The life of a Sailor.


February 18, 2011

 
For me sailing has always been a life long passion, one that started at an early age. I can not remember a time when the sight of a sailboat would not fascinate me. My mind would spend countless hours wondering what it would be like to glide across the water with just the wind filling my sails. I always knew that someday I would sail across oceans just for the enjoyment of it all. I always knew I was a Sailor.
Sailing for me started when I was 16. I was born and raised in Southern California in a small town inland a few hours inland from the coast. My first sailing adventure started with a borrowed 16 foot Hobiecat that my uncle owned. How difficult could it be right? Well, the first few hours were interesting to say the least! My friend Tony and I were able to get the boat rigged and into the water for the first time with out much trouble. Soon after we were gliding across the lake thinking we got this figured out! About that same time the first big gust of wind caught us off guard and promptly flipped the boat over. Not all that uncommon with Hobiecat’s but my first time being flipped over in the water! Tony and I swam the mast around into to the wind, then swam back around the hulls, pulled on the righting line, and watched the mast lift up out of the water and back up into the sky. Just like in the instruction book!! Well no sooner did the boat came down on both pontoons that it promptly flipped over the other way! Once again we righted the boat, this time with the main sail loosened up a bit. Well this time the boat stayed upright but took off across the lake at an alarming speed, leaving Tony and I treading water in the middle of the lake!! After some time we were rescued and given a ride to the Hobiecat which had safely beached itself on the far side of the lake. I will never forget that lesson, do not let go of the boat!!
When I was 17 I purchased my first sailboat, a brand new Hobie 18! Oh the hours of fun we had on that boat! Tony and I would fly her on one hull all the way across Lake Perris! We would get done with work then drive as fast as we could to the lake and sail till dark. Those were the days! I still have that boat and do not think I will ever part with her.
By my late 20’s I was ready for new and bigger adventures. I read the pages of all the published sail magazines and dreamed of the day I would sail the ocean. In 1996 I was ready! I chartered a state room on a 50 Sailboat in the BVI. “Stop The Wedding” was a 50 foot Benateau with 5 staterooms. Cliff was the Captain and the other staterooms had people from all over the States. Sally from Maryland, Tom from Chicago, A guy we called AT&T from California, and Andrew from Europe. Cliff the Captain was from England and had quite the personality. The BVI is the perfect place to go sailing for the first time! It has many islands to explore that are just a few hours sail from each other. This is where I fell in love with the ocean. This first sailing trip was one I will never forget with people I will be friends with forever. This is where there dream to sail around the world became reality, this is where it started to feel REAL!
 
We live in a day and age where there is no logical reason to cross an ocean in a sailboat. The only boats theses days that make sense to us are the freighters laden with thousands of containers on their decks or the cruise ships that give you all the luxuries of a fine resort. We live in a in a time when we want to get there NOW! Just the thought of traveling somewhere at 7 miles per hour in a sailboat does not even register as fun or logical in most peoples minds. We are in an era where we measure the travel distance to across oceans in hours not days. To some a 14 hour flight to Australia is just too long a trip? That same trip in a sailboat would take weeks of non stop sailing. Sure there are people setting records in multi million dollar sail machines that can do it in days, but I am talking about just taking the time to just sail and enjoy the experience.
I spent years researching the right boat to sail around the world on. Over the years I have sailed on many different models and types of sailboats. I have chartered boats in the BVI and St. Maartin for the last 12 years, mostly renting 42 to 51 food mono hulls. For the offshore experience I crewed on two ocean passages from Newport, RI. The first voyage we sailed to Tortola on a Hylas 54 a really nice boat to be on for my first offshore passage! The 1400 miles took us10 days at sea with no land in sight the entire trip. The second trip a year later we sailed to Bermuda for 5 days at sea. I will tell you just being in the North Atlantic in late October is adventure enough on any vessel. We encountered plenty of rough weather rough seas. I just could not get used to mono hull, they would lean over in a gust of wind. Wind to me should make a boat go forward not lean over sideways?
 
The next season I Chartered three different Catamarans and knew this type of boat was it for me! I had my mind set on a 45 to 50 foot catamaran. Like cars there are lots of brands out there. Most built outside the USA and two major areas they are built are France and South Africa. Being a tall guy over 6 feet the French boats were too short, I kept bumping my head!! Others were to expensive for what you got for your buck. Others had no storage and lots of living space others were made to be chartered not sailed across oceans.
Then one day I came across Voyage Catamarans. I had seen them in magazines but never had a chance to come aboard one. I was at the 2008 Annapolis boat show when I first boarded Silent Faith a Voyage 50. I fell in love at first site. Lots of headroom, living space and storage. I thought this boat would be perfect!! After some thought, I made an offer since she was listed for sale. It was a fair offer, just not the kind of number the owners were ready to accept at the time. Well there is a reason for everything I say. Just 6 months later my phone rings and the Voyage Broker Clardy is on the line. I had mentioned to Clardy at the boat show that if a boat came on the market like what I was looking for to give me a call first. Well this was the call I was waiting for. Clardy had found a Voyage 58 that just came on the market. A 58 foot catamaran was more boat than I was looking for but, I was on a plane the next day to Panama City, FL. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to see the potential boat of my dreams! Downtime had been listed on the market 3 years prior by her first owner. I can not tell you how many times I read that website listing!! I knew everything about her but never thought I would own a boat like this. 8:00AM could not come soon enough the following day. I remember walking down to the dock with great excitement knowing this was it! This could be the boat I was going sail around the world on!! Little did I know the current owner of Downtime had just rebuilt all the major systems on the boat. New everything!! Downtime was Josh’s 18th boat and man does Josh know boats!! He had the boat hauled and soda blasted then repainted the bottom with the best marine paints. There were all new beds. Linens, and upholstery. New water pressure systems, new cockpit enclosure, new sails and lines, WOW this boat was better than new!! And the best addition to Downtime was a brand new 15 foot Caribe tender with a 60 hp Yamaha on the back!! This dingy was the nicest one I had ever seen, WOW! It is not too often people sell boats after they spend this much time and effort to rebuild and restore them to perfect condition. I thought to myself “This Is It!” I made an offer and an hour later we had a deal!! This was my dream coming true, the beginning of my trip around the world!!! Thanks Josh & Clardy!
  
For as long as I can remember I have been reading everything about sailing and boats. I have seen technology evolve into some truly remarkable and user friendly equipment. Sailboats have transformed from handcrafted wood works of art into fiberglass, almost indestructible works of engineering. The equipment and electronics have come along way in the last 30 years. We now have very reliable engines and generator systems. With these we can continue moving when there is no wind and charge battery banks to run the boats electrical systems. The equipment available for boats is amazing. Most boats today ar equipped with auto pilots ,satellite phones water makers, ice makers, refrigeration systems, propane stoves, microwaves, electric lighting, power winches and windlasses, radar, AIS (Automatic Identification System which is my favorite tool that shows you all the ship traffic within in a 25 mile radius on your navigation screen!), And GPS plotters that shows you your location on a map everywhere in the world! All these conveniences have definitely made life more comfortable and safe, but do come at cost. Electronics and saltwater do not mix very well and there is a constant battle to keep all these systems operational. The simple sailing life just is not that simple any more. On a boat like Downtime there are two 75 HP turbocharged Yanmar diesel main engines and two 6 KW northern lights generators. These generators make power to run air-conditioning, make water, or charge the battery bank that has 20 batteries. The power runs through the main control panel has over 100 different electrical switches that control the systems. More than 40 different pumps to move various liquids aboard Downtime. Several of these pumps filter sea water to make fresh water with a Reverse Osmosis System. This process involves pumping sea water through special filters called membranes at 4 GPM @900 PSI. This in turn produces 1.25 GPM of 99.2% pure water which is allowed through the three separate membranes. Over 70% of water with concentrated salt returns to the ocean. Using this process you have unlimited fresh water although at a cost of roughly $.25 cents a gallon. Other pumps supply fresh water to sinks and showers, others take that same water after it is used and pump it overboard. Just imagine every glass of fresh water has been pumped 3 times by the time it touches your lips!! Five more pumps to run the refrigeration systems and 6 more to run the air-conditioners! Two more pumps if you simply use the restroom!! I am talking A LOT of pumps!!
Having explained some of the systems you are must be thinking, how do you keep it all running? Being skilled in repairing and maintaining all these systems is a rather important role as Captain. You have to wear several hats when you sail these days. You do lots of preventative maintenance and a good supply of spare parts are a must to keep systems operational. Keeping a well stocked inventory of parts and tools is a continual battle. You either have the parts aboard or wait in the next port until parts can be found.
 
For navigating Downtime has two separate GPS navigation systems. But, even with the latest charts and software there are times when we appear to be driving across land on the plotter? We had this happen several times in Belize. In other remote areas you really have pay attention to where you are at all times and watch your depth sounder. Other places you do not want to travel at night since the charts are 100 years old and GPS charts are just to accurate compared to the maps, the land is charted in the wrong place?
 
Imagine if GPS (Global Positioning System) was around 200 years ago? The lives of sailors and countless ships that it could have saved. It was not long ago when you would have to study the stars to be able to use a sexton to find you way. To use a sexton you would line up a known celestial body at a precise time with the horizon to get the angle that you would read of your sexton . Then you would do some serious math using reduction tables to be able to approximate your position to within 2 to 5 miles. You would then plot this position on your chart. During the day while sailing you would keep track of the miles you traveled and compass heading and religiously and log them on your chart. This process is called dead reckoning. To measure speed they would to throw a “knot line” over the stern rail. This was a device constructed with a long rope with knots every 60 feet and weighted flat board attached to the end to stop it in the ocean. As the boat moved along the crew would throw over the “knot line” then count the knots as they paid out over a set time, giving you your speed by dividing distance by time. Now we simply turn on the GPS and it shows where we are, how fast we are going and all integrated on a moving map system!! NICE!!
GPS maps and all this other technology would be nothing if we did not have access to weather information. Lets face it weather is still the most dangerous part of sailing. No mater how strong the boat is a ocean storm is still something you want to avoid at all cost. With satellite phones and SSB radio we can access weather data any where and any time in the world. Data can be sent automatically to weather fax equipment to keep you informed of changing conditions. Gone are the days of the surprise storm at sea, at least for the wise and prepared that is.
Ok so you are thinking, You have all this equipment and this huge boat and you still have to learn how to dive it! To figure out how it all works, know which switch to flip. What sail to put up when wind conditions change. Well this can only come with experience. When I first bought Downtime I had friends of mine help me sail the maiden voyage. We sailed from Panama City, FL to Ft. Lauderdale where I got my first lesson in docking her. We arrived late the third night of sailing and tied to a mooring ball to wait for daylight. After getting some sleep we ate some breakfast and then fueling up at a floating fuel station. Then we headed to the marina. I can tell you I was more than a little nervous! Downtime is a lot of boat to put next to a little dock. I attempted to back in just like the other boats on the dock, but I did not notice one important thing. The tide was going out and there was a 2 mph out flowing current carrying me sideways!! I was almost into the dock and then as if in slow motion noticed the bow of the boat next to me get caught in the shrouds of Downtime!(the cables that hold up the mast) Cherish is a 105 foot mega yacht and Downtime came to a stop with her bow resting on one of my cabin top winches! The crew of Cherish came out yelling “What the @)#*!@ are you doing/” I calmly said: I have no FREAKING idea I just bought this thing on Friday!! After some tense moments and help from the other boaters we got Downtime tied up to the dock. No damage occurred to Downtime and amazingly just small scratch on the front of Cherish. Sorry Cherish… Docking lesson one learned, watch for tide movement!
 
A lot of people ask me if I get board being on the boat for long periods. I tell them I do not have enough time to get board. With a tender like “Super Dink” yes that’s what we named her….You have access to so many more places at anchor. I have driven SD hundreds of miles in the Bahamas discovering new places. We took SD to Guatemala from Belize one day, over 100 miles a trip that would have been three days in Downtime just to see The Rio Dulce. Other days we load up the scuba gear into SD and find new dive sites. Then there are all the other cruisers to go meet and make new friends with.
 
While we were in St. Martin I took a kite surfing lesson. After just one lesson I was hooked!! We now have 9 kites and 3 boards and are ready for any wind condition to kite surf in. While sailing we troll fishing lines where ever we go. Some days it is amazing what you pull out of the ocean, other days you wonder where all the fish are at? Living on a boat you spent so much more time just living, you eat most your meals aboard which means cooking and dishes. When you do get off the boat you usually head strait for the market to restock the pantry or find that part that broke along the way.
Living on a boat have time to read that book you bought, or write that story you never seemed to have time for on land. You become aware that life is not just about getting up to go to work just to do it all over again. The people you meet along way become life long friends which you look forward to meeting down the road. On a boat life is a fresh and new adventure every day, waking up to see the sun rise and taking the time in the evening to see it set. A life of taking care your boat and being aware what the weather is doing around you. A life of surrounding yourself with the environment you love. This is a the life of what you always dreamed of, this is a the life of a Sailor.
 
peace,
capt. Pedro


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