Sophie is One Knot Faster With Her New Sails

Greetings from our anchorage at Isla Graciosa in the Canary Islands!

We have sailed 1,000 miles since our last update from Ibiza, with stops along the Spanish coast, Gibraltar, and Madeira on our way here. Sophie and her crew are very excited to be doing ocean passages again, and we think we will be ready for our big Atlantic crossing next month.

Here is what’s going on with Sophie as we continue to get ready.

New Sails!

While we were in Gibraltar, we upgraded Sophie’s mainsail and genoa. We think the new sails have added a knot of boat speed to Sophie, which is a big big deal for us.

Our old main and genoa came with the boat when we bought her almost 10 years ago. They’ve served us well during this time, propelling us 3/4 of the way around the globe without any major tears.

But over the years, these two babies became tired, baggy, and a little threadbare. Jenna and I were worried we would suffer a major blowout during our Atlantic crossing in January, so we decided earlier this year to replace them. After 10 years of service, these two sails had given us all they could give.

Taking them off one last time was a family affair. Sophie’s sails are big suckers. The main alone is almost 1,000 square feet.

For our new sails, we worked with Phil Auger from Zoom Sails in Malaysia. We met Phil when we were in Langkawi a couple of years ago, and we are extremely happy with his work. He designed a new square-topped mainsail for us as a replacement for our big roach original main, and he did so in a way that enabled us to use our existing battcars and 5 of our 6 original battens.

The new main weighed 80 kilos and arrived in a box bigger than Hazel!

Phil used the same approach Lagoon uses for the top of the square-topped mainsails, with a length of Dyneema rope running through two ring bolts on the top battcar. This enables the sail to lie flat while in the bag and snug to the mast when raised, regardless of the reef. The result is a great shape with more power.

The new main has three reef points, just like the old one. We replaced the reef blocks and reef lines, and on our 270 mile run from Madeira to the Canaries we reefed multiple times with ease. There is much less friction than before.

The new genoa is the same basic size and shape as the original one. We opted to forgo the window this time because the old one kept tearing. We also went with a blue Sunbrella UV strip that matches the blue of the mainsail bag and bimini.

All in all we are very happy with this work. Both sails are made from high UV resistant dacron. They feel stiffer and stronger. Phil was able to do all of the design work remotely, and he was very responsive throughout the entire process. We are happy customers.

So why do we think we are a knot faster? It’s mostly a gut feeling based on multiple moments on our Madeira-Canaries run this week. When we departed the Quinto Do Lorde Marina 3 days ago, we were immediately hit with 25-30 knot winds directly on the beam along with steep 2 meter seas. With 2 reefs in the main and 1/3 of the jib rolled in, we sailed at 9-10 knots. Later on that day with 15 knots of apparent wind on the beam with 1 reef in the main and a full jib, we sailed at 8 knots. A day later with 10 knots apparent wind @ 70° with full main and jib, we sailed at 7 knots. This all felt faster to me and Jenna and reminded us of how Sophie sailed when we first bought her. The sagginess of Sophie’s old sails clearly affected her performance. 

Sophie’s sailplan is based on a very large mainsail and a smallish foretriangle for the genoa. Newer Lagoons use a more balanced design where the mast is located farther aft, reducing the relative size of the main compared to the foresails. I think the square-topped main adds more power to Sophie, especially when reefed. Since Jenna and I reef much more frequently than we did when we bought the boat, this added power actually translates to more speed with greater stability and safety in winds greater than 15 knots because that is when we start reefing.

Like I said, we are very happy with these sails

Newish Spinnaker


In addition to our new main and genoa, we also bought a second-hand, barely-used Parasailor spinnaker from some friends earlier this year. This sail is sized for a Lagoon 450, so it is small for Sophie. That’s perfect for us. For the last 5 years, Jenna and I have been looking for a solution for straight downwind sailing in 15-30 knot winds. Our existing spinnaker is too big for winds at this speed, and our other three sails are suboptimal for wind at this angle. The Parasailor has a foil cut into the middle of the sail, giving it lift in lighter air and resilience during heavy gusts (because the wind blows through the hole in the middle of the sail.) Friends who own Parasailors love them, so we decided to buy one. The price was right, and the previous owner even threw in some extra sheets and blocks as part of the deal. 🤣

Our exit from Gibraltar provided us with the perfect opportunity to test the new chute, and again Jenna and I were very happy with the results. The wind blew 20-30 knots in the Strait as Sophie sailed dead downwind into the Atlantic at 8-9 knots. With our big chute, these winds would give us white knuckles and heart palpitations while we constantly worry about when we should take it down. The new chute felt stable and controlled in this situation. It didn’t jerk around in gusts, and the foil provided lift to Sophie’s bows, giving us a bit of a surfing feel. 

The wind died down  after the first 50 miles, and we decided to leave the new spinnaker up overnight. This is the first time we’ve done this without additional crew on board. This sail is a great new option for us and will hopefully cut a day or two off our Atlantic crossing time next month.

Other Preparations in Gibraltar

By the time we reached Gibraltar, it had been 18 months since Sophie had sailed in the open ocean. Jenna and I wanted to make sure that the boat was once-again passage-ready, so we went through our usual series of pre-crossing checks.

For starters, we had local riggers Sean and James inspect our mast and rigging. They believed that our rig was tuned too tightly, resulting in some extra bend in the mast. They also discovered that some of the bolts that hold the mast to its supporting compression post in the cabin had come loose. Yikes!


There were no signs of cracks, water leaks, or structural damage in the area. We also contacted Lagoon, and they did not indicate it was a problem. So we tightened the bolts and re-tuned the rig with less mast bend.

Sean and James also discovered that one of our diamond stays – the steel cables that hold the mast in column – was showing signs of deterioration so they replaced it. They also machined some new bearings for the gooseneck on the boom. It now wiggles a lot less.

We replaced all of our running rigging – the ropes that we use as sheets, halyards, reef lines, guys, and traveller controls. We had some of these custom-made in England.

Finally – and one could argue most importantly – we had our liferaft inspected and recertified. It still looks brand new. Hope we never use it!

While we were in Gibraltar, we were able to carve out the time to for a 2-day visit to Cordoba and Seville. Other than that, we worked 10 hour-days getting Sophie ready for the Atlantic. Just getting the new sails off and on took 3 days! We were so busy we didn’t even have time to climb The Rock, tour the tunnels, or see the monkeys. That’s really sad, so we will have to come back.

Thunk Thunk Thunk in Madeira

We enjoyed an uneventful 600 mile/4 day run in the Atlantic Ocean from Gibraltar to Madeira. Other than the downwind sleigh ride in the Strait of Gibraltar, the highlight of this passage was a “double takedown” of two mahi mahi at the same time.

It was a funny catch. Leo was at the wheel when a fish hit our lighter pole. He stopped the boat, yelled FISH FISH FISH, and started reeling her in. I was below taking a nap and  came up to reel in the line on our other pole. We do this so the lines don’t become tangled. I soon realized that I had a fish on my line as well. Leo’s fish was 4 pounds, and mine weighed 22 pounds. Ha!

They both tasted delicious. Leo is certainly getting big, isn’t he?

We chose Madeira because my daughter Sara and her wife Julie had planned a big reunion there for November. Julie’s father grew up in Madeira, and we had 8 people from the US fly in to join 20 cousins, aunts, and uncles who live in Madeira for two weeks of family meals and celebrations. We had an absolutely wonderful visit which we will hope to cover in another blog post.

So why the thunk thunk thunk?

Well, as part of the two week reunion we invited 25 souls to come join us for an outing on Sophie. It was a calm and sunny day, and we thought we’d go out for a bit of a sail, throw a couple of lines in the water, and maybe catch us some fish.

So once we had everyone on board, I fired up the engines and heard a loud, crumbly Thunk Thunk Thunk noise from the starboard side. It didn’t sound right at all, so I killed the engines and went outside to see if a neighbour on a powerboat had started his loud, poorly-tuned diesel at the exact moment as I did. Nope. So I tried one more time and heard the exact same noise. I quickly killed the engine, went to examine it and found it was askew by 5 degrees. I knew immediately that it had jumped it’s mounts, the steel and rubber “feet” that connect a diesel engine to the hull of a boat.

Brand new engine mounts look like this.

Sophie’s starboard engine mounts on the afternoon of the party looked like this.

Believe it or not, it was a relatively easy repair. Jenna was heading to the States for a few days to attend her sister Julie’s baby shower, and we made sure she returned with four new engine mounts. The local Yanmar dealer sent a couple of guys over – one of them was a big fella – and they simply used a lever to lift the engine up a few inches to get enough space to swap out the mounts. There was no damage to the sail drives or hulls.

All four of the old mounts looked like this.

Needless to say, we were ridiculously lucky that this happened to us while on a dock. The mounts had slowly rusted during the last 10 years, and at our dock in Madeira there was a strong, sharp sideways surge that, over the course of a week, slowly nudged that engine off it’s mount. The mounts on the port engine were also completely shot, but that engine hadn’t moved. If this failure had occurred at sea in rough weather, we could have experienced some significant damage.

The good news is that our afternoon outing on Sophie was still a complete success! I took everyone out for dinghy rides; people enjoyed the marina’s salt water swimming pool; and we even had a bit of a dance party.

We had a wonderful visit to Madeira and made some lifelong friends. Jenna, Leo, Hazel, and I cannot begin to adequately express our gratitude for the wonderful hospitality this big beautiful family showed us. We’ll be back. Many, many times.

Now we are on the northeast corner of the Canaries anchored by a beach in a marine reserve. There are ten other boats here, and I assume they will all be crossing the Atlantic in the next 6 weeks.

We also met here the rarest of rare commodities on our extended adventure: an American family with kids out cruising on a catamaran. The boat’ s name is Ventus, the family is from the Midwest, and we all look forward to playing with them for the next few months. We even threw an impromptu dinner party last night with them and a French family boat. It was great to see packs of kids running around Sophie again.

So  that’s about all for now. We definitely feel like we are back in Adventure Cruise mode, and we definitely still feel lucky.

ps … here is a gratuitous photo of a pilot whale playing on our bow.

#sickeningvacationphotos

#winning

Sailing Across Greece

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GREC5389Sophie has been anchored in front of my brother David and his wife Goga’s house in Kotor, Montenegro for the last week. Our current location is 42°27′.934N, 18°45′.704E, which places us at the same approximate latitude as the Rogue River in Oregon (for those of you keeping track at home.) Our arrival here is one of the happiest accomplishments of our sailing adventure, one of the reasons we decided a year ago to come to the Med via the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. We are in a good place.

In order to get to Montenegro from Turkey, we spent 6 weeks sailing 500 miles across Greece. It was a spectacular experience which we were lucky to share with our friends Randy and Susan (joining us in the photo above.) If we weren’t on a schedule to meet up with family, we could have easily spent months or even years in Greece.

We could write 30 blog posts and post 1,000 photos and still not entirely capture the full extent of our experience in this country. This blog post is my initial attempt and focuses on the harbors and anchorages we visited during our passage. Jenna will be following up with her beautiful photos, as usual.

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Rhodes
We cleared out of Turkey in Marmaris and made the 25 mile passage to Rhodes in half a day. We were able to secure one of the last available berths in the Mandraki Harbor in the port of Rhodes, but it took us 45 minutes to med-moor on the quay due to the 25 knot cross-breeze. It was not fun, but we later learned that 2 other bats had tried to moor in that same spot and gave up. That made us feel a little better. Our berth was at 36°27′.054N, 28°13′.600E. After securing the boat, our entire family made the pilgrimage to the Port Police, Customs, Immigration, and then back to the Port Police. We stopped for our anniversary dinner at our first outdoor Greek taverna in the middle of this process. and eventually everything sorted itself out. We were finally in the EU! The Port of Rhodes is centered around an old town and fort that was built by the Knights of Saint John during the Crusades. The museum is excellent, as is the ancient Greek stadium and amphitheater. Unfortunately, the Colossus of Rhodes is long-gone.

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Tilos
After Rhodes we went to Tilos for an overnight stopover. We anchored on the south side of the island at 36°25′.753N, 27°20′.894E in 30 feet of water. On the way to Tilos, we caught an actual tuna fish, proving once and for all the the Med is not completely fished out. The anchorage provides good shelter from the prevailing northerly meltemi wind, but we woke up to a southerly and exited the harbor at first light.

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Astapálaia
Our next stop was Astipálaia, an island off the beaten tourist track that had a reputation in the middle ages for being a haven for pirates and smugglers who hid their boats in Astipálaia’s many coves. We anchored in a little harbor by ourselves in the middle of the south coast at 36°34′.416N, 26°23′.234E in 25 feet of water. I brought my bike to shore and struggled over the little mountain range to visit the main town of Skala. Later we all had dinner in our anchorage at a cute taverna with brightly colored chairs and an interesting mural of a pirate wench sporting an ouzo-firing submachine gun.

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Jenna just sat there, shaking her head. It was a very quiet and relaxing island to visit. We stayed two nights.

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Santorini
This is the famous Greek tourist island with the iconic blue-domed, white painted houses perched on the cliffs of a massive ancient volcano. Even though Santorini is 10 miles long and is visited by four cruise ships a day, it only has one small harbor, Vlikhada, located at its southern tip. Fortunately we were able to cajole our way into a berth there and used it as our base in Santorini for a week. 36°19′.997N, 25°26′.136E. The anchorage is very small and very shallow; upon our exit we wrapped a mooring chain around one of our propellers as we navigated the channel in 6 feet of water. Oh my goodness, Santorini was a special place! Our friends Randy and Susan flew in from Seattle and joined us here for the start of their 2 week Sophie Adventure Cruise. We toured the island in a rental car for a couple of days. We did the famous walk along the cliffs from Thira to Finikia. We visited the preserved ruins of one of the oldest archaeological sites of pre-Hellenic Greece. We toured a wine museum with underground animatronic displays of 19th century wine making. We ate great food, drank good wine, and even discovered a bakery with an outdoor, self-service kegerator. Birthplace of civilization, indeed!

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My personal favorite was sitting in a taverna above the Vlikhados harbor at sunset and watching the ballet of 25 charter catamarans all coming in to a narrow, 200 meter-wide harbor after sunset. It was quite a show!

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Folégandros
After the hustle and bustle of Santorini, it was nice to sail over to Folégandros, a quiet island with a chora (Greek town) on a cliff overlooking a broad expanse of sea. We anchored in the main harbor and hiked up the road to have dinner and watch Eurocup football in the town. At one point I even rented a quad 4×4 to make it easier for a hungry, post-school Hazel to make it up the hill to dinner. This was a great spot. We anchored at 36°36′.791N, 24°57′.050E in 12 feet of water.

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Milos
Our next stop was Milos, which has some of the best beaches in all of the Med. It’s also the home the famous statue “Venus de Milo”, which was found by a farmer in a field here and “sold” to the local French consul in the late 1800’s. (The more I tour local historical sites of ancient civilizations in this part of the world, the more angry I become that so many of the local treasures are now housed in museums in London, Paris, and Berlin.) We anchored in the southeast corner of the big harbor of Ornos Milou at 36°41′.475N, 24°26′.735E, which gave us the best available shelter from the meltemi. The were some boats on the other side of the bay that were getting smashed against the town quay in the 30 knot winds and 3 foot waves. We were safe. Jenna took our guests and the kiddies in the rental car for a day of beach excursions while I stayed on Sophie and did some Jamie work. Randy always wanted an upside-down backwards Speedo shot, and on Milos he made it happen. It was a great day for all of us.

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Sifnos
We really liked Sifnos and anchored in the double harbor of Faros on the south coast at 36°56′.341N, 24°44′.766E in 12 feet of turquoise water. Our anchorage only fit 5 other boats, including a big charter boat with a bunch of older French men and their “granddaughters.” We spent 2 days at Sifnos. The grownups enjoyed swimming, the kiddies enjoyed motoring around in our little “Baby” dinghy, and we all enjoyed eating at the local beachfront taverna 2 nights in a row. At this point we were really getting into the Eurocup football tournament and watched games both nights.

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Paros
After Sifnos we sailed our way over to Paros and anchored in the Ormos Plastira bay at 37°07′.475N, 25°13′.070E in 15 feet of water. We spent a few nights here enjoying a local beach with weird rock formations, a good local taverna for football, and excellent swimming. We also met the Lockharts, an English family that was taking a year off to explore the world. They have two boys, and it was great to see the kiddies have some playmates their own age.

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Mikonos
We spent 8 days in Mikonos, partly to enjoy the nightlife and partly because we were pinned in by a strong northerly meltemi. Randy really wanted to experience the nightlife on Mikonos, and the island didn’t didn’t let him down (although we did miss Lindsay Lohan’s 30th birthday party here by ten days.) Mikonos has multiple anchorages along its south coast, all providing some shelter from the meltemi, but the wind coming off the mountains can really pick up. We spent our fist nights in the bay opposite the beach club Super Paradiso  (above) at 37°24′.761N, 25°22′.226E anchored off the beach in 40 feet of water. The beach club had over a thousand people along with a club dj playing boom boom house music. We rented a couple of beach umbrellas and soaked in the scene.

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Later that night the four grownups hitchhiked, walked, and cabbed around a headland to the nightclub Cabo Paradiso and stayed out until 4:00 AM! We definitely weren’t in Indonesia any more. Later that morning we moved east 3 bays to Kalafatis and anchored at 37°26′.436N, 25°25′.392E in 30 feet of sand off the beach. The beach clubs here were more family-oriented, we got to watch some some world-class windsurfing, and we celebrated some school milestones at an excellent Italian restaurant nearby. Later in the week we motored over to the main harbor of Ornos and encountered meltemi gusts of 40-50 knots along the way. We were worried we had made a big mistake as we entered the harbor, but found an anchoring spot in the lee of a cliff at 37°24′.922N, 25°19′.183E.

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We could see big whitecaps 50 meters away from us in the main harbor, but we were sheltered in our little anchorage spot. We said our goodbyes to Randy and Susan, who pretty much had the best-ever Sophie Adventure Cruise of any of our guests over the last 3½ years. We then stayed tucked up against our nice cliff for another four days as we waited for the wind to die down. (Diva, the Bintang t-shirt is for you. Enjoy Indo!)

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Delos and Rinia
When the meltemi finally subsided, we made a 5 mile trip on Sophie over to an anchorage on the east side of the island of Rinia (37°24′.521N, 25°14′.175E) from where we could take the dinghy to the amazing archaeological site at Delos. Delos is the mythical birthplace of Artemis and Apollo and served as the economic and cultural capital of the eastern Mediterreanan for 500 years. During our tour of the extensive and beautiful ruins, Hazel slipped and scraped her foot pretty badly, so I took her back to Sophie in the dinghy. The chop and wind had picked up significantly as we crossed the bay back to Rinia, so Hazel and I took Sophie right over to the day anchorage at Delos (37°23′.646N, 25°15′.788E), and collected Jenna and Leo after their tour.

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After we were all back onboard Sophie on Delos, Jenna and I decided to make to the 40 mile late afternoon run over to Kythnos instead of spending the night on the south side of Rinia. For our first night on Kythnos, we anchored in the port of Loutro on the east side of the island in a quiet harbor with two other boats. We anchored at 37°23′.716N, 24°27′.494E in 50 of water with a lot of chain out. The next morning we motored around to the west side of Kythnos and dropped a hook in Ormos Fikiadha at 37°24′.823N, 24°22′.827E in 12 feet of sand. It was a wonderful, protected anchorage with a sand bar beach. At times there were 30 boats there, but that was OK because the swimming was excellent. There was a family taverna on a small cliff overlooking the beach, and a mile away was another bay with a taverna that showed football. We joined the Germans one night (above) and the French the next. Jenna and I even went on a date by ourselves at night with the dinghy to the town 3 miles away! We could have spent a month here on Kythnos and cannot wait to return.

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Sounion
We eventually and reluctantly had to leave Kythnos to continue our journey north to visit with family in Montenegro, and we randomly picked Sounion as a halfway stop between Kythnos and Athens. What a halfway spot! Sounion is located at the southern tip of the Attic peninsula and features the Temple of Poseidon, one of the great preserved temples of ancient Greece. We anchored under the temple and wandered up the hill for a visit. Afterwards, a squall with 40+ knots of wind came through just as we were getting back on Sophie. We found ourselves anchored a little too close for comfort right under base of the cliffs and the temple. So we moved the boat to the middle of the harbor, with plenty of swinging room, and let out all of our chain in 35 feet of water. We survived the night and have a newfound respect for the god of the sea. Our final anchorage was at 37°39′.183N, 24°01′.327E.

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Athens
After Sounion we motored the 25 miles up to Athens and took a berth at the Zéa Marina in the Pereaeus district on the waterfront. There were over 40 superyachts in this 1,000 boat marina, but the marina staff tucked us onto a quay in front of the police station next to a collection of other cruising boats. We didn’t do much in our three days in Athens except visit the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Erechtheon, the Theater of Dionysus, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Areopagus, the Temple of Hephaestus, the Ancient Agora, the Stoa of Attica, the National Archaeological Museum, the National Gardens, the Zappio Megaro, Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Monastiraki District, the Plaka District, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. We also squeezed in a playdate with the Lockharts at the local playground and wound up staying out all night with the parents watching the Eurocup and then dancing until dawn. Afterwards we took the subway with the kiddies to a mall and watched the film BFG.  My personal Athens highlight was wandering into a marine chandlery with Hazel and discovering that the store had the best inventory of Jabsco marine toilet spare parts I have ever encountered in my entire life! Better than Fisheries, better than West, better than any place in New Zealand. We’re talking electric Quiet Flush discharge ports right on the rack, right next to Pumpguard prefilter replacement screens! (No more finger cuts from cleaning worn out Pumpguard filters for me!) And the guy behind the counter knew his stuff. Indeed, Athens was a special place that we will never forget. At some point I assume Jenna will share a photo or two. 37°56′.062N, 23°38′.950E.

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Galaxidi (Via the Corinth Canal)
After an early departure from Zéa, we motored the 25 miles to the entrance of the Corinth Canal, a 3 mile long cut through a cliff that would save us 100 miles of beating against the meltemi if we went on the outside of the peninsula. We tied up to the Canal authority pier, paid our €280 transit fee, and then proceeded in a mini convoy through a 100 foot wide trench with 200 foot cliffs on either side of us. It was pretty cool.

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After we exited the canal, we motored another 40 miles through the Gulf of Corinth and settled upon the little town of Galaxidi at 38°22′.863N, 22°23′.401E on the north side of the gulf. What a lovely little town! We anchored in 20 feet of sand off of an impromptu beach club at the tip of the village where a dj was spinning house music and families were enjoying their Saturday afternoon. There were three other boats in the anchorage, fifteen boats on the quay, and all of the tourists in the little town were Greek. We wound up spending three nights here and could have stayed a month. Jenna and I spent a night in the only taverna in town that showed football, and we were the only non-Greeks in the crowd. We made a day trip up into the mountains to visit Delphi, the holy site of Hellenic Greece, and soaked in the majesty of ancient civilizations. We swam in tranquil waters surrounded by mountains. It was yet again another special place.

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Levkas
After we left Galaxidi, we exited the Gulf of Corinth, rounded the corner into the Ionian Sea, and made our way north to the island of Levkas for an overnight stop. We anchored in the big bay past town, surrounded by 50 other boats in 25 feet of water at 38°41′.344N, 20°42′.397E. We didn’t go to shore, but enjoyed a post-passage swim in the warm water. As we entered and exited Levkas, we passed by the private island of Skorpios, which used to be owned by Aristotle Onassis. He married Jackie Kennedy there in the 60’s. The island is now owned by the daughter of a Russian oligarch who made his money by consolidating control of Russia’s potash industry during the rise of Putin. He must be a clever man. Potash.

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Paxos
After our night in Levkas, we continued our northing to Paxos, where we anchored in another tourquoise lagoon at Lakka on the northern tip of the island. On our way, we transited Levkas Canal, a mile-long cut through a salt marsh. The canal is blocked at its northern tip by a ferry that serves as a bridge between the mainland and the island, and every hour the ferry sounds a horn, turns sideways, and lets the waiting boats pass by. It was pretty funny. When we arrived in Paxos, we wall-tied to a cliff in 15 feet of water in a small harbor with 50 other boats at 39°14′.259N, 20°07′.910E. At this point, Jenna and I were beginning to feel pretty good about our med-mooring and wall tying skills. There is a big charter industry in the northern Ionian, which explains the number of boats in the harbor, but the charter boats cleared out in a couple of days in order to return to their bases for the weekend transition to new clients. Apparently Thursday night in Lakka is Greek dancing night at one of the waterfront tavernas, but most people skipped that to watch Germany lose to France in the Eurocup. (Grrrrr). We spent 5 days in Lakka and loved every second. At this point, we had become comfortable sending the kiddies into town in the Baby in the mornings by themselves to buy bread and produce. It’s a significant point of pride and responsibility for them. We also became friends with a Spanish family with 10 year old twins (boy and girl), and the kiddies spent two days swimming back and forth between our boat and theirs. It was the sort of experience Jenna and I assumed we would encounter all of the time during our circumnavigation, and in Paxos it actually happened. We spent 5 days here and could easily spend an entire summer in the Ionian. Perhaps next year.

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Corfu
Our last stop in Greece was Gouvia Marina in Corfu, where we spent 2 nights hanging out and checking out of the country. This was another 1,000 boat marina, and they unfortunately lost our reservation as we approached, so they parked us at at 39°39′.002N, 19°50’887E on the far fringes of their docks, about a kilometer from the marina office. We weren’t able to see much of Corfu, but Jenna and I were able to see the Eurocup final at one of the marina bars. Hazel enjoyed the marina pool. We spent two nights eating at Harry’s Taverna, an excellent spot 4 blocks from the marina.

So that wraps up my initial summary of our trip across Greece. We are now stuck in Montenegro, surrounded by mountains, warm water, family, and a rich cultural history. Last night we participated in the annual ceremony where locals take their boats out to a man-made island in the bay and throw rocks into the water to continue to build up support around the church where my brother David and his wife Goga were married. It was part religious ceremony …

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… part water fight.

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We threw our rocks into the water and avoided any unnecessary splashing.

Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

Turkey is Not Southeast Asia or the Pacific

20160526_104731Sophie is currently moored in Sarsala in the Skopea Limani area of Turkey’s Lycean coast, just 5 miles south of Göcek. It is a pretty bay with a beach and a stunning view of nearby mountains. It feels like Desolation Sound back in British Columbia, except there are more tourists here. We will likely stay in the Göcek area for a week, focusing on Sophie school and boat projects. It’s quite a pleasant location.

Now that we have been cruising in Turkey for a couple of weeks, it’s time to share with you some early thoughts on how cruising here is different from cruising in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. We will also update you on some new additions to our home.

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Cooler Weather Makes Our Machines Happier
The ambient temperature here is 20 degrees F lower than in Thailand, and this makes a big difference for how efficiently our machines work. As I’ve mentioned before, Sophie is simply a collection of different systems packaged together, and if the machines in these systems are happy, then Sophie is happy. We use Victron energy charger/inverters to charge our main battery bank, and they now run with up to 50% more efficiency in the cooler weather here, producing a peak charge of 180 amps (at 12 volts) compared to 110 amps in Thailand. The photo above shows 180 amps flowing into our main battery bank. This NEVER happened in the Pacific or in Asia. Never. The Victrons have internal sensors that reduce their charge when the machines get hot, and these sensors are apparently enjoying the cool Turkish spring. On the load side, our batteries are lasting longer between charges because our 2 refrigerators and 1 freezer aren’t working as hard in the cooler weather. Fewer people are opening up the fridges for cold drinks, and the machines’ compressors don’t have to work as hard to maintain their temperatures. Our watermaker also appears to be quite happy in the cooler weather, with less growth gunking up its filters. In Thailand we had to swap out the external filters every 2 weeks due to algae growth, but we haven’t had to change a filter since we passed through the Suez Canal. Our water tastes much better as well!

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No Tuna, But Plenty of Turtles and Goats
We have been trolling for fish since we left Cyprus but have experienced exactly zero fish action. We have not seen any offshore fishing boats, either. There are some small fishing boats using hand nets right outside of harbors, and the tourist restaurants all serve grilled fish that look like little sea perch. The village retail areas also have fishing stores that sell $500 fishing poles and buckets of lures to the tourists who come here to pursue their dreams. But there are no big pelagic fish. None. There are, however, thousands of sea turtles along this stretch of coast. No one ever told me that we would see more sea turtles in Turkey than in any other country on our adventure so far. Turtles are everywhere here. We have to dodge them in the dinghy. Some of them are big suckers, measuring more than a meter across. Apparently June is turtle egg-laying season, and there are many egg-laying beaches nearby. There are also goats on every hillside of every harbor and every bay. They seem to enjoy eating right next to where we tie our shore lines. I haven’t seen any gnaw marks on our lines yet, but I remain alert to the danger.

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Fewer Cruisers, More Boats
There are a lot of boats out on the water here in Turkey, but almost all of them are charters or tour boats, and the people who charter boats use them every day. From our anchorage right now I can see three boats out sailing in the afternoon breeze. By comparison, I think we saw three sailboats during our entire passage across Indonesia. But we haven’t met any long-term cruisers since we were in Israel. It’s still off-season, and we are hopeful we will connect with some fellow cruisers soon. It was easy for us to do so in places like Thailand, because when you walk into the cruisers bar by the marina, there were … cruisers there! But it doesn’t seem to be the same here, at least so far. Also, most of the charter boats here in Turkey are US-flagged, because apparently our country is a tax haven for people who purchase and operate charter boats in Turkey.

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Our Lawn is Gone!
For the last three years we’ve had a patch of bright green seaweed growing at the end of our our stern transoms. Apparently the extra weight of all our systems, machines, and batteries pushes the last bits of transom into the water, and in the tropics the resulting warm water pools sitting in the bright sunshine become perfect growth environments for sea grass. This stuff was a bane of my existence throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans.  All the scrubbing, scraping, chemicals, and antifouling in the world couldn’t prevent this stuff from continuing to grow. We lovingly referred to these grass patches as our lawn. But now that we are in the Med, the lawn is suddenly … gone! Our transoms are bright and shiny. We hope this is due to the colder temperatures and not to the presence of some new type of poison in the water.

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Dust in the Wind
When we transited the Suez Canal, the boat became covered in a heavy layer of brown grit that blew in from the nearby desert. We assumed at the time that this was a minor price we had to pay for the convenience of sailing directly into the Med. However, we’ve been in the Med for a couple of months, and there is STILL a layer of brown dust that blows in from the nearby hills. Now that we are out anchoring, it seems crazy to run the watermaker for a couple of hours to produce enough fresh water to rinse off the boat if the boat will become covered with dust again in two days. It briefly rained last week, and the raindrops contained dust. In the Pacific, Sophie’s deck was clean due to the frequent rain, but Sophie’s waterline and back porch had a layer of green growth. In Turkey, the boat is dirtier due to dust-born wind, but the waterline and back porch are sparkly white. I am not sure which is better.

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We Finally Filled Our LPG Bottles!
We use LPG for cooking in our galley and on our barbecue. We use US-compliant LPG bottles, but unfortunately every nation has its own standards (meaning non-US compliant) for the fittings used to fill LPG bottles. This wasn’t a problem for us in the Pacific because the presence of so many American boats guaranteed that every port had the correct gear to refill US LPG bottles. We also didn’t use LPG as much due to the tropical climate. 100 degrees of ambient heat in the cabin is a great motivator to not bake. In Southeast Asia, it was more of a challenge for us to fill LPG but we always seemed to find a way. However, no one in Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, or Eastern Turkey could fill our LPG bottles. We were starting to worry, cutting back on our barbecues and use of the oven. I wandered Turkish ports with an empty LPG bottle in my backpack, visiting different shops hoping someone could help us out. For two weeks I had no luck. But I finally found someone in Göcek who could help (on my third stop of the day, no less!), and we now have enough cooking gas to get us to Italy. I think the girls plan to bake later today.

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No Dinghy Covers
In the Pacific and Southeast Asia, EVERY cruising dinghy has a canvas or Sunbrella cover over it’s tubes to protect the material from sun exposure. Here in Turkey, no one does this. It makes Sophie’s tenders stand out in a crowd.

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Produce is Cheap, But Marinas and Restaurants Are $$$$$
We can go to a produce market here in Turkey and fill a big blue Ikea bag with just-picked tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, mint, basil, lettuce, peaches, green beans, and cherries for just 3 Euros for the entire bag. A loaf of fresh bread from a bakery costs 50 cents. On the other hand, a night on a dock in a marina costs over 100 Euros, and the nearby restaurants can charge that much for a meal for the 4 of us. Needless to say, we are enjoying our fresh produce while floating at anchor.

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We Love Love Love our Big Yellow Shorelines
When we lived in Seattle, we purchased a length of 20 mm floating polypropylene rope for stern tying to shore when we cruised Desolation Sound, the area back home that looks just like this anchorage. Specifically, I went to Fisheries Supply and asked to buy 100 meters of this type of rope. They had a brand new spool of 200 meters and offered to sell me the entire spool for an extra $25 dollars. I agreed, used the rope for a summer cruise in Canada, then buried it in Sophie’s forward lazarette for the next 6 years. Well, Turkey is shore tying country, and we are putting our 200 meters of floating rope to good use, doing so with a great deal of love and respect. It is quite easy to work with, especially when shore tying in a strong crosswind like we did the other day. We secured the line to a bollard on the cliff, had 100 meters of slack in the water while the wind blew Sophie parallel to the cliff, got the line onto one of our big genoa winches, and then cranked Sophie snug up to where she was supposed to be. It was awesome.

Well, that should give you a sense for how cruising in Turkey compares to cruising in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. It’s not better or worse, just different.

Here is an update on some of the projects we’ve been working on this past week:

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New Pasarelle
A pasarelle is a fancy name for the gangplank sailors in the Med use for getting on and off their boats when they are stern tied to a pier. Since all boats in the Med stern tie to piers while in harbor, pasarelles are mandatory equipment for cruising boats. For Sophie, we purchased and installed a 2.6 meter carbon fiber folding pasarelle made by GS-Composite in Slovenia.

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Its features include a nonskid surface, carbon fiber rails, a weight under 8 kilos, and a compact carrying bag for storage.

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We installed a stainless steel mount for the pasarelle on one of our port transom steps and then spent some time playing geometry with the supporting halyard to make sure that the windmills don’t chop away at the halyard during a sudden wind shift. Hazel would like to use the pasarelle as a diving board.

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Bilge Pump for the Big Dinghy
Our friends (and fellow successful Indian Ocean and Red Sea passage makers!) Terry and Christine on Tekanova have the same model Highfield dinghy we have, and they installed an electric bilge pump on theirs. Jenna and I realized that we should probably do the same.

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While we were back in Seattle last month, I found a low profile Rule model that fits in the dinghy’s bilge without having to permanently prop open the dinghy’s little bilge grate.

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I did the wiring and installed a switch the other day. The new pump works great, and it means we will have a cleaner dinghy, because we will be more willing to hose it out when it’s in the water.

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Raymarine GPS Woes
Since we left Israel, we have been intermittently losing our GPS signal on our Raymarine G Series multifunction displays. These are our primary navigation computers, and this new problem is annoying. We have multiple backup GPS units on board, including a redundant set of Navionics charts on Jenna’s iPad, so technically this is not a dangerous situation for us. Our overall Raymarine system is 8 years old, and we increasingly find ourselves having to reconnect various connection points on the proprietary SeaTalk and SeaTalkng networks that connect all of this stuff together. (The more I cruise, the more I realize that marine electronics problems are usually due to a faulty connection somewhere.) We’re still tracking down where the bad connection is for this problem, and I even disassembled the Raymarine GPS antenna and replaced its lithium battery, but that does not seem to have completely fixed the problem.

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The Fleet is Out
Now that we are back in slow cruising mode, Jenna and the kids continue to focus on making great progress on Sophie School, and I continue to work through my list of boat chores and projects.

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At this point we have our entire “fleet” of cruising toys out on Sophie’s deck and ready to use: both paddle boards, both kayaks, both dinghies, and all four bikes. We call our small dinghy “The Baby”, and we haven’t used it since Thailand.

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In Europe, The Baby will be the main vehicle the kiddies use for getting to shore on their own, most likely starting today once school is over.

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Next Steps for Sophie
We plan to slowly move ourselves along the Turkish coast for another couple of weeks before we meet some Seattle friends in Greece. We will spend a month in Greece, then head up to Montenegro and Croatia for July and August. We would like to spend the fall and winter in Italy and will try to get visitor visas for Italy to avoid the restrictions of Shengen visas (where you can only stay 90 out of every 180 days in most EU countries.)

As usual, time seems to be going by way too quickly. We are very very lucky to be spending our lives doing this. It’s all good.

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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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A Calm Between the Storms

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We mentioned a few blogs ago about how our nephew Stephen joined us for an epic 3 week visit in August, helping me with childcare and Sophie School during Jenna’s visit to the United States. Stephen returned to his home in Los Angeles on September 1st. His brother Daniel — aka “Dan da Man” — arrives on October 1st for a 2 week visit that we all hope will be equally epic.

So for the four of us on Sophie, September has turned out to be a calm period, similar in a way to the flat calm water in between two massive cannonball dives from our cat’s roof. How did we choose to spend our September?

Our Cruising Area
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Sophie has been cruising a patch of the Andaman Sea between the island of Phuket (on the left of the map) and the Thai mainland (on the right) over the last 10 weeks. For September, we started out at the Yacht Haven Marina on the northern tip of Phuket and then worked our way clockwise as we visited “James Bond Island”, Ko Hong (Ko is Thai for island), the town of Krabi, and then Ko Phi Phi Don. We are currently back in Krabi for a few days and will head west to the Ao Po Marina on Phuket in time for Dan’s arrival.

Here is a quick runthrough of our September activities.

James Bond Island
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Ko Phing Kan, otherwise known as James Bond Island, is the location from the film The Man With The Golden Gun where Roger Moore — wearing a wool plaid sportcoat — lands his seaplane on a beach in order to rescue a bikini-clad Britt Eckland, kill Christopher Lee, and recover the stolen Solex Agitator in order to help the world overcome the energy crisis created by the early 1970s OPEC oil embargo. In the movie, the island is remote and pristine. Roger Moore never breaks a sweat.
In reality, this island was one of the worst tourist traps we’ve visited on the entire cruise. There were 2,000 tourists trudging shoulder-to-shoulder from the landing beach up to the photo spot and then to the other beach which was filled with 20 shops selling plastic toys and wooden elephants. After 10 minutes I couldn’t take it any more and had to go back to the dinghy. I doubt we will return.

Ko Hong

After one night at James Bond Island, we headed 20 miles southeast to a mooring on the north side of Ko Hong, an island that is a national park. We spent a week here and loved every second of it. It was a great place for us to get back into tropical cruising mode. Jenna was able to get the kids back on track at Sophie School after the Jamie and Stephen teaching experience. I was able to get multiple boat projects done. We swam several times a day. We took the new dinghy and bombed around to the south side of the island to hang out on the beach (pictured above). We had sunny weather for a week. It’s a very happy place.

Krabi

I love Krabi.

It’s a city on a river on the mainland another 20 miles southeast from Ko Hong. We came here to restock our groceries and to renew our Thai visas at the local immigration office. As I’ve mentioned before, Krabi has a small karaoke marina on the river, and there is an esplanade that connects the marina with the town. For the first time since Penang, we were able to break the kids’ bikes out and ride up and down the waterfront.

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Hazel eventually developed the confidence to ride on city streets, so we took off to a cluster of local restaurants built on stilts over the mangrove.

I had the fish.

This was Jenna’s first visit to Krabi, and the kids loved taking their mother by the hand and showing her the town. We walked the market stalls, played Jenga, sang karaoke, and even found a coffee shop that let us watch the Patriots-Steelers game.

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We visited the Buddhist shrine located at top of a local temple. The 1,260 steps up were quite an effort for all of us, but Leo believed that the view was worth it.

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Phi Phi

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After Krabi, we headed back down to Ko Phi Phi,  where we spent the next 10 days. I thought I would provide a map to give you some perspective. On our first night we anchored off the restaurant Jasmin on the northeast coast. This anchorage provides good holding and protection against westerly winds. We dinghied in to the restaurant and enjoyed a nice meal after a full day of school.

The seas were bouncy when we woke up the next morning, so we headed around the corner and grabbed a mooring in Ton Sai Bay. The main town of Ko Phi Phi Don is located on the isthmus between the two sides of the island. We continued our pattern of school and chores during the day followed by a late afternoon dinghy trip into town for a walk and dinner. We started using our small dinghy, “The Baby” every day and enjoyed it a lot.

After three days at the mooring, a wind from the south picked up, so we decided to head around to the Monkey Beach anchorage on the northwest side of the island. What a great decision! We spent a week here and think it is one of our favorite spots of our entire trip. Jenna said “When we left the US, I assumed all of our anchorages would be like this.” Monkey beach is around the corner from the town, so you can’t really see it. There is a nice beach. The beach has monkeys. There is coral and great swimming.

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The beach on the north side of the isthmus has a great scene, so we took The Baby in every day for meals or to conduct Sophie School sessions on shore. I have to say the kids did a great job at school throughout the entire month. They have an excellent teacher.

We celebrated Leo’s 11th birthday at Monkey Beach. Jenna made him an apple pie, along with linguini with clam sauce. It’s his favorite meal.

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Leo enjoys his new underwater camera and is spending a lot of time under the boat. He says it was his best birthday ever.

After a week at Monkey Beach, we woke up one night and discovered that the boat was dragging it’s anchor during a violent squall. Jenna and I stood an anchor watch, and the next morning we headed back up to Krabi. We’ve had heavy rain for the last two days and are glad to be on a dock again. Tomorrow we will leave and start heading west towards Ao Po on Phuket. We will be ready for the cannonball splash DandaMan creates when he arrives on Thursday.

We’ve had mostly sunny weather this month. All of the machines on the boat are working. The kids are back on track at school. We like Thailand, and we love to have the opportunity to share it with family and friends. And Hazel can now drive a dinghy.

Sophie’s Thai Makeover

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Thailand is a great place to relax. It’s also a great place for cruisers to get stuff done.

It has been 18 months since Sophie left New Zealand, which is the last place where we had significant work done on the boat. Most of the repairs we did in New Zealand were structural in nature, including re-glassing some bulkheads, machining our roller furling foil, machining our boom gooseneck, and installing new rudder bearings.

Now that we are in Thailand, it’s time to take advantage of the excellent and inexpensive marine services industry here and have some new work done to our home. Most of the additions to Sophie this time are in response to the ongoing, relentless onslaught of the tropical sun. We are very excited about these upgrades, which are making our home look shiny and new.

Sophie is our home, our classroom, our workplace, our movie theater, our garage, our laundromat, our power plant, our municipal water and sewage service, and our dance floor. Don’t forget about the dance floor part. It’s the platform for Sophie Adventure Cruises, our nickname for how we go about sharing our lives with friends and family. Any time we do upgrades here, it’s a big deal for us.

We’ve just done some upgrades that make us happy in a Christmas morning-kind-of-way. Let me walk you through what we’ve done so far.

Our New Ride

Sophie has a new dinghy! When you are out cruising, your dinghy is your car. You use it for everything. Sophie’s old dinghy was a Walker Bay Genesis RIB with a 20 HP Honda four stroke outboard. We bought it new in 2008. It was a great dinghy for a long time, but over the last two years it’s fabric began to fray, it’s hull began to leak, and the engine became so finicky that I was the only one in the family (including #Stepheniswinning) who could start it.

Jenna, in particular, did not enjoy having a dinghy that she couldn’t start, especially after she was caught out in rain squalls once or twice. So for the last six months we’ve been dinghy shopping.

We settled on a Highfield Ocean Master 3.5 meter RIB with a 30 HP Tohatsu 2 stroke outboard and Hypalon tubes, all purchased from Cholamark Boats in Phuket. We first rode in a Highfield with our friends on Nalukai last Christmas. Our new dinghy has a heavy duty, reinforced aluminum double hull, which will be strong enough to withstand the demands that Sophie Adventure Cruises puts on a tender. We also ordered a Sunbrella tube cover in “Sophie Green” along with a grey engine cover.

The boat is designed for a center console with steering wheel, but we decided to forego this option. The result is a cavernous interior that will hold 8 adults, and we think that the Tohatsu has enough oomph to get up on a plane with such a heavy load. Please also note the aluminum transom reinforcements, the multiple welded attach points for lines, and the nonskid surface on the deck.

We like the design of the bow. It features a cushioned seat with an integrated 35 liter fuel tank and fuel gauge. Above that is a nonskid bow platform with a cleat and anchor roller. It’s now quite pleasant to step down from the dinghy onto Sophie’s transom.

The bow platform also makes an excellent launch pad for doing can openers.

On the transom, we mounted Beach Master retractable wheels. (Yes, I know, an Ocean Master needs a Beach Master.) These are made in New Zealand and are easily the strongest dinghy wheels we’ve seen yet.

They’ve worked flawlessly on five beaches so far, including a landing amidst the chaos known as Maya Beach on Phi Phi Le. The only downside to this arrangement is that the weight of the fuel tank is now located in the bow, requiring someone with the strength of a bull to lift and pull from the front of the cart.

The best part of the new dinghy? It has an electric starter, powered by a battery located in this cute little box. Actually, this is a wonderful feature, especially after the last 5 months of prayers and frustration that were often required to get our old dinghy running. The best part of the new dinghy is the confidence it gives us to go longer distances, crushing through waves in the process. We’ve already done a 10 mile trip with #Stepheniswinning, and we hope there will be many more to come.

Our New Baby

We liked the idea of buying a new dinghy so much, we bought two! This is a Highfield 2.5 meter Roll-Up with Hypalon tubes, a 3.5 HP Tohatsu 2 stroke outboard, and Sunbrella covers that match the covers on her older sibling. We call this craft “The Baby,” and the name works. The Baby weighs 50 pounds, including the motor.

When we are underway, we can deflate The Baby, roll it up into a bag, and store it in a locker. We will mount the engine on a stern rail.

It’s quite common for cruisers on bigger boats to have a second, smaller dinghy. Small dinghies are easy for two people to carry up a beach if you are landing in surf. They are useful for exploring shallow waters, including the Hongs here in Thailand. They make great platforms for the kids. We told Leo and Hazel that they could drive The Baby on their own once they had read the engine manual and passed a driving test. It was so much fun to watch Hazel sitting in the dinghy, Tohatsu manual in hand, going over the different parts of the motor for over an hour. She started the engine on her own yesterday, and 30 minutes later was giving her mother instructions on how to drive The Baby. Living the dream …

New Exterior Cushions

The tropical climate has been especially harsh on our exterior cushions over the last two years. The stitching was disintegrating, interior foam had deteriorated, and the white vinyl surfaces had turned a grayish-black. I had tried every combination of cleaner-detergent-vinegar-bleach-shamanism imaginable, but the original color wasn’t coming back. So we replaced them all with new cushions made from closed cell foam and with a slightly more ergonomic design. The overall effect is to make Sophie look brighter and cleaner. For the flybridge, we even added circular cushion back rests. These make Jenna very happy.

The forward cockpit looks clean and inviting, especially for couples at sunset.

The aft cockpit looks like children have never visited the boat. For now.

Addressing UV Damage on the Flybridge
Sophie’s flybridge, the place up top where we steer and sail the boat, is very exposed to the sun. Some of the material up there required repairs or replacements.

Our bimini, which we rarely used in Seattle but has been up pretty much nonstop for the last the three years, was starting to lose it’s seams and stitching along the zippers. We had them all repaired.

The same goes for our wheel cover.

We have mesh netting on the rope wells on either side of the wheel. The old netting had disintegrated. The new netting looks quite nice.

New SUP Covers

We love our stand up paddleboards, but the plastic travel bags we bought for them in San Diego 30 months ago started to leave a trail of silver dust behind them wherever they went. Two months ago, they literally disintegrated and turned to dust wherever you touched them. These new covers are made from Sunbrella and will hopefully last longer.

New Interior Leather

Sophie’s salon cushions and master cabin couch cushions were originally covered in ultrasuede, and we could run these cushion covers through the washing machine whenever they started to get dirty. But the tropics eventually took their toll, and everything soon became a dull, spotted grey. We met some friends in Langkawi who had switched to leather about four years ago, and their interior looks great. We decided to take the plunge. From my perspective the salon looks brand new, but I am a little scared to sit on them.

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I think that the sofa in our cabin looks great as well. I especially like Hazel’s invention for opening cabinets at the pull of a string.

New Ink
Not all of our Thai cosmetic upgrades happened to Sophie over the last month. The crew got some cosmetic upgrades as well, in the form of tattoos.

As we’ve mentioned previously in this blog, we’ve added five tattoos to Sophie’s crew since we started this adventure. Jenna, Dan, Max, Becca and I all got tattoos in French Polynesia. Now that we are in Thailand,  #Stepheniswinning and I decided early on in his trip that it was time for two more. We found an interesting tattoo parlor in Phi Phi with an excellent artist who used traditional bamboo and decided to give it a go.

This is Stephen’s first tattoo, and we all really like the design. It was also a little scary watching a guy wearing a Steelers shirt jab bamboo needles into the arm of a guy wearing a Pats shirt. But it was all good in the end.

This is my eighth tattoo and the second one that is not cancer-related. Some day I plan to have as many tattoos that I chose as I had from my cancer treatment. “Were’d you go?” is the chorus to a Clash song I used to sing with my older children when they were kids. It’s a reminder to me that I have a bigger family than the ones who are fortunate enough to be with me right now. It’s about travel, expectations, culture, experience, separation, loss, and hope.

To me, it’s perfect. Just like all of the fancy new upgrades to our little floating home. New dinghies, cushions, canvas, leather, and ink. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

#StephenIsWinning

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Jenna left Sophie two weeks ago for a trip back to the United States. She went there to attend a high school reunion, visit with family, and participate in her cousin Eric’s wedding. Two weeks is a long time to be away from Sophie, and it’s the longest time we’ve been apart since we got married.

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How on earth was I going to manage the kids and the boat for two whole weeks without some adult assistance? As soon as Jenna left, Hazel went through Jenna’s wardrobe and modeled all of her clothing. That was a lot of fun, but it only killed two hours. I suggested hiring a live-aboard Thai nanny for a couple of weeks, but somehow that got ruled out.

Fortunately, Stephen Utzschneider came to my rescue. Stephen is the oldest of my 30 or so nieces and nephews, and he agreed to take one for the team, fly out to Phuket, and be my wingman for two weeks, helping out with the dishes, laundry, cleaning, schoolwork, and all the other things guys do on a boat in Thailand when the wife is out of town for a couple of weeks.

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So why is Stephen #Winning? Well, Stephen has a younger brother named Daniel, and Daniel will be joining us in Phuket for a visit next month. Like most brothers, Stephen and Daniel occasionally compete with each other, and they are apparently competing over who is going to have more fun on their Phuket Sophie Adventure Cruise.

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But Jenna is not here, and her absence raises an interesting philosophical question: does a visiting nephew have more fun on Sophie in Thailand when Jenna is on board, or when she is gone? This is something Stephen and I have discussed over breakfast beers during the last week. On the one hand, Jenna is among the top five most fun people in the world and has partnered with me on this epic, globe-circling adventure cruise. On the other hand, there is breakfast beer.

Stephen and I have concluded that just like there are multiple types of intelligence, there are multiple types of fun. Stephen vs. Daniel will not be a linear comparison. And I will let all of you vote with your comments next month after Daniel’s visit on whom you think had more fun. But since Daniel has not yet stepped onto the playing field, I have to say that Stephen is winning. He’s off to a great start.

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Stephen was greeted with bright sunshine and a slight easterly breeze on his first morning on Sophie, so we left the Ao Po Grand Marina and headed south to Koh Racha Yai, an island 14 miles south of Phuket. Our initial destination was “Beer Beach”, a small enclave on the northeast side of the island. But the seasonal monsoon had disappeared, so we picked up a mooring in the bay on the west side of the island and enjoyed one of the nicest silica beaches in Thailand. Hazel got her surf on, and we all got to snorkel the reefs.

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The bay had a nice restaurant on a hill directly overlooking the beach. Stephen and I spent hours there discussing who was going to have more fun while we watched the kiddies play in the surf. We also made friends with a couple from Australia, who observed (after seeing the kids and me) that my wife must be very beautiful, because Leo and Hazel certainly didn’t get their looks from me.

I love Ozzies. I really do.

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After Rocha, we headed east to Phi Phi Don, where we grabbed a mooring in Ton Sai Bay. Sophie is one of the boats on the left side of the photo. This island was badly hit by the 2004 tsunami, which came in on both sides of the isthmus, destroying every building in town and killing thousands of people. Thankfully, they have rebuilt. The bay to the right has an excellent backpacker beach club scene, and we spent hours there hanging out, eating pizza and playing board games.

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We had fun.

After a couple of days of this, we decided to head around the corner to Laem Tong Beach, the home of Jasmin restaurant and Peter, the Scottish dude whom we had met before. First we pulled into Maya Bay on Phi Phi Le, but the strong westerly wind made the bay untenable for Sophie. We grabbed a mooring off of Jasmin, but a 70 foot fishing boat kicked us off the mooring. We dropped a hook with a lot of rode, which was a good thing, because an hour later a squall with 50 knot winds came though and kicked the widdershins out of us. That fishing boat was joined by another 40 foot boat, and they both dragged the mooring for over a mile during the squall, missing Sophie by 100 feet.

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But the weather cleared, and we were able to head into Jasmin for dinner. The kiddies enjoyed playing on the beach.

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The next night we helped Jasmin (above) and Peter evaluate whether or not to add cheeseburgers and ribs to their menu. The samples were excellent. I know, I know, it’s a lot of work. But when you are called, you need t do your job. Later that night I took over the stereo and played DJ for their 100 guests. I tried to only play bands from Scotland.The Proclaimers even got me a hug from Peter.

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Aster a few days of this, we decided to head over to Krabi, a city of 50,000 on the Thai mainland. We were low on produce and beer and needed to stock up. It was a great decision. I love love love Krabi; it’s one of my favorite stops in the last year. Why? It has a cute, clean, safe marina that hosts karaoke at night.

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On the one side of the marina is huge park with playgrounds, running trails, and soccer fields. On the other side the of the marina is a waterfront promenade that leads you into town.

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Krabi itself is a real Asian city with a little bit of backpacker tourism thrown in. We were able to take Stephen to food stalls, wet markets, and crowded city streets.

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They even had public art that I can only describe as Planet of the Apes traffic signals.

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They have a nice Buddhist temple on a hill.IMG20150823154802

While there, Hazel contemplated her inner warrior goddess. She says that meditation helps her win at Settlers of Catan. It must work, because she has been crushing us.

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Meanwhile, Stephen has been an excellent influence on Leo. They go off and have their bro talks, and afterwards Leo returns and asks “Dad, what can I do to help?” It’s really nice to watch them interact, especially when Stephen helps Leo with his Sophie pull ups.

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We will definitely return again to Krabi.

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Right now we are anchored off Koh Dam Hok. It has a beach bar scene to the left, and a coral wall on that island to the right. We’ll stay here for 2 nights, then head back to Ao Po Grand to collect Jenna.

We miss her very much. The kids have worked hard at school despite all of the distractions. The boat is relatively clean. All of the machines are working. But it’s not the same boat without her. And Stephen stays with us for another week after Jenna returns. So this whole question of whether or not you have more fun on Sophie if Jenna is here, for Stephen, is irrelevant. For him, it’s an “and”, not an “or”.  He gets the best of both worlds.

#StephenIsWinning. So am I.