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  • SITAO, IP35




    to ocean reports

    Nov 21, 1999
    Curt & Eva Chapman teach sailing courses for The Maryland School in Saint Thomas, USVI, during the winter months. SITOA, their Island Packet 35 is also their full time home. They are currently on a round trip Trans-Atlantic cruise. Curt sent us the following report in September 1999.

    Eastbound Trans-Atlantic
    Summer 1999

    Dear Milling Masses,

    Nothin’ like starting off with a boom. After our first winter season teaching sailing and chartering out of St. Thomas we were ecstatic about beginning the Atlantic crossing we had long planned. Squaring SITOA away and provisioning took a few days and by April 13th we were off to Cape Canaveral on the Blue Highway. Got about two miles and caught a whiff of something. Five minutes later a stronger whiff floats by. Investigation turns up nothing until a really strong "something’s burning" type smell hits us hard. The adrenaline rush gave me the power to rip the deck off. After a minute of flying hatches and boat sub-assemblies we found the source. The battery bank looked like the grill at Ma & Pa’s Diner. The batteries were literally so hot you could not touch them. I thought for sure we were going to have to rename the boat ‘Chernobyl’. They were ready to blow. In the next few minutes I got them unbolted and wrapped them in perfectly good towels to get them up and overboard. Had one or more of the battery cases split under the heat and pressure, or if a fire broke out, we would be back farming now. Instead, we got back on the highway and proceeded to catch a 100 lb. Blue Marlin! For the technically inquisitive out there this condition is called ‘Thermal Runaway’ usually caused by an internal short between the battery plates (defect?). Why it only affected four out of five batteries is anyone’s guess but the remaining one allowed us to get to Florida without problems. Electrical problems anyway! The big Blue was a tail walking wonder which lifted our spirits. After a good fight I climbed down the transom ladder, billed it, and released him to grow larger.

    The device that tells us our position on the planet (GPS) has a multitude of settings and like most things it is easy to operate once you learn how. Now; the island of Mayaguana in the southern Bahamas turns out to be completely unlit at night. Not even a candle. This is no problem though because the GPS tells us our position and sailing by offshore to the east at night is a no brainer. The night we sailed past (about 3 am) a voice comes over the radio speaking URGENTLY to ‘de yacht, de yacht’ which is all we could understand. Since we could not see a thing we forgot about it. Later back in Port Canaveral while checking a position discrepancy with the instrument in question I discovered to my horror that the chart datum was set to Finland! This meant that when the GPS said we were several miles one way we were actually several miles some other way. And we sailed all the way through the Bahamas like that! I bet we just missed that fisherman in the middle of the night while we sailed happily (ignorance is bliss) through the middle of a reef!! I now do my routing using a laptop interfaced with the GPS using charting/ navigation software. Being able to actually see your boat’s position and track on an electronic chart really helps in the safety department. Radar is now on my short list and would have definitely helped prevent that near miss. In addition; Eva is going to make a small adjustment to my positronic brain. 

    It just never seems to end. By now we are passing West End, Bahamas. It’s about 2 am and we see a light directly astern. An hour later we see sails. 30 minutes after that we see 50 feet of yacht 50 inches DIRECTLY BEHIND US. So, coolly jogging to one side, we sailed alongside this boat about 150’ away on purpose. As Eva and I waited a soul finally comes out on deck after about thirty minutes and quickly spots our boat very close by. We were close enough to see her shake, jump, rattle, roll, dash for the wheel, and bear off. It made our day. We ended up right next to them in a slip in Port Canaveral, gave them a piece of our mind, and became good friends sailing together all the way to the Azores!

    Immediately upon our arrival back in Florida we went to the local pyramid, sacrificed a dozen chickens, and changed religions from Murphyism to O’Brianism. Basically, O’Brian preaches that Murphy is an optimist.

    Getting back to America is always a joy. We both understand the language, most everything works, there’s lots of it, and what you don’t eat you can just throw away. So after fitting new batteries, visiting friends & family, and seeing ‘Star Wars’ it was ‘Bermuda or Bust’.

    As we are entering ‘Town Cut’ in St. Georges, Bermuda we hear a boat calling Bermuda Harbor Radio for permission to enter (Bermuda controls all their sea traffic using very powerful radars). We say ‘nah, it can’t be’ but 30 minutes later it is. Our friend Tom Tursi, who owns ‘The Maryland School of Sailing and Seamanship’ pulls up right behind us at the customs dock. It is Tom’s company for whom we teach our sailing classes in the Virgins. The odds of running into him in such a way are incredible. He was on one of three other Island Packet sailboats conducting offshore training out of the Chesapeake. We had a great pow-wow and made plans to lay all competitors to rest!

    Our friends in Bermuda, Kevin and Kara Janzen, met us on the dock and took us home. Home turns out to be an estate on the top of a hill overlooking a green rolling lawn to the ocean. There we got to use a flush toilet, shower till we looked like prunes and sleep in a bed so large Eva was out of sight. Later we took their sportfisher to your typical idyllic isolated cove (the usual crystal clear blue water, white sand beach ringed with palms, idyllic this & that) and slept under the guns of a 400 year old fort. After a few days of their generous hospitality we bought 30 gallons of fuel for $122.00! and left for the Mid-Atlantic island of Flores, 2000 miles away in the Azores.

    Imagine sailing through clouds of Dolphin. Huge jumps and complete flips were the norm. They seemed so happy you couldn’t help but be in a good mood. Imagine a gaggle of pilot whales 100 or more strong swimming with the boat. Imagine flocks of giant Tuna keeping pace with the shadow of our cruising chute. Imagine the tap, tap, tap through the night as all the flying fish and squid would bounce off the hull. Imagine a bioluminescent flame behind the boat that made us look like we were rocket propelled. Imagine a two hour fight with a 60 lb. Yellowfin Tuna we could barely pull aboard. Imagine the MESS! Imagine stars so bright you could read a book. Imagine having conversations with the auto pilot during the middle of the night. Imagine dodging tropical storm Arlene. Imagine a gargantuan warship screaming by a hundred yards away at 45 knots and leaving no wake! Imagine flotsam that looked like Blair Cook. Imagine day break as giant basaltic cliffs thunder out of the ocean giving way to an intensely green volcano just when you think there’s nothing out there. Imagine waterfalls cascading 1000’ down into the ocean. Imagine walls of birds so thick you can’t hear yourself think. Then imagine stepping on land after 19 days on a bloody boat! If you can, you’ve got it. That was our passage. A few days of getting hammered but mostly an outstanding sail.

    Most entertaining was Eva (KD4URB) and the HAM/SSB radio. She was talking to friends in the Virgins when we were 10 miles out of Port Canaveral. All the way across the Atlantic she talked to our friend (Dave Merchberger-KN4VS) in Port Canaveral on his IP35. She made phone calls via HAMs from Phoenix to Timbuktu. Got the weather from Herb and took part in nets between all the yachts making the crossing at the same time as us. It was better than pay TV.

    One morning a 30 footer comes into Flores towing a 20 footer with no mast and a corpse on board. Turns out to be a 22 year old Frenchman who left the Canaries last April and turns up 20 miles from Flores in early July. The next morning a Canadian sail boat arrives looking like a floating garage sale. He tells a story how they found an abandoned 38’ ketch a thousand miles back and all the stuff on deck was everything they could carry off the boat. Then a 59 year old single hander pulls in on his 38’ Shannon after three weeks at sea and promptly goes into cardiac arrest and is DRT (Dead Right There). Another boat left the Caribbean in May with Mom, Dad, and a three year old. Still no sign of them. A 42’ Oyster hit a container and sunk in two minutes. There were boats that hit whales. I have always been one to make fun but THERE IS a serious side to all this. Time to leave Flores we say. Oh, did I mention the island has more cows than people and wants to keep it that way?

    Horta is a bluewater sailor’s Mecca. Serious sailors with serious well found bluewater boats. Many people from many lands who have been there and done that all congregate on the island of Faial as a right of passage. Their stories are endless and surely some will become legends. One can live in the suburbs and never get to know the neighbors but a couple days in port with a bunch of seafarers and you’re buddies for eternity. 

    Now; having said all that, you should also know that some of the creatures that stumble ashore will send you running. Mostly, single-handers that haven’t got a thing on the ‘wild man of Borneo’. They look like ‘Pig Pen’s blanket’. Women too. And the garbage scows some of them sail are amazing in that they even float. There is more than one circumnavigator here that did it in a 25 footer that looks like it would be at home in a drainage ditch! 

    Horta is so cheap. We are living large on twenty dollars a day and most days can’t even spend that. How about a Swordfish dinner that cost $8.97 for TWO! Our friends Duncan and Ruth Sweet, who own and operate the famous Mid-Atlantic Yacht Services, took us home one night to their place on the far side of the island. Turned out to be an estate on a cliff (sound familiar?) from which you could see three islands. Grasciosa, Sao Jorge, & Pico. The grounds spread out from the house into multiple gardens with archways between each. Each one was surrounded by an ancient wall or towering hedge providing a micro climate to grow incredible fruit. It was the perfect place to chill. The only difference between it and the Janzen’s was about 500 years! The sheep cut the grass, the bathroom had no door, our bedroom used to be the potato cellar, the whole place was made out of lava blocks and the cows chewing their cud put you to sleep. What a beautiful out of the way place. After making the obligatory stop(s,s,s,s) in Peter Cafe’ Sport we were ready to move on. 

    On Sao Jorge in the town of Velas, where we anchored, we hired a driver to show us around. I could tell you about all the drop dead gorgeous landscape, waterfalls, cliffs,

    volcanoes, meadows and forests or I could tell you about the local fishermen in their red, white and blue handmade wooden boats filled with lobster, grouper, eels, rays, and critters you would normally only see in ‘National Geographic’. Then I could tell you about how the farmers milk their cows in the fields, carry it to the markets on donkeys and take it to the cheese factory for processing or explain how the cheese is made and pressed into large cakes. I could tell you about a town centuries old or I could fill you in on the crazy bureaucracy here that requires an army of civil servants to rubber stamp your entry papers in triplicate and then repeat the whole thing when you leave. I could tell you all this and more BUT I’d rather tell you about the dump. The islands are relatively small and I know we generate a bag of trash a day so I became interested in the problem at the local level. Do they take it out to sea or what? We went from one end to the other looking for it. Eva never once called me neurotic, mad, sick or anything. Finally I asked a local and HE thought I was neurotic, mad, sick or something but eventually took us to the top of the island were they stashed the trash. We looked down into a perfectly good volcanic crater full of garbage. The fellow said when it gets full they will go to another!

    By far; the hugest (?) impression made on us was an experience we were totally unprepared for culturally. In the village of Urzulina on Sao Jorge we witnessed the running of the bulls. This is a local sport equivalent to the cock fights in the Dominican Republic except they use 2000 lb. black bulls and the locals are the targets. Little did we know that when we picked a spot to sit on a 4’ wall near the town square where the event would be conducted that it would (the wall) save our bacon (pun intended). First this fellow comes around with a bucket of white wash painting lines across the road and around other areas of the village square. Then a truck pulls up with four very large, mega heavy, super solid wooden boxes. A backhoe (crane) unloads them into the cobblestone street. Four big strong silent types show up with a 1" rope about 200’ long all decked out in white with funny black hats. All of a sudden a skyrocket goes off and every one of about three hundred people starts taking cover. Isn’t that strange we say! A second rocket and the door on the first crate is pulled up. Out comes this giant black B-B-BULLLLLL in all its immenseness 50 feet away. Had there been an outhouse we could have used it. Instead we were BEHIND the wall in approximately 1/3 of a split second (give or take). The crowd starts hissing (sounds the same in Portuguese). The crowd starts calling the B-B-BULLLL names. The crowd is NUTS-O. And we’re at ground zero. You could HEAR the testosterone, estrogen, and adrenaline pumping through these folks. This animal was probably upset when it got up but you could see it gettin’ really pissed now. It was shooting manure out the back, slinging snot out the front, and spraying urine out the bottom. The whole place instantly smelled like a barn. Then these idiots out of the crowd start approaching the thing like they’re really bad or something. His ‘Immenseness’ claws the ground. Snorts so hard rocks go flying and takes off. Never, ever, have we seen people move so fast. His ‘Immenseness’ runs into walls, chases people, butts everything it can, scraps by us again and again. We scream. His ‘Immenseness’ runs down a crowd of about twenty who ALL jump off the sea wall to save themselves. So, not to be trifled with the Bull runs down an adjacent ramp and starts swimming like a dog after everybody! It was a mean spectacle. You just had to be there. When he comes out more idiots try to see how close they can get and live! The Bull finally wears out after about 40 minutes so they cajole him back into his box and then LET OUT ANOTHER ONE! 

    Although someone gets killed every few years the four big silent types in white do their best to prevent it. The bull is partially controlled by that rope around its neck which is held by the big four most of the time. He gets loose alot. The white lines on the road stop the bull from taking off and contain him in the square. We were told that the bulls are trained to stay away from the color white which is why it usually does not go after the big four or cross the lines (the real whackos wear red). There is no government interference or regulation and the injured are simply hauled away and no one misses a beat! Later that night Walter Mitty and I showed that bull a thing or three. 

    This entire archipelago of islands is older than dirt. Europeans are probably used to that kind of history but as Americans if it was built in the fifties we think it’s ancient. The town of Angra do Heroismo on Terceira is pre-Columbian. It is surrounded by a high wall and a very, very big fort to keep out pirates and random pillagers. Actually; there were two in order to catch the bad guys in a cross fire. The fort is still used to garrison about three hundred soldiers! There have been forts everywhere we have been from the Chesapeake to the Bahamas, in the Virgins, Bermuda and all over the place in the Azores. We are fort experts of sorts now. On some of the islands you still had to enter through the original town gates to clear customs. 

    As we move around the islands the same band of cruisers show up here and there. Eva keeps up with the local scoop on the short-wave. We clean, wax, varnish, and polish the boat constantly as we go. Eva says the interior is her home and the exterior is her yard. Of course, I give her immoral support, manage the whole project and lend her technical advice as needed. 

    Our last Azorean stop was in the capital city of Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel. Here we stayed in a marina for the outrageous sum of $7 a day and all they had to offer was power, water, showers, marine supplies, dive shop, floating aluminum docks, gated security, restaurant, bar, two swimming pools, grocery store, theater, computer access, old world charm, and free psychiatric counseling. The latter being most helpful.

    On this island is an old, very deep volcanic crater. On the crater floor is a huge lake and a small village which was only accessible by a goat trail up until the 1960s. The story goes that generations have lived and died down there without ever seeing the ocean! Now you can drive straight in through a tunnel. It is a unique place and one of the most beautiful we have ever seen. In addition; there are furmoles still smoking with the ground around them so hot that some locals set up a restaurant where they take your order, wrap it up, bury it awhile, and viola!, perfectly lousy sulfur tasting food.

    It’s now the middle of September and we will be moving south to Madeira in a day or two. A new adventure begins with the buildup to the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers). The yachts are already starting to stream south from Europe and out of the Mediterranean. Every morning at 0800 UTC on 6230 kHz is the radio net for southbound ARC boats. There are 225 sailboats in the flotilla this year which will make the ‘Guiness Book of World Records’ as the largest mass ocean crossing ever! We all leave Las Palmas 11/21/99. Eva’s a net controller reporting positions to headquarters in England where the information is posted on the WEB. So don’t forget to punch up www.worldcruising.com and you can follow our progress from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia about 3000 miles away.

    :-) Curt & Eva

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