Monday, September 21, 2009

Lofty Lessons on Preparedness

We all know that, no matter what, you cannot and WILL not be prepared for everything in life. The Universe throws monkey wrenches into our spokes, and usually, at the most inopportune times. The same goes on a boat. I have mentioned in this blog a few sailing truths that we have learned both by first hand experience as well as by reading about others.  These are, namely, a) mother nature is #1 - no matter what b) boats and their mechanics are prone to wear and tear and, ultimately, breaking and c) as such, you must always be diligent about checking rigging, gear, lines, bolts, pipes, valves and screws...etc. for signs of wear and tear and replace them regularly so that they don’t snap, crackle or pop when you need them most (i.e. in a storm at sea).

However, sometimes "shit happens" (pardon my French) that no amount of preparation can ready you for.  This past weekend, Scott and I were humbled by one such occurrence.  We were out with about 12 friends sailing, jib only, on my dad's boat.  The wind was blowing 15-18 knots out of the North and the seas were lumpy, choppy white-caps with some intermittent rollers in-between (welcome to Lake Michigan!).  Not very pleasant for a sunset-booze cruise.  We had just decided to jibe around and head back in when all of a sudden we heard a loud "CRASH" followed by what sounded like glass breaking.  For a split second we all thought "party foul!" - but then realized, a split second after that, that our main sheet (the line that controls the main sail by positioning the boom) had completely broken off of the boom.  This probably doesn't mean much to non-sailors - but, imagine if you are wind surfing and suddenly you let go of the sail.  It's something like that.

It was dark, choppy, and suddenly we had a boom that was loose and ready to swing wildly like a pendulum across the deck.  A few of us held the boom steady as we pitched and yawed and eventually we secured it with a spare line.  Disaster was averted - thankfully.  However, as the person responsible for all the people in the boat (most of whom were not sailors) I was a tiny-bit shaken.  Had we had our main sail up we could have had one heck of a time getting that boom in and...Well, suffice it to say it just could've been ugly.  Could've, would've, should've.  What we realized once we were docked safely in the harbor and after close inspection was that the bolts securing the turning block to the boom had COMPLETELY sheared off.  It was as if the tops of the bolts just popped off, leaving bottoms of the bolts were left in the mast.  WOW.   What was most humbling was the fact that there was no real way we could have prepared for or foreseen that - despite the fact that this little incident had probably been in the making, slowly but surely, for the past 4 years.

My dad, who designed and built the boat (a custom Kanter 47) - never one to get phased - simply responded, "Well, you guys get the record for the most things broken on the boat!" and, while rolling the top half of one of the sheared  bolts between two fingers thought out loud, "Hmmm...I guess I need bigger bolts".  Needless to say, he's been around the block a few times and when it comes to boats - he hasn't seen it all - but he's definitely seen a lot.  His "ho-hum" reaction to this little episode made me feel better.

Another lesson not so much learned, but definitely confirmed...No amount of preparation will ever ready you for exactly what lays ahead.  Life is full of surprises; big, small, tragic and terrific.  It's how you handle them that really count. 

Brittany & Scott

Friday, September 18, 2009

Follow the Leader!!

Is it just me or are there a LOT of people sailing around the world these days!? Perhaps this is due in part to the fact that since Scott and I are two such people, we are more "in tune" with others doing it...but I still get the feeling there's a trend developing here. And what's more - these circumnavigators are getting younger and younger...and younger still!

There is Zac Sunderland, arguably the most famous thus far for being the youngest to circumnavigate at 17, then there is his sister, Abby, who, at 15, is apparently setting out to squash her brother's record some time next year (how's that for sibling rivalry!?). England's Mike Perham also completed a solo circumnavigation at 17 shortly after Zac. Then there is the controversial 13 year old  Laura Decker who is trying to set sail, but (last I checked) the Dutch government has intervened and prohibited her from doing so on the grounds that she is just too young to endure such a challenge. And even before this slew of young adventure-seekers there was Aussie Jesse Martin who, in 1999, was the youngest to circumnavigate - completing his journey at 18. Most recently, however, there is Jessica Watson, a 16 year old Australian girl who - on her rather inauspicious "shake down" voyage - was run down by a super tanker in a shipping lane earlier this month. She (thankfully and luckily) survived and still plans to continue on later this year...

This last chick got me thinking. Call me crazy, but if my 16 year old daughter collides with a tanker on her first "real" attempt to go to sea solo, I think I might reconsider her qualifications and stick her back in high school. That's just me. A collision with a ship is a very very real threat and concern for any little sailboat heading into open water. Not only do they rarely (if ever) see you (both visually AND on radar) - but if they DO hit you, they won't even know it until they get to the next port and see a little paint on their hull. Scary. It is always better to assume that your safety is up to you and you alone. If you do see a ship on the horizon (or on your radar) a) try to hail it on the radio (this doesn't usually work though, as they rarely speak English) b) take a sight from a stanchion or something else to determine if you are on a collision course and c) GET OUT OF IT'S way (even if it means turning completely around until it passes). The fact that Jessica got in the way of hit by this boat is, in my opinion, no one's fault but her own...But I am getting away from my point...

While all these "kids" might be getting the glory, the press and no doubt amazing life experiences, I sort of prefer the way Scott and I are going about this. We don't want to break any records, we don't want to re-trace someone else's journey and we certainly don't want to do it fast. We plan to just amble along leisurely - stopping wherever we'd like and staying as long as we want. We're taking the Bernard Mortissier approach:
"I have no desire to return to Europe with all its false gods. They eat your liver out and suck your marrow and brutalize you. I am going where you can tie up a boat where you want and the sun is free, and so is the air you breathe and the sea where you swim and you can roast yourself on a coral reef...."
While he might be a tiny bit dramatic, we like his style...

That said, if there are any sponsors, individuals or organizations out there who would like to give us money, swag, kit or anything else - feel free to contact us! (wink)

Your friends,
Brittany & Scott

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

For the Greater Good...

Being good is commendable, but only when it is combined with doing good is it useful.
~Author Unknown

When we started planning our adventure, Scott and I decided that we wanted to sail "for a cause". While we like the idea of having a really fun super-extended vacation we really like the idea of helping someone or something along the way. The only problem is - what, who, and how?

There are so many causes, people and organizations to fight for in today's world. We got to talking about this over Dairy Queen Blizzards and, thanks to the art of the brainstorm (and, perhaps, the Blizzard?), an idea was born! We loosely determined that we would like our "cause" to be human in nature (as opposed to, say, environmental) and that we would like to help children specifically (they are, after all, our future).

Once we decided on those two critical pieces of the puzzle I recalled how I volunteered for an orphanage in Africa for a few weeks, a heart-wrenching and eye-opening experience to say the least. "What about orphans?" I wondered aloud...Orphaned children are everywhere - especially in developing countries - and their needs are great. Scott was on board! So, now that we have the "who" and the "what" - we just have to figure out "how"...stay tuned, this is only the beginning...


Brittany & Scott

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cruisin' for a Bruisin' - Or: "Lessons Learned during our Shakedown Cruise"

"It isn't that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better."~Sir Francis Drake~

So, as you know - we had our first and last "pleasure cruise" last weekend. First of all, let me say - it was AMAZING. Just the best time. We were joined by our friends Rick and Shawn, and let me tell you - you couldn't have asked for more kindred spirits to spend a weekend cruising on a sailboat with...but I digress...

It never ceases to amaze Scott and I how much we discover EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. we are on the boat. This past weekend was no different.

Here are some *very* important lessons we learned:
(I realize that these are pretty basic and will only highlight our naivete - but I don't care)
1) Have some "Standard Operating Procedures". We lost our engine not once, not twice but FIVE times on the trip across the lake. At 4am I took out our engine manual and found a page with a little list of things to check, monitor, change or top-off at various times. We realized we had been neglecting MANY of the suggested items. Once such item was the cooling system. Not only had we never checked it, but never even thought about it. When we finally did check it in the wee hours of morn it was empty and instead of water, it produced a sludgy oil mixture. Not good. We now know how and when to check this (cough - every day) - we also are pretty certain our engine needs to be rebuilt...moving along..

2) Carry Spares. Everyone keeps telling me that "diesel engines are pretty simple and straight-forward" and while I don't quite see the simplicity in that big, huge, hunk of piping, valves, rods and metal in the belly of our boat - I'll take their word. When a diesel ceases (as ours did...FIVE TIMES) the first thing you should usually do is check and replace the fuel filters. Not all diesel is alike - you CAN and WILL get bad fuel and when you do, it's not good - these "filters" are the boat's kidneys, taking out all the bad stuff and providing clean diesel to our engine. When an engine ceases - most likely the fuel filters are over soaked with ick and need to be replaced. Hence the spares. Which we did not have. Lesson learned. We should always carry at least 4 spares at a time. But, knowing me - we'll probably carry 6-8.

And, AHEM...speaking of bad fuel....

3) Diesel and Gasoline are NOT the same thing (wince). At 4:30am, while our guests were snuggled in their bunk, Scott and I were in the cockpit - me with a head torch sliding off my forehead and my nose in the engine manual reading aloud and Scott poking and prodding at our engine from various angles and positions - exasperated. We were at a loss. So there we are, staring at our engine blankly as if willing it to get better and Scott looks up after an "a-ha" moment crosses his face and says, "What color is diesel?" Perplexed I answer, "Pink". Pause. Pause. Paaaauuuuuse. "Ummm...I think I topped off our tank with gasoline." Wow. After some investigation - it turns out that Scott INDEED "topped off" our tank with diesel's cousin, gasoline. 3 gallons to be precise. 3 gallons out of 70. Enough to make our engine a little sick, but not enough to kill it, thank God (much more, however, would have so we are VERY lucky). Apparently, before we left, Scott motored over to the fuel dock and just absentmindedly said to the attendent "Gas please" - not even realizing the implications of not specifying. From now on, we will ONLY ask for DIESEL. Pretty, pink, non-combustible DIESEL.

4) Know where you're at. I don't mean physically know where you're at, I'm talking engines here. We had a mechanic come and take a look at our engine the next morning and he asked us questions like: "When did you last flush the system?" "When was the last time you changed your fuel filters?" "Was the coolant system full of oil last time you checked?"...all of which elicited blank stares from Scott and I followed by a few mumbles and finally "Uh...we don't know". We have now decided that we are going to rebuild the engine; take it apart, check all the gaskets, hoses, whosits, and whatsits and replace them. All the time making notes in our trusty "Maintenance Log" so that we will always know precisely "where we are at".

So...those are the top lessons we learned this weekend. After we realized the engine issues were related to gas tainting our tank and we just needed to let those little filters do their work and add more diesel, our engine worked like a charm. What ensued was fabulous weekend full of laughing, sailing, wining, dining and just BEING. There is something so magical about sailing and making a boat your home - even for a couple of days - I reallly don't know how to put it to words. Our friends Rick and Shawn officially "Get it" and are already planning on joining us somewhere around the world...

"Come cuddle your head on my shoulder dear - your head like a golden rod,
And we will go sailing away from here, to the beautiful land of Nod..."~Ella Wheeler Wilcox~

Love love,

Brittany & Scott

Friday, September 04, 2009

Pleasure cruise!

This weekend marks our first (and, incidentally, last) "pleasure cruise" for the Summer of 2009. We and two wonderful friends are heading across the lake tonight, bound for St. Joseph, Michigan (where Scott and I met 2 years ago!). It's a 60 mile jaunt which doesn't seem far at all, but on a lil' boat that maxes out at 8 knots - that's about 8 hours under power. We are, simply put, so excited.

Last night Scott and I went to the boat to get her ready - he put on a BRAND NEW Deep Cycle 12 volt marine battery for the engine (WHOO HOO - starts like a charm now!) while I jam-packed our cabinets with all (non-perishable) groceries for the weekend and disinfected the head with my awesome head cleaner (see previous Borax post). And that's not all folks...we also have a BRAND NEW main sheet (the original one was over THIRTY feet short!) and we have brand new battens...We flushed and disinfected our water tank, topped off our fuel, tinkered with our wacky autopilot (which isn't working properly anymore) and found a blown "mystery" fuse (Is it European!? Do they even make these anymore!?). Every single time we are on the boat two things are certain to happen: 1) we learn something new and 2) something breaks/acts funny/malfunctions. Keeps things interesting, ya know?

From St. Joseph we're going to head over to Saugatuck, Michigan to enjoy the simple cruising life for three days: quaint harbor towns, nights under the stars, local townie bars, beautiful sunsets, wine in the cockpit, great conversation, the sound of the wind through the rigging, the gentle rock of the boat as you drift to sleep, and that wonderful misty morning feeling when you pop up on the dew-covered deck and the world is quiet as a mouse and the sun begins to peek over the horizon to start a brand new day...

Wish us luck - we'll be back in Chicago on Monday!!

With love,

Brittany and Scott
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