Archive for March, 2009

“Fort Prison”

As I thought about what to include in this blog, I recalled a saying that was on the psychiatrist’s door at the community mental health center where I used to work: “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall never be bent out of shape.” Well, I think that cruisers as a group must be pretty flexible, having always to wait for a “weather window” before heading to their next destination. Of course, their lifestyle lends to this, as most of them are retired and have the freedom to create their own schedule. Furthermore, they typically spend their days in exotic locales that appeal to them. Unfortunately, neither of these really pertains to us at this time.


Granted, we are extremely fortunate in that we do not have anywhere we need to be on a daily basis, but as we have noted in previous blogs, we are under pretty significant time constraints as we consider big-picture weather windows (i.e., hurricane seasons). In accordance with these, we had planned to be in Mexico by now, but as a result of the unplanned repairs and near-constant 20 knot winds, we are spending our 12th day in Fort Pierce, Florida (or as Tiffany would say, Fort Prison).


Fort Pierce is not exactly exotic. It has its merits in terms of resources for marine repairs and supplies, but in terms of culture and recreation, it does not have much to offer, at least within a five mile radius of the marina. Dallas and I were able to find an area of town that seemed to have a Caribbean influence with its brightly colored buildings and unique architecture, but I was later told that this neighborhood was a haven for drug dealers. Oops.


Anyway, I think it is fair to say that our flexibility has been tested over this last week. Tiffany, for one, has been quite a trooper. I know that it was not at all easy for her to cope with the fact that we were likely going to miss seeing her parents in Cancun, but she handled it gracefully. Her positive attitude was later rewarded when her parents changed their travel plans in order to meet us here in Florida. They are arriving tomorrow and will join us on our trip down to Key West. (Tiff would like readers to know that changing their travel plans was not a simple matter, as travel insurance will only allow you to make a change to your reservation in the event that someone dies or weather is impassable. Just FYI.)


Dallas has been coping in his usual way, remaining focused on what needs to be done in order for us to leave. (As a result, we should be ready to leave on Monday evening, just in time to catch the weather window created by the front that just passed through.) I tend to cope in a very different way, getting a little emotional at first, but processing it very quickly and moving on with the help of some sort of distraction. When it comes right down to it, I think that all of us require some kind of diversion to boost our spirits.


One such diversion has come in the form of our new single lens reflection (SLR) camera. It is a definitely more advanced than our prior point-and-shoots and should serve us well during the course of our travels. Wes, Tiff, and I fancy ourselves amateur photographers now, using the abundant wildlife around the marina as our primary subject matter. Here is a sample of our work thus far:




Pelican Statuette by Wes Clow

Pelican Statuette by Wes


Descending on Prey

Descending on Prey by Wes




Manatee Tail by Tiffany

Manatee Tail by Tiffany




Other diversions include Wes’ ethernet connection and board designs, Tiff’s long chats on the phone (at least we still have cell phone reception!), and some new foods from the galley such as homemade tortillas and other new concoctions that I made using the canned, vegetarian food that Dallas and Wes’ mother so generously donated. Hopefully this unexpected down time is serving to prepare us for the long passage across the South Pacific!       


I also want to mention that Tiffany and I took advantage of the opportunity to attend an event held at a local marina by a couple that just finished a six-year circumnavigation. There were several people there, but eventually we had the opportunity to get some face time with Annette and Edmund from sailing vessel Doodlebug. Annette was quite a charismatic, red-headed go-getter, and apparently it was she who initiated their trip around the world. She provided us with numerous practical suggestions on topics ranging from health and safety (e.g., don’t forget to brush your teeth and scrub your feet) to interpersonal interactions (e.g., don’t leave the peripheral vision of your men in Muslim countries, take inexpensive items such as beach towels and earrings to barter with the locals in the South Pacific). Annette especially piqued our enthusiasm for finding simple ways to make the lives of the islanders a little better. For example, she shared that a young boy had very grudgingly approached her to ask if she could give him a pencil, of all things. Needless to say, Pura Vida will be well stocked with pencils.


All in all, not a terrible 12 days, but we are hoping this will be the last blog from Fort Pierce!

Expensive Week

They say cruising is just fixing your boat in exotic places. I’m not sure I’d put Ft. Pierce in the exotic category, but we’ve kept up our repairs. After replacing the jumper that was broken on the way down, I took a closer look at the rigging and didn’t like what I saw. Our mast is held up by three stainless steel wires. A 1/2″ 1×19 Type 316 stainless steel wire, called a cap shroud, runs from the top of the mast on each side of the boat to the outboard edge of the boat about 8′ aft of the mast where it is fixed to a large piece of stainless steel called a chainplate that is also bolted into the boat. These wires provide side-to-side support for the mast and also keep it from falling forward. A forestay, running inside the roller furler for the jib keeps the mast from falling back. When I took a look at the fitting for the port cap shroud at the top of the mast, I could see a pretty good crack forming on the forward edge. With our type of rig, if any of three main stays fails the mast is going over in a very lively, expensive, and dangerous second or two.

Catamaran standing rigging is usually replaced every 7-10 years and ours was overdue. We’d had it inspected in Amelia Island and it got an OK, but after the jumper failure and the crack I noticed, we had it re-inspected. We called Rich, the head installer for Mack Sails who lives aboard at a boatyard that is about a 10-minute dinghy ride from where we’re at now, and whom we’d been to see a couple times about the jumper. Colin Mack, the owner of Mack sails agreed to let Rich squeeze in an inspection Tuesday morning and Rich did a very thorough and expert job of confirming what we suspected – our rig was due for replacement. He gave us a few options and we chose to try to remove the rigging ourselves and then have Mack Sails create the new rigging. We’ll re-install the new rigging and then Rich will come out and help us with the difficult forestay re-rigging and tune the rig (tension the stays properly). I spent yesterday removing the lower jumper, four diamond stays (the diamond stays run from the mast to the end of a spreader and then back to the mast to help shape and stiffen the mast), and then finally the port cap shroud. That was the tense one. We connected two lines to the top of the mast (the main halyard and a spare halyard) then ran those lines through blocks and to winches. We winched the lines tight, and after lots of work finally got the old cap shroud free from the chainplate at the deck without losing the stick. The next step was for me to go back up to the top of the stick on the spinnaker halyard with the two lines holding the mast up from the port side. Once there I finally got the port cap shroud loose and managed to make it down with the 50′ of 1/2″ stainless steel wire without dropping it. Mack just called and they’re done with our rigging so tomorrow we’re try installing the new rigging and replacing the starboard cap shroud. They’ve done a great job of squeezing us into a busy schedule to help us get back underway as soon as possible.

Pura Vida missing the diamond stays and port cap shroud.

Pura Vida missing the diamond stays and port cap shroud.

The autopilot repair has run into a few issues as well. We decided to switch from the well-undersized wheel pilot that is currently installed to a more robust below-deck linear drive that attaches directly to the steering quadrant and is much more powerful. We’ll keep the wheel pilot as a backup. The first autopilot I ordered was the smaller of the heavy-duty versions and it turns out the bigger one was the better fit. The small one was cheaper, but would have required cutting out a good part of a bulkhead to install. While I was measuring and generally getting more and more frustrated, I realized that some of the previously unexplained features of the port engine room around the rudder & steering gear were actually mounting points for the larger size of autopilot. Soooo, back went the first autopilot. Ed & Suzanne at Intercept Marine in Thousand Oaks, CA were great to deal with and sent the new pilot the same day. They have good prices and offer $30 overnight shipping, which is tough to beat. The install for the new, larger autopilot was just building momentum today when I heard something funny — a couple of loose parts rolling around inside the casing for the brand new drive unit. Raymarine confirmed that this was indeed anomalous; a local dealer/tech will show up tomorrow and hopefully will be able to repair or replace the unit fairly quickly.

So that’s how I’ve been spending a lot of my time in Ft. Pierce. There have been plenty of other highlights as well. Saturday Lauren and I were riding our bikes around just exploring the area when we heard live music from the waterfront. We rode over and found the Sandy Shoes Festival featuring live music at the waterfront amphitheater. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t co-operate and the sparsely attended festival/concert was cut short by a rainstorm (not everyone was sporting a foul weather jacket like yours truly). Boating stores, a grocery store, a first-rate Brooklyn pizza joint, and a local dive called the St. Lucie Inn ($3 mini-pitchers seem to indicate we’ve left So-Cal) are all within biking or walking distance, so we’ve been surviving. We picked up a couple of used folding bikes before we left and they’ve been great. The Dahon Mariner 5-speed is nice, but not the most robust. Lauren’s Sun Rambler single-speed is simple and sturdy and does great on all but the biggest hills.

Lauren cleaning.  The trusty steeds are on the dock.

Lauren cleaning. The trusty steeds are on the dock.

We’re slipping farther behind schedule, but are hoping to get out Friday night or Saturday and make up some time if everything goes really well. The boat should be much more seaworthy when we take off as we’ve slowly been working some of the smaller items we noted on the way down in addition to the big autopilot and rigging jobs. The tentative plan is to make a short stop in Key West to rest up before the crossing the the Yucatan, but we’ll see.

Confused Seas

It is amusing to go back and read my last blog. It made the passage to Ft. Pierce sound pretty idyllic. The second day of the passage, however, was anything but. The wind picked up to 25-30 knots on the second day and continued throughout the night. This alone would not have been problematic, especially since the wind was coming from astern (behind). However, the northerly blow combined with the easterly gulf stream led to confused seas. Pura Vida was constantly lifted up by four to five foot swells that seemed to come from both the northeast and the east simultaneously. For the most part, she seemed to hold up really well. Even with the occasional pounding of her starboard hull as it fell off the waves, we were convinced that the motion was better than we would have experienced on a monohulled boat. However, our autopilot apparently could not withstand the motion as it was pretty much useless. To make matters worse, given that it was our first trip out, our sails weren’t balanced, and the excessive mainsail kept trying to pull us into the wind. This created quite a challenging task for the helmsman, who was not able to leave the helm even for a minute, and had to literally pull the rudders away from the wind. After several hours of this, the wind seemed to pick up even more, and there were times when it was not possible to pull us back on course after we started heading north into the wind. Thus, we had no choice but to call on one of the iron jibs (the port engine) to help us stay on course.

Those reading this who are experienced sailors are probably wondering why we didn’t reef in the mainsail to correct for the imbalance. Well, Dallas suggested it pretty early on, but at that time, the crew was more interested in speed than comfort. Shortly thereafter, three out of the four of us became seasick! Lesson learned.

To make a long story shorter (for those at the helm, it was in fact a very long night!), we were relieved to reach our destination in Ft. Pierce. Upon taking down the main (at last!) as we approached the channel, we discovered that we had broken a “jumper” (a wire cable that puts bend in the mast), and our mainsail halyard was chafed. It’s a little surprising to have such repairs to make already, but I guess that’s what the shake-down is all about. The more we can learn about and correct while we are still in the U.S., the better.  

Dropping the Main

Dropping the Main

Indeed, Ft. Pierce has proven to be an ideal place to make repairs and do some final provisioning. For example, we learned that the best rigger in the area lives on a boat in the next marina, so Dallas and Wes dinghied over to him with the broken cable, which he immediately recognized and agreed to repair. Also, we met a colorful character named Doug who took a break from fiberglass work on his custom catamaran to take us to the huge, local marine store where we purchased the remaining dive gear that we needed. Having these tasks taken care of, our biggest issues to deal with at this point are 1) getting a new autopilot (ugh) and 2) determining ways to prevent/remediate seasickness. In terms of the latter, we’ve decided that rather heading straight for Mexico once we leave here, we will probably stop in Key West to give the crew a chance to refresh just in case we don’t have our sea legs yet…it just wouldn’t be possible to sail for a week feeling like that!

Dallas is "up the stick" again

Dallas "up the stick" again

Doug's Cat with 32' Beam

Doug's Cat with Outriggers and 32' Beam

I should note that one of the highlights of this landfall has been finding the famous catamaran “Exit Only” in a nearby boatyard. We have followed many of her escapades on, and the stories of the comfort of the crew during their circumnavigation were pretty influential in leading to our selection of the Privilege 39.

Exit Only

Exit Only

Since the conditions in the gulf stream are said to be even worse now than when we made landfall (over 30 knot winds with 10 foot seas), we will probably be here for a few days. Meanwhile, today is Wes’ birthday, so hopefully we can leave the boat stuff behind for one night and go celebrate!

Sunset at Riverside Dock

Sunset at Riverside Dock

Blue Water

Well, after much anticipation, we finally shoved off yesterday just after high tide (2:00 p.m.) en route to Fort Pierce, FL–our only planned stop in the U.S. It was an emotional day for me as I reflected on how hard we’ve been working to get to this point. Unlike Dallas, I really didn’t have a clue what we were getting into when we arrived at Amelia Island Yacht Basin back in October. The learning curve for an academic raised in the suburbs with hardly any mechanical knowledge (much less sailing experience) is pretty steep to say the least, but I’m pretty happy with my progress, painstaking as it has been at times.
Finally setting off!

Finally setting off!

Pura Vida's Christening

Pura Vida's Christening

We made some friends at the yacht basin and have to thank Phil and Patty for sending us off with a bottle of champagne, which Tiffany used to christen the boat just before we set off. It was thrilling to be leaving the muddy water of the marina at last, but for me, this was coupled with thoughts about family. I couldn’t help but get a little tearful as I spoke to both of my parents. We were also concerned about Dallas and Wes’ dad who was having heart surgery today. Fortunately, we were close enough to land to receive a message letting us know that it had gone well. It also helped that we will be seeing family in a couple of weeks in Cancun.

I was very curious to see how I was going to feel at sea after learning that we were going to get some weather, but so far, so good. Both Tiffany and I felt a little nauseous when we spent time down below but seemed to be OK in the cockpit. Of course we only experienced 2-3 foot swells…not much of a test.

So for our first night at sea, Dallas and Wes split 4-hour watches, with Tiffany and I providing assistance. Wes and Tiff’s first watch was pretty grueling; they had 3 separate rain squalls with several 360o wind changes. Our watch was the polar opposite—no rain and a steady 5-10 knots from behind that left us running at only 2 or so knots since we didn’t have our spinnaker up. There’s not much to do in these conditions, so I slept quite a bit. (That explains why I have the energy to write our first blog at sea.) The wind picked up again when Wes was back the helm, and he and Tiff had a good two and a half hour run before sunrise.

This morning has been beautiful thus far. Dallas and I are encircled by white puffy clouds and blue skies. We hoping to continue running throughout the day and are currently enjoying over fifteen knots of wind on the aft quarter. As soon as I woke up, Dallas pointed out two dolphins playing in our bow. One of them torpedoed over to the boat at an angle so that it could get a good look at us. It later showed off with a back-flip! Besides our ocean-dwelling friends, Dallas and I have only seen one boat and one ship. We are enjoying the solitude.

Raising the Mainsail

Raising the Mainsail


Several days of preparations have followed our first sail. Wes has just completed the only remaining major repair, fiberglassing the recently welded water tanks back into the hull.. We’ve made several final store stops at Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, West Marine, and several other places to stock up on provisions and close out our to-buy lists. We are currently planning one stop in the US before heading offshore, but we’re trying to get as close to fully stocked-up and ready as possible since we’re selling our land transportation and any getting around in the future will be by foot, bicycle, rental car, etc..

Wednesday we made the dreaded stop for immunizations by needle. The number of shots was reduced to only three (typhoid, tetanus, and hepatitis A) by planning to get the shots we need for Asia and Africa while we’re in Australia. This lessened the severity of our day of reckoning, but created a second one late this year. After a lengthy briefing on various diseases and health-related travel recommendations at a local travel clinic, Wes, Tiffany, and I each got the three shots, tetanus and the smaller shot in the left shoulder and tricep and the 1 mL shot in our right shoulder. We were sore for a couple of days, but other than that, no ill effects and they were probably the best administered shots we’d had, so not bad, all in all. The other valuable item we received was a prescription for Cipro which we could have filled for free at Publix. Apparently Montezuma’s revenge (traveler’s diarrhea) can now be eliminated in 3-4 hours with one Cipro and one Imodium. That’s good news, as we’re almost certainly going to have a hard time resisting the chance to have some good tacos in Mexico.

Speaking of Mexico, we’re changed our route for two reasons. Ken Liddiard gave us the idea and it seems to be a good one. Instead of travelling through the Bahamas and then through the windward passage to stop in Jamaica, we’re planning to leave Ft. Pierce and stop in Isla Mujeres (a Mexican island just off of Cancun) on our way to Panama. The route west of Cuba should have better winds overall and should be much faster as we’ll only be making one stop. It should also be much cheaper as the Bahamas have a much higher cruising permit fee and are more expensive in general. Time is a bit of a concern for a couple reasons. The first is that we’re a bit behind schedule and need to get through the Panama canal as soon as possible to make sure that we get to northern Australia before the hurricane season starts in December. The second is that we’d really like to find the time for Lauren and I to attend Brett and Aida’s wedding in Lima April 18th. We’re hoping to make it to Panama in time to catch a flight from Panama to Peru. We’ll see.

In the meantime, Ken talked us into getting a windsurfer (WEEND-suffa in Rhodesian). He explained its utility as a general diversion, alternate method of getting to shore, and as a vessel for fishing reefs (just tie a line to the mast, surf over the reef to catch dinner, throw it onto the board, and surf back). He found a place in Jacksonville where we could put one together from all used components so we went ahead with it. It will take up a bit of space lashed to the deck, but it’s already been a lot of fun. Lauren and I went to the community where Ken is staying while visiting his daughter and he’s given us lessons in the lake on the property. Windsurfing is apparently one of those things that a lot of people try and then quit in fairly short order. The learning curve is a bit steep, but once you’ve got the hang of it you progress fairly quickly. We’re still in the “getting the hang of it” stage, but we’re getting closer. After spending more time in the water than on the board yesterday, I was able to stand up and do much better today. The first hard part is learning to balance on the board while you pull the mast & sail up out of the water with a line attached to the mast just above the wishbone boom. Once you’ve pulled the 15 ft mast & sail out of the water with the sail pointed directly into the wind, you have to balance things upright then move your hands onto the wishbone, turn the sail into the wind, dip it forward to catch the breeze, and then pull it in or out as the wind dictates, using your body as a counter-balance. Any sort of balancing isn’t exactly my strong suit, but I’ve managed to sail a few feet and am said to be very close to actually moving forward through the water. At any rate, we’re now looking forward to windsurfing throughout the trip. Lauren got her turn to try today, our second day, and wasted no time in catching up. A seasoned dancer, her balance is much better than mine and she wasted no time in balancing on the board and pulling up the mast. With her trying her hand at windsurfing, I had to be patient, but I finally got it — a great shot of her trying to make me feel better about all the time I spent in the water yesterday by taking a head-first dive off the board. You can see Ken hanging out on my surfboard giving some instruction and staying well clear. He put on a good show as well. After assembling the windsurfer for the first time yesterday, he boarded it from the dock, sailed it across the lake, turned it around (no small feat in the light winds as it involves walking to the other side of the board while you swing the sail about), and sailed back to the dock, climbing up with only his feet wet!

Lauren pulling the sail up with Ken instructing

Lauren pulling the sail up with Ken instructing


The mainstay of the day's activities

The mainstay of the day


Seconds from getting wet...

Seconds from getting wet...

We’re planning to leave mid-day on Monday, so our next blog should be from somewhere other than Amelia Island. We’re definitely excited about that…