Sometimes in life a confluence of events seem to take control and we are pulled along as if by unseen force. In our case that is more or less what occurred between August 2011 and January 2012.
A typical married couple of 33 years, we had always enjoyed any activity involving water and had spoken idly of learning to sail and buying a sailboat. With Debbie retired, our daughter in college, and Robert nearing retirement, it came up once again. After some investigation, we discovered an ASA Certified sailing school nearby, Murray Yacht Sales. A couple phone calls and emails later, we were on the water for our first lesson in a Beneteau First 7.5. Something the instructor, Tom, said in an offhand comment resonated, ‘sailing is not about getting somewhere, it’s being there’. We realized that he was right. The enjoyment of sailing is in the act itself.
After several enjoyable, educational Saturdays of sailing lessons on Lake Pontchartrain with Tom and Charlie, it was time for the test. Things were busy at work for Robert, so Debbie made arrangements to take the test. After much study and review, test day arrived. Thanks to the skilled tutelage of the instructors, she passed. Robert took his test and passed as well later that November.
Test day, as Robert prepared to leave Murray Yacht Sales, Stanton mentioned the St. Pete boat show in early December and commented that it would provide the opportunity to not only visit several different boats, but to also attend Sail America’s informational seminars given by seasoned/experienced ASA sailors on a wide variety of topics. Reservations and plans were made to attend the boat show. Robert had begun leisurely searching the internet for sailboats after the possibilities in the New Orleans area were exhausted. A boat in the St. Pete area piqued our interest, so arrangements to go see it while in the area were made. With, it should be noted, very low expectations.
With a boat show schedule of seminars and map of the grounds in hand we bounced back and forth between tents attending educational seminars given by knowledgeable, experienced sailors and related business professionals willing to share their wisdom and expertise with those of us that were in need. The classes excited with tales of new horizons while giving practical, necessary, lifesaving, and useful information for those planning new ventures or those just honing existing skills.
Since we were planning to purchase a boat later the next year, the seminar by Charles Kanter that addressed the issue of a pre-sale survey was one we attended. It reinforced in our minds the necessity of a survey and also our responsibility of due diligence in the selection of the surveyor. The program ‘Take the Drama out of your Dream’ especially resonated with us as a couple. Throughout the presentation as well as after the program, the presenters, Jeff Grossman & Jean Levine Grossman, graciously answered question after question, never acting as if any question was a stupid question, no matter how elementary.
Seminar after seminar fueled our eagerness while always maintaining awareness of the importance of personal safety procedures in the sailing process. The unselfish commitment of the presenters, whether it was cooking, docking, anchoring, technical repairs and maintenance, finance, international protocols, or any one of the myriad of programs offered, was indeed commendable and greatly appreciated.
The time arrived to go and see the boat in Regatta Pointe Marina. Unexpectedly, we both loved her immediately and could find no obvious flaws. Offers and counteroffers were made and a price agreed upon contingent on survey findings. Now we had to find a surveyor, financing, and insurance! Fortunately the boat show provided easy access to all these resources. Beneteau 43 video.
We connected with Jean Levine Grossman, who expanded on the survey process along with her husband, Jeff Grossman, and set tentative dates for the in water and the sea trial/haul out portions of the survey. Our broker, Stanton Murray of Murray Yacht Sales, explained the steps to advance through the purchase process. It was really happening!
With minds about to burst with new knowledge and pre purchase euphoria, we flew home to eagerly await the results of the in water portion of the survey.
Excuse the pun, but she sailed through both portions of the extremely thorough, detailed, professionally presented survey with no glaring issues. Now the fun began! Dates were tossed back and forth for moving her from Regatta Pointe to St. Petersburg and then the real adventure from St. Petersburg to her new home in New Orleans. For this portion we made the decision to engage Jeff and Jean with Two Can Sail as captains/instructors and Murray Yacht Sales to provide ASA 103 & 104 certifications while we served as crew and progressed through the material and tests.
Preparations began in earnest. We received information on essential equipment in all categories (safety, mechanical, electrical, practical) from Two Can Sail. Packages were shipped and orders were placed, weather was monitored. Excitement ran high.
Debbie flew to St. Pete ahead of Robert and met Jean to completely inventory the boat and begin provisioning for the voyage from St. Pete to New Orleans. Under Jean’s guidance, an inventory of all items, listed by location on the boat, was created and we were able to determine what items we lacked. Menus were made based on expected weather and seas. This indeed proved to be a blessing!
Shopping lists were made and plans developed for the next day. Debbie began the grocery shopping and picked up Rob late that evening. Friday morning Jeff and Jean met us on the boat and after stowing their personal life raft in the starboard lazeret(sp?), the provisioning marathon began.
Saturday it was discovered that the rudder was lodged in the soft bottom of the slip in the boat yard, so we waited for high tide. Unwilling to risk a delay the next day, we relocated to the Vinoy for the night after testing systems out on the waters of St. Pete and filling both the main and all auxiliary fuel tanks. Jeff had calculated a worst case scenario of us having to motor the entire voyage and we carried enough fuel for that.
Departure day dawned. As we progressed toward the Gulf of Mexico the ASA 103 lessons began in earnest. Navigation and safety rules and guidelines were thoroughly explained, discussed, and applied. The weather window necessitated changing the original route that wouldn’t have put us offshore until later in the voyage. We headed offshore bound for Pensacola, FL.
Jean developed a watch schedule while Jeff explained the log sheets that became an integral part of our routine. Battery voltage, engine filters, bilge conditions, weather and our coordinates were regularly checked and all information logged. Prior to departure we had given our family approximate dates and locations, now we would set off SPOT occasionally and the location was sent to them so that they could monitor our progress.
Since we would be sailing nonstop across the Gulf for a couple of days, we put up the jackline and reviewed how to attach the tether. The offshore PFD’s were brought up to the cockpit and donned. Everyone verified the location of the ‘bug out bag’ equipped with EPIRB and all the usual standard equipment that you hope to never use.
During the planning process Jean had asked specific questions about food preferences. Now the self proclaimed ‘galley wench’ proceeded to effortlessly produce delicious meals in minimal time in the tiny rocking galley. Her hearty weather appropriate hot dishes earned her the title ‘galley goddess’ in our opinion!
Everyone began acclimating their bodies to the watch schedules. During the evening of the first full day, the radar reflector chafed through the halyard to which it was attached and came crashing to the deck. It was quickly retrieved by Jeff and an alternate location selected. That same night, Jean and Debbie were passing an uneventful midnight – 3AM watch when suddenly the boat started swinging crazily in the seas. Jean sprang into action with the sails and gave Debbie directions at the helm. Once everything was under control, we discovered that the battery power had dropped too low to power the auto pilot properly. The engine was started to recharge the battery and there was no more excitement on that front. Another lesson learned.
While on watch the second night, Jean and Robert noticed a significant return on the radar. Anxiously they watched as the blip gained on our small vessel. When Jean deemed it too close for her comfort level, she hailed the vessel on the VHF and discovered it was the USS Independence moving at a speed of 22 knots. They advised that they would alter their course. When dawn broke that morning as we entered Pensacola Bay, they were easing her up to the dock. She is a trimaran design and is the lead ship for the Independence class of littoral combat ships, quite an imposing vessel!
Throughout the voyage we worked on the ASA 103 and 104 coursework. Our instructors carefully and thoroughly guided us through everything. Including but not limited to: navigation, using our instruments, radio protocols and procedures, charts, choosing anchorages (wind, weather, bottom, location), and the ever important rules of the road. While at anchor in Ingram Bayou off the ICW near Orange Beach, AL, we nervously took the ASA 103 test. Thanks to our diligent instructors we passed!
The next day we continued to motor sail westward to New Orleans in the ICW, anchoring off Cat Island, MS for 1 night. Thankfully we had an uneventful passage from Alabama to Louisiana. Our only excitement was a boarding by the USCG in the Rigolets. Due to the fact that Jeff and Jean had impressed upon us the importance of ensuring that we carried copies of all our documentation for the sale and registration of the boat as well as the radio, etc. we received a perfect score and a goldenrod colored form which as the USCG officer quipped, indicated that we were ‘golden’. The only glitch was that the process had cost us about an hour.
While we crossed Lake Pontchartrain we took the ASA 104 test and passed. Whew! Now we were behind schedule and it was getting dark. We had to finish the crossing and find our new slip in the marina and manage to safely maneuver as the SW winds howled at 25 knots.
Thanks to the expertise and teamwork of our captains, the process was executed without undue drama. We were home safely!
Jeff and Jean helped us get squared away in our over large slip, then loaded all their safety equipment into the rental car for the drive back to Punta Gorda. With reassurances that any future questions that may arise were welcome, the Two Can Sail captains took their leave.
Since then, Chick A Lou has moved to a more properly sized 50’ slip. After that move Stanton Murray met with us and helpfully went over dock line placement for both daily and hurricane situations. Permanent lines and hardware were put in place and she now sits safely centered in her slip with adequate scope in the lines.
We have become weekend sailors and are becoming very familiar with our boat inside and out. We have replaced a bilge pump, gaskets and ‘O’ rings on the forward head, waterproofed the canvas, scrubbed, waxed, located and repaired an antifreeze leak, etc. Thankfully the previous owner thoughtfully provided all the manuals and information he had accumulated, making things much easier for us!
Throughout these last few months, the helpfulness, friendliness, and willingness to share knowledge that has been exhibited by all the members of the boating community has been absolutely overwhelming. Even the most experienced sailors always play down their own expertise and are quick to acknowledge that there is always more to learn. The theme of respect for the weather and the sea resonates deeply during sailing discussions. With this in mind, we have begun reading and working on the material for our next ASA certification while enjoying Chick A Lou and our new friends.