• close family • small boat • big world •

The Long Haul

June 21, 2016

by Paula 
Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, The Bahamas

Cash is always looking forward to exploring the next destination.
We've all heard the maxim: it's not the destination, but the journey that counts. A great thought, yes, but sometimes you hope the journey is short and sweet so you can get to that destination. The Caribbean is such a popular place to sail for that reason exactly -- one can arrive at an amazing destination with a journey that is fairly painless. Most passages between anchorages or islands can be sailed in a day, some even in just a few hours.

Nothing but blue as far as the eye can see, sometimes for days.

There are some places out there, though, that are worth biting off a much longer sail. The countries of Guyana and Suriname were definitely two of them. Taking off from Tobago, it took three days to reach Guyana, and the trip from Guyana to Suriname was another three-day passage. Our return from Suriname all the way to Guadeloupe was a four-day sail, and the passage from BoquerĂ³n in Puerto Rico to Great Inagua in the Bahamas was also three full days of sailing. When we cruised in 1999, Greg and I made a seven-day passage from Antigua to Bermuda and then an eight-day passage from Bermuda to Nova Scotia.

Life on a moving sailboat is far, far different from life when sitting still in port. And even more so
when you are moving for many days at a time.
It's tough to make coffee while on
the heal, but it is very necessary!

There's no quick trip to the store when at sea for five days, so we need to stock up before we leave. With a small fridge and no freezer, we need to plan carefully. Lots of cabbage, as it keeps for weeks unrefrigerated. We cook leafy greens beforehand, since they take up too much room otherwise. It's tough to use the stove when the boat is healing or rolling, though it can be done since boat ovens are gimbaled. But we prepare easy-to-eat meals ahead of time, like chicken, lasagna, and beans. I make sure we have enough granola and yogurt -- items we make ourselves -- before leaving.

We make a modified version of lasagna we call Pasta a la Dense that we wrap in individual serving packages.

The Cabin
We are firm believers in a place for everything and everything in its place, but there are some items we keep out on a regular basis. That can't be the case when under way, because rolling, pitching and healing means stuff left out will not stay put. Unlike catamaran sailing,mono-hulls don't sail to weather unless they are healed over. Toothbrushes and drinking glasses, normally kept on a counter-top, get tucked away, pots and pans move to an inside-cabinet location, computers are secured, books go back on shelves.

Watch Schedule and Sleep
Greg loves to be at the helm, but he
agrees to give it up for some sleep
when we are on a long passage.
Sailing long distances means sailing through day and night, nonstop. We create a watch system to regularly rotate the time on the helm. For our recent passages, Greg, Cash, and I each do three hours on, six hours off on the helm. That's a pretty civilized rotation that allows for getting a decent amount of sleep. Anna (a friend who came with us to South America) and Nicole take turns as support crew, keeping the helmsman company, getting food, making sure that all is okay in the cabin. Greg and I both did some late-night shifts on our own to give the girls some extra sleep time, but they did their part otherwise.

Sleeping on a heal or when the boat is rolling or pitching with the waves is not easy. A narrower space is better; that means less distance to roll. So that we don't roll off, we prepare bedding on the leeward settees and berths (that pushes us toward the wall rather than the floor side of the berth).

Nicole catches some sleep on the leeward pilot berth.

When night falls, we just keep sailing.
It can be scary at night but also amazingly peaceful.

We love when the moon
lights up the sea and sky.

Our "auto pilot" is a simple line that
lashes the wheel to keep it in place.

At the helm
Many modern sailboats come equipped with an autopilot -- an electronic device that steers the boat on a programmed course. Old boats (and some still today) have similar device called a wind vane, which attaches at the stern and works mechanically. On Daystar, we've got neither (a poorly installed electronic autopilot has yet to function properly). That means hand-steering the whole way. We can, however, on some points of sail, create our own "autopilot" by lashing the wheel and properly trimming the sails. Just a simple line connecting the wheel to a nearby cleat secures the wheel in place. This keeps the boat on a fairly consistent path, making the helm hands-free or requiring adjustment only every few minutes. This makes it possible to take a bathroom break without someone there to takeover, which is nice.

A tether connects our life
vests to the boat

We insist that the helmsman wear a life vest and tether whenever at the wheel alone. And everyone must wear them at night, always. Jack-lines are rigged so that anyone can remain tethered to the boat when going forward to raise sails or fix problems. The dinghy is normally tied to the boat while we are anchored, streaming behind and ready for use. And we can keep it that way for a short sail. It adds a bit of drag, but not enough to overcome the ease of readiness once we arrive. Towing a dinghy can be a safety factor should rough weather occur, and it could easily be ripped from the boat by strong seas or winds. For longer passages we stow the dinghy semi-deflated and upside-down on the foredeck.

We stow the dinghy on the foredeck for long passages.

It's the tropics, but I still need my wool top and knit cap!
Daystar is a wet boat. Our cockpit is protected only by a small dodger and our small bimini, which keeps some rain off the helmsman, but little else. Waves and spray over the side always manage to get us soaked, and there's no stopping for a break should it start pouring (sometimes if conditions are extremely rough we heave-to and all head below). We stay in the same outfit for the whole passage; there's no use in getting all our clothes salty and wet.

Daytime travel isn't so bad, though, because the hot sun gets us dry again in no time. Amazingly, it is cool at night, even down here at 6 degrees latitude. Sometimes we need to break out the long pants and fleece tops for night watches.

Passing the time
Cash sings and plays guitar to entertain Greg while he is on the helm.
The first night can be tough, but eventually the rhythm of the watch schedule settles in and becomes comfortable. Life becomes a pattern of driving, sleeping, eating. Not much else productive is usually accomplished on these passages by most of us. Both Cash and Nicole are prone to seasickness, so they are not up for any activity when below. Cash does spend some of his down-time entertaining the helmsman with his guitar. Greg isn't often seasick, but he can't read without feeling queasy. He often gets small rope-work jobs done in the cockpit when off watch. Amazingly, I haven't ever been seasick, and I can read and prepare schoolwork and write easily when below.

A turn at the helm isn't so bad when you have two fun girls for company.

       Greg and Nicole on the foredeck repairing       
  the roller-furler. Something almost always  
breaks on a passage, and the only option
is to fix it "ourselves" (meaning Greg).

If things get too rough, we can heave-to by adjusting
the sails in a way that keeps the boat mostly stopped.
Here we heave-to near the Guyana shore to wait for
the sun to rise so that we can see the many fish traps.

Long passages are a challenge, and their successful completion feels like a great accomplishment. We've developed a tradition of ending each passage in the same way: a toast of lemonade or beer for all hands just after anchoring. Soon we will haul anchor and head out again, always on the move. We are all looking forward to our next toast!
The difficulty of a long passage is often rewarded by the beauty around us.