Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reminders, Reminders

Chris here... Well, we made it to Albany! We left on Sunday morning and arrived at the Albany Yacht Club by 4:30pm. I had actually planned on arriving late evening, at around 7 or 8pm, as the current was supposed to be against us the whole way. By around 2pm we managed to break out of the ebb tide and our speed rapidly increased, allowing us to arrive in Albany in time for dinner.

We arrive in Albany with mixed emotions. On the one hand, it's wonderful to see our friends, family and co-workers. On the other hand, we had expected to be cruising, without stopping in the middle, until at least August of 2010. They pull the docks out of the water here around the first or second week of October, so we're really hoping to get things on track with our business by then. I'm not sure what we'll do if we can't.

On Monday morning, Chad, the person who I promoted to President of our company, arrived at the Yacht Club to pick us up. One advantage of being here is that we never sold my cars, so we have two cars to use. One of them is a little sports car and isn't very good in the rain, but somehow we'll manage to make do (that was me being a little sarcastic).

So Chad picked us up and brought both Kristen and I to our office. The kids stayed behind with Poppi, who brought them up to his house later in the day. Kristen and I dove right into work with an 8:30 combined sales and engineering meeting, and we worked hard throughout the day until we left to pick up the kids at 5pm. The good news is that it looks like there's lots of opportunity to change things up. Obviously, things aren't working the way we're doing them right now, which is the reason we're here. Chad and company have been doing a great job, but they've been staring at the problems for too long. Kristen and I can take an outside view and see things we can immediately affect, and we're already implementing changes after only having been at the office for two days.

Today, we once again worked throughout the day, and I called an impromptu brain storming session for 5pm. I'd like our company to focus its efforts more, so I invited everyone who works there to participate in an ad hoc session to define our focus. Casey called while we were in the meeting and said that he and Kaitlin could stay at Kristen's parents for the night, so we told him that would work out well since we didn't know how long we'd be. Kristen's parents live about an hour from our office, so it would be pretty late before we got there, and then back to the boat. Kristen and I were both tired, so we thought it might be nice to have an evening to ourselves with a nice dinner out.

So we left the office and started heading to a great Mediterranean restaurant near where Pelican is. On the way, we once again spoke to Casey who told us that both of Kristen's parents seemed somewhat exhausted. We had discussed a few weeks ago as to what it would mean to be back here working, but the realization hit us that it meant we couldn't spend nearly as much time with our kids. Our conversation rapidly degraded into an emotional discussion of how we'd balance work, time with the kids, schoolwork and sanity. We need to make sure the kids school continues, and we can't make latch-key kids out of them, leaving them alone on the boat each day. At the same time, we realized it would be unfair (and logistically tough) to have Kristen's parents watch them every day. After spending almost every day with Casey and Kaitlin for the last nine months, is was heartwrenching to realize that we couldn't continue that while we were here. Unfortunately, we still don't have a good answer as to what we're going to do. If we want to return to cruising by October, Kristen and I both have a lot on our plates, but we'll have to sacrifice our family and sanity to make it happen. On the other hand, if we don't do that, there's a good possibility we won't get back to a life that's never been happier.

It was during this discussion that I realized that a nice dinner out was the last thing we were interested in. It would have been miserable, with the two of us just staring at each other and knowing that tough decisions are coming. I decided that Chinese Food and a movie seemed much more palatable at this time, so I turned the car around and we headed to our favorite Chinese Restaurant (Yip's) for some takeout.

While there we sat down at the bar and talked with Yip's owner, Jimmy. I asked how he was doing and he said that things are OK, but just OK. Apparently, he handed over control of his restaurant to his nephew a year ago, hoping to greatly reduce his time working, and then the stock market tanked. As a result he's working full time, and then some, still.

A little bit later two women walked by the bar (it's right at the entrance/exit of the restaurant). They stopped to talk to Jimmy, and he asked how they were doing. "Well, I'm battling both brain cancer and lung cancer," one of the women remarked. "I feel good though," she continued. Kristen and I looked at each other and both realized that our troubles were almost selfish in nature in comparison to what this woman had to deal with on a daily basis. We've been incredibly fortunate to have even nine months of cruising together as a family, and we're strong enough to figure out what needs to happen, and then to make it happen. There are reminders everywhere that life is short and that you need to seize the opportunities as they arise, and we've been good at that so far. We are very fortunate for that. Hearing the woman's matter of fact voice, mentioning her terminal illnesses in casual conversation as if she was discussing the weather, were a stark reminder of just how lucky we are.

With that, we will get our company on the track to strength, we will get back to cruising, we will be strong as a family, and we will continue to follow our dream.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Haverstraw to Kingston

Kristen here - Today is Saturday 8/22/09. We had yet another exciting journey up from Haverstraw. Chris checked the weather on Friday morning and it was decision time once again. There were supposed to be thunderstorms in the afternoon. I looked around at the sky and there were dark clouds hanging above us. I think they're following us. Chris has this theory that the farther our journey is, the worse the storm will be. With that reasoning Haverstraw to Kingston shouldn't be all that bad. I figured that things couldn't get all that bad on the Hudson, at least compared to the ocean!

I voted for leaving and we did so around 8:30. It was a bit cloudy but overall the morning was uneventful. I napped for a while in the morning while Chris and Poppi steered the boat.

Oh! I forgot to mention that the boat had it's old starting problem again when we left NYC. It started after a minute or so, but had the same problem that we encountered while we were in the Bahamas. Poppi, Chris and I have been brainstorming about what the problem could be, and now we have a bunch of new ideas and projects to tackle. The engine had been working just fine ever since I installed the new anti-siphon valve, so we thought that had been the problem. Maybe it was and this was just a fluke, or maybe it wasn't. We'll wait and see if it happens again.

There are a couple of other things I forgot to mention about our time in Norfolk. First was our wonderful visit with some blog readers. Chris, Karen and their three sons came to see the boat and then we all went to their house for dinner. Our kids had a blast sitting on a real couch and playing video games. We took a look at their catamaran and talked about cruising. They are planning on cruising in the next few years. Their kids seemed to have other ideas though. We had an awesome time just sitting and talking for hours. Thanks so much guys, and we hope you get out there soon!

The other thing we forgot to mention was our ride on the American Rover in Norfolk. This was a beautiful tall ship that was docked right in front of us. We watched the captain and crew go out many times during our stay, and got to know them. The captain invited Pelican and Miakoda to go for a ride. We had an amazing time. The tall ship actually put up all its sails and turned off the engine. We sailed up the Elizabeth river and learned about the sights. Chris talked to the Captain for the whole ride. On the sail back, there was a roving guitar player and singer that sang and entertained the kids. One of the crew taught Kaitlin, Ally and Emma about knots and kept them generally entertained. We had the most amazing time, and that's coming from people who are getting a bit tired of boat rides!

Ok, back to our trip to Kingston. Once again Chris pointed out a storm on the satellite weather. It was about 20 miles to our west and moving north. If it kept its path it would continue to run parallel to us for a while. There was a slight easterly component that was bringing it closer to us, but not too quickly. Oh god, I thought, not again!

So for a half hour or so we watched the path of the storm and tried to figure out if we would beat it to Kingston. We were trying to make it to the Hudson River Maritime Museum which is up Roundout Creek which branches off the Hudson. My guess, with our luck, is that the storm would hit us just as we entered the creek. With less maneuvering ability, that would be a big problem. If it hit us on the Hudson we would have much more room to head into or away from the wind. I decided that we should find a safe haven as soon as possible.

We passed a marina and gave them a call. No luck. They only had four feet at their docks. At this point we can see the line of clouds running parallel to us. A slight rumble of thunder is heard off in the distance. A little way up the river I can see some sailboat masts docked and moored. With the binoculars we can see that it is the Poughkeepsie Yacht Club. We gave them a call and explained our situation. They said we could take a mooring at no charge for a couple of hours to ride the storm out. Thanks!

Oh, and we had also called ahead to the Kingston Maritime Museum to reserve a spot there. We still had hope that we would be reaching there sometime that afternoon. The way this storm looked though, once it hit us, we would be stuck in it for a while. It was quite long and skinny, but it was traveling in the same direction as us.

So we grabbed the mooring and I sat and watched the storm approach. While we were waiting, the guy on the boat moored next to us hopped in his dinghy and came over. He informed us that a storm was approaching. LOL! We showed him our satellite weather. We talked about storms with him, and he informed us that boats had been hit by lightning at the yacht club before. "Come to think of it", he said "one was on this mooring". "Great!" I thought to myself. The storm appeared over the mountain on the west side of the Hudson. Big black clouds and, once again, multiple lightning strikes were seen to the north and south of us. We were all up top watching the storm and generally joking around about our tendencies to get into these situations. Yup, after a while it just becomes comical!

Then we saw the wall of heavy rain approaching. Up to this point we were ALL huddled in the lee side of the boat under the dodger. This was no small feat to squeeze into this last dry area of the cockpit. While laughing uncontrollably, we all started screaming and scrambling to get below before the heavier rain drenched us. While below we watched a movie until the rain subsided. I don't know what it is, but for some reason I like to be up top when storms are going on. I am always amazed by the power they hold. This time, though, I have had enough of watching storms and getting drenched.

Before the movie was even over, the heavy rain and thunder and wind stopped and we were left with just a drizzle. It was around 6:00 PM, so we decided to push on to Kingston. The rest of the journey was uneventful, and we made our left turn from the Hudson to Roundout Creek. Once we entered the creek, I knew we had made the right decision to stop earlier. This was a deep but narrow area. The dock we were assigned to tie up to ran parallel to the shore. The thing that made it interesting was that it ended about 4 feet from a bridge that was lower than our mast. Hope we make it on the first try! Once again, Chris did an excellent job of bringing us in and we made it to the dock with our mast in one piece! YAY! Also, he managed to miss the antique steamboat docked about 20 feet behind us. Talk about your tricky parallel parking jobs!

The steamboat was one of 5 that were here for the museum's annual steamboat day. The next day, Saturday, we decided to hang out to see the steamboats, the museum and explore the town. The museum had many displays about Henry Hudson and the Halfmoon. There were actually three Halfmoons since the first one was used by Hudson. The last of which sails up and down the Hudson today. It also had exhibits of ice boats, steamships, steam engines, brick making and ice making. We talked with one of the steamship builders whose boat was docked behind us. He had built two small steamships and was thinking about building one more. He gave us a tour of his engine and answered a ton of questions. Casey seemed quite fascinated by the whole thing. The engine was completely exposed so you could see all the moving parts. Water, steam and oil were squirting out from various areas of the engine. It was quite a sight to see.

In the morning, before we went out for the day, our carbon monoxide detector went off. This was quite odd because we didn't have anything running that produces carbon monoxide. The only thing we could think of was the exhaust from the steam ship that could be blowing into our boat. We went over and talked to one of the captains and asked if their exhaust produced carbon monoxide. "No more than a burning fire", he said. We aired out the boat a bit and left the hatch open. After a while the alarm went off and stayed off. We're chalking it up to the steamship exhaust.

After going to the museum, we decided to walk up the creek a bit and look for an old lock and waterfall. We heard someone mention earlier that those sights were up the creek no more than 1/2 mile. After a mile or so we gave up and headed back towards the boat. I had seen a Stewart's shopping bag earlier, and so we got talking about Stewart's. Chris looked it up on his GPS and we found that there was one .6 miles away. Well, that must have been as the crow flies, because I think we ended up walking another mile, most of which was up hill! It was worth it though! We had the best ice cream ever! Chris and Casey even got make your own sundaes! It was another mile back to the boat, so we figured we had earned it.

Well, half the reason we decided to stay today was because there was a 70% chance of thunderstorms. And you know what? It didn't storm even once! Go figure. You just gotta love our luck. Chris says there is only a 20% chance tomorrow, so I'm sure we'll get hit by a tornado or something. Next stop Albany!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Norfolk to NYC (Super long entry)

Kristen here – Today is Monday 8/17/09. At just before midnight I came up to start my watch. Chris said he was thankful I woke up on my own because he was starting to fall asleep. That’s early for him. I’m currently watching a blinking red light off our starboard side. A blinking red light means buoy, but there is no buoy in that position on the chart. It could be a ship getting obscured and unobscured by waves, but the waves aren’t that big. Whatever it is, I’ll sure be glad when it is behind us.

This morning we left at 8:00 and went across the Elizabeth River to get fuel. Our marina didn’t have a fuel dock. After topping off our tanks, we headed out. Today the weather was beautiful. It was sunny, warm and breezy. As always I’ve been a bit nervous about this trip for the past few days. Nothing constant, but every once in a while I get a flash of worry or some sort of bad image in my head. As we headed out, I didn’t feel it. The day was too nice for anything to go wrong.

As we approached the bridge marking the barrier between ocean and bay I thought I saw large breaking waves. Then my heart started to flutter. Here we go again! When we got a little closer I realized I had been mistaken and the ocean was quite calm. One foot rollers with a five second period surrounded us for miles. It was a beautiful sight.

That red blinking light is off our starboard rear now. I still have no idea what it is. Sometimes it seems to blink brighter. Other times it is just a small red speck.

As we’re heading out of the channel past the bridge and into the ocean, I look over my left shoulder and see a coast guard boat coming up behind us, and I mean RIGHT behind us. I remember from other people’s accounts that they like you to maintain your same heading and speed, so I threw us onto autopilot. When they were next to us, one of them asked when the last time we were boarded was. Chris told them that we had never been boarded before. And with that, our first coast guard inspection commenced.

At about 11:50, I held my tongue as their boat bumped against my newly polished hull. These are the men who will risk their lives to rescue us when called upon. They have nothing but my utmost respect.

[Chris here - she may have held her tongue to the Coasties, but she immediately blurted out to me - "They better not scuff all the work I did on the hull!!!". I was a little nervous about getting a "Safety Check" as I've heard numerous people talk about how meticulous the Coast Guard can be. I had all sorts of visions of fines and mistakes going through my head. What if I couldn't get the life jackets out quickly? Would we get fined for not having them close enough? I was pretty sure our flares were not expired, but not completely sure. I had lots of thoughts running through my head. As they approached, I threw on a big smile, opened up our side gate and said "Welcome aboard Pelican!"]

As they went through their checklist, I was not nervous. Chris is Mr. Safety and definitely has everything to be compliant and then some.

Chris did a great job finding PFD’s that were buried in the shower, garbage placards, air horns, and flares. He answered all the questions and we scored 100% for safety. YAY!! No tickets for us.

[Chris here... What Kristen didn't see was me throwing everything out of our shower storage area while I insanely dug for our buried cheap orange life jackets! As soon as he asked for the jackets, I started the "clock".. I've heard of people having problems when they can't get to the jackets in time. We normally wear our auto-inflate jackets but they only count if you're wearing them, so we had to grab our "USCG safety inspection/use in the dinghy to meet requirements" lifejackets. We actually told them that we'd never wear them as opposed to our inflatables, and they heartily agreed - they wouldn't either, but the law is the law. When the kids heard we were being boarded, they actually grabbed their lifejackets and put them on while below! When I ran by them, I noticed they were wearing them and wondered why. Then the coasties asked to see our flares, so I pulled out our ditch bag and they kind of realized at that point that we were somewhat well equipped. I started randomly grabbing flares out - hmmm, this one's expired, and so is this one, but then I found my newest stash of parachute flares and SOLAS flares, and they don't expire until 2012! Yippee! By the way, you need a "Garbage Disposal Plan" on board that says what you will do with your garbage. It's acceptable to grab a blank sheet of paper and handwrite "We will throw out all trash in the appropriate receptacles upon arrival at a dock". Who knew?]

We’ve read horror stories about the USCG giving people a really hard time, but these guys were quite nice. We welcomed them aboard, and I believe that made all the difference. Some people think it is a violation of our rights for the USCG to inspect a personal vessel. The fire department doesn’t randomly inspect your house, right? I understand that point of view, but don’t agree with it. We’ve been hightailing it into a harbor in the very worst of storms and watched the coast guard on the way out. On Lake Champlain they talked us through a bad storm until we were safe. I have no qualms with the USCG at all. Oh yea, and they didn’t even leave a single mark on the hull!

[Chris again... Once again, I think that once he saw me pull out the organized binder with all of the boat information, the ditch bag, etc., he knew we were OK. By the end, he was just asking me questions like - "Do you have an oil placard? Where is it?" I'd ask him if he wanted to see it, and he'd just say not to worry about it. This was after he already saw our garbage placard.]

We took pictures of the guys, thanked them for their service and sent them on their way. Oddly enough, about ½ hour later another different coast guard boat started pulling up aside us. We yelled that we were just inspected ½ hour ago! They waved and drove away. Too funny!

[Chris here... If by waved, Kristen means that we held them at bay using a small caliber machine gun mounted on the bow while the kids lobbed flash-bangs at them.. OK, maybe too far fetched.]

The blinking red light is far gone, and now I am watching a solid white light in front of me. It is most definitely a ship. It must be either very small or very far off because it isn’t showing up on my radar. Every time I look up it has moved about a foot along the horizon. That seems to be quite fast. Therefore, I’m going with a big ship that will cross well in front of us. Just a couple of minutes have passed and it has already moved past my bow and over to our port side.

With our new fish cutting table, thanks to Poppi, we are able to fish once again! Today we caught three fish! None of them made it to the table though. One was too small, and the other two jumped off the hook. All of them were small bluefish.

We passed through a few pods of dolphins, but none of them decided to swim with us. I hope that happens at some point on this trip for Poppi to see.

At 2:30 AM Casey popped his head up to report a funny noise coming from the engine. Chris and Poppi got up, listened to it for a while and tried tightening the alternator belt. I went down and tried touching various engine parts to see if they were vibrating. The noise sounded like an electrical zapping, a vibration or a broom swishing kind of sound. Nobody could figure it out, so for now we’ll just have to keep an eye…err ear on it.

Poppi came up at 3:30 and I told him it was still too early. He wasn’t due until 4AM. At 4AM I went below and woke Casey up. He wanted to do the watch with Poppi.

I went to bed at 4AM and had the best sleep while under way ever. Knowing that Poppi, Chris and Casey were at the helm was very reassuring. The seas were still calm, so I was able to sleep in the forward berth. Having it all to myself, I sprawled out to the fullest extent. What a treat!

[Chris here... notice a pattern here? This was the start of both Poppi's and my sleep deprivation. Overnight we passed by the base of Delaware River, a major shipping channel. When Poppi first came on watch he commented that he couldn't see a ship to our right on the radar. I hit the "Zoom Out" button, and all of a sudden FIVE ships popped up on radar. After talking to Poppi and Casey after I slept for a couple of hours, they said they were glad when we were past the shipping lanes!]

Hunger and waves woke me up on Tuesday morning. The seas had picked up some and the boat was rolling a bit. They were coming from behind, so it was a rolling motion instead of an up and down pounding motion. I got up and made fried eggs and buttered toast for everyone.

[Chris here... Fried eggs and buttered toast from a woman who completed an Ironman??? Something must have been wrong here...]

During the day the waves continued to build. By the afternoon we had 5-7 footers coming from behind us. I was getting a bit more nervous and a bit less playful. We have dealt with this before, but when the seas build things become serious. It’s not the 5-7 footers that scare me, it’s the thought that they might get even bigger. The more we deal with big waves, though the less nervous I get. It used to be the 5-7 footers that scared the living daylights out of me. Now I’m fine with them. And you know what? If they get bigger we’ll deal with it. It’s just a lot less fun than a laid back, sit and enjoy a beer kind of trip.

Dinner on Tuesday night was interesting. The gimbaled stove was rocking to its fullest extent. I cooked up some pasta and vegetables. A jar of sauce was rolling back and forth on the counter waiting to be used. When everything was done cooking, I opened the jar of sauce and, not thinking, set it back on the counter. It only took a second before it hit the edge and started pouring onto the floor. Vodka sauce was everywhere. Luckily I caught it before we didn’t have enough for our dinner. Let me just say that Vodka sauce is very slippery and it is hard to get out from between your toes!

Just before dinner, Chris pointed out a storm on the Sirius satellite weather. It spanned the whole northern portion of the east coast. It was decision making time once again. I just love making these decisions. It seems that every time we come to this point we choose the wrong path. Last time we chose to head in and we got nailed as we were entering the Ponce De Leon inlet. Our friend that stayed out on the ocean said it wasn’t that bad. So, this time we chose to stay out. We had plenty of time to make it to Barnegat, but that inlet is known to be shoaly and only to be entered if you have local knowledge. The next inlet north was Manasquan which we wouldn’t be able to reach in time.

We began the preparations. It was 6:00 and the storm was about 30 miles away. Sirius showed it moving our direction at about 12 knots. That gives us about three hours. By this time, thank goodness, the waves had died down quite a bit. The winds were coming from the south, and we had traveled to a point where there was land to the south, blocking the wind and lessening the seas.

Our weather forecaster said there would be storms, but nothing that packed a punch. Winds were likely to stay around 12-15 knots. But when you look at the Sirius weather and see large areas of red (worst intensity) you begin to doubt.

At 7:00 Chris, Poppi and I all donned our foul weather gear. We checked the deck to make sure everything was tied down. The storm was now 20 miles away. Two hours to go. I lay down in the cockpit to get some rest. If the storm wasn’t bad, I would need to be rested for my 12:00 watch.

[Chris here... it was at this point I resigned myself to being up for the rest of the trip. I had only gotten about 3-4 hours of sleep the night before, none of it continuous, and I didn't nap during the day.]

Chris called the Coast Guard and asked what kind of wind was being reported at the leading edge of the storm. They said that NOAA was reporting 12-15 knots. I was napping in the cockpit at the time and gave out a small cheer.

[Chris here... one thing you learn VERY quickly when cruising is that the leading edge of a storm usually carries the biggest winds and the most lightning. In other words, it's the worst part of a storm. Normally, you should try to turn in a direction that will let the leading edge pass by you, preferring to allow a tail section to hit you instead. In this case, the leading edge was enourmous, and unless we could put a 1000hp engine into Pelican real quick, there was no way we were getting out of its way. Also, while the reds/oranges/yellows on the Sirius are a good indication of heavy weather, they aren't always perfect. Sometimes there is just a large amount of high level water density, and it shows up as orange or red. So, when the Coasties said the leading edge was 12-15kts I figured we should hope for the best but still plan for the worst. I figured we might get hit by some 30-40kt winds.]

At 8:00 the kids put themselves to bed. Chris, Poppi and I went over what we would do if high winds hit. The plan was to let out our Genoa just a smidge and heave to. This is a very common and extremely effective storm tactic. Basically you let out the sail at the bow of your boat while steering the rudder in the opposite direction. The two opposing forces balance the boat even in the very worst of wind and waves.

Part of our preparation was to reef the main sail. I don’t remember exactly when we did it, but at the time the seas were still pretty high. In order to reef or decrease the size of the main sail, we have to turn into the wind. This is particularly fun when the waves are large. With the waves behind us, we have to first turn so we are parallel to them and finally facing them. For the brief moment you are parallel to the waves, the boat rocks back and forth quite a bit.

Poppi and I got the lines ready and Chris began the turn. When we were headed into the wind I let the sail down a bit and tightened the reef lines. Half way through this procedure the oil pressure light came on. This is much like the check oil light on your car. When it comes on you MUST turn off the engine. This was the worst possible time for this to happen. In order to continue reefing the sail, we had to keep the boat facing into the wind. Normally we use the motor for that. Now it had to be accomplished in high seas with a sail that was loose and half down. Chris did an excellent job building up some speed and bringing the boat back into the wind. With no motor, I only had a few seconds to finish reefing. While doing this, Poppi went below to check the engine. I was extremely scared because I didn’t think we could sail the boat with a loose mainsail. I thought we were dead in the water. As it turns out, you can!

[Chris here... Kristen learned to have faith at that moment. I kept telling her not to worry - we're a sailboat first, and a powerboat if we need to be. Even with a partially reefed main drooping all over the place, all you have to do is turn down, get some speed, and then you can bring your nose back into the wind for a bit. The problem is that heading into the wind provides no lift on your sails. In other words, they can't push you forward, so eventually (very quickly) your speed drops to zero, you lose control, and you have to turn the boat in the appropriate direction to get some wind in the sails. Anyway, it was a bit tough keeping the boat in the wind, helping Kristen reef the main and keeping everyone calm at the same time, but we managed it. We guessed that if the storm hit us, we'd have winds in the 40kt range, so we put two reefs in the mainsail, bringing it down to about 65% of its normal size. We had talked a lot about heaving to, but I knew in my head that once the wind hit us there was no way we were going to be able to release just a small portion of our genoa (front sail). If we let out too much, the boat would be out of control. I was resigned to the fact that we'd be running if we didn't get the genoa out before the wind hit, but I refrained from speaking my thoughts.]

Poppi reported that we were quite low on oil and he added two quarts. We started the engine and no oil pressure light came on. As an added bonus, the funny zapping noise stopped as well.

So now we’re coming up to 8:30 and the storm is seven miles away. The three of us are awake and ready. This could be nothing, or it could be really, really bad. We continue to talk about what to do in different situations. We’re sticking with the heaving to tactic. The lines for the genny are untied and ready. Chris is steering and I am manning the main sheet. This is the line that controls the angle of the main sail. If we get slammed with a gust of wind, I need to let the sail out to spill the wind off.

Now it is 9:00. We still don’t know what is about to hit us. I’m grasping to the earlier 12-15 knot forecast. But, based on our past experiences and the satellite weather, my gut says be ready. The seas are about 2-3 feet, calm by our standards. Chris says that the red portion of the storm is upon us. Our sail is double reefed and we can bring it down to a third reef if it becomes necessary. We have gone over heave to procedures. “Ninety degrees is out to sea.” I keep repeating to myself. If we need to run downwind and lose visibility, we need to remember which way is away from land. We have two ships in sight. One is a faint white light and another is a larger yellowish light. They are quite a distance off and not too much of a worry. They move fast though, so we need to keep track of them. If the rain gets heavy, the radar can’t see the ships through the raindrops. We will have to rely on our eyes.

[Chris here... the problem with the ship's location is that they were on a marked ship approach/departing lane to and from New York City. In other words, right this second we had two ships out there, but it could rapidly increase. We have radar on board, which we heavily rely upon when it's dark out or it's foggy, but when you have heavy rain the radar beams just bounce off of it and the screen is just filled with returns. In other words, when the rain hits, all you can see is the rain on the radar - not other ships. If we had to turn to run out to sea, we would potentially cross that sea lane after about 5 miles. With heavier winds, that 5 miles could be within 45 or less minutes, and that's a lot of time for new ships to show up. Anyway, it was just one of many thoughts going through my head. I was a nervous wreck as I watched the storm approach, as the unknown scares the, well it scares me.]

Up to this point we have been watching the lightning all around us. Oh yes…I forgot to mention the lightning. There was no thunder yet. This tells us that the lightning is far away. Knowing it was no threat at the time, we could enjoy the show. Poppi and I saw three streaks run across the sky at the same time, flashing rapidly 3-5 times in a row. These were strikes where someone could say, “Whoah!” and it would still be going when you turned your head. There were tons of cloud to ground strikes over whatever city was to our left. It was all heading our way. We were prepared and ready.

[Chris here... Prepared and ready is a relative term. So is "enjoy the show". I was watching the frequency, duration and brightness of the lightning and knew that it was more than deadly. When there's a streak, and you have enough time to turn to someone else on the boat and say "Look at that!" and they can still see it, you know you're in for a treat!]

It was sometime after 9PM, I’m not quite sure exactly when. Chris said, “Here comes the wind.” With about a second pause between each number he calls out, “Twenty, thirty, forty.” Between thirty and forty knots I let out the main sail. Chris said, “Don’t let it out too far.” By this time I had let our mainsail almost all the way out. We were in the thick of the storm. I was holding on to the mainsheet ready to let it out the last couple of feet if we needed to. “We’re running now!” Chris yelled. All of our preparations to heave to were out the window. According to our wind meter, the wind was blowing at 50 knots (almost 60mph). There was no way we would be able to let the genny out now. I prayed that this was the worst of it.

[Guess who here! The wind hit us like a freight train. I barely had time to count it up to let Kristen know what was going on. It also shifted by about 120 degrees from where it was originally blowing. As I mentioned earlier, I knew there wasn't any way we'd be able to pull the front sail out safely. We could have done it, but it would have probably put us in more danger than running. We were fortunate that the seas were fairly low (2-4ft), otherwise running might have been a difficult option. When the wind first hit us, we had our mainsail sheeted in fairly hard (almost centered on the boat). As you come off the wind (turn away from the wind direction), you need to ease your sails out to let them catch the wind from behind you. The wind hit, and Pelican wanted to round up (head directly into the wind) due to the power in the sail. This is a natural state for a sailboat, but I had no interest in heading directly into 60mph winds. As I mentioned earlier, when you head directly into the wind, your boat eventually stops moving forward, and you lose control. Also, the sails and lines flog all over the place, potentially damaging themselves or other things around them. I couldn't imagine what our sails and lines flogging in 60mph winds would be like. Unfortunately, with the sail in so far, I couldn't get Pelican to turn downwind.

I yelled for Kristen to ease the main out and for Poppi to drop the traveller. This accomplished two things. Dropping the traveller changes the twist on the sail, making it so that more wind spills over the trailing edge. Letting the main out allowed me to turn the boat to keep the wind behind us. I've had people ask us why you run with a storm (i.e. keep the wind on your back). Think of it this way. You're a runner. There's a 10mph wind and you can run at 6mph. If you run facing the wind, it's like there's a 16mph wind hitting you, right? Now turn around and run at the same speed. Now it feels like there's a 4mph wind behind you. Running with the wind behind you reduces the forces on your boat and what's called the "Apparent Wind Speed", or the speed you "feel" when you account for your angle to the wind and your boat speed.]

Chris was holding on to the wheel and keeping the wind behind us. “Our boat speed is 8.4 knots.“ he announced. Darn, he broke the old record of 7.2 knots that I previously held. “8.4 knots,” I thought. Holy Cow that’s fast!

[Chris again... I saw 9.1kts at one point in time, but it was a quick blip and not sustained. This is WELL over the theoretical hull speed of our Passport 40. I just find it amazing that we only had a small smidgen of sail out and we were exceeding hull speed. I hate to say it, especially since we were in a somewhat dangerous situation, but I wanted to let out a bunch of WHOOPS of excitement while we were surfing downwind.]

“Where are those ships?” Chris said. Poppi and I looked around and saw nothing. If they got hit by lightening they would have generators for lights. The waves or wind must be obscuring them. There was no rain yet. We kept watching for them with no luck. “Don’t worry,” I told Chris. “They were far off”.

Flashes of lightning started hitting around us. They were so bright in the darkness that it would take a second to get your bearings after they hit. We heard the crack of thunder seconds after the flashes. They were close. Luckily they never hit too close. Not once do I remember a flash and a boom of thunder at the same exact time.

I yelled to Chris, “If you head to the left, we’ll spill some more wind off the sail.” It was more of a question than a statement. I was trying to figure out what we would do if the wind got any stronger. I don’t remember what his reply was. The boat was doing fine and I was scared, but not worried about our current situation. The wind seemed to be holding at 40-50 knots.

[Chris, yet again... did I mention the whoops I wanted to do? There aren't many times you get to surf in, what we thought at the time, 40-50 knots of wind with waves that aren't huge. Spill more wind off the sail? There was nothing we could do, other than to put a third reef in, that wouldn't damage Pelican or put us in (more) danger. I don't think I responded to Kristen. The only issue I had was that spray from the foam being generated by the wind kept coating our wood covered wheel and it made it really difficult to get a grip. I should have put my gloves on.]

We were all completely focused on our tasks. With the wind behind us and the sail almost completely out, I had to be ready for the accidental jibe. If the wind suddenly shifted, there is a chance the boom could wildly swing to the other side of the boat. If this happened with 50 knots of wind pushing the boom, it would most likely break something. I stood ready to pull in the main sheet to slow the sing of the boom and then quickly but gently let it out before the wind pushed the boat over. Thanks to Chris’s expert steering I never had to deal with an accidental jibe.

[OK... moving forward, those little brackets mean "Chris here...". Anyway, "most likely break something" is a bit of an understatement. Literally, in the blink of an eye, the boom would have swung 140 degrees effectively carrying thousands of pounds of pressure. The possibility of breaking our boom, rigging and ripping our traveller off the deck would have been VERY high. I can't say my steering was "expert" though - Pelican pretty much told me where she wanted to go, and if the two of us disagreed we'd make adjustments to the sails until we came into agreement. A few times I had to hold onto the wheel for dear life to keep us headed in the right direction, but for the majority of the time Pelican was awesome - just tracked straight, and felt more like a sports car than a Volvo.]

After what seemed like 5 minutes I announced that the winds seemed to be dying down. Chris said that the red area had passed, but there was still a yellow area heading for us. I thought we were back to 5-10 knot winds when Chris said we were down to 25 knots. I looked at my watch and it was 10:30. At least an hour had gone by.

We stayed ready, but relaxed just a tiny bit. The worst was over. We made it. We left the sail up and gently sailed along for a while. In the distance the two ships appeared again. Chris gave us the stats. Max sustained wind was 48.4 knots. Max boat speed was 8.4 knots, but he swears he saw 9 at one point. Things didn’t go exactly as planned but everything turned out OK.

As a side note, later the next day we were explaining our ordeal and telling about the 50 knot winds. “But wait a minute,” Chris said. “That was apparent wind.” We forgot that our knot meter was broken. The wind we were measuring was actual wind minus our boat speed. Because we were traveling in the same direction as the wind it measures less. So the true wind speed was our measurement plus the speed of the boat. That puts the actual wind speed at 60 knots. That is 70 miles per hour. Holy Cow! I have read stories about people caught in winds like that and wondered how they could possibly have dealt with it. Now I know. You just do. There is no choice. You call upon your experience and knowledge and crew and hope for the best.

[We found out later that they clocked winds of over 80mph in Central Park, New York City! Apparently, numerous trees were blown down, and they took over 1,000 lightning strikes in the city.]

For the rest of the night we went over the whole ordeal. We talked about what we did wrong and right, what we could have done if things became worse, and how fortunate we were. We each took turns sleeping a bit once the adrenaline loosened its hold.

[After being up for 36 hours with a total of about 3 hours of sleep, I zonked!]

As we approached the entrance to NY harbor, the ship traffic started to build. Two heavily lit boats were approaching us on the port side. As the first one went by, Poppi and I noticed something in the water. It looked like and overturned boat with two people standing on it. The charts showed no buoys there, and whatever it was was completely unlit. The second boat went by it and turned around. It circled the object once. We could tell that it was two poles sticking up with some sort of cone lying on its side between them. We guessed that it was some sort of debris from the storm. The other boat never called the obstruction in to the coast guard. We thought about going back to check it out, but I deemed it too dangerous. Once the lit up ship left, it was pitch black again and you couldn’t see the object. If we hit it, we would be putting ourselves in danger. We decided to keep our course. We had had enough excitement for the night.

Our entrance into NY harbor was without incident. We stayed just outside the shipping channel, and let three to four huge container ships pass on our port side. When we approached the Statue of Liberty at about 6AM, I roused Poppi and the kids. At 6:30 we docked at Liberty Landing marina. It was good to land.

[As Kristen mentioned, we slow-goed it the rest of the way in. We sailed for a while with just the double reefed main, going about 4kts or so. I later turned on the engine as the wind died down to 5-10kts and we didn't feel like getting the sails all out after the excitement the night before. The marina opened at 6:30, so I timed it so we pulled up to the docks as they were opening. Going through NY Harbor very slowly is strange. There were dozens of ships, work boats, tugs, ferries and water taxis all zipping about, and trying to keep all of the traffic straight was tough in the dark. Fortunately, there was some light pollution so you could see the size of the vessels. One note for people going through the Ambrose Channel approach to New York City - the ships REALLY appreciate you doing securite calls to let them know your position and intentions. We had about 8 ships pass us in the channel, and every one of them made contact with us and actually turned for us to keep on the opposite side of the channel. The wakes on these ships can easily swamp your vessel if you're too close.]

As we were tying up, the catamaran next to us yells over, “Wow, I can’t even tell where that gouge was!” Keep in mind that I haven’t slept all night and my brain is working quite slowly. I think I gave them a funny look and said, “Huh?” They said that they read our blog and knew who we were. How cool is that! We’re famous!

[The boat was Charlotte-Ann, another kid boat (I put a link to their blog on our page here). They are working their way south, so be sure to say hi to them from Pelican if you see them!]

After winding down for a few minutes, I went over and said hi to them. They were on their way down from Canada and had a girl that was two days younger than Kaitlin and a younger son. Too bad we were heading in opposite directions.

Chris and I headed off to bed and Poppi did something with the kids. At 12:30 we headed into the city for lunch. I was dying for a NYC hot dog, and Casey was eager for a gyro. A $31 water taxi ride later we were in the city. We hit Barnes and Noble, the Apple store, FAO Schwartz and American Girl Place. Kaitlin was in heaven. She has wanted to go to American Girl Place for years. $20 for subway passes and another $31 to get back to our boat, yea, we won’t be coming back tomorrow! We did have a great afternoon though.

[Liberty Landing Marina was $4/foot! That's a ridiculous price considering how run down their bathrooms/showers are and the fact that they really don't have anything other than location. Factoring in the cost of the water taxi, I think we'd actually stay at North Cove Marina at $6/ft in the future - it would have been cheaper. A number of people said to just go to the 79th St boat basin, but the continuous wakes in New York Harbor and on the Hudson are incredible. I don't think we would have slept a wink on a mooring there, and we really needed the sleep after the storm the night before.]

That night we had the best sleep ever. Poppi woke me up this morning (Thursday) with a big squeeze of my nose. Ouch! “Remember when I used to do that when you were little?” he said. “I think I blocked that out.” I replied. He said that Chris wanted to get going soon because of the tide. I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. Chris told me earlier that we needed to be underway before 10AM. It was currently only around 7:30. I toyed with the idea of getting up and going for a run. That didn’t happen. At about 8:00 I got up and we got underway.

We had a rapid journey up the Hudson River with the flood tide assisting us. At one point we almost hit 10 knots. We were due to arrive at Haverstraw Marina around noon and decided to stop there. We could push a bit further north, but we needed to take it easy.

[How small is the cruising world? As we passed by the 79th St. Boat Basin I heard "79th Street Boat Basin, Catamaran Naughty Naughty". We had met a Naughty Naughty in Georgetown, Bahamas, so I quick raised them on the radio and it was indeed the same boat! Unfortunately, we were on the edge of reception range, so we couldn't talk much, but it was just neat to hear a familiar boat so far from where we met them.]

Now it is 11PM on Thursday and I am just finishing typing this entry. Chris wants to add his two cents before I post it so I will try to hurry him along!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

We made it!

Chris here... After a somewhat eventful passage, we made it to NYC safely and are ensconced in our slip at Liberty Landing Marina. We'll post more about the passage later - it will make for interesting reading I'm sure. For now, it's time to sleep!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Heading to NYC

Chris here... Saturday was a wonderful day filled with random acts of generosity by former strangers, now friends. I'll let Kristen fill in the details, but we had a wonderful afternoon on the American Rover, an excursion sailboat located at the Waterside Marina, and then having dinner with a family who are blog followers, for now, and cruisers in the next couple of years - Chris and Karen. In addition, Poppi, Kristen's Dad, arrived yesterday afternoon to help us bring Pelican on the next leg of our journey.

Tomorrow, Monday, we head for New York City. It's about 280nm away, so I'm estimating that if we leave at around 9am or so, we should arrive to Liberty Landing Marina on Wednesday afternoon. As always, follow along on our SPOT tracker by clicking the "Track Us" link to the right. It will be great to have Poppi aboard as that will give us some extra sleep at night.

Tomorrow morning we'll head across the river from the marina we're at and go to a different marina, get fuel, and then head out to the open ocean. The weather forecast shows light winds from the north for most of the day on Monday, then 10-15 Monday to Tuesday, then 15-25 Tuesday to Wednesday, depending on how far off the coast we are. I plan on staying within 10-15nm of the coast, and I'm hoping for some actual sailing on the way north once the wind picks up. Waves are supposed to be 1-2ft to start, and then 2-4ft later on. That means 2-4ft to start, and 4-8ft later on. Rule of thumb - double the wave estimates and you'll be good.

Once in NYC, we'll probably catch a good night's sleep, and then continue our trek north for 3 more days (stopping overnight) to Albany. I've lined us up a slip at the Albany Yacht Club for the next month, so that will be our base of operations.

One other thing I would like to mention. Seven years ago last night (August 15, 2002) at around 9pm a terrible, awful thing happened. A good friend of mine - Shawn Chandler - passed away in his hotel room in Virginia. He was about 30 years old. He worked for me, and I had sent him to training. He didn't show up to class on the last day and his hotel room door was locked from the inside, so the police were called to break down the door. They found him in his room, having died from a heart defect. Through a chain of events and because I didn't want her hearing from a stranger, I volunteered to tell his wife, his widow, what happened. I'll never, ever, ever, get the screams and cries of anguish and sorrow out of my head - ever. I still hear them on a regular basis. Unfortunately, I screwed up royally with taking care of his wife, and she and I are no longer communicating. I wish it was different, but it is what it is. I still check in on her through friends, and I understand she is doing well.

Anyway, Shawn is a big reason we're out here. His passing really made me understand how important it is to seize hold of the time that you have available, today, in the here and now. You never know what is going to happen tomorrow, so if there's something you've always wanted to do - go do it. It's easy to say you don't have time, but understand that if you don't make time, you may never have the chance. Even with the problems I'm facing today, I still count my blessings every day for the fact that I have a wonderful family, good friends, and have been lucky enough to get out for a while and follow one of my life's dreams. Yes, it may or may not come to an end shortly, but it's still amazing.

So - here are your marching orders. First, find me new business. Then - I want everyone to start writing down the things they really want to do during their lifetime, and to pick one of them and go do it within the next month. Don't pick the easiest one on the list, and don't pick the hardest, but make something happen in your life that's extraordinary - follow a dream.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A great night...

Kristen here - It's Thursday 8/13. Oh wait, that's right, I already posted something this morning! Well, I just had to tell everyone about my most wonderful evening.

Today was kind of an unplanned lazy kind of day. I did school with the kids until 1:30 this afternoon. It went very well which tends to set the mood for the day. Usually the mood is bad, but today was different. It was quite a treat. After school the kids played with the Miakoda kids. They were doing crafts instead of watching movies...bonus number two! I took that time to get some laundry done. I brought a book and got in some reading and napping time while the laundry was going. I must have been quite a sight napping next to the washers in a chair with my head against the wall and my mouth hanging open. There might have even been some drool involved. You see the marina showers and laundry are located right next to the Hooters restaurant along a sidewalk. They have a large glass front so everyone can see inside.

Eventually Jennie from Miakoda came in to do her laundry. Then we decided to take the kids to Starbucks. I needed something to stop the sleepies from catching up to me! On the way back from Starbucks we grabbed our laundry and went looking for our husbands. They were discussing business outside an empty restaurant. The empty space was currently being used by the city to host singers on certain nights. Tonight's singer had no audience, so we all went inside to listen. He turned out to be excellent.

I was getting shaky and needed food desperately. By that time it was 7PM. Jennie and I were going to do a potluck, but by this time the kids were cranky and I just couldn't wait. The restaurant offered 4 simple items which looked good and cheap. We fed the kids hot dogs and I got some pulled pork. All this time we were listening to the singer. He was playing Journey, Chicago, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and even some original songs. It felt so relaxing, I didn't want to leave. The kids did some crafts for a bit in the restaurant and then eventually they went back to he boat to watch a movie. They entertained themselves the whole night, which definitely added to the relaxation factor.

It almost felt like I was back on a beach in the Bahamas with a cool breeze and a band playing in the background. Hanging out with good friends and good food and just having a good time. I stayed until he stopped playing.

We came back to the boat and put the kids to bed. It's 10:00 and they are still up giggling and talking. They are in a good mood too. I guess it's contagious. I don't even have the heart to tell them to be quiet and go to sleep. It's too much fun listening to them laugh and enjoy each others company.

It's nights like this that make me realize how blessed we are. Blessed to have such great children, blessed to be able to spend time together, blessed to have this boat as our home, and blessed to have the opportunity to realize what is important in life. I have come to the realization that there are just too many distractions. Things that we want, things that we think we need to do, things that seem important. It's hard to give these things up. It's hard to pass a store window and know that you don't have room on your boat for those cute little nick nacks. This morning I sat on some stairs next to the road and watched people on their way to work. I sometimes miss the security of that routine. Knowing that each day holds few surprises and will be the same as the last. I used to love routine. But as I listen to my children giggle with joy, stimulated by the excitement of new experiences, I know that this is the way to be. Routine is easy. Routine is secure. But routine does not challenge and bring a family closer. I hope that our lives will never be routine again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Norfolk, VA

Kristen here - Today is Thursday 8/13/09. Tomorrow is my Dad's birthday! Happy birthday dad! I just got off the phone with him, and he will be coming on Saturday to help us move the boat up to Albany. When we have an extra person, it turns a exhausting trip into a bearable one. Plus its just fun to have my Dad along.

Lets see, when we last wrote we were in Coinjock. With our bellies full of steak, we headed out the morning after our arrival. Chris spent a great deal of time planning this leg of our journey. There were many bridges and one lock between Coinjock and Norfolk. Some of the bridges open on demand, some open on the hour or half hour, and some just stay open all the time. If you don't plan things right you will have to hover the boat for a long time. We also had to contend with a bridge that closed from 3:30 - 5:30 for rush hour. If everything worked out perfectly we would arrive at that bridge at 3:35. We were keeping our fingers crossed the whole morning.

We arrived at our first bridge 20 minutes before it was scheduled to open. Great, already we're going to have to wait. We radioed the bridge operator and much to our surprise he told us that he would let us right on through! Now, let me tell you, this NEVER happens! Every bridge operator we've met has been very strict about their opening times. You can be racing to a bridge and radio ahead and ask to be let through 1 minute behind their scheduled time and they always say no. So we were jumping for joy when we got through this first bridge early! Now we were 20 minutes ahead of schedule. This gave us a fighting chance to make the rush hour bridge before it closed at 3:30!

After a few more bridges we came to the lock. By this time we had picked up another boat and we were traveling together. We both entered the lock and started chatting with each other. After a few minutes I heard Chris say, "Whoa!". I assumed his exclamation was due to the lock water starting to rise. I went to firmly grab the line which had been loosely dangling in my hand. When I looked to the font of the lock, I saw he was actually referring to the fact that the lock doors were opening! The whole time we were chatting, we didn't even realize that our boat was rising! We got on our way again, now fully realizing that we would make the 3:30 bridge.

After we passed the rush hour bridge before it closed, we all breathed a sigh of relief. If we had not made that bridge, we wouldn't have made it to Norfolk until 7:00. Now we were due in at 4:00. That was until we hit the train bridge! Most of the time train bridges are unused and remain open. I have never seen one closed before. As we approached a series of two train bridges, we saw the first one open, but the second one had a train on it. We circled around a bit and chatted some more with the boat that was with us. We both watched the train move forward and back but all the time staying on the bridge. I started to get impatient and called a phone number listed on our cruising guide as a contact for this bridge. Nobody answered and I got an automated message saying that another automated message would be broadcasted over the VHF when the bridge opens and closes. Bummer...no indication of when that train would move. After waiting about 1/2 hour, we heard someone come on the VHF saying the bridge was opening. Thank goodness! We were on our merry way once again.

We made it to Norfolk at 4:00. It was just amazing to see the mammoth navy ships once again. I remember how we all felt when seeing these for the first time on our way down. The feeling of security and pride in our country is just overwhelming.

We pulled into the Waterside Marina which is right in the heart of downtown Norfolk. As we entered the basin, a HUGE crab swam right by us. I'm sensing a trend of running into animals at marina entrances here! The marina is filled with tons of extremely large jellyfish. They are the kind with long tentacles, and tops that move under their own power. Some of them are the size of a large serving platter!

Norfolk is just amazing. The marina is just around the corner from a large downtown mall, many restaurants, a park with tons of activities, and Nauticus. Nauticus is a museum with the warship "Wisconsin" next to it. We have been to Nauticus twice so far and will probably go one more time just to see the things we've missed. They have a small aquarium, a large exhibit about what NOAA does, a nanobiology exhibit, and a large portion devoted to the history surrounding our first steel navy ships called "The White Fleet". They had many hands on exhibits and demonstrations. The kids have been having a blast there and have been learning a lot.

The day after we arrived we took a taxi to WalMart. I'm still a bit mystified by WalMart. It's just so big! We went a little nuts and once again bought way too much stuff. Yogurt, cheese, lunch meat, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables OH MY!!!

Our friends on Miakoda were going to be joining us on Wednesday, so we were quite surprised when their boat pulled in next to us on Monday morning! The kids were in the middle of school and lept from their seats when they heard the news. Miakoda apparently made good time! We've been having tons of fun hanging out with them. Jennie and I have been hitting the gym in the morning, Chris and Brian have been geeking together, and the kids have been making crafts together. They are on their way back to Annapolis to start school in two weeks.

There is a park on shore right next to the boat that hosts all sorts of activities. There is a section with jets of water coming out of the ground that kids and even adults run through. Yesterday there was free ceramic painting, and free scrapbooking. There are lawn toys, supplied by the park rangers, to play with. Oh and the park rangers sit in a booth and dj music. Chris and Brian have been spending a lot of time sitting at the tables in the park with their computers and doing general geeky stuff.

While we are here we've tackled a few boat projects. Casey and I pulled the dinghy out of the water and found a rather large 1/2" thick colony of barnacles on the bottom. We scraped them off with a little effort, but the big problem is the substance they secrete to cling to things. When you scrape off a barnacle you're left with what looks like fish scales stuck on there. These things just don't come off. I tried many nasty chemicals and abrasives with no luck. We ended up putting the dinghy back in the water and saving that project for another day.

Chris called AB about the dinghy. One of the tow rings on the front is rusting, and the front handle fell off. Much to our surprise, after a few e-mails AB has agreed to replace both items. Thanks AB!

I also took some time to install a new water pump. The Jabsco has been great about sending us replacement water pumps, but this is going to be our third pump and installing them is getting old. For now it is working well.

The last project for now is replacing our wireless antenna. This will require a trip up the mast. Certain parties seem to think I'm not capable of the installation, so maybe it won't be me up the mast this time!

We will probably be heading north on Sunday or Monday depending on the wind and weather. The trip will be 2 1/2 to 4 days again depending on the weather. We plan on heading up the Hudson to Albany Yacht Club and staying there for a bit.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

North on the ICW

(Post had been modified from when Kristen originally put it up)

Kristen here - today is Tuesday 8/6/09. Yesterday we left Bellhaven and the River Forest Marina to head for the Alligator River Marina. It was hot and sunny the whole day. I sat up top in my bathing suit and watched the sweat drip. It was awesome. I would live inside an oven if I could because I just love to sit and bake!

Yesterday was spent navigating from buoy to buoy. Sometimes we are in a channel that stretches through a wide open body of water and other times the channel is dug through heavy forest and swamp. Yesterday while going through a forest area we were watching the birds flying between the treetops. Hmm...white head, brown body, white tail and quite huge. That looks like the bald eagle we saw at the Charleston aquarium. Hay! It IS a bald eagle! I called the kids over and everyone got a clear glimpse of it. What a treat!

[Chris's addendum - We had heard about submerged logs on the Pungo-Alligator River Canal and had meant to look out for them. Unfortunately, we found one. It was about 1.5ft-2ft in diameter and reached all the way to the bottom of the canal (about 12-15ft). Why do I say unfortunately? Well, we only saw it after we heard a huge thump, felt the whole boat vibrate and then saw it pop up behind us. I ran down below to make sure we didn't put a hole in the hull and we looked fine. It doesn't seem like it hit our prop either - it's nice to have it protected so close to the keel. We lucked out. From then on, we were much more careful with keeping a lookout and we saw two other large logs right in center channel, but we could avoid them.

Why does the wind always have to come from one of two directions and one of two speeds? Either it's directly in front of us or directly behind us, and it's either 5kts or 20kts??? Our trip up the Alligator River was in 5-20kts with the wind directly behind us. Without a pole to hold our genoa out, the sail likes to collapse and/or gybe a lot, so we had to run the whole length of the river under engine power. If we didn't have to stick to a channel I could have zig-zagged up, but you can't really do that on most of the ICW. So... back to being a powerboat. We had following seas, so Pelican kind of surfed along up the river.]

After passing through the Alligator River bridge, a swing bridge, we made a sharp left for the marina. I felt like we were in the Bahamas again because there were no channel markers until you came to the breakwall for the marina. Depths on the GPS and charts were 10-12 feet so we weren't too worried.

As we approached the breakwall entry we spotted some sort of animal swimming right in the middle, exactly where we had to go! Is it an alligator? A dog? A cat? As we got closer and closer we finally guessed that it looked most like a cat. But, what was a cat doing swimming across the channel? Chris swerved to avoid it just as it stopped and turned back to the shore it came from. "Don't turn!" I yelled to Chris. He turned back and we missed the cat. As we passed it, it was climbing up the rocks of the breakwall to the right of us. It looked like a cat, but it was three times the size of any cat I'd ever seen. It also was spotted like a leopard.

As we pulled up to the dock, we asked the lady helping us in what it could have been. She said that there are bobcats in these parts. We looked up pictures of bobcats on the internet and they definitely matched what we saw. I turned our sighting into a short science lesson via Wikapedia on the habits of the bobcat.

[Chris again... After we went past the swing bridge, we had to turn hard left, so we were taking the waves on our side, causing us to roll a lot. They weren't big, but they were very short period, so we kept getting hit in a machine gun like fashion. Entering the marina was interesting since the entrance was fairly narrow. I had to point Pelican's nose close to 45 degrees off course just to keep us moving forward straight. THEN we had the bobcat swim out right in front of us! Trying to avoid the bobcat while making sure we didn't crash into the rocks was a real treat, but we made it through. Once we entered the marina proper, the waves and wind pretty much retreated so docking was fairly easy. The choice was to either back Pelican into a slip with a short finger pier or to tie up to a long face dock. The woman yelled - "The face dock is more expensive!" I decided I didn't care - Pelican doesn't back up very well, and I had no interest in adding another large gash into her side.]

The Alligator River Marina is basically a dock set up behind a Shell gas station. There was another building off to the side that housed bathrooms and a TV room. The gas station had a small store that sold souvenirs, ice scream, food items and even alligator bites. We were not feeling adventurous enough to try the alligator.

For dinner we had stuffed clams, which I burnt on the grill, and soup. Since all of us have put on a few pounds since coming back t0 the US, we are trying to eat lighter. We'll see how that goes. Life was much easier when your choices were limited to potatoes, lettuce, tomato (maybe even a red one) and peppers if you're lucky. When there is soooooo.... much new, interesting, and good food around you, it is very hard to resist.

[Chris here... is Kristen saying I'm chubby????]

This morning we left the Alligator River Marina at about 9:30. There are storms reported to hit this afternoon, so it was a difficult decision. The storms are supposed to start at 2:00 PM and we are due to hit Coinjock at 2:15 PM. Keep your fingers crossed!

[Chris here... We had a real tough time deciding whether or not to leave this morning. The forecast called for severe thunderstorms in the afternoon, but only a 50% chance. They were predicting that they wouldn't arrive until 2pm, and while my brain said we should stay at the marina for another night, my gut was telling me to go. Apparently, I have a bad case of "get-there-itis", and I wanted to be in Norfolk by the weekend so we could have the opportunity to check it out. The last time through we didn't stop. It was December, and we just wanted to get south into warm weather. This time, even though we're in a bit of a hurry to get to Albany, we want to take a breather and see some of the cool things Norfolk has to offer. Soooooo... another boat at the marina that has a slightly deeper draft was leaving, and I quick yelled to Kristen - "Let's get out of here RIGHT NOW!". I figured that we could follow the boat with the deeper draft through a shoaled area at the mouth of the Alligator River, and if they didn't ground, we wouldn't ground. I'm nice like that.]

Ok, so now we're safe and sound at Coinjock Marina, home of the famous 32 oz. prime rib. I don't think everyone crossed their fingers hard enough! We were about 2 miles away when the storm hit us. We had been getting hints of cool air for a while, but then all of a sudden the wind turned cold and stayed that way.

We told the kids to go below and we got our foul weather gear out. The wind picked up from 7 to 25 knots in just a few seconds. We watched the rain heading towards us in the distance. "Here comes the rain." I said to Chris. As usual Pelican handled it all like a pro. I wasn't worried about the wind or rain, I knew we could handle that. The thing that did worry me was that we might not be able to see the channel markers. Once the rain hit we realized that we still had enough visibility to see the markers and I was quite relieved. The only scary time was when lightning hit quite close behind us. I'll never get used to the loud crack of close lightening.

[Chris here... The temperature drop from an oncoming storm is amazing. As Kristen mentioned, we had a few degrees of temperature shift as the storm approached, but when it was about 120 seconds away the temperature dropped about 10 degrees in a few seconds! It's an amazing and scary feeling when that happens, because you know it's here. The only other two times we've felt a drop like today were when we got hit by the big storm in Florida and the other one in the Bahamas. Both of those were packing 40kt+ winds (>50mph). Once I felt that temperature drop I was completely on edge. The forecast had said that the squalls could contain 30kt-50kt winds, and I wasn't really in the mood to be in a narrow channel, surrounded by shallow water, with no visibility and lightning striking all around us. Fortunately, as Kristen said, the wind never really got too high - perhaps about 30kts - and the visibility was OK. Kristen was at the wheel (and doing an admirable job - I love open water like the ocean, and she loves channels like the ICW) and I kept asking her if she wanted her foul weather gear. She told me over and over again that it was too bulky and uncomfortable. I reminded her of how cold she gets when she gets rained on, but she refused the jacket. Then it started raining, and ten seconds later, per her newest demand, I was diving below to get her gear.

We were watching the Sirius satellite weather, and it looked like we basically snuck between two REALLY bad cells of the storm. We did have lightning hit approximately 1000ft off of our stern, but all of our electronics stayed on this time. When we contacted the marina, they said that we may have to wait until the storm was done before tying up. I told them not to worry about coming out in the rain - we'd take care of it. I found out later that they didn't care about the rain. Apparently, lightning struck a building directly across from the marina and they were concerned the storm was going to get even worse from an electrical perspective. Fortunately, it didn't and the wind had lessened by the time we reached the marina, so docking was an anti-climactic event (I was wondering if I was going to be pulling up to the dock in 30-40mph winds, which I wouldn't have done - but if I had to wait, hovering in a tight channel with winds like that is not easy at all).]

We arrived at the marina at 2:15 and it then promptly stopped raining. Figgures!! We considered going another 20 miles to an anchorage, but only for a millisecond. Once tied to the dock, another few storms came though so we made the right decision. Now we are heading off to sample that famous 32 oz prime rib!

[Chris here.. we had the prime rib and between the two of us only ate a quarter of it. It was goooood! Steak sandwiches tomorrow! Yippeee!]

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A good day

Kristen here - Today is Tuesday 8/4/09. It's Chris's birthday today! I woke up early and went for a run. The run from our marina to town is quite nice, and everyone on their trip down the driveway to the paperbox waves at me. Oriental, NC has been quite a nice place. The people at the marina were friendly as well. We left our spot tracker in the rental car yesterday, and our boat neighbor offered to go pick it up for us. That saved us a $50 taxi ride! Also Jan, another boat neighbor kept an eye on our boat the whole time we were gone. It was very reassuring to know someone was watching Pelican.

We left this morning with mixed feelings. It is a different cruise now. We're not going to the next town to explore, we're heading back to work. I wasn't sure what it would be like, but I was fairly certain it wouldn't be good. Maybe it was because it was Chris's birthday, or maybe it's just the way things are on the boat, but we had an awesome day. Everyone's spirits were high, and we were all just glad to be together. Knowing that we're going to have to spend some time apart has made us all the more appreciative of every second we have right now. When we told the kids about our plans to head home for a bit, their chief thoughts were not of seeing friends, school or where we would live. The first words out of our sons mouth were, "Does this mean we're not going to see you as much anymore?". It melted my heart. If I didn't know what this cruise meant to our children before, I sure do now. As a mother I want nothing more than to make my kids happy, and my sons words make me want to work all that much harder so we can continue to spend time with our kids. So look out world...Kristen Labatt-Simon, woman owner of D&D Consulting and mom with a mission is fired up and ready to go!

So today we left oriental with the plan of going as far as we could. On the way we saw a ton of shrimping boats. To our surprise, one of them was a boat we saw getting repaired and painted on the hard when our boat was getting painted in Jarrets Bay. We passed this particular shrimping boat, the Captain Potter many times while walking around the boat yard and had stopped to admire its beautiful lines. The workers were there day and night painting, adding zincs, and doing something to its massive propeller. I remember being quite surprised when we saw it being launched, even after the propeller was still missing the day before. These guys worked fast! So when it passed us today, everyone came topside to watch it pass. It was like seeing an old familiar friend. Happy shrimping to the Captain Potter!

As we passed a bunch of shrimping boats with their nets out behind them, we started seeing a ton of small dead fish. I'm not talking about a few here or there. This was about one fish every 5-10 square feet. We contemplated what the cause of their death was for a while. Did they get killed by the shrimp nets? Were they bait to attract the shrimp? Did someone dump something in this part of the water? After a while the trail of dead fish stopped. The other odd thing was that the seagulls weren't touching the fish. There were a bunch of gulls around, sitting in the water but they weren't eating the fish. I guessed that they were all just full! There was quite a smorgasbord laid out in front of them.

Once we got into open water, the wind picked up and we let out the genoa. It felt spectacular to have a sail out for a bit. The wind wasn't strong so we kept the motor on. Even so, it was still a great feeling. At one point in time we had to turn to stay on course. This put the wind directly behind us. Instead of furling the sail, I got out our boat hook, held it in the end of the genoa and became a manual whisker pole. For the non-yachties, the whisker pole holds the sail out to one side when the wind can't. I commented to Chris how funny it was that I, who once wanted nothing but to furl the sails and motor, was now doing everything in my power to keep our sail out.

We arrived at RiverForest Marina in Bellhaven, NC at about 6:00 pm. We had an uneventful docking thanks to Chris. While he went to shore to check us in, Casey, Kaitlin and I cleaned up the boat and started to hook up shore power. As soon as Casey flipped on the breaker for the power I heard a fairly loud electrical buzzing sound coming from the point where the shore power cable attaches to the boat. "Turn off the breaker!', I yelled to Casey. That was not a good noise. We tried disconnecting and reconnecting both ends of the cable. The same noise returned. We tried fiddling with switches below with the same result. I had a slight recollection of this happening before, and asked Casey if he remembered what it was the last time. He didn't remember, so I sat and thought about it for a while. Then..."Kaitlin, turn off the stereo!". "Casey, try it now." I yelled. That was it! The buzzing was the stereo speaker which sits right next to our shore power inlet. I really have to remember that for next time!

After all of that, we took Chris out to the restaurant here for a birthday dinner. After dinner we came back to the boat and had a "surprise" cake. Nothing is really a surprise on a boat because it's pretty obvious when a cake is baking in the oven on your birthday. But everyone plays along, and Chris had quite a laugh when we lit a yankee candle and carried it next to his unlit cake while singing "happy birthday".

Chris said it was one of the best birthdays ever because he got to spend it with his family. I must agree with him. It's awesome.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Sabbatical from our Sabbatical

Chris here... It's been an interesting week. As we've mentioned, our primary reason for visiting Albany was so that we could be part of a strategic meeting for our information technology business (D&D Consulting). We hired a local firm to assess and analyze what we do and to make recommendations, both short term and long term.

I've been worried about how D&D has been doing over the past several months. We do a lot of work with New York State government. The state budget relies heavily on tax and other income from Wall Street and tourism, and with the depressed economy we've seen significant shortfalls. As a result, the state has pretty much frozen hiring and spending, and we're just not seeing the income we used to. Add to that the fact that we decided to invest heavily into the private sector, using money we had expected to continue to receive from the state, and we've been dealt a double whammy - radically reduced income and increased expenses.

Here's the deal - we're (D&D) staying afloat (no pun intended), but in order for that to continue we need to work our butts off finding new deals and delivering more services. Who are the some of the people with the greatest interest in making this happen? You guessed it - the owners. That happens to be us, and the timing of this economic downturn unfortunately coincides with the middle of our cruise. So, for the sake of all of our employees, their families and others who depend on D&D for an income (us included), we're taking a leave of absence from our cruise.

I have an incredible group of people that I'm honored to work with. They know how important this cruise is to us. Our kids have already started crying about the fact that they won't be able to spend so much time with us. I'm very hopeful that we can get things moving in the right direction before October. Whether or not that happens is mostly in the hands of the people who I work with, and whether or not they truly understand the urgency of this matter. The economy is going to keep sliding, and if we don't get ahead of it we'll be going in the same direction. Right now we've had an opportunity to fix things put before us, and I know we can do it if we apply ourselves. I'm reminded of the big red button in The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy - "Don't Panic". We're fortunate that we're not at the point where we have to lay people off or take any drastic measures, but we could easily get there and I'm committed to making sure that doesn't happen. Hence, our return.

Logistically, this could be interesting. Pelican is currently in Oriental, NC, 480nm as the crow flies, but significantly farther as the boat sails. We need to start working sooner rather than later. We feel we have three options: 1) Sail the boat to Albany and find a marina that we can live aboard at; 2) Put the boat on the hard in NC and find an apartment in Albany; 3) Bring the boat to Baltimore or thereabouts and buy a lot of Southwest tickets. Number three would be kind of difficult since, at times, both Kristen and I need to be in Albany - what would we do with the kids? I really don't like the idea of #2 - it seems too permanent. That leaves us with option #1, but there's the whole time factor. Anyway, Kristen and I will be discussing this and looking at our options over the next couple of days.

In the meantime, we need to drum up a few million dollars in sales. In all seriousness, if anyone knows any mid to large companies (250+ users) who need IT services in networking, information security, systems (server, storage, virtualization, OS), data center development, etc., please send them my way. We also are high level resellers of various products, including Cisco, Juniper, Check Point, F5, EMC, VMWare, Q1Labs, 8e6 and many others. We are a very talented woman owned IT firm with excellent references and a great team, and we need your help to get us cruising again! Once again, our website is http://www.DandD.com. We also own the domain name "disaster.com" if you know anyone interested in leasing it.

We'll keep you up to date. Obviously a lot will be happening over the next few weeks, and any help you can give us would be greatly appreciated. By the way, we'll only accept help we earn.