Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ready, Aim, Fire!

Another adventure arose on Friday when the schooner Hindu, whose ownership has been under dispute in recent months, was returned to her rightful owner Kevin 'Foggy' Foley. To avoid further difficulty in getting the boat underway to Provincetown, Massechussettes, where Kevin had always been intending to take her for the summer months, he decided to get the boat out of Key West promptly and take her to an undisclosed location to have her prepared for the rest of the northward journey. We had to act fast when the 'other' owner finally stepped off the boat after a 3hr standoff. Despite having received an injunction that morning banning him from the vessel, he refused to leave, and he paced the deck swinging, and occassionaly striking, a wooden mallet normally used for firing the ships ceremonial canon, while yelling at Kevin and myself and two other crew to get off his boat. When he was informed the Key West Police and County Sherriff were en route, he decided to avoid further embarrassment (the patrons and staff of Schooner Wharf Bar had a great afternoons entertainment at his expense) and he quietly stepped off the boat. We cast off the lines and started motoring away, Kevin, Finbar, Jonathan (my neighbor in the anchorage), and I.

Finbar, a good friend of Foggy's, was introduced to me as Admiral of the Conch Republic Navy. For those who don't know, the Conch Republic was established when the Florida Keys seceded from the United States in 1982 in response to a U.S. Border Patrol Blockade setup on highway U.S.1 just north of the Florida Keys. This effectively isolated Keys inhabitants from the U.S. mainland since the blockade was on the only road to and from the mainland. There was a protest, and the Mayor of Key West along with a few other 'conchs' (as the locals here are known) went to Federal court in Miami to seek an injunction to stop the blockade, but to no avail. Upon leaving the Federal Court House, the mayor announced to the world by way of the TV crews and reporters, "Tomorrow at noon the Florida Keys will secede from the Union!"

At noon, on the day of secession, at Mallory Square in Key West, the mayor read the proclamation of secession and proclaimed aloud that the Conch Republic was an independent nation separate from the U.S. and then symbolically began the Conch Republic's Civil Rebellion by breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a U.S. Navy uniform. After one minute of rebellion, the mayor, now Prime Minister, turned to the Admiral in charge of the Navy Base at Key West, and surrendered to the Union Forces, and demanded one billion dollars in war relief to rebuild the nation after the long Federal siege.

So as you can imagine, Finbar, the Admiral of the only all-sail Navy fleet in the world, and organizer of the annual re-creation of the Great Sea Battle (which, of course, never really happened), is quite the character. Jonathan informed me that he's been a lieutenant in the Conch Navy for quite some time, and his boat is part of the Navy fleet. I asked if my boat could be too, and if I could join the navy with the distinction of cabin boy. Finbar said that'd be fine and now I'm anxiously awaiting the induction ceremony!

We sailed through the night, up the Florida Keys and out into the gulf stream, and eventually made our way to the top-secret marina.

I had a lot on my mind on the brief voyage as I listened to the details of the ownership dispute between two individuals who used to be good friends. I could relate the stories to recent circumstances in my own life, and it gave me a lot to think about, how mis-communications and misunderstandings can lead to so much unnecessary confusion and strife in one's life, and how friendships can so easily, as well as not-so easily, slip away.

We can, to an extent, decide who we want to bring into our lives, but we can't decide who will choose to keep us in theirs. Most of
us often see things the way we want to see them, but it would be enlightening to keep our minds open enough to at least contemplate another's perspective. By ignoring our own character flaws and simply finding another distraction to keep us from facing what is preventing us from becoming deeper and more empathatic individuals, we are ultimately delaying our own happiness. We can only work on our own issues and try to improve on the faults that others point out to us, or, if we're lucky enough, that we manage to see ourselves through our own mistakes. Others may not share our ideals in morality, loyalty, or any other important criteria that define a friendship, but to try to affect a change in their behaviour is ultimately fruitless, as many will unwittingly choose to live in blind disagreement and self-justification.

There's no time like the present to face these flaws that we all possess, and I'm beginning to see that the more a person avoids doing this
, the further and further they will find themselves from ever being truly satisfied in their lives, and for that matter, sincerely loved.

Some people will spend the rest
of their lives running from themselves, and others find themselves through running. Speaking for myself, a change of scenery can help to break a bad cycle of stangnant behaviour and thoughts. That short voyage on the Hindu was a wake-up; I felt refreshed, and I realized that although I love Key West and my 'conch parents' and most of the people I've met, I've been here too long.

I plan to leave Tuesday, well before the break of dawn. Just Effie and I. Heading east. Right now, that's all I know for certain of
my future, and I'm tranquil in my decision to go.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Recently, I went swimming against my will (the boat made me do it). I was trying to get a head start at cleaning the bottom growth off the hull before I hauled her two weeks ago. I can’t explain it, but since arriving in Key West, I’ve been afraid of the water. It’s an irrational fear, I know. I’ve grown up by the sea, swimming in icy waters in both Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. I’ve swam alongside barracuda in the Caribbean, and jumped into unfamiliar and frigid black waters that seemed bottomless from the edge of the rocks in the Isle of Mull in Scotland. But when I get in the water here (latest marine reports put the water in Key West Harbor at 88 degrees Fahrenheit) I panic, and breathing becomes difficult, and any string of seaweed slipping across the back of my neck or any distant splash causes me to race to the front of the boat where I can grab onto the head rig and pull myself out of the water, if only to hang above the surface for 30 seconds to regain my composure.

It’s a whole other challenge to then put my head under the water. I find something unsettling about seeing my boat from underwater, how she seems to be suspended so effortlessly in air. And the silence is, well, disquieting. Paradoxically, it somehow feels peaceful and protected. I think about how a boat is finally safe once it’s resting on the bottom, and while it marks the end of the ship’s story, it also dissolves the almost constant worries of the weary sailor who has fought so long to keep her afloat. I guess the trouble with all these thoughts are that they just seem too soon to relate to my boat.

Eventually on this particular day, I did put my head under, so I could scrub further under the hull. I tried not to let my eyes wander from the job at hand; I didn’t want to see the flow of the sea grass on the bottom, just a few feet deeper than the keel. For me, staying in the water is like being dropped into a pit full of innocuous grass snakes apart from for one token rattlesnake, while blindfolded and not knowing where, when, or if that rattlesnake is going to strike. This may sound extreme, but to me it is an accurate analogy. I managed to focus for about 10 minutes. I worked my way from stern to bow, scrubbing away and occasionally slicing my hands on barnacles as I braced myself away from the side, until a passing boat tossed me a glove (seems they’ve done this before). The cuts they leave are like deep paper cuts, and they stung in the salt water. I was less worried about the pain though than what the blood may have been attracting! As I completed the upper portion of the port side, I approached the bow and allowed my eyes to drift forward to my mooring chain, following it down to the bottom. It was the first time I saw what was actually responsible for holding my boat in place. Yes, it is indeed a sunken boat, but not just ANY boat… it is a wooden boat. No seaweed or splashing fish or hammerhead shark could have made my clamber out of the water any faster. This reaction may take some explaining, except to my fellow wooden boaters. Seeing the remains of the little boat, which by the looks of her was quite a sweet thing in her day, it was like finding a corpse. This was the first feeling that developed upon first glance, but it’s probably rooted in a deeper fear; a fear of knowing that it is the eventual fate of most wooden boats, mine being no exception. My next job is to face my fears, and go back down there and accurately assess how strong the remains are, and how my chain is attached. I’m hoping it’s wrapped around a lead or iron keel, rather than some part of the disintegrating hull.

I found it coincidental that my boat should end up being tied to another wooden boat whose days were up, wooden boats being scarce as they are around here. I struggled with how to feel about what laid before me… is it bad luck? Is it a testament to the extremes of weather and the challenge to keep any boat safe in Hurricane zone? Or is it little more than a testament to neglect, a boat whose owner had turned his (probably) back on her, and was left to survive the storms without the help she obviously needed?

Or is it good luck? Is it a less fortunate boat, now settled with its own lot and willing to oversee the survival of a sister still afloat? The thing about such superstitions is that we have a tendency to make them mean whatever suits our own desires best.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Boatyard Blitz

I had put it off for long enough. I finally realized that I didn't know what I was waiting for, so therefore had no excuse not to go over to Old Island Boatyard and book my haul-out.

I was to haul at 0800 on Thursday, so I decided I would head over with the boat on Wednesday night, to be sure to be there in plenty of time. Around 4pm I turned the key to start the engine, and..... click. Nothing. I had just started the engine 2 days earlier and there was lots of juice the the batteries. I couldn't figure out what killed them so quickly, but, not much time to dwell on that. I had to get the engine going so I could motor the 6 or so miles to Stock Island. There was little wind, and the heat from the sun was absolutely unbearable, so I decided I wasn't going to be rowing ashore in the heat to borrow a battery from a friend. My neighbor Jonathon soon offered another solution. A friend of his had a portable generator that I could plug my battery charger into, and get the voltage high enough to start the engine. Only problem was, it was all out of gas. Jonathon was going ashore anyway, so I gathered up the quarters and dimes from all over the boat, and eventually found about $4.20 worth of loose change, and a couple of hours later, Jonathon returned with 0.88 of a gallon of gas. We ran the generator until after 9pm sometime, and finally, the engine started. With reefs all around, and a narrow entrance at Stock Island, I wasn't willing to head over in the dark, so I resolved to get up before sunrise the next morning. Just to be sure, I let my engine run for another 2 hours to charge the batteries enough that I could rest assured that they'd start the engine the following morning. As I shut down the engine around 11pm, I was looking forward to the peaceful silence. But then I could still hear a gentle hum, bearly audible, but still within the boat. It sounded like the bilge pump, but it wasnt accompanied by the usual splashing noise that the water from the bilge makes as it's expelled out the hose over the side of the hull. I pulled up the floorboards, only to find far too much water in the bilge. I opened up the door to wear the bilge pump sits, and there it was, hose disconnected because both hose clamps had completely corroded off. The bilge pump is connected to a 'float switch', so when the water in the bilge reaches a certain level, the float rises up, and the bilge pump kicks in, powered by the 12-volt battery bank I have aboard. It pumps the water overboard until the water in the boat is low enough for the switch to lower and to automatically shut off. With the hoses no longer attached though, the pump just kept recycling all the water within the bilge itself, as the water level slowly kept rising. I figure it had been running steady for about 48hrs, while the boat was slowly sinking, unbeknownst to me. Now I knew why my batteries were dead!

It was a 0530 wake-up on Thursday, and I knew I had plenty of time to make my 0800 appointment. That was if my engine hadn't started overheating. My engine is cooled indirectly by salt water being pumped through it. Instead of motoring along at my usual 5 kts, I had to go a bit slower, between 2.5 and 3 kts, to give the engine the chance to keep its temperature down. I have yet to find the cause of that little problem. Anyway, I made it by 0900, and it's their slow-season down here, so no one at the yard was too upset about it.

To my knowledge, my boat has never been picked up out of the water by a Travel-lift. It is a deisel-run lift that has a series of slings that are adjustable, so you can hopefully distribute the boat's weight evenly. The other methods, that I'm accustomed to, involve always having a full-length of solid ground or wood, so the boat rests evenly along the entire length of her keel. So I was a bit nervous watching her being lifted up out of the water. I was required to sign a waiver to haul in this yard (for a couple of reasons) so if anything were to go wrong, I might have been looking for a new hobby. And house, and mode of transport, lifestyle, blogging material etc etc. I did get a bit carried away in my thoughts of impending doom, but all's well that ends well.

Once she was placed in her spot in the yard, she was lowered onto supporting blocks, so the weight of the boat was on the keel, and the 'jackstands' placed on either side were put in for extra stability.

I had booked to be be out from 0800 Thursday, and to 'splash' her at 1600 Friday, and with all that needed to be done, I went into high gear and didnt want to waste a precious minute. I had my spotlight and headlamp and spare batteries on hand, fully intending to work well into the night. But I certainly chose the right boatyard. Not long after I arrived, the manager, Alan, offered for me to stay the weekend and splash at 1600 Monday, at no extra cost ("Must be great having boobs" all the men who own boats in the yard would say to me over the next few days). I was surprised and very impressed at the offer! I took him up on it, of course, but rather than taking it easy and not pushing myself too hard, I extended my list of 'things to be done' and I decided to face a challenge that has been a constant worry to me, but that I had just assumed I would have to leave until I got back to Nova Scotia, and for my shipwright Mike to deal with. If there's one thing I can admit to being very skilled at, it is making things more difficult than they have to be. So I will briefly describe what my big concern was; one that I thought would involve hauling the boat for over a month and ripping out parts of the interior.

My boat is a series of mahogany planks fastened over oak frames. No one plank is long enough to extend the full length of the boat, so where 2 or more planks have to be put in line, the 'butt end' of the planks have to be attached to each other. This is done with a 'butt block'. Most of them are approximately 6 inches squared, and they are placed to span the 2 planks. There are 2 fasteners in each of the planks. Now, almost the entirety of the planks are fastened to the oak frames with bronze fasteners, which is a good choice of metal. Stainless steel comes second, and galvanized aren't great at all. Mixing any combination of these metals makes matters worse. Electrolysis will eat up the inferior metal. So although most of the boat has bronze screws, all the butt blocks were fastened with galvanized bolts. Over the years, these bolts have begun to crumble, and if any of them let go, then I will probably have a sprung plank on my hands. This was always going through my mind when I was out in any sort of unsettled weather, especially off Cape Fear. So my solution, until Josh simplified the whole dilema and proposed a better one, was to replace every nut and bolt and butt block, most of which are buried behind different parts of the interior construction of the boat. Someone suggested putting a bronze screw to reinforce each plank end. That way, it could all be done from the outside of the hull. Brilliant. So why leave that until I got back to Nova Scotia? Why not have the peace of mind now? Again, finding no good reason why I should wait that long, I bought a box of silicon bronze screws from Cubanitos, and my friend's dad helped me with drill-bits and counter-sinks, and wooden plugs to cover the screws once they were in place. Less than 8 hrs from when I began, I had drilled, screwed, plugged, and painted over 60 new holes below the waterline. I never thought myself able to do such a thing even a week ago, not considering my experience sufficient enough to drill holes in the most important component of the boat, but with some helpful advice, the job is done, and now I see further horizons as being attainable... perhaps a spring 2009 journey across the Atlantic to Scotland?

There were a few other things I had to deal with while she was high and dry. She was missing bottom paint from a few places after it was chafed off with the anchor chain in a storm. There were sacrificial zincs that needed replacing (same idea as the fasteners; the zincs are attached to metal below the waterline, like the propeller shaft, and the metal brackets that hold the rudder, so the electrolysis attacks the zincs first). I had a moderate leak in the stern that I wanted to caulk, and the bronze propeller needed to be tidied up.

Once I hauled the boat, I preferred to bike back to Key West to my friend's parent's place and have a comfortable (air-conditioned) room before going all-out during daylight hours. Effie took the opportunity to make her great escape while unattended on night two. She had leapt the 6 or so feet onto a sawhorse and took off into the night. From the moment the boat was hauled, she showed her eagerness to escape her prison ship that she had been confined to since late February in Cuba. She dangled over the side, and I'd say "No!" then she would meow, and I'd say "No!" then she would disappear. I figured she was up to no good, and I later found part of a bouquet of flowers that someone in the anchorage left me a few days earlier, no longer feeding off the fresh water in the vase, but rather the salt water from the toilet.

Once free, I thought she'd be dazzled by the shore life and swooning over tomcats, so I didnt hold out a lot of help of finding her. Then I thought about what a lackluster ending to her story that would be. Having sailed all the way from Nova Scotia, to Cuba, and Mexico, and back again, in fair seas and through storms, then to just disappear in a boatyard, never to be heard from again? I didnt like the sounds of that, and I started wishing she'd just come home.

A big part of this whole yard experience for me was the presense of another wooden boat. A Rosborough designed schooner built in Nova Scotia, no less. Just like mine. Mathew was overseeing the cold-molding of the hull of Compass Rose (a process by which a wooden boat in hopeless condition is given new life by its hull becoming fiberglass) . He has a lot of wooden boat experience, so was very helpful on a daily basis, providing me with some of the larger tools I required but dont carry aboard, and was always offering welcomed input. Most evenings I went over and had dinner and wine with him and his work crew. It was my favorite part of the day. On my last day, after the boat had been re-launched and was tied a ways down the dock (not where Effie had left her) I was at Compass Rose, having some wine and trying to convince Matt's dog Riley that we really should be friends (he almost removed one of my fingers on our first encounter) . There were witnesses who said Effie had returned to where the boat had been, and curled up next to my bike. She was gone though by the time I returned.

With a few glasses of wine in me, I was less shy about spinning around on my bike on that quiet evening and calling "Effie, come to mommy!" into the trees and into the direction of other boats she may have stowed away upon. It wasn't long before I was met with one long continuous meeeeeeoooooowwwww as she ran along the fence trying to find a gap to come over to my side. Her apparent lover followed her to a certain point, then realizing perhaps that I had more of a hold on her than he did, he gave up the chase, and sat and watched as I scooped her up and put her in my bike basket to go back to the boat. I reassured Effie that she deserved much better, if he let her get away that easily.

So with Effie home, and boat in the water, I was prepared to sail the following morning and go home to Key West. But one final check before leaving proved that I hadn't done very well fixing my leak. The wood had swelled up somewhat overnight, but I knew I could do better. Steve and Humberto ("Hey Baby, I will-a do ANYthing for you, Baby!") who handled the Travel-lift said that they weren't too busy, and were willing to pick the boat up again, and just leave her in the slings for an hour or two while I attended to the leak. You might not think it possible, but I actually made the leak worse. I started to investigate further than I should have, and discovered a soft-spot in the wood that would have been better off left alone. I think I disturbed it sufficiently that it will need replacing before it will ever stop leaving back there. Now that I've already brought the boat back to Key West, my remaining option is to try the sawdust method, where I will take a handful (or, more perhaps) of sawdust and hold it to the leaky spot, and the flow of water should suck it up into the gap, and eventually, I hope the leak will be reduced to a trickle. We will see!

All in all, I'm pleased with how things went. I am relieved that no worms got into the unprotected wood where the bottom paint was missing, and I am confident the boat is sturdier than before she was hauled.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Back to the Start

Scanning the scene down below, it’s hard to believe that this is the same boat, the same space, that was shared with my sister and friends as I made my first passage from Halifax to Lunenburg with Rissa, as Annie Laurie was known back then. Seems very long ago, and was in fact rather far away.

When we set out that Friday morning in August 2006, our planned destination wasn’t even Lunenburg, it was Second Peninsula. The re-launching of the fully rebuilt ‘Valkyrie’, a 29-ft wooden sloop originally built and launched on the beach at Second Peninsula in 1946, was taking place that Saturday on the afternoon tide. The work was completed by a professional boat builder named Eamonn Doorly who works for the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax. I had become acquainted with Eamonn a month earlier when he recognized my boat as that of his friend and co-worker Terry Shaw, who had succumbed to cancer a year earlier. I bought Rissa from his widow, Sjan. The launching would also be a memorial for Terry, Sjan would be there, and Eamonn asked if I would bring the boat down for the event.

Wanting to get an early start, I planned a departure of 7am. Having owned the boat for less than a month, I was still becoming acquainted with her systems, and I shouldn’t have been shocked when the engine wouldn’t start right off the bat. The batteries were dead (what did I know about properly maintaining 12-volt batteries at the time? Not much.) I didn’t know what to do to remedy this situation quickly, and I did feel rushed, it being nearly 55 miles we had to make that day. I called my friend Super Dave, a past captain of mine from a tall ship on which I had done a short stint to Gloucester, Massachusetts. He’s the same Scot who helped me a month earlier when I signed the final papers and took possession of the boat. Without him, I would have planted her square onto James’ Rock moments after leaving the dock (I was unprepared, no charts, no idea how to get out Purcell’s Cove, no radar, thick of fog etc etc). He recognized the tell-tale signs of shallow rocks by the seaweed that was licking the surface dead ahead. His sailing and engineering skills I know and trust. While I was still in Nova Scotia, he was usually the first person that came to mind when I needed help, and he never let me down.

The invitation to Second Peninsula forced me to cram many things I had been avoiding, and a quick radio check (VHF radio) confirmed that I was able to receive, but not transmit. It’s law, but more importantly, it’s common sense not to leave port without a working radio. By 10:00, Dave had the engine going and the batteries charging, and a spare handheld VHF for me to bring. We were off to the races! Well, we would have been, if there had been a breath of wind. Nevertheless, thanks to the ‘iron jib’ (my Perkins 4-108 diesel) we didn’t have to wait for wind nor tide.

I guess it’s time to introduce my original crew. There were three aside from myself; two sailors and a wooden boat builder. My sister was up for the weekend excursion, and I knew that with her would come chocolate and great breakfasts, as well as her unfailing ridiculous and nonsensical behaviour that would keep me laughing, if no one else. I was thrilled when my friend Colin offered to help, giving up his coveted 1 day-off every 2 weeks from sailing the Bluenose II. Colin Duann is also a very talented artist in the field of film and photography. I'm grateful for the record of memories he created with our cameras on that trip, providing me with photos and footage of the 'early days' which I might not have made the effort to record on my own (please treat yourself to his Into the Mystic Bluenose film on Youtube, under 'whoneedsahandle'). Lastly, a visiting boat builder at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic was looking to increase his sailing experience on wooden boats, rather than just assembling them. I happily agreed, thinking if I encountered any sort of major leak, Wyatt would be just the man to have aboard.

As I was saying, we motored out of Halifax Harbor, and it appeared the fog would continue retreating from coast. It didn’t take Katie long to notice that the co-ordinates on my archaic handheld GPS hadn’t changed since we left the dock. Not knowing how to reset it, it became useless to me. That’s alright, I thought. I could finally put to the test everything I had learned over the years on the various ships I worked on. It’s different though when it’s your own boat and you feel the lives of your crew are in your hands. Sometimes I long for those days of working on other peoples boats, where the ultimate responsibility and worry belonged to someone else. Through all the learning that took place on other ships, I always knew that the officer of the watch had that ultimately responsibility, and they were double-checking every plot you made on the chart. Now, that was up to me. Without a GPS, I was relying solely on my compass and paper charts, taking sights of 3 known points of land and plotting our position as where the 3 lines coincided. I was pleased with myself as we progressed, and I seemed to get more and more accurate (a self-check is how small the resulting triangle is that’s formed by the 3 lines. If your third line falls directly over the ‘X’ of the first 2, then you have a very accurate position).

It was about 1PM when we spotted the famous Nova Scotia landmark, Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse. It is a very distinct sight, one that every Nova Scotian is very familiar with, as it is represented on everything from place mats to Christmas ornaments, and is a popular destination for Sunday drives any time of year. It is unmistakable to any native to Nova Scotia.

Most Maritimers know the expression, ‘If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute…’ and not that any of us were complaining, but moments after taking a final sight of Peggy’s Cove, mist and fog began to roll in, and visibility quickly diminished to a varying ½ to 1 nautical mile. Now I wished I had that GPS. I was left with the most basic of navigational techniques, dead reckoning. For the next 10 hrs we would try our best to keep on our compass course, while watching how fast the water passed the hull so we could make a guess at our speed through the water.

I went below to take another look at where we were, and I gave Colin a new compass course to account for the shift in the wind direction that accompanied the fog. The wind had increased, and we were finally able to sail. That was reassuring, because without radar, it’s hard to know if you’re about to hit another boat in the fog if you can’t have some sort of audio clues, which the sound of the engine can disguise. If another boat on a collision course with you is also under sail, without radar or foghorn, well, we don’t really like to talk about that.

At some point that afternoon, I decided to change our destination to Lunenburg. I had sailed in and out of there many times on other boats, like the Bluenose II and Highlander Sea, and it had a well marked harbor and channel. Foghorns and bell-buoys would be there to guide us in, though I really was banking on the fog lifting well before. Second Peninsula was an obscure little bay to me at the time, with small day-markers that weren’t lit, let alone fitted with any kind of sound signals. I had never been there before, and I didn’t want my first time to be a midnight arrival in the fog.

As the hours passed, I made educated guesses every 15 minutes as to where I thought we were. At around 4PM, visibility temporarily improved to about 2 ½ miles and I was sure I should be able to see either Big Duck or Little Duck Island off our starboard side. Instead, Colin spotted a red and green bell buoy. That was totally unexpected; according to my charts, there were no such buoys for miles in any direction of my assumed position. I asked him to sail closer so we could read its identifying numbers. Disbelief soon followed, as we realized we were at the approaches of Shag Harbor. We hadn’t even made it to Peggy’s Cove yet (a sight unmistakable to every Nova Scotian, unless your name is Laura!). Then what was that vision of the lighthouse on the rocks that had fooled all of us? (sorry, in all fairness, Katie and Wyatt weren’t fooled, they were too seasick and hiding out down below out of the cold wind and rain to notice much of the scenery). Turns out we had spotted Betty’s Island. I won’t make that mistake again, was all I could tell myself. The fog closed in around us once more. The southeasterly swells were increasing and the ride was becoming less comfortable. We were many many miles from where I wanted to be, and darkness wouldn’t be long coming.

I took a deep breath, tried not to let my confidence take too hard of a knock, and I recalculated the rest of our course based on our new position, hoping that this time it was right! I came to a decision, and told Colin the plan. We would sail a northwesterly course for ‘X’ amount of time, then we would have to gybe, and sail a southwesterly course for another hour, and if visibility remained what it was, Cross Island, at the mouth of Lunenburg Bay, would magically appear out of the fog. I couldn’t believe my luck when, plus or minus 15 minutes, Cross Island lay before us. It was 10pm, and our final course change to aim for the inner harbor had us on a beautifully calm run dead down wind. The remainder of the fog lifted in time with our sighs of relief. We were going to make last call at the Knot Pub!

We got an early start Saturday, under blue skies and gentle breezes, and backtracked to Second Peninsula, approached the beach and anchored amongst the multitude of other wooden boats. The launching was a moving sight to behold, a classic boat with a renewed soul, being given a second chance at life. That day, I hoped Sjan would be reminded of good memories of Terry and the time they spent together on Rissa, and take comfort in the fact that, in a sense, a very big part of him still lived on.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Batten Down the Hatches

One day before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, the first named storm was announced, Tropical Storm Arthur, who's remnants are currently affecting Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula. For a storm to be named, it must reach a minimum of tropical storm status, which is sustained winds of 34kts or higher. They are named in alphabetical order, the names taken from a predetermined list. It just so happens that the name chosen when the letter 'L' comes up to bat this year is Laura. I think of the possible irony of a hurricane Laura hitting Key West while I'm here, while knocking very hard on wood, of course.

The beginning of the hurricane season marks the end of Hurricane Awareness Week, which I followed with keen interest. I anticipated receiving more information than I really wanted, giving me more reasons to worry by providing me with more scenarios of just how bad things could really get. It was just the opposite though. I learned that it has been over a hundred years since the last hurricane of Category 3 (winds of 96kts) or higher has hit Key West; the last Category 5 (sustained winds of 135kts or more) was in 1846 (the categories are 1 to 5, 1 being the weakest, 5 being the 'we're all gonna die!'). Statistically speaking, Key West is more likely to be hit by a hurricane than more northerly areas of the southern U.S., but when more northerly areas are struck, they are more likely to experience a more severe hurricane, if that explanation makes any sense to you. Yes, I was a meteorologist, but I never claimed to be a good one.

Cuba actually deserves some thanks for this fact. Because of its landmass, it can take a lot of the steam out of a hurricane before it makes its way to the Keys. Hurricanes, to sustain themselves as well as to increase in intensity, require the heat and moisture of the warm sea surface beneath them. So a (relatively) weak storm hitting the Keys can go on to track offshore and up the coast, increasing in strength along the way and thus be able to do far greater damage to the mainland United States.

I have a few options for riding out the inevitable storms and my plans are somewhat in place after taking a survey of many locals who have dealt with all this before.

Up to a certain wind velocity, I should be safe on my mooring, which is very strong. The worst case scenario in that situation is being struck by another boat that has broken free of its mooring. For those who don't know and if I haven't explained this before, a mooring is basically a permanent anchor at a given location, with a buoy on a line at the surface that is readily tied on to the bow of your boat. It saves the effort of hauling up all that chain and your anchor every time, and it's normally much heavier than your standard anchor. For example, my anchor is only 33 pounds, whereas moorings can be anything from an oil drum filled with cement, an old engine block, or if you're living Key's style, your mooring may be chains tied to boats that were sunk in the last big storm to roll through.

Anything over 65 knots and I'll want to consider one of two other options. Going dockside to a floating dock is the first. Key West Bight has a small entrance, being surrounded by the town on three sides, and the fourth side is a partial breakwater. Now, one of the most dangerous aspects of a hurricane is actually not the high winds and waves, it is the storm surge that accompanies them. A storm surge is a significant and fast increase in the sea level caused partly by the high winds of a hurricane making landfall, and partly by how fast the atmospheric pressure drops in the vicinity of the low pressure system. So a storm surge can have disastrous effects, if water levels rise so high that the floating docks float right up and over the large posts that are meant to keep them in place (they slide up and down these posts under normal tide changes of a couple of feet). If they rise up and over (I think the docks down here are prepared to handle a 12-ft storm surge), the whole system comes unglued and it would then become perfectly conceivable that my boat could end up two blocks away in my friend's back yard. A new friend of mine out in the anchorage lost his boat in Hurricane Wilma a few years back, only to have it spotted by the coast guard off the coast of Miami a week later, and 200 miles away.

Option number two is a much more traditional method of procuring the safety of one's boat, and you do know by now how much of a traditionalist I am, so I am definitely leaning towards this option. You seek out an area of mangroves (low, stout bushes that are the first forms of plant life to stick their heads above the water as islands form out of coral reefs) where there is a narrow canal, and you make your boat as a spider in a web, sending lines off in a dozen directions to the sturdy roots of the mangroves. I was recently told of one of these areas not far from Key West, which I hope to head over and check out soon. It may be too shallow to get my boat in there, so I'd like to explore it well before any impending storm to see if it's truly an option. It's actually Navy property, used at one time as a home for submarines, though it has since silted in somewhat. Apparently the Navy are quite happy to lift their restrictions in the case of hurricanes and let private boaters run for safety in there. I must add that there are marinas here whose moral responsibility is not aligned with that of the Navy, and one marina actually increases its rates during storms. No, this ain't the Northeast (if you recall while in Provincetown, Massachusetts, we were approached and offered free dockage at a slip left vacant by Schooner Hindu for the duration of Tropical Storm Noel). Hindu has continued to be a re-occuring theme in my journey, though not entirely positive. During Noel, she was already on her way to her winter port of Key West. We saw that wooden beauty of 1925 as the three of us rowed ashore in Key West that first night. The crew were loitering on the dock after their sunset sail, and one of them would eventually become my temporary crew to assist me in my passage from Cuba to Mexico, and then from Mexico to Key West.

The weather, and more specifically the winds, have been and will continue to be responsible for the direction my life takes. When I reflect on how far I've come, and where I thought I'd be by now (just completing my circumnavigation of Cuba!) I see how they've decided where I will go, if I will go, how far I will get, and who will accompany me. If I had met my goals of Christmas in Cuba sipping on mojitos (Tyler, why did you have to plant that image in my brain!), many things that define my life now would be much different. The wind may not explain why it has decided all these various fates, but living this way, knowing it is a natural wonder that has this boat on its puppet strings, helps me to trust its path.

Having recently shared my contemplations on 'signs', what do you think about this: As I wrote my concluding remarks above, Bob Dylan came on the radio singing,

'The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, the answer is blowin' in the wind'

Cheesy, yet entirely true.