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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Getting Started Part 7

Well it happened not too long ago.  No the house has not sold yet and we are ready but unable to buy our dreamboat.  No, what happened is that after what seems like forever looking a triple digit countdown number of days to my retirement the clock unceremoniously went from digits of three to digits of two.  As of the writing of this installment we are somewhere in the 70’s of days out.  Technically I don’t “officially” retire until 31 August because my salary is distributed over 12 months not 9 and within my insurance, but for all practical purposes at the end of this term in 70-some days my 25 years at Tech, an assorted 5 years at other institutions, and a total of 35 years of designing scenery, lights, acting, directing, and all the other stuff I have found myself doing is over.  I have been in the process of scanning and organizing my design work, not sure why; just seems like something I should do.  Maybe to leave to my children or maybe to look at while in the old-sailors home, or just to kill time as the clock ticks down; well whatever the reason I am almost finished with that project.  Jo is getting anxious to move on to the next page and although I send up a prayer to St. Joseph to help sell my home (it’s suppose to help) all we can do is wait.  I look at it as good practice for a life of cruising; waiting for weather windows, waiting for boat parts, waiting for wind, you get the idea.  Ok enough of this, now where did I leave off with Part 6, oh yes, Captain Ralph and the incomparable Arleen.

To recap and expand from Part 6:

One of the things I knew was that if this was going to happen, I needed to know what I was doing and that meant going to class or spending my weekends sailing.  Now for those of you who live on water you can find or make opportunities to go sailing or find an American Sailing Association (ASA) or U.S. Sailing class almost anywhere including large lakes.  Living in the deserts of West Texas, well as Jimmy Buffett once said “Nothing like that way out in west Texas!”  Weekend sails involved more money than I have so schooling it was.  ASA classes were more prevalent so I decided to go that way and since the Texas coast was closer than any other began me search for a class or two, or three, or….  As with all education there are many levels of instruction and the lower levels are often prerequisites for the more advanced classes.  Also like any type of education, tuition is not cheap, throw travel to the Texas coast or beyond into the mix and you had better be pretty serious.  The reality of the matter is that you do not need any certificate, training, or qualifications to buy a sailboat all you really need is cash or good credit and someone willing to give you a loan, but all things being all things I really wanted to have an idea of what I was doing.  Additionally, the plan was to bareboat (without a captain or crew) several different models of catamarans to give us an idea of what we might like or would work.  In theory that makes sense but as it turns out none of the boats we chartered we are looking at but we did get to go sailing but I am getting ahead of my self; back to school.

The first class I took was ASA 101 Basic Keelboat Sailing.  Now Captain Stacy from Part 6, encouraged me to challenge the standard and basically place-out of the class but I thought what the hell, it had been a while since I sailed on my own and I am sure the instruction would be useful. 

Ok, I can do this, so I registered for a class in Kemah TX at Let’s Go Sailing (name redacted but MP me if you want to know.)  All I really remember is that the teacher/captain needed me to drive his van since he had no drivers license or insurance; he was a “salty” kind-a-guy.  The class went well, spent Saturday morning in the classroom and that afternoon and Sunday out on the Galveston Bay.  Saturday and Sundays’ sail found us in 25-30 knot winds and short chop.  Out of the 3 total students, I was the only one with any sailing experience and the “teacher” was more interested in going “all-captain” on us so I did some self-preservation teaching especially while jibing a 25’ boat in 25knt wind.  It was March, the water was cold, and PFD (personal floatation device – life jacket) or not, I had no intention of going swimming.  Well it was time on the water and the written test was passed, even though I somehow got starboard and port tacks backwards and it was time to move on to ASA 103 Basic Costal Cruising (there is no 102, couldn’t tell you why.)

Back to the coast later that spring but this time with the Bay Area Sailing School-Kemah and except for the two useless ride-along passengers on the on-the-water part of the course it was a totally different and more relaxed experience.  With those two classes down and stamps in my logbook I was ready to get on catamarans.

As I mentioned in Part 6 a search of the inter-web directed us to the Tracey School and through discussions with Tracey Dell owner and future mentor the arrangements were made to hook up with his Maine Cat 41 s/v Kathleen D in Fort Pierce Florida heading up to Charleston S.C. as part of a delivery to her home summer port on the Jersey Shore.  I would be taking ASA 104 Bareboat Cruising and ASA 114 Cruising Catamaran. With these two certifications under my belt I would be qualified to bareboat charter a catamaran pretty much anywhere in the world that we could afford.  Most importantly, in Abaco where we had already arranged for a two week charter, one week on a Maine Cat 30 and the second on a Maine Cat 41.  The owners had no concerns about us on the 30 but only agreed to let us sail the 41 with he blessing of Tracey.  As we got closer to the date of the class I was checking in with Tracey and two things came up that caused a slight change in plans and a possible free trip to GITMO for me.  First was the offer to sign-on to help bring the Kathleen D from Abaco to Fort Pierce for a modest contribution; hell yes I am in!  The second was a change in Captains from Tracey to Ralph.   Must admit I didn’t know what to think but I was assured that with first mate Arleen I would eat much better than if Tracey was doing the cooking so I cashed in my AA travel miles for a one-way ticket and headed off to Abaco.   Jo dropped me off at the airport and as she drove off my cell phone rang, it was Tracey, telling me that weather was moving in and could I get to Abaco earlier than I had planned (which was late the next day) I told him I didn’t see how so I left to spend the night in Dallas before flying out at 0530 the next morning for Miami and on to Marsh Harbor, Abaco knowing that I might get to Abaco and the Kathleen D would have already headed across the Gulf Stream and I would have to find a way to get from Abaco to Fort Pierce by the evening of the same day I arrived in Abaco.  While not a strictly type-A personality, I do like a plan and a degree of certainty in that plan.  Also being post 9-11 quick changes in international travel plans raised red flags.  Also when it turns out you are traveling with a passport that had been reported lost, replaced, and the replacement had been used, well, nothing could go wrong with this plan right!  

It seemed odd that when I was getting my passport for this trip that the stamp from a recent trip to Canada was missing but I rationalized it that it was Canada and they just forgot to stamp it.  I used my passport as I.D. in Lubbock when I got on the plane, no problem but it was while I was waiting for a pizza to be delivered to my hotel for dinner that evening in Dallas it occurred to me why the Canada stamp was not there, it was the lost passport; I grabbed the wrong passport.  To say I panicked was an understatement.  To recap, I was flying, one-way, to a foreign country with a history of Americans flying in to and then out of with contraband.   It was post 9-11 and I had used cash to pay the fees associated with my one-way airline miles ticket which raises red flags, and I could get there and find the Kathleen D had already left to beat a weather front that would have made crossing he Gulf Stream a snotty experience at best.  I thought about pulling the plug on the whole trip but no trip, no certifications, no certifications no sailing charter later that month but what the hell I was already there so at 0530 I took the shuttle to DFW and presented my illegal passport and held my breath.  I got a “thank you sir your flight will be departing gate…….” so I grabbed my carry-on bag and slid away, next I had to get past TSA and with the exception of their issue with my navigation dividers (sharp pointed metal objects) that were no issue in Lubbock causing me to go back to the nice lady at the counter and check my carry-on all went smoothly.  Next stop Miami but I was already checked through, EXCEPT, before they let you get on the flight to Abaco they, you guessed it, check your passport again, ok every thing be cool and it was.  They let me on the plane we landed in Marsh Harbor and checked in and out of the country the same day since either by boat of plane I would be leaving in less than 24 hours. I took a taxi to the ferry dock, bought a ticket for the ferry from Marsh Harbor to Hope Town where the Kathleen D was supposed to be and waited for the ferry with too much gear and not a care in the world.  I mean if you are going to be stuck somewhere, why not in paradise.   As it turned out, the Kathleen D was there on her mooring with no one aboard.  The ferry captain offered to drop me off on the boat but I felt it better not to board without the permission of the captain so it was to the ferry dock and the first bar I could find a cold Kalik (local beer) and some conch.  I had a cell phone number for Captain Ralph (modern times) so I called left a message and sat back with my beer.  Now I still had no idea what to expect so when a dingy full of people motored up to the bars’ dock full of scraggly people driven by someone who looked like we were related somewhere back in the development of the species I knew they were there for me.  I had made the classic mistake and had too much stuff with me so they took some of the crew back to the boat, made a run to the liquor store and I enjoyed another beer and eventually someone came back for me.  Introductions were made; there was a couple and another guy a little younger than me who had had sailed, many times I got the impression, with Captain Ralph, Arleen and Tracey and then there was me.  I don’t think they were expecting a 6’6” 280# linebacker size crew member and the only berth left for me was a small single forepeak V-berth with the head (bathroom) separating me from the galley and Captain Ralph & Arleen’s cabin.  It was cramped, the only place for my gear was on the berth that I was to sleep on and I couldn’t have been happier! I made a nest along side my duffle bags.

Here is a side note: always pack your clothes and gear in duffle bags, preferable bag.  They are easier to store on board and when emptied can be rolled up into each other.  Also, before you pack lay out all the clothes you know you need to take and leave half of them at home, maybe even more.  As the saying goes “ take half the close and twice the cash.”

My formal education had begun.  Shortly after storing my gear Ralph began to divulge the schedule for the next day.  Some cruisers from another boat were invited over for sundowners (aka cocktails) in the salon of the Kathleen D; I could get use to this.  Next morning we slipped the mooring and motored out into the sea of Abaco for a quick sail up to Great Sail Cay (pronounced key) for the night before our jump across the Gulf Stream the next morning.   Captain Ralph had me take the helm as we sailed into the anchorage.  He directed me to where he wanted to anchor, once we got there I pointed her nose into the wind, down went the hook. He left the mainsail up but furled in the jib and let the wind push us back setting the hook and down went the mainsail.  We tided up the boat and then it was time for a swim in gin-clear turquoise water.  The weather we had been expecting held off another day so we planed for a 0400 departure for Ft. Pierce FL.   Up to this point I had only heard stories about the Gulf Stream, horror stories.  Tanker ships being swallowed by rogue waves, small craft and planes vanishing into thin air, I mean we were in the Bermuda Triangle! My other concern more than dying was being a true greenhorn and getting seasick spending the passage feeding the fish unable to stand my watch.  I took ginger pills, worried the night away but when I woke up, the sky was azure blue and the friendly voice on NOAA Weather radio told us the only thing to fear was no wind so on came the iron genny (engine, more correctly engines) up came the hook and off we motored heading dead west.  The other couple went back to sleep, Arleen was making coffee and I was doing my best impression of a sponge, soaking in everything about the experience I could.  Once the course was set and the autopilot engaged a hand line was set out in hope of catching lunch.  A few barracuda that we wisely let go hit quickly followed by several Spanish mackerel that made their way into Arleen’s frying pan.  As we approached the stream a quick lesson on set and drift; your intended course vs. the strong current of the Gulf Stream.  The Gulf Stream (from now on just stream) is a river of fast moving warm water beginning in the Caribbean sea heading around the Florida Keys up the east coast till it meets the Labrador current in the North Sea.  It’s not like a river on land that has the decency to stay in its banks (for the most part) it meanders.  It is also very deep so when you go from the relatively shallow shelf of the Atlantic Ocean or the even shallower Bahamas Bank into the stream you know it.  Now if the wind is out of the south to southeast or southwest in essence going with the current you stand a good chance of a less eventful passage but, if the wind has any northerly component to it, going against the current, well I think the PG term is snotty the less PG term could get you mouth washed out with soap.  In our case there was NO wind, a lull before the cold front that would turn the planned passage up the east coast to Charleston a bash up the Inter Costal Waterway (ICW or ditch) with no sailing to be had.  Captain Ralph later compared the job of a delivery skipper to that of an overland truck driver, schedules had to be made.  An uneventful passage across the stream (no mettle tested) with another fine mackerel in the frying pan, well more correctly half a mackerel since a good 18” of what looked like 36” of lunch was a snack for some toothy predator as it was being brought to the sugar scoop (aft boarding steps and swim platform) of the Kathleen D.  We headed into the harbor in Ft. Pierce and after some adjustments to the Kathleen D by removing her bow sprit (the long pointy thing off the bow or front of the boat) and setting out fenders to protect the fiberglass hulls from the ravages of barnacle encrusted docks and dock lines were readied Captain Ralph in essence parallel parked (docked) the Kathleen D between a research vessel and another 40 foot catamaran.  Now before you think, yea what’s the big deal I parallel park all the time; fair enough, next time try it with a 41 foot long car 24 foot wide with no breaks and the road pushing you the way you don’t want to go.  Crap I have a lot to learn. 

When you go from one country to another there are official steps that have to be taken, even if the country you are entering is the country of your citizenship.  Step one is the ships captain gathers all the crews passports and ships documents and goes ashore to customs to clear in the vessel followed by a trip of everyone to immigration usually located at an airport to finish in the process.  No one is allowed off the boat until the captain clears in with customs so while Captain Ralph was clearing us in I pulled out the cellphone to check in back home which led to me trying to mediate WW III between my eldest daughter and her mother.  To say the mediation was going well would be to say there would have been peace in the Middle East anytime soon.  A concerned Captain Ralph who had returned to the boat and was holding out his cellphone to me instructing me to hang up on my call and take this one cut my mediation short.  What could I do, he was the captain; bye-bye Lubbock, hello customs.  OK, remember several pages ago I may have mentioned I may have brought an illegal passport with me, but it didn’t seem to be an issue leaving the country, well seems that getting out is easier than getting in and I had some explaining to do.  I think the phrase “the drawer where I keep ALL my passports” came out of my mouth that sent the captain and crew, who now had the free entertainment of watching me trying to stay out of jail, into the throws of laughter and shock and waiting for my eventual ride in a customs vehicle to GITMO.  What I had meant to say was the drawer where I kept all OUR, meaning all the families’ passports.  Subtle difference but nonetheless important.  After explaining with a good amount of Oscar worthy phone acting thrown in I was allowed to stay in the country, well I was allowed to get off the boat and get my ass to immigration ASAP.  If you are wondering what a correct response to the kind man on the phone would be, it is Yes Sir!  Being that it was now late in the evening everyone was hungry and more importantly thirsty so we are sailors and we did what sailors do, we found a bar; were sailors and that’s what sailors do.  Remember the cold front I had mentioned earlier, well it hit while we were in the bar.  The winds were so strong we thought the roof of the bar was going to blow away as I’m sure it had several times before.  The rain was horizontal, cold and in solid sheets and was accompanied by thunder and simultaneous lighting strikes that rattled glasses and made hair stand on end.  The order was to drink up pay up and get back to the Kathleen D, secure the electronics and make sure all lines were secure.  So dodging lighting strikes we made it back a crew of drowned wharf rats very cold and any buzz from the too few beers we had time to drink was shocked out of our system; boat secure, crew dry, off to bed before I take a trip to immigration in the morning.   A rental car was obtained so we all piled in for a trip to the airport to finish clearing in.  Of course everyone sailed through the process saving the problem child (that would be me) for last.  Somehow I talked my way back into the country of my birth and the immigration officer warned me that from this point on I should use this passport, the lost one that was replaced; this is an important detail that will come into play in Part 8.

Ft. Pierce was where we had a crew change as well. The couple and other guy who were there for the crossing from Abaco left us and we added two other guys, one who’s name I can’t remember and the other who I will never forget, well not his real name but what they called him, Grumpy!  Grumpy and his friend joined us late Sunday and it was only Saturday so time for boat chores.  Cleaning decks, a trip to West Marine, the liquor store, the Publix (grocery store), and laundry.  It also meant long hot showers using the marina’s facilities something you don’t get to experience on the boat.  Sunday morning I assisted Captain Ralph is changing the oil in both the diesel engines and spent a fair amount of time wandering the docks and tagging along with Ralph soaking up information and asking questions.  I also moved up the pecking order in terms of berth space and switched from the cramped v-berth to a spacious double in the starboard hull.  I was fine with the v-berth but Arleen insisted and you don’t defy the cook, especially when she is married to the captain.  The original crew, Captain Ralph, and Arleen, also briefed me about my upcoming bareboat charter and the person in charge of the Maine Cats I would be chartering, Captain Ron.  No not the “fun” Captain Ron from the movies but his evil, obsessed, misogynistic, brother; more details in Part 8.   The new crew showed up, Grumpy was true to his name and was assigned to my old berth to which he protested, loudly and excessively.  Grumpy refused to believe that I fit in there but I had photo evidence.  Ft. Pierce was where my role as delivery crew changed over to ASA student and the course work began for Grumpy’s friend (lets call him Bob) and myself.  After a thorough briefing and dinner we made plans to head north.  The cold front that had passed through the previous day led to clear cool sky with a brisk 30 knot north wind making the passage on the outside of the ditch (the ICW, Inter-Coastal Waterway, an inland trail of narrow canals that roughly mirrors the coastline but a mile or two inland.  Not in the ditch is actually going by ocean) impossible. The adage that the wind is always too strong and always from the wrong direction would prove true for the entire trip from Ft. Pierce to Charleston which relegated up to staying on the inside and motoring the entire trip.  Now had we been cruisers we could have just waited out the weather for a favorable wind but there were schedules to keep and a crew change in Charleston.  Now “Bob” had experience in motor boats and had little trouble keeping in the channel, me on the other hand, not so much, but, I never ran the Kathleen D aground but did start getting tired of being told that I was drifting and needed to get back in the channel; but I learned and got better.  Although the original plan when we were sailing on the outside was to sail nonstop getting some valuable night sailing experience, in the ditch that was not possible.  Our goal was to make 200 miles a day from sunrise to just before sunset, find a protected anchoring spot, do course work and head out the next morning.  Aside from one fouled anchor and dragging once along with Grumpy’s persistent complaining about one thing or another we pushed on.  Although I got no sailing experience on the trip up the ditch I did gain valuable knowledge and a taste of what is the real cruising life.  I learned how to deal with bridges and their operators, strong currents as we pushed through tight passages, setting two anchors to fight a strong shifting current, and that it is ok to laugh you ass off at the stinkpot (powerboat) that blew by you only to end up on a sandbar waiting for a tow off only to repeat the exercise once free.   We saw a lot of cruising sailboats making the migration north before storm season in the topics and some heading south.  We passed through the cities of Northern FL and the savannas of costal Georgia.  Along the way we had close calls with barges and working vessels, waves breaking over the entire 41’ of the Kathleen D as we snuck by the open inlets to the raging Atlantic, got some fuel from another north bound vessel when we were running low, had fuel problems and changed fuel filters while underway, listened to Grumpy’s views on life, and ate Arleen’s great cooking; I have never felt more at home. Yea, I could do this! 

When we made it to Charleston the winds had shifted from the north to the south.  Too late for my leg of the trip but boded well for the next crew.  Bob and I took our written exams for ASA 114; I had already taken and passed the exam for ASA 104.  One of the new crew was stuck in the airport in Texas, so it looked like we had a play day and favorable winds to actually sail, except I had a plane ticket for the play day.  A few home calls between Jo, American Airlines, and me got a change in travel plans.  I had already missed my friends Mary and Corey’s wedding so what was there to loose.  The night we got in we all needed to stretch our legs and wandered Charleston was the first night of the Spoleto Festival and fancy parties were taking place in this genteel southern town.  This also meant no hotels were to be had for the next night when the Kathleen D headed off and I need to wait for a flight.  Well I did find a room in a “hotel” by the airport and even got the nightly not hourly rate; damn did I feel salty!  A bar was a short walk away and the next morning I caught a flight back home after explaining why my ticket said one date and I was flying ta different date.  How hard could that be, I mean, I had talked my way back into the country, well this time.

In Part 8 we have Captain Ron, Captain Fred, learning about squall lines, health care in the third world, and guys with guns.  Just another day in paradise!

 Images from Part 7:

Captain Ralph & Arleen

Fish On

Think we'll let this one go

An S&S Sloop in the Bahamas, only one hull but nice boat

My V-Berth from Abaco to Ft. Pierce

Hello bridgekeeper

Thank You!

Almost there

And under

Sunset on the costal savannas of GA
Sunset on the Savanna

No sails but sweet nonetheless


It's this rough on the inside!
A Cautionary Tale

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