Author Archives: JennyDurnan

Baxter turns 15!

 With no sailing going on these days, we get to write about the dog.

 Unbelievably, little B turns 15 today.

 He came to us as an out-of-control rescue dog a few days after his second birthday. He had already burned out two sets of owners, and owners #2 were planning to put him down if he wasn’t adopted, and soon. He was (and is) super smart, but also headstrong, demanding, dominant of other dogs (but never aggressive), and generally a royal pain whenever he decided to act out.

 However, we came to love him deeply despite all his flaws. Really, he embodies all of the traits that make dogs so special in spades. Loyal, trusting, always wanting to be with us. The best friend one could ever hope for.

 I remember reading an ode to a dog like him in ‘Outside’ magazine years ago. It concluded- “You know, I’d take a bullet for this dog. And someday, I probably will”. Well put, sir, well put.

  His first two years were with us in Seattle, first in a rented house while we were waiting for Western Explorer to be shipped up from Costa Rica, then on the boat. He took to boat life immediately. Every little noise from the bilge was a new mystery to investigate. The little pre-feed pump for the watermaker made just the right whine to drive him absolutely bonkers. If B got too be too much of an imposition, a short flick of that switch would result in him sticking his head into the bilge for at least a half hour. We employed the trick often. I’m sure that that pump had 10 times as much use as a dog distraction than it did in making water.

 Our first shakedown cruise with B was a lap around Vancouver island in ’08. That went well. The next year, we sailed down to Mexico with him. After some difficulty getting him to use his fake turf on deck to do his business, we were all set.  B took to life at sea very well. We spent 4 years living aboard there, with a couple of annual cruises down the coast.

 In ’13, we started sailing on Rocket Science. The new ride proved to be quite a bit more dog-friendly. With her swept back rig and higher speeds, VMG sailing is the way on her. This results in the boat essentially only being laid over to one side at a time, rather than the wallowing, dead downwind sailing so often done on heavier, slower boats. B would just position himself on the downhill side of the cockpit, and comfortably relax on passage. Perfect!

 We had some great adventures with B on RS. From remote, tropical beaches to the rugged wild of Newfoundland, each new place was a source of great excitement and interest for him.

 We opted not to cross the N. Atlantic with him, instead flying him ahead to stay with Jenny’s mother in Belgium. After we arrived in our winter berth in England, we rented a car and fetched our somewhat fatter buddy.

 The next 3 years were spent in Europe. Baxter, like us, preferred the Northern portions of the continent. He wasn’t enamored with the Med. Too hot and too many anti-dog laws on the beaches.

 He did find some brief respites from the heat in our freezer, however. We’d drop him in there for a few minutes from time to time on the hottest days.

 Alas, he developed health problems while there. He was drinking huge amounts of water, and he was found to have Cushing’s disease. This is caused by a tumor on the Pituitary or the Adrenal glands, and it’s fatal if not treated. Unfortunately, the treatment is quite harsh, being like chemo. He had a couple of near-death experiences while there, thankfully both in Spain, where veterinary care is good and extremely cheap. He was given a year or two to live. This was in late ’17.

 It did become pretty obvious to us that his offshore sailing days had come to a close, though. So, we bought our dog a house to enjoy his remaining time with us.

 Life with geriatric Baxter is a pleasure. He spends most of his time asleep, and we can simply leave the doors open and let him go in and out as he pleases. 5 years ago, this would have been impossible-he would have gotten onto a scent and vanished into the woods in pursuit of whatever had captured his interest. Nowadays, he never strays far, content to lounge on the grass and waddle off after the occasional bunny.

 We nearly lost him again a few weeks ago. He got bumped into by another dog at the park, and it seems to have caused some kind of an injury. The poor dude was obviously in a lot of pain, and after several days of it, we resolved to go to the vet, fully expecting him to recommend that he be put down. Instead, he hopped out of the car, and scampered around wagging wildly. The vet gave us a bit of a quizzical look, obviously wondering what we were on about.

 A few days later, he was perfectly fine again. Tough little guy.

All told, Baxter has visited 19 countries, 27 states in the US, and has sailed with us for thousands upon thousands of miles, and has been a valued companion all the way.

 Happy birthday, buddy.

Fishing and sailing in 2020

 “You will go straight to your vessel and not disembark for a minimum of 14 days. Non-compliance will result in a penalty of up to $25,000 and up to a year in prison.”  This was the greeting that awaited the arriving crew on the charter flight into Dutch yesterday, delivered by one of the local cops all decked out in bio hazard gear.

 Fishing is considered an essential business in AK, so we have been able to get a plan approved that involves any crew coming up documenting self-quarantining for 14 days prior to flying, additionally anybody coming up from out of state isn’t allowed off the boat for 2 weeks, and they have to document twice-daily temperature checks that need to be logged.

 In any case, we’re finding a way to keep working, which we are all quite grateful for, considering what’s happening all around the world right now. Fish prices are tanking pretty badly, and we are facing shipping difficulties into Asia, but for now the wheels are still turning up in Alaska.

 For my part, I’m sitting in a hotel in Anchorage for 2 nights, about to fly to Adak to take the helm of the Constellation. I’ve been running the Alaska Spirit since mid-February. I had the good luck to make it North prior to all of the restrictions.

 Our timing for the Atlantic crossing turned out to be perfect as well. We managed to get RS stored ashore and make it home just as Covid-19 was coming onto everyone’s radar. Those who came behind us have not been so lucky. Port closures around the world have the cruising community reeling. Many are trapped where they happened to be as lockdowns began, unable to leave by any means-air or sea.  Some of them are unfortunately in places that are subject to tropical storms outside of the normal cruising season. If the restrictions continue into the hurricane season, many will be faced with some very difficult choices-hunker down in case of an approaching storm, or head to sea to try to get out of the way. Scary business all around.

 Our friends Ryan and Elena on s/v Skua left the Canary islands just as things were really taking off with the disease, arriving at the other end of their 25 day passage to a completely different world. Jenny spent quite a few hours trying to find them one of the Caribbean islands which would take them. Grenada looked like it was a go for them. Then a COVID case was recorded on the island, and that permission was instantly revoked. This happened when they were 3 days out. Finally, they were able to end their trip in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where they are now hunkered down. This is still in the hurricane zone, but hits are rare, and they are within a day’s sail if they need to get S. of the hurricane zone.

 Such is life these days. Everyone take care of each other.

Atlantic Crossing # 2

 We relaxed for a few days in La Palma, not for any particular sailing reason, but just to enjoy a few quiet days prior to the big crossing. The distance from E-W is substantially higher than our W-E route, about 3000 miles vs 1800. Also, we were expecting much lighter winds than we encountered up around 50N, so this was going to be a long ride. Might as well relax for a bit. Besides, we like La Palma a lot, even though the marina is terrible with surge. It’s a beautiful island, with a tranquil vibe.

On a rainy day we visited the local museum
Each year La Palma exports about 60 000 bananas.

 We set off with a reasonably strong wind in the forecast, and after getting clear of the surprisingly long wind shadows of the islands, managed several days of fairly fast sailing. We sailed RS well short of her potential, both because we really didn’t want to break anything with the long distance to go and a desire not to intimidate our third crew too much. Our beast does take some getting used to when things are breezy. We only exceeded 20 knots of boat speed on one occasion during this time, so we were mostly successful in our efforts to rein things in. We would come to regret not pushing harder during this early part later in the passage, unfortunately.

Rocket Science in beast mode
It took longer than expected for the weather to warm up

 Anyway, things went quite well for the first 5 days. Then, Friday the 13th arrived. Good god. The cursed day’s events began shortly after midnight. We had been charging the batteries, and as I walked back to shut down the engine, I got pegged directly in the chest by a pretty big flying fish. These things travel fast, and it was a bit of a shock. After tossing him back into the sea, I went to complete the task of shutting down, which requires pulling the stop cable, and the little handle for it broke in my hand, causing 2 nasty gashes in my fingers. Wonderful.

 Next up, I discovered that I’d closed a line in the hatch over my bunk, resulting in a huge puddle right where my pillow sits.

 Later in the day, during another charging session, it was discovered that the main cable from the alternator to the batteries had failed, that was a 4 hour jury-rig, with the added bonus of working on energized cables.

 And finally… during a gybe, the traveler line somehow sucked itself into one of the sheaves in a big knot, requiring us to essentially disassemble the entire mechanism to get that sorted. This was at about 2330. Should have waited 1/2 hour. Sigh.

The dawn of December 14. Hallelujah.

But, all things do pass, and the 14th dawned as another standard day underway. The wind had been drawing more and more astern, to the point where there really wasn’t a favored gybe anymore. It’s a bit of a mental exercise to recognize that pointing at Brazil on one gybe and at Canada on the other (I may be exaggerating a bit) is really the most effective way to sail. We even tried sheeting the staysail outboard to weather and running under twin headsails for a bit, but that idea proved to be a rather dumb, high-maintenance failure.

TJ pretending to be a Volvo ocean racer.

The second half of the trip saw conditions get lighter and lighter, and our 24h runs get smaller with each day. At this point, I really wished we’d pushed a bit more at the beginning. We’d probably squandered 400 miles of potential progress by taking it easier than we should have. But, hindsight is always 20/20, so I tried not to let it get me down. We did the best we could, using a bunch of different flying sails, and we did manage to keep our progress reasonably good.

 With about 600 miles to go, things went essentially dead. 10 knots or less, and from dead astern. A quick fuel calculation revealed that we had just enough range to motor the rest of the way if needed. We had sailed 100% of the time to this point, and were keen to make the entire trip under sail, but with many days of the same in the forecast, we gave up on it and turned on the motor, sailing when things picked up a bit.

Rocket Science can sail faster than the wind!

 We had one final failure during this time-the seawater pump for the engine’s seal gave out, so that had to be replaced with the spare. Really, our laundry list of mechanical issues was pretty light for a passage of this length.

 On the last night, we had to slow down a bit to avoid arriving in Antigua in the dark. We picked up a mooring in Falmouth harbour exactly 16 days, 20 minutes and 2940 miles days after departing La Palma. A bit slower than hoped, but the boat and crew were in good order, so the passage was definitely a success in our book.

 We’ve been enjoying Antigua for a week and a half. We’ll be here for a few more days, and will store the boat on the hard here. We failed utterly at finding a berth anywhere in FL or GA that can accommodate our draft (!), so Antigua is home for the time being. The yard here has some great concrete pits for the keel to sit in, with anchors in the ground for straps. It’s almost surely a safer hurricane arrangement than anything we’d find in Florida in any case. We’ve been busy for the last few days removing all the sails and halyards, cleaning everything, varnishing, lining up work, and just tending to all the details that need to be looked after prior to laying the boat up.

 And, with that, we’ve managed to secure our winter getaway for another year. Bonus!

Europe-It’s not you, it’s us.


Over the fall, we had some opportunity to ponder just where RS should live. We weighed the pros and cons about keeping her in England, but the truth is that the cruising season is really short there, and I typically work well into July each year. We would basically have a month per year to cruise if we kept her over there. She would turn into a little-used dock queen. Couple that with the long flight over and back each time, and it just seemed a bit of a waste.

So, the current plan (this is version 4, rev.6), is to bring the boat to the E. coast of the US, and then stick her on a truck and home port her in Anacortes, WA. She’ll get a lot more use there, being close to home and all. Of course, there’s also some really excellent cruising grounds close at hand. Seems like a winning plan.

I’m writing this from La Palma, our last stop in the Canary islands. We expect to leave Saturday for the Caribbean.

For those of you who don’t have it, we have a tracker aboard, and Jenny also made up a little facebook group to have a look at if you wish.

Stephanie will be joining us on this leg as well. We met her on Lanzarote last year while she was finishing up her Yachtmaster credential, so we’ll have another capable hand aboard for the crossing as well. We had been a bit undecided as to whether or not we wanted to sail doublehanded, but in the end the prospect of a lot more sleep and good company won the day. Welcome, Steph.

Europe, we just can’t get over you!

 It’s been a while since we’ve done an update, mostly since RS has unbelievably been in the Canary islands for a full year. How did this happen?

 As those of you who have been following us for some time know, we were getting a bit sick of cruising. Jenny was getting tired of getting ditched by me in various places every few months, and I, after 22 years of continuous living aboard, had also found that I was enjoying myself less than usual. The disappointment of most of southern Europe (from a sailing perspective) sort of brought things to a head.

 So, we bought a house. Besides, the dog’s really too old to sail offshore at this point, we figured letting him spend the last of his days enjoying a home that doesn’t move around and a big yard to frolic around in was just the right thing to do for our old guy.

 Our plan was to sail the boat across the pond last year, basing her in either Maine or Rhode Island, taking summer cruises each year to Newfoundland and Greenland for the next few years. However, between the interminable wait for Jenny to get her immigration status for the USA and closing on our new home, we simply got too pressed for time to get across to the Caribbean without being rushed. There wasn’t really any hurry to get across anyway, so we enjoyed cruising the islands a bit and decided to berth her in one of the excellent marinas on Lanzarote.

La Palma – one stop on the abandoned Atlantic crossing

 Fast forward to the present day-Jenny is still waiting for US immigration to issue her permanent resident card. They lost her paperwork, so it has to be done all over again. We have no idea how long this will take. With the way things have been, we are assuming that she will not be able to leave the USA until sometime next year. Lost paperwork means that while she’s legal to be in the USA, somebody at a port of entry may not understand the situation and would deny her entry-this according to  our attorney.

 So, she’s stuck, and probably not able to sail to the Caribbean this fall. I was going to grab a friend or two (here’s looking at you, Andy), make the crossing, ditch the boat, and then fly home as fast as possible from the Caribbean to rejoin my abandoned wife. Sounds great, right?

 Honestly, coming back with the boat to the US never felt exactly right to either of us. So, during a recent call, we were discussing that we both regretted not spending more time in N. Europe. We missed Scotland, Norway, the Baltic, and plenty of other delights on our first trip through. Why leave?

 As is our way, we’ve changed our plans again, and we will now be keeping RS in Europe for probably the next few years. We’ll sail to England via the Azores next summer, likely using Berthon’s fine marina and yard in Lymington as our base for the first year.

 This feels very much like the right call to both us. It’s funny, we have been off the boat for 7 months. That’s all it took, and we’re back fully interested in getting back to adventuring afloat again. I’m surprised it took that long…

Marina Rubicon on Lanzarote

Adios, Europe!

We’ll be leaving soon for another Atlantic crossing, destination Caribbean. We’ve been in Europe for not quite two and a half years.

It was a good change for us. We’d essentially been in the tropics (mostly Mexico) since 2009, and I had kept Star Path based in Vallarta since 2002. We were ready to do something different. While we do love Mexico, central and S. America, it does all sort of begin to feel the same after enough years. Our time on the E. coast was also mostly great, Portsmouth, VA being a notable exception. Newfoundland was also a real highlight.

In fact, we’ve decided that we’re going to base Rocket Science on the E. coast for a few more years-we really want to explore Newfoundland some more, and also have a trip to Greenland in our sights. So, it’s most likely that we’ll sail out of Rhode Island or Maine for a few summers before bringing the boat over to the W. coast. When we’re not doing that, the plan is to live somewhere N. of Seattle. I can report that Jenny has been enjoying shopping for houses. Me too, actually. Change is good.

Anyway, our view of Europe from a cruising perspective is mixed. We really liked our glimpse of Ireland and our winter in England a lot. We did end up in more marinas than we would have liked, but that’s ok. Being dockside does come with a lot of perks.

Our trip last summer from the UK to Gibraltar was also great, particularly the rias in NW Spain. That was really an unexpected treat. I wish we would have had more time to enjoy the place.

Portugal was just a short stop for us, with a brief visit to Cascais, and a couple of weeks in Portimao.

I’ve already reported on Gibraltar, nothing further needs to be said there.

Cruising in the Med? I’ll say it-we thought it sucked. Hot, crowded (10,000 boats at Mallorca alone, or something like that), expensive, and generally not very friendly either. Also, the old adage of there being too little or too much wind is pretty close to the mark. I think that if we’d gone further E, like to Greece or Croatia, it may have been a little better, but Sardinia was far enough for us. There’s a lot more that we’d both like to see in the region, but going by boat is a drag, at least during the high season. If we’d had the opportunity to cruise in May/June or September/October, I suspect we’d feel differently.

In retrospect, we should have spent another season in N. Europe, particularly Scotland and Norway. I’m sorry to have traded the Med for missing that. But, we’d been sailing in cold conditions for a couple of years, so some warmth was attractive.

I’m writing this from about 900 miles NW of Seattle. We’re bringing the Constellation down for her annual maintenance, then I’ll be jumping on a plane to get RS out of the water for some annual maintenance of her own. We’ll then spend Christmas in Germany, and shortly after shove off for the 2800 mile passage to the islands. It’ll be our longest trip together so far. Hopefully we can maintain a 200 mile/day average and knock it off in a couple of weeks.

Stay tuned.

Winter in Gibraltar

We spent last winter in Gibraltar. We knew little about the place, except that it was a big rock with some famous apes, and British.

Of course, we also knew that it was outside the EU, and outside of the Schengen zone, and both were needed to keep me and Rocket Science from getting sideways with the authorities. So, we had the good fortune to find a spot in one of the two marinas.

It’s important to understand a couple of key things about the place. First, being outside of the EU, it is an attractive place to folks looking to find some tax advantages in banking, properties, and such. Also, being a low-tax zone, it also attracts people for whom cheap booze and smokes are a major selling point. Turns out, the latter is a little more problematic in daily life.

We arrived in our slip, a little surprised that our neighbors took no interest in our arrival, nor did they offer to lend a hand, adjust their fenders (when med-mooring, all the boats are in contact with each other most of the time, so you need to mind that your fenders are actually doing something), or even really offer a friendly word after we got all tied up. No matter-we had by then become rather used to aloof Europeans. We didn’t mind.

However, it turns out these folks, we’ll call them Klaus and Kunnigunde, were firmly in the booze and smokes camp. The party raged until the wee hours, glasses clinking, raucous laughter, smoke billowing into our cabin. We said nothing, and hoped we just arrived on a special occasion.

The next night, we discovered this was our new normal. How awful. The marina has a ‘quiet after 2300’ policy (as does all of Gib, incidentally), but this mattered nothing to these folks and their buddies from down the dock. Finally, at 0130, Jenny respectfully asked if they could just please take it inside? 30 minutes later, after turning off the music, but still smoking, laughing, and yelling, she popped back out to ask a little more forcefully to please show some respect to the marina rules and us. This was met with some seriously furious anger, and a suggestion to put in ear plugs. Great. This was supposed to be our spot for 6 months, and the marina was completely full, so we couldn’t find another spot. What a nightmare.

Of course, Klaus and co. were pretty overtly hostile any time we saw them for quite a while after. They did tone it down, but it was never comfortable there. Fortunately, we weren’t there the whole time, and the cooler weather kept the outdoor partying to a minimum as the fall wore on, but it still sucked.

Of course, the terrible surge and damage to the boat did little to enamor us to the place as well. RS still bears some nasty scars from our winter in Gib.

Anyway, we made the best of our time there, taking every chance to hike up to the top of the rock. It was always a welcome reprieve to get around the back side of the rock, and away from the constant noise and bustle of the place. We were also happy to be able to get some proper British goods at the local supermarket, and we had a fine Indian restaurant nearby, and even some decent Thai and delivery pizza.

But, the place is really chaotic. The traffic’s a nightmare, with cars and especially scooters blasting around like mad. A bike ride was always a roll of the dice, one which Jenny had the misfortune to lose one one occasion. She got hit by one of the nutty drivers in a roundabout, pitching her off her bike and onto the pavement. There were only minor injuries to her, but she was definitely shaken up. Shortly after the accident, a cop rode up and asked if she needed to go to the hospital, and when it was determined that she didn’t, he rode off. No reports, no ticket for the driver. Just another cyclist run over, no biggie.

Ultimately, we didn’t make it the whole winter. Gib has a limit of 6 months before taxes are due. You just have to go to Spain with the boat for 5 minutes to reset the clock, so during my week home in March, we set about getting this done, booking a slip for a couple of nights just across the border in La Linea. We had a nice T-head, and a view of something other than concrete and the hulls of the boats on either side of us. We had already booked our stay in Gib, though, so we were planning to head back.

In the end, Jenny quietly let me know that the thought of going back to Gib was just too much to bear. So, with great relief, we stayed in La Linea, settling in to our new digs contentedly. For about 12 minutes.

On minute 13, Baxter saw a dog on the quay behind the boat, and let out a single bark. Immediately, a very hostile, tattooed Brit popped his head out, and said: “In all seriousness, am I going to have to listen to that shit all day? I come down here for quiet, and I don’t want to hear your damn dog barking!” He muttered some more pleasantries, and went down below.

For god’s sake, out of the frying pan and into the fire.

I decided to nip this one in the bud. I stood outside his boat, and told him rather loudly and sharply that he really ought to come out and introduce himself properly, and civilly. We did manage to become friendly-we assured him that we were responsible dog owners, and while little B would never be absolutely silent, we wouldn’t just let him run amok. He informed us that he was á miserable bastard´and on those grounds he turned out to be pretty ok in the end.

In the end, it was a necessary stop, but not really the greatest experience for us. Compared to N. Europe, and our delightful winter in England the year prior, we did find the place a little bit of a disappointment. But, the beauty of cruising is that one can always toss the lines and sail off to greener pastures. For our part, we were pretty happy to leave the rock in our wake.

Cartagena to the Islas Canarias

After our welcome foray into the mountains, we returned to sweltering Cartagena to handle a few small maintenance items before the last 900 or so miles to the islands. The plan was to make this run with just a single stop in Gibraltar.

First, though, we had one last bit of business to take care of while in Europe- Barcelona! I’d never been there, and Jenny had only been there once as a teen, so it was high time for both of us to head over there.

Joining us there were Bob and Cheri, another Alaskan fishing couple. I’ve known Bob for 25 years or so, and he’s a valued ally on the fishing grounds, but we’ve never really had the opportunity to spend time outside of a work setting. Nice.

Barcelona was great. We hit as many of the highlights as we could in the couple of days we were there. We had planned to spend 3 nights there, but only managed 2-Westerlies were expected to fill in our our route to Gib, so we had to cut it a bit short to avoid that. Such is the life of a sailor.

Next up was the 275 mile trip to Gib. The 4 of us had a fine time of it, even managing an 8 hour uninterrupted spinnaker run, which is pretty rare in the fickle Med. Good stuff. We motored the rest of the time, of course. The trip took a little under a day and a half.

We had a couple of days with our amigos in Gib, Jenny spent one day hiking up to the top of the rock with them-13 miles and 1400′ of vertical gain. I stayed home with B, and after seeing them drag themselves back home, I was pretty happy to have been nominated babysitter.

The following day was a little trip to Cadiz, which mostly involved a little walk around and lunch in this ancient city. It’s reckoned to be the place that’s been continuously inhabited for longer than about anyplace in Europe, so it’s well worth a visit if you’re ever in the neighborhood.

Finally, we bade Bob and Cheri farewell, and enjoyed a couple of quiet weeks aboard before our passage to the islands. Finally, the weather looked light but favorable, and we chucked the lines for the 600 mile ride to the islands. The first 24 hours were basically windless, contrary to the forecast, leaving us motoring uncomfortably in a big swell. Finally a bit of breeze filled in, and we had some really spectacular, fast sailing. It was nice to be back out in a proper ocean swell again, surfing away on our trusty ride. Jenny hit 16 a couple of times while I was snoozing at 3am. I came up for my watch to find her grinning away, claiming to have been nervous during the fastest runs. I’m not so sure, it looked like she’d been having a ball to me.

So, thanks to our little speedy part in the middle, we arrived in Lanzarote in just a few hours over the 3 day mark. We’re settled in here now until the hurricanes stop blowing, and the winter trades get established, and then we’ll head for the Caribbean via the Cape Verde islands.

Baxter, the freezer dog

We’re back in the heat of Spain after a nice, cool break in the Alps. Yesterday was a particularly hot, windless day, with the temp in the cabin at a rather oppressive 94F. Baxter was pretty unhappy about it, panting and lethargic.
Then, I hit upon a brilliant idea! The freezer didn’t have anything in it yet, and it happens to be just the right size for B to fit in. He likes small spaces, and he likes cool, so why not give it a go?
So, we gently lowered him down into our top-loader, and he immediately pressed up against one of the cold plates and gave us this contented look.
10 minutes later, properly cooled, he asked to come back out. He wanders over there every couple of hours now during the hottest part of the day and requests a session is his personal cooling chamber.
Cute stuff.

Jenny would like to note to all who might find this to be a little gross that we’ll be thoroughly cleaning the freezer out before we put any food in there.