Thursday, December 22, 2011

Year Four – Tread softly and enjoy the voyage

Threepenny Opera is tugging gently on her lines as the wake from a passing fishing boat reaches into her slip at Marina Darsena in Varadero Cuba. It is early December and it has been 3 weeks since we left Vero Beach and the land based life of rental cars, air conditioning and shoes. Pat and I are loath to dwell on it, lest we jinx the good vibes that we feel, but the both of us has silently noted first to ourselves and then more vocally to each other that we seem to be unusually prepared and organized as we set off on what will be our fourth year of cruising.

Our lazarettes actually seem to have space in them, unlike the jack in the box stuffed entities that we have lived with in the past. Everything has a place and so long as we remember where that place is, we can actually open hatches and locker lids without having flying objects landing on or pinching, crushing, stabbing etc. various unsuspecting body parts. Even though Double jointed maneuvers worthy of Harry Houdini and chess grand master like forward planning of our stores consumption 2-3 months ahead are still required in order to make best use of our finite space aboard, the phenomenon of crawling over the corn flakes to retrieve the Allen wrenches seems to be much less common these days.

Pat has been cooking even more gourmet meals than she has in the past. We have always eaten well onboard but the major milestone this year has been her forays into the baking realm. Now we can have an endless supply of wonderful multi-grain loaves so long as our flour and energy supplies hold out. While we might miss being caromed around in the subway rush hour like crowds that crush the counter at the local bakery when the racks of bread come from their ovens, we know that this year the experience will be by choice and not necessity.

Even the sailing itself has gotten better and seems much less frantic these days. While respect for the weather is still and will always be paramount, our minimum weather limits are broader and our ability to react to changing conditions has improved significantly. For example we broke our main sail furling line on our trip from Lake Worth to Fort Lauderdale a couple of weeks back. Instead of triggering a panic attack at the thought of an uncontrollable flapping piece Dacron, Pat and I tied off the clew as best we could, found an acceptable anchorage and made the requisite repairs. I shudder to think how we might have handled the same situation in the past, but this time, it was a non-event.

Our trip across from Marathon to Varadero saw us leaving Boot Key Harbour with a forecast of moderate winds and 3-4 foot seas north of the gulf stream with a freshening breeze and 3-5 foot seas on arrival the next morning. Our planned route was about 30 miles longer than the 92 mile rhumb line course so that we could keep the ride as smooth as possible by transiting the gulf stream perpendicular to the current. Our strategy worked as the gentle seas allowed Pat to go below and whip up one of our favorite cruising meals of Italian Sausage and Penne before sunset. The trip itself was pretty benign as a nearly full moon lit our way across the Straits of Florida towards our destination.

Things were progressing so well that by 3:00AM we were starting to slow the boat down so that we would not arrive at the harbour entrance before day break. As luck would have it the freshening breeze that was forecast arrived on schedule but with a little more intensity than expected. Once the moon disappeared behind the clouds of the approaching cold front, we found ourselves down to a postage stamp main and no head sail as we ran downwind in 25 knots of wind. Somehow Pat still managed to make coffee, although drinking it without spilling scalding hot liquid all over our chins was more difficult. By the time we arrived at the harbour entrance the seas were somewhat higher than forecast and the 4 meter high channel markers were disappearing under the breaking waves.

Conditions were not forecast to improve and there was no real alternate so our challenge was to time the breaking waves so that we could transit the outer markers and enter the relatively calm waters between the breakwaters before getting pooped or broached by a following wave. The rhythm was 2-3 8 foot waves, followed by 5-6 smaller 4-5 foot waves, so I maneuvered in idle as close as possible to the outer markers with the seas on the beam until we were rolled by the big waves. As Threepenny Opera regained her footing, I swung the wheel sharply, hit the throttle and put the bow between the markers. We were almost between the breakwaters when the next set of large waves hit our stern and pushed us around to a heading of 70 degrees off the centerline of the channel. I was cranking the wheel from stop to stop trying to maintain our position in the channel and given the amount of control I had, the experience was more like white water rafting than sailing, but in 30 more seconds we were through the entrance and into the calm water of the canal.

And so begins our fourth year on the water. It seems like yesterday that we waved farewell to our friends, family and regular pay cheques. One of our challenges this year will be to remain humble about our abilities and respectful of the sea as we continue our adventures. As the saying goes there are old sailors and there are bold sailors, but there are no old bold sailors.

I am writing this post from my sister's kitchen in Toronto. We are home for the holidays but in the New Year we are flying back to rejoin Threepenny Opera in Varadero Cuba. Our cruising plans are pretty open at the moment but generally we will attempt to circumnavigate Cuba and move towards the Exumas and Abacos as the weather warms up. Apparently there are man sized lobsters on the south coast of Cuba, so my spears are sharpened in anticipation. All in all we hope it will be an interesting year and hopefully we will find enough internet out in the boonies to share our experiences with you.

Have a great holiday season with your friends and families and of course have a good week. I know I will.


P.S. The pictures that accompany this post are of our summer road trip. We started in Vero Beach and drove to Toronto and Montreal via Atlanta, Lexington KY and Cleveland. On our way back we stopped in Dayton, Memphis, Mississippi, New Orleans, Pensacola and the Forgotten Coast of Florida. It was 6500 miles of land touring that while lots of fun, really gave us an appreciation of how fortunate we are to be visiting new places from the comfort of our own boat. Hotels, no matter how nice and restaurants of the highest caliber are no substitute for home sweet home. The pictures are largely captioned so I hope you enjoy them.

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carol + helmut said...

Hi guys always a pleasure to read your blog. Will we see you at the club over the holidays? Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year!

Jonathan said...

Loved the slideshow. Put several more stops on my bucket list!
Will eagerly follow your Cuba travels. Perhaps when we re-elect Obama the rest of will get to go there too! Best, Jonathan

Wilger said...

Merry Christmas

Great post. All the best in 2012 and safe sailing


Scott and Annie said...

We are really enjoying following your blog. Hope year four is wonderful.
Annie and Scott
S/V Carpe Diem