"I think I know who you are." were the very first words she ever said to me. It was impossible for me to know then, so many years ago now, how intertwined my life would become with hers and her extended family and how much this young woman named Brooklyn and her family would fundamentally alter the course of my life.
The very last words she ever sent me were "I love you." Two days later she was gone.
I have known pain. I have known loss. But I have never experienced anything like this. It's been over a year now and echoes of her life continue to ring clearly through mine every single day. I suspect they always will.
I am a shell of my former self ...
In July, out the blue, I got a call from her uncle Dana. Dana was the one who would fly down to help his sister Rebecca, Brooklyn's mom, take care of Brooklyn down here when things were bad, as they often were. I remember Brooklyn telling me so many stories about her uncle Dana that when I finally met him I felt like I already knew him. This was a common experience with Brooklyn. He said something to me when he first met me that to this day still brings me to the verge of tears, paraphrasing because I no longer remember the exact quote, "Once you became part of their lives I could rest a bit easier."
He was piloting a 47' Catamaran sailboat and needed some urgent repairs and wondered, since I was in the US, if I could find a place where he could have the repairs done.
"What's Dana doing in the Atlantic?" I thought. I knew he sailed but I didn't know he did anything like this.
I did the best I could and managed to find a marina that could accommodate such a wide boat. He invited me down for dinner and I ended up staying for a couple days trying to help out where I could. Some time afterwards he sailed up to Annapolis and I joined him on the boat for five days.
At some point, and I don't remember how the conversation even started, we were talking about how he needed to sail the boat back down to St. Martin in the fall. The next thing I knew were were talking about me joining him on this journey and I said yes before even pondering the question in any kind of detail. I would have my own cabin with a double bed and equipped with a separate head and shower. This is the lap of luxury.
There are just some opportunities to which one cannot say no.
The summer was dark. I had big plans of finishing up the American Sailing Association courses I had started decades ago. But the darkness conspired to prevent me from getting much done. I moved as if through molasses. The months ticked by and the window of opportunity closed.
"Don't worry about it, Yermo." Dana said. "You'll learn more about sailing on this trip than you would ever learn in any course."
I have 1000 hours or so at the wheel of a power boat but less than 30 at the helm of a sailboat and only about 5 at the helm of a catamaran, namely this one. This opportunity is not one that many people get and it is not without its risks, especially given my inexperience, but again, there are just some things one can't say no to.
There are loud voices of guilt screaming in my head. I should be working. Building the software behind this site has turned into such an epic undertaking that I sometimes wonder if I will ever get it done. "I should be at my desk here working away like I have been for so long, not galavanting off on some adventure." There are always reasons not to do a thing. There are always obligations. No matter how many times I've irresponsibly headed off into the unknown on some fool adventure, there is a guilt. It feels so wrong to go. It feels wrong to leave obligations behind. It feels wrong to be an imposition on friends who watch my place and take care of things for me as I am away. And, of course, it feels wrong that these adventures cost so much.
But I must go.
I confess, I didn't actually think it was real. I figured something would happen. Maybe Dana could secure someone with much more experience than I have to take my cabin and I wouldn't be allowed to go. Maybe the boat couldn't be repaired in time. Maybe he would change his mind. The same old toxic beliefs continue to plague my mind as they always have.
I just don't understand why I have been given this opportunity. It feels too big.
It was just over two weeks ago that the reality hit me that this was actually going to happen. "We're on our way."
Of course, the stack of boxes of equipment in my living room and garage destined for the boat should have been a clear clue to me.
Now I regret not having prepared more thoroughly. For the last two weeks I have been scrambling.
The experience so far has been an interesting one. It's been a very long time since I've been a rank beginner like this, embarking into something I know next to nothing about. We will be sailing down the Chesapeake and then probably just off the coast all the way to Florida where we'll make the short crossing over to the Bahamas where we will stay for a few days. From there it's a 1000 or so mile leg to St. Martin across what, for me, is big blue water.
I know from my motorcycle trips that on the first trip one always over packs and there are always things that, if one had had more experience, one would have brought. Kneadable epoxy, for example, is something I always bring with me now on my motorcycle trips. The stuff is magic. I also never leave without heated gear even in the dead heat of summer. I learned the hard way things can get cold very quickly especially in the mountains.
The other thing that happens when one embarks for the first time is the thought of what could go wrong. The mind always gravitates towards the unlikely but catastrophic. Imagine going across the country and into the distant mountains on a motorcycle. What will go wrong? What should one fear? I remember imagining falling off the mountain, getting mauled by a bear or mountain lion, getting robbed, etc. But now with dozens of trips under my belt, I no longer worry about these things. I now prepare for mechanical failures, flat tires, and making sure I stay warm enough so that my back doesn't lock up. For me, because of health issues, eating the wrong thing is the most likely problem on a long motorcycle ride.
So here I sit on the verge of an entirely new kind of adventure that I know next to nothing about. So I asked myself the question, "What do I not know?" which I could, of course, not answer.
However, I know Phil, from the 2010 Alaska trip, who is the most accomplished sailor I have ever met. I asked him the question and he's been an invaluable source of information. I also know Lara who has also been an invaluable source of information.
So with answers in hand I set about over-equipping myself.
Of course, I imagine all the Bad Things(tm) that could happen. I've read about catamarans flipping, which it turns out is actually quite difficult to accomplish. I imagine going overboard. I imagine being at the helm in weather.
But I don't know what is likely to happen that I am not imagining.
"Staying dry is hard." is something Phil told me. "Everything gets wet."
We'll all be wearing life vests at all times and there are safety lines run forward on the boat which we'll secure ourselves to if we go forward. I watched a man overboard video which was filmed on very quiet waters but it impressed upon me how incredibly difficult it is to see someone who has gone overboard. At West Marine it was strongly suggested that I get a new kind of gadget called an AIS Personal Locator Beacon which attaches to the life vest. The idea is that if you go overboard it deploys automatically and starts sending messages to the chart plotter and radio on the boat to sound an alarm and clearly show your position to your shipmates. I imagine making some mistake and going overboard at night when I'm at the helm. It would be good if there was something to wake people up if that happens.
So I got three of them, one for each person on the boat. It was expensive but it seems like a critical piece of technology, a gift to the boat.
I also picked up a Garmin InReach which is a satellite messenger that enables me to send text messages from anywhere on the planet. It also shows my position on a map which I will make public and link to once we are under way so people can track my progress, or lack thereof. "At least if you bite it we'll know where." I can hear some of my friends thinking.
Will I go overboard? I suspect it's very unlikely. I figure more likely I'll fall down and hurt myself on something or some other mundane but potentially critical thing will happen that I haven't considered. You're much more likely to hurt yourself at a stoplight or gas station on a motorcycle than in some huge dramatic accident. My suspicion is that there are analogous scenarios on a boat.
"Do you know CPR and basic first aid?" a nurse I know asked me. It's been many years since I've taken a first aid course. This is another oversight. I should know more than I do.
I picked up a bunch of gear. Is it too much? I don't know.
I also got evacuation insurance. This is critical if you ever travel far. If you are injured and need to be transported back to the States for treatment it can be unbelievably expensive, so you get evacuation insurance to cover the potentially hundreds of thousands it might cost to get you back safely. This is different from travel insurance. I went with MedJet Assist which I've used before. I've never had to make a claim but I've heard horror stories.
I also bought a few books on sailing figuring that there will likely be quite a bit of down time.
But the most time I've spent is in configuring my notebook to use as a full on development machine so, when the opportunity arises, I'll be able to get some work done. The guilt of leaving my obligations looms large but will I actually be able to do any work? If past experiences are any indication it's unlikely.
I had pondered setting up a separate site for this sailing adventure but I'm spread pretty thin these days so I've set up a "Ride" here on Miles-by-motorcycle.com to document it.
This catamaran sailboat is a very funny looking motorcycle that floats. The whole point to this platform I've been building is to have a place to plan, track, and share motorcycle travels. It's just feels natural to use it to share the story of this trip. Weird floating motorcycle.
There are tabs at the top of the page. The one you are on now is for the blog and once I have more articles posted there will be buttons at the top and bottom to allow you to go from article to article.
There is a "Planning Map" tab where I keep suggestions of places to see and things to do along with our planned stops. (Do you have any suggestions of anything to see between here and St Martin? If so please let me know and I'll slam them onto the map.)
The Posts tab is just a place for me to keep notes, kind of a running stream of consciousness about the trip akin to a twitter. (Once I finally get the offline mobile app done this will become really useful.)
The Trip Map tab contains what actually happened. It'll contain the track of our journey, updates, and photos.
If you want to be notified when I post updates you can sign up on the site and then click Join Ride and select "Watch". If you have any problems logging in please let me know. (I occasionally get reports that people can't log in but have never been able to reproduce it ... and none of them ever respond to my requests for more information.)
I ran a last round of errands and spent the evening sitting around a fire with good friends. Tomorrow Duncan picks me up at 10 in his big SUV. We'll load up all the equipment that has been shipped to me to bring to the boat and we'll head to Baltimore where the boat is currently docked. Because of weather, the boat may stay in Baltimore for a day or two or we may head down to Norfolk and wait out the storm there
Suddenly this is all very real.
I can't believe this is happening.
As we attempted to walk to dinner in the cold, with Dana navigating, we made a series of wrong turns leading us to walk in a huge very long circle. Walking in these boat shoes that far is not exactly comfortable. He relented and fired up google maps but to no avail. I said, "Much later in this misadventure story, when we're capsized in the drink waiting to be rescued, we'll ask ourselves were there any warning signs way at the beginning any signs at all that might have been a red flag to foreshadow this unfortunate outcome?"
The Bad Signs List(tm) has been given new life.
As is so often the case before Big Trips, I did not sleep well the night before. I, however, managed to drag my sorry carcass out of bed on time and set about getting ready. I was stupid tired.
The catamaran, the Aravilla, was docked in the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. There's a wonderful marina there that is incredibly convenient for loading the boat. It turned out that the amount of equipment and parts sent to my house for the boat was more than I had realized. I asked Duncan if I might impose upon him to bring his truck and cart me and all this gear up to Baltimore. He kindly agreed and, also not having slept enough, showed up during this time period I've heard referred to as "Mourning" and help me pack everything into the truck.
We made our way up to Baltimore where we met Dana and Peter in inner harbor.
We immediately set about getting carts and carrying all this stuff from the truck to the boat. Some of this stuff, notably some huge batteries, were significantly heavy so it made transferring them to the boat challenging enough that we had to be very careful. Boxes were cut down, trash was collected, and I made several runs back and forth to the dumpster while Dana started stowing things where they belonged.
After that was done and the most cumbersome things were put away, we sat around the salon and talked about the upcoming journey. It was nice that Duncan was able to stay for a while.
The last update I had gotten was that due to the unpredictable nature of weather out on the ocean right now, it would be safer to travel along the coast down to Florida. At first I had that feeling of "I wanted to see big water" but immediately understood that on a sailboat one is subject to the whims of weather. The coast would offer us many options to sail into port should Bad Things(tm) happen. It would also mean we would be sailing past the islands and would most likely stop in the Bahamas.
Dana informed us that the weather service he subscribes to has informed him that there's a big low pressure system moving through our intended route with 50kt winds and 25 foot seas.
Yea, that's a whole lotta nope.
So these weather consultants are, at the moment, suggesting we head out into deep water and make the run down straight to St Martin bypassing the other islands.
Watching Dana trace the projected route on the big paper chart suddenly made it very real.
"This is no joke." I thought as I became aware of a growing trepidation welling up inside me.
Peter commented, "When you're in the Bahamas you'll see hundreds of boats but they're mostly all from Southern Florida. They'll sail as far as the lower end of the Bahamas but no further." He had some term for that point saying that few people will sail the next 900 miles down to St Martin. I forget what he called it. My memory is not what it once was.
"Once there you only see the mega-yachts, the live-aboards, and hard core sailors."
"And soon, if all goes well, one rank beginner." I replied.
While the magnitude of this trip had not escaped me intellectually, somehow being here on this boat now make it feel different. There's a much greater weight of seriousness to it.
I spent a little time trying to arrange all my gear in my cabin. This really is the lap of luxury but the quarters are quite cramped. It takes a little while to figure out where everything should go. Much like packing a motorcycle, it takes a while to figure out what the best system is, where to put what, and what you'll actually use and what can be left less accessible.
Cozy and very very nice.
I'll likely spend the next month of my life in this cabin.
Dana poured Duncan and I the last bit of coffee out of the carafe when he noticed the carafe had a prominent crack.
"Stop everything. This is now a bona-fide emergency!" I said not entirely joking.
"I know. We will solve this immediately." Dana said.
Dana did still need to get more provisions. Duncan kindly offered to drive us over to a Walmart where Dana, Peter, and I went grocery shopping.
The first priority was, of course, the coffee maker which we secured immediately.
It was a pretty major shop. My dietary restrictions made things challenging. There was much reading of ingredients and putting things back on shelves. But Dana, as he always is, was incredibly kind and made sure there was plenty for me to eat. I will not starve and honestly will probably eat better on this boat than I do at home. Then again, I usually eat at McGinty's where I eat extremely well.
It has been many years since I've been in a Walmart. I'm not saying it's a bad place, it just appeals to a different kind of shopper. Watching the people walk or more often cart by, I knew I just wasn't their target demographic. Some things you see and just can't un-see.
Duncan needed to get to work and we knew the shop take significant time. We said our goodbyes to Duncan and after an hour or so we got an Uber and made our way back to the boat.
We carted all of our supplies including the precious new coffee maker to the boat. Dana and Peter set about putting stuff away with an efficiency that was almost frightening. Before long all was where it needed to be but there was no rest for the sleepless weary.
Of urgent concern for Dana was that one of the out haul lines used to reef the sail had snapped and needed to be replaced. Dana and I had done this for another line the last time I was on the boat but neither of us could remember the brilliantly clever solution we had come up with. We remembered it was brilliant and clever but that was about it. Coat hanger in hand with much discussion, trial, error, and fiddling (Duncan would have been proud) we had the new line run and attached as it should be.
I peppered Dana with endless questions about safety, night running, watches, safety gear, terminology, sailing tactics, and any other question I could come up with. There's so much to learn and he patiently answered all of my questions. Something that I find a bit disturbing is that I am finding learning this new terminology very challenging. He'll tell me the name of a thing three times but I'll still forget it. And I confess, I have again forgotten the name of the line that holds the boom up when the sail is down A topping lift? Topping line? Topping doomaflatchet?
We talked about strategies for managing the sails in weather. What to do in heavy winds. We talked about man overboard scenarios and what he was taught in the captain's course he took makes much more sense than what I saw online. If I remember correctly he said, "Mark the location. Throw all the flotation you can. Let the sails go. Use the motors. In this cold water, get to the man over board as quickly as you can. You don't want to waste time making errors with wind or judgement."
Phil had asked me many questions about the boat to which I did not know the answers. When we talked on the phone he was very focused on night vision. "Does the boat have red interior lights?" he asked. When you're at the helm at night you need to be able to see as best as you can and the strategy is to dim all the instrument lights and any lights left on in the cabin should be the red variety so as not to affect your night vision.
I asked Dana about this and he gave me with the "of course" look and explained the strategy for managing night vision.
Once everything was done and all was put away as best as it could be we hung out for a while and pondered dinner. The sunset was beautiful but the photos do not do it justice.
It was quite cold as we walked over. I am a bit concerned that I have not brought enough layers with me. My shoulders especially do not do well in the cold.
After some navigation errors along the way, we managed to find a place called Cross Street Market which had an open air upstairs with really decent heaters.
Tomorrow, disturbingly early, we set sail for Annapolis where a starter motor is waiting for us.
Because of this weather pattern that's being reported we will likely make our way down to Norfolk and wait there a few days for the system to pass before heading out. Because we are at the mercy of wind and weather, plans have to remain fluid and one must always be flexible.
I was telling Peter about Miles By Motorcycle, "I"m using my site to document the trip. It's really about motorcycle trips but it just feels natural to use this platform to tell this story. AraVilla is, after all, a very strange motorcycle. No wheels and she floats."
I've been posting updates and photos to the "Posts" tab above. My hope is to update the blog as I have connectivity. While we are doing the crossing there will be multiple days where I will be off the grid.
The "Planning Map" tab above is where I will add points of interest of places to go. I've been told there is an Island not far from St. Martin that only has a single bar on it and from the photo is looks like the island is only slightly bigger than the bar. I've also been told of an island inhabited solely by goats. Both are marked in the lower right hand corner of the map. You can tap on the circled numbers to zoom in to that and then click on the point of interest circle to bring up details about that spot.
Do you know of anything I should maybe see or do while I"m down in St. Martin? There will be a lot of work for me to help with but I imagine I will have at least a little free time. I know nothing so any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
The Trip Map is where I will post tracks and geotagged photos.
If you want to be notified by email when I post updates please sign up for an account on the site, "Join" and then "Watch" this "Ride". If you have any problems please let me know.
I dutifully set my alarm for 7AM in the "Mourning" because I didn't want to hold up leaving the dock. At 7:30 Dana knocked on my door. My alarm showed it was going off but there was no sound. My suspicion is the waterproof case I've gotten for it is interfering. I jumped up and tried to get ready as fast as I could. I walked up to the marina facility, took a quick shower, and returned.
Note to self: I /ALWAYS/ forget to bring flip flops. Bring flip flops next time.
I got back to the boat, jumped on board, and went to stow my towel and toiletries and by the time I made it back on deck just as the boat was turning out of the dock.
"Wait. What? I was just going to go up to the helm." I thought and then I remembered, "Oh, right. I'm crew."
I am embarking on a sailing adventure from Baltimore, Maryland to St Martin. The thing is I have virtually no sailing experience and I have been asked multip...
I sat down at the table in the salon and messed with electronics. There was an impressive sunrise over Baltimore that I needed to repeatedly photograph.
Given the magnitude of this adventure it is my intent to try to capture the memorable moments as they happen. The difficulty is that there are too many memorable moments and it isn't even the end of Day 2 yet. We are still in the waters of the Northern end of the Chesapeake Bay that I am intimately familiar with.
I tried to use more of the technology I've brought along. I have my adventure camera which tags locations of the photos taken with it making it easy to show where things happened on the Trip Map Tab (see top of the page). I have the GoPro action camera that Duncan gave me. I got a floating handle for it. I always have great ambitions to weave video into what I do but I rarely do anything with the videos I take. It's going to take a while before I'm comfortable talking to a camera but I feel that it might capture a bit more than just the words I put here.
There was coffee and little for me to do so for a short while I futzed with all this tech and then made myself my typical breakfast, oatmeal, pecans, and blueberries with coffee.
Just as i sat down to have my breakfast, Dana embarked on the task of installing the new starboard water heater, which was contained in one of the boxes he had shipped to my house. I finished quickly and went to see if I could help him.
Again, it felt like a very unusual role for me. Just as I am so used to being the one at the helm, I am used to being the one contorted down in some hole cramping muscles as I try to repair one thing or another. It was not so this time. I just stood by handing Dana tools and getting him things as he needed them. I can tell you from experience, having someone there once you contorted yourself into some cramped space, is invaluable. So I dutifully got tools, fasteners, etc as he needed them and stood by feeling like I was not doing nearly enough.
Dana is driven by some deep energy source I cannot comprehend. He moves from one, what I would call major, task to another effortlessly. Pack up the boat. Clear all the lines. Launch the boat. Ok, now it's time to install a water heater. There's something in the starboard drive engine that needs to be checked. Dive down into the bilge. Finish testing the water heater. After that, if there's enough wind we'll fly the spinnaker.
It is my polar opposite. While it is less oppressive now, I move through molasses. These last two days have been higher energy than I have had since July.
"This (being on this sailboat) energizes me. I love it." There's a passion to the way he says it and you can see how driven he is. Endless energy.
The water heater install went flawlessly much like running the outhaul line yesterday. When Dana works on something we collaborate on approaches and ideas and the while is greater than the sum of the two. I enjoy the projects we do even if I am just handing him tools and offering perspectives.
One thing that has really impressed me, which I knew, but have now witnessed in more detail, is how seriously Dana takes this endeavor. Things are done Right(tm). Things are done well. The boat is organized. The are ample spares. All the reasonable maintenance has been done. He is careful. He is thoughtful. He values situational awareness and attention to detail. However, if you listen to him speak and the commentary, one might get a different impression. More on that in a little bit.
Once the water heater was installed, connected, and tested and the starboard engine mystery resolved there was again not much for me to do. So I decided to experiment speaking into the GoPro while I was sitting in the salon.
Talking to a camera is a skill I have not yet developed.
Moments after I mentioned to the camera that I had not been at the helm, Dana called me up to relieve Peter who had been piloting all morning.
I would pilot the boat for the remainder of the day. There wasn't enough wind to merit raising the sails so we just motored all the way to Bert Jabins marina to pick up a spare starter motor because the one on the port engine has been acting up. We tied to a mooring ball and then attempt to lower the dingy into the drink.
So Peter and I lowered the dingy and Dana got into it when there was a shout. "Raise it back up"
It floats better if you put the drain plug into it.
I was very pleased to hear Peter say, "At the beginning, were there any signs, any signs at all?"
Once that was resolved, we lowered the dingy back into the water, this time without water rushing into it.
It stepped into it, which for me is still a very awkward and error prone maneuver. The two stroke engine on the dingy has been having some issues. Dana pulled the cord to rip the thing into life.
He did it again.
He pulled it again.
He pushed the primer pump and pulled the cord.
He yanked on the starter cord until he was breathing heavy.
This was a workout.
I was on the verge of offering to relieve him when that expression of realization appeared on this face.
"It works better if you put a key into it." he said.
"Were there any signs, any signs at all." he joked.
It had become the refrain for the day.
We made our way to the dock and quickly found the building where we could pick up the starter motor. We then took a walk around the marina. It's very professional and cleanly maintained and is filled with just a ridiculous number of what look to me to be extremely expensive boats.
We had seen a large catamaran on the way in that Dana had taken an interest in. On the way back out, the owner was on board and as Dana often does he engaged the person in conversation.
Peter and I walked up afterwards. The owner looked at Peter and said, "Hey, didn't you fuel me up in Yarmouth?"
They had all crossed paths up North just a few months ago.
This world I find myself in is crazy small.
We made our way back to the boat and then I piloted it over to the anchorage in Annapolis. We had made crazy good time so it was still early in the day, around lunch time, so we took the dingy into Annapolis. We had lunch at Mission BBQ which for me was an error. I need to be really careful. Sadly, it disagreed with me and I was in a super low energy state for the remainder of the day.
Dana needed to get some things and suggested that I show Peter around. Unfortunately, I was feeling pretty poorly with the commensurate brain fog that happens so I was of little use. But we went on a nice walk through downtown Annapolis.
I did find some coffee, which helped.
Eventually we found our way back down to the area where the dingy was tied up and we waited for Dana to return.
A woman wearing a safety helmet on a pretty impressive looking bicycle rode up and started trying to load stuff from the bike into a dingy. I got up and offered to hand her her stuff so she could load it into the dingy. She seemed to appreciate this. I sat back down. Peter started talking to her and soon we found out that she was on the 45 foot catamaran that was moored right next to us and that she and her husband were on their way to Florida and the Bahamas.
It's very strange. I've been coming to Annapolis for literally decades. But yet, here I am on the first real day of this journey not even out of my home waters yet and suddenly I'm meeting people who are on journey's like the one I am on. I've only met a couple people in a lifetime who have done what I've been invited to do and yet, today, essentially day 1 under way, I've already met two.
It's strange how that works. I talked about riding the Trans America Trail for years before I did it and met only a precious few who had done it but once I was underway it seemed like just the most normal thing to do because everyone was doing it.
It's strange how all of a sudden to do something like this, to plan to sail out into the Atlantic Ocean for a thousand miles or so, and then to meet people who do it all the time make it feel, oh, maybe it is not such a big deal ... but, of course, this is a fallacy. This is a very big deal.
As the conversation went on we told her we were just crew and somehow the topic of our trip to St Martin came up combined with the fact that I have virtually no sailing experience.
"How did you get to crew on a boat like that with no experience?!"
This is not the first time I have been asked this question.
Just then Dana walked up, overhearing us, said, "Oh, within a few days he'll have plenty of experience."
It's late and I am very very tired. We got back a little while ago from a dinner that Duncan and Ann treated at Middletons. It was really nice for them to come down for a final time before we get too far away. I'm going to miss them while we are gone.
I was so tired last night I started falling asleep as I was trying to write. I had not slept that well the night before.
In contrast to the previous morning, today I woke up of my own accord before 7:30 which was the agreed upon time that Dana should wake me up if I overslept my alarm. I suspect my subconscious understood that the sound of the generator being fired up meant "coffee". I was awake, dressed, and in the salon in short order. As my subconscious had divined, there was, in fact, coffee freshly made.
I went out to witness this thing called "Mourning".
It was quite cold but very pretty. The genset was running so I was able to make myself some oatmeal and have a quick breakfast before grabbing a shower. I am not starving here.
The central heat pumps, of which there are three, seem to all be low on freon as they don't generate much heat from this cold water, but they certainly should generate some. So we have a few ceramic space heaters that keep things comfortable except in the bathrooms. After a quick breakfast, I took a shower with nice hot water. You can't run them for long because the basin fills up so it's done in stages between which you turn the water off.
That's when one really noticed the cold.
Getting out of the shower was even colder.
Thankfully the salon was quite warm as the space heater was blasting. A few minutes in front of it and I was good to go.
By 8:30 we were underway motoring our way to the mouth of the Severn River to the Chesapeake Bay.
Since there was good light wind coming down the Bay, Dana wanted to fly the spinnaker. The spinnaker is a sail that's most often deployed when the wind is pretty much right behind you pushing on the rear, or stern, of the boat. Looking at the curvature of the Bay and where we wanted to end up along with the wind direction I figured we should head out pretty far across before raising the sails.
I had wanted to show the two of them Thomas Point Lighthouse which is one of those iconic Maryland symbols you see on all the post cards, but we were moving along and I didn't want to interrupt when Dana suggested we turn to go past it for some photos prior to raising the sails.
Dana mentioned it was about time to raise the mainsail. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed he was walking towards the helm. Suddenly I saw he had a life ring in his hand and he threw it hard overboard to starboard (to the right side as you're facing the front, or bow, of the boat) and shouted "Man Overboard!"
I had asked him a few times whether we could do a man overboard exercise. I didn't suspect we would do it as a surprise without having practiced it first as a non-surprise.
I had listened intently when Dana had instructed me on what to do.
I immediately hit the man overboard marker on the chart plotter which marks the spot where the crew person went over. Peter threw a life ring to the pretend man overboard.
Then I went to turn the wheel but it wouldn't turn.
The auto-helm was on and looking at the cover of it I didn't, at this time, know how to get it to release control. Dana pressed the STBY button for me. I was frantically looking for "Off". I turned the wheel hard to starboard, slowed the engines, and made my way next to the life ring in the water but at first didn't get it quite close enough for Dana to reach with the pole on the first try. With a little maneuvering with the engines being careful to be well away of the pretend man overboard as to not risk an injury with the propellors, I got the vessel close enough to the ring for Dana to pull it in. The time estimate was a total of 2 minutes. I had watched a youtube video that suggested moving to the side of the man overboard down wind. Dana suggested it would be easier if I had been upwind since the wind would have pushed us towards the man overboard.
I was glad to have this practice. I asked about what to do under sail, and it was suggested just to fire up the motors and immediately turn towards the man overboard especially in the cold waters we'll be in initially.
Not long after, Dana raised the mainsail and as there was a good breeze I turned off the engines. My thought was that I should gain as much experience with how the boat feels under sail in waters I am intimately familiar with before we head Out There(tm). Anyways, this is a sail boat. It should be sailed is my thinking.
The change in feel of the boat when it goes from propelled by engines to propelled by sails, especially in wind that seemed to change direction randomly from time to time, was striking. Under diesel power, one can essentially point the boat in the direction one wants to go and that's most of what there is to it. Under sail, as the wind and waves push the boat around I find I needed to be much more active with the wheel. After some time of trial, overcorrection, and error trying my best to pay attention, I noticed that when gusts of wind came or the wind changed direction, I could feel it in the wheel. The wheel would push and pull or go slack as the boat moved through the water and the wind changed. A change in wind direction changed the feel in one way. A change in wind speed changed the feel in another. Waves produced yet a different feel.
Once we had travelled far enough out into the bay, Dana decided the wind was good and that it was time to fly the spinnaker. Dana loves flying the spinnaker. He talks about flying a spinnaker the way people who have deeply meaningful religious experiences talk about them. However, flying a spinnaker adds a whole new level of complexity to a novice behind the wheel.
I know how to pilot a boat and honestly if things are going well, I can probably do a passably decent job of getting us where ever we need to go under sail. But what I do not have is a good sense of the kinds of things that can go wrong or how to respond when they do. My suspicion is that when things go wrong senses get overwhelmed, lots of stuff happens, and one has to have things practiced down a degree where they are muscle memory, the way I do on a bike.
At this point, I pretty much simply don't have this muscle memory or understanding of what can go wrong or what it look like. As a result many of my questions have been about what to do when things go wrong.
My favorite saying in German is, "Wenn schon denn schon." which essentially means if you're going to go then go all the way. Do it thoroughly and properly. It can also be used as a joke to comment on throwing someone into the deep end.
I was at the wheel, as would be the case for the majority of the day, while Dana and Peter wrestled the spinnaker into place. The wind had been picking up a bit and after some initial fiddling the spinnaker puffed out and took shape but it wasn't quite right and there were some adjustments that had to be made.
The wind picked up a bit more and we started to pick up speed. I noticed that the boat once again felt differently when compared to how it felt just under the mainsail or on engines. It was like the front was getting pulled this way and that. Dana and Peter worked on adjusting the sail when a large gust of wind came and there was a pop and before I could comprehend what had happened the spinnaker was flapping around in the breeze dramatically to starboard and I did not know what to do. The noise of the spinnaker flapping around made it exceptionally difficult to understand Dana's commands.
Some thing had failed, a shackle?, which released the spinnaker. Senses overwhelmed, trying my best to understand what was being said over the cacophony from this flapping dragon of a sail, I fired up the engines and turned the boat into the wind. Peter tried to hold the sail as it came around the boat. Under instruction, I turned on the auto-helm and went to help Peter but we couldn't hold it, so we let it go and into the water it went.
I went back to the helm, turned off the auto-helm, and kept the boat pointed into the wind, mainsail luffing disturbingly, while Dana and Peter pulled the soggy spinnaker in and stuffed it wet into the bag.
"We're going to have to find a way to dry that because it'll mold up if we don't." Dana said.
Undaunted by this mishap, after a short rest, Dana retrieved a replacement part and soon he and Peter were back at setting up the spinnaker.
I do not understand where he finds the energy.
The second attempt was completely successful and soon we were sailing almost completely down wind with the spinnaker up as if nothing at all had happened but now I have first hand experience of one thing that can go wrong and some sense of how to respond with a bit more clarity.
The spinnaker is the blue and white sail.
A spinnaker flapping in the wind is properly unnerving.
Experience is directly proportional to mistakes made and equipment ruined.
I have pondered this journey and my relative lack of experience. From a motorcycling perspective, when riders tell me they want to go on some big trip, maybe the Trans America Trail, I have endless advice on things to prepare for, skills to develop, and other ways to stay Safe(tm). I think of all the problems I've run into during my travels that I somehow want to save people from.
Yet, my first cross country trip was almost entirely by the seat of my pants, relatively speaking, especially compared to what I know now. I did that first 13,000 mile trip in 1991 with no instruction other than the MSF safety course. I didn't have anyone to mentor me. I had no guide. I just went while trying my best to imagine the kinds of things I might encounter or problems I might face, with only paper maps and absolutely no way to communicate with anyone while I was Out There(tm). I wonder how that risk compares with this risk. I actually have many more years behind the wheel of a boat than I had on a motorcycle when I left in 1991. I had only been street riding since the age of 17 and in 91 I was 23.
I look at my InReach satellite messenger with its SOS button. I look at the brand new EPIRB (emergency locator beacon) mounted prominently at the entrance to the salon.
Is this an unacceptable risk? It certainly sounds scary. Hundreds of miles off shore in a 46 foot sailboat. But we have satellite weather, a forecasting/routing service that provides us with go/no-go dates and suggested routes for the smoothest sailing. We have a 12 man off-shore rated life raft with days of provisions. We have a boat that is very difficult to sink. We are all capable, intelligent, serious people.
Is this trip more risky than my 13,000 mile trip, two thirds of which I did solo, in 1991?
These are the questions I ponder. Regardless of the answer, I know I am going.
"If I get you killed my sister (Brooklyn's mom) will kill me." Dana said.
"If I get you killed, she'll kill me, so I think we both have a vested interest in the others survival." I replied
"Peter we're not so sure about." Dana replied.
"That's why you have a third crew member, a spare." Peter replied.
Were there any signs, any signs at all, you know, in the beginning ...
We spent the remainder of the day sailing with the spinnaker up with me at the helm with the exception of one small break.
Inattentiveness or steering errors would cause this big puffy sail to collapse and start flapping all over the place disturbingly. I quickly learned to be hyper-vigilant and soon determined what kinds of maneuvers would cause it to "lose shape" as they say.
The observation I had made about the wheel when powered by the mainsail was much more pronounced with the spinnaker up. Your tactile and auditory senses provide so much information. After a while you could just feel what the boat was doing through your feet, through the wheel, and the sound of the sails.
There's a youtube channel I've been following for a while now by a guy named Adam Chan. His channel is called The Kung Fu Report and he teaches the Wing Chun style of Kung-fu. While I find Wing Chun intellectually interesting, I'm not sure I want to practice a martial art at this age, but what has drawn me in is that he is a deeply philosophical, insightful, and incredibly well rounded in his perspectives and what he draws upon. Martial Arts, Taoism, Chinese philosophy, Western Philosophy, Psychology, Mythology, Physiology, Biomechanics, Evolutionary psychology, Medical research, and the list goes on. He is a truly impressive multi-discipline philosopher warrior.
One thing he talks about with regard to martial arts is developing a tactile sense, a feel, to respond to some stimuli or threat. If you are thinking you'll be too slow. It turns out in Wing Chun and other styles, there are tactile feedback exercises they perform to develop a feel of what their opponent is doing as they block and how to respond and to develop it to such a degree that one doesn't have to think about it. He demonstrates being able to hold a conversation while someone is trying to break his guard. It's impressive. But it's also what I do on a motorcycle. I've heard so many people talk about the checklists and hypervigilane, but that's not how I ride. I let my mind relax and I ride by feel because I've been doing it for so long.
From this I came up with a saying I've been pondering for a while now, "Thinking is slow. Feeling is fast." We call it muscle memory but it's more than that.
"Use the force, Luke"
With this in mind, I spent a good amount of time focusing on the feel of the wheel, the boat beneath my feet, and the sounds i could hear. The more I did this the easier it became to will the boat roughly in the direction I wanted it to go. While it is incredibly energy and activity intensive, there's something to this sailing thing. Peter and I were talking about it. He doesn't have much interest in learning how to sail while I do. "Why do you want to learn how to sail? Are you going to buy a boat?"
"No." I replied. "I just want to get invited back onto this one."
We made good time. The winds picked up and at one point for a short moment we were clipping along at 10.9 knots.
"If you reach 11, I'll guy you a scotch." Dana said, but alas I was unable to get that last .1 out. That would be the fastest we went.
We approached the Patuxent River while the winds were getting to what Dana said the spinnaker could handle. The problem was the winds were too high to reasonably, with this crew, drop the thing. So we continued on while a large container ship made its way past us. It was a bit challenging to manage the sail, our direction, and the wind. Shortly after the ship went by the wind died down and we took the opportunity to lower the spinnaker. Then we lowered the mainsail and motored into Solomon's Island.
We found a transient dock and Dana asked, "Do you have this?"
"No problem." I replied not pondering the fact that I had never docked this boat before. There was virtually no issue. We were secured and resting easy before we knew it.
I pondered crews. I can't remember a time when I've done anything even a fraction of this magnitude with people I haven't been in close contact for years. Sure, I've known Dana for 7 or so years now, but we haven't spent a huge amount of time together over those years, but we have certainly been through exceedingly difficult times together. Peter I just met. The three of us have never done anything together as a team. We're just thrown together and somehow it's working quite well. I am beginning to understand why there are so many specific terms for things and directions and why there is a sailing culture that dates back ages. Crews need to be able to work together, to cooperate and communicate effectively, to get the ship going where it needs to go. Along the way, when Things(tm) happen there needs to be a shared culture, a shared understanding, and a shared vision of what and how things need to be done.
The few errors were largely ones of communication, noise, and a lack of shared experience. But that is slowly changing. This time on the bay gives us a chance to meld a bit. It's already much easier.
I am not as good at remembering direct quotes anymore. It troubles me, because I hate paraphrasing. "This is amazing. The things I get to see here on this trip, few get to see. I've been reading about these places, Baltimore, Annapolis, Solomon's Island for years and now I'm here. Few people get to do this." Peter said.
"I agree. " I replied.
On a completely separate note, it's been interesting to see how this platform I've built applies so well to sailing trips. There is so much overlap between how long distance riders ride and how long distance sailor sail. I uploaded a bunch of photos to the Photos tab, as has Dana, who just started using the site. Peter is on the site now as well.
It's pointed out a lot of problems and places where I need to make improvements. If you're interested in following along on this journey of ours you can click Join up at the top of the page and signup for an account on the site and then click WATCH on the ride. I've updated the Trip Map with the track from the Garmin InReach to show where we've been and with a bunch of geotagged photos. I'll keep that up as we have connectivity.
To make it easier to find your way back here, in case you are interested, you might want to bookmark this link:
I've been invited to crew on a 47' catamaran sailboat leaving from Annapolis, Maryland to St Martin. I am tempted to stand up another site just for this trip, so as to not dilute Miles By Motorcycle, but I am stretched pretty thin these days so I don't know if I'll get that done before I leave. I just find having a place where I can keep all the things around a trip in one place is just too useful, so this "ride" is where I am planning and will document my upcoming sailing adventure. Feel free to join the site and "watch" this "ride" to get notifications when I post updates. There will be a number of days when I won't have any signal so updates will be intermittent.
And then notice across the top the Blog, Plan, Posts, Trip Map, and Photos tabs.
On the two maps you can zoom in and click on things. If you're on a phone and you want to click on some point of interest, move the map a bit so that the thing you're clicking on is not in the upper left corner because there's a bug.
I took a bunch of video today and tried to upload it to Youtube but the connection here is very slow, so that will have to wait
The plan is to go to Tangier Island tomorrow which is only about a 40 miles sail from here, then we'll head to Norfolk the next day. The consensus was that we don't want to sail into Norfolk in the dark. Besides, I've always wanted to see Tangier Island and we have the time because of that storm. That's a topic for another day.
I'll keep posting as I have time and connectivity. There'll be a multi-day gap as we venture Out There onto the Atlantic and down to St. Martin.
They say adventure begins where the plan ends.
So I am sitting in the office of the marina where we are currently docked. We lowered and removed the severely damaged mainsail yesterday afternoon and a sailmaker picked it up. As I am sitting here inside, Dana and Peter are working on making some repairs to the headsail. Dana has a big Sailrite sewing machine on board with all kinds of supplies and is very accomplished with the gadget.
He said the reason we couldn't fix the mainsail was because it was a large two axis tear and for safety's sake it really needs to be professionally repaired and the rest of the sail carefully examined and any defects addressed before we sail out.
We will likely be here at this little marina for at least a couple more days.
So much has happened that two days ago seems like last year and I've already forgotten more than I remember. The days start early and are filled with activity. I've volunteered to spend as much time at the helm as I possibly can and pepperDana with endless questions when he sits up there with me. But for the majority of the time over the last two days I’ve been at the helm alone and no one has seemed to give it a second thought.
The day started early as they do on this boat. I woke up again of my own volition at 7 and was up and ready to go promptly.
Dana had pulled out the big paper chart and was pondering distances, time, and conditions. The weather service he pays for safe weather and route recommendations was currently recommending that we depart to make our run towards South of Bermuda on Tuesday which would give us what looks like a clear weather window all the way to St Martin.
Dana pulls out the paper chart to ponder our course.
It was Sunday morning which meant we had two days time to get down to Norfolk. Dana had suggested that we do an overnight sail into Norfolk so we could make it in one day.
"If we have the extra time, why push ourselves just to sit in Norfolk?" I asked. There is an issue with the heatpumps. My suspicion is that they are low on freon and need to be charged. They are 10 years old after all and Dana wanted to hopefully address that in Norfolk. "In just a few days, we'll be in warm weather." Peter commented.
"We'll be sailing right by Tangier Island, a place I have wanted to visit for decades now as I've heard it said they still speak an old English dialect there that dates back to the colonial era. The Island is disappearing.
"When I have a destination in mind I like to get there." Dana said.
"Yea, on motorcycle trips I call that destination fixation. I've made that mistake for most of my life. The best times I've had have been along the way, not at the eventual target. We have the time. We could have a nice easy sail to Tangier Island and get there early enough that we could walk around and see some things."I replied.
Peter said he had also heard of Tangier Island and would like to see it because he didn't know when the next time he might get the chance.
Dana agreed and it was decided to go check out Tangier Island.
We left Solomon's Island. There was a good breeze from the port bow pushing us against the dock. Peter and Dana pulled out more fenders. There was a racing sailboat behind us and what I perceived as not a lot of room ahead of us. In my long since sold power boat, this would not have been a problem, but with this much larger boat with it's significantly greater surface area I was concerned but was up for the challenge. After carefully evaluating all the options, we agreed it would be best to rotate off a rear fender to get the front pointed into the wind and then away from the dock.
In Morgan Freeman's voice, "He hoped this would go to plan ..."
"But it did not go to plan."
The way the wind grabbed the boat was much more severe than I had imagined and try as I might I couldn't get the thing away from the dock. I got the bow out a bit only to have the wind overpower me. So then we agreed to try to pivot on the bow but I lost confidence that I would not hit the boat behind me. It was ugly but discretion is the better part of valor.
We tried pivoting off the rear this time with a bit more gusto. It was ugly, and it cost us a fender which popped, but we managed to get away from the dock.
Experience is directly proportional to mistakes made and equipment ruined.
(As I look out the window while I write this, I can see Dana working on the AraVilla. It looks like he has the headsail repaired and raised. I do not understand where that man finds all the energy he has.)
However, I felt terrible about the ugly departure for the remainder of the day. Whenever I make an error, there is this crushing weight I feel. "He's going to regret having me here." kept going through my head. I apologized for the error and tried my best to get past it.
Dana had wanted to run the spinnaker again. I get the impression if he could sail solely with a spinnaker he would. "Run a spinnaker all the way to St. Martin would be awesome."
But the wind was too strong so we raised the main and headsail and pointed the bow towards Tangier Island.
After a while, I was relieved from the helm for a short break so I took a walk around with the hand held GoPro.
A view of the AraVilla, a Leopard 46 sailing Cataman, with both sails up on the Chesapeake Bay.
There is something addictive to this sailing thing.
I spent the majority of the day at the helm. The winds picked up a bit and the waves became more rolling. At one point Dana decided the winds were becoming strong enough that it was time to lower the mainsail a bit. He had already pulled in the headsail which can be done from the helm. On this mainsail there are three "reef points", three positions on the sail, where you can lower it down when the winds get to be too heavy. But doing this, on this boat, requires someone to walk out on the deck to physically man handle lines to lower the sail. Peter went out to help while I was at the helm.
It was impressive watching them walk forward as the boat pitched up and down, life vests on secured to the boat via lanyards so they don't fall overboard.
We sailed like this for some hours when we saw what looked like a dramatic shipwreck in some very shallow water.
Peter tells me after some googling that it turns out that this vessel had been placed there intentionally and is used by the military for target practice.
The waves picked up a bit. The auto-helm was on and I was just up there watching things, carefully scanning the horizon, and then the chartplotter to see what ships might be coming our way.
We were starting to get closer to Tangier Island so I decided to familiarize myself with the channel and where we would go. There was shallow water all around. Then I noticed a detail I had missed. All the depths of the chartplotter are in meters so I had looked at the channel and saw 4.4 meters. The font size on the chartplotter is wickedly small and even with my readers on I have a hard time reading it. I looked even more closely when I noticed it had "ft" after the 4.4.
The AraVilla draws 4 feet. While at high tide we might have made it but our schedule didn't allow for us to get stuck there. I called Dana up to the helm. He took one look and said, “Let's look for an anchorage further South.”
We hold on to our goals loosely. I had really wanted to see Tangiers, but the risk of getting stuck with that little margin for error was unacceptable.
For decades now I've wanted to visit Tangier Island and that was the plan until I took a much closer look at the chart and noticed the depth in the channel t...
On we went. Dana looked at our speed and course and picked what he thought would be a reasonable very protected anchorage. So we adjusted our course and headed for this anchorage which would put us within easy striking distance of Norfolk for the next day.
As we sailed, container ships would occasionally pass by. I always paid careful attention to the chartplotter when I saw anything big approaching. They can't stop or turn very fast so it's our responsibility to stay well out of their way.
Dana had timed it perfectly. We were reaching the anchorage just as the sun was setting.
We lowered the sails and motored into the anchorage. There was a lot of shallow water around us but the main channel had plenty of depth. We were then greeted by the most amazing sunset I have ever seen.
We motored into the anchorage and were greeted by this simply incredible sunset.Sorry that the case on my iPhone has muffled the sound.
Dana made me an omelette for dinner and then had some calls to make. Peter and I chatted about his experiences so far and thoughts about the upcoming trip.
"I've been reading about all these places in the trawler groups and magazines for years. Baltimore, Annapolis, Solomon's Island, Tangier Island, and Norfolk. And now here I am getting to see all of them. Very few people get to do what we are doing. Very very few.”
"I'm so glad Dana decided to come down the Chesapeake. It's really worth it to see these places."
"So few people ever get to do anything like this. I know real sailors who have dreamed about doing something like this for a lifetime and here I am doing it and they are following me along online. But a trip like this is not for the feint of heart, but how do you want to die? A home never having done anything or out at sea where at least they'll erect a statue back home of you."
He comes from a very small town.
We talked about something I hadn't considered. We were supposed to have a fourth crew member who was a professional diesel mechanic and diver. He would have made an extremely valuable addition to the crew but at the very last moment something prevented him from joining us. I thought it was some work obligation or family emergency.
I had not considered that possibility that he backed out because he was afraid. "He made some excuse but he bailed at the very last second as we were about the leave the dock because he was afraid. He talked to someone who, of course, told him horror stories." Peter explained, "A trip like this is not for the feint of heart. Now he regrets it."
"That is so not ok. To have someone reserve one of three cabins (the fourth is being used for storage as we transport the boat), provision the boat for you, and rely on you as part of a crew to do watches and help with everything on the boat, and then, at the very last moment, abandon your commitment, is simply not done. That is so not ok."
I ponder a friend of mine who relied on commitments made by others and made massive life changes because of those commitments. When they bailed, she was left in quite a bad situation.
When I agreed to do this, absent a serious unforeseen emergency, I was committed and understood that I was becoming part of a whole, namely the crew on this boat.
Dana joined the conversation. "I started feeling skeptical when he started saying 'This is my vacation.' This is not a vacation. We are transporting a boat. This is work. I had the feeling he was going to back out and I gave him plenty of opportunities to well ahead of time and then he backed out at the last moment."
"That is so not ok."
In German, we say "Gesagt. Getan." "Said and done".
We talked for quite a bit about temperament, level headedness under pressure, being able to manage fear, and a host of other topics. I hadn't pondered that my motorcycle adventures would prime me, temper me, to be a good fit for a journey like this one. There is some fear, of course. We're going to be sailing out on Big Blue Water(tm) for probably 8 days. It's not that things could go wrong. Things will most definitely go wrong in some way or another.
We'll deal with them.
I remember Andy, a friend of mine who is a bartender at my favorite pub, McGinty's, told me, "If I were going on an adventure like this I know of no one I'd rather have around." It was something that hit me when he said it, but I don't really see it that way.
Before this moment, now, I don't think I've ever pondered the idea that I might bring more to the table than I imagined. I don't know what to do with this.
Dana and Peter went to their cabins early as they are want to do. I tried to stay up to work on photos and videos but I was so tired and the signal wasn't good. I did what I could and pondered the day and conversations we've had.
"This does not suck."
But, man, that sunset. I snapped a final photo from the salon as the sun shed its final rays for that day.
This is going to be a long post. It's three hours later, and I'm still sitting in the marina office typing away. Dana and Peter have left to shop for supplies and do a final provisioning for the boat in case we are actually able to get out soon. I confess I feel bad that I've been sitting here writing while they have been working away. I don't like not participating in the work, and there is lots of it to be done. But Dana has given me a list of chores I will attend to later including figuring out why the boats network doesn't work, draining the diesel filters, repairing a shore power cord, and a few other things. He and Peter have been doing the bigs things. The headsail is repaired and back up and Dana will be replacing the port side water heater preemptively. I had helped him with the starboard side one at the start of the trip.
This is a work trip. There is so much work to be done. It leaves little time for writing. Chances are once we are out on the Atlantic I won't have any time to write or work. We'll see. But I suppose even these posts are a fair amount of work and will be something hopefully we look back on.
I woke up before the 7am alarm went off of my own volition. It had been ridiculously cold the previous night so I slept in my thermal layer and kept one of these charge bank hand warmers I had brought with me. I have to admit I was amazed, even on its lowest setting once under the covers it raised the temperature to the point where I was pretty comfortable and was still working the next morning. I slept pretty well.
I have been getting into the swing of things. There is a routine to figure out that is not immediately apparent. What goes where? How do you keep the cabin in some sort of reasonable shape so it does not become a disaster area? What chores can I do?
The cabin I’m in accommodates a couple but it’s a tight intimate space. With all the gear being transported I don’t have much in the way of storage. Charter guests will get much more space to store things.
I try to keep everything in order so in addition to putting everything away, I make the bed each morning, but I will tell you what, these cabin bunks are not easy! I mentioned it to Dana at one point and he said, "Yea, it's a pain in the ass but there's a trick to it. Maybe I'll share it with you, maybe not."
When I try to make things presentable:
At some point the next day, after I had once again attempted to make my bed a bit better, Dana needed to get some parts from his parts storage area which is reached through the small door at the head of my bed. I heard him struggling to find some cat5 cable for the network. I had learned early not to leave anything on the bed since he often has to climb onto it to get parts.
When I went back downstairs this is what my cabin looked like:
He will not share with me the black magic used to produce this effect.
We looked at the weather report and they were calling for 16knot winds. Dana thought we might be able to fly the spinnaker.
Back when Brooklyn and her mom Rebecca were staying with me in Maryland, Dana came down a few times. But there were many people around and we didn't get to spend much time one on one. Even on this trip, with a family as large as he has there are always people to talk to and things to attend to but I am getting to know him much better. Dana truly enjoys many things deeply such as the feel of a fall sun on his face, flying a spinnaker, his grandkids, a good meal, and many others. "Come out in the sun!" he said to me clearly wanting to share some of this enjoyment. "You know I'm a vampire." I replied but relented and sat under the scary yellow orb in the big blue room before going back inside. But sunshine is good.
The other things I have learned about Dana is how he is driven to get things done. From the moment he says go he is constantly in motion moving from one major project requiring much exertion to another seemingly effortlessly. Peter and I helped him remove the mainsail yesterday. That damn thing is /heavy/! It took all the strength I had left, having been behind the wheel and not had anything to eat all day, but I was done and had little left to give. He kept going for another several hours, but I am getting ahead of myself. Back to our story ...
Dana wanted to get going so before I had a chance to get a shower or eat. "Since you piloted us in last night would you mind piloting us out?" he asked.
"I'm on it."
Anchor raised we were on our way.
I got up promptly because I didn't want to hold things up. Dana and Peter were ready to go much before I was so I opted to take a shower and have breakfast o...
We made our way out of the anchorage. There was good wind and much earlier than I had expected Dana wanted to raise the sails. I initially made the no-go signal because there wasn't much room around us but he pointed out that we were already almost pointed into the wind. I felt bad. I pointed the boat into the wind and he raised the main. We set course to head out to the bay. It was quite windy. We did not go far when the waves were causing the boat to pitch a bit.
Dana came up to the helm and took the wheel. "Delegating. It's what a captain does, unless it's fun, then I'll pilot."
We raised the sails and once the winds picked up, Dana took over the helm to have some fun.
The wind quickly picked up way past the forecast and the waves became more pronounced. Dana seemed to really be enjoying himself, but with the wind as strong as it was we needed to pull in the headsail, which was promptly taken care of.
I was off the helm for the longest period so far on this trip. It felt weird to me not to really be doing anything so I filmed the waves. The wind had picked up to well over 30knots with gusts a bit higher as far as I could tell. The waves were large enough that the boat would slow up one side and then slide done the other.
The wind picked up dramatically beyond what was forecast so Dana pulled in the headsail and reefed the mainsail.
This went on for a while. I was up in the helm sitting next to Dana when another gust of wind came and suddenly something wasn't right. Dana hung his head out of the cockpit to look up at the sail.
"We've blown the mainsail. We need to lower the it. We’re a motorboat now, boys!"
Dana started the engines.
He left Peter the wheel and asked me to join him forward as the boat pitched up and down violently. I put on the auto-inflating life vest, which I had not previously practiced putting on so it took a moment to figure out.
NOTE: Make sure you learn how to put a life vest on before you need to. How the safety lanyard works is also not immediately obvious, but I figured it out in short order with a quick question to Dana, "Is this right?"
We went forward and I latched myself onto the anchor point and held onto the mast. Dana proceeded to lower the sail. "I don't need help. I just wanted you to see this." he said. I appreciated that because up until that point I had not been forward to see how this actually works. We had the sail lowered in short order and I went back to the helm and took the wheel from Peter. Dana came back saying he wasn't sure if we were going to be able to find a place to repair the sail in any kind of reasonable time. "It'll be a challenge." He has new sails waiting for him in St Martin and wondered if they could be shipped in time but that wasn't practical. I mentioned that if we could not find anything in the Norfolk area maybe there was something in Annapolis. Duncan had offered repeatedly, because he is a wonderful human being, that if some emergency arose he could drive down in the truck and help.
We were still on course for Norfolk bouncing through the waves when he came to the helm and said, "Change of plans." and marked a marina on the chartplotter. "Get us here."
I have long read about turning a catamaran in high winds when the waves are coming from behind. If the waves are big enough as you turn the boat around and a wave lifts the boat from the side it can tip. These waves are puny so that wasn't a concern but making a mess of the salon was. So I waited and timed the turn in a relative lull without much issue. The course we had to take to get the marina would put the waves to starboard, which would have sucked. So I chose a point that allowed me to hit the waves at an angle.
We weren't in any danger at any time. These were small waves, the biggest being 6ft, maybe. But I found myself thinking with my beginners mind that here I am an experiential novice. I don't know yet what this feels like. What is a big wave for this boat? How does it feel? This already felt uncomfortable. But I think back to riding roads like Deal's Gap, the Dragon. I've gone on to ride much twister, gnarlier, and treacherous roads than that one, but when I first encountered it it was nearly overwhelming. I see many experienced riders in motorcycling groups ridiculing new riders going on their first "big" ride of 100 miles. For reference, most day rides Duncan and I do are around 300 miles. But we also often remember when 50 miles was a "big" ride.
I think of Phil who is an incredibly accomplished sailor. What has he seen? Here I am intimidated by small waves but he kindly doesn't bust my chops about it. We all have to begin somewhere. We all have to develop the feel to know what's a problem and what's not. We all have to slowly push our own boundaries even if those boundaries are insignificant when compared to the others.
But I haven't done this before, so it was a little challenging.
Peter eventually joined me.
The headsail ripped dramatically in two directions during a strong gust of wind. While Dana called around to see if he could find a sailmaker to do emergency...
"We wanted an adventure. Well, we got one." he said.
Dana after a while came up to join me. He had found a better marina to go to on the other side of this spit, so we changed course and headed there.
"Have you ever heard the parable of the chinese farmer?" I asked Dana. He had not heard of it so I recited it for him.
"I have learned to hold onto my goals loosely." I mentioned to him as we bounced along in the waves. "You never know how things are going to turn out." he said, "I've learned from sailing and watching my friend Terry to just focus on the next thing I have to do."
None of us at any time worried about how this might affect the trip or any goals we had. We just all calmly accepted that this was where the plan ended and a little adventure began. We might get delayed for a long time. We might have to spend days in Norfolk or where ever. Worst case we might have to call off the crossing until we can get another window.
When Bad Things(tm) happen, just focus on the next thing you have to do, or the next answer you need to get.
One of the wisest words anyone has ever said to me were said by Dana's sister, Rebecca, a human being I have endless respect for. I asked her, "How do you do it? When life and death hang in the balance and all around is chaos, how are you able to remain calm and so strong?"
"Never go to the what if's. As soon as your mind goes there force it not to. Ask what questions you have. Get answers. Then make your next decision. Never go to the what ifs."
Words to live by.
I asked Dana about whether he had any reservations about having asked me on this trip. "Absolutely not."
Then I wondered. "If you hadn't broken down near Norfolk over the summer, would you have ever thought of asking me to join?"
"No, it wouldn't have crossed my mind. If it weren't for a storm and a lost prop we would have headed straight to Nova Scotia and none of this would have happened.
"I wouldn't have seen Annapolis, now my absolute favorite sailing city, or Baltimore. I wouldn't have met Peter." Dana replied.
If not for multiple misfortunes, I would not be here now.
The sail is badly torn, this is sad.
"Maybe." or the way Duncan says it, which I prefer "We'll see."
While we were bouncing in the waves much earlier we noticed we had picked up a visitor. I'm guessing this little bird got tired flying in the wind and thought our boat was a good place to rest. It hung out minding its business not bothering anyone.
While Dana was doing something, I noticed the little bird just casually walk into the cabin. Dana followed it inside trying to coax it back out gently. He filmed his effort.
Our stowaway decided to hang out in the cabin to eat some crumbs and entertain Dana for a bit. Video by Dana.
Eventually the bird flew out and landed in the back where it bathed itself in the spray from the waves and then hung out at the base of the helm stairs.
I'm guessing the little guy just got tired in the wind and decided our boat was a good place to hang out for a while. He was with us for a few hours, availed...
We passed another catamaran on the way into the cove where the marina was.
We made it into the marina without much issue. I managed to dock the boat without issue.
The tear is much worse than this photo shows. The tear is vertically down to the foot of the sail and then aft completely to the luff.
But there is no rest for the wicked. Regardless of the tiring effort of this "Big Day" as Dana put it, the three of us immediately set about taking down and removing the sail.
The sail is very very heavy and there were many steps in this careful removal that required contorting oneself, reaching far over things, untying knots, and holding the thing up while one tried to remove it. Then removing the battens and folding the thing so it could be transported took even more effort.
By the time this was done, especially since I had not yet had anything to eat nor had a shower, I was toast. There's a thing that happens to me where the bottom just drops out from under me and I have nothing left to give. No staying power is how I describe it.
I was toast. But Dana and Peter continued. The endurance, energy, drive to get things done that these two have, especially Dana, is just intimating. In comparison, I'm low energy and slow moving. Seeing Dana and Peter, both of whom are older than I am, makes me realize this lack of energy, this lack of doing The Things(tm), is much worse than I thought. But on this trip I have been orders of magnitude more active than I am in my "home" life and it's getting a bit easier.
The sailmaker came and picked up the sail. I managed to get something to eat and took a shower and rested for a while. We went to a local place for dinner. Hopefully my COVID vaccination actually works.
Today, for me was a slow recovery day. It was my intention to spend just a little while writing since I have some chores to do, but this has turned into the epic post. "I don't know how to tell short stories."
To my shock, the repaired sail just arrived while Dana and Peter were out getting provisions. The sail guy showed me how to use the halyard to help him hoist the repaired sail onto the deck and he gave me several pointers.
I try to learn from everyone I meet.
Chances are it'll be a while until I can write a bit post. With the sail here, there is a real chance we'll leave tomorrow, early. But as I have a chance I'll update the Posts tab here with much shorter snippets and photos.
If you want to find your way back to this Sailing Adventure just bookmark this link to the Posts tab.
I upload tracks of our travels along with some photos to the Trip Map page and, of course, there's the whole photo dump on the Photos page.
If you want to be notified by email when I post things, just click Join This Ride at the top of the page and sign up for an account. Then click "Watch" and you'll be added to the "Ride" as one of those at home watching this adventure unfold. I've shown this platform I've been building to both Dana and Peter and they think there's a call for this in the sailing and boating world and that we're on to something.
My hope is at some point this platform will be a place where I can watch the travels of others, especially those traveling by motorcycle. I am seriously pondering standing a site up for sailboat travels.
To those brave few who have made it down this far, thank you.
Today is November 11th. It's a down day because of two things. The weather has changed yet again and we did not get to the fuel dock before it closed. While we could probably have found fuel elsewhere which would have allowed us to continue it would also have meant getting into choppy seas around midnight. So we opted to wait out this latest weather pattern anchored near the place I originally met Dana on his boat when he had lost a prop back in July.
The weather was gorgeous and the water very flat. Dana piloted virtually the entire way so I had a relatively easy day. However, I set myself to chores. Dana had asked me to repair the ships ethernet network. It allowed me to get behind panels and under benches to see how things are wired and where other systems and emergency shut offs are located.
Unfortunately, there is some problem and I don't have the tools I need here, so I was unsuccessful in fixing it. It's not critical so he told me to let it go. I patched everything up and put everything back where it belongs. There's a lot of that here. While it's a very big boat it's still filled with supplies and whatnot to support the eventual charter business, so the room for our own stuff is pretty limited. It's amazing how quickly things can get cluttered, so there's an almost constant effort to put things away where they belong. So far I have managed to keep my cabin in pretty good order and I try to help to keep the common area orderly, but Peter usually beats me to it.
The next chore was to program the AIS Personal Locator Beacons and correctly attach them to the life vests. When I was at West Marine prepping for this trip, the sales person strongly suggested that I have some beacon on the life vest. There are two kinds. The first kind, which has been around forever, is just called a Personal Locator Beacon and if you fall overboard, it starts sending a distress call via satellite to the Coast Guard or whoever. You might be floating in the waves for a day or two by the time someone can make it out to you depending on how far off shore you are.
The second kind does the same kind of thing but is limited to just sending an alarm back to your boat. It has limited range but the idea is that if you are not alone, it's better to alert your crew mates that you've gone overboard. It generates an alarm and for a period of 24 hours before the battery expires, it'll broadcast your position to any nearby boats where it will be shown prominently on their chart plotters. Like the other kind, it auto deploys as soon as your life vest inflates. But you have the program the thing for the boat and then carefully attach it to the auto-inflating life vest in such a way that it does not prevent the life vest from inflating.
I had originally just bought one for myself. Then Dana told me a story of a captain who was just lost a couple of weeks ago. The crew was down below while he was at the helm and when a crew member went back up to check on him, he was gone. They found the body a few days later.
That prompted me to pull the trigger and buy two more so everyone one the boat would have one on the life vest. They are expensive but given what we are doing, I felt it would be irresponsible not to have this technology on board. This is one of my gifts to the boat.
Since if this is used it means someone's life hangs in the balance, it was not exactly unstressful. I've been wickedly error prone of late so I quintuple checked it. Then took a break. Then I came back to it. I wanted to make absolutely sure to the best of my ability that I had these things installed correctly, that they were tested, and that everyone knew how to deploy them manually if need be. By the time I had convinced myself I understood how they were supposed to work, tested and installed them, several hours had passed. It was strangely tiring.
After that there wasn't much to do. I walked around on deck. I hung out below. I worked on photos and videos a bit. At one point I took a break from the computer and walked up on deck to the seat at the very bow on the port side. There's something mesmerizing to watching a catamaran hull cut through calm water. I just sat there entranced by it for a while.
For me there's just something strangely compelling about a catamaran hull slicing its way through gentle calm waters
At one point Dana called out, "It looks like there's a whale or maybe a dolphin off the port bow."
Soon a group of what we perceived to be dolphins were swimming not far from the boat. I would later learn that there were, in fact, harbor porpoises. We would occasionally see some in the distance pop up and then disappear. As we were getting closer to Norfolk, I was standing on the bow of the port hull, when I heard some splash and then suddenly there was a porpoise just swimming along between the hulls.
I was informed that these were harbor porpoises, not dolphins. And, of course, catamarans have hulls, not pontoons. I misspoke as I do with increasing freque...
I have seen video of things like this happening, but I have never been this close to one of these creatures. People tell me this is a good omen. We would see several dozen more during the evening while we were motoring our way slowly past the shipyard and onto the anchorage where we would spend the night.
It was yet another amazing picture perfect sunset on the water.
We slowly made our way past the huge Navy yard in Norfolk. We counted four aircraft carriers in dock.
We made our way to the anchorage and within short while we were solidly anchored and getting ready to go to shore for dinner.
I've been thinking how impressive it is that the three of us are working so well together. I mentioned to Dana today that in my entire lifetime I have probably never spent this much time in this close proximity to other human beings. But it's been effortless. Despite our incredibly disparate backgrounds, we are on the same page on so many things. Doing this I've come to understand just how incredibly important cooperation and mutual respect is in an endeavor like this, even more so than a long motorcycle ride. Motorcycle travel is largely a solitary thing even when riding with others, but here on this boat, despite its size, things are still quite cramped at times especially when we're trying to work in the same space. But we've fallen into a routine incredibly quickly and we're already making mention of the next time. Sometimes pushing a comfort zone leads one to new insights. There have been many on this trip so far. If only I could capture them as they occurred. But I confess, writing here is challenging. "Subject to the requirements of the service." to quote that great movie Master and Commander.
"You never know how people are going to work out, but I had a feeling this was going to be ok." Dana said.
I remember when I heard that none of Dana's very experienced sailing friends were going to be able to join us and that instead two strangers without much sailing experience would be members of the crew, I was quite apprehensive. One sailor and three non-sailing crew? And doing something of this magnitude with complete strangers? I didn't understand how Dana could entertain something like that, but he has a really good feel for people and is a soul who makes friends everywhere he goes. He takes some risks I would never think of taking, but that's more a reflection of my risk aversion than his riskiness. When it is something important, especially on subjects of safety, he and I are absolutely on the same page. However, when it comes to people he is absolutely fearless. Sure, let's invite essentially strangers on the boat for a multi week challenging adventure and rely on them for our survival.
Not me. "Me, I might join someone for a cup of coffee after a few years." I joked. Risk averse.
But there's a feeling to this, assembling a crew. How I described it to my friends was, "This feels like some 1800's expedition where random people answer the call to go to the point of no return. Assemble a crew and get underway."
But I was apprehensive. I have had very bad experiences.
As I was telling Peter earlier today, I've spent much of my life being randomly hated by people for reasons I never could understand. It happens less now that I'm older but it still happens from time to time. The fact that I am somewhat of an outlier quickly becomes apparent and I am often criticized harshly for it, mostly by guys, rarely by women. Too polite. Too respectful. Too thoughtful. Too analytical. Far too serious. Too quiet. Too awkward. Too caring. Too different. Too deferential. Too weak.
I don't fit into the banter.
Peter wasn't feeling well today. "Are you feeling ok, Peter?" I asked him at brunch.
"Normally when some guy asks me that, they're about to pull my chain." he said, clearly not knowing quite what to do with genuine concern from someone who wasn't going to bust his chops for not feeling well. So he busted his own chops and Dana joined in and we all laughed. "I'm ok with us going back to the boat at any time if you're not feeling ok." I said finishing the thought.
I know illness and not feeling well, so I have a lot of compassion for it.
"Yea, you're different." Peter had said earlier, "But we get along all the same. Someone doesn't need to be like me for me to get along with them. Actually, you remind me a of a guy I know back home. Probably a few people."
And he went on to say something that hit me kind of hard, "Honestly, I kind of wish I were more like you, someone who thinks things through before he does them. I would have saved myself a lot of trouble if I were more like you."
I replied, "And here I am wishing I were more like you."
Peter manages a marina in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia where Dana got fuel at some point and they quickly became friends. Watching the two of them interact, you would never imagine that they've only known each other for a few months. They are often hilariously funny causing me to come close to pulling gut muscles as I've rarely laughed so hard. It's "guy" humor, sometimes in the extreme, and sometimes I feel a bit guilty for laughing that hard because much of it is just not ok. The majority of the days interactions are some kind of humor or comedy. I am definitely the odd man out with my overly serious and cautious bearing, but they seem to not detest having me around as far as I can tell.
But around these two you have to be careful. Stepping on to the dinghy when Peter makes some off handed simply hilarious comment can be a life threatening safety issue. "It's going to happen. You're going to go into the drink at some point." Dana said. At least, I'll die laughing.
The fourth member bailed at the last moment out of fear. (It's ok to be afraid. This isn't exactly not dangerous and is definitely not for everyone.) But ever since, Peter has been hearing from him as he did just now. Apparently he regrets his decision not to joint us on this "vacation". Peter said he keeps asking why we're stopping in all these places he would like to see.
"It's just that we are having very fortunate misfortune allowing us to see all these places." I said.
"It's a work trip." Peter replied, "not a vacation" And he is right. My suspicion is that since this is "work" it's what's enabled me to wrap my head around being here. I am help. A Service Yermo has to serve. Maybe it's just another example of me trying to get the universe to forgive my existence by being useful.
The skyline here at night is lit up with all kinds of lights.
As they do, Dana and Peter retreated to their cabins early and I stayed up until around 11 at which point I crashed.
It has been years since I have slept as well as I did last night. I woke up at 6 AM for no reason at all and decided at 6:19 to get up. I was sitting on the port side settee when Dana opened his cabin door and nearly had a heart attack. A sight like this has, I don't think, ever been seen by any member of his family. My ability to sleep past noon is nothing short of infamous.
In the morning we had another one of those conversations over coffee I wish I could have recorded. We talked about loss, about how short life is, about obligations, work, family, girlfriends, and other reasons never to go on a crazy adventure like this Far and Away(tm) from everything and everyone. Peter and Dana told stories of friends who worked for "someday" for so long that when finally "someday" arrived and they were able to go and finally pursue the Big Dream(tm) they did it for a couple of months and then the cancer diagnosis came in and shortly thereafter life was over.
We have all experienced too much loss. Her name is mentioned by me most often here but not always. Brooklyn. Dana, her uncle, has lost so many. It's overwhelming. The last year and a half has hurt many.
"Honestly, I probably wouldn't be doing this now if it wasn't for the last year and a half." Dana said, "How many good years do we have left? It's difficult to be away, but If not now, then when?"
Peter has a girlfriend who misses him intensely who he mentions very often. He's been away longer than anticipated. Dana's wife, also named Rebecca, is at home taking care of life.
And here we are Away(tm).
But if not now then when?
We spent the day at the USS Wisconsin Battleship museum. Sadly they had decorated the entire thing in literally hundreds of thousands of gaudy Christmas lights and Christmas music was blaring everywhere on Veterans Day.
It felt deeply disrespectful, but he ship was incredibly interesting.
On November 12th, 2021, a Thursday while we were waiting for a weather window to open up, on a clear and sunny day we took the dinghy over to the Norfolk side of the river from where we had the AraVilla anchored to have breakfast and then tour the Battleship Wisconsin. They had then whole thing covered in thousands of Christmas decorations with Christmas music blaring. It felt offensive and disrespectful especially on Veteran s Day. But the ship was cool. It s hard to comprehend how massive it is.
Tomorrow, if the weather reports does not change dramatically, we are going to start our crossing. "It's just a little Ocean." Dana said. The plan, a four letter word, I know, is to head down the coast for about 100 miles and then turn roughly South East to head towards a point a couple hundred miles South of Bermuda and then sail due South.
It's only about 5000 meters deep there.
So for the next 7 to 9 days or so, if things to to Plan(tm), we'll be sailing or motoring 24 hours a day for the duration. There will be no stopping so we'll be taking turns taking the watch over night, 3 hours at a stretch. This is going to be quite a challenge for me as I don't do well with lack of sleep.
"I'm not afraid." I think, then Yoda says, "You will be."
"She left you with many gifts." Duncan said of Brooklyn. Those words continue to regularly echo in my consciousness, especially on this trip. As I move forward through this life diverted, the meaning of those gifts continues to make itself apparent. "If not for her, I would not be here." I would often think as I sat in the dark on yet another watch alone with my thoughts as angry waves bashed the hulls of this beautiful boat.
If not for her I would not be the person I have slowly been becoming.
There was still an open question as to whether we would follow a path down the coast and the along the islands or whether we would do the run out to just South of Bermuda and then due South to Saint Martin. It would all depend on the weather report. "I hold onto my goals loosely." I mentioned to Dana.
Dana uses paper charts, pencils, and erasers to plan his routes.
Because our departure was significantly delayed due to the blown out sail, we missed our original weather window. "We have to do what makes sense for safety." Dana explained.
We had spent a down day waiting for this weather system to move through. The weather service Dana employs predicted the rains would stop around 9AM the next morning. With uncanny accuracy, the rains stopped exactly when predicted. We raised anchor and headed to the gas dock to fill the diesel and water tanks. It would be the last time for over a week that we would touch land.
Earlier, I had heard from my friend Milner who lives near Norfolk. He wanted to try to snap a few photos of the boat as it went by. He's become quite the accomplished photographer. I mentioned it to Dana and he agreed to sail closely by Fort Monroe where Milner would be waiting. It was only slightly out of our way. Dana raised the mainsail and we sailed past the fort where Milner captured some nice images of the AraVilla.
Not long after, we approached the Southern Chesapeake Bay Tunnel and Bridge system where we encountered a destroyer.
The catamaran is equipped with an Automatic Identification System (AIS) capable chart plotter. We could see the destroyer on the chart plotter and then simply by clicking on it we could see quite a bit of information about it.
I pondered how in ages gone by getting this amount of detail about a vessel was nearly impossible and would often involve spies.
We crossed the Bridge and Tunnel system and as we approached the Atlantic Ocean we turned roughly South towards Cape Hatteras. We skirted the coast so we'd have signal for a bit longer.
As is well known, I don't sail. Neither does the other crew member, Peter. As a result I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could as quickly as I could. My thinking was that the more I could learn the more load I could take off Dana. I probably overdid it peppering him with an endless array of questions about emergency procedures, sailing technique, sail trim, and every other topic I could possibly think of. I didn't realize it at the time, but I think causing him to think through the things he does knocked him out of his rhythm. Mistakes were made. "For me it's all just muscle memory. I'm not a teacher. This is something I know about myself." he explained. Nevertheless, he patiently answered every question I threw at him.
I spent much of that first day at the helm.
Once we left Norfolk, we started running a 24hour a day schedule. The boat would not stop until we reached Saint Martin. By the time we had made the turn towards Cape Hatteras it was pretty clear that we would turn out to sea at a course of 135 to a point roughly 200 miles South of Bermuda. "There'll be a few bumpy days, but nothing too bad." Dana said ominously.
During day time hours we would switch off duty at the helm as we felt like it. However, overnight, we were more formal about the schedule. We divided the overnight hours into three hour watches. Peter was on watch from 9PM to 12AM. Mine was from 12AM to 3AM. Dana took the 3 to 6 shift at which point Peter was up again.
Peter and I had suggested that we drop the sails overnight and just use the engines because then we could more easily handle course corrections and other problems without having to wake Dana up. At that point, neither Peter nor I felt confident adjusting the sails. "This is a sailing vessel! We're going to sail her!" Dana declared. It's his boat and he's the captain. "Aye, aye, Sir." and that was that.
I was however quite concerned as both Peter and Dana were not sleeping well at all and the fatigue was starting to take its toll.
My friend Phil, who is a professional sailor among many other things, had debriefed me on "watch etiquette". He had nearly hit a shipping container at one point and hit home the concept of scanning the chart plotter, the radar, and then the horizon. Dana had a friend who recently lost a boat out at sea presumably due to hitting a container. Fortunately he was rescued. "Containers are probably the number 1 hazard to pleasure craft out here." Dana said.
That got my attention.
That first watch as we were skirting along the coast was the first time I had been on ocean at the wheel of a vessel at night. Try as I might, I could see nothing. It was pitch black except for some lights that could be seen on shore and the lights of the few boats in the distance. This would be true for each of my watches. I was reduced to just paying attention to the AIS and the radar. I would still dutifully scan the horizon just in case maybe something might reflect some moonlight, but it was futile.
One thing that surprised me was that with very few exceptions the boat was kept on course by computer. The AraVilla is equipped with a gadget called an Auto-helm which allows you to set a compass direction and then it does its best to keep you on that course, unless it loses its ever loving mind. Making course adjustments amounts to just pressing a button. So in general there is very little to do on these watches.
Despite this, the watches were challenging and exhausting. There's nothing to see. There's nothing to do with the exception of occasionally adjusting the auto-helm. "This hour I got to push a button. That's 100% more than I did last hour."
However, things got interesting when the wind direction or speed changed. Every evening before he went down, Dana would say, "The sails are set. The wind is predicted to stay at this angle until morning so there'll be nothing to do."
And you can hear Morgan Freeman saying, "But the winds did not stay at this angle."
And every night on my watch, the winds would change.
Catamarans have this issue that I did not realize. They don't do well when the wind is coming roughly from the front. The closer the angle of the wind is to the front, or bow, of the boat, the "closer to the wind" one is sailing. How close one is is measured in degrees off the bow, either to port (left as one sits at the helm) or starboard (right). If the wind is coming from directly in front of the boat, the angle is 0. If the wind is coming directly from the side it's 90. If it's coming from behind, it's 180. The side the sails are put and what position they are put into depends on the side and angle of the wind. The problem is that on a catamaran if the wind is coming from anything less than 60 degrees the boat loses forward motion. Monohull boats can apparently sail much closer to 45 degrees or so.
So there I sat, the sails set often for winds coming from 60 degrees when it would change. If it changed to be more from the side it wasn't a problem. The sails wouldn't be ideally set for that wind position but it wasn't something I'd need to wake Dana up for. However, if the wind changed so that it was coming from some position less than 60 degrees, I'd have to adjust course based on what the wind was doing to try to keep the wind coming from something 60 degrees or higher. I couldn't lower the sails by myself and I really didn't want to wake Dana up since he was at such a sleep deficit.
So there I would sit occasionally pressing a button as the winds changed direction. It meant we weren't exactly on course but at least I didn't have to wake him up. If I didn't do it with the right timing the sails would flap loudly. It's very disconcerting when that happens and I worried it would wake him up.
Another issue that one had to pay attention to was if the wind speed increased. A monohull sailboat will tilt, or heel, as the force of the wind increases so one gets some feedback as to what the boat is doing. If the wind gets too strong it'll just heel over pretty far but it won't flip. Not so with a catamaran. If one has too much sail up for a given wind speed especially when combined with waves coming from the side, there is a real risk of tipping a catamaran over.
Every catamaran has this chart called a "Wind Chart" where the manufacturer specifies how the sails should be pulled in at what wind speeds. The front sail is rolled with a line that runs to the helm. There are red lines on the sail to show how far it's been rolled in. The main sail, however, can only be raised or lowered from the mast so someone has to walk on deck to adjust it. This boat has three "reef points" in the main sail. You can either have it all the way up, or pulled down to two other points. According to the manual, for example, if the winds are over 20 knots they recommend pulling the main down to the first reef point and pulling the headsail in a bit (if memory serves). Sadly, it happened a few times that winds picked up dramatically, and along with that the waves, at which point I'd have to wake Dana up and he'd go forward to lower the sail down a bit and make other adjustments while the boat pitched violently up and down in growing waves as if we were in one of those deep ocean adventure films, you know, at that point right before everything goes horribly wrong, waves crashing over the side.
We got into the habit of "reefing" the sails ahead of time before Dana went down so there would be less likelihood of having to wake him up. Again, lack of sleep was really taking its toll on both of them.
"Eat up boys. This is the last hot meal you'll get for a few days. It's going to be bumpy."
It was something like the second or third watch, when we ran into the start of "weather". The wind had picked up to a steady 23 knots with waves larger than I had previously encountered. Our best guess was that they ranged from 6 to 12 feet or so. It was explained to me that these were not big waves. It's a 46 foot long boat after all. Both Peter and Dana were below exhausted and trying their best to sleep . The sail was up but at its lowest reef point and the head sail was pulled all the way in. We were running one engine doing about 5 knots. I had read in multiple sources that when winds and waves combine that one should turn "into" the wind to try to lessen the bumpiness a bit and decrease the force on the sails. Waves were crashing over the bow and I was trying my best to keep the wind at 60 degrees as I had read I was supposed to.
I didn't want to wake Dana up. I had been in rough weather before on my power boat, back in the day, and I thought 5 knots was pretty slow. But nevertheless waves would relentlessly come. The boat would climb and then slide down the other side sometimes crashing down loudly burying the bow into the water. These were not big waves so I was not afraid of tipping or anything of that seriousness but it was nevertheless uncomfortable. But I certainly did not want to take these waves from the side. So I kept this course as the wind howled and the waves crashed.
Then there was a particularly large wave. The boat pointed dramatically up and the wave broke beneath the boat and I heard a loud crash from the salon that I feared I recognized.
Our new coffee maker carafe had shattered.
We have lost the coffee maker.
I repeat, we have lost the coffee maker.
Cue the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Shit had just gotten real.
Dana chided me for running the boat too quickly over the waves so I pulled the engine back so we were running about 3 knots. That made the ride a bit more comfortable but it was still quite bouncy. That night we got hit by a few squalls while I was at the helm. The lightning show all around us was impressive. Dana has a pressure cooker on board and if there is a risk of a lightning strike it acts as a kind of faraday cage for small electronics, so we put his handheld gps and radio in addition to my Garmin InReach into the pot and secured the lid. The thinking is if all the electronics on the boat are toast we would still be able to navigate.
The waves and wind would not let up for another three days. For some reason, I cannot explain, despite having a forward cabin and getting bounced around dramatically, I was for the first time in well over a decade able to sleep soundly through the night, well after my shift, for a solid 7 hours without waking up once. When I mentioned this both Peter and Dana looked at me like I was nuts.
Losing the coffee maker was a tragedy. "Without coffee there is no life." I declared. So as we were pitching and bouncing around in these waves, this way and that, I performed a potentially deadly balancing act using a tea kettle to boil water and then pour it through a filter directly into a cup. Dana and Peter were skeptical but I was, in fact, able to make coffee for all takers consistently despite all the turbulence without dropping this delicately balanced assembly even once. I performed this service daily.
Within a few hours of having turned away from Cape Hatteras roughly towards Bermuda the nature of the water changed. It was not long before we could no longer see land and in every direction it looked the same. Soon there were no boats to see. There were no birds. At one point we did see a pod of porpoises on that first day out at sea, but after that we would not see any creatures of any kind, with the exception of two mahi Dana caught, until a seagull near Saint Martin. I had expected to see some signs of life Out There, but there were none.
After the second day it dawned on me that there were no insects. There were no fish jumping. There was nothing. It was just this now Very Little Boat alone out in a very big ocean. There were only four colors to see. Sea Blue. Sky Blue. White. Grey.
I closed my eyes and counted the colors I saw. One.
Opening my eyes, I realized that this scenery around us, despite its beauty, was really only about 4 times as interesting as the inside of my eyelids.
I had this feeling that I had seen a place like this before. It quickly became clear that there are many parallels between long distance motorcycle trips and sailing trips. For this parallel, when you travel across the US from interesting East to interested West you have to journey across a great flat place consisting also of only 4 colors.
"This is basically Kansas." I declared to the void. The void, however, was to particularly interested in my epiphany.
The days quickly fell into a strange rhythm. Sitting in one spot for three hours became easier, even in the chop. The days went by quickly. I was either up at the helm staring out into the quiet emptiness which was particularly oppressive on the night watches. Or I was down doing dishes. I tried to work but that didn't work out so well with the boat being bounced around like it was.
There was no service. I did have my Garmin InReach satellite messenger which I started to use sporadically to let people know we were ok. But without relentless stimulation of endless interruptions from a smart phone gadget or things to do, I found my mind quieting. There was less noise. Life became very simple. On watch, sit. Scan the AIS and radar. Look out at the moonlit ocean. Ponder. After watch, go to bed immediately. This was Dana's rule. I would go to bed and no matter how rough the seas were, I fell asleep instantly. Sleep almost exactly 7 hours. Get up. Make the worlds deadliest coffee. Alternate between sitting at the helm, sitting in the salon, or sitting in the cockpit area. I was unable to sleep during the day so that was not an option. Do dishes.
On that second night I looked up through the helm hatch and noticed the constellation of Orion clearly overhead, more clearly than I have seen it since I was a kid. The moon was waxing so each night lit up more and more of the ocean. Try as I might I could not get a decent photo. I would note that towards the end of my watch the moon would set over the horizon. Each night I would stare at it. There is something to a moon rise and set on the ocean. I've never seen anything like it.
I started to become aware of patterns in the way the water behaved when the wind changed. I started to notice all kinds of details that would normally be invisible to me. I delved into the screens on the chart plotter and in short order had the thing figured out completely.
I could focus. Clearly focus.
I looked at the adventure camera I've owned for the last 4 or so years and realized there were entire sets of menus and features on the gadget I had failed to find.
For the first time, I think, I got a glimpse into life before technology, despite being surrounded by it. Lacking a constant in influx of new information and stimulation, the mind quiets and becomes more present. The lack of stimulation prompts the mind to find some in smaller details. Things become clearer. Life becomes much more narrow but with that narrowness comes a depth.
I would ponder work. There's a great guilt I feel for not working. By the time I get home I will have been away almost a month.
I must be Doing. I must work. I know that what I have built is not yet nearly good enough and needs a tremendous number of hours of polish work. There are huge efforts that remain as I transition this platform away from all this legacy code I've written to the new stuff which will enable me to make it all much prettier and more functional. I've been dreading some of that for months now. I've pondered and pondered how to lessen the work I need to do.
Out Here however, having not worked and just sat for so long, suddenly an answer became very clear for how I can solve one of the bigger technical hurdles I face. In retrospect, it was obvious but with all the noise in my head I couldn't see it.
(As I wrote this sitting here at the Yacht Club, I was suddenly interrupted by a stunningly beautiful young woman who caught the glass of water my notebook was leaning up against before it fell over. She saved my notebook. I got pulled into a conversation with her and her mom about a variety of topics including this platform. The young woman, Samantha, really liked the concept and upon seeing a few screens was able to articulate clearly and concisely some features I could add to make it much more effective at engaging a younger audience. "Here's an 18 year old perspective." she said. Invaluable. If the nursing thing doesn't work out, she's got a future in user experience design.)
Dana had to cut a line at one point and I asked him for the smaller end. I taped it off and decided to try to learn how to tie a bowline. Peter had tried a number of times. Sometimes he got it. Sometimes he didn't. Frustrated, he would just toss the rope.
Having nothing to do, nothing to look at, no where to go, and having exhausted all the gadgets I could crawl through I focused on the bowline. I'm told it's the most useful knot on a sailboat. Dana had showed me how to tie one but I didn't get it. Critically, I thought, "When I was 18 someone could show me something once and I'd remember it." Mental decline, clearly.
I looked it up in a book. And then I just sat during a watch with my little rope and mis-tied the knot repeatedly, carefully analyzing each mistake I had made. When I happened to accidentally tie the thing correctly I would carefully analyze the knot to see if I could understand how the forces worked. There was nothing else to do so I didn't care that it was taking me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what I was doing wrong.
And then suddenly, I got it. I could tie the stupid thing without looking. The next day I did the same thing repeatedly until it was muscle memory. It's a stupid simple knot. Maybe it's not mental decline but instead just a mind filled with too many things to focus effectively.
I've have long known that I do better when I am Away on one of my long motorcycle trips. Strangely, this sailing trip has had the same kind of effect. I seem to do better in motion. I once again ask myself the question as to whether or not I can hold on this state of being when I'm back at "home". I know what's coming. As soon as I step back into the house, the crush of obligations will weigh me down again and I'll grind to a halt until the next time I venture away.
When the ocean is not angry it is stunningly beautiful. There is a blue out here that photos do not capture. As a matter of fact, there's next to nothing that photos really capture about this voyage and yet I still try.
The sunsets were simply not to be believed. The moon rises and moonsets were similarly stunning but I was unable to capture any good photos. Dana, however, was. I'll have to get some photos from him.
There were so many thoughts, insights, conversations, happenings, and other details that have since slipped into the void.
After 8 days at sea sailing 24 hours a day covering 1629 miles since leaving Norfolk, we arrived at Saint Martin in the early morning.
The last two days were nice sailing on relatively calm waters. The bouncy days were challenging. The last watches were the hardest. The crossing was calming but also very challenging. I cannot say that it was "fun". It wasn't. It was work. Real work. There were moments of minor terror.
But there is something to this sailing thing and if asked to do another crossing on this vessel I will jump at the chance.
The intervening many days since we've arrived here have involved a lot of boat work. Dana has been going almost non-stop since we tied up to the mooring. "Energizer Bunny" There's been an incredible amount of work accomplished. I had several days where I was strangely lethargic and had little energy to do much but I tried to help where I could. There are still a couple of days left before I return. Connectivity here, especially out on the water, is iffy at best. Today was the first chance I've had to do any writing, but it's been too many days since the crossing and so many details fall through the crack.
Before this trip, I never imagined I'd be able to do something like this. Every single person I've met here who has asked me how I got here, when I told them I was just an inexperienced crew member, looked at me in disbelief. It just doesn't happen. There are many stories to tell. It's a different world down in Saint Martin.
I hope to come back.