Still Sailing and Bound for…Where…Exactly??

March 4, 2014

Oh, how time flies. John and I are still putzing around the upper Chesapeake Bay in Halcyon. We never stopped sailing, I just stopped writing about it. Time to get back to it.

Since I last wrote we chartered a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands. It was a fantastic week full of firsts: Our first sail outside of the Chesapeake; our first time operating a sailboat other than Halcyon; our first time in the BVI. It was everything the Sunsail brochures promised and more. I’ll write about the “more” later. For now I’m just playing catch up.

Another fun adventure happened last summer when I helped a friend deliver her Hunter 36 from Key Biscayne, Florida to Saint Simons Island, Georgia. Another fantastic week. There were four of us on board: the boat’s owner and another couple. The owner needed help sailing the Hunter to her broker in Georgia before taking delivery of her new, semi-custom boat. We spent time in the Gulf Stream, on the Intracoastal Waterway, in calm seas and in one rather large storm. Fortunately, we just made it to a marina for the “huge” storm. Thankfully my first storm in the ocean was only “large” (and I was passed out from being seasick so couldn’t fully appreciate it). The others have far more sailing experience so I saw the week as an adventure with training. I’m sure I got much more out of it than they did as I was the novice.

My only disappointment on that trip was not swimming in the Stream. After it was mentioned casually that a bull shark might have passed under the boat (based on the depth sounder reading going from maxed out at 300+ feet to 30 feet), I put that goal on indefinite hold. We were sailing in over a thousand feet of water. Thirty feet was waaaay too close.

In between all that John and I had fun sailing Halcyon, discovering new anchorages on the Bay, meeting new people, and discovering St. Augustine, Florida. Again, more about all that later.

Where are we now (besides being sick of the cold)?

It began with the concept of “paying it forward.” Someone who I consider a sailing mentor and who continues to give me a lot of wonderfully useful advice based on his experience lives this every day. Basically, it’s do something good for someone and in return that someone does something good for someone else as “payment” for whatever it was that you did. Looking at it that way, John and I have a LOT of payments to make, so, I volunteer John’s services a lot. This is how he got stuck working at the top of a mast last summer for six…solid…hours.

Last fall we attended a wedding of a fellow sailor where we met a woman who bought a Morgan Out Island 416 ketch. She sailed it from North Carolina to where she is currently located on the C&D Canal. The boat is solid but needs work. Her plan is to live aboard with her Third Ager* parents and cruise so she wants to make sure it is as good as she can get it. She mentioned that her electrical system suffers from Previous Owner-itis. Seeing an opportunity I offered to ask John if he would help her troubleshoot. It worked out well. She’s a race car mechanic and product specialist for Chevy trucks and has a solid grasp of what is involved. In other words, John isn’t rewiring Fluffy’s boat while she teeters around on stilettos. We’ve made a couple of trips to her boat and she and John do their thing in the bilge and engine compartment while I putter around the marina looking at other boats, watching wildlife, reading in the cockpit, and waiting for them to finish so we can go to the awesome restaurant at the marina. Everyone’s happy.

During our last working visit to the boat, she had another friend helping her. Roy is retired from the British Navy and full of stories. While he worked I stayed out of the way and listened. Every now and then he’d pop up and look around. After about an hour I recognized the bemused “What the heck did I do with that X?” look on his face and helped him backtrack so we could find whatever it was that was missing. That was my contribution.

When my sundowner alarm sounded on my iPhone, Roy very generously decided to treat us to his “extra special” rum. This rum isn’t sold in the U.S. and he brought it back from his last trip to England. Because sundowners followed the chocolate wine tasting and I hadn’t had lunch, well, I’ll blame the rest on that.

The four of us chatted about sailing, the history of grog, and other nautical stuff while we sipped and sampled. I mentioned a vague plan to some day sail to Ascension Island, St. Helena. I don’t remember the conversation verbatim but the gist was “Why stop there? Go to Tristan da Cunha!” And Roy gave us a brief history of the islands.

I never heard of this island. My original plan had been to sail to Ascension Island, stop at the pub, sail home. Roy upped the ante. I pulled out my iPhone and did a quick search. Calling itself “the remotest island” Tristan da Cunha’s economy is centered around fishing, the sale of postage stamps, and woolens knitted by its “elite knitting team.” The population is roughly 300 people. There are probably more sheep than people. They print and offer subscriptions to their bi-annual 40-page newsletter. How cool is that??

My limited early research says that the island was originally discovered by a Portuguese navigator who passed by on his way from Brazil to Cape of Good Hope. He couldn’t find a place to land so he kept going. Later the British set up there when they thought the French were going to attempt to rescue Napoleon from St. Helena. The next person who trundled along was a Corporal William Glass from Scotland. His family settled on the island and he named the main town Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. Today the islanders are a mix of English, American, Italian, Dutch and African. One website says about the language: “English is the native tongue, albeit a slightly strange, preserved Georgian dialect laced with a few early Americanisms.” I’m envisioning something akin to what we’d hear in Appalachia where Old English is still spoken due to their isolation.

So. That’s where we are today. John’s on board with the idea. He spent some time watching Youtube videos about the island, which surprised me. He knows more about the history than I do at this point.

This isn’t happening any time soon but it is our first concrete, long-distance goal. Our first “voyage.” There are a zillion things that have to fall into place and a zillion more to do before we sail into Edinburgh of the Seven Seas harbor. In the meantime, I’ve started adding tasks to a project plan (someone said to me “Nothing says fun like a Gantt chart.”), re-researching the Next Boat based on using it for this trip, and having fun with it all. Oh – and convincing Boat Fluff that she does want to meet the elite knitting team of Tristan Da Cunha.

In the meantime, watch this space for the official unveiling of our “raiding” flag and more adventures on Halcyonn.

*Thanks to NPR I learned that older adults are no longer called “Senior Citizens.” The new term is “Third Agers.” My membership dollars at work.

And We’re Off!

March 31, 2012

It has been a rough week but in the end…our new Beta Marine engine. Sea trials are next week. I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl. John gets his gauges. As an instrumentation guy, he’d put a gauge on me if I stood still long enough. Now to make the rest of the boat look as good!

New Addition…

March 11, 2012

Halcyon’s new Beta Marine diesel.

Beta Marine

2012 Here We Come! But Are We Ready?

March 4, 2012

Boating season is almost here and John and I have yet to start on our winter project list. The sails are still folded and have not been cleaned, the anchor hatch cover is still propped up against the garage wall and has not yet been reinforced like I intended, the reefing line has not been replaced… Ah well. Why should this year be any different?

Although the temperature is still chilly and I’m not about to abandon my socks yet, I know that the boating season is just around the corner because the West Marine and Defender catalogues have arrived. The internet is convenient, but nothing beats a chilly, rainy March day curled up with a glass of wine, my Post-its, highlighters, and a boating supply catalogue. Without the background noise of my laptop’s fan or the distraction of the internet, I can mark items in yellow for my Wish List, pink for Must Buys, green for More Research and blue for What the Heck?

My first item of business in the newest catalogue is to see what’s new in the world of VHF handheld radios. Blue tooth? Done. GPS? Done. Integrated FRS? Done a long time ago. What will be the new gimmick this year? Next are life jackets (formerly called PFDs by the U.S. Coast Guard until they realized that the acronym just wasn’t catching on with the boating public). It’s hard to beat the inflatable vests. Perhaps this year I may try one of those pouches. I’m skeptical so maybe it’s time for me to investigate why they are popular and what use they would really be in a MOB situation.

We’re still not ready to spend thousands of dollars on chartplotters and radar so I skip those sections other than a brief glance to be able to speak about what’s new in my boating classes.

One problem with perusing the catalogues is that the To Do list gets longer. I think of lines that should be replaced, blocks that might be tired, and should we change the anchor rode?

I guess it doesn’t matter. Nothing on the list seems to be getting done anyway.

Happy Veteran’s Day

November 11, 2011

Happy Veteran’s Day to my favorite vet and to all who served, past and present.

My Gift #2

October 22, 2011

OK, the sail was wonderful (see the last post), but tied was this past week spent in Key West, Florida.

This was our second trip to Key West. As we did on our first trip, we flew into Ft. Lauderdale, rented a car and headed straight to Fish House restaurant in Key Largo. The fish is almost-right-off-the-boat fresh and the service is wonderful. Unfortunately, they do like their air conditioning. We also stop there for lunch on the return trip to the airport.

It rained most of the week. We arrived on Monday and drove down in the rain. Wednesday morning around 3:30 AM the area experienced a rollicking good storm. Rolling thunder that shook the house, lightning that lasted long enough for me to start scaring myself thinking about that William Shatner Twilight Zone episode when he’s on the airplane. This went on for several hours. John slept through the show and even now doesn’t believe that it happened. It stopped raining Wednesday afternoon. The rain didn’t stop us from having a good time, it only made it more of a challenge to get around flooded streets down which a few people kayaked.

Tuesday we began the day (a late start because of jet lag) with lunch at Havana 1, a wonderful Cuban restaurant located at mile marker one. We then toured the decommissioned USCGC Ingham. While on deck we watched yet another storm approach from over the ocean. There is a certain smell in these decommissioned Coast Guard boats that we tour that brings back good memories for John of his time as an electrician’s mate on USCGC Alert. As we walked below deck John educated me (once again. Maybe by the time we tour our fourth decommissioned cutter I’ll remember the difference between a “quick acting water tight door” and a “water tight door,” Honey, I promise) on all the fire response equipment, electrical systems, engine room apparatus, and protocol. John remembers his time in the service like it was yesterday. To me the ships smell like rusting metal and rotting wood but as an auxiliarist I appreciate the history of the ships and the men and women who served on them and I am glad that John has only good memories of his time on board.

We sheltered from the rain at Blue Heaven and chatted with some tourists from North Dakota and California before walking to near-empty Mallory Square and settling in at El Meson de Pepe for a few hours to watch the storm over the ocean and talk to more folks also seeking refuge from the rain, one of whom included the amazing “Dr. Juice,” a fun local personality who makes his living as a street performer.

Wednesday we headed to NOAA’s Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center and learned about the ecosystem in the Keys. The Dry Tortugas will definitely be on our list of sites to see during our next visit. Next door to the discovery center we found Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and spent some time walking around the fort and on the adjacent beach.

Thursday we once again began the day with crepes, this time at La Creperie. Next we visited the Little White House and took a guided tour. President Truman loved Key West and governed the country from this house at what was a sort of pre-Camp David. Because the sun was finally shining we headed to Bahia Honda State Park for a few hours of beach time. There are plenty of free beaches, but this one had some history behind it that included Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad.

That evening John was brave enough to try $6/dozen raw oysters. He loves oysters but the usual price is $12 (or more)/dozen. We were suspect because they were so inexpensive, but he loved them (and lived to tell). I, on the other hand, discovered that nothing beats a Chesapeake Bay crab cake. We ate dinner on the restaurant balcony overlooking the marina and watched a glorious sunset on our last evening. The setting for our last evening in Key West almost (but not quite) made us forget the phone call that morning from the marina telling us that Halcyon’s transmission is toast and our best and least expensive option is to do a total repower.

My Gift

October 16, 2011

It’s a nice coincidence that the annual US Yacht Show in Annapolis occurs on or near my birthday each year. This year, for the first time, we sailed to the show. The plan was to sail to Eastport, stay in a slip at Watergate Village marina, eat lunch, go to the sail show for a few hours, throw back a couple of Painkillers at Pussers and then meet some new friends later for drinks and munchies.

C Dock at Watergate Village

C Dock at Watergate Village

Looking towards Watergate Village

Looking towards Watergate Village

As usual, the best-laid sailing plans are often thwarted.

The sail from Rock Hall to the mouth of the Severn River usually takes four hours. That Saturday was a beautiful day – for motoring. Mist clung to Eastern Neck NWR as we sailed south out of Rock Hall. As the morning advanced the sky turned a brilliant blue. The leaves on the shore were just beginning to change into their Fall colors. There was absolutely no wind. No wind is unusual for Fall on the Bay but since we racked up more sailing days than usual in July, perhaps things were balancing out.

Just as John and I approached the Naval anchorage at the mouth of the Severn River the sound of the engine changed and immediately slowed to less than 2 knots. The change was subtle but noticeable enough that we looked at each other at the same time. At first we worried that the prop became fouled. We moved as close as possible to a shallower area to get out of the main stream of boats moving towards Annapolis and to be able to drop anchor if needed. From that point, if nothing had gone wrong, it would have taken us 20 minutes to get to the marina. An hour later we puttered into the slip thankfully under our own power.

We didn’t get to the show. After having lunch at Davis’ Pub John took a few hours to look more closely at the engine and transmission while I tidied the deck. Later that evening we did meet up with some fellow sailors as planned and had a great time.

Sunday was another gorgeous day with no wnd. We left the marina around 10:00 AM and settled in for a long day. We anticipated our arrival time back in Rock Hall to be around 8:00 PM.

As we slowly left Back Creek under a blue, cloudless sky I looked at the other sailboats on the river. Most were new and out for sea trials by people attending the sail show. Most of the boats were either Hunters with their B&R rigs, J boats or catamarans. They all moved faster than Halcyon. They all had mirror-like waxed hulls with no scrapes or docking dings. They all had near-silent engines (that worked) and sails that weren’t yet in need of reconditioning. They all had smiling people on deck who weren’t worried about getting back to the docks.

We left the Severn and turned north towards the Bay Bridge. The light wind was on our nose, not favorable to get us home under sail power alone. Sailboats milled around the center of the Bay waiting for the start of a race with skippers who also probably hoped for more wind from another direction.

We hoped to sail home in order to save the transmission from further damage or additional problems. As it happened, we had to motor the entire trip (except for a brief moment off Love Point when the sails partially filled and brought our speed up to a whopping 3 knots). Fortunately, it wasn’t torturous. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to motor at a speed at which a person on crutches and with one broken arm could have passed us. They say that a skilled sailor can sail in light air so we took the opportunity to improve ourselves. We adjusted things we normally don’t fuss with – jibsheet lead, traveler, outhaul, downhaul, topping lift. Finally I decided that light air is one thing but having no air is impossible no matter how much salt has passed under your keel.

North of the Bay Bridge (and about five hours into the trip) John said to me “If it wasn’t for you, I would not have learned how to sail.” I looked across the cockpit at him wondering if he really meant “If it wasn’t for you, I’d happily be on the couch with a beer watching the football game with my buddies instead of watching every other boat on the Bay pass us not to mention worry about how I’ll get this transmission fixed and oh yeah, wind through the crab pots in the dark.” But no. With a contented smile, John looked out over the transom at the meager wake Halcyon made through the calm water and up at the wispy clouds slowly moving across the sky. Then he looked over at me and smiled. I could not have asked for a better birthday gift.

Sunset in front of Rock Hall

Sunset in front of Rock Hall

We’re Ready, Irene

August 26, 2011

The full force of Hurricane Irene has not yet hit the Chesapeake Bay area but already I see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: Fellow sailors.

Irene is our first hurricane as boat owners. We experienced one or two tropical storms but nothing of consequence; nothing that caused us to put Halcyon on the hard before the end of the season. Irene’s path changed overnight so that the intended track is farther west than originally forecast. “Plan for the worst, hope for the best” is all one can do when trying to deal with a moving target such as a hurricane. We take it day by day, listen to the experts and shake in a bit of our own common sense, then we hope that we made the right decisions.

The marina hauled Halcyon Thursday morning. I wrapped extra line around the outside of the mainsail cover and removed the dodger. As the yard staff motored her over to the lift, I was still on board packing up small stuff that I didn’t feel like replacing should she float away to the Azores: sailing gloves, paper charts, GPS puck, various power cords, hand held VHF radios, an unopened bag of Cheetos. I decided that the Blue Coat gin had to fend for itself. Sorry. I put the bottle in the galley sink to give it a fighting chance. There was only enough left for half a cocktail anyway.

After I jumped off the deck and onto the floating dock I stood by as she rolled past me in the travel lift to her temporary spot until after the storm. Barnacles clung to her rudder and belly and stringy muck wept brownish goo onto the gravel below. I must have looked sad because one of the men stood by me as she passed and said “I’d rather my boat was on land than in the slip.” I felt better.

As soon as forecasters predicted that Isabel would have a major impact on the east coast, John and I spent some time deciding whether to have Halcyon hauled or keep her in the slip and add lines and fenders. We waited until a few days before the storm was expected to finalize a Plan A and Plan B, but we did not wait until then to come up with a plan. We take a chance on damage with either decision but we did have to wait to see how the storm would track to implement one or the other. Too many people wait until a day or two before a major storm to start figuring out their options and then waste precious time that should be used to prepare their boat. Often it is too late. In the case of a major storm, with a large number of boats to haul out, marinas may not have time to get to someone who waits until the last minute. Our marina mailed a request to slip holders months ago and asked for instructions. Haul out was done in the order the instructions were received in their office.

But, for all those who asked for advice seeking reassurance what I saw was a gratifying amount of help generously offered by more experienced sailors. It started Monday in the Sailnet chat room and forums and emails amongst my sail club members. First we began monitoring the weather and the discussions were truly enlightening. By late Tuesday the favored weather sites had been identified and narrowed down to two or three. Those three sites remained open on my browser for the rest of the week. Then the discussions turned to hauling out, adding extra lines and keeping the boats in the slip, or taking the boats to a hurricane hole. Pros and cons of each choice were thrown out for debate. Many variables influenced individual decisions including: Location in relation to the storm, type and condition of docks, type of boat, experience of the boat owner.

By Wednesday things started to ramp up. Hurricane parties were planned amongst dock neighbors who helped each other remove sails and canvas and even boats in preparation for hauling out or moving to an anchorage. Help was offered to strangers and new friendships began to grow. We checked on each other via email, the chat room and in person.

Now, for those of us who planned ahead, we wait. We did all we can do and there is nothing left but to keep our fingers crossed, take care of our family and homes or maintain lines through the night and hope that our boats survive to sail another day. Whatever happens, a few more gold pieces were added to our pot.

We Are Not Alone. Really.

July 30, 2011

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer contained an article with a statement by the director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in New Jersey offering an explanation of why a park official likened a man getting stung by a ray to being bitten by a dog. The gist of the article was that many people forget (or maybe never thought about it) that humans are not the only species in the ocean (or bay or river). Once you enter the water you share that environment with sharks, dolphins, oysters, rays, plant life and whatever else calls water home. I have to say: REALLY??!! I mean, not that we’re not the only species in the water but that there are people who need reminding.

Whenever a power boat zooms by our sailboat, usually leaving a wake that forces maneuvering to prevent damage to our boat, (after the cursing is over) we wonder if they really appreciate the water around them at that speed. Or is the water the same to them as a highway under a car. Did they see the cow-nosed rays gliding and chasing each other next to our boat? Did they notice the young bald eagle riding the wind current above the entrance to Rock Hall harbor? Certainly they can’t hear the splash of a fish that surfaces to snap at whatever intrigues it. I was once mesmerized for about an hour by schools of tiny fish in my marina. I remember watching my niece stretched out on the dock, head hanging over the side and captivated by the sea nettles as they floated by.

Nature settles me, whether I’m watching the rays in the bay or at night listening to the bull frogs in our pond. OK. I admit that I’m ready to pull the wings off of every cicada in the trees around our house that won’t shut up. Still. It amazes me that people can be so self-involved as to not appreciate and respect other species. They live here too. Really.

A Quick Fix, Often Overlooked

July 28, 2011

John smelled something bad. Just a little something but enough to make him change into his work shorts. He bought these shorts for a couple of dollars on a trip to Vietnam and they seem to be indestructible. He puts them on to get down to series maintenance work like Superman stepping into the phone booth. Once the shorts come on he completely focuses on the job at hand.

Since buying Halcyon our concern has been with the engine and its problems. It seems to be running well these days (knock on wood). On this day John decided to pay some attention to the port side, which houses the holding tank. Good thing he did because he discovered a small leak where the sanitation hose (through which the pump out nozzle sucks the sewage) meets the tank.

While John readied his tools I went to the marina office to tell them our problem and to see if they had spares in stock if we needed to replace the hose. Doug, the office manager, assured me that it was a common sanitation hose and they had them in stock. He stopped me before I left his office and said that an often overlooked maintenance item is the holding tank vent hose and since we were in there anyway, we should look at it. The pump out hose sometimes forces waste up into the vent hose or critters get into it and build nests, he said. Both will eventually block the hose and create pressure build up within the tank, causing things to explode and go really, really bad. FanTAStic.

By the time I returned to the boat, John, Troubleshooter Extraordinaire, had already removed the vent hose from the holding tank and had figured out that it might be the problem. He traced the hose to where it exited the boat: under a stanchion. The stanchion had a small-diameter hole that let out the air.

With me keeping an eye on the hole, John forced water through the hose from below. At first only a trickle of water came through. Eventually a little more water with more pressure behind it shot through until finally what looked like grass clogged up the hole. We removed the debris and forced more water through until it was clear and water exited the hole in the stanchion with considerable pressure.

Doug was correct. The clogged vent allowed pressure to build up in the tank each time someone used the head. The weak spot was where the pump out hose met the tank and it began to balloon at the hose clamp just enough to leak. Eventually it would have completely come undone from the tank and we would have had a bigger problem.

Clearing the vent also took care of another problem. A few weeks ago we noticed that the handle on the head was no longer drawing in raw water when we pumped the waste out of the bowl. Also, the head sink drained extremely slowly. By chance, I noticed that pumping the handle drew the water out of the sink and into the bowl. It wasn’t using raw water. These were both on our list of things to look at but after John cleared the vent the head returned to normal and the sink drained as it should.

Superman prevented a sh*# storm.


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