We stored RS on the hard at Jolly Harbour, Antigua, beginning in January of last year. We had the good fortune to get across the Atlantic before Covid-19 really got going. Jolly has a few concrete ‘hurricane pits’ that are about 5 feet deep, so RS at least wasn’t teetering on her exceptionally long keel for the season.
But, after the ’20 season and the record number of named storms, I wasn’t keen to roll the dice and leave her down there for another summer. Besides, there is just about nothing worse for a boat than to sit unused in the tropics. Between humidity and the intense UV, it’s just terribly hard on everything.
With things still shut down in the islands, and reopening not in the cards prior to the hurricane season, we decided that it was the best course of action to just bite the bullet and ship her to her new home base of Anacortes, WA.
The logistics were a bit tricky with quarantine and closed borders, and we ended up having to hire crew to move the boat from Antigua to her loading port in St. Thomas, and another to deliver her from Victoria, BC to Anacortes. The only part that we played in the whole journey was running the boat about 100 yards from the marina to the ship in St. Thomas. That and a little shuffle between marinas prior to being stored on the hard in WA.
We had a bit of excitement while we were laying alongside the ship waiting to get picked out of the water. From a long way off, I spied a 50′ or so powerboat, blasting along at the precise speed at which these things make the biggest possible wake. I could see the breaking water behind them for a long way. This is right through the western approach to the harbor, with at least 50 boats at anchor as well as all the dockside vessels.
Any powerboaters reading this, a friendly reminder that you are legally responsible for damage your wake causes. And, anyway, operating your boat like an ass is just out of order in any case.
We didn’t have time to untie and get away from the ship, but I did get out the boat hook and push us as far away from the side of the ship as I could manage. Good thing. The wake came in at about 5′ tall, rocking the hell out of us. We came out of it more or less ok (pending inspection), having just hit the V1 shroud against the ship once or twice.
The boat behind us wasn’t so lucky. It was a smaller boat, and their mast hit several times against the ship, breaking both port spreaders.
I sent the divers that were on site to position the slings over to identify the offender, and they were supposed to be held in the marina. However, the coast guard wasn’t interested, calling it a ‘civil matter’. We waited for the port police to show up for the longest time, and they also didn’t appear. While the USVI is in the US, it’s still very much in the Caribbean.
In the end, we left the shipping agent to handle the paperwork, and I filed an insurance claim for the inspection. ‘Rig inspection’ sounds pretty simple, but on a carbon stick with rod rigging-it’s a BIG job. I really hope that these bastards get held to account for it. We shall see.
Happily, RS’s designer, Paul Bieker, is based in Anacortes. He was nice enough to take the helm for the last little bit, as I was in Alaska. We’ve become friendly with Paul over the years, and he was quite happy to see his creation again. RS was Paul’s first big keel boat design. Amazingly, she’s 25 years old now, and still looks pretty cutting edge. WAY ahead of her time. Our lovely new neighbors John and Robin also lent a hand.
So, we’ll have our ride close to home for a while. There are some bigger maintenance/refit projects planned, and having Paul and some proper tradespeople to help out with things we don’t have the time or skill to undertake will help greatly.
We’re also looking forward to cruising the spectacular waters between WA and Alaska. It’s been better than a decade since we first sailed away from the area on Western Explorer. It’s high time for another cruise north.
On March 1, 2021 I had to put down our little buddy, our best friend, our heart dog Baxter. He was 15 years, 4 months, 3 weeks and 5 days old. At least that’s what I’d like to think. When we adopted him we were only told that he was born in October, no specific day. I decided that henceforth his birthday would be October 3 – the day East and West Germany reunited.
I still remember the day he came to us like it was yesterday. We had been looking on www.petfinder.com for a dog. We chose him because he looked cute. I had no idea about different breeds and different tempers. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. Anyway.
That afternoon, in November 2007, Missy, Baxter’s mom, came over to our rented house in West Seattle with a lady from the agency that runs the petfinder website. He was adorable, and while he was digging a huge hole in the back yard Missy said: ‘Well, you take him or we’ll put him down.’ Obviously we weren’t going to allow that, so Baxter was then ours. Missy left, with tears in her eyes and said: ‘Because this was his last day with us I took him for a car ride!’ I thought about that a lot later.
Baxter was 2 years old at the time, and he didn’t have much trouble adapting to life with us. The first night he whined a bit, but looking back I’m pretty sure that was just because we didn’t let him sleep in bed with us. I had never had a dog before. I didn’t want him in bed! Well, that did not last long. A few weeks later we went on a road trip to California. It was one of those occasions where Baxter was blissfully hanging out the window, until we reached his speed limit of about 50 mph. We stopped somewhere in Oregon for the night. I thought fine, this is a hotel room, here he gets to sleep in bed with us. He jumped up and dove under the covers, heavily crashing into my body and passed out with a loud sigh. That was the end of the ‘no dog in bed’ policy.
Baxter was a very high maintenance dog. The reason why Missy was ready to surrender or put him down was, according to her, his aggressive behavior towards their other dog. I never witnessed aggressive behavior. Yes, he was Mr. Dominant. He was literally the bossiest little shit you’d ever meet. That extended towards us – he definitely ran the house.
Visits at the dog park were always hit or miss. It generally started with me opening the gate, and the little nuisance running top speed at the closest dog, barking at the top of his lungs, while people were screaming at us, only to then stop, wildly wagging his stumpy little tail. I always wondered, would it be a great day, or just a nightmare? Thanks to him being so dominant (and so smart that we could never catch the little monster when he misbehaved) he was always happy to harass shy dogs or puppies. He never hurt anyone, but was more than happy to corner them, roll them over, and bark in that piercing voice that was so loud that you’d think you were listening to a Great Dane on steroids.
That dog cost me my last nerve so many times. I told him daily he was lucky he was so adorable. Devil in a blue dress.
Being a Beagle/Jack-Russel mix, I suspect that the aggression came from the fact that he was never properly exercised. The previous owners both worked full time, and all the exercise he ever got was running around the back yard, which is not enough for a dog like that. He had bad separation anxiety, and I suspect that he was abused. You could pick up any magazine and he’d run for the hills.
Poor thing. Needless to say, his life was much improved with in his new home. I took him to the dog park almost every day, and for plenty of walks if the weather was so miserable that no dogs were at the park. He never liked playing ball, so it was hours of walking if no play time was to be had. In fact, he needed 2-2.5 hours of walk time per day until he got sick at age 12.
Seattle was also where he spent a summer teaching a Labrador puppy how to play tug-o-war. It was the cutest thing, seeing my little raging monster mentor this little guy.
In 2009 we left to go cruising. It took him a while to get used to being on the boat while it was moving. We suspected that he thought a moving house wasn’t quite kosher. But he adapted to being in different locations splendidly. We spent the next 4 years on and off in Mexico. The first summer or two we spent in Seattle. That’s when Baxter got to go on his first flight.
The first one he did with just TJ. He was nervous the night after, but then perfectly fine. We didn’t fly a whole lot with him, but after that first time he became quite the pro.
Mexico. In the summer time I always walked him before the sun came up. One morning, I wasn’t paying too much attention, and just let my mind drift. Then something caught my eye. Just ahead of us on the side walk was a huge crocodile. It was easily 10 feet long. I freaked out and started running in zig zag (survival 101), dragging Baxter along. Needless to say, none of us got eaten. People later told me that crocs aren’t dangerous when the sun isn’t up, because their body temperature adjusts with the heat. Not so funny when it’s 80 plus degrees before the sun rises. I’m sure he didn’t nap on the side walk all night.
In Mexico we found this fabulous boarding place. Baxter loved it there. He would go when I went back to Europe to see my family, or for other, shorter trips we took. Melanie would come pick him up, and he always walked out the door without looking back. At her place the dogs each had their own crates, but were only locked in at meal times. She said Baxter didn’t like sleeping by himself, so every night he wandered into another dog’s crate and fell asleep there, cozy with his new best friend for the night.
In 2013 we bought Rocket Science and spent some time in California, before sailing back to Mexico and, eventually, beyond.
Baxter immediately found all the good, comfy places to sleep.
Though I think he really missed the bilge monster that lived on the old boat. She had a door to the engine room, and if you’d flip the water maker switch it made a buzzing noise in there. Baxter would stick his head in there and bark endlessly. Et voila – the bilge monster! It was a great way to keep him entertained.
When we got ready to sail across the Atlantic Baxter was happily accepted into grandma’s and grandpa’s home on the other side. He did amazing on the transatlantic flight. When we landed in Düsseldorf he walked out of his crate like he owned the place. He was born to be an adventurer! It was not his first transatlantic flight, as in 2014 we spent a month in Europe and he came along. That was when he started adding a whole bunch of countries to his list. Up until then he’d been in the US, of course, Canada (as we did a couple of trips up there to see the other set of grandparents), Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama.
In 2014 he added Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to the countries he had peed on. On top of that he has been to 27 states in the US – every one of those made me think about Missy and the ‘last day car ride.’
Anyway, 2016. My mom lasted less than 24 hours in which he wasn’t allowed on the couch. That tells you just how charming that little guy was. And head strong.
We sailed to Ireland, then to England, left the boat in Lymington and rented a car to go get Baxter. The reason we rented a car was that a) the UK is super strict with bringing animals in, as they are rabies free, and only certain airports would even allow flying into with an animal, and b) we only flew him when necessary. The way back proved to be tricky. I had already gotten him a pet passport (which is basically a summary of vaccinations etc, very handy). He just needed rabies and tapeworm, within a certain amount of days. When we finally go to the ferry we were informed that the Belgian vet had put the tapeworm stamp on the wrong page, and he was not admissible into the country. They turned us around, and we had the lovely task to find a vet in Calais on a Saturday afternoon who would correct the matter. 25 € and some broken French later we had what we needed and were finally allowed on the boat.
The things you do for your dog.
Baxter enjoyed Europe. We went to many, many new places, which suited him just fine. Earlier he had turned into a bit of a walk snob. If we stayed in one place for too long he wasn’t much interested in walking the same route anymore. Thanks, but no thanks. I have peed here before. Please, let’s move on. Destination fatigue. The struggle is real.
While in Europe he visited Spain, Gibraltar, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Andorra and Portugal. Not in that order. He was always so happy and excited about every new place.
We spent the winter of 2017 in Gibraltar. That’s when we first noticed that something was wrong with him. He was tested, and the worst possible diagnosis was confirmed: Cushings. If you don’t know anything about Cushings, consider yourself lucky. To quote my very fabulous vet here on Whidbey, ‘Cushings is a horrible disease. I mean, all diseases are, but Cushings is special that way’. True words.
Cushings disease is usually caused either by a tumor on the pituitary gland, or on the adrenal gland. It makes no difference for treatment. Average life expectancy after diagnosis is 1-2 years. Baxter had to start taking a medicine called Vetoryl, which is similar to chemo. I read the instructions and it said that after I had touched the pill I had to thoroughly wash my hands. And that was what I was putting into my poor little dog. Two months into treatment, after countless trips to the vet, with no car and in a foreign country, his liver failed.
You wouldn’t have known something was seriously wrong with him. He puked Friday morning. We had an appointment for yet another poking session at the vet. I told him and he gave him something for upset stomach. Baxter had the habit to pick up things off the street and eat them, no matter if they were actually edible or not (most notably he ate a cigarette butt), so an upset stomach was a logical conclusion. The vet told me to come back immediately if he puked again. Saturday morning just that happened. The vet did a comprehensive blood test and Baxter’s liver had failed.
He spent the weekend in the hospital. I got an hour of visitation on Sunday. When my time was over, the vet opened the door, Baxter walked out, upstairs and straight back into the crate where he was being treated. He was so smart, he knew he was being helped.
He had to return Monday and Tuesday for 8 hour treatments, and his liver fully recovered. A magical thing, livers.
Cushings is notoriously hard to treat, but Baxter settled in on a dosage of 10 mg of the Vetoryl and was fine. Except it was so little that it didn’t control the side effects of the disease, most notably excessive thirst. The Spanish vet prescribed a human medicine, used to treat diabetes insipidus (the inability of the body to retain water – not to be confused with diabetes mellitus). It worked just fine ad all was well.
Fast forward to October 2018. We had moved on to Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands. I took Baxter in for a Cushings test, which is something that has to be done regularly. The vet noted that his liver enzymes were extremely high. I took him off of all meds, which, let me assure you, is the opposite of fun. All the Cushings symptoms come in in full force, and you can spend all day and night just tending to your dog. He recovered, got back on his meds and all was well for a while.
We were on our way to the vet (for a change…..). Just in front of her office Baxter had a little bit of diarrhea. He seemed perfectly fine otherwise. I mentioned it to the vet, and she decided to put him on some fluids. While he was on the table he started having a bad seizure. A blood test revealed that he had pancreatitis. The vet said to me: ‘I can treat him, but this is really bad. I don’t think he will make it.’
He spent 4 days at the vet’s for treatment. I got to take him home at night. He was so weak he was unable to walk. All kinds of fun, when you live on a boat. On day 5 I dropped him off, only to receive a phone call an hour later. ‘You can pick him up, he is fine! He bit me when I tried to treat him, so I did a blood test and he is fine!’ Can’t blame the guy. I wouldn’t want to be poked and stuck in a cage all day if I was fine!
All remained calm on the Cushings front after that. But Baxter was noticeably getting older, so we decided it was time to buy him a house, which we did, and moved to Whidbey Island in February of 2019. Baxter absolutely loved it. We discovered that he was aware enough of his limitations that we could allow him to wander around outside, without him taking off. What a lovely surprise! Back in his maniac days that would have never been possible.
We found the bestest dog sitter, and in the winter of 2019 we went and sailed the boat back across the Atlantic. Baxter did just fine, despite my secret fear (shared by the lovely Les) that Baxter wouldn’t survive the 2 months he spent with her.
In early 2020 covid hit, and just like everyone else Baxter and I got stuck at home, while TJ was stuck at work. Our radius was severely limited, and in retrospect I think it depressed Baxter. That summer, when things started opening up again, Baxter had an accident at the dog park. It wasn’t anything spectacular – he just failed to acknowledge that he was an old man, didn’t get out of the way and got bumped around a little bit. But he was seriously hurt. It was so bad that when we finally managed to get an appointment with the vet we were ready to put him to sleep. The vet ordered strong painkillers and muscle relaxants instead. He improved slightly, but never got a whole lot better. Not well enough to live, not sick enough to die. It was awful.
We had been stuck for so long, we were going bonkers. So we bought a stroller that doubles as a bike trailer for Baxter. He wasn’t exactly enchanted, especially when riding downhill, but he settled in much easier than he would have in his younger years. We had given the bike trailer idea a shot before, in 2016 in Lymington. If you don’t know Lymington, it’s a pretty posh little town maybe an hour and a half from London. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon we loaded Baxter into his trailer and started riding. He screamed (not barked, screamed) at the top of his lungs and refused to stop. Finally we decided to write that trailer off as a bad investment rather than risking to have someone call animal control on us.
We went on a road trip through Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. I kid you not, the moment that dog realized we weren’t going home he perked up. He managed (for the first time in weeks) to stick his head out the car window. A week in he was back to normal. I strongly believe that he had suffered from depression. I didn’t think that was even a thing, but not going places had obviously not been good for his health. Sometimes I thought he was a weird alien mix of dog, cat (because he always liked to sleep under our blankets) and human (because he was so damn smart).
In December I noticed something wasn’t quite right with him. His appetite wasn’t great, which is not good when you have a dog who will go to such lengths as to eat cigarette butts. I called up the vet and he suggested we repeat the Cushings test. By then I was already struggling to treat his severe arthritis along with a whole bunch of this and that. The test revealed that Baxter was over medicated. The vet suggested we take him off the Vetoryl for a month.
He had already not been sleeping well. He always wanted to sleep on the bed, but then got uncomfortable during the night, which meant I had to get up, lift him onto the floor, go back to bed. A while later he would get cold, same thing, then again he was uncomfortable. I didn’t get much rest, despite the fact that he had been out on sedatives for better sleeping.
A month without Vetoryl was even worse. The next test revealed that he was under medicated. The vet said that he was pretty sure that Baxter was getting to the end stage of Cushings. The failure of the meds to regulate the disease was a sure sign.
Things went downhill fairly fast from there. Every week there was something new. The last two weeks I had to adjust his meds 4 times. He was puking all the time, restless, stressed. When I took him to the park or another of his favorite off-leash areas he acted like a maniac, racing nonstop. If I would talk to people about his health they would say: ‘I don’t know, he looks happy to me!’ Not helpful. Not helpful at all. Not one bit, as I was wrestling with the decision.
His little body was chemically falling apart. Cushings dogs often turn into zombies at the end. They aren’t quite themselves anymore and do odd things. Like a 15 plus year old dog running 2 miles. It’s not natural, but I had trouble conveying that and felt very alone at times. People told me ‘You’ll know when it is time’. Only I thought when a dog gets old there are obvious signs of old age, and then you just know.
Cushings isn’t like that. Cushings is a bitch. Les said to me at some point: ‘You know, you will always feel guilty afterwards. You will either think it was too early, or you waited too long.’ I left Baxter with her for a few hours. I drove North, across the Deception Pass bridge. It was a stormy day. Low hanging clouds, moving fast. And right when I crossed there was a huge rainbow. Really strong. I asked myself ‘what are you doing’. He is not okay. He is far from okay, and things are not going to get better. And who knows how he really feels? I didn’t know he was on death’s door with the pancreatitis until it got so bad he had seizures. I was afraid he was hiding his true condition.
He was such a fighter. He defied all odds, and defeated all expectations. But in the end, I decided I didn’t want him to suffer worse than he was already, and I had to help him to the other side.
I’ll spare you the details. He has been cremated, and when I can get myself to do it we will spread some of his ashes in the orchard and put up a little memorial. I want to bring along some of the ashes when we go travel and spread them in beautiful places. He wouldn’t have liked to just be in one place.
It’ been almost 3 weeks, and I’m still more heartbroken than I ever thought possible. He was the most adventurous, special little dog. No encounter with a crocodile or ride on a ferris wheel could faze him. There will never be another one like him.
I do believe there’s something that comes after our life here on earth. I know the story of the rainbow bridge. How dogs are supposed to enjoy themselves on this side of it, until their owners come and they can go across together.
I doubt that it what happened. Baxter was always fiercely independent when it suited him. Wherever he is now, I know he’s having the best time and not worried about me at all. Because that’s just how he was. If we are one day reunited again, when it is my time, I image he’ll sprint by me top speed, briefly pause, wag wildly to say hello, and continue on his merry way.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.