Howdy all! I’m back!

Over the last two months here in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), we’ve met countless people when ashore for ‘Boat Beer Conservation Hour’. Most people call this sweet 2-hour period every day ‘Happy Hour’. But, we have decided to rename it for the sake of the beer we keep on the boat. Back home in Wisconsin, a beer is usually $3.00 give or take $.50. Here in BVI, beers are $6.00 except during ‘Happy Hour’ when they are half-priced. So, we usually partake when we can for the sake of keeping our stash on the boat well stocked, mostly because of the large pain in the ass trying to get beer at a good price and then haul it back to the boat.

So, anyways, back to the point… we met a great family last night and Greg asked me about sleep. It got me to thinking that I’ve had this theory on sleep for months, but haven’t shared it. I figure now is as good a time as any.

Here’s my list of the five different levels of sleep a skipper has. (Disclaimer: For all of you old salty sailors that read our blog, I’m sure you have some input, please feel free to add in the comments section!). These are listed in terms of least sleep to most restful night.

  1. Passage making – This is by-far the least sleep you can imagine. Whether there are two, three, or six people on the boat, you’ll be lucky to get 2-3 hours of sleep at a crack. The creaking of the hulls, the constant worry about the wind and weather, the navigation, everything is a total drain. Rotating shifts means that night does not necessarily mean sleep, you may have two shifts in the middle of night! Our friends Paul and Tracy recently left for a 5-day passage to the Bahamas; I remember Paul staying that he was already tired thinking about how tired he is going to be for those 5 days. It is hell.
  2. At Anchor – Yes, believe it or not, #2 is at anchor, which is what we do 98% of our nights. When we anchor, we plop our 70 lb anchor on the sea floor, let out 5:1 ratio of scope (Depth of water, plus height of boat from waterline to anchor roller times five. In 20 feet of water we add 5 feet of boat freeboard so that means 125 feet of chain) and then set it (reverse the boat to let the anchor dig in). Seems straight forward right? We have physics working in our favor when it comes to the anchor design and heavy chain rode. But, there are a lot of variables to worry about. If the wind picks up heavily, we might need to let out more rode (chain). What if someone anchors near us and in our swing area? What if the anchor drags? And, what in the hell is that weird noise?! There’s always something to worry about. We usually sleep ‘okay’ but that for us means that we are up about every 3-4 hours checking on something. Or, as it rains everyday here in the BVI, we have to get up and close windows as it rains in the night.
  3. On a mooring ball – Now, I understand that many sailors will argue this point with me. For context, the reason is that most sailors trust their tackle (anchor and chain gear) more than they trust a mooring ball. I would agree with that, but for sake of this blog post, we are assuming that the mooring ball is in good shape and will not break! Yes, for you non-sailors, mooring balls, though you have to pay for them ($20-$35/night), many are not properly maintained and you’re at the mercy of some dude, that likely knows little about boating for one, and even less about the forces a big boat puts on little ropes. Back to sleep… on a mooring ball several of the above anchor issues are eliminated, again if we assume it’s in good condition. We don’t have to worry about changing our scope and letting out more chain as the wind increases. We also don’t have to worry about dragging as mooring balls are secured into the earth underwater. Lastly, it’d be very uncommon for someone to anchor inside the mooring field, essentially eliminating the worry that someone might anchor too close. I should have mentioned that both at anchor and on a mooring ball run the risk of having to put up with other boats. Ideally, we are anchored in a secluded area with few boats around. Mooring balls here in BVI are almost always full every night. They are often taken up by non-cruisers (cruisers are cheap and prefer to anchor), and usually taken up by charter boats on vacation. Since they are on vacation for a week, they give it their all usually partying late into the night. We understand this and would be doing the same thing if we were on a vacation versus living here, but sometimes it gets a little crazy. I do have to admit that I get pleasure out of making noise in the morning after a boat has been partying late. Several weeks back we were anchored right behind a crewed charter that partied late. It was crowded when we got there the night before, so we dropped our anchor about 15 feet off their stern and then reversed back 150 feet. We planned on leaving early and both Megan and I got immense pleasure out of the clanking sound as our anchor was being brought up 15 feet behind their boat. This also happened to be the time a dolphin was hitting our anchor chain with a fin and swimming around it to catch the bits and pieces that came off it. Megan made a point of screaming “Holy shit a dolphin!” louder than normal to get back at the loud asses. JIt’s the small wins sometimes! Wow, I really have a knack at times for getting completely off subject! Back to the rant.
  4. Marinas – Marinas offer the skipper the 4thbest night of sleep on my list. The boat is very securely tied to a pier that only a hurricane will move. You don’t have to worry about wind, dragging, some idiot anchoring too close, and etc. Additionally, most good marinas have security roaming the piers to ensure boats and property are safe. From the boat perspective, there’s little to worry about. But, marinas aren’t without their own issues. Cost is obviously one as it’s not uncommon for a marina to charge in excess of $2.50/linear foot/night for a catamaran. Yep, that’s $105.00 per night to sleep in your own boat, just tying up to someone’s pier. No room service or cleaning either! Secondly, marinas are usually hotter than hell. On one side, they are safe from weather…. But part of why they are safe is that they are out of the wind. If you don’t plug your boat into shore power so you can use your AC, you’ll be a sweaty mess in no time. Oh, and shore power is an extra charge. Marinas also often have a lot of bugs – mosquitos and noseeums. In order to stay cool to sleep, we like the windows open, so we use screens on the ones that have them. But the bugs manage to sneak in during the day and evening and eat Megan alive. A few days before we came home for Christmas, we moved into the Simpson Bay Marina in St. Maarten and she was covered in so many bites (about 35) that we had to go to the pharmacy for hydrocortisone and Benadryl. She was on a steady diet of Benadryl and beer to help her sleep well after arriving home to the cold.
  5. Onshore – The best night of sleep a skipper can get is onshore in a house or hotel. We haven’t stayed in a hotel since France, the night before we took delivery, but we did go home for two weeks over Christmas. I have to be honest, I slept great! Nothing was moving, no clanking, no worry that our house was going to drag away in the middle of the night, no worries.

There you have it, my list of the five different scenarios regarding sleep for a skipper. Let me be clear though, even though I’m calling this a rant, it’s really not that terrible. The human body is an amazing thing and it’s been truly amazing how easily we have adapted to these scenarios. Back home, in the middle of a stressful week, I’d often get up in the middle of night for one reason or another, usually, I’d wake up tired and groggy. Here, my body is very used to getting up several times a night and falling back asleep, it doesn’t seem to bother me when I wake up and I’m usually refreshed. When we did the crossings and only getting 2-3 hours of sleep per 12-14 hours, our bodies adjusted to that also. It was amazing how after only a night or two our bodies got in sync with the new ‘normal’ and trudged forward to accomplish the task regardless of how little sleep we got.

As a heads ups, I’ve been asked by several people about boat maintenance and how things have been with any boat warranty issues lately. I’m working on the boat maintenance blog here and there but that might be another week or two before I’m done. Also, we have several other boat issues that have reared their ugly heads; I’ll try to carve out some time to get that written up too…. They are good ones that I’m sure you’ll enjoy!

Cheers!
Bob