Thursday, 3 December 2015

A Tale of Two Heads

Some of you are probably already aware that on Maple we replaced both manual seawater flushed heads with composting heads.  While I suspect most of us don’t want to hear more than the minumum when it comes to heads, we’ve had folks ask us on several occasions why we switched, and how the heads are working out.  This post is the first of what will likely be at least a couple of posts on the topic.  Today’s post is more about the installation process and my adventures, but I expect we’ll do a review of performance and our experience in the future.

Before we even purchased our boat Janet and I both expected that we would want to change out the manual heads in the boat with composting heads.  We had read and heard from others about the benefits of composting heads both in terms of their impact on the earth and the general boat worthy comforts of composting heads.

The pros: They don’t stink, the don’t have through hulls and they don’t require a giant tank full of human excrement to be placed in the boat.

The cons: You’ve got to dump them, they’re not cheap, you might get bugs (though this seems controllable)

Days before we arrived in Venice we purchased 2 composting heads from the European supplier of Natures Head.  We had read and seen great reviews of the Natures Head composting toilet and it appealed because of the simplicity of use.

The heads arrived in Venice sometime around September 22, just in time for me to deal with the installation of the port side head while Janet and the kids were in London.

The Head: Awaiting Removal.

Phase 1: Deconstruction

Maple has 2 heads, one in the port hull and one in the starboard.  Knowing that we would be changing out the heads in Venice we had stopped using the port head before we arrived and had made sure the holding tank was dumped in deep water (as required) so that I would be dealing with the least amount of yuckiness possible (or so we thought).

Just to draw a picture for you a manual pump head is pretty straight forward.  Once you’ve made your deposit, you pump to push the deposit to a holding tank.  Once in the holding tank it sits until dumped, or pumped out. 

As I began to unhook hoses, a surprise awaited me (actually several, but the first was the least pleasant).  Whomever had used the head last had failed to fully pump the discharge line to the holding tank clear.  By failing to pump the discharge line clear, the previous occupant of this particular throne had left a rather smelly surprise that rolled out at me when I unhooked the head.  

There I was on my knees contorted into the circus sideshow shape necessary to do any boat work and inches from my face a brown tidal wave of nightmarish proportions was racing across the floor.
I did what any seasoned boat owner would do – I put a for sale sign on the boat and went to the bar.  

Actually I screamed, cried a little and then accepted that I was wearing human waste and got on with the job.  After removing the head and hoses I showered for about a week and got back to work.

Next up was the holding tank.  What appeared at first to be pretty straightforward turned out to be anything but.  I can only assume that the factory built the boat around the tank as there was no way it was coming out of the boat without a little surgery.  As I contemplated the pain that I was facing if I tried to cut the tank in two I came to the happy realization that only minor surgery was required, and I set about cutting off the pump out and vent piping which provided me with the room required to wiggle the tank from it’s cubby hole and free up an enormous storage space.

Holding Tank prior to removal.

Hoses - yes that's what you think it is...

Stage 2: Installation

The Natures Head is no small toilet, but it’s not huge either.  We live on a catamaran so I figured we had lots of space (ok I did measure before ordering too) but for some reason when the heads arrived, the looked really big…too big.  Once I had removed the manual pump head from the port side, I had to check to see that the composting head would fit and it did – sort of.

The head requires 2 inches from the rear wall – no problem, but it also requires 2 inches from the right side in order to empty it…and at least 4 inches on the left side to turn the composting crank and operate the head.  Hmmm – that’s a problem.  I have 4 inches but not 4 inches and 2 inches on the other side…

Solution: remove the hinge that instead of sliding the top portion of the head to the right before lifting, I can simply lift the top part up.  That works.  I love a good solution that doesn’t require bodging things together.

Wait…our head doors open in, towards the toilets…will they still be able to open – yes, barely.  Whew that was close.

Ok so then I just have to bolt the base down…oh wait, there is some fibreglass floor pan in the way.  I’ve got to make some cuts to make room.  If you’ve never cut or sanded fibreglass, imagine drywall, but itchier.  The dust was literally everywhere.  But the head fits and functions and is beautiful.  Now – all I needed to do was remember all of the lessons learned, and solutions employed for head number 2 on the starboard side…

Thursday, 26 November 2015

We Won the Lottery...

One of the most common questions we’ve been asked by friends and strangers alike is “how do you manage to stop everything and go sailing in the Mediterranean?”  Most people assume you have to be rich to make it work.  Well, truth is we have a secret.  We are rich.  We won the lottery.  Right now, those who know us best are saying – wait, I thought you needed to play the lottery to win?  That’s true.  Follow along and I’ll explain what I mean.

Janet and I have been extremely lucky in our lives.  We were born as white, middle class children in one of the greatest free democracies on the planet.  A nation that has known peace within its borders for more than 200 years, one of the world’s strongest economies.  What did we do to deserve this?  Nothing.  Was it due to hard work and perseverance on our part? I doubt it.  Perhaps we are of strong moral character or superior breeding and deserving of such a luxury? Nope. 

We were just lucky, plain old, wild arsed lucky.  Several generations ago, we each had ancestors who took a chance, left everything they knew and loved behind and moved to Canada.  Like 100% of those who now call Canada home, our ancestors came from somewhere else.  They immigrated from homes where they saw little opportunity to one where they saw much opportunity and set us up for the successes we have had in life.  We are rich because of them, rich in opportunity, freedom and security and able to make the most of our lives.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been confronted with the reality of our good fortune in a way that I knew was coming, but I couldn’t possibly have prepared for.

We have been travelling east through Greece bound for Turkey.  Our last stop was on Kalymnos, just a stones throw from the border, and now we are at Kos awaiting good weather to head south to Turkey.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 6 months you’ll be well aware of the refugee crisis currently facing Europe and Turkey (hey – I live on a sailboat and I know about it).  No matter how closely you follow the news, nothing can prepare you for seeing the reality of thousands of people running towards hope and opportunity. 

UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) Shelters, Kalymnos.

I say running towards hope and opportunity because that is truly what is going on here.  The people we are seeing on Kalymnos and Kos have  endured desperate struggles to reach Greece, and their journeys are not yet over.  Surprisingly though, their faces are full of smiles and warmth when we see them on the streets.  They have come a long way from the reality of 4 years of civil war, or many more of political oppression.   We are struck by the simple fact that these people do not simply fit within the confines of the title “refugee”.  They are mothers, fathers, doctors, business men, engineers, children, families.  They are just like you and me, and yet not.  They have endured horrors I would not wish upon anyone and yet they smile, running towards a better future.

When we undertook this journey of ours one of our goals was to expose our girls to life outside of Canada to give them an appreciation for their lives and the struggles faced by many others in the world.  It’s for this reason that I am both sad and happy when I hear Iris explain the tragedy of refugees to her grandparents.  Her simple words and struggle to ensure that she is understood when she says “the families had to leave because there was a war and the moms and dads wanted to protect their children” tells me that she gets it at the only level necessary.

Our girls have stopped asking us why there are partially (or fully) sunken boats in the harbour and why the beaches are littered with life jackets and water bottles full of urine.   The sights have become accepted and commonplace, but not acceptable and we have daily conversations about how the world is helping the refugees and what can be done for them.

Sunken boats and discard lifejackets, Kos.
More sunken boats, Kos.
Discarded lifejackets, Kos.

They understand now (as best they can) the plight of the refugees and have asked us many times what Canada is doing to help.  I wish I could give a good answer but I can’t for many reasons.  I can’t explain because I don’t fully understand why it has taken months to put together a “refugee plan”.  it seems pretty simple to me and involves 1 step – offer them a new home.  I can’t explain because I’m saddened, disappointed and embarrassed when I hear Canadians referring to refugees as “muslim extremist” or “terrorists” and suggesting that there is some kind of heightened security risk in letting them settle in Canada.  I can’t explain because I know that the only real solution is to provide security and peace for people in their homes and that saying this is so much easier than accomplishing it.

In the end, I tuck my girls in at night and give to them as much love as I can knowing that they (like me) have won the lottery and as Canadians they stand an excellent chance of never being exposed firsthand to the carnage and ruin that those we see here have.  We are rich in many, many ways, none of which involve money.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Guests and Birthday and Halloween! Oh my!

It is hard to believe we are already four months into this adventure.  I was going to start by saying that October was a month full of firsts, but the reality is nearly every day we encounter something new.  So really October was yet another month of amazing first experiences for us.  It saw us our first guests, first birthday on board and first Halloween away from home. 

I am still in awe that we had friends already visit us, we are so amazed that Becki, Andy, Logan and Jared made the trip all the way from BC to visit us in Greece.  I will admit I was nervous as the days approached to their arrival.  I was hung up on the fact that the boat wasn’t perfect, we are far from perfect sailors (is sailing perfection even possible?!) and are still very much adjusting to life on board.  How are we going to handle eight people on board a 38 foot boat for nine days??  Given the cooler weather and water temperature, I knew it wasn’t likely going to be as easy as just hanging out on a beach for nine days.  We were going to be stepping on each other’s toes, literally. 

We could not have asked for better boat guests!  I can’t believe how amazing the visit went with four adults and four kids on board!  I knew Becki and Andy have sailed before and know their way around a boat, but I never expected it to be so seamless to have them here.  Most importantly, Andy was a quick study with using our AeroPress, and I was very spoiled with coffee being ready by the time I got up in the morning.  Heaven, I tell you!

When anchoring was proving challenging (shocking, I know), Andy was with me at the bow trying to will the darn thing to stick.  And as it turned out Andy had the special touch to get the anchor to finally hold.  Becki though was the ultimate hero in placating four hungry children and making dinner in all the mayhem of complaining children and frustrated adults.  And perhaps I shouldn’t admit to the déjà vu experience the very next night. 

The girls were beyond elated to have other children to play with!  The four kids played beautifully together and I really can’t fully articulate how wonderful it was for the girls to have friends here.  After Logan and Jared left, there was a huge void for the girls.  They didn’t want to dismantle any of the Lego the boys had made.  Even when we were playing at the playground, Ella said “it just isn’t the same without Jared and Logan here”.  I couldn’t believe after nine days I wasn’t desperate for more elbow room again, the four of us were not ready for them to leave when the time came.  

The boys wasted no time getting comfortable on the boat.  We are waiting for permission to enter the Corinth Canal.
Darryl was paranoid of running into walls, but we made it through the canal unscathed despite one chunk of rock falling from the wall and splashing beside us.  
Managed to enjoy one afternoon on the beach in Aegina.
Group shot from Poros on Ella's 9th birthday!!
In the end, I was reminded that our friends didn’t care about the details that I was getting hung up on.  It was just incredible to have them here with us, enjoying this beautiful country together!  Andy, the dock lines and sheets sure miss your expert coiling skills, perhaps one of these years I will figure out how to coil a rope well. 

Ella is the first to celebrate a birthday on board!  We were so fortunate to have our friends here with us to help us celebrate Ella turning 9.  It was a low key day, but there was the usual present unwrapping, birthday song singing, present opening and pizza dinner.  The day started out emotional for Ella as it is all such a different experience for her from the usual big birthday bash with countless friends, but she came around and said she had a wonderful birthday after all.

Happy 9th Birthday, Ella!
At end off the month, we found ourselves in a country that does not celebrate Halloween.  Thanksgiving passed us by without us making any effort for that holiday, so I didn’t want to do the same again for Halloween.  We had to improvise and for someone who is the furthest cry from a Pinterest mom, I think we pulled it off beautifully.  The girls trick or treated at the one other Canadian boat docked at the town quay in Poros.  We then walked the town looking for other children to give candy to even though the local children had no idea why we were giving them candy.  The girls just enjoyed walking around in their costumes and they certainly turned many a curious head.

Not certain if this was technically a pumpkin, but we made it work.  A neighbouring Canadian boat had the brilliant idea of carving a green melon, which glowed green when a light was put inside.  Will have to remember that for next year.

Used Ella's skeleton school project as a decoration, yah short cuts!
(Not certain if Darryl qualifies as part of the decorations or not?!)

Even though the girls didn’t end the evening with a giant sack full of candy after hitting up blocks of homes, they had a great time!  I am beyond thrilled and proud of how the girls have adapted to how life is now.  Understandably they still talk a lot about what they miss from home, but overall they have adjusted beautifully.

This sweetheart of a dog in Poros was so tolerant of the girls' affections.  They would have liked him as a stow-a-way.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

A Reminder

Today I had an encounter with a local man here in Naxos.  He seemed to materialize from thin air to help me grab dock lines for a neighbouring boat.  He even took the time to teach me how to properly throw the lines back to the boat.  I know, I know, I should know how to do this by now.  I then had to pay for our stay here in the harbour with him. 

He was such a kind, gentle man.  He took the time to chat with me about where the chandlers and grocery stores are located.  Even gave me directions to this amazing bakery where they bake their bread with a woodstove.  (On a side note, after many wrong turns in the labyrinth that is Naxos, we found this bakery.  The bread was still warm and needless to say the bread did not make it back to the boat once the four of us got our hands on it.)

Anyway, you get the idea.  This man had such a warm nature.  Right after I returned to the boat from paying for our stay, a woman from a neighbouring boat stopped by to say hi.  For some reason the woman shared with me the information that this man I had been talking with is currently undergoing chemo for pancreatic cancer.  Well to put it mildly, this hit me like a ton of bricks.

On November 9 my dad would have turned 75 years old.  It is hard to believe it will be 5 years in December since my dad passed away from pancreatic cancer.  What a terrible disease, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.  To watch my dad suffer and waste away is still the hardest thing I have experienced. 

When I looked again at this man I met this morning, I immediately recognized the similarities to my dad.  Everything about this man reminded me of my dad, from his warm, calm nature to his willingness to patiently show me the ropes (pun intended).  And yet here is a man who I know is experiencing immeasurable pain from what I witnessed my dad experience. 

Perhaps it is the timing of this encounter so close to my dad’s birthday, but it has hit me tremendously hard.  The fact that my dad had only nine healthy years of retirement is one of the primary reasons I made this decision to jump into this adventure.  To follow our dreams while we have our health and just live life to the fullest because you just don’t know how much time we have on this earth. 

I often wonder what my dad would think of what I am doing.  Travel was never his thing.  What I do know is he would think we are crazy to have sold our house and taken such a financial gamble.  But I also know my dad would still support me and be proud of my taking a chance to see what else life has to offer.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Character Building?!

We arrived safely in Corfu Friday morning after our first two night passage.  It was wonderful to see the beautiful fort greeting us again.  Hard to believe it is nearly three months since we were last here and yet it feels like it was yesterday.  

It took us 48 hours from the time we pulled up the anchor in Lastovo, Croatia to Corfu, Greece.  We had a bit of a shaky start to the day.  As I started to pull up the anchor the control for the windlass (the lovely machine that pulls up the anchor for me) went on the fritz.  It completely died.  Grrrr!  Once we opened up the remote control we discovered it clearly was no longer waterproof and the circuit board inside was corroded.  Well good ol' Darryl to the rescue.  Honestly there is clearly nothing that boy can't do, who knew a Commerce degree and 15 years working in insurance would make him so handy.  He just happened to have a two-way switch on board, so he spliced the wires and used the switch to create a temporary controller for the windlass.  After an hour delay we were on our way.  

We needed to check out of Croatia and fuel up before we could leave.  We went from where we were anchored in Pasadur, around the island of Lastovo, to Ubli where the port police and fuel dock are located.  Sure enough the port police were not around and had to be called for us.  We were told it would be a 10 to 15 minute wait but it turned out to be more like an hour to hour and a half wait.  (Enough time for Ella and I to bake muffins.)  So from when we first attempted to pull up the anchor at 8am, to finally pulling the anchor at 9am, we did not officially leave Lastovo until 11:30am on Wednesday.  

Overall the two days went really smoothly.  Unfortunately winds were light on day two so we really did far more motoring than sailing.  We had a too close for comfort lightning storm heading into our first night but managed to not get hit, which seemed miraculous considering how close it was to us.  We had visits from dolphins on each day.  The second time was amazing as the four of us sat at the bow with a front row seat to the dolphins playing in our bow wave.  What an incredible experience.  As Ella said “this is WAY better than the Aquarium”. 

I wasn't going to bother trying to capture the dolphins in a picture as I knew it wouldn't happen, instead got the next best thing which was a picture of us enjoying the personal dolphin show.

We also had the odd experience of squid jumping onto our boat both nights.  I had no idea that squid jumped.  The morning after our first night we had two stow-a-ways, who did not fair well from jumping on deck.  The second night no squid were left behind, but they left massive amounts of ink spots all over our deck and down the side of the hull.  Any tips on removing squid ink from gelcoat because it is proving challenging to remove???

We wanted to use them as bait for fishing but we were too scared to have the fishing line in the water while the engines were on.  The last prop wrap was just too recent.
Then there is the night sky.  To have nearly no light pollution other than our instruments, and steaming and navigational lights, the stars are beyond incredible.  I will admit I am not one to really pay attention to the sky normally.  But to sit there during your night watch and see the expanse of stars, the milky way and even saw two shooting stars (although Ella corrected me saying they would be meteors, not shooting stars) were stunning.  It is really the best part of the night watches. 

By 8:30am on Friday morning we were heading into Corfu!  We headed to the same anchorage we used three months ago.  What a difference three months makes.  Clearly the charter boat season is nearing its end as last time we were here there were dozens of boats in the anchorage, this time there were only two of us.  However, apparently our ability to anchor has not improved in that three month period.  It took us FIVE tries to anchor the darn boat.  Our anchor does not like weeds and this anchorage has only random sandy spots.  With Ella at the bow desperately trying to spot the sandy spots for me to drop anchor it was a challenging hour to get the boat secured.  After two nights with limited sleep, Darryl and I were at this point less than patient with each other with each failed attempt.  But Ella persevered and found us a sandy spot we were finally able to get the anchor to stick.  Whew!

Land ho!!!  A welcome sight after 48 hours of sailing.
We knew the wind was going to pick up Friday evening but we made the decision to stick it out in the anchorage.  Well…it was the WRONG decision!  Darryl ended up sleeping in the cockpit as we were convinced the anchor would drag and we would end up on the rock wall very near us.  The swells all night were ridiculous.  Including at one point it rocked us so badly that basically everything sitting on shelves, table and counters hit the floor in one noisy cascade!!!  Needless to say Darryl and I had a third sleepless night in a row.  How is it that the girls sleep through it all?!!?

So this morning we made a hasty retreat and moved to a sheltered town quay.  It doesn't offer water or electricity but provides us with protection from very strong winds and swells!  We clearly should have come here yesterday but oh well, we are learning as we go here.  Of course, nothing seems to be easy and we had yet another "character building experience" as Darryl likes to call it (yes, I hate it when he says that!). 

At this town quay, we need to Med moor, which is really, really hard!!!  You have to figure out roughly two to three boat lengths from the dock to drop the anchor and back down on the dock as you lay your anchor chain.  You then stern tie to the dock and the idea is the anchor holds your bow steady.  Well this only works if the anchor actually sticks.  And of course you can't really figure out whether it has done the trick or not until your stern starts pounding against the dock.  So guess what, that is exactly what happened.  So we had to cast off from the dock, pull up the anchor and try it again.  Now you remember earlier how we had to create our own windlass remote, oh and that there are really strong winds and swells?!?!  Right, so the remote for the windlass craps out as I am trying to raise the anchor while Darryl is desperately trying to control the boat against winds gusting off our port side while in a confined space with a lovely rock breakwater off our starboard.  Great combination really.  

So we make the decision to venture out of the protection of the quay to try to sort out the windlass as I am stressed to the max trying to keep the boat off the rocks while Darryl yanks up the anchor by hand.  While out there the swells are ridiculous and our wind indicator records winds up to 33 knots.  It was lovely. Darryl sorts out the windlass.  Decision is made to return to the quay to try to Med moor yet again.  With an audience on the dock forming (which is always my favourite scenario), Darryl does a beautiful job of backing the boat into the spot we had left and I manage to get the anchor to actually stick.  Whew!  If character building involves copious amounts of cursing and yelling at each other, then I guess I will call that a win for character building.  

Now I just really, really need some sleep!!!

Pretty much sums up sailing for me!
 The Other Coast by Adrian Raeside
© Creators Syndicate, Inc. - All Rights Reserved.
October 13, 2013 from

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Murphy Strikes Again

A wise man once said “If anything’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen out there.”  Truer words have never been spoken when it comes to the day we experienced yesterday.  After spending a month in Venice where Darryl accomplished a great deal of work on the boat in both maintenance and improvements, we needed to leave to start our trip back south.  We left Venice on Tuesday with the plan to sail overnight to Zadar, Croatia arriving Wednesday around noon.  Well best laid plans and all….

By Wednesday morning we were experiencing horrible swells and 20 knot winds.  To put it simply it was miserable.  However, my seasickness was not to be the worst of the day.  It started when the port engine shut down.  It didn’t take long for us to realize what had happened.  The halyard (in non-fancy sailing language that is a rope) for the main sail had been swept off the front deck, had made its way to the back of the boat and had cleverly wrapped itself around our port propeller.  Lovely.  Okay…interesting.  (Although stronger language was used.)  They don’t teach you this in sailing school, although they do strongly suggest you avoid running over stuff that can result in this exact scenario. 

This meant Darryl had to get into the water and attempt to cut the rope free.  After much diving down, he managed to at least cut the rope off, but couldn’t get the tightest wrap off.  Darryl is such a rock star, coming out of the water bleeding from a ton of barnacle cuts on his hands and legs without a complaint.  Now with the halyard cut, it meant we could no longer lower the main sail.  So we are now down an engine and limited use of a sail.

But hey, the beauty of catamarans is they are equipped with two engines.  No one I am sure in the history of sailing has ever managed to knock out two engines and a sail in one passage, right?!  Well look at us, we like to set a new standard for screwing things up while sailing.  So basically as soon as we have come to terms that we are down an engine and sail, we notice white smoke being emitted from our starboard engine.  (Insert more expletives here.)  Huh, interesting, what does that mean?  Referring to our trusty diesel mechanics bible, we eliminated the two problems it suggested.  So with me throwing up over the side of the boat, I managed to still keep us sailing using only our jib (the sail on the front for you non-sailors), while Darryl is being bashed around in the starboard engine room (“room” is generous, it is really a space that is only large enough for the engine), trying to source the problem.

An example of Darryl's work space in the engine rooms from a different passage.  See how spacious they are, especially with the rudder post hitting him while underway?!?

So here we are off the coast of Croatia, down two engines and a sail.  The smart decision is made to head to the closest port where we can check into the country and hopefully find a marina where we can pull the boat out of the water and sort out the port prop and figure out what the problem is with the starboard engine.  Mali Losinj was the closest harbour.  We manage to sail there and only turned on the starboard engine to get us docked at the customs dock.

We have already been in Croatia so we still have a valid 90 day cruising permit, so we figured checking in would be a breeze.  Well the shitty day is not quite done.  Turns out our newly installed AIS, a device that allows us to see other boats on our chart and for us to be seen, was to be turned against us.  Some hardworking Croatian port police supervisor was diligently doing their job and saw us on AIS a while ago in Croatian waters.  So when we showed up hours later in Mali Losinj, he felt we took too long to get there so it must mean we stopped somewhere else before checking into the country.  This is obviously a big no-no, which we fully understand and comply with.  Fortunately this supervisor was only on the phone and we dealt with a lovely port police officer in person who after 3 separate phone calls with her supervisor, made the independent decision to not charge us the penalty the supervisor wanted her to charge us.  A penalty?!!?!  For taking too long to arrive???  That really would have been the icing on the cake if we had been levied a fine upon our arrival in Croatia. 

The girls were so amazing for the entire day!  They kept to themselves (thank goodness for movies) even though they basically only had dry cereal to eat for the entire day and I will have to chalk this day up as a Pro D Day as no schoolwork was completed.  Ella even steered the boat while I watched Darryl in the water.  We all kept our heads on and there was no drama outside of what was happening with the boat itself.  So I call that a win in teamwork.

While Darryl was dealing with the port police, I was lying down feeling completely physically and emotionally drained and feeling quite sorry for our circumstances.  It was at this time I had this image come to mind of people in this world, and at that quite close to where we currently are, taking grave risks to seek safety for themselves and their families.  And despite how disastrous of a day this was in relation to our personal life experiences, our safety was never at risk.  Although Darryl might feel differently when he was diving under the boat trying to avoid the boat from slamming onto his head in the swells.  Sure this is a huge inconvenience and we still don’t know how much this is going to cost us, but if this is the worst day we experience, we are still far better off than others in this world. 

We are certainly experiencing that life is about the journey and not the destination; I just would like it if the journey could come with two functional engines.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

What a Drag

Re-anchoring, post drag.

I read somewhere that there are 2 kinds of cruisers.  Those who have dragged and those who are going to drag.  Any guesses which group we fit into?  Scroll down to find out, or read through the whole post. 

As I mentioned in our CroatianRetrospective Light, Cavtat was a town that we thoroughly enjoyed.  We met some fellow Canadians there (hello Quickbeam!) who not only were generous with their time but also with some hard won information about cruising in the Med.  They’ve been at it for 8 years and so have loads of great inside info.  Cavtat was also close enough to Dubrovnik to go for a day trip – a win all around given the cost of marinas in Dubrovnik and the lack of anchorages near the city. 

Fortunately, the anchorage at Cavtat was also picturesque and quiet enough that we chose to spend some of our time just relaxing at anchor.  It was while we were hanging around doing not much at all that we heard the noise – a faint beep, beep, beep.  It was rather insistent, but not coming from our boat so we ignored it.  

A little while later we looked out at the anchorage and Janet said simply; “is that boat getting closer?”  A moments glance and we both knew the answer.  “That boat” was a large (by our standards) catamaran and it was heading straight for us.

You could almost see us connecting the dots, the beeping was an anchor alarm.  There was no one on the other boat.  If we didn’t do anything, it would hit us.  





Janet raced to grab a boat hook and fenders to try to fend off the other boat while I lowered our dinghy from the davits.  We didn’t have time to start our engines or try to move out of its path and at the last possible moment I was able to jam the dinghy between Maple and the crewless catamaran fending it off.  

With a little time successfully bought, I climbed aboard, leaving our dinghy tied to Maple and grabbed a mooring line thinking I could raft the heavy boat up to us until its owner returned but it was dragging by too quickly.  I jumped into the water to take the line to Janet so she could tie it off, but it was not to be.  Back to the dragging cat I went where I climbed out and made my way, dripping, to the helm station.

Fortunately, the engines did not require a key and I was able to start them both, tuning an anchorage missile into a reasonably controllable sea going vessel once more.  While I was doing this, another cruiser had come by in their dinghy to lend a hand and they started to raise the anchor.  We were making our way back into the anchorage to try to re-set the anchor when the owners of the vessel came racing out to us.

The rest of the event was a tad less dramatic, with 4 of us on board we reset the anchor and amid the thanks from our fellow travellers I learned that this had happened to them once before.  In spite of it all, they seemed rather non-plussed by the events and the knowledge that without intervention, their home would have ended up on the rocks. 

Turns out that they were in the habit of only setting a scope of 3:1, meaning they had let out 3 times as much chain as the depth of the water.  We had always been taught to work with 5:1 minimum which is what we had out, as did the other cruiser who had come to the rescue.  What’s more, the anchorage was known to have a weedy bottom suggesting a greater degree of caution when anchoring. 

Overall, I’m pretty proud of how Janet and I acted when we needed to.  When this all went down we’d been cruising for grand total of 1 month and yet we didn’t react like amateurs (at least I don’t think we did).  That said, there are some lesson to be learned here both from what we did right and what we did wrong:
  • Don’t ignore strange noises, even if they don’t come from your boat.
  • Anchor cautiously – nobody ever regretted being too conservative with their scope or size of ground tackle.  When you are placing the fate of your home on your anchor you need to be able to trust it
  • Act quickly, whether you do the right thing or the wrong thing, just do something.  Catastrophe won’t wait for you to make up your mind about the right course of actio
And oh yeah - we're the second kind of cruiser still (touch wood) but we're also cautious so here's hoping we can disprove the adage.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Croatia – Retrospective Light

I’m calling this a retrospective light because we pretty much flew through Croatia.  We wanted to spend a lot of time here and planned to spend a lot of time here, but somehow it took us longer than we expected to get through Albania and Montenegro and we found ourselves under the gun a bit to get further North to Venice.  Why Venice?  Janet and the kids had flights to catch to visit with friends in England at the end of August…leaving just a couple of weeks to get there.

The Good:
  • Cavtat.  Pronounced Csavtat this incredibly friendly and picturesque town sits just a 30 minute bus or water taxi ride away from Dubrovnik which has been called the pearl of the Adriatic (with good reason).  What’s better, Cavtat had a lovely and free anchorage where we could catch our breath and settle in a bit.  Unfortunately, Cavtat was the scene of a bit of drama involving our boat, an errant anchor and catastrophe averted by an alert Janet and some quick action.  More on that in a blog post to come very soon.
  • Dubrovnik.  Game of Thrones anyone?  Dubrovnik is a lovely medieval city in excellent state of repair/maintenance.  It was a fascinating look into life in Europe in the middle ages and fun to wander a bit with the kids through the tiny cobbled alleys.  We even found a playground!

The Bad:
  •  Camping Gaz.  Actually, the lack of Camping Gaz.  For some reason, in spite of being a cruisers playground, and host to more charter boats than I can count, it is impossible to get gas canisters refilled or purchase new ones.  Now this is fine if your canister is full, or you have spares, less fine when you run out.  On a positive note, I now know that I can cook just about anything on a barbeque, including pasta, grilled cheese and pancakes.
  • This place is ridiculously busy.  And to make matters worse, it seems that not all of the people out on the water have actually got any experience, training or common sense.  More on that in the upcoming blog post noted above.  The plus here is that this is largely a July/August phenomena as there are literally thousands of tourists who descend on Croatia for a sailing summer vacation.

The Ugly:

Nothing that can be blamed on Croatia.  I’m expecting big things when we head back in September.

The Bottom Line:

We’re heading back and expect to spend 3 weeks or more exploring what we can.  Nuff said.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Montenegro – Retrospective

An overview

Montenegro is located North of Albania on the Adriatic sea.  It was once part of Yugoslavia and following the breakup of that state Montengrans successfully voted for independence, forming the nation of Montenegro in the 90’s.  Montenegro is welcoming of cruisers and has reasonably good facilities.

Entry into Montenegro is very straightforward with the customary visit to port authority, police and customs.  Unfortunately, the cost of cruising in Montenegro is quite high.  We paid just over 100 Euros for a 1 month cruising permit (vignette).

The Good:
  • Kotor.  This is a lovely Unesco World Heritage site perched on the edge of the bay that takes its name.  Kotor is a quaint and picturesque city with a fascinating old town.  The people were welcoming and the scenery spectacular.  Kotor also has a reasonably secure anchorage – we know because we were caught in a huge thunderstorm with winds in excess of 32 knots one night while there.  Our anchor held admirably in the thick mud, while we watched a much larger powerboat drag and desperately motor against the wind in order to avoid running into other boats or aground.
  • The Euro.  In spite of not being in the EU or the Euro zone, Montenegro has adopted the Euro as its currency.  When they became independent, Montenegro adopted the deutschmark so I guess it followed that they took on the Euro when Germany and others formed the single currency.  Transacting in Euros is easy, we had lots on hand from Greece and it saved us from having to figure out another exchange rate.  Hooray for common currency (in spite of the economic challenges it creates for less wealthy nations – see Greece).
  •  The Bay of Kotor.  We spent more than a week of our 10 days in this picturesque bay which is unusual for the geography of the area.  The Bay of Kotor is a huge fjord with steep mountainous sides and narrow passages that open into grandiose bays and views of tiny villages settled on the edge of the water.  It’s breathtaking until you realize you’re about to be run down by a cruise ship taking thousands of others to see the sights.

The Bad:
  • Price of cruising.  100 Euros for a 38 foot boat seems like a lot.  On top of that, there are relatively few places to anchor.  Case in point, we checked in at Bar late in the afternoon and with no nearby anchorage were faced with either a night sail to the nearest stopping point or a night in the marina at a cost of 70 Euros.  It was an expensive welcome to the country.

The Ugly:
  • Night Clubs.  Couple the lack of anchorages with expensive marinas and the fact that the marinas seem to be build right beside the local night club and you end up with a hellish experience.  That was us for the one night we stayed in Herceg Novi.  Not worth the visit.  We sat up until 1 AM not really listening to the music as much as feeling it in your chest when you tried to breathe.  We couldn’t carry a conversation 3 feet from each other, never mind sleep.  Word to the wise, don’t dock at Herceg Novi.

The Bottom Line:

Montenegro is an interesting country, fully in the throes of capitalism and taking advantage of the perceived tourist riches.  It is not a cheap place to visit.  That said, the Bay of Kotor is stunning, well worth seeing once in your lifetime and worth the cost of a cruising permit.  We likely won’t visit again but are not unhappy that we did the first time.