Thursday, March 29, 2012

Velcro Beach

Vero Beach's nickname is "Velcro Beach" for cruisers.   We are moored at the city marina in a quiet bay in the Indian River between the mainland and Orchid Island with Miami 150 nm behind us.  We've watched dolphins burst out of the water hunting for food and manatees flip their paddle tails as they bob around the boat.  We are surrounded by herons and pelicans and plan to rent kayaks to explore the mangroves and channel islands.  


The marina has excellent facilities (showers, laundry, lounge, fuel) and a free municipal bus stops every half hour to take us to shopping, parks, and great restaurants.  The sparsely populated beach is a 15 minute walk away through quiet neighbourhoods.  From here we will rent a car on the weekend to catch the last 2 spring training baseball games at Space Coast Stadium, home of the Washington Nationals.  

We left the boatyard at Riviera, Beach last Saturday with Vero Beach as our destination, expecting to take 2 days for the 60 mile trip up the Intracoastal Waterway.  On the advice of a boatyard worker, we instead headed back out to the ocean 3 miles off shore and caught the glorious Gulf Stream north.  It gave us an extra couple of knots and with the wind behind us, we covered twice the distance we expected, averaging 9 knots and arriving at Vero Beach late in the afternoon.  

We also sailed which gave us the chance to test all of our new fixes which included some maintenance to our furlers, the drums that roll our forward sails open and closed.  Although we were a month in the boatyard, it was well worth it and Alberta Crewed feels like a new boat.  I concur with other cruisers who say that it takes at least a year to work out the kinks and get to know your boat. Things as simple as tightened life lines (the parallel cables around the deck that sag over time) and polished stainless steel compliment the purring engines and quiet fridge that hardly runs anymore because it is so cold.  Our maintenance list also included the following:

- replaced all of our halogen lights with LED's
- repaired loose wires in SSB radio
- switched tri-light switch at the helm (anchor light switch was too close and having the two turned on at the same time can damage the tri-light)
- added an electronic anchor chain counter
- polished the fuel (we were surprised that it was actually quite clean)
- wired the water maker through the inverter to be able to run off of the engines and not the generator

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway is another new experience for us.  It is a 1200 mile long channel from Key West in southern Florida to Norfolk, West Virginia.  This series of  rivers, lakes, lagoons, and dredged channels, are protected from the open ocean by long spits and islands.  It is a water highway and we are diligent about working with the heavy currents and avoiding shallow waters.  Shifting sand shoals can make navigation charts somewhat unreliable so we are careful to travel during the day and are learning to avoid the heavy weekend traffic.  Our destination is North Carolina where we plan to leave the boat for the summer.  In the meantime, we are pleasantly stuck here in Velcro Beach.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Maite's Miami

When we attended the Miami boat show in 2008, I stayed close to the hotel, venturing out only to the boatshow venues.  Craig was called back to Canada for work so I had a few days on my own.  Miami was the first place I'd been to where I didn't feel safe and I couldn't pinpoint why.  It felt dark and unhappy, and hotel staff warned about high and violent crime rates.  I wondered if it was the close proximity of "Star Island" with some of the most expensive real estate in the country next to neighbourhoods with the lowest incomes in the US.  The harbour was industrial, noisy, and littered with liquid and solid pollution.  Dozens of long-nosed, deafening speed boats burning 2 gallons of fuel per mile raced between shipping traffic. I wasn't planning to return.

Then I met Maite. We met Maite and Ed at AntaresU in St. Lucia and Ed has become a regular at Alberta Crewed's post-U or boat show repair sessions.  The sessions are always unplanned but Ed is the lucky guy around and rubs his hands exclaiming, "Now the fun begins.  Something to fix!"  Maite was raised in Miami and generously showed us her city.  She took off my blinders and showed me the vibrance of Little Havanna, parks and walkways along the shore, and the art deco architecture of Miami Beach.  Her stories went beyond the building facades as she described how she remembered particular families who lived in the buildings and how the streets were filled with children playing outside.  She went right to my weak spot, taking me to a Cuban Bakery where I drooled over the croqueticas and pastelons.  I left with a bag of pastries and we sampled the melt-in-your-mouth flavours of meats and sauces at Versailles nearby.  The restaurant was filled with laughter, clanging dishes, noisy conversations, and continual movement as we reached over and into each others plates to try as many dishes as we could.  A talented quartet from Spain added to the rhythm and movement.  Now I plan to return.

"Maite Moves: Passing around the soup"

The Maite Effect continues to inform my experiences here in the boatyard.  Last week, I was anxious that Mom and Jack weren't going to be able to spend time on the boat.  The Antares team did everything they could to get the boat finished but because the required parts were specialized, they needed to be to exact specifications and required a couple of send-backs to the shop to be just right.  We looked beyond the chain link fence and went on a treasure hunt for interesting sights.  Craig and I spotted an alligator in a pond while we walked to the mall and are often followed by ibises on the road.

Mom and Jack got their cruise on the Stuart paddle wheel boat.  I explained it was exactly the route along the St. Lucie and Indian rivers we would have taken with them on the boat, except that the paddle boat cruise was less stressful and the food was better.

We found the John MacArthur Beach State Park, a natural area surrounded by coastline high-rises and populated with urban-dwelling wading birds and manatees.  The beach is usually deserted and the nature centre is run by naturalists who will spend any amount of time sharing their knowledge and passion.

So thank you, Maite.  Let's get together again soon.  Sorry Ed, this time we won't have anything to fix.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Push Out of the Nest

In 1976, I turned 17 and started university.  I was working as a grocery store cashier and another girl I worked with, Laura, had decided to spend the summer of 1977 backpacking around Europe.   My first year at university was less than stellar.  I was young, bored, without direction and my marks reflected it.  I mentioned Laura's plan to my mom and my aunt Gloria (mom's sister), and they decided that I'd better go to Europe.  Gloria and Gail were and are travel-obsessed women who were raising their families on their own and saving their pennies for any kind of trips they could afford for themselves and for us.  I was less than enthusiastic about their plan for me and had all kinds of excuses about money and the enormity of such a trip.  They insisted and off I went with a person I hardly knew, very little money, and very wide eyes.  Laura and I spent 4 months making our way around Britain and the continent with everything we had in our backpacks.  We stayed in hostels, walked or took public transit, and woke up everyday with our only plan being to successfully get to the next place.  I turned 18 on a beach in Majorca.  There were no ATMs, cell phones, or computers for that matter and mom and Gloria only knew where we were, three weeks behind, from the postcards I sent home.  It was a test of survival as we found our way through 12 countries, meeting fascinating and generous people, and living on less than $10.00 a day.  I returned home a little older and wiser, and ready to get back into school so that I could get a job to continue to travel.

Mom and Gloria have continued to see as much of the world beyond home that they can.  When it looked like a cruise was going to be a better way for my stepfather (Jack) to travel, mom signed them up for the one around Cape Horn.  "It was beautiful but a bit foggy and cold," she explained.  No kidding.  They took an easier trip for the next one, to east Africa and the Indian Ocean.  In the meantime, Gloria and my cousin Linda were on their own trip to Antarctica.  

When Craig and I told mom and Gloria that we had bought a sailboat and planned to sail it over 7500 miles along the South American coast, they didn't even blink.  Mom was the only person to come with us to Buenos Aires to see our boat while it was under construction and figured out how she could join us as soon as possible once it was finished.  She and Jack are here now with us in Florida and hoping to spend some time on Alberta Crewed.  I was thrilled when Jack told us that he also wanted to get to the boat and after a long winter with medical appointments, made the gruelling flight to Florida.  As the sailing life goes, we are still in the boatyard (week 4), waiting for parts to arrive in order to get back into the water.  In the meantime, we are enjoying the Florida sunshine with mom and Jack and getting to know the Stuart area.  Craig and I are often asked how our families feel about our adventures so I've taken the opportunity to find out from mom.  Yesterday, she finally saw Alberta Crewed, albeit on land, and I wondered how she felt about our journey so far:

Laurie: What did you think when we told you we were going sailing?
Gail: I don't think I believed it.  It was such a world of the unknown that it didn't hit me that you were going to do it.  When you started taking sailing lessons then I knew you were serious.  It was only a reality when I saw the boat in Argentina.  It wasn't why are you doing that.  You had explained to me why and to be honest, I don't think you knew why you did it.  (Sometimes I still wonder.  Our mothers know us so well!)    

Laurie: Did you worry?
Gail: I was a little apprehensive with your safety and I didn't know what you were getting into because I didn't know anything about it.  Then I got excited.  It was a different world, an adventure.  Then when you went on your boat delivery, I never was a parent that hung around your neck, so I was excited for you.  But I worried when you started going north out of Argentina.  I felt better that your friends were with you.  I kept thinking, are they alright?  I didn't worry about pirates or anything.  It was just the unknown.  You could communicate so that helped.  It's the first time I think I've ever worried like that about you.  It was out of my hands.  I kept telling myself not to worry because it wasn't helping you.  

Laurie: What did you think when you got onto the boat?
Gail: It's big and roomy, roomier than I thought.  It's still an unknown world.  I look at the mast, all the rigging and lines, the navigation table, the helm and I feel kind of stupid. (I do too!) When I see it working it will help.  

Laurie: Have you ever wanted to sail?
Gail: I had never thought of it.  I saw people going by on their boats and thought, gee that looks nice, but I never ever thought I'd be part of it.  I loved watching our cruise ship docking and pulling away.  I remember our ship coming into Montevideo and the captain brought the ship in to a tight space and moved it sideways.  It was amazing.  I always watched because it was quite fascinating.

I will finish my conversation with mom once she is on Alberta Crewed but perhaps this may provide some insight into why we are Prairie born and raised, and living on a sailboat.  It's genetic.  
(When I told mom about the title of this entry, she asked, "For me or for you?")

We went to an MLB spring training baseball game but were rained out.  Craig and mom insisted on staying through the storm.

Mom and Jack at the Florida Oceanographic Center in Stuart.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Boatworks: Buying a Boat

For those contemplating buying a boat, talk to people who work in a boat yard, or better yet, spend some time in a yard.  We get to know our fellow boaters well as they work on their vessels and we see every kind of boat imaginable from brand new to decades old and at all stages of repair.  Take the information with a grain of salt as we all have our biases but it is interesting to see and hear about what is being worked on and why.

It's hard to know what normal wear and tear is and what kinds of repairs are the result of original construction, operator error, or manufacturer issues.  There are hundreds of components on our boat that are manufactured all over the world and each company has its way of doing business that becomes crystal clear when we make our first contact with them (see blog January 19, 2012) especially since getting parts and fixing anything while at sea is a challenge.  Finding a Fed Ex office when we can't see civilization for hundreds of miles is laughable.

Although Alberta Crewed was built at the Argentina factory, the hull molds are the original from the PDQ 44 which was a catamaran built in Whitby, Ontario.  As a result, there are close to thirty boats similar to ours that are up to 8 years old and sailing around the world.  There are also top notch boat design and repair experts who have worked on boats like ours for years and have seen everything.  Along with direct contact with our original builders in Argentina and North America, we have access to this invaluable support team as we make our way through life on an Antares.  We get immediate responses to our requests about parts numbers and manufacturers and any one of our company contacts are at the other end of the phone or email when we are trying to figure out why our bilge pump won't turn off or what the strange noise coming from the generator fuel pump is.  I don't know if this kind of access is a common experience for new boat owners but we couldn't continue without the level of support we have.  James and Jackie are experts on PDQ and Antares boats and having them with us here in Florida has been the graduate school follow up to AntaresU.  I am so grateful for their patience, knowledge, and attention to detail.  Note James' fancy footwork as he sends Craig up the mast.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon cleaning one of our propellers which was covered in small barnacles.  I took several hours to carefully sand each section of the blades and the hub that holds them together.  While sanding between each cog, I pictured how each blade fit together, into the hub, connected to the propeller shaft attached to the boat with a strut which goes through a cutlass bearing into the boat through the stern tube.  I'm trying to draw 3-D pictures in my head to get a sense of how things fit together and work.  I regret not being more engaged while my brother, sister, and friends played trucks in the sand box when we were little.  I think childrens' construction play helps them create different understandings of how machines work than what I had with my nose in books.  I'm starting at the beginning and cleaning the props is my time in the sand box.

One of my favourite resources is Ted Clements' blog Catamaran Concepts found as a link on the left hand side of the Features section of the Antares website (or  Ted was one of the original designers of our boat and has a reason for every angle, bolt, and cleat placement.  A critical design feature is the placement of our engines in the centre of each hull, inside the boat, with access through the floor.  Many catamarans have their engines in the back of the boat in the transoms or inside under beds towards the back of the boat.  Having the engine weight in the centre of the boat creates better balance and less hobby-horsing.  I can stay at the helm with Craig inside where he is safe and dry, and has good access to the engines by pulling up all of the floor sections.  I am obsessed with making sure no one falls off of the boat and could not imagine Craig hanging on to a back handrail out in a storm, trying to fix the engine, or for that matter steering the boat at a helm on the transom.   I'm also not partial to trying to sleep on top of a running engine.

We see Ted's work when we take things apart.  For example, the boat is designed to remove the prop shaft I referred to and get it past the rudder without taking the strut off (the device attached to the boat that holds the prop shaft).  Our SSB radio needed some work and all of the wires are accessible right under the floor beneath the radio.  I wondered how Ted could envision every problem we might have and make design decisions that would help prevent those problems and at least make fixing them easier when they occurred.

Safety is at the forefront of good boat design and it was in Ted's article analyzing an accident of a catamaran (not an Antares) that had flipped over where I learned about the design, placement, and components of our escape hatches.  These are windows at the bottom side of each hull that open up down to the water and end up on top of an overturned boat.  From Ted I learned that they are more likely 'getting back in' hatches.  First of all, the odds of us flipping over are extremely rare and Ted explains why.  At the same time, one is usually safest back inside a flipped catamaran while waiting for help (an activation of our EPIRB alerts the coast guard) and anyone outside (usually everyone) needs to be able to get back in.  We were not diligent in removing the safety bar while underway because we thought we could always do it if we needed to at the time.  Now the bars come off when we leave.  Again Mom, we won't be flipping our boat.

At the recent Miami boat show, I appreciated meeting people who had done their research.  Regardless of which boat one buys, knowing as much as possible about the detail in design decisions is critical to getting the right boat for one's needs.  We met a couple of people who knew the Antares inside and out and how it compared with other boats without ever having seen one.  They had read everything they could find.  Like us, they walked onto the boat having already decided it was the one they were going to buy.  They could see past the beautiful ultra leather and shiny props and recognize that this is a highly technical and well-built sailing vessel.