Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Readiness--a State of Being, a State of Mind, or Just a Confused State?

What does it take to get a boat ready for a winter cruise? Or should I ask, how much fortitude does one need to successfully complete the process without interim trips to the emergency room or the loony bin? 

As most of you know, Pope and I hope to take our sailboat, Echo II, south along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and possibly all the way to the Bahamas, this fall and winter.
Preparing Echo II to leave home port in Edgewater, Maryland--someday soon...?

For hundreds of US and Canadian sailors, this is no big deal; many have gone south every winter for 10, 20, or even 30 years. For others, it is a lifetime dream. And, for most, a logistical migraine.

Our friends Bruce and Gayleen, who live on Pearl (, are old hands. They rescued me from ocean-crossing panic disorder and prevented an emergency flight home on Christmas Eve 2013.
Bruce and Gayleen salvaged my trip with a warm smile, a box of kleenex and the calm voice of experience

Maybe we'll meet them somewhere along the ICW--the series of coastal rivers and canals that allow you to travel from New England to Florida without venturing into the ocean. Or we'll see them in a Bahamas harbor or on a crowded beach. (Sorry to disabuse you of your notions of paradise, but most of the deserted beaches that look so appealing at first glance are actually frequented by biting sand fleas.)

Ed and Joan, normally casual Chesapeake Bay cruisers like us, are planning for their first trip south on Dolce Vita ( Having endured the same preparations in 2013, I am totally in sympathy with what they said in their recent email: "Joan and I have been going crazy getting the boat and the house ready for the trip!" Note the "going crazy." How does one cope with paying bills and taxes from a boat; keeping up with births, deaths, and family news; monitoring furnace reliability back home; clearing cabinets of anything that could spoil or attract pests; getting prescriptions filled en route? How does one pack a boat for an excursion to an island nation with virtually no agriculture, mechanics, or medical care? More important, how can one prepare for the frustration of days or weeks without hot showers, electric appliances, and internet??!!
I can write, I can read, but when, oh when, can I upload???

Ed and Joan one-upped us in preparing for their maiden voyage: they sailed the Atlantic on the far side of the DelMarva Peninsula a couple of years ago, to test their boat and better prepare for the upcoming ocean crossings. We, on the other hand, were rank novices. In other words, we learned along the way. (Our exploits and mis-adventures were well-documented in this blog, much to Pope's chagrin. And loyal long-time readers will recognize many of the photos below.)

We tried to replace a broken water pump in North Myrtle Beach on a holiday weekend. Ha ha! We replaced our dinghy and outboard in Miami, after more than one experienced ICW traveler laughed themselves silly when they saw the ones we dragged down to Florida from DC. The old dinghy tried to sink somewhere around Melbourne Beach; to quote from my journal: "seam split; took on gallons of water immediately."
Shiny new dinghy and outboard--wow, what a big step up in reliability from our former leaky raft and classic British Seagull engine, which looked nice but rarely started!

We sewed no-see-um nets for our hatches by hand when the necessity became appallingly clear, and repaired ripped sails by hand with dental floss.
"Amber, do you have any more of that Johnson & Johnson white dental floss? The mint green doesn't go well with our genoa."

Before leaving the US, I embarked on an emergency trip to a shopping mall to buy shoes. Who knew that grappling with sea legs for eight weeks could wear out your soles?
Proper fit, ankle stability, and good arch supports: essential for hours and hours and hours (and hours) at the helm

My first ocean crossing was a bit bumpy--an understatement. Upon arrival in Bimini, despite the fact that it was Christmas Eve and the sun was shining, I cried for hours and refused to take off my life jacket and harness. (Just ask Bruce and Gayleen--the welcoming committee.)
Is it safe to come out now? Oh, you say the sun is shining? But surely you can see the tracks of my tears?

After that came the REALLY hard lessons! We found out on our crossing to Bimini, one of the closest islands in the Bahamas to Florida, that our hull-deck seam leaks dramatically in ocean waves. Following closely on that semi-disaster, we spent a month in Nassau getting our diesel engine rebuilt when a bad bearing destroyed the crankshaft. (I may have the mechanics slightly wrong; however, there's no doubt when it all started: my hyper-over-sensitive paranoid self knew immediately that something was wrong. To quote from my journal: "I noticed a clatter in the engine.")
After they took away our engine, we spent most of January stuck at this Nassau gas station, eating french fries and begging to use the toilet

We occasionally hear stories about brave young couples who quit their jobs, buy a boat, and sail off to the South Pacific, with no spare parts, no live-aboard experience, and no concept of sailing by the stars when the electronics break down. By and large, these modern adventurers survive. What I want to know is: did their boat leak? how much blood was lost? did their relationship survive? were they treated later for PTSD?

Echo II's departure this fall, originally planned for October 1 in order to travel with Dolce Vita, will be delayed until later in October--just like the first time in 2013, when, because of our late departure, we suffered fewer hours of daylight and sub-freezing temperatures all the way from Edgewater, Maryland, to Fernandino Beach, Florida.
Shivering in the winter sunshine somewhere in Georgia, in ski cap, wool gloves, and down jacket

I'm wondering if our boat doesn't want to go on another long trip; it chose this week to dramatically spring some substantial leaks, top and bottom. Top leaks are a matter for grit-your-teeth-and-get-out-the-mold-killer endurance; bottom leaks are a matter of life and death. Just about the same time, the bilge pump malfunctioned. Echo II, what are you trying to tell us????!!!
A watery grave awaits those who attempt an ocean crossing without securing the through-hulls and fixing below-deck leaks

While Pope patches together the boat with flour-and-water paste and a screwdriver, I am busy sewing multiple and redundant mosquito nets, having read the bad news about zika in the Bahamas.
This year, unlike 2013, we will not be rushing headlong toward the islands at a breakneck pace. In fact, if it weren't for the cold and the shorter days, we would prefer to drift leisurely down the ICW at a very relaxed pace. Personally--regardless of the onset of chilly temperatures--I intend to grant myself long respites along the way: in Charleston, to visit friends Cindy and Dave; in St. Augustine, to play music with Lynn Healey, my guitar instructor at music camp this summer; and in Daytona Beach, where a member of our local sailing group, Annapolis Sailors Club, moved recently.

Something to look forward to--getting off the boat in a real vacation spot rather than a shallow, mosquito-infested canal!

Not sure what Pope plans to do during those times while I am resting on my laurels enjoying my vacation instead of charging non-stop toward no-see-um-ville (the Bahamas). He tends to like books and naps, especially naps after long days at the helm. Most days, though, will probably find him addressing the never-ending need for boat maintenance and repair. Learning more lessons, naturally.

As of this writing, Ed and Joan are still planning to leave October 1, three days from now. Hmm. I wonder if they've heard the news: due to excessive rain and high water, parts of the ICW in southern Virginia are closed! (Lesson #1: keep your schedule flexible; no deadlines.)

Once Echo II gets underway (or should I say, if...?), you can follow our adventures here on my blog, and occasionally on Facebook. In the absence of any postings over a longer-than-normal period, be sure to check the hospitals and loony bins.

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