A Travellerspoint blog

Pre-flight #2 - 2013

sunny 33 °F

We have made the segue from house to boat, a more difficult one this time. As much as we are looking forward to this trip, it was very tough leaving the house. The physical transition was much easier; since no one will be staying at the house this time, other than, maybe, a visit, there was much less work to do... just pack and go. But the drive on I-40 felt like 10 years ago on Rte. 53, driving to work.

But the time away from our home seems to be more dearly purchased every year. Our "front yard" is a 2~3 acre orchard, maybe 100 feet from the front door, through some trees. The orchard was the critical element in our decision to purchase this land for our home. In the orchard are many apple trees and several huge Dogwoods all of which will, most years, bloom in absolute profusion. I have looked down from the knoll at their dense mass of flowers, the trees gravid with white, blending together, the acres so thick with color that I could imagine standing feet on the ground and head above the clouds. This will be the 5th year in a row that we will have missed this Spring cycle, an affirmation of life renewable. I am loathe to miss this again.

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Later, when the blooms have fallen from the trees, the beauty moves from tree tops to shoe tops. Seemingly, thankfully, wonderfully, every type of trillium that ever existed has found a firm purchase in these mountains. In some places they carpet the ground; in others, a flower grows by itself, a precious solitaire, a gem sparkling in the dross. For reasons I know not, of the hundreds of flowers which grace this place from April through September, these are my favorites. I am loathe to miss them again.

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The other thing is that we have said an awful lot of good-byes these past years, leaving our dear friends and family for too long; and then leaving all of the wonderful new friends we have made while on the boat. It's a conundrum, almost as if we exist in two parallel universes.

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TS Eliot may have been a great poet but he was a lousy meteorologist and had never lived in these mountains. March is the cruelest month, an ineluctable fact. We planned to leave very early on 03/21. Took the dog out late the night before ..... no hay problema! A few hours later: una problema grande .... the temperature is 17 degrees and there are 1~2 inches of snow over ice. We should have been on the road by 0500; didn't start until 1200 and were lucky to get away then. NCDOT had, improbably, salted Panther Branch; that plus a few rays of sun and the roads were drivable. Of course, the hiatus was filled with scenes like this of the eponymous Panther Branch behind our mailbox.

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In the context of heading north on a boat, the snow and ice evoked several words including s___, iceberg and Titanic. Having looked at the temperature forecast for the next week, we may be two months too early to be trying this.The drive to the boat seemed to reinforce this. No new green on any trees from the house to Oriental, almost 400 miles moving from 3,300-ft. in altitude to about 3-ft. The only trees in bloom were the Downy Serviceberry trees, almost always the first to flower. The point being: Spring is not very close even this far east and for this Al Gore got the Nobel Peace Prize for inventing global warming, or some such thing.

Since it has been so cold, so late in the Spring looking at the Jet Stream seemed like a reasonable endeavor. So I found a web site that has 10 day projections. On Friday, 03/22 the flow had dipped so far south that the graphic had it touching Mexico at the western end of Texas. Forecasts being what they are, the last week of March looks to be more of the same; early April maybe more normal or, at least, less bad.

Link to Jet Stream Forecast

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I got to the boat a day ahead of Carol so it was my job to make the bed, always an awkward task in the cramped rear cabin with zero head room. As I started pulling out the pillows, it seemed that the pillow supply would never end. That got me to thinking that there are some things which regular guys will never be able to understand one of which is the endless fascination which many women, including Carol, seem to have with pillows, a fascination followed closely by candles. It must be an XX chromosomal thing, women getting in touch with their inner interior decorating selves or, perhaps like Shirley MacClain, channeling former lives when they were, in fact, interior decorators. It's a fact that even cave walls were "decorated" during the ice age. It's certain that the guys were too pooped from mastodon dueling and saber-toothed tiger wrestling to waste their time and precious calories on such trivial pursuits without some external motivation. It's a good thing that I'm kind of puny, not taking up much space in the cabin, not competing with the pillows. If it were to come down to a choice between me and the pillows, Carol might have a hard time arriving at a decision.

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So, the mathematical expression to describe our sleeping quarters is: total pillows, T(p) = 6; Russ' pillows, R(p) = 1. So, how many are Carol's pillows, C(p)? As Mr. Ray would have said in SMSG Algebra I solve for C(p):

R(p) + C(p) = T(p)

If I have time to set up an Excel spread sheet I may provide the answer in a future blog entry.

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The first stop in town was straight to the Yanmar dealer, Deaton's Yacht Service, to pick up the new start switch. It looked pretty much like the old one, a good omen. I had taken all of the pieces I was able to locate of both switches back to the house and made my best effort to cobble together one good switch from most of the parts from two ruined switches, the switch that could not be bought at any price. There was a certain logic to the switch once the OMG panic passed and focused desperation took control of the mental processes. Miracle of miracles .... the new one worked as promised and, an even greater miracle, so did the one with which I messed at the house. We are back in business! And, even if we are not in any danger of leaving soon, it's just nice to know that we could if we wanted to do so.

It's interesting how boat repair and maintenance changes your financial value perspective. Paying 10 times too much for a part seems like a pretty good deal when the only other viable option would cost about $2,000. So, the denouement is: I screwed the pooch big time, scrambled to a solution, learned a lesson at a price that will reinforce the learning but which obviates the need for suicidal depression and serious therapeutic drugs. Yet another in a long line of a boating humility transplants, none done with the benefit of anesthesia.

This must have been seriously weighing me. Because, now that this issue is resolved, I am much more enthusiastic about the trip.

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I had thought that the boatyard work was done, and it was until I changed my mind. When the new engine was installed in Ft. Lauderdale, the folks said that there was no way to have individual gauges for the engine; the only choice was the built in control panel alarms. The problem with alarms is that they only sound when a problem is beyond remediation. I have missed the gauges we had with the old engine, ones I had installed, and have occasionally felt quite vulnerable without them. Every boating publication or website recommends gauges. So, while at the Yanmar dealer here in Oriental I decided to ask the gauge question again. What a non-surprise! These guys know their business and we are getting oil pressure and engine coolant temperature gauges installed, along with a new fuel gauge which matches the other two. I can only wish that we had had the engine installed here because I trust these guys.

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It will take a few days underway to "learn" the readings of the new gauges, i.e. what's normal. Once done, we'll feel much better, much safer when the engine is running. Of course, with the old engine we had many reasons to worry; it was bad for overheating among its several other failings. With the new engine ... no worries, but it will nice to know.

Of course, even the most mundane things, like going to a boatyard, provide lessons. We had some local knowledge about the area but it has been, over the years, largely forgotten. One of the forgotten things was that winds from the SW literally blow water away from the area causing shallow waters to become even more shallow. Coming into Whittaker Creek I was trying to steer while talking on the VHF, multitasking. While not looking at the depth gauge in a normally OK part of the channel I ran hard aground. After a few minutes we managed to get free, but this was more difficult than it should have been because I couldn't guess where the water might be deeper. Once again I had to admonish myself about the "unguarded moment." The other was a more serious lesson/reminder; the wife of the young man doing the work on the boat has stage 4 pancreatic cancer; they have two high school age children. This reminder just seemed to forcibly reorient my mind to the glass being 98% full and how very, very fortunate Carol and I have been getting past our several serious health challenges. This reorientation is a good thing for us; it is just sad that the currency to purchase it is someone else's tragic misfortune.

Link to Deaton's Yacht Services

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On Monday, March 25th, 2013 Carol had her 67th birthday, the fourth consecutive such occasion on the boat. It may actually be five in a row; I don't recall whether she came to the boat from Tallahassee in 2009 to celebrate; that year she was deeply invested with helping Joan, her sister, through a very difficult time. Anyway, if she's no longer the potential Playboy hotty selection she once was (she really, truly still believes that the guy really, truly was a Playboy photographer), when AARP magazine starts its new centerfold program I'm sure she'll be a much sought after age group candidate.

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While working on trip preparation I articulated a thought that is so blindingly obvious but one for which I had never put the right words in the right order. As a "captain" I spend most of my time actively involved in risk management, no different from my career or, I suppose, much of my life. Identify the risks, figure out which can be avoided and which can be attenuated, rank order the rest and have plans to deal with them and never, ever allow yourself to be surprised, surprise being the ultimate failure in managing risk because, a priori, there has been no preparation for the situation. Thinking and acting on the fly under duress exposes all our human frailties.

Obvious risk management: the new gauges, proof reading the way point list, inspecting the anchor chain, the new water separating fuel funnel, belonging to both Sea Tow and Towboat US, etc. ditto, ditto, and more ditto. Since we've already been doing this the insight is not transformative but it may lend itself to new ways to organize the several tasks we have been doing as a matter of course.

Of course, the serious business of managing risk occasionally becomes farcical. To wit, I carry two belts on board, just in case. These were same style that millions of servicemen, including me, have worn. Old technology, proven to be durable and reliable except that in the space of about four days both buckles broke. Imagine the odds. Not a catastrophe but with my deficient butt my jeans were tending to ride around my knees. Had it not been for the cold temperatures I wouldn't have minded this very much; others with more delicate sensitivities tended to be put off by the whole idea so Carol bought me a new one one the way to the boat.

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Not from a sailor, who would have said trim the sails, but good advise, regardless.

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So, boatyard work is done. Two more projects on board: do the 100-hr. maintenance even though it was done fairly recently. Some things just have to be looked at before setting off on a long trip. Having just overhauled the marine toilet, I decided that it is not working as it should, perhaps a factor of it being 11 years old or, maybe, just Carol's overuse and abuse. Regardless, I have decided to replace the entire pumping mechanism since I have no good reference on how it should really work, having first used this one at 5-yrs. old. A poorly functioning head mechanism could make for a very long trip and an unhappy crew.

All will work be done by Sunday, March 31st, or not; the closer we get to 04/01 the more items get posted to the to-do list and there is less time to complete the work. The list sort of accentuates the differences between our different natures. I add to the list many times a day; Carol looks at the list, maybe, once a week. Then I go nuclear because things are not getting done and she wonders what the problem is.

After completing our work, it will just be a waiting game on ambient temperature. The trip north to Norfolk is about 155 nm. up the ICW through largely unpopulated areas with few marinas. This may mean a minimum of 2 nights anchoring out, an enticing prospect unless the temperatures are in the 40's, or lower, over night. The good news in this is that the Vernal equinox was 03/20/13, so we now have light for at least 12 hours, useful light of at least 11 hours. Making the trip in three days is a stretch, but possible. I suppose it qualifies as irony that I know more about our plans for Maine than I do for the first leg of the trip. This needs my attention

Posted by sailziveli 09:10 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating Comments (0)

Pre-flight #1 - 2013

sunny 34 °F

It's pushing a year since the last blog entry, a welcome relief to all including the humble(d) blogger. After arriving safely in Ft. Pierce, FL, from the Bahamas, Carol and I rested a bit and then took the boat north, to Brunswick, GA in a totally uneventful two day trip.

The pleasant trip to the Bahamas in 2011/2012 ended several years of mishaps, misadventures, frustrations and boat repairs. Having gotten it right, finally, we decided to forgo an encore visit (why risk a successful string of one in a row?) and to stay home for the winter.

Our decision to stay home was not a choice against boating and cruising but, rather, a decision that what we wanted to try next was a trip north, winter generally being a bad time for skinny, cryophobic people to do that. As we went through the logistics of that possible trip a couple of things were obvious: there was some work that we wanted done on the boat, specifically standing rigging, that we only trusted to be done in Oriental, NC, at Sail Craft Services. Also, Oriental, NC is 500 ICW miles north of Brunswick, ergo 500 miles closer to where we wanted to go. So, at the end of September we left Brunswick and headed north, another uneventful trip save for three things: (1) Carol's inexplicable decision, while at the helm, to make a detour east for the Cape Verde Islands; (2) the ever unreliable autopilot again failed so we laid over in Charleston, SC while I ordered a new one and then installed it; (3) as we headed north, due to the autopilot layover, we were then paralleling hurricane Sandy, which, at the time, didn't seem like a big deal since the storm had been tracking well off shore. The boat and the hurricane arrived in NC concurrently but, very fortunately for us, the storm stayed far enough out to sea to be a non-event in NC.

The boat is back at Sea Harbor, the same marina from which we headed south in November, 2008. This is a great place with nice people but we seem to be in a slip where marginal cell phone and wifi frequently tends to converge to zero. So, for lack of a better idea, I have tried using the wifi antenna which seems to work very well except when Microsoft Inc. sends out automatic updates which wipe out the driver, which in turn seems to require about an hour for re-installation and then reconfiguration. But a strong signal with no service doesn't accomplish very much. We cannot even place or receive cell calls much of the time. It's hard to accept that guys like Capt. Cook could explore the world and we cannot move across the river without a computer, cell phone and GPS navigation.

Oriental is little changed, save for the universal economic depredations of the past several years. Some old businesses gone, some new ones in their places, but everything is mostly the same.

Winter in the mountains, after four years of avoiding the season, was predictable: it got cold, we were snowed in many times and iced in once. For all of that, our little patch of land is a paradise, beautiful 365 days of the year; it's just that some days require a little bit more work to see the beauty than others. A view from our steep and tortuous driveway this past winter.

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The boatyard work on the boat is mostly done, the only unanticipated change being a new water heater; our work ...... never done. I read a book this winter about an around-the-world sailing race in which the author cited someone else's quote about boat maintenance:

If you do not make your boat a little bit better every day,
it will make itself a little bit worse.

To me, this is boat wisdom and advice we have intuitively followed over the several years we have owned the boat. It was difficult to attain the mindset which I labeled preemptive replacement: don't wait for a failure, make the change now before it even seems that a failure is possible.

To wit, Carol and I have made several short trips to the boat this year to do the assorted, endless small things that always seem to need doing, trying to make the boat a little bit better every day. We have several small Excel programs which I use to manage both scheduled maintenance and ad hoc repairs. I don't know whether it's age, the unfamiliar complexity of this/any boat or, probably, both; I cannot keep track of all this stuff in my head. Regardless, these make daily planning a breeze: tackle an item, then change its status to completed in the data base; the computer never forgets.

We took the boat to the Yanmar dealer for some simple warranty work and the young man who did the work took one 10 nanosecond look at the engine and told me of several places where cables and lines were chafing against the block. One included a fuel line, another a hot power cable that would have shorted against the metal engine. All stuff I should have seen a year ago; all stuff the installer should have addressed; all stuff with major downside consequences. An hour, or so, and a lot of zip ties took care of everything including moving the fuel line, way above my pay grade.

That got me to thinking that any place on any boat where power lines run or hoses carry fluids is covered up with zip ties, black or white, holding things together in nice, tight, neat bundles. The only problem is that no human has ever devised a way to cut the excess length without creating a razor sharp end that will slice and puncture. It's hard to stick a hand or an arm into some tight spaces without it coming out shredded and bleeding, made worse if you are on some blood thinner like Plavix.

Preparation this year seems to be a little bit less frantic, maybe because this is now somewhat familiar ground for us; we know how, for example, to clean and purge the water tanks. When we first spent time together on the boat, August, 2007, it seemed like two grown people trying to coexist in a shoe box. The size of the shoe box has not changed but the boat now seems, if not comfortable, then at least more accommodating. Our total days on the boat must now exceed two full years, newness and strangeness gone, and if we do not know a lot about boats, we have come to know a great deal about this boat.

Of course, we (read I) seem to be unable to complete any trip preparation, frantic or otherwise, without some sort of self-inflicted disaster, this year being no exception. Getting old is its own indignity; getting simultaneously stupid is just too much to handle. This year in trying to unplug the control panel I guessed wrong and opened the two rocker switches from which fell many small parts. Not a problem, solvable with a few bucks under most circumstances. However, when the circumstances are that those parts are no longer being manufactured for Yanmar ..... big trouble! I'm not sure how this one plays out; the only saving grace is that there is a Yanmar dealer about one mile away frpm the slip.

The "sort of" plan for this trip is to head north to the Chesapeake, the time there including a side trip to WDC up the Potomac River. We would like to wend our way north through the Chesapeake, cutting over to Delaware Bay and down to Cape May, NJ. From there we think we might head to the eastern end of Long Island Sound and the islands. Then up through Cape Cod and, if things break right, a shot up to Maine and then we would work our way down the New England coast. We would like to leave on April 1st, the fool's aspect of that date held well in mind. Hurricane season starts in June but is generally ugliest in August and September. So, being in a safe harbor by early August seems prudent.

We've got most of the route planning done. The ugly job is entering the way points into the navigation system and then proof-reading the work, a job too tedious to be done without a hearty dram and too important to be done with one. We'll end up with 150 ~ 200 new way points for this trip and will almost certainly add more along the way as we change our plans. We'll use the ICW from here to Norfolk, VA, a trip of 155 nautical miles. The alternative is going outside from here to Norfolk and I have sworn that I will never have Cape Hatteras to the west of my vessel. This thought was reinforced after having read a long article about the sinking of the Bounty during hurricane Sandy last October. That captain was experienced but, maybe, not too smart about that trip; he died along with another crew member. The tentative plan is two long open water reaches: Cape May to Montauk, NY on the eastern end of Long Island, and, if we think we can handle it, another from Cape Cod to Maine. Each is about 200 nm and can be completed in less than 48 hours, barring emergencies. Three days and two nights seems to be the limit of our functional stamina underway.

The chart plotter calculates that we will travel just shy of 700 straight line miles from the slip in Sea Harbor to northern Maine. Allowing about 20% for turning a straight line into a road route, this is a distance we could cover in one very full day of hard driving. In the boat we'll need more than two months.

This trip will be less tense and nerve wracking in a couple of aspects: (1) we should have access to cell service and the internet in most of the places we are going; (2) Tow Boat US and Sea Tow should be just a phone call away. The fuel contamination problems that we had last year made an impression. For a while we were dead in the water with little availability to ready help; I'm not really sure why the fuel system didn't shut us all the way down a second time. A long wait for a tow is better that no choice at all. We also invested about $20 in a fuel filtering funnel that has a mesh so fine that water cannot pass through it. All fuel this trip will be filtered before it goes into the tank or into any jerry can. We continue to learn from our mistakes but it would be nice to avoid at least a few of them.

Posted by sailziveli 09:35 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating Comments (0)

So, What Happened Was ....

Blog Sign Off for This Trip

overcast 81 °F

So, what happened was.... on Tuesday morning at 0700 Carol's tenure as social director was abruptly ended after 14 uninterrupted hours. We were sleepily listening to Chris Parker's SSB weather report and forecast and he was greatly exercised about a 1,000 millibar low pressure weather system in the western Gulf of Mexico that was headed east. That's pretty low but nowhere near hurricane low pressure. Then, he said, that there would he a high pressure system bringing high winds from N-NE. Anyway, that sounded like the Gulf Stream was going to become impassable, for us anyway, by about Friday and could stay that way for a week, probably more, effectively postponing transits to the states almost until the beginning of May.

I was not the only person to reach that conclusion. The chatter began soon after the broadcast. I talked to Bob on New Passage who was concerned but not yet ready to pull the trigger. David and Alice were in the indecisive mode. I wasn't enjoying the Abacos that much after the wonder of the Exumas; being stuck there did not sound too great. It sounded even less great when weather strategy was added into the mix: I did not really have one. Rather than spend more time agonizing over this Carol and I had the anchor up by 0730, Carol wisely having wisely accepted the fact that I am still the captain and she was going to lose so why not lose gracefully and graciously. We were the third boat out of the anchorage headed for Whale Cut, about a half hour behind the first two.

After a couple of hours we had passed those two boats, Loon and Draco, both traveling about a knot slower than were we. Carol and I had thought that we would head to Great Sale Cay as we had planned to do at a later time. At Great Sale Cay we would anchor and then head west to Ft. Pierce the next day. I had not even run the numbers for distance, and I always run the numbers, thinking that we had another week or two, although I had entered all the navigation way points. I did not even know if we could make it to that cay in daylight and there were no Plan B (bailout) anchoring options obvious on the charts, good or otherwise. Turns out that Sea Span and Alice Mae did get underway, but a couple of hours later than we did. We could not talk to either of those boats directly but Draco, in the rocking chair, relayed the conversations back and forth.

Sometime after lunch we started looking more closely at the immediate next day, or two, of weather. I had XMWeather on the computer in real time; Draco had SSB email weather and Jeff, on New Passage, was getting some sort of radio broadcast. The consensus was that Tuesday/Wednesday was going to be the best time to cross; Thursday was starting to look like the early low from the west would start to arrive. Since we had to do an overnight, regardless of whether we anchored or pushed straight through, we collectively decided, but as individuals, to follow Jeff's suggestion to make the crossing Tuesday night to arrive at Ft. Pierce on Wednesday. As we passed Great Sale Cay it was plain that more than a dozen boats had decided to wait. That did not deter any of us as we saw that cay recede over the stern.

We hit Great Sale Cay at about 1730 where Carol and I decided that we needed to top off the fuel tanks in order to cover the 125 nm in front of us. Since we had a good fix on the distance from Great Sale Cay to Ft. Pierce, the stop also gave us a realistic estimate of what the next 20 odd hours would look like. Since we had as many gallons of water on board as miles to travel, Carol and I treated ourselves to hot showers underway, Carol even washing her hair, probably a first. A long night standing watch is tough; scroungy makes it tougher.

The whole trip was a little like Matthew 20:16: so the last shall be first. In this case the last, i.e. slowest, is the only boat ever to have been passed by a kayak on the ICW: ours. Having replaced the sails, the engine, the propeller shaft and, finally, the propeller itself, we have been flying past every boat on the horizon, big as well as small. This trip was no exception, and a good thing too, because speed matters when running ahead of weather. We made such good time to Great Sale Cay, that I dropped the engine speed a little, and we still ran over 6.5 knots motor sailing, almost impossible to imagine after the first few years on this boat when four knots was the norm and five knots was only an unanswered prayer.

The big question for us: where to exit the Little Bahama Bank and to engage the Gulf Stream? The Gulf Stream is, literally, force of nature that cannot be avoided, especially by small boats like ours: it was going to push us north, the only unknown was how far north. The last time we crossed the Gulf Stream, east to west, we started 17 miles south of the Port Everglades and ended up 7 miles north of the harbor entrance, an error factor of more than 40% and not a performance I wanted to emulate. Since Ft. Pierce is 27o 28' north, we settled on an exit point of 27o 08' north, giving us 20 miles for Gulf Stream abuse. It was interesting to watch: we steered 270o, due west, for more than eight hours. As we got more into the Straights of Florida the actual course traveled over ground grew and grew: 280o, 290o, 300o, 305o being the highest number we saw. And then, as we got into shallower water and moved behind the lee of Palm Beach, the numbers started to reverse and get smaller. We probably used about 17 of those 20 miles by the time we were into 100' of water and, then, steering directly for the Ft. Pierce channel entrance.

It was a tough night on old bodies but one with wonder nonetheless. Caught this sunset and fancied it as an appropriate metaphor for this whole trip: we were also headed west; our trip, like the day we had just enjoyed, was ending. No more sunsets for a while.

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Watching the sun go down was like being lowered into a well: the amount of light shrunk and shrunk until there was only darkness. There was no moonlight or other ambient light; we were surrounded by an unbroken wall of black. The boat was moving, a lot, and when the horizon disappeared it was impossible to tell if a light was a star in the sky or a boat on the water. The night was blissfully devoid of traffic, and the little boat traffic that we saw was behind us, save one. Some kind of boat had entered the Little Bahama Bank on a reverse course from ours. Whatever type of vessel is was, it had two enormous white LED spotlights/headlights that consumed the night and destroyed any hopes of night vision. If it had been a working boat, like a shrimper or a seiner , deck lights would have made sense; it was neither. We passed close enough for me to see the bow wave in the dark; that's way too close.

Carol has the 0600 to 0900 watch as part of our standing rotation. She woke up on Wednesday morning at about 0530 and heaved chunks for the next 20 minutes. The Gulf Stream passage was very mild with winds less than 15 knots and seas of 3-ft. or less. However, the wind and waves were of a combination that caused the boat to roll port to starboard, pitch fore and aft and yaw right and left. The roller coaster-like corkscrew motion was her undoing, strange because she loves roller coasters and all such things. She relieved me 10 minutes early not out of enthusiasm for watch standing but out of a need to be topside in the open air.

We have been into and out of the Ft. Pierce inlet many times; few of those times have been easy and this time did not disappoint. The tide was flowing out; the wind was blowing in. I watched another sailboat enter the channel a few minutes before we did. The mast looked like some steroidal metronome keeping time for Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee; it was ugly. We got past that, got through the marina channel with the wind and tide both going the same way, and the tide being low. We moored at the Ft. Pierce Municipal Marina at 1230 on Wednesday, 04/18/2012. Did the immigration and Customs thing and then we collapsed. I got 30 minutes sleep on the passage; Carol more but not a lot more. Carol fell asleep while reading; I was awake but could not focus on or read any words, everything blurring before fatigued eyes. David and Alice arrived a few hours later and we got together to share a modest dinner of delivered pizza and buffalo wings.

Our departure plans are Scarlett O'Hara-like:I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow. We are catching up with folks on the phone; we have the 100 maintenance to complete before we can leave; the weather is going to be dodgy for a while; we're both still very fatigued from the trip.

The trip north to Brunswick, GA, is a detail; we'll either go up the ICW or make a passage outside, preferred. Regardless, we have done both several times; there is no mystery or wonder in any of that, so I'll make this the final blog entry for the trip.

Posted by sailziveli 11:05 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating Comments (0)

Man-O-War Cay OOOOPS! Great Guana Cay

sunny 79 °F

Sunday was a work day, at least during the afternoon. Carol had intended to do laundry in the morning but the marina had no power, no water and no washee, washee. So after lunch we got down to it: the cooler air and cooler water had made the dinghy a little squishy so we put some air into that. I had created some horrid black marks on the hull leaving Cave Cay, about six weeks ago, so those got cleaned fairly well. We brought on fuel and water so those are just about topped off. Finally we brought up the dinghy and motor to leave on Monday morning for Man-O-War Cay, a trip of about 5 nm.

Much of the harbour cleared out today, it being Sunday. In Marsh Harbour, maybe 6 nm away, there are large boat rental operations for The Moorings and Sunsail. Carol's guess was that Sunday was probably the day to return the boats to their slips. A few other boats went out as well, seemingly unconcerned about the state of the tide; it was low.

We liked and enjoyed Hope Town. Whatever stereotype may exist for Party Hearty sailors sucking down rum all night has been put paid here. We're all old and we are all in the bed/sack/bunk/berth well before the bars close. In fact, it is unusual to see dinghies moving much after dark.

Home has been more on our minds as the trip winds down. The boat next to us has a fair sized dog on board, at least 40-lb., maybe a few more. It has a similar coloration to Wile E so Carol has been much entranced by it. I have been watching the owner clean up after the dog when it does its business on the bow of the boat and that doesn't seem quite so entrancing to me. The next boat over is named Coyote, and has a large, almost life size rendition of the original Wile E Coyote sans the Roadrunner, our pooch's namesake. It will be good to see the old hound and it will be good to see our mountains and our friends.

High tide was at 0530 so we planned to get underway at first light, well before sunrise. The trade off seemed OK, more depth under the keel but less ability to read the water. Carol has good color perception and is getting decent at reading the depth of the water by its color; for depths of 20 feet or less she can usually get within 2 or 3 feet. The depth meter tells the depth where the boat is; it's good to be aware of depth where the boat will be. In the low morning light that is not possible. But, that issue proved to be irrelevant because the sky did not lighten very much with the sunrise. A heavy layer of altostratus clouds covered almost all of the visible horizon allowing only small, crooked slivers of blue to be seen, and those not for very long as the clouds conjoined to shut out the sun. These clouds looked like they could contain squalls, and if the base line wind is 20 knots the squall winds would be even higher. So, to mollify Carol's safety and security issues, we stayed put, turned on the radio and listened to the weather reports which sounded much more optimistic than the sky appeared.

While waiting for sunrise to get underway, I actually spent some time looking at the light from the lighthouse. It was not nearly so bright as other lights we have seen on the US coast. This lighthouse is still lit by a kerosene flame as it was when it was built however long ago; my guess is that most US lighthouses are now lit by more powerful electric, maybe even LED, bulbs of some kind.

Despite our earlier efforts, this is the first trip where we have spent an extended period of time in the Bahamas. We probably should have guessed the weather pattern but did not. It's winter and fronts roll southeast every five to seven days. Each front brings, on average, at least two days when it's a bad idea to go anywhere in a small boat. I suppose that most seasoned cruisers adapt to this rhythm, have their hunker down spots, and plan on hunkering down for the duration. This winter some of those hunker down periods have seemed, to us, quite protracted and very inconvenient.

On our weather minds now are two passages we will have to make to return home. The first is the Whale Cay passage north of us. Boats with keels or deep drafts need to go east of Whale Cay, into the Atlantic Ocean, in order to head north. The local Abacos cruisers net has daily updates from folks near the area to relate local conditions and the advisability of making the transit. The other, of course, is the Gulf Stream, still a couple of weeks away, but between us and Florida. We will do that late in April, when we hope the month will be more ovine that leonine.

The ambient temperatures the past few weeks has been interesting: too cool for me in the morning, but good for Carol; too hot for Carol in the afternoon, but good for me.

We waited until 1430 with about one foot of tide having come in. We crept from the anchorage around the shoal at the harbour's entrance, crawled through the channel and over the shallow approach and then cruised for Man-O-War Cay, about three straight line miles but more like five miles when the angles were added.

It took about an hour to get there but only because we were cautious about the water and its depth: there were some areas along the way that demanded attention. Either the depth changed, the bottom composition changed or both. Regardless, it was an easy transit to the channel. The channel entrance was like threading a needle with a 12.5-ft. wide piece of thread but that was OK. When we turned the corner to go to the north mooring field BIG TROUBLE! The water ahead was all white stripes, and not the band. This was not was was in the chart book, but that is now three or four years old. It was shoaled in to the point that I turned the boat around in the narrow, shallow channel, thanks again to Joe V. for showing me how, and we headed back out.

Next stop: Great Guana Cay about seven miles north which we reached in a little over an hour. We went into the harbor to check out the mooring balls: too shallow, less than five feet at low tide. Turned around again and we headed north to the anchorage at Fishers Bay where we saw several boats. On the second try the anchor held and at 1730 we shut things down. It looks like old home week here. Alice Mae is here as is Dharma. New Passage, from Brunswick is here, as is Sea Span with whom New Passage is traveling. Some of the other boats we recognize but do not know. This is an OK anchorage but the bottom is grassy and the holding is not great. There is enough wind to make this an issue but not overly concrning.

I've decided that I don't like the Abacos very much. They suffer from the same problem as Eleuthera: there are few places to anchor and you need to travel only to those locations. After the Exumas, these islands are not nearly as much fun. These islands also have draft issues and at 5.2-ft. we are not a deep draft boat. And, the whole area seems quite developed. This anchorage is, literally, parking in someone's front yard. It lacks any sort of intimacy or charm and I am having trouble seeing the point other than being on the boat.

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Carol has been appointed the social director for this portion of the cruise and is grappling with the responsibility for making command decisions. Her plan, this evening, is to stay here another day and to leave on Wednesday for Treasure Cay, an even more developed place than here. But, she wants to go so we will unless she changes her mind.

This day stretched the standard of boring and uneventful but did not break it and that makes it good enough. Anyway, we had a pleasant if not spectacular sunset to end the day, we are on the boat and life is good.

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Posted by sailziveli 19:50 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

Hope Town on Elbow Cay

sunny 77 °F

It was an easy run up from Lynyard Cay, 12 direct line miles and, maybe, 16 or 17 travel miles. Along the way we saw this sandy beach on an unnamed bit of land. Everyone says that the beaches in the Abacos are the best. We also saw this house with an annex made up to look like the Hope Town lighthouse, although we did not know that at the time.

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We had no reason to hurry north. Hope Town suffers from the same issues as does Spanish Wells, very shallow depths on the approach, some less than 4-ft. at mean low water. So, we timed our arrival for 1230, dead high tide. Despite the extra 2.94 ft. of depth, it was challenging approaching the channel. The channel itself is remarkably well marked; the approach is not marked at all so you take your best shot and hope that you're right. We made it without mishap but much of that was luck; there is a shoal where the channel enters the harbour of which we were unaware. I'm not sure why we did not hit it but we didn't. Now, it's noted on the chart. We also found out, after the event, that a tethered red fender was actually a navigational aid marking the closest approach boats should take to a small coral island. Not knowing this and thinking it was somebody's anchor marker we went on the wrong side. Had it not been dead high tide we would have been hard aground.

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Mooring balls here are different from from any other place we have visited. The harbour is very small, so to cram more boats into the limited space the tethers attach directly to the bow cleats. This has the effect of making the swing radius for any boat much smaller. When first we arrived we picked the worst possible mooring spot, only one tether and that was in terrible shape. So, with the approaching winds we decided to move to another spot, maybe three boat lengths from where we first were. The new mooring was in tighter quarters, with boats all around so a nice couple came by in their dinghy to hand Carol the tethers making the whole process much easier and less nerve wracking for her, anyway. I had to turn the boat around once to head into the wind and then back up because we wanted a different mooring. So, my nerves were properly wracked.

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We went ashore our first evening here for dinner, Carol having cooked for at least seven straight nights. Carol loves to eat and loves eating even more when she does not have to cook.

This is a place which Carol has wanted to visit ever since we first started thinking about the Bahamas. It is charming, quaint, and, Carol hopes, suitably romantic. The old town, around the harbour, is beyond belief. It looks like Disney theme park for how a Bahamian island town ought to look. Or, maybe it's the movie set for some Bahamian version of The Truman Show except here Truman Burbank would likely be Truman Pindar or Truman Rolle. If either of those two clans ever had a family reunion it would take a huge island to accommodate all the attendees. Several islands in the Exumas have a Rolletown. The houses are all old, some dating to the late 1800's; they are all immaculately maintained; the profusion of bougainvillea astounds. Most have shutters and these are not decorative affectations; when closed for hurricanes they will completely cover the doors and windows. The Queen's Highway is a concrete oxymoron; it is one wagon wide or two abreast for people on horseback. It seems that many of the houses are for vacation rental and not being lived in by the owners. There are golf carts but most people seem to take shank's mare and hoof it from place to place; the distance around the harbour cannot much exceed one mile.

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The amazing thing is that all of the old town around the harbour looks like these pictures except with more colors.

And, dominating the island and the harbour is the lighthouse. It sits on a small rise and is 120-ft. high although I don't know if that is the height of the structure or the height above the water. It is the last manned lighthouse in the Bahamas, lighthouses everywhere falling prey to the ubiquity and accuracy of GPS.

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Going up the lighthouse was an experience. The front door is open to all comers; the rules are mainly concerned about matches and lighters, there being lots of kerosene about. There are no warnings that falling could be hazardous to your health; there are no yellow and black safety lines on the floors or stairs. All the hallmarks of our overly litigious society are absent, the Bahamians trusting the common sense of adults. From the outside there is a clear wedding cake design where each higher tier is somewhat smaller that the one below; inside the walls were even, allowing a smooth surface for the circular stairs. At the windows the wall thickness must have been at lest three feet.

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The kerosene fuel tanks that feed the flame for the light.

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After almost five years on the boat Carol learned that lighthouses each have signature light patterns to distinguish one from another and that they focus light through fresnel lenses.

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Prrof that I have been there, done that, and I did get a t-shirt.

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Having already visited Russell Island I now got the chance to walk on Russell Lane.

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At Brunswick Landing Marina I met Bob and Gail F. who had sailed their boat, Tulum III, around the world, taking ten years to accomplish that. Bob said that when he returned he had 200 t-shirts, which is about 1.7 t-shirts per month. I am on a pace to eclipse that number easily. I guess the existential question is: if you don't have a t-shirt were you really there. I saw one I liked for Hope Town, and then saw one I liked even more. Forget the stars, my Michelin guide has this as the only two t-shirt rated stop on the trip so far. I cannot imagine why I would want to live here but this is the first island that I could imagine coming back to visit after the boat.

Carol & the Dinghy:

  • We have had this dinghy and motor for well over a year now and Carol had not once started or driven it. So, this being a small and sheltered place, it seemed like a good time for her to learn. I reduced the starting to four simple steps which even she could master and, hopefully, remember. Since the engine was already warmed up from earlier use, starting it should have been pretty easy. Watching Carol pulling the starting rope was like watching her try to throw a baseball overhand for a strike: it was a painful and unnatural motion. To her credit she did get it started, drove it across the harbour, stopped the engine and got it restarted and back to the boat.
  • The only thing worse than watching her try to start the dinghy is to watch her getting into it. She seems to have no confidence in her balance and the dinghy rarely stays stationary to accommodate her fears. She has only fallen all the way into the water, once, at Vero Beach, maybe two years ago; the times she has almost deep sixed herself are too many to count. Watching this, which I have done a lot, is painful and time consuming.
  • The dinghy is our pickup truck carrying us, trash from the boat and provisions to the boat along with our several jerry cans. Carol divides the dinghy into halves, the front being hers and the rear, since I usually drive, mine. The rear section gets the 3-gal. fuel tank, the swing radius for the O/B motor handle, the pump, all the cargo, oars, me, etc. She gets all of the front all to herself needing a larger targeted landing area for her graceless landings, flops, and plops, frequently loud and always awkward.
  • But wait, there's more! On Friday morning, Carol, now deeming herself both accomplished and expert with the dinghy having twice started the already warm engine, decided that she was ready to run some errands all by her big girl self which was fine by me. She left and I remained below reading that day's edition of the WSJ when I heard my name being called, presumably by Carol. I went up to see what the deal was. The deal was that Carol had violated rule #1 of dinghy-ing, one which I have stressed with her many times: never free the dinghy from whatever it is tied to until the motor is running. To make matters worse, when the dinghy is attached to our stern I tilt the motor forward, removing the motor stem from the water to prevent marine growth in the small water circulation cooling channels. Carol did not even know how to lower the engine so that it could be started. So, there she was drifting to the windward shore of the harbour with the engine still in the up position. The oars are attached and easily have been used except the seat has to be in to actually row and she doesn't know how to put in the seat. The solution turned out to be simple: I put on my bathing suit, jumped into the fairly foul water, swam to the dinghy, hauled myself in, lowered and then started the motor. Too much stress on an old body that early in the morning, too much reminiscent of the lobster pot debacle and not what I imagined would be part of the for better, for worse deal to which I agreed several decades past.

There is room for about 40 boats to moor here. Since there is the prospect of weather there's no room at the inn. We saw David and Alice this morning before they headed over to Marsh Harbour. Wind Dust was here and Megerin arrived this afternoon. Dharma, which was traveling with Debbie, is here; Dharma and Wind Dust are both nominally home ported in Oriental, NC as we are. In our travels this year we have seen a few of the other boats moored here but we have not met their owners. French Kiss is somewhere in the area since we have heard them hailed in the VHF radio. It is a small cruising world, collapsing up to the Abacos as a staging area for folks to head home a thought that was much on my mind until I saw the 31o temperature earlier this week.

Carol and I toured the island on another golf cart. Once we left the old town the island was just another place being developed with some fairly big homes and, certainly, pricing native Bahamians out of the market. Just in case our dear friend Moose decides to move to the islands there will be an opportunity for him to serve in the VFD.

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The weather has been a little breezy and will stay that way for another day or three. We have paid for the mooring through Sunday night and hope to move on Monday, maybe to Man-O-War Cay. The nice thing about this stretch of islands is that going from one to the next the miles are measured in single digits easy, non-stressful days. The only near term trick is getting out of here on a high enough tide. Having been to the top of the lighthouse, I was able to see the water and where to go to avoid the biggest problems.

Posted by sailziveli 20:13 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boating bahamas Comments (0)

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