Back to cruising! OK…almost.

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With the US Sailboat Show over, life starts to return to normal…except nothing about our time in the USA feels like our ‘normal’ cruising life. I miss life without a schedule. We all crave warm weather and clear water. But some cruisey routines have returned: hanging out with other cruisers, for sundowners or to share knowledge; picking up on some routine maintenance; exploring the world around us.

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With the show behind us there’s been a LOT of boat work to catch up on. Our primary outboard, an 18hp Tohatsu, has decided not to work shortly after arrival in the Chesapeake last month. Jamie’s tried everything and it’s probably time to bring in the pros… but Annapolis is kind of a costly place for that, and our 3.5hp backup outboard is mostly doing fine work of getting us around…so we’ve held off so far. Siobhan took advantage of a sunny day to tackle some winches that needed servicing. Proud that our 12 year old can do this job almost entirely on her own!

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 Cruisers helping cruisers

Do you know what it’s like to get a hotel room in Annapolis during the boat show– this little town’s biggest annual event in town? Rooms are a little tight and a lot expensive. So we opened up Casa (barco!) Totem to make things easier for a few friends passing through, members of our cruising tribe. My friends Nica and Judy grabbed bunks, as did Ben Carey, who was teaching a seminars at Cruisers University in the days. Thanks to Ben’s better-than-ours internet connection we tuned into one of the Presidential debates via cell phone gritted our teeth through one of the more uncomfortable aspects of being back in the USA.

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Somehow we neglected to get a better picture than this one of making friends with a shy pup outside a breakfast joint in Eastport. Whoops. Ben, we have to get this right next time!

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Jamie helped new friends Larry and Diane from the Oyster 55 Escapade with some questions about their rig and sails; they in turn introduced us to the Annapolis institution of Chick & Ruth’s Delly. Jamie and I split a crabcake plate and it was still more than we could reasonably eat. SO GOOD! May catch up with this crew again in Cuba.

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A few of the boats we’ve met here had questions for Jamie about about sails or rigging. I tagged along to take pictures when Jamie measured one, partly because I always learn from following along and partly to chat with them about their plans for sailing to the Caribbean.

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But what felt most like getting back to the rhythm was just hanging out in the cockpit (or below deck when it got to cool, as it has) with fellow travelers, like southbounder Bill from Calico Skies and the Dutch family on Twentsie Meid (check out the YouTube channel their teenage boys created!).

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Meeting the family from Twentsie Meid

 Exploring around Annapolis

Thanks to the generosity of others we were able to do some tooling around of our own in a borrowed car, and wheels meant we could range a little further to explore… like an afternoon on the gorgeous trails of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

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…or a tour of the nearby US Naval Academy. My grandfather is a 1927 graduate: we looked up his alumni record to share with the kids a piece of their family history, and lucked into a breathtakingly beautiful rehearsal session by the choir.

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What’s this chill?

Meanwhile, the kids keep commenting on things that are utterly and completely normal to their peers around here but a novelty for them: the onset of autumn with leaves flaming out and rustling underfoot and squirrels hustling nuts to hide. It’s been years since we experienced this kind of change in seasons, and fun to make the most of it. Like a hay ride and apple picking…

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…or carving pumpkins. We’ve spent Halloween in a different country every year since 2008, and not a single one of them includes the cultural norm we all grew up with of carving up a pumpkin (and most of them aren’t really big on the whole Halloween concept).

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Recording Bonanza!

4-podcast-for-kidsThis last week has also been a recording bonanza, with three podcasts and a presentation streamed live on Facebook. We spent time one morning skyping with Jason Jenkins for an update to his Epic Education podcast that focuses on traveling families…we met Jason and his full-time worldschooling family in Malaysia about two years ago.

Creators of the by kids / for kids Podcast Playground network are based in Annapolis, which was a great excuse for an in-person interview. 10-year-old reporter Emma came on board to record a session with the Totem junior crew.

Niall, Mairen and Siobhan  cozied around a microphone in the  main cabin with Emma while she went through her questions, some so uniquely a kid’s angle, and I love that: like wondering what they eat, or what some of the weirdest things they’ve experienced are, or how people in other countries respond to them as foreign kids.

The podcast is live now to stream or download. I love hearing our three answer questions about our very different way of life in their own words and perspective.

andy-miaLater in the week we met up with Andy Schell and Mia Karlsson from 59 North and recorded a session for Andy’s On The Wind podcast. Andy and I have been trading email literally for years, and it was great to get to finally meet up in person. He and Mia were on their boat, Isbjorn, tied up just behind Totem’s anchorage on Back Creek and brought along their friend Maik, a weather router currently based in Iceland.

Our afternoon with them flew by much too quickly, and I left wishing we had more time. They interviewed us for the podcast, which is great, but I wanted to ask Andy, Mia, and Maik so many questions of my own! We really, really enjoyed hanging with these kindred spirits (Jamie afterwards: “now there is a true sailor’s sailor!”) and hope there will be more chances to do that down the line.

Leaving the nook in Back Creek yesterday we made our first step south again, but just a short distance to stop in at Herrington Harbour North where the sailing association had invited us to give a presentation. I love sharing our stories to help inspire others to go cruising– these were so helpful for me during our years before we cast off, both to glean practical information and to keep the dream alive. I’m grateful we can give back now that it’s our turn.

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We’ve done a number of these presentations while we’re back in the USA. Herrington Harbour took it one step further and streamed it live on Facebook. TOO COOL! This recording is saved and can be replayed from the Herrington Harbour Facebook page. We invited visitors on board Totem afterwards for the same reason we gave the talk: when you’re not a cruiser yet, but aspire to be, getting on a boat that’s gotten around and asking questions can be really helpful.

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Now it’s just watching weather… our “plan” (hahaha! I said Plan!) is to go to Washington DC for a couple of weeks, then focus on getting SOUTH and getting WARM as quickly as possible. Because the front below is a cold one, and we woke up to temps in the 40s this morning!

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Meeting old friends for the first time

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Three weeks in Chesapeake Bay so far. Three weeks with so much smiling and talking with friends that there are days my jaw aches. Old friends, new friends, old friends met for the first time. It started with the spectacular crab feed put on by a blog reader and newfound friend when we arrived in late September.

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Bay crab, done right: outside, table covered with paper, no cutlery – just mallets. SO GOOD.

This came at the end of a sunny afternoon where we had a spontaneous open boat party on Totem, pinging folks who have been in touch here or through our Facebook page and inviting them aboard. It is just plain cool to meet people who we have come to know as names on the screen, and turning those distant contacts into personal encounters and a great time. Good thing we enjoyed that sun, because there was precious little the following two weeks! Wow, they were delicious. Old Bay is now stocked in our pantry. Hello Maryland!

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We shifted south to Camp Quigley, as Mary Marie & Frank call their dock; it’s a frequent host to friends on the southbound migration this time of year, and a great excuse to visit on our the way to the SSCA gam. Who did we hear from, as we tied up? Newly minted circumnavigators Mike and Deanna from R Sea Kat, who we last saw on Ascension Island. Because Mary Marie and Frank have been cruisers, they “get it” and gathered us for an evening of trading stories. We also smelled a lot better after giving the Quigley laundry machines a workout!

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Our anchorage afterwards for the SSCA gam was in the beautiful Rhode River, which is just a few miles from Annapolis but feels far from, well, anything.

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The event was well attended, despite the steady rain. Jamie and I did a presentation that covered our experiences in some spectacular cruising destinations we’ve visited. Pure dream fodder, aiming to inspire, and so much fun to share! Solavore had provided us with an oven to raffle off to attendees – more about them soon, we are big fans of this solar oven. It’s just too bad the weather didn’t cooperate to allow a demonstration. At the gam, again were familiar faces from our near and distant past… as well as those we’d only known through the internet.

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Mark Brownhill, sandwiched between weather dudes Chris Parker (left) and Lee Chesneau (right)

I loved being able to give Lee Chesneau a hug and tell him how much his class about understanding the 500mb chart helped me on the path to better interpreting weather data when I took it many years ago. Actually, I think I had to take it twice, but it was important! More recently we’ve been introduced to Chris Parker and his invaluable services as a weather router for US/Caribbean cruisers. And between those two great guys we have met: another, Mark Brownhill, who I traded many emails with over the last few months (he’s responsible for getting us to the gam and organizes the SSCA’s Seven Seas U educational programs).

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Like so many cruisers of all stripes— the hopefuls, the gonna-go, the been there / done that—I’ve read the magazines published by this highly recognizable couple. I didn’t know what to expect from meeting Bob & Jody in person, but will say this: they are even more wonderful than you think! Their interest in inspiring others to follow the cruising life… something I think can only make the world a better place… is 100% real.

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It was just bad luck that the weather brightened significantly only when the gam had ended…but that made it easier to welcome a few friends on Totem. The family aboard Majestic brought their pretty St Francis 44 down to anchor nearby and hang out for some sunny hours. This family means so much to me: I’ve corresponded with mom Cindy for nearly a decade, since we found each other on a Yahoo group…or was it that Mothering forum first? Regardless, it is SO COOL to make that virtual friendship transition to in-person.

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We were able to do a little cruising-boat-show-n-tell with another local family that intends to cast off next year. Getting to see how people who had actually been cruising set up their boats was really helpful for me before we left: I’m glad to be able to give back.

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We had a few days after the SSCA gam and before the boat show. Jamie and I spent a morning checking out a boat listing in the area on behalf of one of our coaching clients. I added several photos Jamie’s boat yoga (tagged #awkward) to my collection.

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Afterwards, we got to meet another old friend for the first time! Captain Suky, a delivery skipper and generally awesome human who I’ve known through the Women Who Sail forum, recently bought a boat; Jamie checked out the rig for her.

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See “barber pole”-ing on the backstay? No bueno. On close inspection: pitting an even bigger problem.

We relocated for the US Sailboat Show to a private dock near the venue in Annapolis. Hurricane Matthew loomed and we were grateful for a snug location well up the creek….a 20 minute walk, even less by dock-to-dock water taxi!

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And thus began a hectic week working the booth for L&L Pardey Books, supporting Lin Pardey to sell books from her publishing house (she’s also behind Voyaging With Kids). The kids were a big help, pitching in on booth setup.

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the alert will notice Siobhan remains barefoot.

We closed a successful first day at the show by hosting Lin along Paul & Sheryl Shard of Distant Shores TV, who we met in St Martin earlier this year, for dinner on Totem. It felt a little surreal to have these cruising luminaries on board- that’s a lot of experience in Totem’s cockpit! There were great stories, and funny coincidences (beware a certain bay in Croatia), but ultimately – just a bunch of cruisers sharing laughs on the water together.

Lin Pardey Paul Sheryl Shard Behan Jamie Gifford on Totem

yeah, I’m wearing an apron. no smart comments

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Photo- Paul Shard

There were some precious reunions, too. We had a great reunion with old friend Brad Baker, who is an owner at Seattle’s Swiftsure Yachts brokerage. We last saw him waving goodbye when our families parted ways in French Polynesia, six years ago: they sailed back to Seattle and we continued across the Pacific. It was also the first time we’d seen Rich Boren since he helped cast off our docklines in 2010, as we departed La Cruz, Mexico for the Marquesas. It’s just great to catch up and feel the years melt away…sweet reunions indeed!

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The show was a whirlwind of first meets with people we actually kinda knew already, as internet shifted to IRL. On site after helping deliver a boat for Swiftsure was Andy Cross from Three Sheets Northwest. After trading email for years, it was great to finally to meet in person.

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Then there was this awesome, who I have co-administrated a women’s sailing forum with for years. We chat just about every day…but we’d never met, or even spoken live. It was amazing to finally get together with Nica Waters! I think Pussers Painkillers…the rum drinks that are obligatory at the Annapolis boat show…may have kicked in by the time we got this pic.

Nica and Behan, together at last!

Nica and Behan, together at last!

Nica and I joined a meetup of the group we admin (with a few accompanying partners & spouses), since many of the Women Who Sail were in town for the show…

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…like Suky (that was her boat above) and Judy Hildebrand, another delivery captain and generally fabulous sailing woman I’ve long connected with digitally, and had a lot of laughs with over a few days in Annapolis. Judy was was one step ahead of us on an extended delivery engagement across much of the Atlantic this year… up until Bermuda, when we pointed to Connecticut and she did a victory leg to the Mediterranean. I’d love to do a passage with her someday!

dsc00391After was a gathering of alt-living bloggers, which Cindy coined the BumTotemJesticPalooza– as we joined the liveaboard Majestic crew and land/sea rambling Bumfuzzles, with future cruisers the Mowerys. More old friends with first meets.

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Photo: Maddy Thomas

The kids weren’t all that excited about the boat show – not their thing. But Cindy wrangled a pile of kids for the day – because boat mamas, we’re a tribe, and look out for each other.

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BumTotemJesticPalooza! Photo: Cindy Wallach

Also looking out for our junior crew was this awesome family (formerly known as the Dafnes), who spirited the Totem kids away to Philly for some fun while Jamie and I were preoccupied. Once a cruiser (or boat kid)… always one! And yet another gonna-go-cruiser helped us get them back, when we neglected to give Niall his passport (turns out, 17 is too old to be an unaccompanied minor on the train and he was not allowed on without ID. Holy paranoia batman!). Grateful for friends who understand, and lend support.

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Escape Room….they were so close!!

The next morning, Jamie and I talked about how there were so many people coming by the booth that we enjoyed talking to, and the conversations always felt too short, like we could have gone on for hours…but there’s a boat show going on and it’s impossible. To try and extend some of those conversations, we decided to throw out a “hey let’s meet for pizza later” to a folks when they came by to talk. I think everyone said yes, and we ended up with a crowd of… 18? 20? at Sammy’s in Eastport. It was a very cool spread across the spectrum: salted sailors, new cruisers, hopeful cruisers, all embracing life on the water.

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So many people came by: Sailing Banyan, OnwardWaves, Sail Loot, more. I loved introducing Lin’s books to people stopping by (because they are not only my dream fodder from our pre-cruising days, but books I keep on Totem and reference). The show was hard work: eight plus hours on our feet, on asphalt, outside. Did I mention the hurricane that threatened? We ended up with just wind and rain, but it was… well. Cold! Notice the multiple layers worn. I even had to break out SOCKS.

By the last day, we were getting a little punchy. Boat kid Naia and I listened for whales in our triton shell / paperweight.

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We cracked up with Lin, Jill and Sheryl over the absurdity of everyone checking their shell–I mean cell–phones all the time.

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We expected the show to wear us out, as it did. We anticipated meeting a lot of people. We just failed to appreciate how much fun it would be meeting up with old friends…some for the first time.

Totem is in Annapolis for about another week: we’re speaking about our travels at 4pm on Sunday, Oct 23, at the Loft above West Marine in Herrington Harbor North. RSVPs to the HH Sailing Association appreciated but not required: contact bev.wright@verizon.net. Oh, and it’s free!

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Efficient Sailing: passage routing

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There’s a problem: many cruisers think that sailing performance isn’t important. Hey, cruising is about slowing down, right?! But dismissing performance is poor seamanship. Part two in a series.

Efficient sailing is partly about sail trim and sail handling (that’s covered here), and partly about routing. With a few rules, routing from A to B can be faster (and safer).

dsc_3791Big picture routing—should we take the northern or southern route across the Indian Ocean?—is fun and easy. String together an efficient and safe path to the places that you want to visit. Take into account big considerations: seasonal weather patterns, time limitations, access to fuel/food/etc. The scientific formula for big picture routing is: fun – harm = intentions. What you actually do depends on a millions variables that happen as you step along the path.

Zoom in on details of sailing to the next place and you’re into A to B routing. Sometimes this is easy; a straight path without complicating factors. Often subtle variables can cost you time or diesel, and elevate risk.

Going from Seattle to Friday Harbor, you look at the weather and the tide for when you expect to be at Cattle Pass. This is A to B routing. Practical experience from attempting Cattle Pass on the wrong tide (as we once did) indelibly marks this detail as one not to forget. There are many “Cattle Pass” lessons that you learn to incorporate in A to B routing. This is local knowledge and it saves time, money, and lowers risk. Venture to a new area and local knowledge is gone.

Fortunately, wherever you’re going, somebody went there and wrote about it. Many blue water cruisers reference Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes. It’s a fine book for big picture routing and guidance on A to B routing, but it’s not a roadmap.

Our passage in April from Ascension Island to Barbados was 3,100 miles long. The small group of boats doing this passage referenced Cornell, and set out with the author’s advice on crossing the equator between 28 and 30 degrees west longitude. Crossing further west into northeast trade winds can make the Caribbean upwind and hard to reach. This advice has the downside of being into a wider band of ITCZ, meaning more squalls. Off the boats went, one by one, aimed at 28 degrees west. We chose a different route.

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Landfall: Ascension Island

In A to B routing, the longer or more complicated the route, the more days in advance I study weather and variables. For weeks I studied several different GRIB models. Day after day, trade winds were not northeast as Cornell said, but east north east and just fine for getting to the Caribbean. Investigating a route along the coast of Brazil, 900 miles west of Cornell’s route, I found reference to a strong current flowing northward along the coast. Fine wind, less lightning (narrower band of ITCZ), and positive current was too good to ignore. PredictWind’s routing algorithms (that’s our track in their viewer below, automatically generated with pings from our Iridium GO underway) in the Offshore app concurred, and bingo, we were off to the Brazilian coast. It was beautiful sailing with very few squalls, averaging 180 NM per day over 17.2 days. The “book route” took boats 5 to 7 days longer, experienced more squalls, and burned a lot more diesel.

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After this passage I happened to reread Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World. In 1898, Slocum sailed Spray on the same route along the coast of Brazil to reach the Caribbean in good time, noting, “the current, now at its height, amounted to forty miles a day.” Eighty-nine years later, Jimmy Cornell missed or disregarded this current. His book is still a great resource, but scenarios like this are a good reminder that it’s only one static resource.

From this lesson and others, here are six rules for A to B routing.

  1. Use multiple data sources.
  2. Schedules are inconvenient.
  3. When weather sources disagree, don’t pick one as best.
  4. Consider tidal and current flow.
  5. “Group think” weather analysis is always one opinion to many.
  6. Forecast accuracy varies regionally; compare forecasted and actual weather over time.

Efficient sailing will get you there faster, safer, and with less wear and tear. Just don’t confuse it with performance sailing! That can lead to soggy spinnaker and sour party mood.

This post was contributed by Jamie, who shares his more technical sailing experience from time to time. It’s really two legs on a three-legged stool, because routing is as important to efficient passagemaking as sail trim and sail handling…that post will have to come later.

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Southbound to Chesapeake Bay

We still didn’t get to do all the rounds of goodbyes we wanted in Connecticut. We didn’t even just to see everyone we hoped to see. Our summer was full to overflowing in all the best ways, but if one word had to describe it, it’s “BUSY.” Seasonal change and a nip in the air turned us south.

Dinner on Totem in Noank with the well-salted Van Zandt and Bohlen families

Dinner on Totem in Noank with the well-salted Van Zandt and Bohlen families

Getting underway again, starting the transit toward lower latitudes, resuming our cruiser rhythm… it feels good. In the bustle of our summer, we lost some of the time we usually give to “just being” as a family. It’s been a long time since we had so many different plans that a calendar was required! Casualty of busy: I lost control of my email inbox (still recovering, slowly), and haven’t had time to write. Minor tradeoffs for meeting wonderful people along the way, and spending time with the old friends we can intersect with.

Finally meeting up wtih the family of SV Fezywig!

Finally meeting up wtih the family of SV Fezywig!

Our southbound trail led west through Long Island Sound to New York City, each stop along the way touched by the kindness of others. It started in Essex with the cousin of a cruising friend: lime bitters with Jim in the cockpit of his catboat, Amity, then dinner at a restaurant that defines ‘quaint’ and was the site of one of my first dates with Jamie, layering new memories on old.

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In Norwalk we were hosted by  two-time circumnavigators Scott & Kitty Kuhner. Scott & Kitty did their first lap as a young couple; they repeated it with their children, and did a victory lap around the Atlantic in later years. The stories and memories flowed during dinner at their home with the family soon to be known as “the Mariposas,” who move aboard their cruising home in a matter of days.

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In Westchester county, a reader reached out and offered his mooring at the incomparable Lachmont Yacht Club. HL DeVore and family made our stay everything we could have wished, starting by greeting us on arrival with a couple of LYC’s signature drink, the Monte-Sano cooler (rum-based, natch). Excellent company over several evenings, a beautiful base for daytripping into NYC, and the use of a sturdy Jeep Cherokee named Josh to make it all easy.

Getting close, getting excited: first time in NYC for the kids!

Getting close, getting excited: first time in NYC for the kids!

The only picture we took - thank you Cindy!

The only picture we took – thank you Cindy!

Josh removed the pressure to do too much at once: instead, we could take time to see the city—and absorb it—at an unstressed pace. Like having ONLY two objectives for a daytrip (getting lost in the Frick, then meeting with some really special folks, old friends—Andy Halsey and Jane Coyne—for lunch in Central Park) instead of trying to cram in a half dozen more activities. These days, and new friends, were a wonderful gift for our family.

The kindness of strangers leads to a family photo op on the Brooklyn Bridge

The kindness of strangers leads to a family photo op on the Brooklyn Bridge

One of the only requirements the kids had for NYC: proper Dim Sum. check.

One of the only requirements the kids had for NYC: proper Dim Sum. check.

In Larchmont I finally started to get caught up on life and the email inbox again, but even better was reconnecting with a college friend I haven’t seen since graduation.  Those years (all 26 of them, yikes!) melted away on the afternoon Doriel and her sons spent on board. A phenomenon repeats itself in the reunions we’ve had this summer: how really great it is to find all the goodness we remember in old friends are all the goodness, somehow improved again with the addition of years.

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Doriel teaches elementary school in the NYC school district, and has a fantastic YouTube channel (LearnToGrowU) with her energetic and heartfelt reflections on experiences and inspiration. She’s pretty awesome—interest in teaching totally optional to appreciate these videos! She quizzed me on homeschooling / boat schooling for a spontaneous cockpit edition of #WhatTeachersDo.

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We felt compelled to take several pics at the Club with our college mascot, a camel.

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The Leach family from Keep Your Daydream came by, too. It’s always fun to meet up with other full-time traveling families: this crew is at the outset of their adventures, but has been producing interesting content about folks who have been out for some time. I think we got the kids on board with boat life vs RV life… not that we have an agenda, real!y 🙂

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This respite week also made it easier to visit the Mowery family. When folks like Rich and Liia engage here or via Totem’s FB page through the years, we really do feel like we know them – and it’s been great to turn those virtual conenctions into in-person meetups for a whole new raft of good memories. So we trundled up to Newtown, CT, for a late summer BBQ.

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Niall is so good with little ones like Aili! Girls loving on Kaia.

Dessert first (a good life rule in general!) at an award winning dairy farm / creamery nearby. Possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.

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There’s one problem with all the generosity we’ve experienced from the last few weeks: our cache of karma is probably just about tapped!

Sailing south from Larchmont, we decided to day-trip our way to Chesapeake Bay instead of charging through with some overnight runs. Because how many times in your life is there a chance to watch sunset glow on the Manhattan skyline, at the foot of Libertas?

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PINCH ME. I cannot believe we were in this spot!

Just getting to that spot was more interesting than expected, because it turned out that the UN General Assembly was in session this week—which means total closure of the East River to all but ferries, 9am to 9pm. Whoops. You also have to carefully time transit on the East River based on tides, as the current is not worth fighting. You could say that messed up our plans, but flexibility around expected timing is the nature of cruising. No big deal, just something to work around! And so we spent an extra day in Larchmont, then another anchored under the Throg’s Neck Bridge, finding the juncture of time that let us get downriver with positive current before Homeland Security closed it down.

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Companions were first the working boats of the river, tugs and barges with debris or raw materials—later, our personal (and well armed) USCG escort. They waved back.

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We reveled in every minute of this spectacular anchorage off Liberty Island.

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It’s been a few days of transit south from there, our way to Annapolis for the SSCA gam and US Boat Show.

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Sliding between a car carrier and big barge at dawn, Verrazano Bridge.

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Watching for current and shallows in the shoals at the Atlantic City entrance

As I post this, we’ve just entered Chesapeake Bay. That’s a celebration worth of apple pancakes, real maple syrup (THANK YOU Conant family), and the last bacon on board! We’ll be the Chesapeake for at least a month, and probably longer. It feels like one part homecoming (are more “old friends we’ve never met” to finally hug in person) and one part inflection point, as we consider options for Totem to return to the tropics.

Meanwhile, everyone is looking forward to being parked in a place we can go ashore after four nights of anchorages without getting off the boat! Besides, we’re out of produce, milk, bacon, wine, and toilet paper…who provisioned this boat anyway?!

Cruisers should care about performance sailing

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There’s a problem: many cruisers think that sailing performance isn’t important. Hey, cruising is about slowing down, right?! But dismissing performance is poor seamanship. After some years of listening to cruisers disregard performance and gripe about slow passages, it dawned on me that confusion is to blame.

Our good friend William demonstrated this last year during a fun race in Madagascar. William is a good sailor with much blue water cruising experience. He doesn’t race, but his competitive side, or maybe his social side, was piqued by party and prizes to follow the competition. With his racing cap on he chose a bold spinnaker start while single-handing. It didn’t go well. The gun cracked and his spinnaker tangled, slipped, and dipped…he did not have a good race. On passage William is slow and deliberate when setting a spinnaker, a pace that isn’t very racer-like but ends with a performance boost. Had he stuck with this instead of confusing performance and racing, he would’ve had more to celebrate at the party.

To clarify this issue, let’s forget all about performance; and instead, talk about “efficient sailing.” A rabbit in a bunny suit is still a rabbit, so what’s the point? Comfort and safety come with avoiding or minimizing bad weather, and stress comes from contemplating a three day passage when weather windows only last for two days. Efficient sailing is getting from A to B with minimal effort. What could be more appealing to a cruiser than minimal effort!

Making landfall in Comoros, Indian Ocean

Making landfall in Comoros, Indian Ocean

Sail trim

Racing sailors are pedantic about sail trim. Constant adjustments can yield subtle gains that show when measuring against competitors. We’re not interested in subtle gains. Reasonable sail trim takes no more time than bad sail trim, but yields better speed with less wear and tear to sails.

For example, when reaching and running, a boom vang locks the boom from lifting and dropping due to changing wind pressure on the mainsail. This may seem insignificant, but not using a vang slows you down and will cost you money in repairing a mainsail chafed by rubbing against rigging.

Another example is headsail trim. Sheet blocks are often set for reasonable trim going upwind, which fine, except that most of the time cruisers aren’t sailing upwind. When using an upwind sheeting point for reaching and running, the upper portion of a headsail twists to leeward, spilling wind causing the upper leech to flap. A barber hauler is an easy way to trim the headsail correctly for broader wind angles. This gives a considerable boat speed boost that can be 10 miles and more per day.

brberhuler

Both barber hauler and sheet are used for max efficiency at the wind angle

Sail handling

Racing sailors are well practiced at sail handling for fast transitions. Fast is usually not important or practical for short-handed cruisers, like our friend above. Efficient sail handling from a well setup boat, practice, and good crew communication reduces crew risks and equipment breakages.

Step one is setting up the boat to make sail handling easier. Cruising boats are usually reasonably well set up, but it takes time on the water to learn what works well and what needs improvement. Friction causes the most trouble. Friction makes you weak, and swear like a sailor. I installed a Harken furling system for cruising friends in Singapore. The next day they had words with me because furling was harder than ever. I went back to their boat and tested each furling line guide blocks. Only one of them actually turned, and the rest were easily fixed with fresh water and silicone spray.

Keep winches, blocks, and sheaves in good order. Watch for line chafe and metal fatigue. And give thought to unplanned sail handling events – they happen. When Totem was ghosting along the Pacific ITCZ, the heavy duty stainless steel pad eye securing the mainsheet to the boom sheared off. The part was less than a year old, and failed from slatting force. By chance, I had installed a webbing strop around the boom just in case such a thing happened. The mainsheet was reattached in just a couple minutes.

strop

Pacific, between Mexico and Marquesas. Bonus squall. Rather undesirable twist in the mainsheet….

Step two of efficient sail handling is matching sails to the conditions. This may seem obvious, but it’s common to see people raise the anchor and hoist full sails; then outside of the protected anchorage, bigger wind hits and they scramble to reef the main. This is almost like sport in the eastern Caribbean this spring watching boats poke out from the lee and into the channel between islands. Start the day with a weather forecast and a few moments of observation before getting underway, and don’t forget the impact of geography.

Once underway, reducing sail area is all about observation and timing. In 20 knots of true wind, I can reef our mainsail on my own in 2 minutes –less if more motivated by approaching squall. In 30 knots it takes at least twice as long. Monitoring wind speed and watching for obvious changes (like squalls) and subtle changes (such as increasing gusts) gives you time to adjust sails when it’s still easy.

Approaching the South African coast last November, we expected landfall 6 to 12 hours ahead of forecasted bad weather. With 20 miles remaining of the 1,000 mile trip, we were sailing in gentle conditions with a perfect sunrise, and feeling good. Then I looked up. Above a thin layer of clouds going our way, clouds whipped along in the opposite direction. Bad news: the southerly buster came early! Engine on, we prepared for strong headwinds. At 7 miles to go, wind was 25 to 30 knots on the nose and against the strong Aghulas current. Waves piled up with no gap between them, and our speed dropped under two knots bashing into them. It was a tedious few hours getting in, but each additional hour out there would have been worse.

This post was contributed by Jamie, who shares his more technical sailing experience from time to time. It’s really two legs on a three-legged stool, because routing is as important to efficient passagemaking as sail trim and sail handling…that post will have to come later.