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Pack 'O Dawgs: Fish, Winch, Fuel, & Squall

In unvarnished terms, the essence of a bluewater passage on a small boat sounds like some perverse research project conceived by undergraduate psych majors: "I know, I know. Let's throw four random guys together for two weeks in a long, skinny 300 sq. ft. room that is constantly being jerked back and forth in all directions. We'll deprive them of sleep by putting them to work every few hours around the clock. We'll make it sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold, and occasionally douse them with water when they least expect it. And we'll deprive them of all except the most basic contact with the outside world. Then we'll see which one goes postal first. It'll make a great paper, right? Whadda ya think? Great idea, or what?"


We left the relative protection of the Chesapeake Bay around 14:00 on Nov. 3rd and headed southeast, roughly paralleling North Carolina's Outer Banks. Within a few hours of leaving the Bay, the several dozen Salty Dawg Rally boats had dispersed beyond view, and we only occasionally saw one during our entire passage. However, we had daily radio contact with the rally organizers on shore and direct communications with the other boats as needed.

We were between the Outer Banks and the Gulf Stream, an offshore river of warm water that travels north at 2-4 knots. Our goal was to find a spot to cross that stream where it is relatively narrow in order to minimize our time in a current that flows the opposite direction from our destination. Beyond that, it's often not fun sailing in the Gulf Stream because that current can create motion that's uncomfortable or worse. Fortunately, daily radio advice from Chris Parker, our onshore weather guru, included information about the current Gulf Stream location (it moves around) and we were able find a good spot, cross it uneventfully, and start shedding layers of our east coast cold weather clothing.

We quickly settled into a routine centered around watches I had established of two hours on and six hours off. We each had an assigned bunk, but different weather conditions made some of them less comfortable, so at times hot-bunking was in effect with the off-watch crew leaving the less-desirable bunks empty. Rhoda had taken charge of menu planning and provisioning, filling the freezer with dishes that she had prepared and stuffing the pantry with other easy-to-cook meal ingredients that she had assembled. Her praises were often sung by the crew! We rotated galley duty and usually had only one cooked meal each day, filling out our diet with cereal, sandwiches, fruit, and snacks.

Passages are about sailing and weather, sure, and our photos best communicate those elements of our journey. But in actuality, passages are mostly about interpersonal relationships and the way different individuals cope with boredom, stress, conflict, and unexpected scenarios. Thus, aside from the crew having sailing and other life experiences that enable them to perform their duties, good skippers know that a positive attitude and cooperative spirit are the ultimately the most important crew characteristics -- ones that can make the difference between an enjoyable or miserable passage. I was fortunate that all of CAYUGA's crew had what it takes! (For more about crew dynamics, read this article by one of our own.)

My good friend, Jeff North was the first to sign on, even after I had subjected him to what turned out to be a long and boring trip of mostly motoring from Long Island to Annapolis. He only recently became a sailor but had done so with gusto, buying a Hunter 28.5 and learning by doing. Jeff is an easy-going Type A (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) so I knew he would mesh well. He earned the nickname of Winch Dawg by sustaining the only meaningful injury of the trip when an unexpected lurch send him off balance to land a face plant on the mainsheet winch.

I connected with Ken Gelao through a Salty Dawg app that connects captains with crew who want to participate in the rally. Since Ken's home is in St. Paul, MN, we exchanged lots of practical information by email and had two hour-long phone calls to get personally acquainted. We all benefited from Ken's stereotypical mid-western buoyant personality that persevered throughout the trip. He got stuck with Squall Dawg because it seemed that every time he stood watch, we got drenched by a rain squall or at least one was threatening on the horizon.

Ocean Crew Link is another crew matching app, and that's how I connected with our third shipmate, Bill Smith from Ohio. Like Ken, Bill had done a lot of lake sailing and some ocean passages, and wanted to get more bluewater experience. Another set of long-distance communications convinced us that we were compatible, and Bill's calm, solid demeanor proved to be a valuable element of the crew's collective mindset. Prior to departure, when Bill learned we had only partially prepared for fishing, he assumed responsibility, rounded up the necessary gear, and became the official CAYUGA fisherman for the entire passage. And, of course, earned the nickname of Fish Dawg.

The crew knew better than to christen me with Ruthless Captain Dawg or Bumbling Navigator Dawg, but a naming opportunity arose when our reliable Yanmar diesel stopped mid-ocean. An hour of troubleshooting revealed that the in-tank fuel pickup tube was repeatedly getting clogged by gunk, and simply clearing it wasn't going to be sufficient. So I fabricated a new pickup strainer, attached it to spare fuel hose, dropped it into the inspection port on the top of the tank, connected it to the engine, and we were set for the remainder of the trip. Hence my nickname, Fuel Dawg.

We arrived exhausted and elated in the British Virgin Islands. I had estimated that the trip would take between ten and fourteen days, and it took the full two weeks due to light winds on some days and on the fact that we had to make a significant detour to the east to avoid a tropical storm that developed after our departure. I will be forever grateful for my crew's patience and camaraderie, and their help in safely moving CAYUGA to the Caribbean where Rhoda and I can continue our adventures.

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