Monday, June 24, 2013

"The Harvey Show"

We got underway early after spending the night anchored off Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard on Monday morning, June 24. The plan was to get as far as we could toward Maine that first full day guests were onboard, but ended up staying off Martha’s Vineyard after a run in with the US Coast Guard.

We started first thing from our anchor off Goat Island, RI on Sunday, June 23. Finally, away from the dock where we've been attached for 2 weeks. The Captain and chef have been sitting on that dock since February! Up the sails went and we were cruising, headed for the Massachusetts Bay side of the Cape Cod Canal. Harvey, Islandia’s owner, had the mast shortened by 10 ft specially to fit under the bridge of the Cape Cod Canal, so by god, we were going that way. Harvey is 87 years young and still as sharp and spritely as ever. He’s a chemist by trade who invented the compound that goes on the backs of carpets. His company, Textile Rubber & Chemical, built the town where they live, Dalton, Georgia, and is technically where my paychecks come from, taxed and above board all the way. He has an incredibly sarcastic sense of humor and gives Captain Steve shit and Steve gives it right back to him; he’s a bullshitter for sure. Yet this time, his bullshitting got us caught up with the Coast Guard.
From one smart ass to another - Capt. Steve, left, and Owner, Harvey, playing chess. 
We were nearly 3-4 miles away from the canal when we got a radio call from the Cape Cod Canal Control Center. They asked if we planned on going through the canal and we indicated that we were. The Automatic Identification System (AIS) that most boats are equipped with as well as traffic controllers display all kinds of information including all the boat names that are out there and their size, height, tonnage, direction of travel, etc.  Some say it is the most important new navigation device to arrive on the boating scene since GPS.” According to It allows other boats nearby to communicate back and forth much easier in that you can directly address the boat by its name, among other benefits, eliminating a lot of confusion.

So the Canal Control indicated that there’s work being done to the bridge over the canal and that we wouldn’t be able to fit through. Well, this opened Pandora’s box. In hearing this news, Steve and Andy started tacking the boat to head back out of Buzzard’s bay toward Woods Hole, busying them away from the radio when more calls came through. While they were busy dealing with the boat in high winds and chop, Harvey was sat at the helm with the radio next to him. Then came the additional radio calls and questions…

Our route from Newport toward Cape Cod Canal. Orange dot indicates where the Coast Guard picked us up.

USCG: “Why didn’t you contact the Buzzard’s Bay Light Tower before you entered into the bay?... Had you done so as required by Federal law, you would’ve found out about the canal then…”

Harvey: “Oh well we didn’t know we were supposed to do that… It sure would’ve been nice if we knew about it about 4 or 5 hours ago! Haha!”

The smart remarks are what tripped the Coast Guard’s trigger, and within about 15 minutes we had a USCG boat on our trail. They followed us for another hour or so, communicating back and forth, allowing us to continue making way toward our anchorage destination off Martha’s Vineyard, but there was no way we were getting let off that easy. Although it wasn’t that big of a deal they were still totally going to board us if not simply to check out the boat and go through the motions with the young Coasties who couldn’t have been over the age of 22.

"Hey guys, lets check out this mega yacht!"
We reached the Vineyard Haven harbor finally, although we didn’t start anchoring before they boarded us. They were at least nice enough to let us continue on the short distance towards our anchorage. Their boat simply pulled up next to ours while we were still traveling at a fairly good speed. We slowed down a bit to let them on, but its not like either boats were standing still by any means. Three young good-looking Coasties hopped onboard all eager to do probably one of their first exercises like this. They had to check that everything in the engine room was safe, check if we had enough fire extinguishers and life jackets and look at identification for everyone onboard. They explained that we weren’t in any trouble, but that they still had to look over everything anyway. Then they got down to the bottom of it – “Why weren’t you answering our calls? You were supposed to check in with the Buzzards Bay Light Tower.” Luckily, our ignorance got us out of it with a slight hiccup to our itinerary and some wicked excitement for the day. It was all light hearted and laughs chatting with them and they were definitely impressed with our boat. “The Harvey Show,” as we like to call it, strikes again. There is truly never a dull moment with this guy. 

Getting boarded
The irony of it all is that I was born in Falmouth, MA, right next to Woods Hole, where my Dad was stationed in the Coast Guard as a pilot. I haven't been back to the area since I was 2 years old, and upon my first return back, we ran into the Coast Guard! Not that those guys would've been my Dad 23 years ago, its still kind of ironic, don't you think? ;) 

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Joy of Spending Someone Else's Money

We’ve been docked in Portsmouth, RI in the Melville Marina with no guests for the past 2 weeks. It’s given us time to regroup, strip all the cabins, start anew and reload the boat with fresh goods. We took the first week simply to clean and regroup. Now into week two, the provisioning has begun and we’ve shopped ‘til we dropped the past three days. While the chef and I have been cleaning, doing laundry, ironing and re-making all the cabins with fresh linens, the captain and mate have undertaken some serious repairs to the boat to get her ready to sail all summer throughout the inlets, harbors, bays and islands off the coast of Maine. Luckily we quit everyday around 4 or 5pm, so although we’ve worked hard everyday, we are able to maintain a semi normal work schedule. The captain and chef are pretty good about stopping work for good once the end of the day hits, although living where we work, we can always tinker here and there with various ongoing projects, but that really hasn’t happened yet.

The sun sets on summer's day 1. Tomorrow we finally get to sail away from this dock!

7 am is the time when our cabin doors are to be opened in order to have breakfast together and be ready to roll by 8. At that point the boys are off doing what they’re doing and Julie and I have the interior of the boat to clean, organize, load up, etc. This week has been all about provisioning as the owner and guests will be arriving Saturday to sail up to Maine. We didn’t know much about when they were coming or who was coming with them until today. We knew vaguely that this Saturday, June 22 was when they’d be here and that we’d head north towards Maine. No other details have been revealed to us beyond that, and our itinerary could change vastly based on the group. Since the owner’s wife and some other couples will be joining us, we will likely hop along the New England coast instead of rush and make it to Maine in one night. This pleases all of us because we’ll likely stop through Boston en route and hopefully have time to go ashore and hang out.

In preparation for our upcoming trip Julie and I have literally spent thousands of dollars filling the boat up with groceries, cleaning supplies, booze and other supplies. We’ve run all around the greater Portsmouth – Newport, Rhode Island area checking off our list. We started with galley and cabin supplies like cooking utensils and bedding stuff. Then we went for the “dry goods” at the grocery store. We filled up three shopping carts when all was bagged and done with cleaning supplies, and boxed and canned food like spices, baking mixes, beans, snack food and sodas.

Then came the liquor. About $450 later we filled our shelves and cabinets with 16 bottles of red wine, 6 bottles of white and a ton of booze. I’ve never seen liquor store employees so happy to see us. They even gave me a 10% discount on the couple bottles of wine I bought for myself. Next came the funnest part – produce. Jules waits until the last minute to buy produce, for good reason. So we attacked the grocery store one last time this week for fresh food, meat and seafood. We picked up some frozen seafood and items at the grocery store, but then hit the seafood market and butcher shop for the rest. While we’re loading up the boat with goodies, the guys have been fixing, painting, varnishing and tightening up loose ends.

This was a "light" day, just produce and cold stuff. The dry goods took up 3 whole carts.

Among the many projects going on above and below deck, the biggest undertaking since our last outing has been the mizzen halyard. Apparently the former captain royally screwed this one up. The line somehow wrapped itself around a pipe before it wrapped around the drum that it’s supposed to reel onto, causing all sorts of problems when Steve tried to adjust the mizzen boom and sail. So my job was to help start the winch to feed the line properly onto the drum after they’d spent days upon days with the rigger from Rig Pro getting the thing properly fed and aligned through the boat.

Boat diagram from Jongert. Though Islandia has 2 masts, the mizzen mast is in the stern or aft part of the boat. 

On this size boat everything operates on a grand scale. Hydraulic systems lift everything, which makes things easier for the crew, but also much more complicated when things go wrong. The mizzen halyard ran from underneath the master cabin, which is technically 2 floors below deck, up through the side of the boat and up the mast. So throughout this process, the rigger, Steve and Andy all had to communicate via radio to coordinate their efforts. The rigger spent a lot of time down below untangling the old line and feeding the new one into the system, while Andy initiated the hydraulics while I started the winch to get the thing up the mast. Steve coordinated the whole production calling when to pull, when to stop and what to do next. My job came pretty much at the end of the project when they needed an extra hand over-riding the electronic winch that hooks into the hydraulics. So I turned on the lever that caused the mizzen halyard to start winding onto the drum, while Steve carefully adjusted it as it fed smoothly in a nice ribbon lying neatly next to each reel so that it could neatly come unspooled when necessary. Since the old halyard was wrapped around a pipe before wrapping around its drum, it kept getting stuck and wasn’t able to come out or function properly. Luckily that project was completed today, a huge check off the list. Yet the list is ever evolving; as Julie joked, its job security.

Although it’s been nice having the boat to ourselves, our job is truly when people come on board. So now we wait for the owner and guests to arrive. We generally know we’re going to Maine and will stay there for most of the summer, yet the plan has not been fully defined. So we all wait with baited breath for when the owner, Harvey, shows up and fills us in on the big secret that is our itinerary. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Strange Sails

After interviewing and getting hired within all of 30 minutes on Islandia, I was able to skip off to my mom’s new house on Glen Lake for the weekend. I wanted the job and was relieved they knew they wanted to hire me almost immediately, but I still felt uneasy knowing I planned an out for myself and wasn't necessarily 100% committed at first. It just all happened so fast and was overwhelming. Once I was able to sit in the car and think about what just happened, then call my mom and work it out with her, I knew there was absolutely no way I could not take this opportunity. For one, I had nothing else lined up for work, and 2, this job has all the things that make my heart go pitter patter - adventure on the high seas, all expenses paid, a new experience, a chance to learn an entirely new skill set, and generally an unknown future. Although my heart truly breaks for Mt. Hood and its absence in my life still hasn't fully sunken in, this opportunity is not a terrible option by any means. In fact, it will only enrich and develop my character in ways that if I went back to Hood and did the same thing this summer I might not gain. So back I went to Newport from my mom's to start my summer adventure and meet up with the people and boat I'll be sharing it with.

Islandia’s crew consists of the captain, chef, first mate and myself. The captain and chef are a married couple that have been in the yachting business for over 50 years combined. The captain is a Navy vet from Barbados and the chef is a sweet woman from the DC area that started working on boats right out of high school. South Africa is where the first mate calls home and has been racing in regattas for a decade. They all have sea legs and sailing experience for days, leaving me as the newb with open eyes and ears ready to learn and absorb all that I can from them in hopes that by the end of all this I can call myself a sailor. They’re all super easy going, laid back and we all get along really well. It’s crucial that we get along and work well together since we’re not only working together, but living with each other and spending every waking moment together.

We made the final preparations on Monday morning, June 3rd, and were ready to greet Islandia’s owner and buddies Monday afternoon for a week of sailing and sight-seeing. My job began with serving happy hour, then dinner, clearing and cleaning up, and then turning down the beds in each of the guest cabins (which means pulling back the covers for them.) There are 4 cabins, three guest cabins and the master cabin that is truly what makes this boat amazing. Remember, this is a 140’ sailing yacht with a fulltime crew of 4. Although it sails and there’s hearty adventure in that, it also entails plenty of luxury. 
Master cabin all done up
Entry from the deck into the "upper salon"

Dinner table set in the lower salon

The next day we planned for an early start to test out the engine and get underway out of Newport bay. The day's itinerary was to cruise through Rhode Island Sound toward Cuttyhunk Island off of Woods Hole, Massachusetts to anchor for the night. Our sail to Cuttyhunk was not without malfunction, that’s for sure. We discovered some issues with lines that were jammed and stuck below deck, our friend Auto Pilot was being temperamental, alarms were going of all over the place, but the best part was when the owner, Harvey, ran ‘er aground when we pulled into the Cuttyhunk shallows to anchor. Luckily we got unstuck almost instantly, but where would we be without a little excitement in our day? Above all, it was a success. Islandia went out for a sail for the first time in months and we made it to our destination safe and sound.

The next day was a proper day of work with the guests fully on their vacation. My job as stewardess is to make sure the guests are well taken care of. I’m a waitress, bartender, chambermaid, nurse, entertainer, and problem solver. Obviously the Captain is the decision maker and has final say on all matters. His wife, the chef, has been a cook/stew for about as many years as I’ve been alive,  and has given me immeasurable guidance, advice and direction since I’ve been aboard Islandia.

As the week went on I was able to anticipate my tasks and take care of our guests with ease. This job is not difficult, it just requires a positive attitude and tireless work ethic. I love working hard and being busy all day. I find similarities between being a yacht stewardess and coaching ski racing in that its busy busy on the go, every day is different while working as part of a team to achieve a common goal. By the end of the day you’re ready to sit and relax with a drink and good company. And I have a built in set of family/friends that understand exactly how hard we just worked and can commiserate over the day.
Captain Steve and First Mate Andy hard at work

By the end of our first trip we were all working in sync. We had a few nights off together when the guests went ashore in Martha’s Vineyard and Newport for dinner, leaving us to lounge and enjoy the boat to ourselves. It may seem like sometimes we’re indentured servants living and working in a confined space for an all powerful owner, but the moments when we have freedom to enjoy the boat by ourselves makes it worth it. Islandia never feels like its mine, it will always be a job and a burden to keep safe and orderly, but it sure is a nice place to call home for the summer!