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Reflections on a Hard Journey

May 8, 2015

Now that the gang is back on dry land, Dave had a few reflections on the journey.  He says that one of the most disconcerting things was during the long crossing in the heavy seas, as he sat below at the nav station listening to the rigging twang.  Whenever the boat hit a big wave, the rigging sounded like it was tearing apart from the boat.  In fact, the day the sheet failed and made a big banging noise, Dave thought for certain the whole rig had finally come loose and they were going to have to cut it away from the decks.

Oh, and one mechanical issue that happened earlier in the trip was the bilge pump failure.  On port side tack, the boat would lean so far over that the bilge pump intake ran dry, but since the bilge pump sensor was on the low side of the compartment, the switch kept the pump turned on.  The pump is supposed to be a “run dry” pump that won’t burn out if it runs when no water is available for it to pump, alas, the pump died anyway.   Dave pulled the spare out of the cabinet, only to realize the spare wasn’t an exact match for the existing bilge pump and required extensive re-work of the pipes.  Undesirable at best given the conditions.  So the guys decide they will just manually pump the water out of the compartment every so often.  So they go looking for the manual pump handle.  They open the compartment where the handle should be located, only to find the compartment is so completely jumbled up that they can’t find the handle.  So they used a socket wrench handle to operate the pump manually.

When you are sailing so much, you realize your batteries discharge faster than you might think.  Never a problem on Apsaras as we motor sail so much.  But on Saltydog, the gang put up the solar panels during the day because it meant they could go without running the engine for days at a time.  But at one point, recalibration of the ammeter became necessary to keep better track of how the batteries were doing so we could decide whether we needed to run the engine or not.

It’s also clear to him that he had the perfect crew.  The day the sheet got wrapped around the prop, he would not have been able to dive and get it off.  It took Mike’s amazing swimming skills, and Dave at the helm to solve that problem.  On so many occasions the crew pulled together despite things gone wrong – each crew member adding their own skills to the mix.  Only together were they able to overcome all the challenges the trip threw their way.

Saltydog finds a new home

May 7, 2015

Early this morning, we can see Antigua come into view.  We are only a few hours away!  Antigua is a picture perfect little Caribbean Island.  The water is clear and turquoise, and there are more sailboats around than we've seen since Puerto Vallarta or California.

We made it to the customs dock around 11am.  Customs in Antigua is laid back.  There are three 8 foot x 10 foot offices in a row.  The first is customs where you fill out your paperwork on the computer.  The second one is immigration where you get your passport stamped.  The third is the port captain’s office where you fill out all the information you already put into the computer at customs onto carbon paper forms and paid $12 to use the port.  Then you go back to customs to get everything stamped.  In total it took about an hour.  Most countries upon exit issue you a document called a Zarpe – which tells the next country you land in when you departed the previous location.  Problem is that the USA doesn’t issue Zarpe’s.  So when Saltydog passed through Puerto Rico, they didn’t get a Zarpe which can lead to confusion upon arrival.  So the gang decided to hand the immigration officials the Panama Zarpe and keep their mouths shut about the stopover in Puerto Rico.  Yeah, someone could have searched their passports and found the stamp, but that involves effort.  Oh and since they cleared on the phone, they didn't even get the stamp in their passports for anyone to find.  Afterwards it was time to move Saltydog to Steve and Joan’s dock.  It’s a very tight fit.  Coming through the two pilings you see in this picture at the aft of the boat gave a clearance of only inches either side of the widest part of the boat.  It was a fitting end to a challenging journey that the final landing at the dock was tricky too.  But the crew eased it in to its new home without any trouble.

Time to break out the champagne!

We Could Walk This Fast

May 6, 2015

We had thought that the last three days of the trip would be easier than the first nine.  Alas, we are heading directly into the wind and waves and hence are lucky to be able to make 3 knots good towards Antigua.  At that speed we could have walked there just as fast!

As we pass by the islands of the Caribbean, we begin to realize just what a different world this is.  Having spent so much time in Central America, we expected the Caribbean to be much like what we have seen to date.  But this was not the case.  As we approached the islands at night, the sky was lit up in the distance – a tribute to how much civilization is out here.  As we got closer and could see life on the islands, it became clear that there is so much more wealth here.  Nice cars, nice houses, and not nearly the poverty we have become accustomed to seeing.

Life with Mike

May 5, 2015

Dave came up on deck and mentioned to Mike that it seemed our speed had dropped.  Dave was thinking maybe we had gotten wrapped up in some seaweed, so he put the boat in reverse.  Sure enough, that improved the speed by a half a knot (a lot when you are only going 5 or 6 knots!).  We begin to find that the seaweed problem has to be cleared every few hours.  Eventually Mike decides we need to video the problem.  He takes his water proof camera and tapes it to the boat pole.  The video is self-explanatory in terms of what the camera shows under the boat, and shows just what life aboard with Mike is all about.

Who's on night shift?

May 4, 2015

It is apparent that we are not averaging anywhere near our estimated speed motoring in the waves and wind. A quick calculation shows that we will not have enough fuel to motor the whole way to Antigua. That means we get to tack our way under sail. Even though we are sailing faster than we can motor, tacking makes it a little slower. At least, we will have fuel this way. Best estimate now is that we will arrive Thursday, not Wednesday as first estimated. We have gotten into the routine to have a simple breakfast, big hot lunch and whatever sounds good for the night watches. Today we had mac-and-cheese with sausage. Making a hot meal for lunch is easier when the sun is out and allows the second night shift to nap in the evening. Speaking of shifts – we do not run shifts during the day. Whoever is on deck is watching the boat. Usually, there are two on deck during the day reading and one below – the cockpit is kind of small and possibly wet for the third person. At night, we run 3 hour shifts beginning at 8PM. Mike and Holly usually do the first two shifts and Dave does the 2AM shift.  

Saltydog is now official back in the good old US of A

May 3, 2015

The crew is up early talking with the fuel attendant. He was not too happy to see us camped at the dock but after a while came around and just charged us the day-use fee ($10 per person). After being cooped up on a boat for 8 days, Mike has a way of making new friends quickly. The attendant said keep flying the quarantine flag and we would be good for the day at the custom's (CBP) slip.

We definitely need fuel and water!

After filling the water and fuel tanks, we headed up for some much-needed showers. We probably did too well at conservation – we used more diesel than water underway! After that, we called a taxi and headed into town. Cheo took us to the Customs office only to find it closed on Sundays. The guard said to come back on Monday. Ugh. Then we went off to Sizzler and had a huge lunch. We walked around the mall for a while and bought some repair parts at Sears. After that we went across the street and bought some provisions for our last leg to Antigua. Back at the marina, Dave bought a CBP sticker online and called the main CBP number again. After a few phone calls back and forth, we had our clearance number so were officially back in the United States. The restaurant was closed due to A/C issues so we had Margaritas and snacks at the café for dinner. We returned to the boat and left around 8:00 PM. 

Another time zone

May 2, 2015

Puerto Rico is in a new time zone. This is now the 6th time zone Dave has sailed in since heading out in Apsaras. Before arriving in port, Mike and Dave go forward to work on retrieving the broken flag halyard. It broke early in the trip in the high winds. Dave manages to stand on the boom while the boat is trying to pitch him off and retrieves the halyard with the boat hook.

Now we can raise the yellow quarantine flag when we get to Ponce. Saltydog and crew arrived safe and sound in Ponce after dark. Channel was well lit and we had pictures of the marina so it was no problem finding the CBP slip on the fuel dock. Dave called CBP and they took all of the information. The officer told us to buy our sticker and get our passports checked at the office the next day. He said it would open at 8:00. Dave verified that he meant 8:00 on a Sunday and he said yes. The officer said we were free to roam about in the meanwhile. Cool. 

Going round in circles

May 2, 2015

Dave was down below entering new waypoints when he accidentally turned off the autopilot. Mike was at the helm and took over steering manually, but the steering was frozen.  We double checked the autopilot was off but the steering was frozen good and we could only turn to port – hence we were going in circles.  Dave got into the compartment and mechanically disconnected the autopilot from the steering assembly and we got steerage back.

We thought maybe the steering actuator motor that Dave and Mike had fixed before we took Saltydog through the canal had failed again.  But no, this time it was the RAM assembly that had seized up.  Dave took it apart and poured motor oil into it and got it working again.  Not ideal as the assembly really should be greased, but underway, this wasn’t possible.  So Steve and Joan will have to have the steering assembly looked at once the boat reaches Antigua to at a minimum grease it up again properly.  After only an hour and a half, we are again steering just fine under the watchful eyes of Auto.

We put the last Gerry can of diesel fuel into the tanks later today.  We have enough to make it to Puerto Rico, but we won’t make Antigua without stopping for gas.  We pulled into the Ponce marina in Puerto Rico, arriving after dark - with only 10 gallons of fuel left in the tank.  The gauge was reading "E" so we were happy to later discover we were not as close to the bottom of the tank as the gauge would have us believe.  

Night entries into foreign ports are not Dave's favorite but we cruised right to the dock without a hitch. We have sailed 9 days without stopping.  It has been tough work going upwind day after day. It is impossible to walk without bashing into things. Dave is covered with scrapes and bruises. He doesn’t think he wants to do another boat delivery bashing upwind, but it’s been great experience.  Mike and Holly seem to feel the same.  Great experience – but no one wants to repeat it. Downwind for days, yes. Upwind, no.  At this point we have another 280 miles to go to make it to Antigua.  That will take another three days or so, but should be much easier going.

Dang furler

May 1, 2015

We had problems with the jib furling roller overriding.  For those non sailors, that means when they tried to roll up the front sail, a big nasty mess got made of the ropes getting all knotted up.  It was hard to get the ropes all untwisted.  Same thing happened to Steve aboard Saltydog on the Baja Haha run to Mexico.  The underlying problem is the way the deck lines are rigged – they don’t lead into the roller furling in an optimal way.  But we were able to get it fixed and get back underway.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

April 30, 2015

We are half way across and are seeing the winds come back down a bit. We were finally able to get a weather update, and the forecast is for light winds.  We probably won't have enough fuel to motorsail into Antigua and tacking will take forever. So we plan to stop either in Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico to get fuel. The latter being our preference (easier entry and less out of the way) but it will depend on what the winds are like. 

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