Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Forty Shades of Blue

“No, you must see . . . Cay, it has a shade of blue like you have never seen before.  It is beautiful, you cannot miss this.  It’s the prettiest in the Bahamas. “

Really?  I have witnessed about ten shades of blue.  I feel totally complete.

I do not feel in any way lacking.  All ten were and are exquisite.  But enough already!  The journey to this next magical Mecca is tedious, fraught with drama and unnecessary.  So says the reluctant cruiser Cate.

We set out from Cat Cay in “not the best wind”.  On the nose, 20+ knots.  We have an open cockpit---which is delightful when anchored on a clear summer night.  Not so much with saltwater splashing you in furious spurts.  Each one like a personal affront.  Why would a boater think staying dry is optimal?  I agree, it seems counter-indicated, yet . . . I prefer to choose my times for getting wet.  Cats were howling, puking.  A heel of 10%---.  The helm was designed for a male with long arms, long legs  . . . not a 5’2” woman whose butt will not meet the back seat if her feet are on the step . . . . all for . . . “a shade of blue like you have never seen before.”

Is this not the proverbial search for the pot of gold?  Or the perennial drive for the bigger and better?

Are the Joneses’ pictures of that island really better than mine of this island?

Or is this just my judgmental self whose imagination refuses to expand.

I do not have orgasmic responses to a new shade of blue. I am happy for those who do.  But I need to simply say to them, Carry On.  The ten shades right here, replete with grocery, bar with internet, a walking path and most importantly a safe anchorage---these ten shades can occupy my imagination for many moons.  Blessings on you who want the extra thirty shades.

What drives your cruising?  Is it island living or coastal skirting?

What kind of Island?  One with people or uninhabited?

I would choose an island with internet, a grocery, and a restaurant/bar with internet.  That works.  If these things are in place---I can live there.  Ferry to the airport---luxury.

The uninhabited are “abandoned” to my mind.  God-forsaken.  Take me to civilization.  Nature is beautiful—but not enough.  I am nurtured by civilization.  Perhaps this is an introvert versus extrovert distinction.

Yes the blue shades are indefinable.  Beautiful . . . and where are the people?  Can I buy eggs?  Lettuce?  Is there a place to take the trash?

The uninhabited islands require burning burnable trash, separating cans, and biologics.  Primitive.  Let’s swim in our potato peelingsJ.  Burning---what about air pollution and lung damage?  Inhaling burning plastics . . . really?

But look at that blue—have you ever seen a blue like that before?

(SV Horizon spent almost a month at Devil Cay.  Over time, the need for eggs diminished.  The internet was checked by a faithful daughter, and the anchor held through some strong shifting winds. Mike’s nose injury and the weather prolonged the stay.  I learned to enjoy the beach, did my Leslie Sansone walking video for endorphins and waited for a Nassau opportunity.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Vero Beach to Palm Beach

After 3 months tethered to a mooring, we bit the bullet and started south for a jump off point to the Bahamas. We were in company with our friends Lucie and Jean on the sailing vessel Sebas.

The first day we traveled a whopping 14 miles to Ft. Pierce. While the trip was uneventful, anchoring turned out to be more exciting than expected. Our turn into the wind to drop the hook was wide of our mark and we ended up hard aground. 

After 15 seconds of full reverse with no movement we shut down the engine to keep from sucking debris into the cooling system.  We launched the dinghy and took a Danforth anchor out about 100 feet at an acute angle to the bow. The rode was led through a bow chock to the windlass which luckily had the power to pull the bow and then rest of the boat off the shoal. Another 10 minutes and we were safely anchored where we originally wanted to be.

The next day we covered the remaining 48 miles dealing with 4 on-demand and 2 timed bridges. I hate those things! Almost to our destination, in Lake Worth sound there was enough room to finally do the sea trial commissioning of the new hydraulic autopilot. We had been using it the trip from Vero but with a lot of extra work getting it pointing correctly.  In the open bay it took only a few minutes in a slow turn to calibrate the compass then about 20 minutes letting the autopilot software play with S-turns to learn how our boat handles. At the end everything is set up and seems to work perfectly.

One side effect of calibrating the autopilot compass and having it networked with the chart plotter is that we can now overlay radar on the charts. It sure helps to see things in context!
Chart with radar overlay

The gulf stream crossing window we were anticipating never quite appeared so we will be hanging out for a while here near Lake Worth Inlet at Palm Beach.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

End Of Vacation Memories

As we wrap up chores in preparation to depart Vero Beach, I find myself mentally separating out my favorite memories of Vero, much as I did as a child at the end of a week at Bethany or Rehoboth Beach. What shells will I keep, which will I leave at the rental, which should I return to the sand?

The pile of shells to keep for Vero includes my time with the Alzheimer’s Parkinson Association and Debra. I reconnected with individuals with dementia and their quality of life in a powerful way in Vero.

My time reconnecting with my adult children was priceless. Shells to treasure, fondle every once in a while. Shells to add to the best of life pile.

I treasure and hope to maintain my work as Dr. Cate. Presenting at Arden Courts of Largo reminded me of my passion, my gift and the thirst for knowledge and support that is so palpable for Alzheimer’s caregivers. Training Carole of Harmony Home Health, reconnecting with this agency was uplifting.

I sift through many shells of multiple colors and shapes. These were the opportunities I had to re-connect with friends from Tampa, St Pete, Alexandria, VA, MD. Some of these had been neglected, tucked in a bag in the back of the closet. What a joy it was to bring them out and shine some light and new experience on them. These friends remind me that I am so lucky to be able to travel and explore. They remind me of the importance of re-connecting, maintaining despite time gaps. They may be in a bag, but they are not to be discarded. They will continue to be a part of my treasures brought forward from the closet.

For the non-cruising sailors, the last of my shells, the ones I will toss back are the chipped and broken clam and oyster shells.

Common to many, but unique to someone who lived outside the United States for a while. One was the cinema, with a weekly matinee—a real treat we had missed. The free bus to anywhere in Vero. It had some unusual riders, and quite a variety of angles—but it was special for our time here. The Publix, Walmart, Target, Starbucks, Beall’s, . . . a mall. Michael’s and Jo Ann’s! West Marine. Car rentals. The freedom of driving through no-man’s land on the way home from an airport. Air travel----so freeing and fast :)

I relished these common and chipped shells while state-side. So now we head out. First an easy day or two on the intercoastal. Smooth waters. Then the weather window to the Bahamas Bank. And beyond to shells unknown.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thong Gone Wrong

Goodbye Vero Beach

We have been back in the US for 3 months and this week we head south to West Palm Beach to wait for southerly winds to go back across the gulf stream.  Our home this summer has been Vero Beach, Florida and it has turned out to be a pretty good way stop for us.  We are still enamored of the free county-wide bus system that takes us to West Marine, Home Depot, Sams Club, grocery stores, the mall, and our favorite: weekly matinee movie date.  The town has miles of park paths and shaded streets for off-boat exercise and there are museums and a stage theater close to the marina.  Mangroves thrive around here and we have had lots of fun exploring the canals and islets by kayak.  The anchorage lagoon is home to dolphins and last night we even had a manatee sidle up to our boat.  Yup, we have really enjoyed our stay here but now that hurricane season is over, it is time to move on.  Twice this summer, our BFF Rhonda drove over to visit - always an event to cheer us up!

Systems analysis - the good and the bad


Our consumption of power has been a little disappointing, and can be a real problem when the sun doesn't shine.  It turns out that our 480 Watts of solar panels with the Blue Sky MPPT controller, and the Rutland 913 wind generator supply an average of only 150AH per day on sunny and moderately windy days.  Before the Isotherm freezer died last week, our basic energy consumption ended up being about 180 amp hours in the summer in Florida.  That included the Isotherm DR-55 freezer (~96AH), top loader Adler Barbour refrigerator (~36AH), fans, lights, pumps and the stray vampire loads such as CO monitor, auto bilge pump sensors, idle current for the cockpit VHF and stereo radio, and cell phone/tablet chargers.  Of course power consumption only gets worse when we actually turn on and listen to the VHF or stereo radios or turn on the inverter to recharge the outboard motor battery or laptops or watch TV.

Once the DR-55 freezer died, we moved all the frozen stuff back into the original top loader and fired up the stand-alone upright fridge for excess staples like cheese and beer.  That has saved us about 30-40 AH per day but means we now have two units to periodically defrost.

With all that, our first purchase back in the US was a Honda EU2000i generator that has turned out to be a real life saver.  We run that a couple hours most evenings to keep the batteries topped up and charge up any AC devices we need while watching OTA TV.  At the peak of July and August heat, we even ran our little window A/C unit in the aft cabin off the generator on a few of the hottest nights.

Torqeedo 1003

We really liked this 3HP electric outboard and used it most every day since leaving St. Petersburg.  But despite its excellent concept and premium price, it was made far too cheaply.  The Germans had a great idea but their execution with this really sucks.  The first thing that failed was the key fob which holds the little magnet that enables the unit to run.  The fob is made such that it pops open just loud enough that you will see the critical magnet inside plop overboard and sink.  We had that happen once, rowed home and got our spare then a day later saw that one do exactly the same thing.  Luckily the magnet dropped into the dinghy that time!  I drilled a hole and bolted the two fob halves together and the magnet has not managed to escape since.

After that we were happy for a couple months until the on/off push button switch became intermittent and finally failed completely.  A run to Radio Shack got the itsy bitsy Torx wrenches to fit the screws holding the control module together.  A little playing and soldering brought switch leads outside the control box to an external switch.  That worked for about a month then the control module started to think the battery went from 90% to 5% charge in 2 minutes then turned off.  That happened a couple times before we gave up on the Torqeedo.  We have stored that for now and are using the 15HP 2-cycle Mercury.  At least that gets us up on plane :)
Our new Torqeedo on/off switch

Simrad hydraulic autopilot

One of our first projects back in the US was to install a below decks autopilot.  Our steering is hydraulic so we decided on the Simrad AP2404 package.  Installation was relatively painless especially since I got help with the final hydraulic plumbing.  I really hate plumbing!
All the bits that make up the autopilot
Autopilot pump parallel with existing steering

Rudder feedback
All went well until we got to the part of the installation manual where it gave a specific type of hydraulic oil to use with the pump.  And of course it was NOT the transmission fluid used in our existing parallel system.  I sent off a long descriptive email of our problem to Simrad tech support and got a response of "The pump only works with the specified oil".  I tried again and got a very obtuse reply.  Finally, I called the tech support number.  The guy I talked to said "No problem using transmission fluid since Morgans have been using that for decades with this pump with no problems".  I asked why I got such anti email replies and he said that they do not recommend it for new installations since some transmission fluids (used to) have wax that can wreck havoc with the pump internals.  He reiterated that we should have no problem.

Whew!  We hope this unit will have a long and useful life.  Meanwhile we have left the original Simrad wheelpilot WP32 in place as a lower current draw autopilot and backup to the below decks unit.


We have been really happy with the 12V Hookamax system.  I have now used it a few times, mostly to clean the prop and have had no problems at all.  The learning curve from being a snorkeler was maybe 15 minutes!  I did violate the vendors instructions and stuck the compressor in the engine room then ran a stub air hose into a cockpit lazarette. If we want to take the hookah in the dinghy with us it is a simple job to disconnect and move the compressor but since 90% of its use will be around the boat bottom, the engine room keeps it secure and handy.  For obvious reasons we will not be running the engine any time we are using the hookah and the outside air engine intake hose ends right at the intake to the compressor.  Highly recommended.

Rogue Wave WiFi extender

We knew we needed a long range WiFi radio repeater radio system to be able to use shore based WiFi stations.  Before leaving St. Pete I had purchased a Bullet M2HP with marine antenna but did not get around to setting the system up before leaving.  While in the Bahamas I tried mightily to get the radio setup working but just could not figure out all the settings.  When Eoin, an IT security techie type visited in June, he also couldn't get it to do what we needed.  So when we got back to the US I ordered the Rogue Wave idiot-proof device with canned software.  It uses exactly the same hardware I had onboard but this time, in about 15 minutes everything was hooked up and working.  The idiot-proof version cost about $100 more than the individual pieces but was well worth it for us!

Standard Horizon GSX-2250 VHF radio

We really like this radio with its built-in AIS receiver and display.  We have it mounted in the cockpit and it is wired to the chartplotter for GPS position and for chart display of AIS targets.  But the VHF radio has a crucial downside: it has alarms for just about everything and there is no way to disable them!  When cruising you reply on the VHF radio for all day-to-day communications so it usually is on 24/7.  This radio just cannot fill that function because of 2 of the most annoying alarms:
1. No GPS position - this alarm goes off every 4 hours if there is no incoming GPS signal.  That means we cannot leave the VHF on for communications unless we also have the chartplotter on to supply GPS, a real waste of power.
2. Weather alerts - The USCG has some extremely powerful transmitters.  While in the Abacos Bahamas, every time there was a storm warning in Miami (200 miles away) the VHF radio would put out a screaming alarm.  Talk about a rude awakening!

GlobalStar GSP-1700

We kept hearing bad reviews of the GlobalStar sat phone system but were hooked by the $40/month unlimited plan.  Initially we had the usual problems with satellite visibility and got maybe a reliable 20 minutes per hour connection.  But now that they have launched a new set of satellites, there is almost continuous coverage very few dropped calls and those times they do drop, we can usually immediately redial and connect.  Unfortunately, with the now excellent satellite coverage comes a not as excellent service plan price.  What was $40 unlimited is now $150/month.  But they do offer lesser plans at reduced prices.  Now highly recommended.

Going forward

It has been almost 7 months since we left our slip in St. Petersburg, Florida. The chartplotter says we have gone 833 NM in that time and I know we have burned through 165 gallons of diesel.  That is pretty ugly fuel usage for a sailboat!  We should be on less of a schedule now and intend to do much more sailing and less motorsailing from now on.  Well, we will see if intent becomes fact.

Oh, the title "Thong Gone Wrong"?  I am sitting here listening to Barefoot Man CD's and that song keeps playing :)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer home

Vero Beach City Marina will be our home sweet home for the next few months.  The town has free bus service throughout the county, a real plus.  The mooring field is purportedly well maintained and is in a small enclosed area.  For those reasons we think we will be staying here while we get Horizon ready for another season of cruising.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hopetown, Elbow Cay

Hopetown may be the most picturesque of the towns found in the Abacos.  This is probably due to its reliance on rental homes to tourists.  It is a hilly town with narrow streets lined with flowers, old cemeteries, churches and a few quirky shops. We are anchored outside the town harbor, facing the Lighthouse.  It’s so peaceful. 

As the sun sets in the evening you can hear the waves lapping at the island.  It’s an alive sound, somewhat like the talking rocks I heard with Bridget and Maureen on a piece of New England shoreline.  It speaks of impermanence as you see the soil eroding from the continual lapping tide.  

As in most of the Abacos, it is a very small distance from the shores of the Sea of Abaco to the shores of the North Atlantic.  Both Man O’ War Cay and Elbow Cay have the cemeteries on the cliff next to the North Atlantic.  What a send-off, what a view.  If you are in town at noon, you will hear the hymns of the Methodist church marking the hour.  Abide with Meand The Church’s One Foundation have given me pause as I heard the comforting strains and was compelled to identify the tune. 

There are cool things to do of an afternoon here.  Get an ice cream, which is a big deal once you are out of the states living on a boat.  Even living in a house, a half gallon is at least $10.  Or trying out one of several restaurants for lunch.  Or going to the Reef Bar & Grill where you are on the Atlantic ocean side, with a pool, bar and grill, and a beachside set up for swimming and snorkeling.  I really like the idea of having a pool where there’s a bar . . . should have some of this in the states!  And the ever evasive internet connection can be found at most bars, grills or restaurants. 

Mike and I have become the typical boating couple with a big waterproof boat bag at our feet, frantically making connections on our smart phones until our order arrives.  Some of our communiqu├ęs go straight through the meal :)

One photo we have yet to capture is the method of disembarking at a dinghy dock in the Bahamas.  We have a Torqueedo, a very cool, expensive electric outboard that is lightweight and sweet to use.  But to conserve power we approach all trips with the idea that it is the journey, not the destination.  In Hopetown there are no less than three boat rental companies, three marinas, many a mooring balls and a limited entrance channel.  So we have many wakes to maneuver as we putter along.  I have mastered the Princess Di wave as a way of confirming that yes we travel slowly but quietly and are not in distress.  Which is often answered within a minutes with high wake waves lapping over the dinghy pontoons and soaking us.  Forget arriving pretty, dry or collected.  My “town” outfit now consists of a pair of a earrings with fitted shorts, tank and a padded sports bra, sandals.  I know if you have read this far, you may not have needed the padded sports bra as info. TMI.  But I need to let my girls and my sister know that I still maintain the high standards passed down from my mother on appropriate beach town attire.  On the boat, well . . . let’s just say no padding, no earrings, no shoes and the extra large shorts that fit before we left. 

So Hopetown has a unique trash reception set-up.  Most islands have a dumpster, preferably at the dinghy dock for your boat trash.  Seems civilized considering we paid $350 just to be here.  However maybe due to the high rental tourism, Hopetown has a particular trash pick-up three days a week available for an hour each day.  Mike and I were in the dark about this for about three days.  What with prepping to have company, we take off on Friday morning at 8:40 with three large bags of ripe trash.  The electric outboard; unclear about the dock location, lots of boat traffic to deal with wakes.  It was my first island time of stress.  I found my jaw clenching, worrying about getting there on time.  Like I used to do on my way to Seminole.  Then I laughed and said to Mike, “as if the world would end if we missed the trash truck.  This is my biggest worry----how blessed we are!”

Once I unclenched my jaw, we saw another boat with trash and all ended well.  We then took a nice work through town, checking on the weekend entertainment.  Talking to the shopkeeper about the last day of school, being peaceful. 

That evening I watched the sun slide behind the horizon, then turned and waited for the Hopetown Lighthouse to start sending out it’s nightly pulse while the waves lapped like hungry tiger cubs at the impermanent shore.

Well Hell!

I got so tied up in wardrobe, I forgot to describe dinghy dock dismount.  There are two kinds of dinghy docks in the Bahamas, the ones with a straight up ladder included in the structure amongst the pylons, or the floating dock, that is attached at only two points.  Try either one of these with any alcohol in the system, and it becomes a bit of a nightmare.  So we finally get to the dinghy dock, find a spot among others, I stand, lunge for the closest set of stairs, usually moss covered if it’s low tide.  As Mike stops the outboard, I climb the straight up ladder to the top using what hand holds are free of moss and reachable with these McCarty hobbit-like arms.  As I climb I am dragging the “painter” , a ridiculous name for a rope attached to the dinghy to secure it to the dock.  Again, can you see why the earrings and the padding are the only statement really workable?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Green Turtle

Annapolis with an A

We by-passed several interesting stops in order to get to safe harbor in White Sound of Green Turtle Cay.  It was a good decision.  Once we were anchored safely that is.  Many other boats had the same idea, so the steering was tricky.  Mike and I are non-traditional anchorers with him as anchor dropper and me at the helm.  This is rooted in his basic distrust of my steering abilities which I have done little to dispel.  Soooo, crowded anchorage, we find a spot, the anchor is dropped but I am very aware of the catamaran that had been far behind us, now in front and backing up.  I’m telling Mike this through our “Marriage Saver” headsets.  He says they were behind us, don’t worry.

 Until he looks up as the anchor sets.  And then all hell broke loose from my captain.  With the predominant word beginning with “A” sprinkled liberally. 

The catamaran was a charter boat out of Annapolis.  In hindsight, it was culturally appropriate for them to be such “A . . .s”.  When I saw the home port on their transom I had flashbacks to Maryland mall parking lots at Christmas time.  He was just being the aggressive “A . . . le“ that we are familiar with in MD. 

Add to that, this was a charter boat.  It is not his only home with his hand-picked valuables aboard, this is a rental.  No one treats a rental the way they do their own property. Needless to say, I prevailed upon the captain to take the helm as he withdrew the anchor.  The four or so crew members on the catamaran were not pleased with being called “A . . . s”.  However, they were bigger and faster, and younger as Mike pointed out, so they got the spot.  It took us three more attempts circling the Sound to get a secure anchorage.  Neighboring boats and the harbormaster at Green Turtle Cay gave us guidance in the process.  The catamaran crew was rinsing out their coolers while we set anchor.

The next day we saw the name of the boat which gave me a chuckle.  Celebration of Life of mycharter.com.   A name gracing many a Christian community.  I took comfort in the “first shall be last and the last shall be first.”  And was not sad to see they had left after two days. 

Green Turtle Cay

New Plymouth is a settlement started by disgruntled colonists who did not believe in independence from Britain.  Tea party to the tea party:).  They uprooted and came to the Bahamas to start anew.  The Bahamian government remains parliamentary even though independent from Britain now.  New Plymouth remains a mix of English, European and some West African.  Perhaps it’s the European influence that makes it a bit less friendly than Bimini.  More like we Americans are used to.  Not a need to acknowledge one another in the street.  More reserved.

 However, I’m on my best behavior from Bimini.  No one passes without a wave or a Good Morning.  Mike laughs that I don’t even watch to see if others wave back.  That’s not the point I tell him, I’ve done my part, how and if they respond matters not.  Carrying some of Bimini with me.   

The town is happily colorful as you approach with pink and teal and green and yellow houses.  The houses are the two story colonials we are used to in the northeast, in keeping with the ancestral roots.  I have taken many photos of roosters and hens.  Unfortunately I am finding it difficult to eat chicken locally . . . they seem recognizable, puny and inexpensive compared to the other meat choices .  And there’s the crowing . . . eating one of his main squeezes . . . yikes. So I will stick with the conch and the hamburger. 

The library is amazing in that it is an original building with an old time brick oven.  It was the kitchen for the Cay’s original administrator assigned from Britain. There is a book exchange in classic cruiser style, one for one.  They have internet at a “reasonable” price though Mike and I have decided that Pineapple’s drink options with free internet are more reasonable.  And there’s a spring-fed pool free for use.  Pineapples is located on a peninsula, with five buildings, one being the beach bar and pool, and several as rentals.  It is being sold for nine million. . . . I would not want to sit through a hurricane anywhere here however. 

 I cannot tell you how excited we were to get internet after six days.  It was embarrassing.  My rationale is this:  if I lived in a Cay with 449 other people, no one I knew or loved had ever left the Cay, I would not need the internet either.  However, that is not how my life has shaken out.  So I use the internet and greatly miss talking on the phone to my family--for today.

We have yet to kayak the salt ponds to the side of our sound, once done we will move on to either Manjack Cay or Guana.  One uninhabited natural territory, the latter---party central. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Journey of Perspectives

Finally writing about the passage from FL to Bahamas . . .  The one with the Gulf Stream that you only want to approach in just right winds and sea.  The one I was must fearful of.  But I decided to work on my problem with projection.  Rather than project worst-case scenario, why not stay in the moment.  The captain had picked the window judiciously.  The first night at Rodriguez had been lumpy at with Mike on anchor watch for the night, not trusting the electronics.  The seas had lessened to 2-4 foot, the wind was 10-15, and hell---we just needed to do it!

So at 4:00 am off we go.  The stars were incredible.  Bigger fuller soup bowl than I ever saw as I stood on that beautiful hill in Lineboro as a teenager.  In awe.  In these lower realms there appears to be signs of the Milky Way---nice!  Not a ship to be seen, with only 2 or so hours before sunlight. All was well.  Yet I was worried.  Our autopilot had broken, we had a fix in place but were not sure if it would last.  And then the Coast Guard’s message was finally clear enough to hear on its second hour’s transmission:  An “overloaded raft” was sighted.  Any vessels seeing this were to take coordinates and notify the Coast Guard immediately.
Now I realize my conservative associates will go off on a separate tangent at this point.  But I ask that all consider---which is more fearful---a journey across the Gulf stream without an autopilot or a journey across the Gulf stream with too many people in a raft illegally?  Thank God I was not likely to see them---my liberal associates understand.
Here I am, a whining fearful middle class woman worried because she may actually have to steer her own boat when there were a raft full of desperate people leaving a communist regime.  Have I ever wanted something so much that I was willing to take such a physically dangerous risk?
Next we turned on George, the autopilot, and gave a cheer when he worked!  Not only did this amazingly simple plastic 20 year old mechanism work, but worked throughout the 12 hour trip.  So the fear of steering my own ship, diminished even further.
As I sit complacently balancing with each swell of wave, watching the radar screen, scanning the horizon---a big black fly lands on my radar screen. I instantly think Live and let live.  And as I watch the fly meticulously use his front antennae to wipe saltwater from his eyes, I realize just how much bigger his journey is than mine.  A fly in 15 knots of wind over 3 foot swells of 2,000+ feet of the North Atlantic ocean.  So my butt hurts from balancing and rolling.  I’m sitting on a 41 foot Morgan who has reliably performed in situations since 1981.  This fly probably has a one month lifespan with how many hours over the ocean?
Then unbeknownst to us we began hosting songbirds.  One would fly in, hang onto a safety line, then venture onto the aft or foredeck, taking a breather, exploring, eating a gnat or two.  Sometimes there were three or four.  Some sleeping in the shelter of lines, or even the bucket.  All varieties, Butter Butts, Goldfinch, Black-capped Chicadee, Tohee, to name a few . . . not necessarily flying together, perhaps separated from their flock.  With a brain the size of a piece of rice and a lifespan of . . . These birds were heading way, way further than I was.  It was an honor to give them a short respite on their way.
Our passage to the Bahamas was blissfully uneventful.  We wore sweatshirts until 3, the one off watch covered in an afghan because it was in the 60’s.
The seas were beautiful!  And the perspective much wider than when we first crept out of the Key at 4:00 am.
Sunrise while we jumped the reef

Wearing a Butter Butt hat!

A most welcome sign

Our first sunset in Bimini, Bahamas

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

So close to paradise...

Still feeling crabby

Cate already wrote about the trip from Fort Myers to Marathon.  Here we sit ready to jump off for Bahamas the next weather window which looks to be coming up in a couple days.  We ordered the HookaMax (12VDC w/2 50' hoses and regulators) the moment we got into Bahia Key harbor and it arrived a week later.  We now have much better ammunition to use against the dreaded crab traps.  I have never seen crab traps so densely packed as what we found just north of Marathon.  The first trap we caught because we were not keeping a sharp enough lookout.  The second one, a mere hour later, is just pitiful; even though we were both on full alert the floats were literally less than one boat length apart!  We jogged to miss one only to run over another.  Actually, we jogged, and seeing one directly in our new path, we put the engine in neutral until we saw the float pop up off our stern.  When we went back into gear the thump thump screee sounds told us there had been more than one float under our boat.  I know crab pots are someone's livelihood but can't they at least gie us a little pathway to get through them?  Do they really have to stack them so close together?  

Marathon harbor

Marathon key harbor actually lives up to its reputation as the most cruiser friendly harbor in the keys.  Lots of shopping is easy walking distance: Publix grocery,Home Depot, West Marine, CVS & Walgreens, lots of bars and restaurants.  A short bus ride away in Key West is an even greater selection.  The ahem, new and improved, mooring ball rates are a bit steep at $118 a week including tax but anchoring out is little better since the marina charges only $20 less for just dinghy dock access - the joys of a captive audience.  On the morning VHF net a couple days ago Sombrero Marina announced their summer monthly rate: $430 includes tax, electricity, water and use of their pool!  Several folks moved off the moorings after that announcement.

We run across an old friend here in the harbor, Rudi on Cirrus.  His is one of two pictures on the old web site boats met list and I had not seen him since 2004.  Cate and I were kayaking around gawking at boats and I immediately recognized the boat.  No one was aboard that day but a couple days later we finally got to see him and ended up having a great reunion over lunch at Hurricanes.

So how have things gone our first month cruising?

We blew our first monthly budget by $1300 but that was mostly the hookah.  For power, our solar panels have been working great!  Except for cloudy days, they happily keep up with the fridge, freezer, and making water a couple hours a day (~15-20 gallons). The watermaker has saved lots of ferrying of jug water.  When we first started filling the tank with watermaker water, Cate said "this tastes funny".  The taste she was referring to was the non-taste of reverse osmosis water!  The fridge and freezer were problem children for a while.  Once we got to warmer weather, it became obvious the built-in fridge wiring and circuit breaker were weak so I totally rewired that circuit.  Then the freezer decided one day to stop keeping the ice cream solid frozen so I turned the dial up a notch. The next day it started quietly thawing all our provisions!  Our plastic trash bag collection in the bin under the freezer was keeping air from getting to the compressor so the evaporator froze up.  We moved the bags elsewhere, iced the freezer contents, and let it all thaw out.  A few hours later it was repacked and humming along.  Phew!  That was a close one.

Another real trooper has been the Toqeedo electric outboard.  We dinghy in to shore at least once a day and after 2 weeks in Marathon it still showed 40% charge remaining.  If I can keep from having the magnetic key shell fall apart and lose the magnet, we will be very happy.  We lost the first magnet overboard when the fob came open and the magnet dropped overboard.  The replacement key I had luckily pre-purchased, worked but one night that fob decided to also fall apart.  We were lucky to find the magnet still rolling around the bottom of the dinghy but I am probably going to try 5200 to hold the fob together next time.

To my workmates: Thanks for the waterproof backpack!  That backpack goes most everywhere with us when ashore.  We never know when we will get into sloppy conditions.

Municipality logistics

Someone once asked me about cruising and all the systems that have to be maintained. I replied that it was a lot like a municipality with very similar set of utilities and services required: water treatment, sewage, electric power, communications, transportation, entertainment, etc.  Luckily I can still manage to maintain most everything.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I may never eat crabs again!

Marco Island

After a day of argument about the meaning of heroics with me stating that if one had a choice between a 24+ hour transit and a shorter one with a night of rest, the prior choice is heroic.  The latter is a stress to several systems, the engine of the boat, the admiral* of the boat (who has the most overall impact) and the cats.  The last two systems are intricately linked.

Mike never seemed to grasp the argument, which is frustrating to say the least.  However the admiral, whose rank is rarely recognized, wore the captain down through sheer determination resulting in a rest break at Marco Island en route from Ft Myers Beach to Boot Key in Marathon.   We left Ft Myers at 8 am and anchored in Marco Island at 5:30.  Even the admiral’s math suggests that straight through to Marathon qualified as heroic. 

Marco Island appeared to be the home of the rich and famous, though we did not go ashore.  I had a nice long conversation with Boston daughter as I watched rays swim past.  We met our four anchor mates as they dinghyed up to introduce themselves.  All were traveling as buddy boats from the Keys up to Pensacola.  Only one admiral amongst them, poor foolish lass.

We left Marco at 2 in the afternoon, totally throwing the cats off their routine.  They had been complacently lying in portholes until the dreaded engine clicked on.

The first hours of the journey were uneventful.  Sunset was beautiful over our backs.  First watch was Mike’s, we were sailing so the noise factor was high.  Water whushing by the bow, whoosh of the jib belly.  Two hours into an hour of sleep Mike called me to adjust sails.  My watch started early, but the captain wisely remained in the cockpit attempting his sleep. Needless to say that was pretty difficult due to the wind and noise. 

I was not aware of how sound affects my psyche.  My job was to perch on the helm seat while watching the radar and the horizon for any interference.  Seems simple right? 

The helm seat was designed for a 6 ft person with long knee to heel area.  I’m a 5’2” person with short knee to heel area. Therefore my watches consist of using buttocks and toes to balance as the boat heels.  Most of my time is spent grasping both grab bars desperately and praying for time to fly as fast as the boat appeared to be.  My Nano Shuffle was the godsend that got me through.  Unfortunately my lack of tech savvy means that I had Akon’s Drop it Like It’s Hot mixed in with Pachebel’s Canon in D.  The selection totals about 50 with an eclectic mix that once was my audio rollerblading companion.  Had a webcam been recording, it would have  shown a desperate woman hanging onto the helm poles with the demeanor of either a swiveling pole dancer or a desperate diva lip syncing with Pavarotti to Ave Maria.  Remembering my dancing days with Shakira,  Sean Kingsley or reveling in the majesty of the sea and stars along with an aria from Verdi’sLa Traviatta.
The earbuds would not block the noise as the wind speed increased to 15-20 knots.  I calculated my comfort zone at 13.7.  I prayed throughout my last hour that we slow down.  It worked mostly.  Perhaps next time I should pray that I don't feel frightened . . .

Thus I passed my first three hour watch. It felt horrendous.  I was reflecting on the ease of travel by car or plane until the next day proved even more exciting . . .

The Morning After

Mike’s shift came and I retreated again to the lower berth with Ollie at my pillow frantically digging to safety under my pillow. Dawn brought some sanity, meaning the wind died.  At which point captain decided to fire the engine back up.  With low wind, the chart plotter was showing our destination at 30 hours out . . . Remember that word heroic? Three cheers for the Marco Island stop.

Mike debated about the need to take a 5 hour energy drink.  I agreed that it was a good idea because the crab pots were EVERYWHERE.  I was whupped and wasn’t convinced my energy alone could ward off a much of anything.

Within 15 minutes of his completion of berry flavored Kryptonite, the engine halted as the propeller snagged a crab pot.  I was at the helm . . .

Captain got his snorkel, tied a life line and life ring for my management to the stern rail and began an arduous dive and cut routine.  The rope between buoy and trap was wrapped about 40 loops tight on the propeller.  The barnacles on the hull took slices of Mike’s fingers and arms with each surface showing blood dripping.  My role was to keep eyes on him as he worked-- ready to throw him a life line. 

My mantra/prayer was Calm Seas, Strength and Air. The three things my captain, now hero, would need.  He looked really good in the Caribbean teal sea which was a healthy 82 degrees.  He dove and rose, his feet all that was visible when he was down. 

The seas stayed calm except for the occasional rogue wave that made Horizon hobbyhorse, adding potential head injury to my concerns.  On one rest break Mike saw fins in the water.  Asked me if they were sharks or dolphins?  How do I know the difference?  Sharks stay atop more than dolphins.  Thank God it was dolphin.  But with Mike’s aspirin induced blood flow . . . I added safe to the calm sea part of the mantra.  Finally he was finished, scraps of rope floating off as he hacked his way through the loops. 

We cleaned him up, retreated to the cockpit and started the engine.  Together we would watch for the crab buoys staying on our feet to assure success.  It was the only way.  We were now entering a grid of not one crabpot line but three inter-laced.  We idled through and jogged around one only to hear the thunk of the engine as we snagged another.  This was only 45 minutes later! 

The energy drink was long gone.  But the captain donned his snorkel, retied the life saving line and floats and went in.  This one was even more looped in a conical shape . . . Calm, safe sea, strength, air.  Calm, safe sea, strength, air.

Five or ten dives into it with no net progress Mike came up the ladder and admitted defeat.  We retreated to the cockpit where Mike got on the VHF and put out a message Anyone within 15 miles north of Boot Key with dive skills please contact Horizon.  At this point my distaste and fear of the overnight was long overshadowed by the prospect of sitting in the gulf for hours waiting for help.  But within 5 minutes not one but three different boats had responded. No surprise the one that came through first was Silver Lining.  He sounded young, energetic and spoke of we.  He would be passing us in about an hour and 20 minutes, if we had not succeeded he would try his skills.  We gave it one more college try but then surrendered to the hope of fresh lungs.

I did take pause when the Coast Guard hailed him 10 minutes later asking him for his planned destination and country of origin.  Great, we have an  international drug runner coming to help.  However his respectful and thorough answer to the CG had them rescind stating they were looking for a boat from another country of origin.

Elon was a nice young man who not only was willing to change routes but entered the crabpot minefield himself to help us out.  He and his first mate had to anchor three times before it held.  He had to launch his dinghy to get to us.  Ahh youth and the spirit of cruisers that Mike and others had reported on but I had never experienced.  Meanwhile two other older sailors were on standby with hookahs if we were unable to disengage the trap on lung power alone.  Wowser.  Impressive response from the universe.  Thank you God.  After serving water to her rescuer, catching up on his journey we decided sailing was the only way to effectively navigate, sans propeller.  When we passed the bridge at Marathon, it was a grateful crew that tucked into the coastal gap.  We fed the cats, drank lots of water, and slept for hours. 

The cats eventually came out of hiding, only to find that we were moving again the next day, the short 2 mile ride in to the Boot Key Mooring Field.  Where we are happily awaiting a Hookah dive system that will supplement old lungs and perhaps a buddy boat for transit to the Bahamas.  My Boston daughter suggests we find one with younger sailors . . .
But it beats an orchid showJ!

*Admiral is term reserved for wife of captain.  It is not used as often as needed.  It is the Stepford Wife AfloatTM attempt to clarify rank.

Monday, April 15, 2013

How to start...

This has been a most eventful couple weeks since we left Saint Petersburg and pictures seen to center around sunsets, usually when we get into port.

Our first couple of days were spent in Point Desoto, the first anchorage up the Manatee River.  There we decompressed and transitioned Horizon from a dockside home to a cruiser.  When the weather front passed we headed off to our first port outside Tampa Bay: Charlotte Harbor, a destination about 50 miles south.  We had a great 11 hours downwind sailing and riding the swells that had built up from the prior front.  But when we turned to make the 2 mile channel into Charlotte, of course those same swells were now abeam.  With the brisk wind and seas breaking around us, we were really happy to hunker down in the lee just inside the entrance at Boca Grande.  Until the wind turned at 2am...

The next morning we motored to Punta Gorda up at the top of the bay.  The first evening we were met by Robert and Susan from SuzieQ.  They had moved from our dock about 6 months ago and it was really good to see them again. We had drinks at the Tiki Hut then a really good Mexican dinner on the other side of the bridge.  They even drove us to the grocery to pick up missed essentials :)  Over the next days we did get to do some walking around the town and shopping.  They have done a wonderful job reconstructing since Hurricane Charlie swept through in 2004.

In all we sent 3 days in Punta Gorda then headed out again.  Another 10 hour day brought us to Fort Myers Beach where we picked up a mooring ball.  Everything is very close together there which is great for cruisers, bars, groceries, laundry, bars, restaurants, live music, bars, shops.  We hooked up with family a couple times, it is always good to see familiar faces.  One of the best bars we found is Bonita Bill's Waterfront Cafe just under the bridge on the mainland side of the channel.  It is open air but they have good food at cruiser friendly prices and they almost always have live music.  The tables and dinghy dock are seldom empty.
Fort Myers Beach Bridge
Bonita Bill's Waterfront Cafe

Cate line dancing at Bonita Bill's

Live trip map!

While in Fort Myers I asked an ex-work mate and sailing cohort Chris for help getting our SPOT Messenger Check-in messages onto a permanent map.  He first tried to set up a web interface to EveryTrail but then he found SpotWalla and helped get us set up our live trip map.

We are now anchored at Marcos Island.  Weather looks pretty good to leave on this afternoon's high tide for an 85 mile sail to Marathon.

In case you are wondering, we are still using our phones for all internet, email and online activities.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Caribbean bound

The view south over 2 bikes and dinghy

Yesterday we finally did it.  Our BFF neighbor Rhonda and Lisa were there to help when we came back from one last grocery run and they helped us unhook Horizon from her shore environment.  The last dock line was pulled aboard and we executed a perfect reverse out of the slip for the last time ... until Lisa shouted "LINE IN THE WATER"!  We were so busy making sure that all the normally attached lines were aboard, that we forgot our spring line.  There were a few Keystone Kops moments while we got our hardware off the spring line then we were once again on our way.

We did make one last stop at the marina fuel dock to top up the diesel tank and fill the gasoline and diesel jerry jugs.  Rhonda met us there again to give us one final hug.  We are sure going to miss that woman!

Our keys were turned in and bill settled and we headed out of the marina for the last time.  We did make it past the breakwater before my hat blew overboard and Cate was able to display her aptitude with the net to retrieve it.  Then we were off again.

We sailed and motored all the way to Manatee river, a whopping 5 hours away! And here we sit at anchor decompressing and getting Horizon ready for sea.  The kayaks are now securely stowed along each side, the 8 fenders are neatly secured around the boat and away from our walking area, the dock lines, power cord and cable coax are all coiled and stowed out of the way.  All we have left is to run jack lines, wait out the front that is coming through this evening and tomorrow, and we should be ready to get Horizon properly heading south.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

After a week retired...

Give us a week of leisure time and we can get lots done!  The kids came down to help me through my first weekend of retirement so there wouldn't be much chance for the "I am unemployed" shock to have much effect.  It sure was good to see them but I think they wish they could have stayed around a few more days to see the St. Petersburg Grand Prix right outside our marina.  Since Thursday we have been serenaded by the beautiful sound of finely tuned engines screaming around a course on the streets we drive every day.  Over the last month, the entire downtown has become increasingly disrupted with streets closed and detour signage everywhere.  Where we are, the street at the entrance to the park where the marina is located is part of the track so we have to drive in and out via the sidewalk. 

The sidewalk we drive to our marina

Once Cate and I were left to our own devices, we realized the two week clock was ticking, LOUDLY.  We got both cars detailed then put on Craigslist.  Within 4 hours we had a call on the Prius and early the next morning he had picked it up.  We have had a few calls on the CRV but luckily it has not yet sold - we still have lots of provisioning to do.
The piles!
...and more piles!

This past week we started the provisioning in earnest.  We would fill up the car, bring it home, then start finding places for it all.  We estimate we have 2-3 months of food and consumables on board now.  The pictures above show the results of one of the many trips.  The amazing thing to me is how Cate finds places to stash all the stuff!

We also got Julio around for his last work on Horizon.  He glassed in the aft deck box we had him build so now we have lots of dry outside storage for flammables, line, anchor gear, dive gear, etc.  Of course with new AwlGrip on the box, we are now under the gun to paint the rest of the deck.

Aft deck box

In my spare time I also got the watermaker installed in the engine room and working nicely.  I had a problem with the "under the waterline" part since I thought that line was higher but after relocating the low pressure pump and fresh water filter and with lots of judicious bleeding, water started moving freely around the system with no bubbles and it was making 8.4 gallons of fresh water per hour while drawing 18 Amps.  We now have water freedom!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Single digit excitement

A few weeks ago workmates presented me with a daily tear-off count down calendar that ends on my retirement date.  That calendar is now down to single digits and I am really really REALLY excited. 

Of course that excitement is offset somewhat by erratic sleep patterns as my wee brain tries to think through the list of stuff left to do before we cruise off into the sunset.  I am very fortunate to have experienced all this planning and cruising before, but much has changed in the 18 years since that time.  Even little things like an online permanent log of our travels, not even envisioned in the 1990's, are important now.  Luckily one of the McHop kids has taken responsibility to see about converting our SPOT Messenger check-in emails into something that can be submitted to EveryTrail.com or Google Maps to maintain a permanent track map.  Our hope is that the check-in points will be auto-populated as we go along, then we can update those points later with pictures and topical blogs as we find WiFi enroute.

Flurry of last minute installs

As the date approaches, we have been busy doing last minute installs of equipment and sorting through bins to make sure only useful stuff takes up valuable stowage space.  I still have one big box of in-process stuff that is taking up room on the settee, and then there is everything covering the chart table top that needs to be sorted through and either pitched or stowed.  Yikes!

Cate is really happy about one of my projects last week.  Our forward shower sump pump was working slower and slower and sometimes had to keep running 10 minutes after a shower was over.  It finally stopped pumping altogether.   It was one of those old Jabsco 4 chamber pumps and I replaced it with a new Jabsco 50880 shower/waste water pump.  Man does Cate like that pump! It is quiet and is powerful enough to easily keep up with the shower water flow. The brochure says it even eats hair but I think I will keep the strainer in the line for now.

Horizon's radio shack is coming along.  A couple weeks ago I got the satellite phone mounted with all its hands-free connections but we still have to figure a good way to bring out the cable and mount the external antenna. 

On the left is the iCom 802 Ham/Marine SSB radio with its Pactor III modem, then the in-cabin VHF and on the right is the sat phone in its mount.  Just under the radios is the chart table and directly under that is the new DR-55 drawer freezer we love so much.  Julio even made a great flip out seat so I won't have to stand crouched over while working the rig(s).

I have been busy in the engine room - finally got around to plumbing the Village Marine (now Racor) NF-200 modular watermaker.  Well, I am almost done and hope to get the rest done this weekend at anchor.

While spending quality time in the engine room, I realized there is room to mount a full size anvil vise so maybe next weekend after the JSI Marine Flea Market, we will hit a swap meet and try to find a nice used one.

Our rail space is quickly being overtaken by four jerry jugs for gasoline and diesel and now, 2 Kayaks.  Once we add the two SS Dahon folding bikes, are we going to have enough room to move around on deck?  If only Avon manufactured an inflatable barge...

We are now day 4 with the battery charger turned off.  The solar panels and wind generator have been keeping up with the power use of the in-built refrigerator, drawer freezer, all the pumps, lights and radios.  The caveats are that temperatures have been in the 60's reducing refrigeration needs, and the microwave, TV, and the stand-up refrigerator are still running on shore power.  But it makes me hopeful that we will not have to run the engine too often once we permanently unhook from the dock.

For my upcoming birthday Cate gave me a most appreciated Microsoft Surface Pro 128GB model with Windows 8 Pro.  I am still getting used to the touch interface but so far it is pretty intuitive and so much easier to lug around than my old laptop!  A major downfall is a shortage of drivers for things like our scanner...

One of our last major to-do hurdles was nailing down health insurance and as of yesterday that is now in place!  We now have a policy with Azimuth Risk Solutions with world-wide coverage that meets all of our criteria and it is backed by Lloyds so it should be solid. 

We got our new boat cards!