Monthly Archives: October 2010

Voyaging with Velella: Things that Go Bump in the Night

This is the first installment in the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, Prescott and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise from Los Angeles to New York via the Panama Canal.

Our to-do list is dwindling. It’s hard for me not to find other things to do to fill the holes . . . but if I did that we’d never leave. So tonight, we’re headed to Universal Studios Halloween Haunted House to scare the crap out of ourselves. You know, for fun. I hear the production value is incredibly high.

Our haunted evening will have one of two effects on my mental preparedness for our sailing trip: 1. It will really put me on edge, and make me even more jumpy as we get underway, or 2. It will scare me SO much that everything that follows will seem not so scary really. I mean, my first few hours back on night watches will give me goosebumps, but they’ll be a whole lot less scary than if I looked up and saw a severed head hanging from the spreaders or a goopy, toothy sea monster rising up behind me to clobber Velella.

Shoot. As I write this I realize I didn’t account for my imagination.

My imagination, after all, is what makes me sometimes go “tharn.” A term we often use around the boat borrowed from Richard Adams’ Watership Down, tharn is that “state of staring, glazed paralysis that comes over terrified or exhausted rabbits, so that they sit and watch their enemies–weasels or humans–approach to take their lives.” My openly stated goal is never to go tharn. When I do, Prescott has to coax me out of it–so he actively works to ensure that I do not go tharn.

In my defense, my anxieties have matured from just things that go bump in the night. I no longer fear an accidental gybe, or Prescott falling overboard while I’m asleep, or rats running up our docklines, because we know what to do to control those situations and minimize real risk. We’ve even gotten a good handle on the capricious nature of weather (thanks in large part to our seriously upgraded onboard weather forecasting equipment and know-how). I’m confident that we can keep ourselves out of trouble.

What remains to make me tharn is fear of crippling seasickness, and not being fluent in Spanish, and (god forbid) being attacked at anchor. Seasickness, I’m sure, I will endure and survive. Spanish, I’m sure, I will learn on our long night watches on the run down Baja (thanks, Rosetta Stone). Attackers, I must keep reminding myself, always make news, and the real statistics do protect us. And we have protection in the proximity of other cruisers (particularly those whose boats are more tricked-out with stuff to steal than ours!). It’s hard for me not to consider Velella the most beautiful vessel in the world, but Prescott keeps reminding me that she’s really not the most attractive thing in an anchorage for thieves. Either way, I’m sleeping with an air horn and pepper spray by my berth, because they help me sleep more soundly.

And although I’m mostly rational and thorough about possible problems, I would be a foolish sailor if I didn’t ascribe to a certain amount of superstition. Above the nav station hangs a wooden frog figurine given to me by my aunt and uncle (because in Japanese, the word frog and the word journey “kaeru” are the same, so you give anyone you love going on a journey a frog to ensure they return safely.) We wear carved Maori amulets signifying “safe passage over water” around our necks (a gift from Prescott’s parents), and knotted red strings around our wrists, an age-old charm for favorable winds.

On Tuesday evening the ASA staff and friends gathered at Velella for a sending-off happy hour. Of course, Neptune was in attendance, and was served copious amounts of good champagne. (See video of the ceremony here.)

In the next few days, we’ll depart. But not on a Friday.

Preparing for the Departure of SV Velella

Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, Meghan Cleary and her fiance´ Prescott are about to embark on a 9-month cruise aboard SV Velella. Oh, and the kitten is going too.

Yesterday we, the ASA staff, ducked out a little early to go down to their slip nearby in beautiful Marina del Rey, CA, and wish them well. Here, captured on video, are Meghan and Prescott doing their best to get on Neptune’s good side with champagne. You can spot the rest of us standing around–I’ll let you guess who’s who.

Remember, you can always watch these and all our other great videos on our Youtube channel!

Meghan will be blogging regularly on the adventures of SV Velella, and it’ll all be available right here on the official ASA social media site!

November Photo of the Month Contest Results

This past week our Facebook page has been hosting the November Photo of the Month contest, and this being the first such contest I’ve presided over as ASA Social Media Coordinator, I wasn’t sure what I was in for. Photography is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. There are the inevitable black & white shots of spiderwebs, the wings of airplanes, and, of course, the “Everyone Has Their Eyes Closed” (my personal specialty).

So I left it to you, the faithful ASA members and fans. And you did not disappoint. We jumped into this with no theme and no instructions beyond “Show me what ya got.” As it turns out, we could make 2 years worth of calendars from what you’ve got.

Without further ado, I present the winner, November’s Photo of the Month:

Sailing Ellis Island

This one emerged from a very strong field as the runaway winner. The submitter, Kevin Costello, describes the scene thusly: “Sunset Over Manhattan Harbour. Sailing with Manhattan Sailing Club with Ellis Island and an amazing sky for a backdrop.”

Congratulations, Kevin! Tell him what he’s won!

(In addition to the overwhelming praise of his peers, this photo will be featured in November’s ASA E-Newsletter.)

We must also pay homage to our runner-up, submitted by Richard Simpson:

Sunset on the water

“Sunset at anchor just outside of Comox BC, Canada.”

Lastly, I’m going to bestow an Editor’s Choice Award on Joe Hanna’s shot of open ocean (somewhere between San Francisco and O’ahu) for giving me flashbacks to my own Pacific Ocean crossing:

midway between oahu and sf

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all who submitted. Keep those cameras handy for next month’s contest, which will have a theme (TBD).

BP Oil Spill: 6 Month Anniversary

Clearwater, FL

Six months ago today the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded while extracting oil from the Gulf of Mexico’s Macondo prospect, principally owned by BP. We’re all very acutely aware of what happened next: a catastrophic oil spill that within 10 days covered an estimated 3,850 square miles. This event is traumatic in itself, and especially so when you consider the ravages already sustained by the Gulf Coast in the last 5 years. There are some of you who live and work in this region and who even rely on the Gulf for your livelihood. The rest of us know that the Gulf is a global treasure and no expense must be spared to restore it.

Though it has given way in the headlines to more immediate matters, the disaster is far from over. Therefore, I thought it was worth the time to try and get a handle on the latest developments.

–On October 5th, President Obama signed an executive order establishing the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, which will coordinate future efforts. In charge of the task force is EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, who grew up in New Orleans. According to the Times-Picayune, the first meeting of the task force is set for Nov. 8th, at a location in the Florida panhandle that has not been decided yet.

–On October 15, Jackson wrote on the White House’s blog: “Whether we face an immediate, emergency situation like the BP spill, or the gradual accumulation of challenges and degradation, our responsibilities to address the problems and find solutions are exactly the same. In each case, our efforts are focused on getting real, measurable results in the restoration of waterbodies that millions of people depend on.” (Read the entire thing here.)

Here’s hoping that a large-scale, long-term approach will yield those “real, measurable results.” So far the right things are being said and done. The creation of this Task Force shows that the issue is not being forgotten. However, the hard work is just beginning. We sailors are patient people, people who know that progress takes time, but we expect vigilance. Hopefully vigilance is what we’ll get.

I’d love to hear comments from all of you: If you’re in the Gulf area or have been recently, what have you observed? How is the spill affecting maritime lifestyle?

Weathering Earl in the British Virgin Islands

Avoid ending up like this.

Many of you have been lucky enough to learn to sail, cruise or charter in the British Virgin Islands. Here is an update from Pat Nolan who owns and operates Sistership Sailing School on Tortola after recently weathering hurricane Earl:

Location, location, location. That real estate mantra also applies to hurricane survival (followed closely by preparation, preparation, preparation). Having just come through the very large, very powerful category 4 hurricane Earl in the BVI, I can say that both location and preparation are key to minimizing damage. Lucky for us the eye of the storm passed about 30 miles north of Anegada so we on Tortola, roughly 27 miles southeast of Anegada were spared the worst. We still experienced sustained winds of 100+ mph; winds strong enough to sink boats, blow boats ashore, smash boats into docks and. Those who took the time to move boats to a well protected hurricane anchorage, secure the deck and all gear topside, in addition to properly anchor riding out the storm, sustained minimal damage if any.

One must remember that the wind often comes from every direction during a hurricane, so your choice of anchorage must be protected 360 degrees. For those of you familiar with the harbors in the BVI, Road Town, Soper’s Hole and Anegada proved places NOT to be. In those harbors numerous boats were sunk, piled on top of one another or beached. In Trellis Bay, Nanny Cay, Paraquita Bay and inner Sea Cow’s Bay boats did fine. Boats in virtually landlocked Paraquita Bay are packed in like sardines, lying to hurricane gear installed by the government. Trellis Bay hosts a large community of live-aboards lying to their own private moorings. Those folks are old hands at hurricane preparation and it showed – no damage reported there. Nanny Cay, the marina we operate from, is completely land locked save for the very small entrance. All the boats are moored to floating docks. Even though well protected, the high winds and tidal surge still put a huge strain on the docks. Several times during the beginning of the storm we needed to jury rig finger piers that sheared off from the main dock. Struggling in 80 knot gusts to secure a bucking bronco of a finger pier with two big boats attached to it is not my idea of a good time. It took a team of us to do it, but it worked.

Luckily that work was done in the daylight. When the worst of the storm hit after dark, the dock was not the place to be. Safely shuttered in our concrete block of a house we crossed our fingers that the docks would hold through the night. They did.

Many snowbirds keep their boats in the BVI. Unless you have hired a good management company to oversee your boat in your absence you would not want to leave it in the water; rather on the hard, in the yard is the place to be. Boatyards here are experienced at storing and securing boats to minimize storm damage. It is imperative that owners take the time to make their boats are ‘hurricane ready’ after their last cruise just prior to hauling out. Not sure exactly what that entails? Many great articles have been written on this subject. Just Google “How to prepare my boat for a hurricane” and take your pick. And don’t wait till the last minute – it all takes time.

New ASA Social Media Coordinator

Greetings, this is Ben Miller–your new ASA Social Media Coordinator. As you may know, Meghan Cleary is moving on, so I’ll be taking over all of ASA’s online platforms. I’m excited to get to know everyone and to bring you the latest news on ASA events, flotillas, and other sailing opportunities, as well as the goings-on in the sailing world. Meghan will still be chiming in with occasional blogs from her adventures on the high seas, but I’ll be your day-to-day writer.

Everyone loves a sea story, so here’s mine: I grew up mostly in land-locked Idaho, so my first serious sailing came in college, when I did some cruising in Washington’s Puget Sound. The San Juan Islands were a revelation to me, a world completely inaccessible to my normal life. I was hooked. Subsequently I enrolled in the Sea Education Association’s program, based out of Woods Hole, MA. This was a tall-ship sailing program that involved a 3,000 mile Pacific Ocean crossing from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to the islands of French Polynesia. In the course of this long cruise I became a shellback — I know it’s sometimes fun to haze the new guy, but you all have your work cut out for you to do better than Neptune does at the equator.

Trivia about me: I’m a little bit obsessed with nautical culture and lore, especially writers, from Captain Bligh to Herman Melville to Patrick O’Brian, and so forth. I have a dream (maybe a pipe dream) of one day opening a nautically themed movie theater. My all-time favorite sailor is Captain James Cook.

The last few years have been dry ones for me: I was in graduate school at UC Irvine and working as a teacher. I’m very glad now to be involved in the sailing world once again, and to swap sea stories with all of you fine folks on this blog, along with Facebook and Twitter. Please feel free to comment and get involved as much as possible!

“Promotion to the Ocean”

It’s officially autumn, my friends, which makes this a perfectly natural migration time. The birds do it, the “snowbirds” do it, and now I’m going to do it too. With a knot of excitement in my stomach, it’s time to announce know that I’m moving on from the ASA Social Media office, but in a way I hope you all will appreciate: We’re embarking in three weeks on a nine-month cruise in the tropics. (Yipee!!!!)

We’re bringing in a new social media guru to connect with you all on a daily basis (he’s great, you’ll love him)–and I’ll still be sending in weekly dispatches from the high seas as ASA’s new “writer at large.” I am calling it my “promotion to the ocean!”

I truly hope, as snow blankets the northern latitudes, that you all will enjoy the armchair adventures provided by the ongoing narrative from S/V Velella. Perhaps it’ll inspire you to let go the bowlines yourself one of these days. Or perhaps you’ll just get a good chuckle out of it at my expense! Either way, I am emboldened by the knowledge that so many great sailors will be following along, and, like a virtual flotilla, your company in the form of comments and suggestions will help to keep us safe and sane.

The next couple of weeks will most certainly be insane, as we finalize the many remaining outfitting details and pack provisions in every which way. I’ve got screens to sew, tanks to sanitize, filters to fit, and a rig to go over every inch of with a cottonball. Our departure date is not set in stone (the weather will dictate which day we leave exactly), but let’s just say I might have to wear a Halloween costume for it.

And just so you know who’s who, let me introduce the boat and crew. This is Velella. She is a 35′ Young Sun (Westwind) cutter. I’ll give you a thorough tour later.

You may already recognize Prescott, my co-captain and mate-for-good (we just got engaged on the ASA Croatia flotilla):

And this is Nessie, our little sea monster. She’s been sailing since kittenhood, and she appears to think the engine noise is just a big purring thing. She is quite curious about the dolphins in Santa Monica Bay, and I can’t wait to see what she thinks of flying fish.

So you’ll be hearing more about Velella and company over the coming months. Our plan is to transit the Panama Canal and head up the East Coast (before next year’s hurricane season); however, I’m not promising anything because you know what they say about a calendar on a boat. We’ll play it by ear, because true to the name of our little ship, we’re “by-the wind sailors.”

Sirocco and Bora Bora Breezes

Continuing “Croatian Tapestry”

The builders of Korcula were excellent urban planners. Inside the walled city the narrow alleyways feel mazelike, but in fact they are laid out in parallel lines with only a couple cross streets running the entire length. The ancient builders positioned the streets this way to take advantage of the seasonal winds: Warm Sirocco breezes are the city’s natural air conditioning in summer, while the cold northern Bora Boras, coming from the perpendicular direction in the winter, are blocked out.

Our passage back to Milna from Korcula gave us first-hand experience of the biting Bora Bora, beginning at 8am. After a lovely sunrise, it began to rain by the time we collected our boats’ papers from the reception office. I had (very stupidly) elected not to pack my hefty foulies on this trip, thinking ah, it’s the Adriatic–any weather we might see will be nothing compared to winter in the Pacific Northwest! Well, that was true, but I still wished I had my foul weather jacket as we headed out into the wind-tunnel Korculanski Channel. I settled instead for garbage-bag couture.

Due to the snarly weather, we had agreed on a radio protocol: every hour on the hour we would check in and report positions. Having the rest of the fleet close by was certainly a comfort when we hit weather–one of the many perks of flotilla sailing, I realized that morning. It was a bit of a bucking-bronco ride, especially on our little boat (the smallest in the fleet). One of the neighboring big boats even hung back near us to make sure we were fine (thank you Hedda Gabler!!)

We skirted the edge of a distinct squally-looking cloud bank, and hugged the southern coast of Hvar. Though the forecast predicted strengthening conditions throughout the day, the winds were tempered in the shadow of the island, and the waves settled significantly by the time we motored in to Milna. Everyone was wet and aching for a hot shower, and luckily for us, Milna had the BEST showering facilities. I really think there may be nothing more satisfying in life than a hot shower after a cold rainy sail.

We congregated for dinner at a restaurant that sat just beyond our med-moored sterns. The catch of the day was a grilled steak from a 50-kilo tuna. Even the resident kittens got a fresh chunk! Freshly dressed and warm, with a roaring outdoor grill wafting the savory fragrance from the biggest tuna I’d ever seen, I was prepared to sleep soundly under the patter of rain on the cabintop.

As we motored away from Milna to return our boats the next morning, I was glad we experienced a little weather on the trip. Weather makes the food taste better, the beds more comfortable, the showers more spa-like. It made me feel like we’d properly “done” the Adriatic. So we piled into busses and returned to our villa in Trogir having been baptised by that jewel blue sea. I took away the warm flavor of bijela kavas, unlabled bottles of home-pressed olive oil, a thousand stunning photographs, and some med-mooring tricks up my sleeve.

(Oh–and I also took home a sparkling little ring on my left hand. You never know what’s going to happen on an ASA sailing flotilla ladies and gentlemen!!)

The Scientific Testing of Sladoleds

Continuing “Croatian Tapestry”

We woke up early in Hvar to proper gusts straining us back on our mooring ball and a half-chafed through bow line. I’d been up the whole night checking and half-expecting this, but the grim reality of having to cast off at 6am in the dark was an abrupt awakening nevertheless. We scooted across the choppy channel to Palmizana to meet up with the rest of the group (we were a bit scattered out because moorings were so scarce the night before). The wild wind on that short early morning ride got my adrenaline pumping and reminded me of our cruise down the Pacific Coast last year. It secretly felt good to have my blood pressure elevated like that again.

We tucked in to Palmizana next to the rest of the fleet at 6:30am and wandered up to the reception building, which wouldn’t be open until 8. The marina was huge and full of boats, but the early morning was quiet but for the howling wind. We walked along the shore of the densely forested island for a bit and predicted that a cozy day in from the weather.

Sure enough, when the rest of the group met at the only caffe, the majority consensus was to abandon the itinerary for the day in favor of staying out of the nasty weather. There were some who wanted to go joyriding in the channel–so they suited up in foulies and struck out to play in the spray for a couple hours. The rest of us dawdled on the docks, took much-deserved naps, and hiked across the wooded island to the far shore. At the end of our hike, I treated myself to our first ice cream–“sladoled”–in Straciatella flavor (whatever that is). It was absolutely wonderful stuff–light, creamy, sweet without being overly sugared. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t tasted it yet on the trip.

Sladoled, in fact, was one of the driving reasons we got underway at 6am the following morning, knowing that it would be a long 35 nm stretch to Korcula. Supposedly in Korcula, in the righthand corner of the main square as you’re facing the cathedral, is the BEST sladoled place EVER. Jean De Keyser, our trip leader, absolutely loves the stuff, and happens to be a very convincing salesman too (and certainly in the evening when we’ve all been drinking gin and tonics!). So with mouths watering, we wholeheartedly agreed to get up in the morning and go to Korcula–hurrah!–to continue what Jean referred to as “the scientific testing of sladoleds!”

Sladoleds aside completely, Korcula was well worth the windward passage to get there. Approaching the picturesque walled city through Korcula channel reminded me a lot of the Columbia River Gorge–Mediterranean style. Steep cliffs soared on either side of the channel, dotted with ancient castles and manors perched up in the hills. Windsurfers and kite surfers zigzaged across the water. Tacking upwind into the channel, we got great views of both shorelines from the edges of our course, and each time we turned the stunning skyline of Korcula grew larger.

My only regret from the whole trip was that we had too little time in Korcula (but there’s no use in arguing with the weather for long). I can’t complain about cocktails under the sunset on TOP OF A CASTLE. They even sent the drinks up in a little basket-pulley system over the edge! We spent the late evening strolling through the maze of stone streets, admiring coral jewelry, stopping for glasses of wine in alleyway nooks, enjoying the upward view of ancient steeples against a starry sky. And the sladoled results are in, and Korcula’s variety is empirically the best.