Day 44 – 807 Miles to Gibraltar

Thank you to all who wrote to me about my seasickness. I am feeling MUCH better now. I’m still not 100%, but at least I’m up and about.

Our stay in Sao Miguel was great! Any cruiser should consider stopping there for a few days. On the negative side, it is a huge island, with large cities, but on the plus side, we found several great restaurants, including decent Chinese and Mexican food.

Our first night at anchor, inside the Ponta Delgado seawall, merits some comment. The area for anchoring is small and crowded. We were anchored just west of a shallow rocky area. Where we were anchored was fine, but there wasn’t much room for anchor drag should the wind come up. As Murphy’s law would dictate, that’s exactly what happened. We had hard rain and 30 knot winds most of the night. I was asleep at the time, but was woken by the unmistakable sound of anchor drag. It was only a short burst, followed by what sounded like the anchor grabbing. Rip and I took turns watching our position all night, and were pleased that the boat never broke anchor again.

As visibility was bad due to the rain, I used a radar trick that many of you may already know, but that I’ll mention anyway in case someone doesn’t. I set the radar at close-in range, in this case .5 miles. I then put up a VRM ring (a small ring, which can be sized to any size you want), to exactly touch the shore. This allowed me to know, at a glance, where our boat was in relation to shore, and if we had moved or not. Ordinarily I choose points of reference on land, but with the rain, my ability to do this was limited.

After our night of rain, the marina called to say we could come into the marina, and raft against the wall. Sans Souci was to park with Grey Pearl tied-up on our port side. In front and in back of us, would be double-parked sailboats. This is the same situation that existed in Horta, where I watched a 130’ powerboat park in virtually its own length. Rip and Kirk each told me this was my big chance to improve my driving skills. I asked what would happen if I goofed up – and, they said “Nothing but an insurance claim”. Winds in the marina were at 20 knots, on our tail.

Prior to owning Sans Souci, I owned a 44’ twin-engine “normal” planing boat. In my old boat, 20 knots of wind was a huge deal. The dual engines helped with parking maneuvers, but the boat was so light in the water, that even light winds made parking a challenge. I had forgotten how heavy and how low-windage Sans Souci is. The thrusters easily overcame the wind, and parking was really as easy as using the thrusters to just side-step into the parking place. All not only went well on arrival, but I also pulled the boat out of the marina in similar winds two days later. Rip did an outstanding job of inspiring confidence, and convincing me I could do it. I don’t know that I’m quite ready to do complex maneuvers without him to bail me out when I get into trouble, but look forward to trying.

Bob Rothman aboard Emeritus was stubborn about his desire to run alone, as we all expected him to be. I heard a rumor that he is a pilot who holds the record for the most single-engine solo flights across the Atlantic. After refusing to commit to any of us when he would depart, he snuck out of Horta at 6:00am, and is on our same track, but 150 miles or so in front of us. I doubt we’ll catch him before Gibraltar. We did speak with him this morning, and he explained that thus far his only difficulty was that his rudder had been bitten in half by a 17-foot shark. We’re confident he was teasing.

On a much more serious topic, we had a brush with semi-disaster here on Sans Souci last night. The holding tank refused to pump overboard. Because we had been in a marina, we had our holding tank set to “hold” so that no toilet water would pump overboard. Our intention was to start dumping once we were the legal distance from shore, but when the time came, the holding tank refused to pump. After an hour of thinking about life without toilets for five days, Rip was able to unfreeze the system via a manual pump in the lazerette. As we were patting ourselves on the back for bailing our selves out of trouble, another alarm went off – this time telling us that the vacuum system for the toilet systems had failed. On Sans Souci, the toilets work the same (almost) as most commercial airliners. Waste is sucked from toilets, to a tank beneath the main engine, where it is macerated, and then pumped into a holding tank, to await further disposition. We have plenty of spare parts on board, but not a spare waste vacuum pump. This triggered another round of panic that once again calmed as we were able to get things going after allowing the vacuum pump to cool down.

Our toilets are slightly different than the ones on airplanes, in that the toilet bowl MUST be left with some water in it, or the toilet can not form a proper seal. We’re still not certain this happened, but apparently someone flushed, and didn’t verify that water was left in the bowl. We have a light in the pilothouse that tells us the pump is running, but a barstool was blocking its view. After a few hours contemplating five long days without toilets, you can bet that we will be monitoring that light in the future. If anyone has ever had their system fail, with a large crew, on a long passage, and had to deal with this, I’m curious how they handled it. Buckets? If this happened to you, email me (, and if what you send is “discreet” enough, I’ll include it in my daily update. Hey, I know it’s not a pleasant topic, but, I’m curious what life would have been like. We still have 50 years of boating life to go. I suspect we’ll encounter this situation again sooner or later…

One last note on this topic… While I was in a panic trying to solve the problem, Roberta’s mom asked what was happening. I explained to her that we might not have toilets for five days, and she said “ok.” I asked why her reaction was so mild. She said it wasn’t that big a deal. “We’d deal with it.” This shows the difference between her, who was raised on a farm, and me who lived in a city.

Here’s a question I received yesterday:
“… There seems to be a recurring theme (on several boats) with the stabilizers. With what seems to be tech support at each of the previous stops, there does not appeared to be a fix. Is there any discussion amongst the group about the source of the problems or any indications of what is causing the recurrence? Or am I over reading the issue? Regards, and many thanks for an enjoyable and entertaining blog. John Coyle MV Neptune”

Stabilizers appear to be the BIG issue, and they are often discussed, although, I’ve heard more discussion than proposed solutions. On this morning’s roll call, Goleen mentioned that they had now developed a small stabilizer hydraulic leak. Most of the systems that have failed are Naiad, but statistically Naiad is the dominant stabilizer brand in use. I believe that there are only three boats with ABT Trac stabilizers, including Emeritus, which had a significant failure. I’m not sure why there have been so many problems, or what the solution is. I did discuss it with Dan Streech of Nordhavn, and he attributed it to older stabilizers being less reliable than those being installed today. Perhaps this is true. I have no way of knowing. My personal gut reaction is that stabilizers do take a beating, and that this has been a long trip, with lots of beam sea activity. We’ve worked the stabilizers hard, and they have had (mostly minor) maintenance issues. As of now, there is only one boat running without stabilizers. Given that we have run over 50,000 miles of sometimes hostile ocean, things may not be as bad as they sound.

Today, there was some discussion of the merits of the new “digital” stabilizer systems. Braun, on Grey Pearl went for the expensive upgrade, whereas I passed on it. Braun swears by it, and appears to be running much smoother in following seas than we do. A couple of weeks ago, I made the decision to get the upgrade after this trip, but then spoke with Marty Wilson on Karma who said the upgrade had done nothing for him, except to de-stabilize his system. Currently, Sans Souci has had exactly “zero” problems with stabilizers. Now, I’m thinking to leave well enough alone.

This update is getting long, so I’ll quit after passing along one more experience. We were invited aboard Crosser for cocktails on Saturday night. Crosser is the largest boat in the rally, and is NOT a Nordhavn. It is a custom McQueen and this is its inaugural voyage. David Stone and his soon-to-be-wife have designed and built it over the past five years. I was eager to go aboard, as I had heard rumors that I would be blown away, which I certainly was. It really is in a different league. Incredible artwork, spacious bedrooms, a piano in the living room, a massage table built into the master suite, an eight person hot tub on the roof, heated marble floors, etc. It’s not a boat that a retired couple could run alone, but it did feel very “homey.” Check out their website: Sandy said they plan to live aboard for the next five years, fulltime, just exploring the world. What a great life! Roberta and I have talked about living full-time on a boat many times, and even once set aside three years for a circumnavigation – but it’s something that is easier to talk about than do. Maybe someday…

Talk to you tomorrow!



(re: Day 44 – 807 Miles to Gibraltar)
Submitted 06/23/2004
You say that the owners of Crosser will spend the next five years living full time on their boat. Isn’t there alot of loose ends to tie up to plan a big trip like that? This might be a silly question, but do they use their retirement money to explore the world? What about mail and paying bills? I know that you say that you use a bill paying system to pay your bills, Ken. I’m sure it takes a while to figure everything out. What are the other obligations if one wants to spend the rest of their life among a boat?


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