|I've heard conversations on the dock featuring these technical terms.|
|King Neptune: May require occasional appeasement; sacrifices, perhaps some episodes of transvestism.|
The fine author over at Boat Bits had last spring a small note on cruiser conformity. I've had reason to reflect upon the topic of late. I believe it's a truism that even self-proclaimed non-conformists like cruisers actually prefer company...particularly company backed by the bland, Taco Bell-like strains of Jimmy Buffett, although this affliction is not universal.
You can guess my feelings on the faux-piratical works of Mr. Buffett.
|Rule of thumb: the more elaborate the hat, the more suspect the religion.|
But it's true, insofar as myths go: Cruisers often feel they have broken free of the pack by their choice to cruise. Some even crow about it. It's part of the self-mythologizing of the modern cruiser. It's self-mythologizing in the sense that if you go to sea with all mod cons and are in constant touch via nine kinds of gadget to loved ones and other lubbers. It's self-mythologizing if your boat is on Spot, Marine Tracker and cruises in convoys like ARC. If, to mangle Vera Lynn, you'll never sail alone, are you really blazing a path of individuality through the pitiless waves at the ends of the oceans?
Not that one must, of course. After all, others went before all of us, when it was a lot harder.
Please note there's nothing wrong with this self-image of ruggedness: there's no reasons whatsoever that those who've worked hard to actually get onto a well-found boat (if today's production cruisers can be judged as well-found) should not enjoy their time as they see fit. And, arguably, it's a lot of work to live full-time on a boat, and for most sailors, the amenities are all the sweeter because they often involve more labour than is customary in, say, a new condo. It's just somewhat cognitively dissonant to some, and I am among them, that "cruisers in clusters" should wish to trade one commute (to work and back) for another (to the beach bar and back). The "cruiser lifestyle" so prominent in Mr. Buffett's oeuvre can devolve into a clubby boozefest with lashings of infidelity...or so some tales told have suggested.
|For some, it's a sundowner, for others, a way of life.|
Of course, it hasn't escaped my attention that this aspect of "cruiser culture" is just a sunnier, sandier version of some local YCs of which I've darkened the doors. The boat, and the sailing, often seem secondary to the activity within the communal tree fort of Permatan Bay. Like attracts like. No mystery there. But being too long among a bunch of self-declared non-conformists (cruisers who've "stuck it to the man" by sailing away from the ol' nine-to-five) can itself grow conformist. It may be something to keep in mind: a sort of "I didn't come 9,000 NM to hang out with the cast of a Freedom 55 commercial" refrain to ward off complacency.
|Stock figures: Fifty-five and white is no way to go through life, son.|
Now, unless you have been given a free boat and possess a marketable skill (and most skilled people tend to overestimate the "marketable" part), you have to be at least affluent to go cruising in the first place (or that is the general perception), and so former wage slaves with three pensions tend to rule the waves. The same well-serviced demographic can be frequently found spouting off libertarian and/or hippie sentiments while smuggling a disassembled Mossberg in the headliner "just in case". It's funny how a realistic evaluation of how others should act is often the first casualty of material success. Not exclusively, mind you: I've known of a few sailors who have integrated charitable works and educational endeavors into their cruising life, and have "good works" scribbled on their boat's "to do" list, and more power to them for it. But if poor people are annoying, why go to poor countries? Why go to poor countries just to cluster among people just like oneself? One answer is that, with not many exceptions, the reality is that most people who can afford to cruise in the first place are from generally pasty countries where there is a tradition of doing so. Yachting, after all, didn't really exist until aristocrats invented it, and it's trickled down to the upper middle class in the intervening centuries. There are exceptions, of course: people can get cheap or free cast-offs or can made boats out of rubbish and salvage with little but skill and time...but they tend not to sport parrot-themed headgear. Thankfully, I think.
Clearly, the sailing life, whether one is a Napoleonic Era naval re-enactor or the purchaser of a new Beneteau Sense 46, is at heart a conservative one, if not necessarily in the political sense. Techniques and materials are tested and discarded over decades and even centuries in the harsh light of the verdict of the sea: if a way of doing things is inappropriate or ill-suited for its purpose, the very waters and winds will make short work of them, and possibly make shorter work of the venturesome sailor that precipitously employed them.
What may have been lost is the sense is just how selective that conservatism can be, and how for many a sailor such selectivity may be, sometimes, a dead end. We sailors took to Dacron in the 1960s over "traditional" canvas sail material and manila lines because Dacron was superior in nearly every respect: it didn't predictably rot in sunlight and was predictably stronger. We are beginning to shift from steel wire shrouds and stays to PBO rigging and "soft shackles" for the same reason: greater strength, more resistance to "rot" and less weight aloft.
One could say similar things about modern anchor designs, daggerboards, electric auxiliaries and even the sort of things I have been known to make light of, like steering via iPhone or a wristwatch. All new techniques have, in the conservative sailorly mind, not only a battle to establish their intrinsic worth, but a fight against the stolid inertia of sailors when it comes to adapting new techniques, technologies and materials...given that the older techniques, technologies and materials work quite well enough, thank you very much. Dad's CQR is barely rusty!
This is not in itself to be derided: sailors are thrifty by nature and necessity and like to think of themselves as self-reliant and, returning to the realm of myth, perhaps tied to the mast gazing steely-eyed into the face of the tempest. This sort of self-mythologizing goes back to Odysseus, and maybe further, of course. But sometimes the "good enough for Cap'n Grandad" mindset can be a set of blinders to the opportunities of improving one's seamanship or expanding the contents of John Vigor's black box of prudent preparedness.
|Don't leave shore without it.|
Even the most rugged of invididualists, and sailors tend to think of themselves as pretty independent, boot-strappy types, can forget that we've spent 99.9% of our evolution in small, mobile groups in which innovation was, at best, incremental, and princely solitude usually turned one into dinner. So the myth of the lonely skipper (or the tiny brave crew on the tiny stout vessel) alone against the raging sea with fids in teeth and lengths of jute stuffed into belts is only so if you really work hard to ignore the last 100 years or so of technology.
One needn't be alone today at sea. One can be, of course, and more power to the truly self-sufficient sailor out of easy contact with land and all its snares, but now it's a choice.
This does not obviate or lessen the reality that skipper decisions must still be made, should crises intrude on the voyage. Decisive and prompt actions (and the consequences of same) will likely remain a big part of cruising until such time as crew (and boat?) can be beamed out of the tempest, Star Trek-style.
So perhaps it's time for some new myths to which the sailor can aspire.
|There's actual snow in that sunset.|
I have alternated in the last two weeks between my paying work, the usual household stuff, and hauling out and winterizing two boats. While these are arguably the problems of someone, in worldwide terms, of relative affluence, it does not diminish in any sense the time and labour involved.
Let's take today, for illustrative purposes: Having finished by noonish my duties to one of my clients, I determined to go down to Alchemy to get a start on the fuel system. Let's face it: a jug of diesel with a fuel and a return line clamped awkwardly in place is no way to run a freshly instaleld diesel, even if said diesel has run quite cheerfully for 2.1 hours (as per the hour meter) on said half-arsed provision.
But what the other refit blog won't disclose is that in order to do anything constructive, one must undone the previous efforts. Add to that a fair bit of stowage, followed by unstowage to get at the things you've forgotten are beneath the things you've just stowed, and the time alloted can be eaten quicker than an unzinced hull moored off a nuclear plant.
I wanted to set up the "proper" fuel system, which involves installing the FilterBoss dual Racor device in a place both easy of access and not so high up that it would tax the various fuel pump. So first I had to undo the diesel jerrycan. Then I decided, it being both cloudy and wintry, I should rig a second 15 amp power cord. I also hauled up to the deck level the roughly 25 kilos of docking lines (there are chains and shackles and general beefiness in play), because we are not permitted, nor is it a particularly bright idea, to leave them loose on the slips, given the possiblities of ice and storm.
|More power is required if I wish to run heaters, which I really should, because it's already bloody cold.|
Then I needed a light, which I found in the aft cabin. Then I heard the ripped and worn tarp overhead flapping in the breeze, and concluded "well, it's no use having rain coming in because I put the gasket repair of the pilothouse hatches down the list" (which I have), and so I thought "clever you, to have several 9 x 12 tarps and hundreds of cable ties to hand". But alas, unclever me, I had buried them in the paint locker, which was topped by various boxes of cable, which was jammed into the pilot berth.
One can see where this is going.
So, to the sounds of Beethoven's symphonies, which, blasting away inside a partially uninsulated metal boat, can be appreciated at some distance in the boat yard, I set myself to the tasks at hand. One issue was immediately apparent: in order to safely transit from dock to slings, and hence from slings to cradle, I had put most of the boxes of fasteners, hooks, sailing bits and random tools atop the locker in which I keep the sort of tools one requires to install FilterBOSSes.
Anyway, I had to move an excessively large amount of gear to merely reach the tarp stores, after which I removed the old raggy one, installed the new, replaced the boat hooks, froze a bit in the wind and snow (yes, there was snow, unseasonably, I suppose), and vacuum the dirt in the boat from the haulout-related footprints.
And then the sun went down (see Figure 1).
And I haven't yet got to the reason I was ostensibly present, because I needed to rearrange so much stuff.
And that what other boat blogs won't tell you: a significant amount of time spent refitting is actually spent rearranging, cleaning and sorting. With a touch of labelling.
Please don't tell anyone.
It's never been easy to explain why I have two sailboats, nor has the phrase "but one of them is in pieces" garnered much sympathy. But them's the facts: I never sold my first boat and have enjoyed it through the (literally) long years of Alchemy's rehabilitation.
Also, we don't own a car. I ran the numbers, and owning two sailboats is cheaper on a yearly basis, all-in, docks and insurance and winter storage, oh my. Clearly, however, the time is drawing nigh when I have to acknowledge, now that Alchemy is officially mobile and getting her mast back in next spring's priority, that I may have one sailboat surplus to our needs. More on that soon, but in the meantime, what our little navy has as a commonality is the need to spend winter ashore, so here are some 2014 sling shots.
|The non-dock-side is where I keep the crappier of my fenders. If you were at a finger end, you would, too.|
Alchemy came out, as has been customary, first on October 25 in my boat club's general haulout. The keen-eyed will note that for reasons best known to the yard honchos and perhaps the crane operator, Alchemy, which has consistently been hauled to her cradle bow to the west, needed 180 degrees of spin (that's the RYA training talking, that "degrees" reference). Having already "hovered" in place for some minutes, awaiting my turn to be slung, I managed a respectable coming-about under engine control. I am so far quite pleased with the "out of the box" performance of my VariProp, and its four blades, even in "dead slow forward and aft" were able to turn Alchemy's bow and stern effortlessly. It remains to be seen next season if I need to tinker with the pitch settings. Frankly, I got sufficient stares of disbelief from some of my club's members to indicate they were astounded to see Alchemy moving at all, never mind with a degree of competence and control.
|Always alarming a sight, even in excellent conditions for photography (it was a touch windy).|
|That charming solar arch has to be rejigged: I made an error in leaving enough room for the twin backstays to get through.|
|Note most of the conscriptees standing well back: Nobody wants to be under our boat "just in case".|
|She's come unslung: Alchemy's berth until April 2015.|
Valiente came out today (November 4, 2014) under less benign conditions. Firstly, the keel or prop got fouled when I cast off from my marina dock and I couldn't get the Gori folding prop to deploy properly in forward. The wind pushed me sideways while I was attempting to shift the suspected sea grass off the drive train, and a light thump on a dock end put a fresh scratch on the gelcoat. Then, having found thrust (it wasn't an engine fault, more "marina can't be arsed to mow the weeds" fault), I ventured eastward across the harbour in rising winds that were 20 knots, forecasted to gust past 33 knots, straight into the channel where I was to haul.
|Not my flag, but I will own up to the Portabote.|
The two men, Uli and Clayton, who comprise the entirety of the Pier 35 staff, were muttering dark imprecations of doom and invective against the gods, the weather and "the stupid boaters who left things too late", otherwise known as their customers. Alas, I felt compelled to point out that I had been scheduled to get hauled on that very day (I wanted to go the previous, calmer day, but had been dissuaded) and had in fact arrived an hour early.You go to Pier 35 for the price, not so much the charm, but they like me enough to hand me lines off other peoples' boats. Otherwise, I'd just be standing around waiting for things to happen.
|Six boats were hauled while I was present. Clearly, I'm not the only guy who likes post-Hallowe'en sailing.|
|Look at all the crap I still have to drag below!|
|Fate: Uncertain. Bottom: Washed|
Unfortunately, that sort of intelligence boost could me an end to my need for Pier 35's overwintering services. With just one boat, I can stay at the club, or rent out our whole house, move aboard and try out "Winter in the Water!" at the marina at which I've been keeping Valiente.
We shall see. I wouldn't want to rush things.
|Clearly, more to clean up and stow, but the motor won't freeze into irreparable chunks now.|
|I rarely darkened the door, except when they had anti-freeze or anti-foul paint on sale, but this is a sea change for Toronto boating.|
A rare news alert from me to my readers in Southern Ontario who may attend the Toronto International Boat Show in January: As has been rumoured around the docks for some time, West Marine is closing up shop here in Toronto on Jarvis Street, which will leave only the revived Dock Shoppe (in Genco Marine's former digs on Queen's Quay) as the only chandlery proximate to the downtown waterfront.
Reliable sources state that West Marine should have a closedown sale at the Boat Show prior to the Lower Jarvis Street store shutting its doors in January to make way for the inevitable condo project. Word is that West Marine will be winding down its Canadian operations entirely when individual store leases end, with the goal to be completely out of Canada by 2017. It remains to be seen if the sale will be merely of the 25% off variety (boat show special) or the 70% off seen when The Dock Shoppe closed in 2012. I'm still installing things on Alchemy from that epic haul of gear.
So, if seeing the shrinking number of indifferently built sailboats that resemble condos puts you off at the Boat Show, you may wish to attend this year's event in the hopes of deep discounts. I rarely shopped at West Marine, because I tend to be less about the anchor-themed placemats and more about fisherman-grade gear, but I don't like the reduction of local choice in retail chandleries to one. Given the recent shuttering of Island Yacht Club and other rumours about clubs barely hanging on, it doesn't bode well for chandleries here in pricy, roads-torn-up Toronto and it looks like I'll be pedalling west...or sourcing on the internet...more than I had hoped to do.
|Panorama of Jolly Harbour, Antigua, where we were. Photo (c) Steve P.|
|One hand for the shore on Antigua, smack in the middle of the eye of the tropical storm that didn't get the 45 knot memo.|
|Ffryes' Beach, Antigua, looking toward Monserrat. Note the left-hand hillside: it's an active volcano.|
|Lennox Scotland, tour guide, driver and probably the hardest-working man in Antigua.|
|Vast, tourist-packed cats that motor, not sail, around the island all day: More common than frigate birds.|
After about 36 hours of welcome decompression and course prepping as the guests of Ian (our instructor) and his wife Cindy Grant, who were kind enough to have us prior to taking an RYA course with Miramar Sailing, we awoke at dawn (something I find unavoidable in the tropics) on Monday to troubled skies and rising winds. The weather report had suggested the sort of gales typical with a fast-moving tropical storm like Gonzalo, but I had a sense, as did marine veteran John, that we were going to get a little more than had been promised. When my barometer feature on my watch tumbled from 1006 mb to 990 mb in just over an hour, things were feeling a touch dready.
This video shows our instructor's personal boat, a 1980s Jeanneau 32, rolling and bucking at dock, just prior to uprooting the stern cleats from said dock. Ian had gone off Miramar headquarters, a few minutes' drive, to prep (over-optimistic, as it turned out) for the commencement of the five-day course that myself and two other students were taking; John, who has his Yachtmaster Offshore certification, seems to have a hobby of sailing on courses he's long since passed, but to his credit, he claims to always get some educational benefit from the process!
|I would suggest this was irrelevant advice during the height of the hurricane. Photo (c) Steve P.|
Ian's partner Cindy returned to the villa only to have John and myself inform her that a particularly savage gust (which were increasing in strength and frequency) had peeled off the plank from the dock on which Ian's boat's stern cleat was mounted. As it was too dangerous to board the Jeanneau or even to fend off its vigorous assault on a Whaler-type runabout on which it was thumping, I accompanied Cindy (as ballast!) in her small SUV to go back to Miramar to inform Ian of the situation.
|What'cha gonna do when it comes for you?|
After that, things got a touch worse. The boat crushing the unseen runabout parted its bowlines, went broadside to the howling wind and slammed into the neighbouring villa's (thankfully empty) dock.
|After the storm...the damage is on the starboard bow, but she's a tough old bird.|
|A "lilo" (British for "inflatable pool chair") belonging to the Grants was returned from a hundred metres to windward.|
It was at this point that we figured the height of the wind happened: some prolonged gusts of what we estimate was 80-plus knots, which meant we crawled off the dock on all fours as a spasming yacht tried to climb up a shuddering dock and squash us. Very vivid, and very bloody loud (see Mr. Jules' vivid video above).
|Cadenza, the Hunter 42 that took half of its dock aground and tore up hull to deck joint and toerail (but which is probably salvageable). I saw this boat's dock split in half in front of me. Yikes.|
We later heard that 15 boats were sunk in Jolly Harbour and hundreds of homes were flooded, deroofed and left without power around the island. By mutual agreement, we passed on starting the course that day, partially because the assigned boat had sustained some (reparable) damage, but also because everyone's nerves were well-shot by lunchtime. Astoudingly, the power did not waver in the villa properties, possibly because of standby generators. In the aftermath, local word was that Gonzalo, which would go on to do even greater damage in St. Maarten and, days later, Bermuda, went from TS to Cat 1 very rapidly over Antigua I saw a pressure drop of 1003 to 990 mb between 0700 and 0830h and from that low to bounce back to 1006mb by 1130h. I estimate as did the people I was with that we hit 75-80 knots at the very height of it. So my old "record" of 68 knots in the last squall of the 2010 Lake Ontario 300 has been, I would say, well broken.
|Typical Antiguan coastline with atypical eight knots of true windspeed|
Now, the good thing about a hurricane is that it's eventually over. The bad thing, from the point of view of taking a sailing course in a spot in the trade wind belt where the breeze is always 15 knots from the east, is that a hurricane literally sucks all the expected and customary winds away with it.
|Ian Grant: A man who loves his work of improving mucking about in boats.|
|Julie at the helm: She had achieved her Day Skipper ten years previously and was up for what's called a "mile-building course" to refresh her knowledge.|
|The fit Steve, who had an amazing trove of off-colour jokes and was ridiculously fit.|
|John at peace before his mood was soured after learning every restaurant in Antigua refrigerates red wine.|
There was a fair bit of navigation in the form of coastal pilotage to get done, with the usual overfolded and pencil-nicked Imray charts I've seen before on RYA boats. Some modern passagemakers would suggest that working with hand compass bearings, sailing the depth contour, and working out backsight is overkill in this age of GPS plotters, and that sextant work/celestial is clearly not necessary. And generally such folk wouldn't be wrong..until the governments that run the GPS constellation panic and turn off or degrade GPS because of some perceived threat.
|Pilotage in the daylight's a bit of a doddle in Antigua as there are loads of easily spotted hills and the biggest one, Mount Obama (not a joke) has a conveniently distinctive radio tower on it.|
|Another view of Monserrat, which has lost much of its population since the last big eruptions.|
Lest I give the wrong impression, however, there's plenty of time (especially in light airs) to actually look around and enjoy the environment. Antigua, its sister island of Barbuda, and the surrounding islands in the chain (including Nevis, St. Kitts, Redonda, and Guadaloupe to the south, all visible depending on conditions) are very appealing and surprisingly individualistic and there's no shortage of sea life and weather to admire.
|More typically tropical Antiguan sunset. Photo (c) Steve P.|
The waters are warm and beautiful (though I never fancied a swim, probably due to the lurid jellyfish that was sucked into the Lavac head...) and the view are spectacular.
|Beating a course to round the SW corner of Antigua.|
|Post-hurricane clouds: By week's end, we were hoping one of these would hold wind.|
We made an effort (sailing fitfully, then a quick motor) to overnight at English Harbour, the British naval base greatly expanded by Admiral Horatio Nelson into one of the nicest and easily defensible harbours I know of.
|On course for English Harbour at a blazing 2.3 knots.|
|The columns called The Pillars of Hercules, plus The Hat of Steve.|
|John suggested we Med moor right here. We didn't use the tender all week, although we anchored a few times.|
|English Harbour boat yard: The place is a strange mix of good old boats and superyachts and Julie.|
|Why, there's one now: about 80 feet of aluminum ketch.|
|...briefly eclipsed by yet another vast touristic catamaran...|
|The Admiral's Inn, should one ever feel the need to have a Sunday roast at 17 degrees North. Easy to find, it's to the right of the tribute to Nelson's penis.|
|Obligatory model of HMS Victory. The place is a Nelson fanboy's dream and a sort of colonial shrine.|
|Nelson died shortly after hoisting this signal. My camera died shortly after taking this shot.|
|Shirley Heights, not only a great place for a fort, but also a big party spot.|
Thanks to careful planning, we were able to eat ashore most nights, a few times in Jolly Harbour itself, sadly featuring after Monday a few smashed or sunken boats. Conveniently proximate was a dock where we practised stern-to docking, warping off and other exercises; a 20 metre walk away was Al Porto, an Italian restaurant run by a charming French couple, Alain and Sandrine, serving a lot of local seafood and the aforementioned too-cold red wine. And Ian's daughter works there...Antigua's not really very big, is what I'm getting at.
|The good ship Miramar, our home and classroom. As it was a 1986, I found the layout logical and the construction robust. Don't get me started.|
|A pair of the hardly rare "Charterus Catamarani". Easily spotted by the constantly roaring gensets.|
|In my opinion, more restaurants should have 60-foot docks.|
In the end, and after many experiences too mundane to mention, I got my Day Skipper cert, and with it, a little thing called an International Certificate of Competence, which ensures port officials I'm less of a menace over the waves and in their harbours than I might be with, say, a rotten, token affair such as a PCOC. Ad astra, babies! Although I do not care to see that sort of weather anytime soon, and if I see it coming, we will run out to sea...it's crazy on land in a hurricane.
|"Nelson's Blood", eh? I'd heard he was sent back to England pickled in brandy.But I do enjoy a tot of rum.|