2017 Passage South

Many boats left as planned on November 2nd and made a planned stop in Bermuda for fuel due to low winds in the forecast. We opted to wait for wind along with several other boats in the Salty Dawg Rally. We departed at 1508 EST from Hampton on November 6th four days later than originally planned. As we neared Cape Henry we were greeted by dolphins. I take them as a good omen that the passage will go well.

And our passage to Antigua was relatively easy this year. We started with little wind but enough to motor sail down the coast towards Hatteras. We crossed the gulf stream without big seas or swell relatively speaking.

We had an odd influx of moths join us as we crossed the Gulf Stream this year. They appeared out of no where and left in the same manner. I counted at least 7 on board and they stayed for about 24 hours.

We also saw birds 200 miles off shore – the most unusual being 2 herons that looked like they wanted to land on our boat but we were in the process of putting up the Code Zero (big sail for light winds) so they circled once and realized people were on board and continued flying south. Amazing.

The cat was sick a few times but didn’t give up eating because of it. We were surprised how well she did for her first passage. As time went on she came to understand the routine and often joined whoever was at the helm at night.

One night while she was at the helm with me she perked up and got my attention to notice a flying fish had landed in the cockpit. She was curious so I put the flashlight on it for her. I don’t touch fish, so the thing had to suffer it out until P came on shift to throw it overboard. It entertained Sierra for a short while. She sniffed it once it stopped moving and just walked on by back to the inside of the boat.

We had a few squalls on our last few days of passage but none with winds of more than 25 knots so even these were easy to pass through as they were also fairly small in size. I appreciate a good squall for getting the salt off the boat.

A typical squall at sea (relatively mild <30 knot winds)

We had to manage fuel as we knew we’d have little or no wind on our final days of passage. We did this fairly easily as we carried an additional 49 gallons of fuel, giving us 207 gallons of fuel for the trip. We had more than enough as we motored the last 2 days of the trip against mild winds from the south.

Our trip took just under 11 days. We arrived in Jolly Harbour, Antigua at 9:30am on November 17th. We used the wind as much as possible to sail us until the wind went south. There was a point when we were easily headed to Puerto Rico at which we had to tack and turn on the motors again.

We didn’t have crew, just P and I doing our usual 3 hour sifts. My shifts 8-11 and 2-5, his 11-2 and 5-8.

Highlights were falling stars at night. The Leonid Meteor Shower was scheduled to peak on November 17th, the day of our arrival. The night before, Nov 16, they were clearly starting as I watched many falling stars on my last night shift before arrival.

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.

Tortilla Soup

Fall is the perfect time for a nice hearty soup and this Tortilla soup is one of my favorites. It takes a bit of dicing, but is pretty simple to make. Also freezes nicely if you have any left overs. We eat this soup as a meal. Makes 6 good sized servings.

Tortilla Soup

1 TBSP Olive Oil
1 Yellow Onion, diced
3 Large Cloves of Garlic, minced
1 Large Red Bell Pepper, diced
1 Jalapeno Pepper, seeded and diced (optional)
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
2 medium zucchinis, chopped bite size
1 (24 oz) can crushed tomatoes
3 cups vegetable broth
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional, omit if you don’t like the heat)
1 tsp sea salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed

Optional toppings:
Sliced avocado, tortilla chips, squeeze of fresh lime, fresh cilantro

1. In a large pot, heat oil, add the onion and garlic and sauté about 5 minutes. Season with Salt and Pepper.
2. Stir in Red Bell Pepper, Jalapeno Pepper, Corn and Zucchini. Sauté for 10 minutes.
3. Add crushed tomatoes, broth, cumin, chili powder, cayenne. Stir well.
4. Bring to a low boil and reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Stir in Black beans and cook an additional 5 minutes.
6. Ladle into bowls, top as desired and enjoy.

Rat, Fire, Cockroach

Okay, don’t freak out, but the story that follows will let you know that it is not always paradise in a sailors world.

Living aboard a sailboat is usually fairly stress free. You may have to weather the storms, so to speak, but for the most part what’s stressful about looking at water and floating on it while wandering.

Well, this summer we returned to our floating home in mid August and have opted to stay at a marina for the season working on projects. There are always plenty of projects to be done on a boat and the list is never ending, no different than a land home.

View across the water at Hampton

This year I (G) redid our dodger (aka windshield) with new strata glass. I also made a new seat back for the helm with P’s help cutting the wood needed for it. I also made a seat cover for one of our inside seats and made a few new cushion covers (they tend to get salted up and drab looking after a few years). P has been working on many projects including installing AGM batteries, updating our lithium batteries, troubleshooting and installing a new fix to our starboard starter which has never been reliable, replacing a few rigging lines, repairing a winch that decided to freeze up, repairing hatches that have started to leak, replacing old mirrors with new ones, among many other small jobs. He’s also ordered and received many replacement parts and items that have worn out or broke (swim fins, paddle for paddle board, dinghy motor and dinghy).

One way to get up the mast
Our rigger up the mast again
Our main sail heading off to be restitched

We’ve kept ourselves too busy to sail anywhere. One of the most rewarding projects was getting some items off the boat that we no longer need or that we don’t use while in the islands of the Caribbean. We donated 3 large bags of goods to Goodwill and gave other items to fellow boaters.

Some things we wanted to keep, but wanted off the boat to give us more space. Our folding bikes were only used once in the last 4 seasons while down in the islands. We don’t want to get rid of them as we enjoy using them while cruising the east coast, but they take up a lot of room on the boat that we’d like back. So I drove them to our new storage unit in Michigan for the winter and we plan to pick them up again next summer which also gave me an excuse to visit my son and his family.

Quick pic before heading back to the boat

Joni likes Grammy’s cookies
Joni and Grammy selfie fun
Joni is fascinated by the bobcat digging outside the window

That explains our purpose for staying put this summer. We have enjoyed getting to know some of the locals to Hampton, Virginia. One couple actually lent us their car for 10 days. They are also sailors prepping their boat for a future passage south. How nice it that.

Anyway on with the stories that go with the title of this blog post.

About 3 weeks ago I was staying up late after P had gone to bed. It was a full moon and about 10:30 at night. I had the windows and doors closed. I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye while reading. I looked out and noticed an unusual shadow near the entry to our cockpit. The next thing I saw was was a rat stepping onto the cockpit cushions. OMG, I yelled for Paul to wake up. Told him we had a rat on the boat. He got up and made a big racket with our sliding door which scared the thing off. It lept off the stern doing a swan dive and rapidly swam away. Paul felt it was actually a muskrat. Whatever it was, I slept with all windows closed that night and a few nights following.

I know many boaters here that sleep with their doors open and hatches open. Some even leave their boats unattended for days with everything open (very trusting souls). After this experience I’ll be sure to at least have my screens shut if hatches are open at night. This was the first stressful experience of this sort in our 5 years living aboard.

Two weeks ago while we were getting the car loaded for me to drive to Michigan we smelled smoke. Paul had pulled through 2 new wires just the day prior so we worried that some connection got damaged inside the hull. The smoke dissipated and stopped so we really weren’t sure what it was. We immediately unplugged us from shore power. Paul stayed behind to continue his projects so he kept an eye on things. Over the next few days he noticed the smell of something burning a few times, but only when he used significant wattage by operating an appliance. After I arrived back he finally found the culprit, the main ELCI breaker. It clearly wasn’t protecting us. So now another new item got added to his to do list.

Burnt breaker

I was just grateful that he found the source and I could sleep again. The new and improved breaker was ordered and P is currently installing it as I write this post. Whew.

There are cockroaches at this marina and they do spray to keep them under control but there are still a number around. We’ve seen them down the pier and I’m very careful that all food that comes on board immediately goes into glass ball jars or is stowed in heavy duty bins. Friends of ours got cockroaches aboard their boat while here so I’ve been extra cautious.

Three nights ago I reached into our cupboard to get a Seltzer Charger for my spritzer bottle. These are not edible, but I’ve never removed them from their small cardboard box. When I reached in for a charger out came a cockroach. It immediately went under my seat in our main salon. I was so upset. How these things even manage to get on board is a feat in itself. The only way on is to climb along one of the lines attached to the pier and then make their way inside. Who knows how long it had been on board. It was in the cupboard where we keep the dog food and everything in that cupboard is in containers so there couldn’t have been much for it to live on, but it may have found the odd dog kibble.

I went online right away and found a recipe that called for a mixture of borax and sugar. I prepared it and placed it in 2 lids and put the lids into the 2 areas we keep food in the salon. The next morning it was clear that something had disturbed the poison. We haven’t seen the creepy thing since. I’m trusting it’s dead somewhere. I’m sure we’ll come across it’s corpse some day. Meanwhile the poison is staying in place until well after we leave just to be sure.

I’m hoping that superstition holds and now that we’ve had 3 stressful events we are done. We certainly don’t need any more unexpected surprises this close to our departure planned for November 2nd. More on that in our next post. Stay tuned.

My Year in the West End

The West End of Vancouver BC is know for it’s colourful community of people. While there are many gay and lesbian and other labels living there, there is also a lot of elderly, young families, and working people of all nationalities.

I decided to join the community when I rented a 1 bedroom apartment located in basically the middle of the area. It was located a 10 minute walk from Stanley Park (a great section of land filled with ancient Cedar trees, paths that lead to various beaches and gardens, and just plain nature at it’s finest).

Walking another 5-10 minutes in the opposite direction from the apartment lead me to the heart of downtown. 10 minutes north or south lead me to the Pacific Ocean. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

I left the boat for a position on one of the largest software projects the province has ever seen. It was exciting and I felt that I could make a difference with my experience and skill set. I believe I did although I didn’t see it to the end.

What I do want to share is some of what I experienced while being back on land.

I wanted to check off another thing on my bucket list – I chose an apartment on the 25th floor. I’m not particularly fond of heights, however I do enjoy a home with a view so this met my criteria. It overlooked the city and faced east where I could watch the sunrise many mornings. Check, check. To my left and right off the balcony I could see a glimpse of water and to the north, mountains. Check, check.

View from apartment

It was small, the bedroom fit only a bed and 2 night stands. It’s a good thing I wasn’t needing to share the closet because it was tiny. There was what was referred to as a den (no windows). I used it as a place to keep some clothing and a spare TV so I could watch what I wanted if my dad came to visit. He’s a sports fan and I prefer DIY home shows or Vet on the Hill so I was glad for the spare TV although I only used it a handful of times throughout the year.

I moved in only a few pieces of furniture from our storage unit. Only 1/2 my sectional sofa would fit, so half was what I lived with. It worked out well as it served as a spare bed when my dad came for a visit. He came 3 or 4 times throughout the year and I really enjoyed the time we got to spend just the two of us. We created many fond memories together.

Dad English Bay

Last summer he came without a walker and discovered he just couldn’t get around as much as he’d like with just a cane. The next visit he had his walker and got out and about nearly every day. On one visit he had a bad case of gout in his knee, so walking was near impossible. I took him to the emergency room at St Paul’s hospital. I have to say they put him on the fast track and he was treated quickly and with much respect. Kudo’s go out to the people who work at that ER, they were absolutely amazing to watch work.

Dad with his new walker
Jamis and Maddie visited
Dad, me and Charlie Denman and Davie

His next to last visit was spent watching playoff NHL hockey. Growing up in a hockey family and raising a son who played the game, I must admit I got into it again. There I was saying – how’d the ref miss that? It was fun and I cherish the time I took to sit and watch with my dad.

His last visit was a little hectic. Paul and Charlie were also home from the boat so the apartment was full. We all worked around each other. Since I was in my last month of work, I was very busy and pushed myself through the days to get home at a decent hour when I could. I felt like dad didn’t get the full attention from me he deserved, but I needed to let that go. It is what it is or rather it was what it was.

Living in the West End allowed me to have my dad come when he could and he had places he could walk to while I was at work. It worked out well for both of us.

Other things I loved – there was a dog park just 2 blocks from the apartment, so when Charlie was in town (~4 of the months I lived there) I figured it would be great for him. I guess I should have consulted him – he wanted to go anywhere but the dog park. So instead we took him for many a walk to Stanley Park and near the water. Every time we walked near a marina he’d pull like a sled dog trying to take us down a ramp to find Blue Sky.

I got together regularly with my good friend Michael for walks. Over the Christmas season we decided to go to Vandusen Botanical Gardens to see the festival of lights. It was super cold that day (I think the coldest of the winter). In fact, speaking of winter, Vancouver typically gets one or two days of snow per year. This year we had nearly 2 months with snow on the ground. There was so much snow that I had to break down and buy winter rain boots. In all my years living at the west coast, I never needed them. I couldn’t get through this winter without them. They saved me from arriving to work with soaking wet feet many days.

Festival of lights
Robson Square

I also got together at least once a month with my good friend Laurie. We’ve been friends for more than 50 years (not a typo). We did some fun things as well like going to Whistler one weekend for the Every Woman event. It’s an event where you can take part in a different exercise class or lecture every hour for 2 days. We filled our schedules some events together and some apart. We were on our own for meals so we’d catch up on what each of us had learned in between.

Laurie makeover

When I was away at Christmas visiting Blue Sky, Laurie actually stayed at the apartment for a few days while her son was in St Paul’s hospital. Things worked out rather magically as I’d already cleared customs when she called and asked if she could stay and get the keys. Kindly my resident manager had agreed to let her into the suite and I had a spare set of keys in the nightstand.

I was able to see her parents latest venture in the arts by going to the Naked Stage production of Loves, Losses and what I wore (I can’t recall the exact name of the play, but it was something like that). Very interesting where there is no set, just actors on stage voicing their parts.

And of course she invited me to the family thanksgiving dinner which was quite the crowd. She joined Paul and I for a night of fireworks and said she’d never do that again, which I don’t blame her. It was quite the long haul getting her back on the train with the line up around the block.

When I first arrived I signed up for a creative writing class and a calligraphy class. I discovered I love writing and I’m less of a fan of doing calligraphy. In the winter I joined the YMCA and took in various fitness classes. I lasted about 3 months when work started getting in the way and I was no longer getting my money’s worth so stopped going. I will say that I enjoyed it though.

Vancouver Spring blooms

Lastly in the spring on a whim I signed up for a learn to run clinic at the Running Room on Denman and Georgia. Although their was a running room closer to my work, I chose this location as they typically do their runs through Stanley Park. I made some good friends and finished the 10 weeks running a 5 km Pride run. This run kicked off the West Ends Pride week. I missed the parade this year due to moving out, but did enjoy part of the parade last year when I first moved in.
Pride Parade 2016

I learned quickly that it was faster to walk to the train than wait for the bus so I typically got in 4,000+ steps in before starting work each day. On nicer days I’d walk all the way down Nelson street and across the Cambie street bridge to work. It took about 45 minutes and added another 1,500 steps to my commute.

Morning comute – walking over Cambie Street Bridge

Some Friday’s I’d walk along the sea wall from work and stop at Granville Island for dinner before taking the water taxi across to the Aquatic Centre stop, then walk along the beach to my street. I’d often take in the sunsets on this walk and I’d look over at the boats out on the water or anchored and think fondly of my life aboard Blue Sky.
Walking home along the water

Mostly I found I was torn between two places in my heart. I wanted to work and live in the city I loved since I first saw it when I was eight years old. And I wanted to be on Blue Sky living the life of a sailor. I couldn’t have them both.

In the end living on Blue Sky won out. I gave my notice at work and began the process of planning to move away from Vancouver.

In the last weeks of July 2017 we began the process of packing up the apartment and downsizing our storage. Paul and I, along with the help of Keith, Taryl and Taryl’s dad Ken moved everything out of storage. Some of it stayed in Canada with Keith and Taryl. Some of it went to donations. Some of it went to Russell the Junk Man. And some of it came with us on a road trip to Michigan in an 11 ton, 26’ uHaul which turned me into someone who has a bigger respect for truckers.

Our uHaul loaded

Our new smaller storage unit is now in Michigan. It is costing us 1/3 less than what we were paying to store our stuff in the suburbs of Vancouver. We still have more than we’d hoped but we have what we want to keep.

We don’t know where we’ll end up living when we are ready to move back to land but we do know that it won’t be the west coast. So until we figure it out we have our things a little closer to the boat so we can access them when we visit our son Lindsay and his family.

For now I am happily nesting again on Blue Sky. I’m cleaning and sorting and generally making myself at home in the best condo money can buy. I have a 360 water view and when I don’t like where I am, I can move and I can move without renting a Uhaul. What a concept.

Charlie back on board in Hampton Virginia