A Travellerspoint blog

The Berry Islands

We spent eleven days in Bimini, about six too many. Bimini has some charm but it is not enduring. It is, more or less, somewhere between a 2d and a 3d world country. But, we enjoyed the first few days.

Carol discovered a new delicacy, for her anyway: conch. Being an omnivore, she loved it. I put conch in the same grouping as octopus and sea urchin sushi: the mere fact that something can be eaten doesn’t mean that it should be eaten. Regardless, a guy came by the boat selling fresh conch and she bought several and has eaten most of them by herself …. no need to share! The rest I’m going to use for bait. So, the fish get to cast the deciding vote on conch: eat it or ignore it. For one of the few times in 40 odd years I’m hoping that Carol gets the best of this contest; trading conch for fresh fish sounds like a good deal to me.

The last week was frustrating. The Berry Islands are due east of Bimini and for a week the wind blew from the east between 15 and 25 knots; it was unrelenting. I charted, recharted, plotted anew, and ran every possible set of numbers. The short answer was, as the farmer said, “You cain’t get there from here,” at least in a safe and responsible manner. Sometimes I wonder whether we’re being prudent or weather wimps. I did notice, though, that no sailboats left Bimini for the east while this weather held.

So, Tuesday, 04/19, I awoke at 0400 and something was majorly different … silence. The wind was not slapping water against the boat; it was not stressing the mooring lines which creak as they stretch and then creak again as the return to size; it was not rubbing the boat against the fenders and the dock; it was not shrieking through the wire rigging and it was not turning the wind generator at destructive speeds. It was a good day to leave, so we did, getting underway at 0630.

We had 93 miles, a two day trip, to get to our goal: Frazer’s Hog Cay. We don’t know who Mr. Frazer was; he probably had a Scotsman somewhere in his past. His pig is a mystery to one and all. The hope was to get about 2/3’s of the way across and to anchor near the NW channel. In fact we only made about ½ of the way and, since there were not good anchoring options, we stayed at MacKie shoal.

A shoal just ought to be sand and, in fact, as we crossed the pellucid water we saw lots of sand mixed with rock. Down goes the anchor and the game began. We had a lot of trouble getting the thing to set firmly. Finally, thinking that it had, we shut everything down. For a pre-shower rinse off, I decided to put on mask and fins to check out the anchor, always a good idea. All the sand we had seen was collected in hollows on the rock. The anchor had about six inches of sand covering it in a small depression. With no prospect of doing any better, we left it there, the expensive, 45-lb. anchor little more than a paper weight, contributing less than the several hundred ponds of chain we had put out.

I was pretty sure that the wind would be mild that night; it was. And we had anchored in anticipation of a wind shift; it did. Despite the shoal, we had lots of room to move if the anchor were to drag. Regardless of all this, I stood an all night anchor watch, up every hour to check to see if it was dragging. It never budged an inch and was difficult to raise the next morning. My guess is that the point must have caught in some crack or crevice.

Having over 50 miles to do the next day, we got underway at 0430. Carol made her contribution and then told me that she was going back to sleep. Captains used to keelhaul crew for less than that. But, then, those captains were not married to their crews. A captaincy just isn’t what it used to be in these modern times.

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Regardless, I saw this sunrise and we had a good day sailing and motor sailing to get to the mooring field, making the 50 nm in about ten hours. After very little sleep the night before we were both zombies and didn’t make it much past 2100.

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Update on conch: one night I put out a chuck of conch on our rod & reel. Carol called me to the cockpit to tell me that something was going on with the rod. In fact, something had a mouthful of conch and was stripping line off the reel faster than I could tighten the drag. Net result: no fish. But when I was stowing the rig the next day I saw that whatever it was had chewed the black coating of the wire leader. Very Interesting.

Carol and I had a walkabout on the island, Frazer’s Hog Cay, today. No scenery to speak of, but interesting none the less. The interior of the island has no, none, zip, nada, scenic interest. The island itself appears to be limestone; we lived in Illinois and it looks about the same. If it’s not limestone then it’s some sort of sedimentary analog of limestone. We had not seen native plant life on Bimini … too developed and too inhabited. Here, everything, except the Australian pines, was native. There’s not much soil over the rock and nothing grows taller than 12 to 15 feet again, except those Aussie pines. The vegetation here is incredibly dense, branches and leaves each intertwining with their neighbors to create an impenetrable mass of green. This appears to be the survival adaptation: with shallow roots, the greenery has a mass that hurricane winds can barely penetrate at the edge and cannot reach the center. If nothing stands above the mass the winds can only damage the periphery and plant life goes on.

We did find a great beach, just on the west side of Texaco Point, where we entered the channel to the mooring field. This area can also be used as an anchorage in the right winds. It is down on the list of things to do the next trip.

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When we had been in Bimini for a day or two I made the usual inspection of the motor compartment. On the deck, under the motor, was a huge bolt, 17mm, along with a lock washer. I thought about it that night and decided, since there was no nut, that it may have come from a part of the motor mount. In the event, that was exactly right; I found the empty threaded hole and put it back. About a week later I got to thinking about causes and symptoms and wondered if the loose bolt might be an indicator of a larger issue. So today, Thursday, I decided to check the other bolts. Long story short: of ten bolts in the front, eight needed to be tightened; the ones in the back seemed OK, but the rear layout is more complicated. Anyway, I hope that this reduces the motor vibration; it cannot hurt.

On Friday, 04/23, we are off for Devil’s Cay, still in the Berry Islands. It is remote and completely uninhabited. A guy we met in Bimini had been there and said that he liked it very much. We will see for ourselves.

Posted by sailziveli 03:39 Comments (0)

Alicetown, Bimini

sunny 75 °F

Well, we finally made it to Bimini. We set out to go to the Bahamas on 11/18/08 and actually arrived on 04/09/10, a mere 507 days later, more time than Darwin needed for the Beagle to get to the Galapagos and more time than Capt. Cook needed to sail to and discover the Sandwich Islands.
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This was our second try to cross to Bimini this trip. We were going to leave on the Saturday before Easter, but arriving on Easter Sunday seemed like not such a good plan what with customs, immigration and all. So, we left on Easter Sunday. The wind was forecast from the ENE, which seemed workable, at 15 knots. In the event when we were about 10 miles off shore it became clear that the winds were from the east, dead on, and the 15 knots had morphed to 25 knots. There was no line we could have sailed to get across the Gulf Stream and hit Bimini. So with heavy seas, high winds and no plan, we retired back to the Marathon City Marina which we had just left.

That was OK because there were some water projects that required a Home Depot. I had been getting a great deal of longitudinal input (married men will understand these code words) from Carol about the taste and smell of the water in our tanks. She didn’t like it; I had never noticed. So in goes an inline filter from the tanks to the main faucet in the galley. I also jerry rigged a two stage filter for using hoses to fill the tanks. I also had to reinstall the foot pump that Carol uses after it became loose and would not work.

With time on our hands we worried about our potential vulnerabilities. All boaters obsess about the weather and, away from the internet, most people in the Bahamas listen to Chris Parker on their Single Side Band Radios, one of which we have. We had not been able to hear him stateside, too much static, maybe, we thought, there was too much interference from cell towers and such. We hoped for better reception in the Bahamas but that put a heavy burden on HOPE. So, we decided to sign up for the XM Marine Weather service and to have the antenna installed to download the information to our two laptops. What a mess. I spent two full days on the phone with technical support centers trying to get either computer to work, one with Windows 7 and the other with Windows XP. Eventually both did work despite the efforts of all involved, sort of a spontaneous digital healing. This was the first time I had had to deal with unstable software since the days of Sears using IBM’s O/S 2 operating system. Getting XM Weather was a wise choice; we still cannot receive Chris Parker and an internet connection here is the impossible dream.

Thursday, 04/08, was the day; the winds were, more or less, correct for the trip. We had about 36-hours before a storm front was due to arrive. There was no way to lay down a plot line …. too many variables, some of which themselves would vary over the course of the trip. The one rule that seemed to apply was not to let the course over ground be smaller than the bearing to Bimini, e.g. Bimini is at 060 so steer 080. It is better to head up from the south than to have to head down against the current from the north.

Everything went about as it should have until we got to the Bimini channel waypoint. I have only mis-entered the coordinates of a way point once; this one I got wrong twice. I thought that this error was the reason that I could not find the channel markers. Wrong! Seven of the eight markers went to buoy heaven during a hurricane so, we hung around off shore to watch some boats exit the channel. Then we took the plunge. It turned out OK but there were some surprisingly shallow waters where deep water was supposed to be the deal (to be fair to the chart publishers they did mention shifting sands).

I’ve cleared customs and immigration countless times around the world. This was the first time that I have done so with papers hand written in triplicate using carbon paper and lots of official stamps. Fortunately, it was a painless process, no lines and no hassle when we had written stuff on the wrong lines of the forms.

The water here is beyond beautiful and no picture I will ever take can convey that beauty. It is clear from the darkest blue of the very deep water to the aquamarine shades in the shallows. The west side of the island is mostly a white sand beach, and relatively high ground: probably 15~20 feet above mean low water. The view across the Straits of Florida is memorable.
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Bimini seems interesting but not in any way that would compel us to stay for an extended period. It’s predominately a black island, but I probably knew that. It’s interesting to be in a minority and not a problem because everyone, so far, has been very nice.

There is not much in the way of money here or good jobs to bring money onto the island. Some government positions, a few with utilities and some service jobs at hotels, etc; that’s all. Tourism seems to be the only way that new money comes onto the island.

One of the major economic activities with tourists seems to be sport fishing. This picture notwithstanding, I don’t know if Bimini was the island in the opening section of Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, although he wrote most/all of it here. If it isn’t, it certainly could be. The western edge of this island is remarkable. The water depth goes from 30 ft. to 3,000 ft. in maybe a mile and only a couple of miles from the beach. And, the deep waters of the Gulf Stream are where the big fish are to be had. A powerful sport fishing boat can leave Alicetown and be in very deep water in less than 30 minutes. Many of the marinas and one restaurant have 8”x10” pictures of folks with their catches of the day, some of the blue fin tuna going to 1,000 pounds.
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The cruising guides mention this store or that restaurant, a bakery or a bar. When you check the place out what is on offer is, maybe, a front room with a couple of tables or a closet sized space with some shelves and not too much in the way of merchandise on them. Carol noticed that all the inside workers are women, not men. Coming from the America of huge malls and Super Wal-Marts, it’s hard to understand that this level of retail activity can provide for and sustain some 1,700 souls, but it does.

There is only one main road: the King’s Highway, which runs the entire length of the island, not more than 7 miles. It’s easy to imagine that this was once a horse and a wagon path. There are a few cars on the island but these are certainly out numbered by golf carts, gas powered, not electric.
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It seems like about one of every ten buildings is abandoned and simply on the way to being completely destroyed by water and heat. Only a few buildings seem to be maintained and those not assiduously. Maybe the answer is that there isn’t enough money to get the job done or done economically. There is only one real estate agency on the island and not many For Sale signs.

This house was an exception. It’s a very nice house, very well maintained. Our guess, from the lions rampant, is that it was the residence of some British official before independence.
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One of the places we found was an abandoned resort at the very south end of the island. In modern terms it was like finding a Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan. From what I've seen of the island, if I were staying here, this is the place I would have wanted to be. The story is that some 30 years ago the family owners came on hard times and squabbled among themselves and it then fell into disrepair. Now, it is completely overgrown. It must have been special: several acres with the best views on the island. Now only one unit is occupied and that one looks like its ready to go.
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We rented a golf cart for a few hours to tour the island. This took about three hours with lots of stops for pictures; it’s not a very big place. Some things we saw, or didn’t see were:
• No public school, although when we asked, folks said that there is one, the building just isn’t what we would expect.
• No parks or playgrounds for kids with swings, slides, etc.
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• No obvious source of electrical power generation, although there is electricity.
• No obvious source for fresh water and only a few buildings have cisterns. The marina at which we are now moored has fresh water showers and a fresh water swimming pool.
• Only one gas station; it’s at our marina.
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• No franchises of any kind. But, there are two stores called Honey Buns, one north and one south; maybe we’ll read about that IPO in the near future.
• It was interesting to see that at least one bar has a no smoking policy.
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• The island is well churched, maybe 7 or 8 that we saw, including, of course, an Anglican church.
• Most boats moor in the harbor on the east side of the island; this boat is an exception.
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• There are free range goats, supposedly from the wreck of a Haitian refugee boat.
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In the Florida Keys killing a conch is a capital offence, Key West billing itself as the Conch Republic, without actually having any more conchs. Here, plainly, not so much of an issue; there are piles of shells along the shore and they are used for borders and fences. Conch fritters are as common here as French fries are in the states. Carol had a conch and lobster omelet for breakfast one day; the chicken needed no pity from her and the conch and lobster got none as she cleaned her plate.
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Most of the northern end of the island, maybe a quarter of the total area, has been purchased for a development: Bimini Bay. There are a lot of houses and condos built there already, although some seem to be spec houses, unfinished inside. The cost of entry is pretty high …. $2.0 million for a ½ acre lot; since every construction supply except sand for the concrete has to be brought in by boat, the cost of a house would probably be astronomical. We both like the deal on our 18.8 acres a lot better and we don’t have to worry about getting wiped out by a hurricane’s storm surge.

This has been an unusual winter, one not conducive to sailing. We waited out a hard freeze in Brunswick, the weather in Vero Beach, the weather in Key West and the weather in Marathon. Now, again, we're waiting out the weather in Bimini. We’re not sure about the next leg of the trip. We need to go east but there is a stalled high pressure area to the north and the forecast is for winds from the east at 15~20 knots through 04/15. To go east we have to cross the Grand Bahama Bank, running 15~25 feet deep. The wind on the bow in relatively shallow water with a fetch of some 70 miles would make for a very rough passage. I've read Milton and I do not agree that, "they also serve who only stand and wait," but waiting we are.

Posted by sailziveli 09:56 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boating Comments (0)

Marathon, 2010

We had been calling the city marina in Marathon, FL, every few days to see if there were any places for another boat, ours! After about 16 days in Key West, about 9 more than the visit required, slots opened up so we bolted on Tuesday and headed east, making the trip in one day with daylight to spare.

The first night here we had a miracle, something that had never happened in my month in 2009: a hot shower. The new bath house had opened and they must have more hot water capacity than the three old showers had because last year if the water was within 15 degrees of 98.6 it was a very good shower. They also have a new, second dinghy dock and a new laundry room. Pretty upscale compared to last year, but still a bargain for a secure mooring.

Even with the crowd of boats having thinned out, there are still lots of boats here. I had forgotten how close together the mooring balls are. It's rather like being in a city tenement ... when you see another boat through a porthole, without any spatial perspective, it seems that there will have to be a collision; there never is but it's still always a surprise.
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We recognized some of the same boats from last year in the same locations. Judging by the number of cars in the parking lot there must be a lot of folks who "live" here full time on their boats. Most of the people we've met have been very nice and pleasant. Some of the full timers seem to take a very proprietary sense of ownership about the marina, i.e. it's theirs. These defenders of the faith are always ready to point out an interloper's infractions and failings, real or perceived, with all the sensitivities of the average Torquemada but without the good manners and breeding. Hopefully we will not be here too long.

All sailboats are beautiful, some are just more beautiful than others. All have the look, all have the line where form and function combine to capture the wind and to master the water. I cannot say the same for this boat. It is truly ugly; if it had a mother, its mother would think it's ugly. On the other hand, it's probably a wonderful boat, designed from the inside out. http://greatharbourtrawlers.com/gh37.html
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One of the many things I thought never to see on a sailboat, let alone a dinghy, is this: a wheel chair. There is a story behind this, a 10 year old boy with a very rare degenerative disease. It must take an unusual amount of courage to undertake such a journey. But what a triumph .... living the life you choose to live instead of the one conventional wisdom dictates. Carol actually met the boy while all were at the grocery store and talked with him for a while. http://www.migo.ca/spip.php?article42
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Of course, today, March 25th, was special: Carol's birthday. As her mother related the story, and she should know, after all, Carol was born on March 25th, 1946 which means that Carol is now 64. Carol was a birthday princess with her little birthday princess tiara and her special gift T-shirt, purchased for 1/2 price at the local Salvation Army Store. We celebrated with Jay and Sue going out to a newish restaurant on the water, a very nice evening.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.
The Beatles

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Now that Spring is here, we're hoping for a weather window of some kind before too very long. We've checked and there are some possible "buddy boats" with whom we might sail. Regardless, we're going to the Bahamas and getting the stamp on our brand new passports. The next blog entry, whenever it comes, will be from The Bahamas.

Posted by sailziveli 17:30 Comments (1)

Key West Farrago

Anyone, and everyone, who has ever owned a boat more complicated than a canoe or a rowboat has learned a certain, ineluctable truth: that boats are needful things which is why from the first days that men went down to the sea to sail on them, boats have always been referred to as SHE, never it, never him. With a single mistress to serve, the boat, sailors traditionally have considered that any other women were bad luck on boats, except naked women (they were sailors, after all). A naked woman was said to calm the seas, which is why many old ships have a naked woman carved into the bow sprit. All that being said, I have not yet figured out how to convince a 63-year old woman, a skin cancer survivor at that, to dance naked on the bow of our boat to calm the stormy seas. But I am persistent and Carol is way gullible; pictures to follow, maybe.

Despite all the frustrations and aggravations of owning a boat there are compensations that can delight the soul even if they don't salvage the purse:
• There are few things as satisfying to Carol and I as sitting in the cockpit on an evening and watching whatever tableau happens to exist there, past the stern. As wind or tide move our boat, as the sun moves from a cool morning light to a warm evening light, the aspect of everything we see is altered, an endless kaleidoscope where everything changes but still remains the same. Last night after supper we watched the other boats moving into the wind in the mooring field, each moving like a flower to face the sun in its passage. Their were several pairs of Navy jets flying in formation, passing very low over the horizon, in a graceful pavane at several hundred MPH. In counterpoint, a bi-plane was also flying overhead pulling a simple text banner heading west into the fading light. The three cruise ships that we saw on Sunday left last night as we watched. We couldn’t see the whole boat but we could see the tops of their superstructures and the smoke stacks as they left the dock at 45-minute intervals, turned in the channel to head south and steamed below the horizon out of our sight. Of course, once again, the sun did set in the west, a light show of eternal fascination.
• The actual act of sailing provides us a deep satisfaction. There is a rhythm to be boat as it responds to wind and wave, regular, repeating until the body begins to respond to it, to internalize it and to move in the same way, finally, accepting the rhythm as its own. Sailing can be very quiet, only a susurrus, a hint of the friction of air flowing across water and cloth, but sometimes not, a steady drone as the wind thrums against the steel rigging as the bow cuts through the water and the hull forces it aside.

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This is how Key West looks and why people are drawn here. We have yet to meet anybody who is from here and are unlikely to do so. People just seem to wash up on the shore down here; some stay and put down roots; the others yield to new winds or tides and drift away leaving no footprints in the sand. There isn't much in Key West, the Navy not withstanding, that does not tie somehow, directly or not, to the tourist industry. The island is "built out" so new construction is not important .... nowhere to put another house and tear downs don't seem to be allowed, although houses that fall down do get replaced. Old Town, the tourist area is charming once you get off the couple of main thoroughfares. It's also obscenely expensive: a two bedroom 80-year old clapboard bungalow that may, or may not, survive the next hurricane goes for more than $1.0 million, proving again the difference between price and value.

This floating structure, price unknown, was in the same place as we saw it last year, and has probably been there many years beyond our knowing. We have never seen anyone on the structure. So, we'd appreciate some feedback on its perceived raison d'etre. (a) It is a floating church which ministers to the boats in the mooring field, about 1/4 mile away; (2) it is the winter residence of the principal chief of the Seminole tribe; (3) it is a sugar shack devoted to the consumption of beer other sybaritic delights; (4) it is a cleverly designed Naval sonar station to track foreign submarine activity in Garrison Bight. What's your vote?
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'
Improbably, I thought that this might be a bald eagle's nest. The bird's body is dark with a light colored head. I didn't think that eagles were this far south, but information about the nature preserves here indicates otherwise. The body is small, but it might be a female since "she's" always at the nest. When I finally saw "papa" it was clear that these are osprey's, possibly with young in the nest.
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Carol, again, with bougainvillea, always a favorite in the blogosphere.
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One of the more dominant trees along the coast of Florida is the Australian Pine, not a pine tree at all but probably from Australia. When we growing up in Florida in the 60's we thought the trees to be wonderful; the "pine needles," actually very small articulated branches, convert light breezes into tree music, somehow capturing or creating a resonance that is in harmony with the lapping of waves against the shore. These two sounds defined "the beach." Now these trees are classified as an invasive species. Sunrise over the Australian Pines.
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Eponymous mimosa blooms for the popular drink, but it seems that the Mojito is more prevalent here, or at least for Carol it is.
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We were walking though the old part of town and passed the island's cemetery. It had never occurred to us that Key West has the same water table problem as does New Orleans and that the solution would be the same: above ground vaults.
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A salty dog at the dinghy dock, name unknown, but will occasionally answer to Fred.
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The dinghy which caused so much consternation and has not yet stopped since we are having trouble getting it registered.
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Walking by we wondered whether were were watching the pelicans or they were watching us. Maybe, a little of both.
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When I was travelling frequently to the Orient one of my favorite stays was in the Shangri-La hotel in Singapore. This hotel had an older section called the Garden Wing, named such because the balcony of every room had a full width planter in which grew bougainvillea in mass profusion. I loved staying in the Garden Wing even though the rooms were not as modern as in the newer parts of the hotel. It was the flowers, after all, and their fragrance that so enchanted me and always drew me back. Coming from Chicago, usually in the winter, it seemed exotic to have the bougainvillea growing against the background of frangi pani trees. So, more bougainvillea, just because they inspire fond memories.
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For those of us old enough to remember the 60's, these houseboats in Garrison Bight are reminiscent of Surfside 6, the TV show set in Miami, except that was in black & white and these are in vivid pastel colors.
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Sue and Jay came to Key West on Wednesday since we have been unable to get near Marathon ... too many boats. We did the usual at Carol's request .... Cheeseburgers in Paradise ... at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. Of course, the distaff diners carried the load and had margaritas while Jay and I settled for cold, long neck beers. We later went to the top of La Concha hotel for the breeze and the view, which is the best on the island. There are always a few people on the top but not nearly so many as I would expect given all of the traffic on Duval St. Jay decided that their 50th wedding anniversary will be held there, on the top floor of the hotel, if he can hold that thought for the next 20 years.
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While we were heading back to the car we passed a graffiti covered wall and, given my recent blog entries, everyone thought that this picture was important. Personally, I don't get it but it made everyone else laugh.
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And then Jay, of course, may have actually discovered the answer to: what's the meaning of life. Now, if he's right, he'll have to let his beard grow and become a hermit on some remote mountain top, not the one in West Virginia. Guru-dom is such a burden.
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The oldest bar in Key West is Pepe's, established in 1909; it must be true because the sign on the door says so. Being the suckers for tradition we stop there every year to bend an elbow as have tens of thousands before us. There's not too much to the bar or building which may be why it has survived a century of hurricanes.
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The weather has been, relatively, wonderful; nights in the 60's and days in the 70's. We've gone through the progression. When we left it was two blankets, a comforter and long johns in bed. After a few days the long johns went away. In Miami we went to one blanket and the comforter. Our second night in Key West that blanket went away. Now we have hatches open and fans on at night; I keep the comforter on, but the red headed Nordic princess uses only the sheet. It's been so nice that Saturday I actually dove off the boat into the water and did not freeze. It's probably too soon to put all of the winter clothes into storage but the day is quickly approaching.

The water here in the mooring field is quite clear, the best we've seen on the trip. At about 10-ft. you can clearly see the bottom if the wind is not roiling things too much. Today, when I was getting ready to dive into the water, I saw a large fish off the stern. It looked to be about the width of the dinghy, but that's probably the effect of refracted light. It was most probably a barracuda at about 4-ft., large but not unusually so.

Boat casualty update: The anchor chain counter that we installed in Brunswick, with help, has stopped counting and none of the instructions in any of the eight languages in the owners manual offer any insight. On the other hand, the anemometer, which wasn't working when we left has has a Lazarus-like spontaneous resurrection and now tells wind speed fairly accurately. Not a bad trade off.

We have no plan. We're here in Key West and may be for a while. We'd like to get to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, but they're still full and have a waiting list of boats waiting to get in, now 9 down from 40. We could leave for the Bahamas from here; that would not be a problem. However, my hope was that if we left from Marathon we might be able to travel with another boat or two; there's no way that happens from Key West. We are committed to getting to the Bahamas, even if our time there is short. We've met and talked to many folks that have simply given up on getting there this year. With whatever commitments they may have and the $300 entry fee they've indicated that they're going to have to head north and to write off the 2010 cruising season. There are not many compensations to being old. However, waiting for the weather to cross the Gulf Stream is one of them, so wait we intend to do.

Posted by sailziveli 06:46 Comments (2)

Getting to The Key West

We both grew up in south Florida so things shouldn't surprise us, but there were some lasting impressions.

• We looked at the traffic as we walked and things were different, but it took some thought to figure it out: no pick up trucks but lots of Mercedes and Porches. Not like Spring Creek.

• I must have seen a couple of hundred dogs being walked and it's clear that folks down here have no concept of a proper dog. I saw, by exact count, five in total: two labs, one boxer and two all-American mutts. For the rest, if you were to take them by tens, they still would not weigh 50-lbs, merely bite sized canine canapes and doggy hors d'oeuvres. There seems to be some sort of genetic imperative that the smaller the dog the more noise it must make and these all met that criterion. I've been missing our dog, Wile E. He is, in fact, a proper dog, on the outside at least; he's a weenie on the inside even though he looks like a fierce creature.
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• I had forgotten what it's like to be around fashionistas; south Florida is a very fashion forward place, where many people seem to place great importance on how they look and what they wear. In South Beach we finally stumbled on a fashion shoot, its original raison d'etre . Despite my background, it seemed really silly and altogether unnatural to see a lady posing before the camera. With our clothing oddments from Goodwill and Walmart, we were very out of place and could not have cared less.

We saw this on the morning we left Sunset Lake. We had seen maybe two shells on the way south, both one person and both being used by men, probably for exercise. An women's eight person shell seems like there needs to be an organizing competitive body, maybe the University of Miami.
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After a couple of weeks in south Florida, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami Beach, it was time to head out. We left Sunset Lake and were going to anchor near Key Biscayne for and early departure through the Biscayne Channel. Carol had a different plan that involved gallons of water, not available on our boat, so she could wash her hair. So we ended up staying a night at Dinner Key Marina, very near Coral Gables, where she grew up, and next to the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, where once she sailed. This was the last night in a marina for a long while so we celebrated with a Poppa John's Pizza. Way Good!

So, Friday morning we got underway, not knowing at the time that the trip would ask and answer two questions: (1) Should we be allowed on a boat? (2) Do we really want to be on a boat?

Since we were going into a marina with limited room to maneuver, we had lashed the new dinghy onto the back of the boat rather than towing it; a good thing to have done. So Friday morning after we had cleared the Biscayne Channel into the open water, I decided that it was time to drop the dinghy into the water and to tow it. It didn't seem like we were going very fast, so I didn't slow down .... big mistake, and once again, predictably, chaos ensued. The dinghy hit the water, flipped upside down and separated the towing painter. Somehow the emergency painter that we always attach when towing the dinghy also lost purchase, I don't know how, Murphy's Law or some such thing. So, we're going south headed to the Keys and the brand new dinghy is in our wake headed north to Newfoundland in the Gulf Stream. So, around comes the boat to recover the dinghy and the foresail ties itself into a ball like a wet sheet from the washer and the two jib-sheets do their best imitation of 50-ft. long amarous snakes trying to mate. That was a problem for later. Recovering the dinghy was easy .... getting it right side up was not. I was on the swim platform directing Carol in using the boat hook to help flip it right side up. One mis-step and I was in the water with the dinghy. Fortunately, Carol had insisted that I put on one of our life vests with a built-in safety harness that I had secured to the boat with a safety tether. So, no big deal. Eventually we got the thing turned over and jerry rigged a new painter. Then onto the sails which probably took another quarter hour to get unfouled.

This was probably the 2d dumbest thing that we've done on the boat; Carol owns the record for numero uno and I hope never to top that. So, should we allowed on a boat? Maybe not; we may be a danger to the sailing gene pool, dumbing it down.

The trip included:

• The dinghy, of course;

• After taking off the safety tether the snap shackle, which connected me to the boat fell into pieces in the cockpit, imagine that. I repaired it and it's now very secure, but it gives one pause.

• A very hard bottom in one anchorage, which made it very difficult to set the anchor and made us worry that hard to set would mean easy to pull loose;

• That anchorage was totally exposed to the 15~25 knot winds, a very rough night;

• Because of the bottom and the wind, I stood an anchor watch, checking every hour to see if the anchor was still set and not dragging; it was set and didn't drag;

• At O'dark thirty on the anchor watch while I was fiddling around with the chart plotter to check our position, I brought up a menu that had several mentions of being in a restricted area, specifically a PSSA, a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area. Folks in the Keys are adamant about protecting sundry sea grasses, an important part of the food chain. I had visions of the Eco-Police shooting me, throwing Carol in jail and burning the boat or, even worse, making us move in the dark.

• The first night, as were shutting down for the night, the port side came awash with light when the nearest light should have been in Cuba, 90 miles to the south. I went topside and some guy asked if I was looking for him. I allowed that I was not, in fact, looking for him. There were a few minutes of conversation on the other boat and then it left. No big deal but it brought to mind all the tales of drug runners and pirates.

• The shower wouldn't work which entailed taking apart the head to find and undo two kinks in the hose;

• The anchor was fouled with trash on the bottom;

• When Carol had the anchor almost stored, it got sideways in the bow roller and jammed hard and we don't have a crow bar.

• While sailing we noticed a new, deep and disturbing low frequency vibration on the boat for the short time that we were sailing close to the wind, at one point actually seeing the mast and spreaders vibrating. When we anchored I checked things and found that the starboard backstay was much looser that the port side one. Rigging tension adjustments are way beyond my pay grade. But, it seemed like the penalty for doing nothing was probably greater than acting and getting it wrong. Since I have the highest pay grade on the boat, out came the tool box. We tightened it a lot and need to do a little more. There is no locking device on the turnbuckles so we don't know is whether we addressed a problem or a symptom.

• The navigational nightmare of entering Newfound Harbor. You don't so much pilot the boat as play a video game, finding a depth of water number you like, say a 7, and when you reach that spot on the chart plotter looking for another good number, a 9, without an intervening 3, and moving the boat cursor there. It took over an hour to go less than 2 miles.

• While going forward to untangle a jib sheet, I tried to use my face to make a dent in the mast. The mast is in tact; my face however, looks like I went about 10 rounds with Mike Tyson .... a massive shiner, a big mouse and a large cut under my left eye. Another case of elder self-abuse.

So, do we want the hassle of being on a boat? You betcha'! After we cleared the terrible anchorage we had one of the best days sailing, ever, probably making 45~50 miles under sail. The new sails must help, maybe the improved boat trim too, because we were faster, a lot faster, than in the past. The new autopilot is great making the sailing truly enjoyable. Sit back, relax, mess with the sail trim every once in a while, and enjoy the ride. I think that for boaters in general, but sailboaters in particular, that a boat is meaning to Robert Frost's line: "I took the one less traveled by."

We made it safely to Key West. Carol piloted the boat through the harbor, around Fleming Key and to the mooring field .... a first for her. There were three cruise ships in port which means a lot of people in town the next few days.
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North of town we saw the sailboat Legacy in about the same place it was last year when we left. This boat's story is a cautionary one for all sailors. http://www.sptimes.com/2007/10/06/State/Deep_pockets_and_his_.shtml
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We're looking forward to seeing Jay and Sue who keep the RV near Marathon on Ohio Key; Les and Jean may come down and we'll have a cousin's reunion which would be nice. We've ordered some more stuff for the boat for which we will wait until it arrives; Carol has had our mail forwarded from Green Cove Springs. The mooring is secure, but not very sheltered, so no concerns with anchors dragging. There are stores, like Home Depot, lots of restaurants and, seemingly, an endless supply of beer to go with the quotidian sunsets. The weather is comparatively warmer, but still cool by local standards. Still days in the 70's and nights in the low 60's seems like a really good deal.

Posted by sailziveli 07:08 Comments (1)

Miami Beach

If We're so far South, How Come It's Still Cold?

We had planned to stay in Ft. Lauderdale another day, moving to another location to be ready to leave very early Saturday morning, with no bascule bridges to be raised. But, things went so well leaving that we decided to head straight to Miami, which we did. It was amazing! That which seemed to take five hours on Sunday with all the stress and all of the traffic today seemed to take five minutes with no problems and no traffic. Of course, the fact that it was 44 degrees early Friday morning may have affected most folks outlook about being on the water.

The stay in Ft. Lauderdale was three and a half days of R&R, not rest and recreation … repairing and replacing. The major repair target was the toilet which seemed to be working less well than before. This was the proverbial dirty job. There was calcium buildup on the hoses and the joker valve was pretty well shot, no joking matter. We have extras on the boat so, now, the toilet works very differently and, maybe, the way the way it was always supposed to do.

Ft. Lauderdale was nice, but a little disappointing. The river walk was scenic but there was a paucity of activity, only two restaurants and not much else. A lot of places seemed to have gone under during these hard times. Carol liked the area for walking, there were some stores in the area but I’m not sure that it rates a return engagement.

Not to harp on the big boats on the small New River, but this boat actually has a helicopter on deck.
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So here we are again in Sunset Lake (N25 48.155, W080 08.455), a place that we much enjoyed last year. It’s crowded this year: 9 boats. From last year we knew that the Fortress anchor offered the best holding; so, on the way here we changed from the Manson to the Fortress. The easiest anchoring ever; it set immediately and stayed set.

Last year in Sunset Lake we learned that our electrical system wasn’t up to our cruising needs, and made changes in Marathon. At Cooley’s Landing in Ft. Lauderdale, we met a Canadian couple that had just returned from Sunset Lake and had discovered the same thing about their electrical system. Their answer was to head north, gradually, and to put the boat up for the season while they have repairs made. It was nice this year. Minutes after the anchor set, I turned on the wind generator and we had supplemental power.

Food is something that we haven’t discussed. Carol is, of course, the chief cook and mess officer. She does pretty well with limited resources. The refrigerator is small, maybe 4-cu. ft. or so; the freezer is about 2-cu. ft. with much of that space taken by 10-lb. bags of ice. The range had two gas burners; no oven but a microwave under the stove that Carol could use with the power inverter but has chosen not to do so. We actually have a fair amount of storage in the forward cabin which has become a pantry/closet/dumping ground.

The food is pretty good, but better at nourishing the body than nourishing the epicurean soul …. lots of rice and pasta, both of which store well dry and cook with salt water, a very available resource. In Ft. Lauderdale Carol came across some heirloom tomatoes, which she combined with goat cheese; salads were great for several days. She also found a bakery with really great bread. Small things make a big difference on the boat, at least at dinner time.

On the way south this trip, I finally located the Fountainebleau hotel on Miami Beach. It’s quite distinctive and I cannot believe that I missed it last year. It’s been there a lot of years, including when Carol and I dated on Miami Beach. It’s most famous moment, in my opinion, came in 1964 when James Bond kibitzed Auric Goldfinger's Gin game with a little help, of course, leading to the gold coated death of Jill Masterson.
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All the time that we have been in Miami Beach these two banners, along with a couple of others have been flying overhead, north to south and then back again, for hours every day. It's interesting that the banners are about 5 times as long as the planes towing them. It seems an ironic anachronism that a marginal advertising medium, probably perfected before WWII, still has a place in the age of Twitter, iPhones and Facebook.
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This has been a strange visit, not at all like last year's time here. We didn't work on the boat, per se, but there were other tasks, shopping and the IRS that seemed to absorb a lot of time. Carol got our taxes done here; we have no deductions so it seemed to take an inordinate amount of time even though Carol had most of the required paper work. We never even made it to the beach although we did score a great brunch on Sunday morning on the Lincoln Road mall. Carol also got, delayed Christmas present, a cheesecake from Epicure's which, being Carol, she shared with me. One full day, Tuesday, we spent on the boat waiting for a front to pass. There were gale warnings and winds of 25~40 knots, although at this mooring I doubt that they got much above 30 knots. Even so, all the boats, including us, were watching their anchors in case they lost purchase and dragged. The space is such that there is no margin for error in any direction .... into a sea wall east or west, or another boat north or south. All ended well although we did choose to re-anchor in the teeth of the storm.

We're leaving Sunset Lake tomorrow, Thursday 03/04, for Key West. We haven't worked out all of the trip details yet. We had wanted to stop in Marathon, FL, in Boot Key Harbor; the weather has been so bad for cruisers wanting to cross to the Bahamas that there is "no room at the inn" anywhere. So we'll probably bypass it and head straight to Key West.

Posted by sailziveli 16:24 Comments (2)

South, at Long Last

rain 70 °F

Well, things changed. The weather that looked good on Sunday didn't look so good on Monday morning when it was time to really get underway. Fairly high winds, and when we would have been south of Palm Beach, those winds would have been near the Gulf Stream, making for very rough water. So, we waited. The marina is OK and cheap, only $15 a day for a mooring ball, sort of like the difference between a Holiday Inn and a hostel. But we have facilities, access to town and, occasionally, scenes like this in the morning.

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On the way to Vero Beach a boat named Cheers passed us, as all boats do, so we had a brief VHF conversation about boat names, ours, Ziveli, also meaning cheers in Serbo-Croation. Long story short, they came by our boat to ask us over for dinner, an invitation we accepted gratefully. Not only did we have a great evening with a nice and interesting couple, we also got to see a 42-ft. Beneteau ..... a real treat and, as Carol said at the time: "What a difference 6-ft. makes."

Their cockpit is completely enclosed, the first such in which we have ever been. No wind, a little sunshine and you have, as Palmer called it, a solarium. This may be the next upgrade for the boat. Carol and I have declined offshore passage opportunities not because of the sea and wind conditions, but because it would be too cold and too windy in our cockpit, open on three sides. Their boat also has a built in generator. With this they are able to recharge their batteries; we actually have move battery capacity than they, but they need less because they can recharge any time. They can also run their two Cruise-Air heat pumps to keep things toasty warm in the cabin. Way nice, but not possible on our boat; the little Honda will just have to do the job.

The trip has produced our second cruising casualty, after the O/B motor: this time the dinghy itself. As a means of conveyance an inflatable dinghy has two fundamental requirements: keep air in and keep water out. Ours was failing in both requirements and it looked like it was probably an irreversible death spiral. So, we had a new one delivered, smaller by about 3-ft. and lighter by about 20-lbs. It also has a rigid fiberglass floor and transom. This presents new storage problems because the old one rolled up into an awkward but manageable rubber block; but, we'll find a way, necessity being, in this case the mother of ingenuity.

But, wait .... there's more. Adam, who delivered the dinghy, helped us to move to motor and stuff. So he drives off and Carol and I get in to return to the boat. We hadn't gone 100 yards before I noticed water coming into the bow and stern through fittings in the fiberglass bottom. Out comes the cell phone and back comes Adam to take the dinghy back and to seal or reseal all the fittings. Two days later we had the dinghy back and it's now dry.

Now the only dinghy problem is Carol who doesn't so much get into and out of the dinghy as she lurches, lumbers and lands, rather like an elephant trying to dance on one roller skate. Now the launching and landing areas have been reduced .... a lot! I expect that sometime this trip Carol will end up in the water.

So, on Saturday last, the long hoped for weather window arrived, not only good weather offshore but also reasonable temperatures. We motored from Vero Beach to the Ft. Pierce inlet and at 1050 on 02/20/2010 we entered the North Atlantic Ocean. It was a good, and I thought, very easy passage; Carol, perhaps, thought otherwise. There was some wind but not enough to drive the boat without the motor so, we motor sailed pretty much the whole way. We learned from last year about the power of the Gulf Stream; this year we never went east of the 80th meridian. Even with this, to counter the northward current , over the last 20 miles, or so, we had to move so close to shore that we could see the white foam breaking on the dark of the wet sand.

We arrived at Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday morning, about 1000. It's a wide and deep channel since there are about a half dozen cruise ships home ported there, the easiest and shortest channel we've yet used. These are some of the cruise boats as seen from the channel.
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And then the games began. Sunday morning, a weekend, the first warm and clear weather in weeks and the first day in many without small craft advisories or warnings .... every boat in Broward county was on the water. The ICW channel is so narrow and sinuous in some places that the pilings for the day marks look like a picket fence and little of the water's surface between the picket fences was bare of a boat .... big and small, sail and power, craft of every conceivable configuration and color were on the move. The bigger boats, and sail boats, moved steadily, if not slowly, while the smaller boats darted between and around them, taking comfort in clearance that was measured in femtoinches .... no scratches in the gel coat, then no problem. Everyone seemed to understand the navigation and the complex choreography except us. In the boating sense I felt like the rural guy from Spring Creek on his first trip to the "Big City."

We went to a marina to refuel, no real problems, and then headed for Cooley's Landing, a marina that had been recommended to us by a couple of people as cheap with OK facilities and in a beautiful tableau ... along the New River with a river walk akin San Antonio's. So, off we go! We had to cover about 3 miles to the marina. We had studied the chart but the difference between the six inches on paper and the 3 miles on the water was beyond my imagination. The river is tortuous, with more twists and hair pin turns than NC Hwy 209 and, in some places it's not nearly so wide. The amount of traffic on such a small waterway was staggering: the huge boats that moor there were out for the nice day; others, some semi-huge, were just sight seeing; then there were the tour boats, some tarted up as paddle wheelers. The New River must be an A-list sort of place, big bucks! The narrow waterway is lined with yachts and mega-yachts parked at their mansions; 50-ft. is a small craft and more than 100-ft. is common. These dreadnaught wanna-be's so narrow the channel that some keep fenders on their water sides for the inevitable bumps that occur. At one point a 75-ft. boat literally honked its horn at us because we were going too slowly and he wanted to pass us; I found a way to let it by. Another used its loudspeaker to tell us to get the H... out of the way; I did not. The high point of the transit was when a bridge keeper started lowering the span onto our mast, claiming that he did not see us as we passed through with several other boats.

This is the New River, from a bridge, where we are moored. We are directly across from the large white boat on the left side in the second photo.
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This back end of a boat, so big, that it is being towed up the river. There are tow boats on the bow and stern so that it can be pushed, pulled and pivoted through the turns, something it could not do under its own power.
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We did not know the precise location of the marina and this one, a city marina, has no sign or yellow arches to identify it. We were instructed to get there at 1245, slack water, for the easiest mooring. The person neglected to say that he would be at lunch then and, on return, too busy watching the Olympics to respond to the VHF radio or phone. So, in the narrow channel, we leaned over the side to ask the folks in the boats next to us if they knew where the marina is. One, in a kayak, confirmed what we suspected, that we were in about the right place. At this point, my legendary, saint-like patience exhausted, I decided that we were staying there, right or wrong, and that Carol could sort out the issues later. The only problem was that we were in the "right hand lane" with heavy boat traffic behind us and a steady stream of boats coming toward us from the bascule bridge; we had to make a "left hand turn" into the marina. It never occurred to me that a boat might need a turn signal but one would have been useful. The only option was to wait for a break in the oncoming traffic, which is when the big boat behind us used its loudspeaker. We moored safely; it was the right marina; and after I told the man on duty what I thought Carol did, in fact, have to sort things out.

The marina's setting is, as advertised, a beautiful place. It's going to be 75 degrees today. The river walk is gorgeous and there are stores near by. We'll stay here a couple of days, rest a little, do some maintenance, make a repair or two, and then head to the Keys before the weekend.

Posted by sailziveli 07:37 Comments (0)

Still, Still heading South

Vero Beach

We anchored out on Monday, 02/08/10, about 27 miles north of Vero Beach, our first anchorage this trip. It was a nice evening, warm enough, barely, to have dinner topside; so we did. Two other boats that pulled in with us and two more came into the anchorage later. There must be some art to setting an anchor that we have not yet mastered..... how much initial scope, how much speed in reverse, etc. Because the trip was shortened last year we just haven't done it enough to do it efficiently. There is a penalty for getting it wrong. One boat anchored well .... the other did not. (I made that up but it could be true.)
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We were rewarded the next morning with this, an amber sunrise along the Indian River.

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Along the way to Vero Beach we saw several osprey's, the first of the trip. Both of these were at nests, so it must be getting close to, or is, breeding season.
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At the marina we got our own mooring ball; it's late in the season, not so many boats, so no rafting to another boat. Les and Jean came to pick us up and we stayed with them for two days, a very nice visit. When boaters visit people with cars that generally means getting driven from store to store to replenish all the esoteric supplies that have been exhausted. Les and Jean were very nice and very gracious, drove us around and did not complain. We had a great dinner the first night at a restaurant from which we could see the marina, but not our boat.

When we were growing up in Connecticut Les, who is a couple of years older, was always my hero. I was, and continue to be a klutz; Les was the guy who could, and did, hit the baseball out of the park, something to which I aspired but never attained. It must be a gift of some kind to do these things so well. Now, a half century later, shooting in the 80's for as round of golf is OK but doesn't make him happy. The two cousins.
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When we were setting up the dinghy to leave the boat and to meet Les and Jean, I had a devil of a time getting the O/B motor started despite having had it serviced before we left Brunswick. We did get to the dock and, after the visit, back to the boat but that was it; the motor would not start again. One of the good things about marinas like this, ones that have a lot of passers-through, is that some folks make "house calls." In this case, I rowed the motor to the dock, it was picked up; 24-hours later it was back and working. The problem: water in the fuel tank, and I did NOT put it there. The proximate cause was probably high content ethanol gasoline and in the cold weather the ethanol condensed, or something. So, back to the owners manual .... the O/B manual said nothing about fuel type, the one for the Honda generator did. The upshot is that we now will buy only marine grade gasoline, very high octane, no ethanol. I can only wonder why we have to make every mistake in the book; it would be nice, and a lot cheaper, to skip a page or two.

Vero Beach has been nice; the weather has not. It was 37 F this morning, the coldest yet, and 49 F inside the unheated boat. We've been working the Honda generator hard and the space heater is OK but not great: toasty is not a word that comes immediately to mind but with several layers polar fleece we're comfortable enough. We've talked to many people that have stayed at this marina and all liked it very much, not so much for the physical plant, which is average, as for the convenience. Vero Beach has a free municipal bus system that is quite good. The buses are of the type and size that rental car agencies use to move customers from airports to remote parking lots. We got to a Home Depot, West Marine and a grocery store in just a couple of hours and saw a lot of the city along the way. This is also snow-bird season in Vero Beach: lots of people, lots of cars everywhere. In our sixties, we help lower the average age .... a bunch. It may have been my imagination, but Vero Beach sort of had the pushy/aggressive feel of the North. The locals have not much liked the weather and do not much seem to like all the visitors.

Now, we're waiting for a weather window to head to Miami or, in a pinch, Ft. Lauderdale. I think that we may have accept a cold night because good weather and comfortable temperatures seems an impossible combination. Monday, the 15th, has possibilities. We can only hope!

Posted by sailziveli 05:52 Comments (1)

Still Heading South

The hardest day of the trip is over, a transit of only three miles. St. Augustine is the flop sweat capital of the ICW. Since we decided to stay an extra day here before heading south Carol suggested that we move the boat south of the Bridge of Lions, which is undergoing a major renovation, a really good idea.

There is a big shoal in the middle of the harbor which requires a course almost into the inlet before making a sharp "V" course change back southwest toward the bridge. There is a close set pair of buoys, a gate, through which a boat must pass; if you turn to soon, the shoal will get you; the tow boat operators get rich on this mistake. I knew this from last year. So, Carol and I are intensely focused ... counting out marker numbers to get to Red 60, which is the turning point. And, we're doing great until I look at the depth meter ..... 7' and getting more shallow. Oooooops!!! We, I, whatever, were committed to and steering toward the wrong red marker. Big mistake! We dodged that bullet, got back into the channel and finally found the right marker.

We arrived at the bridge about 10 minutes before the scheduled 11:00 am opening. Bridges never open on time so I had to hold the boat in a waiting position for about 15 minutes while there was a 4-knot current pushing us into the bridge while the wind was pushing us towards the mainland. I must have had a brain cramp, or something, because after one turn we were way too close to the unopened bridge, going stern first toward it at four knots. The engine has never worked that hard before and probably won't again. Somehow, I don't quite know how, we clawed our way back against the current and out of hazard.

The trifecta of troubles was complete when the operator only opened one span of a two span bridge because of the construction, and by the way, that span doesn't reach true a perpendicular. Not only was the margin reduced by 50%, or so, the usual visual markers don't apply: you cannot center the boat between the bridge supports. So, I put Carol on the deck to give me hand signals. The thing is that to control the boat, have positive rudder action, while going with the current you have to be going faster than it is. So our accomplishment this day was to thread the needle at full ramming speed. The only good thing was that I could not see overhead because of the bimini, so ... I didn't have a reason to panic. Here are captain and boat at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, on the south side of the bridge .... mast in tact, the skipper's nerves not in tact.
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Carol and Victoria had an afternoon doing girl stuff .... in case you cannot tell, Victoria is the small one. Here's Carol at the Flagler College.
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We've just been slogging south, lots of half days with bad weather, bad winds, etc. This is supposed to be about the journey but this has felt more like work. We had a window to head off shore just below Daytona Beach, but when we looked at the weather Carol decided that she didn't want to be cold any more; it would have been about 40 degrees that night. So, we continue along the ICW.

Yesterday we crossed the Mosquito Lagoon, part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It's maybe 10 miles long and 2 miles wide with a depth of 1~5 feet. It's quite beautiful in an austere sort of way; there are no islands, just unbroken body of water. The water must be rich in food because it supports a bird population in the ka-jillions and, seemingly, porpoises too.
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We stopped in Titusville on the evening of Sunday, 02/07/10. I thought that I might find a TV to watch the Super Bowl .... I didn't, so I listened to it on AM radio, the first time I've used that band in more years than I can count. Having awakened too early I got a surprise: the NASA launch of the Endeavor space shuttle. We may have been 7 miles, or less, from the site. What a sight .... like a small sun lighting up the horizon. What I didn't expect was the sound. The boat shook and vibrated like the leaf in the wind.

It's great to live in an open society where people can arrive in planes, cars and boats to watch some of their nation's business being transacted, amazing actually. I wouldn't want to be Homeland Security for something like this.

(The good picture is from a news web site) We passed the launch site about 5-hours after lift off. The tall structure to the left is the gantry.
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We anchored for the first time this year, south of Melbourne and north of Sebastian. I was unsure about the anchorage but we have three other boats with us, so it must be OK. I've come to feel about anchoring like Woody Hayes did the forward pass: three things can happen and two of them are bad. This is off our starboard side: one boat has done well, the other has not.
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Tomorrow we should hit the Vero Beach mooring field, leaving the boat for a couple of days to visit cousin Les and Jean. (This is a stock photo)
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Posted by sailziveli 15:19 Comments (1)

Heading South

Leaving the Palm Cove Marina was an exercise in patience, a virtue with which I am ill acquainted. This marina has a very shallow channel and last year when we stayed at this marina we hit the bottom entering the channel. This year we went in at dead high tide, no hay problema. Leaving in the morning was not so easy. I checked the tide tables and "guessed" that by 8:00 am there would be enough water in the channel to get out. To leave the dock we had to execute a 180 turn plus a little bit more, in six feet of water, we draw about 5' 2", with little swing room along the shoal. For some reason, I could not get the stern to move right, maybe the wind, maybe the current, maybe the operator. The dénouement was letting the boat drift against the fuel dock and using that as a fulcrum to force the bow to the left. It worked, although I have never seen that particular maneuver in the Annapolis Book of Seamanship.

Leaving the channel, grande problema! After about 100 yards were were in 4’6” of water, but it was mud and the fin keel cut through it like a John Deere plow. Another 100 yards and we were hard aground. Fortunately, the tide was running in and about 15 minutes later we floated off and we were on our way to St. Augustine.

The trip was fairly boring, altogether a good thing. Here Carol was at the helm during a 5-mile stretch that was perfectly straight doing her best, “Look Ma, no hands” version of piloting. Periodically she punched in a degree or two of course change into the auto pilot. P2020203.jpg

That portion of the ICW was a study in contrasts. The west side looked as it has for centuries, if not millennia. If Ponce de Leon had passed this way in the early 1500’s he would have seen what we saw. The Bartrams, who did pass this way in the mid 1700’s may have seen this exact thing. The east side, however, was a testament to the opulence of modern America: interesting, for many aspirational, and totally without modesty. In fairness, there are many in the world who would say the same of us.
P2020206.jpgP2020205.jpgP2020202.jpg

After a while on the water, you sort of figure that you’ve seen most of the basic iterations of craft that ply the ICW and that there won’t be any surprises. This day we were surprised: Buckminster Fuller’s vision of a vessel? It seems to be a couple of pontoons with a base and a geodesic dome for a cabin. There are two O/B motors on the back. If you believe the web site posting, earthball.org, this conveyance has come from North Carolina and is bound for the Florida Keys. There is a wind generator, so he has some battery power. P2030208.jpg

We hit St. Augustine and had planned a single night here, but the weather forecast indicates dangerous in-shore winds of 30 knots and over. So we're staying an extra day, which will be nice so that we can see the town. We hooked up with Victoria, who had visited us in Brunswick on her way south. Since our marina has a courtesy car we combined our errands. We may travel together down the ICW since she's also bound for the Vero Beach mooring field.
Victoria_Younger.jpgP1190164.jpg

Posted by sailziveli 05:31 Comments (1)

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez

Monday, our first day out, was a difficult day, intense and tiring. We got underway for Fernandina Beach, a trip of about 45 miles. The first mile or so went pretty well, down the East River from the marina. When we hit the main channel the tidal current slowed us to 1.0 knots, sometimes less. So, out went the new mainsail at the 2d reef point, maybe 25% of the sail surface; with the wind assist we managed to hit 3.5 knots, a casual walking pace.

The transit behind Jekyll Island was OK, if slow. When we hit St. Andrew’s Sound the wind picked up and it got way rough. The trick in the sound is that, more or less, you go out into the ocean and then double back behind Cumberland Island. Of course, the tidal current was against us for hours, speed in the area of 3.0 knots.

The channel was poorly marked: markers where none were indicated, others missing that should have been there, and two buoys were washed up on the beach at the north end of the island. And all the while, winds approaching, sometimes exceeding, 25 knots. Hooray for chart plotters with GPS and way points; technology beats smarts.

The bit of good luck came when we got near King’s Bay Naval Base. There, the tidal current started glowing south and, since the wind was on the stern, we put out the jib, but not very much of it. At one point we were making better than 8.0 knots with tide and wind.

As we neared Fernandina Beach, south of the naval base, a Coast Guard cutter hailed us. There were three US naval ships getting underway and they wanted us to clear the channel, which we did. The USCG guys were nice and polite; but, the forward gun mount was manned, just in case. One was a submarine, if you can pick it out. P2010192.jpgThe other was a vessel, the type of which I had never seen. If you want to know why spies may become obsolete, google HOS Black Powder. There's an amazing amount of information on the web.

At Fernandina Beach, when we were trying to secure the boat to the mooring ball, Carol, in the space of about 5 minutes managed to loose her hat overboard, bend the boat hook, then drop the bent boat hook over the side, it floats, and finally to foul the two lines to the mooring ball. First day nerves I guess, although in her defense it was very windy in the mooring field. Fortunately, someone going by in a dinghy recovered the boat hook and returned it.

Inside things didn’t go too much better. The electric blanket we were counting on doesn't work. Not a problem but the bed wasn’t be toasty warm. I decided to try the electric heater though the inverter, just to see what would happen: Bad Idea! In the space of a minute or so the batteries went from 13.8v. to 12.7v. Curiosity satisfied, we’ll only use that piece of equipment with the Honda generator. And the anemometer was having a quiet day showing winds of 2~3 knots when they were blowing 20 knots plus. On the good side, after a full day of fighting the boat due to the wind, the fair return was that the wind generator was really cranking out power, topping off the batteries in short order.

Carol and I hit the sheets before 8:00 pm, partly to stay warm and partly because we were feeling our age. With enough expedition weight thermal underwear, two blankets and a comforter will keep you warm, and we were. The extra clothing also serves as an ad hoc form of birth control: old folks cannot stay awake or stay interested long enough to get all those clothes off. We actually slept until about 6:00 am, unusually late for us.

On Tuesday, plan B went into effect. The VHF weather forecasts had a series of high and low pressure cells passing, each about 24 hours apart. If there was a weather window to go offshore, it has slammed shut. So, we are putt-putting down the ICW which is an acronym for boring, boring, boring. Of course, as I bemoan having to go down the ICW in stead of offshore, I am reminded that on Monday, we heard the USCG announce that one sailboat had an EPIRB, an emergency signal, broadcast and another sailboat called in a distress signal. Way too much physical and mental stress to save a few days in transit, not to mention the actual risk.

One interesting thing that we noticed today was clumps of birds huddled along the shore line. P2010194.jpg It’s not apparent why they weren’t foraging: weather, tide, moon? From a distance they look like snowy egrets; these birds are larger, about the size of a blue heron, and not so pure white as egrets; and, they have a black band on the underside of their wings. Maybe we can find a Roger Tory Peterson book in St. Augustine.

Today we stopped at a marina in Jacksonville Beach, under duress. St. Augustine is too far for us to make in one day and there are no good anchorages between here and there. It rained pretty good this morning so at least we can dry things out.

The sort of plan is to stop tomorrow in St. Augustine, run some errands and then to head south to Vero Beach, maybe even to see the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Posted by sailziveli 15:41 Comments (3)

2010 Liftoff

37 °F

"Travel not only stirs the blood ... it gives strength to the spirit." Florence Prag Kahn

The quote is from the wonderful log/journal that Stan and Connie gave us in 2008. The quote seemed appropriate since we are now traveling and I could probably use some strength of spirit.

The strength of spirit refers to another entry I've added to my growing list of things that most people are smart enough to know shouldn't be done even once. In this case getting hit by a car while I walking across the parking lot. Being small in stature and slow of foot, my serious aspirations for the NFL ended in the 7th grade on the junior high team. While other guys on the team were dealing 5 o'clock shadow I was wondering if I would ever weigh 100 pounds. So, now, twice, including the dock and ribs, I know what it's like to get hit by Ray Lewis, except that a Ford Explorer is even bigger than he is. Anyway, I'm just a little stiff and sore and probably will be for a few more days.

The ribs and cold weather not withstanding, we thought to be under way several weeks ago. Given all of the projects that we have completed in the last few weeks that hope was either naive or stupid or both.

On Wednesday, we got the last serious issue completed when we took the boat out for a few hours to calibrate and sea trail the new auto-pilot I installed last September. Technology is great! The sea trial was not going well, so I called RayMarine from the cell phone, they gave me a trouble shooting tip which I completed, all the while underway. Now it works like a charm.

Then there was the 48-hours the boat spent out of the water while we had the seals around the inside of the propeller shaft replaced. We went to St. Mary's for a visit since we could not stay on the boat. The old St. Mary's is pretty, picturesque and quaint. We walked around the docks for a while and talked to other boaters and then had a great sea food dinner at Lang's restaurant where the food was promised to have come from Mr. Lang's boat, probably the only local sea food we've had in two years. For desert, we had this great sunset over the marsh ... Sunset_in_St__Mary_s.jpg

The biggest project was to try to trim the boat. Some guy was walking by and commented that our boat was listing badly, e.g. it was leaning to port and down in the stern. The trim had never been good but when I had the third house battery moved to the port lazarette and we bought the Honda generator a bad situation got much worse: about 550-lb in less than 2-sq. ft. This is a lot on a boat that weighs less than nine tons. So, two trips to Jacksonville, FL to buy lead ingots and one trip to Savannah, GA to buy bags of lead shot along with some weight lifting plates from the local Walmart and we've added over 700-lb. in various nooks and crannies. The good news is that the boat is in trim and we can make some adjustments as things change. The bad news is the extra weight which may have increased our draft an inch or so.

It sometimes seems that all we have done is work on the boat, approximately true is not literally so, a white bottomless pit into which we pour time and money. However, at St. Mary's there were some cautionary examples of why that is necessary.P1270171.jpg This was a sailboat, there's a winch for the jib sheet. 270_P1270172.jpg So was this.

So ..... at long last, we're off, putting Brunswick to our stern and headed for the Fernandina Beach mooring field. We'll lay over there one night while some thunderstorms pass and then head offshore for a two day run to the Ft. Pierce Inlet and then the Vero Beach mooring field to visit cousin Les and Jean. Cool weather, some wind, some seas and it's great to be underway again.

Posted by sailziveli 20:53 Archived in USA Tagged boating Comments (0)

Preflight 2009 - Redux

On the positive side #1: the new mail sail has arrived and is installed along with the new genoa. New_Sails.jpgCarol, being Carol, insisted on complete color coordination. No white sails for her becoming Red Sails in the Sunset.

On the positive side #2: The ribs on the left side are healing well and a little cortisone on the right side makes me feel almost like a new guy; well, maybe not all the way new but at least back to version 62.0.

On the negative side: Baby, It's Cold Outside, about 20 degrees colder than normal, not news to anyone living in the mid-west or on the east coast. If we have to be stuck somewhere due to weather, being at a dock with shore power to run the heater and having a car to get around without and open water dinghy ride, Brunswick is OK.

It seems that Dante postulated a Hell with seven circles, cold not hot. He only needed three circles: (1) cold; (2) cold and windy; (3) cold and windy on the water. It's a two day run to Ft. Pierce; doing that on the open sea in an open cockpit earns a merit badge we neither need nor want. So, the long range forecast shows a weather window early next week with temperatures becoming more normal. If that happens, and the hose thaws so that we can fill our water tanks, we're southbound.

There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
Water Rat, Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Carol and I have been messing about in our boat to get ready for the trip, working hard to get ready to get underway, changing belts, replacing fluids, generally checking everything. We're in pretty good shape with only a few odd tasks to complete before we can cast off the lines and head south. The last few trips to the boat, combined with this one have all been about work; the boat hasn't left the dock in six months. Some things have become apparent during this time:
[list]
[*]All people who build and/or work on boats are steroidal, weight-lifting giants. The average 63 year old guy, moi, for example, cannot loosen any nut, clamp, etc., that they have tightened.

[*]Not too many jobs are complicated, i.e. requiring special tools or knowledge; those we hire done. All jobs, however, are involved. Just about everything requires emptying or moving lots of stuff to get access to any area. We just completed a task on the two water tanks and spent six hours emptying and deconstructing, and then reconstructing, the two berths to gain access to the tanks. The actual work per tank: 5~10 minutes.

[*]If it were possible to get a DNA infusion to help with boat repair, I would choose bat DNA. They're strong for their weight; the can spend long periods hanging upside down; and they work well in the dark. These are all good, practical attributes for all manner boat repairs.

[*]No matter how much attention I pay to the way I take things apart, those things never seem to go back together in quite the way that I remembered.

[*]It seems impossible to complete any repair or task without dropping at least one nut/bolt/washer/screw into a recess in the boat from which it cannot be retrieved. And, since everything has to be stainless steel, that's another trip to West Marine.

[*]Tools matter, as every guy knows. The most frequently used tool on our boat: a Maglite, 2 AA battery, LED flashlight. It puts out good, focused, bright light and can be held in the mouth while working in confined places. The most improbable tool on the boat: a small air compressor with a tank. It only gets used 3 to 5 times per year but when you're trying to clear an air or water line, it's precisely the right tool for the job, and no other tool will do.

Carol and I have been musing that we may sleep more on the boat than at home. If true, this may be because there are more attractions and distractions at the house than on the boat. The rear cabin is generally working out well as a sleeping berth. The mattress is actually a foam pad about 4-inches thick; not bad but good enough. The one downside of the move: egress. In the forward cabin one of us could, sometimes, leave the berth with a modified leg lift, butt pivot and not wake the other person. The rear cabin is more of a pullman style; one person sleeps on the inside, away from the door. That person is Carol; if there were to be a problem getting me there first and fastest is important. The unintended consequence is that if Carol wants to leave the cabin before I'm up, she has crawl, kick and crush her way over my skinny, battered body. From my supine position as the crawlee, kickee, crushee it seems like an quotidian replay of the ....
50_foot_woman.jpg Carol is, of course, too modest to say anything, but the hair color is a dead give-a-way.

People who spend extended periods on their boats during travel are referred to as cruisers. We are, I think, getting into a cruiser mentality, at least as it applies to storage. Because of the way our keel is made, we have a very shallow bilge, probably not more than 6-inches in most places. Last year the bilge was used not at all. This year, since it appears that we have solved an irritating leak issue, they're loaded up. Last year we had two hanging nets; this year we have five ... and they're all loaded. Carol with a credit card will fill all of the available space with stuff, whether we need it or not, and we do have lots of stuff. The interesting dialogue between we two is to define necessary; we seem to have a gap in approach that no bridge seems likely to span.

We're hoping for a weather window around 01/13.

Posted by sailziveli 09:36 Comments (0)

2009 Preflight Intermezzo

Well, things change. It seems that old, slippery and clumsy combined to help me fall from the boat's deck to the dock. The dock, being concrete, was quite undamaged by my fall and Carol and I have no liabilities there. I fared less well than the dock, breaking three ribs, 12.5% of my total, well below the 20% threshold considered serious. The good news is that they only hurt when I move or breathe and the drugs are fairly good at knocking the edge off.

So it will be a couple of weeks or so before we get underway. Until then I guess that I'll try not to breathe too much.

Posted by sailziveli 07:43 Comments (1)

Preflight - 2009

Wellllllll .... the blog is back. The ayes beat the shut-the-heck-up by a single vote. Did I mention that my Mom got lots of votes? Anyway, Carol talks, I write and we're both locked in our habits. Besides, the blog has become a sort of diary of our trips that I will try to remember when Carol is pushing me around in a wheel chair and I am dribbling cold oatmeal down my chin.

If I can believe the statistics from Traverllerspoint, many of the blog entries have been read in the hundreds of times; Mom must have been busy and she didn't even have a computer.

The segue from the last of last year's blog entries is that Carol's sister, Joan, is doing fine. The operation and radiation therapy were successful, the cancer is gone. Joan just had another operation to reconstruct and repair the damage done removing the cancer and all seems well.

I guess that a tradition is forming; in late October or early November we have a get together in Spring Creek that happens to coincide with Carol and I leaving, even if not on the actual trip. It's tough knowing that we won't see these wonderful folks that we know and love for a good while. On the other hand we are making some friends on the boating side of our lives and it's good to look forward to trying to connect with them in warmer climes.

We're at the boat; we, in this case, includes the red dog: Wile E, who is a real sea dog ..... NOT!!! His general attitude to the boat is that he would rather be in Philadelphia, or any place where the surface under his feet doesn't move. Still, getting onto and off the boat is the challenge.
Wile E in the cabin

Wile E in the cabin


Wile E on the stairs

Wile E on the stairs

Wile E thinking things over

Wile E thinking things over

Wile E on the brink

Wile E on the brink

It is exactly a year to the day that we left for the trip in 2008. Big difference --- this year we're working on the boat, not preparing to get underway. Since the boat is in Brunswick, GA, we're 500 miles farther south than Oriental, NC. That 500 miles means that we don't have to start the trip quite as early. Hopefully, we'll miss some of the colder weather in that first 500 miles which made us miserable last year.

The sort of non-plan is that we'll spend Thanksgiving at home with Mom and Sean and then head for the boat on the following Monday or so. Denise, and her son, Tanner, are going to stay in the house again this year, a good deal for us and Denise says for her also. Since Marilyn, Wile E's previous owner who watched him last year, has moved to Utah, Wile E will be spending the sailing season with Joan whose new house in Tallahassee, FL has a fenced in back yard.

It's kind of interesting to me to reflect on what a difference a year does make. Last year we thought that we were ready to take off, so we did. All the reading, good advice and short cruises were no substitute for actually getting underway for an extended trip. Among the changes are:

• The changes to the electrical system that we made in Marathon last year which included the wind generator, enhancing the solar panels and rewiring the house battery bank. This has made a huge, positive difference in battery management.
• We can carry about 85 gallons of water in our tanks and an additional 20 gallons in jerry cans. We never knew how much water we had in the tanks; the gauges were hard to read, didn't work well and were impossible to see without tearing the boat apart. So, I tore the boat apart and installed a tank monitor system. Now, we push a button and get readings for both tanks.
• The autopilot that came with the boat had been a problem, not working as much as it did work. Actually having to stay at the helm for long periods is boring, tiring and interferes with a proper Happy Hour. So, I installed a new unit this Fall. It has not yet been calibrated and sea tested but there are no error messages so, I hope, it works.
• The VHF radio is an important piece of cruising equipment. We have had a unit hard wired in the cabin and kept a handheld, battery powered unit in the cockpit. Battery power on the handheld was always an issue so I installed a new unit in the cabin that is hard wired to the cockpit with an extension unit: one radio, two sets of controls.
• Carol and I have moved, but only about 15-ft. Last year we slept in the V-berth, forward. Carol liked the tangled-toes togetherness, but we both have bad shoulders, my right, her left, that were aggravated in the close quarters. So we now sleep in the after cabin, sandwiched between the roar of the motor and the drone of the wind generator. It's not even a stateroom, but it does offer something on the order of a queen sized, or so, bed. Much better!
• Last year there were no power tools on board. A neighbor gave me a hand drill that I imagined would be good enough. Now I have a cordless drill and cordless saber saw. Go figure! I use them both a lot.
• We change our motor oil ourselves. This generally involved me getting naked, then getting a half gallon of oil into the disposal can and a half gallon on me. For about a week afterwards people would comment on my dark tan. We now have an oil pump that holds a few gallons. It takes too much space to store but neither of us want to give it up.
• The glass in our canvas dodger was accelerating from transparent to translucent. There are actually times when you have to see what's around you. So, we now have new stuff and can actually see through it. It's a miracle.
• When putting the sails up after storage, we noticed that the foresail looked really ratty. A new one seemed a better idea that continuing to shove more money into a deteriorating piece of equipment.
• When we started last year we had no siphons; now we carry three: gas, diesel and water. The funnels are too numerous to mention.

There are many other changes we've made where we adjusted on the fly.

We've enjoyed Brunswick, met some nice people and made some good friends. Many evenings have been spent on the the dock #4 deck, enjoying a good drink and good conversation while waiting for the sun to set, and it always has. Our mast is somewhere on the right side towards the end.

Dock #4 Sundowners in Brunswick, GA

Dock #4 Sundowners in Brunswick, GA

Posted by sailziveli 13:37 Comments (1)

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