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Sailing Solo

SAILING SOLO

BY MSGT. SUSAN MECKLEY USA (RET)

Having solo sailed my Challenger 32’ sailboat from San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (with lots of stops along the way) it was time to bite the bullet and cross the wide Pacific to Hawaii.   Lots of preparation ensued. Food, water, fuel, some new rigging, wiring the solar panels, getting the bottom of the boat cleaned and figuring out how to cook whilst at sea.

Puerto Vallarta on the southern Mexico coast to Hawaii it is said, presents the longest open water passage in a circumnavigation of the globe.  Confidence in my ability to accomplish this 3600 mile solo sail was shown by the Vallarta Yacht Club. They were offering odds as to whether or not I would make it to Hilo, Hawaii. Thanks guys! Your faith in my sailing ability left me speechless.

On the Internet I found an interesting BBQ system that intrigued me - the COBB Portable BBQ Grill.  But could all those glowing reports and videos on YouTube be true? Probably not but the concept looked good.   So again I bit the bullet and purchased my own COBB BBQ.

In their literature the COBB people said it would require 5-6 briquettes of charcoal to cook a meal. I seriously doubt that statement.  Come on guys - everyone knows it would take more! Space on a 32 foot sailboat on such a long passage was very precious and bags of charcoal would take a lot of space.

After a boat bottom job and obligatory visit to the store for a last ice cream bar (no refrigeration on my boat) it was time to say goodbye to Mexico.

The sun was shining and the winds were good on that May morning as I cast the boat’s mooring lines and headed west for Hawaii.  I took my my obligation “sturgeon” pill (anti-motion sickness meds) and as they say “away we went”.

Bandarous Bay, where Puerto Vallarta is located, is huge and had favorable winds.  It took almost the entire morning to get to the open ocean and to set the sail trim just right so that the Monitor wind vane would hold hold Ussv Dharma (my boat) on course.

I was down in the galley preparing lunch when I heard a commotion on the port side of the boat. I went topside - and what a sight!  A school of diamond shaped ray were swimming along with me. They were jumping up out of the water as to say “goodbye, have a good trip”.  I had heard that the rays did this but I had never actually seen it before. This was a good omen.

First day out I decided to celebrate my departure by cooking a steak and having a truly good dinner  My meat supply was in a cooler with ice. Out came the COBB BBQ. I put the required 5 briquettes of charcoal in the coal basket and lit them. Ten minutes later I checked how it was doing by feeling the outside of the grill.  Something was wrong - it was cool to the touch! Had the coals gone out? I looked inside and everything was just fine. The coals were getting nicely ashed over. It was time to put on the steak. Perhaps what the COBB advertised was true!  Everything went smoothly from then on. Mushrooms, green beans in foil around the steak to complete the meal. And wow, was that steak good!

I had followed directions and filled the moat that surrounds the inside of the the COBB fire chamber with half a beer.  You can use water, but what the heck, this was a celebration! True to the COBB literature, this resulted an amazingly tasty steak and a tender one at that.

I could not believe how the COBB BBQ could cook a steak and the cooker remained so cool on the outside that I could have picked it up and put it on my lap while cooking was in progress. What a great safety feature!  This is an unbelievable plus when trying to grill on a boat as you can well imagine.

After dinner I used a pair of pliers (I am squeamish and did not want to chance being burned) to pick up the charcoal basket and emptied the remaining coals over the side of the boat into the water.

Washing the COBB and putting it away in its own storage bag was no chore at all.  Since that first dinner, I have used my COBB BBQ to cook all kinds of things - even a chicken sitting on a bear can.

The YouTube videos I had seen about the COBB are true.  It is truly a fantastic outdoor cooking system. One that is good for tailgating at the game, cookouts in the backyard, or like me, dinner on a boat.

While in Hawaii, each evening I would BBQ some meat and serve it to the homeless people living in the marina. (Yes, Hawaii has a huge homeless population.)

Now let me say, I am not associated in any way with COBB. This has been my unsolicited testimony of a BBQ that should be on every boat.  I was so impressed that I bought a COBB for each of my five children for Christmas! Additionally I have purchased four more to give to friends as gifts.

Things for boats are usually overpriced and expensive and even so, sometimes do not work as advertised.  Not so with the COBB. It is reasonable, efficient and does exactly what it was designed for. Safe grilling - not only at home, but anywhere you wish to have a good meal.  Get one. You will be thrilled with how it performs. You can believe the YouTube videos about the amazing COBB.

I lived a full life. I was Skipper and owner of USSV Dharma, a Challenger 32.  I solo sailed all over the Pacific for 20 years. When I reached the age of 80 I figured it was time to move ashore an now live at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, Mississippi, USA.  Living only 200 yards from the Gulf of Mexico, I constantly dream of and remember the great sailing times. However, as the good book says, “and this too shall pass.” Most people never get to totally retire.  I did in 1995. Very, very few people get to live their life’s dream. I did for over 20 years. So, I should not complain. Of course I sometimes do, but really have no reason to unless it is “getting so old so soon.”

I still love to cook on my COBB. Sometimes sharing a meal with others under the big trees at the Retirement Home or solo cooking on the beach. That is where you will find me on a sunny day.

Captain Sue


Msgt. Susan Meckley USA (Ret.)

W7KFI and AFZ4SM (Amateur Radio)