How do you sail a five-day passage 300 miles off the coast in the Atlantic ocean? It’s not for the faint of heart. Here’s how the instrument panel recorded our journey:
It really wasn’t that bad. We had good weather, and Sophia sails herself, practically, she is so well-balanced. When going to windward, even in 25 knot winds, you can simply set the wheel where you want it, and it will not move. The boat rounds up miraculously and keeps herself on course. Naturally, the winds clock around and you have to be vigilant. And going downwind, it’s best to put the boat on autopilot, our lovely friend, which steers much more efficiently than a human.
That lovely friend failed after two days at sea, along with all of our other electronics, including the VHF and SSB radios. For a few agonizing hours, we couldn’t hail our beautiful buddy boat, Seahorse (A Bruce Roberts 43) , or anyone else for that matter.
We were sailing in the Sargasso Sea, and Seahorse had galloped about five miles ahead during the second night. Larger and heavier than Sophia, she easily made 9 knots, while we had to reef in our sails and keep to a safer, slower speed, about 6, under those conditions.
After our friends lost sight of our mast light, they took down some sails and waited for us, but we didn’t know it, since all of our communications systems were down.
I was on watch while Ryan dozed below, and waves kept breaking across the bow.It was exhilarating, yes. There is something incredibly awe-inspiring about being the only person awake on a vessel so far out to sea, where you are not just under, but quite obviously within, the bright tapestry of the Milky Way above, and there is no way to discern the line where the stars begin at the edge of the sea.I basked in the hugeness and beauty of the universe, and felt intensely alive.
But I have to admit that I also registered a steady and palpable current of sheer terror.That night when the radios failed and the sea roared up and over the dodger and poured straight down into the galley, I decided it was time to wake Ryan.“I think we might need to reef some sails,” I said. “And you might want to put your foul weather gear on, since it’s pretty wet out here.” Not exactly to my relief, he agreed immediately that it was time to reef, and helped me to do it. In my sleep-deprived frenzy I steered up straight into irons, and we ended up having to tack out of it and sail in the opposite direction until we got going fast enough to tack back on course. We lost about an hour, I guess. Ryan stayed up with me until we both settled down and Sophia regained a safe speed on autopilot. Then he returned to bed.
Did I mention we rigged up a lee-cloth on the starboard settee for sleeping while passaging? It got quite stuffy down there after four days at sea, but it was still incredibly comfortable to be in it. The boat rocks back and forth like a cradle, and you feel wonderfully warm and secure and happy, even if the winds are screaming above. That is where Ryan went.
I hunkered down again under the dodger (so named because you crouch there, dodging waves? I wondered) and attempted to quiet my mind by reading. I set a timer on my watch to alert me at 13 minute intervals, when I got up, stretched, checked the instrument panels, peered out into the night in all four directions, and curled up again. We still hadn’t made contact with Seahorse, and there was nothing to do but sail on. The instruments were still working, and we had an Automatic Identification System that also functioned, and an operating bilge pump. It had failed, frighteningly, along with the manual backup, earlier in the journey, but Ryan fixed it. I watched the dawn unfold across the sea and sky, and welcomed the sun. When Ryan awoke again we made coffee and soon spotted Seahorse, a tiny stick against the horizon. We motor-sailed until we caught up to them, and then put our heads together about the problem, which turned out to be electric.
We had run our batteries down too far, and they were not charging, even with the motor on. The Honda 2000 came to our rescue. Ryan hauled it up to the foredeck, plugged it in, and slowly but surely the house batteries began to fill up again. After they got high enough to hold a charge, the VHF and SSB radio came back on again. Of course the latter blew up again, after we made land, but that’s another story, and not as interesting.
Faithful Seahorse stayed closer to us for the rest of the journey.
One of the many good things about cruising is the opportunity to meet and make new friends. As our readers know already, we made the passage to the Abacos with Seahorse, a 43-foot Bruce Roberts. The boat is beautiful, like its people. Mary and Travis brought their good friend, Donny, who also happens to be the broker who helped them find and buy their vessel. Seahorse’s layout is complete different from ours, much more spacious but also more compartmentalized. Sophia was built for occasional short journeys, weekend cruises, while Seahorse was designed as a liveaboard cruiser, sturdy enough to travel anywhere on the planet.
I’m not complaining about our boat, not at all. Sophia is just the right size, and the absolute perfect craft for our needs. She reminds me of the Erikson 39 I grew up on in Santa Barbara. We’re very happy.
But we’re especially pleased to have made these new friends, who are so knowledgeable about all manner of things, and friendly and good-natured. All three of them are outdoorsy people (as you might expect among those who are up for a 500 mile journey on the Atlantic Ocean, 250 or more miles out to sea), and quite athletic.
Today Ryan and I even got up on the Lyra, an arial hoop that hangs from the spinnaker pole. You get up into it and do acrobatic things, and you feel like you’re ten years old again, playing on the monkey bars. And if you fall, no problem! You drop into the water!!!
Come take a tour of Sophia down below. See how we live in a very small space.
Hello, again friends! One of you asked to see our home’s inside, so I scrubbed and straightened and took the following photos to satisfy your curiosity. Welcome to our abode.
And here is our little sanctum, viewed as you come down the steps into our boat, a 36-foot Sabre built in 1986.
That’s the whole shebang, folks. Our entire house. But let me show you a few little details. The table can be pushed down and fitted with cushions to create a double berth. We sleep forward, in the v-berth, which you can glimpse beyond the hallway where you also see the padded mast. First, look to your right and check out the navigation station.
I am sitting there as I write this. The cabinets above the control panels hold books and all our computer components and cables, while the desk opens up to store maps and pens and what not. The seat stretches back behind me (as I’m sitting here) into the quarter berth, also a very comfortable place for two people to sleep. There we stash our ditch bag (a ditch bag is what you hope you never have to use. It’s your abandon ship store, with flashlights and extra eyeglasses and sunscreen and first aid, a GPS, hand held VHF, and an EPIRB, or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, food rations, and other stuff)and my yoga mat (and often quite a few other things):
I’ve nursed the intention to get up and practice yoga every day. More on that in a separate post. On with the tour. Coming into the cabin, look left and see our galley:
The hanging net bag holds fruit and onions and garlic, in mesh bags to keep out flies and to catch debris. I have a bunch of them and take them with me to markets to avoid having to use extra plastic bags. They’re machine washable. Above the oven you’ll see a counter. That slides up and down behind the oven to reveal the stove, below. Notice that the teapot has moved! Above it sits on a trivet that I wove out of old line.
Here’s a closer look at the “trivet” which could also serve as a block mat. I followed Hervey Garrett Smith’s directions in his very useful The Marlinspike Sailor. The cover of that book shows this mat in the bottom left hand corner.
I also made this rug out of old line, which feels really good under your feet when standing too cook or wash dishes.
Hang on, there’s lots more to see in the galley! Here, for example, is the refrigerator, which sits to the left of the stove. If you’re standing here, you’re looking back towards the stern.
The line down the center is a hinge, which allows you to lift one side at a time. I just cleaned it, so I’ll let you peek inside.
We can make huge ice cubes in the freezer, and store them in a large Blue Avocado bag. Here’s the other side:
.It’s quite deep, but slanted on the bottom; not box-shaped. You’re looking at the upper shelves. Underneath them I put large plastic tubs with meats and cheese on the bottom. I also bought a hard plastic egg case from Lock & Lock that stays down in the guts, as well. It’s the coolest thing, pun intended! In fact, I just pulled it out to make breakfast and found that it was literally too cool. The eggs had frozen and split their shells. I’ll be keeping the eggs closer to the top from now on.
To the left of the fridge, there is this nifty little cutting board set into the counter, standard on all Sabres: Underneath it, you find the trash! Look, I’ll show you:
Behind this counter we keep spices when we’re not underway. We’ll pack them up into plastic bins and stow them for passages.
But check out the cool teak shelf we discovered in a consignment store. Ryan installed it. All the wood on board is teak, of course.
Just above the counter is a locker:
Here we keep olive oil, precious balsamic vinegar, coffee, an insulated French press, and a coffee grinder. At least for now. I’m sure I’ll rearrange things again and again as I gain experience.
It seems most things take an extra step on a boat. Coffee, for example. Of course I don’t just turn on the stove to boil water. First I have to get out of the galley, open the propane locker, and turn on the gas. Then back to the stove, where I use a lighter to get the flame going. While the water is boiling, I grind the beans in our ecogrinder, giving my biceps a tiny workout.
We eat quite well on board, actually. This morning, for instance, we had homemade pepperoni bread that we got at the local Farmer’s market, lightly fried in oil and dipped in tomato sauce that I made with the last of our Pittsburgh garden tomatoes. I had hoped to make eggs in purgatory, but you already know what happened to the eggs.
So, on with the tour. Here’s where we keep the dishes, in the cabinets above the stove. The cooking pot belonged to my mom. It has a strainer inside which doubles as a colander, and the lid flips over to serve as an extra frying pan. There is a lot of storage space of top, where I keep things in Lock & Lock boxes. The cups come from Ryan’s old boat, Zenobia, and the plates were free.
The first week we got here, an old sailor with a gorgeous North Carolina twang overheard us asking for plastic plates in a store. The shop did not have any.
“What kind of plates d’you wa-ant?” he asked.
“Plates that don’t break.”
“Well, I have some you can have. Was gonna throw ’em away. My wife doesn’t want ’em.”
“Why not? What’s wrong with them?”
“She di’nt buay em!”
So he told us he’d leave them at the marina where he keeps his boat, and we drove out and fetched them. They’re perfectly good plates. The boat also came with cutlery, so we save some dollars there. Here are photos of the other side of the cabinet, where we keep foodstuffs in, you guessed it, Lock & Lock boxes:
Wait! There’s more! Next to the sink there is this lid:
It opens to reveal a deep storage space with shelves. We keep foodstuffs that we don’t use as often, such as flour, and extra pasta sauce, in here. And of course everything stays airtight in Lock & Lock boxes. Oops! Looks like I didn’t clean very well. Someone spilled coffee on the chicken broth. I better clean that up.
Yes, the boxes were quite an investment, but they last forever (unfortunately) and are incredibly useful. Plus, it’s a sin to bring foodstuff cardboard or boxes on board, since they tend to harbor cockroaches and other nasty critters. So everything that doesn’t come in glass goes into plastic. We are making an effort to avoid creating plastic trash, and have therefore also invested in sturdy, reusable, Blue Avocado plastic bags.
There are more storage lockers, but I won’t bore you with all of them. Let’s go admire the salon, where last night Ryan and I played a mean game of Gin Rummy. The open cubby holds a lot of books. There’s an identical one on the other side of the boat, above the starboard. I keep my art supplies and personal items in the locker next to my turquoise hat. Those ugly velcro strips held even uglier framed sea-themed art, which I took down immediately. We’ll fill the space as we find stuff we like.
Under these seats we have our water tanks and a pretty large locker where we are currently storing wine and other important drinks. We love the conch shell decoration on the teak table:
Looking forward towards the bow from the navigation station, you can appreciate how much light there is down below. You can just barely make out the bookshelf above the starboard settee, underneath of which is more storage. We keep tools there. There are also two lockers on either side of the bookshelf.
In the photo above, the first door to the head is just behind the mast, on the left. Open it, and you will see this, more or less:
Sophia came with a ridiculous electric toilet, which we hated, because it didn’t work and it seemed dumb to rely on electricity for this essential bodily function. So Ryan tore it out and, with great labor and ingenuity, installed this lovely hand-pump commode. We don’t use it while in port, because it’s against the law to discharge your toilet and we don’t want to fill up the storage tanks with stink. They’re under our bed, after all. No, we walk up to the bathroom at the marina. It’s not so bad, we get extra exercise and keep the boat smelling fresh.
Now, there are two doors into the head; the one you’re looking through in the photo above and opposite the Tibetan curtain in the photo below. The second door is just to right of the sink. That one opens up into the v-berth. The Tibetan curtain covers the teak door of a large storage closet. It swings towards the v-berth, dividing the main cabin from the “master bedroom” or v-berth. So if we have guests, they can come in to the head from the main cabin and we can get into it from ours without having to get dressed.
The photo above is taken from the v-berth. Turn around and here it is!
The white rectangle at the top of the photo is an open hatch, draped from above with a Canadian Bugbusters screen. We have one on the companionway as well, as you can see in the first photo. It’s kind of hard to see the whole berth with all my down pillows stuffing up the place. I insisted on bringing them. Ryan protested briefly. The step opens up for storage (we keep cleaning products there) and there are roomy drawers on either side.
At the base of the v-berth is a rug that I made of old line, just like the one in the galley.
Our friends Tom and Susan gave us lots of great suggestions for setting up the boat. They told us about Lock & Lock boxes and mesh bags for clothing. Following their advice, we have organized tee-shirts, shorts, underwear, and so on, into these zippered bags, which store in the shelves in the v-berth.
Here’s how the v-berth converts into a bed. First you insert a wooden platform that folds in half for storage (you can see the rug I made in this photo):
Then you put the triangular cushion on the platform:
See that little circle at the bow? That is a door that opens into the space where we keep our anchor, rode, and chain. There used to be a ghastly example of chintzy marine art there, but I took it down.
Here’s the bed all made up:
Cozy! Don’t you think? We sleep with the hatch open so we can see the stars. In the morning we get up and look at this:
Well, that’s the tour, folks! Let us hear from you, now. For more descriptions of boat interiors, follow this link: