28 December 2011

Sailing School...and Other Misadventures

By now you must be wondering, as are we, what we do from day to day as "live-aboards."  The short answer to this is: learn.  There are an endless amount of things--no, strike that--there are an endless number of areas of knowledge that we need to absorb in order to be safe mariners. It is necessary to have, for instance, a working knowledge of marine diesel engines, two or four stroke (largely depending on what you have), outboard motors, diesel generators (similar, but not identical to engines), refrigeration, air conditioning, 12 and 120 volt electrical systems, and plumbing.  The successful sailor will also know proper sail handling techniques, including storm tactics, and vessel handling especially in emergencies such as crew overboard, how to make accurate weather forecasts, or at least make prudent decisions based on forecasts obtained elsewhere.  On the subject of obtaining weather forecasts, there are a number of ways that vessels at sea communicate including, VHF radio for short distances, SSB (Single Side Band) radio for very long range communication, iridium phones, satellite phones, etc.  Then, of course, there is the whole subject of navigation, coastal and off-shore, including chart reading, course plotting, ded reckoning, etc., etc. And maintenance of every part having anything to do with all of the above plus the parts that are counterparts of houses.

In order to have any hope of mastering this enormous compendium, Jane and I have decided to divvy up the categories.  She's taken on, among other things, navigation, cooking, and resource acquisition (she finds people to fix our boat).  I've agreed to specialize in SSB, weather, diesel mechanics and electrical systems.  There are some areas that we both need to become adept at simply due to the size and characteristics of JOY.  Foremost among these is sail handling.  Unlike, some boats, JOY was not designed to be single-handed; we need to work together to set the sails, especially in heavy seas or high winds.  This comes only with practice, of course, so we've set a provisional schedule of going out twice a week or more, just to practice sailing.  Of course, if we happen to get close enough to a cay to anchor, take the dinghy ashore and go for a hike or drink or both, so much the better.  Then there are other times that we NEED to go out.  Provisioning is one of those sorts of times and the other, less delicate, but no less essential, is emptying our holding tank.  International maritime law dictates that this can be done no less than three miles offshore.  So, yes, from our current home base at the Treasure Cay Marina, we need to cross the Sea of Abaco in an entirely indirect way due to the shallow depths so prevalent here, pass through Whale Cay Channel, travel 3 additional miles, dump the tank and retrace our steps to return.  Depending on the wind and waves, it's a 4+ hour trip.

It most certainly was today...

We were facing pretty choppy seas, but unfortunately, we had no choice; we'd waited until the last possible day to empty our tank.  The winds were pretty fresh, 15 knots, so we thought we'd get in some of that sailing practice, we always prefer to use the sails rather than the engines, anyway.  Being as new as we are, we were a little concerned about maneuvering through Whale Cay Channel on sail power alone, so we turned the engines on just for this part.  Our mainsail was up, our jib was unfurled, both perhaps too much.  We were pitching about quite a bit, not a pleasant sail.  We tacked toward the channel, but the jib got caught first on the winch handle pocket on the mast and then got fouled on the main halyard.  It was so tangled that we couldn't bring the jib in on either side.  So while I carefully unwrapped the halyard, the jib flapped around violently in the wind.  By the time I got it free, the seaming material and thread on the leach of the sail came unstitched and was wrapping itself around the mast.  That is bad news.  It means no more jib until we haul it down and have it repaired.  In other words, no more sailing for awhile.  We furled it in as soon as I had unfouled the sheets, too little, too late, but we still had to (now) motor three miles past the channel to dump our tank.  We made three miles-exactly-dumped the tank, turned around and motored home.

There is more to this tale, but I'll have to save that for another time because when we returned, to Treasure Cay, we noticed a very loud clacking/grinding sound coming from our battery charger/inverter.  The kind of sound that keeps getting worse until it stops working at all.  Rather than wait for that to happen, we decided to turn it off until we can get it serviced in Marsh Harbour.  For those unfamiliar with marine electrical systems (as I once blissfully used to be), this means that nothing is charging our batteries now and if they run down far enough, we won't be able to start the engines, which means we won't be able to get to Marsh, which means we'll have to pay the electrician time and transportation to work on the boat here (about an hour away), plus possibly have to install all new batteries.

On the upside, we did get to watch Moneyball at the golf-cart drive-in last night.

More later...

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