Friday, January 23, 2009

Back from Miami

A little chaos on the Valiant 40, Wild IrisThe trip to Miami to assist Paul and Honey Caouette with Wild Iris, their Valiant 40, was an eye-opener. The previous owner had sailed her extensively for twenty years and accumulated a vast collection of tools and spare parts, and all of it is still on the boat. To say the boat is cluttered would be an understatement. It's like an overstuffed refrigerator, where you have to take armfuls of stuff out of it just to get to what you're looking for. The Caouettes have owned her for about four years now and they are still sifting through it all. Part of their problem is that they live and work in Denver, so they can only get down to the boat every other month or so. Another part of the problem is that to keep expenses down they are moored rather than slipped at the Crandon Park Marina in Key Biscayne, so there is no place to move anything off the boat except into the dinghy, but then there is no storage space to move it to after reaching shore. Still another part of the problem is that they stay on the boat while they are working on it, so every project must take into account that they will be eating, sleeping and trying to keep clean in the midst of ongoing chaos.

Paul and Honey sailing on Biscayne Bay, with Coconut Grove and Dinner Key in the distant backgroundThose are some serious impediments to preparing the boat for a May trans-Atlantic crossing, but Paul will be taking leave from his work starting in March in order to work on the boat full time. He plans to have it pulled out of the water in order to paint the hull and address any below-waterline issues. And he is planning to reduce the boat's weight by at least four thousand pounds by removing most of that heavy clutter. We had some difficulty with the diesel engine and power generation while I was there, so he will also be addressing those systems carefully to be sure they are working reliably. Finally, Paul and Honey will take a shakedown cruise up the coast to put everything to the test.

Sailing toward Stiltsville in Biscayne Bay prior to flying the genoaBased on what little we were able to accomplish while I was there, Paul will need all of those two months to get Wild Iris ready. The days passed quickly as we worked on numerous projects, everything from installing a new mainsail and running some new wiring to repairing the dodger and doing routine maintenance on the winches. The highlight was getting to finally sail on the fifth day. We needed to field test the new sail, didn't we? So we motored out into Biscayne Bay, put up all the sails--main, genoa and staysail--and then cut the engine. There were big smiles all around as we sailed out toward Stiltsville, until the wind died. We started up the engine again and turned around since it was getting late in the day. But then the engine started cycling strangely, so Paul shut it off, gave me a heading and went below to investigate. Fifteen minutes later, I ran us aground. Completely ignoring the shallow-water warning marker about a hundred yards to port, I had doggedly kept us on Paul's heading, noting that the depth meter was showing a relatively safe four feet from the bottom of the keel, when there was a shuddering and the boat stopped moving. Instead of being angry, Paul and Honey shrugged as if running aground were a common occurrence. It turned out they even had insurance against it through BoatUS. Paul got on the VHF to summon a towing service, and within a half-hour we were safely back on our mooring.

Aside from my role as unpaid labor, how do I fit into Paul and Honey's plans? Well, if things go as hoped, I (and maybe Nan as well) will be joining them for the first leg of their trans-Atlantic crossing, sailing from Miami to Bermuda. They have only one other crew member lined up for that leg at this point, so they really need the assistance, especially considering that if anything is going to go wrong, it will probably happen in those first several days. I'll keep you posted as plans develop.

No comments: