Friday, July 13, 2012


Arriving in Trinidad marks a pivotal point in our journey. In general, the sailing aspect is complete since there are no more ocean crossings. Up the chain of islands, the longest sails can be done in a weekend. It remains nothing to underestimate, but fewer people “disappear” at sea as most find themselves getting lost on the islands.

The Caribbean is the endgame for the Broken Compass. Following one last season touring the islands, she will be auctioned to the highest bidder. The transition to life on land has already commenced. The world traveling dog completed her circumnavigation and arrived back in the United States escorted by Bret via American Airlines. Prior to their departure, we celebrated with friends at a beach house on a more remote island of Trinidad. The human folk engaged in an activity called liming. Liming is an international pass-time in Trinidad. When I say pass-time that is pretty much all it is. This activity simply requires good people and is typically accompanied by alcoholic beverages. Makai enjoyed the land time chasing ponies and procuring the neighbor's pet rooster for dinner. I am a little worried she will never properly adjust to a civilized world back in the states. Fresh snow may be the only substitute she will tolerate after island life.

Broken Compass was hauled out of the water and gently placed on land. She looks a little awkward there however she demands some love before her Caribbean leg. The wear and tear of 3 years and just as many major ocean crossings roughed her up around the edges. She is showing signs of age that may accompany any adventurous soul who survived life into her late 30’s.

Current life in Trinidad consists of epoxy, sand paper and paint. Dodging local workers who are looking for work a full-time job in itself. The average worker begins his day with a beer in place of a coffee. Most of the guys in the yard smoke cigarettes. These are not the normal ones you may find in the store. They extend each cigarette with rolling papers and a local plant that has a strange calming effect on them. Theft insurance is purchased with an occasional coffee and a few minutes of conversation.

The eclectic group of yachties are simply enjoyable. Everyone carries an interesting and unique story hidden somewhere below deck. I will spend the next couple weeks continuing to beautify Broken Compass and make the necessary provisions for our finale: An Epic Caribbean Bash. The rum run begins in October and lasts through March. At that point, Broken Compass is on the Market and a new life begins. Bret is already attempting to acclimate in real world and will help my father at the family business. He will be back for the party, but wish him and Makai luck acclimating back into society in the meantime.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Looking for a break after three weeks at sea, we opted to stop in the port of Natal, Brazil. Laying a-hull till sunrise, we slowly motored up Rio Potengi to the Yacht Club. An impressive (for Brazil) modern suspension bridge towers above the river as small row boats net the murky waters below for fish. Dolphin follow us up the river and Makai is equally excited about them as the prospect of land. The anticipation of new food, language, culture and experiences set in once again.

We quickly anchor and hit our first challenge: getting to shore. During our Atlantic crossing choppy seas persuaded our dinghy into an unscheduled man-over-board drill. Being a moonless night, we failed to notice till the morning with the tell tale sign of a broken lifeline. A kayak and surf boards were the only water transport to survive the crossing. In an Olympic feat, we turned the one man kayak into two, negotiating the river to the dock with precious paperwork and computers aboard. Next challenge: checking in formalities. We took a taxi to immigration to find they were not as excited as we to be in Brazil. Lacking an entry visa, they had no idea what to do with us. We stocked up on food and water on the way back expecting deportation. Instead, they quarantined us to the yacht club. Free internet, live music, restaurant, swimming pool, tennis courts didn't seem like that much of a punishment.  The confinement was reminiscent of childhood summers at the Lancaster Country Club.

After a few days hanging out ignoring idle threats from the Policia Federal, we are heading off tomorrow morning to Trinidad and Tobago. Wish us luck on the tipsy kayak back to the Broken Compass and wind for the voyage up to the Caribbean.

St. Helena

Charting the remote area where the island of St. Helena lies, ancient cartographers would inscribe: 'here there be dragons.' The high barren cliffs surrounding this seemingly lifeless island could easily be perceived by early navigators as the last stop before sailing off a flat world.

To this day, it is only possible to visit St. Helena by ship. As a British Overseas Territory, the UK sends people and goods on the RMS ship (Royal Mail Service) providing a lifeline for the island. The other visitors appear to be yachts looking for a place to break up the long Atlantic crossing. For centuries, St. Helena acted as a prison.  As the ultimate spot to exile prisoners, historically this is the main source of revenue for the remote island.  Over 1,600 miles to South America, it makes escaping Alcatraz or Robben Island seem like child's play. Interestingly enough, no person escaped Robben island, however, a Dutch man did escape from St. Helena.  The island hosted Napoleon Bonaparte until his death, along with other British trouble makers such as Zulu Chief Dinizulu, select Bahrainis, and thousands of South African Boers.

Due to the lack of visitors, the entire island is a promotional center with tourist brochures every few feet. We took a day tour around the island checking out the Napoleonic sites, museums, flax plantations, as well as some incredible ocean views. We met Jonathan, who the Saints (people of St. Helena) claim to be the oldest living land creature at an estimated age of 197. He wasn't much of a conversationalist, but maintains a privileged life on the Governor’s estate.

Before leaving, we made sure to climb Jacob's ladder (originally designed to haul manure out of the city limits). The 5min 11 second record seemed attainable as we commenced the 699 oversized steps to the top. Apparently 1700 sea miles over two weeks doesn't help with one's cardiovascular endurance. The record stands uncontested.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


A couple days after arriving in Capetown,we found fellow Americans. It is odd to see other American sailors on this side of the world. These guys ( are the real deal and moving fast to compete in each major sailing race around the world.. Good luck Carina!

The most enjoyable part our journey is exploring new countries with new and old friends. We were blessed with more visitors in Capetown. Together we explored the city limits and beyond. South of cape town lies cold water and penguins. Table Mountain and Lions Head are two hikes both looking over the ocean and city of Capetown.
We sailed over to Clifton beach with JMU friends to spear some fish. Successfully procuring dinner by spear is still one of the most satisfying activities. Stellenbosch is the vineyard capital of S.A. about an hour outside the city. The best grapes are tucked between two mountain ranges identical to Napa valley. Similarly, they produce some pretty nice wines. We worked our way down the Garden Route to Oudtshoorn and Knysna. Oudtshoorn maintains the largest ostrich farms in the world. The ostrich is not the brightest bird in the tree, but an amazing animal. They are so big an average sized human (under 165lbs) can actually ride them. We each took a couple laps and man they can move. Our father took a seat on one of the larger males:

We tested our safari knowledge on a game reserve nearby meeting more animals. We captured a picture of one animal we did not see in Kruger...
Knysna is a laid back coastal town and a hidden treasure for most South Africans. The Knysna heads boast some spectacular ocean views.

In general, Capetown was a vacation from sailing. Berthed in the middle of the V&A Waterfront, the Broken Compass blended into all the other tourist attractions. Makai took an interest in the Cape Fur Seals that lie on the docks next to the boat. In the height of mating season, they were quite vocal throughout the nights. Exhausting the bar hit list and South African checklist, we are back to business and ready to lift the well used sails. The trial and error aspect of sailing has transformed to systematic execution. After one last milk and honey ale at Mitchell's Scottish pub, the Atlantic awaits and we are prepared.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Cape of Good Hope

A promising forecast arrived. We cast the dock lines at 3am under the rays of a full moon and motored our of the Durban harbor. Yeah... motored. Day one was the way modern cruising is designed. We located the mighty Agulhas current approximately 10 miles off the coast. With a Northeasterly wind at our stern, we adjusted the auto-helm, trimmed our sails and simply watched the boat sail herself at 8-9 knots. She typically does not sail so swiftly, however, the Agulhas current is strong. At the strongest point, the current clocks 6 knots. We tossed a line in the water and hooked a skipjack for lunch. Pods of dolphin frequented the boat to wish good luck rounding the cape. A record day and we rarely touched the steering wheel.
Day 2 is the way modern sailing is not designed. The alarm clock rang at 2:30 am. The wind died rendering the sails useless. We fired up the motor. The less time spent on this coast the better. At 4am, the wind switched to Southwest and increased. At 6am, the wind picked up to 20 knots and the waves followed. The motor was useless. The strong Agulhas current has one deadly weakness, a strong southwesterly. The current moves quickly in one direction and when introduced to head on waves the effect is what you may see on the north shore of Hawaii. These waters are the birthplace for the term “Freak Wave.” We decided to bail and sail close to land. Our auto-helm is useless in such conditions. We grabbed the steering wheel and sailed toward shore. We may have made a mile before the steering cable snapped. It is important to recognize a big problem from a little one. No steering, 30 knots, 20ft waves and a heavy counter current. Big Problem. We bobbed like apples waiting to be a Halloween snack. By now, we know every rusty tool and scrap material on the boat. The inventory presented a solution. We hack-sawed the old cable and fabricated a replacement with a old lifeline, a few shackles and a cable clamp. The altercation ended in 3 hours and we emerged with steerage. We sailed toward shallow water and calmer seas. On the way to safety, the wind picked up again ripping through our head sail. Laziness and fatigue may have played a larger role in the death of this sail. Crippled again, we took stock of our condition. Under no power we still logged southwestern progress. The Agulhas current proved stronger than 30 knots of wind and 20 foot seas! We took the hint and drifted for a few hours before pulling the last from our scanty sail supply. We flew a recently bartered storm sail capable of weathering 60 knots in addition to the mizzen. That worked. We spent the remainder of the day and half of the next pounding upwind for bonus miles until the unexpected southwesterly winds decided to pass.
Day 3 Another favorable wind switch. We hugged close to shore. The mild wind and current carried us past Port Elisabeth, a safety checkpoint. In reading weather, important indicators include pressure and temperature. We pulled the warm clothes from the lockers and in 24 hours the barometer dropped from 1022 to 1007. My interpretation of weather: we were F#@*ed! Luckily I am no weather expert. The wind died to a whisper and the only thing that burnt was diesel.
The next three days granted light wind and slow miles. The wind and waves were kind. We said farewell to the Indian ocean and entered our final challenge, the atlantic. The seals, dolphins, whales, penguins were curious and welcoming. As the sun set on the 6th day, the light pierced the cloudy sky from one of my favorite cities in the world. Cape Town.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

African Animals

We were welcomed to Africa by my mother and little Brother Tyler, who arrived the morning we pulled into the Durban Marina. These two are accustomed to the fast American lifestyle, so we rented a car and tore through the country. Our destination: Kruger National Park. Kruger Park is a game reserve where tourists can witness the most magnificent creatures in Africa. We spent 5 days with a surprisingly professional group called Tydon Safari's. We were privileged to see the big 5. Along with their prestige as the 5 most dangerous animals in Africa to hunt, they are also presented on the South African currency (the rand). The animals are far better looking than old presidents on our greenbacks. Back on the reserve, we stalked Cape buffalo, tracked leopards and parked several feet from a lioness. It is a surreal experience staring into the eyes of a lion. Cats possess the most amazing eyes with the hint of evil intentions. The coolest animal was the wild dog. They appear to be playful, however, they possess the ability devour an impala (antelope) in a 2 minutes! The pictures are compliments of Tyler.

We have discovered the best way to meet an array of people is to frequent the local pubs. Africa however is a different story. In traveling to a pub after sunset you are likely to be robbed, stabbed or killed. All three are not uncommon. We have come to believe South Africa under reports international statistics of crime rates. It is battle for life everyday on the streets. Understanding the danger, we met a local who played for the Nigerian national basketball team at moderately safe pub. A couple days later he invited us for a tour. The bar he took us to had a cage to protect the bartender from the patrons. Walking into the bar we were surveyed like a lion stalking an duiker. Half the men had drinks, presumably the other half could not afford them. There were two pool tables in the small room and fortunately, Bret and I are no strangers to the game. We treated the game similar to a prison economy. Win enough from the prisoners to pay off the guards. In this case, the guards were the big dudes and the prisoners were the small dudes. The bribes were paid from winnings of a bottle of dark stout. After a couple games, the lions were getting restless. A brawl ensued when one of the larger guards challenged the small white guy (Bret) to a fight. Bret diplomatically altered the challenge it to a wrestling match. The 'white man's' rules were simple: first person to the floor, no weapons. Bret applied a standard wrestling move. A front headlock. The jaws of the crowd dropped with the man's face which Bret skillfully recovered inches from the floor. The man, seemingly to have witnessed a miracle that such a small white man could subdue figure of his stature; forged two additional attacks. These attempts met identical outcomes. Cashing in our chips while we were ahead, we departed the bar unscathed.
As previously mentioned... Africa is a dangerous place. The coastline is no exception. Stories of ships lost, wrecked and capsized are as frequent as Nantucket during the whale trade. Our weather man informed us no yachts had wrecked or capsized this year. This year is an exception. We carefully prepared Broken Compass for the 750 mile stretch to Capetown. Our inspection report coupled with a promising weather window kept us in Durban for an extra month. Attempting our third scheduled departure, we are off to Capetown. We previously had the luxury of pulling into one of the safe harbors on the coast. Unfortunately we are pressed for time. We have a friend scheduled to arrive 10 days hence in Capetown. Of course we will pull over warranting ferocious weather, but schedules push limits and we will put the ship and crew to the test. Pray for wind and mild seas.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Funso not so fun

The Broken Compass's departure strategy is to leave in bad weather. Port Louis was no exception as we left with the heaviest wind in over a month. Two separate coast guard officials warned us of the rough conditions. The second official took one look at our boat bucking next to the wharf and started questioning our decision to leave. We joked he would rescue us in a couple hours. He did not share our humor. Being the only yacht foreign to Mauritius, we assumed credibility as they permitted our departure. It took 5 men (and 1 woman) to push Broken Compass boat off the dock as we left Le Caudon Marina. Motoring (yeah... motoring) out of the harbor, a disabled small craft was under tow back from an unfortunate day. The 8 foot swell at the channel entrance knocked us around for a while before we hoisted the sails to break into open water. The “It's good to be back out at sea” feeling was short lived as a series of lightning storms battered us for the rest of the day and throughout the night.

Lightning storms at sea are an interesting experience. They are beautiful to watch from far off in the distance. At some point as the dark clouds and flashes of light move over head you come to realize your situation: Two hands on a metal wheel steering two tall trees held down by steel cables across a relatively flat ocean. If lightening bolts were tails, the Broken Compass would be the donkey. Resigning to the very real possibility of getting struck is the only way stay sane for hours of blinding flashes amongst sheets of water and ripping winds.

Day 3 we spotted a orange life ring floating a few hundred meters away. Taking the opportunity as a practice man overboard, we made some fancy maneuvers under sail to retrieve the prize. The 25 knot breeze taxed our victory as we limped away from the event with two pieces of our head sail instead of one. The faded Chinese symbols on the life ring concealed a boat's story we would never plumb.

The ocean highlight is always the fish. We caught a nice Wahoo shown above in addition to a few large Dorado. One day we hooked into the fish of a lifetime: the blue marlin. Neither of us have ever seen its equal dead or alive. The creature performed a series of acrobatics and entertained us for about five minutes before effortlessly breaking through the 150 lb leader. Following the fight, he breached one last time to wave farewell as he swam off in search of the old man in the sea.

(NASA satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Funso)

Reaching the half way point, our crack weather guy from South Africa warned of a cyclone predicted to intercept us. A race for our lives ensued. Over three rough and wet days we logged 440 miles and positioned Broken Compass downwind of our destination. We suffered 36 hours against 30 knots of wind and 15 ft swells to earn our last 25 miles upwind. During this trial, we sent a diver in the water to pull off a line wrapped around the propeller. We thanked our guardian angels as the Tropical Cyclone Funso passed in our wake. Exhausted and in the middle of the night, we tossed two hooks in the Durban harbor mud. We crashed and slept like babies while Makai woke up from a 4 day slumber to take anchor watch.