Life Aboard LULU

Report from: November 5, 1999
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November 3, 1999

We are at last asea. The weather played out exactly as the experts said it would. Hurricane Katrina and the Texas weather front passed us by while we stayed nestled (though feeling more nailed) in port. We did continue partying (despite the fact that a good deal of our attention was fixed on weather faxes and current charts). We stuffed ourselves with potluck dinners and the free, (and unfortunately, mostly fried) fare of local restaurants. We hated the idea of breaking into our warehouse of trip provisions (you have no idea how exhausting it is to schlep supermarket bags into the boat, drag them through the cockpit, and down the companionway, only to be faced with a heap of assorted cans to be stashed and cardboard boxes to be emptied and Ziploc- bagged -- as protection against a future roach onslaught. Where to put the stuff is one problem, but the bigger one, especially at this age, is how to remember where I put it. I actually have an inventory list that's typed out and in my computer, too, just in case I forget where I put the inventory list. The real problem is it's not just that simple. What happens in practice, is that after I put something one place, I think of an even better filing idea like keeping all the salad dressings near the olive oils, rather than with the coffee, which may not have been a great idea in the first place, but that's where they first fit. So then I move them near the oils. And then when I need my Chinese Chicken Salad Dressing, I can't remember if it's near the coffee or the oils. Which means I have to pull apart 4 sofa cushions to check. It's like a game of mental Chinese Checkers, trying to figure out what jumps I made with the jars. So, with the provisioning problems (did I mention we also don't have a car and there are no good markets nearby?) uppermost in my mind, for the past few days I've been hording our stash of breads and coldcuts and casseroles. We've sustained ourselves (all 6 of us onboard) on one about-to-go-stale cinammon loaf for breakfast, supplemented by the occasional Costco croissant; with hefty and greasy burgers and passable Philly steaks from the nearby Radisson for lunch and a massive array of both sushi and Japanese/Korean specialties at Musasi, a restaurant that has to be one of the great surprises of Hampton delicious and inventive Asian fare in the middle of Southern grits 'n' biscuits and chicken-fried steak territory. I am well-fed (no surprise there) but fairly frothing at the mouth to throw off the lines and be off. Anyway, by last night, Tuesday, the winds were up to 60 knots in New York, as it happens, not in Hampton. This is the weather we missed, apparently. A smart, if frustrating, decision the Rally leaders made to delay our departure. A good weather window for our passage seems to be forming, we hear. With the storm dissipating, a warm front seems on its way behind, with winds out of the east and north and a strong, though maybe choppy, Gulf Stream current. This morning, Wednesday, we were all up by 6:30 AM and so were most of the other boats: Exuberance was everywhere evident, as we, along with everyone around us, expecting a go- ahead message began releasing a week or two's worth of pent-up excitement. (I hope you're appreciating all this technical talk.) A parade of sorts began at around 7:30: a column of us stranded, dying-to-be- sailing-agains striding at a brisk pace along both levels of the docks. Viewed on deck, from the vantage point of the water, it looked like rush hour at the George Washington Bridge. People marching single file to one (hopefully) last buffet breakfast at the Radisson, to the dockmaster's office to disgorge a final flurry of email or to gather up that one last laundry. And to pay: was there ever a group so happy to pay their dockage bills and be on their way? By 8:30 AM at what would be our last land briefing, we were given the all-clear- to-go signal: we have a perfect weather window. Yes, it will be a bit rough out there like 30 to 45 knot winds, the trail end of the storm but only if we venture immediately offshore. If we stay in the lee of the land, by travelling along the coast and not attempting to cross the Gulf Stream at least until tomorrow, near Hatteras, we should be fine. After that we will doubtless encounter some bumpiness and maybe 20 to 30 knot winds as we pass through the Gulf Stream itself, which will take most of us about a day and likely be a rough crossing with the current pushing us one way and the wind the other. Probably not pleasant, but despite the promise of a few hard days at sea, people were fairly popping out of their skins with a combination of relief and glee to get this go- ahead signal. It is a cold, crisp morning our coldest yet, the weather having been balmy, warm and sunny for the past 2 weeks here. Today is upper 30s, early 40s, windy and brisk, but crystal clear and still sunny. (We've actually only had two rainy days here in almost 3 weeks, which makes us wonder how wet a crossing the gods of vengeance will wreak on us.) The pitch is high: there's an average of maybe 5 crew per boat, all moving at double time, getting ready to cast off: coiling up hoses and uncluttering decks, closing hatches and battening down; unsheathing sails and setting them up. The women, in addition to doing their share of this work, are venturing up and down the docks, hugging and wishing each other calm seas and safe passages, making promises to be there to greet and toast every single boat at the other end, regardless of what time of day or night landfall is made. (You know I'll be there if there's wine involved!) One particularly poignant moment tearful goodbyes from Paula and Tyler, travelling from Maine on Another Day, whose autopilot is stalled and who will not leave for another 2 days. Their arrival was marred by a thud to their rudder, and they almost a week on the hard (hey, landlubbers, that means up in the air in some marina, being fixed.) Now another setback. Paula is crying and all of us are trying to soothe her. Not for long, though, It's time for some good natured rivalry regarding this race; fast buddies now turn almost immediately into competitors. Also earlier this morning, John Ridgeway, Jackie and Mel's captain, announces he has bronchitis and doesn't think he can come with them. We are all appalled. During the weather briefing I watch him throwing his head back in exaggerated gestures of pain. It looks more like he's suffering from polio than a simple little chest cold. How can he think of deserting them, leaving them just a crew of 4? Everyone on our boat has something encouiraging to say Dr. Jane, the best thing is to get out in fresh air. It'll pass. Chris: just grin and bear it and get to work. All to no avail. Mel meets with our Brian, planning strategy for the course, and we arrange to stay in touch by radio. Jackie arrives to say she has given John a piece of her mind. "We are all grownups here, not babies. Grownups keep their commitments. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to work feeling like I wouldn't' make it through the day. Grownups do that." Not long after we hear John has decided to stay and is now smiling and chipper. "They'll never be able to trust him again," offers our Brian. "The guy said he was going to do something, then didn't do it twice." The departure is quite an orchestration and is breathtaking. A regatta 51 boats, one after the other, peeling off, and prancing down the channel in front of each other. Straining forward, fairly leaping in readiness, like pent-up palomino thoroghbreads. We get out into the channel, near the starting line, an area of water between a big orange balloon float and the Committee Boat, with its orange flag. All around us are boats, circling, swirling, making tracks, trying to stay clear of each other, plan strategies for the start, trying to stay away from the starting line, because the first one over the line before the start, buys drinks for the entire fleet. The maneuvering around a small area is really hard the smallest among is is 38 feet, the largest, 65. (No, we're not the biggest) There are some scary moments. Brian is instructing and Gary at the helm, following orders and doing a pretty good job, as usual. While we wait, we go through our Man Overboard procedure, we get the mainsail out to test her. We jibe several times to keep near the committee boat and the start line. Scary stuff. Some two hours pass like minutes. The countdown begins at 10 minutes. Boats begin to converge on each other and the going gets very tight and a lot scarier as we all jockey for the advantageous positions and the best points of sail. As we finally begin we almost collide with several other boats; no one is willing to give way our former good friends! The race is on. We are early leaders; smiles stretch nearly to our earlobes, are eyes are glittering, you can see that even through dark sunglasses. We are in double and triple layers, all harrnessed up and looking each of us two sizes larger. We are baseball-hatted and gloved. Our hearts (at least mine) seems ready to burst its ribcage. This is so thrilling: looking behind us at the swarm of unfurled double white sails, all heeling in the same direction and plowing forward agressively. Hard to tell which of these new rivals were formerly friends. The boats that were so individual in dock take become generic. Different only in color: blue or white, pretty much. And Calvin, the smallest, but probably the swiftest, red as an apple, with, we can hardly believe it, their spinnaker already raised! This is a twosome in their late 30s, sailing with their two children, around 12 or 13. In a small boat with an open stern! The winds are now about 30 knots. The boat is speeding forward I have no idea how fast, but probably over 10 knots.


November 5, 1999

We are now out almost two full days. That first night was rough and cold, not as cold as I'd thought it would be, and rougher than I'd hoped. The boat pitched and yawed and we had to reef the sails pretty constantly to slow her down. Still, not more than we suffered on our trip up from Ft Lauderdale. Most everyone on our boat was queasy. Gary, however, was downright sick, again, despite the Bonine he'd been taking a day before departure. He spends almost the first two days laying in our bed, up on deck only occasionally, a sickly greenish-white. He threw up twice, barely over the cockpit sides. It turns out he was not alone. As the other boats report in on the second morning, we hear plenty of seasick tales, some even worse. Almost no one was spared some discomfort. Then abruptly, yesterday afternoon, the winds virtually died down and we had to motor all night. Interesting, to say the least, how the seas and weather conditions change and throw you into a tizzy. This reporting in is the essence of this rally and it's so much fun. 7:30 in the morning and 7:00 at night. It's called "Chat," and apparently continues even down into the Caribbean after arrival. (now it's about racing to win, later it will be about racing to the party du soir.) One by one, in the same order each time, everyone reports their boat's position, the wind's direction and speed. Then we rush to plot it on paper, to see who's ahead -- because after 2 days, you hardly ever see anyone around. Last night we travelled all night with the lights of two small boats in the distance, about 5 miles away. This morning we could hardly wait to find out who it was from the group. Nautilus and Endless Summer two boats we hardly considered contenders! Not only is this communication thing fun it's really a support system. People are first asked to report any problems and then whoever can help in that arena tries to talk through repairs or solutions after the Chat. The first night one boat was dis-masted and had to throw their mainsail overboard and return to Beaufort, South Carolina. Another's genoa sail reeled in backwards and tore. They're limping back, too. Another lost an autopilot. All we lost is some dinner. (Not to worry, I have plenty more.) Our handicap is fifth in our class of six the fastest class. I can tell you, we're not winning, but we are keeping up. We are, in fact, right on target the fifth boat in the whole fleet. We're doing you all proud, homeys. (Gary, by my side, now in fine joke-fettle and raring to go (with not a restaurant in sight!) insists that we may, in fact, be winning, what with our handicap. Remember, if you want to follow us, rush to your computers and log on to Look for Lulu. Thinking of all of you.



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