Our First Boat Thanksgiving

From Eric:

We sail down to another of Kelly’s favorite anchorages in north Hilton Head called Skull Creek.  We have another great sail cruising at 8-10 knots.  Kelly still hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for sailing, but hopefully she’ll start to appreciate the beauty of movement without using fuel.  I hope that in time she will see a good sail as an acceptance by the wind and ocean and not just a slow way to get somewhere.  While we are sailing I see two pods of stingrays.  I’ve never seen a pod of stingrays before, I didn’t even know that they swam in pods.  I’m not even sure if a pod is what you call a group of stingrays.  Either way, I see two of them a couple of hours apart.  The first has at least 100 stingrays in it, and the other is about half the size.  It truly is incredible what you get to see out here.

Our stay in Skull Creek is relaxing.  I’m able to get some dinghy parts and catch up on some maintenance tasks.  The problem were confronted with is that the days are getting so much shorter.  The shorter days mean that we can’t travel as far as we did on the way north.  This puts us in a situation of needing to perform another overnight sail.  I know that if we can get a good overnight sail we’ll be able to do it more often and get further along.  Kelly resigns to the overnight sail after looking all over for other inlets that we could use.  There are none. 

We leave Skull Creek around 5pm.  The wind is up at about 25 knots with gusts to 35.  We start the night with a reefed main and that is enough.  Our course is going to bring us dead down wind so I end up jibing every few hours for the 100 mile trip.  The waves are a little larger then predicted, but they aren’t scary.  The real problem is that the clouds are out and there is no moon.  The lack of a horizon disorients Kelly and she ends up going down soon after sunset.  Fortunately we’ve got this night sailing thing down.  Kelly already made some tea and mochas.  I have a couple audio books and am able to just blast down the coast at 8-10 knots surfing down the waves.  (I did set my watch to go off every hour to check on him to refill his drinks, bring food, etc. I can’t do much in this state, but I can do what needs doing.)

Our timing is near perfect.  The sky is just starting to get light about 1.5 hours away from the St. Mary’s inlet, however, the waves have grown through the night and I am surfing down 8-10’ rollers.  Our navigation is almost right on… almost.  I can see about four miles from the inlet that I am not going to make the end of the stone jetty and will either have to throw in a couple of extra jibes, or crash on the rocks, the later not actually being an option.  I am only going to be about 100 yards short of the mark, but I don’t want to push heading down wind that far for fear of an uncontrolled jibe that can damage the boat.  I am able to gut out two more jibes and sail us into the protected inlet.

After being up all night I am ready to throw down the hook.  We know that St. Mary’s had been destroyed by the hurricane, so instead, we head south to the closer anchorage of Fernandina.  We find a good location where the holding is good, the 7’ tide won’t put us aground, and we have room to swing.  By the time we get into the inlet the girls are awake and after anchoring I take a nap. 

Eric did a great job getting us here. I still feel bad about not being able to help as planned, but he doesn’t seem to mind so much. This anchorage is way more industrial than expected, but we knew not to anchor closer to town because they are STILL cleaning up from Hurricane Matthew. (Reviews note a lot of debree on the bottom which can foul an anchor.) So the dingy ride is a long one, 15 minutes, but its not the longest we’ve had thus far. (Little River’s dingy ride was ~ 30 minutes.)     

After a few days of work, we head ashore to check out the town, and it’s a great town! We do our usual, ask locals what we should do and where we should eat. A few people mention a small seafood shack, Tomoti’s, so we eat there and aren’t disappointed. We also visit the Amelia Island Museum of History, a small but excellent museum that shares the town’s interesting history. (Interesting tidbit – Amelia Island is the only place in the US to have been governed under 8 different flags.) They have a kid scavenger hunt where they answer questions about the exhibits which gives them a go at the treasure box at the end. The kids loved it. We also find the hopper bus which, for $1, the driver will give you a great tour of the island. We learn the best place to buy boatloads of awesome local shrimp. We do our part to help out the local fishermen & indulge.

From Eric:

Fernandina is a great location.  We stay here through Thanksgiving and have a great time.  The town is fantastic with lots of interesting shops and history.  There is a Civil War era fort, Ft. Clinch.  There is no tour, rather it is a ‘guide yourself’ operation.  It appears that it was never finished and the one time it could have been used to repel the North, the soldiers high tailed it out of town instead.  My folks come down and join us for Thanksgiving week.  It is a great visit and we get a lot done.  Previously Kelly and I discussed making Thanksgiving supper on the boat, but elect to have Publix cook it for us, so we just pick it up.

It rains most of Thanksgiving day, so we’re all cramped in the boat, but the food is decent and company is good, so it’s alright. We play a lot of games, especially Farkel, the kids’ new favorite. The next day we head to town for their annual Black Friday PJ block party. Les & the kids wear their PJs which gives us discounts at stores and cafes. Another coincidence, one of my friends from Missouri, Patrice, is visiting her son who lives just across the state line, so we’re able to get together. We bring her and her crew out to the boat for a quick tour. While we’re catching up, Les & Carl spoil the girls with fun activities from the block party like mini golf and face painting.

From Eric:

At some point over the break my wife and mother have an idea.  Kelly thinks it will be great to drive down to St. Augustine and have Dad and I take the boat.  So the weekend comes and Kelly and the girls leave for the 2 hour drive to St. Augustine, while Dad and I make preparations for the all day sail. 

It was so nice to only drive for a few hours (instead of sailing for a whole day to cover the same distance – yes, I said it). Thanks to Leslie, we stay in an awesome hotel by the beach, swim in the pool, and I get to do laundry the modern way. Score! We wake up and walk to the beach knowing that the boys are successfully underway. We head into St. Augustine, walk around, and have lunch at The Columbia.

From Eric:

As luck would have it there is almost no wind.  We end up motoring on a flat calm Atlantic ocean for 8 hrs.  For a short time we thought the wind was building and we set up the gennaker to catch it, but there is little to no success.  We have read that the inlet for St. Augustine can be tricky, but we find no such issue.  The channel is well marked and all is easy. 

We pick up a mooring ball in St. Augustine and set up camp for a few days.  The history of St. Augustine is incredible.  I think it’s the only old fort that we’ve visited that had its full compliment of armament.  The town is lined with shops to exploit the heritage of the town.  I find the area a little pricy but that’s what to expect in a tourist town.  We have a good time, but the town is set up for tourism, and there are no places to get spare parts or provisions.

Baby, it’s gettin’ cold outside

Since we don’t know when we’ll be on a dock again, we decide to provision a bit. Nothing huge, just grabbing some of the stuff we’ve run out of. We Uber again, and again, it’s a very positive experience. We quickly put the stuff away, and walk to one of the amazing ice cream shops a few blocks away before heading back down the river.

From Eric:

We go back down the Cape Fear River without much drama.  We stay the night in the anchorage we had found previously and head back to the west to Little River. 

There is a 20+ knot wind and the seas are 4-7’.  Kelly isn’t happy (yea, I wasn’t), but I had convinced her it would be fine once we got out into the ocean.  I was wrong. (yes, he was) It really isn’t any better.  The worst part though is getting out the inlet.  Just as we approach the narrowest part, a huge freighter is coming in from the other side.  I am a little nervous and call the freighter on the radio.  He states that as long as I hug the green side, we can both fit.  I’m fairly concerned as we go though the narrows with 6’ seas and a huge freighter so big and close that it blocks out the sun, but after that short excitement, the rest of the sail is easy right up to the inlet at Little River.

As we approach the inlet, the waves have grown to 8’.  It is fun, if not nerve wracking, surfing a 47’ boat into a narrow channel.  From our previous stay here, I know that I have to stick close to the sea wall, or end up hitting the bottom.  The question I have to wrestle with is just how close to the rock sea wall I should get knowing that if I catch one wave wrong, it will grab the back of the boat and spin us into the rocks.  I have the boat in full power trying to keep steerage while we surf the face of the waves and then slide down the back side.  Luckily my skill, and a lot of help from the man upstairs, we make it through the inlet and back to the anchorage. 

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We sure do love Little River. This spot near the inlet has something to offer everyone in the crew: Eric has the wind & waves, I have the beach, and the kids have their beach combing & boogie boarding in the surf. It’s perfect. We hang here and wait for a weather window to head South, cause it’s getting cold. In fact, since the cold front came through, it’s downright frigid. Freezing temps and cruising aren’t a good combination.

From Eric:

The good wind that propelled us to Little River brought with it some cold.  I went surfing and for the first time need my shorty wet suit.  The day starts at 49 degrees and doesn’t climb above 60.  At this point the family determines that we should head South.

  We sail to the inlet for Georgetown and, little did we know, are too late and the cold is coming.  From the inlet to Georgetown is 10 miles up another river.  The town is small and inviting.  We wander around and have a great time, however, after a few hours of seeing the town, we’ve seen all of it.  The entire commercial area is about 10 by 2 blocks.  A real wind is whipping up from the west and we decide to take advantage and sail south. 

We wake up to a brisk 35 degree morning.  The wind is still up near 20 knots and the sail is going to be great, however, I am the only one of that opinion.  Kelly and the girls are on some kind of temperature shut down and it takes a significant amount of effort to get them to come up and pull the anchor.  We have not packed for the cold weather.  I have one pair of jeans and several tee shirts under my fowl weather jacket.  My daughters come up in 4 layers of sleeping attire and Kelly is sporting both pairs of pants that she brought and 4 to 6 layers of long and short sleeve t-shirts.  We successfully bring up the anchor and all the girls go inside not to be seen again until we get to Charleston some 8 hours later. (Unfortunately that’s true, but it was so darn cold!)

Once I am out of the inlet I have to rely on the autopilot to assist me in getting the sails up as it was made quite clear that I would be getting no help from the family until temperatures became “reasonable”.  There is also some talk of mutiny and cars, but I will have none of that on my ship.  The sail down to Charleston is quite good save for the bitter cold that has me shaking at the helm the entire way.  I think shaking in cold is a good way to burn calories; at least that’s what I tell myself.  

We get to Charleston just in time for Halloween. We have yet to meet another kid boat, so we’re unsure if any of the cruisers anchored here will be participating in the festivities. I send Eric out into the anchorage to see who is willing to participate in trick-or-treating. To those, he provides little bags of candy so they’ll have some to give to the girls. The girls dress up in their costumes and have a great experience dingying around the anchorage. Some cruisers invite us aboard, other dressed up, and we even see Captain Lee again! The girls had a ball and we are thankful to those who helped make this an experience to remember.

From Eric:

Charleston is an outstanding city and we enjoyed it the first time we were here.  At this point Kelly had to travel up to RI to get some paperwork done, so the girls and I are left without supervision. 

This is the first time I’ve traveled alone in ten years! Even though this is a quick business trip, I’m soaking up all the family and fun that I can. My Dad and I do a lot of chatting and stay up way passed our bedtimes. The Kessons have a great impromptu night out to catch up. My visit goes by too quickly, but I know that heading back means that we can head to warmer weather.

From Eric:

Another of the great coincidences is that my brother’s in-laws live in Charleston.  We are able to visit them a couple of days and get some great food and conversation and have an awesome time.  (Yes, and thank you for getting me to and from the airport. Love you guys!) Once Kelly returns from RI it is time to continue heading South.  The weather isn’t freezing, but is still a little on the cold side.  Thanksgiving is about a week and half away and we are hoping to be in Florida.

Cape Fear, Willmington & Little River – oh my!

In our last post, Eric shared with you his first windsurfing experience since casting off. I’m happy to report that he’s done it many more times since then and has gotten A LOT better. We’ve also decided that if we keep posting at this incredibly delayed rate, we’ll still be writing blog posts well after our adventure is over, so we hope to post weekly until we catch you up to our present.

It’s Eric birthday! We’re celebrating in Little River, South Carolina. The girls have decorated the salon and we’ve planned the day to give him some surfing time.

From Eric:

I was able to get up at sun rise and head out to surf.  I had seen the surf yesterday and it was about chest high with a lot of close outs, but definitely surfable.  This morning the surf would be just as good.  It was really quite the feeling being able to jump off the boat with the surf board, paddle in, walk the beach, and paddle out to the break.  The surf was just as I had seen it.  The sets came in about 10 minutes apart and were predictable and catchable.  Most of the waves would close out,  but every now and then there was a nice ride in.  Those are the ones that keep making you go back.

When he got back, he fished off the back of the boat and, low and behold, he caught something! We’ve never seen anything like it. We had to research it. It’s called a Sea Robin, and it had legs. Really, it does. It’s a bottom dwelling fish that uses it’s leg-like fin spines to crawl along the bottom and uses its large side fins as wings. He put it back because even though it would have been neat to grill fresh caught fish on his birthday, this fish was just too odd to eat. Instead we celebrate with microwaved mug cakes.

We’re on the move again. We decide to head south to Georgetown, but once we get out of the inlet, the waves are calm and the wind is good, so we decide to go east to Cape Fear in an effort to head up to Wilmington, North Carolina. 

From Eric:

We are able to sail about half way before the wind calms on us and we have to start the engines.  There is no place to stop in between, so we have to get to Cape Fear in time to anchor before dark. (Remember rule number one?) Cape Fear has a wicked current that can run at over two knots, luckily we get to the inlet at near slack tide, so the current is minimal.  Kelly has scoured the books and finds what appears to be the only designated anchorage in the area.  It is west of the little town at the end of the Cape Fear River. 

From the inlet we go up the Cape Fear River for a few miles and then west in the ICW.  The ICW is fairly narrow in this area and our boat being 24’ wide takes up more than half of it.  I’m navigating on the chart plotter to the anchorage that Kelly found.  As we round the bend we find this so called “anchorage”.  It is humorously small.  I start to nose our boat into it and just laugh.  There is no way we were going to stay here.  There is just enough room to fit our boat and we only have a few inches of water under the keels.  If we did put down an anchor we could only use about 20’ of chain and then I could pee off the back of the boat and hit the other bank.  To make things worse there is a power boat just a little further up and he is aground. (I agree. This “anchorage” is a joke. It should not be marked as such.)

I always appreciate that there are two engines on our boat, and no time more than now, when I can pivot the boat around and get the hell out of here.  This does however cause a significant amount of stress because now we don’t know where we are going to anchor.  Kelly still doesn’t believe me that we can anchor just about anywhere outside of a channel, so she starts calling all the marinas in the area looking to see if anyone has availability for our boat.  In the mean time I start to head up the Cape Fear River to Wilmington.

As the sun gets low in the sky, Kelly finds a marina that says they can handle our boat.  It is a city park marina and is nicely priced.  It is about an hour up the river and we will be getting there around sundown.  However, as we approach the entrance, we call them on the radio and talk to someone else.  They say that at 24’ wide there is no way we can fit into the marina.  This puts us in a real bind.  (As you can imagine, I am not a happy camper. I did my job. I specified our dimensions and was told it would work, then when we get there, we’re told the opposite. Grrr. So frustrating!)

We are now running out of options.  I look at the chart and tell Kelly that we have just enough light to get up to the next island and we can anchor on the east side of the island.  That will get us out of boat traffic and we’ll be safe for the night.  Reality settles in on Kelly and she reluctantly agrees.  The sun is down and it is getting dark when we set down the hook.  The anchor sets well and we are set for the night. The anchorage ends up working perfectly and we decide that we will use it again on the way back down. (It really was a good anchorage. Now THAT one should be noted in the guidebooks.)

After last night’s fiasco, I double check our reservation with the Wilmington City Dock. Everything is a-ok. Thank goodness! It turns out that the Cape Fear River is quite a busy place. We wake up to a huge barge being towed up river, so we follow it. We eventually pass it and the girls wave to the captain. He returns their wave and toots the massive horn. This totally makes the girls’ day.

From Eric:

The way up the Cape Fear River is nothing short of awesome.  We are able to get a favorable current and zip up river.  I am enamored by the commercial traffic. There are huge barges, tankers, and freighters, and because the river isn’t that wide, we always have to pass fairly close.  The only sticking point is the lift bridge at Wilmington.  We can’t find the info to contact it, and it doesn’t respond on channels 16, 13, or 9.  Finally as we approach, with a following current (i.e. we’re moving pretty quick & can’t really stop), one of the tugs tells us to try channel 18.  (Our guide said the bridge monitored 13 – not so much. We also couldn’t find the bridge’s lift schedule anywhere – not online, not in the guide! I’m learning that guidebooks are merely that, ‘guides’ – sometimes right, sometimes not.) We contact the bridge and they said they have visual on us and will open as we approach. 

After spinning a few donuts in front of the city docks we are able to dock just on the other side of the river from the battleship North Carolina.  The North Carolina is the main reason we have come to Wilmington.

Eric noted that this was about the same spot that they were tied up 30+ years ago when cruising with his family. He shared a cautionary tale that when they were there, he hadn’t finished his schoolwork that day so he wasn’t allowed to go tour the battleship. Needless to say, I’m not sure who was more excited about seeing the battleship, him or the girls. We learn that the battleship dock is being worked on so we can’t dingy over as planned, so, for the first time, we Uber it. Works great – highly recommend!

From Eric:

After docking we have lunch and head to the battleship. We spend 3 hours touring the battleship and it is awesome.  The size and complexity of the ship is amazing.  We are able to tour everything from the engine room to the bridge.  It was worth the trip.

I wholeheartedly agree. The amount of orchestration it took to run this small city on the water is incredible. The self guided tour is great. We explore every corner of the boat and don’t leave until closing. If you’re in the area, you need to check it out.

We’re ok!

If you’re wondering why we haven’t posted anything for quite some time, know that we’re doing fine. We’ve just had terribly slow internet speeds for the past few months and this doesn’t allow us to add pictures to our posts…and posts without pictures just aren’t as good, right?!!

We’re currently in the Bahamas and will be back in the U.S. (with better internet speeds) in May. We’ll start posting again, weekly, to catch you up with our travels. It’s been quite an adventure! We can’t wait to share it with you.

Windsurfer Down

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The wind was up over 20 knots and I had completed school with the girls and the day’s maintenance.  There was a current where we were anchored, but it was a wide open cove just on the North/South Carolina line.  I thought it was time to break out my old windsurfing equipment.  The last time I went windsurfing was over 10 years ago, and the time before that was another 10 years, but I’ve been dragging my windsurfing equipment around since I was on my boat trip with my family in 92-93.  Now was going to be the day that I broke it back out again. 

Thus my equipment is not new.  I have an old fiberglass board from the late 80s, and I’ve picked up some equipment over time, but none of it is less then 15 years old.  It didn’t matter. Today was the day.  First I played out most of the equipment with doubt as to how everything went together, but I figured that I’d remember as I saw it.  The board was easy, it just needs a skeg and a universal joint for the mast.  II thought it was best to ready the board and then tie it off to the boat and get the sail rig ready afterword.  My plan was to get the board in the water tied off, set the sail, and then throw it into the water and mate the two together in the water.

The first part of the plan worked great, I got the board in the water and tied it off with a waterski rope.  The second part of the plan worked OK.  It took a little while to figure out how to set the rig’s sail tension.  The boom was way to big for the sail, it must fit on the other sail, but it’s the only one I have.  The mast base I set to 20cm, it should probably be set to 26, but I wasn’t going to rerig for 6cm.  It’ll work fine.  The third part of the plan failed miserably. 

I brought the sail all rigged up to the end of the boat and jumped into the water with it.  As I remembered the sail floated however, the current had picked up.  I had the sail in one hand and the board in the other with the board tied to the boat.  The sail was being pulled by the current and as I tried to attach it to the board I missed.  The current was a little stronger then I anticipated.  I still didn’t see it as a problem.  I tried to attach the sail again and missed, two more attempts and missed.  I just needed to get a different position where I was on the other side.  I swam under the board and left the rig on top, I only had to let go of it for a second.  That second was all it took.  The rig started to drift away.  With one arm holding the nose of the board and the other holding the sail I was stretched to my limit and my grip on the smooth board wasn’t enough, it slowly slipped through my hands like Stallone in Cliffhanger. 

I was drifting away with the rig in my hand frantically trying to swim it back to the board that was tied to the boat.  Despite being a good swimmer trying to swim with a sail against the current was a fools errand.  I started to yell for Kelly so that she could at least send me the board.  Through mouthfuls of water Kelly was able to hear me and untied the board so that it would start to drift my direction.  Kicking and swimming as hard as I could I was able to catch up to the board.  I got on top and finally connected the sail.  By then I had drifted 100 yds from the boat.  An easy distance to make up if I could windsurf, which I was about to find out I couldn’t. 

The board that I use is a sinking board, that means that it isn’t buoyant enough to float while I’m on it.  It was a floating board when I first got it, but I’m now 100 lbs heavier, and it’s a sinking board now.  That means the only way to get up is with a water start, maneuvering just right where the wind pulls you up onto the board and moves you forward at the same time.  It was a disaster. I used to water start in the lightest of breezes, that was when I was 120 lbs.  Now water starting takes a gale force wind and technique that I didn’t have.  However I had no choice but to find out.  By this time I was out of earshot of Kelly and on my own.  Attempts to water start taught me how to burry the nose, flip the board, have the sail drag me onto it, and push me under water.  Each time I attempted there was a failure and the damn waterski line that had tied the board to the boat was now tied to the just the board and that floating line was tangling everything, several times trying to kill me by wrapping around my neck.

I’m exhausted, the boat is a dwindling model of itself, and I’ve got to get back.  So far in the last 30 or so water starts I’ve learned a lot of what not to do.  I need to be able to get the sail out of the water by resting the wishbone on the back of the board.  At the right angle to the wind and having the board at the right angle to my feet I finally let the wind take up the sail and I try to hold on.  The board pushes up into the wind and I fall back into the water.  I have to get the board to head down wind while the sail pulls me out of the water.  I can use my legs to pull the board around, but my arms are jelly, I’ll have to let the wind to the work.  Again, I set the rig to the wind, maneuver the board under me, and let the wind pull me up. The board starts to head to wind, but I pull it back under me. It’s heading down wind it’s going to work!. I’m up and sailing but the damn waterski line is wrapped around my waist and the drag is giving my belly rope burn.  But that doesn’t matter, the hard part is done. I’m windsurfing. The board is on a plane. This is it. This is what I remember. I’m flying, skipping over the waves. It’s glorious…four about 35 second. The gust of wind dies and I fall back into the water. 

Cursing I untangle myself from the waterski line and flake it out behind me.  I figured that windsurfing wouldn’t come back immediately, but thought it would be faster then this.  My goal for today’s windsurfing lesson was to complete a jibe.  I think that is now a bridge too far.  I just have to get back to the boat. The wind is holding in my favor, but my skill isn’t.  I grab the wishbone again, new resolve from my recent success.  The wind pulls me up, it’s going well, but the board starts to go sideways.  I try to pull it back, but it refuses to settle, then the leeward side catches the water and the board goes up on a knife edge and stops like I through out an anchor.  The sail is pulled vertical and over to the leeward, holding onto the wishbone I’m catapulted on top of the sail.  What the heck was that about.  I swim the rig back around and try again.  This time it works better, I get up and find that the damn waterski line is wrapped around the top of the mast and pulling the tip down.  Despite the waterski line’s best effort I’m up and sailing fast back to the boat.  When I get back to the boat I’ll be able to drop off that devil line and be much better.  I attempt to make a turn back to the boat and for my efforts the top of the sail is sucked down and the sail slams me into the water. 

It’s OK. I’m only one more water start from the boat.  I carefully set up the windsurfer in the right direction and flake out the devil line so that it can’t hurt me.  The wind picks me up and I start flying to the boat.  I know there is still a current so I head past the boat, collapse, and let the current take me there.  I gleefully untie the waterski line that has been trying to kill me and put the rest of the windsurfing equipment away.  Tomorrow’s supposed to have wind again.  I’ve got this.

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It’s another windsurfing day, the wind is still blowing at 20+ knots.  My arms are sore, but they’ll work and my water starts have gotten much better.  Today is the day, I’ll be able to complete a jibe.  I can feel it.  Rigging up the sail and getting the equipment ready goes much better know that I have some sense of what to do.  This time I’ll untie the board from the boat and leave the waterski line behind.  I get the rig together and my first attempt at a water start is successful.  My first attempt at a jibe isn’t, but by the third attempt I complete one.  The feeling is euphoric and my jibe success rate climbs to about 1in 5.  I sail over to a cove and find that it’s only about 2 feet deep and the bottom is some kind of black mud that sticks to my feet.  I get out of there and head for the beach. 

As I try to jibe I lose too much speed and the back to the board sinks and I fall.  Just as the sail hits the water I hear a ‘boing’ noise.  That’s new.  I look and see that the wishbone has released the sail.  No problem. I’ll tie it back up.  As I get to the end of the wishbone I see a problem. The jam cleat is broken.  Now that’s a problem.  I can’t tighten the sail without it.  The sail doesn’t have the shape to get me up with a water start.  I try a sailing technique where I just drag my body in the water, but that attempt fails and I am too far from the boat and the current starts taking me away again.  I look at the sail in disgust and also notice that the clear plastic that is on one side of the cloth sail is broken and peeled off.  This is not good. 

Finally I give up the idea of sailing back and paddle the rig to shore.  Maybe I can make some kind of repair.  I use a stick from some drift wood to give me enough leverage to be able to tie the sail with about 60% of the tension it needs, but it should be enough.  That’s when I notice that the wind has calmed considerably.  It’s OK, the boat is down wind all I have to do is complete a beach start then not fall off while I sail to the boat. 

A beach start should be a fairly easy thing now that I’ve mastered the water start.  All I have to do is stand in about knee deep water, have the wind fill the sail, and step onto the board.  Easy peasy I used to do it all the time when I was a kid.  I wade the board out into the water and wait for a puff of wind.  The sail fills and pulls on my arms, this is it.  I step onto the board and immediately dig the skeg into the sand which stops all forward movement from the board.  However, the sail and I continue moving at a good clip.  The sail goes over and I immediately smash my head into the mast in a contorted heap.  That was a failure. 

By now there isn’t enough wind to pull me up with a water start, so I beach start in deeper water with some success.  I balance on the board in the weak breeze and start heading to the boat.  I get about 50 ft up the beach and lose my balance and fall off.  I have to swim the rig back to the beach.  With the current pushing me away from the boat I get back to the beach and my progress is a net -50 ft.  I’m now further away then when I started.  Two more attempts result in the same conclusion and now I’m 150 ft further from the boat. 

I succumb to the realization that I’m not going to be able to sail back to the boat.  I’ll have to walk the rig up passed the boat and then swim/sail/drift to the boat.  I look up stream and the beach I’m on is separated from the beach that I need to be on by a section of water grass about 50 yards long.  I start the walk of disappointment against the current back up to the boat in failure.  My glumness quickly changes to pain when I step on an oyster cluster.  I realize this section of seagrass is covered in oyster clusters.  My feet are tough by cubicle standards, but no match for oyster shells.  I walk as gingerly as possible agains the current on the oyster clusters, but they are cutting into my feet. 

About halfway through the oyster shell walk of pain I see Kelly on deck.  I yell to her and tell her to get the dinghy and rescue me.  She comprehends and gets into the dinghy.  I see her start the engine and immediately turn it off.  I then see her start to pull up the engine and fiddle with it.  If Kelly is fiddling with an engine there is very little chance of success, so I have to forge on through the oysters.  I feel another one cut the outside of the pinky toe.  It hurts, but it has to be done. 

I finish walking up current of the boat, the whole time Kelly is in the dinghy monkeying with the engine.  I sail a beam reach infant of the boat and drop into the water to let the current take me to the boat.  I get to the boat exhausted and bleeding, but I’ve arrived.  Kelly is still cursing in the dinghy.  I bring the windsurfing equipment onboard and go see Kelly.  The waterski line that tried to kill me yesterday was at it again and wrapped itself around the dinghy prop.  Kelly had already started to cut it and we finished it off.  To end the day as I was derigging the sail the mast jam cleat pulled out of the housing and fell into the water.  It looks like I’ll need parts before I windsurf again.

Little River, South Carolina

Our last post ended sharing our experiences in early October. At that point Hurricane Maria had just dissipated, and with only one more month of hurricane season left, we hoped we’d be spared any more drama. Thankfully, no other major storms impacted us and, God-willing, it will stay that way.

Our sail from Charleston taught us that weather apps lie. We had planned to do an overnight sail to Little River, South Carolina, but what had been forecasted to be a pleasant sail turned into a 6 – 8 foot wavy seas mess. I fared the worst, but the girls weren’t feeling great either. Even though the seas calmed a bit in the afternoon, we ditched the overnight plan and found calm water in the massive Winyah Bay inlet for the night. Its about this time that I start to question whether or not I like sailing.

We left early the next morning and found calmer seas and great wind. (I also learned that I can double the amount the seasickness meds I’m taking.) We reached the Little River inlet with sunlight to spare. We had planned to stop at an anchorage further up river, but Eric noticed a few boats anchored in a shallow cove behind the sandy inlet island, so being the flexible planners that we are, we changed course and went there. It was beautiful! A great beach was only 100 feet away. The kids were ecstatic. Of course, we had to check it out, so we dinged over to explore the beach. The kids found some crabs hiding in the marsh grass. We wanted to stay on shore longer, but we were hungry and exhausted from a great day of sailing.

The kids woke up early the next morning super motivated to get through school because they wanted to go back to the beach. There’s nothing like doing your schoolwork while longingly looking at the beach to help speed up progress. Cloe finished school before Tali, so Eric had her hop on his back while he paddled them on this surfboard to shore.  They were going to explore the ocean side of the island and report back. While Tali and I were finishing up, we noticed a huge storm cloud heading our way and moving fast. We quickly closed all the hatches and took down the clothes that were drying on the lifelines. Just as the wind picked up, we see Cloe and Eric booking it around the corner, running our way fast. Unfortunately they weren’t fast enough to beat the rain, or the drop in temperature. Eric put Cloe on the board and swam her back to the boat. We made hot chocolate to warm everyone up. Thankfully it cleared up quickly so Cloe was able to show us what they found…a great body surfing beach!

Leslie and Carl were returning from the Annapolis Boat Show and would be stopping by for a visit on their way home. The dingy ride to the nearest dock was by far our longest, around 20 minutes. When they got to the boat, they shared their boat show experiences with us and we shared our awesome new anchorage with them! Pops, Eric, and the girls went body surfing while Les & I relaxed on the beach. Their visit was a quick one, but we snuck in a grocery store trip and a fabulous dinner at Snookys. Interesting to note, this restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license, but they’ll give you alcoholic beverages for free while you’re there. Very strange, but much appreciated, and the food was fantastic…and that’s not the free drinks talking.

We stayed in Little River longer than planned because we fell in love with the anchorage. It’s exactly what the kids and I hoped cruising would be: school in the morning, water play in the afternoon (here, mostly boogie boarding and body surfing), and star gazing at night. We even tried crabbing off the back of the boat, but only caught 2, so instead of feasting on crab, we grilled the chicken legs we were going to use as bait.

About this time the temps had dropped significantly. 50s doesn’t sound very cold, but when you live on a boat…mornings are frigid. The girls literally had 4 layers of clothes on to keep warm. With the temp change also came some wind, so Eric decided to brush off his windsurfing skills. In our next post, he will share his experience with you.

After Irma

After the hurricane, Eric awarded the girls a pirate flag since they were so brave during their first hurricane. Shortly thereafter Carl and Les (Eric’s parents) stopped by and helped us rest, regroup, & resupply. The girls, Les, and I stayed in a hotel one night to get away from hurricane drama. We swam in the pool, relaxed in the hot tub, and we may have had a cocktail or two. The boys did manly things like rebuild the generator, get the water maker working, help a local get his boat off of the marsh & subsequently help him ‘throw a few back’ when they weren’t successful. By the end of their visit, we are running low on water, so the time had come for the grandparents to head back to their place, and for us to continue on.

Leaving St. Mary’s is bittersweet. We met a lot of great people and truly enjoyed anchoring there, but with all the dingy docks closed we know that raising anchor makes the most sense. We’ve even met a few local law enforcement types – some kind & understanding, some…not so much. We were running out of things and needed to grab necessities before we left. Easier said than done though. We’d been kicked off the boat ramp dock…sirens, bullhorn, and everything…but we explained our situation and were told of a dock we could use, but only once. Ironically, as we were leaving the ‘ok to use once dock’ we happened across once of our new friends in his powerboat. He offered to bring the girls & I to our boat since our dingy was loaded down and riding low and slow; however, as he tried to pull away, he couldn’t. Upon investigation, he found that his prop had fallen off! So, we called Eric back, and he and our ‘running much better now’ dingy pulled our friend’s boat to the boat ramp dock that we’d just been kicked off of. We felt bad leaving them there, but one confrontation with the police is a good daily limit.

So we left and are sailing north to St. Simeon for the night. The girls have started their first round of homeschool tests – phew! They are a challenge (ended up taking a whole week for them to finish). A funny moment broke the testing tension while anchored at St. Simeon – we were keeping the boat super quiet while the girls were taking their tests and, unbeknownst to us, a dolphin surfaced right at the back of the boat and made a racket while taking a breath. We thought someone had snorkeled up to the boat to cause some mayhem. Funny, but scared the crap out of us.

We’ve continued on to Tybee Island. During our sail, we pick up a hitchhiker. A little bird has found us over 3 nautical miles out (what is he doing out here?) and decides to hang with us for a good portion of our sail. The kids have nicknamed him ‘Little Brown.’ He is dancing all over the boat. He flies off, then works his tail off to fly back to us (we are motor sailing at about 7 knots – so I imagine it’s a chore). At one point he flies inside the salon so the girls and I have to get him out. He ends up landing on my head, so I walk him out. Just call me the ‘bird whisperer’.

We arrive in Tybee a bit later than we like because the wind dies during our sail. The sun is getting low as we’re entering the inlet and there is no way that we’ll make our planned anchorage before sunset. Eric and I scramble to look for a new acceptable place to anchor, because anchoring rule number one = don’t anchor at night. The chart indicates a likely anchorage just off a lighthouse a little further down the inlet. It is out of the channel and seems to have good depth. As the sun is touching the horizon, we arrive at our makeshift anchorage. We don’t know if there are any rules against anchoring here, but clearly the lighthouse is no longer in service so we should be ok – it looks like it hasn’t been lit for 100 years. We are able to get the hook down before dark and all is well. We crack upon a few adult beverages to celebrate our success just as a tour boat comes about 30 feet from our cat, at which point its captain shares the history of the Cockspur Island lighthouse to his paying customers over a loudspeaker, so we get to learn all about the dilapidated lighthouse for free. A good way to settle in for the night.

We move to a new anchorage in the morning on the NW side of Hilton Head called Skull Creek, so we’re officially in South Carolina! This anchorage is a gem. There isn’t much around – mansion houses to the east, a small marina to the south, and sheltered from the inlet to the north. Lot of dolphins and very peaceful. The occasional recreational fishing boat goes by, which throws a small wake that rocks the boat a bit, but we don’t rock like a monohull, so it’s alright. Most boaters are compassionate and slow down for us. Life is good.

The girls have finally finished their first round of tests, so we celebrate by going to the beach! We dingy over to the inlet & basically have our own private beach. The girls have a blast. It’s nice to sit in our beach chairs and truly embrace the cruising life. Again, life is good…although here we learn that one should not drag a dingy onto the beach during high tide, especially when the tide if almost 7 ft. By the time we head back to the boat, the dingy is 50 ft away from the water.

At this point, we have officially been cruising for a month, so its time for the girls and I to delve deeper into ‘boat learning’. Eric gives us dingy lessons. The girls do an excellent job. Me…I’m not great, but I can get us where we need to go. Admittedly landing alongside the boat is not my forte, but I know I’ll get better. On another note, Eric tried to down our youngest child today. Her reward for finishing school early was to go tubing for the first time. Well, he didn’t tie the tube up right, so when he got a little speed on, the tube nosed over and flipped Cloe in the water. It was quite something to see Cloe start with excited yells of jubilation then switch to wide eyed screams of fear as the tube capsizes. My loving husband comforted her with “lean further back on the tube and it won’t flip” (thank you genius) and, to Cloe’s credit, she tries it again. Cloe shows incredible bravery as she climbs back on the tube with tears running down her face. Her first mistake was to trust her misguided father who, once again, starts to accelerate the dingy and the nose of the tube submarines flipping Cloe off the tube.  As you can imagine, Cloe has decided that her tubing life has come to and end.

We stay at Skull Creek for a week or so. Thankfully Eric has figured out why we’re having compass discrepancies, which we’ve noticed during our last few sails. The problem is solved by moving the homeschool supplies. Apparently one of the girls will be doing a science lab requiring iron filings and a magnet, and they were too close to the compass and mucking up the reading. Whoops. While here, we also see phosphoresces in the water for the first time. It is captivating watching the water light up when agitated.

During our sail to Charleston, we actually catch a fish! Unfortunately, we aren’t prepared. While I’m grabbing the larger bucket from below, the fish jumps off the hook, out of Eric’s hand and hits the smaller bucket on deck which dumps both it and itself overboard. Fishing fail! After this incident, we have a ‘crew meeting’ and draft a better “fishing while sailing” plan to follow from here on out so we don’t lose any more fish.

We have a long day of motor-sailing (not enough wind…again) and decide to anchor near Fort Sumter. A few boats are already anchored here, so it must be fine. Admittedly, it’s too rocky for me and the huge freighters coming by bounce us more often than I like. Then, as the sun is setting, everyone leaves! Every single boat that is anchored here pulls up and goes elsewhere, and this all happens within 15 minutes! Well, I’m not comfortable staying here overnight if they aren’t. What do they know that we don’t? So I tell the crew that we aren’t staying out here ’alone’…so we leave…at sunset…for a different anchorage. Yes, we are going to break anchoring rule #1 and will be anchoring at night. Anchoring in a place you’re unfamiliar with at night is uncomfortable, to say the least. It’s not the best of boating practices. You can’t see really well, so it’s unnerving. The anchorage we find is already pretty full. Thankfully, Eric saves us by seeing a hazard before its too late…the mast of a sunken boat near the East end. We do, however, anchor without a problem. Admittedly, we are a little closer to one of the boats than we like, so we stay up for a bit watching how we swing during the tide change. We end up being fine, so we call it a night.

Charleston is an awesome city. Eric takes the girls to Fort Sumter. It is, now, a 15+ minute dingy ride to get there from our new anchorage, and I’m not a big fan of long dingy rides…so I stay behind to catch up on things. They have a great time learning the history of the fort. The next day, we all go in to shore and explore the city. Locals recommend we should experience the Farmers’ Market, so we do, but find it to be more of a ‘bazar’ than the farmer’s markets I know from Germany, but its still an experience. Even though they have food trucks at the market, we decide to visit a restaurant so we can rest our weary feet. We happen across Rue De Jean, a French restaurant recommended in our cruising guide, so we decide it must be fate and choose to eat here. The food is exceptional, the atmosphere unparalleled, and we leave with our bellies full, ready to tackle the rest of the day. Our next stop is the Charleston Museum. We learn a great deal of history about the area…the rice industry, who knew? Well, we didn’t, and feel pretty stupid for not having known. The labor it took to grow and harvest rice…inconceivable! The museum also has an excellent kids area. The girls get all dressed up, and have a great time.

Charleston really doesn’t want us to leave. We try heading out two different times: once, the inlet is too choppy, and the other, the weather isn’t cooperating. On one of our failed attempts, we decide to stay in the harbor and do some man overboard drills with the tubing floaty. Happy to report that we retrieve the floaty every single time…this includes rounds with me on the helm. On our ‘real’ last night in Charleston, the girls and I make a big batch of Apple Crisp. We share it with one of our new boaty friends, Captain Lee. Captain Lee has been living on the hook in the Charleston anchorage since before 2000. At first, we aren’t really sure about this guy who looks like…he’s been anchored out for almost 20 years, but we learn that he has experiemced a lot in his years and has a heart of gold. He is indeed a character. The girls really enjoyed meeting him and hearing his stories. He’s helped make our time in Charleston unforgettable.

Hurricane Irma

Our last post ended with our first night in St. Mary’s, GA. Yes, we were aground-ish for a stint, but the sun came up, the tide came in, and we moved her over a few feet to deeper water. No biggie.

We were so excited to venture on land and check out the town. St. Mary’s is a cute little town. We went ashore and played tourist for a few hours. We visited the Submarine Museum, the General Store, and the Cumberland Island & War of 1812 Museum. We had also heard from Alison, a friend from high school, that her parents live near St. Mary’s. Such a small world! So we all met for dinner. Dinner conversation turned to Hurricane Irma, which looked like it could head this way by week’s end. Eric boasts that if the storm does head this way, he’ll be staying on board.  I, however, note that the girls and I will be getting off the boat & staying in a hotel. Alison’s folks offer to let us stay in their house too. We get back to the boat that night and begin our new, obsession by necessity, storm tracking. Here is Eric’s recollection of our hurricane experience…

Tracking the hurricane, it becomes apparent that we are going to get some portion of it. Preparations are not terribly complicated, but they take time.  We basically have to remove everything off the deck, remove the jib, and put it inside the boat.  Getting the surfboard and windsurfers into the boat isn’t going to happen. I figure it will be OK if I just lash them into the cockpit area.  This seems like a lot of work for a potential storm, but it is good practice even if nothing happens. 

As the storm destroyed the Virgin Islands (which we later learn totaled my parent’s boat) it becomes apparent that we are going to feel some of it. I think that it can’t be that bad – if it hits South Florida first, it will weaken a lot before it gets to us; however, we should move the boat further from the coast into a hurricane hold.  I head into shore to see if I can get some information about up river because our charts have no data on the river’s depths. The wildlife department that runs ferries to Cumberland Island is all but useless in this matter. I note that there is a bait shop just off the boat ramp. They have some kind of kayak tour up river and may have some knowledge of the river. 

I talk to a guy working at the bait shop.  He tells me he doesn’t know anything about the area, but there is another guy who works at the shop who has been there over 10 years living on a boat.  The guy calls himself “Doc”. It seems like a long shot, but I have to get some local advice, and whether I take it or not is up to me. I get into my dingy, which is still running stupid rich, but running, and head to talk to this Doc. I get within hailing distance and yell, “Ahoy”.

A guy in his mid 60’s pokes his head up out of the hatch and asks how he can help.  I tell him that I’m visiting in the old catamaran and it looks like we’re going to have to weather out the storm here and was wondering if he knew a good hurricane hole.  At least that’s what I think I say, but apparently Doc heard, “Hi, I’m new here and would like to hear your life story.” 

Doc starts with talking about previous hurricanes. He has weathered a few in St. Mary’s.  It seems that his job is to keep the bait shop open during the hurricane.  He grabs a cot, and some provisions and sleeps in the shop. On occasion there will be a few inches of water on the floor, but never more than a foot.  He brings a small generator into the shop to keep everything going. Our conversation is interesting, but doesn’t get me any closer to knowing where to set the boat for the hurricane. It turns out the Doc was also Army, and had several tours in Vietnam.  We discuss some of the changes in the Army from then and when I was in.  I always like to hear and tell stories of combat.  When I am talking to another combat veteran I can talk about the some of the real stuff.  It seems to comfort me, and I assume it does the same for them. 

An hour passes like a flash. As the sun starts to get low, I’m able to extract that one can take a large boat all the way up river to the I-95 bridge, about 13 miles. Doc informs me that the best place to stay is in the second bend about 5 miles up river.  It is shielded to the south by a large sand cliff.  The river bends there and width is not so broad that waves can build.  Doc tells me that there is a map of the river at the bait shop on which the back side shows all the way up to this hurricane hole.  I part ways from Doc’s boat having found a new friend and head back to the shop for the map. Doc was right. The map shows depths of the river going almost all the way to I-95. This is just what I need. The clerk offers to make a copy which I gladly accept and buy a soda.

Now a map is good, but I need to recon this area.  It’s getting to be sunset now, so the recon will have to wait until the morning.  I drive the dinghy to the boat, but it is running so poorly.  I can feel it lug as if it is running rich, then it goes well, but then stalls as if it is lean.  I have found some success if I manually pump the fuel bulb just a little.  If I pump it too much, it bogs as if rich, and if I don’t pump it, the engine stalls out lean. The good news is that there is  definitely a fuel pump issue, though I don’t know if that’s the only issue. My new hand pumping strategy is fairly successful, but I need to order a fuel pump.  When I get back to the boat I order a fuel pump to be delivered to the marina.  On a two stroke there really isn’t a fuel pump, it’s just a diaphragm that uses the crank case pressure to pump back and forth.  It’s clever design and I like it. 

There are now about 5 days until the hurricane might hit.  My job one is to recon up river to the hurricane hole location. The plan is to head up river with the boat, set the anchor, bring the girls back to shore, and I’ll go back to the boat to ride out the storm.  Additionally my folks, who are in Florida now, will be coming to visit today and can help with preparations. This works out well because the generator that came with the boat is all seized up and the manufacturer is in Jacksonville.  So I’ll borrow the car and head to them to get some parts. 

I take the dinghy, fuel it up because it seems to go through a lot of fuel, and head up river.  As any river, I stick to the outside of the turns, try to picture the flow and where the deep area are.  One of the nice things that I notice is there are crab pots lining the river.  The crab pot buoys show how much current there is, and fast current means deep water.  I drive the 5 miles up river taking note of the current, the bends, and the shoaling areas and find my hurricane hole.  It’s just as Doc described.  There is about a 30-40 foot sand cliff to the south, the river bends a full 180 at the bluff and then turns another 90 degrees about 300 yards up.  Waves don’t have much area to build.  The only thing I don’t like about it is that there is little protection from the north and northeast.  The river valley is that direction and there is only straw grass for about a mile to the north and even further to the northeast.  However, the hurricane is coming from the south and we should be on the west side of it, so the major winds will all be coming from the south or southeast.  This looks like a good hole, we’ll move up here in a couple days.   

My folks come to town and I take the car off to Jacksonville to get generator parts.  Another 2 grand disappears from our cruising fund.  While I’m in Jacksonville Kelly calls to ask about our backup anchor.  In all actuality we don’t have a backup anchor.  The main anchor on the boat is an 88 lb Racna with 3/8 inch all chain rhode.  I have seen that we have a backup anchor line, but no real anchor.  The only other anchor that came with the boat was a 35 lb Bruce.  Not enough anchor to hold the boat in anything. Obviously my dad has been talking to Kelly, and he’s right.  We should have a backup anchor. I look on the internet through my phone and find there is a used boat parts house in St. Augustine. It’s a 45 minute drive south, so I give them a call. It turns out they have three Danforth anchors in the 60 lb range. I tell them I’m on my way.

By the time I get there, they are down to two Danforths.  One of them is a 60 lb that has the “H” stamp for high strength steel.  The other is a standard  Danforth at about 1/2 the price.  I ask the clerk if there is any negotiating on the price of the anchor.  He tells me, “Three days before a hurricane, I don’t think so.  Come back in two weeks and we can deal.”  He’s right.  I buy the high strength anchor.  Further discussion reveals that they have sold 8 anchors that morning.  I look around and get some other needed items and negotiate the price on those. In the end I’m happy with my work, and load up the car. We now have everything for the storm and we’ll move to the hurricane hole tomorrow, two days until the storm.

IMG_2870

Taken during our fuel stop before Irma.

Amidst all the hurricane prepping, we had a great visit with Carl and Les. The kids showed them around St. Mary’s while Eric and I ran errands. After enjoying some of Eric’s great grilled meals, the girls learned how to play Rummikub and love it! It’s become their new obsession.

Continuing Eric’s hurricane memories…

We wake up and continue preparations needed for the hurricane.  I lash the mainsail to the boom, and we remove the jib.  My folks head back to their house.  The tide starts to rise, and we head for the hole. I want to head there on a rising tide so that if we hit the ground we won’t have to wait as long for the water to lift us off. However my recon was good and we made it to the hole without incident. I assume that the hurricane will blow from the south east and south, so I set two anchors for the onslaught. We spend a quiet night in the river in preparation.  Well we thought it would be a quiet night. 

At midnight I wake up to a howling wind and rain storm. A Nor’easter has jumped ahead of the hurricane and is blowing 20-30 knots with gusts near 40. This is not good. I don’t have the anchors set for a northeasterly wind. The boat is entirely holding on our secondary anchor, at least it’s a good one, but the stern is only about 30 yards from the river bank. There is no way to safely reset the anchors at night, so I’ll just have to hope she holds.

In the morning the weather isn’t much better. The wind is still blowing in the mid 20s from the northeast. The boat moves with the tides and swings close to the river bank. When the tide has us pulling on the main anchor I take the dinghy in a long shot plan to move the secondary anchor.  I start pulling up the anchor line and note that my plan sucks.  What the heck am I thinking. The boat pulled on this anchor for most of the night.  It’s probably dug it’s way to bedrock by now. The dinghy pitches in the wind and waves, more then once while I pull on the anchor line I lose my footing and crash into the hull. There’s no way I’m getting it up in the dinghy, this is just stupid. The anchors are going to have to stay where they are.

It’s about noon and the girls are ready to head into shore for storm. (All the hotel rooms in the area are already full with Southern Floridians who have evacuated, so we reach out to Allison’s parents and take them up on their offer to stay with them. They are Godsends.) I figure a quick dinghy ride in and I’ll be back out here to finish preparations. We all jump in the dinghy, and start for town. On a good day it’s a 20 minute ride. This is not a good day. I gun the engine and the dinghy won’t get on a plain, it just pushes the water with the bow up in the air. It’s running like crap. We get about 100 yards from the boat, and here comes the rain. Soaking wet, cold, and looking at a 45 minute dinghy ride, Kelly isn’t happy. (Ya got that right. ha!) We make about 15 more minutes in the rain and wind and a speed boat from one of the other boats that are in the hurricane hole comes along side and asks if they can take the girls in. I’d not seen my family move so quickly in some time. (Can you blame us?)

Once I had safely sent the family off, I went back to the boat. Alone I finished the rest of the hurricane preparations. The hurricane is heading across the west coast of Florida. It is supposed to hit us tomorrow night. The nor-easter continues to blow and rain all through the night. The wind is holding back the water, and high tides are going a foot or more above schedule. 

When I wake up for the final day I see some work is needed. The secondary anchor has drug/dug in some more and at this point I can almost walk off the boat onto the river bank.    One more tide change and we’ll be in the marsh. I notice one of the other boats that is anchored up river has already beached itself on the bank. Now how the heck am I going to move the anchors myself? The wind is blowing 25+, there’s just no way. I don’t think I’ve prayed this much since the war. Once again He comes through, and as the current slackens for the shift, the wind lulls to about 15 knots.  I have to take the chance of getting the anchors up and repositioning the boat now, or succumb to the near certainty that my boat/house/life will end up on the bank. I have to give it a shot. I’ll have to let my secondary anchor go and then get the primary anchor up, and move the boat to the middle of the river where I’ll have swing distance.  Once I let the anchor go though, there is no recovery until after the storm. I attach a fender to the secondary anchor line and let it go. 

Now time is of the essence. I engage the engines to take some of the tension off the anchor and use the windless to bring in the chain. As I’m at the bow the boat starts to go terribly off course, that’s bound to happen when no one’s steering, so I rush back and neutral one engine. I scurry back up the the bow and bring in some more chain, then the breaker for the windless trips. I jump back into the salon and reset it, then back to the bow. I run back and forth from the anchor chain to the steering station, to the breaker for 20 minutes. The breaker trips 3 times in the process, but by the grace of God I get the anchor up.

I navigate the boat to the middle of the river where there is room and drop the hook.  I have just over 220 feet of chain on the 88 lb anchor, and I let it all out.  There’s no reason to hold anything back, we’re all in. I swear not 20 minutes after I get the anchor set in our new location the wind starts up again and now at 30+ knots. I feel the boat is safe, but I’m cold and wet. I peel off my clothes and place them into one of the heads.  As I’m back in our “guest birth” which it piled up with stuff we don’t know where to put yet, I find my foul weather gear.  Eureka, this won’t be that bad! This is the gear that was issued to me at the Coast Guard Academy some 20 years ago. It turns out though that foul weather gear has a shelf life. As I put on the pants, the yellow plastic disintegrates in my hands. What a mess. The pants are useless. The jacket is another story. It’s made of cloth with a plastic layer inside. The inside layer seems to have disintegrated long ago and piled up in the bottle of the jacket, but the cloth is still in tact. I put it on and head outside but I find the jacket about as waterproof as a wedding veil. This sucks.

I’m not going to put wet clothes back on, and I’m not going to get all my clothes wet, so this is the point I give up on clothes. I only have to go outside to check on the anchor and my surroundings, so I’ll just be naked. Then I only have to dry myself off, brilliant! Time for dinner, two spam sandwiches, that will take care of my sodium intake for the week. 

The wind and rain continue. I get out about every 20 minutes and look at the anchor and make sure it’s holding. I check the other three boats that are near me and the one that is already on the bank.  As night falls the wind starts to pick up and the hurricane is coming. The night goes by slow. I set my watch to go off every 1/2 hr. I get up, check the hatches and portholes, go out check the anchor and the other boats if I can see them, then I dry off, go back to bed and listen to the howling of the wind. 

At around midnight the wind really picks up. The gauge shows that the gusts are getting to near 80 knots, and the rain hits like a BB gun and hurts my face, among other sensitive areas. My only illumination is a headlamp so I can’t see that far into the fury. The drill continues through the night. By 1 in the morning every hatch and porthole is leaking at some level. I decide that if I need the engines I should have them ready, so every hour I start the engines and let them run for the 10 minutes while I check the other stuff.  The watches go on without change until around 4:30 in the morning. While I stand in the doorway cold and wet, I look over at the town hoping that my family is doing better then I when all the lights in the town go out. (We were fine. The Benson’s were so kind to us.) Now I’m completely surrounded by darkness. 

The boat continues to pitch in the waves that are building from the 70+ knots of wind.  Finally around 8 in the morning it’s light enough to see. I liked it better at night. This is crazy.  I didn’t know how bad it was. The wind has blown up 3 foot waves in the little river bend that I’m at.  The white caps of the waves are being driven off the waves and into the sky, while the rain is blasting in horizontal sheets. I can only see about 100 feet in any direction, it’s like a wall of water that is surrounding me. It finally dawns on me the risk this whole thing is. My job is to make sure that little problems don’t become big problems. My job isn’t over. After one of the sheets of rain goes by I can see another boat that was anchored down river has drifted up onto the bank. At about 10:00 in the morning the wind starts to subside. You know you’ve been through a storm when you think that 50 knots of wind isn’t that bad. 

By the time the sun went down the wind had calmed to less then 10 knots. I had some spotty cell coverage and was able to call the family. They would coordinate to get a ride out with Tom who had helped bring them ashore, however, Kelly didn’t know when that would be. Now that the storm is gone, I’m ready to collapse for some well deserved sleep. 

When I wake in the morning the calm is beautiful. I start the ‘get our ship back into cruising’ configuration. Kelly gives me a call with some bad news.  It appears that the town was hit bad by the hurricane, and the boat ramps are closed. They are looking for an alternate place to launch the boat to get out here. It may take a couple days. Not much I can do.

Two days go by before the family can get back out to me. It is a great feeling to see the girls unable to contain themselves when I see them. The other boaters tells me that the town hasn’t faired well. Both the marinas have been wiped out. Almost all of the docks are gone.

We all raise anchor and head back to town.  As we make the last turn I see masts of sailboats scattered all over the waterfront.  Once we get close, the devastation is incredible. There are 40+ boats that have been destroyed.  There are no docks left at the waterfront.  The boats are piled up on top of each other.  In one corner there is a commercial fishing boat on top of a 45 foot sailboat. There’s a sailboat at least half a mile into the marsh, he’s going to have to dig a new canal to get it back afloat. It appears that Doc’s boat has made it unscathed. I decide to anchor around the bend from the town, there’s just too many sunken and broken boats in front of the town to anchor back there. 

The next morning the town isn’t any better.  I dinghy over to Doc’s boat to get a situation report. It’s not good, the waterfront is closed dawn, and there is nowhere that we’re allowed to dock the dinghy to even get to town. Well that’s disappointing, so I guess we won’t be staying around much longer.  It looks like we’re heading north.

St. Mary’s really is a cute town, and with time, we’re sure they’ll rebuild and be a great cruising spot again. Last we heard, they had pulled 40ish boats off of the bottom of the harbor. Thanks to Eric, we faired with zero hurricane damage. This was a heck of an experience, through which we met a lot of great people.

Our first month of cruising

 

So much has happened to us in our first month of cruising. My in-laws, who are veteran cruisers, have reassured me that it isn’t always like this. Thank God! Don’t get me wrong, we’re having a great time, but I could have used a little more ‘easing in’ rather than the in-your-face adventure we’ve started with. That being said, it did start off nice and easy. Our first trip off the dock was only about four miles down the ICW…not a huge accomplishment, but it was a start. We had intended on anchoring in a spot our cruising guide recommended, but we found it filled with mooring balls. Not good. Eric didn’t like it, so instead, we hopped on one of the mooring balls instead. I had never done this before myself. I’ve seen other people do it plenty of times, but I can proudly say that I got picked it up on the first try. Proud moment! We stayed here for a few days getting to know the boat a little better, her systems, her night time noises, etc. Of course Eric was itching to sail, so we agreed to leave the inlet for a bit one afternoon which…wasn’t exactly what I would call a pleasant experience. Here’s Eric’s account of that afternoon…

I decide that we should go out into the ocean for a shakedown sail.  The wind is good at about 20 kts.  I give my wife the helm while I get the sails up.  Her skills at the helm are a little less then I had expected.  In reality she didn’t know how to control the boat, trying to keep it into the wind while I get the sails up is a bit of a chore.  I yell for her to stay into the wind, she yells at me that she doesn’t know what I’m talking about.  (In my defense, the last time I sailed a boat was in the 90s & it was a small Mercury. So yes…I was a bit rusty. After some frustration, we went back to basics, and I did better. Sill rusty though.) Once the sails are up it didn’t get much better.  It turns out that if you don’t know how to drive a boat under power, there’s a good chance you don’t know how to handle the boat under sail.  After about an hour and only a few tears, she was getting better. 

It was about that time we saw the black clouds coming from the West over Ft. Lauderdale. What a learning experience ahead! Kelly, however, didn’t have the same thoughts.  I can see the wall of rain and wind about a mile ahead.  This is not going to be comfortable.  I decide that I need to take in a reef on the sail just in case.  These storms come on you fast and leave you fast.  Again I have Kelly take the helm while I wrestle the the sail down to get the reef in.  Again I give helpful directions and my wife yells curses at me.  Or that’s how I think it’s going.  (In my defense, I don’t think there were curses, but I was definitely making sure that he understood that I was not having fun on our first family said all drenched and rocking about. His positive spin…”We’re cleaning the sails!” Whatever.) I get the reef in just in time for the wind to change direction by 90 degrees and increase to 35+ kts. The white caps started to grow and the rain pelted us.  Now the kids started voicing their opinions of the situation which was not helpful.  30 minutes of the thunderstorm and I see it start to clear.  I knew it wouldn’t take long, but it appears that Kelly didn’t appreciate the lesson as much as I had hoped.  (Ya got that right, lol!)

Heading back to the mooring was a silent event.  I navigated the boat back into Ft. Lauderdale, and called the bridges to raise.  When the mooring field comes back into view, Kelly acknowledges my existence and we start the mooring dance.  It’s a beautiful ballet, Kelly informs me where she thinks she wants the boat to go.  I start moving in the direction, and overshoot.  We do this several times as we approach the buoy, but we lock on and hook up with a curse (and sigh of relief).

I should point out that we were the only boat in this morning field which reinforces that most cruisers are further north now. Another example is that while we’re here, we call the marina daily to try and pay our mooring fee, but no one ever picked up the phone nor showed up to take our money. So, after another day on the mooring, we decide that we’re ready to begin the trek North. Ok, maybe I wasn’t ‘ready’, but I was ‘as ready as I was gonna be.’ Here is Eric’s account of our first stint north…

After a thorough investigation of weather, we decide to make the track north to Palm Bay inlet.  It’s a 35 mile sail, so it’s going to take all day.

The sail up to Palm Bay inlet is uneventful.  (Quick shoutout to the makers of Driminate seasickness meds – recommended by our pediatrician. Works like a charm!) We sail at a whopping 5-6 kts and it takes us every bit of 7 hrs.  (I believe we were told it would be a 5 hour sail…which turned in to a 7+ hour sail.) There are grumblings of mutiny from the two swabs about an hour into the sail.  The only question I have to answer from hour two to six is, “How much further?”  I work with Kelly at the helm and try to explain the sailing aspect.  I finally break down and show her the autopilot. 

I tell her, “Just push this button, and it will hold the boat on course.” In 16 years of marriage I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a look, like I’d been holding back information of an affair. 

She says, “Are you $&@!! kidding me?!! I’ve been fighting this steering thing for two days and there’s a damn button that will keep the boat on course?!!” 

“Well yea, most big boats have an autopilot, but you still have to know how to steer without it.  What if it stops working.”  I tell her.  That doesn’t seem to comfort her much.  (Really, I was just annoyed that he hadn’t shown me this lil’ feature sooner.)

As we finally pull into the inlet at Palm Bay I can see some dark thunder clouds rising fast. Crap, I’m not going to hear the end of this. I get the sails down and we motor to our potential anchorage. We are about 2-300 yards alway from anchoring when the wall of rain hits us.  The wind gusts up to 46 knots, but it’s short lived. 10 minutes, and the whole thing is gone, However brief, it was something. The anchorage at Palm Bay is nice and wide, but there is a stiff current. During peak current, if you fall overboard, swim to shore because you aren’t going to swim back to the boat. 

The stay in Palm Bay is nice and we think we’ll stay about a week and catch up with my Uncle, however as I’m driving the dingy to town, which seems to be running on one cylinder most of the time now, I get stopped by the sheriff. I’ve never been stopped by anyone on a boat before. Luckily the dingy engine helped a lot by stalling out, leaving me adrift to be interrogated. He asks if I have any identification. Of course I do, and that’s when I remember my driver’s license is void because Missouri takes 30 days to renew it. The state gave me a piece of paper that was my “current license”. I do have the paper on me so I pull out my void license and a soaking wet piece of paper that I carefully try to unfold like an ancient papyrus. I fail and most of the Missouri seal rips and a third of the writing on the paper is smeared and gone. This doesn’t go well for me while I pour on the charm. 

The sheriff then asks about the boat registration. Well yes, the boat is registered. What you want proof of registration?  No, I don’t have anything like that. The sheriff starts to run the identification number off the dingy.  I didn’t even know it had an ID number.  The radio comes back, “No registration by that number.”  I quickly share that my wife has the paperwork.  I’ll call her and get the registration numbers.  The sheriff seems skeptical, but allows it.  I get the numbers from Kelly and tell the sheriff.  He runs them again, and this time gets a positive response that we are legal. He then asks me how long I plan to be in town. I tell him that we are going to go to a barbecue at may Uncle’s for Labor day, unless you’re kicking us out.  He looks surprised, and states, “No I’m not kicking you out. I want to make sure you’ll be around to see your numbers.”  The sheriff proceeds to tell me that I have to have my numbers on the dingy, and the state seal, along with a paper copy.  This seems excessive, but I agree and he finally lets me off with a warning.

However, this brings into light that while the dingy is registered, our big boat isn’t.  The paperwork for registration is still with the Coast Guard.  Not to get into details, but there is still some gray area as to weather we are supposed to be in Florida at all because of the slowness it is taking to get our RI registration.  I head to get the provisions we need, but there is a nagging concern in my mind about the boat registration.  In all reality, we are registered in RI, but we don’t have any paperwork showing that yet, and the Florida tax man may not like that and want some $$. I coax the dingy into getting me back to the boat. Lots of smoke spilling out behind me. I think it’s running rich. I finally get to the boat and tell Kelly, “Change of plans. We are leaving tomorrow.”  It’s time for us to get out of Florida.

As you can imagine, this change was a surprise to me. Remember, we were supposed to ease ourselves into this lifestyle. We had planned to see family and relax for a few days. We still weren’t making water. We’re waiting on a part that the in-laws are bringing, so I guess they’ll be meeting us further up the coast. We also were really enjoying Peanut Island. It’s this perfect escape only a dingy ride away where we can hike trails then wade in the water & snorkel the day away. The epitome of cruising life, but no more. Ugh. Peanut Island…till we meet again. 

We set out for Ft. Pierce at 0800.  The normally one hour drive takes us nine hours in a sailboat.  Luckily we had the gulf stream to help us.  At this rate we will be out of Florida just around New Years. It’s this time that I talk to Kelly about the need for an overnight sail.  We can bank on about 50 miles a day, but if we sail through the night we could get a good 150 miles.  We are only about 150 miles from Jacksonville so we could be out of Florida and this little tax question in an overnight. The logic is sound, a little help from the weather and we are golden.  Kelly agrees with the plan and we stay one night in Ft. Pierce with the intent of getting out of Florida on an overnight passage. 

Overnight passages can be great.  The light of the moon shinning off the ocean, the stars guiding your way, it can be a glorious time, and that’s how I explain it to the family.  I neglect to talk about how disorienting the dark can be.  You look out at the black and feel like you are turning, but the compass isn’t moving and you start to wonder if the compass is broken.  Any little sound makes you think that something is going to snap.  And worst of all what if the weather turns. There’s no reason to bother the family with those little details. 

I check the weather and it looks like a typical Florida prediction; mostly sunny and hot with a chance of thunderstorms. We’ll be fine. The sun rises and I’m ready to introduce Kelly and the family to the beauty that is an overnight passage.  The day sail is uneventful and we motor sail the entire way North.  With the engines on we are making a blistering pace of nearly 9 miles per hour. I get Kelly to steer the boat for a little while and even get her to not use the autopilot for a stint. We pass by Cape Canaveral in the early afternoon, Ponce DeLeon inlet a few hours later, and keep heading North. As the sun is starting to go down in the west I see dark clouds over land.  It’s not just an isolated thunderstorm. It looks like a black wall slowly moving East.  It isn’t going all that fast. Maybe we can get in front of it and be OK.  My optimism is completely unfounded and in about an hour its clear we are not going to avoid it on our current course. I change our heading, but its of no consequence we are going to be eaten up by this front. I can see the lightning slamming down to the Northwest and slowing moving East into our path. About sunset Kelly asks if that is going to effect us. In my most calming voice I tell her its not a big deal, but I’m going to need to bring down the sails soon. 

Our collision with the storm is inevitable. I take down the sails and wait for the eventual maelstrom. It takes about 30 more minutes and the temperature drops at least 15 degrees. The light 10 knot breeze from the Southwest changes to 40 knots from the West. Oh we’re in it now.  The waves pick up to about 3-4 foot white caps and start hammering the hull like a pile driver.  This is not going well. The girls get frightened and decide to lay down in the cockpit. At this point our shift plan is abandoned and Kelly tells me in no uncertain terms that I will be at the helm all night. I tell her calmly that we’ll be out of this in the next few hours. I completely give up on my course and start a giant game of hide and seek with the storm. I use the radar and the lightning flashes to try and avoid the heavy stuff. I also change the general heading of the boat to get the waves to hit us on the port bow. I work out the sweet spot. If I head too much into the waves they crash into the bottom between the hulls, and if I head too far off the waves they hit us broadside and we roll like a carnival ride. About 30 degrees off the port bow seems to be working best. This also heads us closer to land which will help lower the waves.

About 1:00 in the morning and most of the bad stuff is behind us. By 3 am the waves are calm, the wind has died and the stars are starting to come out; however, at this time, I’m loosing it. The calmness after all the adrenaline is getting to me. I’m on my third teaspoon of coffee. I don’t really drink coffee, but to stay awake I just put the grinds in my mouth and chew them down. It sucks.There are some strange side effects, the stars and waves are making trippy shapes. I find that I can’t hold a heading. I look at the compass and we are on course, I look up at the sea, I check the gauges for the engines, I look back at the compass and I’m 20 degrees off course. I have to resort to the autopilot; however, lately the autopilot seems to be on crack.  Its constantly moving the wheel, it doesn’t get off course, but is moving the wheel a quarter turn one way, then a quarter turn the other.  Its nuts, but its doing a better job than I can.  Only a couple more hours till sunrise and then I’ll be better. 

Finally the sky starts to lighten and though my head feels foggy and slow I’m still awake and we are going the right way. The day starts to come up beautifully and I am feeling more awake. Kelly and the girls start to wake up a couple hours later. Kelly hops on the helm for a few hours to give me some sleep. The girls ask where we are and how much longer. I consult the chart plotter and tell her we are about 15 miles south of Jacksonville.  She looks at the charts and asks if we should go to the St. Johns river. I tell her yes, that must be the one that separates Florida and Georgia. Another hour goes by and we are getting close. Kelly starts to talk about anchorages and where we can go. I look at the chart with her and am concerned that I don’t see “Georgia” printed anywhere. Upon further investigation Kelly figures out that the St John’s river doesn’t separate Florida from Georgia, it goes into Jacksonville.  We have to go to St Mary’s to get to Georgia. That’s another 20 miles north. Are you kidding me? That’s like three more hours! I’m hurting, but need to just drive on. The whole point was to get out of Florida. 

Mid afternoon we start to head into St. Mary’s. I’ve been up for 31 hours and the engines have been running for almost the same time.  The engines are doing a lot better than I am.  St Mary’s has a submarine base, so the channel is almost 100 feet deep in spots and has a current of over 2 knots. Luckily the current was with us and we fly, relatively, up the river to our unknown anchorage. After searching around for a little while we find a place we like. It looks like there is about 6 feet of water under the keel and its calm. We set the anchor and I promptly fall asleep. 

I’m wakened in the middle of the night because the boat isn’t rocking correctly.  When we roll there is a little abruptness that I don’t understand.  I check my watch it’s almost dead low tide.  If I didn’t know any better I’d think we were aground.  Come to mention it I don’t know any better.  I turn on the instruments and the depth sounder read 6.5 feet, it must just be me. I look back at the depth sounder, it reads; 5.0…3.7…what the hell…1.6…0.0 feet. Crap we are on the ground. I get out a weight on a string and check, yup, the starboard hull is just on the ground in the soft mud and the port hull is just afloat. Well, there’s not much I can do about that…I’m going back to bed.

This brings us up to the week before hurricane Irma came through and destroyed St. Mary’s harbor. Our next post will be about that adventure.

The Beginning

We can’t believe it’s already September. Where did August go? Ours was filled with hard work, exhaustion, and lots of sweat. I spent my time cleaning 8+ months of stagnant environment out of the boat, taking inventory of what the previous owners left (which was a ton), provisioning for our adventure – i.e. purchasing all our food & supplies for ~3 months (much easier said than done), and stowing everything (an impossible task). Of course, we also started homeschooling. Eric, spent his time investigating every system on the boat…and each needed something – parts, love, a complete overhaul, a swift kick, or complete replacement. We’ve been told the first year of cruising is the most expensive. Holy smokes – we sure hope spending like this isn’t normal! Eric’s account of our first few weeks is WAY more entertaining than mine, so I’m handing off this month’s entry to him. Enjoy.

Now that we’ve made it to Florida, task one = get my truck out of storage (2003 ram 2500 diesel) and grab some stuff out of our storage trailer. The trailer is in good shape.  The truck – not so much. I notice some rust on the hood when I took the cover off (no big deal) but when I hook up the batteries, the windshield wipers come on and will not turn off.  So I start the truck and she fires right up…then the wipers turn off. Good. We drive almost 200 yards then hear this awful loud metal clanging sound.  I pull over to find that the exhaust pipe has fallen off the truck and is now attached by one hanger.  I remove the pipe and put it in the bed to find a dumpster later.  Now I’m traveling with about 4’ of exhaust pipe after the turbo. It’s not that loud. 

Week one on the boat starts the maintenance and cleaning.  The days are long and the nights…not long enough, though the house we are staying at is awesome, we can’t thank the owners enough for letting us stay there! Most of the day is taken up with general checks on the systems, the rest is fixing the stuff I find. The batteries need 4.5 gallons of water…this is not good.  The freezer is better at being a fridge. There are some toilet issues. For example, of the 4 we have on the boat, one seems to flood, one isn’t attached to the boat, one leaks through the motor, and one is OK. This is not ideal. The dingy that I had running in May isn’t working now. Again, not good. We have a plan to replace the forestay, but have run into some challenges.  We tried using the windless to winch me up the mast, but the windless broke. This is a real problem because this is what is used to bring up the 88 pound anchor…so again…not good. It is beginning to feel as though everything I touch breaks.

Upon further investigation with the windless. When one pushes the up button, sometimes it spins up and sometimes it spins down.  When I push the down button it does nothing.  It also only runs for about 10 seconds then trips the breaker.  Not good. I know the windless is controlled by a large relay, but I can’t find it.  So…I pull the windless apart and start to trace everything back.  It takes my big hammer and chisel to pull the chain drum off and I see a significant problem.  The chain drum is held on the shaft by a key.  Well someone in the past must have really F’d this thing up, because the key was bent, the two clutch cones were bent and the shaft for the key was bent.  Not good.  I went to get replacement parts and was told that the parts are special order from the factory and that the factory is on vacation for August.  On vacation for August? Are you kidding me?!! F’n Italians.  It would be about 8 weeks before the shop could get parts.  Well…it’s not bent that bad.  She’ll probably hold for the next couple of years as long as we don’t do something stupid, but the wiring has to be addressed. This means I have to shrink myself to trace the wires back through all the little holes that the boat has, or become a contortionist. I follow the cables into the chain locker, and while laying on top of the chain with the spare anchor trying to perform an appendectomy, I find that one of the windless wires was nearly cut through by the chain, and the other is corroded. Well that explains the tripping of the breaker. I also I immediately see a problem behind the remote controller. I don’t know if the previous owner had no idea about wiring, or if the electricians in the islands were bad, but either way, a muppet could do a better wiring job.  On one wire there are three splices within a 9” span.  Each splice runs the wire to a different gage and color wire.  This is insane.  Once the wires get to the relay controller, they don’t make any sense.  There is a hot going to one side of the remote, and the other has no power. The hot return wire is bare.  This is all crap and I have to sort it out.  Three hours later, and a parts run, I have the windless wired up correctly and working.  Unfortunately this doesn’t fix the mechanical issues, but that will have to wait.

Now, I can get back to the forestay. The standing rigging seems to be in good shape, but it’s original.  The one cable that I can’t inspect is the forestay, so I figure as peace of mind, I’ll change it out. I go to loosen shrouds…holy crap they won’t move.  I have two 12” crescent wrenches and can’t budge the turn buckle.  Time for my daily trip to the hardware store – everyone there knows me by now. I need to find something for breaker bars. I get two 30” pieces of steel pipe.  After three hours and only dropping one wrench into the water (and retrieving it), I have the shrouds loosened. With all these projects adding up, Kelly and I decide to hand this job off to the professionals. I call several riggers in the Ft. Lauderdale area and one actually calls me back. I learn these guys have recently changed out the standing rigging on our boat model, seem very knowledgeable and competent, so I hire them to change the forestay. Unfortunately the boat uses a special compressed strand wire for the standing rigging.  I don’t really know what that means, but I find out pretty quick.  The standard 1×19 stainless steel cable used on many boats is about $5/ft. but compressed strand wire is about $16/ft.  My $1500 forestay replacement just went up to 3 grand!  As luck would have it, while the riggers were up the mast they found a couple of fittings that were cracked. I investigate and yes, more of the rig will have to be replaced.  Kelly and I talk about it and, the heck with it, we decide to replace all the standing rigging. And just like that, we are $13,000 poorer. I’m finding that when it comes to boats, you start to round the cost of things to the nearest thousand instead of hundreds. That being said, the riggers do a great job.

 

Now, back to the batteries. I’m concerned about how thirsty they are.  We have 8 batteries, and four of them seem to be really hot, and need a lot of water.  I put about a half gallon of water in each of the four this week.  This is not good.  As we’re now using the batteries more, and I’m fixing the refrigeration, two of the four batteries have started to smoke. They are boiling off water fast, and I can barely touch them.  For clarification, this is really not good. This is also the last straw. I disconnect the four hot batteries.  Everything seems to work fine, but I’ve lost half my power.  Smoking batteries make me think that I may need to replace them.  After a short discussion with Kelly that I want to replace the four bad batteries, she declares that she wants to replace all 8…so we compromise and replace all 8. In all honesty, one should always replace a full bank of batteries. So there went another grand…poof!

Fortunately as I was out finding parts for new battery bins, breakthrough! After having visited West Marine who sent me to Boat Owners’s Warehouse who sent me to a boat owner’s paradise called Sailorman. This place was awesome. They have all kinds of new and used items including…a newish windless that was perfect for us! I negotiated a price and the windless was done and done. One more problem solved.

Now, I finally get back to looking at the dingy.  What a disaster.  I previously charged the battery so that I could use the starter motor.  I push the button and CA-CLICK.  The flywheel doesn’t move. That’s strange, and after a couple more tries, there is no change.  So I figure the starter is dying. I grab the pull cord with a curse. I yank on the cord and the handle rips from my hand. That stings. The motor Is seized up solid. Crap. I have no choice but to look at the pistons…off with the head. They don’t look all that bad, but it doesn’t take much. Ten minutes goes by as I flood the cylinders with Amsoil Metal Protectant Penetrating Oil and WD40 and grab the fly wheel trying to get it to turn. I can get the fly wheel to move about 10 degrees. Let’s see, one degree per minute at this rate I’ll have the engine free in 180 minutes.  Three hours of this? Crap. I won’t have any fingers left! Fortunately it only takes about an hour of exhausting work to get the motor to free up.  At this point it’s 7:30 at night and Kelly has brought the kids up to the front of the boat in an effort to limit how many curse words they hear…and I’m exhausted.  I call it; and we head out to our borrowed house for the night.

The next morning I have new hope. All I have to do is get a head gasket, some fuel, and the dingy will be ready.  It takes three phone calls to the local Yamaha shops to dash my hope.  No one has a head gasket, and I have to get one online.  Shipping will take another three days.  We told the owners of the borrowed house that we would be out of there in two days.  I’ll skip forward to finish this part of the saga.  We ask to stay longer and get permission, the yamaha parts come in and we are rollin.  I get fuel, install the new parts, torque the head gasket after the tedious task of cleaning the head and block.  I pull the cord and this time it moves… Yeehaa! We are rollin.  My jubilee lasts about 20 minutes until my arm starts to crap from pulling the darn cord so much, which kills the starter, and at the end of the day…the engine is still not running. I should have known better. After even more investigate work, and a a significant amount of carb cleaner, I learn that I need a carb rebuild kit.  Luckily West Marine actually had one, so I’m off to get it. I rebuild the carbs and start to figure out how to get them dialed in.  The engine cowling had some good info on it like where to set the idle screws.  I set the screws to the identified 2-3/4 turns out.  With completely unjustified optimism I put the carbs back on and try the engine.  Nothing. I then start to back out the idle screws, and after another 20 minutes, I finally got it started…YEA!  After testing the dingy, the only problem left is that the fuel pump doesn’t seem to work. As I drive I have to have the fuel bulb in my hand and give it a slight squeeze every 3-6 seconds. No big deal, I’ll call it working, for now. Let’s move on.

Kelly seems to think that one out of four operational toilets isn’t enough.  These are simple things to fix, I may as well work on that next.  The toilet that isn’t attached to the boat is up first.  Some epoxy, new mounting bolts and that puppy is done.  I need a rebuild kit for the one leaking through the motor.   I call around and luckily West has some, they actually have three, so I buy them all.  As I work through the boats sewage system I find that there is a significant legal problem.  None of the toilets pump into the holding tanks.  OOOH that’s bad, and legally questionable.  I’ll need to address that.  Hanging out in sewage for hours is not fun, but with only 4 or 5 trips to the marine store, I re-route the toilets to only go to the holding tank, from there we can purge when we are far enough out to sea.  The flooding toilet I still haven’t fixed yet, but three out of four toilets is plenty.  Moving on the the next project.

I think it would be a good idea to take a look at the life raft.  My initial inspection revealed that the life raft had not been inspected since it was packed in 2003.  I understand that they are supposed to be inspected at least every three years, so this one is a bit out. I find a place to inspect it and drive over.  The technician comes out and immediately states that the raft is no good.  He points out that there is rust coming out of the ignition point that is used to puncture the CO2 and inflate the raft.  I’m skeptical and we decide to inflate the raft in the parking lot.  The technician pulls the inflater cord and bam… nothing happens.  We drag the raft by the ignition cord and still nothing.  I pull the case off the raft and inside is a wet, rusty pile of rubberized raft. It’s a total loss. The CO2 tank is a rusted pile of scale, the flares are soggy cardboard shells, the emergency food is rust color packages of goo.  So I buy a new life raft and just like that…another two grand…poof!

One of the major necessities of the boat is self sustainment.  That means that we have to be able to make water.  There is a water maker on board, but I don’t know if it works.  I was optimistic before, but that has been mostly beaten out of me.  While we are on the dock and have shore power I see if it works. I go to the breaker panel and turn on the “water maker”.  It seams to power up the water maker control panel, and that’s where it falls apart.  To save you from reading more heartache, we’ll fast forward a bit…after a lot of rewiring, a new inverter (3 grand – are you keeping a running total yet?), even more rewiring, new filters, a false start making stinky water, draining the tanks, filling up on water at a marina, and even more new parts…we should have clean drinking water…in a few weeks when I get a chance to install the new membranes. But everything is in order to get us moving out of Florida.

This post is about 2 weeks behind reality. We’ll fill you in on that adventure filled gap very soon, but wanted to thank the many who have reached out about the pending hurricane. We’re going to hang here in St. Mary’s, GA until it’s path is firmed up, then make a decision to continue on or stay and batten down the hatches. We’ve met some awesome people here and have learned of a good hurricane hole nearby. Right now it looks like we’ll stay here. We’re prepping the boat for the worst, which probably means we’ll get nothing – but we’re completely ok with it. Safety first. Rest assured that if the inevitable happens, we have a plan and will definitely play it safe.