Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | April 3, 2012

The One Year Mark

N 15° 51.95′     W 61° 35.2′

Îles Des Saints, Guadeloupe

April 2, 2011, St. Petersburg, FL

  

April 2nd marked the one year anniversary of the beginning of our voyage.

Looking back, the past year has been amazing. Perhaps most amazing was that we executed all the steps required to extricate ourselves from our lives ashore and translate the dream into reality.

If I had second thoughts, once plans were made public it was full speed ahead. The early months of 2011 were the anticipated whirlwind of activity with simultaneous and significant life changes. Selling our house, moving aboard, disposing of the many accumulated material possessions that wouldn’t fit into our new home, determining and purchasing all the supplies and equipment we might regret not bringing with us, researching routes and destinations, leaving our jobs, saying goodbye . . . somehow we got it done in a short time-frame without losing our sanity.

By April 1st we were jobless, car-less and house-less. I’m not sure which felt stranger. On April 2nd we cast off, feeling mostly ready but still wrapping up last-minute business via phone and internet. For me it was a time of excitement, sadness and apprehension. I will probably feel the same way when the voyage concludes.

What a year it has been, starting in St. Petersburg Florida, ending in Guadeloupe, and passing through so many delightful places along the way. I like to keep data, perhaps a hold-over from my prior life. Here are a few statistics gleaned from the ship’s log:

Miles traveled

2475 (includes exploring and back-tracking)

Average miles per day

6.8

Travel days

104 (about 2 out of 7)

Engine hours

482

Total time under way

Approx 18 days

Nights at anchor

140 (38%)

Nights moored

140 (38%)

Marina nights

77 (21%)

Overnights at sea

5 (1%)

The rest

4 nights dry-docked

Longest passage

180 miles

Countries visited

12

Stops along the way

79

 

We had a leisurely pace by design and spent about 6 months not making forward progress at all. That includes the time cruising around Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in hurricane season and in St. Martin during the blustery Caribbean winter months. We enjoyed having time to sight-see, improve upon our cruising and boat-keeping skills, make new friends and just chill.

We dedicated a recent Happy Hour to thinking back on some of the highlights.

Smoothest passage: The longest one, Rum Cay, Bahamas to Providenciales, Turks & Caicos, 180 miles, 31 hours. There was no wind, the Atlantic was flat. It felt like we were gliding along the intercoastal but better, with no boat wakes. Conditions were so perfect we skipped a stop at Mayaguana and kept on going. Incredible.

No wind & flat seas: a power boaters' dream

Worst passage: Ft. Myers overnight to Marathon. Five miserable hours in Florida Bay pounding directly into short, steep seas, creeping along at less than 4 knots to keep from getting beat up. Couldn’t steer from below where the motion was less severe because we had to keep a close watch in the dark to zigzag around thousands of crab pots. Crockpot bounced off the kitchen counter and smashed glass was everywhere. I was violently seasick, having taken no meds since it was beautiful when we left Ft. Myers. Bad deal. We don’t remember checking the weather forecast . . .

Most memorable destination: Luperon, Dominican Republic. Some cruisers avoid the place, some love it. We found it fascinating because it was so different from anywhere we had ever been. Our time there gave us a close-up glimpse at life in a third world country that we will never forget.

Downtown Luperon

Most memorable person: We met cruising guide author Bruce Van Sant while in Luperon.  We had read The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South, the only published work we could find that explains how to most comfortably get from Florida to the Caribbean by island-hopping. Bob read it three times to fully absorb and adapt the advice for our trawler. The seasoned voyager encouraged us to keep studying the many cruising notes of others who have gone before us as we plot our future course.

Most thrilling moment: Watching 16 year-old Laura Dekker sail into Sint Maarten,  completing a solo circumnavigation. Wow.  SO incredible. 

Laura Dekker arrival at Sint Maarten Yacht Club, January 21, 2012

Worst mechanical failure: This might be jinxing us, but we really haven’t had anything terrible or horribly inconvenient. The new generator has given us repeated trouble but we had the back-up generator to use while Bob figured out how to overcome a troublesome design flaw. The messiest problem was when the air conditioner drain in my closet clogged getting my clothes wet.

Worst injury: Bandit’s broken toe from jumping off the boat while dry docked. Bruises and cooking injuries – cuts and burns – are the most frequent human boo-boos.

Our little buddy made a full recovery. Best part of the deal: she and Bob, her primary means of transport while healing, bonded at a new level

Prettiest beach: Bob gives Conception Island in the Bahamas highest marks and I am partial to Low Bay in Barbuda.

Bob's favorite: Conception Island, Bahamas

 

Elaine's favorite: Low Bay, Barbuda

Favorite anchorage:  White Bay, BVI was a charter vacation favorite and is still our all-time favorite beach anchorage.  It was surreal to be there in our own boat.

White Bay, uncrowded out of season

Worst weather encounter: Strong Tropical Storm Irene, as it passed through the BVI’s. We were comfortably moored and had no problems other than a little added stress, a flooded dinghy and a doggie accident below from all the excitement.

The downside of not going to Grenada for hurricane season

What we should have taken care of before we left: We didn’t realize how much international banking and credit card fees were going to add up. It would have been easier to switch to traveler-friendly banks and credit cards before we left our jobs and permanent address.

Biggest system issue we didn’t plan for: We failed to realize how much time we were going to spend not plugged into shore power and calculate how that was going to impact battery life. We might have made different decisions about alternate sources of energy, such as solar, or added more energy-efficient appliances. At this point we are sort of stuck with replacing our 12 golf cart batteries annually or thereabouts until we get back into a marina situation.

Biggest frustration: For Bob, internet access is at the top of the list. Even when we find it there are no guarantees it will keep chugging along. Sometimes the signal suddenly disappears or the provider changes the password without notice. Even after we have paid for service. Drives him crazy. For me, phone calls are especially frustrating. When the internet works, the internet phone is great. But as noted above, the internet can be flaky and calls are often dropped. The $1 per minute sat phone is too expensive to use for chatting or sitting on hold. The GlobalStar phone, a relative bargain while the provider rebuilds their satellite coverage, is spotty and has a history of cutting me off at inopportune times. You have to have internet access to know when there might be a call window in your location unless you want to spend hours and hours holding the phone toward the sky. I swear I am going to pitch it overboard one day.

Surprisingly most useful device: Our Kindles, and thank goodness we each have our own. We both love to read and enjoy having books in electronic form, even though that limits our participation in cruiser book swaps. An unexpected and huge bonus is that our older style Kindles are equipped with an experimental 3G browser. This means that anywhere there is cell coverage – which has been everywhere so far except out at sea – we have crude but free internet access for e-mails and limited web browsing. It is time-consuming and I have more patience for this than Bob. Have even updated the blog via e-mail.  A painfully slow process, but it works. 

Most improved skills: We anchor a lot and are more accomplished in this department with less yelling and stress. That is big progress for me, since the oversized anchor on marginally sized bow roller and cranky windless often had me cursing “I hate this thing” over and over during anchor duty. We have also learned about the many available tools for forecasting weather and sea conditions. We found the single-sideband radio weather nets hard to follow even with a chart handy to identify the lat/longs being discussed. With internet access there is a proliferation of free data and some terrific applications for those who prefer a visual tool to do our own weather planning. In a pinch we use the expensive sat phone interface to do a quick weather download.

Most improved individual crew performance: Lady, although still a nut case, has managed the transition to boat dog better than we expected. She must have taken Bob seriously when he had those talks with her about shaping up or “walking the plank”.   Both dogs seem to be thriving with the constant connection with their humans.  Enough said about Lady since she usually regresses after receiving a compliment.

Lady, 11, loves being a boat dog

Most uncomfortable aspect of cruising: Besides the seasickness part for me, we both have trouble sleeping in the hot cabin in the warmer months. The Captain has run some new numbers and announced that for the upcoming summer season it may be better for battery life and almost as cost-effective to run the generator and AC all night. Yeah! I think he is getting tired of sweaty sleepless nights too.

Best Times Shared with Others:  It has been a privilege to make new friends along the way and we have met so many warm and welcoming people including fellow cruisers who have added joy to the journey. We especially look forward to the e-mails, phone calls and internet messages that keep us in touch with friends and family at home. Having friends visit aboard has been truly awesome.  There is no best, it is all great.  The adventure would not be nearly so much fun if we weren’t connected to loved ones.

Surprises: (1) We see very few cruising trawlers here in the Eastern Caribbean. Maybe 1 in 75 boats at anchor. (2) Fresh fish, in places surrounded by water, is not as plentiful at markets and in restaurants as we thought, and much is imported from overseas. (3) Despite loving seafood, we have not put forth any effort to be proficient fishermen. (4) Other than hours spent under the boat scraping critters from the hull, we have taken no – zero – snorkeling trips. Number (4) doesn’t really surprise us, but probably surprises folks at home.

Best part of cruising: For Bob, having more time to spend doing whatever he enjoys most days; for me, having a front row seat for the most beautiful and ever-changing scenery.

 

From a crew perspective we have had to adapt to smaller spaces, be more self-sufficient and manage on a tighter budget. For two strong-willed people used to being in charge it has been equally amazing that we are doing okay with only having each other and the dogs to boss around. As you might imagine, some days it does get interesting . . . In the traditional cruising couple manner, he is the Captain and I am the Admiral. That means that he is the ultimate decision-maker while under way and I have the final word on the future of the Mar Azul’s travels.

At the one year mark there are no regrets in taking a life-changing adventure.

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Responses

  1. I can totally relate to most things! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one learning as I go 🙂

  2. Hi Bob,

    I hope you are still responding to comments on your blog, as I have a question for you. Above, in your entry for ‘Most Memorable Person’, you mention that you adapted the information in Bruce Van Sant’s book to cruising with your trawler. I have a trawler as well, and have been wondering for quite a while how applicable the information in this book would be for me when I cruise the Caribbean, starting this fall.

    Thanks.

    • Hi Rebecca,

      For several years before Bruce swallowed the anchor, he also traveled by trawler. I’m pretty sure it happened before the last couple revisions to “Gentleman’s Guide South”, the thorny path as Bruce calls it.

      We liked the book, but as mentioned, had to read parts of it several times to understand. We are from St Petersburg, and have boated here for three decades. That builds a sort of instinctive understanding of the typical weather patterns. Bruce attempts to install that knowledge for the Bahamas to Eastern Carribean. Both at the micro and macro level. The macro level deals with things like fronts and hurricanes, but the micro level deals with what happens and why on 90% of the days where the macro level never changes.

      It’s also a good guidebook, without a lot of fluff, but getting a bit dated now as time changes some of the locations. Still along the thorny path, the navigational references are all still good to my knowledge.

      Power or sail, if traveling south via the Bahamas, DR, Turks and Puerto Rico don’t leave home without reading.

      Bob


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