welcome to our blog!

This blog tells the story of our 22-month sailing journey from Oakland, California, to Bristol, Rhode Island, aboard our beloved Bristol 32 sailboat, Ute. Please feel free to browse through the archives (partway down the sidebar to your left) to see pics and read stories of our adventures in North America and Central America . (Sorry the first 3 months of the trip are missing - they vanished somewhere in an internet cafe in Mexico - but all you're missing is CA, Baja and Western Mex).

If you're trying to track us down now that we're landlubbers, try us at uteatlarge at yahoo dot com. Thanks!

Monday, May 21, 2007

kickin it in the Keys....

Yup, we're still here in beautiful Key West. We keep meaning to write a nice long juicy post replete with tales of re-entry and journey planning details, but we're just having too much fun to slow down! We are happily reunited with Hebe after a year apart - she sailed in on Saturday night just in time for a beautiful Florida sunset and we spent most of the weekend swapping stories with them and catching up. Since we saw them last June, they've spent nine months backpacking through the Andes and two months sailing through the Caribbean, just a couple hundred miles behind us in some cases. So.....we're awfully happy that they caught up! They'll be with us until somewhere around Melbourne, Florida, where they plan to end their sailing journey, sell the boat, and join the ranks of Land People.

We'd planned to leave Key West before now, but figuring out our Northbound route and sailing strategies has proved a little trickier than we'd anticipated. We don't relish the idea of leaving here and getting pushed back by the very same current that made us take a 100-mile detour coming in here. So....this afternoon will find us at the nearest West Marine, poring over all the Florida Keys cruising guides available there. Hopefully we can get out of here by midweek; the next stop is Miami to hang out with a cousin of mine there. (To all of our cruiser friends who might read this blog, drop us a line if you have insight on weather and currents/countercurrents in the Hawk Channel! thanks).

Key West is really charming and we've enjoyed it so much more than we ever expected to....the downtown is pure Disneyland, and totally touristy, but the people here are so warm and the town is so damn cute and welcoming that you can't help but like it here. Our very first night in town, we started talking to a bunch of locals about what it was like living in Key West, and ended up getting invited over to one of their houses for stone crab, dinner, drinks, and a major dog fix (they had two super friendly pups). Let's face it, you can't help but go soft on a place where something like that happens your first day in town. Is it just Key West, or will we find that kind of hospitality in the rest of Florida? the Southeast? the East Coast? time will tell.... (We won't count on having a similar experience in Miami, that much is for sure!).

As for our plans beyond Miami, well, they're as vague as ever, but our basic goal is to be around the Chesapeake area by the end of June. June-ish. We'll make our way there via both the ICW and offshore routes - the combination will depend on weather. From there, we'll probably continue on as far as Connecticut, and reassess. We've long considered the spine of this trip to be roughly California-Connecticut (C to shining C?) so that's a good guideline. Of course, we are theoretically ready to sell the boat at anytime, if we find a buyer. Wanna buy a sailboat? Sure you do!

Naturally there are some big decisions looming on the horizon, especially as we look to the late summer and fall, but for now, we're still enjoying our trip to its fullest, and we're not even close to done with it - we still have at least a thousand miles to go! Being back in the US is fun, but not really a radical change -our days pass in similar ways, under similar conditions, on the same boat, with the same joys, challenges, freedoms, and limitations as before. And we still love it.

We've gotten some great questions lately in posts and emails - and the best one was "Why did Ray call Ute a 'plastic classic'?" Well, we're so glad somebody asked. Here's why - in the 60's, when boatbuilders figured out they could build boats out of this newfangled stuff called "fiberglass" (plastic) instead of wood, the first boats they built a lot tougher and thicker than they needed to be. Fiberglass doesn't have to be thick to be strong, the way wood might, but they didn't know that yet. So they made plastic boats as thick as wooden boats. Which means that boats built in the 60's and early 70's are built like the proverbial brick shithouse - they won't win any races but they'll take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. So when we went shopping for a tough cruising vessel, it wasn't just our budget that dictated we look for a boat at least as old as us - it was also our desire to survive this trip in one piece! The first time we had Ute out of the water to do some work on her, I went to drill a hole in the hull for the depth sounder. After about 5 minutes of drilling, I still hadn't broken through. I thought the drill was broken -but her hull was just so strong and so thick that I hadn't gotten through it yet! For those of you that can get your hands on a copy of the May issue of sail, be sure to read the article about the sailboat that got run over by a huge freighter in Brazil and survived: that boat was also built in 1967.

Anyway, it's time for the Ute-Hebe team to go be bums and see how long we can get away with reading sailing guides at West Marine without buying them. Wish us luck. Cheers, UTE

Thursday, May 17, 2007

oh say can you see............

The rumors are all true....well, at least the one about us re-entering the motherland. We're anchored just off of Key West....being in Florida is cool but....if this is the land of the free, why is everything so expensive?

We arrived late last night after a mostly relaxing passage...checked into the country this morning...said a teary goodbye to Danny after a wonderful lunch with his parents...and wandered around the streets of Key West doing touristy crap for the rest of the day. Way fun!

The passage here really was incredible. We left Isla Mujeres Thursday morning and had astoundingly good weather (or a lack thereof, really - no news is good news in the Florida Straits) straight through until about Monday afternoon. Just a few hours out of Isla Mujeres we encountered the fabled Gulf Stream, lurking almost exactly where the charts predicted it would be. Wow! what a current....we knew it would be strong in some places, but what we didn't know was that it could be so DISTINCT. It's hard to describe it now, but the current was so sharp and so powerful that it was like a conveyor belt, or one of those people-movers at the airport. You could actually see the edge of it - so weird. we'd be going our normal speed in one spot, then enter the Gulf Stream - like taking an on-ramp onto the freeway - and suddenly our speed would double. It was a wild ride. It carried us at an easy 7+ knots for about the first 150 miles of our journey, and we were thankful for it! It veered off towards Texas a little further than we were willing to follow it, but it was fun while it lasted. (click on the Gulf Stream link in our "Links" section in the sidebar to see a very cool image of this wondrous natural phenomenon. Thanks NOAA).

After that, we putt-putted contentedly towards Key West. Most of our passage consisted of blissfully calm motoring on the flattest ocean we have ever seen, anywhere. Not a breath of wind. A little boring, perhaps, and yes we were burning diesel like crazy, but these waters have a malevolent reputation for a reason - so calm was just fine with us. At one point the water was so glassy that the few clouds in the sky were crisply reflected in the sea - something I've only seen on lakes. The boys focused their energies upon building the perfect lure, and their efforts were rewarded when they landed a 20-pound dorado (that's mahi mahi to you West Coast folks) which we promptly transformed into about a gallon of delicious ceviche, and tasty pan-fried fillets. Yum yum..........

Since we'd coerced Danny into rearranging his travel plans and staying with us as far as Florida, we were thrilled that the passage was so relaxed...one afternoon included a swim, fresh-baked key lime pie, and - very exciting - a movie watched on the laptop in the cockpit! so fun. As we neared Key West, we entered a countercurrent that cut our speed down to an anemic 2.5 knots, but since there was little we could do so we just plodded along.

On Monday afternoon, with just 12 miles left to cover between us and the Key West ship channel entrance, a bolt rattled off of our heat exchanger. I shut off the autopilot and grabbed the tiller to steer while the boys attempted to fish the offending bolt from the bilge. The good news was, they managed to reattach the bolt. The bad news was, in the brief time it took to solve that problem, the weather totally deteriorated and suddenly we found ourselves in that notorious Caribbean short, steep chop with building winds on the nose, lightning flashing all around and rain on the way. Suddenly it didn't seem like such a sure thing that we'd be anchored in Key West later that evening. It shouldn't surprise us anymore how fast things can change when sailing.

As night set in the weather just got nastier. Nothing dangerous, but extremely frustrating as the wind and current were both gathering strength against us, lowering our speed to zero and leaving us unable to navigate in any point of the compass between about 5 degrees and 185 degrees. Rather inconvenient seeing as our destination lay about 10 miles due east of us. It was a really long night, with each of us doing short shifts of hand-steering, trying with all our might to claw out some eastbound progress. Twelve hours later, after tacking back and forth all night we had actually lost ground and were three miles west of where we'd started. ouch! We'd point the boat towards the east, only to have the GPS inform us that we were actually going straight north or straight south, no matter which way we were facing. As the weather showed no signs of mellowing out we were getting pretty stressed about our options, or more accurately the frustrating lack of options.

Tuesday morning's sunrise brought some optimism, as sunrise often does, and the three of us put our heads together to figure out if there were any rational alternatives to our planned route. This is where having a non-seasick crew member with nav skills really came in handy - Danny has the vestibular fortitude to go belowdecks in cruddy weather and stare at charts for half an hour without wanting to die. (We're grateful and jealous at the same time). We were relieved to find that there was an alternative that just might work - backtracking through a maze of shoals and smaller channels, heading west, then north, then southeast to enter Key West from a totally different direction. So that's exactly what we spent all of Tuesday doing - the funny part is we ended up going about 95 extra miles after being just 9 miles from Key West on Monday! But I guess that's what sailing is all about......and when we finally rolled in here at 8:30 last night we sure were happy to kill the engine, drop a couple anchors and pass the grog.....

I inspired (read: forced) the boys to sing "America" by Neil Diamond as we entered the channel into Key West harbor. How could we not?

It was such a joy for us to have a good friend aboard for the last six weeks - thanks again Danny for coming down - we'll miss having you here!

We expect to stay in Key West for at least 4 or 5 days, hopefully allowing us to see Hebe (they left Isla Mujeres on Monday) and wait for a good weather window to head North. We were so sad to narrowly miss Hebe in Belize and Mexico so we'll be thrilled if we can see them here (we tried and tried, unsuccessfully, to let them know our plans and whereabouts over the shortwave radio nets, but I think they actually slipped off the map for a week into that part of the chart that says "There Be Dragons"). We need to make some decisions about our northbound routing....will we ride the Gulf Stream once again or will we explore the ICW? We'll have to decide soon.....

Thanks everyone for welcoming us back to the USA and for all the blog comments - we do so appreciate all the support of our friends and family. xoxo UTE

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

We just wanted to say THANKS to Ray Jason for the great write-up about Ute in the May issue of Sail magazine! Check it out if you get a chance. Cheers, UTE
one sunny afternoon on Water Key found us embroiled in a beach croquet tourney. What better sport to play in a former British colony?

I insisted that the entire crew wear their croquet whites and linen.....

there was always someone up in the rigging coming into each new anchorage
shopping for dinner at Spruce Cay

the lagoon inside Turneffe Atoll was always some titillating shade of green. The three atolls of Belize (Turneffe, Glover and Lighthouse), along with Chinchorro atoll near Xcalak, Mexico, are the only true atolls in this part of the world. Pretty neat stuff. (and that little speck on the horizon in the pic is Ute at anchor).
some islands were ripe for land exploration.

some coconuts weren´t.

another Belize first was actually catching edible fish! Between that and all the conch, we´ve been eating like kings for the last couple weeks: mackerel tacos, red snapper marinated in ginger, soy sauce and peppers, conch fritters, fish chowder.......yum.........

the tasty lobsters of Belize, however, eluded capture. too smart or just too fast? we´ll never know. we sure did have fun trying though....we spent an entire afternoon just harassing the same two poor lobsters at Turneffe. We thought our homemade lobster-grabbing device was pretty hot until we actually tried it. Who knew the little buggers could jet around so damn fast? how do people do it?

We could only safely sail during the day when we were inside the reef, so the passages were mercifully short: we usually sailed from about 7 AM to 1 PM and then played the rest of the day - at a different island every day. And since we were inside the reef, we got all the wind with none of the waves. I could definitely get used to daysailing! Everyone is awake at the same time (well besides the power naps), no seasickness, and we can actually focus on sailing for fun. It was great.

So unless you've seen a detailed map of Belize lately, you may not realize that Belize includes literally hundreds of little cays and islands tucked behind a thriving barrier reef (the second longest in the world) plus a trio of offshore atolls. We'd heard so many superlatives about Belize that we feared it might not live up to our expectations, but it was SPECTACULAR! lots of cruisers we've talked to strongly preferred the atolls and outer islands, but the found the inner islands to be just as compelling as the outer reefs. The best part was, every island was a little different: some were inhabited, some weren't; some were mostly mangroves, some were calendar-ready palm-fringed white-sand islets; some reefs were long, wave-battered fringes of growth and others bejeweled fields of huge coral heads.

The underwater topography was as tantalizingly varied as what we saw above the surface...another surprise for us. In some places the seafloor would gradually shoal up or fall off into the ocean's depths, but in other places we found small mountains ranges, huge underwater sinkholes, odd little seamounts, and underwater caverns. Given that the nearby Yucatan peninsula is peppered with natural sinkholes and subterranean caves and springs, I guess Belize's underwater landscape is just a natural extension of that. Makes us wish we'd had a geologist on board to explain it all! At one point we accidentally veered out of a deep-water channel into a huge stretch of coral garden, and while it was really stressful to weave through the many hazards, it was also breathtakingly beautiful. Sort of like sailing through an aquarium. We watched enthralled from the ratlines as sharks and rays swam among huge coral formations, and Ute passed through single-digit depths of radiant water in every shade of turquoise and toothpaste green you can imagine. There were points where we almost had to remind ourselves that the beauty was dangerous to our boat. Almost.

Having a third set of eyes on deck was a huge boon in such risky sailing grounds. Seems like Danny is often on board for Ute "firsts" and this trip was no exception. The most exciting first was when we exited the barrier reef through a relatively uncharted and somewhat risky gap in the coral. This meant waiting until the sun and water were right where we wanted them and then driving our beloved boat straight towards a landform that has wrecked many a ship. We held our breath for what felt like hours (it was probably only about 45 minutes of action) as we kept our eyes riveted to the water and, alternately, the depth sounder. It was so much fun and SO exhilirating! Of course we don't have any pictures, since one of the bummers about sailing is you never get pictures of the really exciting stuff because everyone is busy doing something else. The water was so clear that 15 feet looked like about 3, adding to our general stress levels but also affording us views of the reef that made it feel like we were snorkeling. I've never seen anything like it. As we passed through the last gauntlet of coral, the bottom immediately dropped away to 50 feet and we saw the familiar cobalt of the Caribbean ahead - much to our excitement and relief!

the ice delivery man in Placencia, Belize.....

Belize had lots of cool grocery items, our favorite being canned butter - perfect for a boat with no fridge!

Viva Mexico.....

Hi everybody from Isla Mujeres! We arrives here two days ago after a couple weeks of blissed-out island exploration in Belize and Southern Mex....wow! I will try and get some pictures and Belize stories up here tonight as time and connectivity allows...in the meantime the report is this: we are outta here tomorrow morning bound for, drum roll please, Key West USA. so you'll forgive us if we spend our last night in Mexico enjoying the street meat and cold cervezas instead of typing away for long! It's a gorgeous afternoon here in the turquoise anchorage at Isla Mujeres....we were here six years ago for Allen's 30th and it's just as charming as it was then; in fact, the poisonous development that generally spreads outward from Cancun has still spared this place for the most part. And it's such a joy to be back in Mexico...there's no place like it! We're loving this brief fling with the land of tacos al pastor, tamale ladies on trikes, poc-chuc, Sol with a lime......

we love you, Mexico!