Bear with me. It will make sense eventually.
We hope that someday in the not-long-from-now we’ll be headed down the Thorny Path. (If you’re not sure what that means you can find a pretty good description here). I understand It can be quite an ordeal. From the research I’ve been doing, one of the best ways to take some of the thorns out of the trip is to ride the wild north winds that follow a cold front. They’re going south in a hurry seeking a warm place in the sun, and since we’re of like mind, it makes sense to hitch a ride when headed down island. This past weekend just such a front blew through our area, and while we aren’t yet able to head to points south, it seemed like a good opportunity to continue our Getting To Know You process and see how we’d set the sails on Eagle Too to handle a strong north wind.
Now our biggest problem with cold fronts is that they’re, well, COLD. While this might not matter to some people (like those who live in places where the water gets hard in the winter), our thin Florida blood leaves us ill-suited for such travails. Let’s be perfectly clear here—this is not our idea of a good time:
I think it was about 55° the day we took that picture (with a wind chill in the upper 40’s). Now that’s just a typical day on the water to someone in the Down East, but to us it felt like we needed to keep watch for icebergs. It’s been almost three months since we’ve had an entire weekend free though, and I didn’t want to let a little chilly weather ruin a chance to spend a few days out on the water. Now Rhonda was, shall we say, a bit concerned about the predicted overnight low of 48°. But hey, being the ever resourceful kind of guy I am, I had a plan for that. I popped into Home Depot, and $80 later I left with one of these:
His name is Mr. Heater. It says so on his nametag. Look at him. Can’t you just feel the cozy warmth radiating from him? It had about a thousand five-star reviews on Amazon. The box says it’s safe for tents, campers, and RVs, and a boat is just an RV that floats, right? With a sensor to turn it off if it tips over, and a sensor to turn it off if the oxygen level gets low, I thought it was custom made to keep us warm and dry on a chilly October evening.
That dry part is particularly important—the last time we rode out a cold front at anchor, we woke up in the morning to a cabin covered in condensation. Every surface on the boat was literally dripping water. Not that we were planning to sleep with the heater running. I’m sure we’d be fine if we did, as we have a talking CO detector onboard that actually shouts warnings at us if carbon monoxide levels get elevated, and we’d of course crack a port (window) to ensure a steady flow of fresh air. But we’ve already learned that when the two of us are snuggled into our memory foam mattress with an arctic sleeping bag as a comforter, pretty much the only thing that gets cold are our noses. No, I just wanted something to be able to light in the morning to warm up and dry out the boat while the coffee was brewing. And it runs on those one pound propane bottles that we already have lots of onboard for our Magma BBQ grill.
I gave it a test run at home, and I have to say that that baby really pumps out some heat. Nine thousand BTUs according to the box, and I believe it. So with our warm gear packed and our trusty Mr. Heater, we ventured boldly forth.
It was while stowing our gear onboard that I learned a lesson about showing Mr. Heater some respect. While twisting and turning it to determine which little puka or cubby on the boat would be its new home, I grabbed it from underneath. See those holes on the bottom?
They may look like innocent ventilation holes, but don’t be fooled. They are actually cleverly concealed finger amputators. All I did was try to shove the little beast in a cabinet, and in less time than it takes to tell the tale I was bleeding from multiple finger lacerations. Those edges are sharp! So if you’re reading this and you’re thinking “hey, that Mr. Heater thing looks pretty cool, maybe we should get one of those too,” well, you’ve been warned. I got the message—Mr. Heater did not want to be shoved in a locker. Mr. Heater wanted to sit in the cabin with the people. And so he took up residence under the chart table while I went to look for bandaids.
Once we were underway, we had a great downwind sail to Little Sabine Bay, where I knew we ‘d have good protection from the biting north winds and be able to spend a comfortable night at anchor. We even learned another trick about operating the mainsail furler in strong winds (ask if you’re interested). Getting the dinghy off the bow once we were at anchor was a challenge in the 20 knot gusts, but Rhonda has become a pretty good raft wrangler, so we launched Eaglet, got the outboard mounted and motored over to Margaritaville for dinner. Lava Lava Shrimp and Margaritas. Life is good.
Our bellies now full and the sun starting to set, we returned to Eagle Too, wishing all the way that we had invited Mr. Heater to dinner. The north wind was still blowing, and the ride back felt more like an Eskimo seal hunt than a trip across a Florida inlet. Did I mention we really aren’t fans of being cold? But it was still warm and cozy down below once we were back onboard, and I found myself thinking, “Self, the perfect way to end a day of brisk sailing and good food would be two fingers of whiskey neat and a cigar.” Not just any cigar mind you, but my favorite, a Royal Barbados, a couple of which I had brought along to enjoy.
You see, Rhonda and I like to take cruises. We’ve been on a dozen or so, and they’ve been our favorite vacation since the time when our boys finally outgrew Disney World. When we visit various islands on a cruise, we try to see if we can be travelers, and not just tourists. If everybody is getting off the ship and turning left, we’ll usually go right and try to find something a bit more authentic, something not on the “ship approved” list of recommended activities but rather where we might actually get to interact with some locals who aren’t working for tips. So one day we’re getting off the ship in Barbados, where a long line of taxis are waiting to haul the throng of well-fed (i.e. overweight) Americans the less-than-a-mile to Bridgetown.
“Taxi, sir?” I’m asked insistently, as experience has taught the asker that “Yes please” is the only possible answer.
“How long to walk it?” Rhonda and I ask.
“20 minutes, much too far,” we’re told.
“No thanks, we’ll just walk,” we said. The reaction we received indicated that this was somewhat unprecedented and not an approved answer, but we eventually got our message across and began strolling toward town. It was a delightful walk down a garden path that followed the water, along which we passed beautiful flowering tropical foliage, trees filled with colorful exotic birds, and dreadlocked Rastafarians fishing the rocks and pilings who would nod a polite “Good Morning” as we passed—experiences all missed by the tourists being rapidly whisked by taxi from the air-conditioned ship’s bar to the air-conditioned ship-approved beach bar in the town ahead.
About halfway to Bridgetown, we stumbled across a little shopping village selling local crafts, and we stopped to explore. A sign that pointed up a set of stairs caught my eye. It said “Caribbean Cigar Company.” Intrigued, I turned to Rhonda and said “Let’s take a look.”
We climbed the stairs and walked in the door and were immersed in the aroma of Spanish cedar and cured tobacco. Several black women from young to old were sitting in booths along one wall hand rolling cigars. The oldest among them shouted out a cheerful “Good morning,” and motioned for us to join her Uncertain whether we belonged in the business end of a cigar factory, we hesitantly heeded her call. As we reached her booth, she opened a drawer, pulled out a handful of tobacco leaves, and demonstrated each step in the process of handrolling a cigar. Curious, I asked her about the tobacco, and she explained that they used Cuban fill with an Ecuadorian wrapper.
“That sounds wonderful,” I said, or words to that effect. “I wish we could get them back in the US.”
“Oh, we ship worldwide,” she replied.
“Wait, what? How can you ship these to the US if they’re Cuban?”
And then I learned something about the Cuban embargo that I didn’t know. Everyone knows that It’s illegal to bring Cuban cigars into the US. But it’s apparently perfectly legal for Cuba to ship tobacco someplace else, like Barbados for example, where it can then be made into cigars which can be sold in the US with no restrictions. Booya!
The cigar rolling demonstration finished, another woman then showed us how they hand-assemble the Spanish cedar cigar boxes, apply the bands, and pack them 25 to a box. Delighted by our serendipitous cigar factory tour, I purchased two samples to try on the ship, and then we finished heading to town.
I’m just going to cut to the chase here and tell you that those were two of the best cigars I’ve ever had. True to their word, they ship to the US with no issues, and I now have my second case aging in my humidor at home. I parcel them out, smoking maybe one or two a month, not because they’re particularly expensive (they’re actually quite a bargain, even with shipping) but because I’m really not a smoker. I just enjoy a good cigar and a glass of Scotch occasionally when the mood is right. And each one provides me with a one-hour tropical vacation due to all the associated memories.
So it’s been a great day with some challenging sailing and a nice dinner with my lovely wife, and now I’m craving some whiskey and a cigar. But there’s a cold north wind still blowing, and the temperature is way too low for an early October Florida evening. Bundled up in a hoodie and hat, I climb up into the cockpit to judge whether the conditions are bearable. And it’s at this point that I realize…
We really need a dodger.
Because there’s absolutely no place to sit in the cockpit where I can escape the penetrating tendrils of the cold north wind.
Eagle Too came with a huge bimini, a large sunshade to shield the cockpit from the hot Florida sun. Something that will be worth its weight in gold once we’re in the tropics. But she has nothing to block the wind. What we really need is one of these:
A nice sturdy dodger to provide shelter when it’s blowing coldly from the north. A place to comfortably sit and helm the boat by remote autopilot while someday surfing those winds down the Thorny Path. A place to take shelter on a cold and breezy night and smoke a good cigar while warmth from Mr. Heater wafts up from the cabin below and my mind fills with recollections of Barbados. Yes, I have a bad case of dodger lust.
We’re making a list of the things we’d like to add to Eagle Too to make Life On The Hook™ safer and more comfortable. Experience suggests that this one should be pretty close to the top.
See, it was long and rambling, but I told you it would all tie together if you’d just be patient. 🙂
P.S. We never did need Mr. Heater’s help that night. Even with a low of 50°, Eagle Too kept us snug and warm. But when we do have a chance (need?) to try him out, I’ll let you know what we think.