Instructions for night watch:
It's okay though - you'll live, be happy, and finally get some sleep in the end.
Ok. Enough sarcasm, what's this really about?
A few days ago roughly marks the time we would have arrived in the DR had we not turned in to Southport after trying out the recipe above on our first night. My initial disheartenment has turned into thankfulness and a new excitement. Trevor shares these feelings too, and we both have huge smiles on our faces now as the sun (finally) beats down on Frannie and we motor down the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) towards Titusville, Florida. The Kennedy Space Center is just visible on the slightly-hazy horizon.
If you do happen to care how those 32 hours leading up to our daunted arrival into Southport went (with less sarcasm and more detail) we’ve put together a piece at the end of this post to explain further. BUT, primarily, that's not what this is about. We want to look forward and shed some positivity. From the very beginning, this trip has been on it’s own program and we are happy to report that we’ve finally accepted that we’re just along for the ride.
Changing boats, plans, crew, and routes - from the very beginning.
When was the very beginning? It all started back in February, after we had spent 3 months travelling to Nicaragua, Mexico, and Thailand together. It was also after my potential job in New Zealand fell through. We were on opposite sides of the planet suddenly without a plan. At this point, I can’t even remember how the trip came about. Did I suggest it? Did Trevor? What I do know is it happened very fast & we didn’t think very hard about it either. I also know that we haven’t looked back since making the decision: let’s drop everything and go wander the Caribbean by sailboat this winter.
By mid march, we had pretty much narrowed it down to a C&C 37’, an 37’ Irwin, or a 36’ Islander. The day Trevor discovered Frannie, I wouldn’t even be bothered to go with him to the yard to take a look. “29’?! No fridge, shower, or V-berth?! Come on… this is so far off the mark.” It’s funny, because I don’t even think it took him 12 hours to convince me to go back there with him. Within the 15 seconds it takes to fully tour Frannie in her 29’ of glory he had me sold. You can find out more about her and what we did to get her ready for the trip here or here, but let’s move on.
We were going to leave in November, this turned into mid October, and then late September. Reasons including weather, lock schedules, weddings, and pure wanderlust played in here. These timeline changes cascaded into work conflicts, and eventually into Trevor leaving without me. Luckily, we had our trusty pilot friend Dave step in and help him get the boat to New York.
My joining the boat was going to happen late October, but when the Seneca faculty strike was called, this turned into early October. What actually ended up happening was thanks to my other (non-faculty) flying job. I flew Trevor to NYC myself on an empty leg down to Teterboro, then finished up work that night in Toronto and hopped on Porters last flight back to Newark. From there we sailed the boat to Norfolk, Virginia, where I got on a plane once again to Toronto. I stayed less than 10 hours before jumping in the Pilatus and flying a charter to Miami. After a week of lounging in the sun while my airplane sat on the tarmac (and Trevor worked hard motoring the boat further south) I arrived back in Toronto for the last time. I slept at my moms for about 4 hours, then flew down to New Bern, North Carolina where I met back up with Trev and the boat. This was a crazy few weeks that definitely wasn't originally part of the plan...
If I haven’t completely confused/bored you yet, there’s still the part where our (ambitious) two crew passage to the BVIs (Trevor’s birthplace) turned into a two crew passage to the Bahamas, which turned into a three crew passage to the Dominican Republic, which turned into a 3 crew motor down the ICW to Florida.
Lessons and Positivity!
So yeah, this trip isn't at all what we had planned, but we've realized it's even better. I hate to say it, but a lot of the clichés that we love to hate are actually true: “it’s about the journey, not the destination”, “follow your gut”, “everything happens for a reason”, etc…
With that, we're also not afraid to admit that we have learned some hard truths. Despite both having respectable boating/sailing resumes, we aren’t invincible and we still have a lot to learn. We will always be learning. Embracing the fact that we can't always be in control was difficult, but now that we have, it's awesome! Our new rule is we don't plan more than a few days ahead, and it's been working out pretty well.
The last few weeks have been lots of motoring, sprinkled with a bit of sailing. We've gone offshore a few times to make miles - and have gotten ourselves down to Florida in pretty good time!
At the end of the day, we've seen and done a lot more coming down the ICW than we would have otherwise. For example, the thrilling hobby of bird watching:
Yes. I know. Try not to get too excited.
We also saw a lot of the damage Irma left behind, which is both tragic and shocking.
My greatest accomplishment over these last few weeks? It's probably a tie... one day I got Jim and Trevor to eat carrots instead of pretzels (see above for evidence), but I've also successfully gotten Trevor addicted to The O.C...
Anyways... that's that! We are looking forward to spending some time in the Miami area, and then hopping over to wander the Bahamas. Also, we've got some fun videos coming for you guys too.
Now, if you're interested, keep going for some at sea storytime. Otherwise - until next time! ☀️
As promised, I shall tell you a tale...
We pulled out of Beaufort just as the tide was going out. Making over 6 knots with a decent breeze and a cloudless sky, we were pretty proud of ourselves. Engine problems fixed, a third crew member picked up, and finally some decent conditions for crossing the gulfstream. We’d later admit that this “weather window” was a little bit constructed, and that we all had a pretty good case of “get-there-it is” – but we’ll get to that part later.
As I was down below stowing the last few loose items, I looked forward to being at sea. Despite the inevitable seasickness, lack of shower, minor injuries, etc… there is a certain peace that comes with being forced to slow down to 5-7 knots with nothing and no one for miles. Finally getting to actually sail the boat pleased me – all this motoring was wearing away slightly at my excitement.
My thoughts were quickly interrupted by Trevor: “Come check this out… you are not going to believe what’s anchored out here!”.
A lot of you may recognize this boat as FPB 78-1. For those of you who don’t know, this is the first of two existing FPB 78 yachts. FPB 78-2 is called “Greywolf”, and Trevor is it’s former Captain. Neither Jim or I had seen an FPB in person, as Trevor’s time with her occurred in the Europe, the Arctic, and Oceania. We agreed it was just as cool looking as we’d thought from pictures.
Pulling out of the inlet was uneventful, but after a little while Jim was hand steering Frannie through the growing swell as North Carolina grew smaller and smaller.
We’ve known since we first sailed her that Frannie was prone to a very uncomfortable roll. We hadn’t seen her in swell greater than about 5’, but Trevor often joked that Frannie floated comparably to a cork so we should have known what we were getting into. Before leaving the dock, we’d moved the large water jugs from deck to down below in an attempt to positively nudge her stability.
With the swell coming from our aft quarter and the boat as heavy as she was, our tiller pilot still couldn’t hold a course. The wind vane didn’t stand a chance either. As the swell grew, she was rolling more than ever before. Although the mood was generally high, all of this was making us silently dread night watch a little bit…
After the excitement of leaving port wore off, the cockpit party was over so I decided to go get some sleep before taking the first watch. The night watch schedule was to be 2000-0000, 0000-0400, 0400-0800 (Jamie, Trevor, Jim). As I descended through the companionway and my socked foot hit the floor, I nearly ate the kitchen counter. The floor of the cabin was completely soaked!
Trev, springing into action as usual, quickly traced the water to the engine room. The leak, which he knew about, comes from the drive shaft. Usually, the water politely drains into the bilge from the basin under the engine. Today, the angles Frannie experienced had reached new heights, allowing the water to slosh around under the engine and escape consistently out of the cracks into the cabin. We used towels to try to “plug” the crack under the stairs, but it didn’t help much.
Jim, sitting on his bed next to the engine through the excitement, interrupted our exasperated conversation: “guys… it’s wet here too”. Lovely! A second leak, this one from the deck. Poor Jim’s bed was soaked. We moved his bedding to the berth opposite ours, put the last of the spare towels on the floor, and moved on.
As if our acceptance of the leaks angered the universe, some books came crashing onto my pillow seconds before I planned to lay my head on it. Sigh. A little disheartened, I quickly drifted off.
As I rocked awake, my first sensation was that it was several degrees colder than when I fell asleep (and a lot darker). Still half conscious, I made out some murmurings coming through the companionway… “way worse than I thought”… “really unstable”… “not handling this well”… “40 knot squalls”… “gut feeling”… Poking my head out from the top step, Trev explained.
After the leaks were discovered and he helmed the boat for a while, he decided she felt off. She wasn’t handling the conditions well, and by then we only had 20 knots and about 6’ of swell (which shouldn't be a lot).
Upon consideration of his gut feeling, he and Jim had pulled out a detailed 10-day forecast from Chris Parker. Reading through the forecast, it wasn’t quite the window we had conjured. On Monday (3 days from then), a passing cold front could bring winds up to 50 knots along our route. Upon examination of potential alternates (the Bahamas or Bermuda), there wasn’t a feasible way to escape these winds without crossing back over the gulfstream to Florida (something you don’t want to do with high winds from the North: wind against strong current = standing waves that would eat our little Frannie).
With the boat still pointed east towards the gulfstream, Trevor made the difficult decision to turn back towards mainland. None of us wanted to do this, plus Jim and I didn't have much to contribute since we're comparatively naïve when it comes to offshore sailing. This is part of what makes Trevor exceptional at Captaining boats - and I know how hard it can be because I've faced similar pressures in airplanes.
The three of us discussed, and despite how uncomfortable we all were, we wanted to make miles. So instead of turning back to Beaufort, we altered course towards Southport, North Carolina. This sail would take us through the night into the following afternoon, but we looked forward to accomplishing something.
We finally dropped the hook in Southport right as the sun was setting. In the past 24 hours, Trev and I had eaten half a pepper and some hummus between the two of us. Jim had eaten all the carbs on the boat (Pringles, chips, pretzels, cookies, etc...). We were all hungry (including Jim, somehow) so we feasted on a giant bowl of pasta, made with some homemade pesto I had whipped up before we left Beaufort. By then, we were laughing about the crossing, starting up a backgammon tournament, and plotting our next week on the boat.
I've had a lot of curious questions about what it's like to be at sea on a small boat like ours. Here's a little taste, answering the most common question: what do you do at night?
If you choose to read on, take this post with a grain of salt because it's a rather idyllic representation (were lucky enough to have extremely pleasant weather on this sail)... but here it is:
2 Days from New York, NY to Norfolk, VA
As you can see by scrolling through the images above, we had nothing but calm seas for our first ocean sail on Frannie C. Crewed by myself (Jamie), Trevor, and a little bird named Fred, it was a very peaceful sail indeed.
Here are some quick stats to get us started:
Why so much motoring?
It was unfortunate to run the engine as much as we did, but we had a timeline to keep. I had a flight to catch out of Norfolk to complete one last week of flying before being finished work for the winter! We agreed that if our speed dropped below 5 knots, we’d start the engine to keep at least that speed. As it turns out, this ended up being almost the entire journey...
Pros of this? We didn't have to worry about electricity (the engine keeps the batteries charged) - we can run the fan, blender, toaster oven, etc... and still have lights & nav equipment working!
Cons of this? SO. LOUD. The steady PUT-PUT of our single-cylinder diesel engine echoing throughout the boat causes unavoidable headaches.
What do you do out there?
The short answer is not a lot. If you're lucky, some "exciting" things will happen, such as: a little bird appearing (seemingly from nowhere) and hopping around happily for about 10 hours. Eventually he'll warm up to you and follow you around a bit. You'll become fond of him but he'll fly away and you'll be a bit sad.
Or you'll come across a over 10 anchored ships & get to hand steer as you weave through them!
So... yeah - activities are limited. Activity #1 is to stay on course and not hit anything. During the day, we're both generally up (except a few naps), so we share this responsibility simultaneously. Other daytime activities include: reading, listening to music or podcasts, staring blankly at the empty horizon, arbitrarily moving around the boat to various sitting/standing positions, absent-minded yoga, having a few drinks, realizing that was a mistake because now staying awake for night watch will be nearly impossible, etc...
Well, as you can imagine, someone's got to be up at all times to do the whole "get where you're going and don't hit anything" activity... With only 2 people on board, this can be tiring. We agreed on 4-hour night watch shifts: 1900-2300, 2300-0300, 0300-0700 (doing opposites each night).
What we ended up doing was probably ill-advised (although fine considering we only had 2 nights to deal with). The person with the first watch would stay up as long as possible (usually about 0100), then the next person would wake up and do the rest of the night.
During night watch, we have a few rules/responsibilities. Before I explain them, I'll describe some of our worst nightmares that they're designed to prevent:
Now, those are unlikely scenarios - but even so, we abide by the following during night watch:
Sailing Through the Night...
Sometimes, it's the most peaceful thing in the world. Picture yourself surrounded on all sides by an empty horizon, no vessel or land in sight, the moon and the stars glistening off the water, only the sounds of breaking waves and wind on your sails... (and in the case of this voyage, the put-put of our Yanmar... but if you're picturing it, maybe leave that part out). It's a nice feeling to absorb...
Night watch activities vary slightly from during the day... I'll give you a sample:
You're perched in the cockpit enjoying the picture I painted above, a little more bundled up than during the day. You're doing a crossword by the soft light of your precious red headlamp. Suddenly, your leg starts vibrating and you realize 20 minutes has passed. You hop to your feet and head for the cabin door, you've got one foot down the stairs when something stops you - oh, that's right, you're attached to the cockpit seat.
You're down below now, looking at the small AIS screen, nothing has changed except that now there's a new little triangle on your port side headed for land. Curiously, you scroll through the vessel's information: a fishing vessel, doing 8 knots headed for Delaware Bay, CPA (closest point of approach) 2NM, TCPA (time until closest point of approach) 52 minutes... interesting. You're sweating now, it's hot down below in your foulies...
Next, you unlock the iPad & open Garmin Bluechart - you see your little icon has changed from last night's pirate ship to a large rubber duck (thanks to your mature boyfriend/Captain). Good news is it's resting right on the red trackline, pointed maybe just a few degrees to the east. Just to satisfy your OCD, you hit the autopilot-to-starboard button 4 times (for 4 degrees).
As you start settling back into your comfy crossword corner, you realize you forgot to look for that fishing vessel. You stand up, one hand on the dodger, and stare hard at the black abyss that lies on your port side... nothing.
Here's where night sailing can become not so peaceful... two 20-minute alarms later, you've started to make out some abnormally bright lights on your port side. Looks like a damn city in the middle of the ocean. Yep - that must be the fishing vessel. Down to the AIS to see if anything's changed... CPA 0.1NM, TCPA 12 minutes... For those of you who don't know, AIS is not exact (it's a prediction), but even if it were exact, 0.1NM is still not a sufficient distance for a small sailboat to be from a large fishing vessel.
You have right of way on two counts: you are sailing, and also on his right. This doesn't make you feel any better, though. No more crosswords, you are glued to the horizon. After it becomes clear he isn't going to move, you radio him. The gruff, slightly pissed off, & tired sounding voice of an old fisherman blares back at you... Clearly indifferent to whether or not he runs over a tiny sailboat, he disregards the rules completely and says: "take my stern".
Sigh. Alrighty then. You hop back up the stairs, remove the autopilot from the tiller and gently bring your bow to port until you're pointed just to the left of the blinding mass of lights. As a few minutes pass by, this mass becomes a more distinguishable silhouette of a tall metal ship, large metal arms protruding out over the water. Not only is it blinding, but it's also loud. They must have some heavy machinery running on deck. Standing there thinking holy shit, you realize you're now looking at it's stern... shaking it off, you steer the boat back onto an approximate compass heading and reattach the autopilot.
By: David Hogg
Dear Frannie C readership,
My name is Dave & I will be your guest blogger for today. A bit about myself:
To read the rest of Dave's guest post - click "read more" below!
Lots of people ask how we decided on this boat, and what we mean when we say "sorry, can't... working on the boat this weekend!". Making Frannie feel like home & getting her ready to blue water sail involved a few tweaks... If you're curious what those were, read on!
For those of you who have never purchased a boat: unless it's brand new - there will be things that need to be fixed (and then there will continue to be for ever and ever and ever... because boats are really just holes in the water into which you pour money). One of things that we loved about Frannie was the lack of such things... she has solid decks, no leaks (that we know of... knocking on wood right now), new sails & rigging, and a running engine. In a nutshell: we fixed the sink in the head, replaced the engine mounts & fuel filter, installed a new (higher amp) alternator, replaced the batteries & rewired the electrical system (which unfortunately involved making holes in some fibreglass), threw in a couple of solar panels, installed a new GPS & a new compass, cut out some shelves to make them more useful, and re-rigged the self-steering (thanks to Shop Pressure Drop). Read more below!