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North Atlantic Sailing Tour - WestboundIt was dark when we cast off from Agadir, Morocco on an early September evening at 46. We dodged crab pots with hard to see clear plastic buoy on the way in. There would surely be more on the way out. It would have been nice to have left a couple hours earlier with sunlight to see them because fouling the propeller on one of them would suck. But, heck, what's the use of worrying when you can't do anything about it? Off big land masses without weather systems passing through, the air over land cools at night, contracts, and sinks. This makes for a light offshore wind that blows from land to sea. During the day, the air over land heats back up, expands, and rises. This makes for onshore wind that blows from sea to land. So, by leaving in the evening, at least we had light favorable tailwind. Instead of worrying about the crab pots, we were thankful to have timed this flow successfully. If we noticed excessive slowness given our wind, we just have to drop the sails and dive down to unfoul the buoy and line we collected. Fortunately, we were lucky once again. By morning, we were in blue water far enough from land to escape the onshore wind to come. A perfect more consistent wind from the bottom of the Azores High had us sailing at hull speed on the beam reach over clear blue water. Actually, when possible, we typically sail at about 5 knots which is a bit below hull speed but more comfortable and much easier on the rigging. We were on our way to the Canary Islands where Barbie's sister and brother in law were travelling all the way out from Maine to visit. It was also a good time to make a video on how we set up automatic steering on the Saugeen Witch. See video. We sailed just north of Lanzarote and down into Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. This was probably the easiest sailing leg we'd had during our journey and we checked into the marina there with a few days to spare before our visitors scheduled arrival. This meant that our schedule was over. Now our lives could return to options again with no schedules beyond the wind and the seasons. We were feeling good.
Canary IslandsBy the time our visitors Brett and Do arrived, we were ready to receive them. They stayed at a nice place almost across the street from the marina, Brett hired a car, and we had fun exploring some of the island together. Then we got booted out of the marina to make room for boats in the Atlantic Rally Crossing (ARC). Fortunately, there is a nice anchorage just to the north of the marina. Las Palmas is a very convenient place to hang out for a while and provision. This is probably why they start the ARC here. You should have seen this dreadlock dog dance! While hanging out in Las Palmas, we met a guy from South Africa provisioning to sail back home. He was having trouble getting his stove's propane tanks filled. Basically, he couldn't so he finally resolved to collecting canned foods that could be eaten without cooking. Hopefully, he was able to get his tanks filled in Cape Verde Islands. He helped us better appreciate our stove that burned easy to find diesel fuel. My brother Cliff came out to visit us from his home in Málaga, Spain. We got to do some scuba diving, sailing, and more great exploring. Then we sailed over to Tenerife and anchored off a beach east of San Andres. We almost didn't make it there though. Having left Las Palmas the previous afternoon, we sailed through the night to Tenerife. A couple hours before sunrise, we were about a mile or so from the rocky cliffs on the north east side of the island. We hove to, set the timer for 30 minutes and went to sleep. Once again, God woke me up. It was before the timer went off with a change in motion. Quick deck check indicated a huge rock wall of a cliff within a stones throw; breaking waves not far off. Holy Moly! Immediately, I reset the sail, turned the boat, and made distance. There wasn't even enough time to turn on the motor. If I had woken up only a few moments later, it would have been with a wave crashing us into the rocks. Another valuable lesson learned without having to pay. Consider possible currents when heaving to close to land! Our anchorage off the beach near San Andres was one of the most rockin' and rollin' anchorages around. It was also one of the most fun. Being there felt kind of mischievous. Our setting was off huge spectacular rock cliffs next to what is probably the nicest swimming beach in all the Canaries. We were the only pleasure boat anchored there next to a couple freighters. It was also the most fun because everything we did took a lot of work. Getting to Santa Cruz, the main city on Tenerifi, first involved dealing with a swell with huge differences in oscillation between the Saugeen Witch and her dinghy. One moment the dinghy would be above the deck, the next it would be well below. Rowing the dinghy to shore involved navigating along a rock jetties over clear blue water through an opening onto a nice clean beach. After pulling the dinghy up to above high tide level, we'd turn it over putting the oars underneath. Then we had to walk a few kilometers along this beach to the most easterly bus stop at the edge of San Andres. This bus took us to Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is a fun city to walk around. Whoever designed the opera house there must have really liked the Sydney Opera house. Though different, it bears similar lines and is quite spectacular. One day we hopped on another bus and travelled to Puerto de la Cruz. Here we toured a very interesting Botanical Garden and hiked around for a day. Puerto de la Cruz is a beautiful tourist town with a spectacular coastline, a beautiful swimming hole, and a lot of gift shops. It is popular with German tourists. The next remarkable sail we enjoyed was around the rocky north of end of Tenerife. We sailed into Santa Cruz de la Palma early the next morning with the sunrise. Charts indicated a pretty sharp drop from the steep hills down to Santa Cruz into the sea. However, I was getting worried our depth sounder wasn't working. It normally measures up to 99 meters of depth. Anything deeper just indicates infinity. When we were within a stones through of the jetty, it was still reading infinity. I was about to turn around and dig out the lead line (basically a chunk of lead on a string with measured knots for determining depth). Suddenly the depth sounder blinked 75, 69, 57... and we motored into a nice deep harbour with a new marina conveniently positioned on the south end of Santa Cruz. We liked La Palma most of all the Canary Islands. It has an excellent infrastructure of roads and hiking/biking trails with no crowded cities. The south end of the island has camels. It is also a very rich island with avocados, chestnuts, almonds, grapes, figs, bananas and more. Isla de la Gomera is also full of great hiking trails and neat small towns. We anchored south of Vueltas for a few days of spectacular sunsets next to tall cliffs hovering 30 meters of over black sand on crystal clear blue water. One afternoon I wondered if I could hold my breath long enough to reach the anchor. Not a bad exercise in case, for example, the anchor was caught on something below. Pulling myself down the anchor chain from the front of the boat didn't work. I waisted too much effort and had to travel over three times the distance. Only by hovering directly above the anchor, which could be seen from the surface, was I able to hold my breath long enough. A duck dive with a few hard kicks had me with enough momentum to relax and glide the rest of the way to the bottom with just enough time to grab some sand, or string a trip line through the anchor if necessary, and push back to the surface. Nice to know it can be done but need to be able to see direct line to anchor if we're in 30 meters of water. To simplify the effort of freeing a stuck anchor, we always leave a 2 meter loop of floating spectra trip line tied to the anchor front. It never gets in the way. Sometimes we can see this floating trip line even when the anchor is completely buried in mud or soft sand. It's such a simple cheap piece of insurance so not sure why I've never seen it used on anyone else's anchor. After a few days of hiking, bus rides, and exploring, we left the Canary Islands one late October morning and started sailing south. While sailing down to Cape Verde, the water temperature went from 23'C (74'F) to 27'C (80'F) in one day, or the span on 150 nautical miles. We also started seeing our first flying fish. They would jump out of the water and glide through the waves sometimes a hundred meters or more. They even articulate their wings, or fins, to navigate between the waves. These flying fish do this throughout the day but, unfortunately, they can't see where they're going at night. Unlucky ones slam into the boat. With the Saugeen Witch's 20 cm (8 inch) gunnels, once these little things land on the boat, there's no flipping off. Every morning sailing in these open tropical waters we'd collect up to half a dozen on deck. They make perfect bait whole or as salted fillets.
Cape Verde IslandsOur first stop in the Cape Verde Islands was in early November in Palmeira on the island of Sal. Here the fisherman clean their tuna on the seawall while the locals and tourists crowd around to discuss and watch. After a few days of exploring around Palmeira, neighboring Espargos, and hiking along the coast to the south, we wanted to move a bit south to what looked like a good surf break next to a comfortable anchorage. Moving wasn't so easy. When you are living on a boat, the Cape Verde officials want to know exactly where you are and how long you will be staying there. Due to office closures and official vacation schedules, it took us a few days before we were free to leave Palmeira. By this time we learned best to keep it simple for the officials. So, we said we were heading to Mindelo and sailed down the coast of Sal to the surf break north of Murdeira. The surf break along that peninsula looked pretty good, we anchored, I cleaned the bottom of the boat, and Barbie cut my hair. After all this I didn't have the energy to paddle the surfboard those final few hundred meters into the wind to get there. I remember a Frenchman in the Azores telling us that Sailing and Surfing don't mix very well. Why this is so, at least in the North Atlantic, was getting more clear to me. You don't want to park your boat too close to the surf for obvious reasons so how do you get there? It could also be that the best surf in the North Atlantic is during winter. If you've got the freedom to be on a boat during winter, you might as well head closer to the equator. There was no surf on that break as expected the next morning so we sailed over to Terrafal de São Nicolau. We sailed along the north coast of São Nicolau. It has another spectacular rocky coastline. Terrafal is comfortably situated on the south west side of the island with a calm anchorage between fascinating mountains and beautiful sunsets. The big industry in little Terrafal is tuna fishing. The fisherman would leave at night and come back in the morning with their catch. One morning's return must have been unsuccessful until they stopped right behind where we were anchored to set their nets. We watched them go through the process for a few hours. First they deployed a little boat from the big boat. The big boat wasn't much bigger than the Saugeen Witch with about 5 people on it. The little boat wasn't much bigger than our dinghy with one person in it. Together they deployed a huge net from the big boat in one 50 meter wide circle. First the big boat drove in a circle deploying the netting while a guy in the little boat held the starting end. Once both ends of the netting were back together on the big boat, they focused on making the circle smaller by pulling the netting back into the big boat. While everyone on the big boat pulled the net in from the side, the little boat pulled on the outside of big boat and occasionally buzzed around to pull out a piece of the netting. His job was to keep the netting open and circular. With all the weight gathering up on the inside of the big boat, I was worried it would get swamped and sink. They definitely couldn't do this in a seaway but these guys obviously knew what they were doing. After a few hours of collecting fish from the netting and tossing back shells, rocks and other unwanted things the happiness of success was in the air. Being so close to town, others came in to help and be part of the successful catch returning to town. While here, Barbie made up some cool sun shades to put over the cabin windows. At the start of another mind blowing red sunset over distant rocky islands and the sea, we pulled anchor and motored back north along the sheltered west coast of São Nicolau. The dominant wind and current around here is from the north east and we were headed north west to the main city of Mindelo on the island of São Vicente. Using the lee of the island to get as high into the wind and current as possible helped us to most comfortably and safely sail north west along the exposed northern rocky coasts of Santa Luzia, São Vicente, and a couple other smaller islands. We employ this simple tactic often with great success. Simply ignore the rhumb line to your destination and accept that wind and currents accelerate as they get funnelled between islands and hills. Best to remember that time doesn't matter and three days of joy better than one day of discomfort. By mid morning the next day we entered the well protected and truly magnificent natural harbour of Mindelo. It was crowded with boats preparing for transits west. Again we saw many familiar boats and faces following a similar journey from our summer in Spain on their way to winter in the Caribbean. One family, Matthew and Stephanie on S/V Java, experienced a real scare hard to forget. They were exploring the harbour in their dinghy with their two little boys when the engine died. The wind funnels through the mountains around Mindelo over this harbour at a solid 20+ knots. Maybe a little less in the morning and a little more in the afternoon. Drifting with the wind and current in this harbour has two possible outcomes:
- get smashed on the rocks if your lucky enough to hit the island
- drift until you hit the next land 2000 miles away about 3 months later
- Use high tensile strength braided line. Being stronger line for given diameter, you can get much more braided line on a reel. Unless we're just going for bait fish, we use 100 lb test minimum. You're going to use a monofilament or wire leader anyway so a base of strong braided line is a no brainer.
- Get the fish to the boat. Stop the boat and reel it in! This means no more sailing. Maybe you can get away with just letting the sails out, tightening up the drag and cranking the fish in. If this doesn't work initially, accept the challenge. This means dropping the sails, turning on the motor, and following the fish as you work it in.
- Get the fish into the boat. A big flipping fish can be a real hazard breaking equipment and human bones. It can cut you up and hurt you bad. So, bringing it into the boat is a multi step process. First, secure it with the gaff hook. Next, knock him out on the head with a billy club. Finally, have an ice pick ready to break up its brain as you pull it up out of the water and into the boat. We have these tools positioned on the Saugeen Witch in easy access for landing a fish on port or starboard.
- If you're not up to all this then don't bother putting the line in the water, relax and enjoy your sail.
West IndiesWe arrived at Saint Vincent and the Grenadines a few days before Christmas. This is the area where Disney filmed the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It's also where we could get the best fruits and vegetables we'd seen in a long time so we enjoyed the most of it. The first thing we did after checking with the officials was buy rum. Very strong rum. This was the best we could find to burn in our alcohol stove. It felt like wasteful alcohol abuse burning this rum instead of drinking it but it worked fine. During breaks from walking exploring and enjoying hikes on land, I looked for a replacement stove. You and I could debate for hours on the best options for cooking on a travelling sailboat. Choosing fuel is just a start: diesel? propane? kerosene? alcohol? Why not a solar oven? No option and method of burning is perfect. Like everything else in life, you must balance all the options you can and consider them with your own priorities and comfort level. Then you must make a decision. After researching on the internet for a couple of days, I ran across James Baldwin's Atom Kerosene Stove. He shares stories of his sailing voyages on atomvoyages.com. James has the best stove solution that balances simplicity, reliability, safety, and ease of fuel procurement in remote places. Though he didn't have any in stock when I contacted him, he gave me good advice and told me his supplier. The unmodified Atom Kerosene Stove is called the Butterfly #2412 Brass Pressure Stove at John's Family Preparedness store at St Paul Mercantile. I ordered the stove and spare parts from John, some accessories from James, and had everything sent general delivery to the post office in Clifton on Union Island. We would spend the next couple of weeks island hoping our way down there, pick up our new stove, head over to Bonaire for some scuba diving, and all would be good. Ha. Dream on. Life would be boring without some sort of sabotoge to such a beautifully simple plan. Excessive rowing of the dinghy and swimming on Christmas eve had caused an odd pain in my upper back / neck. Very early Christmas morning, I woke up in agony. I managed to get out of the forward birth and onto the cabin sole in fetal position with excruciating acute pain radiating from my upper back down my left arm to a hand seized in paralysis. Of all the wild injuries I've suffered, I don't remember experiencing so much pain. And it happen in the night in the middle of a restful dream. Barbie said maybe I injured something the day before which swelled in the night and pinched nerves that radiated pain. Best to keep my arms forward over my head. I know what it's like in a coma. Nothing. She knocked me out of pain with some pills and I soon slept. I don't remember anything else from that early Christmas morning through New Years eve. Not sure what would have happen if she wasn't there. For a week I was completely knocked out and I think she looked after me without even leaving the boat. I wonder what went through her mind being stuck in this third world country with me sprawled over the floor the whole time. I woke up to New Years eve fireworks lying on the cabin sole like I was Christmas morning. I wasn't hungry or dehydrated and everything was clean. Glancing up to the forward birth, I saw her standing up through the forward hatch watching them. Seeing her bare legs and nice little rump, I thought it would be great to go up around on deck to surprise her with a kiss. Unfortunately, soon as I started rising, major pain returned and I collapsed back onto the floor. At least now I could start doing minor stretches. Eventually, we took a water taxi into town to see the doctor. He forwarded me to a nurse who gave me a shot. Barbie kept saying I might benefit from some other type of medicines but they were not available here or anywhere else close. So, we hung out in gorgeous Bequia's Admiralty Bay for another week or so while I slowly stretched and moved and healed. Eventually I felt healthy enough to travel so we sailed south to Charlestown Bay off Canouan island. Actually, Barbie did the sailing and I just hung onto the boat trying not to move. The rocking motion of sailing was painful enough. Raising the sails and working the sheet lines was too much for me to bear. Since I wasn't strong enough to deal with the dinghy and explore the island, next day we sailed down to Tobago Cays. We threaded our way through the reefs to a great secluded anchorage watching turtles swimming around. There are lots of turtles around here. We often saw them coming up for air at most anchorages. The locals eat them and make jewellery out of their shells while an old retired pearl diver with a turtle farm helps them grow. After exploring Tabago Cays for a few days, we moved down to Clifton on Union Island. This is where our new stove and accessories should be waiting for us. As it turned out, the accessories from James was there but the stove was not. When we picked up this package we let the clerk know that we'd be coming to the post office daily to say hello and check on our next expected package. Without thinking too much about it, when we sailed into Clifton Harbour we anchored on the west end of the off the beach from where the ferry transits. Soon after settling in on anchor I noticed a big old rusted boat in the beach a hundred meters behind us. We were anchored in 30 meters of water over grass. With the 20+ knot winds we were experiencing, extra anchor rode seemed like a good idea. We didn't want to meet the same fate as that boat. So I went forward and let out more chain. Interestingly, the chain dropped nice and smooth as expected and then suddenly stopped with the bitter end hovering above the water. A little 5mm line was tied from the end of the chain, down a pipe and around a sharp bend to where two little screws anchored it to the fiberglass anchor locker. Watching the chain go out and suddenly stop took me a millisecond to think "Shoot! We're about to loose our whole anchor setup!" as I imagined the chain slipping into the sea and us quickly drifting into that rusted hull behind us. I had purchased extra nylon rode but neglected to splice it onto the chain. That nylon line was just sitting in the chain locker with loose ends. The only thing between us and that rusted boat in the beach behind was two small screws and 20 knots of wind accelerating around this island pushing water and us towards it. Before I could think of that, however, I ran back, grabbed a jib sheet line, threaded it through the bow roller to a knot at the end of the chain, ran back and cranked it in. My heart resumed beating when the snubber was in place and the chain was looped around the windlass. One again, pleasure resumed to pleasure after accepting how quickly it can turn bad.
This is how we live.Here in Clifton is the coolest bar in the Caribbean. It's Jay's Happy Island Bar! About 10 years ago, Jay started dumping loads of conch shells on a reef about 1/2 km from town. Over the next five years he piled on concrete, structures and even some palm trees. Now complete, he makes sure the entire anchorage is well endowed with reggae music every night. After exploring most of Union island, we finally received our new stove and it was time to move on. My back and arm still hurt enough to make sailing uncomfortable. So, instead of heading to Bonaire and further west, a safe heaven with good medical facilities and favorable visa requirements would be better. Puerto Rico would be perfect and only a few days sail from here. The island of Culebra between San Juan and the Virgin Islands was our target. Sailing around the east side, or windward side, of St Croix would be best. All those islands of the Caribbean play havoc with the steady rhythmic waves of the clear North Atlantic Ocean. Those consistent waves refract off the many islands to continue in the Caribbean as a disorganized confused mess. My body was not at all comfortable beating into those disorganized waves. After the first or second night of our sail I thought better to forget about Culebra, find an alternative, and fall off the wind and waves. After short study of the charts, Salinas looked best. Decision made, we turned west maybe 10-15 degrees. This falling off made a huge difference in our motion through the waves. My back thanked me with significantly less jabs of pain radiating down my left arm. Yes, this was the right thing to do. We watched the mountains and coastline of Puerto Rico come into view with the sunrise. Sailing between barrier islands into Salinas was like a dream. The clear turquoise water surrounded by mangroves was the most calm we'd experienced in months. That the motor wouldn't start didn't matter (salt spray on electrical contacts). We just sailed up to behind an island at the windward side of the bay where other sailboats were anchored. The best thing to do here was relax and enjoy the calm surroundings of mangroves and manatees. So that's exactly what we did for the next few months.
You live in a miracle.
Enjoy it to the max.
It ends when it ends.
We don't know when.
You live in a miracle.
Enjoy it to the max.
It ends when it ends.
We don't know when.
Puerto RicoWe hired a car the day before Barbie flew back to her home in Florida. While driving through Ponce, I noticed a metal shop. We needed to set up a gimballing system for the new kerosene stove. Just how metal was going to get cut, bent, fabricated, and welded into a gimballed stove was unknown. What I did know is that we needed to start with some round rod of stainless steel. Fortunately for us, this shop had the perfect steel rod we were looking for. The two guys in front of us were not so lucky finding what they were looking for but offered to help. The new gimballing system design was only known in my mind. Nothing was written down. After explaining the general idea and material we would need, the four of us drove around Ponce for the next couple of hours looking for nuts and bolts and stainless steel welding rod. Having never been there before and without a map, it felt like we were driving in circles. Finally, we were at the older guys house where we would do the fabrication. Since the stove was on the boat, we wouldn't be able to do it today. I'd have to come back tomorrow with the stove. After all this help these two guys just gave us driving around searching for and procuring material, I left it all with him. That was the best thing I could do to show I was legitimate and would give them the job. Now the biggest challenge was finding his house again. Luckily, Barbie had been taking pictures of road signs and landmarks to help in getting back to his house. The next day, these pictures helped. After saying goodby to Barbie at the San Juan airport (she would never return), I drove directly to the older guys house and we made the new gimballed stove. It was a perfect group effort. The older guy spoke only Spanish and was a knowledgeable metal fabricator. The younger guy spoke good English and was learning metalwork. Unfortunately, I don't remember their names. My speaking was limited to English and shared only an idea. I shared my thoughts, the younger guy did the work, and the older guy made it better. The primary stove on the Saugeen Witch is awesome. I don't know how it could be better. The new backup replacing the Ortega alcohol stove is an MSR International designed to burn most anything but it will likely forever sit unused in it's bag. While here I was fortunate to spend time with Mike and Alphie, my brother's mother and father in law, who live up in the mountains close by. I also met a number of good fun locals in Salinas like
- Gill - the wild Frenchman waiter/gardener who sailed his little metal boat over from France but now spends summers in Washington DC and winters in Caribbean.
- Connie and Ruth - Floridians who introduced me to key people and places in Salinas. Since they spent time in Colorado, we had fun talking about the mountains on the sea.
- Tommy - whose father helped write the Puerto Rican constitution and has a cool nice place on the water.
- Jorge - the fisherman / accountant who knew the fish in these waters better than most and who lent me his bike during my stay.
- Jose - who drove a truck all over the USA for a decade but now back in Puerto Rico somehow manages to attract trouble in the oddest ways.
- Jonse - the Puerto Rican Frenchman who opened up with his wife the best waterfront hang out in Salinas.
- Jack and Jane - the 80+ year old couple who spent the past 20 years sailing around Caribbean and can't think of any place better to be.
- Norman - the ex mayor from Maine who now runs a cattle farm in Dominican Republic, ran his sailboat into a reef, and sold me the head sail furling system from it.
- and many others who made Salinas and Puerto Rico a special place for me.