100 means that the day is completely shot. Redpants was the latest inductee to the Office Board of Directors.
Your Congenial Host "Boswell" and his "Massive At Arms" Kurt. I meant "Master At Arms". Kurt was a pussycat, but he was the muscle who kept things civil at the New York Bar. I like to think Kurt liked the Spouse and myself as friends. We certainly liked Kurt and helped him with learning to read.
Bill tried to talk us into emigrating to Bequia. Lovely place to wind up in, but there is nothing there. Just friendly people trying to make it the best they can.
One day, the owner of the "Frangipani" bar was in town for some stupid ass kissing/wealthy patron doogooder award. The owner is none other than the local Prime Minister-For-Life (Whom I think is an American Citizen, by the way). We were there for the ceremony because we happened to be having afternoon drinks. Some wealthy lady from the Hamptons had written some book about the "lovely people and Culture of Bequia". She was there to give the Prime Minister his copies and some of the proceeds from the sales of said books in America.
We did the polite grip and grin and moved on, after we took some pictures of the event.
At last, after twelve years of imagining, dreaming and hoping it could all come true; We were in an island paradise and the boat was completely safe and snug at her mooring off the Frangipani Bar.
Beautiful tropical music wafted across the harbor, serenading the Wildebeest in the warm breeze. Every Tuesday, the Steel Pan band would play "Feelings" at about 2130 on the dot. I hate that song. Our close proximity to shore gave us an incredible vista for just watching the show, both the musical and the people watching. At 1700, every day, the Anchor Follies would begin the unintended comedy of watching tired tourists sailing in from Martinique on chartered sailboats, desperately trying to anchor as close as humanly possible to the shore of Elizabeth Town. One boat full of attractive young French ladies was anchored about 25 yards from the Wildebeest, placing us in danger of bumping when the tides changed. I did not mind, they liked to take showers up on deck and perform other grooming tasks in the warm sunshine. Can anyone imagine trying to observe your neighbors peripherally, while making like you ain't paying attention?
Another boat moored to our starboard side, it was a beautiful old Sparkman Stevens wooden sloop that flew a English red duster. The couple living there had some real knock down, drag out spats in their cockpit. Sometimes, the fights would drift out to public places, on the main drag in town. Quite notorious. One day, the nice lady gathered her gear in a sack, hopped in the dinghy to go ashore while telling himself what a "not nice" person he was, and that she was leaving, for good.
She went to the New York bar where other cruisers consoled her and found a way off the island for this lady.
Post Script on the British Boat; About a week or two later, the skipper unhooked and without any farewells; Left Bequia. The boat was found sailing along, (By the St Lucia Coast Guard) heading north with the sails set and the self steering unit happily driving north with our aforementioned skipper dragging along 20 feet behind the boat, in his harness, dead of drowning.
As I wrote of above, we would rise early each day at sunup. "Jolly Joseph" would knock on our boat at about 0630 offering to sell a loaf of fresh baked bread. We paid two bucks and would have toast and coffee for breakfast. About 0830 we would jump in the Bay holding a tending line, and soap up our bodies in the salt water. We would climb back aboard and use a bucket of fresh water to wash hair and sensitive areas, rinsing the salt off. Then we would clean the boat and attempt to tidy up the wreckage. About once a week we did laundry, using three buckets for soapy, first rinse and second rinse. The drying of clothing was on the lifelines and the sun and breeze quickly made our clothes (T-shirts and shorts!) fresh and clean. About 1030, if we needed money we would get ashore to hit the bank, which had bizarre hours of 1100-1500, with an hour or so off for lunch.
Shopping for food became a new experience. All you could get was overpriced canned goods or chicken. The chicken came from the U.S., via frozen containers. The market also would get in pork ribs. I saw big boxes of frozen ribs, which were thawed for easy handling. The shop keeper would then cut the slabs up for individual packaging and then wrapped in plastic wrap to be returned to the freezer. Steaks were rarely found, maybe once or twice a month. Not worth it. So we ate chicken. There must be 600 ways to serve chicken.
Lunch. What to do about lunch? We followed the locals to the back side of the main drag where there was a small roach-coach styled grill. They served fried chicken wing on roll for fifty cents, U.S. We would often have two each to get lunch out of the way. Dinner would be grilled chicken on the boat, where we would dine and drink wine and beer while watching the sunset. We would also play endless games of cribbage until about 2030. We would normally be in bed by 2100.
That's island living!
We made friends with various shopkeepers. Often, they would be people who cruised in to Bequia and needed to do something to keep an income. One couple, from Sweden and Chicago, had a photo art studio called "Da Gallery". They were very kind and we loved to visit and waste their time. Here is a picture of the Spousal Unit with a parrot; Animals Love Her!
We did a lot of hiking on the island, we made sure to walk around the entire land mass, taking in the sights, sounds and smells. (There was a small valley used as a dump) Other than the dump, they kept the island tidy for the tourists. We stopped by Industry Bay, a rocky beach on the Windward side of the island. There was a nice hotel which would serve us drinks in the jungle, and while you were enjoying the hospitality, you could recline on hammocks and easy chairs.
Oh, and they had cats. Guess who the cats visited?
Some of the views were wonderful. It was neat to see some of the other islands in the distance, knowing that we could be there in less than an afternoon.
View of South coast, Island of Mustique:
Friendship Bay, again:
Sometimes, we would spend an evening with cruisers and locals, one never knew who would be around the corner. We were walking back to the Frangipani Bar (where the dinghy was tied) and we ran into a Danish couple whom we had mnet in Portugal. They were cruising their Swan 50 and happened to just arrive in Bequia. The party began, yet again.
Still in Bequia
We spent so long in Bequia that our flag was shredded.
The routine was standardized and set before long, and days turned into weeks and weeks to months.
One cool break was the Spousal Unit's Mom decided to drop into Bequia for a visit. The real nice surprise was that Sister of Spousal Unit snuck along without letting anyone (besides me) know she would be there. On the visit day arrival, we took the St Vincent Ferry to the big island and stayed at a hotel, enjoying the amenities (like hot water, long showers, etc.). The flight came in about 1400 (2:00 PM), so we had time for some shopping and a hair cut for me.
Haircut story; We found a barber shop, but it was as prehistoric as can be. They did have one set of electric clippers, but the barber was young and did not really have much experience with non-kinky hair. I was happy to let him give me a Marine Corps styled "high and tight". The problem was really about the razor he used to shave the edges.
That's right. One of these;
He held the inside of the blade and slid it against my skin. Thankfully, I only had about four nicks. I paid about five bucks U.S. and got the heck out of there.
As I walked down the block with my girl, a youngish gent started calling for us from a block away, dodging and running by people as he gestured and motioned for us to stop. He arrives panting and breathing hard, stops, stands straight up and says, "Welcome to St Vincent, Mon! "A pleasure to have you here!", sticks out hand for handshake.
I say, "Thanks, what do you want?"
"A dollar", says my new friend.
"President Mitchell says that we St Vincent and Grenadians need to be especially welcoming of all tourists, because they will bring money!" Says our erstwhile host.
Who can argue with that, hmm? I spent the next half hour reliving the scene from 1964's film, "Hard Days Night". Literally, we had to dodge aggressive beggars and panhandlers until we could get back to the hotel restaurant. It seems that tourism was way down that year, due to some earlier unpleasantness. A pale face was relatively rare in that town so people who lived locally got a little pushy because incomes were down.
This from the Hartford Press
Threats to Jurors in Murder Trial of White Couple
From Rick Halperin, 2 August 1997
ST. VINCENT - A missing handgun, telephone threats to jurors and the seamier side of life for some millionaire yachters in the Caribbean highlight the trial of a white American couple accused of murdering a black boatman.
West Virginians James and Penny Fletcher could hang if they're found guilty. The case has put St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the international spotlight. Not everyone is comfortable with it.
Many locals, known as "Vincys," were enraged by U.S. television reports they felt painted their island as corrupt and incapable of giving the Fletchers a fair trial under a justice system inherited from British colonizers.
Prime Minister James Mitchell - who was urged by President Clinton to ensure the Fletchers got "due process" - recently toured the United States to counter the negative publicity. No one listened, he complained.
"If I were to die tonight I would not make the CNN news," he said late Thursday. "They are not interested in our opinion."
The trial, which began Monday, is the talk of Kingstown. Residents drop what they're doing to hear the latest radio updates and discuss them.
Small crowds gather outside the old stone courthouse, with many offering support to Fletcher's parents, Robert and Kae, as they stoically take seats on the courtroom's wooden benches.
The trial's cast adds to its interest. The prime minister's chief political rival, Ralph Gonsalves, is Jim Fletcher's attorney. Prosecutor Karl Hudson-Phillips was the leading prosecutor in murder trials for the 1983 assassination of Grenada's premier, Maurice Bishop, and his Cabinet.
The victim, Jerome "Jolly" Joseph, was a popular 30-year-old boat taxi driver in Bequia, a northern Grenadine island popular with yachtsmen.
Then there are the accused: James, a 50-year-old former Huntington, W.Va., mining company executive, and his 3rd wife, Penny, 35. The wealthy couple sailed into a storm of controversy in Bequia on their yacht, the Carefree, in August 1996.
In early October, Joseph's body was found floating off Bequia with a .22-caliber bullet through the heart. He had last been seen 3 days earlier, ferrying the Fletchers to their yacht.
The Fletchers had registered a .22-caliber handgun when they arrived in St. Vincent. The gun has never been found. The couple claimed a deckhand, Benedict Redhead, stole it when he left his job in August.
But 2 witnesses have testified that Mrs. Fletcher boasted about shooting a gun only 4 days before Joseph disappeared. Others said the Fletchers tried to escape by sailing away.
"The guilty flee," Hudson-Phillips said.
Defense attorneys suggest the Fletchers were leaving to avoid an angry crowd. Locals had shouted "Murderers!" at their yacht when Joseph's boat was found abandoned, 2 bullets inside it.
Redhead the deckhand added to the drama Friday. He denied taking the gun and claimed he once caught Mrs. Fletcher hugging Joseph aboard the Carefree.
When he confronted Mrs. Fletcher, he said, she started screaming, accusing him of trying to rape her. Redhead said he left, fearing he would be shot. Redhead also said he saw Mrs. Fletcher throw a gun at her husband on several occasions.
Jurors haven't been allowed to hear locals' accounts of the Fletchers' hard-drinking ways and public brawls. In a crucial ruling, Eastern Caribbean High Court Judge Dunbar Cenac refused to allow testimony about threats Mrs. Fletcher allegedly made against blacks or a bar fight she instigated.
The trial nearly collapsed Thursday after 2 of the 12 jurors received telephone threats.
"I know where you're working. I know where you're living. ... If you know what's good for you, you will free the Fletchers," 1 juror was told by a man with a foreign accent, according to Hudson-Phillips. The 2nd threat came from someone with a local accent.
"Certain external forces are operating on this trial in order to bludgeon" justice, the prosecutor said. He called for a mistrial - which would postpone everything until the next court session in October.
The judge refused, but warned that if there were further attempts to tamper with the jury, he would have "no hesitation" stopping the trial.
That's one thing almost nobody wants, including U.S. authorities, who are closely watching the case. They don't want a prolonged trial to jeopardize their "good working relationship" with Mitchell's government, including efforts to combat drug trafficking.
Mrs. Fletcher's health is a concern. She has fainted several times during her confinement in a century-old prison, and has been treated for a possible pre-cancerous condition.
Each morning, the Fletchers sit inside a small, wooden defendants' dock, facing the jury and a portrait of the queen. Mrs. Fletcher hunches up against her husband, who drapes an arm around her shoulder. The courtroom interludes are the longest they have been together in months.
"How are the folks back home? Are they with us?" Fletcher asked reporters Thursday.
Note: Jolly Joseph's boat was used by his surviving brother, who brought freshly baked bread out to our boat, every morning. We felt very awkward, being an American boat.
Before sailing to the Caribbean, this case had been scrutinized and thoroughly discussed (gossiped) in the Sailboat Cruising community. Everybody had an opinion and were divided as to innocence and guilt. The Wildebeest Crew chatted with the taxi-boat drivers in Bequia about this and we leaned towards the locals on this case, but we don't know the real facts other than the fact that visitors to St Vincent were staying away. Bequia, on the other hand, was still thriving.
1400 came and we got a taxi to the airport where the Spousal Unit had a grand reunion with her Mom and sister. Off to the ferry and away to Bequia! An hour or so later, we collected up our still present dinghy and motored out to the Wildebeest.
Mom and Sister had a great time and we all had fun doing the island on our own feet. There were coconuts out at Industry Bay, a visit to the Flintstones at Moon Hole, and we took a nice cruise around the island sailing in the warm spring breezes. After about ten days, the guests went home and we had to ponder our status as cruisers.
One morning, while enjoying "elevenses" at the Office Bar, Bill Sadler asked the group if it was time to appoint two new Directors to the board. Herself and I were nominated to join the Board as full resident members, to enjoy all the benefits of such membership.
We were honored, in a back handed kind of way. It had been about ten weeks and we had seen everything Bequia had, and more. Bill had been making quiet offers to the Spousal Unit to consider working in Blind Rehabilitation at the island medical center... to be voluntary at first, but maybe, if grants were found as a paid employee.
It was a nice thing to imagine, us helping the very poor, but would that keep our fridge stocked with food? Not to mention $16.00 U.S. for a case of cokes or $24.00 for a case of Hairoun beer.
We needed about $150.00 a month for beverages on our boat and food was double that.
A job that paid money was needed now, our credit card debt was now about $3K and it was looking like our expenses were hovering at $2K per month and we enjoyed an excellent lifestyle. But the debt would be due, soon, so planning would enable us to be ready.
Bill was unsure of any time line leading to employment on an island that has no jobs other than B.S. art and macrame kiosks. We decided to depart within the week, so we declined the generous offer to have our names printed on the Board of Directors.
There was a loading of fuel and water on the 'Beest. We held 210 gallons in two water tanks. The water seller claimed we held 260 gallons. And he wanted money for that quantity. I'm not sure if we got gouged for diesel, but I was sure unhappy for being cheated on water. If they wanted an extra $20, why not ask for it? Whatever. This ain't America and nothing is fair in a land where they live in tin huts without water or electricity.
The morning of our departure, we woke up at the crack of eight, due to the two nights of "farewell parties" held in our honor at the New York bar and the Frangipani. There was a knocking on our hull, and it was Red Pants.
"Hey, get up! They got a whale at Petit Nevis, and they are holding an island wide "Jump Up" and whale barbecue, it'll be great!!!"
Bequia is one of the few places who still collect whales on this planet, but they do it the old fashioned way with row boats and human powered harpoons. It gives the whale a fighting chance to either get away, or go down fighting with tremendous risk of the hunter losing his life. I thought quickly... Wouldn't it be totally cool to be able to say that I have eaten whale meat? I heard it tastes like manatee, only more fishy. We had checked out officially from the Grenadines, and if the Customs Officer catches us, we could be liable to pay (at minimum) reentry fees. Maybe a fine, depends on how they are feeling that day.
Sorry Paul, we are out of here. Good bye, good luck, and enjoy the party!
And with that we were heading to Martinique. The journey would take about 36 hours and for the first time, I felt no nervousness about our sailing. Our boat was working (and had been!) perfectly, and there had been no problems since the bilge pump failed on the way to St Lucia. What a wonderful thing to be heading North in beautiful weather!
Off to see the Lizard, in Martinique!
So, underway we were, and it was late afternoon. We felt the bumpy seas in between Bequia and St Vincent, but by sunset the winds had reduced to about ten knots from the East, and the seas were quite smooth. The headsail was the only sail up for safety in the night and we were moving at five knots, which is our planning speed for passages.
There was a pasta dinner and I stayed on watch until about 2330, when I could not keep my eyes open. I gave the helm to the Spousal Unit and I relaxed on the port side cockpit trying to catch some sleep.
Sometime around 0245, I heard a worried call from herself;
"There's a bright light, it's a ship, and it's bearing down on us!!!"
I shot upright, still asleep and mumbled something like, "Huh?"
She rapidly replied, "There's a ship and it's coming down on us!"
I fumbled with my salt smeared glasses and wiped the sea gunk from my eyes and tried to focus. "Where?"
I looked twice, since I trust that she does indeed see a ship.
"That's the moon". I tried to sound as cool as possible. Like Chester the Cheesy Cheetah.
"Oh... it popped up suddenly, I thought it was a search light."
I laid back down and promptly fell asleep. It seemed like two minutes later, she woke me up to take the watch. Thirty minutes feels like two minutes when you are tired to the bone.
The Autohelm 4000 was on the wheel, calling to me like a siren, begging me to engage her to steer the boat. Wildebeest was halfway down the coast of St Lucia, we had a beautiful full moon on our starboard, lighting the smooth ocean with a light glow. I could see no lights in the water, so I did engage that self steering, and I liked it! I leaned back against the main sheet winch so I could prop my self up in what appeared to be an upright ready position, and snuck in some two minute cat naps which I punctuated with looking around the horizon for five minutes. No boats? Good. Close eyes.
There never was a time where I felt so comfortable and confident at night in an ocean. This was sailing. Too cool!
30 minutes prior to sunrise, I awoke the relief and went below for a proper couple hour sleep.
Our first overnight passage in the Caribbean, it was indeed all that everyone had ever described.
The approach to Martinique took longer than expected, Fort de France is tucked way up in a safe bay. We directed ourselves to Anse Mitan, and looked for room in the anchorage. There was none. Packed like sardines, they were. A quick motor to Anse A' L'ane was taken and we tucked into the Western part of the anchoring area, just clear of the ferry lane. It took two tries and we got our CQR into the rocky bottom. We dropped our lunch hook using the dinghy, on a 90 degree angle off of the main anchor. We then dinghy'd ashore to catch the ferry for Fort De France, intending to check in with Customs and Immigration.
Wasted trip. Customs was closed for Mardi Gras. And the next day and the next. Good thing we are honest citizens!
Anse A L'ane is on the lower center and has a pier stuck in the middle of a half moon shaped harbor;
View Larger Map
Zoom in. It is a sweet little harbor.
If you look on the harbor to the upper right, Anse Mitan, you can see the many little boats anchored in that bay. Way too crowded for me. Anse A L'ane is more exposed to winds, but I like the ease of dinghying to shore. Did I mention the beach with French Tourists? It seems that Anse A L'ane is a popular vacation stop for French families to get away. Le Nid Tropicale being a low cost cottage resort with two restaurants. Half Lobster with Steak cost about $30.00 at the posh restaurant. Burgers and fries served at the beach side cafe. Fun!
Here is a view of Anse a L'ane, looking to the West; Wildebeest is the second boat from the right and you get a view of that little island.
We watched many sunsets in that direction and actually got to see the illusive "Green Flash" many times.
As for the local views, it was too bad while walking the beach, I never noticed any of the ladies baking daily in the sun. Without swimsuits, that is. I always walked with the Spousal Unit keeping my eyes on the horizon, so to speak, and there were no other ladies to be noticed by moi while we performed our daily store run.
The food; Gosh. Outstanding!!! After chicken grilled chicken, we were ready for some good food. Even the canned food was superior to the plain fare of Bequia.
Another view of the little island, hoping to see the Green Flash
We finally cleared in to Customs about five days after we arrived. The entire population was engrossed in Mardi Gras, so no business (except the business of party) was engaged in. There was about six trips across the Bay on ferry to accomplish this deal, but we got very well versed in ferry operations.
One afternoon, we got off the ferry at Anse Mitan. They had some really nice stores that catered to the sailboat crows. There weer a number of watering holes, so there was a bit of imbibing, maybe three. It was now 7:00 PM, and we thought we would head back. The last ferry for Anse a L'ane left at 6:15. Hmmpf. Well, it was a three mile boat ride, so how far can it be to walk? There was a mountain in the way, it was in reality about a seven or eight mile hike. We looked for a cab. The cab line was completely vacant, at 7:10 pm! WTF???? We entered a restaurant and tried to get the owner to call us a taxicab. Finally, we decided to just have dinner at this restaurant as long as the owner would call us a cab to get us home.
There was a wonderful seafood menu and we dined on some incredible dishes, to include blood sausage. First time for everything! The meal came to a close about 9:00 pm and we asked the charming owner to call a cab, since she speeka-da-lanwadge, and all that. After three phone calls, the nice lady was stunned to find out that cabs did not run from 6:00 pm on! She was floored with embarrassment while I jokingly said that this was probably a way to get cheapskate boaters to sit for wonderful meals. Since our hostess was as surprised as us she called for her 17 year old model quality daughter to get their personal auto and run these Americans home. Our charming driver spoke impeccable American English and she casually chatted about Martinique on the fifteen minute drive to Anse a L'ane. She mentioned that her mom never took this kind of care of her customers, so we must be someone important...
When we arrived I offered to pay for gas and her time; she gave us a little flip of the hand as a salute/declination, laughed, and thanked us for coming out to the restaurant, especially as far as we had traveled! Our dinghy was resting at the dock where we left it and we climbed aboard, fired up the trusty Evinrude and putted into the darkness. Did I say I was really enjoying Martinique???
Out in Fort de France, the main city, we ran into American cruisers everywhere. Once, we were in some obscure pub near the big church square, went upstairs and in the darkness ran into the crew of "Dolphin". Dolphin's skipper was a retired Marine whom we had met in Bequia. It was not the last time we ran into these folks.
Note: I last ran into "Dolphin" at NAS Jacksonville, about a year and a half ago.
(Summer 2008) Small world, indeed.
Here is a view from the water of a Fat Tuesday Parade in Fort De France
Off to Dominica and Guadeloupe
After having fun in Martinique, we felt the need to cross some more islands off the list.
Before we were able to leave, there had been some real big winds and choppy seas. Our anchors were dug in well, so I spent an entire day just getting the anchors pulled up.
Most boats have a device called a windlass, it uses mechanical strength to wind up the chain and rope on the anchor rode. We only had the Mk 1 Mod 0 Me to pull them up. The first anchor came up so easily, I found that it had not been holding anything. The second anchor, the one I almost carelessly tossed over the side was the one doing the actual holding. In fact, I could not pull it up. I tied the line to the forward cleat and tried to use the mass of the Wildebeest to break it free.
I didn't want to cut the anchor free. It was a "Fortress 37", and these things run about $300.00. No way would I just toss that away.
There was swimming to be done; I donned my fins and mask and dove. The anchor was too deep for me to freedive, so I had to use a boat hook and grab the line which was on the bottom. I couldn't even see the anchor.
The line was grabbed up, I passed the line to SWWBO, and we pulled the line along until I found the obstruction. A coral head. I dived back into the water and grabbed the other side and cut the line at the head. We pulled the anchor back aboard and got underway for a fuel stop at the Fort De France downtown. After fuel and water we went back and re anchored without incident.
Reveille was held at 0400, we pulled the anchor up and left Anse a L'ane for good. We set sail and headed North for Dominica.
There are no natural harbors, so we hoped to anchor in the last small indentation on the North end. It was a beautiful day to sail and we saw some puffer fish, a sleeping whale and the ever present dolphins. It was a great six hour sail!
We anchored off the Northwest end, by Portsmouth. We were one of the two or three boats there. The holding was so-so, due to all the sand having been scoured out of the harbor the year before by hurricane Lenny.
It took a couple of attempts, but we finally got the hook embedded and I went ashore to sign in. There was a plan to go ashore again at 0900 for a trip to the parrot park up in the mountains. Nice island, wouldn't mind returning, but the weather made us make an unscheduled departure.
Returning aboard from the check in process, we barbecued some chicken and had a couple bottles of wine with dinner. We watched the beautiful sun set behind us and we played cribbage until about 2100.
About 0300, we were awakened by the worst rolling we had ever done at anchor. It was like a hundred power boats were flying through the anchorage, tossing incredible wakes which seemed like they were going to capsize us!
The wind shifted from the normal East to an abnormal Southwest, which brought swells and rolly seas. We tried to just sleep through it but it was no use. We tried to pull up the anchor, but it was jammed in some rocks. Not again!
I muscled it and finally used the weight of the boat to yank that hook back up. Running forward, I managed to grab the line and anchor before we got dug in again. The anchor was bent, ruined on the blades. I actually wrecked a danforth anchor!
We secured our gear, and with no planning we headed South with a following sea. It looked like either Point A Pitre (center of the butterfly shape island) or Basse Terre, the Southwest side of the landmass.
It was pretty choppy as we tried to figure out the destination. As we passed Isle de Saints, the water settled down and the day cleared to the normal warm and sunny state.
The fun meter had slipped a little, but we were still enjoying the event.
We snuck into a little cove with a marina. There was no one to answer our radio hails on channel 16, so in we went. There was one berth open, I boldly pulled in and tied up. This meant we had to go bow first and secure to the dock and I had to swim (yuck!) another line to a mooring ball behind us. It was a modified Med Moor. We secured ourselves and I had to put some adapters on our power cable and finally we were secured and for the first time in months, we had electrical power.
Remarkably, we found ourselves on a Saturday in a marina and there was absolutely no one about!
About six hours later, a young man walked up and asked if we spoke Anglais. He introduced himself as the owner of the boat next to us on the left, his name is "Pierre-Louis D'amoiseau".
I gladly shook this friendly hand and we asked if we were ok being docked in that spot. He replied to the affirmative, "Should be no problem, shecky inn day after tomorrow..."
He went onboard his boat and made a scene of cleaning and scrubbing, but finally he succumbed to his curiosity and came over to ask where we had come from. We offered him cool beer and invited him aboard for wine and cheese. It got brutal, as we had a little boat party on the spot!
We made quite a mess and listened to Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley to the wee hours.
Pierre kept trying to decline the offer of food and wine, but he failed.
He is an insurance office owner in Basse Terre, and he insisted on being our host in Guadeloupe for the duration of our visit.
Wonderful friend, and we are still in contact.
The first evening with Pierre Louis was wine and cheese with a bit of Saucisse Sec (Dry Salami) with a heavy emphasis on wine.
The next morning we had cloudy heads and we prepared for a trip to the Isle des Saints as we were invited by our generous neighbor.
At first, I was not too keen to do any sailing, but the combination of warm breeze, sunshine and a fine boat brought me into a fine sailing mood.
The only thing making it sort of unwieldy was that Pierre-Louis spoke the best version of Anglais, where the other couple he brought weren't so good at english as a second language. No problem; We couldn't speak Francais, so we were on level ground.
We started for the big island where another friend had his sailboat anchored and we would tie up to them and have a bit of lunch. And wine. Mostly wine, with snacks.
Still, there was an ocean journey so I took the helm while Pierre Louis did the hard work of trimming sails. Our main sheet let go with a pop, and the boom swung to the starboard, it seems the sheet traveler had come apart.
Moments before the mainsheet faliure;
The fiddle had come apart from the traveler and we lost control of the Main Sail. No big deal, I asked Pierre-Louis where his hardware box was and we quickly made repairs and were on our way in about five minutes. Pierre-Louis acted like it was a big deal that we identified the malfunction and had a repair quicker than it took to describe and translate into two languages. It made me feel pretty welcomed to have been actually useful to our host. Since I had been thinking and doing nothing but sailing for the previous six months, it really was an instinctive reflex.
We continued to the island and soon we were approaching the small lagoon and identified our destinations, near the cliff. It was a 38 foot sailboat anchored and the two occupants were waving a welcome to us and we made the approach from the stern to tie up.
After we were secure the beer and wine flowed as everyone began swim call. Even thought the main conversation was in French, we still felt very much a part of the fun. Everyone seemed very happy to have us at the party and I definitely felt relaxed. Especially after three or four 1664's.
The photo's from this journey have been posted before, but I will repost because they were pretty cool. There are more pictures, particularly concerning the tuna we caught and the feast that followed, but I have no idea where I put them.
The sailing voyage was really becoming a very pleasant adventure, we were not enduring any kind of hardships and the people were super fun.
We pulled away for the return at about 1500 (3:00 PM) and we headed back to Basse Terre. There was a tuna lure being towed behind, just like on the outbound journey, but on the late afternoon, the fish bit! We caught a fine five pound tuna which we dispatched with a capful of rum to the gills. Soon, we were approaching our marina and it was a bit frantic as we put away the fishing pole and secured our sails for the lannding approach. We pulled in next to Wildebeest III like professional sailors and congratulated ourselves for a fine day done.
Only now we were invited to another home to dine on fresh tuna. Turns out our host is/was a Supreme Court Justice for the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. This Judge really liked having Americans visiting, so he broke out many bottles of Champagne and had his cook put out a fine spread.
I'll try to locate the pictures from the rest of the day.
And here they are!
|Dinner was caught on the journey from the Saints to Guadeloupe.|
After returning to the Basse Terre Marina with newly caught tuna, we tied up, cleaned fish and prepared to head over to our friend's place to cook and eat. It was a brutal evening where we piled on a couple of bottles of Champagne on top of all the beers and wines from the afternoon.
The next day we got back to the business of cruising the shopping centers for food wine and a visit to the local pharmacy for a prescription refill. It seems in other countries, the pharmaceutical industry is not so shrouded in controls and paranoia. We needed some birth control pills since the previous six month supply had run out. The Navy/Air Force hospitals would not let us have more than a six month supply at any time. I'm sure this was for our own good, we might want to sell Ortho Novum 150 on the black market. We really tried to get a year supply, but no.
You might wonder why this is so important, after all, many women go without their daily pill and nothing comes of it.
Not so fast, with us. There are other reasons for having this pill and they aren't all to keep from having children. Oddly enough, this type of pill has other effects that are beneficial and contribute to daily good health. We really needed these pills.
Pierre-Louis takes us to a large pharmacy where they fixed us up with a six month supply with no hassle at all! In fact, a prescription was not needed and the Pharmacist wanted to know if we needed any antibiotics to stock on our boat.
I could really take life on that island!
Funny thing about antibiotics; They are treated with the same security here in America as if they were an addictive pain killer, like oxycontin.
Our country has asshole drug laws. Sorry for the cussing.
Shopping then led to a case of French wine and a case of local beer. We also went down thw wonderful canned food aisles and got a diverse selection of foods like Duck Wings (Canards), Chacroute (Sour Kraut with Roast Pork, Sausages and Ham in a white wine sauce) and a few others. It was a large car load of supplies all at very reasonable prices.
Dinner that evening was at the Marina Restaurant where we started with a Rhum Ponch, and went into entrecote beef.
Just then we noticed a mast and sailboat anchor light indicating a visiting boat had just anchored outside of the marina. Four large, loud Texans came in apparently after a day's run from Dominica. I know they were from Texas because they mentioned it several times to the wait staff.
We cringed over our meals as these louts began berating the waiter for not bringing rum punches. A French Rum Punch is a small whiskey glass, a bowl of ice and a bowl of cut up limes is placed on your table. There is also a small dish of brown demitasse sugar and a bottle of local rum.
You pour a healthy dose of rum in your glass, squeeze in about one lime (be sure to get some pulp in there!) and add a teaspoon of the brown crystallized sugar. Add a little water to keep all this liquid.
Drink and enjoy.
Well, these four nice tourists did not get the memo so there was a bit of loud complaining. The staff (Who spoke no Anglais) were pushing back. Finally a manager came up and explained; "Eyooow wanntted the Ponche Planteur.. No?"
Ahhh, Bach. Why didn't they just say so, no?
Every one was happy and the Spouse and I ate faster to get clear of the sociological rubble that the restaurant was now becoming. We wrapped up and using phrase book Francais, we thanked our hosts for a most enjoyable meal and bid them Au Revoir and Adieu.
The Texans took notice of our mangling of the language and we ducked out of the room before we were obliged to speak politely to them. I felt the eye burning on us as we walked the dock to the Wildebeest and I could hear this through the air, "How the hell did they get a berth in the Marina..."
By the way; I like Texas. Great place to be and live. Just that some folks don't feel comfortable in foreign places and act loutishly.
All good things must come to an end, so the Marina management asked us to leave in the next day or so. We did last checks and prepared for our departure. Next stop was definitely not going to be Montserrat or St Kitts and Nevis.
St Croix, United States Virgin Islands! It would be a two day journey, but it would be America, complete with Wally Worlds, Kmart and 110 volt AC power.
We had a sad farewell lunch with Pierre-Louis and filled up with diesel, water and made a last minute stop at the charcuterie for some fine French Sausages. We also bought two cooked chickens for the road.
It was a strange almost foggy day as we made our way to the West to clear the island.
While these photos were being taken, I was both driving the boat and tearing into some awesome rotisserie chicken and had very greasy fingers.
Four hours later the weather cleared and we had fair winds and sunny skies. We were on a heading of about 310 degrees and had a full headsail of wind; After five years we were finally heading to American waters.
Life was exceedingly good on Wildebeest III.
So, back off the coast of Guadeloupe, we were in a misty almost foggy air, but the temperatures were above 70 degrees. We turned on a course of 300 degrees True in a light rain.
Looking to our right a few hours later, you could see Montserrat in the distance. I almost felt a little sad we weren't making a stop on the island mentioned in the Buffett song, "Volcano". But the word was that there was virtually no one there, due to the recent volcano activity.
Whatever. I was tired of the begging I had seen in St Vincent and St Lucia, beautiful islands in paradise, but an impoverished population with no hope. At least the French still controlled their islands and had a reasonable social security scheme.
Look below, and be sure to enlarge the Google Map and you can follow along with our short trip.
Guadeloupe to St Croix
View Basse Terre Guadeloupe to St Croix in a larger map
Mostly rain as the hours passed and the winds were mainly out of the East/Southeast. At 0100 we had slowed to 5 knots and were kind of rolly with the sloppy ocean and lightening breeze. We kept the motor on so we could ensure that we arrived when planned in the morning of the next day.
1220 found us at the halfway point, I had awoken from a really decent five hour sleep. The Spousal Unit was always good to me for letting me sleep while the sun climbed in the sky. Morning is the best time to be sailing, but I rather had the snooze. About 1300 she went to the right settee and began her well deserved slumber. The water was relatively smooth as we motorsailed to the Northwest.
1500 I noticed a squall to the right, about a mile or two which included a really bitchin' waterspout. I could acutally hear the wind spinning and sucking up water vapor. This was not a time to awaken sleeping beauty, I was pretty nervous myself, and the last thing I needed was for her to start spooling up about the little threat to our starboard. I may start to resonate and get upset, too. Besides, I was sterring us clear.
Note; Water spouts are something to be avoided, but they are not nearly as dangerous as the land based version (Tornado). But still, I prefer to watch rather than be directly involved.
The sun finally chased the squalls away about an hour or so later, so I broke the normal rule of "no alcohol" underway. I cracked open a cold Lorraine beer, a tall boy. Mmmm, Good. I had acquired a case of the 16 oz cans just because of the label. I mean, who wouldn't want a beer with the Cross of Lorraine on it?
The symbol of the French Resistance in WWII on a can is all the excuse I need to have two beers. Oh, and a great day at sea.
It was a beautiful sunset and we had some canned chacroute (Saurkraut, ham, sausage and pork in white wine) Outstanding dinner.
The winds began to switch to the North, so the waves began to get confused and the motion became a bit bumpy. This lasted through the night but we were unaffected; We are heading for American waters, home of cheeseburgers and 110 volt ac power.
Sunrise came as usual, early in the morning and we could make out St Croix in the near distance. We came around Point Udall about 0830, perfect for observing the coral heads as we passed Buck Island National Underwater park.
The Spousal Unit took her position up on the bow to observe the shallow waters. She gave a shout to avoid a coral head which turned out to be a eight foot wide turtle. The turtle ignored us as he went his way and we continued for Green Cay Marina, in Southgate Pond.
View Larger Map
You can see the coral along the North coast and the saddleback we had to cut through at Cheney Bay.
The Wildebeest had been away from United States territory since August of 1996, and the crew had been away since September 1995. Channel fever was definitely a concern, so we tried to keep professional about our approach to Green Cay. The left turn into a narrow cut was made and we called the Marina on VHF 16. They directed us to this dock and we tied up without difficulty.
Wildebeest III tied up to the second dock from the top right pier.
View Larger Map
I plugged into the shore power without having to use a transformer or plug adapter. Things were in control and we had no runs, no hits and no errors.
We went to the Marina office, checked in and helped ourselves to long showers. Next stop was "Cheeseburgers in Paradise", a cafe about two miles up the road.
Cheeseburgers in Paradise
Located on St. Croix’s East End- Cheeseburgers in Paradise feels like you are at a friend’s backyard bar-b-que. The open-air restaurant serves lunch and dinner seven days a week starting at 11am and Sunday Brunch from 11am to 2pm with live music Thursday through Sunday nights. Enjoy tropical frozen beverages, soda, tea or anything from their full bar to go along with- what else- your cheeseburger! But there is so much more to this menu- chicken sandwich, burritos, steaks, salads plus daily specials that include fresh fish and pastas. And for dessert? The finest Soft Serve ice cream on island made with whole milk, as well as, homemade rum cake, key lime pie and brownie ala mode. Truly a St. Croix family tradition- don’t miss out on this one! Be sure to check out the calendar to see who is playing this week. Safe, secure parking.
After a great burger with a rum and coke, we stumbled back to the boat for a quick nap before dinner.
Ahh, paradise! Just a hundred feet from the boat, as a crow flies.
This is just an update of the last post, but it stands alone.
Here is the entrance to the marina, note that it isn't a straight approach in.
We got situated in our dock and I took the opportunity to snap a photo of my favorite person, right before we left for Cheeseburger's. In the background you can see the open hatch representing some warm temperatures. The music playing was Mongoose FM. It was soooo cool to listen to American accents on there radio.
We went over to the Deep End Bar and restaurant that evening. We were kinda loopy from lack of rest but we were too excited to spend a quiet evening on the boat.
Got to the crowded bar in time for sunset G&T's, I muscled up to the bar and asked for a beer and chardonnay. The nice bartender did not recognize us so she asked where we were staying.
"Oh, we are the boat at the end of the dock, the one with the blue top."
"Where are you coming in from?"
That got a few people to turn around and acknowledge us.
An English gent and his younger, extremely attractive American spouse came over and introduced themselves.
"Say, were you a member of the 'Little Ship Club'? He asked.
"Why sure. Since 1996."
"I served in the Army with a member, perhaps you know Roy..."
We didn't let him finish.
"Oh, you mean Uncle Roy Aspinall!" She and I interrupted with excited relish.
Uncle Roy is infamous in the Little Ship Club. Very well known in the East Coast sailing circles of the UK. Oh yes, we knew Uncle Roy.
Well. That gave us the bona fides for full inclusion of the Deep End Bar and entrance into the sacred brotherhood of the "Get Drunk For Lunch Bunch".
There were Uncle Roy stories to be told and sea tales of our own little junket across the Atlantic. Before we knew it it was 11:00 PM, time for the bar to close. I weaved my way to the bar to pay my tab and was told that there was no tab. So I insisted on knowing how much I owed...
"There is no tab."
What a great time!
There were recuperative mimosas the next day as we endeavored to find a ride to the rental car place. Seems that St Croix has a... (wait for it...) K-Mart. Oh dear. After suffering with high prices and no stock from Basingstoke to Castries, we were officially in the land of the sorta big PX. Be still, my beating heart.
We got to K-Mart and began a 400 dollar spending spree that included such diverse goodies like a Blender, tee-shirts, food of all kinds (This was a "Super K-Mart") and a six pack of Cruzan Rum. Two bucks a fifth! We also got all sorts of fun nick-knacks like new plates, etc.
Did you know the speed limit over much of St Croix is 20 mph? They drive on the left side because the island residents are so laid back, they will stop on a dime to chat with a pedestrian! Driver side on the left facilitates chatting with your sidewalk friends.
There is about five miles of freeway, from Cane Garden Bay and the huge Hess refinery to Fredrikstad. Or something like that. My mind is addled from way too many Cruzan's and Coke.
One fine thing I noticed in St Croix; Very proud to be U.S. citizens. There were flags on most of the front yards and buildings. Even the radio station from Christianstad, 104.9 WMNG gave their FCC required call letters with "This is WMNG, Mongoose FM, Christianstad UNITED STATES Virgin Islands..."
View of Buck Island National Park
There were plenty of bored fellow sailors lurking around the Marina who were glad to help or give directions. We turned in the rental car because one nice fellow would carry us around the island any time we wanted. I think he was hoping we would stay. The Wife had been working for the NHS in London and I still held a current TS/SCI clearance with the government. It would not have taken much to keep us there, just jobs with real pay, and not any of that volunteer nonsense.
Anyway, we were regulars at the Deep End bar and we met quite a few of the locals who were very kind and welcoming to us. One night had us closing down the bar and we wound up getting a ride to "Cheeseburgers" for the after hours party. Man, we were there until 0400!
A nice acquaintance offered us a ride home (the taxi was missing...) I tried to wave off, this fella had been drinking with us since 10:00 PM at Deep End. I said we would pay for all of us to get a cab since I didn't want him to catch a DUI on our behalf.
He p'shawwed and led us to his car. We went back to the Wildebeest and offered him a night cap beer before sun-up. As we chatted about the island and he was definitely trying to talk us into staying.
I asked about why people insisted on driving after drinking, it is after all illegal.
"Well, of course, I wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong idea. We don't like lawbreakers, but the speed limit is mostly under 25 mph on the small roads. A person who has been drinking will mostly get a ticket if they don't have the seatbelt on."
We were both blown away. They really do things a bit differently out there away from the prying eyes of the local and federal gubmint. You could have knocked us over with a feather when he gave us a business card upon his departure for the night. He was somebody important in the Territorial Government.
The next day, Our driver buddy took us out to the local rain forest and introduced us to Cheech. Cheech was a California surfer who had come to St Croix in the Seventies and found a niche as a master carpenter. He had a little place where he carved mahogany trees into beautiful pieces of home furniture. For instance; a Dining Room set of Mahogany would only set you back about $12K. Wow. But this furniture would last two hundred years. He only used the best logs of aged wood. He called the really nice logs, "Boss".
"This is a really 'Boss' log..."
We had to reluctantly decline the purchase of his beautiful wares. I will try to get back someday to order some tables.
Among the various adventures we enjoyed was meeting people from around the world, especially Americans. Finally, a last interesting thing about our visit was the feller who ran/owned the marina. His last name was Corvinus, a rare name for sure. My father's aunt has the same surname and they were related by marriage. My father's aunt was born in 1904, and I think our host was acquainted with her, but maybe back in the thirties or forties when he was a youngster. Talk about a small world. If only I could have convinced this nice owner to give us a small break on the marina fees, we were in a transient slip and the price was set. If someone was to leave their slip, well we could get a rate half of the transient rate. We were paying about $600. for two weeks, so the time was upon us to be moving along towards home and jobs. Our credit card bill was heading for a place in orbit.
Again, wonderful new friends and the best time!
St Croix to Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico
Back to St Croix;
We spent about twenty wonderful days on American soil and were sorry that we had to make tracks to the North.
I visited the St Croix Range blockhouse at Fredrikstad and had a ten minute chat with the contractors working the Antisubmarine test range. I had the right experience and clearances to work there, but there were no upcoming employment openings. I got the sense that the folks working there had no intentions of allowing an "outsider" in on their good deal in the tropics. They suggested that I go to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station and check for something there.
It just so happened that my good buddy from HSL-44 was now posted at the Tactical Support Center at Rosey Roads, so maybe he might know someone to help. I needed to lock in a job of some sort, soon. Our credit card debt was now in the range of 9K, and there was a 17K limit. I was bringing in the princely sum of twelve hundred bucks a month.
An email was sent to Rosey Roads, and a rapid reply with an invitation was enclosed, offering a place to stay for a few days at Casa George and Missy.
So we planned the eighty mile trip and were off and running late the afternoon of 20 April. We headed past Green Cay on our Starboard and rode a beam reach to the North.
View Larger Map
About 0100 21 Apr, we were literally half way. Our track was about 350° and the speed was a nice 5.5 knots. We had winds out of the East/Southeast that were a warm 15 knots.
The seas got a bit bumpy towards the time of sunrise, the winds had churned up some confused waves that rocked us mightily. Vieques was soon visible off to our left.
I think this is a picture of Vieques.
The anticipation was in the air, for sure. After all, there was a Navy Exchange and Commissary at the next stop so there would be inexpensive shopping and supplies on Puerto Rico. Not only the shopping, there was an inexpensive marina that charged $130.00 a month for a mooring. This would be very beneficial for our suffering bank accounts.
About 1330, we arrived at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station Marina, and they were kind enough to offer us a mooring in the front row.
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Note: I cannot share the disappointment I feel when I look at the current state of the former Naval Station. It was a vibrant place of activity and purpose. Today it looks like a vacant lot.
Another view of mooring field:
The first phone call I made was to George and Missy (They were the folks who pulled into the Metropolitan Park Marina last Saturday). George came out to the Marina and brought us to his house on Base.
There were great dinners and cold beer and wine. It was wonderful to catch up on five years with my old shipmate. George and Missy brought us out to the Chief's Club and introduced us to the Goat Locker. Many parties, barbecues and socializing was to come as we finally reconnected with the Navy. I kept running into people I knew from Mayport, San Diego and even Italy.
Too Much Fun.
George at Metro Park Marina, 27 FEB 10:
Once fully esconced in the Rosey Roads sailing scene, we joined the Navy Roosevelt Roads Yacht Club, a sister club to the Navy Jax Yacht Club. You'll never guess who pulled in a day or two later. Jack from Sailboat "Dolphin".
We first met Jack and Carol in Bequia, a few months back. Then we ran into them in Fort De France, Martinique. Finally there in Puerto Rico.
Small world. (I am now visualising whirled peas...)
Jack tried hard to convince us to forget about returning home; Just go on to the real cheap cruising that is known in the Dominican Republic.
The Marina Manager clued the Spousal Unit and myself about Skippered Charter Opportunities in the area. It all sounded so tempting, but I really started itching to be back in Florida.
But first, we do some whirled class partying in Puerto Rico!
Off to the Bahamas, nearing the end of our journey...
We had finally worn out our welcome at the Chief's club in Roosevelt Roads, and announced that we would depart the next morning. The local Quartermaster Chief was nice enough to bring us to his office where we could loot his stock of Defense Mapping Agency Charts of the local areas. That was really nice, and this ensured that the Wildebeest was fully loaded with every possible chart from Puerto Rico to Jamaica.
There was no real plan on our departure, it was early May and the tradewinds were down to a steady twelve knots with nary a cloud in the sky.
As we motored out of the mooring field, I saw the Mighty Strike Trawler Strike Destroyer DD-989 USS Deyo! They were at the big refueling Pier just the same as when I was a member of the Air Det, eight years earlier.
It was a kind of melancholy moment as we slowly drifted by, I could see the Air Det people hanging around bored, watching us pass. I wondered out loud if there was someone dreaming of being on the sailboat passing fifty yards to the stern. I know that in 1991 and 1992, I was thinking of nothing but being with the Lovely Spousal Unit, and just maybe, maybe get to own a small sail boat where we could sail together.
Announcement's from the Quarterdeck of the Deyo, over the 1MC were just as I always remember, as they still do today; A quick whistle for attention, "The XO's underway checkoff sheet is available on the quarterdeck... the following is a test of Ship's Whistle, General, Collision, Chemical and flooding Alarms... the following is a test..."
Or something like that.
I really felt that I was no longer a part of such busy-ness. And never would be again. The sounds faded as we slowly moved homeward bound. Only we weren't heading for home. As far as I knew, we may be aiming for Luperon, Dominican Republic. Land of 25 cent beer and even cheaper mooring.
My mind was still thinking about the trip, not destinations, as we passed northward around Fajardo. Once clear of Fajardo's reefs, we would turn to a course of 270 degrees and watch San Juan on our port side. Briefly, I considered going in, if only to visit the Bacardi Factory. No, we needed to keep moving. If we stopped we might never go again, such is the danger of the tropics. People tend to get ensnared by the easy sultry lifestyle and find themselves ten years later, hooked permanently to a rundown barstool in a two dollar rum joint. Not that that is such a bad thing, but we really had to start considering how we were going to pay down a 9K credit card bill.
"Runaway to the Dominican Republic... to hell with the bills... live on your pension," said Jack the retired Marine.
I put on the Autohelm and prepared our fish killing stick with a Rapala lure on fifty pound test line and began to troll for a fish. About two minutes later the reel started screaming it's one note wail, telling us a big one was now controlling the lure.
Ahhhhrrrggg! "Slow the boat down", I yelled as I ran to the stern.
"I can't," said she, "We're sailing!"
"Let out the sheet, get the gaff cuz this one is BIG!"
I fought with the fish, a Dorado, with golden green colors flashing on the surface as we fought for it's life. Ten minutes of twisting, pulling and reeling and I finally got the fish just astern. That's when he spit the lure out and swam away. Disappointment and cheer was the feeling for the moment . We couldn't possibly eat a ten to twelve pound fish and it really was a beautiful fish.
We had plenty of food and we both were happy to have made the acquaintance with our fish. And he left teeth marks on our lure!
This was going to be a great trip, I just knew it...
We sailed to the West, and within a day or so, we found ourselves passing the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas were almost in reach.
The winds shifted to the Northeast on the last two days of the passage from Puerto Rico to Rum Cay.
We made the turn North, near Matthew Town. We had intended to stop for the night and check in but the open anchorage would not be safe with the winds picking up. We had been underway for four nights, what's another couple to Rum Cay?
Upon closer inspection of the Cruising Guide, we notice that San Salvador is the nearest check in port in the Bahamas, but has no diesel. Rum Cay has diesel, but no check in facility! It was an easy decision, we need fuel before we need to check in.
We passed by Long Island through the bumpy night, and with dawn, we were able to make out Rum Cay a few miles away. We were about to call the island on our radio when the following conversation began;
Rum Cay, Rum Cay, this is sailing yacht *****, over.
Yacht *****, this is Rum Cay, come back...
Rum Cay, Yacht ***** would like to come in, refuel and stay the night, over.
Yacht *****, stand by. We have a VIP coming in and we will be able to assist you in about an hour, come back...
Rum Cay, Yacht *****... We have been underway for the past night and we are really tired. We need to come in now, over.
Yacht *****, We can't take you in until the VIP has departed the docks... Come back.
Rum Cay, this is Yacht *****, forget it. We'll just anchor out here. Yacht *****, OUT.
Heh. The Spousal Unit and myself were really entertained by the previous conversation, I can assure you! We decided to stand off a bit and watch what was unfolding in front of us. Technically, the other yacht would be next for service because they were first to call and we really were tired, too. I saw a private jet make a landing, a car drive over to the marina and then a large sport fisher boat took off to the ocean for a day of fishing.
Yacht *****, this is Rum Cay, over.
Yacht *****, Rum Cay, over.
Rum Cay, Yacht *****, we are anchored and won't be needing your help, over.
We looked at each other, giggling like school kids over that exchange!
I picked up the mike;
Rum Cay, Rum Cay, this is Wildebeest III. We are a 43 foot sailboat requesting fuel stop and overnight stay, over.
Wildebeest, Wildebeest, this is Rum Cay, we can help you. Is that you by the point, over?
Rum Cay, Affirmative. Standing by for instructions, over.
Rum Cay directed us to a GPS waypoint, and then they talked us unto the channel, like a Ground Controlled Approach to an instrument landing. We had to go from one floating ball to another until we finally were docked. We received fifty gallons of diesel and then we rafted off another fishing boat for the next two nights. The Marina owners were very amused when we told them we had been underway for the past SIX days arriving from Fajardo, Puerto Rico.
Wildebeest crew was invited to a fish barbecue that evening. We met a number of NHL players who were vacationing. Mark Messier autographed a Rum Cay chart for us which we had personalized for some family members living in Northern Michigan.