Sunday, August 9, 2020

Leif's next block and tackle videos

 In these two videos Leif explains a difficult concept.  If Ruby hangs from a rope that is passed around a pulley and comes back to herself, she only has to pull with a force of half her weight.  But if Leif pulls the same rope, he has to pull with a force equal to her whole weight

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Returning home

We’ve been back about 7 weeks now.  The boat is on the hard in Deltaville, Virginia, about 30 miles up from the Bay Tunnel.  I’m not sure when I will make it back out to the boat.  I have been sailing the J/27 like hell, have made some good rig-tune adjustments and am on a steep learning curve racing with Doug Mann as my crew.  

I had thought I would make it back to the boat late-summer or fall.  Now that looks unlikely due to the poor control of the virus pandemic.  It’s not for sale.  I would like to have her near Newport by next spring to have her ready for the Bermuda 1-2 that June.  We all like Maine so I imagine trying to get the boat up there after the race.  Maybe we can fit in an early-spring family trip up the Chesapeake to poke around there before heading back up north.  

I think we all remember the boat trip fondly.  Each of us have expressed good stories reminiscent of the trip.  Sometimes we talk about where we are going next with the boat.  Kate expects short family trips will be a cinch after doing it for a year.  Hopefully we can still find extended times, like over a month, to get away again.  

I’m lucky the family feels that way because our trip home was not easy.  We had waited for a good weather window, always ready to go for three weeks.  I was using several internet resources including Predict Wind, Windy and the Ocean Prediction Center.  I had frequent input from Chris Parker because we had purchased 10 passage credits that are used to get custom weather forecasts.  I conferred often with fellow cruisers and felt like there were some very knowledgeable people among them.  We discussed passage plans on the phone for hours, at many happy hours and through long emails.  A group of us met a couple times at the Dinghy Dock restaurant but the second time too many people came and the owner broke it up because we were going to get him in trouble.  I was very apologetic because Francois was always helpful.  

When we did leave we thought it was the best weather window we had seen and was likely the best we were going to see.  The trades winds were settling in so the first half of the trip would likely have brink winds out of the east, ideal as we sailed northwest.  It was Mother’s Day, May 10, and Kate had been saying she wanted to go sailing for Mother’s Day, which was actually a joke, but it was also recognition that we were not letting an arbitrary day get in the way of us choosing the best day to go.  

It would be the first offshore passage for Kate and the kids.  We debated going along the Bahamas versus going direct.  The Bahamas was letting boats anchor for a night, but you could not go to shore or have anyone on your boat.  Supplies could be dropped off on the beach for you to retrieve by dinghy. This offer for a  one-day rest wouldn’t be enough to get good rest and would disrupt the offshore rhythm so we were going to make directly for the Chesapeake.  We did consider Kate and the kids flying home and I’d sail again single-handed, but at this point we had good internet and we were hearing the horror stories about people on cruise ships who were put on flights home.  One day we were talking about the option around the kids and there was a chorus of “No, we don’t want to fly, we want to sail!” That made me proud  Everyone was positive about the passage.  We had spent a lot of time all getting the boat ready together.  Leif and Ruby had to figure out what they wanted available to themselves on route and what was getting packed deeper.  Kate moved everything around.  And I was constantly prioritizing my projects.  When we left we were topped up with water, fuel and food and emotionally we were all ready to go.  

The speed at which sailboats cross oceans is often expressed in nautical miles per day.  Its important to go fast because you know your weather for the first 4 days, but beyond that the longer you spend out there the greater likelihood you will see storm development.  And measuring in miles per day keeps you honest about how fast you’re keeping the boat going all the time, not just when you feel like it.  We made 170nm on our first day and based on the hull speed science we should not be able to make more than 175.  I takes a lot of work to keep the boat moving at that rate.  We may have had some current helping us.  

On day 4 we got news that a Tropical Storm was on a course intersecting ours.  We’d been told before we left that there was a 10% chance of storm formation before we left but also that there would continue to be a 10% chance if we waited.  Our path was northwest and it was tracking northeast.  It was Wednesday and we were given coordinates or a waypoint we had to reach by Sunday noon to cross in front of it.  We kept trying to go fast.  Then that night we get an email that we should get to our waypoint by Saturday night.  Zipporah, who was ahead of us in a faster boat, actually called on the sat phone to “make sure you are seeing this.”  After a few emails back and forth he tells us he’s turning around to keep things “within my control.” I kept sailing though  I was restless with my decision and couldn’t sleep.  

The morning brings day 5 and I’m tired from not sleeping.  But for my plan to work I need to keep the boat moving. I’m working hard while constantly second-guessing myself.  Thankfully I got an email that I need to be at the waypoint by Saturday noon or be prepared to face 50knot winds and 20’ seas.  That was enough to switch the decision and I soon had a sense of relief.  What’s sobering is that I had been willing to leave myself such limited room for error in the face of a named storm.  I needed to have safe options in case the storm deviated from its predicted track or it intensified.  What if something broke on the boat or the wind died? If the storm was able to cut me off it could trap me between it and the Gulf Stream with no place to go except into the Stream with wind-against-current or into the storm.  As Zipporah had pointed out in one of the late-night emails, turning around was a means to keep things within my control.

I had experienced 10 nerve-wrecked hours between the call from Doug and turning around.  But now we were going fast in the wrong direction so we hove to overnight.  That is a maneuver in which the boat is made to drift slowly sideways by fixing the sails so they oppose each other.  With the rudder locked in just the right position the boat can balance like this unattended.  Some experienced sailors consider heaving to an important storm-survival technique, though we were principally using it to slow down.  While we were still going away from the Chesapeake, at least we were going slowly.  We were all able to sleep and I had a hard time believing the wind meter which said the wind had peaked at 50.9kts that night and we rode it out peacefully.

At about this point in the trip, seasickness begins to subside.  Puking was done right into the cockpit.  I did not want anyone leaning over the edge.  Paper towels full of puke were then tossed overboard and then I’d rinse with water scooped out of the ocean with the cut-off top half of a laundry detergent bottle.  As the only well person I was on call for what ever my ill crew needed.  Kate would try to get water into the kids.  If anyone felt like they could keep down even something as small as a saltine I would get it for them.  I came to the point that I could recognize who was puking by just the sound.  Leif would be fine one minute, then the next he would silently lean over and puke at his feet.  Ruby would gradually withdraw, becoming quiet and listless and didn’t puke often, but when she did it was a gusher and I wondered how her body could hold that much.  Kate did OK except if she had to go downstairs, like to use the head.  She would coming scrambling up the company and let out painful wrenching sounds as she puked.  The only time I seem to get sick is at rolly anchorages after too much alcohol.  It hasn’t happened at sea, yet.  
Our course over the next three days traces a U in the ocean — 120 miles south, 180 miles west, then north again.  We settled into a good rhythm.  People started eating again, and even pooping.  Leif felt well enough to put out a fishing line.  We started allowing two movies per day.  Part of our pre-passage preparations had included saving 18 or so movies.  First Ruby was able to watch a movie downstairs, then eventually Leif was able to join.  Pretty soon Ruby was playing with dolls and the kids were making forts.  Kate would give me directions how to bake bread and could even participate.  Kate started to predict our arrival and started making plans with Ann, her sister in Maryland about what day they would meet up with us.  I kept saying that was not wise, we were at sea until we weren’t and we needed to focus on our situation, but she said it helped to plan.

Sure enough our next weather advice was that we did not have a viable option to cross the Gulf Stream.  Our projected arrival time at the east side of the Stream was going to coincide with east winds that would make the conditions inhospitable.  The Gulf Stream flows toward the east and when winds are out of the east they kick up large, steep waves.  We were advised to head for Charleston, South Carolina.  Logistically this was going to be a pain. We had a puppy waiting for us in Maryland.  

When we first told Ruby about the trip, she said she wasn’t going to go.  She would miss her friends and her mom and I would be terrible teachers and she’d be stupid.  I promised her a puppy when we got back and she said she’d go.  She later asked if she could change the deal to be a pony, but I said a deal’s a deal and that seemed to make sense to her.  During the trip we would talk about what type of dog and the kids pinned me down on how soon, after we got back, would my promise be fulfilled.  Then a hungry and tired looking dog showed up at Ann’s house out in the woods.  The dog’s teats were hanging down, suggesting it was nursing pups.  After some food and water they put the dog on a leash and it led them to her den where she had three 2-day old puppies.  We were adopting the one that had been named Charlie.

On day 10 of what was supposed to be a 9-day passage we began heading west toward Charleston.  It was a good thing that I continued to check the weather because two days later there was a report that the low pressure system which had stirred up the Gulf Stream was lifting and heading out to sea.  Our meteorologist gave us the green light to head north where we could jump into the Gulf Stream and ride it up and around Cape Hatteras.  
We would have just enough time to make it around Hatteras and exit the Stream before another storm was expected. Doug, who at this point was west of the Stream closer to the shore, could not make it back out quickly enough and missed the window we had found.  

We pulled into Deltaville 14 days and two hours after we left Culebra.  Ann and the two youngest of her five kids were at the dock.  I was going to stay at the boat and get a start on cleaning things up, but somehow got some sense knocked in me and jumped in the car, bound for a house with a shower and a real bed.  

Sixteen days later I was back at work.  My clinic had found someone to fill in for me and I slid back into my old job.  In the interim we packed up the boat, finally got her clean enough to live aboard and then tucked her away into storage.  We visited with family, drove back to Minnesota in the car they lent us and started to move back into our house. It helped to get right back to work because we were well into our home equity loan, meant to be for emergency use only.  But going back right away also jolted me out of my focused boat lifestyle to one with constant distractions pulling at my attention.  It was good to see friends again.  The renters had taken good care of the house and our two cats.  One irony is that we had hesitated to go on the trip because things were good in our lives and we did not want to change things.  Then we come back to the Coronavirus and everything has changed anyway.  

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Sailors for Culebra Fund

Phil Gillian of s/v Parallax and I have started a fund to raise money for the community of Culebra. The goal of the fund is to provide visiting cruisers a means to give back to the community. During our stay here none of us have been able to patronize local businesses (except the grocery store) due to Covid-19 so the local economy has not benefited from our tourism dollars We imagine this island, like many other communities, will have difficulty rebounding from this economic blow and we hope our contribution will help.

We also hope to create some goodwill as many island communities have been uncomfortable with the visiting boaters. Their discomfort is understandable as we are travelers and introduce an in unknown variable during this strange time.

We chose the Fundacion de Culebra because it is a 501(c)3 that has been around for 25 years and contributes to the cultural vibrancy of Culebra through music classes for kids and theatrical presentations.  They also contribute to other causes like the library and the food shelf. They repaired the statue Hector the Protector and bought the Culebrita lighthouse. We hope they will find the best use for our donations.

Our donations will go through Alma which itself is a non-profit that serves as a sort of go-fund-me site for non-profits. Alma then forwards the money to Fundacion de Culebra.

To donate use this link.  At the completion you will receive an email good for tax deduction.

Donate to Sailors for Culebra

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Strange Times

Ruby sailing Trinka in Dakity anchorage 

One of the regular ways to meet someone anchored near you is simply to dinghy over to their boat and strike up a conversation. Typically, as the occupants of that boat see you coming, they gather on the rail.  Sometimes they invite you up, but often in this time of social distancing we just have conversations from dinghy to boat.  I can easily spend an hour talking to someone in this way and have met some interesting people and good friends.

So when our neighbor motored over in his dinghy it seemed like a regular visit until he began with, “We have a problem.”  He proceeded to demand “Why are you here” and wanted details—where we had been, how long we had been in Culebra, etc.  He had heard, from another elderly cruiser who had dinghied over to us, that we were expecting a friend from Grenada.  At this point we had been here for over two weeks, so we were already in, presumably safe. But if we were going to tell our friends to come to Culebra, it was “going to be war.”

In a way we have to sympathize with these two men.  They’re both in the elderly group most at risk and they are far from medical care.  There are no cases on this island which has been their oasis for half a lifetime.  Someone told me the hospital here is really good and has one bed.

Their sentiment has been adopted by the governor who seems to have ordered a complete closure of Puerto Rico.  No boats, foreign or US, can enter.  This order flies in the face of what customs has been telling us, that a US flagged vessel with US citizens aboard will always be allowed to come home.  Facebook is abuzz with concerns. 

Local authority however is getting its way.  As our friend sailed in the mouth of the bay our neighbor intercepted him and alerted the police. We then got a text that he was being forced to leave.  Interestingly, police posted a picture of him on Facebook and said he left voluntarily.  The next day another boat came in, was also intercepted by our neighbor in his dinghy, but this boat was able to check in with customs (those of us who are registered can do this online)  before the police caught up with him.  That bought him one night’s stay.  The next day I saw him leaving and was told he was forced to leave.  

We are still in a beautiful spot.  We can swim and sail the dinghy.  It’s an easy trip to the grocery store and we can find other supplies, most essentially water.  Our cell phones work here which might have been a bad thing when things were ok, but it is helpful during this time. We would love to visit the rest of the island, but the rule is that we cannot move our boat.  It’s tempting to go to the USVI where boats are allowed to move and where our friend ended up.  But word is that USVI leadership is under pressure to enact similar restrictions as here.  Our three weeks here gives us credibility that we are virus free.  Relocation could subject us to quarantine in a new jurisdiction.  There’s also the advantage that boats arriving in the US from Puerto Rico do not have to clear customs in the US, but boats arriving from the USVI do.  Normally that would not be much a consideration. But these are strange times.  Any way to tip the odds in our favor could be important.  Furthermore, leaving here would likely be irreversible—they would not let us back.

At this point we are waiting for late spring which will bring milder ocean weather for our trip home. We are connecting with other boaters as well as with two organizations, the Salty Dawg Sailing Association and the Ocean Cruising Club, who can connect us with each other and with the US authorities. One unknown is where we will put the boat when we arrive. Will marinas and boat yards even be open? It may be better to arrive after April 30, after the currently proposed shutdown. We are still looking at uncertainty. Maybe it’s better to stay where we are rather than introduce more variables. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020


At anchor in Culebra 
At first I thought what an ideal place to be, our own private boat, during a viral pandemic. Indeed, natural barriers provide for social distancing.  But it turns out that we basically can’t go anywhere because so many countries are closing their borders.  We are stuck in paradise.

We are anchored in a natural harbor on the island of Culebra, 20 miles east of Puerto Rico.  The town dock is a short dinghy ride away, but there are no services like showers, dockside power or a even water hose. We have been able to get essentials by making four trips to the tiny grocery store, ferrying 80 gallons of water in jugs out to the boat (filled up at the sink of the closed waterfront bar) and finding the personal cell phone of the propane guy.  We have made connections with the cast of characters and old salts who live here on boats.  But other than that the whole place is shut down.  Throughout Puerto Rico, of which Culebra is a part, there is a 9pm curfew, but here in Culebra we’re told to get off streets by 6 and grocery store owner was telling us we were a at risk of getting arrested when we showed up at his store (which he was just locking up) at 5:30p.  No restaurants or bars are open, no tourists come by ferry from Puerto Rico or stay in what might be little hotels, none of the usual golf cart rentals to get to the further away, larger grocery store.  And there is not much point in going to Puerto Rico given that all the marinas are closed.  It would be harder to provision the boat there than at the slightly more expensive stores here.

By our original schedule (one of the most dangerous things on a boat) we should have already begun what was intended to be a 6 week passage through the Bahamas towards home. But with countries one after another closing their borders this past week we decided not to go. The concern is that there are 4 days sailing between us and the southernmost of the islands and they could close the border while we were en route. We would be forced to continue sailing on to Florida which is a LONG WAY during a season in which cold fronts roll of the US east coast once or twice a week.  Not being allowed to stop in the Bahamas and wait for cold fronts to pass would make for a very uncomfortable trip.  And looming on the other side of the Bahamas is the Gulf Stream which is dangerous.  We would have to find some way to wait for weather.

I was considering a plan go south of Puerto Rico then do a one-day hop into the Dominican Republic, sail up to the port of Luperon and do a one-day hop to Bahamas. That plan would reduce the likelihood that borders would close en route. That option became no longer viable within a day of conception when Noonsite announced closure of the Dominican Republic.  

Next the Bahamas announced an 11-day curfew.  This intention of this rule, per the Bahamas Land and Sea Facebook page, is to limit inter-island travel by cruising boats, but there is uncertainty being expressed on the Bahamas Land and Sea Facebook page exactly how it will be interpreted. I am much happier not facing uncertainty in matters of ocean sailing.  The wise assumption is that “If it can, it will.”

A more comfortable plan is to stay here until May at which time I will sail Gryphon to the US east coast. The decision then becomes whether Kate and the kids will sail with me on a10-day offshore passage.  We have never done more than a single overnight and all three of them are prone to seasickness, potentially leading to malnutrition and dehydration on a long passage.  I might be better off singlehanded than having to care for them.  On the other hand people often get past seasickness and they are not eager for air travel.  We have time to decide that.

We could also change our minds and go up through the Bahamas once things open up again.  We would need to transit much faster than we had intended.  We would need to make that decision promptly once things opened up and I am not sure I would want to sustain the level of readiness necessary before a passage.  Things get very intense for me prior to departure.  I would not be able to enjoy the time in Culebra between now and then.  

Complicating things further, The State Dept has issued a Level 4 advisory for Americans to come home or plan to stay abroad for extended time. The language of the advisory suggests flights may stop. For some reason they don’t address the implications for boaters! Our questions include:

1. Is this just written because flights may stop, or because they will close border?

2.  Are we considered in US when in PR or will we be treated like we are coming from a foreign port upon return to US?

3. Would we be more likely to subject ourselves to quarantine if we go home via Bahamas?

4. If Kate and kids do not want to do passage should they fly home now? We do not want to split up family, do not want to expose them to travel and do not want to send Kate&kids home right before an expected spike in cases. It may not even be an option—I tried to book flights from PR to Mpls on the Delta app today and could not. 

The State Department order seems to be causing some element of panic to return to the US.  Kate and I are believing the opinion of my friend’s son who is the Captain of a megayacht with 20 years experience (another cruiser said “those guys know”). Anyway he tells us that a US flagged vessel cannot be denied entry into a US state or territory.  The panic over the State Dept advisory, however, seems to have people trying to sail home.  The Salty Dawg Sailing Association, who organized the rally I did to come down her, is proposing options.  It may be a safe and comfortable trip to sail downwind, alongside the Bahamas, in late April.  That might be a way to sail home all four of us together.  I wonder if they would quarantine us upon arrival and may need to allow time for that.  I might also be able to argue that I was quarantined while sailing and need to get home to provide essential medical services.

Long and short of it is that we are not going anywhere soon  We are in the best place we can be. Most likely will sail from here to US as family. If we need to wait til June for settled weather so be it and work will probably understand.

The enjoyment of our trip is still intact.  None of us are sick. The travel adjustments dictated by the viral epidemic is real life, the same reality to which we have become closer connected through this way of life. It would be nice if we were at one of the beautiful beaches or reefs right around the corner, but we came back to anchor next to town to provision and the curfew rules do not allow us to move. But it is also helpful to dinghy over to other boats to share information and strategies and to be close to town where cell service is better.  If our parents were sick we’d feel pulled to return, but they are behaving themselves by STAYING AT HOME.   It’s a day by day. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Nanny Cay by Ruby

Nanny Cay is a great place to visit because people are friendly, you can get boat fixed, fun for kids.  When you come into Nanny Cay there are two marinas — the old and the new.  The new marina has better wifi at the dock.  The old marina is closer to the pool.  There is also a special chair by the bathrooms you can get internet.  Directions to the pool from the old marina are when you get in your dock slip turn right, keep walking, go over the bridge. After the bridge you will see a low tree and a path and you will eventually see the pool.  When you get to the pool there is a bar and restaurant.  If you want a burger the burger on the kids’ menu is very small.  I recommend ordering from the adult menu if you want a big dinner.  There are also swings over by a really cool tree.  I recommend go on errands with your parents because most of the stores have air conditioning like Arawak, the grocery store and Budget Marine.  Nanny Cay also has lots of animals like cats and chickens. They like to roam around the neighborhood. There is also a hotel if you want a break from your boat.