Paul Fenn, Take a Shot Media

Farewell Valerie Toomey and Bon Voyage

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Valerie Toomey at the helm of the Jeanneau 509 crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas for a 2013 photo shoot

It is said that the true character of a company can be found in the people who work for it. Valerie Toomey joined Jeanneau America in 2010 bringing with her an over abundance of positive energy and a unique style all her own. Now, 5 years later, she leaves us… not for a bigger or better job or to seek out new opportunities, but to do something most of us who love spending time on the water only dream of, going cruising.

Beginning in July, Valerie along with her husband, syndicated cartoonist Jim Toomey, and their two children, Madeline age 12 and William age 10, will head to Les Sables-d’Olonne, France where they will move aboard their brand new Lagoon catamaran. From there, they’ll spend the next year (maybe more if Valerie gets her way. And she usually does!) cruising through the Mediterranean and eventually south across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. It will be a grand adventure I’m sure.

“When I started working for Jeanneau, I really wasn’t a sailor but over the past 5 years, after organizing numerous boat shows, photo shoots, owner’s parties and rendezvous’, I have learned a thing or two and discovered that I love sailing and being aboard a boat” Valerie says.

Pirate Night during the 2014 BVI Owner's Rendezvous (L-R: Rosie Rigaux, Catherine Guiader and Valerie)
Pirate Night during the 2012 BVI Owner’s Rendezvous (L-R: Rosie Rigaux, Catherine Guiader and Valerie Toomey)

It’s never easy to lose a good employee or say goodbye to a good friend. But the fact that Valerie is headed for an adventure that’s right out of one of our brochures, somehow makes it all a little bit easier to accept. So Bon Voyage Valerie Toomey and thanks for shining your light on Jeanneau. It’s been a great 5 years!

Valerie and her girls at the close of the 2013 Annapolis Sail Boat Show
Valerie and her girls at the close of the 2013 Annapolis Sailboat Show

On we go…

Sailing the Spanish Virgin Islands and Loving it!

A Jeanneau 469 chartered from Sail Caribe sails just of f Tamarindo Point near the western end of Culebra.
A Jeanneau 469 chartered from Sail Caribe sails just off Tamarindo Point near the western end of Culebra.

There’s no doubt that the British Virgin Islands offer some of the best cruising to be found anywhere on the planet. Plenty of breeze, easy-peasy navigation, good snorkeling, lots of good restaurants, and plenty of good harbors make the BVI a great choice for a winter’s sailing adventure. The only downside, if there is a downside, is that the place can get crowded, especially during peak season. And if you have sailed in the BVI already, it might be nice to try someplace different.

Spanish VirginsLocated slightly off the beaten track tucked snuggly between the US Virgin Islands and the eastern end of Puerto Rico, you’ll find another handful of islands commonly referred to as the Spanish Virgin Islands or Passage Islands. Ceded to the United States in 1898, the area is primarily made up of the islands of Culebra and Vieques but there are plenty of other surrounding islets and cays to explore. And while the British Virgin Islands are distinctively British, the Spanish Virgin Islands are distinctively Spanish. You don’t hear about these islands that much but for anyone looking to escape the crowds of the BVI and try something new, they are well worth checking out which my family and I discovered firsthand on a recent charter to these simple and unspoiled islands.

We began our sailing adventure from the town of Fajardo on the very eastern end of Puerto Rico where we picked up our boat, a Jeanneau 409 called Island Girl that we chartered from Sail Caribe based out of the very nice marina of Puerto del Rey. One big advantage of sailing out of Puerto Rico that is realized right off the bat is cost. In my case, as a family of 5, we flew on Southwest direct from Baltimore to San Juan for about $400/ person or $2,000 total. Had we gone on to fly to Beef Island on Tortola in the BVI, we would be looking at an additional $2,000. That’s a whopping 4K just in air fare, a hefty amount for the average family.

After a brief introduction to the boat and a good chart briefing, we hoisted the sails and headed for Culebra. If there is a downside or should I say inconvenience to sailing in the Spanish Virgins, it is that every destination is up-wind from Fajardo making for a sometimes long and tough beat to windward. Such was the case for our first sail to Culebra located just about 18 miles dead up wind. With the winds blowing a steady 15 to 20 and seas running 3 to 4 feet, we took the advice of those in the know and motor-sailed our way to Culebra’s south shore and into one of the many recognized anchorages that can be found along the entire southern coast. I’m going to stop right here and say that another great thing about cruising in these islands is that there are plenty of moorings to be had, all of which are, now hold on to your Tilly Hats, FREE. That’s right free, as in no charge! How about that sport’s fans? A pretty good deal right?

My daughter Mollie enjoying a swim off the bow pulpit.
We have the anchorage all to ourselves as my daughter Mollie enjoys a swim off the bow pulpit.

Perhaps one of the sweetest harbors to drop anchor in is on the small island of Culebrita located just a stone’s throw to the east of Culebra. Here you’ll find pristine white sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise blue water, and lots of healthy intact reefs teeming with fish, sea turtles, coral and conch. There are hills to climb, a great lighthouse to explore and the natural charm of what the BVI was like 40 years ago.

A killer sunset as seen from the island of Culebrita. It's hard to imagine anything much better than this.
A killer sunset as seen from the island of Culebrita. It’s hard to imagine anything much better than this.

We ended up spending 5 nights just cruising around from one quiet harbor to the next before ever going into Culebra’s main harbor and only town, Ensenada Honda. And you know what, we didn’t miss it.

A few years ago, we were fortunate enough to have had a similar experience cruising through the beautiful Apostle Islands on Lake Superior, where there were no beach bars, no on-shore boutiques, no restaurants, no nothing, except natural, unspoiled beauty. It was truly an awesome trip where we totally unplugged, enjoyed each other’s company and were happy just to be. This is what cruising is supposed to be all about and what you can find in the Spanish Virgins.

My soon to be 13 year old son Will enjoying Laura Hildebrand's best seller Seabiscut on the deck of the Jeanneau 409.
My soon to be 13-year-old son Will, enjoying Laura Hillenbrand’s best seller Seabiscut in Culebrita’s awesome and mostly deserted harbor.

At the end of the day, we never managed to get to Vieques. We could have but to be honest, we enjoyed sailing around Culebra and Culebrita so much, we figured we would just have to come back and check out Vieques the next time around.

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Enjoying another great sunset from the deck of the Jeanneau 409 in Almodovar Bay on Culebra

On the way back to Puerto del Ray, we made a final overnight stop on the small island of Palomino where we once again found a lovely harbor, free moorings, great snorkeling and as a bonus, a beautiful full moon to shine its light on us. What more could we ask for?

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Will, Mollie and Graham Fenn pause for a photo-op on our way up to visit the lighthouse on Culebrita.

For information on chartering in the Spanish Virgin Islands, please contact Sail Caribe. They have a nice fleet of both late-model Jeanneau monohulls and Lagoon cats to choose from. And once you leave the dock… simply unplug, relax and enjoy all that the Spanish Virgins have to offer.

On we go…

Chase’n Grace, Annapolis to Block Island – Part 2

Leaving Cape May in route to Block Island
Natalie and Mitch sit on the bow as we leave Cape May in route to Block Island

The morning sprang to life like a crop of green summer corn. After a night on the dock, we were rested and ready to go. So after a few cups of good coffee and something to eat, we shook off the dock lines, stowed them away and headed out the channel to the Atlantic. A look at the weather forecast told us that we were looking at light but fair winds for the next few days so a straight shot offshore all the way to Block Island made sense. As a bonus, the moon was quickly working its way towards being full so we would have good company along the way. It would be just about a 200 mile trip or about 30-35 hours. Our course would take us away from the New Jersey coast, across the shipping channels into New York and eventually past the tip of Long Island to Block Island. It would be a long but enjoyable trip full of adventure.

I had planned on being away from the dock fairly early but it was after 9am before we found ourselves leaving the channel and settling on our course to Block Island. In reality, if you’re in no rush to make landfall, it doesn’t really matter what time you leave. At the end of the day, you will be underway for a full day, a night and most of the next day too depending on the wind and how fast you go.

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AIS or Automatic Identification System allows a vessel such as Chase’n Grace to see a host of information about other vessels around it including its speed and course. It’s awesome!

Chase’n Grace has a full host of navigation equipment fitted on board including radar and GPS. It’s also setup to receive AIS information which allows me to see and identify on the chartplotter, other vessels such as large ships and fishing vessels. Having AIS on board takes a lot of angst out of sailing at night especially in areas where’s there’s likely to be a high concentration of traffic such as the shipping lanes going in and out of New York. The other piece of navigation equipment that I like is the Navionic’s iPad app. For about $50 you can download this slick piece of software, instantly giving you your own personal chartplotter complete with GPS right on your iPad or iPhone. It’s great value and because it’s portable, you can set it anywhere that’s convenient. And, because it’s mine, I don’t have to go through the pains of learning a new system every time I step aboard a new boat.

Due to the light winds, we were forced to motor-sail for most of the morning but sometime around lunchtime, the wind filled in from the northwest allowing us to kill the engine and sail along on a beam reach. Not everyone likes ocean sailing but for me there’s something strangely soothing about being off the grid and being surrounded by nothing but water. I always breathe easier once I’m away from shore with plenty of water beneath me and nothing to hit. It’s a great feeling.

My wife Kim and me early on in our trip from Cape May to Block Island.
My wife Kim and me early on in our trip from Cape May to Block Island.

The wind came and went this first day at sea and before we knew it, the New Jersey coast disappeared over the transom and we were alone. You do a lot of reading on trips like this. You also play a lot of cards and other games that keep you entertained along the way. Spending time at sea can almost be too quiet at times but I’ve never been bored, especially if you have good company aboard, and we did.

Along about midnight, we started to cross the shipping lanes that run in and out of New York. There are three sets of channels that serve New York with each one having an inbound and an outbound lane. This is always a busy spot, especially at night when there are always a myriad of ships coming and going. The good news is that the course these ships are on are always fairly predictable. The bad news is, they’re big and they don’t alter their course much for the likes of some 53 foot blow-boat crossing in front of them. This is where AIS really comes in handy, allowing you to alter your course just enough so you don’t end up as road-kill.

Cape May to BI

We set two watches for the night with Kim and Matt on one watch and Jen and I on the other. Regardless of whether you’re on watch or off watch, I always find it hard to get any real sleep the first night out. With the moon almost full, it was not a night to spend sleeping away anyway. As a bonus, we were visited by a pod of dolphins sometime around 1am which we couldn’t really see but we could clearly hear as they came up for a breath of air. They stayed with us for several minutes riding our bow wave under our starboard running light. It’s always a treat to be visited by dolphins during a passage!

With the summer days being so long, night soon gave way to the warm glow of a rising sun. A new day had begun and with any luck, before it was over, Chase n’ Grace would be swinging on the hook in Great Salt Pond on Block Island.

We had good breeze through most of the morning of this second day but by early afternoon we were forced to crank up the D-Sail to be assured of reaching Block Island by late afternoon. We had been without cell coverage for the past 12 hours or so but as soon as we began to get close to Montauk Point, the text messages and emails came pouring in with all their pings and dings reminding us that civilization was not far away. We rode the incoming tide past Montauk picking up a nice 3 or 4 knot lift through Block Island Sound. By 4;30 we found ourselves rounding the red bell #2 and sailing into the channel of Great Salt Pond.

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Chase’n Grace at the entrance of Great Salt Pond, the primary harbor on Block Island.

By 5pm we had the hook down and our rum and tonics in hand. We ended up staying in Block Island for several days enjoying this quintessential New England island. Our friends, Matt and Jen along with their kids Natalie and Mitch, stayed with us until the weekend and then took the ferry back to New London, Connecticut where they picked up a rental car and drove back to Annapolis.

Block Island SunsetAs I stated in the beginning of this tale, it can be a bit of a poke getting all the way from Annapolis to New England but it can also be a great adventure. And once you’re there? Well, when it’s just the two of you on a 50 foot boat, it’s a whole new adventure just waiting to be experienced. For me, Chase’ n Grace from Annapolis to Block Island will always be worth the trip!

On we go…

PS: If you missed reading part one of this fantastic yarn, catch it here and enjoy!

Sailing with Murphy

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” – Murphy’s Law

I didn’t even see him slip aboard but then again, when it comes to Murphy, you seldom do. He’s tricky and just when you think all is well, he sneaks by you and quickly tosses a wrench into the works. He’s been around since the beginning of time and he rarely misses an opportunity to create havoc whenever and wherever he can. I am convinced he does his finest work while on a boat but I am sure he is a credit to his namesake on land as well.

The air was fresh and strong when we threw off our lines and headed out for an afternoon of sailing, aboard the new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 469. Sailing with us was John Kretschmer of Sailing Magazine and John Armstrong of Canadian Yachting who had come aboard to assess how this new model of ours would perform. The waves were steep and the current strong as we made our way out of Miami’s Government Cut Channel under power.

Miami’s Government Cut Channel – Photo by Ross Cobb

I knew that we were seriously low on fuel but I didn’t expect to completely run out; unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. Damn I thought, Murphy is here. I don’t mind saying, it’s an awkward feeling to lose power while in the middle of a busy shipping channel with lots of wind and tide. Fortunately, we didn’t totally lose our heads and much like Harold with his purple crayon, we came up thinking fast and quickly set sail. We turned on our heel and with the wind behind us, we began sailing back into Miami Harbor. We knew the fuel dock was just in front of us and while sailing to the dock is something more commonly done in smaller boats in calmer conditions on say a lake or cove, we decided to give it a shot.

We approached the entrance to the marina under mainsail alone and at a pretty good clip. As we got closer, I said to my friend and colleague Erik Stromberg, “let’s lose the main, we’ve got plenty of speed.” Erik quickly furled the mainsail just as I made the final turn and headed for the end of the fuel dock which was thankfully unoccupied. Docklines and fenders were rigged and in the final few yards just before we made our landing, Erik gave the engine one last shot to see if there was any life left in it. To our surprise it started and I was able to quickly shift into reverse and make a perfect landing right on the end of the dock just like we had done it a hundred times before. “Well done someone cried, great boat handing!” I smiled to myself and thought… ha, take that Murphy!

John Kretschmer, author, sailor, all around good guy
John Kretschmer, author, sailor, all around good guy

With our fuel tank now filled, we headed back out the channel, leaning hard on the throttle in order to make up for lost time. The sea was still steep and the wind still piped hard but all was going well untill Murphy appeared on deck and unexpectedly dumped our anchor and chain over the bow. “Crap” I said under my breath, “this is not good.” John Kretschmer, our fellow crew member, accomplished sailor and the author of several books, rushed forward and begin to deal with the problem. Erik joined him on the bow and together they began the task of wrestling the anchor back on deck and regaining control of the situation. After several minutes, and with the help of a good sharp knife to remove some unwanted fishing line, the anchor and chain were once again back in their designated places. Again we powered forward and once we cleared the last buoy, the sails were hoisted, the engine shut down and the boat took to the sea as she was meant to. It was, in the end, a great day to be on the water and under sail.

In my mind, sailors are a great bunch, they expect the unexpected, remain unflustered when the boat does cartwheels across the waves and while they wouldn’t deliberately invite Murphy to take the wheel, they know that he is always on board and as long as he doesn’t completely sink the ship he is a welcome crew member.

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Jeanneau 469 sailing off the Florida coast. Photo by Billy Black

I have to say that I have had smoother test sails in my life. But, if I have learned anything at all, it’s that Murphy’s Law always holds true, “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.”  It’s just the way life is and in my book, it’s not such a terrible thing. Not everybody can hit a curve ball and if you’re one of the lucky ones who can, it means that you’re just that much further ahead than the next guy.

I’ve always taken the approach that life is meant to be lived on the balls of your feet. This way, when the music suddenly changes, you can quickly change tempo and dance away to the new beat.

On We Go…

Great Companies are like Great Adventures, both take Optimism, Spirit and Teamwork to be Successful

Several years ago some friends took  me into Washington, DC to watch the best of the Banff Mountain Film festival, a series of award-winning short films created by outdoor thrill seekers.The actual festival takes place in Banff, Canada where the world’s best mountain films, books, and speakers take the spotlight for nine days bringing to life the adventure of climbing, mountain expeditions, remote cultures, and the world’s last great wild places. I have never been to the actual festival but each year they take the very best of the show on the road, and each year I make it a point not to miss it when it comes to Washington. It is quite frankly, amazing and I always look forward to seeing it.

This year one of the films featured two young guys from Australia (Cas and Jonsey) who were determined to be the first to make the trek from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back; 1,400 miles unassisted, on skies, pulling 300 pound sleds across the frozen ice. The first half of the trip would take them sixty days, some days marching thirteen hours at a clip in complete white-out conditions against fierce winds and frigid temperatures. The entire trip would end up taking them 90 days. At times, the film was difficult to watch; I could almost feel the pain and agony these two guys were going through.

An additional twist of the adventure came before they even started when they learned that an experienced Norwegian adventurer, Aleksander Gamme, would also be attempting to make it to the Pole and back at the same time. In other words, now it was not only a trek but also a race. Traveling alone and with considerably more experience traversing ice and snow, Gamme quickly out paced the Australians and was well on his way to upsetting their plans. Strangely however, the three adventurers, via the sat. phone, became friends, kindred spirits really, as they each battled the elements day after day.

In the end, as Cas and Jonsey were only two miles or so from the finish, they spied in front of them their fellow adventurer and now soul mate, Alexander Gamme. He had camped for two days, waiting for them so they could all cross the finish line together.

As I left the theater and made the drive home to Annapolis, a host of thoughts raced through my mind; not just about this particular film about two guys pulling a sled across the ice but about all the films. They all shared a common thread, specific elements that were clearly at the core of these outdoor adventurers. Values such as vision, success, focus, hard work, personal relationships, trust, unselfishness, goal oriented, shared expectations, shared common objectives, risk takers, teamwork and spirit were the elements that were clearly evident. The more I thought about it the more I saw the commonalities between those companies that we love to do business with and those adventurers that go off to blaze new trails, setting new records and discovering the unknown.

At Jeanneau America, we do our best to approach our business with much the same optimism, spirit, and teamwork that enabled Cas and Jonesy to complete their journey across the ice. Being in the luxury yacht business, times have not exactly been easy these past few years but despite this, we have experienced solid growth, introduced several new models, found our way into a few new markets and managed to have fun along the way. Our success is largely due first and foremost to the fact that we like what we do, we have fun doing it, we believe in the boats that we build and we believe that as a team, we offer something real and meaningful to our customers. In short, we share the idea that we want to be a company that people like to do business with and we enjoy doing what it takes to earn that privilege.

Finally, a few last words about Alexander Gamme. When asked why he waited for Cas and Jonsey to reach him before crossing the finish line, he replied

“Waiting for them in the end it felt very natural. I liked them from the very first moment. I saw myself in them. I enjoy going solo, but to finish and to celebrate alone, it’s not fun.”

I think there is a lot of wisdom here. While winning is a great thing, it’s not the only thing (Lance Armstrong, note to self). And, I think for a company or an individual to be truly successful, they need to respect and appreciate their competition and recognize that part of their own success is due to the success of those that are behind them, pushing them to be faster and better. Humility is an attractive personality trait. Practicing humility is not always easy but it’s a good thing to do.

On we go….

P.S. Join Cas and Jonsey for a quick preview of their award winning film Crossing the Ice

Don’t Forget to Unplug Before Leaving the Dock

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A beautiful view of the unspoiled Apostle Islands located on the western end of Lake Superior.

This past summer my wife Kim and I chartered a 40 foot sailboat on Lake Superior and cruised through the unspoiled and mostly deserted Apostle Islands with our three kids, Will, Mollie, and Graham. We had never sailed in this area before and although eager to experience all that the islands had to offer, we were also nervous that our kids, ages 10, 9 and 6 would get bored with no on-shore activities to entertain them. This is rather a pathetic statement I know, but let’s face it, kids today and even us adults have come to expect being entertained in one fashion or another every minute of every waking day. Because of this, and because we didn’t want our vacation ruined by cranky kids whining about their being nothing to do, we literally left the dock with three laptop computers, one Itouch, one Ipad, an Android smart phone, my old Blackberry, and plenty of movies to watch. The one thing that we forgot to bring however was a 12 volt/ 110 volt inverter. In short, we had no way to charge all that we had brought so once the batteries ran out, we’re talking game over.

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Our beautiful Jeanneau 409 that we chartered from Superior Charters out of Bayfield, WI

We had a smoking good sail the first day before dropping the hook (that’s nautical lingo for anchor) just off the beach of Stockton Island. The day slipped away into a clear, beautiful, star-lit night and after dinner Kim and I sat in the cockpit sipping our wine and taking it all in. Our kids on the other hand sat down below fighting over which movie they would watch, where they would watch it, and who would hold the computer. We spent two nights in Stockton Island before sailing onto Raspberry Island about 12 miles to the west. One of the great things about sailing in the Apostle’s is that the islands are close together making for quick passages between harbors. We set our anchor in a well-protected cove just off the sandspit in about 15 feet of clean, clear-blue water. It was a sweet spot for sure and we made the most of it by swimming and diving off the back of the boat. But once the sun went down, there were all three of my kids once again glued to the screen of the Ipad, the last remaining device with any juice left. Then a funny and unexpected thing happened almost immediately after the Ipad gasped its final breath and the light faded from its screen. Will appeared in the cockpit with a deck of cards in his hand and said “anyone interested in playing a game of Michigan Rummy?”

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My oldest son Will discovered this great spot to jump into the water from. The water was cool and deep. We all had a blast jumping off!

From that point forward the trip took on a whole new feel, a real feel, one without beeps, clicks, electronic tones, or video games. From that point forward we spent our time combing the shore for cool looking stones and driftwood. At night we made fires on the beach, told stories and sang songs. We played cards, board games and read books. We did all those things that families used to do before the invasion of portable, hand-held electronics. No one was fighting that they couldn’t see or couldn’t hear. No one was arguing over which movie to watch or who would hold the computer. All that was gone.

We spent several more days on the boat cruising from one island to the next. They were all beautiful, unique and for the most part deserted. And while there was no commercial entertainment to be found, we never lacked for being entertained. It was all there just as it was for our parents and grandparents, simple entertainment but oh so much better than what we have today.

My youngest Graham and  me building a fire on the beach of Bear Island. We had the place all to ourselves!
My youngest Graham and me building a fire on the beach of Bear Island. We had the place all to ourselves!

After we got home, we called our cable company and disconnected our TV. We still have the internet and the kids still play too many video games when we’re not looking but there’s also more chess and scrabble being played; there’s more music flowing through the house, more family conversations and a few more fires burning in the fireplace at night; all good things.

Mollie, Graham and Will climb on the Wishing Tree on Bear Island
Mollie, Graham and Will climb on the Wishing Tree on Bear Island

This Christmas, Santa brought us a new tent and we’ve started looking at the idea of buying an Airstream trailer and doing a little camping. We’re not sure exactly where we’ll go but one thing is for sure, when we do go, we’ll be sure to unplug, leave the electronics behind and experience all that life has to offer, for real.

On we go…

P.S. Interested in exploring the Apostle Islands for yourself? Contact Superior Charters at www.superiorcharters.com. They have a great fleet of Jeanneau sailboats to choose from and are a treat to deal with.