Saturday, July 7, 2018

Reflections … 6th July 2018

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


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Fog … Monday 2nd – Tuesday 3rd July 2018

Fog      Monday 2nd – Tuesday 3rd July 2018

A pre-dawn start, beautiful sunrise out on the water, a long laid-back motor sail up the coast of Long Island in light winds and a peaceful, reflective night, returning to our home port of East Greenwich, RI under starry skies … this was what was supposed to happen. We were fortunate to get most of this, but by 8 pm, as the sun was starting to set, we began to realize that visibility was far from ideal. By the time we reached Montauk Point we were totally socked in by fog. It was pitch black and the few stars we could see did little to lighten the night and even these soon disappeared. We didn’t see Montauk light, despite being less than two miles away. We didn’t see the lights from any other vessels, although there were plenty of them around. The moon wasn’t due to rise until 11.30 pm but we just kept motoring into the gloom relying totally on our electronic instruments to direct us and reveal obstacles in the way. We do have a great radar system (Simrad) and the AIS (automatic identification system) is outstanding, but only shows boats that have that system. Under these circumstances it feels like you are flying along and you simply have to trust the instruments, just like aircraft pilots in cloud or fog. We passed Block Island before midnight and it seems the breeze flowing over the warm land helped reduce the fog and we caught a brief glimpse of the moon. However, as soon as we passed the island the fog settled in thicker than ever. The whole boat was cold and soaking and we were wrapped up in full foul-weather gear. We managed to navigate our way around a tug and barge on our way to the entrance of Narragansett Bay; we ‘saw’ them on AIS / radar and spoke to them on the radio to clarify our actions, but we never actually saw them. Then we briefly saw the lighthouse at Point Judith as a faint glow and could not see Beavertail lighthouse even though  it was only half a  mile away. By 3am were close to the Jamestown bridge when we realized that all the fancy GPS and radar wasn’t going to help us find the correct passage between the pillars – the whole thing would appear as one uninterrupted barrier. We decided that it was smart to pause at this point and take a break, so we pulled in to Dutch Harbor and based purely on instruments found a safe spot to drop the anchor. What a relief! The last 7 hours had been some of the most tiring sailing of my life.
We slept a few hours and got up at 7.30 am to find the world still cloaked in fog. But after a leisurely breakfast, the fog lifted and we could see where we had anchored. It looked pretty reasonable! We left shortly after 9 am and headed up the bay back to East Greenwich. It felt stiflingly hot under a blazing sun with just enough southerly wind to cancel out the breeze our forward momentum. We made a quick stop at the dock to wash the deck and fill the tanks with fresh water, and then we were back on our mooring. We feel a mixture of pleasure / accomplishment that we completed the trip, excitement to be going back home and starting new activities, and sadness that the adventure is over. In our final blog (for this trip) we will reflect on what we thought of our Caribbean adventure … coming soon!


A picture perfect sunrise - the water was glassy ... no wind no waves and next to no swell. p.s. If you are wondering there is no extra saturation or color added to this shot. This is what it looked like ... albeit through a telephoto lens

Fishing boat in the early morning light off Sandy Hook

Motor-sailing in dense fog - I'm moving around during the course of the exposure (~ 3 minutes F11) because we couldn't afford to leave the instruments un-attended in the fog

Jamestown Bridge on Tuesday morning after the fog dispersed ... B&W negative

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Passage to New York … Thursday 28 June – Sat 30 June 2018

Passage to New York      Thursday 28 June – Sat 30 June 2018

We left Portsmouth, VA shortly after 10 am on Thursday and arrived in Atlantic Highlands, NJ around 4 am on Saturday. It was ~ 265 nautical miles trip and we covered it in 42 hours. It was a pretty easy and uneventful passage. The winds were really light, rarely reaching ten knots and although we had our mainsail up the whole trip we only truly sailed about 10 hours. So it was a long motor-fest. Sea states were good – with a 3-4 foot long period swell but no significant waves and our engine didn’t conk-out! I did switch fuel-separators mid-passage and changed out the dirty one as a precaution as it seemed to have about 20 ml of water in it, but not too much gunk. The highlights of the trip were the sunsets, sunrises and rising of the full moon, which were all totally spectacular. The days were super hot and we made good use of the sun-shade, but the nights were surprisingly cool and we put on fleece jacket and pants as well as foul-weather jackets. It was really bright at night because of the clear skies and full moon and we did alternating two hour shifts. The section of coast along the DelMarVa peninsula was quiet and peaceful, but once you reach the Delaware Bay and continue up the New Jersey coast it gets quite busy with commercial shipping, fishing and pleasure boats. We made good use of our AIS and radar systems and practiced setting guard zones on the radar. This seems to work well once the radar is adjusted properly and it sets off an audible alarm if a new signal enters the area you define ahead of the boat. Leaving Norfolk / Portsmouth was interesting as two aircraft carriers were returning to port as we were leaving. We were fairly close to the first one and headed down the Elizabeth river with the four-tugs that were sent out to escort the carrier to the dock. In total we saw 6 different aircraft carriers in dock or returning to port in Norfolk / Portsmouth.
It was still dark as we rounded Sandy Hook and arrived at Atlantic Highlands, so we dropped anchor behind the breakwater, had a quick drink and some snacks and collapsed into bed. We awoke at ~ 10 am and decided to re-position Cotinga to be well clear of the channel. We ate breakfast, cleaned up the boat and launched the dinghy. It was then time to head into the marina, get a Lyft over to the Sea-Streak terminal in Highlands and take the fast ferry over to Manhattan. This all went well, except that I dropped my iPhone out of my pocket getting out of the Lyft car. It was some ten minutes later that I realized I had lost it and returned to look for it. I was excited to see it lying by the road … until I picked it up and figured out that it had been run over by a car or two. It was absolutely, totally knackered. But the good thing about Manhattan is that it has everything, including Verizon stores, and we were able to get a replacement in short order. We had an awesome time visiting our friends Lynn and Lee. We first met them in 2012 when we were all sheltering from hurricane Sandy in River Dunes, NC and we have remained close friends ever since. We caught up on news and Lynn cooked us some fantastic food on Saturday evening. We slept like logs in the blissful cool of air-conditioning and after a fine breakfast we headed out for a brief walk. This helped us appreciate just how hot it was, so we spent the middle part of the day enjoying the excellent (and air-conditioned) Cooper Hewitt design museum in the upper East side of Manhattan. All too soon it was time to leave and we headed back on the fast ferry to New Jersey. Thanks Lynn and Lee for a great weekend!
It’s now evening (Sunday 1st July) and I think we are ready to head out at first light to complete the final leg of this journey. We plan to sail along the south coast of Long Island, NY and head directly back to our home-port of East Greenwich.


Atlantic Highlands: 40 25.10 N, 74 01.33 W

Motor-sailing the NJ coastline at night with full moon

Although hot during the day we found the nights to be quite cool

Spectacular sunset off NJ coast

View across the deck at sunset

Sunset abstract

Abstract Sunset - four exposures at 90o apart

Moon-rise ... just as beautiful but less light and hard to photograph from a moving boat

Boiling the kettle for a pot of coffee in the middle of the night - we use red lights to maintain night vision

One of six aircraft carriers we saw in or around Portsmouth / Norfolk

Container port in the Elizabeth river, Norfolk