In Praise of Fuel Bags

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In order for Sophie to cover the 2,900 miles from the Maldives to Egypt, we decided to augment our 250 gallons of on-board fuel capacity with additional fuel bags that we lashed to our deck. This blog post explains how we did it.

Many cruisers use 5 gallon plastic jerry cans arranged around their deck in order to add fuel capacity, but Jenna and I are not big fans of this approach. In order to avoid having to make stops in Aden, Djibouti, or Sudan for fuel, we figured we needed another 250 gallons of capacity on deck. That would mean 50 jerry cans, which would likely become a permanent installation on Sophie once we were done with the Red Sea! That was too much plastic for us. I also had multiple bad experiences refueling Sophie via jerry cans when we were in Indonesia, and I wanted no part of repeating that messy scenario again.

So instead we decided to try out a series of 52 gallon flexible fuel tanks that we would arrange on deck. They are manufactured by Nauta, and we purchased one from Defender.com in October and had some friends bring it with them to Thailand when they came out for a visit. These portable fuel tanks are made from neoprene and seemed sturdy enough for our passage, so we purchased four more from Fisheries Supply in Seattle when we went home for the Christmas holidays.

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The bags come without any fittings, so we also ordered a 2 inch fill pipe (above) along with a 3/8 inch drain pipe for each bag. I called Nauta’s technical support, and they told me that for our scenario we did not have to vent the bags.

When we returned to the Thailand, my brother Rich was kind enough to attach the fittings to two of the bags that we were going to test on our Thailand-Maldives passage. This involved cutting circular holes in the neoprene, inserting the lipped nipple of the fitting through the hole, and then tightening down an attached gasket. There is a good YouTube video explaining how to do this, and I urge you to check it out before attempting your own installation.

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To extend the fill pipe, we attached a 6 inch length of flexible hose with a PVC cap on the top. I purchased the PVC cap at a building supply warehouse in the US.

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For the drain pipe, I used some spare half inch valves I had onboard Sophie. We attached these with a short length of 1/2 inch flexible hose and hose clamps.

In theory, we would be able to fill the bags through the fill pipe using a standard marina diesel pump and nozzle, and then while underway pump the fuel from the bag on deck into Sophie’s main fuel tanks.

In Thailand we filled 2 of the bags, and after Rich received a couple of diesel face splashes, we eventually got the hang of how to do so. We felt comfortable with only 45-48 gallons of diesel in each bag. We also had to really tighten the hose clamps and bag fitting gasket rings, but once we did so the bags didn’t leak. We tied the bags down to the deck with ropes tied to grommets on the bag corners. They remained remarkably stable while underway. We also had to train Hazel to NOT WALK ON THE BAGS as she went up to the trampolines for her gymnastics exercises.

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We purchased a portable diesel fuel pump to move the fuel from the bags to Sophie’s main fuel tanks. This system worked surprisingly well.

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For a fuel transfer while underway, we located the portable pump right next to the fill pipe for Sophie’s starboard diesel tank and then ran a short length of 1/2 half inch hose from the pump to Sophie. The fuel pump has a 12 volt motor and some power cables, and we attached these to a power source on Sophie’s starboard engine. Since Sophie has an internal fuel pump that transfers fuel from her starboard fuel tank to her port fuel tank, we only filled her starboard tank with fuel from the external fuel bags. This kept the system relatively simple and consistent.

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We then snaked a 10 meter length of 1/2 inch hose from the portable fuel pump to the drain valve on the fuel bag we were going to use, attached the hose to the bag valve with hose clamp, opened the valve, and turned on the pump. Apologies for the dirty deck. That’s fish blood.

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Quite frankly, we were shocked at how well it worked. For our test on the Maldives run, we ran a hose from a fuel bag on the port deck around the aft cockpit and to the portable pump by the starboard engine. We could see the fuel line fill in about 10 seconds, and it then took 10 minutes to transfer the 45 gallons from the bag into Sophie. We never spilled a drop.

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The bag collapsed on itself as it drained, similar to how a camelback water container drains, and Rich aided the process by holding one end of the bag up to expedite fuel flow.

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When we were done, we simply tied the fuel bag up in the air, let it dry out for a day, and then put it away. We only needed to use one fuel bag on the Thailand-Maldives passage, but the test was a complete and total success.

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I am really glad we ran the test on the Maldives passage, because it gave us one less thing to worry about as we prepared for the run to the Red Sea. Two days before we left the Maldives, we arranged for a fuel barge to come alongside Sophie. We filled both internal tanks to the brim, along with 3 bags on the starboard side.

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We also filled two bags on the port side. This gave us around 480 gallons of fuel for the passage. We located each bag over a bulkhead and secured them with ropes from each bag corner to cleats or hard points on deck. For two of these, I potentially had to run a rope from one bag under another bag and instead used a canvas strap to reduce potential friction.

I asked Lagoon if we had to worry about all of this weight on deck, since each bag weighed about 310 pounds. They said it was the equivalent of having 5 fat guys hanging out on a charter and shouldn’t pose a structural issue for Sophie. We never experienced any additional squeaking during the passage, although Jenna and I felt like the boat was heavy when we left Male.

The bags were stable on deck throughout the passage, including when we were surfing down 5 meter seas in 50 knot winds and when we were pounding into 2-3 meter seas while motoring. We transferred all of the fuel while underway without incident, including a couple of transfers in 25 knot winds. It is important to transfer all of the fuel in a bag in one process and to not leaves bags partially full. When we were done with a transfer, we simply left the bags tied in place on the deck and continued on our way.

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Once we reached Port Ghalib, we cleaned up the bags, let them dry in the sun for a day, rolled them up, and put them away in a locker. I assume from now on we will always have at least one bag on deck every time we do an ocean crossing. And with the new portable fuel pump, I swear that I will NEVER SYPHON FUEL AGAIN!

Life keeps getting better, and this is one of the best systems we have ever put together on Sophie.

3,200 Miles From The Maldives to Egypt

This may come as a bit of a surprise to many of you. Sophie has just covered 3,200 miles in the last 3 weeks, sailing from Male in the Maldives to Suez in Egypt. We plan to transit the Suez Canal this week and then spend the next 2 years cruising the Mediterranean Sea. This was obviously our most important passage since we crossed the South Pacific from the US to the Marquesas 3 years ago.

Look out, Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, Italy, France, and Spain: Here Comes Sophie!

This post describes the first leg of this passage, where we covered the the 2,900 miles from Male to Port Ghalib in 17 days and 23 hours, averaging 6.7 knots. Most of this involved calm sailing over flat seas and under sunny skies.

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We were extremely fortunate on the trip. We never saw any pirates. We hooked 2 big marlin while underway and surfed through sustained 50 knot winds for hours after passing the Bab el Mandeb. We sailed alone, but there were 4 other sailboats in Port Ghalib that had also successfully completed the passage. Another sailboat arrived ahead of us in Suez. Our daughter Hazel celebrated her 8th birthday in the middle of Captain Phillips country, and our son Leo stood watches for 2-4 hours a day. Nothing of significance broke, and we ate really well.

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It was a heck of a passage. Here is the story.

The Challenge
Jenna and I always assumed that we would sail around South Africa as part of our circumnavigation. Piracy and war had closed off the northern Indian Ocean and Red Sea for cruising sailboats. The only option was to go around South Africa via the Cape of Good Hope. That’s not necessarily a terrible option, but it meant that circumnavigators like Sophie that wanted to visit the Med would have to cross the Atlantic Ocean three times to do so (two crossings to get to Europe, and then a third to get back to the Americas.) And the Southern Indian Ocean passage to Africa is hazardous: one writer estimated that out of 100 boats that attempted the passage in 2015, 5 sank.

Our family schedule complicated plans for South Africa as well. There is a relatively narrow 10 week window from September to November when boats have the best chances for a safe trip from either Madagascar or Mauritius to the northeast South African coast. My daughter Sara is planning to get married in the US on September 3rd, followed 4 weeks later by my son Max’s US wedding on October 1st. That meant we would have to ditch Sophie at a marina in north Madagascar for 6 weeks and then hope that we got lucky with the weather while making the 1,400 mile sprint down the Argulas Current before the big summer southerlies with their vertical 30 foot waves kicked in. The weather can get quite nasty in that part of the world, and quite frankly, Jenna and I had no idea how we were going to make it all work.

The Plan
So last summer, we started reading with great interest reports from boats that successfully made the passage through the Red Sea and into the Med in 2015. The best time to do so is between January and March, and we believe 20 boats successfully completed the passage at that time last year. We spoke with several of them, and they all said that they would do it again.

All commercial vessels that now travel to and from the Suez Canal do so with armed guards on board, and as a result there have been no reported piracy attacks in the area for 3 years. That doesn’t necessarily make the area safe.

The 20 boats that made the passage last year all pursued different strategies. Some hired guards, which are expensive. Others brought their own weapons, which assumes you have the skill and willingness to use them if required. There was at least one convoy, which is a qood way to split the costs for guards and provide safety in numbers, but can be difficult to keep in formation from a sailing speed perspective. Everyone needed a plan for extra fuel, because the winds can die in the Gulf of Aden, right in the middle of Captain Phillips country, and then the Red Sea can have prevailing northerlies requiring the use of your motor. One boat last year even built a coffee table in their salon out of two 50 gallon drums of diesel!

Then there is the question of routing. Boats last year made stops in Oman (for fuel), Aden (for repairs), Djibouti (fuel and provisions), Saudi Arabia (repairs), Sudan (fuel, provisions, diving), and Egypt (the same). The spread of ISIS in the region since then actually clarified choices for us, because none of these ports seemed like good options.

Sailing to South Africa involved risks, and sailing to the Red Sea involved risks. So Jenna and I weighed all of the options and finally settled on a plan for taking the Red Sea route: we would hire guards; we would not go in a convoy; we would leave from the Maldives with a lot of fuel; we would head straight for the Red Sea; we would do everything possible to make sure Sophie wouldn’t break along the way; and our destination would be Egypt, most likely Port Ghalib. Sophie might be big, but she is relatively fast on long passages. We are pretty good about maintaining her systems, and having 2 engines gave us a level of redundancy that monohulls do not have.

We put a lot of work into our plan, and we felt good about it. Not in a cocky, “Woo Hoo, we are going to do this!!!” kind of way. We were methodical and planned for a lot of contingencies.

The Guards
We talked to three companies last fall and wound up hiring a company called AllMode, which provides security services for superyachts. They were the most expensive, but in our view were going to provide the best guards and the highest level of service, including getting weapons into Male, which can be difficult.

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The team consisted of Chris and Gordy from the UK and Tomasz from Poland. They are all ex-special forces with combined combat experience in the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Sierre Leone, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They were all trained marksmen at 300 meters, which is outside the range of pirates with their AK-47s. They had each made this run dozens of times. Their kit consisted of four AR-15s, 700 rounds of ammo, 4 sets of helmets and body armour, binoculars, and a night vision scope. We had formal rules of engagement for dealing with potential threats and daily contact with the military coalition patrolling the area.

Most importantly, they were all gentlemen who helped out with the sailing and were great with the kiddies. We couldn’t have imagined having a better team. We felt safe and comfortable with them on board.

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Once we were underway, after their initial equipment check, the team secured and stowed the unloaded guns out of sight for the rest of the trip. The guards were more like watchmen than soldiers.

The Preparation
We really didn’t want anything to break on Sophie while heading across pirate country, so we spent a lot of time and effort in Thailand preparing different systems for the passage. For our Yanmar diesel engines, we replaced the cone clutches on the saildrives, rebuilt the water pumps, adjusted the valves, and had a complete servicing. We remounted our genset to the floor of it’s compartment and replaced all of its sensors and hoses. We removed and serviced the membrane to our watermaker. We had Sophie’s rigging inspected and her sails repaired. We catalogued and updated our inventory of spare parts. We even bought an Iridium Go! satellite modem for improved communications.

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To increase our motoring range, we configured a network of fuel bags on deck that doubled Sophie’s fuel capacity to 500 gallons. I loved this arrangement so much that I will write a separate blog post about it. Stay tuned.

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From a provisioning perspective, we knew we needed to feed the four of us plus three grown men for up to a month. Unfortunately, the best supermarkets and fresh markets in the Maldives are located in Male, one island away from Sophie’s anchorage. We worried we would have to schlep bags of food on 3 or 4 separate ferry rides between islands, then transfer the bags into our dinghy and back to Sophie. It could have taken 2 or 3 days. Fortunately, our local agent arranged for a speedboat to ferry our mound of food from the jetty in Male directly back to Sophie.

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It saved us days of work, and the kiddies had a blast.

The Need for Security
As far as we can tell, none of the 20 boats that made the passage last year blogged about their experience in realtime on the Internet or on social networks. We decided to do the same. No Facebook or blog updates during the passage.

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This was hard for me personally because I love to write daily blog posts while underway. So instead we decided to send daily emails to our family back home, with the intention of publishing them in a big blog post when we reach the Suez. Those daily emails are included below.

We didn’t want to include our daily position reports in the family emails, so instead we sent a coded list of waypoints to our family in advance of our trip. When the guards saw this list, they asked if any of us were ever in the military. It is apparently a best practice. The code names are pulled from the ranks of Boston Red Sox baseball players, tough guys in movies, powerful women, and the cast of the film “Lawrence of Arabia.” One waypoint is named after a US presidential candidate.

Here is the list:

Jim Rice 05.28.930n 071.10.989e
Fred Lynn 06.45.386n, 068.49.564e
Carlton Fisk 08.01.893n 066.27.827e
Luis Taint 09.18.774n, 064.05.433e
Bill Lee 10.35.374n, 061.42.766e
Dustin Pedroia 11.52.195n 059.19.546e
Mookie Betts 13.08.381n 056.55.223e
Bernie Sanders 14.19.655n, 053.33.390e
Johnny Depp 13.38.278n, 050.54.278e
Clint Eastwood 12.46.994n, 048.18.641e
Robert De Nero 12.19.885n, 045.36.381e
Uma Thurman 12.36.155n, 043.22.821
Beyoncé 14.52.110n, 041.54.516e
Rihanna 17.07.696n, 040.25.108e
Taylor Swift 19.25.557n, 039.00.529e
Rachel Flotard 21.54.258n, 037.55.956e
G R O N K ! 24.13.505n, 036.29.583e
Peter O’Toole 26.29.887n, 034.56.586e
Omar Sharif 28.36.293n, 033.04.824e
Sir Alec Guinness 29.53.970n, 032.33.088e

 

We also modified our AIS signature to state that we had armed guards on board. This is a common practice for passages in the Red Sea, but we do not recommend doing this on your boat in Puget Sound.

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Hopefully all of this provides some useful context about our passage. The rest of this blog consists of the daily updates we sent out on the 2,900 mile leg from Male in the Maldives to Port Ghalib in Egypt.

We hope that you all enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed living it …

Day 1: Sophie Update
Hello everyone. We departed the Maldives safely yesterday, pulling up the anchor at 12:05 PM after loading on the security team and their equipment and then clearing customs. Our guests are delightful.

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Sophie sailed like an oil tanker through the night, moving slowly in the light southwesterlies (!). We had full main and jib up through 5:00 AM, then dropped both for the spinnaker so we could get back on our rhumb line. We switched over to full main and gennaker an hour ago and are making 6-8 knots in flat seas.

Current position is 43 miles east of Jim Rice. You know, if he hadn’t broken his wrist at the end of the 1975 season, the Red Sox would have beaten the Reds in the World Series that year.

We caught a tuna the size of Leo’s foot last night and threw him back. We also passed within 50 feet of a sleeping whale at 3:00 AM. It was the size of Sophie but looked bigger. In hindsight it was a terrifying experience.

Dinner last night was coq au vin. I have been told I need to catch a tuna and serve it for dinner tonight. It’s all good. More tomorrow.

Day 2: Rolling Along
Things are going really well on Sophie. We covered 163 miles on our 24 mile run and are currently 42 miles east of Fred Lynn.

When Fred Lynn departed the Red Sox and signed as a free agent with the California Angels, he said one of the reasons he left New England is because he didn’t like the beaches. They had shells in the sand that cut your feet, unlike the sand in the beaches in California, which was way better. I had no idea what he was talking about until I moved to California. Then I understood.

We’ve been sailing under full main for the last 24 hours, alternating between the jib and the gennaker depending on the wind speed. An hour before sunset last night, both reels wizzed simultaneously with tuna hits. We boated an 8 pound blue on the starboard pole, but failed in successfully executing the double takedown due to a father-son net handoff breakdown on the port side. We all gasped as we watched this fat ten pound yellowfin slowly bounce off the bottom step, smile up at us, and swim away.

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We served dinner 30 minutes later: grilled tuna accompanied with grilled cauliflower, eggplant, and peppers. Jenna has a new recipe for grilling cauliflower, where she coats it in pepper and olive oil, wraps it in tin foil, and throws it on the barbecue for 30 minutes. It has become a staple.

Tonight I think we will serve gingered beef stew with potatoes and green beans.

Last night was uneventful. A pod of dolphins joined us at 3:00 AM, dancing off our bows as the light from the full moon reflected off the gennaker. It was pretty cool. At sunrise a pod of 100 dolphins joined us on the bow, and Hazel pointed out to me whom each one was. “That one is the pod elder.”

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“That one over there is obviously the mother of the brother and sister swimming together  there. Actually, it is clear to me now that this is three pods that are temporarily swimming together.” The dolphins then broke off into three groups and swam off in different directions. That was pretty cool, too.

Day 3: More of the Same
Things are going really well on Sophie. We covered 163 miles on our 24 mile run again and are currently 32 miles east of Carlton Fisk.

Carlton Fisk was the beloved Red Sox catcher who hit the dramatic Game 6 home run in the 1975 World Series that the Red Sox would have won if Jim Rice hadn’t broken his wrist. The next year Fisk signed as a free agent with the Chicago White Sox after the Red Sox were 3 days late in mailing him a new contract. Sigh. He played for another decade in Chicago, prolonging his career by soaking his entire body in an ice bath after each game.

We’ve been sailing under full main for the last 24 hours, alternating between the jib and the gennaker depending on the wind speed. An hour before sunset last night, I informed Tomasz, one of our guards, that his watch duties included monitoring the two meat lines trolling behind the boat. He turned and said “Look, there is a fish jumping!” right as a mahi mahi hit our big green squid lure on the 20 meter line. The fish did 20 furious windmills above the water as we all watched from the back steps. We were waiting for her to tire out before we brought her near the boat, but she spat out the double hook and swam away after she realized the hooks were barbless. I have since replaced the hook with with one that is properly barbed and am quite encouraged that we had our first meat line fish hit since Papua New Guinea. We have caught a lot of fish with that squid lure and plan to do so tonight. The fish are hitting at sunset on this passage.

Dinner was smoked paprika and ginger beef stew served with basmati rice and stir fried broccoli. We had an uneventful evening with little wind. We did see 2 dolphins do a Sea World high jump right off the bow in the 3:00 AM moonlight. That was pretty cool.

We’ve been sailing at 7+ knots with the gennaker and full main since breakfast. The seas are gentle and the skies are blue.We haven’t motored since our departure. The weather forecast calls for more of the same for the next few days. We should reach Bernie Sanders in 5 days, at which point we will turn left and begin our fun run.

This is a great passage so far. More tomorrow.

Day 4: Things Are Getting A Little Better
The situation is actually improving on Sophie. We covered 169 miles on our 24 mile run (7+ knots!) and are currently 22 miles southeast of Luis Tiant.

El Tiante was a large Cuban man who could smoke an entire cigar in the shower without getting it wet after pitching a game for the Red Sox. None of his teammates could figure out how he did it. When pitching, he would sometimes stare straight up into the sky just as the ball released from his hand. It would freak batters out, causing them to wonder “what the heck is he looking at?” as they swung and missed at his fastball.

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Jenna and I realized yesterday afternoon that at this course and location, the gennaker makes a wonderful sunshade for the entire boat, keeping the deck and cabin cool from the afternoon heat. We’ve had the jib up for the last 10 hours, though, since the wind has shifted more to the north. The boat is making 8 knots, and we are all enjoying a gentle, sleep-inducing motion.

For the third evening in a row, we had a major fish strike at 5:30 PM. It’s like clockwork. This time it was both poles wizzing away with tuna, each making multiple runs as they tried to escape. The boat was sailing at 8 knots with the gennaker and full main up and we had a little difficulty slowing down. I lost the fish on the starboard pole, but Chris, who used to wear a red beret for a living, persevered and landed an 11 pound bluefin after a 20 minute fight.

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Bill Walker, please consider your reel officially christened. We will sear the fish for lunch today, serving it with lemon and capers.

We didn’t eat the fish last night because dinner was already prepared: baked mac and cheese with steak, chorizo sausage, garlic, onion, peppers, and cauliflower all mixed in. It was excellent.

We will hit the halfway point for this leg later tonight. We still haven’t motored, yet we are moving fast for such a heavy boat. The faster we go now means the faster we can go later. It’s a space-time thing, and it’s all good.

Day 5: Flat World
The law of averages caught up with Sophie with our 131 mile run over the last 24 hours, placing us 51 miles southeast of Bill Lee.

“The Spaceman” Bill Lee won 17 games for three years in a row for the Sox but was then traded to the Montreal Expos for Stan Papi, a lifetime .230 hitter. Lee’s offense? He described his manager Don Zimmer in the press as a gerbil. Today Bill Lee is in his 60s, still plays semipro baseball, and is beloved throughout New England. Don Zimmer will forever be known as a gerbil.

Sophie keeps ghosting along at 5 knots in flat seas under sunny skies. I think we are getting a push. We still haven’t turned on a motor. The weather forecast after Uma Thurman is starting to look pretty good, and we are saving our fuel so we can blast all the way past GRONK! with our peddle to the metal and both engines on.

We had tuna for lunch and dinner last night, and no one complained of food monotony. We caught a 1 pound bluefin last night but let him swim back to mommy. I think we will do a chicken curry tonight.

We have covered 750 miles in 5 days. The crew and the boat are happy. So far, so good.

Day 6: Pulled the Plug (So to Speak)
Immediately after I filed our update yesterday, Jenna and I looked at our latest weather forecast. It called for very light air for the next 24 hours, followed by a 10 knot easterly for the following 2 days. So as much as we wanted to sail all the way to Bernie Sanders in order to conserve fuel for our run to the left, we decided to turn on a motor. We think it was the right decision: we covered 164 miles in our 24 hour run, which included 21.5 hours of running a single engine @ 2000 RPM. At that speed we burned a gallon an hour, using up ~4% of our fuel.

As predicted, the westerly kicked in around 10:00 AM this morning and we turned off the motor. We are now making 7.5 knots under jib and full main and hope to be able to sail the rest of the way to Bernie.

At our noon report we were just 47 miles southeast of Dustin Pedroia.

Ah, Dustin Pedroia. The current Red Sox second baseman, Dustin is a former American League MVP. He is a short man and probably the only player in Major League Baseball whose wheelhouse is above his head. When he hits a homerun, he looks like a toddler swinging at a tree with a hatchet. His nickname is Lasershow.

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Turning on our motor was the highlight of our day yesterday. We had a nice school of 50 dolphins swim with us in the afternoon, and I was able to take a lot of photos while Jenna slept. We had our first morning fish strike at sunrise today. It ran off 250 meters of line on the new reel even with the brake all the way closed. I was worried we would run out of line. Leo was able to slow the boat, but the fish spat the hook when it finally stopped. When I reeled in the line and checked the lure, I saw that the barb was gone. We are having serious barb problems on this trip. I have one remaining heavy duty stainless steel double marlin hook from the South Pacific, and it is now on this big hoochie that keeps getting hit. This baby looks like a witch’s claw, and the barbs look like fangs. We’ll see what happens.

We’ve had to do some boat projects while underway, mostly involving plumbing. The sump pump in our shower failed because the protective filter failed, so I had to rebuild the pump for the second time this month. We had no spares for the prefilter, so I swapped it out with the filter that protects our salt water intake pump for our toilet. It means we will be forced to flush our toilet with fresh water until I can buy a replacement filter, but Jenna said she was good with it. The next day the macerator pump for our toilet failed, causing the toilet to leak. I was able to rebuild the pump – a task that now takes me about 10 minutes – but we have no more toilet spare parts. That’s it. We’re done. I am feeling quite exposed and am now at amber, as the guards would say. We also had to replace the bilge pump in our starboard hull this morning, but we have four spares and it was a quick fix. I am fairly certain all of these problems are somehow related.

We started seeing commercial aircraft last night and saw two commercial vessels this morning. I assume this activity will increase. We are also registered and are being tracked by the multinational vessel tracking system for this area.

Dinner last night was grilled chicken with barbecue sauce with a smoky pasta salad and a cucumber salad. Jenna is baking bread, and we will grill up some burgers for dinner tonight.

Just as I am typing this, we passed a spectacle of dolphins attacking a school of very large tuna. The tunas look like they are up to 100 pounds, and they were being tossed into the air by the dolphins. Huge fish, flying around. It was over in 10 seconds. We’ve never seen anything like it. I assume our lines will now be silent for the next couple of hours.

By midnight we will hit the 1,000 mile mark for the passage. So far, so good.

Witch’s Claw: Addendum I
20 minutes after we trolled the witch’s claw behind Sophie, a 500 pound marlin hit the lure and jumped 6 or 7 times right behind the boat before snapping off the 80 pound test line and swimming away. Actually, it jumped 2 more times after the line broke. No photos, but everyone who was awake saw it. Wow. All I can say is Wow. I am trembling. We put another lure back in. More to come.

Day 7: Ripping Along
Sophie has moved another 163 miles (!) in the last 24 hours, all under sail. Since sunrise we have been ripping along at 8-10 knots with full main and gennaker with a 10 knot breeze on our quarter. We have covered 1,077 miles in our first week, running one engine for just 21 hours during that time. Our great start continues. We are just 44 miles southeast of Mookie Betts.

Mookie! He is the current 22 year-old right fielder for the Red Sox and is already one of the best outfielders in baseball. He is a potential superstar. In the off-season he is also a professional bowler. It’s always nice to have a career to fall back on if your dream doesn’t come through. Or to have a job that could potentially pay you $20 million a year so you could pursue your dream of achieving bowling perfection in the winter without having to worry about money. Either way, “Nobody messes with the Mookie!!!” (with a finger wag for emphasis)

Our wildlife adventures continued after the lure strike by that underwater bull of a marlin yesterday afternoon. Thirty minutes after the strike, whales swam within 30 meters of Sophie and then followed our lures for a while. The whales were all black and the size of orcas. I really didn’t want to lose any more fishing line, but they soon swam away.

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Later that night, Gordy (one of our guards) was up on the flybridge and felt someone swat him in the arm. His initial reaction was that a colleague (or Hazel) had snuck up behind him and gave him a poke. But then he looked down and saw a flying fish right next to him. That’s the first time we have gotten a flying fish to hit us with such elevation. An hour later, I woke up for my 1:00 AM watch and thought that our room smelled like fish. Did everyone else catch and clean a fish without telling me? I told Jenna about this, and she wasn’t too happy at the idea of going to bed in a fishy-smelly room until she discovered three (THREE!!!) flying fish resting on the screen above her side of the bed. I subsequently discovered two more fish in the nearby vicinity on deck. Our room quickly aired out, and we all feel a little sorry for the lost squadron of fish that made the mistake of flying into a French catamaran.

Man that marlin yesterday was big! I still can’t get over it.

It is getting cold. We are now wearing fleece and sweatshirts at night. It is the first time we have had to do that while sailing in 2 years.

Dinner last night was spaghetti and meatballs. The meal was devoured. But we all really want to catch another fish.

Hazel celebrates her 8th birthday tomorrow. It would make Hazel really happy if everybody, including our friends in Seattle, could send her a short email with your happy birthday wishes for her. If you send them on your Saturday to our email address, we can have them printed out for her when she wakes up on Sunday morning. Please DO NOT reply to this email, and please don’t try to send photos, attachments, gifs, emojis, or jibjabs. We won’t get them. But we will get a very happy girl who loves you all very much.

Witch’s Claw: Addendum II
We just had our second marlin hit. Same pole on the port side, this time with a small hoochie tuna lure with a bigger pink hoochie pulled over the whole thing. The lure was trolling 20 meters behind the boat when the marlin hit, and 6 of us saw it. The fish ripped off 200 meters of line while doing 6 spectacular belly flops parallel to Sophie. I was running out of line (again) and applied a tiny bit of drag to see if I could slow this big baby down, but the fish bent the hook, did one more victory belly flop, and swam away. It was a different fish from two days ago, with a lighter blue color and a white belly. I’m calling it 350 pounds.

All we want is a 20 pound tuna. Not flying fishes or 1 pound baby tunas or mahi mahis. Not 350-500 pound marlins. Just a 20 pound yellowfin. Is that too much to ask? Please?

Day 8: Happy Birthday Hazel!
Our beloved Hazel turns 8 years old today while sailing across a magical Arabian sea, surrounded by loved ones and protectors.

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Today is easily the sunniest day of our trip, and by the time the two-day celebration ends, we will be almost halfway to our destination.

It is a two day celebration because Hazel decided that her birthday falls on February 28th AND the last day of the month. Clever girl.

Jenna is pouring her heart into making this a special day for our not-so-little-anymore Hazel, baking bread, chocolate banana nut muffins, double layer lemon cake with strawberry filling, and dragon cakes. There are crepes for breakfast, cucumber sandwiches for lunch, and make-your-own pizza for dinner.

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The salon is decorated with balloons and hand cut-snowflakes. In fact we are about to sit down for a proper tea party for lunch. Needless to say, we have a happy little girl.

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We have a happy little daddy as well, due to the 17 pound yellowfin that we caught an hour ago. Starboard pole, small red tuna hoochie, strong hook. That baby is now cut up and in the freezer. Now if we can only boat about ten more…

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The weather feels like we are at the equator. It is very hot with bright sunshine and little wind. We covered 154 miles in our 24 hour run, and we turned on a motor around 1:00 AM. We are currently making 5.5 knots under a single engine and the mainsail. If we get another knot of wind, we will roll the gennaker back out. To think we were sailing at nine knots 24 hours ago!

Bernie Sanders is 95 miles away, and my guess is that we will turn a little left before we get there. Why not?

We are now in a shipping lane and have commercial traffic on our radar and AIS on a nonstop basis. Some of the container ships are 1,300 feet long.

If you haven’t had a chance to do so yet, it would be great if you could send some birthday wishes to Hazel via our sailmail account. We will print them all out and give them to her in a little book at bedtime tonight.

We are so lucky to have Hazel with us on our little adventure. So lucky.

Day 9: The Birthday Celebration Continues
Day Two of our Hazel Birthday Celebrations continues under sunny skies and flat seas. Sophie covered 137 miles on our 24 hour run, which doesn’t include the big sloping curve to the left we did way before we got to Bernie Sanders, something that America should do as well. Who needs single payer health care when you can have NO payer healthcare? We are 117 miles east of Johnny Depp (he was in movies about pirates, get it?), and it’s just 560 miles before we are right in the middle of Uma Thurman. We’ve been motorsailing the entire time and still have the five bags of fuel on deck.

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Hazel’s birthday was a grand success.

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The two Brits on our crew could smell the cucumber sandwiches from across the boat and were delighted at the formal tea Jenna pulled together for lunch.

An hour before dinner, we landed a 22 pound mahi mahi.

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This fish has now been processed into 10 meals that are bagged in our freezer.

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The make-your-own pizza party was fantastic, the lemon cake was devoured, and Hazel loved the big drone her parents gave her as a birthday gift. She said it was her best birthday ever. We will give her the printed book of birthday wishes tonight.

 

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We are running parallel to a shipping channel with two-say traffic lanes and a 1.5 traffic separation lane in the middle. There is plenty of marine traffic, including convoys, using the channel. The ships are visible on the radar and through our binoculars. Our plan is to cruise down this separation lane over the next few days. It will be like walking down a highway median with the permission of the many state police cruisers driving in either direction. We’ve been hearing military radio traffic since midnight and feel quite safe. I assume we will be talking to them once we are in our own little lane.

Right now there is a Maersk container ship 11 miles behind us, cruising along at 21 knots. 1309 feet LOA with a 197 foot beam and a 51.5 foot draft. It looks like an island on the horizon.

Jenna is making hummus and roti for lunch, and dinner will be seared yellowfin tuna accompanied with grilled eggplant and basmati rice. We also plan to barbecue s’mores this afternoon.

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If we have another couple of fishing days like yesterday, our freezer will be full for the summer. Nice problem to have.

Japanese Navy: Addendum I
Just after sending out our latest update, a Japan Navy aircraft broadcast a securité announcement (a standard, non-emergency announcement on VHF radio) stating that they were patrolling the skies above the shipping lanes, were here for our protection, and that all vessels should call them if they see any suspicious activity. They ended the broadcast with a very happy “We wish you all fair winds and following seas. Japan Navy aircraft 41, standing by.”

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We all smiled at each other, saying “Japan Navy, way to have our backs!”

5 minutes later, we spot a 4 engine, low-flying aircraft that starts to bank around us. “Sailing Yacht, sailing yacht, this is Japan Navy 41 … can we please have your vessel name … uh, what country are you from … are you practicing safety procedures … can you please spell out your vessel name?”I responded “Hello Japan Navy! We are the sailing yacht Sophie … We are a US vessel … Sierra Oscar Papa Hotel India Echo … We have seven souls onboard, including 3 armed guards””Yacht Soe-Phee, this is Japan Navy 41. Very Good. Please call us on channel 16 if you ever need any assistance. Thank you very much, and have a pleasant day.”

They wound up circling us three times, and we are not sure if it was because Sophie looked awesome with her blue and white striped gennaker in the midday sun, or because Jenna was wearing her short shorts while waving at them from Sophie’s roof. Probably both. But we are definitely on their radar and will have air cover for the next four or five days. We assume every aircraft patrol will fly by to, for lack of a better word, check us out.

Day 10: Happy March 1st
Sophie is celebrating the beginning of March today by doing pretty much nothing. It is a nice change for us after the two-day Hazel festival. Jenna and I really needed to catch up on our sleep. Leo is now doing 3-5 hours of shifts a day, and that is a big help. We’ve covered 147 miles in our last 24 hours, motoring on a single engine the entire time. We are in the median of the highway between shipping lanes, with convoys passing us every hour on either side. Some of the ships are massive. The sun is hot and the seas are flat. There have been no fish since the mahi mahi 2 days ago.

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We’ve passed Johnny Depp, and Clint Eastwood is just 130 miles ahead. For this particular trip, we are not talking about the “Paint Your Wagon” Clint Eastwood, or the “Any Which Way But Loose” Clint, or the “Talking to the Empty Chair” Clint, or even the spaghetti western Clint. For this trip, we are most definitely talking about the “Dirty Hary” Clint, complete with plaid wool sportcoat, sweater vest, and big gun. If you haven’t seen the movie in the last 20 years, please go do so. It’s quite funny, and he makes that outfit look good.

We are now heading straight downwind, but the wind is not strong enough yet for us to sail with the spinnaker. We just tried but the sail hung limp. So we pulled down the sock, and the spinnaker remains rigged and ready to go. The forecast is for the wind to slowly strengthen over the next 72 hours and will be blowing 30-35 knots by the time we get to Uma Thurman. That is typical for this time of year, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. I assume we will be sailing without the motor by sundown, and we may not need to motor again for the next 600-700 miles, all downwind. Please keep your fingers crossed. Or as our Brit friends would say, touch wood.

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We are looking good from a fuel perspective. We transferred the first of the deck fuel bags into the main tanks this morning, and the operation went flawlessly. We REALLY like the fuel bags. I guesstimate that we have 220 gallons of diesel in the main tanks and another 170 gallons in the four bags remaining on deck. If we do indeed resume engineless sailing later today, then we will be in excellent shape for the last leg of our passage. We also have 92 eggs remaining. Like I said, excellent shape.

Please admire my restraint.

We had the yellowfin tuna last night for dinner, and it tasted like steak. Some of the best fish I’ve ever had. Today we will do leftovers for lunch and then eat the the second prepared smoked paprika stew for dinner. We showed Hazel all of the birthday greetings we received so far, and she gave the pages from her brother Max and her sister Sara a warm hug. It was pretty cute.

More tomorrow.

Day 11: Running Before the Wind
The wind finally filled in last night. We opened up the chute at midnight and turned the motor off at 1:00 AM. We are now sailing under spinnaker alone at 7+ knots, and based on the latest weather forecasts, we will enjoy straight downwind sailing for the next 400-500 miles. The wind will slowly accelerate to 20-30+ knots at Uma Thurman, and we have decided that we will take down the chute and switch to the jib when we hit 15 knots apparent wind. All of this wind will be coming from our stern, which will be a safe and comfortable wind angle for us. We are running before the wind and loving every second of it.

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Carol Hasse and the team from Port Townsend Sails made this chute for us 8 years ago, and it still looks great. Who knew back then that this sail would someday help us speed past danger in the Gulf of Aden?

We have covered 144 miles in our 24 hour run, and we assume that number will be higher in tomorrow’s report. We are past Clint Eastwood and will likely pass Robert DeNiro tomorrow morning.

We learned from our guards that there IS no boathouse at Hereford. Not only did Robert DeNiro ambush Sean Bean with a cup of coffee, he totally punked him as well. That’s why the next waypoint in pirate alley is named after Bobby. And if you have no idea what the heck I am talking about, then please go watch the film “Ronin.” It is a Sophie staple.

Hazel loves her new drone and keeps trying to fly it in the salon. She plans to bring it to her siblings’ weddings this fall so she can get an aerial video of the kissings of the brides. Just try to stop her.

I think we had a group of sharks attack one of our lures yesterday afternoon. We had passed some sharks earlier, and then 30 minutes later we had a massive strike with lots of splashing and fins in the water. The reel ran off line for two seconds, but then there was no tension but still a lot of splashing. I started to reel in and they hit the lure again in the same way. When I slowly reeled it in a third time, we could see a big black fin following the lure. I didn’t want to lose fishing gear to sharks, so we called it a day.

We had goulash with mashed potatoes and green beans for dinner. Jenna thinks she will make eggplant parmesan for dinner tonight. The kiddies are back into their school routines and are doing well. We’ve got a nice routine going. The days pass by quickly.

By the time we get to Beyoncé, we will be out of pirate danger. That is less then 3 days away. Also, the risk mitigates significantly when the wind exceeds 20 knots. Slowly but surely, we are getting there. And we still have SO MUCH DIESEL!!!

Day 12: Get Ready Uma, Here We Come
Sophie covered 177 miles in the last 24 hours, averaging a scooch under 7 knots. We had the spinnaker up for most of the night in 15-25 knot winds and averaged 8+ knots until we took it down at 3:00 AM. While doing so, the spinnaker sock control rope lifted one of the guards, Chris, a few feet of of the deck. Chris is a big fella, and the wind can sometimes do impressive things. But we got the sail down OK, rolled out the jib in a downwind configuration, and turned on a motor for balance.

At noon we opened up both engines to 2600 and are making 9-10 knots on a rhumb line for Uma, who is a little over 100 miles away. We understand it’s best to approach her at night, and we will do so.

Why did we name this particular waypoint after Uma Thurman? Kill Bill, Volume One. Yellow track suit. Sword. Hundreds of Assailants. It’s perfect.

We executed our second fuel transfer of the trip this morning. It’s like watching Sophie earn credits in a video game. Both internal tanks are now full, and we still have three bags remaining on deck. From a fuel perspective, it’s definitely a best-case scenario for us.

Jenna made an enormous amount of eggplant parmesan last night, and it was devoured. Tonight we will be in offshore passage mode with 30 knot winds, so I think we will go with some coq au vin from the freezer.

We have less than 300 miles to go before we exit the High Risk Area. It should be tomorrow night. We also realized that at some point in the last 3 days we passed the GSM (Great Seattle Meridian.) According to our GPS, for every mile we travel, Seattle now becomes one mile closer. I guess that means we are coming home.

Get ready.

Day 13: An Epic Sophie Adventure Cruise
Sophie exited an ocean and entered a sea at 1:00 AM this morning as we blew past the Uma Thurman waypoint at a speed of 11 knots. Our little floating condominium covered 222 MILES in a 24 hour period — a new record for us — starting out with 35-45 knots of wind on a clear night with excellent visibility. The waves were WAY too rough for pirates, and the commercial traffic hurried along in neat and orderly rows on either side of the highway. For us it was the perfect Uma Thurman scenario. We came within 3 miles of a country experiencing a civil war and could see lights on shore. A Croation warship was on the radio, and the Japan Navy flew above us. Arigato!

At 12:30 AM we saw a freighter a mile ahead of us douse their navigation lights and light off a white flare. At another point Jenna was hit in the thigh with what we thought might have been shrapnel, but it was a flying fish. She said it hurt.

What a night!

We felt a profound sense sense of shared accomplishment when we hit the Uma waypoint. Jenna soon went down to sleep.

And then it started to blow. For the next 6 hours we had sustained wind of 40 knots with gusts to 50. We were heading straight downwind with both engines running @ 2000 RPM. The weather was too squirrely for even a scrap of jib. At 4:30 AM we saw a red crescent moon rise over the Yemeni desert.

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At 7:00 AM the main popped out of its sailbag. We needed to wake up Jenna so she could steer while I tied down the main. Soon I went down to sleep.

And then it started to really blow. Jenna had sustained winds of 50 knots for over an hour. At sunrise she saw land for the first time in 2 weeks. Another boat fired off a flare, but we assume it was for practice. The waves were up to 5 meters. “Anti-piracy weather” grinned our guard Tomasz. There were no other boats out except for us, the commercial vessels, and the warships.

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Of course we were trolling the meatlines throughout the entire night. It was too rough to bring them in. Jenna saw a big fish hit one and snap the hook off.

Since noon we have seen sustained winds of 35-40 knots with the occasional wave reaching 5 meters. We had four waves splash into our aft cockpit, drenching everything. This is the first time this has happened in 30 months, since our Bora Bora-Rarotonga run.

As I write this it seems to be finally calming down. It is actually kind of gentle in the cabin. The kiddies are watching movies.Sophie has been awesome for this entire passage, especially for the last 24 hours. She is a good boat.

Beyoncé is just 30 miles ahead of us. According to the coalition that polices piracy here, the High Risk Area formally ends at Beyoncé. The pirates do not dare go past her. We feel safe, at this point, and our guards will formally go off duty when we reach her. Queen Bey will watch over us instead.

This is a night we will all remember forever. I am glad that Jenna and I shared it together. Sophie Adventure Cruises, indeed!

I am now going to make a pot of chili.

Addendum: The Rock and Roll is Over
Hi everyone. It’s midnight here. Everything has calmed down. We are sailing gently along at 6 knots with the full jib and no motors. No more crashing waves! Initial damage report includes 4 broken coffee mugs, a broken kitchen clock, 3 wet cabins from open hatches (!), 1 broken pair of counterfeit Ray-Ban sunglasses, and a very drenched aft cockpit.

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All major systems are go! We love you all, more tomorrow.

Day 14: It’s Good to be Boring Sometimes
Sophie is way more boring today, and that is good. We’ve covered 165 miles in the last 24 hours, running almost entirely under just the jib with no motors until an hour ago when we put up the chute. We are currently making 6-7 knots in gentle seas. We are running lots of laundry, desalting, and putting the boat back together. Jenna got 9 hours of sleep last night as I took one for the team and let everyone else sleep after midnight until Leo took over for me at 7:00 this morning in the dark. He has been taking on more responsibility in the watch department, and it is a big help.

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We are 60 miles from Rihanna. In the film “Battleship”, she plays a US Navy gunnery mate who operates a chain gun on the bow of a RIB. She also fires an 18 inch shell from the battleship Missouri at an alien encampment in Hawaii, whispering the word “boom” as she does so. She earned her waypoint and totally has Beyonce’s back.

After we pass Rihanna, we head to a stationary tugboat called an armoury where we will drop off the weapons and tactical gear. The guns have been out of sight since Male, but the boys are all in the aft cockpit right now cleaning weapons and packaging up bullets. I do hope everything is accounted for.

After the Armoury we will head straight up the Red Sea to a port on the left to drop the boys off. We have an excellent weather window and are going to go for it.

Saudi Arabia is now to our left, and Eritrea is to our right. Kind of weird. It will still take us another couple of days to process what just happened. We are all definitely having a good time. Laters!

Addendum: Fuel Bags
The wind has completely died and we are motoring across a lake at 7 knots on one engine @ 2400 RPMs. We just did a fuel transfer, and I am SO HAPPY to say that both of Sophie’s fuel tanks are completely full with a reserve of 45 gallons in one remaining bag on deck. This is after 2,300 miles of passage making with only 600 miles to go. The fuel bags have been a fantastic addition to our cruising life. Even during yesterday’s storm, they remained stable on the deck. They wiggled a bit on the big bounces, but there is nothing wrong with an occasional wiggle.

Also, now that I have gotten a little more sleep, I am pleased to report that Saudia Arabia is to the RIGHT and Eritrea is to the LEFT. My bad, and I hope that you found my observation to be more amusing than worrying.

Day 15: The Armoury
Sophie pulled up in the dark alongside a floating armoury at 18N in the middle of the Red Sea and offloaded our weapons and tactical gear. It was quite an experience.

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The Armoury is a 120 foot tugboat owned by a Spanish company that provides a convenient way for vessels making a run through pirate alley to pick up and drop off weapons without having to bring them into a port and declare them. It is a clever system. This particular armoury is called Sea Lion and was surprisingly busy as we approached, with four tankers and container ships hovering nearby in the darkness. But the big ships scattered right before we pulled up alongside, and a RIB with 2 guys wearing hardhats came up next to Sophie in the 1.5 meter chop and wrestled four pelican cases off of our boat with the help of our guards. Just like that they were done and we were back on our way.

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Sophie covered a respectable 144 miles in our 24 hour run. The northerly we were expecting has kicked in, and we are motoring at 6.5 knots with no sails and both engines running @2000 RPM. There is a 10-15 knot (true) northerly, and our ride is somewhere between comfortable and not quite bone jarring. We are deliberately trying to caress the waves while avoiding mindless pounding. Sophie likes it better that way. The wind is expected to slowly subside over the next 24 hours, then cease to exist for a day, and then switch to a southerly. Our destination is 500 miles away, and we plan to be there by Wednesday afternoon. I envision truck driving music in my immediate future.

Today is Mother’s Day in England, and we are celebrating at noon by rolling our clocks back 2 hours to Standard Arab Time (UTC +3.) Jenna is also celebrating right now by using a brush to remove Hazel’s mermaid hair.

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Jenna has been at it for an hour, but we are having a pleasant time in the salon listening to music and getting thrown up into the air by a wave every minute or two.

Yesterday was cathartic. We did 8 loads of laundry, totally cleaned up the storm mess, and relaxed in the sun. At one point we even had a billfish (small marlin or sailfish) running off line on one of the reels, but the last thing I wanted to do at that moment was land and clean a fish, so I yanked the hook out of her mouth and let her go.

Jenna cooked the best meal of the passage last night, a Thai-style fish curry with some of the mahi mahi. It was really good. Later on, each of the guards took a 2 hour watch since we were motoring and they no longer had to be on guard duty. That meant that everyone, especially me and Jenna, could enjoy a full night’s sleep. It was wonderful.

Right before I want to bed, one of the guards, Tomasz, gently knocked on our door and very politely uttered my favorite words on Sophie:

“Jamie, we seem to be having a problem with the toilet.”

Ugh!

Thomas has been sharing Hazel’s room with another guard, Chris, which means two grown men have been using Hazel’s toilet for 2 weeks. This is the same toilet that I had spent hours and hours repairing and augering out while in the Maldives. I was expecting the worse when I approached, but to my surprise and delight I saw that the toilet was experiencing an input problem, not an output problem. Instead of finding a clogged bowl of smelly guard mess, I found a scene straight from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice: the toilet had turned into a fountain flowing fresh water out onto the floor. It turns out the switch is broken and won’t turn off the electric flush. Easy fix, I closed the valve for the time being and will clean out the switch once we stop bouncing.

Dodged a bullet.

I also had to replace a fuel filter on the starboard Yanmar last night after it started to clog. I think we got dirty fuel in Male, which is the first time this has happened to us on the entire trip. Other than that, not much to report. Jenna baked bread. People are watching movies. Leo slept until 10:00 AM. We are in the Red Sea. And Taylor Swift is just 70 miles away, which is good, because everyone on this boat loves Taylor Swift.

Day 16: The Truck Driving Music is ON!!
Jenna is down below taking a nap. Leo just snuck into our cabin to flush the watermaker, and Jenna lifted her head from the pillow, looked at her son with loving eyes, and said “Tell your dad it’s time to punch it.”

I put a smile on my face, opened both diesels up to 2500 RPM, and threw on the truck driving music we listen to whenever we start motoring fast at the end of a passage. Six(teen) days on the road and I’m a gonna see my baby tonight. (Hazel thinks Dave Dudley sounds like Elvis.)

Sophie has responded in kind, surging up to 7.5 knots as she shoulders aside the remaining sea slop. We are finally letting her punch her weight, and she is loving every second of it. Our ride is smooth, and cheeseburgers are going on the barbecue once I send this out.

I have a grandmother buried in New England, and she has a ball of yarn with crossed knitting needles carved on her tombstone. If I were to die today, I would want a picture of a diesel fuel bag tied to the deck of a sailboat carved on mine. That pretty much sums up how I am feeling right now as we put more and more miles between us and pirate country.

Sophie spent most of the last 24 hours trudging north at 5.5 knots into a 10-15 (true) knot chop in the middle of the Red Sea. We were running both engines @ 2100 RPMs and covered 152 miles in our 26 hour time zone-adjusted noon-noon run. Going any faster would have created unnecessary and uncomfortable pounding.Taylor Swift made us all happy when we passed her by last night, and Rachel Flotard is just 80 miles ahead of us.

We believe that this is the first time a Red Sea navigation waypoint has been named after a Seattle musician, and Jenna and I have been listening to Rachel’s music for fifteen years, which is even before she started Visqueen. Rachel plays beautiful power trio rock and roll, seems to be a good mom, and supports her community. We are honored to name this next waypoint after Rachel Flotard.

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Hazel served her first formal watch yesterday! She sat at the inside steering station and monitored course, speed, and marine traffic for 45 minutes while her mom and dad slept. She was so proud of herself! She has also transitioned from a state of having perfect mermaid hair — complete with dreadlocks and tangled up bits of seaweed and shells — to a state where she is combing her hair over and over again throughout the day. Both hair states look great, and this girl is definitely now 8. We love her so much.

Our passage ends in 360 miles, and Sophie will have to SLOW DOWN to get to our destination by noon Wednesday. After 2500 miles so far, we have a happy, salt-encrusted boat.

Back in the US, school can be canceled on snow days. On Sophie, school can be canceled on chop days. There was no Sophie School yesterday, and the kiddies watched Pitch Perfect, Pipi Longstocking, The Book Thief, Star Wars IV, and Star Wars V. There is also a LOT of sleeping going on.

RDSE7178 (783x1280)We caught a 12 pound barracuda in the afternoon; Chris reeled it in and posed for his “Look, I caught a fish in the Red Sea” photo, and then we released it.

Jenna and I think we drove through a whirlpool last night. We had been motoring for 30 minutes through a sloppy, washing machine sea state — which is usually current-induced and something we are used to experiencing — when suddenly Sophie was heading sideways to port at 10 knots. 30 seconds later we were heading to starboard at 15-20 knots. In another minute we were back on our normal course and speed. There was no change in wind, and we don’t think the GPS or fluxgate compass malfunctioned. It was the weirdest thing, and hasn’t happened since.

Dinner was barbecued chicken and cauliflower. That was the last of the cauliflower, but we still have cabbage, cucumbers, onions, and ginger left. Yum.

Tonight will be mac and cheese with beef tenderloin on the side.

On Wednesday, I will be drinking draft German beer and eating schnitzel. Jenna thinks we should just order everything on the menu. I love that girl, too, and I am pretty lucky that she loves me back.

Oh, and a friendly reminder: we are not going to post anything on Facebook or on the blog until we are on the other side of the Suez canal. We may have survived pirate country, but we are still in the Middle East. Please respect our privacy and personal security. It should be less than 10 days. Thanks!

More tomorrow …

Day 17: Flat Good! Gronk Spike!
I came up to the salon for my 5:00 AM watch this morning and was greeted by a big fat 8.5 on the knotmeter. The seas had finally flattened during the night and Sophie was flying along. We covered 192 miles in our 24 hour run, averaging exactly 8.00000 knots. It was the nautical equivalent of Moses parting the Red Sea, which is supposed to have nasty northerlies this time of year. Where’s the wakeboard? We’re coming home.

Our destination lies 170 miles ahead of us. At this speed, we will arrive at the marina at 9:00 AM tomorrow morning. The big question we are discussing right now is if we show up at the German bar at 10:00 AM, do we order breakfast or lunch? It is so nice to have a first world problem again.

GRONK! is less than 50 miles away. To celebrate, we will watch the Superbowl XLIX DVD this afternoon. I am sure that Tomasz, the guard from Poland, will enjoy learning more about his distant relative and fellow countryman Gronkowski. The timing is perfect, because Sophie was brushing off waves yesterday the same way Gronk brushes off cornerbacks while running downfield.

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We emptied the last bag of fuel into Sophie this morning, and it was like injecting a glucose/adrenaline shot into a marathon runner at mile 24. The fuel gauges look great. I think we will make it.

We are motoring along over a glassy sea under a cloudless sky. A haze has formed on the horizon, cutting visibility to just a couple of miles. It is caused by dust blowing off the desert. Egypt is now to our left. It has gotten cooler as well, with the noontime temperature in the salon hovering at 76 degrees F. Jenna is wearing a fleece as she sits at the table editing photos and listening to truck drivers’ boogie woogie.

There is not a whole heck of a lot to report from yesterday. At one point Chris looked up at the starboard fishing pole and asked “Isn’t that supposed to have line on it? There was line on it 30 minutes ago.” With all the noise from two engines, one watermaker, and all the crashing and bashing, we never heard the fish run off 300 yards of 80 pound braided line, then snap the knot off the reel. We are lucky we still have the pole.

The kids got their schoolwork in and then watched Pitch Perfect II and Star Wars VI. The mac and cheese with beef tenderloin was a huge hit.

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Today we are just hanging out. The kiddies are doing school while learning the lyrics to Dick Curliss’s “A Tombstone Every Mile.” Perhaps we can get them to perform it at a wedding later this year. I desalted the boat, changed another fuel filter, and started creating some new dance party playlists. Summer is coming. The boys are packing their bags and will head off to their flights home after we dock.

That’s it for now. Tomorrow’s post will be brief and definitive.

We’re Done, Baby!
Sophie docked at the immigration dock in Port Ghalib, Egypt at 8:00 this morning. We completed our 2,900 mile passage in 17 days and 23 hours, achieving an average speed of 6.7 knots during that time.

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People say that sports championships are won on the practice field. In a similar sense, you could say that Jenna and I completed this passage before we ever left the Maldives. We spent 6 months getting ready for this trip, putting together a good plan while doing everything possible to make sure that Sophie was ready. Nothing significant broke during the passage, we put 60 pounds of fish into our freezer while underway, and we handled all of the weather that mother nature could throw at us. We never saw a pirate, and we had some really nice-yet-badass guards ready if they ever did show up. The kiddies were magnificent, with Leo standing 2-4 hours of watches every day, and Hazel taking on her first formal watches of our entire adventure cruise.

Thank you for all of your prayers and positive thoughts. They obviously helped.

Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

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Made It!

Sophie dropped anchor in Male at 21:30 UTC +7, 8 days and 22 hours after we left the dock at Ao Po Grand Marina in Phuket, Thailand. Sophie covered the 1,527 mile passage at an average speed of 7.1 knots. Crew and boat are safe and happy after a spectacular and relaxing passage.

More tomorrow.

Current-aided Run to the Barn

Our ongoing tack for 1,100 miles came to an end after sunrise yesterday when the wind finally shifted to the east, forcing us to drop the main and raise the spinnaker for a straight downwind run in flat seas and sunny skies. By lunchtime the wind died altogether, so we dropped the chute and turned on a motor. Sophie spent the rest of the day cruising along at 8 knots with one engine running at 2,200 RPMs and no sails. She really wants to get to Male.

We really need to get a wakeboard.

Our current position at 3:30 UTC +7 is 04 42.138n, 077 24.261e. We covered 174 miles in our noon-noon run, averaging 7.3 knots. Male lies 235 miles ahead of us. We will get there tomorrow. Sophie is now closer to Pakistan than we are to Phuket. It is pretty crazy how small the world gets once you leave the Pacific Ocean.

Once the chute went up yesterday, I strung a laundry line across the deck and we did 5 loads of laundry. Jenna ran Sophie School inside. Aftwerwards, everyone hung outside up top, competing for a spot of shade under the bimini while discussing family weddings past and future. We have three weddings scheduled for the summer, as far as we can tell. It was a fun afternoon.

It turns out that pork and alcohol are illegal in the Maldives, so we decided to address this situation by eating all of the pork on board. While we were in Phuket we had a stainless steel bracket welded to one of our stern pulpits for an LPG bottle for our barbecue. We tested this rig last night with our first-ever passage barbecue, grilling up 3 pork loins and 2 packages of artisinal sausages. The food was quickly demolished by the crew. As Rich remarked, “If this is how we are forced to eat when we don’t have fresh tuna, then I guess we are doing OK.”

Indeed. Sophie Adventure Cruises has now added the capability for holding passage barbecues. It keeps getting better. We plan to eat the rest of the bacon for breakfast and then grill up some hot dogs for lunch. Then we will catch some more tuna and eat them for dinner. That’s how we roll.

We finally learned of the weekend’s NFL scores via an email from Travis’s wife Jenn, who will be joining us in Male later this week. Holy Moly, what a weekend of football it must have been! Seattle Seahawks, you had a great run! The Maldives are supposed to have excellent mobile coverage, so we will watch the remainder of the playoffs from Sophie’s salon. And to all of my stateside friends who promised to send me the scores and never did, please consider yourselves blogshamed!

We will post our next update when our anchor is down in Male. It’s been a great passage so far! Happy Birthday Steven Utzie!

Afterwards Afterwards

Beneath the Subcontinent

Sophie is now just 235 south of India as we leave Sri Lanka behind us and enter the Lakshadweep Sea. I thought I knew the names of all of the bodies of water we would transit on this passage until “Lakshadweep Sea” popped up on the chart. Lakshadweep. It just rolls of your tongue, doesn’t it?

We had our best sailing day of the passage yesterday, averaging 8-10 current-aided knots for most of the day in bright sunshine with minimal seas. Our noon-noon run was 164 miles, but that doesn’t take into account our 15 mile dash south across the shipping lanes and the fact that we stopped twice for fish.

Sophie’s current position at 3:52 UTC +7 is 05 04.104n, 080 11.725e. We are sailing at 7 knots under jib and full main on a course of 277m with a 9 knot apparent wind on our starboard quarter. With the exception of our jog across the highway, we have been on the same tack for almost a week. We are 403 miles from Male and should arrive there in 2 days.

We had a yellowfin tuna double takedown yesterday morning, where Nic and Travis boated fish simultaneously off the two rods, each trolling a small hoochie. These fellows were 4 and 5 pounds respectively, and they no longer exist. Jenna made sushi for lunch and the remainder was pan seared for dinner. We stopped fishing after the takedown because of our boatspeed, because I didn’t want to clean any more fish, and because I wanted to take a nap. I now wonder if some sort or temporary insanity came over me. Jenna was even asking me if I felt alright. I’ve gotten over it now, and 5 small hoochies are going out at sunrise.

We started seeing fishing boats yesterday for the first time on the passage about 70 miles south of Sri Lanka. On three separate occasions a boat stopped what they were doing when they saw us, changed course, and headed in our direction with their entire crew yelling and waving their arms at us. These boats were all about 30 feet long with a deep draft. We had heard stories of cruising sailboats last year that were harassed by Sri Lanka fishermen, and we wanted no part of that action. I am sure they were all just being bored and curious, but we just smiled and waved back at them as we turned the motors on and motorsailed past them at 10.5 knots. Given their draft, they couldn’t match our speed and in each case soon went back to work. We’ve seen another 10 fishing boats this evening, but at night they are leaving us alone.

There has been a lot of Yahtzee action in the aft cockpit for the last couple of days. It’s been too breezy back there for cards or board games. It has been a lot of fun, and we are holding off on doing Yahtzee shots until our big beautiful Rocna anchor is buried in sand.

We still don’t know the results of the NFL playoff games this weekend. We know the Patriots were beating Kansas City 14-6 at halftime, and my mother vaguely mentioned on the satphone that they had won “20 something to something.” A friend (and you know who you are) promised to send us via Sailmail all of the game scores plus a couple of the New England game stories, but he has gone dark on us. I hope he is not in the hospital or stranded on some backcountry Montana mountainside, trying to rub two sticks together in order to make a fire in a desperate attempt to survive in the cold and desolate wilderness.

But enough of my first world problems. In two days we will be swimming in crystal-clear water in some palm-studded atoll. Life is grand.

Crossing a Highway

Sophie encountered 40 ships today as we sailed into the main shipping lane that connects Europe and the Middle East with Asia on what we can only describe as an extraordinary day.

Our current position is 05 33.102n, 083.13.251e. We are sailing on a course of 263m at 7.5 knots under a full jib and reefed main with a 14 knot wind on our beam. We covered 174 miles on our noon-noon run, averaging 7.25 knots. Sri Lanka is just 105 miles to our northwest, and Male is 580 miles ahead of us.

The southern tip of Sri Lanka is 880 miles due west from the entrance to the Malacca Strait, creating an imaginary line that is the shortest distance for ships traveling to Singapore and China. We realized that Sophie had wandered into this highway a little after lunchtime when a cluster of 8 ships suddenly appeared on our AIS. The smallest one was 650 feet. We had clear weather and good visibility, so there was no immediate risk. We even spoke to a few of them on the radio.

But after 2 tankers passed well within a half mile on either side of us, Jenna and I did the math and realized that if we continued on our rhumb line course, we would have to cover 75 miles to cross the shipping lane. We would have these behemoths passing on either side of us well into the night while doing so. We decided instead to gybe and head 20 miles due south while we still had visibility to clear the traffic. It’s better to dash across a highway during daylight, right?

So I went up to the wheel and was waiting for the 1,050 foot tanker “Hyundai Titan” to overtake us a half mile to the south when the starboard fishing rod exploded with a hit.

FISH!!!!!!

This fellow had good timing. We were sailing at 8 knots under full main and jib, but Sophie’s crew went to work like a well-oiled machine. Jenna ran to the wheel and turned north to slow the boat and get us away from Mr. Hyundai. Hazel helped her on the winches. Leo went below and started the Yanmars. Rich clipped in and joined me on the transom with a gaff. Travis and Nic brought the other lines in. Kate grabbed a camera and passed up tools. The clutch on this rod’s reel was on its last legs, and I was reluctant to let someone else land the fish. I had just replaced the line with 300 meters of brand new 80lb braid, so this guy wasn’t going anywhere.

We landed a 13 pound bluefin tuna, and everyone on Sophie was happy about the team effort. As soon as the fish was on board, we executed the gybe and kept both diesels on as we sprinted across the highway for the next hour and a half.

Soon the ships were behind us and we resumed our rhumb line course. School ended, and Jenna played dice games with the youngsters in the aft cockpit while Rich and I sat up top and enjoyed the warmth of the late afternoon. We cut the fish into steaks and pan seared all of them for dinner, serving them up with red rice and salad. We had a hungry crew, and the fish was delicious.

Immediately after dinner, I joined Jenna up top for the start of her watch when a pod of dolphins decided to play off our bow. Two of the dolphins were babies, and Hazel insisted that they were twins and that she could understand what they were saying. Then the dolphins left just as the clouds shifted and the sky exploded into a deep tangerine rose color. Everyone became silent and let the color soak in. Then we went downstairs and watched the NFL Films DVD of Super Bowl XLIX. The Patriots won.

It was a pretty good day, as days go.

Ohhhhh …. Halfway There!

Sophie hit the halfway point between Phuket and the Maldives at 3:30 this morning, having covered 770 miles in exactly 4 and a half days at an average speed at a scooch over 7 knots for the entire distance. We have 750 to go. Kate, Rich, Nic, and I celebrated with a shared can of Coke while looking to see if a certain Journey song was on the flybridge music player. It wasn’t, so we had to sing a cappella.

Sophie’s current position is 06 15.572n, 085.51.538e. We are sailing on a course of 163m at a speed of 7 knots on a beam reach with a 10 knot apparent breeze. We have the jib out and a reef in the main. Sophie covered 164 miles in yesterday’s noon to noon run, but given our current speed, I assume we will beat that number today. We once again had the gennaker and full main out all day yesterday and then switched to the jib and reefed main for the night. We seem to have developed a pattern. We have motorsailed for less than 10 hours for the entire passage. This steady northerly simply doesn’t want to go away.

Kate and Nic did a watch together tonight, and they did quite well. Except for the fact that that they convinced themselves that the ships appearing and then disappearing on the screen 15 miles south of us were stealth pirate ships coming to get us. I explained that we were just north of the shipping lane between the Suez Canal and Singapore and that hundreds of ships were passing 50 miles south of us. They remained unconvinced, arguing that perhaps they were seeing pirate submarines instead.

We are just 240 miles from Sri Lanka. I can already sense the wild elephants, especially the baby ones. We will pass the southern coast of Sri Lanka on Sunday during the day, missing it by 40 miles. I doubt we will see it. Life is a series of tradeoffs.

The fishing program finally got in gear yesterday! We hooked our first mahi mahi, using a yellow hoochi lure on the rod with the reel that our friend Bill Walker gave us over the holidays. Unfortunately the fish was the size of Hazel’s forearm, so we let him go. Later that evening we pulled in our meatlines for the night and saw that something had crushed one of my new cedar tuna plugs. They are out there.

Rich and Nic saw a whale spout a few hundred meters from us. There are lots of flying fish. We haven’t seen a bird in four days. I assume that will change soon.

We had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, and for Friday Family Movie Night the kiddies watched a Lego documentary that their sister/future sister-in-law. Tonight we will barbecue pork loin on the grill. Yes, it’s that kind of passage.

Talk to you tomorrow.