Friday, February 27, 2015

So ...

… we motor sailed to Bimini because it looked like it was the only weather window Sister Ocean was going to offer. From there, the Abaco Islands were a day sail north on an easy downhill run.

But the weather window closed. We waited. The southwest winds blew hard. Kintala bounced and thumped against the dock for a long, uncomfortable night of checking and resetting fenders and lines every half hour or so.

So we decide that being anywhere was better than being here. If the winds eased a bit we could still make the run to West End, just a day or so later than we had planned.  After a night anchored off we could turn the corner and be in the Abaco Islands the next day.

But that day or so meant running out of south winds and facing building winds and seas under the influence of a low off the US coast. That would pin us down for nearly another week, in the West end, when anchoring out would not be an option.  I like the marina in the West End. It is a beautiful place and we had a good time there last year. If we wanted to spend a ton of money we could hang out there and have a good time again. We don't have a ton of money. And it isn't like we can't have a good time someplace else in the Bahamas that is equally as beautiful.

So we decided to forgo the Abacos via the West End and head to the Berry Islands instead. The Berry Islands are a place we wanted to visit last year yet couldn't make happen. Being further East they feel less of an impact from the relentless low pressure areas that keep swinging out from the States, so the weather should be more accommodating. With an evening departure and an overnight motor sail into a building east wind, we could be in the Berries with more than a full day between setting the hook and having the weather ramp up. We would still be pinned, though the anchor would be down in a place that wouldn't cost us anything to wait. And it should be weather that doesn't hang around as long, giving us a chance to get moving again.

But an overnight sail after a sleepless night spent resetting the lines in nearly 30 knots of wind started sounding like a bad idea. The cruising kitty isn't that thin.

So we decided that we could leave the next day and still beat the weather. The forecast easing of the south wind would make quick work of getting around the Island, and the first part of the trip would on a beam reach. Eventually the south wind would fade in preparation for a building blow from the east, so more than half the trip would be motor only. An afternoon departure would put us there shortly after daybreak. It would still be an overnight motor sail, though it would be after a good night's sleep and an unhurried departure.

But a morning walk to the point showed the channel to be a lumpy mess in the still stiff south wind. We watched a sailboat slightly bigger than Kintala make the exit. She buried her bow deep in the water several times, and seemed to have trouble steering through the channel markers. She turned the corner north and the jib spun into view. Making tracks she was hull down over the horizon in less than 20 minutes. She was also rolling gunnel to gunnel and pitching spray into the cockpit to get it done. In 12 hours or so she was going to have a much easier time in the settling wind, but she was paying a good price to get there.

Look Ma! Kintala has a rudder!

So we decided to wait another day. The cruising kitty is never thin enough to have me taking that kind of a ride on purpose, and the weather window was still showing okay. The plan was just as good as it had been, except it still meant a 16 hour motor sail into steadily increasing head winds. And afternoon departure would put us there mid-day again; this time with mere hours between setting the hook and the weather change.

But we got up this morning and started reviewing the plan in preparation for leaving. Nothing much had changed in the forecast yet, for some reason, the tight weather window and the 16 hour motor into steadily increasing winds didn't hold the same appeal as it had the night before. Both Deb and I started looking for a good reason why we shouldn't do what we were planning to do. Watching the GRIB file play out we realized that, in two more days, there was a chance of sailing to the West End on an easy beam reach on a fading east wind.

So that's what we are planning on now.

The only hitch is that the forecast has the building east winds pushing us hard against the “T” dock for much of the weekend. The boat that was ahead of us relocated to an inside spot this morning. But this is the inside spot that I crashed getting out of last year, and I am not too keen on the idea of trying it again. Instead I turned a stout piece of 2 x 6 into a fender board and reset Kintala in place, making sure the spring lines would hold the board at the piling. There is a second stern line to hold the bow off the dock at the winds pick up, while the bow line shares chaffing gear with the spring. It shouldn't matter as the bow line will not be doing much over the next couple of days. Extra fenders were hung in places where the boat shouldn't touch the dock, so long as everything else works out according to plan.

Which, looking at the above, doesn't seem all that likely to happen.

(By the way, I am still fumbling around a bit with the east / west thing. The East Coast is now West of us and that has messed with my internal compass. I keep saying "east" than looking toward where I know the coast lies. It will take a few days to re-calibrate.)

What a difference a day makes!
These guys were fleeing from a big bull shark.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Plans

0600 Red sky in the morning...uh oh.
Plan in detail
Leave expectations behind
Adapt to changes easily
Need to be nowhere
Support your decisions


The wind is howling 25 knots with occasional gusts to 30 knots. The rig is whining, the wavelets being whipped into a frenzy by the wind are slapping against the hull at such a rate that I keep thinking it's raining buckets. We're “safe at the dock” which, while it might be safer, turns out to be much more work for Tim and much harder on Kintala. Since Kintala is pointing 210° and the wind is out of 200°, she's being pushed hard against the dock. Hard. Fenders are grinding, lines are creaking, and with the three foot tidal range here the lines must be adjusted every half hour or so. Of the few things I miss about our time at Boulder Yacht Club, floating concrete docks are very, very high on the list.

We waited weeks for a weather window to cross from Miami to Bimini. We passed on one two weeks ago because it was only one day long and would have left us stuck at Bimini for 4 days after that. When this window showed its face, it was 4 days long. Four days. In February. We were psyched.

We prepped the boat and ourselves and staged outside No Name Harbor for a crossing. Our Plan was originally for an early morning 1:00am departure on Monday, arriving at high tide around 11:30am. Looking at the grib files just before going to sleep, we discovered that the wind and waves hadn't settled down as much as we thought, and we decided instead to cross later that morning, giving the seas time to settle, in spite of the fact that we would arrive at dead low tide. Tuesday looked like a better day to cross, but we needed a few days' worth of weather window to get to West End after we checked in to Bimini. Cross we did. It was a bit lumpy early in the morning but as the morning progressed it tamped down even more and offered us as good a motor sail as we usually have. Deciding not to risk the low-tide channel, we spent the night in the bight to the South and came in to claim our dock the following afternoon on high tide.

As we spent yesterday sourcing propane and checking out the few protected anchorages Bimini has to offer, we stopped periodically to check the grib forecast. It became more and more apparent that our Plans to sail to West End on Thursday in the forecast South winds was rapidly fading as an option. This was only reinforced by our friends on Savvy Sea Horse as they returned from their morning departure for places East to tie back up to the dock, and that only with the help of a lot of extra hands manning the lines. They had been pounded with unforecast winds and waves and decided to turn back.

The reality of life is that any plans we of Human Kind like to make are wispy shadows at best. Certainly those who live on land, for the most part free of all but the most extreme influence of weather, have a fairly successful plan to completion ratio. Those of us who live in direct relationships to Mother Nature fair less well. In fact, as Tim and I have discussed a lot recently, we can't think of a single plan that we've made since we left to go cruising that has come to pass as written. So why make them at all?

Humans need some sort of structure. We have a need to feel we have some control over our existence, even if it turns out to be an illusion. Of all the lessons I've taken away from cruising so far, the realization that I have virtually no control over the daily course of my time on this planet has been the most shocking, especially for an organizational nutcase like myself. I should have realized this after the sudden termination of both of our jobs before we left, but honestly we'd done pretty well at bringing ideas for our future from semination to fruition over the years we'd been together. It was a lot of years and I'd become complacent, even arrogant. Mother Nature put me in my place.

In the 16 months since we pulled out of Oak Harbor to go cruising I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of cruisers. Most are new or short-timers like us, but we've met quite a few who are long-term cruisers. There is one defining characteristic of the long-term cruisers: they are “settled”. They have a relaxed approach to all things cruising. New cruisers can be spotted a mile away by the tension in their gestures, the speed and intensity of their speech, or by their false bravado. Long-term cruisers can be recognized by their quiet confidence, their easy-going demeanor, and their settled nature. They're comfortable in their skins. When you ask them what their Plans are, where they're headed next, most will answer “We're not sure” or “We'll see where the wind takes us”. It's not that they don't have a plan at all, it's just that they've come to terms with the fact that any plans they make are fragile. The old cliché that cruising plans are written in sand at low tide got its infamy from hard-learned lessons.

We're not exactly newbies anymore. At 16 months we've outlasted a huge percentage of the cruisers that depart Mile Zero on the ICW each Fall, but we're a far cry from that “settled” point yet. I'm learning to deal with fragile plans that evaporate and starting to be more comfortable with my lack of control, but I have a long way to go. For those of you still dreaming, just starting out, or fellow organizational nut cases like myself, I offer up my method of dealing.

  • Plan in detail
    • You have to plan. Weather demands it, tides demand it, on-board stores demand it, maintenance issues demand it. Make your plans in detail as if they were going to come to pass.
  • Leave expectations behind
    • Expectations are probably the biggest killer of cruising dreams. People dream, and they expect their dreams to happen exactly like that. A lot of dreams are constructed around advertising mediums like cruising magazines. Telling their readers that they might have to sit somewhere on anchor for a week without their favorite rum, a full holding tank and very little sleep doesn't sell magazines.
  • Adapt to changes easily
    • When you make your plans, have alternates in mind. Rather than being married to one plan, make many and choose the best for the moment but always have the alternates in mind.
  • Need to be nowhere
    • Never, never, never have a schedule. Schedules to meet someone, schedules for a marina, schedules for maintenance all are recipes for disaster. You will make bad decisions based on schedules, ones that will endanger you. Of course you need to have schedules sometimes. Just realize that whoever is on the other end of that schedule will rarely see you when planned. (See "alternates" above.)
  • Support your decisions
    • Gather all of the information at hand, make your decisions, then don't second guess them. Second guessing wastes precious time and robs you of your enjoyment of the present. I know this because it's a particular weakness of mine. When gathering information, be as thorough as possible. Surround yourself with every means of weather information gathering that you can afford. The money will not be wasted. Resources like an iPad with Pocket Grib and Marine Weather by Accuweather apps, and bookmarks for earth.nullschool.net and Weather Underground or Passage Weather are invaluable. An SSB or inexpensive portable shortwave radio paired with HF Weather Fax on the iPad can give you weather when out of range of internet or NOAA VHF reports. Tide charts, sun and moon rising and setting tables, and the slack water schedule of your intended location(s) are imperative.

I recently spent some time with a life-long cruiser while we were on the mooring ball at Dinner Key. We don't meet very many of them out here, in fact I can only think of two at the moment. In speaking with her on her boat I was impressed with the calm and peace she displayed. My goal is to be more like her. Will I still have lists and spreadsheets and piles of cruising guides on the nav station? Absolutely. But at least I hope to be able to laugh and smile and roll on to the next Plan. And if, like today, that plan means being tied to the dock in Bimini for 6 days instead of one, then hey – it's a far cry from a grey carpeted cubicle and I am the most fortunate human on the planet.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Back where we belong ...

Our home BYC Yacht club burgee flying over Bimini
By shear happenstance Kintala checked into Bimini exactly one year after she had first checked in at the West End. We actually got to Bahamian waters the day before. We had a plan for an overnight run from Miami to Bimini, but a last check of the weather showed waves of 3 to 4, occasional 5, on a four second period; all being pushed by a 10 to 15 knot wind directly on the bow. Not dangerous, but not fun either. We elected to wait until daybreak, though upon exiting the Stiltsville Channel into the Atlantic we found those 3 to 4 foot waves, occasional 5, on that four second period. With the wind directly on the bow Kintala was a power boat with a tall antenna. The call was to push on for a bit to see if deeper water would bring better conditions. If not, it would be a quick downwind sail back into Biscayne Bay. Things slowly improved and by late morning we had enough angle on the wind to fly the main sail very, very close hauled. It gave us an extra knot which pushed the average speed just above five. We were happy to motor sail through the day, still crunching through 3 and 4 foot waves, and watching Miami slowly fade below the horizon. By afternoon the ocean had settled to 2 foot gentle bumps and all was well with our sailing world, though there was one minor flaw in the going.

We loves us some Mantus. Our anchor buried deeply.

Much of Bahamian water is pretty skinny; that in the Bimini channel is downright anorexic. The reason for making an overnight run was to approach the channel entrance at high tide. Pushing the departure to early morning had the buoys coming into view at exactly low tide. After some debate and a chat with the harbor Master the decision was to not press our luck on the first day in the Islands. A few miles away lay a partly protected anchorage. Kintala was the only boat taking up residence, flying the yellow "Q"to let anyone interested know that we had yet to process into the country. The anchor fell into clear water and we set it hard due to a report that the holding wasn't all that great. Later we checked the set just by looking down, as Kintala had drifted over her hook. The Mantus was buried half deep in the sand, the winds were gentle all night, and except for some surge rocking the boat now and then, our first night in the Islands this year was a fine night indeed.

A bull shark visits the marina for a meal. Glad it wasn't me!

Come morning we puttered around a bit as high tide wasn't until just after 1200. Once under way, at about the second buoy inbound, there was one spot that showed just barely a foot under our keel. There is a three foot tide in these parts. While other people made it in, I think it an even bet at best that we could have gotten in without a problem. We felt pretty good about deciding to wait. Later we talked to a crew we had first seen in No Name. They made the overnight passage that we had passed. The winds had actually picked up a bit after sundown, so they ended up bashing their way eastward though a dark and bumpy night. Hearing of their ride we felt pretty good about that decision as well. We heard the tale while at an impromptu pot luck Bimini here at the Blue Water Marina, where we will be for a day or so getting phones squared away, finding some LP gas, and stocking up the rum locker.

South Bimini - The Bimini Beach Club

There are several boats here that we first saw in No Name, and one that crossed today hooked a 35 pound Mahi-mahi along the way. They offered it up as the main course as it was way more than their family of 5 could eat. Welcome to the Islands! It was actually their son who hooked the thing, and I believe it weighed more than he did. That will be a family story for many a year.

Kintala on the dock at Bimini Blue Water Marina

There was only one downer on the day. Last year I remember loving the fact that there was no military presence here, no guns, and few cops. But as we approached the Island an American war ship shadowed us for the last few miles. Come morning the easy sound of a working harbor coming to life was shattered by a pair of US military helicopters thundering over the Island from East to West, flying directly above the marina. Then, this evening, another US military helicopter made a circle around marina row, down low with the gun door open. Did the lunatics in DC declare war on the entire planet in the weeks since I quit checking the news? Imagine the outcry if the Canadian, Mexican, or Cuban military started running similar ops over Buffalo, Brownsville, or Miami. The US would start tossing nukes around.

Maybe they don't hate us because of our freedom. Maybe they hate us because we aim great big guns at them all the time.








The anchorage at South Bimini bight

Sunday, February 22, 2015

No Name Harbor Pics and Vids

 Since we're leaving for the Bahamas in the morning I thought I'd use up some of our data to give you full size pics from the last two days and a video. Enjoy!

Miami in the rear view mirror after leaving the Miami Marine Stadium

The little kid sailing class. It was howling 24 kts and these little kids were out in the middle of Biscayne Bay

We tacked back and forth across this charter Beneteau Sense 55. Tim was in love.





The Key Biscayne Yacht Club had their annual gala today. The boats were rafted up 5 deep on the wall at some point.

In all the times we've come to No-Name this is the first time we ever tied up to the wall for a day.

More party pics
Instead of the view from my galley window in a picture, tonight you get a video.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The F8 shuffel

Sailors have a lot of ways to talk about wind. Kintala danced and tugged at her anchor all night as the F5 winds romped through Miami Stadium, occasionally touching F6. That would be 17 – 21, and 22 – 27 knots, respectively. This morning her crew was a bit sleep deprived but daylight always makes things seem better. Except that the winds cranked up to F7, occasionally touching F8. That would be 28 – 32, and 33 – 40 knots, respectively. For those used to MPH, 40 knots is about 46 mph. More fun? F8 is officially “gale force winds”. And while sitting in the Miami Stadium anchorage provides more protection than would be found sitting out in the Bay or on a Dinner Key mooring, winds out of the northwest have a pretty good shot straight at the bow. Much of what got done on the boat today would fall into the “hanging on” category.

Whitecaps on the water in a protected anchorage is never good.

Kintala is a noisy boat in the wind. Her decks creak as the load on the cleats ramps up. Snubbing lines groan though the blocks, and the anchor chain rattles and bangs. Like all sailboats she has a lot of rigging up in the sky for the wind to sing through. Sometimes there is a “bang” or a “thump” whose origin is unknown, which often provokes a trip out on deck to make sure all is well. I did two such trips last night, one around 0320 and another at 0515. Deb was up each time as well since having a person out on deck, alone, on such a night is not the best of ideas. There is no such a thing as a quiet night when the winds are F5 and better.


Out on deck (I don't remember if it was at 0320 foray or the 0515,) boat bouncing, wind playing hard, checking to see if the ground tackle was holding (ours and those around us) or being damaged, with the lights of mega-city Miami just across the way, I was struck once again with how different our life is now.

I'm not sure what is going on out in the “real world”. My habit of checking “the news” seems to have dropped away a couple of weeks ago, about the same time as when we left the mooring ball in Dinner Key. “Out here” we have different concerns; mostly revolving around the weather, the holding tank, and stores on board. We get up in the middle of the night to check the ground tackle, bundled against a chill wind and being careful where we step. What is happening “over there” (picture me vaguely waving in the direction of those same Miami lights) isn't really much of a concern to us “out here”.

Anchor watch from the comfort of our enclosed dodger.
My guess would be that most of them “over there”, at either 0320 or 0515, were completely unaware of what the wind was doing. They certainly weren't out walking around one step from a possibly fatal stumble, making sure their house wasn't about to (literally) blow away. And the concerns they do have seem … well … rather odd when viewed from the deck of a boat. When I was paying attention, the news was full of people famous for being famous doing stupid things which, somehow, made them even more famous. There were sports people doing things sporty and not so sporty. There were politicians doing things and saying things so stupid even the famous people couldn't keep up. And there was the endless repetition of violence that no one seems able to understand or reduce. There is an air of infantile wafting off of much of it, like that from a baby's diaper. If Human Kind is the sharpest knife in the cosmic drawer of life, the universe is a dull place that could use some new management.

(Kids and Grand Kids, of course, tip the balance back. Maybe we should put them in charge? I would offer my 8 year old Grand Daughter as far wiser, smarter, more compassionate, and with a better sense of fair play, than any currently sitting in the House, Senate, White House, or Supreme Court.)

It seems to me that a lot of people are getting tired of being over there and heading out here instead. Deb organized a cruiser's sundowners get-together the other day while we were still in No Name Harbor. A good crowd showed up, and a good number of that crowd were first year people heading for the Islands for their first time. Maybe there were as many new people last year, people I didn't notice being a newbie myself. But it doesn't feel that way. Maybe a lot of people from over there are starting to suspect that accumulated stupid must, at some point, get near to being fatal for all involved. Being somewhere else when that happens has a certain appeal, and a cruising boat is a good way to get “somewhere else.” When I was "over there" I was certainly one of those who felt that way. But now? Maybe not so much.

Oh, I suspect some things are going to seriously unravel. After all, Deb and my jobs, the housing market, and our options of housing that didn't include a cardboard box and a bridge, all unraveled all at the same time. But once we made it onto the boat and out here, it didn't seem that is what happened at all. Living on the ocean tends to give one a different perspective on what is raveled and what is unraveled. The seas have been around since long before us silly humans, and will be around long after. As have the dolphins, whales, jellyfish, sharks, and starfish - most of which will probably outlast us as well. All of the antics of human kind appear smaller from offshore, a species unraveling maybe, but that is not as important as we make it out to be. Pretty much nothing “out here” pays much attention to the odd doings of human kind.

Including, sometimes, me. Particularly when the deck is dancing to an F8 tune in the dark reaches of the night.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Feeling a little guilty …



Kintala has found her way to the Miami Stadium anchorage after two nearly perfect day sails. The first saw us leaving No Name for a place called Sands Key. No Name is fun, protected, and has good shore access. We like it. But after a week of sharing it with about as many of my fellow human beings as could be jammed into the place, sanity called for a change. Sands Key was the perfect antidote. One other boat was parked not that nearby with the next nearest being miles away. City lights shown on the west horizon, even more miles away. To the east was pure night filled with stars, and we slept the sleep of the truly privileged.

This morning at the anchorage


This morning dawned perfect for slipping on a sweatshirt and sipping coffee in the cockpit. Clear water, quiet winds, and the promise of a good day's work using the forecast south winds to head back north (just for the shear fun of it) made the coffee taste that much better. And, after sailing off the anchor, that's exactly what we did. It took several tacks to work our way out between the shallows and back to the channel. Jib, staysail, and main kept us tight on the wind and moving quick. Once clear, Kintala put the winds to her stern. The main and staysail were tucked away for the rest of the day, and the jib pulled relentlessly north. A few downwind jibes got us to the Rickenbacker Causeway near high tide, and it was an easy motor into the anchorage.



Back in the heartland, winter drags on. Daughter Middle put up a post on her family sight about sniffles, coughs, runny noses, and the relentless weight of yet another snow storm and more near zero temperatures. With the clan housebound, she mused of loading them all into the van, driving to Florida, swimming to the Islands, and joining us on the boat. (They wouldn't have to actually swim to the Islands as we haven't gotten that far yet.) How can Grampy T not feel at least a little bit guilty over not having enough boat to fit them all?


Another mystery boat. Anybody know what this is?
Having such a boat, of course, would mean having a boat full of money. It seems to me that accumulating such boat fulls of money usually (not always, but usually) requires hurting someone, stealing from someone, or taking money off of stupid people. The first two are no-goes for me, but the last? Maybe I should have been a boat broker? Or perhaps a TV evangelist? My last paycheck came from a casino company, which is kind of like taking money off of stupid people. Anyone playing the slots with the idea of striking it rich has about as much a chance of that happening as they do of having a TV preacher punch their ticket direct to heaven. Unfortunately those who own casinos keep most what they get from the not-so-bright. Not much of it trickles down to those who actually do the work of providing a satisfactory and enjoyable gambling experience for our valued guests. (The same is true of every business I have ever run across.)

Henry the wind vane steering the boat.

Alas, boat brokers, TV evangelists, and casino owners are not my favorite kinds of people. Looking in a mirror and seeing one of them looking back would be a disappointment. Still, if that mirror was hanging in a boat big enough for a full crew of Kids and Grand Kids …

But such is not the case. So tonight I think of loved ones far away, hoping their winter of discontent ends soon, and that, someday (a few of them at a time) manage to find their way to Kintala; in wherever non-winter place she may be.