Reflections … 6th July 2018
I want to dedicate this blog entry to Gloria. Without her none of this would have been possible. Sailing has become a more nerve-wracking experience for Gloria since breaking her hip / femur on the dock in 2014 and she shows amazing courage and determination just to get on the boat. Coping with larger winds and seas than we typically experience was a challenge and she handled it brilliantly. I know that losing both of her parents in January affected her deeply and there was a period when she really just wanted to be at home. But she stuck with it and I will always be grateful that she did. In writing our blog we probably have a tendency to emphasize the exciting or challenging moments over the mundane, it simply makes a better story, but there were plenty of times when things were just ticking along quietly. Overall we had a fabulous trip and on reflection I think we’ll even look back on the difficult moments as contributing to the overall experience. (Mike)
Before we go further there are a number of people we want to thank for helping make this adventure possible. In particular, we want to thank Rod, Dave, Brian and Sandy for crewing on one or more of the long offshore passages – East Greenwich to Norfolk, Norfolk to Tortola, Bahamas to North Carolina. We owe you big time! Rod was also instrumental in helping to get the boat ready, not to mention all his sailing coaching over the years. We also want to thank all of our families and friends for their help and support – your encouragement was really important! Finally, a special shout-out to all those people who commented on our blog … you know who you are! Thanks
What were the best parts?
· We really enjoyed having our friends and family visit.
o Tasha’s visit over Christmas and New Year. Whilst she has spent time with us on Cotinga in a marina (2012-3) she had never actually sailed with us before. We had a fabulous visit with no seasickness!
o We really enjoyed spending time with Dave, Kathy, Julie and Lizzie; Simon; Stew and Paige; Bridget; Rod
· So many beautiful places – in total we visited 12 different countries (BVI, USVI, St Barts, St Kitts + Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Antigua, Turks and Caicos, Bahamas). Our top favorites were Martinique, Guadeloupe and Antigua, but there wasn’t anywhere we didn’t like or wouldn’t want to go back to.
· Beautiful water – particularly Grenadines, Antigua and the Bahamas
· Snorkeling and swimming – we did some fabulous snorkeling in lots of places. Some of the reefs look in poor condition and they are under huge environmental pressures. It’s fantastic just to be able to jump off the boat and swim in crystal clear anchorages. Mike particularly enjoyed skinny-dipping after his swim-suit was stolen off the rail!
· Tropical forests and gardens – the scenery on many of the islands was beautiful. We thought Martinique had the best rain-forest and St Lucia and Guadeloupe the best botanical gardens.
· Whale, dolphin and bird spotting – we only saw one whale close up in Caribbean and a couple more up near Long Island near the start of the trip, but we saw loads of dolphins which is always a joy. At some points (not everywhere) we saw a lot of seabirds and we also enjoyed the tropical birds of the island. The lizards were cool as well!
· Grocery shopping in the French Islands – on the whole we would say that the food was not the highlight of the islands (although we always eat well!), however, the range and quality of groceries on the French Islands is definitely a level above others. Does anyone know where you can buy passionfruit?
· Great sailing – whilst there were certainly some difficult passages we also did some very fine sailing. Most notably … island hopping north from St Lucia, the Mona passage / north coast DR to Turks and Caicos, Eleuthera to the Abacos, Bahamas to North Carolina (except the last night!)
· Photo opportunities – Mike loved the chance to focus on photography. Overall he took ~12,000 photos over nine months. He’s looking forward to doing more with them in the year ahead.
· Meeting new people – We met so many lovely people during the trip and made friends that we hope we will see again. One of the best things about the ARC1500 rally was getting to know the other participants and then meeting up with them again in the islands. The sailing community is very friendly and it’s easy to strike up conversations and friendships. It’s really common to keep bumping into people, which is great.
· Living on the boat – it’s a different lifestyle from “dirt living” but it’s fun living on the boat. You certainly appreciate hot showers with lots of water and air conditioned rooms ashore, but we are going to miss living aboard.
· Sense of accomplishment – In the end we think we sailed about 6,000 nautical miles. (If we had learned to use the trip log system earlier we would have had a precise measure). This works out to be an average of about 25 nm per day – that’s a lot of travel for a sailboat when you consider we average about 6 nm per hour (see comments below)! We used all of our sails (main, genoa, staysail, genaker) except the storms sails (storm job and tri-sail). We sailed whenever possible, but used the engine whenever needed to maintain progress. We mostly anchored, but used mooring where recommended (e.g. to protect reefs) and marinas when that was the best option or we wanted a break. We stayed safe! Overall we feel really good about completing this journey.
What were the worst or most troubling parts?
· Thunderstorms – wind and rain at sea or at anchor can be frightening, but at least you feel you have some control. Thunderstorms are terrifying and you have no control. We had some huge T-storms whilst at anchor in the latter part of the trip, but thankfully nothing too serious whilst sailing.
· Diesel fuel issues - We had lots of problems with contaminated fuel tanks despite having tried to clean them out prior to departure. We must have used 8 fuel separators and ~5 fuel filters during the course of the trip and sucked out gallons of sludge from the bottom of the tanks and blew out “clots” that were clogging the lines. All of this arises from water in the fuel and bacterial growth. Somehow we need to clean / disinfect our tanks, but it’s difficult because baffles prevent access to some areas.
· Toilet issues – This seems to be a perennial problem on sailboats. There were times when our overboard pump for the holding tank would not prime properly and needed to be primed manually … a messy job always done out at sea, typically when it’s bumpy! Our forward head also developed a leak that we could not fix despite having all sorts of spares. We ended up not being able to use it for the last month and will replace the whole unit.
· Camera / Laptop / binocular issues – the marine environment is brutal. The zoom ring on Mike’s 70-200mm lens seized and it started to fog. The lens is now in for repair. Both of our computers developed issues and our binoculars also had fogging issues.
· Big-wind sailing to windward – Sailing off the wind when it’s blowing hard is fine, but trying to make progress to windward in strong winds is hard work. The passage from St Vincent to St Lucia (which Simon loved!) was particularly trying. “Gentlemen don’t sail to windward”
· Wealth disparity—Many of the islands we visited had been devastated by the hurricanes of the last season. The locals on those islands were struggling. We were more willing to participate in tours/taxi trips on those islands with the aim of helping the local economy. In a broader sense though, many islands are very poor and the local people are struggling with lack of employment, poor housing and charges for sending children to school. It’s quite overwhelming to see the scale of the problem. Often, we were approached by young children who were asking for money for school-books. This seemed so unlikely to us. Later, another sailor told us that it was indeed a problem on St. Lucia - the family needed to pay for the books the student used. I think this demonstrates the way we arrive in the islands, understand little or nothing of the local conditions and judge what we see in an unfavorable light. The problems of wealth disparity are more starkly visible in these beautiful islands dotted with gated resorts, while the locals live in huts made of “the corrugated”.
What worked well – what broke down?
· The route – It was a good choice to take the ARC 1500 rally . There were three options for heading south … offshore from Norfolk, offshore from Florida / Bahamas, or island hopping in short weather windows or at night. We now believe the third option would be really hard work and we wouldn’t have made it anywhere near as far south as we did in the timeframe allowed.
· The crew – Rod, Dave, Brian and Sandy were awesome!
· Auto-pilot, navigational electronics, water-maker, communications – all worked well.
· Radar, Fuel supply, forward head, 12v fans, engine raw water impellor, lap-tops and camera lens – caused us problems. Replacing the radar dome in Tortola was the most expensive repair. We await estimates for repair of the 70-200mm lens.
What would we do differently?
· It was a long way! We underestimated just how far it is to go down and back to the Caribbean. It would be better to spread the journey out over two years, going south in year 1 and laying the boat up in Grenada for the hurricane season, then returning during year 2. This is what most people we met were doing, however, we would not have had the opportunity to go back to work at Framingham State University if we had taken this approach.
· Communication – there seems to be decent cell phone coverage (3G) in most places we went to, but there has to be a cheaper way of doing this than paying daily roaming fees to Verizon!
· Comfort in the cockpit—We have one small shade that unrolls to partially cover the cockpit but something more would have been welcome. We are even seriously considering a bimini! ($$$) In a similar way, it now seems to us that cockpit cushions would be a great idea.(more $$$ !)
So that brings us to the end of this particular adventure. In the autumn we are going back to work at Framingham State University. Where will our next sailing adventure be? Mike has a hankering to take the boat to Europe. Returning to the Caribbean would be great. Dave has long been a proponent of sailing the North-West passage (we’ll see about that one!). At this stage we have no idea.
Thanks for reading the blog.
Gloria and Mike