Voyage of Traveler / Blog

October 28, 2009

We arrived safely in the Canary Islands

All’s well.
We arrived safely in the Canary Islands, making our first island Graciosa 29-13.7N, 013-30.1W.  We will buy diesel, check out the small charming village here, and stay one night at the Caleta del Sebo Marina, then cruise around to the other islands.
Yansen did not need a Spanish visa to visit the Canary Islands, even though this is part of Spain.  I just listed him on the crew list for Traveler.  No problemo.

October 25, 2009

Traveler Postcard, More From Morocco

Hi, Everyone,

Brian and I went out surfing yesterday here in Rabat at the river jetties that forms the harbor entrance, with the centuries old Kasbah fortress on the bluff.  The waves were up from a big storm in the north Atlantic, and we joined about a dozen local surfers by having some fun with some 6 to 8 foot waves.  Brian was on our surfboard and I was just body surfing.  It reminded us of our time body boarding at Teahupoo in Tahiti, which was the last time we caught waves together.

While these waves in Morocco were fun for us, they were a disaster for “Summer Wind”, a Jeanneau 45 from the UK just a couple of hours earlier as they tried to enter the harbor.  They waited just outside the jetties to observe the wave pattern, and when they thought it was safe they powered in at full speed between sets.  They didn’t make it.  Four huge waves hit them as they were in the shallow part of the harbor entrance.  They were able to ride the first three waves, but the fourth wave, about ten feet high, broke behind them. They tried their best to keep their boat straight in the soupy white water.  But the wave quickly filed their cockpit, flooded the open companionway hatch and poured down below, and washed about four feet high over the deck, tearing off their bimini.  Then the force of the wave caused the boat to broach to port.  Being sideways on a breaking wave caused the boat to capsize, and all four of the people on board were thrown overboard.  Thankfully, they all had their PFD inflatable life jackets on which, they told me, without a doubt saved their lives. The boat managed to right itself, and thankfully the engine stalled, because when they broached it was in gear with full throttle.  Had the engine not stalled, after righting itself it would have powered into the breakwater with no one left on board to steer her and been crushed by the rocks and waves.  This model Jeanneau has a swim step, and eventually all four of the crew were able to get back on board, but it took about 20 minutes for them to do so as wave after wave kept breaking on them in the channel.  They swam to the boat, fighting a strong rip current.  After several minutes, they were able to get the boat’s engine re-started, but in the meantime she bumped the rock jetty a few times, causing minor hull damage.  All electronics (chart plotter and radar, VHF and SSB radios, cameras, cell phones, TV), along with all clothes, bedding, charts, books, and food were drenched with the sea water that flooded the cabin. But all crew survived, and they managed to save the boat, bail it out and limp into the marina, where they are docked across from Traveler. Lessons learned: (1) always wear your life jacket, and (2) if the conditions are dangerous, better to wait, if possible.  Hind sight is always 20-20, and obviously they would have been better off staying a safe distance off the harbor entrance until the waves diminished and the conditions to enter the harbor were safe. They entered the harbor at low tide, when the channel is only about ten feet deep over the sand bar.  At high tide, about five hours later, the channel was about 16 feet deep over the bar, which made enough of a difference.  The waves were still rolling in between the jetties at high tide, but were not breaking.

This gave me time to reflect on close calls we have had this voyage on Traveler.  I counted five.

The first was on passage from Hawaii to Tahiti.  With wave after wave breaking over our bow, I noticed the bow was low in the water.  The waves had filled the anchor locker and it was not draining, I discovered, because when I had the boat painted six months earlier in NB the painter, not realizing the purpose or significance of the drains at the bottom of the anchor locker, just painted over them. By turning the boat down wind, the waves were no longer breaking over the bow and I bailed out the locker with a small bucket.  I managed to reach down to the twin drains and un-clog them by poking a coat hanger through the paint.  Lesson learned, check to make sure your drains are not plugged before going to sea.

Nearly a year later, while motoring across the calm waters of a lagoon of a horseshoe-shaped island in Fiji, we bumped a reef.  We were trying to make an anchorage as the sun was setting, with about a half mile to go.  The boat went from 5 knots to a dead stop with a horrendous noise as our hull crunched coral. (Or was it coral crunching our hull?) We quickly found that there were no leaks and then we just backed off the reef and anchored there for the night. The chart plotter had an error (known as a chart offset), and we were actually about 200 hundred yards south of where we thought we were, as shown on the screen.  Lesson learned: (1) do not try to find an anchorage in unfamiliar water at or near sunset when visibility is poor, and (2) do not assume your chart plotter is always accurate.

This past May, in the northern Red Sea while motoring into 30 knots of headwinds with steep waves breaking over the bow, I noticed the bow was very low in the water.  I went below to see if we were taking on water, and yes we were, lots of it.  The forward v-berth was awash with the floor boards floating knee deep and the sea water was pouring in.  But from where, and how to stop it?  We were close to sinking, and it all happened in just a couple of minutes. I had to stop the incoming water quickly or we were going down.  The cowl vent to the anchor locker had a plastic bag over it with a cable tie, but a wave ripped that off allowing water to pour into the anchor locker.  A $2 cotton work glove that I use to handle crusty mooring lines had fallen off its hook and plugged the drain.  Once the anchor locker was full, water spilled over the top of the bulkhead and quickly filled the forward deck locker, located immediately aft of the anchor locker.  And once that locker filled, it caused the bow to go under and the sea water spilled over the top of the bulkhead from the deck locker to the forward V-berth.  I turned the boat around to run with the wind so the waves stopped breaking over the bow.  Now the bilge pumps could go to work with no new water coming on board.  It still took about 20 minutes to get 95% of the water out of the boat, and two days to get the boat dry again, and another three days to dry out the mattresses in the V-berth.  One misplaced $2 work glove nearly sank Traveler.  Lesson learned: (1) keep nothing in the anchor locker that can plug the drain, and (2) find a more bullet-proof way to keep water from going down the cowl vent on the hatch to the anchor locker.

In June, while at the island of Aegina in Greece, just after anchoring, we noticed the bilge pump was on.  Why?  We opened the engine room hatch and saw that water was gushing in from the packing gland where the propeller shaft goes through the hull.  We tried to stop the incoming stream of water, but the leak just got worse.  The problem was beyond our ability to repair ourselves.  With the bilge pump able to keep up and Barbara on board, I went ashore at 11pm on a Sunday night to find a mechanic.  Within a half hour, I persuaded a mechanic to leave his bar stool and come out to the boat.  He was able to stop the leak temporarily, but said the boat had to be hauled to fix it properly, which we did early the next morning.  Had this leak started when we were ashore, the automatic electric bilge pump would have soon drained the batteries and stopped working, and Traveler would have sank.  I understand a leaky propeller shaft is the number one cause of yachts sinking.

And then in July, while in Kotor, Montenegro, just after raising the anchor to depart, we noticed the bilge pump came on.  Why?  Where is the leak coming from this time?  We opened the engine hatch and saw that a hose clamp had broken, and the water was flooding in at a faster rate than the bilge pump could handle.  The flow of water stopped when we turned off the engine.  We managed to replace the hose clamp, and we were on our way again.

We also lost the steering three times this voyage, which could have been disasterous if we were near shore–twice on the Transpac Race and once between Bali and Singapore.  Each time we were well out to sea and able to fix it while under way.  Last month, in Barcelona at the North Wind Yard, we made improvements to the steering system so, hopefully, that should problem not happen again.

Were we lucky, or unlucky?  Depends on how you look at it.  These close calls are all a part of cruising and, in talking with other yachties, also fairly typical.  And a good reason to carry both a life raft and insurance.

Livin’ the Dream,

October 23, 2009

Traveler Postcard From Rabat, Still

October 23, 2009

Still in the Bouregreg Marina
Sale (Rabat), Morocco


The big news here is that Yansen got his US Visa!  It was not easy.  Of the 100 or so people who had a visa interview the same morning as Yansen, only about 20 got approved, the rest were denied for one reason or another.  On Yansen’s behalf, I requested a visa for one year, but was expecting a visa that would be good for only about ten weeks because that was the date of his return plane ticket to Jakarta, Indonesia.  (We do not arrive in San Diego until the first week of July 2010, and September 14, 2010 was the farthest date out I could book a return flight.)  As it turned out, the US Consulate granted Yansen a four year visa, with multiple entries, so he can come and go as he pleases up until October of 2013!

We did an overnight side trip by train to Marrakesh (”Don’t you know were riding on the Marrakesh Express”).  The main square in Marrakesh, the Jemaa el Fna in the heart of the old medina, was packed, as always, with snake charmers, acrobats, story tellers, magicians and musicians.  It was quite a sight to behold, wandering around, and taking it all in.

We plan on sailing south for two days to the coastal resort of Agadir, Morocco, about 285 miles, and stay there for a couple of nights.  From there we will sail to the Canary Islands.  We plan on cruising to about five or six out of the eight Canary Islands over four weeks.  My friend, Larry Sharpless (we crewed together on Transpac 2003 and he sailed with us from Kona, Hawaii to Papeete) flies in to join us for the long passage across the Atlantic.  With Yansen and Brian, that will make four of us, so the watches will be reasonable.  We depart on November 22 together with about 250 other yachts, much like ours, who are part of the Atlantic Rally For Cruisers (the ARC.)

Today, the surf is up from a big storm in the North Atlantic, and we are going to check it out now.  Brian met some local Moroccans his age plans on surfing with them.

Livin’ the Dream,

October 17, 2009

Traveler Postcard From Fez and Casablanca

October 17, 2009
Bouregreg Marina, Rabat, Morocco           View photo gallery on Picasa

Bonjour! Ca va? Parlez-vous anglais?

Everyone here in Morocco speaks Arabic and French, and rarely will we find someone who speaks any English.

Please check the voyageoftraveler website.  We just put a link to Picasa so it is easy to find our photos, including some new ones from Cap Ferrat to Barcelona, from Gibraltar and from Morocco.  On Traveler’s Homepage, under the heading “Updates”, click on Traveler’s Photo Gallery on Picasa, then click on an album.

A few days ago Brian, Yansen and I took a side trip by train (3.5 hours) to Fez, the cultural capital of Morocco, and stayed one night in a pension (on a scale of one to five, I’d give it a half star) in the ancient walled medina, a World Heritage Site.  It is an amazing maze of narrow, winding alleys with lots of dead ends, and very easy to get turned around and lost. Throughout the medina, the “streets” are way too narrow for cars so it is all foot traffic, with an occasional donkey-drawn cart.  For a few durhams, a local will gladly show you around or help you find your way back to your pension, or more likely lead you to his cousin’s rug shop.  We ate from the food stalls, like the locals, trying our best to just ignore the ever-present flies.  Next to us, while we were eating our dinner, on a crowded, narrow street, the poultry vendor sold live chickens.  He had about 40 in a cage to choose from, and would dress them on the spot for you while you waited.

We also took a side trip to Casablanca yesterday, just for the day, by train (1.5 hours).  In the 15th and 16th centuries, Casablanca was thick with pirates who attacked the ships from Portugal and Spain as they returned from the New World full of treasures. During WWII, “Casa” (as the locals call it) was a part of unoccupied France and a safe haven for European refugees escaping the Nazis and trying to get to the US to start a new life.  Now it is the largest city in Morocco with a population of 3.8 million (the third largest in Africa, after Cairo and Lagos) and is the economic center for this country.

After a walk around the old medina and marketplace, we had lunch at Rick’s Cafe, bought the t-shirt and the “Casablanca” DVD and then watched Bogie and Bergman last night when we got back on board Traveler.  The Best Picture for 1942 is one of my favorites, and has many great lines:

“Your nationality, Mssr. Rick?”
“I’m a drunkard.”

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

In the final scene at the airport, Louie tells the arriving police, “Major Strossel has been shot.” He first then takes a long look at Rick, who just shot the major, and then continues by giving the order, “Round up the usual suspects.”

And the classic closing line of all time, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

I think I’ll watch it again.

Vivant le reve,
Marrakesh Mike

P.S.  We have an appointment on November 4 at the US Consulate in Casablanca for the required interview for Yansen’s US visa application.  All visa applications are handled there instead of the nearby US Embassy in Rabat.  Yansen is nervous, and so am I.  A lot is at stake on this interview.  For Yansen, no visa means no entry to the US, and he will have to fly home to Indonesia, probably from Ensenada.  His English is still weak, and I cannot join him on the interview and must wait outside.

October 10, 2009

Traveler Postcard From Cartegena, Malaga, Gibraltar, Tangier and Rabat

That means “peace” in Arabic and is the common greeting here in Morocco and throughout the Arab world.

Cartegena, September 27, Michael, Brian and Jake.
After sailing through the night, we arrive mid-day in a storm.  The wind was blowing 20, with gusts to 30, with steady rain and lightning.  In spite of the weather, the Cartegena YC went ahead with their End of the Season Regatta with about 30 boats racing out of the harbor as we motored in.  We took a berth at a new marina and never saw the town due to the rain.  At 0330, Jake woke up because a cucaracha had crawled into bed with him and Jake pulled the big fat bug out of his hair.  We all got up, sprayed the boat from bow to stern, and with head lamps on killed 30+ of them, in all sizes, over the next 20 minutes.  Hard to go back to sleep after that.  So we motored over to the fuel dock, which is self-serve 24/7 using a credit card to pay, and topped off the tank while it lightly drizzled.  Then we departed “Cucaracha Cartegena” for Malaga at 0500.

Malaga, September 29 to October 1.
We motor-sailed through the night for the 185 nm from Cartegena to Malaga, arrived at dawn and entered the commercial harbor. The YC had no room for us and a night watchman there directed us the main quay, where we tied up stern to the wharf next to about 40 other boats, all of them local.  I found it odd that there were no other cruising boats in the entire harbor.  As we shut down the engine we noticed heavy smoke coming from the engine compartment, which filled the cabin when I opened the hatch to check it out.  I found that two of the three bolts that connect the exhaust elbow to the turbo charger had sheered off causing an exhaust leak, a lot of noise and a loss of compression. While we were in the North Wind yard in Barcelona, we had a mechanic change those bolts, at the recommendation of the surveyor, from regular steel to high temperature steel, and the mechanic simply over-torqued the nuts when reconnecting the two parts causing metal fatigue on the bolts.  They broke off with normal engine vibration, after less than 100 engine hours.  To complicate matters, the Port Police came by and said we had to move the boat because we had taken the berth of a local boat who was expected back sometime soon, and visiting yachts were not permitted to stay there anyway.  Well, we couldn’t move the boat until the repairs were made, and it took three days and cost 600 Euros to fix the problem.  The Port Police came by the boat–I’m not exaggerating–about 30 times over those three days to see how the repairs were coming and when we were leaving.  Not very hospitable or accommodating.

Gibraltar, October 2.  What a delightful and fascinating place.  We motored the 65nm from Malaga to “Gib” through the night in calm conditions.  We arrived at this British colony at dawn and left the same day at sunset, which is just enough time to see it all because it is so small.  We hired a tour guide who drove us around the Rock for a three-hour tour.  We saw St. Michael’s Cavern, a huge natural grotto that was once home to Neolithic inhabitants, with a 100,000 year-old female Neanderthal skull found there in 1848.  The cavern is so huge that in one part it has a stage and seating for about 500 for concerts and plays, surrounded by amazing stalactites and stalagmites.  After the cave, we played with and fed the famous Gibraltar monkeys, actually Barbary macaques, Europe’s only wild primates.  We also enjoyed walking through the Great Siege Tunnels, hand-hewn by the British for placing artillery during the battles with Spain from 1779 to 1783.  Gibraltar has been a strategic military installation during both World Wars, and it was bombed by the Italians in 1942.  The latest siege came as recently as 1960 when Spain, under the rule of General Franco, tried to take it back from Britain, who has controlled the Rock since 1704.  The border between Gibraltar and Spain was closed and under heavy military control from 1960 to 1985, when it finally reopened.  Gibraltar has been self-governing since 1969 and has its own parliament and flag.  During ancient Roman and Greek times, Gibraltar was one of the two “Pillars of Hercules,” the other being across the strait in Morocco.  From here, Hercules mythically split Europe from Africa and strait between them represented the western edge of the known world, beyond which early sailors dared not venture.

Tangier, October 2 to 7.
With our short passage SW across the strait, less than 30 miles from Gibraltar to Tangier, we not only went from Europe to Africa but also from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, a significant milestone on our circumnavigation.  We also had a crew change here.  Jake, who has been with us since Nice on August 17, flew home.  Jake had a great time, seeing six countries on two continents in six weeks.  And Yansen, our Indonesian friend we met in Bali and who crewed with us from there to Singapore, was scheduled to join us just two days after the deadly earthquakes in his home town of Padang.  We were doubting he would make it out of Padang, and were concerned that maybe he or his family were hurt in the quakes.  All power was cut off in the city of 900,000, so were were unable to confirm his status by phone or email. But Yansen made it, and we were very glad to be reunited at the Tangier Airport.  Yansen will be with Brian and me for the rest of the voyage, over the next nine months.  October 3 also marked the 21st birthday for Brian.  (Of course, it was also the big Twenty-One for his twin brother Scott, who celebrated in Berkeley.)  For Brian, we took a guided tour of the town, including the old medina and kasbah, rode camels and had a traditional Moroccan feast. I bought him a Moroccan rug as a souvenir and birthday present.  Another memorable moment here in Tangier was playing soccer on the beach at low tide with the locals.

Rabat, arrived October 8, Michael, Brian and Yansen.
We are docked at the new Bouregreg Marina in the ancient capital of Rabat, Morocco, with Traveler berthed next to the King’s fleet of five yachts, so you can imagine the security.  We had a dock party last night with the other yachties, about 30 people from eight countries, on 13 boats, with four other boats from the US. It is the most US boats I’ve seen together anywhere since leaving the Hawaiian Islands. Brian wore his Fez and Tangier t-shirt (with camels caravaning across the Sahara) and he played his African drum, while the rest of us traded books and DVDs, drank a few beers and traded cruising stories of high adventure. We will be in Morocco for another week or two, then off to the Canary Islands…

Living the Dream,
Michael, Brian and Yansen

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