Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bermuda Lay-Over

We began Friday by doing some much needed boat keeping: washing the boat, disposing of our trash, re-stowing all the gear that had shifted around during our run and generally making things ship-shape again. We were met late morning by David Jones -- our fourth crew member for the run south -- and had a good time sharing our experience so far.

David easily convinced us to reposition to Hamilton -- the main town of Bermuda -- because there's a lot more to see and do here. So while Roy, Pete and David motored the boat around the island, I took David's scooter and did some land-based chores and errands en route to meet them.

Finally, we have a photo of Captain Roy! The boat -- Tropical Storm -- is tied up and looking good at the famous Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.

We've all spent yesterday and today catching up with ourselves, working on the boat, doing laundry, eating fresh food, drinking just a few cocktails and generally hanging out. Tomorrow morning we will re-provision the boat and motor back to St. George's to clear customs, etc. If the weather does what it's expected to do, we will be back at sea tomorrow afternoon. If not, we'll set sail just as soon as weather conditions are favorable for us to reach the trade winds and run down to the Virgin Islands.

That brings you up to date for now, and I'll post the next update just as soon as I can once we reach port again. We're expecting the transit to take 5-7 days, so... Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bermuda Run - Day 5

Thursday was a beautiful day for sailing! We set our sails for a strong, steady beam reach and powered our way toward Bermuda. On a day like this, it's easy to forget the other days!

For those of you who may be technically inclined, here's a photo showing one of our gauge clusters: 15.4 knots of wind giving us a speed of 8 knots. We probably could have gotten a little more speed out of that wind -- and certainly would have tried to if we were racing -- but 8 knots is a good average cruising speed that didn't require us to constantly work the set. That's an important part of the equation if you're going 24 hours a day with a limited crew.

By mid-afternoon the tiny island of Bermuda came into sight -- exactly where we expected it to thanks to all of our GPS technology! -- and we cruised into quaint little St. George's Harbor.

We tied up at the customs and immigration office for the usual process of paperwork, then made our way to a small local marina for the night. As fast as we could, we secured the boat, took showers and headed into town for a hearty, hot meal. We toasted our successful Bermuda run, then hit our bunks for some much overdue sleep!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bermuda Run - Day 4

By Wednesday morning, conditions had eased a lot, with winds from the southwest at 10-20 knots and seas that were much more comfortable. I was happy to be able to resume my full watch duties.

In addition to restoring the full main sail, we flew an immense asymmetrical spinnaker that really gathered up the wind. The autopilot was mostly able to cope with this sail setting, but the stronger gusts would overpower it at times and require very swift intervention on our part to help steer the boat back down wind. Pete went up on deck to check out the rigging and caught a very artistic shot of his shadow against the spinnaker.

By late afternoon, the wind had freshened enough to take down the spinnaker and hoist the jib. This allowed us to put the autopilot back in complete control and let me do what I do best: Sit back and watch the horizon to make sure we don't hit anything!

The wind increased still more in the night, and when I relieved Roy at 1am we were barreling along like a freight train. The boat is extremely powerful and it was a thrilling -- though some times a bit scary -- ride!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bermuda Run - Day 3

Tuesday was a rough day in just about every way. The wind almost dead astern at 25-35 knots with gusts as high as 50 knots! Although the wind-generated waves and seas were generally following us, the Gulf Stream was coming in from our starboard bow with a mind of its own to offer us wild cross-waves. All combined, we were pitching and rolling in a very chaotic manner. Roy said that in all his years at sea he's never seen such a "confused" sea.

In the photo above, you can see able seaman Pete working the helm. Although the autopilot on board is extremely good, the chaotic seas were pushing it beyond its limits and we had to hand steer the boat much of the time. You can also see at the far right of that photo that we were running the main sail with two reefs in it.

In the inset photo you can see that we were flying only a very small piece of the jib -- hauled in tight -- only to help act as a stabilizer. Even with so little sail, there was so much power in the wind behind us that we were barreling along at 12 to 15 knots!

The sailing conditions were well above my personal skill set, so although I could spell Roy or Pete for a few minutes at a time during my watches, I was unable to stand them alone and they had to do some double duty. I felt badly about not fully pulling my fair share, but in circumstances like those we faced you have to admit your limitations.

We were all working the boat so hard -- and were all sufficiently exhausted and banged around -- that we didn't take many photos, but here are a couple more to help give you the idea of the following waves and cross waves.

Conditions remained this way pretty much throughout the night, and we were each happy just to have a couple of hours to lie down in our bunks despite the impossibility of sleep. In all, Tuesday was one of those days when you can rate your experience extremely high on the "accomplishment" scale and correspondingly low on the "enjoyment" scale.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bermuda Run - Day 2

It was pretty calm overnight as we rounded Montauk point and headed southeast toward Bermuda. Sunrise showed us an amazing flat calm which none of us ever expected from the Atlantic Ocean.

As I took my morning watch I saw a little bird huddled down on the deck behind some coiled lines, obviously quite happy to be sheltered from some of the wind and cold. Roy fed it some bread crumbs and sugar water which seemed to really help it perk up. As the morning warmed, the bird fluttered around the boat for a while, giving us looks as if to ask where we might be headed. By afternoon it had made a couple of test flights away from the boat and back, then finally took off for good and headed west toward land.

So far, the only problem we had was that we'd run out of propane! Somehow in the process of provisioning the boat we had neglected to double check the tanks, with the result that hot meals became a thing of the past and we had no chance of hot coffee! Pete and I initially threatened mutiny, but bucked up and proceeded to get by on Nescafe made with hot tap water and an endless series of cold meat sandwiches and bowls of cereal.

We continued to sail throughout the day in generally mild seas, though the wind began to pick up, the swells were on the rise, the waves became more choppy and the temperature dropped. My evening watch was pretty cold and I was happy to be able to sit all huddled up while the autopilot steered the boat.

Overnight, sea conditions became markedly more dynamic, making sleep virtually impossible between watches and general boat keeping much more complex and demanding.

The Atlantic ocean may not have been treating us badly, but it wasn't giving us a free pass either!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

At Sea!

We provisioned the boat this morning then were joined on board by Pete, an experienced sailor who has crewed for Roy in the past. We got underway just after noon and headed east to transit Long Island Sound. There's been no wind so we've done a bit of motoring, but we expect to be sailing as we round Montauk Point later tonight and head southeast for Bermuda. The sunset was excellent!

We've had a good hot meal to prepare us for a night that promises to be quite chilly, and are settling into our routine. I'll be thrilled if there's enough connection over my iPhone to post this, but don't expect to hear anything more for a few days... We're at sea!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sailing South

I've dragged out the whole "what's next" thing about as long as I can, so here's the deal: I'm in Stamford, CT, ready to meet up with my friend "Captain Roy" and get underway on a yacht delivery to the Virgin Islands!

The boat is a 48-foot X-Yacht performance cruiser, well designed for long distance, open-ocean cruising. It's the same boat, in fact, that Roy and I moved from San Francisco to Seattle back in 2006. So, we are very familiar and comfortable with it.

This last point may become very important, because as of my last communication with Roy it was unclear how many additional crew members he has lined up for our voyage.

Although it would be great to have a couple of extra hands on board -- not only to help handle the boat but also to sit watches and allow us to get some decent sleep -- Roy and I have moved the boat alone before and know that we can do it again if we have to.

That's partly my way of saying that as great as a sailing trip to the Caribbean sounds, it will be a long, hard sail for a short-handed crew. I'm not complaining, mind you, just inviting you to keep in mind that I've got several weeks of 24-hour days ahead of me. Even when you do get to sleep, it's usually short naps in a pitching and rolling bunk, interrupted by necessary boat-keeping. In other words, it's a sailing trip that will be a fantastic experience, but not quite as pleasurable as it might sound.

We will leave Stamford as soon as we have rigged and provisioned the boat, probably on Sunday. Depending on the wind and weather forecasts, we will either follow the coast to Cape Hatteras before heading to the Caribbean, or go on a southeasterly route via Bermuda. In either case, we will probably take 3-4 weeks to reach the tropics.

That's where the fun will really begin, because the owner of the boat won't be taking over until the middle of December. Which means that if we can get there by the middle of next month we'll have use of the boat for our own enjoyment for about a month. Plenty of time to do some great tropical cruising!

What happens after the owner takes over is not entirely clear, but at this time he has indicated he plans to use if for only about 10 days -- until right after Christmas -- and would like us to then sail the boat back to Florida for him. If all goes well, I'll probably do that and be back on the mainland shortly after the first of the year.

Although we will have ample navigational and radio technology on board, we won't have any internet connection. Since we'll mostly be open-ocean sailing, we won't be making many port calls either. So, I don't expect to post many -- if any -- updates until we reach the Caribbean.

I will shoot plenty of photos and videos along the way, however, and look forward to giving you a full report as soon as I can from the tropics.

Until then, fair winds and following seas... Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

My "New" SP Kennel Dogs

"My dog" Teddy -- seen here in a photo I took at the end of the 2006 Iditarod in Nome -- has officially retired from racing. She is one of the truly great team dogs of all time and the dog who first really hooked me on sled dog sports.

By all accounts, Teddy is enjoying her status as a doyen of SP Kennel, spending her days between lounging around her dog house and training youngsters about what it means to be a sled dog who never quits. Teddy is a "dog-dog" -- as opposed to a "people-dog" -- and belongs with her pack mates at the kennel, rather than somewhere else on someone's couch. She may be retired from professional racing, but she's got a long, full coaching/training career ahead of her.

Like most humans who have ever met her, I have always been in awe of Teddy, and I have been honored to sponsor her for the past five years. Thank you, Teddy, for everything you are.

Aliy called me the other day to ask which dog's sponsorship I wanted to pick up now that Teddy is retired. We both had a good laugh, actually, because the answer to that question was decided two seasons ago when I pointed to a very special puppy with whom I bonded the moment we met and said, "I dibs that dog!"

Mac is now officially "my dog" and I wish him all the best as he becomes all that he can be. One of the truly great things about SP Kennel is that every dog is recognized and respected as an individual. Mac may turn out to be a long-distance racing dog, or a middle-distance racing dog, or even a freight dog. We don't know, and we don't care. We only want what's best for him. He's an outstanding canine, full of life, energy and love. My life is already better for knowing him, and I look forward to being a part of his future… Whatever it may be. Get after it, Mac!

I have also decided to "go public" and "make it official"… Happy is my dog, too!

Some of you may recall that Happy and I have a special relationship, made famous by a kiss. It is so hard to describe Happy in a few words, because just when you think you've got her figured out she completely surprises you. She acts like an idiot most of the time, but she adapts easily to whatever is thrown her way. She'd never raced in her life, then finished the Iditarod. She barks her head off at the kennel, then she behaves like a princess when staying at a fancy hotel. She constantly does "the Happy dance" like a dervish, then sits as quiet as a mouse on an airport waiting room chair. There's something about Happy that has always amazed and inspired me, and I bet that's true for many of you as well.

I don't know if Happy will ever race again, and I honestly don't care. She's already proven herself as a fantastic, amazing dog, far beyond any expectation or imagination. What I do know -- and care very much about -- is that one day Happy and I will be together. Whether we're driving cross-country in my rig, open-ocean sailing or just hanging out, she'll look at me -- probably like it's the first time she's ever met me -- and say, "Hi, I'm Happy! I'm always happy! That's why they call me Happy!"

(Note to Aliy: That's me saying "I dibs Happy in her retirement!")

To Mac, Happy and all the fantastic dogs at SP Kennel, I wish you a great season and another fine year of a dog's best life…

Love, Macgellan

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Update: Time Flies!

After completing my US 50 road trip, I drove up to south-central Pennsylvania and spent a week visiting with family and friends. It rained almost constantly -- sometimes what I'd call "Biblically" -- but I stayed dry and comfy in my camper, and Darth had no problems with anything, of course!

Last week I drove upstate New York to do a little preliminary scouting for something I've got in mind for next year. It's not nearly clear enough to describe yet, but if it comes together I'll let you know.

The highlight of my week, however, was having dinner in Rochester with my niece Christine and her friend Tyia. You may recall that Christine and I last dined together in Paris, and although we had a Mexican feast this time we did our best to maintain tradition by ordering multiple desserts. Thank you ladies for a very memorable evening!

Over this past week I've cleared out my camper and put it in storage. I've handed Darth over to my good friend Marty -- whom you may remember from my summer travels in Alaska -- for him to use and take care of this winter. I've also packed up a bunch of stuff and stored it in the garage at my parents' condo.

Why have I done all this? I promise to reveal "what's next" very, very soon… Stay tuned!