Friday, April 20, 2018

Part 2: Into the Great Wide Open: over a week out of sight of land

March 20. In Key West, I tended the boat at anchor (a very good thing as wild currents and increasing opposing winds started the boat on wild gyrations that probably would have fouled and pulled the anchor or struck another boat) while Lori, Larry, and Bill shopped for essentials. Lori departed for Miami and her flight home and Larry and Bill motored back out to me. I had put in calls for a power supply for the laptop and antibiotics for my ear, but didn't get any response before we departed in late afternoon, heading out the south shipping channel, the current creating a rip tide that tossed the boat about and got Bill started on three days of being unable to hold down food. This probably contributed to his irritable behavior on the trip: I can't imagine being sick for days... frankly, I'm impressed he did as well as he did...

Night fell as we headed east along the southern shore of the Florida Keys, wild lightning flashing to the north, beautiful sunset and nice winds for us. We prepared for the days to follow..

Larry repaired a shoe using a spare shackle
Safety harness!

While my phone showed decent signal, I checked things like weather, wind forecasts, and PredictWind Offshore (a very popular sailing routing planner). During planning, Larry had wanted to stop in several ports, make this a leisurely and memorable trip, but the complexity of sailing the shallows of the Bahamas in a deep draft (6'6") boat worried me and I suggested he get someone who knew the area better, especially since I had also read that the Bahamian anchorages are exposed and one must be prepared and knowledgeable. The prevailing warm winds in the area we planned to sail typically flow from the southeast, so our entire trip would normally be fighting this... but the forecasts I now saw showed a wave of strong chilly northerly winds flooding into the region for days. Hmmm...

OK, on the positive side, given these winds, we could simply shoot toward the Virgin Islands on a single tack rather than fighting headwinds to the NE. In three or four days, rather than two weeks or so, we would ride the wave of wind past Cuba in 15 knot winds. On the negative side, if we continued NE on our planned route through the Bahamas, we would be tacking into winds gusting to 30, going opposite our goal, and dealing with backup anchorages... or no planned anchorages at all... and Larry was leaving it all to us.

First thing the next morning (after fresh-ground coffee, of course) I pointed out the wind forecast and the advantages of changing our route. I mentioned warnings I had heard about anchorages in northerly winds and advised running south to warmth and weaker winds. Bill, based on his experience as navigator on a NY to Bermuda race (I think) insisted that in sailing you stick to the original plan, whatever the conditions, and that the planned anchorages should be fine, even in different winds. He argued that there had to be good reasons that his route was recommended by his sources. I argued that this weather pattern trumped normal conditions and we should seize the opportunity to make fast progress.

Thus began the week from hell. Bill and I argued and our dislike for each other grew far beyond hatred (only Larry appeared calm: after days even I raised my voice and swore like a sailor), courses kept changing depending on who had Larry's ear, the jib managed to wrap around the fore-stay at night, during a rainstorm, while I was trying to sleep...  Toward the end, we spent three days under gray skies (Bill leaving his soaking wet cabin in the V-berth where he rattled around like a pea in a maraca for the cockpit where he rattled less),
wet from the frequent spray and occasional torrents of water, waves growing to 10' to 12' with occasional 15' hills:
With fumes from the engine filling the main cabin whenever the engine ran and with only Larry's bed in the separate aft cabin remaining dry as water leaking around the mast soaked mine, we took shifts sleeping in Larry's bed. I nearly did not make coffee one morning when I could not stand on the floor without sliding, but Larry's look of disappointment sent me back down for another, more successful, try. Following our progress via satellite tracking, Cynthia saw us slow to a crawl for some reason (waves? wind? People trying various tricks to speed us up?).

Finally we reached the Dominican Republic and headed in to the Resort Marina at Puerto Plata.... but reached it at night amid arguments on whether or not to attempt to enter a strange harbor at night with very poor charts (the download back in the states had not worked for this area) and an onshore wind with large waves. Larry compromised by saying we would go “near” the harbor and take a look. I blew up, saying even getting close enough (I pictured 100 to 300 yards..) for a good look was too dangerous and we should heave-to until morning. Once we got to about a mile or two offshore (where even I remained fairly comfortable) Larry took a look and decided to wait for morning, much to my relief.

March 29: We entered the harbor to find a trashy industrial port,
and killed time doing laundry and watching a boat sink while the hours (four!) passed and we waited for Larry to return from Customs and Immigration.

We found that the resort we wanted (Ocean World Marina and Casino) was actually two miles back, in a man-made cove, so we spent more hours checking out of the harbor the next morning (their military wants to check you in and out of each and every one... a favor to the USA drug effort?) and headed there.... and found it FAR nicer

and more friendly, requiring only a half hour or so to check in and another hour to check out when we departed a couple days later, Sunday. And we all got along fine once we could have solid land underfoot, escape each other, and not make joint decisions.

This leg of the trip was well worth it, both for the memories of adventure and for what I learned. So, what HAVE I learned that could possibly make this worthwhile?

>Cynthia found out that I, as the person with the highest official rating on the boat (I have a Coast Guard OUPV (operator of uninspected passenger vessel) license, I am automatically captain, legally responsible for the safety of people and vessel and getting both safely to the planned destination, no matter what the owner says. She says next time I take on such responsibility I should be recognized and paid. Perhaps she is right, although I am delighted with all I've learned.... and Larry has said I could use the boat, so THAT is an additional bonus.

>I've gotten good at cooking in rough conditions!

>Larry's new CSY44 performed like a champ, taking everything easily in stride.

>Backup! I should have had a copy of all the charts! I should have added extra lines to tie off the life raft or should have pushed to bring it below before it washed away. I should have checked the lines to the dinghy before they chafed off..

>Preparation: I should have checked weather before leaving Tampa and again before Key West. I should have insisted on a full discussion & agreement on routes and backup plans and seen the charts (two or three brains often catch what one does not, no matter how good that one).

>Finally, just as in any relationship, things that start as small irritations become huge issues as time passes or as things get tough: Bill said I overthought everything and that I change my plans every time the weather forecast changed &, conversely, I thought his preparations shallow and rigid; he was furious at me for ruining his enjoyable trip and forcing him on this miserable offshore death march and I felt constantly hindered and frequently endangered; he liked land while I thought of it as a dangerous obstruction; he finds the engine preferable in many circumstances where I far prefer sail power; and we have far different sailing styles...but we got along OK once we were in harbor and would have done far better with more advance planning and agreement. And, on land, I get along fine with Bill: we both like dogs, interesting food, people, walking, snorkeling....

Let's raise a glass to learning and to adventure survived unharmed!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

My first multi-day trip! And the first leg of SO much more...

My friend Larry lost his boat (a CSY 37) at the same time I lost mine. (BTW: I get nada on my taxes as losses are less than standard deduction.... and the cost of replacing Dorado gives me only a year before I need to actually work and earn a living. More on THIS later.) Larry bought a replacement to Gigi, Gigi II (a CSY 44), in Tampa and I offered to help bring her to St John. On March 16, I flew to Tampa to crew on this transport job.

The crew consisted of Larry (owner) & Lori (wife), Bill (friend), and me (another friend and owner of an autopilot).

I brought my autopilot from NC and figured out how to install it, then Larry and I figured out why the engine would not run (the neutral wire for the fuel lift pump had broken off), Lori and I loaded up with as much food as we could carry from Costco in a Costco folding wagon,
and we set off.... into two nights and two days of zero wind.

The engine took us gliding across the glassy waters of the Gulf of Mexico, jellies filling...
and then FILLING...
the waters beneath, porpoises frolicking around us, sun setting and lighting up the endless horizon. A swallow landed aboard as a resting spot in the endless ocean
and we caught a bonita (bonito?),
a tuna species that (we discovered) is rightly called inedible.

On the final night and morning, the wind actually picked up to "sailable" and Lori took the wheel to sail for half-an-hour into Key West before she had to head back to work and leave us to begin our decent into serious "adventure"..... and near-homicidal cabin fever.

More on that in a few days....

Friday, April 13, 2018

More on visiting DC, Cynthia helps with the boat, and off to Tampa

(I wrote this on March 16, but did not get to post it before the computer ran out of power. I left the power cord on the boat in NC....)

DC has a very nice zoo, apparently.... and free, as well! My mom suggested that she take all of those of us with no school or paid work that day to see it. My memories of zoos left me less than excited and the day being wet, gray, and cold reduced that farther, but the weather seemed to have driven away the crowds, the hills made the walking more challenging and pleasant, the river otters played like over-caffeinated children, and the scent of the bison brought back good memories of working with them on a ranch in Wyoming. And, at the end, we entered the Amazonia exhibit....

Warmth and humidity fogged our glasses, long johns and jackets became redundant except to reduce the rate of heat gain, and the riot of greenery and life filled eyes acclimated to the gray of winter. Shallow waters held fresh-water rays and fish and a pair of flamingos explored.
Farther along, we looked into deep aquariums at huge air-breathing fish, probably as long as me, heads armored in modified scales.
Turtles, electric eels, piranhas... and then we climbed above to the jungle itself, looking down into the waters with the fish we had just passed. And the plants.... I felt disappointment to see no sign of coffee growing (turns out it needs a different climate), but was quite excited to see cacao (the source of chocolate) pods on a tree!

Good idea, Mom!

Cynthia visited for about ten days, worked her butt off stripping, sanding, scraping, cleaning, and refinishing.

The mizzen mast looks darned good and so does the bowsprit. We also made great headway on cleaning up some decay on board and drying out the boat so much that wood is beginning to creak when we walk about. Satisfying. Although Cynthia was generally drooping by the end of each day...

I dropped Cynthia at the airport Wednesday afternoon and caught my own flight out the next morning. Now she is back at work in MI and I'm down in FL preparing to sail out today, heading for Key West on Gigi II, Larry's new boat. She is old and has a lot of character... and a lot of cosmetic flaws and little jobs and should serve Larry well. We both like boats that are rough enough that we don't feel too nervous about wearing shoes or scratching the finish and sound enough to take us on the trips we desire. His wife, Lori, joins us for the first leg and then flies home, leaving Larry, his friend Bill, and me to take her the rest of the way.

Wish us luck!

Friday, March 2, 2018

The first alligator of spring!

A few days back, a couple and their young child came down the dock, talking loudly (at least the youngest and most enthusiastic of the party) about "the alligator". Well, I hadn't seen one since I was a little fellow: one of my earliest memories (along with falling asleep to the sound of water under a sailboat) is a bunch of baby alligators under the bridge I stood upon in Florida. This one looked to be about 5' long (ok, 1.5 meters) and hung around for a few hours.

And this cute little 9" turtle likes to beg for treats when I hang out with my neighbor Clark on his boat...

Dad came to visit and stayed a couple nights.
He claims he very much enjoyed the boat... but he also said the same about my company, so I don't know...
Actually, very nice having him visit! I worried a bit about getting him onto and off the boat, but no problem.
And, after he left, I drove up to DC to visit my brother Peter and his family. Good fun... but I can only stand a city so long and left at about 3am, my favorite time drive the streets of our capitol. Maybe they will come visit me once there is a bit more space on board...

We've been trying to get a price on replacing the masts with aluminum, but can't get anyone to respond. I finally (after a couple weeks) got a reply today: about $25k.*gulp*
Also tried to get the name of the owner of a derelict boat here, the mast from which would fit mine nicely, but the harbor master will not tell me as that might lose him the rent of the yard space. *grumble*.
So.... I can try to find used masts, repair the wood ones, or some combination of these. Tomorrow I'll get going on preparation for the wood mast repairs. I'm actually relived: finally HAVING the numbers for the aluminum masts allows me to decide on my path and tomorrow I'll be striding down it with a lighter mind.

Speaking of repairs.. As a child, I read that black locust is a wonderful wood for boat building and a friend recommended it for the repair of my mast step and other decay after my previous blog post. The place he found is a four hour drive from here, but a local place in New Bern also has some and will deliver it tomorrow. Even better, the supplier is this really cool family mill and one fellow there has lots of experience building wood masts! Thanks for getting me going on this, John!

Cynthia arrives Monday and I plan on having the masts ready for us to work on. Tomorrow I'll complete peeling the fiberglass off the main mast and preparing for repair. I hope, hope, hope that we will be able to perform the repairs, seal the wood, and reinstall the masts before we need to leave about ten days later. When/if it rains, we will work on the interior.... and, speaking of that...

The moisture and scent of the interior is far better now that I bought a dehumidifier and fan and ripped out some decayed bits of floor, etc. My plan is to dry out and repair the floor, install new black locust joists, and install some pine plywood (well sealed with epoxy). Finally, I'll install some thin teak and holly to match the existing floor... eventually...probably... although it is very low on my priorities: first comes sailing and safety, close behind (or intertwined) comes comfort, then come various functional improvements, and (far later) comes beauty.... although I'll go for beauty if is also practical.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

One step forward, two steps back...

Life goes on with the usual ups and downs.

On the down side...

The engine coolant is leaking out somewhere: I'm betting on a defective radiator cap, but this is low on my list.

I've found the beam that the mizzen mast sits upon... and that the steering is bolted to... is seriously rotten and must be replaced. I'll need to rip up the sole (floor) in the aft stateroom, dig it out, and build anew. Probably, the best idea is to install something (oak? Mahogany? Teak?) soaked in epoxy to reduce decay rates as that area is permanently moist. *grumble*.

The main mast is warped... and (when I peel off the fiberglass sheathing it) wet enough to splash when I hit it with a hammer. I may need to replace it entirely... I'll chat with a couple experts next week.

The hard-top cockpit cover is a poor plan, intended only for living in the marina. I'll need to reinforce it before heading to sea. The parts are on on their way...

My ears ring and my head aches: sinus trouble from mold? And I have so much stuff on board there is hardly room to move, let alone clean.

On the up side...

The giant solar panels Cynthia and I installed work very nicely: even on this cloudy day they produce enough to chill the fridge...and sometimes enough to run a light or two: essentially I am running a deficit, but slowly. This pleases me as this is the usual state during ANY sort of cloudiness, much less this darkness. I estimate they are giving 80 watts out of their rated 530 watts.

I sanded and recoated the counter: glassy and smooth.

I had the yard pull both masts so I could work on them. I spent several hours contemplating, labeling, preparing, etc so that the time it took was far less than the yard master had expected. Always nice to make things efficient.... and save some $$$.

The replacement of the exhaust line proceeds as planned. The support for the new exhaust water lock seems good and, being far lower than previously, should be far less likely to allow water back into the engine.
The new chromed bronze exhaust through-hull came from eBay (got it for $108 instead of the normal $240 retail) and will replace the wrong fittings (plastic through-hull and a stainless shutoff). The new exhaust line fits as I planned and will constrict the engine exhaust far less then the old maze of plumbing: five elbows reduced to a single sweeping loop! Satisfying! 

(No, I don't have the final fitting installed as I have been waiting for rainy days, optimally when someone like my dad is visiting to lend a hand (I pick him up about 3pm tomorrow. I also did not take a photo of the final installation of the exhaust line: all connections now sport two clamps!)

The insulation & fiberglass I installed in the pantry(?) went OK... and I hope it will remain adhered to the hull and am sure it will reduce condensation and mold.

Digging out decay from the mizzen mast and fitting new pieces of wood posed a challenge, but an enjoyable one.

I've glued some douglas fir into the mizzen (aft) mast yesterday to replace the rotten stuff I removed... and I think it went OK. I'll find out when the rain stops and I can unwrap it and sand it smooth.

Finally, I can smell a big pot of chili I'm simmering on the stove. Mmmmmm...

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A taste of the arctic in Michigan

I'm rather ashamed to admit it, but, what with one thing and another, we hadn't seen Lake Michigan since winter came. That changed Saturday when we took Lucy for a walk... and what we found made us stop and exclaim in amazement: ice packs that look like the arctic, right in our town! An open space of shallow water perhaps a foot deep and ten feet wide separates shore from the first apparent dune, in actuality a pile of ice heaped up by the lake storms, sprinkled with brown windblown sand. Farther out are more ice ridges, separated by dark ice easily thick enough to hold a person walking. After the dunes of ice end comes the huge expanse of pack ice, low white rubble that extends to the horizon.... where a dark line shows open water. 

Cynthia told me that ice fishermen often venture out on the ice and sometimes must be rescued when changing wind opens leads and strands them in the open.

Of course, this just makes the fake palm tree near us even more silly.... in a way that makes me smile at the delightful incongruity rather than scowl.

And, speaking of cold and things that make us smile, we just got the sweater that Lisa made for Lucy... 

Very nice sweater and it fits perfectly and look very cute.... although I kind of prefer Lucy in what I call the "tribble cut" she wears in the winter (shaggy, long, silky fur) and nothing else... I've always preferred simplicity and being able to scratch her back.