Sweetwater Cruising & Crew Development

It can be safely stated that no one will miss everything that was the year of 2020. Except maybe Jeff Bezos… I looked back at my post a year ago where I set out my goals for 2020 and I have to say I am pretty happy. Plans changed by the day because it was The Year of the Virus, but thanks to the help of a lot of my friends, Celtic Cross is sitting ashore off Lake St. Clair for the winter. Covid-19 will likely have an effect on 2021 as well, limiting sailing opportunities until Canada once again allows us access to the land of sky-blue waters.

Thus, 2021 is all about upgrading Celtic Cross and crew development. There is a fair amount of deferred maintenance needed as well as upgrading some of the tired interior finishes. Plus it is readily apparent that Celtic Cross traversed some 37 locks while crossing the Erie Canal and her rubrail definitely shows the scars from the lock walls. Not to mention scouring the bottom paint off the keel when we plowed a furrow in the bottom of the canal at one point. All good winter and early spring projects!

Just because of the logistics involved, it is doubtful that Celtic Cross will return to the Atlantic through the Erie Canal. The goal is to have her positioned on along the East Coast in April of whatever year we will sail across the Atlantic. Very likely this means sailing her out the St. Lawrence Seaway late (September/October) the year before. There is no guarantee that Canada will open their waters to recreational boating in 2021, which kills off that transit. Plus, developing a crew is a time-consuming process and will take all of 2021 at minimum.

So, my sailing across the Atlantic BHAG (Big Hairy Ass Goal) is looking more like late spring of 2023 all the time. What that means is that I spend one to two years sailing in the fresh waters of the Great Lakes instead of trying to put a crew together and get Celtic Cross out on the Atlantic coast by this time next year.

So what is “crew development” anyway? The crossing is roughly 750 nm out to Bermuda, then the big jump of 1,800 nm to the Azores, and another jump of perhaps 1,300 nm to the coast of France if that is where your destination is. Allowing for some miscellaneous sailing around, call it a 4,000 nautical mile voyage. Or 4,600 statute miles. About the same as driving from coast to coast in the U.S. and back again. For a lengthy crossing like that, a crew of 5 to 6 people is desirable if you wish to be comfortable and avoid being sleep deprived for the entire voyage. That means I need 7-9 people besides myself who are (a) capable of and (b) have the time to sail at least one leg of the trip. The overall voyage, all in with travel time, etc. is probably a couple of months and not everyone has that kind of time available.

Celtic Cross will probably get splashed sometime in early April for the 2021 sailing season. Ultimately, I will need 2-3 other people that have the ability to sail Celtic Cross from point A to point B if I am incapacitated. If one were to take classes, this is the equivalent of completing US Sailing’s Basic Keelboat and Basic Cruising courses. Much of Basic Keelboat is an online course (not all of it) where someone could get a head start over the winter (hint). In 2021 our sailing will be “Daysailing With a Purpose” along with several two to four day overnight passages north through the Great Lakes similar to the passage making legs we did in 2020. Celtic Cross will make point to point passages up through Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior just to make life more interesting than sailing around in circles on Lake St. Clair. If Canada allows us entry, that will include the Georgian Bay and North Channel areas. I figure by the end of January we will all know how the vaccination program is going and whether Canada will open up their waters. I’ll put out a preliminary sailing schedule at that time and look for folks who wish to sign up for one or more legs of the trip. At least the drives to and from the boat will be shorter than those ten hour marathon runs out to the East Coast!

While Celtic Cross is berthed on Lake St. Clair, we will periodically be “Daysailing With a Purpose” when we go out for a day on the lake. While it’s nice to spend a day on the water with a gin & tonic in hand (or that British Virgin Islands favorite… the Painkiller), it gets a little old after a while. In 2021 many of our daysails will have training sessions involved. It may be how to reef sails if the winds are heavy. Or conducting man overboard drills, how to heave to while on open water, anchoring techniques, and many other sailing skills that require practice. We may sail down to a local restaurant for lunch so we can practice docking or mooring techniques and how to leave a dock properly. Bringing a 53 foot sailboat into a slip with a crosswind can be challenging. And my scarfed-up rubrail shows the result. The rubrail, by the way, will be patched and refinished like new over the winter so we can collect a few new scars in 2021. Celtic Cross carries an inventory of five sails and technically, all five can be flying at the same time. While it looks spectacular, in reality it is a waste of time. Powering up and depowering the boat with the various sail configurations is something I need to work on and I hope to do so on some of the overnight runs up and down the Great Lakes.

Now, Christmas affords us the opportunity to reflect and an opportunity to say “Thanks” to all of our friends where we might forget to do so in the bustle of our day to day activities. And I certainly count everyone reading this among my friends. This is Christmas, and while many may have differing personal beliefs, it is hard not to believe that one God is watching over us and providing for our good fortune. We may call Him by different names, but because this season celebrates the birth of Christ, we will ask that God bless all of us in the coming year. Take time this season for your families and those most dear. Be of good cheer, know that you are needed, and enjoy the blessings with which we are provided.  Most of all, have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

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