Thursday, July 17, 2014

It’s a Rally, not a Race…

The Marvelous DelMarva

There is an outfit called the World Cruising Club.  They organize and manage several coordinated sailing events under the umbrella of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) which was originally established to put cruising or racing boats in an organized fleet to more safely make the 2,700 mile ocean crossing from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. It caught on, and more ARC Rallies were created, now even including a world ARC circumnavigation rally.  The organizers collect fees for your participation and in return you are provided with lectures, books and video materials, safety inspections, discounted docking, some free meals and parties at stops along the way. Most of all you are included in a network of like-minded and similarly destined sailors, many of whom use a rally to accomplish their first ‘big’ sail.

We did just such a thing in early June 2014.  Our ‘new to us’ sailboat is a complex affair and we hoped to use a rally opportunity to shake out the boat, learn how to manage systems and crew schedules and put together a list of things that needed to be done before attempting an even bigger event this coming November; a non-stop sail from the mouth of the Chesapeake to the British Virgin Islands.

The particular June rally that we joined is named the ARCDelMarVa because it goes around the peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware Bay, encompassing the states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.  The trip is around 450 nautical miles (if sailed in straight lines) and is scheduled to take a week including stopovers along the way.  The plan is to leave Annapolis on a Sunday morning and be back for the closing dinner the following Saturday.

Robin and I had originally set our sights (and paid the entry fee) on the bigger rally in November called the Caribbean 1500.  It has a 25 year history of successful ocean crossings leaving from Hampton (this year Portsmouth), VA and ending up in Tortola, BVI. The trip is about 1,400 nm in a straight line (which is really a curved line as far as navigation is concerned) and takes around 10 to 12-ish days depending on boat and weather conditions.  The route crosses the Gulf Stream and goes well off shore (maybe 400 miles offshore!) into the deeper parts of the Atlantic. 

All boats have to be inspected, carry all kinds of safety and communications gear and there are tracking devices on each boat for progressand position reporting. There are scheduled radio net check-ins and custom weather reporting services provided for entrants.  Of course, you can read all about it here J
When Robin and I decided firmly that this is what we would like to do (it only makes sense to cut your trans-Atlantic teeth within an organized group) we signed up and attended our first Atlantic sailing seminar.  While we were there, the idea of also doing the DelMarVa Rally popped up and we decided to go for it as well.  One can never have too much experience on the water and this looked to be a great opportunity to get things together before the bigger step in November. So … we pulled the trigger and signed up.  
Now, all of a sudden, we were in a hurry to get ready.  It’s amazing when you think you have seven months to prepare, and suddenly that whittles down to just a few weeks. But we took the prepared checklists and went shopping, started studying up on what would be required for the route and made our reservations at the interim marinas.  All in all, it was a great thing to come under a little pressure as we moved on things we might’ve waited on until the last minute otherwise. 

On the day that we brought the last few piece of safety gear aboard, we had a surprise visit from the Annapolis Power Squadron, a division of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.  The team was out doing inspections on boats and we actually passed, with just a couple of small ‘to-do” items to accomplish to make it a perfect inspection. Who knew??  I need to sincerely thank the folks at World Cruising for putting together the checklists. It is directly due to them that we were accomplishing all the compliance items and it was certainly a pleasure to receive a ‘pass’ from the Coast Guard and get our little orange triangle sticker. We are almost fully compliant with the rally guidelines (we still have to either service or replace our life raft) so it is now a matter of making sure we know where everything is stored and how to use it.
OK, so about this DelMarVa Rally thing.

It came to pass that our dear friend Erle could join us for the entire voyage so we were glad to have him come out.

We were also notified that Lauren Saalmuller from Sail Magazine wanted to join us for the first leg. 
That was way cool! .. and a bit spooky … I mean, the Assistant Editor for a major sailing publication wants to come aboard and crew with a couple of inexperienced sailors on a new boat?  What could possibly go wrong?? But, we were glad to have her aboard and she turned out to be a wonderful crew member and lots of fun to visit with.  Can’t wait to see how the article reads! (Look for it in August, I’d guess).

The day before the rally start (6/7/14) we re-positioned the boat from our slip in Deale, MD to a slip in Annapolis. It was a nice journey up, but the wind was right on our nose so we had to use the motor for the whole 3 hour run. Coming into the Annapolis Harbor area, I misguided us ever so slightly and we turned up the wrong creek (Spa Creek instead of Back Creek) but it was a fun little tour of the area .. and no one else knew I didn't mean to do that until we started heading back out.  For fun though, just as we started back outbound a small … I mean like 16 feet ... sailboat tacked and came about directly in front of us. Now, we were motoring, so by rights the little boat had right-of-way since they were sailing, but I don’t know how brave I would be to claim that right when a boat that could slice me in half was bearing down on me in close quarters.  We had no room to maneuver at all and so I basically had to slam on the brakes as they sailed by us a few feet off the bow. The best part was the lady at the helm who, looking up at us in a boat more than three times her size, simply shrugged her shoulders as she glided by. Well, I guess it’s like walking blindly out into a crosswalk and just assuming the drivers will stop.  Works until it doesn't. The memory of the shrugging lady will stay with us for a while. What was she thinking?? 

We found our way to our assigned slip at Annapolis LandingMarina and began making final preparations for the Sunday morning start. There were things to stow, groceries to buy, water and fuel to fill and checklists to run through. I changed the engine oil and got things ready to go.  We all attended the pre-rally function in town and got to meet several other sailors who were doing this rally for reasons similar to our own. We are new at it and wanted to try within the safety net of an organized event.  There were a lot of first-timers at the briefing and it validated our decision to do the rally.

The crew was all briefed and ready, the boat was ready and we left the fuel dock 45 minutes prior to the start of the rally. Should’ve worked like a champ, except we didn't really understand where the starting line was J.  No matter, we just motored out to join them as the fleet, in all their full-sail-pennant-flying glory crossed the starting line and the Rally was officially underway.  There were photo-op boats circling around and it all ended up working out just fine.  No one except you and I know that the #5 marker we were waiting at and the #5 marker everybody else was waiting at are ½ mile apart. All those pretty boats with all the sails up were a dead give-away that we hadn't quite hit the starting line spot on. 
In reality, we were quite content to not be in the thick of it mixing it up at the starting line.  It’s a rally, not a race (remember that…) so the actually start is more of a formality.
We crossed the start line in great fashion, appearing for all the world to know exactly what we were doing   and we headed out into the Chesapeake Bay.
A couple of things became readily apparent as soon as we cleared the harbor’s waters and entered into the bay.  First; the forecast for 5 to 9 knots of wind was woefully wrong.  We were looking at 12 – 15 knots and, miraculously, it was right on the nose (again) if we wanted to go south (sigh). Second; all those pretty pennants and flags that Erle had spent so much time hoisting were not going to last long in a stronger wind, so down they came.  Third; we’d not really tacked the boat before so it was going to be a fun exercise in bringing the boat around, back and forth, all the way down the bay. Fourth; … this was way cool fun stuff that we’d been dreaming about for years!
Our first tacking exercise went relatively well, and with each successive tack we got better at not having the sail or lines snag as they passed through from one side to the other.  We took long tacking legs; from one side of the bay to the other and the boat made good speed into the wind … but not such good speed toward our target. This is the way of things when sailing and would not be so much of a worry out in the open ocean, but we had two limits on us: the width of the bay and the appointment in Portsmouth for dinner the next night.  Still, we tacked on and surprisingly passed within a few boat lengths of another rally participant going the opposite tack on not less than three occasions. Fun to know that we were all pretty much making the same amount of slow forward progress.
Well, after sailing about seventy miles through the water we’d only made about 21 miles “upstream” into the wind (that’s sailing in a nutshell some days). It was beginning to get dark and we decided to not tack all night long, crossing back and forth over the shipping channel and through unfamiliar waters with an inexperienced crew.  Good call, I’d say. So…after about 10 hours of tacking we rolled in the sails and turned on the motor.  Now we were making 7 knots directly toward our destination and the crew could start taking shifts (watches) navigating us toward Portsmouth. 
The wind increased, the waves built and except for it not being bitter cold, it really resembled the delivery run back in March where we pounded up the Delaware Bay in a gale.
Winds increased to 20 knots with some gusts to 25 but the boat had no trouble making way although we slowed to 2-3 knots at times. We got ~some~ rest and during the night we heard about other rally boats that had headed to shore to find a rest stop for the night. We also heard that one boat had engine trouble and another had a sail problem forcing them to drop out. We pressed on till daylight, hanging close to, but not in, the shipping channel and spotting the occasional cargo ship along the way. Those things are absolutely huge!

 Each crew member took a three hour watch through the night.  We spent some time doubled up when passing through the busy entrances to the Patuxent and Potomac rivers.  For the most part, motoring along meant checking your position against the plotted course and trying to see out into the dark through the wave-splashed windshield.  Except for the wind and pounding waves (not big waves, just ones that made you lift up a bit, then slam into the next one) the trip was uneventful and daybreak brought a little relief from the wind; not in direction, but in speed.  We still had to motor into it. 

A great treat was had when we passed several “Tall Ships” heading north on the bay the next morning (Monday 6/9).

There had been a festival of some sort in the Norfolk area and a collection of these majestic wooden schooners were now proceeding back to their respective home ports. Since we were just motoring along, we varied off course a bit to go see them as closely as we could without being a nuisance. We got to exchange waves with a few crew members and took a lot of pictures. It was very cool to see these replicas moving slowly northward, using the wind that we had been fighting all night.

We rounded the lighthouse and went into the Norfolk Harbor. There is a huge Naval installation there and our crew member Erle, an avid Navy man, was in his element looking at, and looking up, (we had cell coverage so Google was the name of the game) all the different types of ships and hardware that were station just a few boat lengths away. Of course, the security boats made certain that no tourists got too close; something we did not care to test.

Motoring south on the Elizabeth River we arrived at Ocean Marine Yacht Club in Portsmouth, VA well before dark. After taking on fuel and water and we wandered the streets of Portsmouth looking for food at just a few minutes after 9 P.M. … a few minutes after a lot of places had closed.  We did find a nice spot and had a great dinner time of de-briefing and visiting about what we saw and did. All told, leg one was very successful even if the winds and water were against us.

We spent the next day (Tuesday 6/10) waiting for other boats to arrive before having a crew briefing.  Then we went for a big group dinner … at the same spot we’d found the night before!  Wouldn't you know it?  Nevertheless it was a great time socializing and we met new friends from another rally boat and it was great to be a part of the ‘society’ of cruisers for a while.

This day, 6/10/14 also marked our 8th Anniversary. It was impossible to squeeze out any private time, but it was still a very special day. I am so truly blessed to be married to Robin. She is just amazing. The very fact that we are having an anniversary aboard our cruising boat is a testimony to the support and encouragement that she has given me. I could not have done this without her. So there!!

Wednesday we departed at 8 A.M. for the second leg of the rally. This would be the one that took us off shore and into the Atlantic as we sailed from Portsmouth, VA to Cape May, NJ. The trip was noteworthy for two reasons:  1> somehow the winds that had been out of the south for 2 days on the Chesapeake were now out of the north on the ocean. Really? And 2> they weren’t strong enough to dissipate the fog.  Ah well, here we go again. Turn the motor on and settle into the humming routine of 5 kt motor-boating. .  Follow the plotted line and we will see how it all comes together on the other end. Boring?  Well, yes and no.  You still have keep a close watch; there are 20 other boats out there in the fog doing the same thing.   We talked about trying to make the wind work for us; sailing far offshore and then using the wind to bring us back in, but we were only three on crew now as Lauren (the editor from Sail Magazine) had moved to another boat for the second leg. Shorthanded sail management wasn’t something I was really up for so we just set the throttle at 2,000 RPM and let the little Volvo TMD-22 motor purr along for most of the day and all night. We had some pretty cool ‘sightings’ in the fog when a ghostly sailboat would materialize out of the fog and keep pace with us for a while. Not quite the Black Pearl, but nonetheless a pretty ethereal event.
The entrance to the marine in Cape May, NJ show a good water depth except right at the marina entrance. It is charted at four feet and we need seven feet to be comfortable in not scraping the bottom.  Fortunately for us, there is a (nearly) five foot tidal range at that location so it just means we are ‘slaves to the tide’ as we must enter and exit the marina only at or near high tide.  Luckily for us (I would claim fastidious planning, but any sailor knows better than that…) we would indeed arrive around 8 A.M. which was very close to high tide.  We slid into the marina and found a spot to tie up right at the fuel dock, which was convenient as the boat was a bit thirsty J
The last part of this leg proved to be challenging and not without incident.  As we approached the opening to the Delaware Bay, we had to cross 4 major shipping lanes (2 in each incoming and outgoing directions).  I was below, sort of snoozing, when I heard the engine RPM drop to idle.  Well, that’s something that’ll get your curiosity high pretty quickly. Actually, Erle had reduced our speed to near zero in order to allow a huge RADAR blip to pass in front of us.  The fog, you see, had never lifted and in fact was very thick through this area so having the RADAR to avoid big ships was critical.  We had been motor-sailing, just to (maybe) gain a half a knot of additional speed but decided to roll the sails in and finish the last few miles just under motor.  Then ... it happened.  Somehow, while rolling up the jib sail, a line got tangled up in the mechanism at the top of the sail, right where it attaches to the main mast. We could not see it happen and didn’t notice anything wrong except the winding motor labored a bit. I thought we had a sheet (a line that attaches to the bottom of the sail that was dragging, so we unwound it a bit, made sure the bottom lines were clear and began winding it again.  There was a ‘crack’ sound and two long lengths of line tumbled onto the deck from above. Both the jib and spinnaker halyards had gotten wrapped up in the furler and snapped, along with a third halyard used for supporting the spinnaker pole. These two big halyards are rated at (at least) 7,000 pounds of braking strength, and the smaller one maybe half that. The furling motor snapped them and we didn’t even really feel it labor to do so. Now that is some serious power in a 24v electric motor.  Nonetheless, we took some damage aloft, and a section of our life-line railing on the deck was bent upwards at the point a 5/8" halyard was tied down.

We were done using that sail, or any sail for that matter, until we could get a complete inspection and assessment of the damage. One thing NOT to do is risk bringing down the whole sail rig by putting it under a big load after an incident. We would have to motor-boat the rest of the trip home.
The morning at the marina, Andy Schell (the event organizer) offered to go aloft and take a look at the rig.  His inspection revealed very little damage, but with broken halyards there was nothing to hold the sails up is we unfurled them so it confirmed our motor-boat status.  The group put on a pot luck and we spent a pretty comfortable night at the fuel dock.  Thus begins leg 3.
On the morning of the 13th (Friday, no less) we set out into the Delaware Bay for the last leg of the trip. The water in the channel and out in the mouth of the Bay was glassy smooth, and although not as thick as the previous time it was still hazy/foggy.  We left at high tide and had no problems exiting the marina or channel.
Most of the other rally boats had departed much earlier, on the order of 2 A.M. in order to take advantage of the tide in another way; when the tide is low and coming in, the Bay ‘floods’ as the tide comes in and prides a current to help push you northbound.  Since we were strapped to the high-tide departure, it meant that we would be fighting the ebb tide all the way up the Bay. Ah well, can’t win them all.  The morning and early afternoon we beautiful and we motored right alongside the shipping channel, spotting a cruise ship and several tankers and cargo haulers. The weather forecast called for a line of thunderstorms, some sever, to be forming along the land and moving off shore and sure enough, the RADAR started picking those up as we made (slow) progress northbound. Some of the rally boats encountered some rough weather, some of the ones that head left early enough to make into C&D Canal before the thunderstorms hit had sought shelter in a marina and a couple had chosen to take shelter in a couple of ‘protected’ anchorages along the bay. 
Looking at our RADAR, it appeared that the storms would head right at us, lightning and thundering along the way, but either dissipate into rain showers or pass in front or behind us.  The line was clearly defined and once it had passed there was clear air behind it.  We got some winds and got rained on, but we never encountered any ‘rough’ conditions. Fortunate for us J
At around dusk we entered the C&D Canal. A 14+ mile cut between the (C)heasapeake and (D)elaware Bays. The weather had cleared and we were treated to a wonderfully smooth ride through the canal. It was decided that we would keep two crew on deck; one to steer and navigate and one on watch for traffic and hazards. This meant 6 hours-on, three hours off; a pretty brutal schedule.

Fortunately it would not be for a long time (only during the dark hours), but it was still a tough watch schedule. I, however, am so very glad that we exercised that option.

The Canal, while nicely marked and well lit, is still a very dangerous place because of the large shipping traffic. During these watches, we came very close to very large ships a couple of times. Having someone on the spotlight and on the radio was critical to finding and avoiding these guys; they use most of the channel.   We motored through the Canal, out into the channel entrance to the Chesapeake and cleared the Bay Bridge all the while trying to spot and identify each and every marker and range light. It was still quite dark at 0430 when we arrived at the shipping anchorage area near the Annapolis Harbor entrance. I opted to slow down and travel outside the harbor until we at least had some kind of daylight to work with.  By 0545 we were headed into the harbor and shortly thereafter docked up on the Annapolis Landing Marina fuel dock (which we’d been kicked off of nearly a week earlier).
I was told at the skippers' briefing prior to the beginning of this rally that it has been called one of three things ... the "Del-Marvelous", the "Hell-Marva", or the "Del-Motor".  I guess we got the latter of the three. 70+ hours of engine time.  Nonetheless, it was a worthwhile, interesting, educating, networking and FUN time.

Mission accomplished …  Nap time!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Getting to know you.

Getting to know you

Getting to know all about you….  Thus begins month one of full-time living aboard.  We are still not completely out of our coach, which is now in nearby storage with For Sale signs on it and we still have a few things that we ‘just aren’t sure what to do with such as:
--An air compressor. Does anyone really need an air compressor aboard?
--My telescope. I definitely see that I would love to have it on a dark-skies beach somewhere, but it takes up quite a bit of space in its case.
--My home computer. I’m going to miss the Alienware Aurora with its high horsepower and 24” screen big time. But, it’s big, and heavy and I don’t have a clue how the salt-water environment can mess with the components.

Tent and lawn chairs and sleeping bags. Would be great for when we want to go camping off the boat on some deserted tropical island, but that logistic and the space requirement may not be realistic.
There are a few more items of ‘interest’ that we’re just no sure about, and it seems as though we have already moved into most of the available space aboard. So, in order to accommodate more ‘stuff’ we are probably going to have go end to end and re-sort, re-stack, re-store and re-think what we have already loaded aboard.  Everything I have read on other cruisers’ blogs have indicating that storing stuff is ultimately a waste of money. When you go cruising, it changes you fundamentally about possessions and when you return after one or two or nine years, the ‘stuff’ you had stored does not have its same meaning or attachment. To that end we’d like to be as completely free as possible before setting off for any distant place.

Technically, today (June 30th, 2014) marks the one-month point since we unplugged the coach and moved onto the boat ‘for reals’. We hitched up the coach and pulled it into storage nearby to the docks and loaded out the last few things (for now).  I put on a small solar trickle-charger to keep the batteries topped and we turned our focus fully on settling in to the new digs. We are learning a lot…

The boat has lots of storage, there are nooks and crannies and lifting floorboards, and cabinets and lockers and cubbies and shelves and drawers to be filled. And guess what? … we’ve filled them. Figuring out where to put stuff, based on priority of access, has been quite a challenge.  I stored ‘geek’ stuff under a floorboard (for a while) but later moved it to a more accessible drawer. It’s a different train of thought to say “well, I need to print this out so I have to dig out and set up the printer” each time. Same with the scanner, which gets used frequently as we digitize most incoming documents (paper doesn’t hold up too well in the long run with high humidity).

The pantries are well stocked, but to access some things you have to remove two layers above it. His causes you to think about what gets used most often and what’ll get layered down.  Bulky things, like comforters and pillows, have to be squished tightly to fit into their spots.  You get the drift. It is a new way of thinking about your available space.  Nothing can be left out, basically. Everything has to be put securely away in order to handle potentially rough water and prevent breakage. Of course, If we’re going to be spending some time at a dock, we can break out the ‘fragile stuff’ and hang up the pictures J
On the mechanical end, this boat is a collection of systems waiting to be explored (and eventually repaired, I’m sure).  Adagio has a 78hp Volvo turbocharged diesel as her main propulsion with a three-bladed folding prop mounted to a reverse-drive transmission.  Oil, filters, grease, seals, impellers, belts, engine mounts and … well, you can see where this is going. A new regimen of maintenance days is in our future. No Jiffy Lubes around out in the ocean.

The boat has an auxiliary generator (6.5kW), a water maker (desalinator), pressure water pump system, 12v, 24v, 110v and 220v electrical busses radios, RADAR, air conditioning and even a washing machine (as small as it is, and it only washes, not dries). There’s a propane system with manual and electrical shutoffs for the stove, a water heater run by either engine heat or 220v electrical and a small TV. 
Lots of creature comforts (we do not intend to make living aboard akin to camping aboard) but also lots of systems to keep up with and learn about. Oh… and it’s a sailboat … 11 winches (3 are electrically driven) 5 sails, 1200 feet of line in various diameters, strengths and conditions. Pulleys, turnbuckles, chain plates, anchors, and much, much more.   It’s going to be a while figuring out all the systems and mechanics but it needs to be done.  We, as owners and sailors, have to be pretty fluent in everything about the boat.  It’s not quite like ‘knowing’ about the house or car, because everything has the potential to break at an inopportune time when it can become somewhere between inconveniencing and life-threatening. 

I’m happy to have a mechanical and electrical background where a lot of the mysteries can be revealed through experience in other things. Having owned the sailboat “Robin” for more than 5 years we’ve learned a lot about how things work on a smaller, less complex scale and so this isn’t quite as intimidating as it could be. But it is still a bit daunting to say the least.

So, in the month of June we learned … a lot … and there is still a lot to go. We know how to start the engine, maneuver and sail the boat. We know how to get electrical systems and lighting up and running (even converted a lot of the lights over to L.E.D.s J) We know how to fill fuel and water and empty out other tanks (a day long story unto itself with that one..). I know how to rebuild winches. We can run (most of) the radios and navigation equipment and can even make the microwave work.  We’ve found storage for most of our stuff, organized it in some logical places (safety gear takes up a whole closet …  who knew?!?).
There are still things we look at and wonder what they are for, and I’m sure we will puzzle out things like the awnings and all the spare lines and Ham Radio and how to get printed out weather faxes but we have a few months yet.

This is just our first J