Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Countdown

I've decided to aim for an Oct 20th departure, knowing full well that if I don't push myself now, I might not be prepared until December.

East Coast US charts are causing some difficulty for me now. While they are available free online, my limited knowledge of computers and software are preventing me from saving them permanently. Paper charts are still a must regardless, so I may just concentrate my efforts on figuring out the best (most frugal) way of getting my hands on hard copies.

The more I view the charts, then closer I get to deciding my route. Right now it seems to make good sense to make Gloucester, Massachusetts my first American port, where I will then motor through the Cape Cod Canal. I've become less stubborn in regards to using my engine. I intended to sail the entire way, but now it seems appealing to go down the Intercoastal Waterway for at least a brief period, for 2 reasons. One being the avoidance of Cape Hatteras, which can be treacherous this time of year, and the other being to visit a good friend and old shipmate from Eye of the Wind, Ben. We spent 8 months together, sailing from the Caribbean to Bermuda, the Azores, England, and finally to Denmark. I received a quick note from him today and it lifted my spirits and helped me out of a slump in my preparations, and now it looks like I may be spending some time in Norfolk, Virginia very soon!

In other news... a big thank-you is once again in order to the Picton Castle crew, as well as Walter F for rescuing my boat from the storm on Thursday. I had rather irresponsibly deserted her while bad weather approached in order to spend some time with a friend and tie up some loose ends in the city. I had left her dockside, in a very narrow berth, when I should have taken the time to move her out to her mooring. All's well that ends well, and it was just another reminder of why I love this town. Lunenburg seems to attract the best kind.
Slainte, y'all.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Only Certainty is Uncertainty

It's been a busy week, September Classic boat race, impromptu ceilidhs, rig changes, old friends appearing out-of-the-blue. With everything that has been going on, I still feel like I've managed to make leaps and bounds in the progress of the trips planning.

I met a new friend the other day named Don, and when he heard of my upcoming trip, he offered to loan me a series of charts that had come with the boat he recently purchased. They cover everywhere from Panama through the Florida Keys, including, most importantly, a few of Cuba. Charts are a huge expense for any cruiser; the cost which can inhibit any sailor from making an economical voyage. I have to thank Chris D. again for the east coast charts he donated to my cause over a year ago, at which point owning my own boat was but a theory! He was familiar with all the difficulties and hurdles I had to overcome, but he reassured me everything was going to work out fine and Annie Laurie would soon be a reality.

I recall a discussion of ours where we agreed that the things that defeat us now, that seem to be conspiring against us, won't even come into play when the time comes for that dream to come true. They will be nothing but a distant memory, if in fact they can even be recalled at all.

It's helpful to remember conversations with friends like him when I hit these (now expected) roadblocks. I learned on Saturday that my only crew (well, except Effie, my new kitten) will be unable to make the journey. We all have a road to follow and our own opportunities to pursue, and I wish Tom all the best. I hope he finds the time to at least pay me a visit sometime this winter. Good luck Tom (FRIENDS!)

I've found with many situations in life, you can plan all you like and worry all you want, but things will never turn out as expected. Your life may take an unanticipated twist, but if you keep positive and let things flow, you will find the reason for what initially seems like a great difficulty.

It's not really THAT crazy to think about going to Cuba alone, is it?

Monday, September 17, 2007

So I Hear You're Going to Cuba?

I was in the 'cellar', reassembling the hose from my fuel tank, when I heard a familiar voice calling my name. It was Nancy, asking if I was interested in coming over to her and Paul's for a jam session. I had been neglecting my smallpipes for quite some time now, so I jumped at the opportunity.

As the car came to a stop in the driveway, I realized the actual reason of my visit, as we were greeted by one who was to become the third member of our crew.

Having arrived in Lunenburg 2 months ago, Nancy and Paul were doing her a favour by giving her a roof over her head, but everyone knew it was time for her to move on. Never having sailed before, a few things were going through my mind. With no experience on a boat, you cannot know issues regarding seasickness, or their ability to deal with rough weather or other precarious situations. Everyone must start somewhere though, and I decided to go out on a bit of a limb and give her this chance to prove her capabilities.

Her curiosity about every last inch of the boat kept me up all night, she had to know every little detail. What's in there? What does this do? Is it always this cold? Can I have that blanket? Where's my bunk? She does tend to talk a lot, which I guess will be alright, as I myself am a woman of few words.

I know myself what I am looking for in a crew, and I've had many people approach me in recent days, having heard rumors of available bunks to Cuba through the grapevine. I have declined all offers thus far, because I know that certain 'feeling' that should be there, that instant rapport that cannot be explained, but can be easily recognized by its absence. Tom B. has got it, and so has my new recruit.

Le purrrrrrrrrr

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cider, Picton Castle Style

I was procrastinating for about an hour after finishing my bar tending shift. A southeasterly gale had the boats in the harbour bobbing around like corks, all of them holding on to their moorings for dear life, waiting for the worst to pass. I was exhausted from a poor nights sleep and lack of food, and I knew it wasn't going to be easy rowing against that wind to get home after work. But I honestly didn't expect it to be impossible. Once I rowed out of the lee of the docks and was out in open water, there was no fighting it. After sitting on the dock for a while, waiting for something to happen (I'm not sure what, but I'm traditionally quite lucky this way), a friend from the Picton Castle came walking down the wharf. He wondered if I would like to come for dinner and a movie, and if need be, have a bunk for the night.

The rains were torrential and I was well prepared except for my lack of boots. My friend came back from the foc's'le with extra dry socks and shoes, and we set my drenched gear beside the antique cook stove, who's roaring fire was warming a batch of whiskey cider. The wind in the Castle's extensive rigging was incredible as the night grew darker, and it left me a bit anxious as I envisioned my boat chaffing through her mooring lines. But with a few sips of cider and a haddock and rice dinner on the way, my worries abated and I was in much better spirits.

Times like these, I remember the ease and simplicity of apartment living in Halifax.

And its quiet monotony.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hurry Up and Wait

It seems like only weeks ago that I was motoring out of Halifax Harbour before sunrise, masts lashed to deck, frost on the cabin top, and me dancing a jig despite full winter garb, trying to keep warm.

That was late March, and I was on my way to Lunenburg to begin repairing the extensive rot I discovered last autumn in her bow. I was determined to get this major work out of the way and get an early start on the sailing season. As it turned out, what I had intended to be one month of refit became 3 months, and I didn't get her home to Halifax until the first week of June.

For the work to be done, she had to be hauled out of the water. I had been so anxious to get her to her to Lunenburg to get the work started, I hadn't even considered that the tides might not be full enough to float her onto the cradle. "Hurry up and wait!" Mike G. would say. One week and a dozen attempts later, she was finally up on dry land.

There was always something that could be done while waiting for the tides or waiting for the weather. Inside the neighboring Dory Shop, I was able to carve my name board and refinish my masts and booms on rainy days by the warmth of the wood stove.

I would be harboring some regrets right now had I not had the ambition to get the repairs done sooner rather than later; she would not have been seaworthy for my planned voyage. I learned a great deal about her construction through the process of her deconstruction, as Mike and I hacked away at her rotten stem. Over the following months the restoration ensued; the new stem, composed of oak originally intended for Pictou's tall ship Hector, and 15 planks, cut from a length of Angelique (a very hard wood) imported from South America. Mike has assured me I could t-bone any dock in the harbor and come out relatively unscathed, though I don't think I'll test that theory.

Those days were often long and hard, and sometimes frustrating when things didn't go as planned. I will admit I was sometimes reduced to tears when I looked at her, bow-less and mast-less, and hundreds of hours of hard work ahead of me. But now that I'm sitting here in Lunenburg, the memories of a wonderful summer behind me, and all the hopes and excitement of what is to come, she's been well worth every moment of misery I've endured.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Off to the Races

It was blowing 25knots with gusts to 30 from the northwest. Boats taking part in the Wednesday night races danced around the invisible line waiting for the cannon signaling the start. It was just myself and Tom B., my only confirmed crew for the trip south, aboard for the race. With a lot of wind but not a lot of sea room, my heart was in my mouth as we flew in amongst the boats sitting idle on their moorings. We were just settling into a new course after tacking at the stern of the Bluenose II when a gust came and we heeled over further than I've ever heeled before, in my boat anyway. Everything I had failed to properly lash to my cabin top went sliding towards the rail, and my fender board went for a swim. While I hate to lose any gear overboard, I quickly realized it was no great loss, as it was completely composed of items I had scavenged from the shores of McNabs Island last summer. Then I noticed a piece of green line, snagged to a block on deck. If only by a thread, it was still hanging on!

"How about we forget about the race Tom, and just go for a sail?". I felt much better as we made a downwind run for the outer bay, away from a game of bumper boats that I felt was imminent.

These sorts of experiences are important in pointing out things I should change or improve before my big trip. Adjustments to my bowsprit to allow my storm jib to be flown properly, a lower lead for my genoa sheet to prevent riding turns that can make it impossible to maneuver safely, just to name two. I don't mind a bit of wind, so long as there is room and I can retain the ability to maneuver! I'm not sure exactly how fast we were going, but under a reefed main and (slightly) reefed genoa, I'm sure we hit the top speed Annie Laurie has seen during my ownership.

I asked the 2nd mate from the Bluenose, who had been out sailing on the museum's Tancook whaler, how far I had heeled from his vantage point. He laughed and said, "Well, I saw the bottom of your keel! It was pretty intense...".

My mother loves reading about this stuff.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Which Way To Go

Sure. Sail to Bermuda on your way south. If she has been offshore, and you know every nut and every bolt and can envision her rolling over and coming back up relatively intact, then there's no reason to take a safer, coastal route.

Some sage advice from a highly respected captain. Capt Wayne was generous and genuine with sharing his experience of the north Atlantic in November. These waters can be unruly this time of year, and I have been the subject of its wrath more than once. Instead of taking those near-misses with death or serious injury into consideration, I think I was trying to suppress their memory, hoping to have a bit of luck on my side. This notion was encouraged by Tom G. who has done this run numerous times aboard his schooner. Here lies the key difference Capt Wayne was trying to highlight: Tom G. has owned his boat for many years and has sailed her extensively offshore. My boat? She's never lost sight of Nova Scotia.

And it could be the case that everything could go smoothly. We could have beautiful run to Bermuda then be in a good position for making a shot south to wherever we eventually choose to go. Then again, we could get caught mid-way with no place to run.

I was never one to argue against the true pleasure of a journey being the journey itself, not the destination. Now that I have come to accept that the Bermuda route is less than ideal, I'm looking forward to re-visiting some of the eastern U.S. ports I visited long ago during my tall ship career.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Add It To The List

Check engine issues. Change oil and fuel filters. Haul-out, paint bottom. Put on name board. Spare bulbs for navigation lights. Varnish, brushes, pine tar. Insurance. Life raft. Anything else anyone can think of?

I probably already have it somewhere on my master list.

It seems lately I need someone around to actually give me that extra 'push' to start getting stuff done, and to start the process of crossing things off this list. When Mike G. found me in the local coffee shop and offered to take a look at my engine problems (himself procrastinating his own list for the day), off we went in my little dingy to the mooring.

A couple of weeks ago while sailing with a friend on the eastern shore, my engine, which until now had proved itself utterly infallible, took the notion to stop. After doing a bit of troubleshooting, we found a bit of air in the fuel lines. I assumed a fuel leak of some sort, but could find no evidence of diesel on the engine or in the bilge. After manually forcing more fuel into the lines, she started up again, and off we went.

For a little while.

I think we had to repeat this process 3 times before finally making it back to Eastern Passage.
Obviously this was something I'd have to deal with sooner or later.

Mike G., removing the hatches around the engine, began to poke around. After removing some fuel lines from the tank and not being able to draw any fuel, he determined there was some sort of blockage in the tank itself. Probably an easy fix, he told me. Just a bit of sucking and blowing required. He politely offered to do it himself, though he assured me most women he knew were much better at this. (sorry)

Sure enough, he blew as hard as he could through the rubber tube leading back to the tank, and we could hear bubbles in the fuel tank itself, then came a rush of diesel and soot back to the air source (Mike's mouth). "A glass of water please, Laura?"

That's one project crossed off the list.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Ancient Order of Turtles

Are you a Turtle?

If you're not sure how to answer this question, or you're completely certain of how to answer, but are now curious, read on.

I returned to Lunenburg in late August after spending most of the summer in Halifax, working as captain for a local tour company. While I miss the Halifax waterfront, its bars and nightlife with all the great live music 7 nights a week, a night out at the bar in the 'Burg can have its own eccentricity which makes it a different kind of 'fun'.

Which brings me back to turtles.

A tradition whose origins can be traced back to pilots of World War II, it is "an honorable drinking fraternity composed of ladies and gentlemen of the highest morals and good character, who are never vulgar". Only a privileged few, specifically those whom are extraordinarily pure of thought, will be inducted into the elite order known as the Ancient and Honorable Order or Turtles.

Turtles are bright-eyed, bushy tailed, fearless and unafraid folk with a fighter pilot attitude. They think clean, have a lot of fun, and recognize the fact that you never get anyplace in life worthwhile unless you stick your neck out.

My friend began by asking me a series of questions. All questions suggest a vulgar answer, but since turtles are inherently pure and good, the actual answer is quite innocuous. You must answer all correctly in order to be inducted, I was told.

1)What does a woman do sitting down, that a dog does on 3 legs, and a man does standing up?

Obvious? Perhaps... but would a turtle, of innocent and kindly disposition, think that way? Lets try a few others.

2)What does a cow have 4 of that a woman only has 2 of?

3)What is a four letter word, ending with 'k' that means intercourse?
and finally...

4)What is rounded and hard and sticks so far out of a man's pajamas you can hang your hat on it?

For those who know me well, it will come as no surprise that I became a member in no time at all. It is very important that one thinks long and hard before answering each question, because should you answer incorrectly, you are required to buy a drink for each Turtle present.

And here is the best part: From this time forward, whenever the question is asked, "Are you a turtle?" the answer is, "You bet your sweet ass I am!".

Saturday, September 8, 2007

From Dream to Reality...

Today, September 8th, 2007, I will begin a series of writings as I make plans to embark on my first major journey aboard my traditionally-rigged wooden ketch, Annie Laurie. She is named for the old Scottish song written by a soldier a long time ago, as a proclamation of his love for his sweetheart back home.

I have a short time-frame to make this trip happen this autumn. Weather-wise, all experienced sailors are aware of the June to November hurricane season, during which time it's best to cruise further north, in Canada's Atlantic provinces and the northeastern United States, where the cooler water temperatures are rarely able to sustain the life of a hurricane, should it happen to track in this direction from its southern origin. After November 1st, the risk of hurricane formation becomes minimal, and discomfort of living aboard in Nova Scotia begins a steady incline.

Having lived aboard since purchasing the boat in July 2006 as a means of affording the independent sailor's lifestyle, I have no desire to re-live the horrors of another winter alongside in Dartmouth. Masts out, the boat under a blue tarp, she was alongside and subject to blasting northerlies funneling down the Narrows of Halifax Harbor, producing freezing spray that would sometimes result in an inch-and-a-half of ice on my mahogany hull. Daytime-highs of 5 degrees Celcius, despite a spaceheater running 24-7 often left me with no other choice than to hide out at the local pub, and, less frequently, the library. I often faced a morning walk that began at 0530 each morning to make the 1-hour trek across the MacDonald Bridge to my 12hr/day position as marine meteorologist in Halifax. Much of the winter I spent refinishing my 2 masts, which I had stored on a larger neighboring boat. The wind was brutal, and each day it wasn't long before I lost all ability to move my fingers. Survival was pivotal on the electric blanket I received that Christmas, which instantly catapulted my parents to super-star status. Thanks Mom, thanks Dad.

As a realist, I am making no claim to the certainty of this voyage becoming a reality this Fall. What I can say is that I am currently doing everything within my means to supply and prepare my boat, safety-wise and otherwise, to make her completely seaworthy for possibly taking the Bermudian route to the eastern Caribbean, Cuba, or perhaps the Bahamas. Meanwhile, I'm always keeping an eye out for other opportunities, including short-term offshore delivery crew positions on other boats. These positions often translate to valuable experience that can be applied to sailing my own boat, whether in regards to sailing tactics, weather prediction, or other basic survival-at-sea scenarios.

With my intent, determination, enthusiasm, and assistance from fellow sailors and friends, my journey has already begun. Whether or not my plans come to fruition in the coming months, or if I have to resign myself to a springtime departure that will take me east to Scotland instead, this is all ultimately part of the voyage.