Life Aboard LULU

Report from: October 29, 1999
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Hi Everyone:

We are now set to leave and I have the following news: You can follow our progress daily on the Internet by logging onto this website: The information will be a day old, but you’ll get the gist and there will likely be information on what’s happening to the boats.  Here’s my own update on what’s been happening for the past 2 hectic, strange, wonderful weeks. It’s a little long, so if you get bored, just hit Delete!


October 25, 1999

We have now been in Hampton for 8 days. There were maybe 5 boats participating in the Caribbean 1500 rally when we arrived. They continued trickling in during the week… You know them because they're flying the official pink flag of the rally – I almost threw mine away when Mel said "You're really going to fly that faggy thing? And advertise for West Marine at the same time?" I was about to fling it in the nearest dumpster (you're always looking to get rid of extraneous stuff on a sailboat) but something kept me from throwing it out. Maybe it's because every time I toss something I either figure out the next day what that mystery part belonged with or I find I now need it desperately.

Toward the end of the week, there were maybe 15 boats and now, Monday, the day before the official registration date, the whole dock is filled with pink flags. They are expecting around 60 boats this year. Our fellow yachters have turned out to be delightful – high quality, non-rednecky, friendly, enthusiastic couples. Some have done the rally several times, some are first timers like us. They're pretty much from all over the east coast and there's even a whole contingent from Minnesota.

Something I didn't at all expect but I am liking very much is the fact that all the women's faces I look into are pretty much in just like mine – lined! So, I haven't felt "olded" at all, like I do at home, where all these peach-cheeked 20 to 35 year olds seem to rule the world. It appears hanging out in a community of exclusively our own generation is the really practical and painless alternative to the face lift, ladies.

The week has flown by in a flurry of trips to West Marine to buy odds and ends, boat soaps and polishes, boat toilet paper that's biodegradable, Baja filters for the fuel, new sailing gloves, dinghy anchors and rode (that's the line that connects to the anchor) flares, hand-held compasses, stainless steel screws, charts -- and we still need more stuff.

I find I am always fighting Gary who says we need almost nothing, while I want at least one of everything in the catalog. This is for several reasons I think: One, he hates being told what to do, and the powers-that-be of this rally have a 3-page list of requirements every boat must have.

Gary also loves brinkmanship – living on the edge – whether it's financially or whether it's on the boat where he likes nothing better than taking a piece of string, a spring from some long gone pump and a length of rubber hose and using it to fix a diesel engine. He thrives on always having some problem to fix, some emergency to find a solution to – of course, because he's so good at it. Me it scares to death, not to have every piece of sail tape, mending kit, extra filter, whatever anyone mentions we might someday need. I'd be happy towing a spare dinghy filled with extras.

But Gary can also be too cavalier. There are so many systems to break and so much strain is put on all the boat's systems in an offshore crossing -- and it's becoming increasingly clear there's no marine store around the bend zoom over to. Parts on small foreign islands can be very expensive if they happen to have what you need, or time consuming if they don't, because you can't just jump on the phone to order it. And even after you manage to get it on order, it can be very difficult to get through customs. Or to locate where it landed because it's sitting next to some baksheesh-minded shelf official, or languishing on the shelf of some tin-roofed warehouse across the island.

Worst of all, a parts problem can maroon you on some island paradise where you've already been to all the restaurants!

Anyway, I ramble. We have both been fairly relaxed even though there are a trillion things to do, it seems. This to a boat we thought we were finally finished with when I made one last trip to the upholsterer to add a grommet on the very last morning. I loved letting go of 3 months of pent up anxiety as we pulled out of New Rochelle harbor, thinking – foolish me! -- that the decorating ordeal was finally over. But then, on the shakedown trip down I found the new cockpit cushions don't stay together, so they need Velcro and they're already getting filthy so the covers need a cover! Also, I finally got to order a power cord cover – true, we won't be using a power cord for most of the next years, but this is the opportunity to get it done while Gary hasn't jammed the spending lid on me yet. I can't imagine why. So, I'm now into a new canvas lady, who is also fixing my black knapsack.

Moreover part of the rally is you have to be inspected by riggers to make sure your winches work, your stays are strong, your linchpins linch, your halyards aren't frayed, and since I still don't know the names of most of the parts, I can't even tell you.

There's also a safety inspection later in the week. We discovered we don't have enough of the rally-required life jackets (which no one will ever use – they'd use their inflatables instead of these huge, hard, heavy, old-fashioned orange millstones. We actually have 4 and Mel has 2, so we're thinking of being inspected on two different days and sneaking the jackets back and forth between boats in two midnight runs. Sounds like summer camp all over again!

We've had seminars in passage making – a whole agenda of things from jury rigging repairs, to engine maintenance, to single side band operation, to sail plans, to medical kits, rigging nightmares and sail patching. All by a series of experts.

We need to learn how to use the SSB (single sideband radio) and it's very complex, so we've already spent maybe 4 hours in seminars on it, without having the time to go back to the boat and really use it. It's a huge number of channels that are hard to navigate and it mostly sounds like Donald Duck caught in some feather-plucking machine. This is important because it's going to be our primary method of communication with the boats during the trip down and afterwards in the Caribbean. This radio enables you to talk to people all over the globe and at the same time chat with your neighbor in the next cove or 3 boats away or in St Lucia. It's the sailing community's chat room. It's a lot more cumbersome, though than AOL.

I still have to finish my inventories of stuff – where I hid the Oreos, where I stashed the spare Ziploc bags, where the balsamic is, that bottle of gin that doesn't fit in the bar, the jar of pickled watermelon's location -- because other than the obvious cabinets in the galley and salon, the various compartments to hold extra provisions are fairly small and they're behind the backs and under the seat cushions and under the floorboards.. I have no idea where my long johns are and I'm going to need them real soon, as we head out into the Atlantic.

And last but certainly not least, to tell the truth, I don't even know how to start the engine on this boat, so I've got to go over that and much more with Gary. The simple stuff I still don't have a clue about and am too embarrassed to let the crew know about.   With all this time sitting in a chair listening to information, the biggest exercise I get is making the bed in the morning. Which is actually a bigger physical event than it sounds, what with having to stuff the blanket, the sheets and the bedspread under a heavy, 9" thick mattress that's Velcro'd underneath to keep it from sliding off its platform when we're heeled way over in the midst of whatever storms and turbulent seas we get hit with. The mattress is also sandwiched between two end tables on both sides, Did I mention that The Spread is also quilted, which means it's very bulky and also weighs at least 5 pounds? Moreover, if it's not on the bed (as in when we change the bedding once a week or daily, when Gary -- who unlike his mild, placid daylight self is a tiger of a tosser at night --- kicks it off regularly.) The Spread then takes up most of the available floor space in this very small cabin, which we share not only with each other, but with It. I've actually come to think of The Spread as a living being -- some big old, lazy old Golden Retriever, laying in a big lump and blocking the entrance to the bathroom (excuse me, I meant to say head) if I get up in the middle of the night. Don't ask me how we're going to sleep under this thing in the tropics. (Some things I just refused to think about as I salivated over the Donghia fabrics.) I have to admit, I've fantasized plenty about how I could tie Gary down, not, as he'd chose, to perform some kinky sexual maneuvers on him, but to keep him from kicking off the damn bedspread. I also get resentful when we get near the bed at night because we're about to undo that morning's labors and the whole process is going to start all over again in barely 7 hours. (But please, don't tell Gary I said any of this.)   This is obviously the price I'm paying for achieving the design bliss I panted after. Though I still do love the way the boat looks, I have to say. And, I'd better!


October 29, 1999

It's almost a week later and we are awaiting the crew to arrive. I have an assortment of various kinds of beans and soups we'll never eat that would rival the average supermarket and granola bars are stuffed into every crevice. (Snacks are a big deal during night watches and soups because the weather is going to be cold, at least to start.) The beans I don't know why I have – it doesn't seem like the greatest idea to me with 6 people in close quarters for a week to 10 days, but everyone does the bean thing. I'm sure it would surprise nobody that I have overbought in the food department. I am sure I have enough cold cuts, pastas and spaghetti sauces to make a transatlantic crossing. There are now about 52 boats and the amount of work being done is feeding and clothing the entire marine community here through what would be the dead season. Someone said the average spent on each boat during this period is $10,000. We've gotten away much cheaper, but Jackie and Mel are still adding hydraulic items at a prodigious pace. If you stand above the pier and look down the row of boats during the day it looks like an ant colony, with workers swarming all over the various decks and owners running in and out with gear or lashing down all manner of things that might fly off in a stiff wind. There have been parties all week and another really unusual thing is that in this whole time, I have not heard anyone talking about what they did before (or still do at home when they're there). I am sure there are some heavy duty earners (or former earners) but you'd never guess it from the clothes or the conversation. It's really refreshing not to be your occupation and to hang out with a group of diverse people all focused on a very consuming hobby they all love. (Maybe that's what a golf club is like, but the financial one-upmanship is pretty fierce there I think.) We are all going to be racing (with handicaps) but it isn't all that competitive. Should be fun. The boats vary from a 38-footer to a 65-footer. (No we're not the biggest, but I think we're one of the prettiest.) We passed our inspection (the life jacket switcheroo with the Cohen's went off without a hitch.) We have met some people who are fun and I think we will see them as we bop around the islands. Many of the couples have done this rally several times and they say the friendship factor and continuity is one reason why. This is the 10th year of this rally and there's apparently a really cohesive and welcoming network out there flying those pink flags. So I'm doubly glad I didn't throw mine out! Hope I haven't run on too much – it's been a long time since I've written. I will email you all sometime after we arrive and regale you with offshore adventure stories – hopefully we will wrestle nothing more dangerous than the bedspread.


P.S. Don't think we don't miss you – we do.


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