sailboatbliss

Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW


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Almost There

Wow, what a crazy 6 months.  1200 hours and lord knows how many dollars later, and Palomita is ready to go.  As in fuel and water are topped up and the fridge is stuffed ready to go.v  We are too – ready that is, not stuffed.

We’ve been asked how the boat is going many times over the last half year, and we always kind of roll our eyes before saying something non-committal like “OK”.  It hasn’t been “GREAT!”.  The second question usually is “why it only OK, shouldn’t it be GREAT!? – it is a new boat after all”.  “Well”, we say, “there were a few large issues we did know about, like the engine, and many small issues we didn’t know about, like the rot in the floor stringer.  Our surveyor kinda sucked”  Of course, the next question is “so, what have you done?”

Well…

Build house battery box and secure batteries
Varnish floor
Build  cockpit table
Replace windlass and patch holes on foredeck
Move combing winches
Install davit lift points in dinghy
Build and install bulkhead bookcase
Install engine fan temp control
Kiwi grip foredeck
Caulk head
Install cabin lantern
Install fishing gear – downrigger and rod holders
Install shelf in anchor locker
Replace both anchor rodes
Remove divider in anchor locker and glass all surfaces
Rig Preventer
Wash mast
Replace sliding door track
Replace spigot for galley footpump
Replace Genoa
Replace running rigging
Replace engine
Clean oily mess from bilge and paint
Replace water heater
Install inspection port and clean fuel tank and fuel
Replace fuel filters
Hook up fuel
Replace footpump in forward head
Wire new bilge pump switch
Free and service all sea cocks
Re-plumb propane locker
Re-build floor stringer forward of engine
Re-pitch prop
re-plumb galley and aft head / install water filters
Buff topsides
Plug holes in transom
Extend blower vents
Build instrument housing & install new instruments
Wire holding tank pumps
Install USB outlets
Install new battery switch, main busses, breakers, and echo charger
Move and wire start batteries
Soundproof
Reinstall galley
Install engine blower fans
Rig inverter shut off / bypass
Replace dodger windows
Re-rig spinnaker pole – topping lift shock cord lost inside pole
Replace cockpit speakers
Clean out old electrical gear and unused wires
Clean up electrical panel
Replace diesel heater
Remove rotten divider in anchor locker; reglass locker
Service all winches – many currently are non-functional
Fix leaking hatch and ports; replace fixed ports
Install Cir-clip on steering axle
Install new instrument transducers – speed, depth, wind
Install dinghy davits
Install Solar panels and charge controller
Install LED masthead lights
Fix steaming light and bow nav light
Replace all interior lighting with LED
Re-plumb holding tanks for overboard pump-out
Replace mattress (es)
Cut down fridge lid – make it thinner
Remove A/C unit and ductwork
Fix holes in deck
Build new clear companionway doors
Replace screen in screen doors
Replace compass light

Now for the real work…sailing her.  We’re almost there!


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The Refit

in slings2 months in, and we’re still plugging away; during spring break, it was a full time, 12 hour a day job.  Both of us have questioned our sanity, but are working hard to look forward, not back. Bottom line, she will be a beautiful boat.  She’d better be;  neither of us ever want to do this again.

When we decided to move into a larger boat, we anticipated the need to do a substantial refit.  In fact, it was an important part of the whole equation – buying a used boat is largely an exercise in buying someone else’s problems (or sometimes even worse – their solutions).  bilge2Every boat has its issues and idiosyncrasies that the owner either fixes properly, comes to terms with, or screws up royally; our old boat was no exception.  The trick is figuring out what these idiosyncrasies are and what, if anything, should be done about them.   and the only good way to really know this is to tear the boat apart and start over.  This was part of the plan.  Really.

OK, so we knew some of the issues going in.  We even made a list and thought we were prepared to check the items off in an orderly fashion.  New windlass, new heater, new dodger windows, new mainsheet, and new mattresses.  These were the biggies, but new gear that works had been our norm on the old boat, so we couldn’t imagine spending a summer making do with old worn out gear.

Then we added an engine – we got a chunk of change back from our agreed purchase price to deal with this and will have a brand new engine as a starting place, so not really a bad thing  Then it was new instruments, some solar panels (don’t forget the controller), dinghy davits and a new genoa.  Okay, its starting to hurt now, and we haven’t even turned a wrench or climbed the mast yet.   Breathe! we told ourselves – its only time and money!

Finally we got down to the business of actually doing the work, and we all know what happens to plans once they are implemented. filter In our case, we got to add a new Racor filter housing – the inside of the old one was a shocking mess –  fuel tank, structural stringer, battery wiring, leaky hatches and new reefing lines.  On top of these jobs, there is the little scheduling rules that states that every thing will take at least 3 times as long as you think it will.  If you try to cheat this rule by being overly optimistic, the the powers that be note this and add a substantial penalty in both time and money.  Turns out that I’m very optimistic because  I’m still working on February’s jobs and its the beginning of April.

 


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Fun with decks

When we bought our Mariner 36, the surveyor made it pretty clear that our decks were wet and needed work.  Lori and I were pretty bummed to hear this and were ready to walk away from the purchase, but after spending the cash to take a day off, driving to Seattle, hauling the boat and hiring a surveyor, the least we could do was take her for a sea trial (we have a little rule about turning down a nice sail on a sunny day).  This, alas, was our undoing.  One pass across Lake Union, and we were sold.  She sailed like a dream.  Deck, shmeck…we decided to reduce our offer and walk away happy.  The seller didn’t hesitate. hmmm…

We happily ignored the wet deck for the next 6 years, sailing and growing on a boat that also needed pretty much everything else fixed too.  The deck, while wet, didn’t really feel spongy, and aside from constantly resealing the chainplates to stop leaks,  it was fairly easy to pretend that it was fine.  And then Jeff ( a very good, but overly observant friend) said “feels like you have a soft spot here”.  Damn.

There are a few schools of thought on fixing decks, but in my humble opinion, all but two are nonsense.  These two schools both require the removal and replacement of all of the wet core material; one through the top skin, and one up through the bottom.  Any suggestion that a satisfactory long term repair can be done without removing the core is wishful thinking.  Any rot in the deck will spread, maybe slowly, but surely as long as there is there is water in the core.

We tackled our decks both ways.  Our first effort was the foredeck, and this we did from below because of the easy access.  The job was unpleasant, but not overly difficult.  First DSCN1464we cleared the boat in anticipation of the fibreglass dust that we’d create, and did what we could to contain the mess with plastic.  I then removed the headliner and cut the deck open with a 1/4″ straight bit in a trimmer (a small router)  attached to a shop vac to minimize the dust.  While much of the core came out as a black paste, I was surprised by the amount of structurally viable but wet core I had to remove around the void to find dry core.  In the end, the hole I created was about twice the size that I’d anticipated.

Next I cleaned the area up with a sander and 80 grit paper.  This is required to get a good clean surface to bond the new material too.  I cut new core material to fit the irregularly shaped hole I’d created, and rigged up a clamping mechanism before breaking out the DSCN1466epoxy.  I borrowed an idea from guitar making to do the actual clamping: I cut many thin sticks of maple just a little longer than the space between the v-berth and the underside of the deck.  These were to act as legs holding up my work; the extra length meant they had to be bent.  The result is a nice dependable spring that will accommodate irregularities in the surface such as deck camber.

I did the layup in two stages – first I bedded the core in a thickened epoxy paste and clamped it overnight.  Then I laid up the bottom skin with rovings, biaxial cloth and unthickened epoxy.  I thought that doing the glasswork overhead would be a huge hassle, but it wasn’t.  I was well covered with protective gear, and as long as the pieces were not too large they were easy to put on by myself.  The biggest benefit of this approach is that as long as there is a headliner, there is no reason to try and make anything look good – the finish can be terrible as long as the quality of the layup is adequate.

Our next deck project was much more difficult.  Our side decks, particularly the starboard deck, were rotten in significant portions.  Due to the location of the cabinetry and the chainplates, doing the work from below would’ve been possible but very difficult.  The big advantage would be that the deck would remain fair and the nonskid would be fine; going in from the top would destroy the non-skid, but the interior could stay in place, the space to work in would be less awkward, and gravity is an assist.  I thought about this for a long while, and finally decided to go in from above and use Kiwi Grip to replace the missing non-skid.

This work was accomplished in essentially the same manner as the foredeck.  The two big differences were that the edge of the top skin needed to be beveled to create a strong joint to the new glass, and the whole thing needed to be fair.  Both were accomplished with the judicious use of a belt sander and angle grinder.  Thankfully, my experience in the wood shop really paid here as it is actually quite difficult to create a large fair surface with a small belt sander.  The other major challenge was weather, and in this we were ridiculously lucky to start the work at the beginning of one of the driest springs in Vancouver’s history.

This job was an incredibly intense process, and I would not tackle it again unless I really had too.  Certainly, sound decks were a prerequisite as we searched for our new boat.  Between Lori and I, we estimate that there are close to 500 hours in the job, including stripping the deck hardware, doing the deck work, painting everything, and finally re-bedding all of the deck hardware.  Given my background, much of these are at a professional’s pace.  None of it was easy work, as it is all in an awkward place given the shape of a boat.  We are very happy with the results – the deck is solid, straight, and free of the crazing normally found on an old boat’s gel coat.  In addition, we raised all of the stanchion bases off of the deck with solid glass spacers and removed the core everywhere a fitting penetrates; the new deck should be far better than the original.   The real irony is that we’re selling her after enjoying the new decks for only 2 years.  Word on the street is that I like projects; I’ll pass on doing another deck thank you.

 


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Willywaws

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“Holy crap that was a big gust!” (My dad was there – I had to keep it PG)

After a long but eventually fruitful day of fishing in the drizzle, we pulled into Matheson Inlet in Haida Gwaii for a quiet night.  Our weather pattern had changed a couple of weeks before as the abnormally strong Pacific High of spring 2015 regressed into something that we think resembled normality for BC’s north coast- regular dousings interspersed with frequent but short lived sunny stretches.  In Haida Gwaii, these low pressure systems were textbook: sunshine slowly disappearing into the gradually thickening cloud bank of the warm front, drizzle followed by a short stretch of unsettled weather, and then the thick, wet cumulus of the following cold front.  The passage of these systems never lasted long, and were always followed by a day or two of warm sunny weather before the next system arrived.  In addition, none of the lows to this point had been were particularly deep or violent.

This changed in Matheson Inlet as the next low moved though the next day.  Nothing too extreme, just enough to remind us of the value of good ground tackle and conservative procedures.  We were also fortunate to be sitting alone in completely enclosed bay with lots of swinging room.  We had 7:1 out, 100′ of which is chain: it pays to be prepared to sit out a blow.

The thing I found most interesting about the day is that I’m convinced that the wind was far less strong outside the bay.  The topography of Moresby Island – relatively tall peaks on a very thin stretch of land – lends itself to places where the wind is accelerated as it moves through the passes between peaks and down the valleys.  Environment Canada’s excellent resource on coastal weather explains it like this:

The narrowness of Moresby Island allows southeast winds along the east side of the island to flow over top and hit hard onto the waters of the inlets on the west side. In strong wind conditions, this makes it difficult to anchor or find shelter. The southernmost part of Haida Gwaii is particularly difficult in this regard, with Gowgaia Bay and Tasu Sound two examples of places where gusty winds come down off the mountains.

I can attest that the above is also true, but in the reverse, when strong SW’ers blow.  For us, these gusty winds meant sustained winds of 25 kts, with gusts to 46, or almost double the sustained speed.  The worst winds were during daylight and our situation was very secure, so we relaxed and enjoyed the spectacle.  Thank goodness for good anchors!

 


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Georgia Strait

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Aside from losing our steering in Choked Passage on the west coast of Vancouver Island, our scariest moments have all been in Georgia Strait.  But then, it is our proving ground and we take more risks there than elsewhere.  We’ll go out in Georgia Strait in pretty much any forecast and often go a few days between listening to the weather.  As a result, we’ve img_1112been spanked a few times, but we also feel that we are better sailors because of these lessons.  Outside of Georgia Strait, we are quite a bit more conservative – we pay close attention to the weather and pick times that we feel are within our comfort zone.  The experience in poor conditions in Georgia Strait has served to make our comfort zone bigger, and has given us some confidence that we can handle tougher conditions if we pick our times poorly.

Our scariest moment has to be on a passage from Smuggler’s Cove on the Sunshine Coast to Silva Bay on Gabriola Island in a late summer SE gale in 2009.  We’ve run with a gale many times, and have mostly found it to be fun if managed properly.  On this passage, we decided to go out and see what beating into one was like.

We motored down Welcome Passage very slowly, repeatedly burying the bow into the next wave and anticipating the moment that we could bear off and actually sail.  We’d tried (and failed) going around the north end of Thormanby the day before in similar conditions and decided that it was worth the tough motor south to get a better angle across the strait.

Eventually, we arrived at the passage between Merry Island and Thormanby Island, and decided to sail from there.   Based on our misadventures the day before, we pulled out only our blade (90%) and bore off.  After the brutality of the motor, the smooth motion of the boat under sail was a huge relief, and we all had smiles as she picked up speed and started over the waves at a pleasant 6 kts.  The bliss was short-lived.  Just as we were leaving the pass and entering the strait proper, an enormous wave reared.  I called for all hands to take cover under the dodger as the boat rose up the face of the wave and then fell off the top.  It was only the first of a series and the boat was still going down as the next wave rose up in front of us; the only way for us to go was through it.  I’m not sure how much green water came over the deck, but it looked like a wall and I got soaked despite my foulies.  Luckily, nothing broke, and the rest of the crew stayed mostly dry.   Of course there was a third in the series, but we were able to rise to it as we had to the first.

The rest of the sail was completely uneventful.  By half way across we had the main up too.  Eventually we even had to tack back eastwards as the wind on the west side of the strait was light.  Nonetheless, it was difficult to relax – its hard to describe what went through my head as that wall of water washed over the boat, but it left me uneasy for the rest of the day and still leaves a vivid image in my mind.  Now, we always tell people that we enjoy running in strong winds, but will never intentionally beat into 35kts again; once was enough.

Georgia Strait Summer Weather

Summer gales aren’t common, but strong winds are.   Our observation is that these are not based on the time of day nearly as much as they are in other locations such as Juan de Fuca Strait.  However, as I mention in my story, they can be highly localized; it is quite normal to have strong winds at Entrance Island and no wind at Merry Island (or the reverse).  NW winds seem to be strongest between Sisters Island and Entrance Island, probably due to the funnel that Texada and Vancouver Island create in this area; SE winds can be strong anywhere, but are often nasty farther south.  Fortunately, the strait is blessed with many reporting stations, and it is very easy to determine current conditions.  If you have access to the internet, it is also possible to get data for the previous 24 hours on Environment Canada’s website.  If you’ve been monitoring weather, this is a powerful tool as not only does it allow you to see trends, it also allows you to see any anomalies in the forecast.

Our experience is that the forecasts are fairly accurate, but almost always overstate the wind.  Of course, this is only true if they haven’t understated it; you take your chances betting on Environment Canada being conservative with their wind forecast.  Another thing  to remember is that the forecast is for the strongest wind in the forecast area over the forecast period, which is not necessarily the part of the strait you are planning to transit.  We’ve also noted that strong summertime SE winds usually don’t last for more than a day, and while NW’ers can and do set in for prolonged periods when the weather is warm, this isn’t the norm either.

Lastly, Georgia Strait is not really that big.  Given a good window, most boats are rarely more than 2 or 3 hours from shelter, and usually far closer.  In addition, there are lots of places to stop in most areas of the strait, many of which are worthy of being destinations in their own right.  So, enjoy the strait and all it has to offer – we are lucky to have such a beautiful body of water in which to learn our craft right on our doorstep.

Whiskey Golf

Whiskey golf is an annoying military area right on the rhumb line between Nanaimo and Pender Harbour, and is marked on all Canadian charts of the region.  It is used by the Navies of a few countries, predominately Canada and the USA, to test fire torpedoes.  If you enter it while it is active, not only will you be putting your vessel at risk of being torpedoed (they’re not armed with explosives, but that’s probably academic for most of us), you will earn the wrath of the military and be the day’s entertainment for all those listening on VHF 16.  To avoid all of this unpleasantness, simply monitor the VHF weather channels – they will tell you if area WG is open or closed.  You can also try VHF 10 to talk directly to Winchelsea Control.  Unfortunately, it is hard to make plans for transiting this area in advance as they don’t usually broadcast future usage dates.  We try to transit the area on a weekend – while this is no guarantee, the Navy seems to like days off as much as the rest of us, especially Sundays.


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Moving On – Selling Palomita

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Palomita at sunset on what is probably our last night aboard – Jan 1, 2017.

Its been an eventful and stressful fall; after talking about it for years, we decided to buy a new boat.  And while it seems like 10 months should be lots of time to make this happen, we are currently the proud owners of two boats so as to eliminate any possibility of being boatless next summer.  Ouch.

Buying a boat is a complicated task.  You’d think that experience would make the task easier, but after spending so much time out on the water our list of necessary features in a boat has grown incredibly unwieldy.   This means that just choosing a suitable boat is hard, never mind actually finding one.   It’s all such a royal pain that Lori has always said she’d refuse to participate in a next boat search until I’d done a bunch of weeding through options – not because she doesn’t have any opinions on the matter, but because it was so hard to find something we liked last time.  Countless hours poring over listings on yachtworld.com and specs on sailboatdata.com looking for something that met our expectations didn’t make the process any less daunting.  At any given time, there just aren’t many candidates that feature the look, layout, performance and build quality that we want at a price that we can swing.  Even with a continent wide search, they are few and far between.

Then there is selling Palomita; we love our boat.  She’s been amazing, teaching us and taking care of us every summer since 2004.  Our family has grown up onboard, and many of our social connections have their root in our beautiful boat.  We can’t imagine having done everything we’ve done over the last 13 years on any other boat.

Still, we both agreed that we wanted more space and performance, and the only way to get that was to buy a new boat.  Last spring we found a candidate, and she was local.  We weren’t really seriously looking at the time, but the boat did strike a chord with both of us.   Finding her in BC made her especially intriguing.

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Indemnity (don’t worry, the name isn’t staying) is a a 87 Sabre 42CB.  Her layout, performance and reputation fit the bill, but the cored hull and centerboard raised serious concerns about the possibility of a compromised core and insufficient stability.  The lack of alternatives forced me to look deeper. Simply put, there are lots of boats out there, and they are all compromises.  Short of building a custom boat to suit our individual quirks, we’ll all have to pick our boat buying poisons.  After some research, we decided that a centerboard and a cored hull are ours.  After some digging, I’m not even sure they’re compromises.

Palomita draws 5 feet, and this has always been a double edged sword.  We’ve appreciated the freedom of having shallow draft and bemoaned the leeway while beating .  Indemnity also draws 5 feet, except for when she doesn’t.  Put the board down and she draws up to 8’6″.   Yes, its a pain to crank the board up and down, but the deep draft with the board down should make her point fairly high and with a 42% ballast ratio compared to Palomita’s 35%, it is unlikely that stability is an issue.   We’ll see.

To my mind, the cored hull is a little bit more straight forward.  Well done, it allows builders to build stiffer, lighter boats.  For someone interested in performance, these are both desirable attributes.  Sabres have been building cored hulls for a long time and have a long reputation for quality glass work.  On top of that, the survey was great, so we’re pretty confident that she’ll be fine.

But this is all just a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo.  While it’s really important to get right, it turns out that it’s not the hardest part of getting a deal done.  It really shouldn’t be a surprise that the toughest part is the people part.  Buying a boat isn’t the fun it should be considering the cash involved.  Negotiations, schedules, emotions and the unknowns of purchasing something as complex as a 30 year old boat make the process fraught with tension.  Dealing with vastly different ideas of what seaworthy maintenance looks like only adds to the frustration.  On second thought, maybe it’s not fun because of the cash involved.

So here we go.  Selling a big part of the last 13 years of our lives, and starting again on a new boat is a major undertaking full of challenges.  And once the buying and selling is all done, the real work of making the new boat ours will begin.  It’ll start with a new name.

 

 


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Crossing Hecate Strait

This is for some friends who are leaving for Haida Gwaii in a couple of weeks.  I hope you enjoy your trip as much as we enjoyed ours.

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The sun setting over Haida Gwaii, 50nm behind

I’m not sure how others who’ve cruised Haida Gwaii felt about crossing Hecate Strait, but I do know that it was a life event for me.  In hindsight, both crossings were smooth and  easy, but really, these passages are just as much about dealing with the mythology that surrounds them, and the ensuing anticipation, as they are about the actual event.  The same has been true for all of the “notorious” stretches we have sailed: Cape Caution, Cape Scott, Brooks Peninsula…  We are careful and strategic when choosing our weather windows, and have the boat and ourselves well prepared; without fail this work means that each new trial is no trial at all.  Even so, I still wonder on each new adventure if this next crossing or rounding will be the one where preparation and planning fails.  Will this one be the one where the ocean has her way?

Early on in our planning, far from the north coast and with the comforts of our home and time, we decided it might be fun to do two overnighters on our Haida Gwaii trip – one each way across Hecate.  As we worked our way north, this ideal became expendable.  Reality has a way of changing things.  Eventually, we settled for a very uneventful motor across the strait and anchored in the dark.  Not quite the same as an adventure filled night sail, but it did involve mucking about in the dark and allowed a huge sigh of relief.  One down, one to go.

After three wonderful weeks exploring the islands, it was time for part two.  Unlike our first crossing at the end of a long stretch of sun and strong westerlies, our second crossing had to fit into a tight window between the low pressure systems that had been sweeping across the islands on a regular basis. Sun, rain, wind, repeat.  Our strategy became listen decide, and go.  We needed to pick a window and leave with no hesitation.

The day we eventually picked was an oddity mostly because of the spontaneity with which we went for it – we spent all of 2 minutes making the call.  We started the day with a wonderful visit to SGang Gwaay – truly a mystical place – dodging squalls and wondering when the sky would open.  We were lucky to see many strong showers close by and avoid all of them.  We even enjoyed a great sail on the way back into the anchorage at Rose Harbour.  As we approached our intended stop and were mentally preparing for a tough evening of good food, a bottle of wine, and maybe some reading, I decided to listen to the weather – a broken repeater had made weather info very hard to get, so frequent attempts were important in order to get any sort of mental picture of likely developments.  This attempt was successful, and I poked my head back into the cockpit with the offhand remark that we should just cross now…start a 110nm trip at 2:30 in the afternoon.  Everyone had heard the forecast of SW winds to 20 knots with showers turning to rain in the morning.  I’d long since abandoned the thought of a night crossing and wasn’t really serious, so was mildly shocked to get a “Sure, why not?” from the crew.

The sail that night was both amazing and difficult.  The wind was perfect – 8 to 23 kts on the beam – as were the seas.  The rain held off until we were within sight of our destination, and the scenery before sunset was stunning.  The short night was not stunning.  The  depth of the night was intense – like sailing through ink – and the cold was relentless.  And after an early morning the day before, so was the fatigue.  At 12:30 in the morning, my dad was clearly suffering and I sent him below to sleep while I kept watch.  Even though we were heavily reefed to slow the boat down, thoughts of plowing into one of the many trees we’d seen floating in the waters on the mainland side of the strait kept me tense as I shivered in my dark corner.  Two long hours later, Lori relieved me, but even in the cabin, sleep and warmth were elusive.

We arrived in Mouat Cove, just east of Ivory Island, at 8:10 after sailing 110nm in 17 hours, much of it at 5kts under reduced sail.  The promised downpour arrived pretty much as soon as we dropped the hook.  Needless to say, the relief and feeling of accomplishment were intense.

I know many have done this trip; many have done trips that make this one look small and insignificant.  For me, these crossings were a life event.  It’s all in the anticipation.