Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!





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.

The cost of freedom

As most of you know, we’re planning a westbound transat this winter. For only the 2nd time since 1992, I’ll be someplace other than at sea in Alaska in the middle of winter, preferring to spend a couple of months in the Caribbean on our way to Seattle instead.

I’m not sure if I’m going to have enough time off to bring RS to Seattle on her own bottom, so trucking her may be something that we undertake.

Put it all together, and it’s going to be an expensive proposition any way we do it. So, I’m working more this year-a lot more, as a matter of fact.

I left home on January 2 this year, and have been home precisely 6 days since then, having undertaken a short stint running the 210′ ‘Northern Glacier’, in addition to my normal schedule on the Constellation.

All work and no play isn’t much fun. But, that’ll come later. In the meantime, the fishing continues!

Jenny and I are both really looking forward to a Med mini-cruise this summer, though. I have it on pretty good authority that she likes having me around.

Occasionally, we encounter folks on the dock who seem just a touch resentful that we can go world cruising at our relatively young ages. It always makes me smile just a little. I guess nobody gets to see the effort that goes into making it all happen.

Kudos to Jenny for keeping everything together on the home front during my extended absence, too.

Living the Dream

Home is where the heart is, they say. Funny, because occasionally I catch myself talking about home, sometimes referring to Rocket Science, or to Aachen, Germany, or to Seattle. Which leads me to today’s topic – the realities of ‘living the dream’ you don’t hear about so much.
When the freezer broke the other day someone pulled out the oldie but goldie quote ‘cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places’. Well, you better hope that your boat is nice enough to hold it together until you get to a less exotic place, because it’s much easier to get them fixed in civilization. Of course if your husband is closely related to MacGyver you will have a much easier time, but still, locating spares, or help if needed can be a challenge.
We recently met a very nice German couple in Spain. They are now in Morocco with engine problems, and two different mechanics have diagnosed two different problems. One of them was unfixable in Morocco, the other one could get a quick fix so that maybe they could make it to Lanzarote to the actual mechanic.
Or, you are one day into your Atlantic crossing and you discover that the sliding bracket for the alternator has broken. And then you are lucky if your engine is as easily accessible as ours is, and you don’t have to be in the middle of the ocean, upside down, swearing and sweating.
Or, you have a new crew member. She tells you she is VERY experienced, you leave her alone for 30 minutes and she manages to clog up the head, which you then have to fix, angry as hell, poo everywhere, while she is insisting on sticking around to ‘help’ while you don’t need help and just want some privacy for dealing with the poo.
Living the dream yet?
Okay, I will admit this: the more things break on your boat the better you get at fixing things, and the more you learn about your systems. So here’s an upside!
Rocket Science, however, has been solid as a rock. Yes, things happen, but all in all she’s been amazingly reliable. Of course when things happen, TJ is never home. He claims that things do happen when he’s home, I just don’t remember because it’s never a big deal. There might be some truth to that. However, I’m almost an expert at fixing the head, the fridge and the heater. The most important things when in port.
Ah, yes, I still owe you the freezer story. I woke up in the morning and the freezer temperature was at 29 degrees Fahrenheit. I was surprised, because that was way too high. The set point was still set at 20. Something had to be wrong. I climbed in by where the unit is. Sure enough the red indicator light gives 3 flashes. The fan is running, the compressor won’t turn on. I downloaded the troubleshooting pdf sheet from SeaFrost, and it immediately became obvious that the only possibility here was a broken module. At this point I’m mildly annoyed. I reserve total freakouts for heater breakdowns in November in Rhode Island, or a clogged up head full of poo.
It might have been different if we hadn’t been so ingenious as to install two separate units for the fridge and freezer. Okay, TJ was so ingenious. With him by my side I only need to show the ocassional flash or brilliance.
Anyways, we talked it over and decided to get a new unit since this one is a complete PoS which we have hated every minute of every day since we’ve had it.
I walked up to Prodomestics, the local refrigeration shop. I explained to them what the problem was and mentioned that I would like to replace the unit. They suggest that the unit might be fixed. I said: ‘Look, I know the unit can’t be fixed, but I don’t want to fix it because it’s a PoS!’ The guy said they’d send someone down to take a look.
The next morning a very friendly guy showed up. I explained the situation to him, and he was quite surprised to learn that I wanted a new unit. He told me I needed to send an email to the office, tell them what I have and what I want, because they told him to come here and fix the old unit. After I had explicitly said I didn’t want to fix it. Grrrrrrrrr!
That was the first time something like this has ever happened to me. It sucked though. I might not be an expert, but I’m not stupid either.
So – be prepared to get down and dirty, sweaty and make sure you have an adequate inventory of swear words if you are planning on living the dream!

Let’s talk about the weather. You are probably thinking about beautiful tropical locations, palm trees and clear blue water when you think about ‘living the dream’. Well, we’ve been to those locations, and it’s fantastic (though remember that those locations do oftentimes attract hurricanes). But after 5 years in the tropics I was ready to experience the seasons again. Especially fall, which is my very favorite season.
We made it through those 5 years with very little incidents on the weather front. Actually, I don’t think there were any. We did have two tsunami scares, but nothing too spooky.
Sometimes people ask us what’s the worst weather we’ve ever experienced at sea. The answer is, we look at the forecast and if it looks gnarly we don’t leave port. That might not be the sensational story some are looking for, but that’s why we are still here living the dream.
There were two occasions where the dream was rather nightmarish for me. TJ was gone for both. The first time I was in Sausalito, California. They had the worst October storm in 50 years. It blew 60 knots sustained. I ran out every 10 minutes to check the lines, getting soaked by the rain. I almost shit myself, and I seriously questioned if living on a boat was such a good idea.
The other incident occurred this week. We are in Gibraltar and the forecast was for Easterlies, 35 knots with gusts up to 56. Here at Queensway Quay Marina we weren’t too worried. Easterlies mean the Rock blocks most of it. At this point I’d like to quote a lovely gentleman who captains a big power boat and lives on the same dock: ‘I thought I was going to have a quiet Sunday’ he said. ‘It was supposed to blow easterly, but I forgot that this is Gibraltar, and easterly means it’s blowing from all f…g directions!’ It’s true. I’ll go for a run and have a head wind the whole time. I get to the half way mark, turn around to run back and I also have a head wind. Gibraltar is funny that way.
Anyways, he was right of course. The wind switched often, and it was ugly. The swell inside the marina was terrible. The wind wasn’t even that bad. The motion of the boat was so violent, I was seriously afraid she’d be ripped apart. Or at least we’d rip out a cleat.
I’m not a fan of med mooring, mostly because it doesn’t seem that safe, and you are even closer to your neighbors than you are when you are at a finger pier. But in this storm I was very uncomfortable with the docking situation. Not to mention that neighbor A (sailboat) wasn’t around, so I had to look after his boat as well, because if something happened to his boat something would inevitably happen to mine. Neighbor B (powerboat) didn’t bother to come outside more than once to check on his lines and fenders (I ended up adjusting the fenders) and after the storm was over complained to me that his boat got damaged bu his other neighbor who wasn’t around. Well, you should have come out and taken some responsibility, eh?
So that sucked. And it lasted for 3 days. Nobody in Gib slept much during that time. I wasn’t scared shitless like I was during the storm in California, but it was not good. Making an attempt to not sound too negative here: it’s all a good experience. Not an actual good experience, but you go through these things and if you managed to get out on the other end more or less unscathed you have learned a lot and become stronger. Because you know you can live through something awful like that and be okay.

This brings me to the last, and the most painful part. This storm and the fact that it was immediately followed by a broken freezer was especially hard on me. Baxter has been sick since November. After a lot of back and forth to the vet, and several tests he was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease. This is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland. That means his body overproduces cortisol, which leads to a number of symptoms. Most prominent is the excessive drinking. For a dog it is normal to drink between 20 and 100 ml of water per kilogram of body weight. Baxter should drink a maximum of 1.6 liters (that’s a bit less than one gallon). But he was drinking up to 4 liters, which led to him having to go out to pee several times every night. While TJ was home that was annoying but doable, since we could share the duty, but when he was gone it was all on me. He has since been on medication for diabetes insipidus (the body’s inability to retain water) which helps.
The problem is now that the medication he has to take is very aggressive, and it is hard on the liver and kidneys. 3 weeks ago his liver failed and he had to spend 4 days in the hospital, off his Cushing’s medication, to try and restore the liver. While it has gotten a lot better it looks huge in the ultrasound. I do not know what the implications of this are – the vet said it’s because it failed. But he has to go in again for testing tomorrow, and he will most likely need a higher dose of the meds, and that will be even worse for his liver.
Baxter is on borrowed time. That in itself is heartbreaking. He’s been our little buddy since we rescued him from certain death a little over a decade ago. Then there’s the uncertainty that goes along with this. He can be fine today and his kidneys could fail tomorrow. Or his liver. I’m watching him with eagle eyes all the time. I wake up in the middle of the night to see if he’s still breathing. It’s wearing me down.

And this is where the hardest part of cruising life comes into play. You don’t have your friends and family around when you need them. If you have been gone for long you are lucky if your friends haven’t forgotten all about you. Out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes you just grow apart, because land life and sailing life are so different, you might find that you don’t have much in common anymore.
It is heartbreaking. I’m lucky enough to still be sort of in touch with a very few of my friends back home in Germany. I’m lucky enough that one of them still makes an effort to really keep up the friendship and not just talk on a fairly regular basis, but also comes to visit me sometimes (love you Natascha!). But many are gone, and I miss the times when I had the luxury of knowing there were many people around me at an easy distance who loved me.
The other part of this are the people you meet while cruising. You meet, you spend some time, you grow close, and then you leave. Or they leave. Or everybody leaves and goes in different directions. And while you may stay in touch via social media or email, it’s just not the same. Sometimes you meet again, and it’s a joyous occasion. But a lot of the time you never see them again, and that can also be difficult.
Again, you learn a lot. You learn to be self sufficient, and you learn to like your own company, and that’s all good. But even though I still love the boat, and I still love to travel and to go on adventures I have grown increasingly tired of the missing foundation that a place to call home and friends provide. And on that note, we are going to take a little break from full time cruising. We are taking Rocket Science back to Seattle and will spend some time there and messing around in the beautiful pacific North West.
Now don’t give up on us just yet! There are still things we want to do, our sailing life isn’t over. But, there’s a time and a place for everything, and this is the time to go home. We’ve spend the last 10 years cruising, and it’s been an amazing time. We’ll hopefully get a liveaboard slip at our old favorite marina and hang out there until it’s time for more cruising adventures.

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/