Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Crew

As it has turned out, the biggest nail-biter of preparing for the Salty Dawg Rally has been establishing our four-person crew.  Clearly, Carl and I are the Captain and First Mate.  Two down.  Two to go.

"No rowers needed for our sailboat."
Interest was expressed by two of our Duluth sailing friends initially.  One of them switched to another friend’s boat in July, a boat that would not be going as far, but no problem for us.  We just needed to find one more crew member and it was only July.  Plenty of time to look.
Can you find Antigua?  Way to the right, mid-line

The Salty Dawg Rally sponsors a site where sailors interested in crewing can post their sailing resumes.  This allows boats like ours, that are looking for additional crew, to learn something about the sailors, their blue water (ocean) passage experience, their racing, or boat delivery experiences.  
Alternative foul-weather gear?

Many of them have special skills in areas such as diesel engines, electronics etc.  Carl got right on that task, reviewing lots of resumes and initiated contact with several parties. 

Is this what happens in the Bermuda Triangle?
We were a bit overwhelmed seeing so many sailors with impressive sailing backgrounds.  Many have crewed on Rally boats in previous years. We discovered that many of the most experienced folks had been snapped up by other boats very early on.  
 Beautiful Antigua

We also learned that some crew were looking for specific sorts of boat experiences.  For example, sailing on a 50 to 60’ boat would mean more personal space for each crew member.  And the longer the sailboat, the faster she can sail.  Makes sense to me that if you’ve already sailed 20 kinds of boats between 30 and 50’, you might want another kind of experience this go-round.
Racing boat.  Wouldn't it be great to sail on her?

In August, we ran into a couple that we first met two years ago on our way south.  We and they were stuck in Morehead City for a few days, waiting for a storm to pass.  We enjoyed their company.  We ran into them again in the Bahamas, and here they are again, living in a house in Oriental.  They had just put their beautiful boat on the market which means that they would not be sailing to the Bahamas this winter.  
Beautiful sloop.  Crew of two.

We mentioned our plans for the Caribbean and the Salty Dawg Rally.  The next morning, they stopped by and the wife whispered in my ear. “If you are still looking for a fourth person, Harry would love to go.”  Now, Harry had just passed by me  saying ‘good morning’ and no more.  Ah, she was letting us know the ball was in our court. 
We will land on the southern shore.

I went to find Carl and he was as pleased as I was.  We knew Harry to be a lifelong sailor, an avid racer in the Great Lakes and the east coast, and had significant blue water sailing experience.  Did we want Harry?  Yes, we did. We had our crew of four.

This is not our sailboat.
In September, we learned that our Crew member #3 in Duluth was having to withdraw from the Dawg.  He couldn’t afford the time away from work.  Back to searching for a fourth crew member. Sigh.
 Black Pearl, of Pirates of the

We took a trip to Wilmington in September to visit friends we’d met two years previously in Annapolis.  The husband of the couple is, in fact the brother of one of our Duluth friends, and grew up sailing in the Caribbean. We enjoyed our visit with them.  

Jack Sparrow, quintessential pirate of the Caribbean
As we drove back to Oriental, we considered asking him if he would be interested in sailing the Dawg with us.  We decided we would ask and he said he was interested.  Yea!  Four crew again!

Our destination, Antigua, actually south of Barbuda
A week later, we were back down to three.  Carl and me, with Harry, our third crew member.  Our Wilmington friend, sadly, needed to bow out for personal reasons.  Carl dug back into the list of sailors’ resumes. There were still a few people that had not committed to other boats.  Surely, we would find a match there yet. 

If you are the owner of this boat, you might hire a delivery crew
to sail your boat to the Caribbean.
We also consulted with Harry.  Maybe he knew somebody here in Oriental that would be interested?  Harry was able to tell us that there were many people in this area that would be willing to sail to Antigua…..for a price; he knew sailors that would be interested in boat delivery jobs. 
Another perspective.  Antigua is in the red square.

In this part of North Carolina, hiring one’s boat to be delivered to a distant location is not uncommon for persons of a certain financial status.  We are, however, not of that status.  We were looking for crew that would contribute to food costs on the passage, and that would arrange for their own flights back to the States after getting to the Caribbean.
Open market on Antigua

Carl also was in contact with another Duluth acquaintance that we had learned might be available.  A few hopeful days passed in mid-September.  He really wanted to crew with us.  Could he pull it together?  Would he?  Alas, no.

Carl and me, plus Harry.  A three person crew.  Too few!  I felt bleary-eyed and exhausted just thinking about sharing watch with only two other people for ~10 days.   
A fantastic, enormous sloop.

Then the resume list came through for us in the form of Luke.  Luke, a fresh-faced college kid who has sailed since he was a small boy.  Luke, who sailed the Salty Dawg Rally last year on an Alberg 35.  An Alberg 35!  An older, classic boat that offers little protection from rain and waves.  
Alberg 35

A beautiful, but narrow boat with close quarters for crew. If Luke could do that, he could certainly share watch with three older guys (Carl, Harry and me) and share more space than he could have had on the smaller Alberg. 

Draw an imaginary line east from Virginia, then south.
We are a crew of four again!  Northern Star will be joining the other sailboats gathering together in Hampton in another week or more.  We will start the process of mingling with the other sailors.  There will be discussions about emergency procedures, weather routing, communication, watch schedules and so much more.  We are on our way!  Woo-hoo!

Stay tuned for more later.
*All photos taken from Google Images.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Do You Know the Way to Antigua?

“Go East 400 miles, Turn Right, Go 1000 More and You’re There”
Carl on deck after sunset

That is more or less what we will do in November when we leave with the Salty Dawn Rally from Hampton, VA.  Why go so far out on the ocean to begin with, you ask?  Excellent question. Sailing is all about wind direction and current.  

You may remember learning in school about the old sailing ships from Europe that went south to Africa to load up with human cargo and from there, they rode the Trade Winds west to the West Indies (Caribbean) where they traded slaves for spices.  The ships would then go north, on up to, let’s say, Charleston, SC, with the assistance of the Coriolis effect* and ocean currents where they would unload their remaining live human cargo. 
Replica of French ship, Hermione in Annapolis

Then, again benefitting from the Coriolis effect, the ships headed back to Europe loaded with cotton. King Cotton would appease a world that was sick and tired of wearing wool even in the heat of summer.  So, you see…the Trade Winds and Coriolis effect will help us catch a beneficial point of sail and an optimal current to travel to the far eastern part of the Caribbean.
Depth - 371 ft.  

The voyage to Antigua can be expected to take 9 to 14 days, give or take a few days.  Here are some of the other questions we’ve been asked about ocean travel: 

Our 65# Mantus anchor
Q: Where do you anchor at night?   
A: We do not anchor out on the Ocean. We look for depths of ~10' to 25' for anchoring depending on the tides.

Q: Do you set the boat to steer in the direction you want and then go to bed?  
A:  We do have AutoPilot, which can be programmed so that the boat will follow a course we give it; that is if the wind direction remains constant and the point of sail doesn’t need to be adjusted. Using an autopilot means that someone doesn’t have to be steering all the time.  BUT, someone always needs to be awake and keeping watch 24/7.
Northern Star heading back to U.S. last year after sunset

Nights are beautiful on the ocean.
Q:  How can one of you always be awake?  
A:  For a long crossing like this, we will have two additional crew members with us.  We will use an assigned watch schedule so that someone is always awake on deck, someone is asleep, someone can cook and someone is available for back-up as needed.

Q: What do you eat out on the ocean?   
One of two toasters we use on stove-top
A:  Pretty much the same things we would eat on land.  Except that we’ll run out of fresh produce by Day 7 or so, so will need to rely upon dry or canned foods more from then on. We’ll have enough frozen meats to last four people ~10 days. We’ll have some freeze-dried foods too.
Lunch served on deck

Q: So you actually cook on the boat when you’re sailing? 
A: Yes, the stove is gimbaled.  It swings on two bars so that it can tip to remain upright regardless of the angle of the boat's heel. Therefore, pots and pans remain more or less level whether on stovetop or in the oven.  We have pot guards that attach to the stove top to hold the pots securely too.   
Gimbaled stove is level.

The cook can also wear a hip belt that clips to the safety bar to prevent the cook from falling backward while cooking. It also protects the cook from falling onto the stove.  But, if the weather and waters are particularly rough, we may opt not to cook a hot meal at that time. We’ll bring some cold emergency back-up foods that can just be opened up and eaten for those circumstances.

Q:  What if there’s no wind?  
A:  It’s possible that the wind could die down significantly.  We could opt to motor for a little while until the wind picks up again, but we can’t motor all the way to Antigua. We carry 110 gals of diesel which could take us approximately 700-800 miles.  Primarily, we will sail.  There may be slow days, and there may be days that we cover many miles under sail.

Q: What if you run out of fresh water?  
A:  We have a Spectra water maker on Northern Star; an R/O or Reverse Osmosis water maker. When the water maker is running, it can make 10 gallons of drinkable water/hour using the ocean’s salt water. It can make water while sailing, motoring or at anchor.

Storm coming, in the Bahamas last year
Q:  What if you run into a big storm while you’re out on the ocean?  
A: We will do our best to choose the best weather window that we can, although a reliable weather forecast becomes less possible the farther into the future one looks.  Forecasters can tell us pretty accurately what weather we will encounter for the first five days out.  But beyond that, it is possible we could run into weather that we would prefer to avoid. 
Northern Star navigation station

We will have Single Side Band (SSB) radio contact with our weather router (Chris Parker) every day.  If he sees that we will be running into a weather system ahead, he can advise us in advance to change course in an attempt to avoid the worst weather. 

Our light-weight rain gear.  Pre-dawn.
Q:  But what if you do get caught out there in really bad weather?  
A:  A sailboat is exceptionally stable. Our boat weighs 29,000 pounds, and a lot of that weight is in the lead keel.  That helps to keep us right-side up.  Just think about a fishing bobber.  It is NOT going to tip over.  
Calm waters and consistent wind make for pleasant sailing

We can reef (make smaller) sails or take sails down altogether and “park” the boat on the water. It’s a technique called “being hove to.”  It’s a method of turning the boat into the wind and just letting it ride.  We also have a drogue which drags in the water behind us when we want to slow the boat down.  The boat can handle a lot.  Therefore, we can just hunker down and wait it out.
I've actually READ the first aid book.

Q: What if you get sick out there?  
A: Seasick? We have a variety of strategies to address seasickness.  There are various medicines, an electric wrist band, ginger ale, ginger candy, ginger gum.  The best thing is to stay on deck and watch the horizon.  Oddly enough, I personally, have never been seasick.  Cast-iron inner ears, I guess.
My MacBook

Q:  Will you be able to communicate with people while out on the ocean. 
A: Yes. Not by telephone,  but by VHF radio to anyone within ~40 miles, by SSB radio to other boat and land-based radios within ~1500 miles, and by our satellite-linked InReach device that allows us to send and receive text messages from anywhere.   We will notify our families when we arrive in Antigua.
Sailing toward sunrise
Q: How will you know where you are on the ocean?  
A:  GPS and compass. We will know where we are at all times.  In fact, you can know where we are at all times too, by use of the same InReach system.  (Check future post for how to follow us by InReach.)

We love the dolphin escorts on the ocean
Q:  Aren’t you afraid to be so far from land?  A:  Personally, nope. No more than I would be afraid to drive from here to New York City.  

More later.  

* Coriolis effect - The Coriolis Effect can be seen in action in the general circulation of the atmosphere. The winds at all latitudes to the north of 0° deflect to the right of their intended path in the Northern Hemisphere. The Coriolis Effect does not impact the wind speed, only the wind direction. The Coriolis Effect impacts objects on a large scale and does not generally have a big influence on small scale objects at the earth’s surface. Though hurricanes are small scale compared to the overall globe, hurricanes need the Coriolis Effect to help develop the circular motion of their circulations. Tornadoes are not impacted by the Coriolis Effect because they are so small in scale and short in duration. North Carolina State University

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Post-Hurricane Plan

Northern Star sail with identifying number
It’s time we share with our friends and family the (bold?) decisions we have made and our general plan for the next ~two years.  As anyone who reads our blog probably knows already, we have never been good at being able to tell people what we’ll be doing, or where we’ll be more than a month out.  This has made it difficult for potential visitors to plan airline flights very far in advance. 

A chart plotter course at night
Sorry to say, that aspect of our lives will essentially remain unchanged.  We can promise to be no more reliable in predicting our exact whereabouts than we ever have.  However, and this is a big exception, we have narrowed down our planned latitude and longitude for mid to late November 2017. 

Our voyage will begin from here—-> Lat: N37*01.041’ and Long: W076*20.615’
And we fully intend to end up here-> Lat: N17*00.729’ and Long: W061*46.292’

Dennis Johnson on left.  Carl on right.
I am purposefully delaying naming these locations for the benefit of those nerdy geography buffs who enjoy looking up Latitude and Longitude on a map of the world.  You know who you are.  GO! 

Now may I distract you with a few well-placed photographs--merely a few moments of dilly dallying while the map aficionados check the Lat and Long. (There are only so many ways to build up suspense in the context of a brief blog post.  I’m doing my best.) 

 Duluth friends:  Emily & Ken Steil, Phyllis & Dennis Leschishin

So, these are photos from our visit to friends and their dogs in Wilmington, NC before Hurricane Irma.

Carl and I at Atlantic Beach with Leschishins

Here we are with friends from Duluth, having brunch in New Bern, just up the road from our boat in Oriental.

Here we are again with friends at the ocean, in Atlantic Beach, NC. 
Butterfly eating nectar from flower

Butterfly photo captured 
while hiking 
Goose Creek State Park, NC.

And here we are racing in the Oriental Cup race which was last Saturday!  We raced on a boat called Quixotic and we all benefited from the racing experience of the elderly gentleman (mid to late -80's) in the green shirt.  
Raced on Quixotic in the Oriental Cup.  Carl & I were rail-meat at this point.
Quixotic received the Award for 3rd place in the Oriental Cup.   The Awards Breakfast was Sunday morning.

And now for the plan.  In about three weeks, we will be moving our boat from Oriental, NC where we’ve had quite a pleasant summer, up to Hampton, Virginia.  Going north as the days get colder? Yes. But only until on or around November 2nd.

Across the river from Hampton is Norfolk, home of the enormous Norfolk Naval Base.

Hampton is the site of the start of the Salty Dawg Rally, an annual event of some 50-80 sailboats (maybe a few big trawlers) that will sail from there to the Caribbean.  
Harbor of Hampton, Virginia

Prior to Hurricane Irma, the Salty Dawg Rally was scheduled to sail to the British Virgin Islands. Irma brought that plan to a screeching halt. The BVI’s, as we all know, were devastated by the largest hurricane that the Caribbean has ever experienced and that the U.S. has ever seen.  For some days after Irma, we didn’t know if the Rally would take place at all.  Was there an island along the northern perimeter of the Caribbean that could withstand the onslaught of 50-80 cruising sailboats?  
Sunrise on the Atlantic

At first we talked about sailing to the BVI’s to offer our help there.  We thought we could help by bringing supplies with us to the islands.  We could help repair buildings, or whatever was asked of us, given our limited experience with building structures, anyhow. Then we realized that we would become a burden to the islands rather than a help.  We could only carry so many supplies beyond what we need for ourselves, and if we developed boat problems in the crossing, there would be no functioning infrastructure there to help us out.  
Early morning south of New York harbor

Better for the onslaught of small sailboats to stay away from the BVI’s as they initially organize and rebuild and take our tourism dollars in the short term with us to islands that would be able to handle visitors.  From there we can move on to the more southerly islands of the Caribbean.

Nearing sunset on Atlantic Ocean
Our destination, therefore is an island on the far easternmost rim of the Caribbean islands, Antigua (ahn-TEE-gwah). It’s closest neighbor to the north, Barbuda, was hammered by Irma.  Our landfall destination will be Falmouth Harbor on the southern coast of Antigua.  After a rest up there, we will explore the Caribbean.  
Night sail on Atlantic

By going directly to Antigua, we will be bypassing all of the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the American Virgin Islands, the British Virgins and the northern Leewards, all of which saw more hurricane action than the more the southern Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. In addition to Barbuda (which we are bypassing) and Antigua, the remaining Leeward Islands include Guadeloupe and Dominica.  
Sailing under a brisk wind, ~25 knots

South of the Leewards begins the Windward Islands: Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and all the way south to Grenada, off the northern coast of Venezuela.  (We shall not be venturing anywhere near Venezuela.)  Heading west from Grenada there are the islands known as the A B C’s.  Why?  Because it is easier to remember than the Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao Islands. From the western shore of Aruba, it is a mere 75 nautical miles to the coast of Colombia, South America!  
Late afternoon on the Atlantic

Now, back to those words above— “~next two years.”  Once in the Caribbean, we anticipate that Northern Star will not be returning to the U.S. for a while.  To ride out the hurricane season of 2018, we will take the boat south of the hurricane zone, ie. Grenada.  We do expect to come back to the States during the next two years, but by air rather than by sailboat. By sail, it would take months to work our way back north to the U.S.
Approaching Bahamas last winter

There is so much more to tell you about—the Salty Dawg Rally, boat preparations, our crew and other important decisions we’ve made, but that will have to wait for another post.  For the next few weeks we are still in Oriental.   More to follow.