Author Archives: JennyDurnan

Panama, 1990

The old man and I left Ft. Lauderdale on ‘Ahora’ in 1989. This was the cruise in lieu of college.

We had the good fortune to be anchored off the Panama Canal Yacht Club just a few short weeks after the US went in and overthrew Noriega. At 17, this was endlessly fascinating to me. The town of Colon, a dangerous shithole at the best of times, now had the additional attraction of troops still in the streets, and buildings riddled with bullet and shell holes, and some roofs blown off to boot.

My first (actually only) war zone. I remember checking in with customs and immigration. The building was shot to hell, and there was no roof left in the office. While we were there, a rain squall came through. Papers were hurriedly gathered, typewriters were covered in plastic sheets, and everyone retreated to the single dry corner until it passed. Then, life carried on as usual.

We signed on to a California-based boat, named ‘Captain Musick’, and went through the canal as line-handlers.

Shortly after, we had enough destruction and ruin, and headed off to the San Blas.

Back then, there really were hardly any boats cruising the islands. We saw 3 or 4 sailboats in the 6 weeks or so that we were there.

Our arrival at our first stop was absolutely incredible. The village, home to about 40 Kuna, all excitedly piled into their dugout canoes and paddled furiously to come out and stare in wonder at the new arrivals. We didn’t even have the anchor down, and the rails were lined by smiling Indians. Even more remarkable, the crowd wasn’t there to try to sell us anything, not to ask for anything. They were all just there to come and spend time with the newcomers.

It gave us some very small idea of what it must have been like when the early explorers arrived in remote places. Truly remarkable.

Our most recent visit, while still very pleasant, certainly didn’t compare to back then. Our sailing boats are old news these days.

While in this first anchorage, we became friendly with a Kuna named Nigel. He’d had some schooling on the mainland, and spoke passable English. He wanted to go to one of the more remote islands, where he had some family. A warm welcome was promised, and he would guide us through the reefs to get there. The charts of the San Blas are based on incomplete surveys from the mid-1800’s, so some local knowledge was welcome.

We left late one morning, to have the sun high and behind us for reef spotting, allowing Nigel to take the wheel. We quickly noticed that every time we came near another canoe he would discretely change course, so as to pass as close as possible to his buddies. Each time, he would stand proudly at the wheel of this huge yacht (by dugout canoe standards), grinning at the bewildered folks paddling along. It was cute.

Our next arrival was in a place which was apparently even less visited. By the time we got the anchor down, we had easily 100 people surrounding us. We were informed by Nigel that since we were on one of the main, less visited islands, we would have to go meet the chief at the great hut, and gifts would be a good idea.

My dad’s friend, George, a dentist with a desire to spread better dental hygiene to the less developed world, had given us a big box of toothbrushes to take along on our trip. Perfect!

So, armed with our gift, our flotilla paddled our way into the village, where everyone who wasn’t with us on the water was already assembled in the great hut. The big chief and two under-chiefs welcomed us to the island, a few speeches were made, translated helpfully by Nigel. Finally, it was time for our gift to the village.

What a flop.

A polite smile, some quiet conversation between the chiefs ensued. We could tell we didn’t do too well. After a pause, the big chief spoke up, saying that the village was low on tobacco, and this would be a better thing.

Well, we had none.

A little desperate, my dad mentioned that he had a big bag of candy on the boat, maybe we could hand that out to the children? Once this was translated, the air was electric in the hut. We seemed to be doing a little better with plan B.

So, back to the dinghy with an even bigger flotilla surrounding us!

We grabbed the candy, fended off the mob, and managed to make it generally unharmed back to the great hut.

The intent had been to hand out the sweets to the kids, but the melee that ensued made it very quickly clear that this was going to be a free-for-all, with teens and women knocking over kids to make sure they got their share of this unexpected bounty. I managed to grab a few handfuls and make sure the little ones got some too, while the old man dealt the best he could with the rest.

So much for the dental hygiene mission…

Most of our days there were spent snorkeling on the reef, socializing with the few other cruisers, and really just reveling in the magnificent culture of the islands. The initial excitement of our arrival slowly wore off, but generally, we would have a canoe or two alongside from dawn until dusk. Most mornings, I’d wake up to a couple of smiling Kunas peeking down through the windows at me, happy to see me finally awake.

What a fascinating place. To do it at that age, with dad, was also pretty special.

Finally, it was time to go, next stop Cartagena, Colombia.

That’s a story for another day, however.

The crew from hell

The year was 2003. I had Star Path based in Puerto Vallarta. Through a bit of an accident of scheduling, I had the entire non-hurricane season off. What a treat! This is rare. Almost all of my career, I was in Alaska in January and February, so I was determined to do something a little more ambitious than hang around with the retirees around Mexico.

Right on cue, I opened up an old Cruising World, and found a story by Alvah Simon (one of my all-time sailing heroes, by the way) about the Galapagos and Ecuador. The Galapagos had recently changed their rules, allowing cruising boats 6 weeks in the islands. This was a big departure from the old ways, and the islands suddenly became a very attractive target for me. There was also a small, secure marina on the mainland which had been recently visited and written about favorably by Jimmy Cornell, so I made the plan to make a winter circuit from PV to Ecuador and back. I was really looking forward to both the islands and getting up into the Andes. I’d never been anywhere in South America except Cartagena back in 1990, so getting some exploration in was an exciting prospect.

There was just one problem-no crew. I can’t remember if I was broken up with my on again-off again girlfriend, or if she just didn’t want to come, but I was faced with either finding somebody or going solo. It’s a really long-ass passage from PV to the islands, and a long-ass one back, not to mention the 500 miles or so from the islands to the mainland.

I didn’t want to go alone. I just don’t really think that singlehanding’s that much fun.

So, I started looking around online, and found a crew site or two. I posted an ad, and got quite a lot of responses. Most were from obvious dreamer hippie snowflake types. Nothing against the dreamer snowflakes, but I really didn’t want to go to sea with someone who was all keen for the romance of the open sea. These types are more often than not very quickly disenchanted when reality sets in.

Yes, when things are going perfectly, it can be really special out there. But, for the most part, it’s a lot of work, repairs, broken sleep, and general discomfort. Let’s just be honest about it.

Also, the offshore route to the Galapagos is a very hot, often very light air passage. There would be a lot of mizzen staysail and spinnaker work to do to make any miles. The stormy gulf of Tehuantepec also had to be negotiated, as we would not be completely offshore of the wind zone.

Anyway, this was not really going to be a pleasant trade-wind trip. I expected to be at sea for somewhere between 2-3 weeks.

Finally, Erin materialized. She was light on experience, but seemed really keen to go, and had what I deemed to be the proper reaction to my description of what she could expect. Sort of a mix of apprehension and determination. Ok, a good candidate! I bought her a ticket straight away, and we arranged to meet at the PV airport in a few days. I then set about finishing up readying the boat.

On the appointed day, I waited outside the arrivals gates, with nothing but a general description-medium build, reddish curly hair, the obligatory Canadian flag patch sewn on to everything. Why do they do that, by the way?

Finally, the palest individual I’ve ever seen emerged. We’re talking skin entirely devoid of pigment. Probably as close as one can be to albino without actually being one.

Oh, shit. I really hoped that wasn’t her. This person was probably among the least suited for being on the water at the equator I’d ever seen. We made eye contact. Yup, here’s my crew. Oh well, they make SPF 950 or something, right?

Anyway, we had a couple of friendly nights getting acquainted to each other, and her to the boat. All was looking good.

We set off from Banderas Bay on a warm evening, rounding Cabo Corrientes in a moderate fair wind. Erin turned in while I took the first night watch. After a few hours, I called her up to the cockpit for a short shift, which was handled just fine. But, I had the sense that all was not well with her. Every little whitecap that hit the hull seemed to startle Erin, and the fact that no land was in view was a frequent topic for her. This was a bit of a bad sign, as we would spend the entire passage way offshore, up to about 450 miles.

Day 2 found us ghosting along on an oily sea, with just a slight swell from the south. Hungry, I put some cheese between a couple of tortillas and tossed them in the oven. I offered Erin some, and she gave me the most horrified, accusing look. ‘How can you even think of cooking in these conditions?!’.

Uh oh.

So it went for 17 days. Erin generally stopped talking, didn’t eat much. I asked her to do as little as I could. Generally, I’d have her stand night watches for as long as she could stay awake. Her record was 12 minutes. Rarely did she stay on deck for an hour at night.

I should have singlehanded…

Anyway, all good things do come to an end, and we made our landfall in the Galapagos in good order. The boat had a little bit of damage due to what I’m pretty sure was a whale collision, but she was still seaworthy. We anchored in Puerto Ayora, checked in, had a decent meal, and turned in for some needed sleep. At least I needed to sleep. I’m pretty sure Erin was managing 18 hours a day in the bunk.

The next day, I really wanted my boat back. First, I encouraged her to go take a tour or something. Anything. She replied that her walk around the village had shown her all she needed to see of the Galapagos, and she settled into the cockpit with a trashy novel. I couldn’t believe it.

Finally, I booked her a room in a cheap little hotel, telling her I needed 24 hours for boat chores. Reluctantly, she packed up a little gear and went on her way. I finally relaxed, poured a strong rum and coke, put on some really good late ’60’s Grateful Dead on the stereo and finally was able to bask in the satisfaction of a landfall well made, and also my longest passage ever.

Anyway, the Galapagos turned out to be great, even with Erin. We left Star Path anchored bow and stern with the tour boats, and went on the pretty high-end ‘Galapagos Legend’ for a week. It’s prohibitively expensive to cruise on your own boat. The islands really are spectacular.

Finally, it was time to head for the mainland. It was right back to the same old Erin. Contrary, grumpy, just awful.

It took us 6 days to get to Salinas. About a day out, I broke the news to her that she’d be leaving the boat as soon as we arrived. Her look of surprise at this news was unexpected, but she just had to go.

So, as soon as we got to an internet connection, I booked her a ticket back to Toronto or wherever the heck she was from for the next day. She would have to take a bus to Quito from the coast, about 6 hours, and then fly from there.

She appeared on deck in a pair of short shorts and a sort of bikini top for her solo bus voyage into the S. American interior. It took some convincing to get this 23 year old to cover up, but she finally did so, and she left with the promise to send me the money for her ticket home.

And, she was never heard from again. Her parents knew how to reach me, so I can safely assume that she made it home.

Wow.

On the way back to the marina from the bus stop, I walked with the lightness in my step of an innocent man just released from prison. There were just a few cruising boats there, and the first guy I saw off of one of them noticed my radical change in demeanor, asking me what was going on.

‘She’s finally gone… I’m free!!’ This got quite a chuckle, and of course the topic around the evening pow wow in the marina revolved around crew horror stories. I was not alone, not by a long shot.

In the end, I found someone else to make the trip back to Mexico with me. A 25 year old guy, Geoff. We had an awesome time heading back to Mexico. Even getting denied entry back into the Galapagos (a long story-we didn’t read the fine print) didn’t faze the guy. We hopped up the Mexican coast in a leisurely fashion, having made our landfall in Zihuatanejo.

My only gripe was that he was probably the most beautiful guy I’ve ever seen, just a perfect sculpted body, rippling muscles, long hair, Adonnis landed in Mexico. He preferred to haul the anchor by hand, and I swear that every woman on every cruising boat was staring wistfully at the dude through binoculars while this was going on. I was definitely the dumpy friend on this cruise.

Good times.

I’m sure glad I’ve got Jenny now. It’s almost too easy. And, I’m still the dumpy one of the crew. Oh well, I’ve gotten used to it.

2017, or, the year we won the battle with ourselves and learned to love bureaucracy

Ok, it’s not really as bad as Orwell’s vision, but we have had an absolutely mind-bending time trying to jump through all of the hoops that are in place over here in this part of the world.

It’s complicated-I hope everyone’s able to keep up. Here goes…

Jenny and I were sitting in Falmouth, discussing winter plans. Rocket Science has until February to get out of the EU, for at least a day. The vessel gets 18 months after arrival to either get out or pay VAT. This is a tax of about 20%. We’ve sailed to lots of places, and never have we faced an expense remotely as onerous as this after such a short time.

But, the good news is that one can sail out of the EU if needed. Norway and the Channel Islands are both available in N. Europe. Gibraltar, Turkey, and any of the African countries are options to reset the clock on VAT.

Our original plan had been to sail to Norway for a little while this summer, and then sail to Gibralatar for a winter berth. But, thanks to Baxter, we are not allowed to sail into the UK after leaving. Essentially, we would have to negotiate the lee shore of continental Europe, and would have a poor departure point for the crossing of the Bay of Biscay, thanks to the prevailing winds and continental shelf.

So, we concocted the scheme where we would leave the mutt with Jenny’s mom, and then reclaim him via ferry or airplane before leaving for Gibraltar. Ok, a pain, but still workable.

Further research revealed that Gibraltar would only allow the dog entry if we could prove that he was in the EU for the previous 6 consecutive months. Since Norway’s out of the EU, our trip there to get outside the union would end up effectively barring us from entry into Gibraltar.

Good god.

So, we figured that we could bypass Norway, spend the summer in Scotland, and then sail on down to Gibraltar in plenty of time to beat the clock on our temporary importation’s expiration. No problem. We were a little bummed to miss Norway, but here in Europe nothing is too far away, we could always go back later.

Ok, we had a plan! Off to Dublin!

But, while we were sitting around in Falmouth waiting for a weather window for the trip north, we availed ourselves of the opportunity to learn a little more about how customs rules were being enforced in southern Europe.

We discovered that even though Gibraltar is outside the EU, France and Spain don’t necessarily recognize a visit to the rock as sufficient to reset the VAT clock. They might, but they also might not. What?!

We’ve had some experience with the varying interpretations of the rules here, so it wasn’t a terrible surprise, but it’s awfully frustrating to deal with, since all of the EU countries are operating under the same laws. Identical questions to different countries will often yield opposite answers.

Ugh.

So, we were still faced with getting the boat out of the EU. Norway was out because of the mutt and weather routing, Gibraltar may or may not have been out, depending on who you ask, Turkey’s awfully far away, and I wasn’t all that keen to go to Morocco or Tunisia. Sailing in there with a US flag waving in the breeze seems to be sort of asking for trouble. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but it just seems ill-advised right now.

What was left? The Channel Islands. So, we reluctantly scrapped the Irish plan and turned tail, sailing back to Plymouth from Falmouth. There we ditched the dog, boarding him at a very nice little luxury retreat in Cornwall. It’s illegal to sail into the UK with a dog unless you arrive from Ireland, even if you’ve just crossed to the Channel Islands and back, so he couldn’t come.

So, we made the 90 mile hop over to Guernsey, topped up on some cheap fuel, got the boat out of the zone for a couple of days, and then sailed right back. Mission accomplished. We think.

It’s certainly been interesting. We are probably overthinking things a little bit, but we’re just trying to do our best to stay in compliance with all the rules around here.

We’ll have a report on the rest of the sailing portion of our travelogue shortly.

Spring cruise Part 1- Lymington to Falmouth

I flew into Heathrow on the 13th of March, then rented a car and hopped on the cross channel ferry to go and fetch Jenny and the mutt. We were all overjoyed to be back together again, everyone immediately fell right back into their customary roles, domestic bliss restored.

Rocket Science enjoyed a bit of a pit stop at Berthon’s outstanding yard in Lymington, and she seemed to be as eager as we were to get back out sailing again. We spent a rather leisurely 10 days getting the boat rigged up and provisioned, and finally tossed the lines on the 25th, destination Cowes, a mere 10 miles down the Solent.

Cowes is a bit of a sailing mecca, located on the N. coast of the Isle of Wight. We enjoyed the place a lot, but there was a strong NE wind during our stay there, and the marina was awfully surgey. There was plenty of crashing and banging going on all around us. The tight little yacht haven really doesn’t have any maneuvering room, so we also spent a lot of time helping boats get in and out of their berths. We were grateful to get out of there without getting t-boned by anybody! It was generally mayhem in there. Interestingly, the marina staff never did make an appearance in all this. Everyone was left to their own devices.

We were also boarded by the UK Border Force while laying in Cowes. The HMS ‘Vigilant’ seemed to be making the rounds, checking up on all the foreigners. After a thorough review of all of our paperwork and a rather lengthy interrogation regarding our plans, we finally satisfied the boarding team that all was on the up and up here on Rocket Science, and they went on their way.

I do have to say that they were very professional, and they even wore boat shoes! This is not normal. Usually, we get heavy boots on board. That was a nice touch.

After a couple of nights in Cowes, we carried on to Portland, about 40 miles to the W. This is one of the largest man-made harbors in the world, protected by a truly massive sea wall. Portland had previously just been a commercial port, but a very nice marina was built for the ’12 Olympics, and it’s now a great stopover.

We spent just a single night in Portland, eager to get to Plymouth before a sustained period of contrary winds set in. We chucked the lines right at dark, making a really cold overnight hop. We pulled into Plymouth just as the leading edge of the gale arrived. Perfect timing.

We ended up in Plymouth for a week.

Finally we were catching a break in the weather for the 5 hour hop to Falmouth.We arrived there, found a spot right between two naval patrol boats, and settled in to wait for the right weather window for the passage up to Dublin.

This passage never happened. Stay tuned for the next update. Our discoveries about the many layers of EU bureaucracy have been truly astounding, and we’ll dedicate a full entry to it tomorrow.

Haul Back Moment

Here’s a shot from our deck a couple of nights ago. We’re just starting to haul the net here. The weather wasn’t too awfully bad (by Bering sea in winter standards), but a couple of big ones showed up and we happened to be in the right place for them.

Fortunately, everyone can feel these coming, the boat tends to take a big heave before we get boarding seas like this, so the guys know to get out of the way.

Just another day at the office here on the Constellation.

Pro-trawling propaganda

TJ got featured in a piece in Alaska Dispatch News. It’s a glimpse into what’s going on out there in the wild.

Harvesting flatfish in the Last Frontier
SPONSORED: Meet the fleet that powers Southwest Alaska
Author: Presented by Groundfish Forum Published January 26

Docked in Seattle a few days after Thanksgiving, the F/T Constellation is still filled with the smell of coastal Alaska waters; briny ocean and fresh fish. It wafts up from the lower levels and covers the deck. The vessel has been scrubbed and scoured, but the aroma is impossible to shake.
The 165-foot vessel spent the better part of 2016 trawling the Bering Sea. For months, it carried several dozen crewmembers, decks full of equipment and freezers full of fresh seafood. It motored in and out of Dutch Harbor, the fishing capital of the Aleutian Island chain. While it’ll spend the early winter in Seattle, the break is brief—the vessel heads north again each year when the fishing season resumes in January.

Built in Louisiana and based in Washington, the Constellation is crewed by men from all over the world. But it’s also distinctly Alaskan; part of a hardy fleet fueling local economies throughout the Southwest.

In Alaska, nobody catches more fish than the Groundfish fleet. As a whole, it harvests billions of pounds of seafood annually. A subsection of that fleet — that harvests flatfish, rockfish and cod with trawl catcher processors — is governed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Amendment 80 (A80).

Capt. TJ Durnan’s been a member of that fleet for years.
“There’s a lot of opportunity there for everybody,” said Durnan, the Constellation’s longtime skipper. “If you’re able to do the work, you can be very successful. It’s a good thing.”
Like most of the men who work on Alaska’s A80 groundfish fleet, Durnan came from somewhere else—Illinois, to be exact. He grew up on Lake Michigan, and spent a year sailing the Caribbean with his father in lieu of college. In 1991, fresh out of high school, he found himself in Dutch Harbor, working aboard a crab barge for around $5 an hour. By the age of 23, he had his first job on a trawler. By 25, he had his mate’s licence. By 26, he was working as a mate on a 225-foot pollock trawler, and in 2002, he took a job aboard the Constellation.
The catcher-processor spends the majority of each year harvesting species of sole and flounder throughout the Bering Sea. The entire Alaska A80 fleet is relatively small—represented by six companies operating 18 vessels—but its impact is profound.

By value, the Dutch Harbor port comes in second only to New Bedford, Massachusetts, according to the 2015 fisheries statistics released by the National Marine Fisheries Service. By volume, Dutch Harbor is the top port in the nation: In 2015, it landed 787 million pounds of seafood with a value of around $218 million. Those numbers have a deep effect on the local community.
“The fishing industry is our only industry here, basically, and the groundfish sector is the largest part because of the volume,” said Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty. “It’s definitely our strength, and makes Unalaska one of the stronger communities in the state.”
Taxes paid by the fleet fund nearly 50 percent of Unalaska’s annual city budget, Kelty said, and the various fishing companies that operate out of the port pay millions in annual property taxes. Money paid by the A80 fishing corporations fund Unalaska schools, the health clinic and other public services.
“The other large part of that is the amount of business (fishing companies) do in town,” the mayor said. “You have to think about the trickle-down effect.”
During port calls, vessels and their crews do business with local longshoreman, fuel companies, boat repair businesses and machinery companies, grocers and the Alaska Ship Supply store. At North Pacific Fuel, up to 90 percent of business comes from the region’s groundfish fleet. The company’s employees come from as far away as the Philippines. Like Durnan on the Constellation, many of them have worked in Dutch Harbor’s fishery for years.
Kelty himself came to town in the 1970s, and spent decades working in Alaska’s blooming seafood industry. Dutch Harbor’s had an international feel for as long as he can remember: It was once dubbed “North Seattle,” Kelty said. People still come to the fishery from all over the world—Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands and beyond—not everything has stayed the same.
“It’s a whole different community now,” Kelty said. “When I first started here, we were going through the crab boom.”
Then the local crab industry temporarily collapsed. When the first local groundfish plant came online in the mid-1980s, it more than made up for the plunge in the crab business, Kelty said. As the years went by, he watched the development of Dutch Harbor and the steady evolution of the groundfish fleet.
In 2008 A80 fishery operation and management practices were overhauled, focusing on habitat protection and bycatch reduction. Modern management eliminates the competitive race to catch the most fish, dramatically reducing the number of halibut bycatch. Additionally, modified fishing gear has helped A80 trawlers reduce contact with the ocean floor, while specially designed excluders allow halibut to escape while other flatfish species continue into the nets.

Improved monitoring and enforcement efforts, like onboard cameras, federal fishery observers and daily logs contribute to overall bycatch reduction. While unusable fish once comprised as much as 50 percent of a vessel’s catch, they now make up less than five percent. Halibut bycatch totals less than one percent.
“Twenty years ago, our fishery was very wasteful, said Chris Woodley, executive director of the Groundfish Forum, an industry trade association. But since the A80 program our fishery is much more targeted —  we keep and sell 95 percent of our catch.”
On board the Constellation, bycatch remains a constant concern. Any halibut caught in the nets must be discarded.
“Day to day, we feel like we’re under immense pressure at all times to avoid halibut,” Durnan said. “I can’t tell you how many times we leave good fishing because the halibut rate is too high.”
Avoiding halibut takes time and work, but it’s paying off: Halibut bycatch is now at its lowest level since the 1970s, when the passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act successfully Americanized the U.S. fishing industry.
Second only to the state’s salmon fisheries, Alaska groundfish provide more harvesting jobs than any other fishery, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

While other fisheries provide employment for half of the year or less, the A80 season extends from January to November, with peak employment in February, March and September. More than 60 people found jobs aboard the Constellation in 2016, Durnan said.
“I think a lot of the people like the work and the freedom of it, but these guys can make a lot more money here in a short time than they could in a job on shore,” Durnan said.
People without the skills or work history to make a living in another industry can provide for their families by working for Alaska’s A80 fleet. Other people do it for the lifestyle it enables. For several consecutive months every year, when he’s not working aboard the Constellation, Durnan lives with his wife on a sailboat currently anchored somewhere in Europe.
“I get more quality time at home than anyone I know,” he said, smiling from the bridge of the Constellation. “That’s why I do this—for the freedom it affords.”

https://www.adn.com/features/sponsored-content/2017/01/26/harvesting-flatfish-in-the-last-frontier/

Ireland and England

Ireland was just a 2 stop affair for us this time around, but we are
planning to go back again at some point for a closer look. We were
pretty keen to get to England and go fetch Baxter from his luxury
retreat with Jenny’s mom.

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Dingle was a great place for a visit. We got introduced to and became
members of the ‘Ocean Cruising Club’ while in Newfoundland. We’re not
really very into clubs, but the requirement for entry into this one is
to have undertaken an offshore passage of at least 1000 miles.
Consequently, the membership is comprised of some experienced
folks. What the heck, we figured, why not? Our first OCC contact was
Harvey Kinney, the OCC contact for Dingle. He came down and met us on
the dock, and then treated us to a very nice tour of the area to the
west of Dingle, along with tea and cakes. Membership worthwhile!

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We happened to be there for the big rowing regatta, which was pretty
cool to see. They row like mad racing around in a slightly modified
version of the traditional dories that they’ve used forever on the coast
there. Some teams were more successful than others. I think that for the
most part, rowers were assigned to boats at random, so it really was a
crap-shoot whether or not a team would gel. Some went mostly in circles.

We wound up in Dingle for 5 days, getting some well-deserved rest.
There was a bit of a blow passing through, and we were hoping to get
around the SW corner of the island without getting pounded anyway. The W
coast of Ireland has a well-deserved reputation as a bit of a nasty
place, and we got a taste of it upon leaving Dingle. There wasn’t a heck
of a lot of wind, but the seas around the headlands were just
miserable-3 or 4 wave trains all intersecting and breaking, lots of
current, just a crappy ride.

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Once we rounded the corner and got by the Fastnet rock, all was a lot
better, and we enjoyed a decent rest of the trip into Kinsale.

This is a town situated a few miles up a river, which is guarded by
some substantial fortifications dating back to the 1500’s. It’s a
beautiful setting, and the town is apparently renowned for its
restaurants. No offense to the Irish, but we found the cuisine there to
generally be pretty tasteless. Maybe we missed out on the really good spots.
No matter, we usually eat on board anyway.

We spent a further 6 days in Kinsale, again waiting for weather. There
was a big gale on the way, and we didn’t have enough time to make it
across the Celtic sea to Land’s End and around the south of England from
Dingle. So, this wound up being a fine stop.

The gale made the marina quite rough, as there really was no
protection for about 1/2 mile to windward, but we rode it out pretty
well compared to most of the neighbors, which were generally pretty
small boats, with the exception of one very old 60′ or so cutter with
very long overhangs. It was interesting to see our boat and this one
beside each other at the dock. RS, probably thanks to the absolute lack
of any overhangs, bobbed around pretty mildly, with a sea slapping the
hard chine once in a while.

Our traditional neighbor, despite weighing more than double,
hobby-horsed relentlessly, heaving up and down 2 or 3 feet at the bow
and stern at times. It was interesting to watch, for me, anyway.

The neighbor, by the way, was the S/V ‘Overlord’. We had seen her on the
AIS the day before. Jenny asked me who the heck would name their boat like this,
and I guessed that they were probably WWII enthusiasts, as this was the official name
for the D-Day landing at Normandy. It turns out that was the correct guess.
‘Overlord’ had been one of a large class of sailboats built in Germany for the purpose of
training their Naval officers in navigation. This version was in Europe at the
outset of hostilities, and was captured. She was bought after the war by a
club, and re-named. Clever name, I think. The boat is now co-owned by some 200 people, who share time on the frequent cruises that the boat does, and all contribute either time or money into the club to earn these days. Good concept.
In any event, we had a fine stay in Kinsale.

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Finally, the weather cleared, and the forecast showed what was likely to be a spinnaker run
down to the English Channel. It was not to be. We had about 6 knots of wind from straight astern to Land’s End, and then not a breath from there on, and motored basically all the way to our next stop, Plymouth.

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This was just a one night stop for us, and after the rather dreary motoring we were pretty tired, so we had dinner at a middling restaurant on the dock, and went right to bed.

A dawn departure had us on our way to our next stop, Portland. This is
a big commercial harbor, which has a new marina which was built for the
’12 Olympics. It’s a really nice facility, plenty of deep water berths.
A good spot for us of ridiculously deep draft.

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The next day, it was on to the Solent, and we have now arrived in the
yard in which we’ll store RS for the winter. We don’t expect to be back
on board until mid-March, so this will conclude the sailing portion of
the website until the spring. On tap for next year are Scotland and
Norway, and likely a bit of time in the Baltic as well. We’ll update a
bit from time to time on boat projects and our other travels. We’re
liking the exchange rate thanks to the Brexit vote, and it looks like we
can replace the lost code zero for much less than it would have cost
back in the US.

Baxter is happily back home, currently laying on the settee snoring.
It’s good to have the little guy back. I missed him a lot. He’s getting
pretty old, just a few weeks from his 11th birthday. He gets tired after
a short walk, and doesn’t see as well as he used to. Of course, anytime
he sees another dog, that’s all forgotten and he completely flips out,
just like he always has. I’m guessing he’s still got a couple of more
good years in him, but he’s definitely looking pretty geriatric these days.

He’s done well for a rescue mutt, that’s for sure.

Jenny, badass.

I would like it to be known that I’m married to the greatest woman alive.

There’s a saying that’s been attributed to John Wayne, I think: ‘True courage is being scared as hell, and then saddling up anyway.’

I don’t think that Jenny was ever ‘scared as hell’, but the potential for the Atlantic crossing to be truly shitty was certainly not lost on her. Most women out there would have had their husbands find a few of their buddies to make the crossing, and then fly to the other side. Hell, I would have taken this option if it were a possibility! This is actually quite common for the longer crossings in the world of cruising. Let the boys do the long passage and then enjoy the sailing once it’s over with. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I have to say that I’m really proud of Jenny for taking this trip on.

Nice job, my dear. The next time we cross the pond, it’ll be in the trades, promise.

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Transat Part V – Crossing to Ireland

 “What? Piss off!”

 This was one of the first interactions that we enjoyed in Ireland.

 Some context is in order. A passerby on the dock stopped to check out the boat and have a chat. When he asked us how long it took us to get across the Atlantic, this was his response to our answer. It turns out that ‘Piss off’ is Irish for ‘Are you kidding me?’ in our own version of our shared tongue. I was quite amused. Obviously, this was delivered without malice.

After a week of hanging around St. John’s, the three of us tossed the lines just after dark. The storm we had been waiting for was finally past, and all looked good on the weather front.

 For the record, our crossing time from St. John’s to Dingle was 8 days, 18 hours and 48 minutes. Our best day’s run was 260 miles, and our top speed surfing was a rather exciting 21.8.

 The passage was much better than we had hoped for. Our decision to endure the somewhat excruciating wait in St. John’s was the right call, and we managed to get across with a minimum of fuss. After motoring/sailing south to dip around the ice zone, we picked up the south side of a secondary low that formed in the wake of the big one we had been waiting for, just as the GRIBs predicted. We had favorable winds up to about 35 knots for a couple of days out of that one, racking up our best day’s run for the passage.

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 Next up was a period of pretty calm winds, which we motored through.

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 Day 5-7 found us on the west side of a high pressure system, which was coincidentally moving at just our speed. We basically were close reaching right along the same pressure gradient for this whole time. We were finally able to point the bow toward Ireland at this time as well. We had been sailing more or less straight east for days as a result of my weather routing.

 Finally, the last stretch found us in a tighter pressure gradient, with winds in the high 20’s/low 30’s, which brought us some fine surfing conditions and our maximum speed for the passage.

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 In the end, we never saw even a proper gale. Being patient was a big part of this, but some good luck played a big part too. Forecasting isn’t worth much in these latitudes beyond about 3 days, so we were really grateful that the N. Atlantic gave us a pass. I’m humble enough to admit that this passage was one I was viewing with quite a bit more trepidation that any I’ve undertaken before. There are an awful lot of tales of some really trying things happening to very competent sailors on this route, and only a fool would be so arrogant to think that he’s such a stud that he couldn’t also fall prey to the nastiness that occasionally can happen on a passage straddling 50N in this particular stretch of water.

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 I’m glad to have it over with, and also glad that boredom was the biggest issue we had to contend with. A lost fishing float drifting by was enough to spur a good hour’s worth of conversation.

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 Not long after we arrived in Ireland, a whopper of a storm developed and crossed our track. It was very nice to be tied up in a tight little harbor rather than being out there for it. This, friends, is the big advantage of speed. We probably only sail the boat at about 70% of her potential, and can still rack up 200 mile plus days regularly.

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 We often get questions from folks who have spent all their time on smaller boats. Often, they think that our boat’s just too big to be managed by a couple, that it’s just a matter of time before we wind up in some kind of a situation where we’ll simply be overwhelmed by our big beast. Nonsense. Mind you, we have no quarrel with someone who chooses to cruise on a smaller boat. There are a lot of positives to that approach.
The truth is that the gear for these sailboats has come an awfully long way since the early days of cruising, and boats that were once the domain of big crews the size of linebackers can now be managed quite easily by mere mortals. We’re certainly sold on the benefits of a bigger, fast boat.
For those of you reading who are not really tuned in to the world of cruising sailboats, this is a very old debate, this big v. small question. We get quite a few passersby who declare flatly that we’re a little out of our heads to sail this thing with just 2 people. This is the reason for the commentary at the moment.

 Yes, we have to be a little bit more conservative than we might have needed to be on Star Path or Western Explorer, but the truth is that Rocket Science is far more manageable than Western Explorer was, and probably on a par with Star Path, which was a little 36′ ketch with tiny sails. It really comes down to weight. RS weighs far less than the steel boat did, and just a little more than the ketch.

 The benefits of some really good design also factor in here.

 Anyway, we’re finding Ireland to be very nice so far. A few more days here and we’ll cross over to England.

 More soon.

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Transat Part IV – Mac Gyver

So, we left St John’s late in the evening.

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When we started up the engine, it gave the slightest little hiccup, and then carried on as normal. I ran the revs up an down, waited a while, and wrote it off as our first really cold start in a while. Wrong…

We motored for the better part of the first night, about 8 hours without a hitch. Then we got a decent sailing breeze, shut the beast down and settled in for some sailing.

The next night, when it came time for our first charging session, I fired up the engine. It ran for a minute or so, and then promptly sputtered and died. There was also some new belt squeak happening. Now this was quite odd. We filter our fuel before it even gets to the day tank, and there was no sign at all of fuel contamination. But, we did get some truck fuel in St. John’s, from the same outfit that we got the stuff that caused a bunch of smoke in the exhaust last year, so I was fearing that we had a load of bad fuel.

Anyway, I set about the easiest first problem, which is bleeding the system, and discovered some air in the lines. How very strange. I got it bled, fired up, and the engine was running again, apparently ok for the moment. When we ran the RPM up to charging speed, the alternator belts started slipping terribly. A quick look at them revealed them to be totally slack. What the hell? 2 engine problems at the same time?

I figured that the sliding bracket had come loose, so I loosened up the set bolt, slid the alternator to the limit of it’s travel, and found that I still had some very slack belts. Not good. The big, what should be unbreakable, lower bracket had snapped right in two. Shit.

I carry a spare upper bracket, but the lower one? It’s 1/4″ gusseted steel plate, for crying out loud. We have a small second alternator on the engine, and we also have a spare brand new small one, so I knew I could get some charging going, but the big unit is the one we really need if we don’t want to run the engine way too much.

Time to get creative.

Out came the drill, cutting fluid, taps and wrenches. I drilled a hole in each side of the offending part. Next, I had to find a piece of steel to bridge the crack. I dug around a bit, until I finally came across a bicycle pedal wrench that came with our folding bikes. Perfect. I had to bend the jaws around a bit, but it was finally converted into an effective joining strap.

I tried to tighten the belts up, but my repair was too flexible. Failure.

I realized quickly that I needed to provide some vertical support as well. I first tried some line, but didn’t really have a decent strong point to tie to in the right place. I would have to support it from below. I first thought about employing one of the hydraulic mast jacks, but this seemed too complicated, so some shimming was decided on. I hunted around for some wood, ultimately settling on one of those West Marine thru hull plugs as my best candidate. I whittled a notch into it, pried the alternator up as hard as I could, and drove that sucker in. Success.

I’m happy to report that this arrangement made it all the way across the pond without a hitch. The crap we have to do to keep a passage going is sometimes rather unconventional…

Unfortunately, the air in the fuel issue is still happening from time to time, and I’m still struggling with that one. I’ve taken to bleeding the lines before starting up, and that’s been just fine. Once it’s running for a few minutes, it’s a non-issue. I’ll dig into it tomorrow. I’m sure it’s just a loose fitting somewhere that I missed the first time around. It’s nice to be at the dock and be able to deal with these things in a more leisurely fashion.

McGyver would have been proud, had he not been cancelled after a few seasons.

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