A Powerful Beautiful Passage to Freedom

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There is simply nothing like running downwind in the trades.

With our off-shore adventure on pause it was time to put the Far Reach on the hard. I have several small boat projects to complete, a summer of family camping planned, and prep work to complete for the kids 11th grade home-school year. Since I can’t spend time on her, better to have the Far Reach as safe as possible with hurricane season upon us in coastal NC.

It was a sad day pulling the Far Reach out of the water at the end of June and removing all her stores and equipment that had sustained our voyage so well. I tried not to think about it–just do like you have to do when tasks are unpleasant but must be done–put your head down and keep moving forward.

I find myself frequently reliving in my mind sailing in the West Indies and the single-handed off-shore voyage home–an incredible experience that was everything I wanted it to be. My connection to the sea is long lived. And it seems as I get older the bond grows ever stronger and more visceral. The Far Reach is so simple and yet so physical to sail it magnifies the experience. I could just as easily have been sailing a pilot cutter from the 1880s. There are very few technologies or electronics to shield me from the power, vastness, and sublime beauty of the sea or protect me from my own poor decision-making or lack of seamanship. It was on me and I loved it that way. Without all the modern “must-have” gear that complicates today’s sailing and distracts the mind I was able to experience the quiet uncluttered physical life I was seeking. I found it in abundance and it soothed my battered and wounded spirit. At sea I could feel the power of the ocean and the majesty of the wind and sky as it flowed over and coursed through me. Truly, as Loren Eiseley observed, “if there is any magic on this planet it is contained in water.”

I never slept better or felt better about myself and my place in the world as I did when I was sailing the Far Reach through the perennial N.E. Trades. My life was as simple as my boat. I experienced the very essence of an uncomplicated life and the personal and emotional freedom it delivers. It was an experience I craved after 26 years of a much-loved but often grueling life as a US Marine topped by an additional punishing six year rebuild of a once tired and wore out Cape Dory 36. When I started the rebuild I had no idea of how relentless an effort would be required to complete it. Though I had retired from active duty I still had responsibilities to juggle with my family along with the shared responsibilities of homeschooling our two children. I once commented to a friend how excited he must be to have his own rebuilt Hess 30 finally sailing and he told me “to be truthful I am too exhausted to enjoy it right now.” Well, that turned out to be exactly how I felt when we finally splashed the Far Reach. I was just numb from the degree of mental and physical effort it took to complete such an enormous project alone. I then understood why so many people give up—it just feels at times like it will never end and for many people eventually the vision just dims to a pin prick then disappears altogether. With the boat finally in the water I took no break but pressed ahead completing a number of additional projects to prepare the Far Reach for our first 1,600 nm offshore passage. By the time we took our departure from Cape Lookout, only six months after launching the Far Reach, I was completely exhausted driven only by the singular focus to sail to the West Indies.

The rebuild was guided by a life-long vision of a simple yet elegant sailing-centric boat which resulted in a truly outstanding sailing machine. The Far Reach exceeded my expectations in every way. The experience I gained during the rebuild gave me a reassuring confidence that came from knowing I could fix, repair, or modify any part of her. It was a liberating feeling. At no time during the voyage did I ever feel overwhelmed or frustrated. Sure, things went wrong at times. But, confidently working through problems is part of the experience and added color and depth to the adventure. In reality, after more than 3,500 nautical miles of ocean sailing we suffered only a single chafed halyard.

As for a simple boat–The reassuring ritual of lighting kerosene navigation lamps, heaving a sounding line into clear tropical-waters, hoisting or wrestling down to the deck powerful hank-on headsails, tacking up narrow coral-infested channels, or sculling a 18,000 lb boat into a quiet anchorage tangibly connected me to the timeless sea and the many long-gone sailors that inspired me since childhood. Every day I spent on the Far Reach I felt my internal systems recharging. New life, along with a large dose of tranquility, caressed my body and nourished my spirit.

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There was plenty of time for contemplation, observation, and self reflection.

At sea there is no bureaucracy. There is no media or political spin. There are no pontificating celebrities or media blow-hards. There is no death by a thousand rules. All your tasks relate to the boat. There is only now. You are the master of all you survey as you make your way across a stunningly beautiful and yet at times terrifying and immensely powerful ocean. The only decisions that count are your own, however wise or foolish they may be. In a nutshell, to be alone at sea on your own boat is to experience the essence of personal freedom that so many of us long for yet which can be so hard to find in the frenetic modern world.

The double handed 1,600 nm offshore voyage from Cape Lookout, NC to the BVI was a rewarding but strenuous, difficult, upwind sail. I gained a lot of confidence in myself and the Far Reach. I would not trade that experience for anything. However, the 1300 nm mile single handed downwind passage home from St. Maarten was a wonderfully relaxing meditative and magical event. I did not want it to end. There is simply nothing like running downwind in the trades with a perfectly balanced boat under your feet, the hatches open and the decks dry, while a long line of blue-grey Atlantic rollers lifts the stern and whooshes past. Alone and on such a simple boat there was plenty of time for contemplation, observation, and self reflection. I returned home a more skilled sailor and a far better human than had left six months before.

Now, with the Far Reach waiting and resting on the hard I enjoy my amazing family and navigate a life more complicated by necessity all the while planning and scheming for the next voyage to freedom.

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The Far Reach waiting patiently for our next voyage to freedom. 

 

Home!

2 June 2016–The Far Reach, Anchored, Cape Lookout, NC

The Far Reach, safely made landfall at Cape Lookout NC about 1830 yesterday, 1 June. We are anchored at almost the exact spot from which my sister Tricia and I took our departure for the British Virgin Islands on 8 December.

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Back at Cape Lookout, where our voyage began six months earlier

We–the Far Reach and I–for I singlehanded this voyage, sailed 1,334 nautical miles from St Maarten to Cape Lookout in 12 days. It was a wonderful offshore blue water adventure. We successfully dodged Tropical Storm Bonnie and in fact sailed right under the mostly disintegrated “Low” about 1400 lyesterday (though I now understand she may be regenerating as she moves NE up the coast).

It was mostly down wind sailing (what fun!). Just gorgeous at times with the decks completely dry, even in 25 knots of wind. The foredeck hatch open and the cool tropical breeze blowing through the boat with the self steering windvane reliably steering us regardless the conditions. I read, napped, cooked, read some more, navigated, napped some more, practiced my celestial navigation, wrote in the log book, and spent hours gazing out to sea just marveling at this beautiful planet and so grateful to be able to do what I have dreamed of doing since I was 12 years old.

 

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We had some glorious sailing.

We had some wonderful 140+ mile runs offset by some slow sailing as we ran into light winds. We also experienced numerous night time squalls with rain, lightening, and high wind. We made 90 miles in 13 hours at one point but then shortened sail during the night which slowed us down. I shortened sail almost every night to reduce the likelihood of “high adventure” with so many squalls about.  Big sails and efficient rig configurations that can be reasonably handled while singlehanding in daylight can be extraordinarily difficult to deal with when running downwind in the dark in big seas.

There were some anxious moments too when it finally became apparent that Tropical Depression#2, declared a Tropical Storm and given the name Bonnie, had the same destination that we did. Chris Parker, a first class weather router, recommended we remain well behind Bonnie, which we did. I only have an HF receiver so I could not talk to him but I sent a twice daily SPOT report so he had our Lat/Long and would would transmit, in the blind, weather info specific to our location twice a day.

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We were not always alone out there.

For the last four days or so it was just plan squally weather, as we closed on the remnants of TS Bonnie with a number of scary electrical storms–you know the kind, where the flash and the bang are about the same time! Fortunately, the wind speed in the squalls was moderate (30-35 knots). We had some torrential rain and some very light wind too, where we just ghosted along. But that was magnificent as well. I was visited by several Tropic Birds and of course saw many flying fish. I saw my first Portuguese Man-of-War about 250 miles off the coast.

In a few days, I’ll post some more  pictures when I get the Far Reach safely in her berth at Cherry Point. I shot of a fair amount of GoPro HD video and took a bunch of HD stills  as well, which I need to sort through. I am presently anchored at the “Bight” at Cape Lookout waiting for some settled wether and a cooperative tide to shoot the Beaufort Inlet and clear customs. From there about 22 NM to the marina at Cherry Point.

The voyage home was fantastic (epic in my world) as was the entire six month trip to the eastern Caribbean. I can’t wait to do it again!

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It was an epic adventure.

Making Final Prparation for Departure

20 May 2016–The Far Reach, Anchored, Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten.

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The Far Reach at anchor in Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten waiting to be turned loose for the trip home.

I spent 2 1/2 hours yesterday scrubbing the hull of the Far Reach in preparation for my upcoming singlehanded passage back to NC.

I moved the Far Reach out of the lagoon this morning. I have provisioned with food, ice, water, and cleared Customs. With luck I’ll get underway this afternoon. That would put me near Virgin Gorda tomorrow morning. I can divert to the BVI in daylight should the halyard chafe issue not be solved.

The winds are expected to be light for the next week. Could be a slow passage. Will have to see. inhave had a great trip this year. I have learned a lot. I have also gained tremendous confidence in the Far Reach. With luck, I’ll make landfall at Cape Lookout and 10-14 days.

Halyard Diverter Installed

18 May 2016–The Far Reach, Anchored, in the Lagoon, St Maarten.

A couple days ago I completed the installation of the halyard diverter.

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The halyard diverted is installed.  It should keep the halyard lined up with the sheave and eliminate the chafe.

The day before the installation, I pulled both jib halyards out of the mast replacing them with messenger lines on. I did not want the halyards to get covered with metal shaving from the drilling at the top of the mast.

The next morning I got an early start and went up the mast to install the part and the headstay was in the way of the drill–couldn’t fit the drill between mast and headstay. I should have seen that earlier but I just looked right past it. Anyway, I hauled up a spectra line and tied it to the spinnaker bail then went down the mast and slacked the headstay and back stay and bob stay. Tied the block and tackle on the the spectra line and hauled it tight. Went back up the mast and removed the headstay at the tang and lowered it a couple feet on a line and tied it off to the top of the cap shroud. Then installed the part. I used some double sided carpet tape to hold the part in place, drilled and tapped five holes which did not take long–maybe 20-25 minutes, ran the fasters home with tef-gel, and “Bob’s your uncle.” The part lined up perfectly.

Robert Quates built a beautiful part and sent me a very thoughtful and complete installation “package.” Even a cave-man could have installed it as the saying goes or perhaps I should say even a “Grunt” could install it. He is a hell of a craftsman and a great friend.

Sitting in the climbing seat I had the hammer and drilled tied on with lanyards, as I always do when working aloft. But, somehow, unbeknownst to me, the damn drill lanyard came untied. Of course, the drill fell all the way to the deck. I watched it go down with a slow spin to the right–“oh shi#! It’s going to land in the water!” But no, the wind was so strong it landed 10′-12′ aft of the mast on its side between the primary winch and the bulwark, about a 12″ wide space! I watched it bounce up in the air about a foot and a half–“Crap, it’s going to go up and over the bulwark and then go into the water. But wait . . . No!” It settled back down where first landed. Did not break the drill. Did not even break the bit still in the chuck. Did not damage the deck. A 45′ fall in a 20 knot wind onto a fiberglass deck. Unbelievable.

I reattached the head stay. Went back down to the deck. Tied the halyard on the messenger lines I installed the day before. Went back up the mast. Greg from the SV So What, was my helper, and pulled the halyards up through the mast. As they can through the sheave I untied them from the messengers, fed them through the fairleads, retied the messengers to the halyards and Greg pulled them down to the deck and tied them off.

Went back down the mast and retightened the headstay, backstay, bobstay. I forgot to take a picture. Went back up mast and took a picture for Robert.

Since I had the climbing gear out I went straight to work on the port lowered spreader. It was about 2″ lower at the tip then the starboard spreader. Had to make three or four trips up and down the mast but just to the lower spreader. It was a good thing I had a short climb though as I could feel the fatigue starting to set in–climbing up and down the mast, being out in the sun, not drinking enough water, and spending a fair amount of time up in the stiff breeze. It took awhile. Had to slack the port and starboard cap and intermediates. Reposition the spreader, retighten the rig, etc. It looks better now.

Anyway, I finally finished up around 1700. I was beat. I went over to Little Jerusalem (a restaurant near the lagoon in St Maarten) and bought an $8 Schwarma and cold Arizona Iced Tea. I was wiped out. I drank about a gallon and a half of water and was still dehydrated.

Hopefully, this will address the halyard chafe. As soon as possible I will sea trial the new part. In the meantime, I continue working on a list of small projects and enjoying the tropical life.  Hurricane season is fast approaching so my departure from St Maarten is not far away.

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We have had a fair amount of rain in the last two weeks and St Maarten has greened up considerable.

Thinking Back on the Passage

11 May 2016, The Far Reach, Anchored, Sint Maarten, West Indies 

Last night I found myself thinking back about our passage from Cape Lookout to the BVI. I feel fortunate that Tricia and I made the trip together. She and I have sailed together since before we were teenagers and let me tell you that is a long time! I couldn’t have asked for a better shipmate. A retired San Diego Fire Captain, she is smart, athletic, tireless, fearless, and harder than woodpecker lips.

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My sister Tricia.  I could not have had a better shipmate.

We started out sailing dinghies when I was about 12 and she was 8 years old.  We sailed constantly…weekends, after school, every chance we got.  She quickly aquired her own boat and is in fact a very accomplished sailor in her own right.  Though we have sailed together many times I think our passage from NC to the BVI was almost preordained.

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Landfall after 18 days at sea. A very happy skipper.

Tricia took that photo of me just after we crossed the Virgin Island bank on Christmas morning. Anegada Island is about 14 miles east of us.  As I recall I was pretty spent but elated to have finally made landfall.  The wind built up to about 30-35 knots that day. We are jogging along with just our staysail when that photo was taken. A little later, we hoisted the main with the stays’l and we were flying! The last few miles were dead down wind, a full on 30+ kts, and I sailed the Far Reach with the tiller between my legs and my hands on the mainsheet like she was a laser. As she surfed down the waves hitting speeds of about 9+ knots the tiller became very light almost as it it were a balanced vice barn door rudder. It was amazing!

Waiting . . . .

The Far Reach, Anchored, the Lagoon, Sint Maarten

Waiting.

I continue to find myself anchored in Sint Maarten, like so many other cruisers, waiting for a part to arrive. It seems that almost every boat passing through here is waiting for either parts to arrive or on repair work to be completed before they can continue their journey.

The boat in front of me has been here over six weeks trying to get proper work done to repair a broken watermaker. The boat on my starboard side limped in a few days ago having lost their mast. They were told by the rigging shop they should expect to be here at least a month. Another boat captain I spoke to has been here for almost three months getting their hydraulic  systems repaired. There are a number of boatyards here and they are all filled with boats. Sadly, there also many boats that seem to be abandoned, like so many broken dreams . . . like once beautiful birds now too old and crippled to fly.

In my case, I am lucky. I am waiting for a single part.  It should solve the halyard chafing problem I have experience since last summer. I am not dependent on any of the businesses here to solve this vexing problem. I am fortunate in that my good friend Robert has designed and fabricated a custom piece of hardware that should, I hope, prove relatively easy to instal. It should arrive in the next few days if FEDEX can manage to keep track of it (and let me tell you I have heard some real horror stories about parts lost in transit).  I will install it as soon as possible and with a fair wind I can be on my way.

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Robert’s custom made part that should arrive in the next few days.

In the mean time, I found ways to stay busy on the Far Reach: I varnished the cockpit coamings and the end of the bowsprit; painted the dorade boxes and touched up the bulwarks; cleaned rust stains from various prices of stainless steel hardware; spliced some lines; hauled water to replenish the water tanks; climbed the mast in preparation for installing the part to solve the halyard chafe; worked on improving my cooking with the pressure cooker; taken the ship’s clock apart to get it running again (it’s ticking away–hooray!); read a half dozen books, made a number of new friends; rented a car and drove around the island, travelled to Philpsburg to watch the Youth Carnival; scrubbed the waterline; had the mainsail cover patched and those are just the things I can think of. So, despite the wait, I have not been bored.

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The Youth Carnival was terrific.  The noise from the music was unbelivably loud.

We also had three days of rain last week and the entire islands seems to have greened up quite a bit. It’s not a bad place to be stuck. There is a large cruiser community here and all the infrastructure to support it.

At 0730 six days a week there is a cruiser radio net operated by Mike of Shrimpy’s Laundry (he is on the French side). Mike is very much a fixture here (I think he is South African). I suspect just about everyone on the island, within VHF radio range anyway, listens to the morning cruiser net. Mike starts off opening the net and then gets a radio check. Then, the weather forecast is passed. Next, any info on items lost, found, or stolen is discussed. Then, Mike asks sailors who have recently arrived to announce their name and their boat’s name and where they have come from. This is followed by those announcing they are about to depart Sint Maarten. Mike skillfully guides the conversation usually with dry humor if not a little wit. Businesses call in regarding services offered, then the net wraps up with general comments by anyone that has information to pass. Sometimes the information is very helpful other times it’s just humorous. Nonetheless, it’s a great routine to start the day and it also seems to bind the sailors together with shared information.

There are a number of dinghy docks around the lagoon which is centrally located to both the French and Dutch sides of the islands. Most of the businesses that cater to the cruiser community are positioned around the circumference of the lagoon. There are marinas, restaurants, bars, chandleries, grocery stores, electronics shops, and many other supporting businesses nearby. The largest ACE Hardware I have ever seen is within walking distance.  The international airport launches its aircraft over one end of the lagoon.

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There are lots of bakeries. Delicious!

Every evening, well after darkness has fallen across the island, I go up on the foredeck. I look about the lagoon. To the north is the half mile long causeway that spans the lagoon roughly demarcating the the French/Dutch boundary.  Closely spaced white lights clearly illuminate its long low presence. Sometimes there are purple lights as well, just for fun I think. In the middle of the bridge is the single peaked tower that supports the swing bridge. To the east, I take in the steep, dark, and majestic line of mountains that trace their undulating ridgetops from west to east. Way off to the southeast I can see a rising winding two lane road running up the side of the mountains, betrayed by car headlights, that runs over the pass and down into Philipsburg. Overhead, there are always the soft light-grey trade wind clouds of the night stretching across the heavens separating the the blue-white twinkle of the eternal stars into visible clusters. Almost always there is a soft cool tropical breeze blowing out of the east or south-east. Down along the waters edge, against the shore of the lagoon are the white-yellow and neon lights of businesses and homes. Anchor lights glow from the many boats swinging on moorings or anchors. All waiting . . . waiting to be released from the fierce clutch and tenacious grip of projects and repairs.

One If By Land, Two If By Sea: Or Circumnavigating Sint Maarten by Car

25 April 2016–The Far Reach, Anchored in the Lagoon, Sint Maarten.

My number one priority is to get the chafing halyard under control. To do that I needed to get back up the mast and confirm exactly where the chafing is taking place. The anchorage in Simpson Bay was very rolly. So, last Monday morning, I weighed anchor about 0900 and got in a line of boats to make the 0930 opening of the Simpson Bay draw bridge. We made it through easily and without fuss and anchored in the still lagoon, on the Dutch side, in about 7-8 of water.  I climbed the mast the next evening when the wind had completely died. Flat as a mill pond.  A fellow cruiser hauled up my working jib with the chaffed halyard and of course it was clear to see the problem. Right where I thought.  I know what I need to do.

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The chafed halyard.  Not good.

Next day, I sent the photo off to Robert so he can fabricate the right kind of hardware to solve the problem.

I was restless. Not too much you can work on when you have a boat with almost no systems. Time to take a drive around the island. I rented a car. A red Ferrari. $30 for the day. Hard to beat a price like that.

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Some people will point out that the rental car is a Hyundai.  Wrong.  It’s clearly a red Ferrari disguised as a Hyundai. 

About 1000, under a clear mostly sunny sky, off I went working my way east along the south coast. Over the coastal mountains. Into a maze of streets and slow moving traffic in Philipsburg, the Capitol of Sint Maarten. The part of the town I saw and was snarled up in was beat up and run down. Not worth lingering. I didn’t want hustle and bustle. I wanted space. I drove north climbing and descending a well used winding two lane road. Dirt shoulders. Old houses. Dry parched landscape. I crossed over a wide grassy plateau then the road dropped and twisted down between head high bland colored masonry walls that lined both sides of the narrow road. I couldn’t see anything beyond the edge of the road. Finally, there were quick glimpses through the dry vegetation of a small harbor. At last, the view opened and I had arrived at Oyster Pond on the east coast of Sint Maarten. It’s a tight compact little harbor with a very narrow entrance.  There were plenty of boats and a few restaurants. Nothing spoke to me there. I didn’t get out of the car.  I turned around and drove back out the way I came in then picked up the road north and climbed around the west side of the harbor. I crossed over the boundary into the French side. Just a flag and a sign on the side of the road announcing I was entering another country.  Driving over a hill I had a good view of the harbor so I stopped and took a few pictures. I climbed back into the Ferrari and continued north along the coast.

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Oyster Pond. East coast, Sint Maarten.

More dry hilly landscape on both sides of the road. Dusty. Tired looking. Eventually, the coast came into view. Oriental Bay. Long and low. Aqua colored water. Low surf. Some white pointed sails on the horizon. Sailors making their way around the east side of St Martin. The road ran northwest along the coast. Very rural. Not much life. The whole place had a somber fill to it. I pressed on. Passed through a couple of compact towns. Lots of bustle. The locals consucting the day’s business. All the building were old. Fading paint. You could tell at one time it was vibrant but it looked like the whole town aged as a single unit. Like a person. Once it was young, strong, vibrant. But now . . . like a middle aged man that made no attempt at staying fit, it was wrinkled, grey, scraggly, dejected, and soft around the middle. I pushed on. I passed an airstrip then drove into the seaside town of Grand Case. Parked the Ferrari in a crowded lot on the north side of the town. This was better. There was life here. Some color. People moving about. I walked down the main street. Cars pushed past. Scooters zipped by. I could see the ocean between low slung buildings. Lots of open air restaurants. The smell of meat being grilled was in the air and mixed with the pungent smell of sea water. People strolling along in beachwear. I was hungry. I walked through a collection of open air restaurants built around the perimeter of a huge wooden deck that had an expansive view of the water and a lovely crescent shaped sandy beach. People laid about. Families were sunning and strolling along the beach. A number of women were topless. The French. Gotta love ’em. Kids playing in the calm clear blue-green waters.

 

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The lovely beach at Grand Case, northwest coast, St Martin.

I picked a cafe that had shade and a nice breeze. I got a huge grilled chicken meal for $10. It was wonderful. Great flavors. I felt human again.

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$10

After the meal I wandered down the narrow street. I found another cafe with a balcony over looking the water. I ordered coffee and used the free wifi to check email. The coffee was excellent. I got the bill — $5. What a difference. $10 for a huge grilled chicken meal. $5 for a tiny cup of coffee.

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$5

I went back to the Ferrari and pushed on down the west coast. More twisty roads still climbing up and down. No sight of the ocean. Suicidal scooter drivers running down the middle of the two lane road with cars running by on both sides. Young men who knew they were invincible and sure they could beat the odds.

Finally, Marigot Bay appeared. I pulled over on the dirt shoulder on a small hill over looking the Bay. Before me was a bustling seaport town. A crescent bay and many sailboats at anchor in the bay as well as the lagoon. Low concrete and masonry buildings. Lots of telephone and power lines. Not quite picturesque. Marigot couldn’t quite escape an industrial feel. I could see the prominent Fort Marigot on a hill on the north side of the town. Cannons still aimed seaward to fight off Nelson’s fleet. Back when the French were fighters. Before June 1940 when the German blitzkrieg overran the largest standing army in the world in 20 days.

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Margot Bay, northwest coast, St. Martin.

I got back in the Ferrari and drove down into Marigot. A few days before I had paid a visit to the town by dinghy and had walked around. I had a basic feel for its layout, so I knew where I was going. Very busy. Lots of pedestrians. More buzzing scooters. Small cars weaving nimbly through traffic. Lots of shops. Glass display windows. All the shop names and signs in French. Lots of long legged skinny European women. Well dressed. Most carrying shopping bags with their day’s trophies. The well-to-do on display.

I pushed on. The gendarme was visible. On street corners. Body armor and tactical gear. Loaded into parked SUVs. Keeping a watchful eye out. Probably a good thing.

I pushed through the town and over the two lane drawbridge that spans the canal used by boats to enter the north side of the lagoon from Marigot Bay. I sped down the road. Traffic thinned a bit. I saw a McDonalds. The American restaurants have free wifi with the best internet speed. I pulled in. Ordered another coffee. Same small size as the one in Grand Case. Half the price. I checked email.

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The canal that passes from Marigot Bay into the lagoon on the French side.

 I got back in the car. Whipped out into traffic and pushed on down the coast. Flat. No mountains or hills. Very little traffic. I pressed the red Ferrari passed a number of pull-outs for walking access to the ocean but only occasionally got glimpses of the water. I started passing gated resorts. You could sense there was more money here. Still dry and dusty and somewhat drab. I passed through a high end modern looking shopping area. Lots of construction. Chrome and red bricks.  This place was getting a real face lift. No doubt about it. Lots of traffic. I ground to a halt. Finally got spit out and back into a more rural setting. The road twisted again as it passed through the middle of a dried out parched brown golf course crying out for water. I saw no golfers. There were families strolling on asphalt sidewalks and a number of people riding bicycles. The airport loomed ahead. Serious traffic. Bam. Grid lock. Took about an hour and a half to make it past the airport. I entered the round-about near the east end of the runway and crossed east over the causeway that spans the lagoon. The same lagoon the Far Reach is anchored in. I looked to my right. There is my girl. Nestled between a dozen large modern cookie-cutter monohulls and a couple of big boxy cats. Though smaller than all the other boats she stands out. A small yet beautiful swan. Folded wings. Floating patiently. Waiting.

I was carried along with the traffic down the north east side of the lagoon. Past more shops. The massive ACE hardware store went by in a blur. Past the chandleries. Back to the Simpson Bay Marina parking lot.  I parked the car and gathered my gear. The car rental agency was closed for the day.  I strolled through the marina shopping area, past the open air bar and down to the dinghy dock. I fired up the outboard and made my way across the very still water of the marina. As soon as I entered the channel I opened the throttle and the dinghy leaped up onto plane. We cruised along in the dimming light. The water was flat with only cats-paw ripples on the surface. The air was rapidly cooling. Skimming over the lagoon at 20 knots was a fine way to punctuate the end of the day. A mantle of freedom was being wrapped around me. I saw the Far Reach ahead and easily maneuvered the dinghy along side. I killed the engine and reached out and grabbed the bulwarks. A sailor’s timeless embrace of his girl. Repeated millions of times over thousands of years by sailors all over the world.

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The Far Reach, in the Lagoon, Sint Maarten.  The prominent hill just to the left of the stern of the Far Reach is known locally as the Witch’s Tit.

I enjoyed the day but my mood was guarded and a little somber.  I was glad to be back on the Far Reach.  I am anxious to get going. Back to sea. But first things first. Fix the halyards.  Then we can sail.

St Thomas to St Maarten–Somtimes the Difficult Goes Your Way

20 April 2016, The Far Reach, Anchored, Simpson Bay, St. Maarten

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Anchored in Simpson Bay, St Maarten.

At 1400 on 19 April I slipped the mooring at Elephant Bay, St Thomas and sailed SE down the East Gregory Channel headed for open water. My destination was St Martin(French side) / St Maarten (Dutch side), about 105 miles due east as the crow flies. This is often considered a difficult sail as the winds and ocean swell can be big and the wind is almost always on the nose. It seems most sailors motor this passage. The Far Reach does not have such a capability so sail we must, regardless the conditions.

I had a short 2-3 day WX window based on forecasted winds to be NE and about 15-18 knots before the wind was expected to clock to the east and increase to 20-25 knots for the rest of the week.

The day before I planned to depart I returned the little Wifi hotspot I had rented and bought ice, some meat, and fruit. That afternoon, I hauled the inflatable on deck, washed the engine down and stowed it in the port cockpit locker. I washed the dinghy and left it to dry on deck, over night.

Next morning, I rolled the inflatable up, strapped it into its bag, and stowed it in the quarter berth. I spent the next hour in the water with mask and fins scrubbing the Far Reach’s bottom so she would be as efficient under sail as possible.

We went from flat calm that morning to a solid 15 knots by the time I was underway. It felt soothing to be sailing again, even if I was doing it alone.

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Sailing to St Maarten.   It felt good to be sailing agin.

The first two hours were uneventful–just fine close hauled sailing, however, while making my rounds on the foredeck I happened to look up and immediately spotted a derelict and half sunk 14′ fishing skiff floating 50 yards away about two miles off the south west end of St John. I altered course, tacked, and investigated. The port side was ripped away and it looked like it had been in the water a long time. There was not much I could do. My handheld VHF radio would not reach anyone of consequence. And no one would collect it up anyway. So, I proceeded east sailing along the south side of the beautiful and picturesque St John, Norman, and Peter Islands. We had full cloud cover by then and the somber sky started to spit light rain. The swell was moderate. We were making 6-7 knots.

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I spotted a half sunk skiff off the coast of St John island.  It would be impossible to see it at night.

Darkness fell about 1930. I lit the kerosene navigation lights and then feasted on steamed rice. I turned on the new, but untried, AIS and placed it in the receive only mode to conserve power. The Far Reach sailed beautifully, just powering down the coast. She was quiet, strong, solid, and responsive. The Cape Horn wind vane was performing its magic perfectly.

Around 2200 the light rain stopped. Though there was still significant cloud cover, the moon beams managed to break through and cast a translucent silver light on the surface of the waters of the Anegada Passage. It was beautiful. I could see the pin-prick lights of civilization on Virgin Gorda off the port beam. We were were close hauled on port tack with working jib and a single reefed main and averaging 5-6 knots as the wind speed had dropped a bit.  It was better to be slightly under canvassed at night, especially when single-handing.   I set my timer for 20 minutes and cat napped on the starboard settee which held me snuggly due to our 20-25 degrees of starboard heel. Every 20 minutes I climbed the companion way ladder to make sure we were on course and perform a 360 degree scan of the horizon to make sure we were in no danger. I maintained this routine till we were well clear of Virgin Gorda.

A little after midnight, with nothing but open water for the next 75 miles I switched the AIS to transmit and went to sleep for about 90 minutes or so. I got up about 0200 and checked that all was well. I spotted a cruise liner off to the south with its massive white lights shining like a beacon. I checked to see if it was on the AIS. It was of course. I had the alarm set for two miles so it did not trip the alarm at 7 miles distance. I spoke to the a ship’s officer over my hand-held VHF radio asking if they had me on radar. They said they could see me fine. I made a last quick sweep of the horizon, then crawled back into my bunk where I was awed by the sounds of my fine ship tearing her way across deep water on her way to a distant island. I awoke about 0330 and checked that all was well and we were still on course. We had broken out from under the cloud cover and the three quarters moon illuminated the water and horizon in a magnificent silver glow. The visibility was fantastic. The wind was holding steady at about 15 knots from the NE. We were maintaining a heading of about 100 degrees magnetic. Perfect.

I crawled back in my bunk once again and slept till 0530 when I got up to listen to the Chris Parker’s 0600 wx report. I was disappointed that he did not mention the Far Reach during his 0600 broadcast. During our December passage he had provided very accurate personalized Wx info which we could hear on our small portable HF receiver. This technique only requires we send him a daily SPOT GPS location track. I suspect he must not have received our SPOT location this time. I will have to sort that out.

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It was a lovely passage.

Regardless, about 0700, while sipping coffee and sitting on the bridge deck I happened to look up and there, right off the starboard beam, larger than life, was the rugged volcanic island named Saba about 20 miles to the south. Fabulous, I thought. I decided to take a look to the east over the top of the Sweet Pea, our 9′ Fatty Knees hard dinghy, strapped upside down on the cabin top. And sure enough, at 11 o’clock about 25 miles distance was St Maarten.

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Saba on the horizon.

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St Maarten, a welcome sight, about 25 miles away.  Look just to the left of the shrouds.

We made it to about 7 miles from St Maarten on a single tack before the wind shifted 30 degrees to the east and that was that. I had to make two 40 min tacks grinding our way into the eye of the wind to reach Simpson Bay and I let go the anchor in 13′ of emerald green water.

I debated using the hard dinghy or the inflatable to clear-in to customs but finally decided to inflate and launch the inflatable as I think I’ll be here a couple weeks to get the recalcitrant halyard chafing problem under control.

Clearing-in was simple and straight forward. You can travel between the French and Dutch sides easily. I’ll start exploring tomorrow. All in all, this turned out to be pretty easy trip.

Staying Busy

17 April 2016, The Far Reach, Moored, Elephant Bay, St Thomas

This past week I’ve been working on several projects.

I went back up the mast and switched the clevis pin around as suggested to eliminate the jib halyard chafing problem. I think it’s unlikely that is the issue but in the spirt of eliminating all possibilities, I took on board the suggestion, so to speak. I had a long conversation with my friend Robert Quates, who built my mast, as we discussed the chafing solution. We made sketches and discussed the pros and cons. I think we have a good plan. He is working on he part now and I hope to have it soon. I am confident it will solve the problem. Also, I should be able to install it with the mast in the boat.

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I reversed the clevis pin so the cotter pin is shielded from the jib halyard.

While I was in the climbing seat and up the mast I ran the 1/4″ halyard through the blocks I previously installed on the port spreader. During the voyage from NC, we hoisted the radar reflector on the flag halyard on the starboard spreader as that was the only flag halyard I had time to install before we set off on our trip. The problem was that there was only one block so the darn halyard was chafing on the reflector. Also, I had to take the reflector down to fly the Q flag and then the host country flag. By rigging two blocks there is no chance for halyard chafe on the reflector.

 

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I installed two blocks on the port spreader to give space for the radar reflector so it won’t chafe on the flag halyard.

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The chafing issue for the radar reflector should be solved.

Last week I ran the messenger line for the halyard that chaffed through on the voyage from NC. Today, I pulled the halyard through. I also spliced up a couple of dyneema toggle shackles I learned from my friend Ben Zartman. I made the toggles from ipe before I left. The line was easy to splice. These shackles are very strong. They will probably pull about 4000-4500 lbs. I used 3/16 Amstel Blue Dyneema for the line.

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The toggle shackle takes about 15 minutes to make, not including the time spent to hand shape the ipe toggle of course.

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The toggle shackles are incredibly strong.  The one disadvantage is you can’t open them with one hand like you can with a metal snap shackle.  I still have a few snap-shackles here and there.

I soldered a 1/8″ mono Jack to a random length 14 gauge wire to make using my Sony SW7600GR portable HF receiver a little more convenient. Hopefully it will eliminate the need to use the telescopic antenna and the little wire we hook on to it. I always hear Chris Parker just fine on 8137 kilohertz but the telescopic antenna is inconvenient. I also picked up some parts to make a dipole, as described by James Baldwin, at some point. I am familiar with the dipole antenna for HF as we used them extensively in the reconnaissance units I served in for so many years.

I picked up a short length of chain to secure the 9.9 Honda HT on the rotating arm bracket in an effort to deter its misappropriation as I sail further south. Keep honest men honest, as it were.

I mailed the quarter berth cushions home to free up some space to store the 9’6″ inflatable when sailing offshore. I refuse to give up the space where the inboard was to store the inflatable. That space is just too darn convenient for storing sails, tools, water jugs, and other items I am always in need of getting to with minimal inconvenience.

I have also taken the time to enjoy the beauty that is here, right around me.

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St Thomas, despite its status as a busy port, can be quite beautiful.

I am ready to make the leap across to the leeward islands but the wind has been uncharacteristically light this week. So, I am prepping while I have the time.

 

The Far Reach Now Has AIS

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The Watchmate 850 AIS depicts the position of vessels transmitting AIS data.

The Far Reach, Moored, Elephant Bay, St Thomas, USVI  

As moat readers familiar with the Far Reach are aware we have very few systems on board–no electric interior lights, no electric running lights, no fixed mount VHF or SSB, no radar or refrigerator, or water maker, no inboard diesel engine, etc. I did install a 30 watt flex solar panel prior to our passage to the BVI in December. It has proven to be a wonderful addition. It keeps the phones and iPad charged. It runs a couple of clip on 12 volt fans the few times we have used them and it powers a small hand held 12v vacuum. It’s takes a compelling reason to convince me to add complexity to the Far Reach.

With a couple of single-handed passages looming on the near horizon I have put a great deal of thought into watch standing. Automatic Identification System (AIS) seemed like it would be a smart addition to the Far Reach. I researched all kinds of units reading reviews till my eyes glazed over. A new friend showed me how he operates an AIS over his iPad, so I read about those–very neat. But it requires the iPad to be operating, adding to current draw and also adding another electronic device to the operation of the AIS. I needed a simple reliable unit with a very low current draw. I looked into the Standard Horizon VHF with an integrated AIS receiver. It seems like a nice system, But it can’t transmit and still draws too much power for my small 100ah AGM battery. I finally decided on a Vesper Watchmate 850 Class B transceiver after reading a very positive review in Practical Sailor as well as on a couple of sailing forums. It’s a stand-alone unit. It has an internal GPS so I did not need to purchase and install a separate GPS antenna. For the required VHF antenna I installed a 4′ Shakespeare fiberglass antenna mounted on a SS ratchet adapter secured to the aft starboard stanchion.

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The 4′ fiberglass antenna mounted on the aft stanchion.

I also applied for and received an FCC issued shipboard radio license and MMSI number in only three days using their on-line application! Many thanks to my brother Brad for researching and submitting the correct forms to make that happen.

It took a while to figure out how to run the wiring to make it invisible yet accessible. I also had to determine where to mount the display unit where it would be convenient yet unobtrusive. I decided to install it under the bridge-deck where I can manipulate the controls while comfortably sitting on the watch seat next to the chart table.

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I positioned the display in a convenient yet out of the way location.

This past week, while anchored in Elephant Bay, St Thomas, USVI, I installed the system. It is a pretty simple to operate unit. The power draw in receive only mode is about .3 ah. I believe it uses about 1.5ah in the transmit mode.

I am interested to see how it works on passage.