Groundhog Day

Rode Trip has safely landed in Bermuda; we chose a not so typical route departing from Grand Cayman Island and have traveled 1,824.6 nautical miles over a period of 17 days. I’m proud to say having completed our 1,000nm requirement we are now full fledged members of the Ocean Crusing Club (OCC)! But we still have a long way to go to get to the Mediterranean, we are only partway across the Atlantic Ocean and I’m sure you are all wondering, “What was that like?”

Remember the movie Groundhog Day, wherein Bill Murry wakes up to repeat the same day over and over and over again? Well, this was my experience during our longest passage. Not only did every day feel the same but during our watches if we weren’t on deck, Brian and I were peeking our heads out of the hatch like little groundhogs keeping a lookout for passing ships.

Days 1-4 were the worst; these were the “survival” days. Prior to this trip, our passages lasted five days tops. So typically, just as we were settling into our routine we’d arrive at our destination and then have a day of rest at anchor. This time the first four days were just the beginning. Not only were we adjusting to new sleep schedules and perpetual motion, but we’d departed in rough weather. To get ourselves from Grand Cayman Island and around the western coast of Cuba we’d decided to trail a potential tropical storm system that was north bound bringing along south-southwest winds. Great wind direction for our intended course and strong; 20-25 knots with seas at 6-8 feet (the seas felt much higher and maybe they were). Day one was filled with anticipation, excitement, and disbelief that we’d actually set sail…and my belly was also filled with nausea, my legs wobbly, and my entire self exhausted. The goal for days 1-4: eat, sleep, and keep watch. And that is just what we did.

Brian and I keep a six-hour watch schedule. During the day we sort of tag-team as we are typically both awake for the majority of the day. Whenever someone naps during the day, the other simply keeps a lookout. At night, Brian takes the first watch from 8:00pm – 2:00am and I take the second from 2:00am – 8:00am. These times work great for us because Brian is wired as darkness falls, being a bit tentative about night sailing and I’m totally a morning person. By day four we were settled into our sleeping patterns getting dreary-eyed at our respective 2:00am and 8:00pm bedtimes. All the while our Cape Horn windvane is steering course allowing us to move about the boat freely and tuck ourselves inside during rain showers or during nighttime. Sometimes the windvane needs adjusting, but overall it’s a great third crew member. At night time whenever we are in the cockpit or on deck for any reason we are tethered. Any time we do a sail change, day or night, we are both awake and on deck. If while on watch we can’t hold our eyes open we set an alarm for 12 minutes and snooze between lookouts.

On day four I’d learned from our trusty weather man, Chris Parker on SSB channel 4045, that the potential tropical storm that we were trailing had been officially named a tropical storm, Andrea. Thank goodness Andrea was ahead of us and our wind and seas were subsiding. On day four my stomach was making a comeback, I’d managed to keep down a granola bar and apple during my early morning shift. By mid-morning I was ravenous! Brian cooked up some home fried potatoes and with that my energy began to return in spurts. We don’t prepare pre-made meals prior to our passages because we have no refrigeration to keep a pre-made meal fresh. So during passage, Brian doubles as Captain and Cook. We typically eat breakfast together mid-morning which can be any combination of eggs, pancakes, canned fruit, fried bananas, or fried potatoes. We typically eat an early dinner (remember bedtime is 8:00pm) together which can be any variety of canned goodies such as; ham and baked beans, ham and potatoes, chicken curry, chicken fried rice with mixed veggies, rice and beans, pasta with clam sauce, pasta with tomato sauce, canned soups, etc. Other than our two cooked meals, weather dependent, we fend for ourselves and snack as needed throughout the day and night on foods such as dried fruits, canned fruits, nuts, granola bars, graham crackers, cookies, PB&J when fresh bread has been baked, etc.

By day six we were feeling pretty good and I was establishing that Groundhog Day routine. We’d entered the Gulf Stream on day six and it was wonderful to have the stream’s four knot current pushing us along because the wind had died to barely 10 knots and we were already antsy to get moving again. But calm days during passage make for productive “at home” days. I was able to hang out towels, sheets, and pillowcases for drying and/or refreshing, sweep the floors, shake and hang the rugs, and clean out cupboards that tend to need refreshing in certain leaky spots.

What does my Groundhog Day look like? Well, on early morning shift I did a stretching and exercise routine (very minimal and holding on most of the time using upper body to steady more than anything). I’d stretch calves, hamstrings, quads, hips and arms, and then do a few lunges, toe raises, and pull-ups. Then I’d journal the previous day to keep track since they all seemed the same. Then I’d read and lookout, sometimes snooze, and to end my shift I’d listen to Chris Parker’s weather forecast and send our SPOT location. After a morning nap, I’d have breakfast with Brian. Then while Brian napped I’d clean the dishes, sweep, and read, read, read. If the weather allowed in the evenings we’d watch a movie together after dinner and dishes. I read four novels, one guidebook, did some pre-planning and guide reading for Mallorca, Spain and started lessons for Level 2 Spanish in the Fluenz program.

Day twelve brought along another weather concern, a cold front moving quickly that Chris Parker had forewarned would bring thunderstorms, waterspouts, 60 knot squalls and possibly tornadoes. Yikes! We hugged the 32nd line of latitude while traveling east as the front was not forecasted to move south of this area. Of course the front moved toward us at sunset; we could clearly see the billowing, ominous line of dark grey clouds. Lightening was illuminating the horizon line. Lightening was striking across the clouds spreading like spiderwebs. Thank goodness it was Brian’s shift! I went to sleep but not before reefing the main and watching the spectacular lightning show. We were fortunate, one downpour and winds kicked up to 20-25 knots for a few hours. By morning, the front had passed.

Groundhog Days…until finally on day 17 Brian sighted our destination. HOORAY!! Can’t wait to drop that anchor at Bermuda, we’re in need of a good rest.

Hiking the Mastic Trail

The Mastic Trail provided us an up close and personal view of the interior of Grand Cayman Island. This two mile trail cuts between North Side and the south coast. Years ago this trail was the main thoroughfare; it is now maintained by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands. The Mastic Trail has changing scenery from north to south as it cuts through two million old, limestone trodden forests that are home to a variety of plantlife and wildlife.
20130602-145310.jpg20130602-145316.jpg

It was yet another dreary morning, but we hoped that the weather would clear as we started the trail. Normally, had we been hiking in the White Mountains, we’d have thought twice about what the previous four days of heavy rain would have done to the status of the trail. But for some reason that thought escaped us even after we’d read a description of the swampy areas we’d soon pass through. It was refreshing to be out in the wilderness and away from our drippy boat which had been rocking all week in the swells of Georgetown Harbor.
20130602-145417.jpg

A Bullfinch – not positive the specific type, it was entirely black.

20130602-145516.jpg

Red Birch – these magnificent trees grew straight up out of the limestone.

20130602-145548.jpg

20130602-145554.jpg

Grand Cayman Parrot – these guys and gals were squawking all along our trail.

20130602-145624.jpg

The trail was slick from the rain. We spotted large, healthy air plants. We’d also spotted thin, vine-like cactuses that creeped and crawled all along tree trunks and rocks.

20130602-145657.jpg

Blue Anole – quick little buggers, they blend right into the scenery

20130602-145725.jpg

Caribbean Dove

20130602-145800.jpg

Mind the slugs, they’re camouflaged looking just like leaves.

20130602-145831.jpg

Haven’t quite identified this little fellow but there were many flitting along our route.

20130602-145901.jpg

West Indian Woodpecker

20130602-145929.jpg

Crabs! The crabs scurried underfoot and quickly retreated into large, round burrows.

20130602-145955.jpg

All that rain had flooded huge patches of the trail. Of course I was in the lead for the first slosh-through and of course I was the first to spot the slippery snakes! EEEEEWWWWW!

20130602-150018.jpg

The snakes were harmless, but my friends cleverly put me into the middle of the line as as we continued through the swamp.

20130602-150040.jpg

20130602-150050.jpg

I’m sure the parrots were laughing at us.

20130602-150117.jpg

We paused for a moment of relief on the first boardwalk we encountered. Unfortunately, there was a rotten board along the walk and it was infested with ants! They moved right into Jessica’s shoes, and they were biters. Outch! It was at this point in the trail that we think Matt and Jessica wished they could be life flighted out.

20130602-150144.jpg

It didn’t get better. There were several more flooded patches to slosh through. I made sure Brian was near my side to ward off the critters. Soon, we were making light of the situation expressing our relief that I wasn’t raining and that the murky water at least cooled our feet during this humid hike. At the very end a long boardwalk led the way toward the trail’s exit.

20130602-150217.jpg

The scenery changed once more and we said goodbye to the parrots and hello to a sandy expanse of field.

20130602-150243.jpg

20130602-150250.jpg

The Mastic Trail spat us out near the south shore, but we still had a bit of a walk to get to the Queen’s Highway where we could hail a bus back toward Georgetown. Matt and Jessica were wet, hot, and hungry. Once we’d reached the Queen’s Highway they decided to return home for the afternoon. Brian and I took a moment to explore the beach and rinse our muddied feet in the snake-free ocean water. We then decided to continue walking toward Bodden Town to see a few more sights before heading to Georgetown.

It was a long walk to Bodden Town (too bad we didn’t have the GPS watch, but we measured our route on the map later that night and it was about five miles). When we finally arrived our mission was to find the Mission House…and so we did.

The Mission House is a property of the National Trust and one of Grand Cayman’s oldest dwellings. (The house was badly damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and has since been reconstructed.) Throughout its history the Mission House served as a home to Presbyterian missionaries, as a schoolhouse, and as a private home. The Mission House was closed on that Saturday afternoon so we were unable to get a guided visit through this historical home.

20130602-150316.jpg

20130602-150323.jpg

Brian and I were famished and as we ended our tour of Bodden Town we thought a taste of local fare would do us good. We stopped at Rankin’s Jerk Centre for a tasty lunch. Rankin’s is a farm and butcher shop as well. Sure enough our jerk pork and curried chicken tasted fresh and delicious! Both entrees were paired with rice and beans, coleslaw, and festive bread.

20130602-150347.jpg

We returned to Georgetown via bus and felt as though we’d really seen Grand Cayman.

Waste Not, Want Not

While living aboard and maintaining Rode Trip, we are often asking ourselves, “do we really need it?” This question pertains to anything from a chocolate bar at the grocery store to roller furling for our sails. (The answer, by the way, is undoubtedly YES to both chocolate and roller furling.) Once we determine that we need something we prioritize how soon we need it based on how it might improve our lives or keep us safe, and we determine how easily and affordably can we acquire it. This puts roller furling at a medium priority range because it would add ease to our lifestyle but come at a huge expense; therefore chocolate bars obtain high priority status at a low cost to keep this sail handler happy particularly just after rough passages.

Most often we find ourselves repairing what we’ve already got or making something we think we need from whatever materials we have available. I’m convinced my handy husband can repair anything. Most recently he mastered electronics and repaired a spare camera card reader that we bought for the iPad; it had arrived broken. I know what you’re thinking…toss that thing in the trash and hit up Amazon for another, it was only $2.00. Not so easy with limited internet access and shipping to Grand Cayman. Brian disassembled the gadget, poked around with some wires, did a bit of soldering, reassembled the plastic case, and viola the iPad can see our photos!

We waste not, we want not. So when our spinnaker blew apart en route to Jamaica, we folded it up and set it aside. Maybe we can repair it? We’d hemmed and hawed about this for weeks. If the material tore so easily, should it be repaired? We weren’t sure. We did however, find another use for the spinnaker. In the Carribean it’s HOT. Rode Trip’s forward and aft hatches are always open and sometimes we open the port holes with hope that a breeze will move through. Breezes do come into our forward hatch but they don’t seem to circulate through our cabin, in fact breezes rarely move beyond the bulkhead. We have a box fan that we’ll turn on from time to time to try to remedy the problem but whatever air the fan pulls through certainly isn’t cooled. We’d noticed that neighboring boats have these handy wind scoops that they fasten onto their forward hatches. The wind scoops catch the breeze and funnel it down into the forward hatch thus pushing it through the boat. We sampled the work of this fine invention on sv/Serendipity and indeed the breeze was flowing through the entire boat! Hmm…we could make that!

Thanks to our deflated spinnaker, we feel we’ve resurrected it for a noble and equally spinnaker-like cause, Rode Trip now has a wind scoop. Thanks to sv/Serendipity’s sewing machine this project was actually completed in minutes rather than our typical hours and hours.

20130527-142112.jpg

It works beautifully! Breezes move swiftly into the hatch and continue flowing aft beyond the bulkhead. Brian and I are cool and comfortable inside.

20130527-142120.jpg

20130527-142127.jpg