Tortola Torture

After serving as mate on a Moorings 352 from South Carolina to Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, I was eager for more. Generally, this had been a very pleasant experience and left me with an appetite for blue-water deliveries. I spent some time consulting as a technical writer, doing short deliveries in California and teaching sailing locally or in San Diego. Finally, I was approached to work a delivery from Tortola to Portsmouth, Rhode Island. This was to be on a Freedom 40 named Flirtation. She had been a charter boat in the BVI and was to go into service in Rhode Island. The delivery company sent me a ticket to Tortola and I departed with sea-bag in hand.

When I arrived at the charter base I was told that I’d been moved to a different boat, Liberty Bell, a Freedom 35. The story was that one of the crew members had to be in New England for a meeting and needed to be there sooner than Liberty Bell was likely to make it. Well, that’s life in the delivery business. I lugged my gear down a couple more slips to meet the captain and other crew member.

The Captain was a someone that, to protect the guilty, I’ll call Art. I was assured that he was “one of our best captains.” When I paused in the companionway, he was looking up at me from behind the engine, which he was industriously wiping with a rag. We made our introductions and he told me that the other crew member, Sean, was running an errand. “We’ve had a fuel leak and I think I have it fixed now,” he added. Then he asked if I minded bunking in the V-berth as he had the aft cabin and Sean had staked out the settee. Considering that there wasn’t any other choices and that I actually prefer the V-berth, I agreed. At least I’d have a little privacy and wasn’t likely to be disturbed by the people on watch. The ride can be rough there, but I’d done it before and learned that you can sleep through almost anything. I stowed my gear and lent a hand with reassembling the main cabin before Sean arrived. He was an Englishman now living in Texas and working in a boatyard. Art set us to work putting safety ties on all the shackles, securing the inflatable on the foredeck, stowing the three spare five-gallon fuel cans, and generally securing the boat for sea. He went over the stern to scrape barnacles from the prop and rudder.

We got an early dinner ashore that evening and discussed meal planning and what we’d like for provisions. We were to do this after dinner as we hoped to leave the next day. By the time we’d purchased and stowed a van full of supplies, we were all more than willing to crash for the night.

The next day we were to leave right after the boat I was to have been on. It didn’t look like the crew I’d replaced would be arriving much before we did, if at all. Art announced that we’d stow the anchor, rig jacklines and a boom preventer after we were at sea. I wondered why we couldn’t do all that before we left, especially considering that stowing the anchor would mean moving the inflatable that we’d spent so much time securing yesterday. In fact, the anchor was currently bolted to the bow roller and would likely be as secure there as anywhere else. I was informed right way that “we might need that anchor if the engine failed in the harbor.” Privately I thought that, if I felt the engine would fail in the first five minutes of use, I wouldn’t be leaving the harbor in the first place. As for the jacklines and preventer, he’d always done it that way. End of discussion.

As we sailed around the south side of Tortola, Sean and I rigged the docklines as jacklines. Neither of us liked this because the round lines could roll under your foot, sending you over the side. If you hadn’t hooked on yet, they could cause the very thing they were supposed to prevent. With the jacklines in place, we went forward and unsecured the RIB dinghy that we’d so laboriously tied down yesterday. Sean held the dinghy up with his back while propping the anchor well door open with one hand. I heaved the CQR from the bow roller and he assisted in wedging it into place in the locker. As we dropped the dinghy in place once more, he muttered, “Would have been a bloody sight easier yesterday.” I just grinned and nodded. No point in irritating the captain this early in the trip.

We finally got the dinghy tied down again, rigged a preventer on the boom, and settled down into the cockpit to enjoy the beautiful Caribbean sailing. Art chose this to be the first of many times to remind us to sit down on the head when we had to pee. Sean just looked at me. Did he think this was our first time at sea? Sean actually had more time at sea than I and most of it was deliveries. We hardly needed this reminder, nor did we need it the three times a day we heard it for the next week.

Over the next several days, we began to discover that our captain was afraid of everything on the boat. We had to turn the circuit breaker for the fresh water switch off every time after we used the pressure water because, “Otherwise, the pump might burn out and then we couldn’t get at the water in the tanks.” I wondered what he thought the manual pump on the sink and the access ports in the tanks were for. He didn’t allow us to use the running lights at night unless we actually saw another boat because, “The batteries on these charter boats are never good.” We ran the engine for about an hour a day to keep the refrigerator cool and charge the batteries. The boat had three batteries that looked to be in excellent condition. There was no indication that they were discharging rapidly and engine starts were always good. Sean and I had always been taught to turn the selector switch to “All” for starts unless there was some reason to believe that one bank was discharged excessively. Art would start one bank or the other, then switch to the “All” position with the engine running. This was also contrary to normal practice on other boats. In fact, most selector switches display a warning against moving the switch while the engine was running. Captain A. wasn’t taking advice from two mere crew members even though Sean’s regular job was repairing and maintaining boats in a boatyard. I’d been a machine tool and computer repairman so obviously my opinion had to be worthless.

His fears weren’t totally unfounded though. The first item of many to break was the refrigerator. For reasons best known to Freedom Yachts, this unit had no drain. When it failed, the bottom filled with a liquid mixture of rotten meat and vegetable juices. With no drain, someone (me) had to stand on their head and sponge this mess out of the unit. Sean, being taller with longer arms helped out at the end to get the last dribbles out. With our heads in the foul-smelling fridge, I looked at him and said, “Yacht delivery, glamour job of the ‘90’s.” His reply does not belong in a family magazine.

Next: The Amazing Disintegrating Yacht.

Because our captain was fearful that we’d lose all battery power, we were also not permitted to use the electric bilge pump. This Freedom was equipped with a “dripless” shaft seal that had failed to the extent that it leaked whether the shaft was turning or not. So much so that the bilge had to be hand pumped at the end of each watch. There was never more than about seven inches of water whether the engine had been run or not and this remained consistent, so was never a item of concern.

What did begin to concern me was the loud banging from inside the carbon fiber mast. On this boat, the keel-stepped mast was inside the V-berth area and each time the boat rolled, a loud banging came from inside the mast. Everyone took turns listening to it and we finally concluded that the conduit containing the electrical wires was coming loose and making the noise. Our major concern was what effect this might have on the internal halyards. Art was of the opinion that they were in a separate compartment and would be OK. Because he didn’t allow us to turn on the instruments (the batteries again) the wires to the masthead wind indicators were not a concern.

The next thing to fail was on the main sail. This was a full-batten main with ball-bearing slides. The slide for the first batten had come loose from the sail. Because we often had a reef in the main, we would have thought this to be the last thing to go. We removed the batten to lighten the load on it and Art made a repair from some light line on board. It was not to hold more than a few days, but other troubles intervened.

The jib on this boat was a self-tacking sail with battens and an internal boom. We quickly learned why it was called self-tacking when it continually jibed at the least provocation. Because the boat rolled heavily going downwind, it would bring the leach of the jib just far enough aft to cause it to be taken aback and jibe. At first, I thought it was just my steering causing this. After a few shifts sleeping right under the jib, I realized that Sean and Art were having the same problem.

After a day or so of this, Art went forward to investigate rigging something to control this. What he discovered was that a batten was broken. He removed the batten and we noted that it was not only broken, but had been cut down from a longer batten and was too short for the pocket. We checked the other batten and discovered that it was also cut down and not cleanly at that. Art decided that the rough batten ends were too hard on the sail and removed them. He was undoubtedly right about this, but we discovered them too late. The next day the jib ripped from luff to leach right below the internal boom. While I steered, Art and Sean removed the jib with its internal boom and wrestled it aft to the cockpit. Art took over steering while Sean and I levered the sail below.

Art determined that he could repair the rip, ragged as it was, with the materials we had on board. We continued to sail north under our reefed mainsail. Sean had the watch and Art and I began disassembling the jib from its boom in preparation for the repair.

Without the jib, even with a reefed main we had plenty of weather helm and steering became a somewhat heavier chore. Art had just stepped to the side as I relieved him at the wheel. A small gust heeled us a few degrees further. I pulled the wheel further to starboard against the considerable weather helm when we heard a loud “snap!” and the Edson spun uselessly in my hands.

“What was that? What was that?” Art yelled as the boat quickly spun into the wind and began to fall off.

Even though the answer was obvious, I replied, “The steering’s broken.” Art shoved me away from the wheel to determine for himself that I wasn’t mistaken. I threw off the main sheet and called Sean on deck, telling him that we’d lost the steering.

The emergency tiller was stowed in a cockpit lazarette so I began removing it while Sean and Art pulled the main down. This tiller was an aluminum tube designed to fit into a socket in the top of the rudder post. It had two slots in the sides to fit over a bolt in the top of the rudder post. A smaller pipe that fit through holes at the top of the tube served as a tiller. This is a common arrangement and we quickly assembled the two pieces and removed the plate over the rudder post. No joy. The large tube wouldn’t fit all the way into the socket in the rudder post. At first, we thought the slots were too small for the bolt. I removed the bolt and learned that it fit very well in the slots. The post was too large for the socket in the rudder post. We could force it in about 1/2 inch, but no more. We lay a-hull for the night while Art sewed the jib and we got some rest and contemplated different jury-rigs.

By morning, I had a plan, but wasn’t sure the Captain would accept it. Ideas other than his own hadn’t been well received so far. I explained that I could drop a loop of line down through the tube, and slide the bolt in the rudder post through it, and tighten the line at the top with a screwdriver, making a Spanish windlass. This should snug the tube down tightly enough that, with some additional support, we could steer. To my surprise, this idea was accepted. Sean and I had the tiller rigged in a few minutes. To stabilize it horizontally, we looped lines around the tube to the wheel stanchions and to the sides. It made a nice obstacle course when getting to the helm, but as Sean said, “Things have been too easy so far anyway.” The Brits do have a strange sense of humor.

By the end of the day, Sean and Art had gotten the jib back in place and we were sailing on a double-reefed main and wounded jib. The tiller was very short and had little leverage when steering. To ease the workload, we rigged a line from the tiller to a winch on the cabin top. When we had to push away with the short bar, we could pull on the line around the winch for some extra help. This added yet another obstacle to moving about the cockpit. Maybe this satisfied Sean’s degree of difficulty longings. At least he never complained about it.

Art took the first watch after we got back under sail and Sean was to do the next. I collapsed into my bunk and slept like the proverbial log. I only awoke once when I heard someone stomping about on the foredeck. I assumed they were fooling with the jib again and went back to sleep.

When I went on deck to relieve Sean, I saw that the jib was furled again. “Why no jib?” I asked.

“Bloody thing blew out again. Only lasted about an hour or two.” He shrugged. By this time, I was so tired of fighting it, I could only feel relieved. I stood my watch and half of Art’s, declining to wake him. When he finally came on deck, he asked, “Why didn’t you get me up?” I told him that he’d been up most of the last 24 hours sewing the jib and dealing with emergencies, and he’d earned the rest. “Well, thanks,” he replied. It was about the first friendly thing he’d said in a week. Maybe crisis does meld the crew.

I went below, fixed a cup of tea, and retired to my bunk. As I was sipping and resting, I heard a “ka-thunk” from the area of the mast. Thinking it was the internal conduit acting up again, I paid little attention. The next time the boat rolled, I heard it again and thought I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked closer, and yes, the mast was moving about a half -inch sideways at the base. I saw that Sean was up and called him in to confirm that I wasn’t seeing things.

We watched it move with each roll of the boat several times then I asked, “Still think it’s been too easy?” Once again, his reply didn’t belong in a family magazine.

“Art had better see this,” Sean said. He pulled on his deck gear and went to relieve Art early. When he came below, he watched the mast move several times before asking, “What do you think it is?”

“I think it’s the mast coming loose, but I’m not sure how,” I answered. We got out the manuals for the boat and reviewed how the mast was held in. It seemed that the mast was retained by a tapered ring at the cabin roof. When this was driven level with the deck, it wedged the mast in place. It must have worked its way loose so it no longer was tight enough to prevent all movement. To do anything about it, we’d have to remove the gasket around the mast at the coach roof and try to hammer the ring down again. Art doubted that we had anything capable of doing that level of hammering. In the end, we decided to watch it closely and if it didn’t get any worse, to do nothing.

At this point, we still had about 400 miles to go and we had no jib, a wounded main, no refrigeration, jury-rigged steering, and a mast coming loose. I think that Sean was now satisfied that things were no longer “too easy.”

That night, we contacted a passing freighter by VHF. They were able to use their satellite phone to contact our delivery company and inform them that we’d had problems and had been delayed, but were still proceeding to Rhode Island.

With the steering difficulties, Art shortened our watches to two hours and we kept moving under main sail alone. We’d put the last of our fuel into the tank and were now calculating how far we could motor. Naturally, the fuel gauge wasn’t working, so we’d kept track of our motoring hours and estimated our fuel consumption. Art said that we would have to sail at least 250 of the remaining miles to have any fuel left to dock the boat.

The next couple of days were spent waiting for something else to break. Somehow, nothing did. The rudder didn’t fall off, the mast didn’t get any worse, and no more cars on the main came loose. We motored up Narraganset Bay in the early morning hours, exactly two weeks after we left Tortola. The marina staff came down to greet us at the end of the dock. With their help, we found our slip and Art wearily docked us. Several hours later, I’d done our laundry, had a hot shower, and was sitting down to a Samuel Adams and a giant hot turkey sandwich in the marina restaurant.

I told Sean, “This delivery reminds me of Mark Twain’s quote about reading classical novels.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s something everyone wants to have done, but no one wants to do.”

1997 U.S. Boating Accident Figures Highest Ever

Jan. 11, 1999, WASHINGTON —The recently released U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Accident Report Database (BARD) shows 8,044 accidents occurred in 1997, the most ever reported by the United States, five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. According to the database, the casualty data for 1997 show 819 fatalities, nearly $29 million in property damage and a record-high 4,555 injuries. The 819 fatalities are 110 more than those reported in 1996. Areas contributing to the 1997 increase include:

• 46 more fatalities occurred with the use of canoes and kayaks. pwc.gif (2238 bytes)

• 27 more fatalities were reported with the use of personal watercraft for an all-time high of 84.

• 104 more fatalities occurred with the use of boats under 26 feet in length.

• 100 more people died by capsizing their boat or falling overboard. These two types of accidents accounted for six out of every 10 boating fatalities.

• 32 more fatalities occurred where alcohol use was involved in the accident. pfd.gif (2199 bytes)

• 86 more boaters drowned in 1997 than in 1996; a total of 586 drowning victims. Approximately 9 out of 10 of those drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.

• Fatalities caused by reckless, inattentive and inexperienced boat operators were up in 1997. In fact, 87 more fatalities were reported on boats where the operator had not completed a boating safety education course .

The state with the highest 1997 numbers, according to BARD, was Florida with 1,218 reported accidents, 1,777 boats in accidents, 67 fatalities, 759 reported injuries and more than $5.7 million in property damage. Ranking second in high numbers was California, with 925 reported accidents, 1,405 boats in accidents, 43 fatalities and 527 injuries.

Bruce Schmidt, statistician for the Coast Guard’s boating safety division, suggested boaters wear personal floatation devices at all times to decrease accidents in 1999. “Drowning will more than likely be prevented,” he said. The Coast Guard is also working closely with state agencies for boater education initiatives and implementing a campaign against drinking & boating. For more information call the Coast Guard’s Infoline at 800/368-5647.

Remember the following to help reduce accidents in future years.

  • Wear a PFD when operating your boat
  • Do not overload your boat
  • Be cautious when standing in a small boat to prevent capsize or going overboard
  • Be aware that the effects of alcohol are intensified when on the water . Use a designated skipper!
  • Take a safe boating course such as The Nautical Know How Online Basic Boating Course

Don’t forget, you are legally responsible to report any accidents involving a death, disappearance, injury requiring more than first aid, and/or property damage exceeding $500 (many states have a lower threshhold).

When Are You Required to File a BOATING ACCIDENT REPORT?

You’ve just enjoyed a beautiful day of boating and are now enroute to the boat ramp. As you approach the ramp your throttle gets stuck in forward causing you to collide with the dock. Your boat receives $2050.00 worth of fiberglass hull damage but, thankfully, no one was injured. Are you required to submit an accident report? By law you are required to file a formal written report of the accident.

A formal written accident report is required to be filed when the following situations occur:

  • Life is lost due to the accident.
  • Someone is injured and requires medical treatment beyond first aid.
  • There is a complete loss of the vessel or damage to the vessel and property exceeding $2000. (Many states have set a limit less than $2000 – contact the local state boating authority to determine the amount).
  • Any person on board a vessel disappears (under circumstances indicating death or injury).

Boating Accident Reports are required to be filed within:

  • 48 hours of the occurrence or if a person dies within one day (24 hours)
  • 48 hours if a person is injured and medical treatment beyond first aid is required.
  • 10 days if there is only damage to the vessel and/or property.

Please call the Coast Guard’s Customer Info line, 1-(800) 366-5647, to obtain information about required forms and where to submit them, You can also find the date and location of the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s next Boating Skills and Seamanship Course. If you or someone you know is interested in an exciting career, the United States Coast Guard is hiring. Please call 1-800-Get USCG.

May all your boating be safe!

Don’t Get Hooked!

“Hey! Fishing Season Is Just Around The Corner”

Hi boaters! It’s time to start cleaning your lures and sharpening those hooks. This year might prove to be a great one. There’s a lot of fish out there just waiting to be snagged and sometimes, fingers, hands, arms, legs thighs, knees and an occasional rear end.

The most common accident during fishing season involves hooks. The second most common hazard facing anglers is getting too much sun. Both are easily avoided. Sunscreen and a hat will handle the sun and a first aid kit with a little knowledge of how to use it will take care of the hook problems.

The most important tool any angler should always have with him/her for removing a hook is a sharp pair of wire cutting pliers. I keep a pair in a zip lock plastic baggy to keep it from rusting. I never use it for anything except for emergencies. I have a duplicate pair in my tackle box for other uses.

Here are a few methods for removing hooks.

When a hook’s point and barb are protruding out the skin, it’s easier to cut off the barb and back the hook out of the wound – this is when those sharp wire cutters come in handy.

The best method that seems to be recognized by most experienced hook-remover professionals and even by some doctors is called the snatch method. No matter where the hook ends up this method works.

This method is quick, simple and relatively painless, as long as you get it on the first try. The secret to a first time success is yanking the loop of line, which is wrapped around the embedded hook, rather hard so the hook comes out on the first try. The reason you should get it out on the first try is obvious, the patient might not stick around for a second try.

The snatch method of hook removal is simple and effective, It’s the best method to remove a hook that’s deeply imbedded in the skin and when the barb is buried.

To perform the snatch method when the barb is imbedded, all that’s needed is a short length of fishing line, at least 10 pound test, approximately 2 feet long.

1) Remove hook from lure.

2) Double the fishing line and loop it around the hook, as close to the skin’s surface as possible.

3) Hold onto both ends of the doubled line, wrapping them around your hand for a firm grip and holding the line parallel to the skinÕs surface in line with the hook.

4) With your other hand, press the eye of the hook down onto the surface of the skin and back toward the hook’s bend, as if trying to back the hook out of the wound.

5) While pressing on the hook eye, yank the line sharply, parallel to the skin and in line with the hook, to snap the hook back out of the wound.

6) Apply antibiotic ointment, bandage wound and check to make sure tetanus shots are current.

A basic onboard first aid kit for anglers should contain sunscreen, small bottle of hydrogen peroxide, alcohol wipes. bandages, gauze, tape, hydrocortisone cream for poison ivy and other itchy rashes, antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin or Neosporin) and aspirin. Another essential should be a brand new pair of needle-nosed and wire cutting pliers, sealed in a seal-lock plastic baggy. Anglers using worms should think about up-dating their tetanus shot. The tetanus germs are usually spread in soil.

Lets go fishing and get that big one that got away last year!

Vicki and Ray’s First Bareboating Adventure

11/27 Thanksgiving Day

We start our journey to the beautiful British Virgin Islands at the Austin, Robert Mueller Airport at 8:52 a.m. The anticipation of taking out a sailboat on the open ocean the next day built throughout the day. Although we change planes twice, it’s an uneventful trip and we arrive in Tortola at 9:00 p.m., just in time to catch some dinner before the restaurants close. After we check into the hotel, we take a taxi to the Chop House at the Castle Maria Hotel to visit Tom and Fran, the “Hurricane Hosts with the Most.” Tom and Fran took care of my girlfriend, Michelle, and me during Hurricane Bertha last July when we were in Tortola, turning what was sure to be a disaster into a great experience and a story for another time. Our hosts make sure we have plenty to drink and eat, and the food and companionship are just as special as I remembered. After proper lubrication and a GREAT steak, we start getting into vacation mode.

11/28 Friday

It’s 8:00 AM and it’s time for the skipper’s meeting at the Moorings. I’m getting anxious because I want to get on board and get going. “Calm down” I tell myself, you’re on vacation; time to get into island mode and slow down. At noon we finally board our 35’ sloop, stow our provisions and we are off to Cooper Island to hook up with some friends that arrived a couple of days earlier. It takes a couple of hours to get to Cooper and when we get there, there are no moorings available! I don’t want to anchor here if possible, so we motor around for 15 minutes and then I spot sails going up! There are a few other sailboats circling like sharks, so I make haste and dash off to get to the mooring first. The boat’s a small Offshore Sailing School vessel and they are leaving. Yes! We moor with little difficulty and head to the island to have a wonderful lobster dinner with our friends. The activities of the night continue until the wee hours of the morning. We won’t have any more late nights like this one the rest of the trip.

11/29 Saturday

Morning and it’s off to the Baths on Virgin Gorda. We’ve got a clear, beautiful day, winds are out of the Northeast at 18 knots, and the water is calm. Michelle, my trusty partner during the hurricane, and Connie, another friend, dinghy over to help us crew. We decide to take a single reef and it proves to provide us with a nice, smooth sail. The Baths are wonderful! The water is a turquoise color and we swim and snorkel for a couple of hours. After a few hours, it’s back to the boat and off to Gorda Sound and the Bitter End. What a nice facility! We dingy over to the island for some appetizers and drinks, then barbecue steaks on the grill for dinner. The sky is so clear you can almost touch the stars from the boat. We call it an early night tonight and drift off to dreamland like a gentle Caribbean breeze.

11/30 Sunday

In the morning, we decide to stay at the Bitter End for another day. Some people go diving, some off to snorkel, and we head off to the beach for a relaxing day of sunning, swimming and ultimately shopping. As dusk settles, we all meet for happy hour and watch the sunset – absolutely gorgeous. It’s another night of cooking on the boat, listening to CDs, and sipping wine. We are now absolutely relaxed and in island mode with no thoughts of work, stress, and chores, just breathing in the clean air and laying back. We head over to the bar and join the other crew for a few drinks at the quaintly decorated bar. Although the singer is lip synching poorly, we enjoy the music, the weather, the surroundings and the company.

12/01 Monday

Time to head over to Marina Cay. Skies are clear and the winds are running about 15 knots. It’s an easy sail today and we make great time as we sail past the wreck of an ATR and around the “Dogs.” Marina Cay is a funky little island with a few small guest houses, a library that doubles as a happy hour bar at the top, and a restaurant down by the water. It’s laundry day so half of us concentrate on doing laundry and the other half go diving. In the meantime, we have an absolutely wonderful lunch while we wait for the laundry. This doesn’t seem like a chore at all. Once again we see a breathtaking sunset and we celebrate life over happy hour and have another great meal on board the boat. Time to play the Christmas tunes to get us in the mood. Throughout the trip we hear Christmas songs, reggae style, of course.

12/02 Tuesday

This is port I’ve really been looking forward to, Cane Garden Bay. Another great day, winds are 15 knots, smooth seas. We motor through a narrow channel and once we get out into the open sea, it’s a nice long sail down to Cane Garden Bay. As we near what we think is the bay, there is much discussion amongst the crew as to its location. As the skipper I finally pull rank and give the order to check the GPS to verify our location. Low and behold, we pass by the bay and have to turn around, but what we see doesn’t look much like the aerial picture. The crew was counting points of land but somehow got confused and lost track. Too many island drinks the night before perhaps? GPS is a wonderful tool, and although it helps us figure out where the bay is, it’s the only time we use it during the entire trip. With the islands as close as they are, it is very easy to sail by sight in the BVI.

We race another boat to the entrance of the bay and pick the last available mooring. Time to head over to the island to check out the beach, the snorkeling and of course the local rum distillery. Tonight is the dinner on the island and it is probably the best meal we have on the entire trip. Although the Paradise Club is particularly memorable, all of our meals on the trip are wonderful. The lobster is huge and practically melts in your mouth. There are no desserts for anyone—no room left in the belly. We listen to the band for a while on the island, then head back to the boat to enjoy the evening and stargaze. During the night a little rain shower comes through, but other than a few wet towels, no damage is done.

12/03 Wednesday

We say good bye to our friends since we are leaving a day early and want to head over to Soper’s Hole. It’s another glorious day, gentle waters, crystalline skies. I’m a little concerned about sailing on our own since Ray has only one day’s sailing experience prior to this trip. He is a real champ though, and picks up a lot during the week. I help with the jib as he controls the main. The wind is gusting up to 18 knots at times so the rails are in the water, it’s quite a ride. We arrive at Soper’s Hole without event. As we pick up a mooring, we congratulate ourselves on the accomplishment of sailing without the additional crew. We go power shopping here and after a bit of reprovisioning, make dinner reservations. Pusser’s on the marina has a great view and again have a wonderful meal of Mahi Mahi and Conch Fritters.

12/04 Thursday

Time to head back to Roadtown. Since we have to check out and leave for the airport by 10:00 a.m. the next day, we are staying at the dock overnight. The seas are rough today, 5 – 7 foot swells, winds gusting at 10 – 18 knots. This sail is not the most pleasant since we have to beat all the way and Ray is getting tired of tacking. In addition the boat keeps going up and down and up and down. We also have to tack a couple of extra times because it is clear that some skippers are not aware of the right-of-way rules. It is still a good sail and we are able to take some long tacks and enjoy the rush of the wind, though. I get a little concerned for Ray since he was seasick the first couple of days. On a few occasions, I am sure he is going to get sick again, but he keeps it all down and we finally get to the harbor and dock after a little confusion on chart reading by the crew. Once we get to the dock, I think we both feel a little down since we know this is our last night in the BVI.

Ray tells me that as he looks back on the experience he is jazzed, and wants to sail again. What a wonderful time we had. It is probably one of the most relaxing and enjoyable vacations I have ever been on. We had a lot of freedom on the sea and had the time to enjoy life the way it should be enjoyed. I know that I’ll remember this trip for a very long time and always long for that fair wind, bright sky and open sea.

Marine Battery Saver

This is an empirical article based on 10 years of cruising experience, with no technical verification.

WARNING: if you are not competent in 12 volt marine wiring practices you should have a professional installer perform this installation.

The deep cycle batteries or battery banks usually found in cruising boats were designed for deep cycling. This may seem rather obvious but it turns out that if you don’t deep cycle them you can destroy them. This is no problem when you are cruising away from shore power but for those long stays at the dock you need to take protective measures.

With a battery charger maintaining a constant voltage, those intermittent loads such as flushing a toilet or running a water pump take just a tiny charge off the top of the battery capacity which is replaced in a few minutes by the charger. This short cycle, always at the same place on the battery plates, can produce a layer which can materially reduce the capacity of your expensive battery bank and shorten its life drastically.

There are two solutions. One is to turn off your charger until the bank is about 20% discharged so that the battery is not short cycling at the same spot. This has the problem of remembering to turn it back on and also that you are using up the cycle life of your expensive battery bank. A much better solution is to completely disconnect the battery bank from your system and replace it with a regular automotive starting battery. These batteries are designed to operate in this manner and one small battery is adequate for supporting those intermittent 12 volt loads with the help of the on line charger. Now days you can purchase one for about $30.00 with a 3 to 5 year life guarantee. You probably are voiding the warranty by using it on a boat but you will be getting a battery that will support the load for many years at minimal cost.

Marine supply stores sell an economical single-pole battery switch that makes the changeover simple. Put one in series with the battery being isolated so it can be disconnected. Leave the cheapo 12 volt in circuit all the time – it adds a little extra capacity.

If your (now) isolated house battery is of the maintenance free type, it can be left idle for long periods with no significant loss of life but you should put them back on charge once or twice a year to keep them ready. If they are the lead-acid type, you will need to check the voltage more often.

Weather 101 – What Clouds Tell Recreational Boaters

You wouldn’t leave the dock without first checking the local weather forecast. You can get weather information from TV, radio, your VHF radio and on the Internet (see Safety Links above). While on the water, your VHF radio is the best source for weather warnings. Even so, at certain times of the year weather can change rapidly and you should continually keep a “weather eye” out, especially to the west, in order to foresee changes which might be impending.

Clouds are a tool you can use to predict or forecast weather. The type of cloud and direction of movement can warn you of weather changes that are imminent. Clouds are categorized by the altitude at which they appear and the shape that they take.

(This is not an in-depth study of clouds, but an attempt to simplify the subject for use by recreational boaters.)


Cloud Group Cloud Height Cloud Types
High Clouds = Cirrus Above 18,000 feet Cirrus
Middle Clouds = Alto 6,500 feet to 18,000 feet Altostratus
Low Clouds = Stratus Up to 6,500 feet Stratus
Clouds with vertical growth Cumulus


It is helpful to remember the following definitions of cloud shapes:


cumulus5.jpg (2658 bytes) Cumulus meaning “heap, a pile, an accumulation”
stratus5.jpg (3159 bytes) Stratus meaning “spread out, flatten, cover with a layer”
stormcloud2.jpg (2474 bytes) Nimbus meaning “rainy cloud”


Variations of cloud types are created by combining the cloud’s shape/description with the altitudinal names as a prefix or suffix.

Cirros (high) or Cirro can be used with cumulus (heap) to indicate a cirrocumulus or high, lumpy cloud. Cirrocumulus clouds, sometime called “mackerel skies”, can indicate the approach of a hurricane in the tropics. It can also be used with stratus (flat, layered) as in cirrostratus to indicate a high, flat or layered cloud.

Alto can also be used with cumulus and stratus to indicate altocumulus and altostratus which are middle altitude lumpy clouds and middle altitude layered clouds respectively.

Nimbo or nimbus might be used with cumulus or stratus to indicate a cloud formation that is producing precipitation. These clouds could be either cumulonimbus which would be a lumpy, vertically-rising rain cloud or nimbostratus which would be a sheet or flat-looking rain cloud.

High clouds exist above 18,000 feet and are cirrus clouds.


cirrus.jpg (2106 bytes) Cirrus clouds are the most common of the high clouds. They are composed of ice and consist of long, thin, wispy streamers. Cirrus clouds are usually white and predict fair weather. Sometimes called mares tails, they stream with the wind. By watching the movement of cirrus clouds you can tell from which direction weather is approaching. The appearance of cirrus clouds usually indicates that a change in weather will occur within 24 hours.
cirrostratus.jpg (2244 bytes) Cirrostratus are sheetlike, thin clouds that usually cover the entire sky. The sun or moon can shine through Cirrostratus clouds. Cirrostratus clouds usually come 12-24 hours before a rain or snow storm.
cirrocumulous.jpg (1969 bytes) Cirrocumulus are small, rounded puffs that usually appear in long rows. They are usually white, but sometimes appear gray. Cirrocumulus are usually seen in the winter and indicate fair, but cold, weather. In the tropics, they may indicate an approaching hurricane.


Medium high clouds occupy altitudes of 6,500 feet to 18,000 feet . These clouds are called alto clouds. Alto clouds are used to predict weather changes in 6 to 12 hours.


altostratus9.jpg (2660 bytes) An Altostratus cloud usually covers the whole sky. The cloud looks gray or blue-gray. The sun or moon may shine through an Altostratus cloud, but will appear hazy. An altostratus cloud usually forms ahead of storms with continuous rain or snow.
altocumulus.jpg (2601 bytes) Altocumulus clouds are grayish-white with one part of the cloud darker than the other. Altocumulus clouds usually form in groups. If you see Altocumulus clouds on a warm, sticky morning, be prepared for thunderstorms by late afternoon.


Low clouds, called stratus clouds, are at altitudes up to 6,500 feet . These clouds form a solid sheet or layer of cloud mass.


stratus2.jpg (3278 bytes) Stratus clouds are uniform gray in color and almost cover the entire sky. Light mist or drizzle is sometimes associated with Stratus clouds.
stratocumulus.jpg (3331 bytes) Stratocumulus clouds are low, lumpy and gray. Most form in rows with blue sky visible in between. Precipitation rarely occurs with Stratocumulus clouds, however, in frontal weather they may turn to Nimbostratus.
nimbostratus.jpg (3293 bytes) Nimbostratus clouds are dark gray with a ragged base. Rain or snow is associated with Nimbostratus clouds.


Clouds with vertical growth


cumulus2.jpg (3420 bytes) Vertically developing clouds are the Cumulus type. These small, lumpy clouds are low “fair weather” clouds. However, as they develop vertically (by rising hot air) they may go from small, fair weather clouds to large, boiling, vertically-growing monsters called cumulonimbus.
cumulonimbus.jpg (3273 bytes) Cumulonimbus are generally known as thunderstorm clouds. High winds will flatten the top of the cloud into an anvil-like shape. Cumulonimbus are associated with heavy rain, snow, hail, lightning, and tornadoes. The anvil usually points in the direction the storm is moving.


If you still can’t remember all of the cloud names and formations, you can always watch the clouds for two specific weather situations that indicate a high probability of a storm:

  1. A “lowering ceiling”: This means that the height of cloud formations continues to get lower and lower, usually caused by a warm front. As the ceiling lowers you will see clouds in the following order:
  • Cirrus
  • Cirrostratus
  • Altostratus
  • Stratus
  • Nimbostratus – storm clouds!
  1. On the other hand, watch for cumulus (puffy) clouds that start to rapidly develop vertically to become cumulonimbus thunderstorm clouds. On hot and humid days, these storms occur over water as the radiant heat from the land absorbs moisture from nearby water and rises to produce thunderheads. These storms can also indicate a cold front and may be preceded by squall lines, a row of black storm clouds. Wind shifts unpredictably and accelerates dramatically. Lightning can occur for miles in front of a storm and after the storm appears to have passed.

Other things to look for that indicate an approaching weather change:

  • Weather changes generally come from the west so scan the sky with your weather eye, especially to the west.
  • A sudden drop in temperature and change in the wind (increasing winds and/or seas) often means that a storm is near.
  • If you have a barometer on your boat check it every two to three hours. A rapid drop in pressure means a storm is approaching.


  • Reduce speed and proceed with caution
  • Put on PFDs.
  • Close all hatches and ports.
  • Head for the nearest shore that is safe to approach and duck into the lee of land.
  • Put the bow into the wind and take waves at about a 40-45 degree angle.
  • Watch for other boats and floating debris.
  • Pump out bilges and keep dry.
  • Change to a full fuel tank.
  • If there is lightning, unplug electrical equipment and keep away from ungrounded metal objects.
  • Secure loose items which could be tossed about.
  • Keep everyone low in the boat and near the centerline.

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Dockside Do’s and Don’ts

Boat in a marina Many times we simply get complacent at dockside and don’t use our common sense. Following are a few tips that you should adhere to to make dockside boating safer and more pleasant for you and your dockside neighbors.

ALWAYS neatly coil or flemish excess line both on the dock and onboard. This not only looks more professional but can prevent someone from tripping over a loose line and falling. Guess who would be at fault if it were your line they tripped over?

ALWAYS turn off all AC breakers on board, then turn off the breaker and disconnect the power cord from the dock first. You will see many people undo the power cord from the boat and then hand it to, or worse yet, carry it off the boat to the dock. One slip and they are in the drink with a live wire.

ALWAYS make sure you turn off all outside lights, instruments, and VHF radio. There is nothing more un-neighborly than a light shining on the boat in the next slip or the VHF blasting loudly while you are out for a late night at the local pub.

NEVER connect a dock water supply to the pressure side of the water system on your boat. Not even with a pressure-reducing valve. This is an invitation to sink your boat.  All you need is for one of those hose clamps to quit, or a flexible section to rupture and there is an unlimited supply of water to fill your boat. Far better to fill your water tank periodically using a hose and using the onboard water pressure pump to supply your requirements. Now if there is an accident, no more water can come on the boat than was already there and you can’t sink. Keeping your pressure pump working on a regular basis is also better for it. Nothing kills pumps quicker than being idle for long periods.

And while on the subject, NEVER have a water tank that overflows anywhere onboard. Plumb the overflow overboard or to a drain which always runs overboard because, sooner or later, you will go ashore and forget you left the hose filling the tank!

Fueling Safety

Never Take Anything for Granted

Boating safety is nothing you can ever take for granted, which I dramatically learned on a recent outing aboard my Carver 534 Express Cruiser. My college roommate had flown in from the East Coast to visit for a few days, so we thought it would be great to grab some sun and fun aboard Endless Summer II. On our way to a favorite overnight spot off the Willamette River we decided to stop for fuel. As a lifelong boater with over 35 years of experience, I performed all the safety steps for safe fueling: all electronics and appliances off, cabin door and all hatches and windows closed, engines off, nozzle grounded, etc. There was one thing though that I had overlooked.

I was watching the fueling process from the cockpit and fortunately I looked overboard. I noticed a light sheen of gas on the water and thought, “Where could that be coming from?” On closer examination, I saw that gas was dripping into the water from my boat! I immediately stopped the fueling process and began looking for the source of the fuel. Imagine my surprise and shock when, upon opening the engine hatch, I noticed 12 gallons of raw gas in the bilge!

Immediately I informed the gas dock attendant that we had a major problem. I cut my main power switches so the automatic bilge pump would not trigger, turned off the emergency power switch at the gas dock, and then proceeded to fill the bilge with water and soap to reduce the danger. We then carefully siphoned the water/gas mixture using an all-plastic bilge pump (no sparks) into a drum on the dock.

What was the cause of this potentially deadly situation? I had taken things for granted. The gas hose from the filler to the tank had fallen off because both clamps had become loose over the years and I had failed to check them. Now I always check everything whenever I fuel – just to make sure – and I would encourage other boaters to learn from my lesson.

It’s Always Something – or – If It Can, It Will. Final(ly)

We could tell by the nervousness of the sea gulls that something was coming within the next day or so. They would not sit still. They would soar in groups and then disappear for hours at a time. Although we didn’t have a barometer, my ears could feel the pressure dropping. We were now checking the weather via telephone to the US, at $12.00 a pop, twice a day.

Today, we would take the 40 minute water ferry ride to Cancun and pick up the parts at the airport. I was torn between two crucial tasks. Should I make the trip to the airport to make sure my young crew did not get distracted by the Cancun beach front, which I knew would be teaming with equally young female vacationers? Or…should I stay with the boat and start tearing the steering apart to prepare for making the repairs and also start to prepare for the approaching storm? I was reminded of an old TV commercial where Gabe and Earl were standing in the bunk house looking out the window at the pouring rain. Gabe turned to Earl and said, “Earl, the boss wants one of us to go out and fix the fence and he wants me to go into town for supplies.” Two of the crew stayed with the boat to start to batten the hatches, while I and two other crew members took the ferry “into town.”

In addition to picking up the parts at the airport which went fairly smoothly except for the exorbitant importation taxes, we had to find a sewing kit to repair a small sail rip. It would also be a good idea to have it available in case we did get into some heavy weather and have to make additional repairs. We were all back at the boat within four hours of our departure, much to the chagrin the two crew members who had accompanied me. My hunch was correct. The moment the ferry landed in Cancun, there were hundreds of vacationers lounging on the beach. I left them there to “mingle” while I took the taxi ride to the airport alone.

By the end of the day, we had made the necessary steering repairs. In addition, we had repaired the water pump that had decided to go on the fritz, the head that had gotten clogged and the automatic bilge switch that had decided to fail.

That evening we again called the States and listened in to the weather channel. The tropical storm was increasing in intensity and was due to cross Cuba within 24 to 36 hours. Its path was predicted to follow Cuba’s southern coast line and then turn more northerly as it left Cuba and was back in open water. We pulled out our charts and began to wonder “what if?” What if it didn’t turn north and what if it continued to strengthen? It was on a track to hit us head on.

We were due to depart just about the time the storm would be making up its mind whether or not to turn into the Gulf of Mexico. Having lived through several hurricanes both on the Gulf Coast of Texas and in Florida, there was no hesitation when I announced that our departure would be indefinitely delayed. The next chore was scouting out the best place to be around the Island, should the storm decide to visit.

We spent the next morning scouting potential anchorages. We found a great little bay within the Island, unfortunately the water depth precluded us from entering the protected waters. The decision was made that where we were at the Marina was probably as good as anywhere else we could move to, so we doubled up all lines in preparation. The docks were alive others involved in the same chore. The sky was beginning to send signals that something was amiss. That afternoon, our “weather call” confirmed that the storm should be off the western coast of Cuba early in the morning of the next day. That would mean that if it didn’t turn north, we would feel the effects tomorrow afternoon. We decided to have a few margaritas and a good meal ashore since the Island very possibly could be without power the next day.

We were awakened the next morning by the rocking of the boat in 20 knot winds. The sky looked much worse today than it had yesterday. The winds were increasing as each hour passed. Mid-morning, our call for weather info confirmed the northerly turn. The storm was not yet a hurricane but winds were in 3wexcess of 60 MPH. Perhaps we were going to dodge the bullet. We did odd jobs as we waited out the residual effects. We recorded winds in excess of 40 knots before it finally decided to subside. I thought it amazing that the minute the storm was not headed our way, everyone was very anxious to leave. I assured them that we were not going anywhere for at least another 24 to 36 hours. I didn’t want to be following a monster that might turn around on me.

The storm continued its progress north and by the next afternoon was well into the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico and was forecast to make landfall somewhere in Louisiana. We started to plan our departure, topped off extra fuel tanks, took on fresh water and provisioned for the return trip. The provisions were interesting. It seems that in our brief stay the two crew members that did the provisioning had become, they thought, fluent in Spanish. Oh, well, actually canned tripe is pretty good. We left the next day on our return trip to Key West, and we all wondered what other “challenges” lay ahead as we watched Isla Mujeres disappear over the horizon.

Day one of the return was a little rough but not intolerable. The morning of day two found us in 9 to 12 foot waves left in the path of the storm. Although it was a little difficult to keep a footing, since the period of the waves was great, the ride was not intolerable. The winds continued to increase and we were forced to double reef the main and roll up the furler for a smaller foresail. We were riding the current on the way back and should be back in Key West in a total of three days.

All was well and the weather was starting to calm on our last day. We unfurled the jib and shook out the reefs in the main. Nothing left to do but raise the main back to it’s original position. I hate it when I hear that all too familiar “Capt. Matt, I think we may have a problem.” The main had jammed on the way up and was stuck about a foot from it’s fully raised position. It wouldn’t go up and it wouldn’t come down.

This particular modern sailing machine had internal halyards. That means that the only part you can see is that which comes out of a small opening at the top of the mast, and the other end that comes out a small opening near the bottom of the mast. Very clever idea which cuts down on the noise of clapping external halyards but not good for troubleshooting and fixing problems. It didn’t appear that there was a problem at the bottom of the mast, so it must be at the top. “Volunteers?” I asked, as everyone seemed to scramble to find something that had to be taken care of right away. Although the seas had calmed considerably, it was not going to be fun going up the mast in a boson’s chair in 4 to 6’s.

Jonathan was now, by far, the lightest one onboard. Especially after hugging the rail for quite some time after I told him what tripe really was. “It makes sense for him to be the one, right?” asked the other three students almost in unison. After a brief explanation of physics and how what throws up must come down, one of the other students volunteered.

We prepared the boson’s chair, making sure to put an extra line on just in case the halyard parted. “Let’s see, you’ll probably need a screw driver to take off the weather plate in order to see the pulleys inside the mast” I said. “Don’t know if you will need a regular or phillips so you should take both. Better take a pair of pliers as well, just in case.” Everything in order, we slowly used the winch on the mast to raise the student to the top to hopefully find and repair the problem. I was not a happy camper when the student announced that the weather plate was not put on with screws but pop rivets. Since we had neither a battery powered drill or a 50 mile extension cord, we decided to live with the problem for a while. We might have been able to use a chisel to knock off the rivet tops, but I felt it would be too dangerous under the current conditions. It wasn’t pretty, but we were still sailing.

We picked up the light at the entrance to Key West around 2100. The end was near. “What are we going to do about the main?” one of the students asked. “Who has never been up in a boson’s chair?” I inquired. Three of the four crew’s hands timidly were raised. Jonathan was once again ruled out so we flipped a coin to see who got to make the final assent with the knife to cut the halyard. (The halyard was jammed too tight to be able to release the shackle.)

We prepared to work as a team to get control of the main once the halyard was severed. One student steered, one was at the top of the mast with the knife, one was tending the winch which kept the student at the top, and I and the final crew member anxiously awaited the drop of the main. We rounded the entrance light and I sounded the command to cut the halyard. The main immediately fell slack and started its downward decent, simultaneously we all shook and jumped in horror as we heard and witnessed “bombs bursting in air,” whistles, rockets and a sky filled with fire. Our celebrated return had just begun. After recovering from the shock, we finally tied up at the dock and made the final log entry at 2330, July 4th.