NAUTICAL SKILLS/ Atlantic crossing
Oriental sailor finds “dream boat” in the Canary Islands
and invites sailing friends to help him bring it home
Serious sea legs, a passing catamaran
in search of food, and other crossing tales
By Carl Crothers
Vice Commodore/ Communications
For Jerry Luh of Oriental, the decision was fairly simple: “I didn’t really want to cross the ocean,” he says, “but when you find the perfect boat, you go where it is.”
In this case, the boat was a 2011 Broadblue 38.5 catamaran. It’s location: Tenerife, in the Canary Islands.
Jerry and his wife, Donna, first came to Oriental in 1989 from Rochester Hills, Mich., on their 1983 Morgan 323, Bluejacket. They made the voyage a second time in 1999 and then a final time in 2001, sailing across Lake Erie, down the New York barge canal and through New York harbor just after 9/11. Jerry and Donna are good friends with NSA members John Phillips and Cyndy Little, who have been following Jerry's adventure through his regular e-mail dispatches.
The story starts in 2000. Jerry and Donna were anchored in the Jumentoes, Bahamas, when they met a couple who would become fast friends – Gerald Skinner and Karen Pakkala, live-aboards on Persephone, out of Oswago, New York. Gerald and Karen were on their annual spring voyage from the Virgin Islands back to New York. That first meeting led to years of get-togethers to share meals, board games and good times on their boats and at Donna and Jerry’s home in Oriental. On their annual trek north each year, Gerald and Karen looked forward to tying up at the the Luh’s dock in Oriental. As with most sailors, Jerry and Gerald’s talks often turned to visions of the next boat – the bigger boat. The Dream Boat.
So, it was only natural that in June 2013 Jerry called Gerald to tell him he’d found his “dream boat.” It was for sale, but there was only one catch – it was lying in the Canary Islands. “Would you be willing to help me bring it home if I bought it?” Jerry asked Gerald.
“Sure,” Gerald replied.
So, with limited ocean experience, Jerry, Gerald and Karen flew to Tenerife in November 2013 while Donna held down the fort in Oriental. They waited at the San Miguel Marina in Tenerife for a good weather window, which arrived on Friday, Dec. 13 – Friday, the 13th. They left Tenerife that day and headed for St. Martin, Virgin Islands, a voyage they expected to take 21 days. The following is Karen’s compelling narrative of their Atlantic passage.
ABOARD DAYDREAM – Have you looked at a map or chart showing the Canary Islands and the Caribbean Islands? I know we studied the chart many times as we waited in Tenerife for the right weather window for our passage. Sure looked like a llllloooonnnnggg way! About 2,600 nautical miles. A time at sea longer than any of us had experienced before. My longest passage at sea: 13 days. Gerald's longest passage: 14 days. Jerry's longest passage: 3 days. If the weather cooperated the passage from Tenerife to St. Martin: 21 days.
On lucky Friday, Dec. 13, we left San Miguel Marina saying goodbye to our neighbor Siggi in spite of old sailor lore – never leave port on a Friday, never leave port on Friday the 13th, never leave port with a woman on board, and never leave port with bananas on board. We could have waited another day, left the bananas behind, and Siggi (after dining with us a couple of times) offered to keep Karen on board his boat. But being the practical types who had been waiting for a month to leave, we did not think about those old tales. When the weather window is open – it is time to go!
On our way with the jib only and the wind off the stern we watched Mt. Teide, the tallest peak on Tenerife, fade into the distance. The clouds enveloped the island, the land disappeared, and all that remained visible was the top of Mt. Teide. It looked like a snow covered mountain top floating in the sky.
The first few days were a bit rough with confused and large seas but a good way to get your sea legs. At least that's an opinion from the one of us who does not get sea sick. I actually was surprised at the difference in motion from Persephone. You still have to plan where to hold onto with each step you take, kinda like the stagger of a drunken sailor, as the boat rolled from one side to the other, but it did not stay heeled over as we're used to on a monohull. On passage there is always motion. Imagine the floor moving with each step like a continuous earthquake. I was surprised by the noise on board. The seas constantly slap the boat's hull. On Daydream there are two hulls which make 4 slapping surfaces. And there's the section called the bridge deck between the two hulls. It was alarming at first the frequency and force of the water on these surfaces. The water slaps the bridge deck hard enough that our water glasses sitting on the table jump straight up in the air. After a few days we get used to the noise and it is just a background nuisance. The quietest: when the winds calm, the waves subside and are in line with our course. We make good speed and ride along comfortably as if on a magic carpet.
We adapted to the rhythm of the boat and the rhythm of our days. Three people on board taking watches works out well – three hours on watch at a time. Being on watch means making sure the autopilot is doing what it is supposed to and making adjustments if the wind changes direction or speed. It also means watching the wind speed and reefing the sail when the wind pipes up and letting it back out when the winds drop to keep the boat moving efficiently. For me, watch also includes exercise and entertainment. I put on my i-Pod, stand at the helm, and try to dance in place or listen to stories. Twenty-four hours a day someone is on watch, while the other two sleep, read, cook (OK – mainly one of us cooks), play Scrabble, backgammon or cribbage, write, clean, stare out the window, record our latitude and longitude in a log, take pictures, or whatever. I also turn our eggs over each day in their storage locker and pick the eyes off the potatoes in another locker to make sure everything stays as fresh as possible.
We all sit at the table for meals and conversation while the autopilot (we named the autopilot Ziggy) steers. Twice a day we push the button for the SPOT GPS device to let family and friends keep track of our position. We have lots of food on board and I spend a lot of time cooking everything from scratch trying to keep a low-fat healthy, filling diet – fish and rice, pasta and sauce, mashed potatoes and pork chops, pizza and bread in the Dutch oven, guacamole and burritos, fish and coleslaw and more fish, all on a 2-burner stove. Seems like our meals are the most photographed event on the trip. Cooking provides an extra challenge to hold on, move around to gather ingredients and utensils, keep the stuff from sliding around on the counter or stove. For Christmas we baked bread and for New Year's Eve Gerald was determined to make another chocolate cake.
Our fresh food kept well – fresh lettuce, peppers, kiwi, oranges, apples, tomatoes even for the last week of the voyage. The fridge, which is more like a small house fridge with a door on the front than a boat fridge with a lid on the top, did a great job keeping the food. (Of course, we had to run the motor a couple hours each day to keep the fridge going with all the other electronics in operation.) We thought the food would come spilling out every time we opened the door. Only the occasional kiwi wanted to roll out.
Dinner provided a benchmark for sunset. Three weeks of sailing through a change of four hours on the clock means having to gradually turn the clock back or sunset would have taken place later each day. Gerald picked four days spread evenly on our trip where at noon we would turn the clock back one hour to arrive in St. Martin on Atlantic Standard Time and keep the sunset and sunrise at a reasonable time.
Gerald tossed out his fishing lures to troll behind us when he felt like it. It's not his normal gear we use on Persephone, which is designed for big fish but he's been able to pull in tuna and mahi. The gaff hook he's used to using is an 8-foot pole with a large hook on the end (like Captain Hook's "hand") to hook a fish once it is reeled in close to the boat. The gaff hook on Daydream was made from a fishing hook hose clamped to a telescoping boat hook. We were able to roll in the sail to slow the boat, grab the "gaff hook" and rubber gloves, reel in the other lines and land most of the fish. The mahi and tuna were all fairly small and he was able to just haul them on board without much fuss. Until Gerald realized he needed to let more line out to troll further behind the boat. Then he hooked and reeled in a 48-inch mahi. Somehow he was able to snag a bit of the fish under the gills with the gaff hook and we both pulled the gaff hook with fish up and over the lifelines into the cockpit.
The day before we left the dock Gerald borrowed a bicycle and rode up, up, up the hill to the grocery store (35 min. ride up) to get a second box of ice cream to take with us (12 min. ride back down). You can fill in the nooks and crannies in your freezer if you put your ice cream and small zip lock bags. The problem with a full freezer is when you catch a fish, there's no room to put it. We just had to eat fresh fish for lunch and dinner until we ate enough ice cream to make room for fish in the freezer. Ah, the difficulties of life on an ocean passage.
The monotony of sailing along in a vast lonely ocean is broken up by a rare ship spotted in the distance. Gerald picked up the mic for the VHF each day and asked for a radio check. Most times – no response. No one within range. The most excitement – talking with another catamaran on the 24th of December. A professional captain on board with two young women aboard for crew were delivering the new boat from France to Antigua. They had some mishap and their dry stores were spoiled. The captain wondered if we had any extra food to spare and if we could somehow make a food transfer for them. He knew they wouldn't have enough food to make it another week. Ha! Did we have spare food stores on board! We packed a doubled garbage bag with rice, beans, cereal, fresh caught tuna, and other basics all in ziplocks. The garbage bag went into a spare sail bag with life jackets tied to it. When they motored up behind us Gerald threw the bag over the side and we watched as they retrieved it, emptied the bag, and threw the sail bag/lifejackets back in the ocean for us to pick up. Merry Christmas! They were ecstatic and apologized for their lack of English words to express their deepest thanks. An exchange of e-mail addresses within the bag may provide an opportunity to meet at some point in St. Martin. This exercise also illustrated a very important point – DO NOT FALL OVER! It was a challenge to use the boat hook to snag the bag in the big seas.
We have never been to sea with so many luxuries – a satellite phone, ice cream, a single-sideband radio, and a real life raft (I've been told/shown that the label on the outside clearly states "4 Man Liferaft" – they think that's funny). Jerry worked hard before we left to install a tuner for his single sideband radio. While at sea he was able to send and receive e-mail. He could keep in touch with his wife Donna back home by e-mail and phone. If he wanted to look at a particular grib file (which shows a forecast of strength & direction of wind for our area) he ordered it, it arrived, and we were able to see what weather might be approaching.
Jerry Luh (left), friends Ryan, Kari, and Gerald Skinner
Jerry was able to use the sat phone to call his weather service guy, Chris Parker, and receive forecast and routing advice. Jerry let me use the phone to call Mom and Dad and my nephew Owen to wish him a happy birthday on the 25th. Gerald and I just shook our heads in amazement at the idea of being able to make a phone call in the middle of the ocean. It really works!
On watch at night one of us would be in the cockpit for the most part standing behind the wheel looking over the wind, speed, autopilot display screens and under the skylight directly above or sitting on the foam cushions (someone threw out at the marina and we scavenged) next to the helm. Gerald had worked patiently during our last few days in port on the zippers that stored the canvas/plastic window panels to enclose the cockpit. The zippers were all corroded from the salt air yet he was able to get the panels down which made the cockpit warm and dry for our entire passage. When the temperatures increased as we sailed south he would open up the back panel to bring in air. Squalls would pass and we'd stay dry. Note: When you look at the pictures on www.persephonesail.blogspot.com of our food transfer on the 24th, notice what the three French sailors are wearing vs. our attire: shorts & t-shirt. The first part of the passage included a full moon! I love being on watch and being able to see the water, waves, and sail by moonlight. By the last week the sliver of moon was not up during the night hours and the only light was from the stars. Clouds would roll in blocking off star light and the world was black.
When you sail for three weeks you expect to have a variety of winds. Fortunately, the wind has all been from the right direction to stay on our stern. We've had winds from 3 knots to 45 knots. Ninety percent of the winds have been around 20-25 knots. We encountered a number of squalls, the strongest usually during Gerald's watch from midnight to 3 am. Forty-five knots of wind, heavy rain, sail rolled in all the way, and we still moved along about 5 knots. Our average speed 5.5 knots making 130-135 nautical miles/24 hours. Jerry would calculate the number of miles left to get to St. Martin and we'd all say, "Not that we're counting." With that distance, no sense in counting. The half way mark was notable and when we were within 700 miles, that was promising. From that point a calculation was made each evening. 580 miles to go. 360 miles to go.... It's hard to believe we've been out here so many days – we’re just living on the boat doing our chores, passing the days as we sail along, and before we know it – landfall in St. Martin!
Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Yes!!
Hope this finds you well. Maybe you'll have some time to send a note and tell us how you are and what's happening in your part of the world!
Karen, Gerald, Jerry
Aboard catamaran "Daydream"
Photo at Shipwreck Taven, St. Thomas: On the left: Karen Pakkala, Gerald Skinner, Jerry Luh, and friends. >
Postscript: It took 21 days as predicted for Jerry, Gerald and Karen to sail from Tenefife to St. Martin. The crew stayed with the boat on the French side for about a week before leaving and entering the Virgin Islands and sailing down to St. Thomas to check in. The boat was in the Virgin Islands for about a month. From there, they sailed to Great Inagua in the Bahamans, then north to the Ragged Islands and on to Georgetown. Karen flew home to New York and Maine, while Jerry and Gerald continued up the Exuma Chain and north to Abaco, where they will meet up with Karen this week. They plan to sail north through the Abaco chain and on to Beaufort, NC, and then to Daydream’s new home in Oriental.
You can follow the crew of Daydream on Karen’s blog. Follow this link for her latest post, March 25. You can also follow Older Posts to see photos from Daydream’s journey. http://www.persephonesail.blogspot.com/2014/03/32514.html