A Travellerspoint blog

March 2013

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)

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