Dolphins, Whales, and Avian Hitchhikers

I set out from Pemaquid Harbour at around noon on October 30th with a strong tail wind, and high ambitions. My parents saw me off, lovingly attaching my jib sheets and halyards. Half an hour before I was due to leave, my dad was headfirst in my lazarette, messing around with the engine, and my mom was giving me a jar of homemade butternut squash soup. They stayed in their dinghy as I cast off the mooring lines and sailed out of the harbour. It was the best send-off I ever could have wished for.

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Glorious sunset on my first night out. I had 25 knot winds and I covered a ton of miles.

My first evening was beautiful; I had great wind, and the gleam of adventure made everything shiny.

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Some windvane action

That night the wind died, the temperature dropped, and there were ships everywhere. I made it through the night wearing all my clothes and huddling in my sleeping bag. If you want a visual, imagine a colourful maggot clinging to a tiller and eating crackers.

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Breakfast after a freezing night of temps in the mid 30’s

By the next morning, I was near Cape Cod, and life was on a hard upward swing. I had a pod of about 10 dolphins playing in my bow wake, two little land-birds hitched a ride on my boat, and I sailed so close through a pod of whales that I was worried they would hit me (or that I would hit them).

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I picked up a mooring  in Province Town that night. It was blowing 20 knots, the sun was down, and I was hilariously tired. It took me three tries to grab the mooring because I kept getting blown off before I could run forward and grab it. I kept telling myself that soon I’d be happily attached, as the wind stole the curses out of my mouth and sent them flying.

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My temporary shipmate

The next morning I woke up at five and headed for the Cape Cod Canal. It was gloriously warm, and I spent the day cleaning my boat and singing loud nonsense songs at the top of my lungs. There’s a great freedom to being at sea by yourself.

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Gecko going under her first bridge in the Cape Cod Canal

After the Canal, I motored through Buzzard’s Bay in the dark. There was a huge weird tide rip, no moon, and unexpected swirly currents. Several years ago, I made the same trip at night when I worked aboard the Harvey Gamage. The only difference then  was that I was in charge of a watch of fifth graders, who were on the helm the whole time while I nervously jittered by their elbows. In comparison, this time was, if not a walk in the park, maybe a jog  through a bad neighbourhood.

Yesterday night I picked up a mooring in Marion and I’m waiting out some bad weather. I’m hoping to leave early tomorrow morning and see how many miles I can make before another system rolls through on the 7th. Fingers crossed!

 

Provisioning for the Cold

I’m almost ready to head south! Unless the weather drastically changes, my plan is to leave Pemaquid Harbor on Tuesday, October 30th. The forecast calls for 20-25 knots from the northwest, so I should be able to make it to the Cape Cod Canal in about 24 hours. Without stopping,  I’ll head straight down to Cape May and then up the Delaware and down the Chesapeake. I have no heat on board, so the incentive to make miles before I run out of clean long-johns is higher than usual.

The average temperature for my trip will be low 40’s in the day, and high to mid 30’s by night (hopefully)

This past week, I’ve been provisioning my boat, filling my tanks, and doing some last minute modifications. I switched out my old 7-foot length of anchor chain for 50 feet of new chain, plus about 70 feet of rode. I know that having anchor chain means more weight forward, but I also like to sleep at night when I’m on the hook, so I decided it was worth it.

A peek at some of my dried food provisions

Last week, my dad and I went for a sail and tested out my new Monitor windvane. It was sustained 25 knot winds gusting to 30, and not only did Gecko handle the wind beautifully, but the windvane worked better than I ever would have expected. All those hours of cursing the stupid thing while I tried to install it melted away when I saw it handling gusts and lifts with nothing but a grim steely glint.

Tomorrow I’m going to buy all my perishables, get my affairs in order (do laundry), and look over my charts one last time. I’m looking forward to that feeling that comes right after raising the sails; when all the hurrying and planning of the past weeks melts into the immediate “now” of being underway.

Gorgeous fall days justify the chilly temperatures

 

Overhaul Part 1: Carpentry, Love Notes, and the Custom Galley

When I first purchased Gecko in May of 2017, she was set up as a weekend sailer. Even though she’s only twenty-seven feet, I was able to comfortably sleep seven people. The galley was perfect for storing booze, snacks, and plastic cups. The storage was minimal, and the cushions were plaid horsehair; in short, I had purchased a floating hunting lodge. Regardless, I had a great summer cruising around Maine and starting my fathoms-long list of changes and improvements.
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Gecko the way she looked when I purchased her as “Seamark”
I hauled out in October of 2017 and started on my first project: rip out and rebuild the galley, convert the pilot berth into lockers, change the drawers into lockers with doors, and redo the head storage area. I figured it was smart to start with something unambitious and easily manageable.
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The most torn apart Gecko ever was. At this junction there was no plumbing, electrical, and all the main cabin lockers were torn out
I started by replicating the port side lockers into the space that was formerly the pilot berth. Once I had completed this, I took out the sink in the head, redid the counter top, and pulled the locker face forward by about eight inches to create more storage. Although I liked the idea of saving time by washing my hands while I was using the head, I felt like I could handle the twelve-foot trek to the galley sink.
Gecko’s original galley when I purchased her
I ripped out the entire galley and purchased a two-burner gimballed stove with an oven to install in lieu of the Princess two-burner stovetop. I started designing my new galley by putting all my kitchen supplies into the empty space and building cardboard partitions around my kitchen-ware. I find it much easier to build into the three dimensional space, rather than trying to draw it out on a 2D piece of paper.
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Early cardboard mock-up for my galley lockers area behind the stove
Once I was satisfied with cardboard palace, I created templates and started cutting out plywood and building my lockers. Therefore, my locker that holds pots and pans is the width of my widest pan, the plates fit perfectly into the plate area, and I can never buy any new kitchenware ever again or I’ll have to rip out all the wood and rebuild.
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The dry-fit galley lockers. And new stove!
I also put in a new sink, a fresh and a salt water pump, and installed a new counter-top.
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My completed galley
After I’d created all the shelves and bulkheads around the boat, I cut out locker faces and doors. Instead of using finger catches to hold the doors closed, I carved little tabs out of teak for each door. This is a locking system my dad came up with on his first boat, and it is an elegant and inexpensive solution for motivated fools with a chisel and spare day or two.
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Same view, different boat! (This was pre-launch, so minus the mast)
I replaced all the port lights with lexan that I cut and routered into shape. I’m not sure what brand of ’till-death-we-part adhesive was used to seal in the original port lights (probably 5200), but it took about half an hour with a hammer and chisel to get each one out. They came out in splintered pieces.
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Replacing the port lights was a tedious job. Here I was celebrating my last day with giant holes all over my cabintop

 

Rebuilding the interior was the first project I started, and it was ongoing throughout my other renovations. After several months in, I went back over the very first locker I built, and was able to see how far my skills had come (not as impressive as it sounds since I was starting somewhere after macaroni necklace but before mud fort). Underneath the counter-tops, I wrote messages to myself like little hidden talismans in the heart of my boat.

It’s spring! (In southern Chile)

For the past week, I’ve been back at work on one of the two research boats I’m employed on for about a third of the year. The Laurence M Gould is a 70m research icebreaker in the employ of the United States Antarctic Program. I work between this and our other Antarctica research vessel, flying down for a month or two at a time.

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The Gould in one of the Antarctic fjords. I took this photo on my first trip down to the continent but am constantly awed by the endless beauty around me every time I come down to the ice

I work on board as a marine technician; every trip we do is different since we work with whichever scientists get grants to come study on our boats. I help them to interface their gear and the gear we provide with the icebreaker. Depending on the trip, my duties can include driving zodiacs, driving cranes, deploying large oceanographic instruments, deep sea fishing, etc. We have biologists who study penguins, whales, leopard seals, and other large marine life. We also have oceanographers, glaciologists, geologists, climate scientists, and ice scientists. We work with hundreds of different universities and scientific groups including NOAA and Woods Hole.

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Hanging a block on the A-frame- one of my varied jobs on the boats

This time, I flew down early to help work on one of our RHIBs (reinforced hull inflatable boat). It’s a 30′ aluminium boat that we use for research at one of the stations. This speedy nugget can go over 20 knots, and was custom built to provide research support for the scientists down at the station.

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One of the RHIBS in action down in Antarctica

The extra week working on the RHIB means that I’m spending more time in Chile than usual. Normally we have a few days of port call and then head straight down to the ice. I’ve been enjoying the equinox and the first few days of spring. Temperatures still hang out around freezing this time of year, but longer days indicate an entrance into summer. Eventually the sun never goes away and we experience all the beautiful shades of the midnight sun.

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0645 Sunrise in Punta Arenas. At this time of year, each day is getting longer by four minutes. That’s about half an hour more daylight per week!

On the second of October we’ll head south into the Drake Passage, a crossing which takes about four days. Around the 6th we’ll see our first sights of Antarctica. No matter how many years people have been in the program, everyone still lines up along the bridge and on the bow to stare at the mountains, glaciers, and icebergs. We always say that if you’re no longer awed by the scenery then it’s time to quit  and find pleasure in the perfect geometry of an office cubicle.

It has been four months since I’ve last been down here and I’m already getting excited for the landscape, some of the coolest people I know, and of course- penguins

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Gentoo penguins waddle around, completely unafraid of us weird humans in our bright orange drysuits

New (temporary) Shipmate!

This week, I installed a furry new little co-pilot.

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Shackleton on his princely cockpit throne

Shack took to boat life right away, and claimed the quarterberth as his new domain. I’m only looking after him for a few days, but I considered it a trial run for potentially having my own little nugget.

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The cutest boy Gecko has hosted (Sorry humans)

I have been toying with the idea of getting a boat pet for awhile, but having Shackleton has made me realise that it’s not something I’m ready for yet. Not only does it add an extra layer to clearing-in to new countries, but it’s a responsibility that I don’t want to have to think about at this point in time.

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Shack singlehandedly taught me how to use my new Monitor windvane

We had a great holiday together, and he was the best little plus one on my last days aboard before I head down to work. I’ll be gone until the end of October, so stand by for pictures of Chile, icebreakers, and Antarctica!

Gecko Gets Wet!

Hi Friends!

After eight months of overhauling, my boat is ready to cruise the world!

Last May I bought a 27′ Grinde double-ender sloop. I sailed her all summer to get a feel for the changes I wanted to make, and hauled in October. Over the course of the winter I rewired, added new water tanks and re-plumbed everything, stripped out the entire galley and rebuilt it, painted, replaced all the portlights, added a set of spreaders and replaced all standing and running rigging, cut new foam and sewed new cushion covers, and countless other smaller tasks.

My plan is to circumnavigate; Gecko is in Maine right now and I’ll leave to sail south around the end of October. I work as a marine technician on icebreakers in the Antarctic and am usually deployed for at least four or five months out of the year. Between deployments, I’ve been working on my boat to get her bluewater ready.

I go back to work for 6 weeks starting September 18th. When I get back at the end of October, I plan on solo sailing from Maine to North Carolina in one long passage. Until then, I’m exploring around the coast of Maine and tuning up my new rig.