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Sailing At Last
This is the tale of our journey to fulfill a passion of learning to sail and a dream to circumnavigate. Welcome Aboard At Last!

Profile of At Last and the Gorrell's
Who: Mark & Janet Gorrell
Port: Wickford, RI USA
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Our Current Position
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14 December 2012
42 Photos
29 April 2012
26 Photos
It’s Not All Fun and Games
December 7, 2011, 4:36 am, Simpson Bay, St. Maarten

The past four days in Simpson Bay remind us of the conveniences at home. We have spent four days going grocery shopping, doing laundry, cleaning, getting supplies for the boat, and catching up on emails. Now many of you might be thinking why this would take four days when many of you get this done on Saturday morning. This is the dark side of sailing that no one talks about. For example, a trip to the grocery store requires a ride in the dinghy, a walk into town, wandering around trying to figure out what the man meant by "straight ahead a bit", trying to determine what dollars the items are labeled in (US dollars, Dutch guilder or Easter Caribbean dollars), deciding whether you really need a twelve dollar bag of potato chips, figuring out what dollars you need to purchase the items, bagging everything so that you can haul it back to the dinghy, hauling it back to the dinghy (wishing you had bought less), hauling it back to the boat, getting rid of all of the cardboard before it gets on the boat (it harbors bugs), finding where to store it on the boat so that you can find it when you need it, and then you are done. This is about a half days work. Luckily, Mark was right by my side for all of these chores and I am eternally grateful that he volunteered to wash the galley (kitchen floor). And I am not embarrassed to say that he did a much better job than I would have. The bright spot is that we were able to find two fantastic bar/restaurants which had free internet (we couldn't get internet from the boat). Of course you have to eat and drink while you are there so we had some wonderful meals while catching up on computer work. If ever in Simpson Bay, we highly recommend Jimbo's Rock and Blues Mexican restaurant.

The Leeward Islands
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Definition of a Dinghy
December 6, 2011, 3:36 am, Simpson Bay, St. Maarten

This is a dinghy.

No, not Mark, the thing he is sitting in.

It is the small boat that gets us from our boat to shore when we are anchoring or on a mooring ball. Without it we would be stuck on the boat. And that is almost exactly what happened today. The dinghy engine has not been working that well since we got here. It's been on the list of things to fix but it has yet to get to the top of the list. Funny how suddenly it is now on the top of the list. Mark pulled the cord to start the engine and he ended up with half of it in his hand and the other half deeply recoiled back into the engine. So we hoisted it onto the boat, took out the manual and went to work. We quickly figured out the manual was useless. When taking apart the recoiling box (where the cord is stored) it was like opening a jack in the box, parts sprang out everywhere. We recovered them, put them in a bag and then tried to figure out how all the pieces went together. We kept in mind the words of our good friend, Andy, "you guys can fix about 90% of what goes wrong on this boat." Three hours later we did a high five and were on our way. We felt like mechanical Gods.

The Leeward Islands
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The Crew's thoughts about the Caribbean 1500 passage
Chris and Janet, for the first time Andy must be at a loss for words
December 5, 2011, 5:00 pm, St Maarten

Chris writes:
I want to express my thanks and appreciation to my brother and Janet for inviting me on this sailing portion of their dream. Love you both and enjoyed all 18 days I spent on At Last, and of course Andy...what would we have done without him. First, his vast sailing experience and knowledge of various types boats.. unmatched !!......I still don't know which winch to use for what maneuver....a 65 year old trying to memorize winches? Second...and the most important talent of Andy's...was his ability to go into a dock, marine store, restaurant and most important..... BAR's....and within 15 minutes know 54 people, their boat name ..number of children...first born's name...(and the waitresses kept our glasses full of necessary medicines and chicken fingers piled on our plates.) I am prejudiced by saying I had a BLAST!!.. there were a few Rod Serling moments ..when for the 3rd consecutive day ...on everyone of Mark and my shifts...2:00 am in the morning with 2 hrs of our shift to go and there is sea stars....waves 4-8 radar contacts...and we were expecting to hear any moment...."you're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of Sight...and Sound...but of Mind...a journey into wondrous Seas...whose boundaries are that of stop...the Twilight Zone". When the moon was out-- look 360 degrees around looked like an episode of "Victory At Sea" . Only dislikes would be the difficulty using the head. Felt like WWII mission over Germany...getting back to base safely and being told "you missed the target" this time do it sitting down...which can be extremely painful. I would do this again only if I knew the right winches and had my beautiful wife Sharon at my side.

Janet writes:
I was surprised at how difficult it was to do about anything on the boat when the boat is heeling over 15 - 20 degrees, going up and down in 10 foot waves, and going through the water at 7-8+knots. Once when I decided it was absolutely necessary for me to shower, I ended up sitting on the bench in the stall. The only way for me not to slide off the bench was to wedge with my feet against the wall on the other side. All of the shampoo, soap, etc. was on the floor of the shower because the plastic container adhered to the shelf had come undone. Trying to stay on the bench while grabbing what I needed on the floor without letting go of the shower head was exhausting. By the time I was done with the shower, dried off, and dressed I was all sweaty again. I wasn't sure it was all worth it. Some things you have less choice about like going to the bathroom. While we were on shift, we had a full harness with a crotch strap. It's basically a PFD (personal flotation device) with a harness built in so you can tether (attach) yourself to the boat so you won't go overboard. Inevitably I would try to pull my pants down to go to the bathroom and forget to undo my crotch strap. Once the strap was undone I would put the end of it in my mouth to prevent it from dropping into the toilet. Then with only one hand I would pull down my shorts (the other was holding onto a grab rail so I wouldn't slam against yet another counter or wall). I quickly learned that shorts with zippers and buttons were way too complicated for this task and quickly switched to all elastic waist shorts.

Given these descriptions, one would wonder why anyone would do what Mark and I are planning on doing for the next two years. I have to say that honestly I loved the passage from Virginia to Tortola. I didn't love the trip from minute to minute but I loved the idea that we took our boat across a big ocean. It was beautiful - the dark nights with the stars, the vastness of the water all around you, and the moment when you started to see the sun rise. It's incredibly peaceful out on the ocean, very calming. What a relief when the staff of the World Cruising Club took our lines and helped tie us up to the dock in Tortola. We made it, we were safe and everything was okay. But best of all, we now had a wonderful new place to explore. It makes it all worth it.

The Caribbean 1500
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Questions Answered About The Passage from Virginia to Tortola
December 5, 2011, 6:00 am, St Maarten

There have been many questions regarding the trip down from Virginia to Tortola. People have been curious about the details of how the trip is done. So I will write briefly about some of the questions people have raised. Feel free to add comments of other questions you have particularly for all of you following the blog that aren't sailors. I am planning on having a Questions Answered section regularly on the blog.

The Boat Does Not Stop Sailing - there is nowhere to anchor when you are making a passage and thus you sail 24 hours per day. There are many different ways that people do this but we chose to have two people awake sailing and two people sleeping for four hour shifts. Andy and I were one team - Mark and his brother Chris were the other team. Andy and I did the 8:00 pm - midnight, 4:00 am - 8:00 am and the noon - 4:00 pm shift. During the off shifts you would try to get as much sleep as possible. Thus things like eating, showering (or even freshening up), brushing ones teeth, changing clothes, etc. are all done with the understanding that by doing them you lose sleep. This becomes a critical decision making point throughout the passage. Thus it becomes quite acceptable to wear the same clothes and not shower for days at a time. The good news is that everyone around you is doing the same.

Sleeping is Tough - in addition to only having four hours to sleep the sleeping situation can be less than ideal. We have two sofas in the main cabin of the boat. We had lee cloths made for them which are cloths that go from under the seat and around the open side of the couch and attach to rails on the ceiling. What the lee cloth does is keep you from falling off the sofa when the boat is heeled over 15 - 20 degrees. So typically you are either pushed against the back of the sofa or against the lee cloth. Neither is that comfortable particularly when adding to the slant the up and down motion of the boat from the waves. As Andy once said when we were hitting some pretty big waves, "I wish they would stop running into those telephone poles." I would be remiss if I did not add how hot it was down below deck. All of the hatches (windows) had to be closed otherwise water would enter the boat. The engine was running rather frequently and many of the meals were heated up with the use of the stove, both of these add tremendous heat below decks. The sheets we were using were rank by the end of the trip. I have to say when I did the six loads of laundry after the delivery I almost gagged when putting things in the washing machine. Let's just say that sweaty clothes and damp towels piled into one big bag for 8 days is a good science experiment.

Eating - luckily I learned about feeding the crew from a delivery Mark completed with a sailing Captain, Richard and his wife, Eden. She is a remarkable chef and made all of the meals beforehand and then froze them. This seemed like a good idea so my Mom and Dad helped me cook all of the meals ahead of time. We had breakfast at 8:00 am, lunch at noon and dinner at 8:00 pm. The meals were done at these times to accommodate the change of shift. There was also a snack bin which was full of healthy and not so healthy snacks if anyone got hungry between meals. Breakfast was cereal mostly or granola bars and I tried to do real meals for lunch and dinner. We had lots of one pot meals because they are easiest to serve. One of the difficulties we had was that the 8:00 pm meal was in the dark. Andy was shocked one night to find that his meatloaf and scalloped potatoes were actually a chicken casserole and Poppy's banana bread. At least it explained why the meatloaf was cold. The heeling of the boat made preparing the meals quite a challenge. Imagine trying to cook in your kitchen with the floor at a 15 degree angle and the occasional up and down motion of a big wave that would throw you against the nearest counter. I ended up with black and blues all along my upper thighs from hitting the counters and an agreement from Mark that he would buy me the galley harness he wanted to buy me before we left on the trip. I didn't think I would need it. We did have a couple of peanut butter and jelly meals when the sea was just too rough for me to safely cook - the men were quite gracious in complementing these meals.

We asked everyone on the delivery to add their comments about what they thought of the trip. Their responses are soon to follow.

The Caribbean 1500
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Why anchoring is free...
December 4, 2011, 11:58 am, St Maarten

We arrived in Simpson Bay in St Maarten (the Dutch side of St Martin) on Saturday morning. For those of you who are not familiar with the islands of the Caribbean, we have now arrived in the groups of islands referred to as the Leewards. Our blog posts and photo gallery will be organized by the groups of islands so look now for the Leeward category.

We have now anchored three times in the past 24 hours. Once in Anguilla Friday night, once outside of Simpson Bay this morning where we decided it wasn't calm enough, and then in the inner harbor or lagoon of Simpson Bay. We have done this without a single argument which is notable because for me anchoring is one of the most stressful events in boating. I once thought of writing an article titled, "Now I know why anchoring is free." In it I would recount the time I woke up at night to the sound of a thud as another boat's anchor dragged and ended up hitting us. I would also compare the quality of the night's sleep one gets on anchor - poor, on a mooring ball - good, and in a slip in a marina - excellent. I rate the slip a little higher than a mooring ball because we can turn on the air conditioning at a slip in a marina. Of course the cost of staying at a slip can be about $100 per night, a mooring ball is about $25, and anchoring is free. Given that we are on a budget, anchoring is the way to go and we are both committed to getting more comfortable with it. I understand that you can get a good night's sleep at anchor. As long as you realize that someone may drag and hit you but there is nothing you can do about it. Thus, why lose sleep over it. I am still working this one out in my head. (By the way, the Simpson Bay Authority actually charges you $10 a day to anchor here. Guess I'll have to change the title of the article. Go figure.)

We spent much of today putting up our new awning. We have three sections to the awning which will cover much of the boat. The purpose of the awning is to be able to keep the hatches (windows) open when it is raining and keep air flowing below deck, to be able to keep the direct sunlight off the boat, and give us more shade during hot days. When I say we spent much of today doing this I am not kidding. We had pictures of the awning that Mark took after it was put on by the woman who made it. They can be seen in the gallery "Our Preparations". We kept referring to the pictures in order to get it right. It was a never ending process but we should be able to get the time down from the four hours it took today to do it. The end result you can see in the picture is drinks, wine and crackers under the awning on the back of the boat. The next time we raise the awning it should be much quicker, right?

The Leeward Islands
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Leaving the BVI
December 3, 2011, 6:09 pm, Spanish Town Virgin Gorda BVI

After the Baths took a slip at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Club in Spanish Town Virgin Gorda. We had to check out of BVI customs there adjacent to the marina.

Our last sunset in the BVI, from the Virgin Gorda Yacht Club through the rigging on At Last.

We left Virgin Gorda early at 7:00 am (yes I can get up that early). We were planning on leaving at 5:00 am but Mark let me sleep in. We had about an eleven hour sail to Anguilla. On the way out of the BVI, we passed Necker Island, owned by Sir Richard Branson, the UK airline and everything else mogul. You might recall that his house on the island burnt down a few weeks ago and that Kate Winslet saved Branson's mom from the fire. We have posted photos to the gallery of Mr. Branson's island, his many homes, his huge catamaran, the "Necker Belle", and the remains of the home that burnt down. Mark could not get any photos of Branson himself or Kate Winslet. Sorry about that but we are adding a link to the website about the fire.

Click here to read more about Sir Richard Branson's Necker Island get away, the house fire and Kate Winslet's rescue of Branson's mom

The sail was uneventful but we soon realized that we would not be making it to Anguilla until dark. That meant we would have to anchor in the dark. Not ideal but we had good information on the anchorage and the electronics on our boat has radar which shows up where the other boats are. As soon as we got there we realized there were three huge (over 200 feet) boats in the channel without any lights on (you are usually forbidden from anchoring in a channel, especially unlit). We found a spot to anchor and used hand held walkie talkies to communicate. I was at the helm (driving) while Mark was at the bow (front) of the boat dropping the anchor. When we woke up, we were happy to see that our anchor had not dragged and we were within safe distance of all of the boats around us. We both agreed that leaving at 5:00 am would have been a bit more advantageous.

Along the trip, we have had a few visitors drop in from time to time. A few days ago a few wrens took a breather on our boat while we were sailing to Anegada. Here a larger cousin takes a break on our bow pulpit just before we leave Anguilla.

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What Day Is It Today?
December 1, 2011, 5:00 pm, The Baths Virgin Gorda BVI

Mark and I awoke to a lively discussion about what day it was today. He was convinced it was Friday while I kept insisting it was Thursday. It is amazing that without internet access or television how easy it is to forget the days. I finally showed Mark a date book I have been keeping to record where we were and what we did every day. He still wasn't convinced given if I skipped one day the whole thing would be messed up. I then produced a receipt of when we got gas in Virgin Gorda which gave us the reference point we needed to figure it out. I guess this is what they mean by living on "Island Time". As long as it is not a senior moment for Janet.

We went to the Baths today on Virgin Gorda. I was insisting we go because I find the whole affair lots of fun. First you pick up a mooring ball along the beach. Then you swim from your boat onto the beach. You are not allowed to bring your dinghy onto the beach. After the swim you enter a very interesting formation of giant granite boulders. The sea washes in between the large rocks and forms pools. You have to crawl, climb ladders and shimmy up rocks using ropes to get through the formation to another beach. Then you go back through the boulders and swim back to the boat. The picture is taken from our boat looking at the beach - yes it's quite a swim.

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