Friday, 28 November 2014

Black Friday

I'd rather eat a bug than go shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving (black friday).  In fact, I'd rather eat a bug than go shopping at anytime, and I'm not particularly fond of bugs.  But we did participate in a black friday of sorts:  we finally managed to wash the head sail, and the resulting pail of water was indeed black.

We also decided we needed to edit our advertisement for Spray, and replace "good" with "tired" where we describe the quality of the sail.  It's probably good for another year of gentle coastal cruising but anything more ambitious than that will likely result in a few rips.

Once the sail is dry and folded neatly in its sack, our winterizing will be almost complete.  Next week we have a mechanic coming to put the motor to sleep (changing the water pump turbine, all the filters, belts, anodes, filling with anti-freeze, etc.) and then we can finally say that the 2014 sailing season is officially over for us. It's been a wild ride with high highs and low lows.  It was a milestone in our cruising careers and has given us the courage to go further (if not faster).  And it was the last season sailing Spray, who has been infinitely patient with us and who has taught us so much.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

What happens on the boat

In a move earlier this week that, I believe, surprised no one, French sailing legend Michel Desjoyeaux disembarked from the MAPFRE sailing team participating in the Volvo Ocean Race where he was serving as a watch captain. In an interview, he cited various irreconcilable differences with the Spanish skipper Iker Martinez. 

Disputes and tension between skippers and crew are part of cruising life, even more so in the professional realm where careers and big money are on the line.  Finding a crew that sails happily together is a rare and precious thing.  Jimmy Cornell, the godfather of world cruising, points out that almost all of the world cruisers you meet are couples, not a bunch of pals. 

"So, have a good day?"  From Mike Peyton, the world's greatest yachting cartoonist.
Before we started sailing “alone together”, Patrick and I crewed for 25 (!!) different skippers.  Crewing for others is a great way to learn to sail.  You can sail on a variety of different boats and learn from a range of skippers (sometimes learning what NOT to do…) .  Most importantly, we learned what kind of skipper makes a good match for us, and what kind of skippers we want to be.

For anyone who is thinking of taking off on a long voyage with a skipper you barely know, it is imperative to go for a short trip of 2-3 days with the skipper before agreeing to crew for him on longer voyages.  You may meet up for a drink somewhere, swap sea stories, and find yourself charmed by him or by his boat, but nothing can replace an overnight sea test. 

My personal opinion is that the sea makes people more concentrated versions of themselves.  This magnifying capacity can be a joy or a real hell, and, as Forest Gump would say about life and chocolates, you just never know what you’re gonna get.  This is not, of course, a one-sided evaluation.  The mix of personalities has to work, too, and a skipper may work out well with some crew members and not others. 

The first thing you have to do is to decide on some basic criteria and be unforgiving when they are not met, meaning a quick and definitive decision not to sail with the person again.  For example, one of our basic rules is that the skipper has to be Zen, which means that he is calm, confident, and happy to be at sea.  It doesn't mean he has to do everything perfectly (whatever that is), but that he can handle surprises in stride and in complete security.  Nothing says “I don’t know what-the-*&%$ I’m doing” louder than a skipper screaming at his crew, especially when it’s during some mundane manoeuvre like pulling into a slip or dropping the anchor.  And once a bad situation has arisen, don’t make excuses for him by saying things like “he’s just had a bad week” or “he apologized afterwards, so it’s okay”, etc.  Throwing a tantrum is never an isolated incident.  Be ruthless or you’ll regret it.

After a bad experience with a skipper, the best course of action is to simply not sail with that person anymore.  There is a strong temptation to blow off steam by telling others about your horrible experiences, but this is an exercise best done with a small select group of close friends if necessary.  When I was in the maritime academy, the mantra was “What happens on the boat stays on the boat.”  At the time, it pertained mostly to shipboard romances.  But I've come to appreciate this as a mantra for all at-sea personal happenings in general. 

This reminds me of the television show Hee Haw that parodied southern life and culture, where a group of southern maidens sing:

Now, we’re not ones to go ‘round spreading rumors
Why, really we’re just not the gossipy kind.
No, you’ll never hear one of us repeating gossip.
So you better be sure and listen close the first time !”

But I digress… 

The point here is that the sea can have a powerful and sometimes unpredictable effect on people, liberating them from constraints they may feel in their lives on land or providing a therapeutic stage where they can exorcise their frustrations.  And that’s one of the things we love about it. Getting caught up in someone else’s therapy is never fun, but that magical, restorative nature of sailing is worth protecting, so what happens on the boat stays on the boat.   

Unfortunately, journalists wouldn't let Michel Desjoyeaux off that easily and he recounted some tense moments on board.  These anecdotes didn't do Michel or Iker any good, and I don't feel any smarter for having read them.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Time keeps on slippin'

I had an epiphany of sorts yesterday:  I’m not getting any younger.  This idea flashed through my head as I was falling off a ladder in my attempt to haul a heavy suitcase filled with summer clothes up to the attic.  Crumpled on the floor gasping for breath, another thought ran through my head:  I’m not getting stronger or more flexible as time passes, either.

With a prescription for painkillers with codeine and orders to rest for 48 hours (what?!  But I have sails to wash !) I’ve had time to reflect on my little accident and how it could have been avoided.  It was 50% bad luck (the ladder broke…) but also 50% bad judgement.  The luck I can’t do anything about, but the judgement needs some adjusting.  I knew, but failed to accept, that the suitcase was both too large and too heavy for me.  Patrick was away at the fateful moment and I was too impatient to wait.

Being a woman sailor, I’m always trying to prove to myself that I can physically handle anything alone on the boat.  There are always ways to manage sails and manoeuvres alone, even if you’re petite (I’m 5ft 4, 125 lbs / 1m63, 56 kg).  These manoeuvres may not be very elegant or fast, but in a pinch, I know I can handle almost anything alone.  But there’s the rub:  I need to learn when such bravado is necessary and be humble enough to ask for help when it’s not.

I can’t stand the image of myself as a frail little wisp of a woman, waiting patiently for my husband to come to my rescue, but after much reflection (and codeine), I've decided it’s a better image than the one where I’m black and blue and out-of-action for days or weeks.  Humble pie for Thanksgiving, me thinks.      

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Hibernation Time

We took Spray back to her home port this week to tuck her in for a long winter’s nap.  The cruise reminded us of why we don’t sail after October: squalls-a-go-go and waking up in a cold, wet boat with condensation raindrops dripping on our foreheads. 

Spray is waiting for the travel-lift to be repaired and then will be lifted out until… someone buys her !  We don’t hold out much hope for a winter sale, so we will start winterizing her next week (motor care, sails off, etc.).  In the meantime, I now have a garage full of boat stuff waiting to be sorted, washed, dried, and put away.  While I’m going to miss being on my boat over the next few months, it will feel good to take a break and see another side of life for awhile.  And looking at the degrading weather patterns, I don’t think I’ll be missing much great sailing anytime soon.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Full-time skippering

I’m often asked what I do for a living.  No one is willing to let me be retired at 45 so I have to come up with another job description.  Usually I tell them I’m the skipper of our sailboat. Since we only sail for 6 months of the year, that only buys me 6 months of time in their eyes.  What do I do the rest of the time?

My next 6 months look like this:

1.  Selling our old boat:  Managing adds on the web; responding to inquiries, showing the boat to prospective buyers, etc.

2.  Offloading the boat for winter:  sails, cushions, lines, blocks and tackles, boom break, cleaning products, spare parts, tarps, kitchen equipment, small electronics, foul weather gear, etc.

3.  Winterinzing the boat: pulling Spray out of the water, cleaning the bottom and preparing the motor for a long winter’s nap. (Note: our boat is 40 minutes from home, so trips back and forth also take up a lot of time…)

4.  Washing and drying sails, lines, and foul weather gear and storing everything in the basement, the attic, and any available floor space in the corners of rooms.

5.  Contacting the boat dealer and sailmakers to calculate the size and price of a Code D headsail for Mareda, and getting price estimates for a 3rd reef point in the mainsail (which also involves studying how to rig the boom for a 3rd reef.)

6.  Looking for a good used dinghy and outboard motor for Mareda.

7.  Reviewing new insurance policies and guarantees.

8.  Studying the specs of the new electronics on Mareda:  what electronic charts are delivered with the B&G Zeus Multifunction GPS?  Can we use the same charts on a PC with a chartplotter program?

9.  Do we really need the wifi module that will allow us to control the GPS from inside the boat?  If so, what tablet would be best  – Apple or Android? 

10.  Mareda’s sound system is entirely radio or MP3 based.  Need to convert favourite CDs to MP3 format.

11.  Buy new folding bikes!  But which ones are best for storage, exposure to salt water, comfortable for long outings, etc.?

12.  Buy new galley equipment: plates, glasses, utensils, bowls, etc.

13. Planning next year’s adventures !  This one takes months but is the most fun. Since we will have a 2 year all-inclusive guarantee, we want to stay near France at least for the first year and shakedown everything that is susceptible to wear and tear.  Since we have never skippered a swing keel boat, we will take advantage of the exceptional sailing zone for swing or lifting keel boats presented by Brittany, the Scilly Islands, the south coast of England, and the Channel Islands.  Planning involves, inter alia, deciding exactly where to go, when to go, what to see and do once there, routing taking into account nautical or meteorological conditions (e.g., is it best to sail East to West or West to East ?), studying mooring and beaching techniques with a swing keel, listing special equipment needs (aft anchor for beaching?), making sure we have all the electronic and paper charts we need, buying new nautical guides for areas where we have not sailed before.

14.  Vacation time !  Yes, scoff if you will, even retirees need a vacation from time to time.  For us, this involves visiting family (Florida, Paris) and heading someplace warm and sunny for several weeks.  It also means doing all those home repairs that have been building up in a home that is abandoned for 6 months of the year.  Hey … that’s another thing to add to our to-do list:  investigate pros and cons of renting out the house for the summer.

Now I don’t expect any “poor you” messages to come flowing in.  I simply hope I’ve convinced you that I’m far from bored when we’re not on the boat, and that our cruising life requires near full-time engagement.  We take it slowly when we can, doing a few jobs each day, and mix it all in with some of our other favourite pastimes (running, biking, reading) and hanging out with friends…where, admittedly, we almost always talk about boats !  It’s a beautiful life, 12 months per year.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Boat Show Blues

After 5 days at France’s largest used-boat show, we can now paint a portrait of today’s used-boat buyer.  Here are some of the gems from prospective buyers who visited Spray this week:

1.  “I absolutely love this boat, but my wife insists on having a lateral galley.”  (She doesn’t plan on cooking at sea, does she?)

2.  “Only 2 cabins?!  Where am I supposed to put the grandkids?”  (We have a few suggestions…)

3.  “Great boat, but I really want a lifting keel.”  (So why are you visiting a Dehler?)

4.  “I want 2 cabins but I want them both to be aft cabins.” (Not going to ask why. Good luck with that one.)

5.  “No hot water?!  Honey, did you hear that?  They said no hot water…”  (No shower, either, toots.)

6.  “Ah…wheel steering.  For a 34 foot boat, tiller steering is best.”  (We later met a Dehler 34 owner who had tiller steering and he said it was a beast.  He finally installed a powerful auto-pilot directly on the rudder sector to take over when things got too stiff.)

7.  “We really like the boat but we have to check with our 8 buddies who will be co-owners.  We’ll get back to you.”  (I won’t hold my breath, okay?)

8.  “Oh, a mahogany interior!  Can’t stand mahogany.  I prefer clean white plastic.”  (I have to say, this one was my favourite of the week…)

9.  A speed-dating visitor with a clipboard: “Mind if I just poke around?” (He came, he saw, he scribbled a few notes, he left.)

10.  After what I thought was a rather promising 10-minute visit:  “Would you mind terribly if I use your toilet?”  (…and he didn’t know how to work a marine toilet).

We DID have three serious visitors, but they all had to sell their boats first.  We aren’t holding our breath for any of these guys, either.

I found the whole process depressing, not because we didn’t sell the boat but because the vast majority of visitors were looking for a floating camping car for family coastal cruising.  It's no wonder we had such difficulty finding a new boat that wasn't a floating caming car.  Very few visitors appreciated the robust and ergonomic features of a Dehler that make it such a pleasure at sea.  I also found the local nautical culture quite parochial.  Most did not know what a Dehler was. (If it’s not a Beneteau, Jeanneau, Dufour, or Bavaria, it must be Polish or something…too risky).  When we told them the name of the boat was Spray, no one made the connection with Joshua Slocum, and few had heard of Slocum once we explained it to them.  They said, “Spray?  You mean, like a deodorant?”  Sigh…

One of the organizers of the boat show told us that 60% of the boats sold are based on the choice of Madame, where Madame is not a sailor.  Men are convinced that if they can just provide enough interior comforts their wives will consent to go sailing with them.  I’ve got news for them.  Their wives will go sailing with them for one season, after which they will re-affirm what they suspected all along: they don’t like sailing, no matter what.  We are members of two sailing associations filled almost exclusively with abandoned husbands who are saddled with floating camping cars, when what they really wanted was a smaller boat with a more performance.  If both partners are sailors, the decisions should be made together.  If only one partner is a sailor, why-oh-why should the advice of the non-sailor win out? 

And so it's back onto the hard for Spray, waiting for, I suspect, a divorced man under 6 feet tall looking for a robust performance cruiser to whisk her away for new adventures.