C’est St. Barthelemy!

After a wonderful night in Governors Harbor on the south side of St Barthelemy, the following morning we woke to a crystal sunrise and the now common sound of distant roosters making themselves known to the world… it was just as gorgeous. With calm clear waters we both took time to have coffee and took turns on the paddleboard, exploring the shoreline. The wave crashed gently on the beautiful white sand beach, and we could hear the bray of goats on the mountainside. We spent a couple of early morning hours here before heading out to the city and port of Gustavia to check into Customs and Immigration.

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St Barths has been fought over by the British, French and Spanish through the years. It was even held by the Swedes in exchange for port rights in the 1800’s. They sold the land back to the French in 1878 , and it has remained in their hold since.

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The entrance showed us the headlands of the bay which were dotted with multitudes of red roofed homes and buildings. ( we joked the entire time here about whether this was code or if it was just the trend) . The bougainvillea was draped from every overhang in a multitude of hues…..reds, violets and whites. The Yacht mooring and anchorage was full of sailboats and mega-yachts from all over the world, lined up along the docks in Med-mooring fashion. (this is different to the traditional bow-in mooring, the sterns are moored to the dock and there is usually an anchor or mooring ball from the bow forward ). We made our way to check in with customs and immigration and found that the French have THE best system for this. (however they dont use a QWERTY keyboard and the M and A are severly displaced for us used to an English keyboard, this makes for a few typos in the process) It is a sort of do-it –yourself check –in. With our cruising papers, boat documentation and passport numbers we enter all our information then print it out for the immigration staff to review. Viola! We’re in!

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Gustavia

We made our way through this very chic town with its Cartier, Dior, Ralph Lauren, etc high-end retailers to a few smaller shops and grocery. It was here we found fresh, hot and crunchy French baguettes, delicious croissants, cheap French wines of excellent quality, pate, and the best Brie cheese! (it became our staple for the weeks we were in these French islands)

Back on Scooters!

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On the road again..

We had not ventured out on the many rental offerings for scooters at several islands since the crazy ride in Luperon, but St Barthelemy looked like the perfect location. We had made plans with our sailing friends on Desderata to tour the island the day before. With numerous beaches, few trucks and cars, and excellent highway system we decided to make a day of it.

We left Gustavia on a 125 cc scooter after the early morning rain showers had moved off to the west. It was now sunny and hot. We had plans to see each of the beautiful beaches of the island. Our first stop would be the lovely Baie de St Jean (not “saint jeen” but “sah jah”)and the little town of l’Orient (loree-ahn)  with its quaint shops in severe contrast to those in Gustavia. This was on the north part of the island and from a perch we could walk to about 100 ft overlooking the beach we could see the light blue waters and coral structure below. It was 10 AM and the beach goers were on the move. There is a very expensive resort here, where we watched assistants preparing beach beds (seriously a full size mattress with an adjustable back!) for their patrons, serving champagne and water in ice buckets! We moved on further heading south with beautiful seaside stops along the way. We made our lunch stop at a small beach place where the burgers were great and the “mahi” tartare awesome. Accompanied by a great glass of white wine and a cool walk in the sand and we were in heaven.

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beachwalk to lunch

 

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perfect lunch spot

We still had a few miles to put on before sunset and were off for the South side of the island. Here we got to see Governors Harbor from a different perspective…it was just as amazing. More from the perspective of sailing down the winding road to the beach with spectacular overlooks to the waters below. We did swim to cool off and enjoy a walk on the soft sand beach.

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St Barth’s beach in L’Orient

We had a few more beaches to “run “ by and continued back to Gustavia and then to the north to Colombier, a small secluded inlet on the North side. We watched some experienced pilots make a landing at one of the shortest runways in mountainous areas we had seen. It was a great day of seeing some spectacular landscape.

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We returned the scooters and made a hike to one of the overlooks in Gustavia that was once an ancient military instillation. We watched the sunset from here, above the city and imagined many hundreds of years ago, the government (French, British….whoever was in charge at the time) taking watch for pirates or other invaders, ready to fire the cannons at will.

We had to continue making headway sailing south, as we had friends arriving in Guadeloupe within the next week. Our plans were to head off past St Kitts and Nevis to Guadeloupe the next day. We woke to clear skies and a light breeze that promised to fill in by later in the day. Our next leg would now be over 50 miles which would require another overnight passage. Since we were quite used to this by now, we actually looked forward to open ocean sailing. It is generally easier than sailing between islands amongst the fishing pots, fishermen, and charter yachts.

We said our “goodbyes” for the last time to friends on Desderata (who were headed north back to the Virgins to meet with family) realizing that we had spent the most part of the last 2 months with them “on the go”. We would hope to see them back in the states when they returned in the summer at some point. With our exit papers in hand, most of the water tanks filled, and plenty of brie, sausassion, and baguette, Lost Loon headed out by mid afternoon for Guadeloupe.

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The evening was gorgeous as we watched the island of St Barthelemy fade into the sunset and the shadow of St Kitts and Nevis take form in the foreground. We took our typical 3-4 hours passage shifts and watched the ships passing in the night (literally). To keep awake this night I was able to listen to local Monserrat radio where they were having the Lesser Antilles high school debate finals. They debated the importance of continued tourism and international commerce (as we sail right by), as well as the importance of maintaining literacy amongst the population. The night passed quickly as we did make a few sail plan changes due to weather along the islands. By morning light, as usual, we were comforted to see the distant shores of Guadeloupe. A contrast from the arid island of St Barts and the flatlands of St Maarten , this was green, lush and mountainous.

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Next up we are a month in Guadeloupe and loving this French island and all that it has to offer!

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On the Water and In the Water…

It is a respect that you develop with the ocean and deep waters as you travel by boat from continents to islands in the manner we have. We have been in waters so deep our depth sounder doesn’t compute (fathoms it says, on the Raymarine screen) crossing the Gulf Stream and making our way off the banks of the Turks and Caicos islands to within a mile of the Dominican Republic shoreline. And we have unfortunately been in waters so shallow that the muck below grabs onto the keel like an octopus until we overcome the suction force with engine power (happened on our way into Bahia de Luperon, briefly, no damage, and quite humbling). We have swam in waters at 60 ft that with each kick of the fins you gain 3 – 5 ft against the current and relax when propelled by the same, and then float in surface waters that are so warm and silent and relaxing to the inner soul. In our travels, there are waters so crystal you can see the ripples of the sand 10-15 ft below. Therefore I am watch person in these waters for coral heads that sneak up on us from the depths and threaten to catch the keel. They are not as gentle as the muck and sand, we have no first hand experience, but have heard and read that they stretch like stalagmites with claws that take out sections of fiberglass when encountered.
We are smart on the water, watching the course of the water for direction and surface current as to not be caught off guard, whether entering from the beach or the boat. Balancing our moves on deck whether the boat is moving or anchored is important. Most of the waters we have encountered are clear and refreshing until this week in Luperon Harbor. However a safety location as well as a town with wonderfully helpful inhabitants, the harbor waters themselves are well, filthy. The outer beaches of open ocean are beautiful, but we have been warned about the constrained waters of the harbor as being contaminated with garbage and waste. As one enters the harbor, the color of the water changes from blue to green blue. In all my reading, I expected a deeper brown color and odor. None of that exists. So we are no longer in waters where a brief dip off the boat in the afternoon or evening are luxury. Showers are done on the transom or in the cockpit or shower aboard. That is fine….we have an incredibly safe location with the most awesome view of the mountains and hills of the DR into the tropical waters of the Caribbean.
UNTIL……
Our second day in Luperon Harbor and we had made our trip to customs , immigration, agriculture and port authority. We paid out our pesos at each stop. Following which, we ventured into town for a look and to get a few fresh vegetables from the small individual markets along the streetside. We had run into a local fellow selling the services of the local talent: divers, laundry, taxi services, boat cleaners, car and scooter rentals. He wanted us to use him as a type of middle man for our needs. We walked with him in the pouring rain a few blocks to get a map, (he had an umbrella, we did not, he was not sharing) which he didn’t produce, but were introduced to his sister selling jewelry, and he wanted us to buy hand painted t-shirts done by his cousin. The pressure was on. We were savvy sailors and had read all about this tactic. We kindly declined and left with smiles and thanks for the opportunity. We made a bee-line for the dinghy to return to the boat for dinner as we had seen dark clouds approaching. We were within a quarter mile of the dock when a squall hit. We were immediately pelted by rain and 20 knot winds. We took on our adversary faces down with each step. The initial blow steadily weakened to a downpour. All we could think of was getting out of the wet clothes back on the boat.
I approached the dinghy to unlock the line. As I was proceeding to put the key in the lock, and over the heavy patter of the rain and whipping wind I heard a sound of a person to my back that wasn’t normal….then a slight splash. As I turned ,I saw Mike slipping into the water ( almost in slow motion) off the hurricane damaged dock. You see, the dock lay twisted half in and half out of the water along the one side. We had not had a problem with footing on a dry dock upon arrival. My first instinct was to try to retrieve the wet bag with our computer and phones, but as I took an initial step from unlocking the dinghy, I found myself literally upended and off my feet sliding as well into the dark waters. I think my bum hit the greasy edge of the green algae laden dock before I was fully submerged. There was initial moment of panic (or was it more disbelief that I had also befallen into the water!?), as there was no holding on the inclined slimy surface. I made one or two grasps of the flooded docking and couldn’t obtain a hold. The only way out I saw was to work my way toward shore where there was more of a horizontal holding, as I saw Mike scraping for some holding on the slimy surface of dock before us. My thoughts raced…how did this happen?….how did I make the mistake of slipping in as well? As I pulled myself onto the dock like a seal,(quite un-lady like, but life-savingly effective) sopping wet, grabbing the wet bag with our possessions. As Mike hoisted himself out just as wet, we were careful with our footing now…I realized we didn’t lose a shoe. What a crazy thought ! How do you hold on to 2 crocs and 2 flip flops sliding off a 45 degree incline? It was then that the hilarious nature of the event set in. Of all the waters on our voyage we had made special effort to avoid, we had now entered. What made this worse was the day before we had been returning to the boat by dinghy and the motor gave out. We found an oil laden shirt wrapped around the prop..giving us first hand knowledge of the filth in the harbor. Laughter ensued, mine. We had slipped into the abyss of filth in the most comical manner. I was sure we could have wont the “un mil” on funniest home videos for this. As we motored away, watching the skewed dangerous dock, I wanted to warn others. I had no way. Would they take care? Would they avoid the slimy side of the dock? Had this happened before? Were we the first ones?
We wanted fresh water. Returning to the boat, we were again laden with fresh water rain….a godsend… but quickly secured the dinghy and had the transom shower ready. We were relieved after stripping of the soaked clothing, washing our faces and scrubbing hands. My thoughts reflected the decontamination procedures at the hospital I had learned in the event of a chemical exposure. We had sustained a few abrasions and mild lacerations to the hands scraping for survival, but we cleaned those very well. We continued to replay the event and laughed to tears throughout the night. Two eager Midwest born sailors finding themselves IN foreign waters.

Making a move…again.. headed for dry storage….

June 2016

A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. John Shedd.

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We needed to move the boat out of the water and to a place where we can get bottom work done. (In boating terms..). We had made a decision after the Bahamas trip that we would need to get the boat out of the water for cleaning and painting. Now there are several schools of thought on storing a boat in the water vs. out of the water. There is a definite advantage in keeping a new bottom paint away from the critters that chose to make their residence within the fertile growth that occurs on a boat that sits inactive at the dock. These sea creatures can eat away at the bottom paint over time.(This is actually what marine paints are formulated to defeat this growth. From the origin of sailing and boating, mariners have tried to discourage the barnacles, and aquatic growth by adding all kinds of coatings to the hull of said boats. Before “we” were environmentally conscious (as well as safety aware for health reasons) boats kept in saltwater endured applications of arsenic, tar, sulfur, tin and pesticides! As time and awareness have evolved they have found newer compounds of copper that work as a biocide to prevent heavy marine growth. (OK…boring I know, just one more thing…there are so many paints for the hulls of saltwater boats its incredible. So what’s different? The concentration of copper mainly and how fast the paint wears away to reveal “another layer” of copper to work. And you don’t have to pain the bottom every year!) Just so you know that we don’t needlessly spend hundreds of dollars just to have a “nice looking bottom”.

In hauling Lost Loon out of the water, we would also realize a benefit on our insurance. Additionally she needs to stay above or close to the 31st parallel to stay within the provisions of our insurance policy. So, the closest location to Brunswick Harbor Marina would be St Mary’s Boat Services, a marina that would allow us to have the boat “on the hard” (a nautical term use when you don’t have the boat in the water) in order get some work done and be safe for the summer. The location is just about 40 nautical miles south of where we were currently located. But before we just loose the dock lines and motor off to St Mary’s, we were obliged to get permission from the insurance company as this was at 30 .44 degrees north latitude (every so slightly south of the 31 degree line in the sand we are held to). It took a few days of emails, phone calls, and of course an additional $50. added to our policy (there’s always a hand waiting for money) to get the insurance company to “OK “ the new location just south of 31N.

 

Once we knew we were clear to make the move we had to decide on a route. We would have 2 choices :   #1- intercoastal waterway all the way: full day of motoring basically down a “riverway”, this would require us to leave early in the morning and anchor close to the marina overnight to make the final approach up the creek early morning so we have good light in narrow waters navigating to the marina. (This could also prove to be a VERY LONG HOT trip) and #2- an overnight ocean passage out St Simons inlet south along the Atlantic coast about 20 miles and back into St Mary’s Inlet with arrival early AM at the St Marys inlet for a daylight creek approach early AM for a mid day hauling. Technically, either way this is a 2-day event. We made the decision early on to take the outside journey.

We knew we needed to leave by 12AM to arrive at St Mary’s by 7or 8 AM , (given good weather). As usual we watched the weather for days prior to our arrival in Brunswick, with the hope we had that 7 or 8 hour window to make the run. We had noted a very clear weather window to St. Mary’s on Friday night and that our chances of running into storms increased Saturday and Sunday.

To add to (or complicate, depending on your view of the yin and yang of things) the decision making process, we had reservations to meet up with friends in Marathon for some snorkeling, spearfishing and diving Monday night .

We planned our arrival in Jacksonville early afternoon Friday, and we would drive to Brunswick , replace a fuel filter (critical), uncover Lost Loon, obtain some meager provisions and head off into the night. Sounds good on paper (or the Excel spreadsheet) but in reality flights get delayed, it takes 2+ hours to replace the fuel filter, and we find that some of our navigations lights are not working.

Yes, we arrive in Charlotte, NC and our flight is delayed by almost 2 hours. We have our sweet daughter, Kelsey, now waiting patiently at the airport in Jacksonville for us. She has kindly driven down from NC to help us with transportation, join us on this overnight journey and the rest of the week in “the Keys”.

A Plan in Action

We retrieve our baggage on arrival at the Jacksonville airport, head out with haste in a very full vehicle (with just enough room left for people), and make our first stop in St Mary’s to inspect the marina. We quickly depart after meeting the owner finding this marina very sufficient for storing Lost Loon for the Summer, making tracks north to Brunswick Landing as planned to begin our ship preparations. After removing the trusty canvas that has protected Lost Loon from tons of bird doo-doo in the last 2 months, we debated about who might jump overboard and check the prop. (This wasn’t the Bahamas, Dorothy, it was late in the day with sun approaching the horizon and water that is brackish..i.e., salt and freshwater combined that moves very slowly through the marina.)….Luckily (for me and Kelsey), Mike made a quick decision to snorkel down 3-4 ft from the surface to check on the aquatic growth. We knew this was of primary importance as on a previous trip we had tried to maneuver with a prop that was so full of growth we were moving out of control. That was before we realized the amount of growth that can accumulate on a boat sitting at the dock. We had tried to get our “dive-guy” to make a visit, but in all the preparations to get away we had not called him in enough time to get it done. But…Viola! The report came back with very few barnacles and little to no cleaning needed! Job 1….check!

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Next, I begin to reorganize and Mike started on the fuel pump. We had last left her after the Bahamas we had removed and folded the sails, stored the life raft, removed the solar panels, and stowed the Bimini canvas. So the salon , forward and aft cabins along with the galley were quite full of equipment, in addition to being quite near 100 degrees upon my arrival. The goal that evening was to make enough room for 24 hours of living and resting to make the trip. That process went well (however very warm) and I was able to secure some items on deck and along the starboard and port walkways to make room. We sent Kelsey off for some provisions and cold beverages, enough to help us get through a night while we continued the work. Later in the evening as the sun was actually setting the light available to Mike in the port lazarette, where the fuel pump resides, was getting dark. Like a surgical assistant, I provided light, towels, and precise tools for completing the job. It was hot down there and any hint of a breeze had disappeared with the sun. With the new pump in correct position and all the lines connected…Jobs 2 and 3 were done.

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It was dark when we started the engine and found it wouldn’t keep idling. Air. Of course, there was air in the lines..a quick bleeding from the engine side and it was back running like it should. It was after 9 PM and Mike connected the instruments as I made a check of fuel and navigation lights. I found no stern lights and the deck floodlight flashed and wouldn’t come back on. Now, there is a moment in time when you realize that your said plan needs revising or scraping, this was that time. So at roughly 9:30 PM after we had sweat to the bone trying to get the boat in order to leave…we had to scrub Plan A.

Moving on to Plan B

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The air hung like the moss from the stately oaks  and cypress down the street, it was heavy and still. We were in no position to combat that all night without a bit of air conditioning and so we quickly connected to Hotels.com for a cool and refreshing nights sleep. We knew we had another 24 hours or so before another attempt at leaving Brunswick for Lost Loon’s summer home. If the weather changes…well, there is no Plan C, we would exhaust our window and have to leave the boat at Dock 15, slip 23.

We broke one of the first rules of sailing and that is leave enough time for weather window. We would have to suffer the financial consequences with the insurance company, but knowing safety is first and foremost, that would have to be.

Saturday morning arrived bright and as hot and humid as we left it Friday night. Plan B was hatched before retiring: leave Kelsey in the comforts of the hotel (no use everyone of us baking in the summer sun), shop for replacement lights, attend to a few other small jobs and hopefully spend some time relaxing near a refreshing body of water. By noon we had retrieved Kelsey, stopped for more provisions and lunch and soon found ourselves sitting by a local Jekyll Island resort pool. No harm we borrowed a swim as an escape from the very hot near 100 degree day again, might have shared a cocktail, and checked the weather radar at frequent intervals (like a football coach getting ready for game night we reviewed the game plan, confirming with each other that we were ready to go.)

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We had dinner at a very nice Brunswick establishment The Southern Table, where they touted the true southern atmosphere. The waiters and servers wore bowlers and black suits. The crab cake,  salads, and  blue crab mac and cheese dinner were original and delicious. And the sweet tea was wonderful and obviously brewed to perfection. We sat in conversation about the days events and continued to monitor the radar. The offshore prediction center had increased the possibility of storms from scattered to about 20%. We returned to Lost Loon about 10 PM. We arranged the car that we would have to retrieve the following day via UBER and set to rest an hour or so. We found ourselves lying in the cockpit and across the deck for a whiff of cool air. We watched lightening move from the northwest to the east just north of us. At one point we decided that we would take respite in the community room, where there was AC. In anticipation we couldn’t sleep, but even for the 30 minutes we were still and cool. By 11: 30 PM we were ready to move. We had seen storms pop up on radar and dissipate quickly as they approached the coast.

We eventually were able to confirm that there was nothing approaching on radar that was ominous and decided that since it would be about 1 ½ hours to reach the coastal waters, we had time to watch for “ominous” and turn back. We cast off the lines, had the fenders stowed and were motoring out under the stars and light of a near full moon in leave of Brunswick at 12:15AM.

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Lost Loon,  coastal bound under near full moon

Up next…..the approach to St Mary’s….the first storm.

 

Open Oceans and Weather To Go

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You either like the open ocean or you don’t. I’m in love with it. Writing this as we cross Little Bahama Bank for Great Sale Cay (p. “key”) ( April 20).  We just completed our first overnight crossing the Gulf Stream ( I think that definitely deserves capital letters!). WE did it…alone… together!  It is hard to describe what its like… Solitude? Freedom? Beauty? It is one mysterious, captivating, powerful body of water. Sailors plan for days waiting, as we did, for the winds to be “just right”. A northerly wind of any kind irritates and aggravates the Gulf Stream. She raises her waves and swells in protest. And so, makes it difficult for travelers by boat to cross to other oceans or ports and in particular the Bahamas. But given a gentle East or South breeze and she is a happy as sheets drying on a line. That is what we wait for.
After watching the weather maps, computer wind and wave models, and having a detailed discussion with weather router, Chris Parker, we made the decision leave on a Tuesday night (our Northerly wind was switching to Easterly). Pretty simple, and reassuring.
Cruising travelers spend enormous amounts of money on monitoring equipment, apps, and subscriptions to weather forecasting services, as they should, to get the best guess on what the winds, waves, and weather will be for a passage thru a particular ocean or coastal region. As newbie cruisers, we read about all the well known forecasters and I guess wondered if we would ever get to the place where we needed their service. Why? Well we bought a boat that was already equipped with an ICOM 706 amateur radio, automatic antennae tuner and Pactor modem. What this means is that we can listen around the world to weather broadcasts, or even “hook-up” the laptop and get email or weather fax ! Well, that’s all good until you realize that you need the General Ham license ( which requires passing a test. So, ok I’ve studied for some pretty tough exams in my life but this stuff takes the cake unless your an electrical engineer. Passing the exam, I’m now known as maritime mobile KD9FQW. Feeling pretty good, thinking all I had to do was turn the dial and call my sign and I’m talking and listening to the world. How different could it be from tuning in a great AM station on the radio? I was wrong. I won’t bore you with details about radio wave propagation into the ionosphere, but it can be darn difficult at times. The great thing I found out this week is that if you are licensed amateur operator having difficulty trying to reach your uncle in Kentucky, so that he can communicate to family in Minnesota and North Carolina that you are safe, there are the kindest people that are ready relay your message. Thanks to you all!
We could have bought a satellite phone or marine SSB, which may have been easier to use, and we eventually may, but right now we are not headed off to the Pacific on some 3 week passage….in time.

Back to weather.

Right now the Sun has been up for a few hours, there are high cirrus clouds and the temp is 76, winds 12 from the East, the direction to our next waypoint. We are not sailing but motoring. If we were out for a day sail or didn’t have a Diesel engine, we might decide to raise the sails and do some tacking to get there at the expense of time. We anticipate good weather for the rest of the trip as we have a mostly high pressure settling into the Bahamas region. It is times like this that you realize you are very dependent on which way the wind blows. Back home we comment about the direction of the wind, we complain about the rain or snow, but we are able to navigate to work and play without much other consideration.
The water surrounding Lost Loon has turned a beautiful turquoise. We have gone from well over 2000 ft of water to 15.

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Bahama Blue

Our keel (the big piece of lead weight that keeps us from tipping over ) sits 5 feet below us . So, you can do the math and see that we don’t have much room for things sticking up off the ocean floor. So we keep watch. At night this watch is for ocean traffic and during the day obstructions and ships.

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The routine is about every 2-3 hours, sleep -watch-sleep- watch. This also entails managing the autopilot , steering to course, and watching depth.  You would think with thousands of miles of open ocean you would only expect to see a few boats. Last night’s crossing the Gulf Stream was like Grand Central Station at quitting time. At one point we had 4 boats on radar, all over 10 football fields in length, within 15 miles. Our closest approach was the Norwegian Getaway at 1 mile. At one point, we were headed for a 300 ft CPA , (closest point of approach- that is near collision in lay terms). I called on the VHF and thanked the captain of that very large and ominous passenger ship, headed for Nassau, for changing his course and speed so we didn’t collide. ( He did because we did not have the capability to increase our speed any further).  He did reply back to my contact . I think he said ” no problem” (possibly being cordial).  I’m certain he gets tired of 40 ft sailboats meandering their way at 3 AM across his path. The world goes around, and next time my schedule is off because of an unexpected event,  I’ll remember the captain of the Norwegian Getaway.

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