Monday, July 22, 2013

First impressions of an offshore voyage...

We made it!

I thought I'd just jot down a couple of my first impressions from our first trip while it is still fresh and before we get absorbed in the new 'cruising' way of life here in Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

So we left Galveston last Friday morning and FINALLY headed into the big blue. Now it's Sunday nine days hence and we've just got in.

What took us?

When we left we said we'd be at least a week to our nearest and dearest but I now see that Dunc's deliberate vagueness is the way to go. Of course people want to know when they are 'allowed' to start worrying, but this emphasis on time does not fit with our way of sailing.

Nothing went wrong on our trip... well, that patently isn't true, but the sentiment is; loads of things needed our attention as we went along, but nothing impeded our journey.

The reason it took us nine days to travel what could have been around 650 miles is that we really like sailing.   Listening to the engine rumbling away, we like less.   We're pretty confident that once in favourable winds Impetuous could easily clock off 120-150 miles a day.   However, the path that we needed to take across the gulf of Mexico was not such a trip.

The wind was constantly varying it's strength and direction, though more often than not coming from the South, the East or somewhere in between.   Since our path to the Yucatan channel between Mexico and Cuba was a definite South-East this meant if we wanted to sail, we couldn't go straight there, we probably did several hundred extra miles.   This presented no problem to either Duncan nor I; we were here to go sailing, not to get there quick; just wish I'd told my mum two weeks!

So, do I like it?

This was, for other people, by no means a given. I am not an experienced sailor, but I really did just 'know' that I'd love it.

Did I get seasick?

The fact that I've been horribly sick most times I've been out on a boat (away from our sedate canals that is) was only a minor concern to me. The fact that I've always loved these trips despite being sick has always been an indicator for me just how much I love the sea.

One such trip that particularly sticks in my mind was whale watching when I was nine; I spent the entire time sharing the toilet with my poor mum, but when my mum was in there, I could snatch a weary look out at the ocean and the whales...before returning. It was my highlight of our three week holiday!  Also, my learning to dive program 'down under' included a three day dive trip on the Great Barrier Reef; I remember being up one night leaning over the side feeling retched, when I thought, 'it's slippy and rough, if I fell over, no-one would know I was missing until tomorrow...' this is great!   I love that feeling of being alone and knowing the responsibility is mine.

As it happens, and I can't really explain it, I was not sick once. Sure I felt queasy several times but nothing a lie down or a spot of being outside in the wind couldn't fix.  I can only hope this continues.  Our boats' motion is very gentle and feels reassuringly stable.  Even when slamming into big waves heeled over, she just felt solid and fine. We'll have plenty worse to come over the years so I'm ready for this to change.

Did we get bored?

No no no no no. There was loads to do, though we didn't do many of the jobs we could have done, we just enjoyed the boat. I still love sitting staring out to sea with an empty head and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Did we have any strong winds?

We had two patches; when two reefs and just the staysail were plenty. I had expected the weather to be bad at times during this trip, so what we got was a pleasant surprise.

The first blew up thankfully whilst I was asleep and which Duncan dealt with the worst of without ever needing any help. It continued to blow hard for 36 hours and the seas got quite big, but it just felt expected, and a bit exciting!

The second blew up fast when we were in the bay of Campeche. We were unsure about which way to go at the time so the weather helped us to choose to head back out, ENE away from the short choppy waves.

In the worst of it, the boat noises; crashes, bangs and shudders; feeling the boat get knocked this way and that, was of course concerning, but very soon I got accustomed to knowing that Impetuous could handle it, no problem... could I, outside helming? I should think so.

Best bits

I love being at sea just as much as I thought I would and wish the trip had been longer.

I was delighted that I could still be well enough inside to cook some of the time and eat Duncan's lovely creations, so we had some excellent slap up meals.

'Beryl' our Aries windvane; once we got the ropes around the right way (oops) she worked brilliantly. It's amazing to just leave the steering to her and know that she almost always does a better job than I could!

We still like each other, see bad bits...

My confidence is growing all the time in sail handling and knowing what to do; though I still need a bit more practice before I want to be the one that goes on deck to reef when an unexpected squall hits...

We're both so proud of all the work we've put into our boat and are now able to enjoy her where she should be!

Bad bits

In nasty seas and strong head winds, our boat doesn't sail very close to the wind. Our enormous genoa rolled up amplifies this. We have always intended to have the traditional cutter rig for which the Alajuela was designed, but have only so far got the sails which came with the boat. Once we make a new smaller jib and modify the staysail we think she will fair much better. There was a whole day and night when we were tacking back and forth struggling to get her to point closer to the wind and in the end we had to be happy with not going backwards. The waves were making steering a careful close course difficult and knocking back any progress that we made.

I got a bit pouty when I saw that Duncan was going to spend the majority of his time reading and not hanging out chatting or teaching me this and that. After a little strop I realised that that's fine; I like my space too and we've bought the Glenans sailing book so I've got a big wedge of french wisdom to draw upon when I've got questions.

Water, leaks and sogginess. The worst leak was our front hatch which at one point literally poured in with each wave that crashed onto the bow. This was not unforseen as we hadn't gotten around to weather stripping it or putting the second clasp on. It is being worked on and hasn't leaked for a few days... The general sogginess of everything gets me down much more than Dunc, who has grown used to his wooden boat; he says that when she is sailed hard that there is usually a constant stream cascading down the inside of her clinker built hull.  Impetuous is apparently quite a 'dry' boat so I should learn to be pleased...  Since we had plenty of fine days in which to air and clean up, I managed.

We'll post some blue water photos and a bit about where we are in the days to come, but for now, I'm eager to go find a COLD beer (still not fitted our compressor for the fridge... maybe tomorrow)


ianb said...

Yaaa Hoooo - I'd be lying if I said we weren't a little worried ;-)
The journey sounds brilliant with just enough adventure for your maiden passage. Now at least you can look into some water that's worth looking into - we will have to make do with Galveston Bay for a little while longer. Take care and hopefully catch up in October.
Ian, Jodi & Abbey (who asks every time we sail past "your spot" where you are when she cannot see your golden masts)

Dan said...

Congrats on a successful passage. Sounds like everything went pretty good overall.

Mike Wagoner said...

Wow - excellent - I spent 25 years in the Navy and know about ships but very little about boats. I have had great anticipation that a British Team would win the Tour de France and that we would receive a blog from you guys - now both wishes have been granted - Speaking of Duncan reading a lot I just finished a three book series on how Boudica of the Celtic Iceni tribe had the Romans on the run until a trap in a narrow valley resulted in her death and a terrible defeat to the Celts. I am now reading a book called Arthur Britannicus - so far it has my attention and took place about 200 years after Boudica. So I will now end by saying Bravo Zulu "A naval signal, typically conveyed by flaghoist or voice radio, meaning "Well Done".... can't wait to see some pictures.

Mike Wagoner said...

Also have to add that I too like Ian, Jodi & Abbey find it sad to pass by and no longer see your beautiful boat and the little blue work tent.... sort of a hollow feeling. But glad you are on your way and we can all be sea going adventurers through your blog :)

Anonymous said...

I'm with your Mom, a bit worried but had faith that you'd show up safe somewhere.

We met you the morning of your "premature" going away party, Duncan invited us but our schedule was fixed.

Later we met a couple of sailor, Bill & Carolyn of Kemah, while in Rockport TX July 7th & discussed your adventure & he assused us that you would be OK. Their boat also has wooden mast.