28 March 2017

It's All Fun and Games Until Somebody Goes Sailing

Sailing sucks, or perhaps more accurately, there are many aspects of sailing and long term cruising that are the opposite of paradise and bliss.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

I am immensely grateful for this spectacular temporary lifestyle and for the major role sailing has played in my life for the past 10+ years. Sailing provides physical and mental exercise, connection with interesting places and people, and intimacy with nature. These aspects of sailing dominate this blog. Perhaps it is only fair that I share a more rounded view, including some of the crappier aspects, of the the experience.

Most of what we share on this blog are the beautiful and fun parts of cruising. Below will be a glimpse in to the other side of sailing.



The Head


Speaking of crappy aspects... a few weeks ago in St. John (ha, St John... get it?!) we experienced our first head clog and spent a smelly morning taking apart the toilet to clear out built-up calcification in the hoses and pump. Hose constriction caused by thick calcification is a common problem. We are now treating regularly with a mild muriatic acid solution. When we get back to a home base, we're in for a total replacement of all the sanitation hoses.We have also had to replace the macerator.


Installing the new macerator was my job. Bob got to pull up the entire toilet to get to the clogged pipes a bit later. No, we do not call a plumber.


Many places in the US are very strict about managing water quality and enforce rules around pumping out holding tanks - especially in harbors and marinas. This is not the case in much of the Caribbean. Locals cock their head in confusion when asked how one gets "pumped out"; it is commonplace, unfortunately, to dump overboard. This makes swimming in some harbors not only gross but unhealthy. The seemingly most polluted harbor we were anchored in was a mostly land locked lagoon in Saint Martaan.

The US tends to have much more strict laws and better services regarding handling of waste compared to many areas of the Caribbean. There are some exceptions such as Turks and Caicos and designated protected waters in the US Virgin Island (mainly St. John). This is a pump out boat that comes out to an anchorage to empty holding tanks.


Managing Gunk

Gunk is the nautical term for slimy stuff that builds up in strainers, on the bottom of the boat and dinghy, in the bilge and sump, etc. It takes constant vigilance to keep gunk in check.

Build up in a water strainer.


Scrubbing Argon's bottom...

... and the bottom of the keel. Build up of algae and barnacles substantially reduces speed.


Spending, Drinking and Eating

Of course money, alcohol, and food can all be great fun. But when cruising long term, it is important to manage ones spending, drinking and eating wisely. This can be difficult when often surrounded by cruisers who are just on a week or two vacation and understandably partying it up for their brief reprieve. Unfortunately our spending burn rate has been higher than budgeted in part due to exorbitant data costs (more on this below) and spending more on docking than planned.

With plentiful beach bars it can be devilishly tempting to join vacationers in the party atmosphere regardless of the day of the week. So we (usually) avoid imbibing.

Tempting two for one happy hours.


Polishing, Waxing, Cleaning

It can be extra challenging keeping Argon looking good in the constant low latitude sun with scant access to fresh water for regular, deep cleaning. The salt really bakes on the hull requiring elbow grease in addition to just rinsing. Water is often metered at up to $0.35 per gallon making a good deck or hull wash expensive. Managing dampness can be a challenge especially during humid spells. We occasionally splurge and fire up the air conditioner when plugged in to shore power at a marina (metered usually) to dry out the boat. This is also a good time for a thorough cleaning down below.

Waxing the hull from the dinghy while anchored in Simpson Bay, Saint Maarten.

Messy teak cleaning while docked in San Juan.


Polishing the stainless steel bow roller.

Looking way too happy waxing the gelcoat in the heat.


Repairing and Maintaining

As any boat owner knows, there is always something to repair, upgrade, or maintain on a boat. Although we stocked up generously on supplies and spares before our trip, we occasionally need to source something locally. This is often a challenge as there just is not access to a wide variety of supplies across most islands. Luckily, Argon has been performing splendidly and has needed very little. Tartan quality overall has been superb.

Ah... finally a well stocked chandlery in Guadeloupe where we could secure the elusive sail drive anodes.



Wiring job...
... more wiring for new windlass switches ...

... and wiring in the new refrigerator compressor pump. Notice that Bob has to crawl down in to lots of small spaces.

The most recent project was to replace the refrigerator compressor pump while in Turks and Caicos. This was the one pump we had not secured a spare for in advance. Thus instead of a quick trip to West Marine for a $135 replacement, it cost nearly $400 including express shipping, import taxes and mark ups. Oh, and $40 for the cab ride to pick up the pump. Plus we had to stay in the marina an extra few days waiting for the part.


Connecting

Reliable WiFi while island and country hoping has been a major challenge. We probably require a bit more connectivity that the average cruiser as Bob is working half time (but checks in much more often) and needs reliable connectivity just about whenever in port. Occasional accessing of e mails from on shore restaurant WiFi a few times a week just will not cut it. In addition, we rely heavily on the internet for information, documents, writings, and just our lifestyle. We have spent and learned a lot along the way that is outlined in this recent blog post about connecting in the Caribbean.

Securing data options upon arrival in a new country has become a priority, second only to customs and immigration check in.

Argon's data requirements are probably a bit more than the average cruiser.

Rough Conditions

We have encountered some challenging conditions both while sailing and in harbor ranging from uncomfortable to somewhat dangerous. Sailing off shore is never taken lightly and always challenging.


Tethered in during the six day off shore passage from Bermuda to Antigua.

Sometimes the shorter hops between islands can be difficult. A few of the more challenging ones have included:


A squally 100nm overnight sail from Antigua to Dominica brought several periods of short but intense rain storms with high winds to manage in the dark. We were extremely happy when daybreak unveiled our destination.


A very short five mile hop from English Harbor Antigua just over to Mamora Bay should have been a piece of cake. But winds and seas were high and transiting the narrow, shallow opening through the reefs in high swells was terrifying with rocks perilously close as Argon got tossed about. Once inside Mamora Bay all was calm.


Anchoring vs. Mooring vs. Docking

If measuring time we probably anchor 60%, moor 20% and dock 20%. If measuring spend, then it is 0%, 10% 90%. 

Anchoring of course is the most economical, often be the most beautiful, and feels most like genuine cruising.


But in rough conditions or when there is not good holding or swing room, it can be difficult to have peace of mind when at anchor. And it can be challenging or impossible to get to shore via dinghy when winds are really high.

When we find a place to drop the hook, it has become commonplace for one of us to jump in the water with fins and snorkel to examine the anchor set, how the chain is lying, and all the area around the anchor for holding strength and risk of fouling. Here the anchor is buried and holding tight in the sand. The chain skips along the bottom when the wind gusts and yanks Argon's bow pulling back on the tackle.


The most difficult anchorages for us have been:
  • Dehaise, Guadeloupe - With 30kt winds and gusts to 40kts we had a very nerve wracking and uncomfortable couple of days. We dragged anchor just a little bit but mostly held.
  • Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica - Rollers came in unexpectedly causing dramatic rocking of all the boats. After a couple of days of this we cut our visit short and headed to Les Saintes.
  • Gustavia, St. Barts - Anchoring area is interspersed among a very crowded and deep mooring field making it quite difficult to find a spot allowing sufficient scope.
  • Grand Turk was challenging to find a large enough sandy spot among the rock and coral in shallow waters to lay down enough chain; this was made more interesting by being very close to a the famous Grand Turk Ledge that plummets immediately to 2000 feet.
The conditions in the beautiful anchorage of Dehaise, Guadeloupe would soon become snotty with 20-30kt winds and much higher gusts for a couple of days. It was difficult to sleep and we were not able to leave the boat during this time.


The best anchorages have been:
  • Pigeon Island, Guadeloupe
  • English Harbor, Antigua
  • Little Bay, Montserrat (although the reputation is that of a difficult anchorage but conditions were calm when we were there)
  • Simpson Bay, Saint Maarten
Some places that would have been too deep to safely anchor but offered well-maintained moorings included:
  • Les Saintes, Guadeloupe
  • West Bay, Saba
Moored along the stunning western cliffs of Saba.


Docking: Overall we have spent more time and money (cha-ching) in dock slips than planned. Docking proved to be convenient during visits from our kids but most of our marina stays were to escape rough weather. (I know... the truly hardy sailors are saying to hell with dock slips.)


Several times we opted to tie up at marinas to escape high winds.


Dinghy Management


Our dinghy is necessary, and wonderful, and a pain in the ass.

Hoisting on the davits and taking down from the davits has become a regular routine.

Traveling by dinghy can sometimes be a cold and wet ride.

Prior to off shore legs, the outboard has to be taken off the dinghy and mounted on the stern rail, and the dinghy is secured upside down on the foredeck.
Busy dinghy docks sometimes add to the fun of getting ashore.


Water Management 

Many on extended cruisers opt for a water maker on board. We toiled for months about whether or not to invest in one. On the upside, they can provide one with a good supply of good water for extended cruising. On the down side, they are energy hogs, expensive, and requirement regular maintenance to avoid clogging. Living on the boat for 18 months prior to our trip provided an opportunity to monitor our water usage and practice being more frugal. Ultimately we opted not to go the water maker route. We can go 2 to 3 weeks between boat tank fills with careful usage and mostly bathing in the ocean. It has become a bit more difficult to get (free) potable water in the more arid islands thus we have begun to do manual top offs of our tanks with our portable jerry jugs when there is good and free water available. Thus far we are doing just fine without a watermaker.

We have mostly been able to fill our on board water tanks, that hold 135 gallons in total, at convenient places along the way. Occasionally, however, we find ourselves needing to "jug it"... filling portable jugs on shore, dinghying back to Argon, and dumping in to our water tanks.



Adding good R/O (reverse osmosis) water to our tanks from jerry jugs carted from shore.


Customs and Immigration


Customs and Immigration is always different... where and when, how, fees, etc. Cruising guides and Noonsite are an excellent resources although there always seems to be nuances that one just has to figure out along the way. Fees range widely with more expensive places including Turks & Caicos and Bahamas. Some countries are quite complicated requiring paperwork and check ins at customs, then immigration and also port authority. Others are much more straightforward.

Very informal (but expensive) customs and immigration check-in on a stoop outdoor near the government dock in Bahamas with a friendly man in shorts and a T shirt. Often times it is much more official looking with offices, computers, uniforms and badges.

Life Stuff

Although we have greatly simplified our lives with no home, cars, etc back stateside (see former blog post), there are still plenty of normal life logistics. We can do most banking and other paperwork on line. Often we are in places that accept only cash so we must find ATMs and I have noticed that ATM fees tend to be high and there is an added foreign exchange fee making accessing ones own money quite expensive. And then there is shopping and laundry which have to be figured out every time we arrive someplace new.

Provisioning (stocking up on groceries and other supplies) is done where we can access stores and stands. Sometimes this will be right near a harbor within an easy walk, other times it requires a cab or rental car. Some of the best places for provisioning (prices, quality, and accessibility) have been Les Saintes, Guadeloupe, Saint Maarten, and Saint Thomas. Difficult or limited places included Dominica (except for their open fresh fruit market), Montserrat & Saba (expected as these are very small and remote islands), Turks and Caicos (definitely need a rental car and prices are high), British Virgin Islands (except for major harbor in Road Town Tortola where charters provision for their week).

Tiny market with very sparse selection at Black Point in the Exumas. Ester was extremely helpful in hooking us up with Bernard for a bit of gasoline (see below.)

Groceries are gathered at stands, mini marts, and larger supermarkets. Sometimes we can access via dinghy and a short walk, other times it requires a longer walk or rental car. When easy to get to with decent prices (not the norm) we stock up.

Lately I have been more resourceful in approaching some of the fisherman at the docks to buy or barter some of their catch. We continue to work on our fishing skills, too.

Provisioning day: Dinghy loaded with groceries, filled water jugs, and a bit of wine.


Happily we do not burn much diesel but we need to ensure we have access to reliable fuel when needed. More frequently we need to be able to fill our water tanks (we do not have a water maker) which is about every two to three weeks. Sometimes the water tastes, well, a little funky. I think our immune systems are getting a workout and are extra strong these days.

Laundry needs to be done every couple of weeks. It is easy to go two weeks especially since we currently mostly live in shorts, T shirts, and swim suits. But one needs to figure where and how to get it done. Occasionally there are laundromats nearby or pay washing machines at marinas. Other times one can have it done by a local for a reasonable price.


Laundry is accomplished in a variety of ways.



Sometimes I resort to old fashion hand washing in our galley sink and hanging out to dry on the life lines


Transportation has taken a variety of shapes and sizes. This was an island taxi tour in St. Kitts.
This particular rental car in Nevis was missing at least one lug nut on every tire. No paperwork or even our names were required to rent... just some cash exchanged in someones side yard.

New Places Require Lots of Homework

A major upside to cruising is learning about and experiencing new islands and countries. This certainly does not suck but does take time, attention and planning. With our frequent hopping around and everywhere being fresh to us, much time spent studying charts, cruising guides, weather, ActiveCaptain.com, other on line resources, and picking the brains of fellow cruisers. We tend to start with a high level penciled in plan (for instance aiming to be Puerto Rico by early March), fill in with more details, and adjust along the way. All sailing plans are in pencil.


Where to go next?
Paper charts in addition to electronic.


I spend many hours in the cockpit figuring out where to go to next and how to get there.


We examine charts, Navionics, Open CPN, Active Captain, Cruising Guides, and ask the opinions of other cruisers to develop and hone our itinerary.



And all of the difficulties are worth it a hundred times over!


Sailing away to somewhere new.









3 comments:

  1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing the realities of it all!

    ReplyDelete
  2. So happy for you! Looking forward to your next post!

    ReplyDelete