Friday, May 12, 2017

New luxury aboard Oceanus: A real mattress

We talked about this since Mexico; that's a year. Finally, on our most recent trip to Costco, the $100 off tipped the scale. We bought a real queen-size mattress.

It is made of three layers of foam and has a quilted top. We thought we could successfully trim it to fit our berth on the boat. That required the additional purchase of an electric carving knife. (The poor man's tool for cutting foam.)

Getting it back to the boat was the first hurdle. Inside the big box, the mattress was vacuum packed and rolled up like a big white marshmallow. It fit in the bow of the dinghy, but just barely. Fortunately, we had a calm evening to row back to the boat. Once there, Virginia lowered the spinnaker halyard, I snapped it around the marshmallow and she used a winch to hoist it on deck. Easy.

In the morning, we opened up the plastic to let the mattress expand on deck. We also need to let it air out for the recommended 24 hours. It was tempting to sleep on deck, I'm a little sorry I didn't.

The next morning we cut open the cover on the hull-side and hacked off about $60 of foam using our new electric carving knife. Our old memory foam topper served as a pattern. Perfect fit the first time.

Getting it through our Columbia 43's large companionway was not a problem. Likewise, sliding it on its end to our berth was easy too. Heaving it onto the berth was a chore, but not bad. The whole process took about an hour with more laughing than swearing.

W cut open one side of the cover. It took two passes to get through all 11 inches of foam.
The mattress is 11 inches thick -- three inches more than our previous assemblage of various pieces of foam. It makes it pretty high, but we still have plenty of room above our heads thanks to the boat's flush deck.

With our old foam assemblage (you really couldn't call it a mattress) the queen-sized sheets never fit well. Now they fit like a glove. The bed is made. Time for a nap.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Farewell to our whale friends

A humpback whale breaching. (NOAA photo)
At the end of March, 2009, we went on a boat dive to Molokini. One of the divers complained on the way back that he hadn't seen any whales. The boat captain said the whales already left. To this the man exclaimed angrily: "The chamber of commerce said they are here until April first!" I guess the whales just didn't look at their calendar that year.

We enjoyed our whale watching season this year. Every December an estimated that 60 percent of the North Pacific humpback whale population migrates to Hawaii's waters. In spite of numerous studies, no one knows how the marine giants manage to cross open ocean from Alaska to Hawaii never veering off course by more than one degree.

The waters around Maui, Lanai and Molokai provide the perfect protected waters the whales need for their great social gathering. The channel between Maui and Lanai turns into one big nursery when the pregnant humpbacks give birth to their 2,000 pound calves. The newborns measure about 12 to 15 feet. A Humpback mother and newborn calf will stay close to shore while nursing. The calf will consume about 100 gallons of his mother's fat-rich milk a day.

The adult whales, including mothers, don't eat while they are here. The water is relatively nutrient free and too warm to support enough of the humpback's food to sustain them, so they live off their blubber.

The calf can double in length during his first year and learns whale behaviors from its mother. We would often see the mother whale breach followed by a clumsy attempt from the baby whale. We also noticed the mother and baby were often accompanied by a "teenaged" whale that seemed to be acting as an escort or bodyguard.

Male humpbacks hang around and sing. Their songs are complex and can last up to 20 minutes and can be heard up to 20 miles away. Since December, with our heads underwater, we could hear the songs and sounds of whales. No one knows exactly why, but recent studies show that male songs actually attract other males, rather than females. The male whales face the singer during the song. These encounters are usually brief and friendly. Maybe they just want to brag about their new calves.

Songs are just one of the ways whales communicate. Humpbacks emit other sounds referred to as social sounds. In addition, they use breaching, tail slapping, and fin slapping to attract attention, which works on whales and humans alike.

Breaching seems like an act of pure joy. (NOAA photo)
Last weekend, on April first, we saw a whale breach. It was beautiful and poignant because we knew it would most likely be the last one of the season.

But with the whales gone, another friend has returned. We don't know why, but while the whales were here, we spotted fewer dolphins. Maybe they can't put up with the whale's singing. Until next December, the dolphins will delight us and keep everyone company.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Creating paradise: A poet's palm forest

A glimpse of  blue sky through the dense palm forest created by poet W.S. Merwin.
W.S. Merwin's trees are an expression of hope and an attempt to heal the divide he sees between man and nature.

Merwin won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1971 and in 2009 and was chosen twice as U.S. poet laureate (1999-2000 and 2010-2011). He authored more than 50 books of poetry, translation and prose. You would think that would be his enduring legacy, but there's more.

A recurring theme in Merwin's writing is man’s separation from nature. He sees the consequences of that alienation as disastrous, both for humans and the world. By planting a tree a day for decades he reclaimed a piece of paradise that will last generations.
Part of the tour group at the palm forest.
When Merwin moved to Hawaii to study Zen Buddhism in 1976 he bought 19 acres of a failed pineapple plantation. Most of the soil was eroded away. He found about the only thing he could grow on it was Hawaii's native coconut palms.

He worked rebuilding the soil and planting different palm tree species from around the world. Most days he and his wife planted a tree, then he would meditate and write poems. Eventually he had a dense and diverse palm forest where before there was nothing but bare rock and played-out soil.
Most days Merwin meditates and writes in the screened-in porch built behind the potting shed.
The forest has more than 2,740 individual palm trees, with more than 400 taxonomic species and 125 unique genera, and nearly 900 different horticultural varieties. It is recognized as one of the largest and most extensive palm collections known to exist on earth, according to the Merwin Conservancy, the group formed to preserve the forest indefinitely.

A couple times a month, members of the conservancy and the professional gardener Merwin hired 10 years ago, lead a free tour through the palm forest. I signed up for one. Virginia and I and two young friends who drove us went to Haiku on Maui to meet with about 10 others for the three-hour tour. It was a fun and beautiful experience.
The professional gardener Merwin hired 10 years ago explains features of the palm forest.
Our only criticism was the guides need to spend more time walking and less time talking. I welcomed hearing the poetry and the stories, but some of the minutia could be cut to improve the focus.

One good story was about a palm from Madagascar. When a scientific expedition went to document the palms of Madagascar a few years ago, they couldn’t find this particular palm and feared it was extinct. They contacted Merwin (now recognized as an expert in palms, in addition to poetry). He told the biologists he had a few in his forest and would send them some seeds. Later they found the palm growing in an isolated area on Madagascar, but by then they used Merwin’s seeds to help reestablish it in other places on the island.

We enjoyed the tour, especially seeing the lush palm forest and the porch behind Merwin's potting shed where he meditates and writes. Like his poetry, the forest he created heals the soul.

by W.S. Merwin

On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree

what for
not for the fruit

the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted

I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time

with the sun already
going down

and the water
touching its roots

in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing

one by one
over its leaves

(from The Rain in the Trees, Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Feeling the love on Maui

A big part of Maui's beauty is found underwater, like this green seaturtle or honu'.
Part of what inspired us to go cruising was our first trip to Maui. The island and surrounding sea were even more beautiful than we imagined and the weather was perfect. I almost cried when we had to leave. What really got my juices flowing during that first visit was a cruising boat anchored at a popular snorkel site called Coral Gardens. I imagined us blissfully at anchor, diving into the clear warm water from the deck of our own boat. We could snorkel and dive at one of Maui's prime dive spots anytime we wanted. I started dreaming of sailing to tropical islands when I was 13. Seeing that cruising boat anchored at Coral Gardens brought the dream into sharp focus.
Oceanus anchored off Olowalu just north of Coral Gardens.
Seven years after our first visit, we bought Oceanus and began working on her restoration and refit. We visualized each project bringing us closer to the picture of us anchored off Maui. For the most part, the reality is even better than the dream. Especially now that our diesel mechanic friend helped me fix our engine. He diagnosed the problem right away -- a stuck fuel cut-off valve on our newly-rebuilt fuel injection pump. But fixing it took nearly eight weeks because of his heavy work schedule (he could only help us on his days off), other projects he recommended, and waiting for parts (Maui is like a third-world country in that regard).
The view of the highway tunnel from anchor at Coral Gardens.
Once the engine was fixed, the first place we wanted to go was Coral Gardens. For a couple of days we and our boat provided the inspiration for other people's dreams. While at anchor there, a familiar boat picked up a mooring about 100 yards away. It was the Four Winds II. On our first trip to Maui our big splurge was a snorkel trip to Molokini Crater on Four Winds II. The 55-foot catamaran was under the command of Captain John. It was 10 years since that adventure and Captain Johnisms still pepper our private conversations. We found his patter during the voyage -- especially his "rules" -- hilarious. After each "rule" (like leaving your shirt tag out, no kicking like a bicyclist while snorkeling, or not wiping your nose after taking your mask off ) he would say "no lunch for you." He also cautioned his snorkelers to pay attention and return to Four Winds so they didn't end up on the other snorkel boats, all of which (according to Captain John) only served Spam for lunch.
Four Winds II at Coral Gardens.
We were about to jump in the water ourselves and ended up snorkeling together with the Four Winds II guests. Before heading back to our boat, we told one of the crew what a great time we had 10 years ago and how much we enjoyed Captain John. “He’s aboard today,” he said, “come aboard and say hi.” We were delighted and a little surprised (since he seemed old 10 years ago). We climbed aboard and found Captain John as affable and witty as ever. He didn’t look a day older either. After a visit, we swam back to our boat. A short time later, Four Winds II left their mooring. As they motored past, Captain John coned his hands around his mouth and yelled, “See you in 10 more years.” As beautiful as Maui is, it’s the people who make it special. The locals are friendly and always ready to help. They truly practice aloha.
Pu'u Olai or Red Hill as seen from our anchorage at Big Beach
After we anchored at Big Beach, we went around Pu'u Olai (Red Hill) to check out the snorkeling there. A Pacific Whale Foundation snorkel boat was at a mooring. Virginia hailed them on the VHF to ask if they had any diet pepsi on board. She told them she would swim over with a dollar. Minutes later another Pacific Whale snorkel boat came into the anchorage aiming right for our boat. Over their loudspeaker the captain told us he had a plastic container of Coke for us. They tossed it to us. Everyone listens over channel 16 on the VHF! One of the first times we landed on Kama'ole Beach at Kihei, a local named Steve introduced himself and immediately offered to drive us anywhere we wanted to go. We took him up on a lift to the auto-parts store. He then gave us his phone number so we could call him anytime we needed a ride. Steve is not unusual. In fact, we find that he is the rule, not the exception, among the locals on Maui. Nick is another example. Shortly after we met Steve, we were sitting in our cockpit fretting over our engine troubles when Nick motored up in a small runabout. We talked about our boat and he told us he skippered a large catamaran out of Maalaea Harbor. In fact, he heard the whole Pepsi story on channel 16. We asked him if he knew of any good diesel mechanics on the island and he put us in contact with Keith. Keith proved to be a Godsend. Not only is he a great marine diesel mechanic, he also has a Perkins diesel like ours on his boat. And he's a heck of a nice guy.
The view from our mooring: rainbows to the east...

Sunsets to the west.
To make it convenient for Keith to work on our boat, we sailed from Kihei to Lahaina and anchored near Mala Wharf. Lahaina always figured large in our Hawaiian cruising plans. It looked like the perfect base from which to explore the west side of Maui and the islands of Lanai and Molokai.
A couple of weeks after anchoring off Mala we met Cory, another local. After a short conversation, he offered to rent us his registered mooring for $50 a month, since he just scored a sublease on a slip in the Lahaina Marina for his boat. We jumped at the offer, especially after he said he would put in all new chain, mooring ball and rope. Having a mooring makes it even easier to come and go on our exploring expeditions. We found the roadstead off Mala to be a great place to hang out. It's one of the few places where we can land the dinghy without getting our feet wet. It's a great place to tie up the dinghy too. Water is available and there's a place to dump our garbage and recyclables. It's an easy walk to three different grocery stores, Barnes & Noble, two different pharmacies, a laundromat and our church.
Lahaina's famous Front Street is just a short walk from Mala Wharf.
Lahaina’s famous Front Street -- filled with shops, galleries and restaurants -- is an easy 10-minute walk. Every few weeks we walk down and enjoy the atmosphere. We even found a used book store on Front Street where we replenish our book supply.
Marsha, her dog Fin and grandson Xavier
at the Lahaina Halloween Keiki Parade.
We are also not far from the home of Marsha, a high school classmate and friend, who drives us places and lets us borrow her car when we need it. We feel like part of her family and enjoy the hugs from her three grandchildren. By boat we are close to most of the best snorkel and dive spots. Black Rock is only a few minutes away and the east side of Lanai is only a 1½ hour sail. Not only is it wonderful snorkeling and diving, but it’s it a good place to escape when the Kona winds make our roadstead uncomfortable and dangerous. We haven’t gotten to Molokai yet, but we will soon. Molokai is known as “The Friendly Isle” although the locals there will have their work cut out for them to top those from “The Valley Isle” of Maui.

The Black Rock from the deck of Oceanus.

The West Maui Mountains viewed from aboard Oceanus while underway.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Differences between Columbia 43 Marks

Columbia produced three versions of the Columbia 43: the original Mark I, a keel-centerboard version called Mark II and, after 1973, a Mark III. There's a lot of myth and misconceptions about the differences, especially between the Mk I and Mk III. I hope to cut through most of this.

Differences by the numbers

The following information came from two Columbia brochures. One is likely for the original model, which was offered as with a fin keel or with an abbreviated fin and swinging centerboard. The MkIII specifications came from a general Columbia brochure (circa 1974) which included the C-43 MkIII.

                      KEEL         KEEL/CENTERBOARD     MkIII
LOA                  43'3"            43'3"             43'9"
LWL                  32'8"            33'0"             32'8"
BEAM                 12'4"            12'4"             12'4"
DRAFT                 6'11"       4'11"/10'3"            7'0"
DISPLACEMENT         22,200           23,500            22,200
BALLAST              10,300           11,600            10,300
SAIL AREA           810 sq ft        810 sq ft         852 sq ft
OPTIONAL POWER              Palmer M60                 50 HP Perkins 4-107 Diesel
WATER                48 gal           48 gal            50 gal
FUEL                 50 gal           50 gal            50 gal
VERTICAL CLEARANCE   58'4"            58'4"             64'4"

Keel differences 

The big difference between the three Marks is in the keels. The Mark I has a cast-iron keel with an intricate shape when viewed from fore or aft. The Mark II has a keel stub, which houses a centerboard. The Mark III has a fiberglass and lead keel the same depth as the Mark I, but with a much shorter chord (the length between the front of the keel and its aft end).

A Mark I keel viewed from the stern.
The Mark I cast-iron keel has a beautiful shape that could only be achieved with a strong, heavy material like iron. It is narrow close to the hull to create a more hydrodynamic shape and then flares out near the bottom to put more weight lower increasing its leverage.

Mark III. Notice the shape of the keel and the skeg-hung rudder.
The designer of the Columbia 43, Bill Tripp, Jr., was rightly famous for his keel-centerboard designs, so you would expect that as an option. Of the three Marks, the Mark II is the most rare. It is also 1300-pounds heavier than either of the other two. I don't know how many Mark IIs Columbia produced, but I have never seen one offered for sale. I imagine the Mark II was somewhat more expensive than the Mark I. Unless shoal-water capability was critical, most owners would skip the extra initial expense and the added maintenance. The keel is the only difference between the Mark I and the Mark II.

When the Mark III came along in 1973 (four years into the production run) it had a new keel with lead ballast and a shorter chord. The lead ballast was necessary because the keel was smaller, which gave it less wetted surface. It also put the ballast lower to accommodate the six-foot taller mast with its higher-aspect rig and 5 percent more sail area.

Rudder differences

Standard Mark I and II rudder.
The optional, skeg-hung rudder on a Mark I looks different
 from the Mark III.

The Mark III rudder was redesigned as well. Instead of the scimitar-shaped balanced spade on most of the Mark I and II models, it has a skeg-hung rudder. I say "most" of the Mark I and II boats because Columbia offered a skeg-hung rudder as a option for the earlier models. Some owners of these boats assume, because it has a skeg-hung rudder, it is a Mark III. It ain't necessarily so.

Bow differences

The Mark I bow on my boat Oceanus.
The bow on the Mark I and II sweeps upward in a beautiful line typical of Tripp designs until it gets to within six inches of the deck, where it goes vertical at the hull and deck joint. I don't know why it was designed and built this way. It could be to keep the boat a half-foot shorter and thus make it rate lower under the CCA (Cruising Club of America) rule, or to make the hull and deck joint easier to build. For whatever reason, the beautiful line of the bow looks broken at the top.

The Mark III carries this line to its logical conclusion, thus lengthening the base of the foretriangle (and the total length of the boat) by six inches. While this improves the aesthetics of the boat, the real reason was to increase headsail area, thus making the Mark III more competitive under the new (at the time) IOR (International
The bow of Magic Woman, a Mark III based in Monterey, Calif.
Offshore Rule). Which brings us to...

The rig

The rig on the Mark III is closer to an early IOR rig than a CCA rig. The headsail area is larger because of the six-inch extension of the bow and a six-foot taller mast. Columbia shortened the boom on the Mark III to give the mainsail a higher aspect favored by the IOR rule. The total rig change increased the sail area of the Mark III from 810 square feet to 852 square feet, or about 5 percent. The lion's share of the increase was in the foretriangle.

Different deadlight

Distant Dreamer, a Mark III based in Japan, shows the two portlights on the cabin sides.
The Mark I and II had the trademark long Columbia deadlight on the 43's small, gun-turret-style house. Most, but not all, Mark IIIs have two smaller rectangular opening portlights on each side.

What remained the same?

Just about everything: Same deck layout, same interior, same construction methods (except for the lead keel), same hull shape, same headroom, same cockpit configuration, in short, all the things that made the Columbia 43 the best selling of Columbia's big racing boats.


Encore heading for the finish in the 1971 Transpac Race where it was the overall winner.
Columbia wanted a great race boat when it commissioned Tripp to design what became the Columbia 43. Specifically, Columbia wanted a boat that could win the Transpac, which starts in Long Beach, Calif., and ends in Honolulu, Hi. That's exactly what they got. In 1971, Encore (a Mark I), won her class in Transpac, and was eighth overall in the fleet. In 1973, after the IOR replaced the CCA as the official rating rule, Columbia introduced the Mark III to keep the model competitive a little longer.

Now that most sailing competition is handicapped under the PHRF (Performance Handicap Rating Formula) the boats are again winning silver. The Mark I has a PHRF rating of 102 and the Mark III has a rating of 96.

Which of all the three models makes a better boat? It depends on its intended use. Since most Columbia 43 owners use their boats primarily to cruise I would venture to say the Mark I gets the nod because of its smaller headsails, shorter mast and the longer, stronger keel. But many owners love cruising in their Mark IIIs. All three variations are on the mark.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sailing the Kona coast on the Island of Hawaii

The sunset from beautiful Kealakekua Bay.
We could have stayed forever in Honomalino Bay, but there was no place to get water, so we headed to the next anchorage, Hookena.

As we entered the bay, a long rock wall with white letters spelling “Aloha” greeted us. We anchored next to a tall cliff riddled with holes and caves. The noise of the water echoed off the wall and back to us. Adjacent to the cliff is a beautiful beach with a popular campground and a dozen or so homes up from the beach.

It's hard to imagine now, but a century earlier Hookena was the major port in south Kona with regular visits from steam ships. We could see the remains of the old wharf and landing. In 1889 Robert Lewis Stevenson came to Hookena to escape the noise and confusion of Honolulu. While we were anchored here I read one of his short stories set partly in Hookena.

We visited the week before school started. There were lots of local families camping there, enjoying their last week of freedom. People are naturally curious about us when we come ashore. We often get peppered with questions. The most common is “What do you eat?” followed by “Do you sleep on your boat?” “How long did it take to sail here?” and “Are you scared?” We answer their questions and, if we like them, them to swim out and visit us, but this rarely happens.

The morning of our second day at Hookena, we looked out and saw three preteens (a brother, sister and the brother's friend) swimming to our boat. We recognized them as questioners from the day before and invited them aboard. We fed them cookies. The next day their older sister and mom swam out to visit us. It was a fun!
Although found on reefs throughout the topical Pacific, yellow tangs must like Hawaii the best. There are so many of them Kona get's its nickname "The Gold Coast" from their great numbers.
We enjoyed snorkeling every day at Hookena. The predominant fish is the ubiquitous yellow tang. There are so many on the Kona side of the Island of Hawaii that it is often called the Gold Coast. We even saw a rare color variant of a yellow tang that was mostly white. Some people call these ghost tangs.
Ghost tang.
We went scuba diving one day with our friend Garry and two of his guests, Ginger and Grant from Texas. We started at the old ruins of the wharf and found interesting rock formations including an arch near the point. The coral is healthy and abundant and so are the reef fish. Virginia saw a reticulated butterflyfish, an octopus, a pair of lined butterflyfish the size of dinner plates and other of our favorite rare fish. Diving the Big Island is always a treat.

Most mornings we were greeted with a pod of dolphins swimming around the boat. They usually stayed a couple of hours jumping and spinning around our boat. Brandon would don fins and mask and join them in the clear water. He would stay in one spot and let the dolphins swim past him. Virginia usually preferred to watch them perched on the deck box. She felt she could see more of the action that way.
Swimming with wild dolphins a Kealakekua Bay.
Some people are weird about swimmers in the water with the spinner dolphins. We are strongly against chasing or harassing them in any way. If you quietly stay in one place the dolphins usually come to you. They seem as interested in us as we are in watching them. A couple of locals who frequent the beach told us that last winter the park was closed because of an outbreak of Dengue Fever in the area. They admitted sneaking in while the park was closed and said they never saw the dolphins come into the bay to swim. Their opinion was the pod wasn't interested in visiting the bay when there are no swimmers to play with.

The Big Island is strict about staying anchored in the same place for more than 72 hours. We pushed our luck and stayed five days before we moved on.

The base of the Capt. Cook monument. 
Our next stop was Kealakekua Bay, best known as the place where Captain James Cook was killed in 1779. The main attraction to this bay is the Marine Conservation District in the north part of the bay and the monument memorializing the spot Cook died. The bay is rightly famous for its coral heads and many varieties of reef fish.

The first morning we were here, Virginia paddled over to the monument on the kayak. Brandon hung on to the back of the kayak for part of the way and swam part of the way from where we were anchored to the monument, about a mile. The effort was worth it. The coral and reef life near the monument was the most beautiful we have ever seen. Snorkel boats and guided groups of kayakers filled the water, but even that couldn't spoil the splendor of the surroundings.

You can't anchor or land a kayak anywhere in the marine conservation area near the monument, so we took turns: one of us staying with the kayak while the other climbed a badly-corroded steel ladder to view the Cook memorial.

Up to this point we hadn't encountered any other cruising boats in Hawaii, But we did meet an ex-cruiser while anchored at Kealakekua Bay. One afternoon, after returning from visiting the monument, a woman named Gretchen swam up to the boat and introduced herself, She said she cruised the South Pacific for a couple of years about a decade ago. We invited her aboard, handed her a towel, and had a wonderful visit. She now lives nearby Kealakekua, but she was born and raised on Kauai.

We enjoyed two beautiful sunsets and a very protected anchorage in Kealakekua Bay. There was almost no motion at night, almost like being in a marina -- not like most of the other anchorages that are open to waves and swell.

We weren't about to push our luck with the 72-hour rule at this anchorage and only stayed two nights then sailed on.
Sunset at Kailua Kona.
Our next stop was the busy town of Kailua Kona. We anchored just out of the harbor and next to a popular swimming lane. All day local people swam by our boat. Many of the swimmers would stop and visit with us. We enjoyed talking with them and several of them told stories about other boats who anchored without regard for the coral. They were impressed that Brandon always dove on the anchor to make sure it or the chain was not a danger to the coral.

Kailua Kona is the tourist hub of the Big Island and we enjoyed walking around this cute shops and historical sites. We ate some pretty good fish 'n chips at a restaurant with a great view of our boat. We also called our Uber girl, Gigi, and arranged for a Costco run and to pick up other supplies.

At anchor in rolly Kailua Kona.
The anchorage is well known for being one of the most consistently uncomfortable anchorage in the islands. We are pretty tolerant of rolly anchorages and were comfortable for the first four days. Then the wind and waves started coming from different directions and we soon learned why no one stays long in Kailua Bay. We decided to leave the next morning.

Alas, our charmed life turned against us. Our engine didn't want to work well. We messed with it all day and got it to function well enough that we could leave the next morning. It wasn't working perfectly, but we were able to get out of the harbor, put up our sails and head to Nishimura Bay, which is on the north end of the Big Island.

There we would wait for fair winds to cross the Alenuihaha Channel. This small bay had a rock wall and beautiful trees amid big lava rocks. Underwater was beautiful as well with plenty of coral and fish. We wished we had taken a picture but we didn't. The wind howled the two days we were anchored so we didn't dare go ashore or snorkel. We were safe in our little bay: while the water was calm in the anchorage, just outside we watched the white caps and big waves march by.

Short drying time in windy Honomalino Bay.
We finally met another cruising boat. They were a California couple who sailed their Hunter 45 sailboat to Hawaii four years ago. They now keep it in a Honolulu marina for most of the year while they are home in California and cruise the islands for a couple of months in the summer. They were headed to Hana on Maui. The day they left the winds looked wicked.

The U.S. Coast Guard warns the “channel is generally regarded as one of the most treacherous channels in the world because of strong winds and high seas.” The channel creates a venturi effect between two of the world's tallest mountains – on Maui, Haleakala and on Hawaii, Mauna Kea. The current generated by 2000 miles of trade winds is forced to funnel in between the two islands making for a strong current.

Our fair winds showed up the next morning, Aug. 16, and away we went. Like many of our passages, we were told how bad it would be. Once again, nothing evil happened and we actually enjoyed the windy sail to Maui. After all, why have such a great sailboat if you can't have wind to sail? Five hours later we dropped our anchor in a big sand patch at Big Beach on the south end of Maui.
Crossing the Alenuihaha Chanel was a blast!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Cruising isn't all sunshine and pretty fishes

Virginia takes advantage of windy Nishamura Bay on the
Island of Hawaii to dry a batch of laundry.
We often have people tell us, “you are living my dream!” Sometimes it feels like we are living a nightmare.

Blogs abound about the glorious sunsets, islands and fabulous experiences of cruising. No wonder it is a dream of so many – sailors and non-sailors alike – to sail away. But we want to tell the truth. What is it really like?

There is a saying that cruising can be defined as fixing your boat in exotic places. Things break... all the time. While most things we can fix, we have been frustrated for nearly two months with an engine that has stubbornly refused to work. Each time we thought we had it figured out, the fix didn't work. Our mechanic friend, Henry, did his best to analyze the problem over the phone. We appreciated his effort and knowledge, still, nothing worked. At one point we would have traded the boat for two one-way tickets home. Stuck in bouncy, murky anchorages is discouraging and not what we signed up for. (The engine saga continues in future posts. We think we've almost got it fixed.)

We have to fix things no matter how hot it is or how much the boat is bouncing around. We have lots of bruises most of the time. They look great with our tan.
Virginia sews a zipper on the bimini so we can put up our cockpit cover. The zipper was ripped off by the wind during tropical storm Darby. Note the seasick bands. Even at anchor she sometimes gets seasick.

Filth. There is a whole new degree of filth you need to accept. Water is scarce, so showers are usually limited to about a gallon and we use our solar shower almost exclusively now we are in a warm climate. Laundry either is done by hand (which takes hours) or toted a mile or more to the laundromat. We often find ourselves smelling our clothes to see if we can get away with wearing it one more day!

Two six-gallon jugs of water weigh nearly
100 pounds.
Water is an almost daily chore. In Hawaii, at least it's free and easy to find. We often anchor off beach parks. They usually have water. We drag a couple of our six-gallon jugs to the beach in the dinghy, fill them up, then row them back to the boat and lift and pull the 48 pounds of water onto the boat. Then we siphon the water from the jugs into our water tank.

Daily life doesn't stop just because we are “livin' the dream.” Floors still get dirty, cupboards still need to be cleaned, engine oil needs to be changed, composting head needs attention. On a boat all these tasks are a little more difficult. No room for broom and mop closets means sweeping the floor with a whisk broom on your hands and knees. Same when its time to mop. Cupboards are replaced by lockers on a boat and they are usually deep, inaccessible and awkward to clean. The “engine room” is tiny, cramped and very hot most of the time. Food needs to be cooked no matter how much the boat is moving.

Years ago at the Seattle Boat Show we saw shirts for sale: The woman's shirt said “Quit Yelling At Me!” the man's shirt said “I'm Not Yelling!” That sums up bad days.

Boredom is a problem sometimes. What! In Hawaii!? Some days the wind and waves make it difficult and even unsafe to go ashore. So we are stuck on the boat. We are currently in a murky, tiger-shark-infested anchorage and can't snorkel. So we read, or pace, or read, or go crazy. This is harder on Virginia (think border collie) than Brandon (think tree sloth).

We have to (get to?) walk everywhere, usually lugging something like laundry, groceries, gas or diesel jugs. I don't think we would recognize each other if we weren't carrying something. We are to the point where if our destination is only a mile away we think "Score! That's close." The upside is that we've both lost 30 pounds since we left Newport in February.

A friend traveling from Oregon to the tip of South America on a motorbike told us that traveling is not the same as vacationing. We try to remember that.

It's hard work, this sailboat life. Would we do it again if we knew then what we know now? You bet!
A rainbow over Lahaina. Sometimes the view is so beautiful it takes your breath away.