Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hurricane Season

(The state of the tropics RIGHT now!)

I remember living in Montana before we bought the boat, hearing about the hurricanes striking Florida or somewhere else far removed from the Prairies. The stories were interesting but I never really followed the season. Then we bought a boat and kept it in the Bahamas for a few years… suddenly the hurricane season was filled with one scary storm after another. I would watch them come across the Atlantic from my seat at my computer desk and every one of them was a potential to destroy our boat and our dreams of sailing away on it one day.

In 2005 I had just returned from a visit to check on the boat. I had removed most of the stuff from the deck, tied down the sails, checked all the doubled up dock lines and flown home. It wasn’t even a month later that hurricane Francis took aim at Grand Bahama Island where our boat was staying at the marina. I spent 24 hours almost continuously watching the storm on my computer while it sat over the island where Wandering Dolphin was tied and blew at 125mph. My gut hurt the whole time. There was nothing I could do.

After the storm there was no way to get to the island, which had been devastated. I was just starting to think we might get a flight down or possibly a phone call through when another hurricane, Jeanne, took aim again. She missed the island and we sighed a sigh of relief. Then a couple of days later from North of the island, Jeanne turned around 180 degrees and came back to Grand Bahama. She was a smaller more compact storm with even higher winds and she hit the island directly. I was certain that whatever had possibly been left of our boat was now gone for good.

It took almost a month after hurricane Jeanne for us to patch through a phone call to the marina. The dock hand, who I knew well, told me that Wandering Dolphin was fine with only a few scratches in the paint! I was amazed. When we flew down to look at her though, the scratch was huge dents in the bow. The bow cleat had broken during Jeanne and she had spent 6 hours banging against the concrete dock. The aluminum of our boat faired better than the concrete though. There was a HUGE bite out of the dock but the boat was just dented. The sails were shredded, the list was enormous and when all was said and done she was totalled by the insurance company. We bought her back from salvage and refitted her better than new, but now we have a serious respect and fear of the big storms.

Here we sit… in the zone… looks like the Hobos in Salinas will be our refuge once again.

Captain Tofer

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Yesterday was a great sail.  The wind was perfect for a nice beam reach and Wandering Dolphin was moving at 6.5 to 7 kts with only a little bit of jib, the full stays'l, and a double reefed main in 20 knots of wind.  The kids were starting to get in the groove of things and asking for lunch and Charlie the dog was hiding somewhere below.

Then the Auto Pilot stopped working...  I reset it and it worked for a while... then it stopped working again.  We were at the point where we could choose either St Croix by dark or back to St Thomas by dark, we turned around and are anchored again in Honeymoon Bay.

I think the gear failures are my LEAST favorite part of "Livin' The Dream."  I am still very discouraged.  We had a beautiful window south and may not get another one at this time of year that will be safe enough for me to sail with just my kids. 

So why did I turn around?  We sailed all last year from here to Trinidad and back without an auto  pilot but this time I was sailing with just EmilyAnne and the little boys.  I couldn't have safely done that hand steering the whole trip.

So what is next?  I have no idea.  I am hoping that the problem is simply a callibration issue with our new/used control head and the auto pilot... if it's not I guess we will be discussing new auto pilots in a future blog.

Meanwhile, we are happy to be with Rebecca.  At least in turning around I was turning back toward her and if we have to stay here for the hurricane season like ducks in a pond wiating for hunters to shoot us, we are all together for the shoot out.

A Discouraged,
Captain Tofer

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Today is the Day!

We are leaving this morniing.  I still have to work on one of the jib winches which was seazed up, but it soaked in corrosion block all night and is moving this morning.  There is a Tropical Wave approaching but all of my weather sources say it will be a weak one and it will give us a NE wind which means a quicker and more direct route to Grenada.

If you would like to send us a message on the Iridium phone we would love to hear from you.  It is free for you and for us as well.  The link is and all you do is leave in the 8816 number that is already there and add 32521786 to send to us.  Put your name in the e-mail spot so we know who is sending but we do not need your email as we will not be emailing anyone but Rebecca. 

Blake... riddles were a hoot last time... keep in mind though the average age on our boat this trip is quite a bit lower. :-)

Spot will also be up and running if you would like to follow our position, also Rebecca will be posting a blog every day from us via the Iridium phone and Ocens mail.

God Bless,
Captain Tofer

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"If it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there!"

It is very frustrating to wait for the weather window. I have spent a couple of months getting the boat ready to go again and yet here I sit waiting, waiting, waiting. We have been asked by a lot of people what it is like to experience a storm offshore. Most of the family would say, “ I don’t know.”

We are very careful when choosing a weather window for an offshore passage with the family. Jimmy and I have been in some REALLY nasty stuff on deliveries because a delivery is a paid job and the purpose is not pleasure but getting the boat to its destination in good time. The only bad weather stories we have on board Wandering Dolphin are from our first two years owning the boat. At that time I was still new to the whole thing and lived by the Captain Ron montra, “If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen out there!” Jimmy, EmilyAnne, and I experienced some HUMONGOUS seas in the Gulf Stream with a north wind and that changed my mind. We actually had paid for a professional weather router on that trip… he got it wrong and we suffered the nasty weather. Now I may seek advice on weather but ultimatly I am responsible for my own weather routing and I choose to err on the side of caution, especially where my family is concerned. I am proud to say that after five years out here my wife has yet to experience any Gale force winds and seas. So… I am still waiting… perhaps this weekend I will have the window I need.

Ready to Kick the Tires and Light the Fires,

Captain Tofer

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sailing Tomorrow?

We are still hoping to sail tomorrow morning. The weather doesn’t look ideal but there will be no threat of actual tropical storms for about four days which will give us the window we need. It may be a wet sail for the first couple of days but, heck, it’s wet sitting here too.

My plan now is to try to make it all the way to Grenada non-stop. The wind will be from the SE which means a close-hauled course. Wandering Dolphin loves to go to windward so that shouldn’t be a problem, but it will slow us down because we will have to tack a few times. If you keep track of our SPOT you will be able to work out a pretty good idea of the tacks we will need to make to hit Grenada.

I will post again in the morning to let you know if we are heading out or not.

Captain Tofer

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Waiting for the Weather

Well we didn't leave on Saturday as planned, again, weather.... there is still one more Tropical Wave out there that should pass over us Monday and Tuesday.  We are hoping to sail on Wednesday or Thursday.  right now that looks like a good window.

We spent last week in the marina, our first time since last year with Amy and Ellie in Trinidad.  The kids thought it was pretty fun to jump off the boat and run over to say, "Hi" to their Mom since Tickles restraunt is right there at the marina.  The last few days the novelty had worn off and they were ready to be back on the hook where they could jump off the boat and swim.

This morning we filled up our fuel tank.  You may think that this would not really be a notworthy occasion but it is in fact.  We only fill our 120 gallon fuel tank once a year and only need part of it even then.  Sailing... that's the thing, when we leave this week we will use the engine to pull out of the anchorage and then turn it off only to start it up again when we need to get into another harbor.

The past couple of days we have provisioned for the summer.  Not that there is no food in Trinidad but we rented a car and with "Cost-U-Less" and all here it is a lot easier for me than dragging the kids on a little Maxi Taxi in Trinidad for a grocery run.

I will post again right before we leave and of course you will know we are moving by the SPOT.

Captain Tofer

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What have WE been up to for the past month?

(Wandering Dolphin @ Crown Bay Marina / Tickles where Beck works in background)

Remember that LOOOONG list of things that needed to be done on “Wandering Dolphin?” Well It was narrowed down to: #1 URGENT, #2 immediate, #3 important, and #4 I wish.

We decided that before we could head south for the summer we needed to take care of all of the things on the URGENT and immediate lists. I am happy to report that we are finishing up the very last items on that list and it looks like we have a weather window for Grenada on Saturday. Wandering Dolphin will be sailing away from Honeymoon bay for another summer. We will be back the last week of October to spend the fall and Christmas season with family who will be visiting us here. Our sail toward Panama and the canal crossing was backed up a little bit because of the lists mentioned above. We still plan to be through the canal in February or March, 2011 so we can make our first Pacific jump in April and May, 2011.

                                   (Oh MAN.... we are gonna miss Momma)

Our toughest decision this year was to leave Becky in St Thomas for the summer. The dreaded LISTS were very costly and pretty much ate up all of our savings so the choice was for her to come on down to Trinidad this summer but we would have to stay in St Thomas next year until June working to fill the kitty again or she could stay and work through the summer and we could leave after our Christmas get together at Honeymoon Bay next winter. She decided to stay and live at Island View Guest House for the summer while continuing to work at Tickles. Jimmy is in Wyoming now so I will be taking, EmilyAnne, Kanyon, Kaleb, and Benny with me to Trinidad for the summer. It was a tough call and not one any of us wanted to make but sometimes you have to make a hard call to do cool things and this will enable us to keep our weather schedule for the Pacific next year.
                           (She may be small but she's still a great Hand sailing!)

So the adventure of sailing 3 or 4 days to Grenada will commence on Saturday if our weather window holds out. The kids and I will stay in Grenada for a few weeks and then head on down to Trinidad and our friends at TTSA. We are hoping there will be a lot of kid boats there this summer. We will haul out in October and do a bottom Job before Becky fly’s down to join us for the sail back up to St Thomas.
                       (Our last haul-out was 3 years ago in Oriental, NC!)

Wandering Dolphin has been feeling the love and is in the best shape she has been in since we refitted her 5 years ago. It will be nice to have AIS in the cockpit. I have been spoiled on deliveries with the safety and confidence AIS gives you. If you have a boat and would like to add AIS without installing a new antenna and all the other junk you need to get it to work, check out the Standard Horizons Matrix AIS GX2100 VHF Radio. For the cost of a new VHF radio and a RAM3 mic you can have AIS at your nav station and at the helm.

We will also be using SPOT on the trip starting on Friday so check in to see where we are and Becky will post the instructions for you to send us messages on our Iridium phone. The riddles would be fun again Blake!

God Bless,
Captain Tofer