July 31, 2013

The wild and crazy summer of 2013, part 1

  After nearly three years of living on Downtime a sabbatical was in order for both Downtime and her crew.
  We spent five frustrating days sailing from Palau to Holiday Ocean View Marina located on Samal island just south of Davao City a place where we would be leaving Downtime safely tied to a dock in the small marina for the next several months. You would think that in a country as huge as the Philippines with over 7000 islands they would have hundreds of marinas to choose from but this is not the case. There are very few if any marinas that Daria and I found safe enough to leave our floating home in the entire country. 

  Samal Island is located on the southeastern end of Mindanao inside a 60 mile deep bay just south of the city of Davao and is rarely hit with tropical typhoons. Now your probably thinking Aren’t the southern Philippines dangerous? And the answer is yes but mainly on the far southwest side where there are actually Pirates but thankfully this is some 350 miles from where we would be leaving the boat.

 We spent the following week getting the boat ready for storage. We turned off the refrigerators and freezer for the first time in 3 years and gave away any food that would go bad while we were away. This made our helpers Donald and Carolyn very happy and they took home with them a few weeks worth of groceries. This couple became invaluable in the following months taking care of Downtime and keeping her clean and safe.  

The list of things to be repaired while we were away was made and the boat yard had already shipped our torn sails, cracked fuel tanks and rusty anchor chain in to be sewn, welded and re-galvanized and by the end of the week our bags were packed and our next adventure by air and land was ready to begin.

  We had quite the trip planned, our first stop on the flight east from Manila was Hawaii and we spent a few days breaking up the long flights in Honolulu with a beautiful view of Waikiki Beach and Marina from the Modern Hotel.

 I thought Daria found a heck of a deal when I signed the paperwork foolishly thinking that three nights cost $300 at this 5 star newly renovated palace with amazing sea view. I had been on the boat way too long… It was a $300 room all right but that was per night…

We spent the next few days walking around the high fashioned shopping centers and along the famous beaches. 

Our list of fine restaurants we would be visiting started on the ground floor of the Modern where there is Morimoto, a Japanese restaurant and we indulged in an amazing food and ice cold Japanese Kirin beers. The last few years had taken us to some very remote places in this world and fine dining was rarely and option and we found ourselves craving all kinds of favorite foods that we had done without for so long. 
 One day we rented a convertible and drove around the small island stopping at Pearl Harbor to pay our respects to those that lost their lives on the Arizona and other ships that December 7th so many years ago on that memorable day Japan “Woke the sleeping giant”. Next we walked the decks of the Mighty Missouri war ship and stood on the spot where the peace treaty was signed with that same country so many bloody years later.

Our next flight landed us in Las Vegas, a city Daria had been dreaming of going to for years. She had found another great deal at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel a five star paradise and we laid our heads to sleep in the most amazing hotel room I had even seen. The remote control operated the windows, light and AC along with the interactive TV that could make dreams come true with the click of a button if you so desired. There is just something about even the sheets in a place like this… Daria was amazed while she was having a bath watching TV which appeared in bathroom mirror…

Our next fine dinner found us sitting at a place way too fancy for this cowboy…Twist by Pierre Gagnaire’s was on the 23rd floor of the Oriental and had a stunning view of Vegas but also had prices that could literally feed a family of four in the Philippines for a month! I did my best to suck it up because I know Daria loves this kind of thing and I tried to get through it with a smile on my face. The bill came and I did not even want to know the damages and Daria took care of it. She is always good at those things, never once paying a bill that has an error on it. She had an issue with this one though and the next morning took it strait to the management and somehow got the whole meal taken off our tab?

After our so-so dinner we walked across the street to the Aria hotel to see the first of two shows that we would experience this week. The new Cirque de Soleil show Zarkana kept us amazed for the next few hours. The quality of the performers is really something to see. There are balancing acts, juggling and some things you would not imagine humanly possible, a real must see in life! After the show we walked the strip to see the fountain show at the Bellagio one of the biggest fountains in the world where hundreds of jets spew thousands of gallons of water hundreds of feet in the air all choreographed to music and lights. Amazing!

During the next few days we must had walked 10 miles up and down the strip and through the malls. I found myself lacking a few things after living on a boat for so long, a few of those things being pants and shoes. I really did not use either for the past few years, but now found myself not being let into restaurants like the Hakkasan in the MGM without. Here in the states I would at the least need shoes to put on my flip flop blistered feet that had done all the miles of walking the last few days.

The final show Le Reve, which we saw, was at the Winn Casino a show that in itself was said to have cost a hundred million to produce! Picture a huge swimming pool surrounded by thousands of seats with over 100 performers and sets that come up out of the depths and divers falling from the sky disappearing and reappearing before your eyes into hidden passages below the surface. It was another mesmerizing few hours and well worth our time to see a show of this quality. 

Three days in Vegas were more than enough to get our land legs back and our next flight landed us back in Liberal, Kansas my home town we had left just under three years ago. Time really does fly and sitting back at my desk in the office I recalled all the places I had travels since the last time I was here. That same chair I had spent years sitting in dreaming of this great sailing adventure was still sitting there timeless, as it always has been.

A small town like Liberal never really changes much and most things and people did not change at all. The really good friends I left behind were like family, you pick up where you left off like the years had not passed at all. The same old crowd remained at men’s night golf and the same old crowd was at Billy’s the local watering hole. Thankfully my favorite restaurant was still open and had the same chef at Amigo Chavez…a few wild cards like a new restaurant Bisteca had opened a few other shut down…basically the same old same old town..  

It was nice to spend time with my two sons that we had not seen since Christmas a year and a half before in New Zealand. A lot had changed in their lives and Parker was married and Pete Jr. engaged and amazingly both my sons would wind up being married in the same year to two very nice girls.

A few months before we flew home I had Parker get the old Holiday Ramble motor home out of the shop and serviced. After completing a lengthy list of maintenance items this 10 year land yacht was ready for her next trip around the western united states.

I wanted show my fiancé my country, so we only spent 10 days in Kansas before we were off again finally heading west for a change, motoring down highway 40 at 70 miles an hour 10 times faster than our cruising speed On Downtime! Suddenly sitting behind this wheel 1000 miles does not seem that far! Our first of many stops along the way was the south rim of the grand canyon where we both took our first ever helicopter ride. The canyon itself is breathtaking and seeing the grooves that had been cut through the sandstone during the last millions of years makes our time here on earth feel like a mere moment.

Back in the bus we continued west toward Blyth Ca. to meet up with some old friends from high school from the small town of San Jacinto, Ca. where I spent my teenage years. We camped out on the Colorado River for a few days, a place where I have fond memories of slicing up boat wakes from my younger days. 
My life long friends Tony and Gina have a place in Palo Verde just west of Blyth where we camped at had a great time. The days when the river was too low to boat on we took off in the Polaris Ranger and ATV’s to explored the Arizona badlands spotting wild donkeys and coyote out amongst the played out silver mines. That weekend my daughter Cassandra and her boyfriend Anthony also drove out and made the week even more special. These special times with old friends always seem to fly by and all to soon the long weekend was over and it was back on the road west towards San Diego for a family reunion on my Moms side of the family.

We still had a few days before the reunion we spent them seeing the sites in San Diego first taking in the Zoo and then visiting Old Town both places I had never even been before. Strange? I had lived 80 miles away and yet never seen them….The zoo was great and we saw the lions, tigers and bears Oh My!! Old Town took us back to a tame when San Diego was brand new in the 1800’s and we found a photo shop that dressed up to look the part and had some shots taken of what we would have looked like back in the day. We had a great Mexican lunch of fish taco’s and Dos XX beer. After a day of walking around the zoo and Old Town we went to a place I remember as serving great sea food, The Fish Market. Well something had gone terribly wrong with this place since I last ate here, I think is was sold to the highest bidder and now was a tourist trap. Daria had her fish cooked three times only to have the Alaskan halibut come back extremely overcooked each time! 
The last day in town we headed north to La Jolla and cruised the coast on the back of our motorcycle we took along with us in a trailer behind the bus. We were both thinking aw, sunny southern California is going to be nice and warm. Well not really, the temperatures never get to warm next to the coast here due to the 60 something degree water in the ocean that flows south from Alaska keeping the temperatures moderate and in the mid 70’s along the coast. Daria loved La Jolla and we found a nice little restaurant to have a quick lunch at.

Just two days before the reunion we found a small state park on the Ortega Highway just up the coast to leave the bus parked and took off for a blast from the past adventure and rode the motorcycle down to Chino, the small dairy town I spent my childhood in over 40 years ago. The dairy and house I remember growing up in as a kid is still there along with the neighbors that we surprised that afternoon when we knocked on their door. We spent the next few hours catching up with these old family friends before moving on and showing Daria much of the rest of the Valley I grew up in. Of the hundreds of dairies this valley was so well known for only a handful are left and the next big construction wave is on the way and soon they too will only be memories. 
Next we headed for a big city adventure to Hollywood, again on the back of the motorcycle. Daria wanted to see Universal Studios, so we decided to do it right and signed up for the VIP tour which turned into an amazing day. The VIP pass puts you in a small group with your own personal tour guide and most importantly strait to the front of the line for every attraction and ride in the park. The VIP pass also includes an amazing lunch and access to parts of the studio that the regular pass does not. Basically you pay double and see double and get free lunch and parking! It was a lot of fun!

We spent the night in the Sheraton Beverly Hills whoohoo!! The next morning we went “tourist” and did the home of the stars tour through Brentwood and Bell Air, disappointingly a tour that we heard all to often “Behind that 40 foot hedgerow is so and so’s house” Then the tour took us downtown right in front of the Chinese Mann Theater and we walked down Hollywood Blvd. amongst all the stars placed in the sidewalk. Later in the tour I could feel Daria getting her shopping bug on when we drove down Rodeo Drive but thankfully the bus did not stop there! Back on the bike we went up Mull Holland drive and up to the overlook where you can see the big Hollywood sign on the hill and a good overlook of LA just below Ron Howard’s new home. 
Two days in the big city were more than enough for this sailor and we headed back to the bus through some of the craziest traffic and doing the wildest motorcycle driving I had ever done. I know you most likely have seen the guys riding bike’s between the lanes when traffic is backed up? This is called cutting traffic and I was doing it for the first time. Riding between the cars when you literally have inches on each side of the handlebars at times. Thinking all the time I hope no body opens a door or swerves my way as you fly by them with inches to spare. Most drivers see you coming and give you a little extra room but others are texting or on the phone and do not see a thing. One of these types swerved a little the wrong way and BANG my handle bar takes out his mirror! Oh well we kept on moving thankful we were still on two wheels!

Up the coast a few miles is the small town of San Clemente where the reunion would be based at where we had a spot reserved in another state park next to some of the family members while others who chose not to camp stayed a few miles away in town. It was nice to see so many people show up and take the time to come to the event and too see my relatives some of which I had not seen in way too many years.  
My two brothers and sister even made it out with their entire families. I have not seen most of them in over two years since my mothers funeral and was amazed in how much their kids had grown, a serious drawback of the sailing lifestyle being so far away from family.

My cousin Lisa and her husband Mark did a great job organizing the week. The big event planned for the week was going to see The Pageant of The Masters in Laguna Beach. This was another amazing experience where famous painting are recreated in life size with living actors posing inside the framed picture. We had twenty of my family members at the show sharing binoculars like a bunch of school kids.  

We enjoyed few more restaurants like the Wind and Sea in Oceanside and Duke’s in Huntington beach where we had a great meal with my younger brother and his family, and other nights had a relaxing time at the camp ground cooking steaks and telling stories around the grill.

Daria, even though she is from Russia, was freezing all the time, so we bought her a nice pair of pink Uggs, which she did not take off even on the beach. She was really shocked how cold can be in California during the summer… 

We had a great time in California catching up with so many friends and family but like everything in life you wait months for it seems to be over in a flash and you are left with many more priceless memories.

We continue the adventure heading back east toward the many national parks on the western half of this beautiful country to see all the sites they have to offer in our next story. 
Until then, Peace!! And remember to get out there and live your dreams!
Pete and Daria

July 15, 2013

For all of you who asked the question: “You ever hit any bad weather out there?”

The Philippine Sea and the crossing to Davao We set off for the 600 mile crossing to Davao Philippines during the last week of June with a weather forecast of light 5 to 15 knot winds out of the S-SW and just a few scattered showers along our route.
 We cleared out of Palau with customs and made our way south toward the lower islands of Palau for the last time this season and entered German Channel which is one of only a few opening in the reef on the west side of Palau. This is a really narrow ½ mile long 100 foot wide shallow channel that had been dredged to a mere depth of 6 feet at low tide many years ago. We found ourselves racing the clock to get through the channel before low tide. Our tide charts showing we still had a few hours to go but somehow the water in the channel showed us something very different.

The channel looked REALLY shallow as we slowly nosed our way into the tiny pass and it also looked much, much narrower while driving Downtime through than when I drove SD through several weeks before! At this point there was no turning back or turning at all for that matter since we only had what looked like a few feet clearance on each side! Our only option was to motor strait forward and I pushed the throttles all the way forward to full speed since I have always said: “When in Doubt, Gas it”!

 We bumped 5 times on the way out but luckily just on soft sand mounds and there was no damage to the boat, just shinny new bottoms on the keels. We cleared the pass and set the sails, double reefing the main and letting the whole jib fly for what would be the last time.

We set the sails on a close reach with the wind at a 60 degree angle off the nose making 7-8 knots sailing on calm seas for the first 6 hours and it all looked just like the weather forecast said it would, light S-SW winds.

It wasn’t until the first squall showed up at around 8 pm that things started to turn for the worse.   A squall came roaring though while Daria was on watch with winds near 40 knots that tore our 10 year old jib to sheds! WOW! I had not seen a squall like that in a long time!
 The weather we had experienced for the last few months just 60 miles away in Palau had a lot of rain but never produced strong winds like what we just experienced. It took us quite some time to get the torn sail furled on the pitching bow of Downtime and then to reduce sail on the main and put the third reef in, but after several hours of hard work we were underway again slowly motor sailing toward our destination.
 Hind site we should have just turned around at this point but I thought being the optimist that conditions would improve. I was WRONG!
 The strong squalls kept coming, hitting us every few hours with 25-35 knots of wind accompanied by driving torrential rains and brilliant lighting shows. Lightning is another thing we had not experience in almost two years but here it was roaring with deafening booms that were way to close for comfort! We had planned for a four day crossing but it was apparent after the second day it would take at least five days to sail these 600 miles, which would turn out to be our slowest passages ever!
When the jib sail blew out it took with it two antennas that were mounted on the spreaders both of which operated our AIS system a tool that identifies ship traffic and reports our position to ships within a 25 mile radius. That damage along with our radar being down left us pretty much blind in the storms. Needless to say it was quite nerve racking when the squalls came through and took visibility down to zero!
The calm tranquil sea’s that we had experienced when we left Palau were long gone and now had grown to 12 foot sharp nasty waves coming from what seemed all directions.  It always seemed that just when I would go out to take a look around for traffic that the craziest of waves would jump on the boat and soak me! At other times I just stood in the cockpit getting soaked by the latest squall which would produce fiercer rain showers than I had ever seen.
This same nasty weather went on for days but finally the sun came out for a brief period on the 4th day and gave us the feeling the worst was over with. Wrong again! That night it blew with a vengeance and ripped the main sail at the 3rd reef point which forced us to put in the last and final 4th reef.
 What is a reef you ask? Well, it is a slab of sail that you roll up on the bottom of the main sail to reduce sail area. During these squalls the wind would clock all the way around us (mini Tornadoes!) and when the wind was directly on the nose our boat speed would drop to snails pace of 1 or 2 knots with both engines running at ¾ throttle! The driving rain would fall in sheets and we could not even see the end of our own boat let alone any traffic.
 During one storm in particular the rain almost filled a 5 gallon bucket we had tied to the rail for a rain gauge in just a few hours! I spent a restless night napping in the salon an was shocked the next morning when I saw the main sail had ripped again at the 4th reef point and was finished till it could get to a loft and be repaired.
 At this point it was up to the motors to bring us home. The next concern was how much fuel we actually had aboard and would it be enough? I went forward to check the tanks and was disheartened once again to see fuel on the locker floor that must have seeped out of a tank that must have cracked in the rough seas.
 Quickly I found the damaged tank and transferred the fuel to one of the other two tanks before we lost too much fuel. Fuel would be tight and we still has 240 miles to go at this point. If we ran both engines at 75% we would burn the remaining 120 gallons of fuel in 24 hours! At 7 knots we would only cover 170 miles and would be 70 miles short of our destination!
 The solution was to slow down ad run one engine at 5 knots and hope we had enough fuel to make port.
Then the next disaster struck! That evening Daria informed me there was no water coming out of the faucet from the sink!  I checked the water tanks and somehow 200 gallons of fresh water had disappeared? This was not a good feeling…I looked everywhere and finally found the leak from a failed gasket on the port water heater, and luckily I had a spare gasket and had it fixed within an hour and started the water maker which thankfully started right up.
There are very few things that that get me queasy on the boat but working in tight spaces is one of them and I was glad the job was finished with the repair and the tanks were filling with fresh water.
Finally on day 5 we were just 100 miles out but traveling at a mere5 knots it would still take over 20 hours of motoring to get to port. At this point we had the tattered sails stowed and the engines on for almost 4 days and I was getting concerned with how much fuel we actually had left. I transferred all the remaining fuel to the main tank and calculated we would have only 20 gallons of the 300 we had started with when we made port. 
Luckily the winds died that last day and the seas calmed and we could maintain 5 knots with just 1 engine. A few times we has some strong winds on the nose and had to run both engines but were lucky enough for at least one day of light winds.
The list of broken parts did not end though, during this last day one more critical part decided to break, our trusty autopilot that had been working flawlessly the last 35000 miles gave out.   Looks like we will be hand steering the rest of the way Daria….
Exhausted we cleared the bay just before dark but still had the last 50 miles of motoring to get to Davao which is located in north end of a huge bay in the southern Philippines. We were tired and motored a few hours until we were in calm water and then shut of the engine and let the boat just drift while we got a few hours of much needed rest. After a few hours of sleep we motored the last few miles in the morning in calm waters that the mountain range around the bay provides.
What a difference a few miles makes when you are protected by the mountains, the rains had stopped and the seas were calm. Looking back we should have acquired much better weather forecasts but strangely enough nothing we had downloaded showed the class 1 typhoon we had just experienced?
Our next adventure will bring us back to the States for the first time in nearly three years.
Until then, Peace Pete & Daria