Hi! This is Brett here – I’ve journaled the first month of our adventure and wanted to share my thoughts!
October 8, 2019- It was surreal when the time came to leave. Feelings were mixed. Mostly excitement for the memories that we imagine making, missing our family and friends, and just knowing that we would be gone for a definite amount of time. Were we missing anything? Did we have everything we needed and have nothing we didn’t need? Our final weeks were spent with errands and wrapping up what we call our lives. Truly transitioning our lives for this adventure meant putting our lives in the States on pause. The house on the market, finding a doctor to replace me at the office, selling our cars, purging excess, condensing our storage units, meeting with friends, lawyers, accountants, bankers and vendors. All the while I had a storm of responsibilities with making sure our boat would be ready nearly 6000 miles away. The time change between Texas and Bordeaux France is 7 hours. If I couldn’t get my correspondence completed by 10 am they day was closed in France! The outfitter, Yacht Solutions, that we worked with did a fine job of working around the time difference until near the end when my main contact had a baby and became a father. We worked it out and I was passed off to the owner of the company, Mark, who no doubt had many other tasks on his plate. Buying a boat in a foreign country is a lot of work. A lot of work that I welcomed as an adventure, like a hobby that I really enjoyed. It takes a lot of trust and faith in people you don’t know and have never met. Of all the people who have helped me with the transaction I have not met a single one in person!! From the broker, dealer, manufacturer, insurers, lenders, bankers, outfitters, consultants, technology specialists, dealer representative that helped me hire the captain, or even the captain himself! Only hours of phone calls and countless emails. Did I mention that I didn’t see the boat before I bought it either? Lots of TRUST!
My heart fluttered with excitement as we descended in Bordeaux. If only my wife and kids felt the same. My oldest child, Ellie, became sick when we landed in Frankfurt, shortly followed by my son, then my wife!
Arriving in Bordeaux resume several challenges that we had to overcome. First of all, everyone except me and Corbin were so sick that they could barely lift a finger. Seven of our large green duffel bags managed to not come out of baggage claim. I piled up the carry-ons which included about 13 pieces of baggage and then I combined the other 6 pieces of the checked bags that came off the conveyor belt. At this point, Crystal, Ellie and Brett Aaron were laying on top of the bags while I went to investigate where the 7 large green duffel bags could be. I filled out some paperwork with a nice lady who took all of my receipts for my bags and entered them into her system. Evidently the bags were nowhere to be found. This took about 30 minutes, and then out of nowhere a door opens and several men offload our duffel bags! They have been categorized as oversize luggage. By this time, there was not a soul to be seen in the baggage claim area. Even the customs officials where nowhere to be found. Just me, 23 pieces of luggage, Corbin and three zombies. I managed to get the bags out of baggage claim and into the lobby much like a rescue hiker on a survival mission. This involved dragging the 7 oversized duffel bags across the floor down the hall through a one-way sliding door and into the airport then the other bags and the sick. As the sick laid on top of the bags, Corbin and I managed to find our rental van. Lucky for us, we were able to find a parking spot across the street for the next leg of our expedition; getting all of those dang bags into the van! I was able to borrow a small cart and load them with our bags making about six trips. What we could have normally done in 30 minutes took me about two hours. My adrenaline and enthusiasm helped me maintain. I just thanked God that I was not sick.
Next we had a 25 minute drive to the apartment we rented. For some reason all of the hotels in Bordeaux we’re booked for Wednesday night so we had to figure out another option. A hotel would have been wonderful considering the state of our family. I managed to meet a representative at the apartment and he handed over keys. There was no way in the world I was going to be able to get all of the bags up the three flights of stairs. Corbin and I dropped the others off with some basic bags, found the parking garage under the building and he and I went out for a bite to eat. We found the most charming restaurant at the base of our apartment where we enjoyed a meat tray and a plate with hummus. The other three went sound to sleep in the apartment.
The next morning was a day that we had been planning for such a long time. It would be the first time we would see our new home away from home. No surprise, but the others were still so sick and I had no idea where anything was in Bordeaux. The man who I was planning on meeting called to verify our meeting time and after a short discussion, he was gracious enough to stop by a market and bring us some needed supplies. He saved the day and brought waters, Ramen noodles, tomato soup, crackers and apple juice. Evidently applesauce did not translate very well in French! We were so thankful for his willingness to help us in such a time of need!
Check out our YouTube video recapping these moments!
Corbin stayed back and I took the van to the marina where the boat was docked. Seeing the boat for the first time with my family being sick was somewhat bittersweet. It was safely and securely tied up to a concrete wall in a shipyard. The boat had been delivered to this area from the factory across the Garonne river so that Yachtsolutions, our outfitter, could tidy up all of the remaining details. Basically, they put all of the aftermarket accessories that are required to have on a boat. Everything from knives and forks to emergency supplies, bedding, towels, plates, cups, fishing gear, electronics and even graphics. Without them, our adventure would have been delayed by at least a couple of months!
Around noon that afternoon, our new captain flew in from London England, a short one and a half hour flight to Bordeaux. I was introduced to Captain Dal by Bruno at Navagare. (A few months prior, Bruno sifted through a number of applicants and Dal was selected from about eight others) We had spoken on the phone several times had a number of emails and even did a Skype interview with the rest of the family. I was so excited to get to meet him for the first time! When we met, I gave him a great big Texas hug. It was a really cool moment especially considering all of the anticipation. Immediately, we got back to work reviewing and inspecting a checklist of items. Within 30 minutes he was asked to turn the boat so that the company installing the graphics could access the starboard side. Dal did a fabulous job under pressure even though he had never driven this particular model of boat. He executed the maneuver flawlessly, and I got my first ride in Colette! It was an amazing experience to say the least. I felt like a little kid again at Christmas. Soon thereafter, I went to pick up Crystal and the kids. They were beginning to feel better and were incredibly eager to see the boat. Before I could bring them to see the boat we had to go by the Yacht Solutions office to check off some inventory before it was delivered and installed on the boat. It was then that we learned all of the restaurants in France close at 2 PM and do not open until 5 PM! Crystal dropped me and Dal off at the office and she went with the kids to find some food for us. Thankfully, she was able to navigate the difficult task of driving with traffic signs in French and found food, but when she began to head back to the office, she got lost right before getting there and lo and behold guess who shows up on his way back to the office on a bike? It was the owner of the company, Mark, who brought us the groceries earlier that morning! It was about this time that I started to get sick. I don’t remember much for the next day and a half. I was laid out on the couch fully clothed and I was so comfortable that I could not move.
Yacht Solutions got most all of the supplies and equipment installed on the boat while I was sick. Crystal was able to run errands with the kids and even take them to an amusement park with roller coasters!
The next day, we had a tour the wine country in St Emilion. It was an amazing experience getting to see the countryside and immerse ourselves in the culture and rich history of this region. For winemaking, they have strict rules against irrigation and believe that the wine should come from the earth as the weather intends. I was able to place an order from a distributor who would deliver the wine to our boat before our departure. We felt the wine to be terrific and much less expensive than the California wines we know and love.
The next day involved a sea trial and technical inspection with a third-party skipper named Sabastian. We spent two days going over the boat, learning systems and taking it out on the Garonne river. I tried hard to point out any faults or things that looked out of place like they did not belong. It was a great time to ask questions and learn about the boat. If only I could have gone over it a week after I had lived on the boat at sea. It’s always hard to ask the right questions or you don’t know what the problems. None the less, I spotted numerous things there do you need it quick repair most of which included some technician using shorter screws then where necessary to hold up or support things. I strongly believe that little things matter. If the little things are in order, then you don’t have to worry about the big things. I am hoping, in this case, I will be proven wrong.
All along, I have said that one of the exciting things I have faced is the amount of unknowns. The ships radio license, AIS registration, a MMSI number, an EPIRB, 220v vs 110v, generators, water maker, shore power, radar, sat phone, cell and WiFi boosters and VHF radio radio programming to name a few. This led to an interesting occurrence. I had purchased a lot of technology from a company located in the United States. The team in France did not feel comfortable installing a lot of hardware they were not familiar with, so I ended up flying Richard Anderson, the owner of SEA TECH SYSTEMS, out to help install and set it up. It’s kind of funny how it all happened, but I was communicating with him while he was in Baltimore at the Annapolis boat show. He agreed to fly to Bordeaux and meet me. He had to have his wife overnight his passport then he mailed home most of his stuff from the show and flew directly to Bordeaux! Within a period of about two or three days he arrived and began setting up the technology I had ordered. Getting all of the cabeling ran was the most complicated part. After this it was plug and play. I have learned that, with boats, nothing goes just as planned. Things take longer than scheduled, little parts here and there are harder to get than anticipated, etc. For this reason I invited Richard to join us on the first leg of our adventure so that we could leave Bordeaux with enough time to make it to Las Palmas Gran Canaria for the ARC plus. Richard, being an experienced captain himself, worked it out with his wife and I bought him a return flight home from Lisbon Portugal!
We knew that we would need a another crewmember to help with the Atlantic Crossing. I have been told this for a couple of months, but did not truly understand all of the demands until this time. Dal and I have been reviewing several chef/stewardesses as applicants. Several ladies had already committed two jobs in the Caribbean, and we landed on two applicants. One from Singapore and another based in Palma De Mallorca. We had phone interviews and Skype interviews with the family. We agreed on Dawn from Palma. Within two days I bought her a plane ticket and she joined us in Bordeaux.
At last with over two weeks in Bordeaux we were ready to set sail!
Our first day would be to leave Bordeaux for Royan. It is about 60 nautical miles north west through a river that looks like the Mississippi River. The river has a tide about about 10 to 12 feet twice every day. I say this because the current swiftly goes in and then goes out and all over again every six hours. For our trip, we also had a strong wind in our face. I’ll tell you, it provided a great opportunity to break the boat in. We encountered sharp steep waves coming at rapid intervals. Waves were crashing through the trampolines, over the deck and completely drenching the boat. At times, you could hardly see from the flybridge because so much water was splashing on the screens. Much to my delight, the kids were very fascinated with this! They celebrated it like a cowboy riding a bronco bull. I had the thought, if they can handle this, they can handle most anything. Any boat I’ve ever driven on a lake would have been impossible to make this trip. After about 10 hours, we made it to a protected marina in the most cute quaint town of Royan, France located on the coast of the Bay of Biscay.
We left the evening of the second day after mounting the hardware for the Wi-Fi and cell antennae’s. Everyone was in good spirits as we set off to cross the bay of Biscay for our first ever 24 hour overnight journey to Viviero, Spain. We set up a night watch schedule that consisted of alternating watch every three hours between me, Dal and Richard. During my night watch we ran across several shows of fish which became alarmed and jumped out of don’t water. It sounded like an audience applauding outside the boat. The Bay of Biscay is notorious for having unfavorable weather conditions. Weather here can change on a dime, and in our case, it did. By the time we reached Viveiro around 10pm the forecast showed that the weather would be highly unfavorable by morning. This means that we would be facing a strong headwind and it would make the journey slow and rough. Considering what we had been through on the river, Dal and I decided to change course and head straight toward Vigo, Spain. This would add a second night and another day to our journey, but with everyone else in the boat already asleep it sounded like a great idea. It turned out to be a great decision, because the sea state remained light with winds behind us rather than in front. This means we had a smooth ride considering the circumstances.
When we arrived in Vigo we were so impressed with it’s beautiful coastline littered with massive rock cliffs and beautiful islands.
We settled in to cozy marina that overlooked large tall pine trees reminiscent of the north western United States. We immediately fell in love with this town. Everywhere you look homes and buildings scatter the hillsides that go all the way to the water. We spent two nights there. We did some provisioning and I had a lovely lunch in town. I know where the point is that the taxis drove like formula 1 drivers! There was no Uber there. We were sad to leave this port because we enjoyed the scenery and surroundings so much. On our way out, after we fueled up, we stopped at a beautiful island, anchored and had lunch. Me and the boys even jumped in for an ice cold swim. It was way too cold for me! 18 degrees Celsius!
Just like that and we were off for Lisbon Portugal. We cruised down the coast of Spain to reach in Portugal at the coast line was gorgeous. There were many small villages along the way and seacliffs. Also, being near the shore, our cell phones worked!
On this overnight journey, we saw dolphins for the first time. We even saw some shy Pilot Whales.
Lisbon Portugal was a place that I always wanted to visit. It is steeped in rich history dating back 2700 years. Portuguese is one of the most challenging languages for me to understand. It’s roots are slang Latin, but it sounds like a blend of French and Spanish. The people here are incredibly friendly and helpful. When we arrived, I had decided that our chef, Dawn, was not a good fit for us and I told her that she would not continue the journey with us. I got her a flight back to Palma and she left the boat. Letting someone go is never fun. She had been with us eight days and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would pull my hair out if I spent another day with her. She was a unique individual. I don’t believe she was honest, she was scatterbrained, sloppy, forgetful, and tasks took her a long time to complete. I sincerely hope that she will be happy somewhere else. She cooked some fabulous meals, but we do not miss her one bit! After our second night in Oreiras Marina, Richard departed back to The United States to return home. He was exceedingly helpful with problem-solving various systems on our boat. He loves to know how things work and prove to be a great asset to us. We miss Richard and we are very thankful that he joined us for the first part of our adventure.
Dinner in Lisbon with my family, Richard and Dal.
In Lisbon we spent four nights. The marina delivered fresh bread each morning. We stumbled upon a fantastic restaurant with zero tourist! I loved the pumpkin cheesecake so much I bought an entire one to-go! We got the engines serviced on our boat and we were continuing to have issues with our main generator. We did not have enough time to have the parts ordered so we decided to wait until we arrived in the Canary Islands to have the generator fixed. As Americans, I believe we take for granted how quickly things can be accomplished. I have learned that Europe does not operate like this. The people are so laid-back, because everything is laid back! Crystal set up a nice private walking tour in the city. It was cool to get a behind the scene view of this ancient city. To my surprise, the city was very reminiscent of San Francisco. They had steep hills everywhere, trolley cars, all vertical housing, a history of earthquakes, and even a suspension bridge that looked almost identical to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Below are a few pictures from our withlocals.com tour! We had a fantastic time and our guide, Antonio, was great!
During our time in Lisbon, we decided that we would have to head straight to the Canary Islands to make it by November 3 in order to do the ARC plus. This will be our longest non-stop passage so far. It is over 700 nautical miles, was about 70 or 80 hours. In addition, we were short two crewmembers. Dal and I split night shifts and Crystal battled seasickness. The first night the sea was magical. It was filled with bio luminescence. For hours I watched with amazement the sparkling glimmer of the water. I would get my spotlight out and sort of sneak up all of the flickering lights. When I did this, I could see eyeballs reflecting back at me and as soon as I could see them, they would dart away.
After the second night, Crystal did her first night shift from 6 AM to 8AM. After about two hours she woke up Dal because of a persistent alarm. It was the starboard bilge alarm. I was fast asleep after I completed my night shift from 2 AM to 6 AM, and I awoke to changes in engine noise. Basically, we had stopped. I came outside of my bedroom and immediately hear a loud buzzing noise. The day before we had been having some issues with our motors. The port side engine had slipped into limp mode and would not go more than 1800 RPM, it was gargling as if it were starved for fuel. Something that was difficult for us to diagnose hundreds of miles from shore. We had just had the engines service but when we checked the oil it was jet black. Also, it had black exhaust! We decided to run the starboard motor and shut off the port side motor, placing it in neutral. For these reasons, Dal and I were a bit on edge or at least concerned. So, you may well imagine how startled we were that the bilge alarm was going off on the starboard engine compartment. When I came out of my room, Dal told me that we were taking on water, and lots of it. Trying not to panic, I jumped into fix it mode! The kind of mode where you don’t want anyone talking to you or in your way. Dal shut off all of the sea water inlet valve‘s and we were able to isolate where the sea water was in an aft bilge compartment. He also shut off the starboard engine. We could find no reason as to where or why the sea water had entered the compartment. Finally, we got a manual pump, connected it to our water hose and drained most all of the sea water. The alarm shut off and we breathed a sigh of relief. When Dal shut off the starboard engine he backed off the RPMs on the port side engine. Unbeknownst to us the boat started making tight circles because at low RPM‘s a single motor does not have the ability to push the button in a straight path! At first, we thought we had lost our steering because it was unresponsive to my inputs. The “unresponsive rudder“ alarm was going off and I silenced it. Nearing a state of panic my mind somehow became rational and I put the port side motor in neutral, started the starboard engine then engaged both gears forward. Our steering issue was resolved! I thanked God that this occurred during in the morning daylight hours and not in the middle of the night. We continued on the following day without a hitch. The winds picked up considerably and followed us too. We had lines out attempting to catch a fish and finally we did! In fact, we caught two mahi mahi at the same time!
Although I’ve ever been much of a fisherman, this is been a dream of mine for a long time. Well, I need some lessons. Irregardless, I partially figured it out and we had fish for dinner! Everyone was so excited to finally catch a fish. I think it was because we slowed down to about 8 knots from our normal cruise speed around 10 knots. Crystal was still battling seasickness most of the day and was barely able to participate. We all agree that we do not like being at sea and being seasick. Nothing is worse, however; almost nothing is better than being at sea and feeling great.
You can see videos and pictures from the crossing, tours, dinners, etc on our Instagram page @cruisingcolette
On a side note, here is the best way to describe sleeping on the boat at night: imagine sleeping at your house with a hurricane outside and someone is trying to pry open your door with crowbar. There are so many noises like creaks, thuds, pops, swooshes and howls that it might be unsettling if you didn’t hear anything.
We arrived at 2am in Las Palmas Gran Canaria on November 3. We were filled with excitement and relief to reach land. In the next post I’ll share our several weeks docked in a marina and how we were unable to depart on our planned departure date. Another curveball to manage and navigate…..