Quetzal - Kaufman 47 "... Never lost, just hard to find ..."

John Kretschmer Sailing

Training Passages - Workshops - Presentations - Expeditions - Writing/Photography


A Serious Ocean

You know it by the northern look of the shore,
by the salt-worried faces,
by an absence of trees, an abundance of lighthouses.
It's a serious ocean.

North Sea off Carnoustie by Anne Stevenson


Tomorrow will have an island
by William Stafford

Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.

Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island,
So far, I haven't let that happen, but after
I'm gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.


More Poetry...


Seeking an Offshore Degree


reprinted with permission of SAILING Magazine, July 2001


by Bob Pingel

 

     Winter in Wisconsin is a desolate time for a sailor, and although magazines, books and sailing Web sites help, I still crave a few days on the water. In the past, I have chartered in the Caribbean, but that was not in the cards this past year since my wife was busy with school and work. In fact, even a land-based vacation was out the question.

 

     Then, one day, while reading SAILING Magazine, I noticed an article advertising a series of offshore sail training passages being run by one of my favorite nautical authors, SAILING contributing editor John Kretschmer. (Coincidently, John's books are among those that have gotten me through sever­al long winters.) Hungry for both a sailing adventure and a chance to learn about blue water passage making and celestial navigation, I promptly sent off my inquiry to the e-mail address in the article.

 

     A couple of weeks later I received a packet describing the passages in more detail, and I realized they were just what I was looking for. There were several one-way deliveries from the United States to the islands and a round-trip voyage from Key West, Florida, to Isla Mujeres near Cancun, on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. The cost and timing of the Isla Mujeres trip looked best, so I immediately signed on.

 

     After waiting impatiently for months, my departure date finally arrived, and lugging my gear to the airport, I settled in for the flight to Florida. As I did so I began to think about my adventure -- setting off on a tip with four complete strangers and a guy I had only talked with briefly. The plan was for me to fly to Miami, meet up with John, and drive with him to Key West. My mind began to play out the initial scenarios. Would John show up or had he already taken off for points unknown with my pre­paid tuition? If he does show, I wondered, will I recognize him in the hustle and bustle of the Miami airport? After all, I had only seen his picture on the dust jackets of his books.

 

    I began to search for him as soon as I walked off the ramp, wandering around looking for a guy that fit the image I had in my mind. After about 10 minutes, the crowd around the gate dispersed, and I was still standing there alone. My worst fears had been validated, my captain was not around, and I was stuck at the Miami airport. 

 

    I decided to head off to the baggage claim to gather my bags and figure out what to do next. When I walked through the security gate, I saw a guy who looked vaguely familiar. It turns out the Miami airport does not allow people through the security checkpoints without a ticket. Things were looking up: I had made it to Miami and found my skipper.

 

    Making our way through the airport John gathered up a couple of other crewmembers, and we picked up our bulging duffel bags and headed for the Keys. On the way, we introduced ourselves and talked about our sailing experiences and our dreams for the future.  We all had pretty similar sailing backgrounds: inland or near coastal sailing with very little open-water experience. Our dreams all had a common theme as well, sailing off into the sunset for extended cruising. Interestingly, we seemed to share common concerns of potentially unwilling or uninterested spouses and a lack of con­fidence in our offshore skills. We all planned to use this voyage to test the proverbial waters, gain experience and boost our sailing self-confidence.

 

     John has documented his sailing life in several books and many magazine articles. It was surreal listening to his sea stories after having spent the prior few weeks re-reading them. Throughout the trip, I had a feeling of déjà vu with each of his recollections of past adventures. As the trip went on, I began to feel like a "stalker" as I seemed to know many of the stories and characters as well as John did.

 

    Eventually we arrived at the boat to find our remaining crewmembers loading provisions, and then we all set off for a dinner ashore in Old Town Key West to get acquainted over drinks and dinner. We were a diverse group -- a doctor, two engineers, a pipefitter and a medical services entrepreneur -- but everyone got along well in spite of our varied. backgrounds, which was a good thing since, although a 40-foot boat looks pretty spacious at a boat show, with six guys and a week's provisions, there is not much room to spare. The tight quarters combined with some snoring made for an interesting first night's sleep. Luckily the logistics of an offshore passage meant that the crew was never all below at the same time.

 

     We were all pretty excited the next morning as Key West began to slip below the horizon on our way to Isla Mujeres. As we put the miles behind us, we settled into the rhythm of the voyage. Everyone seemed to develop his own niche. A few were passionate about navigation and log keeping, others on keeping the crew fed (both from the plentiful onboard stores and careful attention to a hand fishing line), and yet others just settled back and enjoyed the magic of the passage. Little did we know we were learning the first rule of passage-making -- let the voyage take on a life of its own and just follow its lead.

 

     Even within the first few hours our crew was working well together. Prior to meeting everyone, I was contemplating the potential clash of personalities, but I think the personality of any person willing to sign on for a trip like this probably has the traits to make it work. It just takes an open mind and good turn of flexibility to happily coexist with a crew of strangers.

 

    While our crew got along very well, however, that's not always the case. A long voyage on a small boat can breed camaraderie or conflict. While in Isla, we ran into a crew that had just abandoned its captain and vessel after a long voyage. The crew had lost confidence in, and patience with, the skipper and decided it was best to part ways. Of course, there are always two sides to every disagreement, but the confines of a small boat and the rigors of life at sea can amplify any marginal situation.Russell Collins photo

 

     Throughout the trip, John casually passed on his knowledge and philosophy of passage making. We discussed various topics from technical boat design and big-boat systems to tips for coping with sea­sickness. In retrospect I think the real educational value in this trip was the chance to deal with the little problems that naturally occur, all under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable skipper. For instance, we had a problem with our bilge pump back-siphoning when the boat heeled to port. We quickly diagnosed the problem as a faulty check valve, and John showed us how to fix it, all the while discussing the pros and cons of different bilge pump designs. The trip was not a lecture-oriented program; more of an offshore voyage with John acting as a safety net.

 

     His educational program became a little more formal when it dealt with celestial navigation. John eased us into celestial, the first day by discussing the sextant and the geometry involved in reducing a sight. He finished off that lesson by having us all take a few sun sights. The following day, he introduced the reduction process step by step, relating each step back to the previous day's discussion. Over the remainder of the trip, we took periodic sights and actually came up with some very precise fixes -- not bad for a bunch of rookies.

 

     Our excitement began when we could see the loom of the lights from Cancun. It was quickly quelled as we realized that the blackness of the Caribbean sky means that the loom appears many hours before the landfall. As we inched closer, crabbing across the Gulf Stream's current, we could make out more and more lights on Isla Mujeres and the surrounding mainland.

 

     The last 15 miles of the trip became truly exciting as we crossed the strongest area of the Gulf Stream. The strong flow of the stream opposed the steady 15- to 20-knot breeze, making for some rollicking conditions. We all got a chance to practice our coastal navigation skills, carefully plotting our DR position, setting approach waypoints and calculating danger bearings, as the strong north-setting current tried to push us past the main entrance at the south end of the island. A large part of this work was quantifying the set and drift of the current in order to properly calculate our heading and course to steer.

 

     In the navigation classes 1 have taken in the past, I learned graphical techniques for determining currents. While these work great for resolving a current experienced over a distance run, John taught us a more useful real-time technique. As we began our approach, well south of our destination, he used the difference between our latitude and that of our landfall to determine the distance that we would need to be set north. As our approach progressed, John determined our effective course over ground by comparing the distance that the current had set us north with the distance we had made toward our landfall. Using this technique, we were able to periodically adjust our course so that we traveled across the current to precisely make our landfall.John Cairns photo

 

     The approach to a new landfall and dealing with currents is always trying, but we also added the complication of darkness. After a few hours of fairly intense concentration, we quietly slipped into the lee of the island and dropped anchor. We were all ready for a good night's sleep.

 

     We made our way to the dock in downtown Isla Mujeres early the next morning and began the arduous process of clearing into Mexico. The clearing process was quite an education for us, with multiple stops at government offices and several trips back to the boat with officials. In all the process took several hours. Then, finally, we were free to spend the remainder of the day exploring the island.

 

     Isla Mujeres is an intriguing place. It is close enough to Cancun to be overrun with tourists, but it still manages to retain some of its heritage. There is quite a diverse collection of tourist shops, from vendors hawking their wares on the curbside to very nice air-conditioned jewelry stores. I was surprised to see a fairly large naval base adjacent to the large naval base adjacent to the town, with many ominous looking patrol boats complete with heavily armed crew.

 

     With only 24 hours on the island, we had to condense our activities. Even with the tight schedule, we got in a snorkel trip, did our share of souvenir shopping and even found our way to a local cantina. I received many surprised looks from other cruisers when I mentioned that we had just spent 60 hours on the crossing and were staying less than a day on land. The highlight of the day was a fine dinner at a charming outdoor restaurant.

 

     The next morning arrived quickly and then it was time to depart for our return to Florida. We took a magic carpet ride on the Gulf Stream during the return passage. At times, the ever-present current supplied more than half of our speed. We made it hack in less than three days, the trip being pleasantly uneventful with the exception of few small Gulf Stream-induced rain squalls.

 

     The freedom of shipboard life vanished once back on land. We had neglected to notice that we had chosen to return to Florida during a very busy weekend. Both the Daytona 500 and the Miami Boat Show had accelerated the normal rush of Florida's tourist season. These events had depleted Florida's normally ample supply of rental cars and forced us to search for alternate transportation. We finally found a commuter flight to get us hack to Miami

 

    As I boarded the plane for home, I was able to reflect on this trip. An offshore voyage with a group of strangers had its pluses and minuses. The potential clash of personalities was far outweighed by the diversity gained by everyone tossing their special talents into the mix. I have always held that sailing voyages, especially offshore passages, are far more than the sum of their parts, and this trip was no exception.  As I looked out over the azure blue Atlantic from the plane, I could hear Neptune calling me back. I was confident in the knowledge that the next time I heeded his call, I would have a new arsenal of experiences and techniques to draw upon.


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