Destination and Departure

All summer we’ve watched storms. Hurricanes bigger than ever had us checking every weather network daily. And as you all know, the British Virgin Islands (aka BVI) and the US Virgin islands were devastated by a category 5 hurricane named Irma. The BVI is the usual passage south destination for us every year, but after Irma, followed closely by hurricane Maria, many islands would not be ready for a large fleet of boats coming in.

Fall sunset on calm waters

We join the Salty Dawg Rally each year for many reasons, but mostly for safety. Going with a fleet of more than 50 other boats means you are not out there alone out there if anything goes wrong, not to mention the fact that they also provide a great deal of support and education for the open ocean passage.

When the rally board of directors realized the devastation of the BVI’s they knew that they would need to determine if the rally would run this year at all and if it did where it would go. Two weeks after Irma a decision was made to take the rally to Antigua.

We had no issue with this as we had already made the same decision for ourselves. Antigua is our favourite island in the chain (at least from those we’ve been to). We go there every year and we knew it would only be an additional day of sailing to get there. We were thrilled when the rally chose it as the 2017 Fall Rally destination.

Part of getting ready for our trip south is getting our dog Charlie’s vet paperwork complete. Part of that paperwork includes a Rabies titer test. This is the test that tells you that the rabies vaccine took and majority of the islands in the Caribbean require this test as the islands are all rabies free.

Charlie checking out the new helm seat back

Charlie’s last rabies shot prior to the titer test was July 2015 and it was a 3 years rabies shot. We took him for his titer test in September and waited the 3 weeks for the results. The results came in on October 2nd and Charlie didn’t pass which was a shock to us as he’s never failed this test in the past. This means his 3 year vaccine didn’t last the 3 years or it could also mean Charlie’s immunity isn’t as good as it should be, although he seems healthy enough.

We quickly booked him in for another rabies shot that same day and waited a minimum of 3 weeks to get the blood pulled for another test. We had that done on Friday, October 27th. The blood drawn then gets sent to Kansas city. We paid an extra $150 to have the test expedited, which means we should have a result back within 2 weeks. Meanwhile we’ll be on route to the Caribbean (the vet has committed to email us the result as soon as he gets it and the original result will be sent to Antigua).

Charlie in his sweater on a cool day in Hampton

This really affected us because we couldn’t get the USDA to stamp our dog’s international health certificate without the result. Or so we thought. The vet that came to the Salty Dawg event in Hampton suggested we send along proof that we had given Charlie another rabies vaccine along with proof that we had sent off another titer test to Kansas city.

It worked! We got the USDA stamp so that means that we are heading for Antigua with the rest of the Salty Dawgs.

If we hadn’t got the stamp, we had planned to sail direct to Guadeloupe where they only need proof of the rabies vaccine and proof that your dog is free of parasites. We can still sail to Guadeloupe if something goes wrong with this next titer result, but we are staying positive and heading to Antigua.

Meanwhile we are down to the last few days of preparation.

Gaston up the mast to install a new sheave

Weather wise it is looking positive for a November 2nd departure if you carry enough fuel to get you there with approximately 9 days of motoring. This didn’t seem appealing to many of the boats so an alternative date of November 4th was determined which would potentially give us more wind. This is the option we’ve opted for. Besides we still have a few things to get done.

We attended the Salty Dawg Halloween dinner on October 31st. There was a good number of people that dressed up in costume. We buy raffle tickets and I won an Easy Sprout kit. I look forward to sprouting and adding sprouts to smoothies, salads and sandwiches.

Bob Marley’s brother Bill
P with Vladimir drinking a Dark and Stormy
Stripes on sailors
Gathering for the Halloween event

We received our sails back from the sail loft late Tuesday and Paul spent the day yesterday putting them back up. I had restitched our sail bag but when we put it up Paul realized that I’d missed a couple of spots where the batons go. Rather than take the bag down again, we took the sewing machine to the sail bag and I stitched it up there.

Trusty sewing machine

We have also received our new dinghy, and need to mount our new dinghy motor and take it for a test drive. Paul also needs to sort out how it mounts on the davits off the back of the boat. I’ll make a cover for the new motor as well. We also have several other key tasks still left to do so we’ll be super busy right up to departure.

This will be our last post until we arrive. You can follow our journey through the Ocens tracking system: click here and put in SDR in the “group” area to see all boats on passage or enter “Blue Sky” in the name area to see just us. We generally send an update twice a day, but I believe they only post one entry per day to their site.

We’ll post again as soon as possible after our arrival. Thanks for following us on our journey.

BVI beckons as Hampton gets chilly

Tis that time of year again when the seasons encourage one to do like almost all smart birds – head south that is. But this year it is with a twist. Gwyn has temporarily swallowed the anchor for a challenging project stint at a hospital so I find myself without my wife, constant companion, best friend, and co-captain. That’s a big loss/change! And mother nature threw a knuckle ball by speeding a lightning bolt toward Blue Sky in September effectively destroying all electronics on the boat. So the last couple of month’s have been a mad scramble getting the boat ready for a passage while constantly discovering layers of damage. But that will be covered in another post.

So throwing out the challenge of how to get south without an arduous singlehander (plus Charlie) trip, Paul went looking for crew, found 3 but one dropped out at the last second. Never fear, the committed two proved to be great crew and we (Paul, Charlie, Elisabeth, Dennis plus Paul’s grandson, Titan) proved up to the challenge, scrambling at the last minute to get the boat seaworthy and stores aboard for what is usually a challenging trip. But Neptune was kind this year and the trip was the fastest and easiest of the last four years, by far!! So between favorable winds and having 3 instead of two crew (meaning 5 1/2 hours of sleep at a time instead of 2 1/2), the trip was wonderful. But you have to understand that is relative to the “normal” trip. A new passagemaker might describe our easy trip as horrible, rough, biiiig waves, thought the boat was coming apart, never got any sleep, how can you talk on the SSB, catch your coffee taking an unplanned trip to starboard, while typing on the computer, and pretending this is fun! But that IS the joy of a passage, its always different and the more you do, the more interesting it becomes. If it isn’t your thing, a cruise ship is definitely a better idea.

But it is my thing, and Charlie, and my crew, and eventually Titan (you gotta let your body figure it out for a bit). We left on Nov 5 with a favorable wind but not quite enough speed to get across the gulf stream before a bad wind shift to the north was due to arrive. So we augmented the sail with a loping motor which got us across on time. It was lovely to shut it down and have some quiet on day 2. The promised north wind showed up creating 12 foot steep waves with the odd one to 20 feet. But they were coming from the aft quarter (behind us) which I find relatively comfortable in our catamaran, not so much in a monohull. So we had a rough fast ride for a day or so until the waves got further apart making the ups and downs more gentle. All our brand new electronics performed wonderfully and we had a good ride.

Once Titan got his sea legs after a few days and the seas relaxed a bit, it was time for fishing. Armed with a measly $48 worth of fishing gear (Cuban Yoyo, no rod and reel) our expectations weren’t high but we were hopeful.

Titan maintaining a cool fish watch 400 miles from land
Titan maintaining a cool fish watch 400 miles from land

Of course the first thing we caught was ourselves! Whoa, how is that? Well, just forget to pull in your fishing line at night, add an autopilot disengaging somehow, a sprinkle of boat turning 360 degrees before the Watch sorted out something was amiss and you have the fishing line wrapped around the rudder/sail drive. The good news since we were motorsailing at the time is that it wrapped around the rudder/saildrive of the engine that was off. And even better, when the captain started his 5 am shift, he noticed the line was out but very taut and crossing behind the boat – so wisely did not switch to the port motor. So as the crew awoke from their slumbers we all did a little brainstorming and sorted out how to unwind the line without losing the lure, making things worse, or jumping in the water which was still a bit bumpy for doing work under the boat.

But it was all worth it as a couple days later – “Fish on”.

And all that led to over 30 pounds of 3 types of fish in the freezer.

Fantastic Wahoo steaks!  Whoopee!  Yum.
Fantastic Wahoo steaks! Whoopee! Yum.

As we got south, all were able to get somewhat more relaxed until we spotted Tortola before dark on the 13th and had a fantastic fast beam reach sail all the way in to North Sound arriving at 9 pm with an almost full moon (impossible to photograph on a moving boat but was stunning and beautiful).

The next day, after checking in with customs and immigration, it was relaxing time for all until our crew had to leave early Wednesday morning.

A hearty thanks to my fine crew Dennis and Elisabeth who with Titan blended into a wonderful temporary family for the trip. You two are awesome! And thanks to our great provider, Titan, for the awesome variety of fish to eat and add to ship stores. Certainly made a great return on the $48 fishing tools investment! And for a final thrill, Titan hooked into a marlin just before we hit BVI waters. As we were trying to figure out how to let it go, it made a short hop then quick turn, and it was gone. Beautiful fish back into the sea to grow much bigger.

Watching from the sidelines

I’m sitting here having received the latest Spot (https://www.findmespot.ca/en/). A Spot is a message sent on a small electronic device that sends a signal to some satellite somewhere and eventually sends a message to my phone/email. It helps to have someone on shore tracking you in case of emergency. I am one of two primary contacts on land (Paul’s brother Mark is the other) that ensure we hear from Blue Sky at least once every 24 hours. This trip Paul sent messages every 12 hours or so. This was great for me.

This is a record of the track Blue Sky made (each Spot report is represented by a dot).

Blue Sky Track South 2016
Blue Sky Track South 2016

While I go through my guilt of not participating in the trip this year I can tell you it isn’t easy being the one watching from afar. Not only do I know what they are facing as they make the 1562 miles trek across the big blue, I know what it takes to get the boat ready for this passage.

I used to be the one to take care of provisioning, storing things safely, ensuring Charlie had all his paperwork done, and preparing some ready made meals for the passage. This year Paul had to do that along with the boat repairs and getting his head around having crew for the first time. Believe me the guilt is real.

Anyhow, while he made the trek I watched him get closer and closer to the final destination, Virgin Gorda, BVI. The latest Spot read ‘Land Ho. Arv VG about 2100 tonight.’ Great news and I’m sure the captain and crew were excited to spot land after 8+ days at sea.

As Blue Sky made her way I reflected by looking through photographs of our travels on her over the past 3 years. This is one of my favorites taken last spring in the BVI. I had borrowed Paul’s waterproof camera to take ashore to take pictures of rocks I had stacked. On my way over on the paddleboard I spotted a Ray. I stuck the camera in the water and this was the shot I got. Pretty proud of it. (And only now did I realize that this Ray was spotted on what would have been my mum’s birthday – what a gift).

Spotted Ray April 15, 2016
Spotted Ray April 15, 2016

Hopefully the next blog will be from captain or crew along with some pics of the trip. Looking forward to hearing all about it.

Underway Again

Paul and crew, Dennis, Elizabeth (hope I got those names right) and Titan (our grandson), left Hampton Virginia this morning just after 0200 with the tide. They were not alone. About half the fleet opted to delay a few days to avoid a storm disturbance over the gulf stream the past few days. The other half of the fleet opted to leave early on Nov 1st and ran motors to get ahead of the storm. Charlie of course is taking it all in stride. He had some good times with his Jack-Russell friend Zoe while in Hampton and knows what’s ahead. So they’ll be on the water for 9-11 days. You can follow the fleet on snap.ocens.com where you can enter in Blue Sky as the boat name to follow just Blue Sky, or enter SDR in the group field to view the entire fleet.

Blue Sky is the dark blue dot near Virginia Beach
Blue Sky is the dark blue dot near Virginia Beach