Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Situational Awareness

Good Morning, Tim,  
It was great to meet you at the Miami boat show.  I loved hearing about your morning routine: a good cup of coffee and an internet search for new sailing blog posts and up to date boat information.  I can picture you sitting at your desk as we did the same for years.  I loved your enthusiasm for sailing and for our boat.  

This entry might be a bit dry but there is so much to tell about what life is like on a sailboat.  I spend a lot of time thinking about the cliche of how we are changed because of it and wonder where and how that happens.  It started happening for me even before we bought our boat and I wonder if you feel the same way as you sit in your office.  

Let me know, and thank you.  Say hi to your dad.  

See you soon,

Situational Awareness
I remember our first afternoon on Alberta Crewed in Buenos Aires' River Plate, shortly after the boat was launched.  It was a typical Argentine Sunday with hundreds of sail and power boats of all shapes and sizes meandering or zooming along the coastline.  I was anxious and nervous to the point of inner hysteria that we were going to hit or be hit by another boat.  I couldn't calm myself down and wondered how we were going to sail the entire Brazilian coast with my overwhelming sense of dread.  The problem was I didn't have a good perception of space on the water in a moving vessel as large as our boat.  I thought the other boats were much closer than they were and I couldn't judge angles, speeds, and distances as we moved all around one another.  Throw in wind, waves, and currents and we were sunk as far as I was concerned.  If I were to draw a circle around the boat showing my proximity-to-others comfort space it would be 5 miles in diameter.  No one inside the circle, please.  No one in sight preferred.

Occasionally my inner hysteria returns but my comfort circle is much smaller.  It has to be.  Craig's is minute compared with mine and it is not that he is careless.  He is better at gathering and interpreting all of the sensory data he can (sight, sound, skin) along with electronic information, and making an ongoing judgement as to where we are relative to anything out there, human (sailboats, cruise ships, freighters, kayaks, sail boards) and non-human (logs, crab pots, squalls, dolphins, mountains).  There are visual strategies to help determine whether we are on a collision course with another boat.  For example, if they are ahead and to the right (starboard) of us and sailing towards us, we watch their position along our lifelines, the fence-like cables running around our deck.  If the boat stays at the same position I've marked them at along the lifelines, it means we are on a collision course because neither of us are changing position.  If they move forward along the life line, they will pass in front of us if all other factors (speed and course) stay the same.  Moving aft (to the back) along the line means they will likely pass behind us.  There are all kinds of rules as to who has the right of way but stubbornness that "I was in the right" in a collision doesn't go very far, both in terms of legality and safety.  We are all obliged to avoid collision at all times.  Back to that first sail, I remember Memo explaining this quick and easy strategy.  He was a patient teacher, however, we were about to sail away on a brand new boat in unfamiliar seas and I didn't even know this basic tip.

Knowing where other things are in relation to our boat is part of a bigger understanding called Situational Awareness.  It means not only gathering as much information as possible using as many means available, but interpreting or making sense of all of that data and acting on it.  I think there is also an intuitive aspect to it, part of which is the ability to synthesize knowledge and experience.  I can gather all of the information I want from GPS, weather routers, the anemometer (wind speed measurement device), and cloud formations but my experience is going to determine how I interpret that information.  Craig and I can experience an event with different interpretations.  Our proximity to other boats is a good example.

Before my brother pokes me that this is just a blog and not another philosophy dissertation, I'll stick in my last theory about inherited situational awareness.  It's all just about survival, and our ancestors needed different kinds of situational awareness to survive than we do, or at least that's what I thought until I started sailing.  I now imagine the Ancient Phoenicians would run circles around my electronics with a nautical finesse that would leave us in their wake.  They had the earth-sense that I'm working hard to develop, and that some sailors whose ancestors are from the sea still seem to have.  My SA at the beginning of my sailing adventure would have been rated as dismal and I still have a very long way to go.

Nice to Be Home
We just returned from Phoenix where we spent a few days with Craig's family enjoying cooler weather and Craig's mom and sister-in-law's great cooking.

Alberta Crewed is up on stilts again, this time in West Palm Beach Florida, continuing with some warranty work and tweaking.  We've changed out all of our interior halogen lights to LED (we had just missed the LED upgrade), and our energy consumption with lights dropped by 90%.  We live most of the time on solar power so every bit helps.

It's sometimes nice to get away from the boat and not worry about weather and ongoing maintenance work but I also enjoy coming home.  Returning to the boat is a home-coming, even if we are in a dusty boat yard again.  Last night I was awakened several times by roaring jet engines even though we are miles away from the airport.  It turns out we are just a few blocks from the Lockeed factory and for some reason engine tests are deemed best done at night.  It doesn't bother me a bit because I know we are not long from being back on the water and only a few miles away from peace and quiet.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How to Walk the Catwalk

Four years ago, Craig and I came to the Miami Sailboat show hoping to buy an Antares Catamaran.  We had done the research, taken the sailing courses, and decided this was the boat for us.   It was therefore a significant milestone last week for us and for the Antares team to sail the first Argentine built hull into Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami for the ultimate sailboat fashion show.  Alberta Crewed spent the past week at the Miami Boat Show, the nautical catwalk designed to entice sailors to buy the latest gadgets and soak up industry information.   AC was the penultimate super model, strutting her stuff for hundreds of people dreaming of a life at sea.  We were asked by many how we felt about the invasion of the masses into our home.  Previous Antares and PDQ owners enabled us to make an informed decision by having their boats in shows and we felt it was our turn to do the same for future buyers.  We also wanted to support the Antares team.  We benefit with ongoing support and developing technologies when the company is healthy and thriving.  Finally, Alberta Crewed received the full spa treatment.  Along with cleaning and polishing every inch of her, the team gave her a good going over for repairs and adjustments.  Most of the manufacturers of our components have booths at the show and they spent time on the boat with us tweaking their products and giving us further training.  The Furuno team, including several representatives from their Japanese headquarters, spent a full morning inspecting our navigation systems and chart plotters, and helping us better utilize the hundreds of features we have.  A Harken rep took care of a nasty grind in one of our winches by simply turning one of the pawls over.  In my cleaning zeal I had replaced it upside down and it was skipping and grinding.  Seldon Rigging reps helped with some furling bolts and our Ultra Anchor friend, Randy, had the chance to see his anchor at work.  It was an opportunity for all of the reps to see how their equipment was integrated into an Antares.  Boat shows are excellent venues for information and in the past we've found invaluable expertise and knowledgable sales reps who will spend hours explaining products and answering questions.  

   Randy from Ultra showing us new anchor securing devices

                      Furuno experts

Most importantly, we had the chance to spend time again with good friends.  We tried many local restaurants, attended seminars, and managed to squeeze in a Miami Heat game with the growing circle of Antares friends.  Four years ago I had no idea that our boat would come with such a zany, creative, and fun-loving group of characters.

Walking Like a Catamaranwalk Model  (For Beth and Salwa) 
*Abapted From Wikihow

First you should start walking like a model. While the other boaters might make it look easy, strutting your stuff on two hulls isn't. Here's how to make an impression on the catamaranwalk.
  1. Make sure you are comfortable. Choose the right shoes. If you're not used to walking without heels, start with a thin two-inch heel, or a low wedge heel, preferably one that you have already broken in. (Later, you can work your way down to walking in lower, more comfortable heels.) If the shoes are new, scratch the soles with scissors so that they will not slip or mark the deck. Alternatively, you can cover the sole of the shoe with masking tape, if you don't want to scratch your shoes. Whatever you do, wear flip flops.
  2. Learn to stand like a supermodel. Practice your posture, and lean forward in rocky seas.  You should be able to balance 3 cruising guides on the top of your head.
  3. Train yourself to place the heel of the foot down first, then your toes, but keep most of your weight balanced on the ball of your foot rather than on the heel. It may feel strange, but keeping much of your weight on the ball of the foot gives you more of an elegant stride than a clunky heel- weighted walk would, particularly when you're about to sprawl face first across a wet deck. It's almost like walking on your tippy-toes, the way ballerinas do, but more natural.
  4. Put one foot in front of the other.  Face forward and don't look back at all of the ridiculous mistakes you've made. 
  5. Make your stride look long and commanding by lifting your legs almost in the same fashion a horse would while doing trotting leg extensions. Confidence is the key.  You may have no idea what you are doing but if you strut around on the deck with confidence, barking orders to an imaginary crew, you will gain new respect.  For each stride, you want to lift your foot a good distance off the deck (with a bend in the knee) and then place it down a good distance in front of the supporting leg, avoiding cleats, sheets, and hinges, with a stride longer than a normal walk would have. Don't make your strides too large as this will make you look awkward and ungraceful. Image is all that matters.  Remember to turn with your hip when you winch in that spinnaker. It's hard to describe but easy to do.
  6. Develop your own signature walk. There's no simple formula for walking the catamaran runway, and what will ultimately make you stand out is not only how well you can move your boat but also how much of your own personality you can inject into your performance to make it memorable. Smile even when you've caught your finger in the anchor chain. The best way to create your own unique style is to experiment, practice, and get feedback (even if it means taking some constructive criticism).  
  7. Most importantly, you must walk and strut your stuff like you know you're beautiful and you know that you're smokin' hot, and all the other sailors out there are going to be going crazy when they see you!. Self-doubt and low self-esteem can be damaging and there's nothing prettier than a catamaran with confidence.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Breathtaking Bahamas

My sister in law, Lee, decided she was not going to be left behind when my brother and sister, David and Colleen, agreed to help us sail the boat from Turks and Caicos to Florida.  It was a 450 nautical mile trip over 3 weeks with at least two overnight sails.  Lee is less than enthusiastic about travelling in general and I admired her courage in taking this on as her first sail.  I imagined a few sleepless nights for her back in Canada and I would have felt the same way if this had been my first sail.  By the end of the trip, we were teasing her that we would be seeing her as the keynote speaker at the Miami boat show.  Her session title, “Gale, Shmale: You too can fly the spinnaker at 25 knots.”  Her theme, the faster the better.
Within a few days, Lee was keeping track of water depth by watching colour changes in the shallow waters, taking the helm and feeding wind and boat speed information to the crew, and keeping an eye on sails for gybing potential.  On a rocky rolly ride, she had her head in the lower galley cupboards looking for ingredients for supper, followed by a relaxing time reading her book.  I couldn’t fathom doing either with my queasy stomach.  Two to three metre seas in the Gulf Stream didn’t phase her.  
What I liked most about sharing time with Lee was that she appreciated what we love about sailing.  Being outside and watching the skies, water, and wildlife are what drew us to this life and Lee shared our passion.  While David, Colleen, Craig, and I snorkelled and swam, Lee relaxed on the boat and even grew to tolerate wet and windy dinghy rides.  

One of our favourite snorkel adventures was Thunderball Grotto at Staniel Cay, a limestone dome inside an island with abundant fish and corals, accessable at low tide.  Known for a scene in 1960s James Bond film Thunderball, the dome was teeming in colours and light from the upper openings.  We circumnavigated the island under water and saw mounds of coral cities hiding moray eels and 18 inch spiny lobsters.


Staniel Cay is also famous for swimming pigs who paddle right out to dinghies and are known to climb right in for food.  We were graced by a visit but they snorted in disgust and turned around when they realized we only had a few carrots.

A short day sail north from Staniel is Warderick Wells, the headquarters of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.  As a protected area, the park provides a limited number of mooring balls and miles of snorkelling and hiking.  We were held up by weather for four days in the line of sailboats that hover between the shore and a mile wide sandbar that is ankle deep at low tide.  More snorkelling and island hiking occupied our time and we all agreed that this was a trip highlight.  

Our last overnight sail took us out to deeper waters in the Tongue of the Ocean, the deep trench between arms of the Great Bahama Bank, and around the north end of Bimini Island to our anchorage in the south.  Glimpses of dolphins and trails of green sparkled bioluminescent creatures behind our transom at night continued to captivate and delight us.
David, Colleen, and I don’t have the chance to spend much time together.  Three weeks with them on Alberta Crewed affirmed how grateful I am to be their older, albeit bossy sister.  They are kind, gentle souls and I appreciate their humour and zest for life.  They carry on a lineage of people who look for the good in others and who care about all living creatures.  I treasured every minute with them and watched and listened carefully for what they had to teach me.  I am honoured and humbled to have them and their spouses and children in my life.  But just because they're all grown up with families doesn't mean they don't need me to boss them around.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fast Forward to Florida

We are docked at a marina in Ft. Lauderdale underneath highway 95.  After the peace and quiet of the Bahamas and the Caribbean in general, it is surreal.  I spend my days in a rent-a-car, driving freeways to pick up groceries and boat supplies.  I would take our rodeo docking incidents any day over trying to keep up with the crazy traffic on six-level twisting overpasses.  Being back in the land of extreme consumerism makes me regret my complaints about the indifferent and almost hostile Trinidadian cashiers and sales clerks who could care less if we existed let alone bought anything.  Everywhere we go here we are accosted to buy more, bigger, and often.  After sailing 12 countries through 2 continents,  I was particularly disturbed by a girl's birthday party at one of the mansions we motored by last weekend along the canal to get to this marina.  We could hear the DJ music a mile away and saw several pre-teen girls dressed in sparkles and tiaras, dancing on a platformed dance floor, while several others played on an authentic volkswagon car that rocked and flashed lights.  There were heaping banquet tables of food and a scary clown entertaining another small group of girls under elaborate decorations fit for a royal wedding.  I could not be too smug in my disgust as I motored by on my fancy sailing yacht.  I am implicated too.  Travelling in countries where the average yearly wage is equivalent to my weekly salary and where simplicity comes out of necessity is humbling.  I am liking simple but it is still a choice.

Today Colleen and I were in the new West Marine mega-store and one of the sales clerks asked about our boat.  I described Alberta Crewed and where we picked her up.  "Got any big trips planned?" he asked.  I rather thought we were doing fine in that department with Buenos Aires to Miami and over 6500 nautical miles under our belt, however, it seems we need to think about where we want to go next.  To this point we've had destinations and deadlines.  After the boat show, our time and routes will be ours as the winds and our whims take us.  In the store, I was thinking it was a big enough trip just to find my way back through the traffic jam to our marina.

It will be a relief to get out of this canal and back to the ocean without a major incident.  We arrived from Bimini, Bahamas last Saturday.  Bimini is one of the western Bahamian jump off places across the wild and wonderful Gulf Stream to Florida.  The crossing is only 50 nautical miles, a reasonable day trip, but the 4 knot current from the south sits under squally and unpredictable weather.  Timing with weather (east wind is preferred) is everything and we had been thinking about and planning this passage for weeks.  It is a sailor's milestone.

As soon as we pulled out of Bimini, the water temperature went up 4 degrees with the warm Caribbean water pushing north and we knew we were in the current.  With 2-3 metre following seas and east winds up to 30 knots, we flew across with the genoa in under 6 hours.  David, Lee, and Colleen were by this point seasoned sailors and appreciated the power of the foamy waves that crested as high as our davit behind us.  Lee calmly noted how she could look across the outside salon and see only water behind the helmsman.


I was so focused on ensuring a safe Gulf Stream crossing that by the time we entered the busy canal entrance at Port Everglades, Florida I had relaxed and was silently congratulating everyone on what I thought was the end of a great trip.  I should know by now that the Stephen-King side of Alberta Crewed can sense my cockiness and she decided a bit of humble pie was in order.  We had detailed charts marking the route, bridges (three that we had to radio to open to let us through), and marina.  We did not, however, take into account busy weekend boat traffic and the strength of the current.  I thought Saturday was a good idea because the bridges won't open during 2 hours of morning and evening rush hour traffic on weekdays.  Mistake Number 1.  It was a circus of water taxis, mega yachts, tourist mock steam boaters, and dozens of small power boats buzzing up and down the waterway.  The current pushed us along as we rapidly radioed to get the bridges opened to avoid testing our mast height and we ended up bumped up against another catamaran, perpendicular to its bow and trapped by the current.  Luckily the owner was on board and with every fender we had handled by our highly competent crew, we managed to push our way off.  I assumed the marina was prepared for our arrival.  Mistake Number 2.  After making it through what we thought was the last bridge, we couldn't find a slip and no one answered my desperate calls to the office.  We bothered the bridge operator again, went back under the bridge to the widest part of the canal and stopped at the curve to scramble for a plan B.  Manoeuvring a sailboat under power in a narrow channel is a challenge because of the boat's slow response and vulnerability to the current directions.  Craig was as cool as a cucumber at the helm and made miracle moves between boats and docks.  I remembered a boating family we had met in the Exumas who were in a marina further up the canal and thanks to David's cell phone (ours was still on a Bahamian sim card, Mistake Number Three) we made our third trip under the bridge, waved sheepishly to the bridge operator, and continued on to a quiet marina where Alberta Crewed pulled in and tied up like a charm as if nothing had happened.  We collapsed on the deck, cracked open the rum, and tried to breathe again.

I think David, Lee, and Colleen were rather surprised at how fast things can escalate.  We had just had three weeks of dream sailing and I was grateful this was at the end of their trip.  They might have jumped off for good if this was their first experience.  Instead they responded quickly, intelligently, and creatively.  Although frantic, a difference for me this time from others was that I knew we would find a solution.  We could go back out and anchor or tie up at one of the deserted docks until someone kicked us off.  I've learned that a good response in a crisis is to try not to make hurried decisions even though circumstances are pressing one to do so.  Stopping enabled us to create plan C and here we are safely and gratefully tied up under highway 95.