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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Licensed Captain
Randy
12/01/2007, Fort Lauderdale

Somehow I passed. Whew. It was an intense 17 days. Denis (pictured here at the helm of Celtic Mist, the training boat) and I studied some fairly long hours together and became good friends during the course. Denis also passed and I think he is now running a charter boat in the BVI with his girlfriend. Not a bad way to go...

It feels good to be done and I am really looking forward to getting back to my family but also my boat! It will be nice to get sailing on Swingin' on a Star again. I do have some new checklists to go through when I get home, not to mention 5 tons of ships stores from the US to unpack.

Trinidad and Tobago
On the water practical
Randy
11/29/2007, Key Biscayne

The 200 ton masters course wraps up with a four day on the water training run followed by an all day on the water skills exam and oral exam. If you pass this bit and have the sea time and the USCG physical and drug test you finish.

Our coursework group split into two parts for the practical. Most of the crew went for the Power endorsement but four of us had elected the Sail endorsement. I think most power owners will consider a sail skipper but I think few sail owners would consider a power skipper. You do certainly learn specific skills with the twin screw boat that you don't cover in the mono hull portion of course.

Our group consisted of Bernard and Terry from Texas, though originally from the Maritimes in Canada, as well as Denis, a young salty dog, and our instructor Kiron. Kiron was an impressive sailor and he could recite the Colregs word for word.

Our first day started at around 8AM provisioning and what not, proceeded through a passage down the New River and out into a rather choppy Atlantic, then hard on the wind to Miami and wrapped up at around midnight on the hook in Key Biscayne. This was not going to be a vacation...

Trinidad and Tobago
200 Ton Masters Coursework
Randy
11/22/2007, Fort Lauderdale

I have relocated to the Embassy Suites right next door to the IYT headquarters where all of the course work takes place for the 200 ton masters program. The hotel is very nice but I am not seeing much of it. The class room part of this program runs Monday - Sunday and seems to ignore Thanksgiving (perhaps it's because the British are running the place?).

We have an exam every morning except Monday. Those applying for the MCA and USCG licenses must get a 90% on the Colregs and Navigation exams and 70% on the Ship Stability and Construction, General Deck Knowledge, Weather, etceteras. So far the program has been a great refresher in some areas and has improved my knowledge substantially in others.

Trinidad and Tobago
Fire
Randy
11/15/2007, Fort Lauderdale

The MCA (British Maritime Coast Guard Agency) seems to be leading the way in yacht licensing. The professional yacht crew space is growing rapidly and no one else has stepped up to put standards in place so much as the MCA.

Currently to work on most boats in the Caribbean you need to have STCW certification. This includes Sea Survival (inflating life rafts in a freezing swimming pool at night), Personal Safety and Social Responsibility (what? we need to teach people how to be responsible?), First Aid (standard CPR/First aid) and Fire Fighting. The STCW program composed the first week of the 200 ton masters course.

All of the courses were fun and interesting but I really learned a bunch in the Fire Fighting bit. Day one is class room and day two is all practical. Our Fire Fighting portion was taught at the Resolve School in the Fort Lauderdale port. Oddly the Non-SS Manatee (plumbed every which way with propane lines so that they can burst any part of the vessel into massive flames on a whim) is located a couple hundred feet from huge petroleum tanks inside the port. I suppose the port planning engineer was on vacation that day.

We put out lots of kinds of fires with various types of fire extinguishers but the exercises that put you in an enclosed space with raging flames were the most eye opening for me. The hot box bit where you are in an enclosed steel room wearing full fire gear and breathing through a mask with a load of burning pallets bringing the ceiling temp to several hundred degrees was particularly intense.

Trinidad and Tobago
Fridge Fixing
Hideko
11/14/2007, Chagaramas

At 8am, a rigger was supposed to come to see about bringing our reef lines to the cockpit and he finally showed up at 3pm. At least he came and he seemed positive about the job.

The refrigerator guy was here at 11:30am as promised by the office lady that I spoke to this morning (because he didn't show up yesterday). We have had a little water collecting under our refrigerator and we wanted to find the source and stop it. The refrigerator's leakage was identified as a place on the coolant pipe that was not insulated and thus causing lots of condensation. They cleaned things up and hopefully fixed the problem.

This gave me a chance to clean up back there for the first time. I found playing cards from the MacKenzie kids visit in the process. It is amazing the places kids can get to. It made me smile to think of them.

I have been asking a lot of cruisers around for contractor recommendations. Advent Endeavour who was next to us when we first came to the Peake dock left early this week to anchor out but came by this afternoon with their dog. They gave me a few recommendations from another boat that I spoke to earlier who is now anchored near them. Advent Endeavour is leaving early tomorrow morning for Grenada. It is always sad to say good-bye to the people you have become friends with, even if over a short time. They also knew that Randy was gone so I felt like they looked after me.

A couple of days ago, a French couple came in across from us on the dock. I helped them dock here and they invited me for a cocktail. We had some nice French wine and salmon with bread. They were a very sweet couple. Their nephew is coming soon from France and then they will head North before Randy comes back.

Trinidad and Tobago
Busy time of year
Hideko
11/13/2007, Chagaramas

The internet connection here is not great but, as best I can, I will update you all on how I am doing in Trinidad with Roq while Randy is gone.

The first thing I did today was of course, make a latte. I am getting better at it but I can't seem to make the foam all that fluffy. I guess I am not meant for making lattes. There are certain tasks that Randy and I divide on the boat. He does mechanical and weather and etc., I do food and cleaning stuff and etc. I guess latte making must be mechanical or something.

I did not reazlie how busy boat yards can get. I went to three upholstery places for new cushions and a cockpit enclosure today and they all told me that they were booked until January. One rigger that I was recommended told me the same. Fortunately, I found another rigger that might be able to do the work and the guy seemed to be very professional and knowledgeable. He was a sailor years before he started working at the shop, which means he understands the importance of his work (not all are or do).

I spent the afternoon checking out a chandlery and getting fresh milk, very challenging in the Caribbean but no problem in Trinidad. I came back to the boat and waited for a refrigerator guy to show up but he didn't come. He had rescheduled a couple of times already. I don't know if it is good that I am having to wait for a guy who is in demand or if I should be using someone who shows up when he says he will (perhaps this person does not exist down here?).

Trinidad and Tobago
Crew Quarters
Randy
11/12/2007, Fort Lauderdale

So it turns out I'm staying two doors down from the Porn Megaplex. Er, perhaps some background is in order.

Hideko and I had a one year plan to get prepared to live on a yacht and cruise around the world. I think we, especially Hideko, did a good job of executing that plan. It involved the entire ASA program except Celestial Navigation and Passage-making, although I did take the Celestial course. We also completed the IYT Master of Yachts Coastal course.

While the ASA classes were good for recreational boating I felt that the IYT program was much more in line with the needs of someone living aboard. There's a big difference between living on a boat and recreating on a boat. If you are recreating and the weather's bad you tie the boat up and go home or sail the boat back to the charter base or what have you. If you live on the boat and the weather is bad you suck it up and deal with the situation. It is important to be prepared to deal with said situation.

The Master of Yachts Coastal program required real on the water time, night sailing a radio rating and involved a lot of elements I found quite valuable in the class room and practical portion off the course. So as we refined our plan we decided that the IYT Master of Yachts Offshore would be a good rating to have prior to crossing an ocean but after we had a years worth of sailing in the Caribbean under our belts.

I needed to go to Florida for business sometime in November. A few days before we left for Trinidad I began looking into course availability for the Off Shore program in Florida. As I pulled the thread the sweater unraveled and the next thing I knew Hideko and I were discussing whether I should go to Fort Lauderdale to complete the course in a few days or not. We knew there would be a lot of down time in Trinidad while we had various projects completed. Everyone is coming back to Trinidad to get their boats out of the yards for cruising season and all of the shops that should have had various tasks completed three months ago on those boats are scrambling.

In the end we decided that this might be the last chance to complete the final step in our preparations plan. Hideko said go and although I have a hard time being away from my family for a day or two, much less three weeks, I decided that the knowledge and the license were worth the unhappiness in the long run.

The round trip from Port of Spain to Fort Lauderdale was only $500 US and a snap on Expedia. My final task was finding a hotel close to the school because the class was 17 solid days in a three week period with one night in the pool playing with life rafts and 5 days at sea. Fort Lauderdale was packed. I tried several hotels and had no luck. I inquired at the school and they informed me that there were crew quarters that I could stay in. Huh, Crew Quarters, who knew? I called the first one on the list and boom, I was set, and at a rate of $50 a night!

An alarm should have gone off in my head at this point, but no. I arrived at the airport and the crew quarters folks even picked me up. I was very up beat. Then the rules were explained, no parties after hours, no entering the girls part of the house, garbage goes over here, never go in the front door, and on. My vision of a quaint suburban abode with three or four folks relaxing by the pool studying for the 200 ton masters license was deflating. As we arrived at the house the stark reality seized me by the shoulders and gave me a good shake.

The house is, well, ratty. Not that there are rats, well, none that I have seen. What I mean is that the walls are scuffed with no base boards, the carpets are of a condition that inspires you to avoid direct skin contact, the upstairs sports a drop ceiling like a cheap office building, the sheets don't match and have holes in them, you have to provide your own towel (which is probably a blessing), I could go on but you get the idea.

It has been entertaining to some degree. There are little notes everywhere telling you the dos and don'ts. While the experience has been somewhat humbling, which is never bad, I do miss having a desk to study at, my one real gripe. It is very close to everything and I have been able to walk, right past the Porn Megaplex, to the school and there are plenty of restaurants close by. That said, the bottom line is that unless you are under 29 and enjoy staying in a house with 15 other young adults, I would skip the crew quarters and check into the Embassy Suites (I tried to yesterday but they are full up). I enjoyed Animal House the movie, I also liked being able to turn it off and go to sleep if I wanted to.

Trinidad and Tobago

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