Hotel California Dinghy
01 June 2020
My bed is like a little boat;
Nurse helps me in when I embark;
She girds me in my sailor's coat
And starts me in the dark.
At night I go on board and say
Good-night to all my friends on shore;
I shut my eyes and sail away
And see and hear no more.
Robert Louis Stevenson
(recited to me by Grandma Whitford as she tucked me in)
The Covid 19 pandemic emerged as Lisa and I had sailed Uproar from Moorea into Papeete, Tahiti. We anchored inside the reef, near the airport. This is our favorite anchorage in Tahiti. The airport is not that busy, there are sandy spots to anchor and coral reefs to snorkel.
French Polynesia, like most of the world, put in place some tight quarantine restrictions. We could go to shore, only for essential groceries or medical needs and must carry a form signed and dated for that day and destination. We were only allowed to swim around our boats. We felt lucky for this as cruisers in the Marquesas, FP were not allowed to swim, even to clean their boat bottom. About 40 boats anchored in this anchorage. We knew many of them from our two years cruising French Polynesia. We got to know many more as we started the Hotel California net, every morning at 9:00 on VHF, ch 68.
We and all cruisers in Hotel California hung on the world news daily. Our futures remained uncertain. Sure, we were in an idyllic place but we were virtually prisoners in a gilded cage. Airline flights were suspended. Other countries in the South Pacific would not accept cruisers. We could check out but we could not go anywhere else! The range of emotions changed daily. At least we were safe in an area with very few cases of the virus. We had each other, plenty of food and friends nearby but social distancing.
We also had a nice stack of local mahogany in the quarter berth. Our daughter was pregnant again, due in August. I had always wanted to build a dinghy cradle and a new grandchild gave me the incentive. The Warren Jordan Baby Cradle caught my eye and I ordered the plans. Mail delivery ceased to FP but Warren kindly sent me PDFs of the plans. I was able to scale up the mold formers and transom which is all I needed for the general shape. The lapstrake, copper riveted construction was going to be too difficult for me, building the dinghy on Uproar. I planned to use strip plank construction.
A private sawmill in Moorea supplied the wood. I like to do simple wood projects on Uproar and seek out local sources for beautiful, tropical woods. Michel's father planted 6,000 mahogany trees on Moorea, many years ago. He sold me a rough plank to check out the qualities of the wood. I hand planed it and sawed it into the uprights of the dinghy davits. It was beautiful wood but pretty hard for strip planking. Lisa and I made another trip to Michel's and selected some other planks. After some coaxing, Michel agreed to plane it and rip to the sizes I needed. When I saw his elaborate wood shop, I asked him to rip all of the 1/4" strips I would need to plank the dinghy. Access to someone with these tools is quite limited and I believe I took advantage of Michel. I told him I should have brought glue and let him build the boat!
Michel drove us back down the hill in his pick-up truck with a bundle of wood in back. Lisa and I dinghied it back to Uproar. The project had begun. A local building supply store had the sheet of plywood we needed for the mold. We brought the Japanese rip saw with us and cut the 4' x 8' sheet into strips we could use and get into our dinghy. Everything disappeared into our quarter berth along with three cases of beer we bought just because we were near the grocery store. Little did we know alcohol sales would soon be curtailed in FP.
We sailed to Tahiti because we were expecting a shipment from the US with a new Mercury 20 HP, EFI outboard (love it) and bicycles from our son Steve's shop, South Shore Cyclery in Milwaukee. Right after we received the shipment, quarantine rules came into play. We would not be allowed to ride the bikes. We were able to go to the big Carrefour store and re-fill our wine locker. We had spent the past six months in the remote Tuamotus. Days later, alcohol sales were banned. Our timing was spot on!
Working with wood on a sailboat has its challenges. There is not one flat and level surface except for the cockpit floor. I made a small work surface with vice to put over our cockpit snack table. To cut, plane or sand a piece of wood, I had to find a place to anchor it in place by sitting on it and not damage the cockpit of Uproar. Sawing was particularly challenging because the wood was always held at an angle. We do have a 110 volt inverter but the only power tools I have are a sander, cordless drill and jig saw. The jig saw was used only for curves. Hand, Japanese pull saws work great for straight cuts but are slow and tiring. No problem, I had all the time in the world. Good thing, I ran out of strips and had to hand rip them from 1 1/2"thick planks, then saw again to 1/4" thickness.
The mold was completed and strip planking came next. I was worried that the mahogany would be quite stiff for planking. It was! The strips would bend without breaking but strips need to bend in two planes and twist to conform to the mold. Light cedar does this perfectly, hard mahogany fights back! But again, time was of no concern and with a lot of cutting and fitting, the boat shell was completed. It was a special day when I was able to pull it off the mold. Now we had a real, little boat.
The design of the frame or davits came partly from the plans and partly my own design. I wanted to make all joinery self-locking without metal fasteners. I did install threaded rods to hold the davit feet in place but the feet fit quite tightly on the uprights. The horizontal stretcher is mortise and tenoned into the uprights and held with Rosewood, tapered wedges. I had scrounged some scraps of hard, Black Coconut wood and pearl oyster shells I used for the inlay in the stem. I needed a rabet plane to size the tenons so I made one, using an old chisel as the iron.
The stretcher was a massive plank, way out of proportion to the rest of the project. I used some ship's curves I had to draw the waves. It lightened the plank and added some interest. Planing, sanding and finishing completed the project. We assembled the parts on our deck and hung the dinghy with some vintage-looking line. Several dinghies came by to admire the work. Those close to us had heard lots of pounding, sawing and perhaps a smattering of the King's English coming from Uproar. Not all of it was from me. Lisa had to endure quite a mess for the entire month. Not only was sawdust everywhere but the tanins in the mahogany stained the gelcoat like strong tea. Lisa would take over when I was exhausted from a days work and bucket out the sawdust. When the project was completed, she bleached the gelcoat back to white. Thanks, Lisa for hanging in there with me.
There is nothing like the anticipation of a new life to bring hope and joy. Lisa asked me why the dinghy was hung, sailing into the waves. I hadn't planned it that way but told her it is a metaphor for life. Life involves a lot of sailing upwind but with proper guidance one can sail through the storms into calm waters. We are certain Liz and Victor will provide that guidance for our new grandchild. The dinghy will be christened, "Miss Sylvia" after my mom. We are confident the world will return enough to normal to allow us to visit our new grandchild this fall, in her little boat.
29 April 2020
French Polynesia lifted many of the quarantine sanctions and we are so happy! Today we were able to go for a bike ride for the first time in 40 days. This was also the first time we got to try out our new bikes. I have always loved the feeling of gliding along on a bike. Bikes have been an important mode of transportation for our cruising lifestyle. We can go places too far to walk without depending on anyone else for transportation. Biking is important exercise. We can tell a noticeable difference in our health when we are at an island where we can bike.
These bikes were custom built by our son, Steve at South Shore Cyclery just for our conditions and easy storage on Uproar. They are perfect! We had such a great ride today. There is nothing we would change about either of these great bikes. Thanks Steve!
I have only one complaint. My bike has tires marked, “E-bike 50.” So why do I have to pedal? I haven't found the E-bike drive on my bike but will keep looking.
We are grateful for the freedom of getting on these bikes and being able to go anywhere, without having to show papers to any police who asks. The past 40 days, we had to carry a form for that day and time showing exactly where we were going and why. That ended today, we have complete freedom of movement. We still can't sail Uproar to any other island in FP but that may come in a few weeks.
Let's not take freedom for granted and be extremely careful about compromising freedom for any reason.
26 April 2020
I'm having to force myself to write this blog. Quarantine has been a difficult time for all and continues to be.
Everyone's situation is different so I'll tell about quarantine life in French Polynesia. There are only 57 confirmed cases so far in FP, no one has died and only a few have been hospitalized. As of April 26, quarantine has been about 5 weeks. Covid 19 cases are only in Tahiti and nearby Moorea. French Polynesia is a huge area, about the size of Europe, with hundreds of islands and only 280,000 people. But the quarantine regulations are being strictly carried out throughout the area.
Cruisers in FP can apply for an indefinitely renewable visa which we have. We are essentially permanent residents as long as we pay $90/year. We have been here two years and have renewed for a third, not knowing when we can head west toward Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand. We are especially visible as we sail into an anchorage. Local people are beyond welcoming and readily share whatever they are growing in their gardens. Several times we were given fish by local fishermen.
Being visible is not a good thing during quarantine. Since we can move about, and since we resemble the missionaries who brought plagues to these people 150 years ago, we are under extra scrutiny. Cruisers were told to stay in place wherever they are anchored or sent to Tahiti. Some villages would not initially let cruisers come ashore. But regulations were put in place that allow cruisers to go ashore with a form filled out specifically for that day, time and destination. I was stopped by a police boat once to check the form. We are in a visible anchorage near the airport with 40 other boats. Police boats have visited us all to check our paperwork and discuss regulations. We are fortunate that we are allowed to swim around our boats. In Nuku Hiva and other places, cruisers are prohibited from swimming. There is a ban on boating and swimming and it was thought that cruisers swimming would be unfair to those on land. Fortunately not the case for us.
Our anchorage has been dubbed “Hotel California.” We have a radio network every morning at 9:00 (started by Uproar). We have trivia at 5:00 and a cooking show and other broadcasts. This has been a lot of fun and helped us stay connected. We have visited other boats, staying in our dinghy and are fortunate that Kaia from 2K has done a lot of canvas projects to give us more shade and other beautification projects. I fortunately stocked up on Mahogany for the baby dinghy/cradle project. This has kept me very busy for most of the past month.
Tahiti is not our favorite spot in FP but we do like it. Hotel California is a beautiful anchorage with sandy bottom and clear water. We see Eagle Rays, Stingrays, turtles and a variety of fish clearly from the boat. We do snorkel around the boat and enjoy the critters. The local grocery store is first class which is a rarity in FP. We get ashore about twice a week for shopping and sometimes just using that as an excuse to go for a walk. The sunsets over Moorea are priceless. Yes, this is paradise and a beautiful place of confinement.
We hear that quarantine will be eased shortly. We are hoping we will be able to sail to the Leeward Islands, 100 miles away, Huanine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora. The OCC, Ocean Cruising Club is petitioning New Zealand and Australia to allow cruising boats to enter their countries. We are on the list for New Zealand and hope to be able to sail there in October. If these places don't open up, we may stay in FP another year. There is certainly a lot more to explore here. But will it remain the FP we know and love?
The real heartbreak of quarantine is the effect on the friendly Polynesians (named the Society Islands due to their friendliness). The first few weeks, smiles changed to fear. We were always greeted prior to Covid19. Now there is little eye contact. We haven't interacted with children in over a month. I was able to give Uproar airplanes to three small children but did not stop and assemble them as we normally do. We have not petted a dog in 40 days. These people depend on tourism for most of their income. This has come to a standstill and will only come back in a dribble when restrictions are lifted. These people's fragile economy will suffer.
It has been at least 40 days since I have kissed a stranger on both cheeks. I wonder if I ever will again.
01 April 2020 | Tahiti
Russ Whitford | perfect
In this age of global warming/climate change, Lisa and I thought we would do our small part. We were forced to buy a new outboard motor in Panama when our venerable Mercury 15 hp 4 stroke died. The only suitable motor available was a Suzuki 15hp 2 stroke. Last week we replaced it with the new Mercury 20hp, 4 stroke EFI (electronic fuel injected). The new Mercury (and our old one) has the “Ultra-low Emissions” sticker.
The Suzuki has been a faithful motor for these two years. It starts easily, every time and I have not had the cover off the engine in the entire two years. We use this motor almost every day, it has a lot of miles on it. There was absolutely no reason for us to buy a new motor, Suzuki was serving our needs well.
But! The Suzuki used a lot of gas. We had to mix oil in the gas too. Our old Merc had a 3 gallon tank, the Suzuki came with a 6.3 gallon tank. Good thing! I bet the Suzuki and old Merc emptied their tanks after the same miles of use. Could it be that the Suzuki used double the gas of the Merc? I do not have scientific measurements but I believe it to be true.
The Suzuki (and all two strokes) send about 25% of the raw gas out the exhaust without burning it. There are ways to reduce this but power is reduced as well. Two strokes are also “peaky” on power. They produce their power at higher RPM. We always ran the Suzuki at about 75% power to stay on a nice plane. It just sounded like it was grinding itself up all the time. The Mercs (old and new) maintain a nice plane at less than 1/3 power! Being peaky, the Suzuki required three different propellers. We had a two person, three person and four person prop. I believe the new Merc will plane just fine with the stock prop and four people. But we are under Covid19 quarantine here and can't take extra passengers to test.
Are we really doing our part for the environment? Not really, we will sell the Suzuki to a local fisherman and it will continue to smoke and suck gas. The energy needed to manufacture the Mercury may not be offset by the fuel we save with it. I'll be honest, we bought it 'cause we wanted it. It is convenient to have fuel savings, we don't have to store as much gas onboard in remote areas or fill the tank as often. After talks with Mercury engineers and Pro Boats in California, I was convinced the EFI would be trouble free as well. Of course, the Suzuki trouble free as well.
The design of the Merc we believe is a breakthrough. Outboard motors have the tiller offset to the port side. The idea is that sitting on the back seat of a boat, the skipper can sit in the middle and the tiller falls easily in the left hand. RIB (rigid bottom inflatables) require sitting on the side tube. That puts the tiller quiet far from the driver. The driver has to lean over to reach the tiller. This isn't a big problem for me but Lisa and other women, often sit on the port side where the tiller is close at hand. The new Merc has a tiller that is adjustable from side to side, and up and down! With tiller centered, it is easily within reach when I sit up comfortably. We may even swing it more to the right for Lisa.
I will say that starting the EFI motor is a little harder. One must pull the starter rope all the way to give enough revolutions for the EFI to fire. It usually takes two, long pulls. It is not hard to pull but requires more total effort. The old Suzuki, and other carburetor engines, just need one compression stroke to fire, a short pull. But the power at low rpm, quiet and comfortable ergonomics make the Mercury a real winner. Plus, we can hold our heads up high appearing to be “green.”
Blue Water Cruising Boats
16 March 2020
This subject comes up often on FB and other sailing and cruising forums. If you want a passionate (perhaps heated) discussion among sailors, just ask what they recommend for a blue water boat. The term is used to categorize a boat capable of sailing across oceans.
Lisa and I went to a seminar at Chicago's Strictly Sail show (now Strictly Sail and powerboats and RV) about choosing a blue water boat. The speaker was sponsored by Blue Water Sailing Magazine too. The short version is that he recommended full keel, skeg hung rudder boats that were all manufactured before 1980. Not one current production boat or even one after 1990 made the list.
The speaker painted romantic images of a salty, heavy boat plowing through seas with a variety of sails to suit the conditions. The speaker proclaimed with misty eyes, “This boat will look after you.” Strangely enough, he owned a Jenneau and it was not on the list.
We were even warned by a broker that Uproar was “not a blue water boat.” Thank God we did not buy an approved blue water boat! Uproar is a bit of a hermaphrodite. Beneteau First series are their racing or performance boats. In the 90's the First series boats had full interiors and came with standard rigs or tall rigs. Uproar is a standard rig but with a deep, lead keel. She is neither pure racer nor pure cruiser. She sails beautifully and fast. We so enjoy sailing Uproar even in light winds.
Back to the approved, blue water boats. They are heavy, they are old and the lore of the blue water boat has kept prices up relative to their age. But if someone buys one of these 40+ year old boats, they may be buying just a well built shell and need to replace everything else. We have heard the horror stories of cruisers who are constantly fixing their old boats. Newer boats are not immune from this but chances are that newer boats have guts that still work.
Did I mention slow? We met a couple in Marquesas who took 54 days to complete the passage we completed in 23 days, in a boat of similar size. Who was safer? They were out there twice as long as we were and exposed to whatever dangers exist on the ocean during that time. Uproar carries only 40 gallons of diesel. We were told that wasn't nearly enough. Most boats our size carry well over 100 gallons. But we can sail in much lighter winds so seldom need to use our engine. We do carry 20 extra gallons of diesel on long passages just in case.
We do see blue water boats out here cruising but they are far in the minority. Beneteau is the world's largest manufacturer of cruising boats and there are plenty of them out here. The real deviation from the “approved” list are catamarans. None of the old salts recommend a catamaran but about 1/3 of the boats out here are cats. Their owners have crossed the same oceans we have, quite safely and in comfort. They also can't be beat for living space, area for solar panels and convenient dinghy storage.
If you are wanting to go cruising, don't fall victim to the conventional wisdom that you need a blue water boat. Sail on as many boats as you can and buy a boat you love. It will not take care of you, that is your job! But it will take you across oceans to places of your dreams.
Uncle Bob was here
28 February 2020
Lisa and I are blessed to have friends and family visit us in the remote and beautiful places we sail. My brother, Bob, visited Uproar for the first time in Fakarava. Bob is my only sibling, 1 ½ years older. We shared a lot of experiences growing up.
Bob and I sailed together as kids but it didn't become the passion for him that it is for me. Bob would visit in Milwaukee and race with us on Veloce and Uproar. He also crewed on some fine boats on Lake St. Claire near his home in Michigan. The year before we sailed away from Milwaukee, Bob crewed on Uproar for the Queen's Cup race, a night race across Lake Michigan. The first place trophy is displayed in Bob's home.
Work and family took precedence and Bob didn't manage to get away and join us in the Bahamas or Caribbean. I invited Bob to sail with me while Lisa was away in Thailand and he made the long journey to the beautiful atoll of Fakarava, French Polynesia. When I introduced “mon friere, Robert” to Liza in Hirifa, she said, “Wow, is he white!”
We went to all the great spots in Fakarava and journeyed to Toau for a visit to Gaston and Valentine. Fakarava South Pass, Tetamanu, is my favorite place in all of our travels to go snorkeling. Bob loved it too. Like us, he marveled at the welcoming and friendliness of the Polynesians.
I could continue about all we saw and did but it was the long evenings where we just sat and talked that I cherish from his visit. Bob announced he would like to write a book about his experiences at Baskin Robbins ice cream store, his first job. Bob worked at Mr. Whipp's store, Town and Country, and I worked at Mrs. Whipp's store, Dorthy Lane. Bob's store was much busier and sometimes I worked there too. Mrs. Whipp allowed us to eat all we wanted, not so at Mr. Whipp's store.
Bob started recording the incidents we remembered in a composition book I gave him. We laughed hysterically about some of the antics we and our co-workers performed. One guy was bragging about the hot date he had that night. We soaked his jeans, tied them in knots and threw them in the deep freezer. He had to go on his date wearing ice cream stained white pants! Lots more to come when the book is finished.
We talked about our kids, grandchildren and reminisced about growing up. There is something about the softness of being at sea, under a star-filled sky that lets one open up. Thanks for sharing with me, Bob.