Wrapping things up (aka back to work…)

I can hardly imagine worst conditions to try to write and summarize the past whirlwind of a month. I am with my brother Dave and Adam Douglass absolutely slugging our way along in the Gulf Stream off the coast of South Carolina. Our speed is great and we are enjoying at least a three knot current boost. However, the wind is “on the nose” resulting in heavy seas and waves that we just keep pounding into. But if I don’t take the time to summarize my last couple of adventures it will not happen as I transition into full time work getting ready to launch a new business!

I left off after posting on the wonders of Barbados and the 29 day passage from Cape Town. In Barbados, I was joined by friends Jeff Geller and the Anderson brothers (Will and George- both of whom had completed previous passages with me on Alyosha. Out time together was comparatively short: about 3 1/2 days of sailing spread across 5 days. We left Barbados on Sunday, March 10th around noon and spent the first 24 hours sailing through the Caribbean with the winds and seas pushing us along. Our destination was St. Thomas, USVI but we had time for several stops along the way. The highlights included:

  • Our first anchorage of the island of Dominica, where we did not embark but we did take a break from sailing to do some swimming, grilling and generally relaxing;
  • The first use of the anchor posed all kinds of problems as the windlass was not working- not fun to set that anchor by hand! (subsequently fixed before any relaxing could occur!);
  • Before departing our excellent anchorage off Dominica, we took the dinghy over to Pigeon Island and enjoyed some of the best snorkeling I have done since the South Pacific;
  • We also anchored off Nevis for a night (about 16 hours in all) but really could only enjoy the city lights as we prepared for the next leg…
  • The absolute highlight for me was a 6 hour anchor off of the coast of Saba. I had been to Saba on a previous Caribbean adventure (25+ years ago) and it was exactly as incredible as I remembered: we did some snorkeling and Will and Jeff made the long journey up the rocky coast for a scenic view.
  • A great crew lunch and dinner followed our arrival at St. Thomas as we pulled into the Crown Bay Marina (thanks again for dinner, Will!)\

The second of four legs from Barbados to Baltimore kicked off with the Butz Family arrival at St. Thomas airport on March 15th. We wasted no time in getting started with “spring vacation” as we left the marina about 45 minutes after everyone got settled on the boat. All in all, we had a fantastic 10 days together exploring the various British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. (unsurprisingly, the family had opted for the 80 nm sail to San Juan, PR instead of the 880 nm sail to the Bahamas!) Highlights:

  • Our first night in Christmas Cove was memorable as we caught up as a family under a full moon on deck after ordering pizza from the “Pizza Boat”;
  • Everyone enjoyed The Baths on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. We climbed the rock formations and spent two nights enjoying the area;
  • Much of the BVI (and USVI for that matter) had been damaged by Hurricane Irma in September, 2017 and so many places we went were still fully rebuilding. The various family walks we took always brought us fresh perspective on the aftermath of a natural disaster;
  • Anegada- a coral island outlier just north of Virgin Gorda- was interesting an provided an excellent opportunity for the family to sail fast and pass multiple other catamarans! (ok, this was probably just a Dad highlight..);
  • We had a great family dinner at Pussers after checking out of the BVI in Tortola. Max found us a great beach/anchoring spot to enjoy….
  • We wrapped things up in San Juan, Puerto Rico after a fairly uneventful 80nm sail from the BVI. Puerto Rico was great (with a real highlight being the chance for Lisa and I to get dinner in Old San Juan!)

It wasn’t easy saying goodbye to my family at 3:30am for their early flight back home!

Less than 12 hours after that goodbye, after completing a major overhaul on the raw water systems of both my engines, I said hello to my next crew member, Tom Wheeler and we provisioned the boat for the trip up to Florida. Alex Figeroa, arrived that night and we left immediately (literally welcoming Alex onboard and casting off our lines!) As we were trying to beat some weather that was showing up on the long range forecasts for the transit up the East Coast.

The trip from San Juan, PR to Fort Pierce, Florida, went about as expected: plenty of motoring, an 18 hour period of heading directly into the wind (never fun) and some sailing towards the final days. More highlights (and lowlights):

  • Tom’s guitar playing and singing was a nice change of pace, he also managed to break a long streak of no fish and caught a Mahi Mahi on our final night;
  • Many thanks to Tom for two memorable meals: Our “Mofongoes” at the Puerto Rican diner before we left and the wonderful welcome meal at the marina bar in Fort Pierce;
  • It wasn’t particularly popular with the crew, but after arriving in Fort Pierce after 4 days of sea we picked up Martin, the parasail guy, and flew our new Maryland-themed spinnaker for the first time!
  • There were a couple lowlights: first, the welcome back to the US coast was of course coupled with a nice lightning storm once we reached the Gulf Stream;
  • I might never be able to forget waking up to waves crashing ON THE STARBOARD!!! (we were heading north) as Tom “got a bit off course” and nearly drove Alyosha onto the beach!!! Definitely caught a lucky break there…

I flew home and spent four days working and catching up with some of my next endeavors… It became clear that there would be another weather window to move Alyosha all the way to Baltimore (with a quick pit stop in Ocean City). I am so thankful that my brother Dave and Adam Douglass stepped up to assist.

We flew back down to Florida on a Friday afternoon, provisioned the boat for the trip in about 25 minutes in an Aldi grocery store, fueled up just before the pump closed at 6pm and were underway… This trip ended up being one of my most difficult legs but it did not start that way, we motored for two and a half days before finally setting the sails!

On the first night, on my midnight watch, I was treated to one of the most spectacular lightning shows I have ever seen, at a very comfortable distance (+100nm away)… We did have another short period- 12 hours or so, where the wind turned north against the Gulf Stream and within 15 minutes we were banging into 3-4 foot waves!

The big event, however, was my final night at sea, coming across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay heading to Ocean City. When we got internet off of the coast of North Carolina, near Cape Hatteras, it became very clear that we were going to have a front come through. According to the marine weather, it would happen on Tuesday morning, just before we arrived in OC. But the regular weather had us getting slammed on Monday evening- and that is exactly what happened! Imagine: at this point I had sailed around the world and the very worst storm I saw was my final night at sea when the winds clocked in at 45 knots and the lightning struck all around us! Visibility was terrible, less than 1nm and the 3 hours I spent trying to look for other boats and wondering when we would are struck by lightning were absolutely no fun…

Tuesday morning in Ocean City brought us cold, cold air coming off the Atlantic to meet the warm spring air on land. Visibility dropped to less than 100 feet as we navigated our way into OC to check on Alyosha’s summer spot. Brother Jim jumped on board and he and I were back underway for the final 20 hours to Baltimore.

So many things happened during that last day, and there was so much emotion in having completed this dream… The Delaware Bay proved to be very tricky with the foggy conditions and several boats passed us very close as we used fog signals to figure out where they were.

I had an auto carrier pass me on the C & D Canal, this required me taking Alyosha all the way up to the edge of the channel and then watching this giant ship pass within 10 feet!!! On my port side.

Jim and I anchored in the Bohemia River for three hours that night, and we were back up at 6am to finish things off. It felt so good to motor up the Patapsco River to my city.

Lisa and Kiwi (and Will Anderson) were there to greet us at Fort McHenry and take some pictures, and my brother surprised me with a fire boat hose tribute!

It would be hard to surpass the great feeling I had finally tying the boat up in Baltimore. (it didn’t last too long- I went right to work from the boat.)

I am now going to wrap this blogging up for awhile. Maybe I will post again in the fall, with some perspective on the whole adventure. I really appreciate any and all of you that decided to stick with me and read this through to the end. Thanks for the support.

It is time for me to get back to work.

Steve Butz

Barbados, 2nd Time!

 

The Immigration and Customs folks in Barbados have the best offices in the world!
World directions from Animal Flower Cave
Passed by a herd of “Black Bellied” sheep

Barbados has now cemented itself in the “top ten” of the places I have been so lucky to visit over the past three years of traveling. And this second visit, making landfall in the early morning at Port St. Charles (where I had been with my father and George Anderson 2 1/2 years ago) delivered on every level…

First, there was a 15 minute period of struggling to walk on the pier and land! The crew and I spent Wednesday acclimating ourselves to our new situation- being able to actually get off the boat and move around. Rhett, Anton and Bash enjoyed the pool bar and nearby snorkeling for the entire day while I got things “sorted” on Alyosha. We didn’t do much that first day, some serious online time spent working through a month of emails, paying bills and talking to family and friends. We did go out for a walk to nearby Speightstown in the evening, and had an “OK” meal at a restaurant with a beautiful setting on the beach.

The second day was all logistics: figuring out laundry and looking for some sailing parts. Not much sightseeing at all but the pool and nearby beaches always provided a quick break from the work. In the evening I drove Anton to the airport and Fannie (his girlfriend) arrived.

My third day, Friday, had me spending 6 solids hours working on the engines. Both raw water pumps had leaks and I only went 1 for 2 on the repair- need to get to the USA for better parts, etc.. It will be fine for the next few legs I need to do.

It wasn’t until Saturday that I really got a chance to take in the island. I launched our dinghy and Anton and Fannie fully took advantage of my offer for them to use it for an afternoon of sightseeing by water and snorkeling. I took an epic, 2 1/2 hour bike ride all the way to the north, and then west end of the island. Everyone was so friendly along the way, and the neighborhoods I biked through had some truly beautiful homes, each painted more brilliantly then the next. I found myself all the way over at something called “Animal Flower Cave” where there were some great views and a surprise herding of black bellied sheep that walked right by me. The best part of the day was the arrival of my next crew, Will and George Anderson and Jeff Geller. After picking them up from the airport and a quick provisioning stop, we went to a 9:30pm dinner at the “Fish Pot”- a seaside restaurant that George and I had been to on our previous visit. What a great meal and how nice t was to hang out with some familiar faces!

Everyone was in favor of a quick turnaround in Barbados and heading out to sea, so after showing them “Animal Flower Cave” on Sunday morning- and going to church with George, a mass we had to run about 2 miles uphill to catch- we were off and heading north in the Caribbean for the evening.

Barbados will always be special: this is where I completed my circumnavigation and I am so thankful to Lisa and the kids for letting me see this goal to the end!

29 days at sea…. the Last, Biggest, Leg…

The crew celebrates the equator crossing
Yes, Ostrich Nachoes are a thing- quite tasty
Rhett marks the crossing of the equator
Bash in his customary position, wondering where the fish are…
another beautiful sunset at sea- the crew enjoyed every one of them!
We used every sail configuration possible to get across the South Atlantic

Final day of arrival with Barbados in the background
Circumnavigation. Complete.

Trying to summarize a month at sea is proving to be difficult… I am now with my new crew (the Brothers Anderson- Will and George- and Jeff Geller. My Cape Town to Barbados crew is gone, off to various corners of their worlds while Alyosha continues to push north to Ocean City and Baltimore. We spent 5 days in Barbados all told, and I am going to summarize that experience in another blog…

(additionally, I will write a different blog for this quick journey to join my family in St. Thomas…)

Sailing 5,268nm from Cape Town to Barbados was an enormous challenge, but primarily on the logistics and mental side. Truth be told, I have been studying the various oceans for the past few years now, ever since beginning this journey, and the South Atlantic Ocean always appeared to be the easiest, most tame ocean to cross. And this time it worked out that way.

We left Cape Town in a fury of wind and seas on February 5th after a final top off of fuel and a final visit by the rigger who had worked on Alyosha. (as I said to him: ‘nothing feels better than having the rigger check you over right before a 5,300nm crossing”) and then we spent the next 10 days with just picture perfect sailing weather… Often, we would leave the spinnaker set for days at a stretch, and the whole crew seemed to enjoy the silent surfing Alyosha did with a following 13-15 knot breeze.

The crew were fantastic, with Bash playing the fisherman role, Rhett as our navigator in training, and Anton serving as the perfect chess rival. The two highlights of every day were calculating our “nms” (Nautical Miles) ticked off at noon each day and then a chess match about 3pm. Incredibly, Anton and I ended up playing 27 games and finished 12-12 with 3 draws. (Somehow we neglected to “finish” the series when we reached land and Anton’s girlfriend, Fannie, showed up!)

After some initial luck with a Mahi Mahi (small, but very good fish nuggets made by Bash) we had zero luck fishing, which was a surprise. We lost at least 6 big fish and ended up losing just about every lure I had onboard. It just isn’t easy to slow Alyosha down when sailing 8-9 knots. About 15 days in we went through the Doldrums and motored with light winds for a few days…but after that, we hit the Trade Winds and cruised along the Brazil coast for a week. All told, a true highlight of this leg was the fantastic sailing: 22 of the 29 days we were out there brought great winds!

I seriously doubt I will ever make such a long passage again- just too much time away from family, etc… and mentally the grind of being at sea for that duration was tough. Here are a few other interesting notes from the journey:

I could not believe how well the South African produce we bought kept in storage! I actually had a salad on our last night at sea after 28 days.. I have not seen lettuce last more than a few days before this;

Alyosha performed amazingly. A few of my blocks and pulleys wore through and needed attention and I had some engine work to do in Barbados, but all in all, nothing really broke;

We went 16 days without any rain- causing some strain on the ship’s water supply, but when we finally got rain I won’t forget the glorious rain showers we took;

The approach to Barbados, in the early morning, was magical. Everyone was up at 5am to watch the lights of the city of Bridgetown give way to the beaches and hills of Barbados- something I won’t soon forget.

Cape Town!

I need to write with some pace here as I am balancing a final email to my family, orientation for my new crew, and an unknown “connectivity” window as we sail away from Cape Town! So forgive any errors and I will try to do justice to the past four days….

(and a big welcome aboard to our final crew member, Rhett, who took things down to the wire with a 10:30pm arrival onboard last night- nice to finally meet him!)

Cape Town has been on my bucket list forever, it is well know as a sailor’s town and put alongside Lisbon, Portsmouth, Sydney etc.. as the great sailing cities of the world. And it did not disappoint! Everything about the place is magical. “Bash” (nickname of fellow Port St. Francis to Cape Town crew member Henning) and I pulled into Cape Town around 3pm on Friday afternoon. We had a fantastic trip “around the Cape” and were greeted by some pretty blustery winds (first time I have seen 42 knots on the instruments) and plenty of seals and dolphins. After tying up the boat, we were joined by former Darwin to Durban sailor Sebastian (who goes by “Bas”- so yeah, there was that Bash and Bas thing) and we promptly enjoyed the amazing Victoria and Alfred Waterfront area.

From the moment I stepped foot in Cape Town, I was enveloped by the amazing electricity in the air- that Cape Town “vibe”- and really enjoyed all aspects of the city…

Some highlights:

An incredible “Table Mountain” hike on Saturday afternoon with Bas where we ended up befriending (and assisting) a church group up the fairly difficult “India Venser” route- the hike was spectacular, the payoff views were epic, and I can’t thank my friend Bas enough…

Each night we went to a better restaurant, and the food was great. Could write plenty more here (and probably will expound given how much down time I have coming)

Each night, as the crew grew- Anton joining us Saturday- Bas and his friends took us out and showed us the city they had fallen in love with;

Monday was a real “return to business” after the sights and sounds of the weekend. With less than 24 hours to provision the boat and make final repairs, I spent the entire day scrambling around and somehow managed a huge provisioning run to the Pick n Pay.

Here’s the thing- we aren’t stopping at St. Helena- so from here we go straight to Barbados! 5,268nm left  right now and counting down. Alyosha is stuffed with food, water and now fuel, and we likely (knock, knock) won’t see land for a month. This will be my longest stretch, but if and when I touch ground in Barbados I will have wrapped up this personal goal.

So more coming later, I will try to use my tweets to recount some more of the greatness of Cape Town.

Back at it!

Sitting here now in Port Saint Francis after spending three full days here- and this harbor remains a personal favorite. I guess the first thing to address is that fact that Lisa (my wife) is not here- how incredibly disappointing. For those that have not heard the story: Lisa and I planned to fly down to South Africa and sail around the Cape of Good Hope from Port St. Francis to Cape Town. Everything was set, coverage for the kids, the dog, etc… Lisa would spend a glorious 9 days escaping the dreadful Mid-Atlantic winter and experiencing SA. But is was not to be. I was unable to board the plane last Thursday (not enough blank space in my passport- yes, it is a thing, and yes, they will not allow you onboard!) so we spent two days in NYC trying to make the best of things before I caught the next flight, with a new passport, 48 hours later. Wow.

Even with all that drama I have not really had a moment to reflect much since arriving here. Too much work to do on Alyosha. It took the Saint Francis work team every bit of Monday and Tuesday to finish off some calibration for my tank sensors. Plus, there was a fine layer of “factory dust” that coated almost every interior surface. So I have been quite, quite busy.

Alyosha absolutely looks fantastic, and I am very excited to enjoy the many different new “features” of the boat, like a much bigger refrigerator, new sails, etc… In between much cleaning and sorting of things, a few “provision” runs, and generally ensuring we are ready to go to sea, I have been obsessively tracking the weather. The Cape of Good Hope was given this name after a Portugese king decided the first name- The Cape of Storms- was not inspiring enough to sailors! (true story) And believe me, the weather watching that began in earnest three days ago has not stopped. Right now I am leaving in about an hour and have found a “weather window” that will allow Henning (Bash) and I a nice night of heading directly into the waves/wind followed by a 18 hour period of nice sailing, followed by 30+ knots of winds screaming around the Cape- good times ahead!

Still, regardless of what is coming, the weather in this small port town has been terrific and there are plenty of seals in the harbor to keep company. My newest crew mate arrived this morning and has been learning the ins and out of the boat. And I am very thankful to the great team at St. Francis Marine for all of the hard work that went into Alyosha.

My sense is that I will post a single quick blog while in Cape Town but then it is going to be a couple of weeks across the Atlantic before you hear from me. (there is always twitter and the GPS tracking to be found on the website if you are really interested…)

Done, for now…

I am sitting in the Port Elizabeth airport now waiting for a flight to Johannesberg, then on to NYC!

Alyosha completed her circumnavigation yesterday, after a very uneventful two days of motoring down the coast from Durban. We had plenty enough wind to sail, but with both the job and main now held together with duct tape I decided not to risk further damaging the sails.

Alyosha is safely tucked away in St. Francis Bay, a cool little harbor right next to world famous Jeffreys Bay. (Jeffreys Bay is apparently a great surfing spot, and they are a regular fixture in the World Surfing League competition.

For this final leg, it was only myself, Sebastian and Stu. (Blake went on to Capetown from Durban.) Given that we are in the middle of winter down here, the nights have become very, very long and cold out at sea. Throw in 3 hour watches instead of our usual two, and the anticipation of catching a plane and seeing my family again, and you have a pretty good recipe for 48 hours of sailing feeling like about 96 hours!

The people at St. Francis Marine (builders of Alyosha) were fantastic and all came down to see their boat again. I got a chance to tour the St. Francis factory, where they are building boat #23 and #24 right now, and it was pretty impressive. I also spent a little time watching the seals that are everywhere in this small harbor.

I have no idea when I will next be blogging, because I will be returning to work in the US and I am not scheduled to be back on Alyosha until December or January.

I am sure over the coming months that we will be putting out some videos of our year-long family sabbatical and this latest 7,000nm trip from Darwin so hopefully our readers/followers will find that entertaining.

 

At Last, South Africa

Writing this now on what will hopefully be my last day at sea on Alyosha for awhile. We are absolutely cruising down the South African coastline, with the Agulhas Current pushing us along at 10+ knots despite us having no sails up and only a single engine (with low RPMs!!!) running. Probably we are getting a 4 knot boost right now.

It is fantastic to get some help from this current because to this point it has been a real nemesis- dictating exactly when and how we could actually proceed down the South African coast. This is because when the winds blow north against this southbound current the waves quickly build to 50-60 feet- there are even notes on the charts to this effect- and the sea becomes instantly life threatening. So we have proceeded south with a great deal of attention to the weather, with multiple stops along the way.

Before our first stop in Richards Bay, however, we first had to finish crossing from Madagascar over the Mozambique Channel, and that was quite a ride as well. After our first aborted attempt at crossing we left even earlier than the weather forecasters suggested, the idea being that there was absolutely no way we were going to allow this next weather window to close on us before reaching Richards Bay. Most cruisers make a pit stop in Mozambique to wait for the next window, my sense was an early start would allow us to skip this. In the end, it did work out for us, and we arrived in Richards Bay exactly 5 days after we left Baly Bay, Madagascar.

The passage was notable for three things: rough seas, a crew member going down, and an unbelievable greeting from South Africa. Our early departure ensured us about 36 hours of rough, almost “on the nose” winds, seas and swell. Not the best time to be on Alyosha. The boat and crew handled things well, except that during the worst of the conditions Blake developed flu-like symptoms and became very, very sick. This lasted for several days and made everything a bit tougher (one can imagine how lame it would be to have the flu while underway in rough conditions- just miserable!).

There were two spectacular memories from the passage. The first was a fleeting glimpse of Mozambique during sunset after the sea conditions had improved, a phenomenal sunset on the African continent that I had been looking forward to for weeks. The second was our arrival to South Africa and the 4-5 hours we spent along the SA coast before pulling into Richards Bay. We were greeted by hundreds (and frankly probably thousands) of humpback whales frollicking along the coast. At first, we simply thought the coastline was reflecting some significant sea swell as we were seeing magnificent crashes of water along the coast. Soon, we realized that we were actually seeing huge whales breaching! And then, within an hour, there were whales everywhere, as far as we could see. They flashed their tails, they breached, and at one point we had to make a hard turn to starboard to avoid a collision! It was an amazing show of nature, all with the backdrop of a beautiful South African coast and the realization that our real “sea time” was coming to an end. Awesome.

We pulled into Richards Bay first, to avoid another cold front coming up from the south. It was a nice place, and the customs dock where we stayed was free of charge and right in the middle of a number of bars and restaurants. We were able to watch Croatia beat England in a World Cup qualifying match, and fuel up the boat for our coastal run. Interestingly and not at all conveniently, we had to both check into the port AND completely check out of the port (with customs, immigration, the whole bit) which took a bit of time. We ended up leaving Richards Bay in the evening and motoring overnight to Durban to position ourselves for this final run.

One more quick side note on RB- what a cool thrill it was to see monkeys all around the docks! A monkey actually climbed aboard the boat at one point, trying to see if there was any possibility of a snack! Pretty cool stuff. (I equate these monkeys to the kangaroos and wallabies all over Australia- I just never got tired of watching them!)

After an easy overnight passage to Durban, we settled in for the weekend with the knowledge that weather would prevent us from departing until Monday morning. We came in on a Friday, and spent the first couple of hours clearing in AND out, of Durban. (this involved a comical sequence where I literally had to walk and back between two buildings/admin offices in order to get the correct sequencing of stamps!) Once we were finished, we had the entire weekend to explore Durban, a phenomenal South African city.

Highlights of Durban included walking along the beachfront promenade, exploring uShaka Marine World (a huge aquarium built within and surrounding a land locked container ship) and enjoying some craft breweries and proper Yacht Clubs. (I am now a member of the Royal Natal Yacht club, the oldest club in the Southern Hemisphere!) We also watched a rugby game between Argentina Jaguares and the Durban Sharks. On our last day before leaving, we rented a car and headed back up to Richards Bay and to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve. Yep, a legit safari! For me, the drive up the coast through multiple towns and townships was every bit as interesting as the giraffes, rhinos, and zebras we saw driving through the reserve.

I hope to do a final post upon arrival in St. Francis Bay, where Alyosha was first built and brought out into the sea. I am excited to see Duncan, Jaco and the St. Francis team that built her and hope to commemorate, in some small way, the fact that Alyosha, by tomorrow morning, will have sailed around the world!