Friday, June 9, 2017

Dispatches from the not so far away or exotic

Cape Lookout lighthouse in our "backyard".

You may have noticed we have not posted in a while.  Life on land these last several months has been full, despite the fact that we are not in some exotic port. Here are some dispatches from the not so far away or exotic.  These should bring you up to date.

A Pain in the Shoulder

As you may recall, Bud had rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder at the end of January. As we understood we would have to go to physical therapy and otherwise have limited activity, we settled into a more sedentary life.  You may be impressed that Bud has perfected his classic French omelet, we explored making Dutch Babies (it's not as sinister as it sounds!), and our experiments into fermentation have produced some excellent dill pickles. The jury is still out on whether the sauerkraut is worth the effort and smell.

These are "Dutch Babies", or German pancakes - one of our successful experiments - a silky, custardy, pastry treat.
A dill if you will - another successful experiment.

Bud's recovery is taking as long as they said (up to at least 6 months).  In April, to improve flexibility, he had a “manipulation”, as they call it, which is like calling waterboarding a “procedure”. Fortunately, the manipulation was performed while he was under anesthesia. DO NOT watch any of these “procedures” on YouTube! There is a reason they also call this procedure “snap, crackle, pop”.  With physical therapy and the additional exercises at home, the shoulder is improving. Thanks to Mike, Bud's physical therapist, for his “magical tricks” in bringing some discipline to his shoulder.

Home therapy with some of the instruments of torture, including the colorful elastic bands and pulley.

Despite his talents, Mike has yet to give Bud those big bicep guns, abdominal six pack and massive “pecs” he has been wanting.  As Bud is running out of therapy visits on his health plan, he probably won’t be improving those parts of his physique any time soon.

Back to School

We went back to school at Carteret Community College.

We had talked about doing this for several years and because we weren’t doing anything else, we decided to go back to school. We reasoned that rather than simply sitting at home, we could sit in a classroom.  We went to the local community college to take a two week course to qualify for the US Coast Guard “Operators of Uninspected Passenger Vessels (OUPV)” certificate, or as it is also called, the “six pack” Captain’s license.
Why did we do this?  Ever since Bud saw the movie, “Captain Ron”, he wanted to be called “Captain Bud”! (Remember in the song “La Bamba” and the refrain , “Yo no soy marinero, soy capitan, soy capitan”?) Of course, the course does not train anyone to actually be a boat capitan, but it does provide all the fundamental navigation rules, marlinspike seamanship, navigation, etc. that all mariners should know.  We did not have to obtain a commercial captain’s license to operate our boat, but the license is required if we ever wanted to charter our boat (i.e. take passengers for hire), or in some cases, to deliver a boat.  Also, the Coast Guard certification can reduce boat insurance rates.

There are some other benefits as well, but really, the main reason we wanted to do this was to expand our formal training along with getting official recognition of our efforts.  Also, we will get a nifty, very official looking license (that looks like a passport) after we have the entire package approved by the Coast Guard.

Back to study.

It was a challenge to be back in the classroom. Bud had taught at a community college many years ago in a former life and all of those sights, sounds, and smells came flooding back. This time he was on the opposite side of the instructor’s desk.

Our instructor, Captain Ross, was an “old salt”, a 78 year old sailor, who, when asked why he did this, simply said, “I like to do this”. He certainly made a tedious course more stimulating, interesting and less stressful. We think we were his “pets” because we were the only other sailors in a class of motor boaters. This was a difficult class. It was very clear that nobody would get a pass for just showing up. We had multiple tests, including the first test on Navigation Rules that required a 90% to pass. The exam questions were often very evil –written to be tricky as possible. Imagine this, combined, we have over 25 years of education since high school, and have earned 5 degrees. Nonetheless, this did not change the fact that we were nervous as 5th graders the night before the exams.  It was stressful and mind-numbing trying to remember all of the seemingly endless details.

Argh!! Captain Ross did keep us “on course” and escorted us to completion of a successful voyage. We passed!  To receive our nifty license we need to send off the complete package for Coast Guard approval that includes the captain’s exam certificate (done), physical exam (done), CPR/First aid certificate (done), sea time documentation (done), Transportation Workers Identification Card (done), and drug testing (waiting on results).

We did it!  Certificates of our completion of the OUPV course.

Very Short Road Trip

The weekend immediately prior to taking the captain’s course we made a very long road trip to Cocoa Beach, Florida (think Miami) to look at a used catamaran. The boat had only recently become available on the market and it had promise as possibly our next boat. This was actually just one of the several boats we inspected over the months since we made the decision to sell Layla and move to a ‘multihull’. It was fun to be back in the truck and buzzing down the highway and we were excited to see this boat. It was an Island Spirit, a sister ship to the other cats we knew (Alleycat, Alleycat Too, Rat Catcher, Moon River).  Unfortunately, the search will continue as we decided this was not to be our boat for a variety of reasons. That is just the way it goes. There are a lot of boats out there. We will keep looking.

What about Layla?

Layla is doing just fine “on the hard” in the yard at Beaufort Marine Center. Layla had waited patiently, but has now demanded we return to making some cosmetic improvements. Bud's arm is sufficiently healed to tackle cleaning, refinishing teak, and completing a variety of chores. The latest news is that we have a very interested potential buyer coming for an inspection in July! Layla is already looking better than she has in many years. She is in great shape and we are looking forward to showing her off.

Bud did a light sanding on the forward deck chests to prepare for the final top coats.

Visit from Cassie, Al and Anissa

Bud's sister, Cassie, her husband Al, and their granddaughter Anissa (Bud's great niece) made a long road trip from Tucson, Arizona for a short visit this past month.  It was wonderful to visit local sights (lighthouse, aquarium, beaches, Maritime Museum, etc.) and share mellow time with them.

Anybody else out there want to come for a visit?  

Cape Lookout lighthouse opened on the day we arrived.  It was great timing for our visit.

Uncle Bud and Anissa take a break on the long climb to the top of the lighthouse.

Anissa, Cassie, and Al climbed more than 200 steps to get a great view.

Brother and sister shared the beach on Core Banks.

Anissa, Cassie, and Al searching for shells and other treasures.

Uncle Bud shows Anissa how to dig for mole crabs.

Cassie and Al are not impressed with the newly caught mole crab.

Crabby Cassie at the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores.

A beauty shows off her beautiful strawberry tart made from just a few of the strawberries they bought from a roadside stand in South Carolina.

Tracy’s Anniversary Present

We don’t typically go to extremes in recognition of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and such. We don’t know why exactly, but we don’t. But come to think of it, on some of these occasions we have had some extraordinary and unusual “gifts”. For example, we closed on Layla’s purchase on Bud's birthday nearly 7 years ago! How cool is that? It was not intentional, but it was cool anyway. That brings us to our latest. A couple days before Cassie, Al and Anissa left, our old heat pump (air conditioning unit) failed. It was 30 years old and had served very well, but when the AC guy said he had not seen one quite like this unit, we knew parts were going to be impossible and/or expensive to replace.

Technicians make final delivery of Tracy's anniversary present.

Two weeks later we installed Tracy’s anniversary present- a brand new shiny heat pump! And you know what she got Bud? A shiny new haircut! Life is grand.

What’s Next?

Bud has just a couple more physical therapy visits remaining.  We will be continuing to clean, polish and make Layla pretty for her inspection.  We will also continue to search for prospective catamarans to go visit.

If you want some inspiration for your next adventure, check out “Drive Nacho Drive” and the sequel, “927 Days of Summer” by Brad and Sheena Van Orden. The books chronicle their adventures in driving a VW Van (“Nacho”) around the world. While their adventures may be more than you might want to replicate, they might inspire you to head out somewhere. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Dirt Dwellers

As "dirt dwellers", a walk on the beach is as close as we get to being back at sea.

Layla is still “on the hard” (on boat stands) at the Beaufort Marine Center. We are tolerating life on land as “dirt dwellers” (from Eileen Quinn’s song, Dirt Dweller) in our house in Morehead City, NC. 

It is time now to catch up on what we have been doing.

A Real Pain

After the hurricane season passed, we had a decision to make. Should we put Layla back in the water and head south again? Our cruising friends had urged us to join them to cruise the Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean this winter and spring but Bud’s increasing shoulder pain pushed us to another plan. Bud had injured his shoulder early last spring when he attempted to start a reluctant dinghy motor in Charleston. His shoulder had improved sufficiently to continue our travel down the coast and to the islands and back. However, a MRI scan in December confirmed he had a torn rotator cuff (the muscle and tendon that attaches to the head of the humerus) and to repair this would require surgery, as well as, several months of recuperation.  Although this procedure is now done arthroscopically, the shoulder comprises complex anatomy and demands a lot of time and therapy for full recovery - MONTHS!

Bud in his "super hero" gear as he cools his shoulder
 hooked up to a re-circulating ice bath.

It has been four weeks since the surgery and Bud is doing well with physical therapy and light activities. (You can hear him singing Amy Winehouse’s song “I don’t want to go to rehab, NO, NO, NO” as he heads out the door). Thanks to all for your calls, notes, and best wishes.

A Big Decision

Somewhere after leaving the Abacos on the Gulf Stream crossing, we each arrived independently at the same decision on what to do now. 

We were thrilled that we had really done what we worked so hard to do! Many friends and family had told us they "envied us for living the dream” and that we they were living the adventures through us. We had saved our money, quit our jobs, sold a house, gave away belongings and treasures, bought a boat, spent our money, worked our butts off, sailed into sunsets, cruised for months along the coast and across “the stream” to islands with turquoise waters to adventure and wonderful people.

And now, was that enough? Were we done? What was next?  Those thoughts and even the attempt to voice those words choked us to tears. We silenced the doubts about whether we were done, with “No, we want…no, NEED, to go on – to keep sailing and traveling. We have only just begun. We had found new meaning and joy to our lives like nothing else.” 

Without question we knew we wanted to EXPAND our life of travel. However, now after many months of extended cruising on Layla, we wanted to critically review life on a boat. Layla is a true “blue water” cruising vessel. She was made to cross oceans. We chose Layla specifically for her sea worthiness and we worked diligently to make her as sea-going as possible. Layla did not disappoint.
However, we started to consider some shortcomings of a mono hull boat and whether a different boat, specifically, a catamaran, could enhance our cruising life. From spending time with friends on their cats we observed that catamarans offered a number of desirable attributes we should consider. Among those attributes include: a shallow draft to allow access to safe anchorages closer to shore, easier access to deploying and retrieving the dinghy, redundancy with 2 engines, improved speed in light winds, more livable outdoor space, more comfortable interior, and more space for entertaining.

Don’t misunderstand - we love Layla. The thought of selling Layla after all our efforts to get her cruising ready, is gut-retching. This is complicated. The decision has less to do with any shortcomings of the mono hull, but it has more to do with how we want cruise. We understand there is no such thing as a perfect boat. Catamarans have their own disadvantages including:  they don’t sail as close into the wind as a mono hull, they can be more difficult to find dockage and haul out facilities, they are more susceptible to windage, and are MORE expensive. But for us the advantages of speed, stability, shallower draft, ease of boarding, dinghy handling, cockpit and living space, redundancy, and maneuverability make a catamaran more amenable to the extensive cruising we want to explore.

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Our big challenge now will be to be patient with the process – to find the right owner for Layla and the right catamaran for us. We have had mixed feelings when we observed other cruisers putting their boats up for sale. You know the adage – "the two best days in the life of a boater are the day you buy it and the day you sell it". For us, those are not, and never will be, the two best days.

Walks on the beach aids Bud's rehab and our staying connected to Mother Ocean.

There is no question that Layla is in the best shape she has been since we bought her. We understand she is not a boat for everybody. We hope someone will find her beautiful lines, expert craftsmanship, heavy displacement, classic looks and sea-kindly motion to be irresistible. She is worthy of all the attention she demands.  She is a joy to sail and always invites complements as one of the most beautiful vessels in any harbor or marina. We are sure she will make someone very happy. She is that rare boat that is really ready to cruise now. Every sailor deserves to own a boat like Layla, at least once in their lifetime. We are fortunate to have spent six wonderful years with the girl.

Layla always turns heads in any harbor.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Where have we been?

Dolphins lead us across the Little Bahamas Banks.

In the last post we ended with saying we were at home and Layla was “on the hard” in the boat yard in Beaufort, NC.  Much time has passed since that post – we need to catch up.  Despite our lapse in posting, we want to re-assure y’all that we and Layla are doing just fine.

We re-cap here the last of the sailing adventure from the Bahamas to Beaufort.

Crossing from Bahamas to St. Augustine, FL

As many of the other cruisers, we also decided it was time to leave the Bahamas.  Hurricane season was upon us, and for us, the safety of the boat yard in NC seemed to be the best idea - despite the required long travel north.  That plan would prove to be a very good plan as we would discover weeks later as we watched Hurricane Matthew churn up the Bahamas, and the US east coast.

We were pleased to be joined by Robyn and Tony on Alleycat Too on this passage.  We departed the Abacos, passed over the Little Bahama Banks, and crossed from Memory Rock on a 260 mile, 3 day/2 night passage to St. Augustine.  It was comforting to have a “buddy” boat with a working AIS to alert us to boat traffic.  We had a wonderful trip motor/sailing most of the way, with clear nights highlighted by hourly check-in on the VHF radio with Alleycat Too.

 "Buddy boat" crew for the passage from Bahamas to St. Augustine:  Tracy and Bud with their South African friends, Robyn and Tony from Alleycat Too.

Several bands of rain greeted us on the Little Bahamas Banks. 

We took 2-hour watches at the helm for much of the passage.  Our autopilot, our third crew member, performed effortlessly, requiring few small adjustments to the course.  We were free from the prison of the wheel, allowing us to watch for other vessels, and gaze at the stars and the sleeping mate in the cockpit.  We could wander about in thoughts about sailing, oceans, travel, life, and endless paths for us to follow next.  When not on watch, we fished, watched for dolphins, made snacks for the mate on watch, or continued our daydreaming.  It didn’t take long before the exhaustion of watches caught up with us.  After the first night when we weren’t on watch, we spent most of our free time napping in the cockpit. 

Sunset over the open sea signaled the beginning of night watches.

Sleep was our treasured time when relieved of being on watch.

We chose the departure primarily based on the weather forecast.  Weather reports are notorious for being undependable, particularly about the wind - both speed and direction.  We put in our request to the sailing gods for 10-15 knot southeast/southwest winds to give us a nice push north to sail into the Gulf Stream.  While the weather report granted our wishes, we actually received shifting winds, primarily from the north, with south to southeast swells.  We endured hours of irritating rolling with insufficient wind for sailing.  We kept the sails up to help maintain more comfortable motion with the seas.

Seas were calm but the swells across Layla’s stern kept us rolling most of the way.

We were thrilled to see once again the wonders of the Gulf Stream - our increased speed, the deep cobalt water, and the little explosions of flying fish leaping above the waves and scattering before the bow.

We arrived in St. Augustine mid-day on a rising tide.  We grabbed a mooring ball at the St. Augustine Marina, put the dinghy in the water, and joined Tony and Robyn for the required “passage celebratory” rum and coke. We returned to Layla to sleep, and later, to find a big juicy hamburger for dinner. 

Customs and Immigration were our first tasks after arriving in St. Augustine.   There is no other way to express our experience - customs and immigration darkened our very souls.  We expected difficult entries in visiting 2nd and 3rd world countries, but never expected it from our own country.  The process was made more difficult by the fact that St. Augustine is not a primary port of entry.  Although there is a customs officer at the local airport who can clear arrivals into the country, he was on vacation when we arrived.  Our first call to Customs and Immigration did not go well.  We were scolded as if we were toddlers because we did not call immediately when we moored the boat.  We called back later to clarify our options and this time we connected with the exceptionally kind and helpful Officer Mother Teresa.  It sometimes just depends on who you get to answer your call.  We also assisted Robyn and Tony with their visas which involved hours of travel by rental car to/from the main office in Jacksonville, endless paperwork, serious interviews, and “yada, yada yada” it all got resolved days later when the agent returned from vacation. 

We thoroughly enjoyed St. Augustine mainly because of our growing extended family of South African ex-pats.  From more catamarans we met Alison and Andre, and Bret and Gideon.  We shared dinners, sundowners, stories, as well as, assisted in boat projects and more visa paperwork.  Two weeks flew by and then it was time once again for tearful goodbyes.   

St. Augustine, FL to Charleston, SC on the Outside

We decided to go on the “outside” to Charleston.  The weather said to go now – 3 days and 2 nights.  We were going solo.  On the morning of our departure, we almost did not make it out of the harbor.  We called the “Bridge of Lions” bridge operator on the VHF radio to request an opening.  We saw ahead of us that two other sailboats were waiting.  After the first boat passed through the bridge, we moved behind second boat in line for the bridge.  The second sailboat passed under the raised spans, but as we approached the bridge we saw the spans beginning to come down.  We were stunned.  Bud grabbed the VHF and called the bridge. 

“Bridge of Lions, this is Layla, the third sailboat going through the bridge.  Are you closing the bridge?  We are underway.  Do you want us to stop?” 

His reply, “Oh, I’m sorry.  I have stopped the bridge closing.  I’m holding it open for you.  You may continue through.  Only two vessels requested an opening and I saw two go through.  I’m sorry.” 

We took a deep breath and lined up to maneuver through the partially open spans.

“Have a good day Captain”, said the bridge operator when we made it to the other side. 

Bridge of Lions looks like this when open. Picture the spans much, much closer when the operator partially closed the bridge as we approached. 
The beautiful morning helped us shake off the “near miss”.  The next three days and two nights were among our finest hours aboard Layla.  For about 36-40 hours we had only the wonderful sound of the sea against the hull, and the breeze in the rigging as we sailed through the day and night without the engine.  While we were in the Gulf Stream, we put out a couple of fishing lines, and caught and released a beautiful mahi mahi.  We entered Charleston soon after sunrise and anchored in the familiar anchorage off of the City Docks and treated ourselves to eggs benedict on crabcakes at the Marina Variety Store Restaurant. 

Beautiful mahi mahi caught and released in the "stream" - Too much effort to clean it and the decks this time. 

Spotted dolphins joined us in the Gulf Stream from St. Augustine to Charleston.

We met up with an old friend, David Knott, to share a beer and savory duck-fat fries at the Tattooed Moose.  We then started watching the weather to plan our departure.  We did not see any reasonable weather windows for our passage north to Beaufort over the next week or more.  We did not like our options.  We could wait to see if the weather would improve, or we could just suck it up and face the challenges of slow day travel, shoaling, possible groundings, and obnoxious boat traffic offered by the intracoastal waterway (ICW).

Tiny sailors in tiny boats from the Charleston Sailing Club sailed through the anchorage nearly every day.

Charleston, SC to Beaufort, NC on the Inside

Most of our misgivings related to this route on the ICW were fulfilled.  We planned our days according to the tides as we aimed to avoid the shoaling, while heeding the warnings provided by the social network on “Active Captain”.  We still went aground several times, with two of those grounding requiring professional tows assistance.  Fortunately, the TowBoat captains were capable, professional and gracious.  To help with our bruised egos, they offered, “Great boat.  It’s OK. With that draft, it was inevitable.” 

Our friendly TowBoat captain to the rescue. Santa Claus lives in NC during the summer.

The stresses of the ICW compelled us to be focused on simply the process to get us back to Beaufort rather than to be connected with the environment around us.  However, at the end of the day after we anchored, we did find solitude that reminded us why we love this lifestyle.

Dusk at one of our favorite anchorages on the ICW on Thoroughfare Creek.

Dusk at our anchorage in Milliken Cove near Calabash, SC.

Sunset at our anchorage just off of the ICW near Ocean City Beach, NC after being towed off the shoal on the other side of the ICW.

After five days, we were anchored back in downtown Morehead City, just two blocks from our home.  We were excited.  The downtown was exceptionally lively, with several new restaurants that had opened since we had left, now more than 7 months ago.  The proximity of the City Docks to our house made it convenient for offloading a lot of gear over the next two days.  We then took the quick jaunt up the Newport River to the Beaufort Marine Center. Once again, Layla was safe in the boat yard.

Layla coming out of the water at Jarrett Bay.

Layla "on the hard" at the Beaufort Marine Center.

Next postings – Life back on land, Another road trip out west, Hurricane Matthew, and Big decisions on what’s next.