Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sweetest Thing Day 10

On, big breakfast, sailing, dolphins, sunshine and St Thomas on the chart plotter.

Dylan and I made a BIG BREAKFAST today. He made a huge stack of pancakes while I fried a half dozen eggs over easy and fried some SPAM! MMMMMMM Dylan was pretty grossed out by the fried spam but John and I were munching on it right out of the can... so for those of you who are Monty Python fans, we had “spam, eggs, spam, pancakes, eggs, spam and spam” for breakfast. Dylan and I had to both stand at the little stove to cook. I kept bugging him saying he was in my “personal space” to back off... I have almost got him to the point now where he will tell me to move when I bug him like that but not quite. He is still far to nice. hehehe

Yes! We are sailing without the motor belching diesel fumes and noise. Yesterday afternoon all our wind went away and the seas were pretty calm for the first time so Dylan and I poured in the cans of spare fuel (and didn’t spill any) and we went forward and fixed the roller furling for the jib (and didn’t loose any tools overboard). Things are looking up!

We are close hauled but we were faithful to get all the east we could when we could so now we have a great tack right to St Thomas. with these winds it is a little easier to make the western end of the island rather than the red hook one so we will be going into Crown Bay for fuel and to clean the boat. Then we will run her around to Red Hook and put her on her mooring.

John seems to be enjoying the warm sunshine and trade winds. We can’t hardly get him out of the cockpit. He also gains us on boat speed when he’s out there “racing” the boat. He tweaks the sails, heads up, falls off, tweaks some more and is having fun. Earlier today a large pod of dolphins came by to say “Hi” they swam about the boat, jumping over the bow wave, and flopping onto their sides as if welcoming us back to the Caribbean.

When we look at the chart plotter right now it finally shows our final destination right on the page. That’s always a fun thing to see.

This will probably be the last offshore blog of this journey. I will post another when we are in port.

Thanks for coming along with us on this crazy ride. Knowing you were reading along and sending us messages sure helps. We all hope you enjoyed it even though it was kinda like watching people on a reality show eat nasty bugs at times.

Can Almost Smell Home,

Captain Tofer, John and Dylan onboard the “Sweetest Thing”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sweetest Thing Days 8 and 9

So how have we been for the past two days?

There is a psychology to offshore sailing, well not just offshore sailing but in any endeavor where your life is actually at risk for a time and you survive, be it whitewater kayaking, mountaineering, rock climbing, extreme skiing, all of which, I have done.

The immediate feelings after the rush of the event itself are, gratitude, excitement, and a feeling that you are indestructible which comes with it an overwhelming optimism. The next step is the difficult one. The coming back to reality. The sea is quick to put you in your place as are mountains and foaming class 5 rapids.

Monday night after our “perfect day” of sailing we had our most frustrating night and it continued through all of yesterday, last night and today so far. The wind shifted to the east as we expected. This was the very reason why, if you look at our spot, we have been heading more to the east than straight toward St Thomas. I have done this trip enough to know about the force and constant nature of the trade winds. We had also received good weather information which told us that the trades would be blowing hard and shifting to the South East and possibly south. This would be very difficult for any sailboat to make the last 300 miles but on a Catamaran our ability to sail to windward is further diminished.

But with east winds blowing 20 to 25 we should be able to make 8 to 10 knots right? The past two days we should have FLOWN! That was what we expected too but when the wind shifted so did the seas. Monday night we had confused seas which had only lessened somewhat from the storm, suddenly they are pounding us from every direction. Any time we let the boat go more than 5 or 6 knots the seas threatened to rip her apart. I have never heard such a noise. Every seam and connection of any sort slammed, banged, flexed, and creaked. When the seas finally gathered around to the east and began to come at us in a more uniformed fashion it was even worse. They built and built and they were only about 3 seconds apart. To go toward our destination we had to have the wind and seas on our beam and these steep close waves would pick up the first hull while the one right behind it slammed into the second hull under the boat. If the main was up with more than a triple reef the wind would push further almost lifting the windward hull out of the water. The wind picked up last evening to the 30s again and we were forced to drop the main altogether, and do it in the dark. I went forward clipped myself onto the shrouds and John pointed the boat into the wind and waves so we could drop the sail. Then Dylan, who was controlling the halyard tried to lower it fast enough to get it down and slow enough not to bury me in the flogging sail. Meanwhile the steep waves are now bow on at 3 seconds apart crashing over the bow, tramp and myself.

The sun is up, the wind is blowing in the low 20s, still from the east, the jib reefing line has become worse and will now only reef the jib to the size of an large storm jib, the motor is on, fuel is getting low, the pounding continues.

I made some hot water for cocoa or tea this morning. I tried 3 times to fill and stir the mug of cocoa and each time I lost the cup in the process. The first one fell on the floor, the second one crashed into the dish rack and the last one spilled all over me when I was finally sitting down to drink it. While I was cleaning up the last of these 3 messes the boat dropped out from under me again and the tea kettle, still half full of boiling water, stayed in the air while the boat dropped, and when it came back down it came down on the galley floor spilling boiling water all over. I gave up and drank a coke instead. By the way I was fervently wishing I had my silly looking, but ingenious, conical shaped, sailing, coffee mug!

I have to go now. I need to get back in my swim suit with my harness and tether on and go forward to untie the furling line for the jib and roll it in by hand so when I reconnect it it will roll all the way in. I was hoping for light air and calm seas to do that but I have lost my optimism.

Captain Tofer, John and Dylan

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sweetest Thing Day 7

I love it when the rare perfect day of sailing comes along offshore. Today has been one of those days. No the sun isn’t shining, and the seas aren’t calm. It’s cloudy and the seas are still running 12 to 16 feet. Why is it perfect then? We are sailing. Wow are we ever sailing. The wind is just off our starboard quarter blowing around 15 knots. We have all sail set and pulled out and those big waves are coming up right behind us. The boat lifts gently with each big swell and rides down the backside picking up a knot or two. The sails stay full and drawing pulling and pushing the boat to speeds never attained by my own boat. Right now we are cruising along at an average of 8 knots but often over 10 and sometimes 14 when we are riding down a wave. The sun isn’t shining but the air is warm, we are in shorts and flip flops again.

So what did we do today besides sail? This morning Dylan and I cleaned all of the salon windows. That’s a big job on this boat but it sure helps. The visibility is crucial as we use the salon as a pilot house when it is cold or rainy. With all of the salt built up on them from the storm the glare at night made them almost unusable so last night we spent our watches outside. The windows are nice and shiny now though. I was joking with Dylan about how the Captain was making the swabby clean the windows but he pointed out that at least the Captain was helping the swabby.

After we did some clean up chores I made some scrambles eggs with cheddar cheese melted over them and some fried ham and bagels with orange juice and coffee for breakfast. We joked about how that meal at Tickles in St Thomas would cost us like $50 bucks, more with the tip... cause one of the waitresses is a beautiful babe who I think deserves 30% to 50% tips if you ever go there.

After breakfast we listened to music and talked. We started looking for sailing songs on my iPod and playing them for Dylan and at some point John mentioned a song that had played on my iPod when it was on shuffle. He really liked the song and wanted to know who it was. The problem is that I wasn’t around when it played and I have 6428 songs on my iPod. We spent a couple of hours trolling through my iPod looking for the song and listening to others. I introduced him to one of my favorites, Chris De Burgh and we spent some time listening to some of his stuff. John told me about his own music he likes to write and shared stories from his life. At some point we began talking about books and humor and we discovered that both John and I are big fans of the “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” Dylan laughed and said, “Hey I have a couple of those books with me!” He hadn’t read any yet so John and I started laughing and saying lines from the books.

At some point during our laughing and talking I decided to make some chicken salad, which turned out Great. I mixed canned white meat chicken with Miracle Whip and green apple chunks. We put it in Tortillas with lettuce... YUMMMM.

I just went back up on the tramp to put a nut on the bolt which I used to replace the lost pin from the shackle. I love it up there! It is so cool to look a foot down and see the water rushing by with the Cat up to speed like this. As the boat surfs down a wave the water rushes between the hulls and a roll of white water comes right by under your feet. Remember when I said in an earlier blog that this didn’t feel like sailing? Well when she gets up to her speed and kicks up her heels she’s quite a ride! I can’t believe that with 15 knots of wind we are speeding along at an average of 8 to 10 knots.

John just went down to take his afternoon nap and Dylan, with some prompting from the Captain decided to take his first shower since we left Norfolk... whew! He smells like roses now. He is sitting beside me now reading “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.”

Nickleback is rocking from the speakers and I have to say again, “I love a perfect day offshore!”

Thanks for the messages everyone! Christian, “Confidentially speaking, I’ve had these problems with the tides before!”

To all our friends in St Thomas, looks like we’ll see you on Thursday! Beck and I will be going to Enki for Sushi on Saturday anyone who would like to come along tell Beck and we’ll make a party of it.

Amazing how the crazy storm can turn into days like this one!

Captain Tofer, John and Dylan on-board the “Sweetest Thing”

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Day 5 and 6 The “Sweetest Thing”

We woke up on day 5 (Jan 22) to messages coming into the Iridium phone telling us to send in a position report that there was an urgent weather forecast for us. The very thought that the weather guy thought we needed the info NOW made my stomach turn.

When I connected and sent out our position report we all waited quietly for the message telling us to download it. When it came it was an offshore sailors worst fear. A huge fast moving low had formed and would cross right over our position within 12 to 14 hours with winds in excess of 50 knots gusts to 60 knots and seas of over 20 feet. When you get this message on land you close all the windows and doors and stay inside with a hot cocoa and soup. Out here your whole world becomes a cold, wet, constantly moving, lurching, sliding, slamming, hell. Every moment you feel like it might be the last. We had just been feeling pretty good about riding out the little storm from the day before and now we were going to face a true storm.

We spent the morning preparing the boat. We secured anything that could move, removed the bimini altogether and actually tied the roller furling unit so it couldn’t unfurl on its own from its little storm jib size. We zipped up the mainsail cover and tied lines around it and ran a line off the end of the boom securing it in one place. We secured all the lines, checked the engine fluids and double checked our safety gear. By the time all of this was done the wind was blowing 30 with gusts to 40. By evening the wind was staeady high 30s and we actually thought maybe the worst of it was going to miss us but at 4:00am the low itself hit us and we had sustained winds in the 40s which crept up to sustained winds in the 50s with gusts to 60. By morning when the wind would die back down to the 40s we felt like a reprieve was coming and then we would hear it pick up to the 50s before we even read the wind indicator. When it would drop to the 30s we felt like it was over.

Lets talk about these seas... there is simply no way to really describe them. They are gargantuan foaming monsters that creep up from behind and seek to swallow the boat. We had one hit the boat hard enough that it knocked out all of the AC power on the boat. We still have to search out what exactly came loose and where. Another monster broke over the top of the boat (this is a BIG boat) and foamed over the boom and crashed on the far side of the boat (26 feet wide).

The good thing was that as the low passed us we were able to turn more and more toward our destination finaly gaining some south to go with our east. Right now The wind is blowing in the low 30s and we are sailing down wind under just a reefed jib making 8 to 10 knots , the seas are still HUGE but we are feeling great. I had to go up and untie the line that was holding the jib secure. That meant going forward to the end of the net tramps in these huge waves and 30 knots of wind. I didn’t want to get soaked so I just wore my swimsuit and harness. I clipped on all the way and my face hurt from the grin on it when I was up there with the deep blue, foaming white water rushing right under my feet and the cold sea wind in my face soaking my hair with mist and spray.

Before I went in I crawled into the engine compartment to see if I could find the problem with the AC power and check the fluids since it had run for a long time. I didn’t fix the problem but I am sure we will figure it out. Now we are all in the salon listening to classic rock and roll. Dylan is reading his Kindle and John is just smiling and watching the monsters out the window.

A big thanks to Herman for the weather last night, the Milton’s, Mike, Bob, Cave, and of course my wife for all the messages on the Iridium. They really lift our spirits more than you can know.

Hoping For Sun,

Captain Tofer, John and Dylan

Friday, January 21, 2011

“Sweetest Thing” Day 4

So if you are wondering what it is like to take a ride on a Catamaran in a storm offshore do this:

Go get a cake pan from your kitchen and if you have children grab one of their little Lego men (if you don’t have Lego men readily accessible substitute with a paper clip or any other small item from your desk drawer.)

Sit down at your kitchen table and imagine that it is the surface of the sea. Imagine waves much higher than the sides of the cake pan. Holding on to the end of the pan nearest you start to gently raise and lower the pan with your imaginary waves while counting to 5. Gently 1... 2... 3... 4... now the key is every time you get to 5... you slam the cake pan down on the table as hard as you can... it is only hard enough if the Lego man becomes airborne. Now you know what it is like.

The storm we knew was coming is here and it has been a rough and tumble night. The main is triple reefed and the jib has a deep reef as well. At one point in the night the reef in the main decided to slide out. The reef line runs to a winch but there is no cleat or spin lock to lock it down... that’s a problem and it’s a problem with every line at the cock pit. We have the lines all run to different things to secure their ends where they come off the winches.

The wind is forcing us east right now rather than south and east but that’s not a problem. When you are sailing to St Thomas the real problem is getting far enough east that when the trades fill in you can reach south. Often you end up sailing as far as Bermuda. Those of us who do this trip a few times a year call the 65 longitude line “Highway 65” because often once you reach that longitude you can head south. The weather guy tells us that we can expect north winds tonight and tomorrow so we will quickly make up our south at that point as well.

We sadly had to throw out some food as the freezer never actually froze anything... don’t worry... Dylan still has LOTS of food to choose from! On a note about Dylan. I spent most of my adult life working with and teaching teenage boys and I have almost never run across a kid with such a teachable and unflappable spirit. He never complains, is always available to help when you need it and is almost too brave. I would sail anywhere with him. He reminds me a lot of... Jimmy. One day I would love to do a trip with Dylan and my son Jimmy as crew. What a hoot that would be! Thanks again David and Lori for being the kind of parents who encourage your kids to stretch and grow through experiences like this one.

Well I have to cut it short... getting hard to type... I have to hold the computer every... well 5 seconds.

Slammin Offshore,

Captain Tofer, John and Dylan

Thursday, January 20, 2011

“Sweetest Thing” Day 3

33 28. 863 N

72 59. 697 W

View out the window right now: Sunshine on the gentle shining swells... blue blue water... blue sky... no wind to speak of so we are motoring with one engine to conserve fuel. XM weather shows a cold front pushing off the coast tonight so we will not have sunshine and no wind for long. We expect higher winds and waves tonight and through tomorrow but we are still waiting on a more specific weather forecast from our weather guy today.

John and Dylan have both been feeling a little woozy so hopefully the calmer day today with some rest will make them feel a little better.

It is breathtakingly beautiful on this little patch of ocean right now. Dylan is watching a movie on my iPod, John is sunbathing in the cockpit up at the helm, and I reading a book on my Kindle and writing. We still have XM for weather so we also can listen to the music, Faith Hill is belting out some pretty song. The boat is gently rising and falling with the swell and you can hear the water rush between the hulls even though we are only making about 6 knots right now.

I just downloaded the weather and starting tonight the wind will increase and tomorrow and Saturday and part of the day Sunday we will be dealing with too much wind, high seas and crazy waves. This moment of calm seas will be forgotten and we will be holding on to any grabhold as we do simple tasks. The soft sound of water along the hulls will be replaced with slamming waves hitting between the two hulls. I know these things but right now it seems far off. We have been preparing for it though. We did a reefing drill. We put each of the three reefs in and pulled them all the way out then did the next. Now when we have to do it in the dark everyone knows their specific task and all of the lines are piled and ready to run smoothly without turning into birds nests at the moment we need them most. We packed away some other stuff that was just sitting around. The boat should be ready for the weather and the crew is a good crew so we will be fine. Don’t panic if you don’t get a blog on Friday or Saturday... we will be fine but writing and connecting to the Iridium phone to send out the email is often more of a task than I want to deal with when I am running a boat through a storm. If you are worried for us just check the SPOT, we update it every 6 hours so you can follow us and know we are OK.

Hope where ever you are right now is as beautiful a spot on the planet as this one.

Captain Tofer, John, and Dylan on board the “Sweetest Thing

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

“Sweetest Thing” Day 1@2

For the purpose of this blog I will label the days of this delivery starting on our departure from Norfolk, VA.

Today we woke up in the marina to rain and fog and cold. Our diver showed up around 9:00am to clean the bottom. BRRRRRRRR He had quite the system for working in cold water though. He had built it all himself and it consisted of a instant on propane hot water heater which he had mounted on a heavy duty dolly with a plexiglass wind screen mounted around it. The intake hose for this ran off into the sea water and on the end of it was a commercial grade deep well submersible pump. The outlet hose of the hot water heater ran down the air hose to the regulator. The air came from a motorized Honda air compressor which was mounted on a heavy push cart which had trays on top full of cleaning brushes, scrapers and heavy pads as well as old and new Zincs of a wide variety. The air intake from the compressor ran out of the compressor and up a PVC tube with a wide screened air intake on the end that could be directed into the wind to keep the exhaust from the compressor motor out of the air intake. The diver wore a heavy wetsuit which he had run little hoses down from the neck to both feet and hands and the rest of the water would just pour right down the suit warming the whole wetsuit. It was all a pretty impressive setup and he was a very meticulous and thorough guy. He spent a couple hours cleaning the bottom, checking the zincs and the general condition of the hulls as well. In the end his bill was $250.00 which was pretty reasonable considering the work he did and the water temperature. It will sure speed up the trip.

Once the hulls were clean we were ready to go and Bob was looking pretty sick. He had been suffering from a cold for a couple of days and it had developed into the flu. Fearing he might get us all sick, he reluctantly decided to stay behind. We filled up the fuel and started motoring out to the mouth of the Bay. On the way we passed the newest aircraft carrier “George HW Bush” which was sitting right next to the “Harry Truman.” There was a sub sitting in the next docking bay as well as a missile frigate, Marine he-lo carrier and a bunch of destroyers and some resupply ships. Before dark we raised the main but the wind was too light for it to be of any use yet so we dropped it again.

Day 2

The fog came in through the night so we watched for ships with the Radar. The fog was so thick as we entered the Gulf Stream in the morning that visibility was almost nil. We are crossing the Gulf Stream right now. I am getting my first lessons on the motion of a Cat offshore. The swells are about 6 feet and close together and we are on a beam reach with around 15 knots of wind. In a mono-hull we would be heeled over and the motion would be significant, Loose items would be sliding to the low side and a lee cloth would be to stay in the high side berths. On “Sweetest Thing” right now my coffee mug is sitting on the table (not one of those freaky looking conical mugs designed to stay up right either... just a normal mug) My berth is aft on the “high” side and I have felt more motion at anchor... well at anchor on a cat... Ubunto hehehe... sorry had to throw that in there David and Lori. Don’t get me wrong there IS motion right now but it is very friendly and easy to get used to and nothing as dramatic as the motion of a mono-hull in similar conditions. I do think the feel of a mono-hull under sail is more exhilarating. This doesn’t really feel like sailing to me. But we are going an average of 9 knots with plenty of 10. Hmmmmm I am writing this blog on a Mac and now I am learning to love a Cat... what’s next? Who knows... maybe I will start eating, all veggies, granola bars and going to juice bars with all of the other people next time I visit Seattle. Just kidding.

Riding The Stream on 2 Hulls,

Captain Tofer, John, and Dylan

Monday, January 17, 2011

Norfolk and Computer Headaches

Norfolk, VA
The “Sweetest Thing” is docked at Waterside Marina in Norfolk, VA waiting on a weather window (tomorrow we hope) to leave for ST Thomas.
Norfolk, VA is a great place to stop, and Waterside is right downtown so if you have guests aboard they can see MacArthur’s tomb and museum, The USS Wisconsin and a Naval museum are within walking distance of the marina on the upper floor of Nauticus.  Just a couple of blocks away is the MacArthur Center mall where you can do serious shopping or just catch a movie.  The marina also has a shuttle van which will run you to the grocery store or whatever.  (We are happy for this service as we somehow forgot to buy Toilet Paper in Annapolis even though it was on our list... I know you are wondering so... we had plenty of paper towels.)
Today we are trying to locate a diver crazy enough to get in the water and clean the hulls and props... Bob has all of his dive gear and has decided to do it if no one else will... I guess someone is crazy enough after all.
On a side note... computers on boats.... arggggggg  You cannot live without them nowdays and for all of my deliveries I need one not only for blogging but to stay in touch with owners when I am offshore with their boats.  I use Ocens Mail service and an Iridium phone to connect but have had a terrible time with computers.  A couple of years ago, after having to replace our third expensive laptop due to one sort of failure or another I decided that, at least for my traveling delivery laptop, to buy a little “disposable” netbook.  My first netbook was one of the little Acer Aspires and lasted just over a year, the next one was a Sony which lasted just under a year.  My thought was that if I don’t have a lot of money tied up in a computer it wouldn’t hurt so bad when it inevitably failed... that isn’t true though... when it fails I am suddenly out of contact and loose a lot of info, pictures etc as well as the frustration of setting up a new one.  What I really needed was a laptop that was reliable.  Throughout this entire process the Mac users around me just shook their heads and kept telling me to buy one.  My friend Richard who went with me on 3 deliveries last year even works for Apple.  I was resistant really only because I didn’t want to shell out the $$$$ for one.  I LOVE every Apple product I have ever had and was already sold on the company but $$$$ is short in our lifestyle so it was hard to bite the bullet.
I was in the airport getting ready to work on my sailing resume for the insurance company that handles the “Sweetest Thing” when my latest little netbook failed.  There I was at the beginning of a long offshore passage with no computer and forced to ask the owners if I could borrow their laptop in order to finish what they had asked me to arrive at the boat with!  The long and the short of it is that I am typing this on a new Macbook Air.  You Mac users can now send some comments to help me deal with the WIFE AGRO!  So far I love it... not sure about this PAGES software... who wrote this anyway?  (Just kidding... it’s great Richard... good work!)
I will blog in the morning and let you all know what it looks like for weather and our departure time.
Bloggin’ on a MAC
Captain Tofer

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Delivering The "Sweetest Thing!"

Thursday morning as I was teaching school for the kids I received a call from a lady in St Thomas who was trying to find a last minute Captain to deliver a 48 foot Fountaine Pajot catamaran from Annapolis, MD to St Thomas.  She gave me the owners name and before I could call him he called me.  Wade and his friend Bob had bought “Sweetest Thing” this month and wanted to move it to St Thomas where it will be available for captained charters in the Virgin Islands (see for details.)  One of their friends, John Liggett, who had owned and lived aboard his own  sailboat in New York Harbor in the 70 and had sailed offshore to Bermuda, signed on for the passage as crew.  They decided that it would be a good idea to have a delivery skipper along as well so... Wade asked me if I was available for the delivery and when I said yes he asked me if I could leave that afternoon.  I talked them into bringing along another crew member, 15 year old Dylan Milton, who you might remember from this years passage on “Changin’ Tags” from Norfolk to St Thomas.  Dylan was great crew on one of the tougher offshore passages we have had, and that’s saying a lot on “Changin’ Tags.”  When I asked Dylan if he would like to come along he hesitated for about 5 seconds and said, “Sure, why not?”
Dylan and I flew out of St Thomas that afternoon and landed in Washington, DC at 8:30 that night.  The next day was spent getting “Sweetest Thing” Ready for her offshore passage.  For those of you who have bought a boat you will understand the lists of things that need to be done to bring them up to offshore standards.  We spent the day running some new halyards (Dylan up the mast) , topping lift, secured the dingy and dingy engine and worked through a few issues with some of the boats systems.  Saturday we provisioned the boat and sent Dylan back up the mast again to rig the new topping lift.  We fueled the boat and were ready to head down the Bay.  As we approached the mouth of the Bay this morning we received a call for our weather router who told us that we had missed our window which opened on Friday and now we would have to face north winds crossing the Gulf Stream and possible 50 knot winds on Tuesday.  I have been in 50 and even 60+ knots (on Changin’ Tags) so the decision to wait out that weather was an easy one.  We turned the boat toward Norfolk and are now tied up at Waterside Marina until Tuesday morning.  We will try to bust out of here on Tuesday on the back side of that cold front and get across the Gulf Stream as quickly as we can.
If you would like to be a part of our trip please check back here for updates every day or so.  I will try to keep it updated as the weather permits.  Spot will also be active every 6 hours while we are underway.
Oh and did I mention that Dylan and I are FREEEEEEEEZZZZZZING?

Waitin’ on  Weather
Captain Tofer, Bob, John and Dylan onboard the “Sweetest Thing”