Life Aboard LULU

November 15, 1999 (Virginia to Vi. Gorda)
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As promised, here’s my daily commentary on the trip down from Virginia to Virgin Gorda.

November 3/4, 1999

Our first day at sea was clear and cold with the winds from behind and we travelled at a brisk clip. By night the winds had picked up to a steady 25 knots and over. We did quite a lot of bucking and pitching, enough to turn Gary a sickly green and send him to his bed. For some reason he, unlike most other people (well, is he ever?) feels better down below than up on deck when he’s seasick. We had all started out with doses of seasick stuff: Scopalomine patches, Bonine and the strongest of all – Sturgeron – a drug unavailable in the US and even down here. Anyone going to Mexico or Europe, we’d love you to get some for us – that means you, Geffens!

Anyway, Gary was pretty sick, and everyone else was just a bit queasy this first day – though it didn’t prevent the other five of us from gobbling down gargantuan bowls of the chicken vegetable soup I’d made and frozen. Comfort food, you know.

Just about any sea and wind conditions become acceptable when we look up at the billion-star sky that greets us when we come up on deck for our 2-hour night watches. For the first time I understand why they call it "Milky Way," though of course the reality behind that name has been considerably sullied by the Hershey or Nestle or Mars or whoever makes the candy bar.

It’s a wide, white band (indeed, milky) streaking the sky -- somewhat fuzzy, not looking at all like it’s made up of stars like the rest of its neighbors. It’s translucent, incandescent and glows from within; when I first saw it, without realizing it was the Milky Way, I thought, instantly, "Vanilla pudding" and then, "white icing on a giant devil’s food cake." (Food analogies, as you know, come easily and unbidden to me.) Later, I imagined it the belt of some sky giant. (You -- or at least I -- spend a lot of the empty, unplanned, eventless time on night watches completely silent alongside or across from your watch partner, staring (and marveling) at the sky, while trying to invent language or metaphors that might possibly explain all the wonder. Occasionally you croak out an "unbelievable!" or a "fabulous!"

We’ve been sailing along briskly, with the staysail out full, the mainsail, and sometimes even the smaller genoa sail, reefed in about 30% ro prevent us from being overpowered by the strong winds. Brian’s note in the log book that we enter into every hour, reads, "Lulu loves these conditions!" The boat is really incredibly sturdy and loves cutting through the waves ahead, Brian called her something like "a double-headed (for the two headsails) forward-reaching plowing machine." (It was late at night and I was sleepy, so don’t remember exactly.)


Thursday, November 4

Day Two is a lesson on how unbelievably variable the conditions can be: From the pitching seas that made the boat roll and the strong winds that enabled us to cover 199 miles the first day; from conditions that made Gary sick and the rest of us feel unsettled or downright nauseous, all of a sudden we have almost no wind – like 7 to 9 knots and we actually have to wind in the sails and motor all night long.

We can feel the weather also turning warmer after our fairly chilly (but not as cold as expected) first night. We are eating first the heavier, winter foods: hot casseroles I prepared at home, like lamb-shank stew – plus frozen lasagne from Costco and garlic bread from Villarina that remind me of home and the good things we left. We are also eating the big meal at lunch time, when we are mostly all together, and whoever cooking can easily see to prepare meals, rather than at 6 PM when it is dark. Soon that may change, as we travel further south and it is warmer, with more light later into the evening.


Friday, November 5

Today we sighted whales off our port. I’d like to tell you that this was a stunning event, but really all I could see were some occasional bursts of spouting water. The winds came back to reasonable by 6PM and we have begun sailing again.


November 5/6

A wild night at sea, which started out calm enough. The day was gorgeous, sunny, and we were making good time. The winds picked up nicely and by evening we were coasting along briskly at 9 knots. After our day of motoring it felt teriffic. We were under full sail in the late afternoon and by 7 pm we even had the main reefed in. We had cheese and snacks and a late dinner since the lamb stew was pretty well frozen and took endless time to heat up. Then it jumped its pot sides as we were thrown to one side by a strong burst of wind. Hard to cook, very often.

Gary and I were trying to sleep, it being almost impossible in a double bed that’s continually leaning one way at a 45 degree angle. I’m rammed against the night table on my side trying to keep from sliding off. Gary says he’s clawing the sheets to stay in place. (Some of you will remember we removed the two mattresses side by side that our cabin came with, with a lee cloth in between, which would have made each of us a smaller, more containable berth -- but we wouldn’t really have had a comfortable double bed for other activities than just sleeping.

We do still have lee-cloths on either side, which comes up from under the mattress and tie onto rings in the ceiling, but since we replaced the 5" thick mattress with a 9 ˝" thick one, it barely comes up above the thickness of our bodies.

Anyway, around 10:30 last night, we heard an alarm, and the boat slammed to a stop and began pitching about. We went charging up the companionway – it was an "all-hands-on deck" moment. It could have been a man overboard alarm, but in fact it was the alarm telling us the autopilot had failed. With no propulsion forward on our course, we had turned almost completely around and the boom was swinging from side to side in some strong jibes.

Brian and Gary were masterful. Brian set Rick at the helm to turn south again. To get to the auto pilot we had to tear open the lazarette, (rear storage area) which is about 5 feet deep and spans the stern and iis packed with cleaning buckets and supplies, scuba equipment, the barbeque, boarding ladder, unused canvas covers, docking lines, and extra sails, including the spinnaker which is a giant sail, bigger than the main, probably weighs 200 pounds, and is packed in an unwieldly sail bag that we mostly have to winch out of the lazarette. But in this emergency condition, Chris, who is big and strong, and Brian, who is lithe and small, but incredibly determined and resourceful, managed to yank it out quickly onto to the deck. (Naturally, the spare auto pilot parts were buried behind the spinnaker because they’d seldom be needed – or so we thought. Gary and Brian jumped into the lazarette, Gary to the mechanism and Brian holding a flashlight, giving orders to us above. Chris and Jane set to lashing down all the gear we’d just pulled out and my job was to run back and forth with tools. I have to say that I did wonder initially if we were going to have to take to the life raft, but it was only a passing thought and, since we knew we had spare parts – and I know how amazing Gary is with machinery, I knew we’d get if fixed.

In fact, it took Gary probably less than half an hour to to get us a working auto pilot again and Jane has taken to calling him a God. He is truly incredible. We left most of the stuff lashed where it was and returned to our various pre-emergency positions, watching, reading or trying to sleep.

The crew is getting along phenomenally, though Rick is definitely the odd-man out, tends to be petetulant, self-righeous and runs a pretty heavy-duty victim racket. As in an, "I-made-my-log-entries-every-hour-what’s-the-matter-with-the-rest-of-you attidude" or a "Why-didn’t-anyone-tell-me-that-the-four-chicken-wings-and-single-hunk-of-cheese-wasn’t-dinner-so-I-went-to-sleep-and-didn’t-eat-all-night stance? (In fact, his dinner was sitting in a bowl on the counter.) He’s not a team player, is often missing at meals, tends to shirk cleanup duties and Jane, who conflicts with him the most, doesn’t think much of him as a sailor. Tonight when he came up on watch and I went down I saw he had made himself some microwave tea, which had spilled over as we rolled. He left the glass microwave tray in the sink. When I came back up and said, "I don’t think the sink is a good place to leave that glass tray," he answered, "Well, that’s the safest place I could think of to leave it."

"How about putting it back where it belongs," I answered.

Still he has a sense of humor and we are laughing a lot. Brian tells constant stories, from a repetoire of probably a million or so, about his adventures at sea, the unique people, funny occurrances, and hair-raising situations he’s encountered sailing around the world twice. He has a very quick funny-comback response time and he’s very inventive with language. I did some copy editing of the manuscript for his book that’s about to be printed; it was absorbing, amusing and well written. He calls Gary "the Checkbook Captain" (because when he first came on board to meet us in New Rochelle, Gary was writing checks to the various riggers, canvas people and upholsterers who were working on the redesign. And, he’s named the boat "Lulu’s Plastic Fantastic Travelling Road Show." He’s South African, so all the banter is delivered in a rat-tat-tat-tat cadence that we mostly manage to decipher, usually not too long afterwards.

He is also a superb captain – though low-key, even-tempered and seemingly casual, he is serious about getting there safely and properly, while having a good time. He commands tremendous respect from a crew for many reasons – he’s a great sailor and teacher, he finds quick solutions to problems, he pitches in and takes an equal part in all the chores, whether it be cooking or cleaning the heads. I am so glad I fired the other guy we had hired and I was lucky enough to find him.

We’ve done 610 miles in 3 days. Really great time.


November 7

Sunrise this morning, simply amazing. An advance of light creeping silently from beneath the horizon, which seems formed of charcoal-hued clouds and iron grey water still entwined together after a night’s sleep. The still-hidden sun turns just a sliver of this horizon in a soft banana yellow. Soon, more blonde tendrils of early light creep slowly over this silent sky, kissing each cloud. I think of a mother leaning over to greet her sleeping babies. As each slumbering cloud gets its morning wake-up, it switches on from within, turning from a subdued, sleepy gray to a golden-glinted salmon color. And somehow, before you know it, the whole sky is pink and blue and it’s another glorious day.

We’ve been having incredibly good, dry weather all along.The nights have become balmy – moved rapidly from chilly winter to early spring to full blown summer in a matter of 3 days. I brought too many turtle necks! We’ve now covered 850 miles, about 200 miles a day.

This morning it’s my turn to cook breakfast. Jane helps me make juicy, eggy French toast, metamorphosized from the frozen stale Orwasher’s challah Jackie gave me, left over from their trip down to the Chesapeake.


November 8, 1999

Yesterday we fell somewhat behind and this morning I missed most of roll call so I don’t know where we are race-wise. Looks like we will be no surprise, though, falling where we were supposed to be in our class – around 5th. Endless Summer, a Tayana that is smaller than we and is two classes below, looks to be the surprise of the rally. They – Laurie and Glenn and their crew are running neck and neck with us. And, all the lead boats owe them many, many hours of time.

(We will find out after we arrive that the boat was pretty much commandeered by one of the guys on the boat, just a crew member, and, in fact, a documentary maker placed on the boat by Steve Black, who runs this Caribbean 1500 Rally, to make a film about it. This man, David Engel, is a fierce competitive guy, who has raced his own boat. He apparently took deadly seriously the good-natured ribbing Laurie and Glenn were giving Mel (who’s in their boat class) about how badly they were going to whip Feisty’s ass in the race, as well as all the avid listening to the daily chats and plotting of positions, which we’re all doing. Anyway, he began driving everyone on the boat to do better, sail harder; he took over sail trim and refused to let the helmsman or the auto pilot level off for cooking meals or eating them. Laurie was furious and finally refused to cook anything. As soon as they docked she kicked him off the boat. Since then, she’s been going around saying if they had won she was going to renounce the trophy, but I think she’ll think better of that! Anyway, it seems incredible to all of us that any owner would let a crew member just take over, but somehow they did. I can totally understand how she felt about the cooking because here are my notes again from November 8.)

We have spent the past 3 days on a ferocious port tack, heeled way over, making it really difficult to open the fridge, get anything out from the major storage areas, without being attacked by 8 or 9 bottles of wine, olive oil missiles, gallons of apple cider and tomato juice launching themselves directly at our solar plexi.

Surpisingly, I have gotten used to most of the heeling, lurching from one side of the cabin to the next, serving two-course meals while reeling up the stairs and through the companionway. I have even mastered nailing my behind almost squarely on top of the toilet during almost any sea. Though I have gotten acclimatized, I can’t say I’d choose this particlupar angulation to, say, half a day in a Barcalounger.

The difficult part is still the sleeping. The lee cloth height continues to be a problem and any steep wave or gust of wind threatens to propel me directly over the it, into the dresser. I keep myself as scrunched as I can into the night table, but my shoulders ache from struggling to turn over. I absolutely had to change my regular sleeping attire -- silk underpants -- because they were ricocheting me all over the bed. Gary and I have taken recently to sleeping across the mattress with our feet against the leecloth and our hands clutching the mattress edge. Accompanying our efforts to get some rest is the constant screeching and squealing of the piston in the broken auto pilot ram. Gary, who can pretty much sleep anywhere, any time, is faring much better than I am. And I have to admit because we are constantly rolling and thwacking into each other and we’re often warm and sticky because we’re not running the air conditioning (since we have to conserve on fuel in case the winds die and we have to motor) that I absolutely rejoice when it’s his time to leave our bed to go on watch. I’m sure he feels exactly the same, though I haven’t asked.

Other than the sleeping thing, I am doing quite well. Of course I am constantly rebruising my port-tack bruises. Today, I counted the bruises as far around my body as I can see in the mirror and only below the waist – not a sight I’d like to be looking at under the best of conditions. Fortunately I can only glance quickly before the boat pitches or rolls in one direction or another. I got up to 38 separate bruises, though they do sort themselves, like the night sky, into constellations. I don’t remember really hurting myself but I guess I keep slamming lightly into cabinet knobs, the toilet seat, the dresser, the nav table, the oven. I am not a pretty sight. The good news is that this degree of dermatological disaster will stave off the moment when I feel I must succumb to the heat and put on a bathing suit.


November 9, 1999

Last night was awesome. Right after diinner we could see ourselves approaching a squall and from about 10 PM it was one after another down a line of squalls. But it wasn’t too uncomfortable because the air was warm and fresh as a baby’s sweat. Still, the seas were roiling about the boat -- huge crests of white foam turned red or green by the running lights on either side of the bow. I found it thrilling to stand on the cockpit cushions, hanging on to the dodger, swaying with the boat’s every movement, rocking back and forth as we rode the waves. Our wind speed ultimately reached an honest 45 knots, but the boat held absolutely steady. She loves heavy weather conditions, remaining stable under crashing waves and high winds. Rick says she’s the best boat he’s been on, and his three hours on watch at the helm were the most exciting time he’s had on a sailboat.

The boat cuts cleanly through the seas like a scissor. Last night, Jane and I reefed the genoa, she easing the sheet out and me tailing it in. Easing is hardly the word, it charged off the winch like a Mack truck and was hard to control. After the reef, it hardly looked like the sail had retracted, so we tried again and as it tailed it fell off and jammed. The sheet and sail whipped madly in the high winds and Brian was up the companionway in seconds. Normally mild and amusing, he was stern and all business. "Why is this reef taking so long?"

After we got it under control he trained his flashlight through the dodger windshield – the lazy genoa line had wratpped around the working genoa lines and was snarled as an unruly skein of yarn. Rick came out and despite the rain and 35 to 40 knot winds, flipped the twisted lines over and under to release the knots. It was really something to see him patiently figuring which way to toss, like a cowboy and his lariat, with the winds and seas howling about.

Change Order’s halyard got damaged during the night, slowing them down and just after dawn their jury-rigged repair also gave way. They continue to be very much in front of us and yet we have to give them time.

What’s really amazing is that we have had fabulous, strong winds, except for that virtually motionless second day. In fact, we seem to be in a pocket of wind that no one, except maybe Calvin, is in. Generally 5 to 10 knots stronger. But meanwhile, there’s a whole contingent of smaller or slower boats 100 miles or more behind us that are getting absolutely no wind at all and they’re motoring. Mel and Jackie have been among them. Their refrigeration also hasn’t worked in 2 days and last night in an accidental jibe, they bent several stanchions almost down to the deckhouse. The conditions out here can truly be fierce.

We raced hard all day and through the night, since we figured out from the nightly chat and Brian’s regular plotting of us and the competition’s progress that we could actually come very close to winning and could beat several of the boats ahead of us in standing. That’s because Brian’s strategy of "easting" has put us the farthest east and the other boats are now beating against the wind to get in.

As I listened to the chat and realized this, I got excited and ran to our cabin to tell Gary, who had just gone to sleep. Just as I entered the room, we got pitched by a wave or wind and the door slammed in my wrist. I got cut and bruised, but Jane was at the ready with the incredibly complete medical kit she packed for us. She butterflied the cut, put some ice in a baggie against the bruises and wrapped the whole thing in an Ace bandage. It hurt a lot for a while, but it’s not as bad as it looks all bandaged up. I’ll have to make up some war story.

Our last night at sea, we think. Jane, Chris and I stood watch all night, letting the guys sleep and having the boat to ourselves.


November 10

We’re all up early to a morning of mostly clouds and gray sky, with several squalls that we could actually – magically -- see in front of us before we entered them. One in particular was a huge round oval, with a curtain of rain dropping out vertically and straight down to the water line. It looked like a giant mushroom. We were on the east side of two of these squalls, which meant coming out of them we had no wind, which was infuriating because we knew we’d arrive in Virgin Gorda later in the day.

And, indeed, at around 10:30 AM we sighted land, a blurry cone shape, in the distance off the bow.

Brian, who jumps around the boat like a small, spry monkey, immediately leapt onto the boom to view Anegada in the distance. With land now in view, we assumed we’d be in in no time, but in fact it took 4 hours – seemingly forever -- to actually get into port. (By the way, it’s true what they say about your sense of balance when you get off a boat: even on concrete docks we felt like we were still pitching on the water. And, waking up during the night, even though the bed was perfectly level, we thought we were still on a tack and about to bump into the leecloth. Those sensations lasted almost 24 hours.)

We were greeted at the dock with champagne by the few boats that were in ahead of us. That’s standard, but the dock festivities get a whole lot more exciting for the people who come in later. (Like, now, Day 12, there are 8 boats still out) So when a boat comes in there are usually 50 or 60 people down on the dock to cheer them and hug them when they jump off their boats. This goes on even in the middle of the night – some monitor their radios all night so they can jump out of bed when they hear a rally boat coming in. Gary and I have not been so diligent!

The joy and closeness you feel when someone arrives is really quite surprising. We’ve become a close-knit fraternity. Really what’s happened is that together we’ve been through a rite of passage – quite literally, in fact. We’ve covered some 1200 to 1500 miles offshore, dealing with whatever the elements chose to throw at us and we know in our bones that we and our boat can make it through some serious stuff.

Being out in the vast ocean you realize quickly your utter insignificance in the scheme of things, regardless of the size of your boat. You become keenly aware that the wind and the waves and the currents, which now govern your existence, could care less about you. But in the midst of this vast indifference, you know there are these 56 other boats out there supporting you, rooting for you, understanding exactly what you’re going through and trying to help if you run into a bad situation.

We really had an easy time, especially compared to most of the other boats. Three broke their booms, one was dismasted, 8 had problems with their roller furling, 10 had sail damage, 5 lost auto pilots, 8 had engine malfunctions and 38 had leaks. We broke nothing, the boat stayed dry, we didn’t rip any sails, lose our boom or our mast or even encounter very much heavy weather. The dismasted boat is still chugging their way here, on day 13, hoping to make it on the available fuel. Their situation was noticed immediately because of the rally’s twice-daily chat, and two of the rally boats have diverted in order to bring them fuel. There is still some question about whether they can make it here on their available fuel supply, but it is looking increasingly possible.


November 15, 1999

So, we thought we were home free and safe, but it turns out that there is a tropical storm probably about to become a Force 1 hurricane. It’s heading our way and will probably hit here on Wednesday. We were briefed yesterday by David Jones, a professional Caribbean forecaster. Indeed, waking up today, we find it’s been named Lenny. It’s unusual for a storm to hit the British Virgin Islands at this time of year, but weather conditions this season have been uncharacteristic and unpredictable all over the world.

We are lucky to be here. It’s a very safe harbor, hurricane-wise, well protected by a reef out at the marina entrance. In fact, the marina is so safe it qualifies for insurance most Caribbean marinas don’t get because of their more vulnerable locations. So, though we were prepared to leave Wednesday, we will remain tucked in port.

We’ll have plenty of preparation work to do on the boat. Anything above decks that will be affected by the wind should be removed or taken down. That means canvas work – the canopies over the cockpits – and there is the question about whether to take down the two roller furling headsails. If wind gets into them they could unfurl and do a lot of damage. That’s unlikely, but still possible. It’s a big job to take them down, store then and raise them again. We’re all debating what we’ll do. We have to lash the boat with extra lines and fenders, batten down the dinghy and – naturally – lay in extra food supplies! This isn’t so easy here because there are only two small gourmet shops in the complex and, believe me, "gourmet" is an overgenerous appellation. About the nearest thing they get to gourmet is daily French baguettes – the rest is pretty much Lender’s bagel fare. I haven’t seen a head of lettuce and the same shrivelly red cabbages haven’t moved from the produce case since we arrived.

Nonetheless, I’m sure we’ll manage on what remains of my obsessive provisioning, though we did, in fact, have a small cocktail party for 10 the other night, which featured a huge array of hors d’oeuvres. Gary requested a Bar Mitzvah of a party, and his two"deck bunnies" complied, with platters of canapés -- smoked oysters, smoked trout, sardines and cream cheese, plus several varieties of wraps, chips and dips.

(Gary has begun calling Jane and Chris his deck bunnies and this is an even more unlikely designation than the aforementioned gourmet store. They are strong, outspoken independent feminists, women who can pretty much outsail, out-haul (that is, out-schlep) any guy around. Most everyone who’s seen them in action around here has said, "Hey, those girls know what they’re doing!" Anyway, Jane and Chris would have decked (and not in any bunny fashion) anyone else who came up with that tag. But they’re getting a big kick out of it when Gary says it.

Jane and Chris left us yesterday. They were the most fabulous crew a boat could have, in addition to being knowledgeable, helpful, lots of fun, Jane, like Brian, had a gazillion interesting stories to recount from her medical practice and worldwide travel experience. (We were fascinated and regaled by tales of fungus-hunting in the Brazilian rain forest and successful sex-change operations performed. Then too, Chris brought more cameras than clothes. Since she’s a professional film editor (Today Show and Dateline) we’re going to get some astounding footage to chronicle this trip. (Why she couldn’t convince Matt Lauer – as in "Where in the World is Matt Lauer -- to come along will remain a mystery.) Though we like having the boat to ourselves again, we really miss them.


That’s it, folks. Will be back to you soon





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