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Rota and Gibraltar

It’s about 120 miles from Portimao to Rota, Spain-this is from memory, so forgive me if I’ve got the figure wrong.

Anyway, we had to leave Portimao before dawn in order to get into Rota before dark. So, we set the alarm for 3AM, and quietly left our berth once we’d been properly caffeinated. The trip over was nothing special-lots of fluky wind-0 to 30 knots at times. Odd, actually. We managed to make some good speed in the puffs, motored in the calms. I think that i set and doused the main 5 or 6 times, then the wind finally died and we motored until the last bit. This didn’t bother me, I was sick of messing endlessly with the sails, anyway.

About a mile from Rota, things increased to 25 knots or thereabouts, which would, of course, make the marina trickier. Oh well.

It turned out that the marina was only about 1/2 full, so we got a nice, open ‘t’ head to tie up to. Cake.

We were there early enough to enjoy a nice walk around with the mutt, and we realized very quickly that this was a really great town-prosperous, clean, friendly. Great! There’s a big joint US/Spanish naval base here, so I’m guessing that there’s a lot of income generated by the place. We saw lots of obvious US Navy people enjoying shore leave in town. The tourist season had ended, so things were pretty quiet, just our style. The waterside discos were shuttered, as were the bars, but the town itself was plenty lively for our taste. We liked it a lot.

After a couple of nights there, we ditched poor B (no dogs over 8kg on the ferry) at home for the day and hopped the ferry to Cadiz. This is generally considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, going all the way back to the Phoneticians. It’s been presided over by them, Moors, Romans, and during Spain’s voyages of conquest, it was a major port for those activities, too-and therefore a very rich city back then. The architecture shows it. We hit the major sites, involving lots of walking and a climb up a really tall bell tower for good measure. Well worthwhile.

Of course, we felt guilty about ditching the dog, so our visit was brief.

We spent one final day in Rota, waiting for a fair wind for the trip to Gibraltar, and then had a quick trip down there, passing Cape Trafalgar on the way. I liked being at the site of the battle that cemented Britain’s dominance over the seas for decades. Africa was also in view.

The straits of Gibraltar are interesting from a weather perspective. It basically either blows E or W, and it’s generally substantially stronger at the downwind end. Unsuspecting sailors have a long history of enjoying a fine spinnaker run at one end, only to find themselves dealing with a white-knuckled, out of control douse by the time they get to the other end.

For our part, we’d read up on it, so we didn’t get caught unawares. Of course, we were faced with this strong wind when making the marina approach. This was going to be our first med-mooring ever, and neither one of us was looking forward to tackling it in 30 knots! I called ahead to the marina guys, and they reported that the winds in the basin were just fine, so we made our way in the narrow little entrance, after dodging all kinds of commercial traffic (Fuel is duty free in Gib, so it would appear that every ship for 1000 miles is bunkering at anchor there-it’s loaded with ships), we made the tight turn into the marina.

I’m proud to report that our first med-mooring was flawless. It turns out that it’s not really bad at all. Boats are expected to lay against each other, so everyone sticks out lots of fenders. The general idea is to just get the boat in, lay on your neighbor, and then get sorted out. I’d had visions of it being far worse. It probably will be when we have to use our own anchor, but this place has lines anchored to the bottom ready to use. It’s really not much worse than a conventional dock, really. A little more hopping around handling lines, but it’s ok.

On the way down the dock to check in, we noticed that everyone had their stern lines doubled and tripled up, with motorcycle tires and big springs for absorbing shock. This was a bit ominous. I asked one of the neighbors, and we learned that during the right conditions, the marina was subject to a lot of surge. We missed that part in the brochure.

So, job 1 was to get a proper mooring setup rigged up. I went down to the chandlery and bought a bunch of 3/8″ chain, some 22mm 3 strand poly, shackles, and thimbles. I set about splicing up a bulletproof setup, and RS is now lashed to the dock with 6 lines, some to cleats, and a couple to the primary winches. Hopefully that’ll do the job…

Gibraltar’s an interesting place. They’re very proudly British there-Union Jacks are everywhere. The town itself is pleasant, but the population density is pretty high. The real gem of the place is the rock itself. There are a few really fantastic hikes to be done, and once one gets over the sense that the apes are intending to maul you, they’re really enjoyable hikes indeed. A bicycle circuit of the rock’s a fine thing to do as well. All in all, we’re happy there.

Next stop, Alaska!

Portugal

Our trip down the Portuguese coast was just a 2 stop affair. We had a deadline to get to Portimao to meet Jenny’s parents, and most of the coast consists of pretty shallow entrances not really fit for a 10′ draft.

So, we had a gorgeous spinnaker sail from Baiona to Cascais, just outside of Lisbon. We never did find out for sure how deep the marina was, so when we arrived and met an outbound Volvo Ocean Race boat, we knew we were all set. We tied up at the reception berth, got some fuel, and were directed to our berth for a couple of nights. The marina had a bit of a sterile, utilitarian feel (our view was of a huge concrete seawall), but it worked well enough for a rest.

The town itself was a pleasant place to spend some time, with lots of good restaurants and a big music festival going on. Unfortunately, it was sort of a euro-pop lineup-not my thing. But, anyway, it was a lively spot.

I also had the good fortune to find a dive shop and get a new tank. My old aluminum 80 was leaking at the valve, and I was honestly afraid that it was going to blow up and destroy the sail locker once I discovered it. So, I let all the pressure off and condemned it. But, I really don’t like sailing without a decent underwater air supply, in case we hook up on some gear or other debris and I have to go cut it off. So, this was a good development.

We sailed straight from there to Portimao, about an 18 hour ride for us. We left at the crack of dawn, and had an absolutely windless motoring trip down the coast. After we rounded Cabo S. Vincente, we did get a bit of a breeze, but that was just the last 20 miles or so. I didn’t even bother to set the main-we were going to be there after dark anyway, and honestly, I was just feeling lazy.

We made an easy night arrival, and scoped out what was supposed to be our berth. The finger piers were about 30′ long, and most of the boats there were in the mid-40′ range. I figured there must have been some mistake, so we tied up along the floating breakwater for a little snooze, figuring we’d get sent to a properly sized berth in the morning.

Well, it turns out that 30′ piers are used for boats to about 60′ in Portimao, so we secured the best we could (sort of like med mooring without bow lines) and set about exploring our new temporary home.

Portimao was nice enough. It’s easy to see why the Algarve is so popular with Northern Europeans for their summer break. There is sand, surf, sun, and bars in abundance, along with the tourist shops that cater to the visitors. There wasn’t all that much else on offer, it sort of felt like an old-world version of Cabo or Cancun. But, it’s very well sited for this, and the weather was gorgeous every single day we were there, and really hot-a big change from the coast further north.

Jenny and I were both uncomfortably warm for the first time since we left Charleston, some 14 months previously.

Anyway, Jenny’s mom and stepdad arrived the day after we did, and we spent the next two weeks being proper tourists, even making a day trip to Lisbon.

Next stop, Rota and Gibraltar…

Cruising Galicia

After our road trip, we spent a couple of days in La Coruna, and then headed out for some leisurely cruising down through the Spanish rias. This is a really beautiful part of the world, with nice anchorages and interesting towns to visit. As an added bonus, the distances between stops is really short, nothing’s more than a daysail away. Nice.

Our first stop after leaving La Coruna was the small town of Corme. It’s just got a small wharf for local fishing boats, so the yachts anchor up between the ‘viveros’ (aquaculture rafts) and the shore. It’s a pretty tight little spot, and our first crack at anchoring revealed that we were way too close to some abandoned cables which were invisible before the tide went out. So, we shifted a little bit away from that, and enjoyed a quiet night off the small waterfront. It was actually the first time that we’d been at anchor since we’d been in Newport on the way south from our first visit to Newfoundland! Everywhere we’ve been of late has been pretty much a dockside show. It was nice to get the hook back down and enjoy some proper peace and quiet.

After just one night, we carried on to Camarinas, an attractive town with a smallish, somewhat dumpy marina. The several anchorages were all gorgeous, though, so that was an easy choice for us. Anyway, we were still keen on getting back into anchored life. There was plenty of opportunity for dinghy exploring, a great beach for Baxter, perfect temperatures. About as good as it gets. We stuck around for a few days.

Next up was getting around Cabo Finisterre and the town of Muros. Another nice fishing village, with a busy marina full of cruisers. We got tied up in a tricky berth in high winds, after a bit of a crash landing thanks to the dock hand deciding that he needed to stop the boat with the spring line before it was in the slip.

By the way, to those of you reading this who may be newer to sailing- It’s REALLY common when you’re bringing a boat into a slip to have a well-intentioned helper take a line and then stop the boat while you’re not yet in the slip. Invariably, the bow or stern swings in hard, crashes into the dock, and they then look at you with a look of great surprise, as if to say ‘what did you do??’ Let the person driving the boat stop it with the engine, unless they ask you to do otherwise. End rant.

So, after getting over the trauma of our landing and a small paint chip, we settled in for a few days. Shortly after our arrival, an American boat arrived, and the next day, another one showed up. We’d not seen any US boats to speak of, with the exception of a couple of new ones which had been purchased in France and were awaiting delivery. It was apparently quite noteworthy, the marina staff told me they’d never had 3 yanks in there at the same time. Nice folks, too.

Next stop was Vigo. I wanted to take a look around the city, so we booked into the only marina that could take us, well to the west of town. The marina was nice enough, but it was in a location that was just awful. It was way out in an industrial area, and it was a 90 minute walk through a warehouse district with trash all over the streets and graffiti on most of the buildings to get to the outskirts of town. It wasn’t dangerous, but just really ugly.

Vigo was ok, but not really our cup of tea. We got out of there pretty quickly and headed to the small town of Baiona. Much better! And, we could anchor there too. On our way in to the anchorage, I was eyeballing the marina covetously, though. It looked really nice in there. I mentioned to Jenny that there was a nice, big T-head that we could tie up to, have power, easy dog walking, all the comforts. She rolled her eyes at me and my decadent tendencies (anchoring is free, marinas cost typically somewhere between 50 and 100 euros a night), and I realized that I was indeed being a bit of a profligate fool. So, we went off to the anchorage, and to both of our great surprise, the anchor windlass wouldn’t work! Off to the marina after all. I guess it was meant to be. It turns out that the little hand control for the windlass broke. It’s since been replaced, all good.

Baiona was great. It was the first place to learn of the success of Columbus’ trip in 1492. The ‘Nina’ (if I’m remembering right) arrived there.

Anyway, it’s a gorgeous place, full of history and great walking. We loved it. But, Jenny’s mom and stepdad’s arrival in southern Portugal was rapidly approaching, and we had to get out of there after just 2 days.

Next entry, Portugal.

To the Rias!

After a few rainy days in Plymouth, we stocked up on a few provisions and started making our way down toward the Spanish coast. We’d reserved a slip in La Coruna for a month, despite planning to keep RS there for only a couple of weeks. It turned out to be cheaper that way.

Anyway, the Bay of Biscay and the Western channel had been blowing pretty relentlessly SW’ly, so we took advantage of a decent wind shift to hop across to Brest and wait for a favorable wind to make the hop across to Spain.

Brest isn’t the most attractive place-the waterfront is basically military and shipping terminals, but there’s a decent enough marina stuck in the middle of it all. It served our purposes.

We also got a great introduction to the special breed that the Brittany sailors really are. Around the marina, there’s a sort of Hollywood walk of fame, complete with hand prints set into bronze plaques, commemorating all of the records set by the local boys and girls. It’s really a who’s who list of the highest level of distance racing.

We tied up behind a couple of Open 50’s and a superfast tri. The skipper of one of the 50’s stopped by to ask about Rocket Science. He really liked the boat and wanted to find out who designed her-he had just spent 158 days going around the world solo gathering water samples from the Antarctic convergence, and wanted something bigger and faster. The guy talked about the trip as if he’d just been out for a pleasant outing. Something special was clearly happening in this town…

Our second day in town, a gale came through, gusting up into the mid-40’s. The harbor entrance looked like a malestrom, rain was driving in sideways. Not really fit for man nor beast out there, as far as we were concerned. We hunkered down below, listing to the lines creaking with all the surge, the wind shreiking in the rig. Surely nobody would be out sailing on a day like this.

Strangely, I saw mast after mast passing by from my perch on the settee. A peek out the window revealed dozens of happy French crews heading out for a bit of fun. I could see them poking their bows out of the harbor, sheets of spray flying over the boats as they made their exits. I made a quick climb to the top of the breakwater, and found the sound to be fairly loaded with boats, deeply reefed and ripping along. Wow.

Anyway, we spent a week in Brest, waiting for the weather pattern to finally change so we could get across Biscay without any upwind suffering. Finally, we had a 24 hour NW’ly forecast, followed by calms, so we left as soon as the shift materialized, hoping to get across the better part of the bay before the engine was called on.

We did manage to put together a surprisingly rough (at least until we got out into deep water) 230 mile run for our first 24 hours, and then things dropped to nothing as predicted. We motored the remainder of the way, very slowly, thanks to a contrary current. We arrived at La Coruna at 0300, threading our way around a couple of very dense fishing fleets, a couple of freighters, and a bunch of other coastal traffic on our way in. We usually hold off until daylight when we go into a new port, but this one was pretty wide open, so it was safe enough to make a night entry.

We’ll have another update soon about our stay in Coruna, a great road trip, and our cruise down the rias. Great stuff all around.

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.

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/

Prison with a chance of drowning?

After nearly a decade with TJ I figured it was time to go for a trip with him on the Constellation. She is a 170′ Bering Sea fishing boat.
I was excited and anxious at the same time. Mostly I was concerned about getting seasick, while he was mostly concerned about getting me on the boat in one piece. Tate the mate was supposed to get back to the boat around the same time, and TJ was hoping he would fly up with me so he could be my chaperon. Really? I asked him. Well, he said, I know you can handle yourself, but… think of it as being in Colombia, only colder. It is the wild North! In any case, if you ever need a chaperon I can recommend Tate. He’s 6’7″ and looks a bit scary when he is tired or in a bad mood. Very handy around wild Northerners.

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Apparently it was either wearing sackcloth and ashes or having a chaperon. Which, thinking about it, I haven’t had since I was about 8 years old. However, I like Tate, so I was happy when he agreed to return to the boat with me and even invited me to his house a couple of days early. I was eager to escape the South Carolina heat.
We left Seattle for Anchorage on the 6.10 am flight on Tuesday, June 22. In Anchorage we had just a few minutes to catch our flight to Dutch Harbor. Luckily PenAir recently started flying bigger planes up there and not the little hoppers. Bigger as in 45 seats. Flying into Dutch was spectacular. Suddenly the plane makes a sharp turn in between two mountain ranges. We were almost on the ground when a gust hit us and we were bouncing up again. I thought to myself wow, what must it be like to fly in here in the winter?
The Constellation wasn’t expected until about 9 pm, so Tate and I went sightseeing. Despite the fact that he said it was going to take about 10 minutes we managed to kill a few hours. That was mostly because I got all excited to see eagles for the first time and he had to stop for every single one of them so I could take a picture.

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Finally we found ourselves at the dock, watching the boat come in.

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It was great to see TJ again after 2 months, but there’s always a lot of hustle and bustle in Dutch, so mostly I tried not to be in the way and make myself at home. We did a touch-and-go at the dock, then went to unload at the tramper.
The tramper sits there and has boats unload their fish to it until they are full. Those ships hold about 5000 tons. Once full they take their load either to Japan, China, Korea or Thailand.
We were done unloading in the morning, then pulled back to the dock to get fuel and run errands. The coolest part about the unloading are the eagles. They show up on the boat to pick pieces of fish out of the net, and there can be loads of them!

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The Constellation holds 50 000 gallons, so fueling up isn’t done in a heartbeat like on the sailboat. In the late afternoon we were all done and on our merry way to the fishing grounds.

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The weather had been gorgeous, sunny and warm, but out at sea I didn’t get so lucky. For about two days it blew sustained 30 knots with gusts up to 48 knots. The seas ran about 10′. Good enough to make me sick. However, I had sworn to myself that I wasn’t going to embarrass myself in front of a bunch of tough guys, and I’m happy to report I didn’t. Initially I used one of those behind the ear patches, but I got sick anyways, so I took some Dramamine. I was pretty groggy due to that, and TJ tried to send me to bed a few times, but I didn’t want to wake up Tate. The captain and the mate share a room, and Tate was sleeping at the time. When finally I could barely keep upright in the chair I caved and snuck into the room. Tate didn’t wake up and didn’t acknowledge my presence until it was time for him to get up and he accidentally sat on me.

On that note, the human interaction on the Constellation was nothing like I envisioned. If you have ever watched Deadliest Catch it seems like those guys are rough, they are very harsh with each other, there’s always lots of screaming and no kindness whatsoever. I encountered none of that. The tone was always polite and I even discovered that these guys have a soft side!

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I asked TJ if those bath sponges belonged to the observers and he laughed and said no, those belong to the crew. I’m not even getting into the discussions about lotion and exfoliating…

I had some trouble adjusting to my spectator role (even though on the official crew list TJ labeled me ‘photo journalist’). I would point out to him that there was traffic, or gear in the water. He would smile and point at the 18 monitors he was sitting behind. (Note: after being on this boat I would even more strongly recommend having an AIS that receives AND transmits – most boats are transmitting up there and the ones who don’t are basically a hazard to navigation!). I gave up on that after two days or so.

Finally it went flat calm out. The Bering Sea was like a lake. I didn’t think it was capable of that, but I enjoyed it. I made it a sport to trick the seagulls into holding still just long enough for me to take pictures.

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This one seemed almost embarrassed!

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We fished for two days, then Jerzy, the chief engineer, discovered that there was a problem with one of the main engines. He couldn’t find the problem, so TJ turned the boat around and back to Dutch we went. Luckily the CAT mechanic came down right away and got the problem under control and finally fixed while the crew did a partial offload. It turned out to be an electrical problem between the control computer and one cylinder.
We spent about a half day in Dutch. Again the weather was beautiful. It was foggy when we came in that morning. Visibility was reduced to about 200′, and watching TJ maneuver that huge 170′ boat in basically no visibility on one engine was impressive. When the fog finally started to clear it was spectacular. I spent some time wandering around and taking pictures.

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While we waited for the mechanic to finish up we saw a sailboat pull in. That’s a rare sight up there, so TJ and I decided to go and say hello. It was an Italian boat which had just arrived from Japan. We invited them over so they could use the Constellation’s internet to check their email. Since we are sailors we can appreciate how nice it is to get back to land and be able to have access to modern technology. TJ gave them a brief tour of the boat and they were duly impressed and uuuh’ed and aah’ed a lot. One of the guys was Japanese and he excused himself, saying he had to make an urgent phone call. Apparently Japan is trying to put together a team for the America’s Cup and he was supposed to be on it. Way cool!

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We left again in the late afternoon. The weather was kind to me this time, and I started feeling a bit more comfortable around the boat and the crew. According to my inside sources guys aren’t as relaxed and behave differently when there are girls around (especially the captain’s wife). I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable, so I mostly stuck to myself with a few exceptions. Joe the factory foreman flew up to Dutch with us, and he is super easy going and really nice so I had one friend already. Carl the cook was nice enough to make sure I always had something paleo to eat and was happy enough to chat, which was always fun. He did, however, put out such a spread that I secretly suspect he tried to make me gain 5 pounds.

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I managed to win over Jerzy when I told him that Poland was playing in the Euro 2016 (and sadly lost to Portugal). I had my final breakthrough with the guys on the last day, but more about that later.
It was very interesting to see the actual fishing. I hear about it at home, of course, and yes, I have watched Deadliest Catch, but in reality it is always different. From the outside it looked like long, monotonous days, broken up about every 4 hours when the net was hauled. But since I know my dear husband so well I could watch the wheels turn heavily in his head in the in between time. As the days went by and I asked millions of questions I started getting a better idea of what went on, why it was better to catch one species than the other, why some species should be avoided as much as possible etc. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

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Unfortunately we had three guys leave the boat when we went in with the engine problem. That meant we were really short on crew, and it was too short notice for the office to fly anyone in. That meant a longer trip, which I didn’t mind because I liked being on the boat a lot, but on the other hand we were itching to get Rocket Science out of South Carolina. The Atlantic hurricane season had started fairly active, and it’s not a good feeling to have your boat sit in a rather unprotected spot all by itself when you are planning to sail about 3000 miles this summer.
However, I wasn’t stressing about it. For the simple reason that stressing is pointless. I was just hoping we could use up some karma points and things would stay calm in the Atlantic.

This trip lasted 9 days. We got back to Dutch on July 6th. Robbie the other captain was there to welcome us. There was a lot of talking and people coming and going, so I decided to have my lunch down in the galley. I got myself a plate and sat down t a table by myself. One by one the guys trickled in, doing the same. Somehow they all seemed to not want to sit by me. I mean, I understand in a way. I’m kind of scary, I wouldn’t want to meet myself in a dark alley! Finally Zedrick decided to not be shy like the rest of them. He sat by me and yelled at the rest of them: “Hey, guys, are you afraid to sit by Jenny or what? I’m gonna sit here and talk to her!” Embarrassed they all brought their plates over and hopefully found out that I’m not so bad after all.
Here are some pictures of the offload.

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After Robbie and TJ did the handover we went to the Grand Aleutian hotel. I was VERY excited about sleeping in a real bed after spending two weeks sleeping on an air mattress on the floor in TJ’s room. To be fair, he offered to let me sleep in his bunk, but since he had to be fit and alert to work I declined. I did take him up on the offer only twice, because my neck and back were so bad I was hardly sleeping at all. But being back in a real bed was priceless!
I was sad leaving the boat. I truly started to believe I was born the wrong gender and should have been a fisherman. Maybe in my next life. I definitely didn’t agree with the ‘prison with a chance of drowning’ sentiment.
I would do this again in a heartbeat, after all this sailing in civilized places this felt like a real adventure again!

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