This was our jumping off point……..The trip we took in April 2015, to wet our feet in ocean sailing…with the very experienced sailor, John Kretchmer. I think we are lucky to call him a friend since he has been somewhat instrumental in getting us this far in making our winter dreams of sailing the oceans come true. He has sailed hundreds of thousands of miles across all oceans. In preparation for future offshore voyages we signed up for a week course/immersion with John on his boat Quetzal, a Kaufman 47 to the Bahamas. The trip was designed to take sailors interested in making the Gulf Stream passage from Florida to the Bahamas and return.
This would give us the experience of making the crossing as well as some offshore sailing. We casually met John at the Chicago Strictly Sail symposium and show in 2014. ( I say “us ” weakly, Mike met him officially, I was in bed that morning at the Marriott with a terrible cold and apparently too much wine from the night before. I had actually listened to John the day before as he spoke about his latest book Sailing a Serious Ocean. We remember listening to his talk about some exciting (code word for harrowing) voyages. I think at the time I did have a few second thoughts about leaving the security of the sight of land to seek out foreign waters. What would that feel like to know that you are out in the middle of the ocean headed for another country, possibly into the night as well? Is it really as safe as everyone says (if you know what you are doing, and how do you know unless you’ve been there)? In a very short conversation after the talk, he encouraged Mike to look at his passage schedules and expeditions, inviting us to join him in Ft Lauderdale the following year sailing to the Bahamas. I believe we talked about it with our good friend Jeff Bellairs who was also interested, I believe we made that decision in a few days, as these trips fill up fast! That was January 2014….we had a whole year , plus to wait. We continued to read and learn, we chartered in the BVI that March again and this time accompanied by friends. We even planned a trip out on Lake Superior to Isle Royale, but failed to make it there due to cold stormy weather. However we did manage to get the experience of planning for an extended voyage. We ended up back at Lake Vermilion that July, happy to sail those fresh water islands.
John Kretchmer in Bimini
Our trip in 2015, with John, was great! We had an awesome crew that wanted to learn as much as we could about managing a sailboat in the open ocean, in anchorages and islands of the Bahamas.
Quetzal at Big Game Club, Bimini
Some of the crew had been on Quetzal before on similar Caribbean passages. We were considered the newbies. We learned a lot. We spent hours talking about boats and dreams of cruising. To that crew I say thanks. We made our first Gulf Stream Crossing overnight from downtown Ft. Lauderdale, we anchored out in peaceful harbors on Eleuthra Island, we shared in the navigating and sailing through the middle Bahamas, and snorkeled on a wreck near Bimini…IMG_4466″We even had the best hands-on celestial navigation course you’d find” ……thats a topic for another blog entry. Here we were happy sailors, watching the waves and the clouds, enjoying the motion of the ocean, and we are transported back to Woodstock High School Junior year trigonometry class. I like math and science, but my brain is not wired for intensive geo and trig. So although I was able to grasp (with my pinkie) how celestial navigation works, this stuff is intense. It is comprised of several timed readings of the suns location (preferable at its peak overhead location) to help you determine your location. Currently that is calculated for us by the GPS, and should that ever go down (heaven forbid!!!) and we are in the middle of the ocean without any reference point……it could be harrowing.
We sailed and motored thru squalls and spent a day watching water spouts form in the distance…and caught fish!
Mike and I would have to say that was definitely the point at which we knew we were comfortable with and probably very hooked on the cruising life. We just had one obstacle…no boat. It was just about 2 months later after thoughtful investigation of many sailboats we had purchased Lost Loon, our 40 ft Caliber !
We do owe a bit of gratitude to Capt. Kretchmer for his encouragement and shared wisdom of boats on that trip . He was kind to take our calls when we had decided on a few bots to purchase. He continues to run trips in the Caribbean and Europe, sharing his knowledge and experience with would be sailors or just folks interested in the adventure.
We had moved Lost Loon from Brunswick GA to Stuart FL on our trip in April, in anticipation of our trip to the Bahamas. We had only spent a night in calm marina waters after spending 3 days at the fuel dock due to winds so out of control that we couldn’t move off the dock.
We had truly exhausted every possible option for springing off the stern, springing off the bow, etc..we just had too much at stake from the bow sprit to the dinghy davits at the stern. We woke up early the first morning, winds were very light so we decided to quickly shower and as we returned to the boat in a matter of 15 minutes the winds were approaching 17 knots! We were welcomed again that morning by the Steve and Jim, dockmasters at Loggerhead Marina. We did take a ribbing for not getting her off the dock before the winds picked up, but we were assured that we were welcome to stay and weren’t in the way ….too much. We took the opportunity to meet some wonderful folks in the same dock area who gave us lots of great advice on the immediate plan to get off the dock, as well as our longterm plans for sailing the Caribbean. So it was not all a loss, being fuel dock residents for a few days. We finally were able to move Lost Loon at 6 am on day 3. We awoke to rain showers, but no wind! We were up immediately as we realized this was our chance. Mike had the engine started and dock lines loosed before I was out of my PJs! We were able to motor across the fuel area temporarily dock, run around collect our fenders, and meander our way to our assigned slip on J-dock.
Four weeks later, upon our return to take our trip to the Bahamas, we spent 4 days getting all systems ready and 4 noisy nights trying to rest. I believe the first night that weekend we were so exhausted (endless days in Wisconsin packing and a full day of travel to the airport at 0500, transfers at the various airports and the delayed process getting a rental car for 24 hours, and a few stops at Winn Dixie and West Marine) we didn’t notice the commotion. The second night we enjoyed a calm evening at the dock, by the time lights were out and we began to drift off with visions of sugar sand beaches and bright turquoise anchorages, a new crackling, chewing noise had materialized. It sounded like bugs of some kind hitting the deck or rain pelting the boat. But it was clear, full of stars….. I pushed my hand out the port window, (because you can check the weather that easy on a sailboat) no water. We had not noticed ANY bugs as we returned from dinner that evening. I decided to leave the comforts of our new memory foam mattress to inspect the deck. No bugs?? No critters?? In fact a beautiful night, stars are visible, a light breeze, and stillness on the dock. Returning to bed, the noise continued. What the heck was this? As I began to fall asleep I thought of termites eating the hull or some other creature within the deep compartments of the structure…But its fiberglass, and that’s ridiculous!
Third night, lights out …the odd noise resumed. Did we just hear it because we were quiet? And was it going on all day? It was the same snapping and crackling commotion. I was determined to solve this. Lights on and looked in the bilge, it was clean…opened the closets, silent… I put my ear to the mast, nothing, and finally to the sole of the boat. Definitely coming from here. What kind of critter causes this constant noise? We mused all sorts of marine life as we edged into sleep.
The following morning, eyes open and I was on an internet search for (literally) “snapping noise coming from a boat hull”. I immediately found that there is a particular shrimp that causes the noise. Mystery solved! Thank goodness the hull wasn’t breaking apart. This was most interesting. The Pistol shrimp is a very small crustacean (not one for consumption). Its manner of attacking its prey is to shoot a small stream of water at 62 mph, stunning and killing its food. The water that is release at such a high pressure it can reach several thousand degrees instantly.
We watched the internet videos of the shrimp in action, quite impressive.( We mused that it is certainly unfortunate that they cannot naturally keep the hull cleaned of barnacles. ) What to do?..nothing. Live and let live…live and let the commotion continue…
Night four, with the continuous snapping and crackling going on, but we rest well. We are smarter now of marine critters on the hull. We are lulled to sleep listening to, by what we presume,(because we haven’t seen) are several hundred hunting , snapping, and feeding pistol shrimp (confident that nothing is “eating the boat”).
Sailing the BVI was our goal when we decided to take sailing courses. We managed to complete our courses in Bayfield WI by 2012.
We have now surpassed this by purchasing our own cruising boat and preparing to sail off the most of the Caribbean in the future. But initially we had little in the way of ocean experience when we planned our first charter in the British Virgin Islands.
In order to prepare for this first adventure to the BVI together, we realized we needed some meat in our resume. Would our coursework and owning our own boat in the Midwest suffice? It could have, but we also felt that we might feel more confident AND we yearned for some mid winter sailing fun. Mike had a business trip to California early January, 2013 (about 6 weeks before our Caribbean trip). We pondered whether we would be able to find a charter that would loan us a boat for a few days. We made phone calls to a couple of sailing charters in San Diego, where we knew that the weather was pretty nice (compared to Wisconsin at that time of year, I’d say it was awesome). We found a Catalina 34 available for the weekend! We quickly discussed the terms as well as our resume for sailing and we were set.
We arrived at Shelter Cove Marina on a bright, crisp Friday morning. We were immediately greeted by the typical sailboat marina sound of tinging halyards against the masts in the light breeze, seagulls calling to one another, and a gentle pacific ocean breeze (I’m always amazed that you can leave one season and be in another the next day!).We met the charter owner, reviewed the regulations and signed documents. He required that we make a quick trip with one of his captains out to the bay to make sure we knew how to handle the vessel. Sure, we thought that was a great idea! We’re thinking…”where’s the jib halyard? cunningham? do we need to refuel? As relatively new sailors, some experience on our Precision 23, now we are talking 34 ft of boat ..bigger engine…bigger sails…lots more to mess with.
With the papers signed, we grabbed our bags and meager provisions and headed to the boat. We were met by not 1 but 2 captains on a 1990 Catalina 34. They were kind gentlemen and very proud of their Eastern European accent to “show us the ropes”. After we became accustomed to the language difference, we we comfortable and quite pleased that they took the time for our safety and the safety of the boat. They demonstrated how to get out of the slip and taught us how to back down the runway out to the larger part of the marina, which was easier than trying to make a 3 point turn…pretty cool we thought.
They showed us how to raise sails, we inspected the engine, and we got a brief lesson on the VHF. After an hour or 2 ….or possibly 3, all parties felt more comfortable (including you know US!). We returned to the slip and spent the next hour listening to the two tell us of their interesting stories as delivery captains up and down the west coast and offshore.
It was a beautiful 70 degree light breeze sailing day and we were anxious to get going. We looked at the charts and decided that we could make a trip out the San Diego Bay and offshore a bit.There were few boats moving in the marina and the bay itself was becalmed except for a bit of commotion going on overhead. Shelter Cove Marina is right across the bay from the US Naval base on Coronado. It was Friday and they were in full training mode we figured. As we left the bay, we had huge military helicopters flying overhead, along with incoming jets.I remember commenting that we felt like we were in a scene from Saving Private Ryan or Apocalypse Now. (Thankfully we didn’t take any rounds.) We slipped out past the last can bouy which was populated with seals (the marine animal and not the Navy type) to open ocean.
We raised the sails and were on our way, leaving San Diego to the stern. We enjoyed the quiet sound of water rushing past the rudder. We made lunch, a glass of wine, and relaxed. Our first time in open ocean!
We found the direction of the light wind and played around with different configurations of the sails. We left Point Loma headed north.
We had terrific day just coastal cruising and returned early evening to San Diego Bay. As we made our approach toward the marina we had our first encounter with huge watercraft.. a cruise ship. We heard the initial SECURITE warnings as we approached Point Loma, made a mental note, but didn’t think much of it until it came into view.
Leaving her to starboard we returned to the marina with a beautiful evening view of San Diego, very proud of ourselves for navigating and sailing alone.
We had a great dinner ashore finding some awesome pacific seafood. Overnight temps did drop to high 40s that night as we slept aboard. The following morning we walked to town for coffee and bagels and returned for our second day of our San Diego sailing adventure. Once out in the bay, we found many others had the same idea. Just a few more Saturday sailors. Initially, we sailed south in the bay passing our military’s finest marine defense.
We made several tacks and made our return into an unbelievable number of sailing vessels out for a beautiful day.
Now this picture doesn’t do justice to the mayhem we found ourselves in. ( I couldn’t find a moment to even grab the camera!) Not only were there hundreds of boats, but the wind had picked up making us just a bit more uneasy handling the sails. we tacked to starboard, we went to port dodging as we always seemed to be the give-away vessel. We began to banter to ourselves “what is that guy doing headed right for us? Who has the right of way , here? I can’t tack into the bridge piling and I cant jibe into that boat!!!” It was an hour of craziness! What had we gotten ourselves into? Of course, we managed to avert several potential accidents eventually finding clear water did some sight seeing along the city’s waterfront.
We returned to our slip, wishing we could stay longer, gathered our belongings and turned in the keys. We left halyards singing in the song breeze, realizing what great time we had that weekend. We found there were things we didn’t know and needed to, which we would research , but it also gave us the us the confidence that we would fair pretty well sailing in the BVI six weeks later.