Thursday, February 3, 2011

Blue Water

Years ago my dear friend Jean Louis Dulaar tried to teach me about “blue.” He’s an artist and he wanted to paint a specific blue, the deep, stirring, almost indigo blue of the Gulf Stream. I had taught him to sail and he was enchanted by the differing shades of the Gulf Stream. One breezy afternoon we sailed out to the edge of the lumpy horizon. We then tied eight large awning-style canvasses to a stout line, lowered them over the side and towed them astern. The Gulf Stream was in a feisty mood and the heavy-duty canvasses had a bouncy ride. Jean Louis wanted the canvasses to feel the blue, to understand the color before he painted them. After a few hours we hauled them back aboard and sailed in. Jean Louis hosed them down and went to work in my garage. The results were stunning, an explosion of blue. And yes, that’s a woman lurking in the blue, but that’s another story.

I have told this story in talks and lectures many times and it always raises a laugh. Oh that crazy artist. But lately I have been thinking of Jean Louis and his blue. And my blue too. I have been compiling a couple of new slide shows for my long suffering web site. Many cruising sailors have sites these days, and I think it’s terrific. They document their experiences even if they haven’t traveled very far and offer an archive of current, personal data about places and boats. Me, well I travel like a maniac, it’s the documenting that I am not very good at. Alas. But I am getting better, really, there’s some new material there, check it out. Anyway, in compiling these pictures of my many travels this past year I began to see it again, the many shades of blue.

We began 2010 in the Caribbean and we all know what that blue looks like. It’s a sapphire blue, a radiant blue border encircling verdant isles. Before my blog petered out last year I described some of our three-legged circumnavigation of the Caribbean basin. It was grand sailing, some of the best ever aboard Quetzal. We visited 15 countries from St. Martin to Mexico and made dozens of landfalls. From the Caribbean we made our way north, sailing first from Isla Mujures, Mexico to Fort Lauderdale and on to the Chesapeake Bay via Cape Hatteras. My mental image of the Chesapeake Bay is green, gray, not blue. But as I looked at some of the photos of the run up the Bay I saw it, a dull, aching, well-trodden grayish blue, but blue just the same. From the Chesapeake we continued north, heading first to Nova Scotia, then on to Newfoundland and Labrador. Crossing the Georges Banks the cold glaucous blue of the continental shelf was a hopeful contrast to the dreary gray fog. Along the coast of Newfoundland the capricious weather painted different shades of blue with every passing cloud.

Last November found us back in Lunenburg Nova Scotia, Quetzal’s home away from home. And once again we were waiting for a weather window to push south to warmer climes. The windows and doors were locked, the Atlantic was not in a good mood. Eventually we shoved off and not unlike 2009, we encountered heavy weather as we neared Gulf Stream. A honking nor’easter had the stream in an ugly mood. Even so, it was still like meeting an old friend, the stirred up cobalt blue seas of the Gulf Stream meant that warmer weather and better days were lurking on the other side. Getting to the other side was not easy. One steep, curling, breaking and incredibly blue wave had Quetzal’s name on it. It reared off the stern and cascaded aboard. Ric at the helm was pinned beneath the crunched bimini and solar panel arch. Diane skidded into the lifelines and almost overboard. Thankfully she was tethered and with Kevin’s help I managed to pull her back into the cockpit. Georgio and Jan below were pinned to starboard side and watched in amazement as the cabin went from being messy but quasi organized to a complete chaos in seconds. Quetzal skidded forward nearly broaching before fighting back on to her feet. The mast was nearly horizontal before we leveled out.

The crew sprang to life and we pulled what we could of the bimini back aboard and lashed it securely. We checked the rig and gear lashed forward. We checked the steering system too. Quetzal was bloodied but unbowed. She was okay. We had survived that wave, and now we had to make sure we outsmarted the next one. I steered for several hours, pushing and conning Quetzal toward the other side of the blue. As we rode to the top of one wave after another, and I had a view of the ocean as if from a mountaintop, I thought of Dulaar and his blue. It is majestic and terrifying, and oh so damn blue. I guess why we call it blue water sailing.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Never Lost - Just Hard to Find

Never Lost – Just Hard to Find


Despite the best of intentions it seems I am not the most prolific blogger in the ocean.Somehow several months and nearly 5000 miles of pretty amazing sailing have slipped by with nary a blog entry.  Sorry about that, lets catch up, at least a little bit.


I last left you blathering on about waypoints while Quetzal was lying to a mooring in Lunenburg Nova Scotia.  Now I am back in Fort Lauderdale.  Since then we’ve sailed from Lunenberug to Bermuda and on to St. Martin.  We survived a gale that another boat did not, and that was sobering.  We endured calms that tested our resolve and rang up $2,000 in Sat Phone bills changing flights as the Atlantic wind machine went on strike.  And now we’ve circled the Caribbean in three legs visiting some of the nicest islands afloat all the while reaching for the most part before very civilized tradewinds.   The ocean gives and takes away and always keeps you guessing.


The so-called weather window opened on November 7 and Quetzal cleared Lunenburg bound south. It was a crisp, cold, classic northern day, with a light but dense wind escorting us toward Bermuda on the rhumb line.  I had a great and geographically diverse crew.  Rolf and Mike from Minnesota, Pete from Alabama, Kristi from southern Georgia and John from Jacksonville, Florida.   The southerners were bundled up like arctic explorers while the Minnesota boys thought it was balmy.  Soon we’d all be decked in full foul weather gear racing before a northeast gale. But first we had to cross the Gulf Stream. 


A sinister loop in the current arched north and then northeast and despite having the latest satellite imagery in hand and a weather router back home, I managed to steer right into it.  That takes a real navigator! We spent 24 frustrating hours sailing at 7 knots through the water but making less than 4knots toward Bermuda.  We were wasting precious hours of perfect weather, something you know will come back to haunt you at those latitudes in November.  Luckily we managed to clear the wayward current just before the gale developed. 


Sadly the same can’t be said for Canadian solo sailor Herbert Marcoux.  He left Lunenburg two days after we did in his 46’ steel boat.  He was an experienced mariner, having spent 18 years circumnavigating and while his boat was a bit funky looking, it was stout.  Unfortunately, a deep low that we hoped would track north of us reached south and strong northeast winds collided with the feisty Gulf Stream.   South of the main body of the current we had winds steady at 40 knots, gusting to 50, and seas between 20 and 30’.  It was exhilarating sailing.  We reefed once, and then twice, then finally tied in the third reef.  The headsail was furled and the staysail was hanked on. Dressed down to storm canvass Quetzal rode out the blow without missing a beat. Indeed, the 180 miles we logged during the blow was our best 24- hour run of the passage. 


Two days behind us, Marcoux was in a different universe.  According the CBC, the Canadian Coast Guard reported the winds at 60 knots and seas well beyond 10 meters high.  Like us Marcoux was bound for Bermuda but he never turned up.  We reached the island oasis in a slow 7 days.  When I called my Lunenburg friend, Alan Creaser, he was relieved to hear from us.  He asked if we’d seen or heard from Marcoux.  We hadn’t.  A few days later the Canadian Coast Guard began searching for him.  By the time we finally reached St. Martin after a maddening passage of 9 days, we learned that the Coast Guard had called off the search and pronounced the 68-year sailor as “lost at sea.”


With a willing and capable crew, a well found boat, a storm strategy, it would have been easy to feel like we’d survived and Marcoux didn’t because we were somehow better prepared, maybe even better sailors. But none of us felt that way. We were lucky, we had a two-day head start, Hubert Marcoux was terribly unlucky.  One window opened, another slammed shut.


I keep thinking about him and wonder why he foundered. Did a hatch give way and flood the boat?  Was the boat rolled over, or even pitch poled? Was he washed overboard?  Did the boat sink slowly or was he overwhelmed by a monster wave.  We will never know. As sailors, the pact we make with Neptune, with nature, is as serious as it gets, deep ocean sailing is not a casual enterprise. 


Reaching before a soft Caribbean trade wind was a world away from, as my friend Christian Pschorr calls it, “the wilderness that is the ocean.”  My new crew assembled at Captain Oliver’s Marina in Oyster Pond, St. Martin.   We were bound for Trinidad.  Many islands littered out route, we ended up calling at Antigua, Guadeloupe, the Saints, Dominica, St. Lucia, and Bequia during the 11-day passage.  We had Dan and Deb from Oregon, my dear friend and long time shipmate Eric from the island of Roatan, Abe, a Potato farmer from New Jersey with a natural feel for the sea, David from NY City who at age 71 was a spry as anyone else aboard, and Robert, an Illinois doctor by day, filmmaker by night and a man passionate about sailing. 


Say what you will about the French but I love them and their subsidies.  You can buy a fine bottle of Bordeaux in Guadeloupe, the Saints or Martinique for 6 or 7 Euros.   In Antigua we explored Nelson’s Dockyard.  In the Saints we drank a lot of wine, in Dominica, my friend and guide Edison took us up the Indian River.  In St. Lucia we relaxed and drank more wine. In Bequia we watched the Canadians beat the US for the gold medal in the best hockey game I have ever seen.  Then things got interesting. 


Sailing south from St. Lucia we had a great reach on the windward side of St. Vincent. There was no reason to fire up the engine. However, as we eased into Admiralty Bay, Bequia’s storied anchorage, I went to crank the diesel.  Nothing, nada.  We dropped the hook under sail and while most of the crew went ashore, Abe and I worked on the engine.  Abe’s a farmer and has conned old diesel tractors back to life for years, and I am a Kentucky mechanic in my soul, and always get the engine running one more time.  This time we were stymied.  Alas, we’d sail to Trinidad.  And we did, we had a great sail, again staying up wind of the Grenadines and Grenada to avoid wind shadows.  We clipped along all day and night and in the morning we were just 10 miles from Bocas del Drago, the mouth of the dragon that guards the harbor at Chaguaramos.  Then the wind died.  We drifted, and drifted and drifted some more.  It was utterly breathless. We drifted back toward Grenada.  There was not a wisp of wind.  The crew had flights to catch.  Swallowing my pride I called for a tow. Soon a small skiff emerged on the horizon.  As they eased along side it seemed doubtful that the small outboard would have the oomph to pull us home.  But it did, and a few hours later we were tied to the dock at Coral Cove Marina. It was an ignominious ending to a nice passage to be sure and another clear reminder that Neptune’s in charge out there.  The next blog, which I promise will turn up sooner than later, will cover legs two and three of Quetzal’s Caribbean odyssey.  Stay tuned. 






Monday, November 2, 2009

Boat Tests - Notes From A Sailing Life

Today I am writing a new boat review.  I have written a lot of these over the years, more than 100 I think. And although at times I struggle to find the right tone, the right adjectives, I always take the task seriously.  You can’t hastily knock off a review, you have to get it right, you owe that to the folks in the sailing business.  Last month I spent a few days after the Annapolis show sailing four different boats to be reviewed in upcoming issues of Sailing, and I was once again struck by just how devoted builders are to putting out quality, innovative boats.  I am convinced that that most sailboat builders see just one way out of the downturn, to build the best possible boats they can.  I am not sure that makes economic sense but it is the ethos that drives this industry we all love. Don’t get me wrong, this blog isn’t an advertorial, or clandestinely sponsored by a sailboat manufacturer, it’s based on almost three decades of observing the sailing industry come to terms with the sad fact that fewer and fewer people are interested in the product they sell. 


Sailing, as a mainstream recreational pursuit, is certainly not growing, yet the industry continues to put out products that represent the latest advances in materials, construction and in many cases, design.  Several boats at the show featured synthetic rigging, an idea that has gone from being talked about to reality quickly.  Carbon fiber has become widespread in applications from hull laminations, to rudder posts, to spars. Performance boats, like Barry Carroll’s Summit 35, have ingenious interiors that make the catch phrase, dual purpose, more than a catch phrase.  From Forespar’s Leisurefurl booms to Harken’s brilliant new winch designs, the industry continues to develop products that make sailing easier, safer and ultimately more efficient.  But will it matter?  I don’t know. I do know that sailing is more fun and more rewarding than ever before.  


“So how do you actually test a boat?”  I hear this question frequently.  Well, I am here to confess that it isn’t scientific but it is thorough.   The editors, Greta and Erin usually pick the boats to be reviewed and then photographer Bob Greiser arranges the schedule during the days immediately following the show.  I inspect each boat at the show, usually on the last day when the crowds are thin.   The next morning Greiser and I head out into the Bay on his 22’ inflatable photo boat and find our first boat.  Most boats are out sailing; waiting for journalists, conducting test sails, or just allowing the sales staff to blow off steam after an exhausting weekend.  We spot our boat, Greiser maneuvers along side, I climb aboard, and the test begins. 


We have to make the most of the conditions, logistics don’t allow for us to reschedule if there is no wind. Luckily this year the wind was fresh, we had four great sails.  I am always happy when the builder, designer, or other principals are aboard. I am able to get insights in person that would be tougher to glean later on the phone.  We chat, we sail, and do really put the boat through its paces.  We’ve been a lot better lately of setting chutes, code zeroes, and any other sail that helps inform readers.  And, let’s be straight, popping the kite is fun, and makes for better pictures.  I typically spend a few hours aboard, steering, trimming, probing around.  We try to sail on every tack and I try to find out just who the manufacturer envisions as his or her customer for the boat.  Ultimately, I evaluate a boat based on what the builder is trying to achieve, not my own set off criteria. That’s the key, I think, to boat testing – to understand what the builder was trying to do and to see how well they did it. 


When I am satisfied, I signal to Greiser. He pulls along side, I pitch him my notebook and scramble back in the photo boat.  We’ve been doing this dog and pony show for many years.  In Miami, I work with my friend, photographer Walter Cooper, and it’s the same process.  One year, Greiser and I had some heroics in blustery San Francisco Bay after the Oakland show, as he somehow managed to bring a small whaler alongside several boats in 6’ seas and I stumbled on and off. 


I know that one of these years I am going to make a misstep and end up in the soup. That’s going to be my sign that it will be time to bring some fresh blood into the boat review business. But until then, I will keep doing what has to be one of the best gigs afloat. 



Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Part 2 - Waypoints - Notes From a Sailing Life

Okay, I know, I didn’t keep up my part of the blogging bargain, as many of you have so kindly reminded me. I am sorry, really. But you should know that I started to blog, or started the blog, verb, noun, whatever, I swear I did. But then another stinking tropical storm spun to life, and then I had another passage to plan, and two articles were overdue, and then dolphins abducted me in the Cabot Strait, then…I know, woeful, pathetic excuses, the bloody blog just bogged down. Say that three times.

But maybe you’re lucky I didn’t blog as intended because while waiting for Hurricane Bill to arrive I was lying in my bunk reading a book of poems by Ogden Nash. It was a tattered volume of his collected works. I had found it on the bookshelf in the laundry-mat in St. John’s. It was an old hard cover, dedicated to Bill, which I found terribly coincidental, and it was from Ivy, who I assumed was a wonderful Newfoundland woman with a great sense of humor.

I love Ogden Nash and, “was inspired by his silly verses but would have been fired by my wet nurses, because, sadly my many attempts at rhyme turned out badly each time”…Hey don’t laugh, this stuff is harder than it looks. I warned you, okay here’s the Nash(ism) I was going to start the blog off with:

“Bill turned up in the middle of the night,
but he forgot to pack his called for might.
Darkness gave way to the breath of first light,
it seemed your blogging friend had slept through the night.”

I shouldn’t admit it after all the sheer drama of my previous blog, but I fell asleep just as Hurricane Bill arrived with a few moans and gusts. I woke once, I think, or maybe I dreamed I woke, either way, the next thing I knew for sure was that Bill was on his way to Ireland, the air was crisp and clean and Randy and I were having breakfast at Velma’s on Water Street. Hurricane Bill had more bluster than bite, the Canadian media makes as much of a circus of tropical storms as we do.

Greatly relieved, I left Quetzal tied to the wharf in St. John’s Harbor and dashed back home to give a lecture. The very next weekend Tropical Storm Danny followed in Bill’s wake and again took aim on poor old Newfoundland. This time I took the advice of my friends and stayed home. Randy, Frank, Peter, Hubert and others kept an eye on her and I knew she was in good hands, although unheralded Danny caused more of a stir in the harbor than big bad Bill the week before. Still, I was a nervous wreck and would have been happier reading Ogden Nash in my bunk then checking every 15 minutes. Don’t worry nothing rhymes from here to the end of the blog.

Less than a week later I was back in St. John’s making preparations for the voyage to Nova Scotia. This passage was great fun as we made our to Lunenburg via Cape Race, St. Pierre, Miquelon, Ramea, and the Bra d’ Or Lakes. And that’s where Quetzal rests now, lying on a mooring behind Alan and Anne Marie Creaser’s house. The storied port of Lunenburg is her home away from home – that’s what I call a waypoint.

Now lets talk about waypoints. I think of a waypoint as a point where something significant happened or may happen, or in my case of wandering the world, a place where I’ve encountered people who have become dear friends. I have been traveling, seriously traveling, most of my adult life. I am addicted to pressing on. And despite this need to keep moving, the nature of landfalls, stumbling headlong into a foreign port, is made for making friends, at least that’s how it works out for me. Even short visits turn profound and this seems more so as I get older.

As I rumble around the Atlantic, year after year, I find myself turning up at certain waypoints time and again. Of course some might call this just mooching off your friends but I’d like to think it’s more than that. Here are some of those promised waypoints.

Waypoint 1) Spring Cove Marina, Solomons Island Maryland

Okay, I have to admit straight up that this a family connection. My sister Liz and brother-in-law Trevor are part owners and full time managers of this beautiful marina and boatyard overlooking Back Creek. More than a few summers back Liz abandoned grad school to sail with Trevor across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and they eventually fetched up in Solomons and have been at Spring Cove ever since. Quetzal always finds her way here, and not only because I’m family. This is the nicest marina and yard combination on the Bay, really. The slips are shaded, the facilities terrific and the yard is staffed by sailors. From Alan, Trevor’s brother, to Don, Dorian and others, everybody who works in the yard has sailed across an ocean. Alan and Trevor have both completed circumnavigations. Don sailed over from California in his Ericson 41 and Dorian came up from South Africa in a handsome Herreshoff sloop he built himself. These guys know what they’re doing and Quetzal is much better off for it.

Waypoint 2) Marblehead, Massachusetts

Quetzal reached this lovely, bluff sided, sailboat stuffed harbor last July. I had been, by land, a few times before to visit my friends Dan and Linda Sullivan. Dan, who claims I saved his life, is one of the planet’s great people. Linda, is even better. Tadji and I were blissfully kid free when tied up at the harbormaster’s dock, and Dan and Linda invited us to stay in their guesthouse overlooking the harbor. Guesthouse is a bit misleading, for those that know Marblehead, it’s one of the ‘Grey Ladies’ perched out over the SW corner of the harbor, or as Dan calls it, haabaw. Moving ashore for three days was a tactical mistake on my part. After staying in this beautifully restored turn of the century so called cottage, Tadji was not enthusiastic about shifting back to Quetzal. Instead we stayed with Dan and Linda until it was time for her to go back to work and I enlisted the help of my friend Todd Sumner to sail on to Nova Scotia. Be wary of friends in Marblehead.

Waypoint 3) Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

My friends, and probably my enemies too are weary of me waxing on about Lunenburg. I love this place. It is as a nautical as it gets in N. America, tall ships and still a few fishing boats line the brightly colored wharves as the city tries to find its way forward now that commercial fishing is not what it used to be. And the city will because the sea runs through the veins of Lunenburg. Alan Creaser, who I met five years ago after tying up to the wharf next to his restaurant, The Old Fish Factory, has become one of my best friends. We traveled together in France this summer, he’s been down to Florida, and he takes care of Quetzal when she’s in Lunenburg. Alan traces his family ties in Lunenburg to the first wave of German immigrants who came in 1753. The haunting memorial on the waterfront, near the wharf where the Bluenose schooner docks, has plenty of Creasers inscribed in the black marble stele. All the families of Lunenburg are represented, for these are the fathers, brothers uncles and friends who have perished at sea. Some years are chilling and all too well represented, like 1926 and 1927, when hurricanes caught the fishing fleet unaware on the Grand Banks. When you drop anchor in Lunenburg, and come ashore for your first Dark and Stormy at the Grand Banker bar, you’ll know that you’ve come to one of the Atlantic’s best waypoints.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Part One - Waypoints - Where is Bill?

I am sitting below, wishing for the 1,000th time, that I had not pitched the table when I replaced the mast last year. It seemed like a good idea at the time, especially because I had trimmed the table with the delicacy of a Russian midwife, with a saw-z-all no less, while frantically stepping the mast after the Italian tornado disaster. You see, I had to hire a crane, a monster of a crane, the kind used for building hideous beachfront condos not for stepping masts, and the meter was running at 500 euros an hour. With 15 Italians gesturing frantically, we had to work fast or risk bankruptcy. When the new mast didn’t fit through the oval hole in the lovely table, I hastily enlarged it. It looked terrible. Three weeks later, in Spain, with the crew of an upcoming transatlantic passage egging me on, we removed it. No that’s not quite right, it was a mob scene, an angry crowd ripping the poor teak and ply table out of the boat like crazed revolutionaries. “Give us more space below, death to the table,” they screamed as they hurled it onto the quay like Romanians dispatching a former dictator. And yes, there is more space, but there’s nowhere to eat or write, alas.

Quetzal is tied to a ragged wharf in St. John’s Newfoundland. Although this blog is going to commit blogging treason by eventually working backwards, I am writing in real time now, as real as it gets, we just bounced off the wharf with a dull thud and I have to stop writing and adjust the fenders. I am alone, waiting for the arrival of hurricane Bill. Of course you are never really alone in Newfoundland. You don’t need a Face Book page to have friends, all you have to do is sail to Newfoundland. These people abhor the idea of a stranger. Anyway I am back in real time, hopefully the fenders will also stay in real time too.

Yes I did say hurricane Bill. What’s the matter with me? I always seem to be where the action is. It defies irony though to live in Fort Lauderdale and have to spend a ridiculous amount of money for a last minute air fare to Newfoundland to have fun with a hurricane. This should put an end to the global warming naysayer’s. Of course the Newfoundlanders are embracing global warming, it’s going to be good for an already good business scene. This place is hopping, what a difference from when I last sailed here 15 years ago. But that’s getting ahead of the story. I know, blogs are not supposed to be stories, they’re supposed to be spontaneous, immediate, intimate, detailed like a log book entry, but I am storyteller, I can’t help it, I have always written backwards.

I wasn’t supposed to fly back up to the rock, as they call it up here, until early September when I have a passage back to Nova Scotia via Cape Breton. I have been on the move this past year and a half, and that‘s saying it quietly. Since last April I’ve logged 16,000 miles aboard Quetzal, visited 24 countries and taken 70 people on passages of one sort or another. Although I am always crossing oceans and always traveling, I am usually able to find a better balance. Last year was hard on my wife Tadji, my kids, and me. Typically I am away 90-100 days, which means I am home 250ish days. Or least with my family for 250ish days as we spend the summer sailing together. And when I am home I am really home, I am not at the office working. I lounge around the house, pretending to be a writer and planning new trips by throwing darts at a world map in the garage. I have plenty of time for soccer games and debate tournaments. Last year I was away 140 days. It was crazy. We retraced the route of Odysseus, sailed all over the Adriatic, led a charter fly and sail trip around the world, rerigged Quetzal and frantically sailed the length of the Med, crossed the Atlantic, sailed up and down the Caribbean chain three times, and then north and east all the way to Newfoundland.

I was really looking forward to the first day of school tomorrow. My daughter Nikki is starting high school and my step son Alex is starting middle school. But I am here, not there, waiting for Godot, oops, waiting for Bill. I was tempted to leave Quetzal in the steady hands of my Newfoundland mates, but with the Italy disaster fresh in my mind, and knowing that I’d be a wreck at home, monitoring NOAA, Stormpulse,Weatherunderground around the clock, I decided to come. Quetzal has been so good to me, and I have sailed her hard and put her away wet for years, I needed to be here with my girl. I am her captain, flat out. My wife thinks it is creepy that I think of the boat in these terms. She loves the boat but to her it is still fiberglass, stainless steel and teak. This is one of those things we agree to disagree about, because…she just doesn‘t understand, as my daughters would say.

Where’s Bill? Environment Canada, the excellent Canadian weather service is saying we should be having 30 to 40 knots out of the SE. It is supposed to blow 50 to 60 from the SW later tonight. We’re lucky, Bill will be a tropical storm when he arrives, not a hurricane, but what’s he doing, it’s calm. My friend Randy Gulliver, who runs a whale watching boat here in the harbor and who has been keeping an eye on Quetzal, actually left the dock for a midnight harbor cruise a few minutes ago. You have to love Newfoundlanders, they judge the weather by going outside and looking at the sky, not by watching the television or staring into a computer screen.

The name of this blog is “waypoints.” I am eventually going to write about waypoints, really. Of course anyone who has sailed with me knows I hate waypoint navigation. I am just not an A to B kind of guy. Staying on the “highway” or “roadmap” is no way to sail or navigate or live your life. I like charts, even electronic ones but mostly I like paper charts. I like to spread them out, I really liked it when I had a table to spread them on, but even using the galley counter I like to put position on chart. I like to see the big picture, to see where we are in relationship to something other than a waypoint. I like dividers and course plotters. I am like an Amish navigator.

Waypoints can be dangerous, blindly steering toward a waypoint in current swept waters can sweep you right onto the rocks. But it is more than that. A waypoint should be significant, someplace worth remembering. This summer I found my way to four memorable waypoints. I’d love to tell you more right now, I am in the mood for writing, but Bill might just be turning up after all. It is starting to rain, it’s starting to blow a bit. It’s getting late. I think I’ll put the tea kettle on, it may be a long night. I will say that these waypoints have little to do with latitude and longitude, just to keep you guessing..

So, lets make a pact. I promise to keep this blog going, to let you know about the waypoints and if Quetzal and I survive Bill. You promise to keep reading.

This is interesting. It’s been sultry, almost silly hot by Newfoundland standards all day, now it’s cooling off big time. Something is going to happen. I am glad I came up after all. Ciao for now.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Fountain of Youth

Originally published on

The search for the Fountain of Youth was not going well. The sailing, however, was about as good as it gets aboard Quetzal. We were flying, blasting before the stirred-up trade winds on a deep reach. The GPS routinely flashed 10, 11 even 12 knots. The main was double reefed, to steady the boat, while a poled-out genoa provided all the horsepower we needed. It was a rollicking ride, and that was the problem.

I had decided to call my latest training passage “The Fountain of Youth Passage,” not because I was feeling old and stodgy and looking for some rejuvenation but because we were sailing from Ponce, Puerto Rico to St. Augustine. This route paralleled the one Juan Ponce de Leon sailed nearly 500 years ago. Historical rumor has it that he was searching for a natural spring with restorative powers. Nobody really knows if Ponce was in fact looking for the fountain, but we do know that he made two pretty important discoveries. The first was a flat, hot, snake- and insect-ridden peninsula called Florida, which, ironically, has been a fountain of youth of sorts for many retirees. And the second was a relentless current that made sailing south from St. Augustine nearly impossible, the Gulf Stream. Yet everybody associates poor old Ponce with his fabled fountain.

My crew for this passage included a couple of repeat victims, some fresh blood, and a couple looking for, well, looking for the fountain of youth. This last couple had almost no sailing experience, but they were enchanted by the prospect of a sea voyage and were game to make a bluewater passage. It all seemed so romantic in Ponce. I think they believed those little placards in the marine stores declaring that time spent sailing is not deducted from your lease on life. Sailing was the next challenge in their lives and they were on a mission to pack in, like beer in a cooler, as many life experiences as possible.

Once we cleared the Mona Passage, the trades kicked in and we took off. Slaloming down the sides of heaped up seas, you had to hold on, both on deck and down below. You know the old saying, “One hand for you, one hand for ship, blah, blah, bla.” It seems simple to most sailors but it is a difficult concept for non-sailors. They don’t like it when their cups fly off the table, when they roll from one side of the bunk to other or when they are flung against a bulkhead and slammed into each other. Nothing is easy at sea. Holding on to your food is a challenge, actually getting it into your mouth an accomplishment. Showers? Forget it, washing your face is a big deal. Unfortunately, it was becoming clear that at least half of the couple wanted off the boat. Ocean sailing was proving to be a bit too real, too rough, nothing like the beautiful pictures in SAILING Magazine and not at all romantic.

We made landfall at Grand Turk, a once charming colonial outpost that was leveled by Hurricane Ike last September and still looks like a war zone. It was sad, most of the structures are still covered with blue tarps and the few trees left standing were denuded. The lack of shade and privacy are the aftermath of hurricane. There was, however, a nice beachfront cantina, with a friendly bartender, Mauve, and she bolstered the couple’s reserve. Things would get better she assured them.

We pressed on for Rum Cay, 250 miles distant. The wind continued to blow with a vengeance and we made landfall 30 hours later! What sailing! We averaged more than 8 knots. Still, somewhere between the peak and valley of a cresting wave a decision was made. We’d head to Georgetown in the beautiful Exumas where the couple could fly back to the states. I was sad, but they weren’t. He explained. Hey, they gave a sailing a shot, and although he might have come to love it, she didn’t, and he supported her decision. That’s what love is all about. I grudgingly agreed, but thought to myself, you’ll never find the fountain of youth that way.

The next morning we sailed into the dreamy turquoise waters of Elizabeth Harbor. We made it just in time for them to catch their flight. The rest of us sought sanctuary in the bar at the Peace and Plenty Hotel. The bartender, Lermon, like Mauve before him, lifted my spirits. He called himself the Doctor of Libation. Serving up one Kalik after another, I began to feel better. I had felt like I’d failed to show this couple the magic and majesty of ocean sailing. That was my job after all, to help folks live their dreams. But Lermon saw it differently. Everyone was responsible for his or her own happiness he explained, “nobody else can do nothin ‘bout it man, nobody.”

Lermon was happy. He bounded about the bar with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. I guessed him to be in his 40s. He had pictures of his wife and kids all over the bar. Wait a minute, his kids looked to be nearly my age and his wife was definitely not a young woman. Wait a minute. How old was he? Do the math he said. I was born in 1942! Yikes, the Doctor of Libation was 67!

Nursing my latest Kalik and gazing out at my beautiful boat swinging to her anchor I realized that Lermon’s bar was the fountain of youth. If only the couple had known how close they were to sipping from the magical tap.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lauderdale: A Canal Level View

Originally published on

I have done a lot of sailing in the past 12 months. I’ve logged more than 9,000 miles aboard my Kaufman 47 cutter Quetzal. I’ve sailed from Turkey to Gibraltar, zigzagging my way around the Mediterranean. I’ve crossed the Atlantic, completing an easy 18-day passage from the Canary Islands to Antigua. I’ve had some terrific north and south reaching in the Caribbean, calling at nearly every island between St. Martin and Trinidad. Plus, I have sailed in Tahiti, Australia and Thailand on last summer’s around-the-world jaunt. So why am I blogging about Fort Lauderdale?

Good question. You see, I maintain two worlds, or maybe I should say, parallel universes. I have my sailing program, and the home front. I conduct training passages aboard Quetzal and then leave the boat wherever the passage winds up. Yes, it makes me nervous to secure my boat in a marina and then hop in a cab to the airport and fly thousands of miles away from her. But leaving the boat in different locations all over the world has not only liberated me but also helped me keep my sanity. When I get home, I am really home, for weeks or even months at a time, time that I can devote to my family and, although my lovely, caring, generous editor at SAILING Magazine will probably go into convulsions when she reads the next line, my writing. Yes, writing is just about as important to me as sailing. And yes, this blog is heading back to Fort Lauderdale.

So now I am home. Quetzal is in Trinidad, and I am on deadline to finish a boat review for the above-mentioned editor. But I am sitting at my computer and not writing a word. I am doing what I usually do, thinking about sailing. Although my house is not on the water, it’s pretty close, and with the current drought killing trees all over the neighborhood, I can see masts from my window. The deadline was still looming this past Sunday. Yes, all of two days ago. I was sitting at the computer. The kids were out of the house, they had regattas, soccer games, debate tournaments and batting practice. A perfect time to write, right? Not really. I needed inspiration.

My wife Tadji, who clandestinely communicates with the above mentioned editor when I am out of town, suggests that we go for a paddle in our kayak, to get a bit of exercise and maybe a bit of inspiration. She phrased it differently, something about getting off my butt and then coming back and doing what I should have done weeks ago. She’s been brainwashed.

We schlepped the kayak down to the river and took off downstream. There was plenty of traffic as illiterate powerboaters were obviously unable to read the NO WAKE signs. We paddled past the sad remains of the former Summerfield Boat Yard, now just an ugly field bordering dilapidated seawalls. The developers who bought the property booted the sailboats out, tore down the old wooden docks, put up signs announcing that they were going to build a $3 million superyacht condominium slips, and then went broke.

We then veered across the river, into the basin at River Bend Marina. Fortunately the guard at the gatehouse couldn’t see us. Ambling along we checked out the boats, one of life’s great pleasures, and of course, a good way to inspire a boat test writer. Tucked between the sad floating hulks were some lovely boats. An old Centurion 32, one of my favorites. An old Swan 41 that somebody was restoring; she looked great. A new Hylas 54 looked out of place, but very nice. We both admired the stainless steel railing that ran all around the boat instead of lifelines.

Back in the river we rode the current downstream, detouring into canals with interesting boats tied up in back yards. We saw the battered Valiant 47 that Ed Pinckney sailed around the great capes years ago, she needs love. We scoped out a handsome Sabre 402, and not far away was a beautiful Hinckley B40. Right across the canal was a salty Tayana 37 and, next to it, a beautiful Camper Nic 35. There was even a Kaufman 49, sistership, but for a stretched stern, to Quetzal. She looked sleek in the water.

We continued beyond the Davie Blvd. bridge, and the current made paddling easy. We saw a Slocum 43 that a friend had recently purchased, another friend’s Hylas 49 and a lovely Bowman 46. Then we turned around. Downstream was the inspiration, upstream was the exercise, or so it seemed. Actually paddling hard, I thought about this unique perspective of Fort Lauderdale. Yes, the city has lost some its sailing luster, not all cruising boats pass through anymore, and the city has worked diligently to scare away liveaboards. Still, if you get down to canal level, and take a look around, there are some amazing boats tucked away in Fort Lauderdale.

Back at my desk I felt inspired. Two days later I e-mailed the boat review. You can’t rush art.