Monthly Archives: November 2010

Voyaging with Velella: Happy Thanksgiving!

Continuing 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 in the tropics.

22 53.65′ N
109 53.16′W

Cabo Beach

We put on Christmas music yesterday and I was reminded of being snowed in to Prescott’s apartment in Seattle a couple years ago. I held that chilly, cozy thought in my mind as I savored a tart slice of grapefruit in the blinding sun. It’s hard to believe that today is Thanksgiving, because being from “up North,” I associate this day with piles of snow and hot cider and pumpkin bread bounty. This year though, our Thanksgiving will be celebrated with a swim and snorkel in the 75-degree “pool,” fresh guacamole, and bright yellow cans of Pacifico Clara. There is no sign of Thanksgiving in the sweeping blue bay at Cabo San Lucas, but I have a long list of things I am thankful for.

Numerous times on the way down the coast, I decided to become the voluntary spokeswoman for several pieces of gear we have on Velella. I even tried to write a couple of odes (I’m not kidding). It’s no secret that cruising is seriously hard work–so our gear choices have become hugely important to me on a daily and hourly basis. Let me give you an example.

Because we’re downwind sailing almost all of the time in relatively light air, our foresail tends to collapse and snap full when we’re rolling over the swell. It’s hard on the rig and irritating, and most often requires us to douse the sail altogether and sail on just the main (a slow way to go). So, I am extremely thankful for our brand new whisker pole, compliments of Forespar, which is rigged on a sliding track on the front of the mast. The pole telescopes and holds the foot of the foresail out on the opposite side of the main (to windward), allowing the sail to fill with air unobstructed by the main and steadying it from collapse.

We spent 48 hours recently running wing on wing with the whisker pole, making 6.5 knots instead of 4–a HUGE improvement in speed for us. The whisker pole turned what could have been a passage of two nights and three days into only one and a half days. Which means more time lounging around at anchor, reading and snorkeling in the sun–and that’s the point of all this, right?

We also upgraded Velella with a SSB transceiver and Pactor Modem, a combination of radio equipment which allows us to receive daily weather forecast files on our computer and connect with huge nets of sailors headed in our same direction. Every day, we listen to Don Anderson from Santa Barbara give detailed voice forecasts for our specific locations–it’s like having a professional weather router for free. And, the modem allows us to send and receive email from home. On a journey filled with empty sea and time alone, the ability to connect over long distances with other sailors and with our family is crucial for our morale.

Perhaps the biggest boon has been the Monitor self-steering wind vane. I can’t say enough about this ingenious framework of stainless steel mounted quietly on our stern. Not only does it draw zero energy, deriving all of its power from the wind and leverage from mechanical gears, it steers the boat flawlessly and efficiently. The Monitor has taught us to be better sailors, because in order for it to work, the sails need to be perfectly balanced. It’s been the best teacher of the fine art of sail trim I’ve ever had. It steers the boat 98% of the time–freeing the former helmsman up to view dolphins from the bow, go below to make a quick sandwich, or curl up under the dodger with a book at night.

It is such an integral part of our lives that we even gave it a name (a common thing for cruisers to do actually). In our logbook when we notate the running position, barometric reading, conditions, etc., under “At the Helm” we now put “SG” more often than not. Samwise Gamgee at the helm. Prescott named it Sam after the Lord of the Rings character–-when I asked him why that name, he replied, “Because when Frodo was too weak to make it up the mountain with the Ring, Sam was the one who carried him.”

Oh, and the list goes on. Our hot black sun shower, shady sun awning, powerful array of solar panels, etc. etc. They all come together in a fantastic symphony working together to make the trip safe, comfortable, and so much fun. So I am extremely thankful this Thanksgiving that we have gear that acts as a silent crew, helping us with the heavy lifting of such an undertaking.

Click here to follow Velella’s track.

December Photo of the Month: “Animals Onboard”

In our search for the December Photo of the Month (theme: “Animals Onboard”) we encountered hitch-hiking egrets and feral minks, stuffed bilge rats, and some unlucky fish who found themselves above water. More than anything, we learned that the world has a lot of sailing dogs. (Seadogs?)

One photo emerged as the favorite of our Facebook fans.

This eager pair is waiting for Mom & Dad to come home from shopping (and wearing their life jackets) in Salt Springs, B.C.

Congratulations to Mary Jayne Stevens, who submitted this photo, which will be published in the December ASA E-Newsletter!

Runner-up went to this photo of Nessie submitted by ASA Writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. (Hey, is this contest rigged??)

Lastly, my Editor’s Choice Award goes to Huey aboard Respite, sent in by Leila Mureebe, because it’s not every day you see a tongue like that.

Click here to view the full gallery of seafaring animals, and don’t forget to “Like” our Facebook page if you haven’t already!

Thanks to everyone who submitted and stay tuned for next month’s contest theme!

Voyaging with Velella: Turtle Bay

Continuing 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 in the tropics.

¡Hola, Mexico!

We entered Mexican waters over a week ago, but it wasn’t until yesterday that we actually set foot on shore in Bahia de Tortugas for our first $1 cervezas on the beach.* Offshore, there was little to distinguish the coast from that of southern California, although night watches have gotten progressively warmer (or perhaps that’s only psychological, it’s hard to tell). Groups of islands that look remarkably similar to California’s Channel Islands have appeared every hundred miles or so; the Coronados, Islas de Todos Santos, and Isla Cedros and surrounding islets. The arid coastline has been marked by deep arroyos, scrubby sage-colored vegetation, and pods of dolphins and spouting whales. Pacific sunsets each night are spectacular, and sunrises even more so after twelve hours under the stars.

The most marked difference in Mexican water so far has been the red, white, and green courtesy flag flying from our starboard spreader—each time I trim the sails I’m reminded that we’re guests here.

After over a week of lonely voyaging (with one stop in a desolate anchorage where we didn’t go ashore), we pulled in yesterday morning to Bahia de Tortugas, or Turtle Bay, a favorite all-weather port for cruisers making passage down the Baja coast. For days, I had looked forward to arriving at the small village our guidebook reported as having a café, hospital, grocery store, hotel, etc. We could top off our diminishing water supply, re-provision, send emails and photos to family from the internet café, and do laundry—the ultimate luxury! Pulling in to the bay, though, I was dubious that we’d find any of that, as the village appeared to be no more than a few deserted shacks on shore. But there was a large sign painted on a concrete seawall in black lettering that said “Bienvenidos a Bahia Tortugas.” We must be in the right place.

After a fabulously revitalizing sun-shower in the cockpit and a much-deserved three-hour nap, we decided to get the dinghy down and row to shore on a reconnaissance mission. On our way towards shore, we passed a panga moored some way off the beach that was filled to the brim with pelicans — so far, the only sign of life in Bahia de Tortugas . We were pleased to find a floating dinghy dock extending out from the pier though, a nice alternative to surfing the dinghy up to the beach. We tied up next to a handful of other cruisers’ tenders, climbed the suspect staircase up to the pier, and met Pedro and Enrique, the dock attendants.
Though they spoke little English and we little Espanol, we determined that they not only had purified water, they would deliver it to our anchored boat and fill our tanks for less than $15 (the alternative would be a tricky “med-moor” to the pier with heavy surge, no thank you). They showed us the laundry lady’s home next to the beach—she does all your laundry and returns it to you folded. Then Pedro walked us all the way to the mercado grande, and on the way back showed us where showers and the wifi cafés were.

It amazes me that in a sleepy town whose half-finished or torn-down structures are all covered in windblown desert dust, and where there appears to be no more than a few dozen people living, there are not one but TWO free wifi cafes.

We were quickly introduced to the circle of gringo cruisers sitting along the beach with cervezas, and we made friends with several couples instantly. After all, it’s a very small community, and we have quite a bit in common. The cruising community is a strong one, in part because it’s small, and in part due to the lack of constant access to the internet. Going cruising is like stepping back in time—no longer can you look up the NOAA weather forecast online, or the phone number or directions to the nearest repair shop, or where to get a good hot meal in a given city. Cruisers keep a wealth of information alive for each other by sharing bits of information constantly on shore and over the radios. It would be tiring if you had to find your way around a new town every other day, but as soon as you drop the hook, a chat with your first cruising neighbor reveals not only where the port captain and grocery store is, but also where to find fresh bread baked daily, or where locals will trade you five live lobster for two of your beers.

I’m on shore today to buy some yeast so I can bake bread for one of our sailing neighbors, who lent me her sewing machine so I could fix a tear in our mainsail. We all check in daily to several cruising nets on the SSB radio to hear weather forecasts tailored specifically to those of us “on the net;” to take down each other’s passage plans and positions, to relay messages between friends over thousands of miles of ocean.

Our newfound cruising community gives us a great sense of security. Until now, we’ve been alone and offshore, and seeing a ship’s lights on the horizon at night (or even more unnerving, an unlit ship on the radar) sends chills down my spine sometimes. But since we’ve arrived at Bahia de Tortugas and met more cruisers, we look forward to checking in with them daily on the nets and swapping red peppers for beer or gum for fresh shrimp. Ironically, we’re strengthening our human community by venturing farther off the grid than ever before.
Until the next check-in, this is Velella, WDF4539, clear and on the side!
 *We actually did spend four and a half hours on Mexican soil a week ago clearing in to Ensenada, but I maintain that you haven’t truly arrived in Mexico until you’re having a cerveza on the beach!

Click here to follow Velella’s track.

ASA Members Recommend…movies & books

On our Facebook and Twitter pages we love to ask our fans for their opinions on all things nautical. In the last couple of weeks I’ve asked people for their recommendations on sailing movies & books. The guidelines were loose — as long as it has something to do with seafaring, it was fair game. Some of these are serious, some silly, some realistic, some not-so-much. Some you will certainly have seen or read before, some you may not have heard of. All of them are works that our members have enjoyed, and you might too. (Perhaps to fill the long winter months until sailing season starts again?)

These lists are not comprehensive by any means, but they’ll get you started. Let us hear your thoughts in the comments below.

    Captains Courageous (1937) starring Freddie Bartholomew & Spencer Tracy, dir. by Victor Fleming
    Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) starring Russell Crowe & Paul Bettany, dir. by Peter Weir
    Captain Ron (1992) starring Kurt Russell & Martin Short, dir. by Thom Eberhardt
    Summer Rental (1984) starring John Candy, dir. by Carl Reiner
    Cabin Boy (1994) starring Chris Elliott, dir. by Adam Resnick
    Wind (1992) starring Matthew Modine & Jennifer Grey, dir. by Carroll Ballard
    Morning Light (2008) starring Chris Branning & Kate Theisen, dir. by Mark Monroe
    Morgan the Pirate (1960) starring Steve Reeves, dir. by Andre de Toth & Primo Zeglio
    The Bounty (1984) starring Mel Gibson & Anthony Hopkins, dir. by Roger Donaldson
    The Adventures of Horatio Hornblower (1998-2003) miniseries starring Ioan Gruffudd, produced by A&E

For a more comprehensive list of sailing movies, click here.

    Fiction Books:
    The Mutiny on the Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall (first volume 1932)
    The Aubrey/Maturin Novels by Patrick O’Brian (series of 20; first volume 1969)
    Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome (series of 12; first volume 1930)
    The Horatio Hornblower Novels by C.S. Forester (series of 11; first volume 1937)
    Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
    Middle Passage by Charles Johnson (1990)
    John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins (1989)
    The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952)
    Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974)
    Sounding by Hank Searls (1982)
    Mutiny on the Bounty by John Boyne (2008)
    Nonfiction Books:
    Close to the Wind by Pete Goss (2000)
    Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz (2002)
    Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum (1900)
    The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby (1956)
    The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float by Farley Mowat (1969)
    Sea Change by Peter Nichols (1998)
    Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana (1840)
    Ten Degrees of Reckoning by Hester Rumberg (2007)
    Looking for a Ship by John McPhee (1990)
    Godforsaken Sea: Racing the World’s Most Dangerous Waters by Derek Lundy (1998)

Note: Though almost all of the books that made our list were written by men, I did come across this list of sailing-related books by and about women.

Got more suggestions? Write a comment!

Can You Design a Better Life Jacket?

Ever find yourself fiddling interminably with straps and velcro, or tottering around feeling like the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters 2? These may be signs that your life jacket is bulky, uncomfortable, inefficient, and irritating. The Boat U.S. Foundation is offering a $5,000 prize to the person who can make a significant improvement in life jacket design – and we think it would be cool if an ASA member or instructor was the winner.

According to BoatUS, “drownings account for 70% or more of all boating fatalities. Of the people who drown, over 80% were not wearing a life jacket.” They’re interested in changing this statistic by making a life jacket that people actually want to wear, and they’ve identified 4 areas in which they hope to see improvement: Wearability, Reliability, Cost, and Innovation.

Now, ASA members and instructors are people who know a thing or two about safety. A very large part of the sailing lifestyle we all enjoy is avoiding accidents. That’s why we learn the rules of the road, practice man-overboard drills, and wear our life jackets when appropriate (even if we don’t like it). So if this is the kind of project you’d like to sink your teeth into, visit the official competition page to find out more.

You can also check out this SailWorld article on the competition.

If you’re interested, make sure to let us know so that we can keep up to date with your efforts!

Voyaging with Velella: Daylight Savings

Continuing 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 in the tropics.

“Dark as night” gets to deeper levels when you’re 50 miles offshore at 3am. The absence of the moon makes the blackness complete, since the stars shed no light, but merely leave a pointillist reminder of what light was like in the sky.

I awoke for watch at 2 o’clock this morning; Prescott had been on since 8pm. We’re doing 6-hour night watches this time around, because 4-on, 4-off is just too exhausting on too little sleep for us. If the weather is good, 6 hours pass painlessly, even in when it’s pitch black. Still, you have to keep count.

We wake each other up for watch with a hot cup of black tea. Once I get settled in to the cockpit (position and course understood, sails and autopilot tuned how I want them), I clip in and curl up under the dodger with several pillows, a fleece blanket, and my warm mug. For the first hour, I let my mind go totally blank for as long as I can. I don’t know why I do this-probably in part because I’m just waking up, and in part because I’m trying to save all my thoughts and activities for later in the watch when I’m bored. Surprisingly, my first blank hour sails by quickly.

By the second hour, my boiling hot tea is finally cool enough for me to drink. So I turn on my iPod and listen to music while I enjoy it. Tonight is the night we “fall back,” and it happens on my watch, so I get stuck with an extra hour. Ouch.

The third hour is when I start writing in my head. I consider several possible stories and detail them at length in my mind. The fourth hour is when I get out my computer and actually start typing. By the fifth hour I’m hungry, so I consider at length what kind of breakfast I should make when Prescott gets up. This decision takes into account the sea state, the temperature, what’s on top of the fridge, and how strong my stomach is feeling.

Just when I’ve decided on pancakes and coffee and start feeling sick because I haven’t seen the horizon for so long, the darkness begins to lift, just a little bit, in the East. Like a heavy blanket it’s pushed up by a light grey arc, which becomes purple, then pink, then orange, then glorious light blue as the sun lifts swiftly over the horizon and thaws my fingers. Nessie often wakes up in time for the sunrise and watches it with me from the cockpit. As I write this, a lone tern has found Velella and is circling and dive-bombing us-an activity which Nessie finds endlessly amusing.

We are currently making way southward toward Turtle Bay, about halfway down the Baja Peninsula and clipping along at close to 7 knots. Since we’ve left Los Angeles, the weather has been warm and welcoming. Yesterday, we spent less than 24 hours on a brief stop in Ensenada to clear customs into Mexico-an onerous task which took no less than five of those hours, after which we slept for twelve.

I’ve read and heard that Pacific Baja is like the husk surrounding the fruit of the Sea of Cortez. But with weather like we’ve been having offshore, and the hot southern sun rising over my shoulder right now, I rather like the husk! At this rate, we may be in Turtle Bay by the end of the day tomorrow-which means only one more yawning night before we can curl our toes on the beach and relax. Meanwhile, you can follow our live track!

Click here to follow along with Velella.

ASA Sailing Clubs: K.Y.S.C. Fall Leaves Regatta

On Sunday, October 24th, a new ASA local sailing club based in Atlanta, GA got underway with an event they called the “Fall Leaves Regatta.” Organized by club ambassador Cpt. Rob James, the event was a resounding success. Sixteen people got together for an afternoon of sailing and socializing on Lake Arrowhead, GA. Here is Cpt. James’ description:

We had 4 sailboats and one chase boat on the water for three hours. Some people had never sailed before and were guided by those that were ASA certified. We had homemade pumpkin bread, cookies and apple cider. Meanwhile, our club photographer took pictures with the fall colors as a background.

ASA sailing clubs like this one are launching across the country. They’re free to join and have no membership dues. Most importantly, they’re a great way to meet other ASA sailors and get out on the water. Most events are free or very low-cost. The Fall Leaves Regatta, for example, cost $15/person, and that included use of the boats and the food!

Even during the off-season, ASA sailing clubs will be active with social events, movie nights, and more.

To find out more about ASA clubs and how to join (or start one), click here.

To view an existing club page on Boat DOC and join the club community online, click here.

To see more photos from the “Fall Leaves Regatta,” visit us on Facebook.

Voyaging with Velella: Departure Day

Continuing 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 in the tropics.

Yesterday, I chiseled off the last of dozens of teak plugs that I replaced on Velella’s decks. I spent days sanding, routing out old caulking, and smoothing in new shiny black lines. Months, actually. The plugs were the last in a long line of deck-related projects, and now she’s snug and dry and ready for sea.

We’re moored right next to the seawall in Marina del Rey’s D Basin, so we often have passers-by calling over the fence into our cockpit. I looked up from sanding when a guy said “So, when’r you leavin?” I said “Saturday, maybe Sunday.” And he smiled wide and said “Congratulations.”

People usually say “good luck” or “have fun” or “fair winds” when they hear about our plans. But this gentleman clearly had done this before, because instead he was congratulating me on how far we had already come.

I get close to tears when I realize it’s finally, finally here. (Who am I kidding? I bawl my eyes out.) This day came so suddenly and quietly after months and years of work–the list just evaporated and all that’s left is to turn in our keys. Our good friends Anna and Brad flew down from Seattle and drove away with our car, and just like that, we were back in cruising mode. On foot, slowed down, forced to deal with the moment rather than the future.

Since I had been going 60 miles an hour since I woke up yesterday (this whole month really), I was jittery when we went to bed. In order to help me fall asleep, I asked Prescott to tell me a story, because he’s really good at that. He asked if a story about the Gold Rush would be okay. I looked at him warily. He began: “Once upon a time, there was a prospector looking for gold. But he wasn’t rushing.”
I asked him to stop the story right there, because that was perfect. As I fell asleep, I congratulated us on arriving to a place where we are no longer rushing, and no longer looking forward to what’s next.

You can follow Velella’s track at this link. They’re currently somewhere west of San Diego!