Saturday, April 29, 2017

Boat Life, Dock Life


Yet again, I’ve been slow and slack in my posts here. The truth is, there’s simply not too many things going on that might make for interesting updates. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say, that nothing particularly exciting is going on for us. Lisa and I are adjusted to life in the Keys, quite well, I should add. We are enjoying ourselves immensely and we look forward to the next year or so we have remaining here.

Conch Ceviche and stone crab claws - it's what's for dinner

We have been getting out to new restaurants on occasion, but often find ourselves gravitating back to certain ones. As those who follow us on FaceBook know, one of our favorite meals is stone crab claws and conch ceviche. Stone crab season ends on May 15, so I expect we’ll be spending lots of time at Keys Fisheries in the coming days. Grouper and dolphin season come on the heels of stone crab season. For the seafood lover in us, there’s always something to look forward to. And for the uninitiated, ‘dolphin’ in this case refers to the fish called dorado in the Caribbean and is most likely known to most of you as mahi-mahi, it’s Pacific region name.

We’ve also found a few little Cuban treasures too, roadside hole in the wall sort of places where the pork roast is marinated in delicious potions of citrus and garlic then slow roasted for hours until it is melt in your mouth tender. Then, of course, there are the black beans and rice and if that wasn't enough, there are the sweet and sticky fried plantains. Yum!

Unfortunately, JO BETH has not left the slip since we arrived in February. We’ve had lovely sunny and warm weather, accompanied by weeks and weeks of howling winds. Remember our deck awning, which I wrote about in the last post? We took it down in advance of some squally weather a week or so after we put it up, and it’s been stowed away since. 

Spring squall over Hawk Channel
  
Lisa and I are both working as well which occupies most of our weekdays. We have had friends pass through Marathon on their way to the Bahamas and islands south who’ve been stuck here for days. Our friends Ken and Carrie aboard GRIFFIN, also a Pacific Seacraft, arrived in Marathon after a rough ten day crossing of the Gulf of Mexico from Port Aransas, TX. They were here for nearly a month, making minor repairs to sails, etc., but primarily waiting for a weather window to continue on. That window finally came for them last Tuesday and they left on a favorable wind for South Bimini in the Bahamas. They arrived Wednesday afternoon and are now very likely pinned down once again by the same winds which are keeping us in place. Things will ease as summer approaches, and Lisa and I are planning some early summer cruises around the Keys.

S/V GRIFFIN, now sailing in the central Bahamas

Part of the sailing life is meeting and saying goodbye to friends. Bruce and Rhonda, aboard their catamaran LILA JANE left Marathon yesterday and are working their way north for the summer. We went to dinner and spent a few hours in their cockpit Thursday evening, discussing how the departure of friends is one part of this life many people can’t relate to, and how it not only affects the people staying put, but the people leaving. Most of us don’t live in a situation where our home moves with us, wherever we may be. And after you’ve been in one place for months or longer, leaving that place can be a bit odd. For me, the odd bit is experiencing the realization we won’t be coming back this way again, or at least not for a while. I remember that when we left Brunswick, GA bound for the Keys, the reality that we were indeed leaving didn’t sink in until the next morning when we left our first anchorage behind Cumberland Island and didn’t turn back north, but continued heading south.

The cruising population of Marathon is dwindling, as boats move north for the coming summer and hurricane season. It’s easy to forget that Marathon is a small town when the snowbirds are here. There’s one McDonald’s, a Burger King and a couple of other fast food places. Shopping is limited to Beall’s and the strangest K-Mart we’ve ever been inside of. There are two grocery stores, a Winn-Dixie and Publix, both miniature versions of their cousins in Miami. The nearest Starbucks are 35 miles east in Islamorada and 45 miles west in Key West. Marathon does have a great little coffee loft, situated on the upper floors over a potter’s and glass arts studio. Amazon has become a major resource for our shopping, even for groceries.

Tiller, cat left and Rudder, cat right live aboard S/V WIND SPIRIT but spend time aboard JO BETH on occasion - particularly if that occasion involves food

Boat life is boat life. Lisa and I are quite content aboard our little home. We’ve been pseudo adopted by our neighbor’s cats, Tiller and Rudder. And even dockside, boat things still break. We’ve spent time replacing cracked or broken fittings on tanks and repairing various hinges, cleaning strainers, etc. We’re continually resolving stowage issues and still removing little-used gear from the boat. In the evenings, we're entertained by tarpon hunting mullet in the marina basin, and on a few early mornings, have awakened to find a manatee scratching it's back on our hull.

Sunset over the Atlantic

All in all, boat life is dock life, and together they make up our water life – and that’s a good life!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Getting Settled...

This will be a short update. Not too much has been happening; as with most arrival stories, we’ve arrived and are slowly settling into a routine, getting back to work, and wrapping up the more urgent post voyage boat projects and repairs.

Key Colony Harbor entrance, looking out to Hawk Channel and the Atlantic Ocean; though we say we're in Marathon, we are technically in Key Colony Beach

One of the bigger projects we were saving to do until we were here in the Keys was the fitting of our sun awning. The awning keeps the sun off of the boat and on warm and sunny days while at anchor, it can keep the cabin a good bit cooler than it otherwise might be. We can roll up or lower flaps to adjust for the angle of the sun, and in a light shower, we can leave hatches open to keep ventilation flowing. The benefits of it at the dock are somewhat reduced, as the breezes typical in an anchorage are reduced by the protection of a sheltered marina. Still it was an essential task.

This particular awning has something of a history. When we began our refit, we had specified a full sun awning to be built. During the bid process, we came across an opportunity to purchase this particular awning. The catch however, was that it was not built for our boat, but for the 37’ model also built by Pacific Seacraft. The awning had been built for the owners of a brand new 37, but because of the awning’s size and weight, they decided not to accept it. Instead, they left it with Pacific Seacraft and instructions to sell it to someone who’d give it a good home.

That someone turned out to be us, and the owners of the awning made us an offer which we couldn’t pass up. Still, it was a puzzle of sorts, especially since it had not been made for JO BETH. Though the 37’ and 34’ models of our boat are quite similar, there are enough differences to make things a little confusing.

JO BETH, sporting her 'new' sun awning
 
Within a few hours, we had the awning up and secured. We also had help from a couple of passing fisherman vacationing here from Michigan. They seemed quite taken with the novelty of our lifestyle, and joined us under the shelter of the awning in the cockpit for a beer and conversation.

The awning from astern - please forgive the 'cell phone zoom effect'

We’re also exploring the islands and getting reacquainted with the Keys. When we lived in Miami, we kept our first little sailboat in Marathon for a few months, behind a friend’s canal house at their private dock. After a year or so there, we moved it to another private slip in Islamorada, in the upper Keys. That was 20+ years ago, and the changes which have swept through the Keys in our absence are quite astounding.

More to follow!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Marathon!


It was when Lisa and I were dating that I introduced her to the idea of sailing the world aboard a small sailing yacht. At the time, Lisa’s primary sailing experience had been aboard tall ships – specifically, the R/V WESTWARD, a part of the Sea Education Association. The WESTWARD was a topsail-schooner – at 100’ in length, she was a far cry from JO BETH. Nonetheless, I persisted, peddling off books for her to read written by the legends of world cruising of the time; Eric and Susan Hiscock and their multiple trips around the world in their wooden yacht WANDERER and their subsequent wood and steel boats of the ‘Wanderer’ name; Hal and Margret Roth aboard their 36’ yacht WHISPER, and Larry and Lin Pardey, aboard their wooden and engineless 24’ cutter, SERAFFYN

Leaving Ft. Pierce, Florida

On one of our weekend trips to the Georgia coast to sail in our first little sailboat, SEA SCHELL, Lisa said as we began the drive from Atlanta, “all these people do is struggle to get somewhere, then fix everything that broke when they get there.” I looked at her for a long moment. “Yeah,” I finally said, “that’s true. But it’s better than life in a cubicle, right?”

It is an unfortunate fact that on our first full day in Marathon, my time was spent replacing the shower sump pump, repairing a cracked fitting in the waste holding tank vent line, and trying to puzzle out why the aft water tank refuses to fill to capacity. By the end of the day, I was tired, hot, stiff, and very tired of banging my head and scraping my knuckles.

We left Ft. Pierce on a brilliant and warm Wednesday afternoon, motoring out the inlet channel, and pointing the bow south into the blue Atlantic, we set the sails. The winds were light and no sooner than not, we were motor-sailing so as to hold our course and direction. As the sun dropped below the western horizon, we changed into warmer clothes, and once past the St. Lucie Inlet, we settled into the night routine of an offshore coastal passage. Shortly before 9pm, we rolled in the headsail as the winds had shifted a bit more to the east and south, making it difficult to keep the sail filled. A persistent two knot current against us also made things a tad frustrating. 

Atlantic Blue Water!

The night passed quietly with both of us keeping watch until midnight. Then Lisa went below for a two-hour sleep as we continued south. At 2am, I woke her and we changed the watch. She cheated a little and didn’t wake me at 4am, but I awoke at about 4:45. I went on deck as we were approaching Ft. Lauderdale and a traffic jam. There was a container ship about 8 miles east of us going south; our AIS system identified her as the WASHINGTON EXPRESS, and reported she was going to the Port of Houston, Texas. Three cruise ships were in-bound to Ft. Lauderdale, and our courses were going to cross. However, the big wrench in all of this was the U. S. Navy. They were conducting ‘surface operations’ in the channel entrance to Ft. Lauderdale. We’re not 100% sure as to what was going on, but essentially, there was a Navy submarine, on the surface, running a prescribed course. It was interesting to hear the Navy and cruise ship captains discuss right of way issues over the radio. We drew little attention and only had to talk to one cruise ship to clarify our intentions as to where we were going in relation to where they were going.

Sunrise off of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

By 11am the following morning, we passed through the Port of Miami and soon we turned south into the broad and shallow waters of Biscayne Bay. After refueling at a local marina on the mainland side of the bay, we headed east across the bay to anchor for the night in a protected cove behind Key Biscayne. In many ways, this was something of a homecoming for us.  Lisa and I lived in Miami for many years.

Our plans had been to take the Biscayne Channel out of the bay and into Hawk Channel and then continue south to the area of Plantation Key in the upper portion of the Keys island chain. We couldn’t make the run from Miami to Marathon in one day in Hawk Channel; the distance is too great and with the proliferation of coral reefs surrounding the channel, running at night is ill advised. Going on the offshore side of the reef wasn’t an option either, as the western edge of the powerful Gulf Stream current, which flows northward at close to 4mph or more, was very close to the reef. (The exact location of the Gulf Stream changes frequently. It's like a river flowing within the ocean.)

Anchored in Key Biscayne Bight with a few other vessels

A listen to the weather forecast was discouraging. Winds were forecast to fill in from the north, then become northeast then east, and approach 20 knots. Anchorages in Hawk Channel are few and far between, and this weather forecast essentially made each and every one of them dangerous. If we had trouble getting our anchor to set and hold, we would risk being driven onto the rocks and hard packed sand flats of the upper Keys.

We re-evaluated our plans and decided to take the inside route to near Islamorada in the upper-middle Keys, then cross over to the ocean side and Hawk Channel via Channel #5, a deep and well marked channel. The first day went well enough, passing through many shallow areas, but with no problems, aside from discourteous fisherman passing us far too fast and too close at times in the shallow waters of Florida Bay. By sunset, we settled into Cowpens Anchorage behind Plantation Key as the forecast filled in and the wind blew hard from the northeast and east. After a dinner of black bean and quinoa salad, it was lights out for us.

We woke early the next morning to discover a crack had formed in the vent line fitting of the waste holding tank. This was a repair that had to wait until we were at our new slip, but it did mandate some changes in the use of the head aboard. Soon we were underway in a strong easterly breeze of about 18 knots. Getting in to Cowpens was easier than getting out, as we bumped bottom several times. Once out of the anchorage and back into the channel, things got worse.

Sunset in Cowpens Anchorage, Plantation Key, Florida

The water in this part of Florida Bay is extremely shallow. We grounded hard in mid-channel, twice, and it was here that the strong breeze became our benefactor. The force of the wind on JO BETH pushed us over far enough so that the keel slid off of the bottom. Going aground is a helpless feeling, but soon enough we were underway, and within an hour we were back in Florida Bay’s ‘deep’ waters of seven and eight feet. I was very happy to pass through Channel #5 and back into Hawk Channel’s relatively deeper waters of 20 and 25 feet.

By this time the breeze had lightened and shifted north. We rolled out the headsail as we pushed west through the blue-green Atlantic waters toward Marathon. Shortly before 2pm we made our approach to the Coco Plum Harbor entrance channel and into Bonefish Marina, our new home. By 2:30pm, we were secured in our slip with help from our new neighbors Ron and Fran aboard the 37’ yacht QUESTERIA. The marina here is lovely. It’s very quiet and laid-back, with showers and laundry facilities, an outdoor bar/lounge area, a small workshop and facilities to dispose of oil and other pollutants. The water in the basin is tested regularly to make sure that no boats illegally discharge sewage overboard and the marina requires all boats to have their waste holding tanks pumped twice per week. There’s a small beach within a mile’s walk and we can take our dinghy to two or three waterfront bars and grills. The town of Marathon is a short bike ride away.

JO BETH secured in her new home base, Bonefish Marina, Marathon, Florida

We showered and went into town with a very expensive Uber ride for a dinner of fried conch fritters. It turns out that our Uber driver also drives for a local cab company and that calling him through the cab service is much cheaper.

Welcome to the Keys!

Marathon sunrise

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dodging Cold Fronts and Ducking Drawbridges


We’ve been in Ft. Pierce, Florida, in the Ft. Pierce City Marina since this past Saturday. We came in to wait out yet another passing cold front and to take a few days’ rest from the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, or ‘ICW,’ aka ‘the ditch.’ 

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, aka 'The Ditch'

We left Brunswick Landing Marina on January 19th and spent our first night in the ditch at anchor behind Cumberland Island. Typically, on a trip like this, we’d prefer to sail offshore. However, as Lisa and I had both been quite sick with the crud, we decided it best to not subject ourselves to the rigors of offshore sailing in the cold weather until we were further south. The decision was made to travel down the ditch until Jacksonville, FL, then hop offshore at the St. Johns River. We have sailing friends in Jacksonville and planned to stay in a marina to meet with them. The idea was to move offshore the following day.

Mother nature had other plans. We ended up sitting in Jacksonville for the next three days as a strong cold front moved over us. This was the same weather system which brought tornadoes to many southern states. Fortunately, we had no tornadoes but we did have winds of 30-40mph and a fair amount of rain. After the weather system had passed and on the following Tuesday, the winds offshore were coming from the south – the exact direction which we want to go. Once again, we took to the ditch and pushed daily to make miles, averaging around 50 miles per day. Palm Coast, New Smyrna Beach, Titusville, Melbourne, and now Ft. Pierce. Good anchorages are slim along these stretches and we spent our nights in marinas secured to a dock.

The waterway is beautiful along much of the US eastern and Gulf coasts. It is wild and undeveloped in Georgia and much of South Carolina, but Florida south of Palm Coast is largely urban sprawl. It can be stressful too, as the waterway is treacherously shallow in spots. By law, the ICW is supposed to be maintained at a minimum depth of 12’ at the lowest level of tide. It isn’t. There are many stretches in Georgia where the waterway is simply not passable at low tide. Places along the waterway in Florida are approaching the same situation. The issue is how the funds for maintenance of the channels are appropriated: funding for maintaining the waterway is based upon the amount of commerce moving on the waterway. But when the shoals build up and moving cargo and commodities on the ICW becomes problematic, the movement of cargo upon the waterway slows or even stops altogether. With no commerce moving, there’s no funding to maintain the depths and the rest of the waterway infrastructure. It’s the original Catch-22. Recreational boats, such as ours, who make up the vast majority of waterway users don’t count in the figures.

On the wide but frightfully shallow Indian River; the average depth we saw was 8.5'; one of the many drawbridges we passed through can be seen in the distance

Also, we couldn’t easily sail on the waterway as it’s too narrow in most places. All of our miles were made under diesel power. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as diesel engines in sail boats are often woefully neglected.

Our own set of minor waterway troubles caught up with us, when on our way to our stop in New Smyrna Beach, we went aground just south of Ponce de Leon Inlet. We swung too wide on one navigational mark and hit the sandy, muddy, bottom which was shaped like a ridged potato chip. We went over the first hump in the muck only to ride up on another. As the tide rose and we attempted to extricate ourselves, we repeated this same action three different times. At one point, we were almost centered directly between the channel marks and still fast aground. Eventually, we called a tow boat and once he arrived, we were off in less than 90 seconds. JO BETH is fine, as are we, but it was not a super fun couple of hours. We saw a good number of boats aground on shallow spots that same day.

(For our fellow boaters and sailors out there; make sure your boat insurance policy includes towing coverage. If it doesn’t, you can get it through associations such as Boat/US or SeaTow. How much was the bill for the ‘un-grounding’ you ask? Nearly $1,000.00. Fortunately, we are covered at fraction of that cost for the entire year.)

And then there are the bridges which crisscross the waterway. Most of them are the large spans fixed at a height of 65’ which we can easily pass beneath, but a few of them are drawbridges. There’s a protocol for passing through a drawbridge; first, we hail the bridge tender on VHF radio. We identify ourselves, and even though in most cases we were the only boat approaching, we had to formally request that the bridge be opened. Some bridges open on request, others are on a schedule of opening on the hour and half hour and/or upon request, and some are locked down during high traffic times. Bridge tenders are known to be a temperamental lot, (there’s one in south Florida known for only responding to hails when the full formal name of the bridge is used), but the ones we dealt with over the last week were courteous and professional.

Approaching The Bridge of Lions on our passage through St. Augustine, Florida

Needless to say, we’re looking forward to sailing in the ocean once again and putting the waterway behind us for a while. The changes coming south have been fun to watch. The water has shifted from a gray muddy brown to a blue green and is clear enough to actually see the dolphins swimming beside us before they break the surface. We have manatees around the boat at night and tides are a reasonable two or three feet instead of eight to ten feet. Palm and Sea Grape trees dot the waterfront, and the shores are built up by mangroves and not marshes. All signs we’re making it south. 

The water is getting lovely; the red and green intracoastal waterway markers through which we've just passed can be seen

Monday, January 16, 2017

2016: The Year That Was


It’s the New Year, and my oh my, what a send-off 2016 gave us all!

For us and since the last update of this blog, 2016 was a boiling hot summer which brought record high temperatures, leaving us and JO BETH afloat in water which resembled spoiled chocolate milk and smelled worse. Hurricane Hermine passed over us on September 2, as a strong tropical storm, bringing 60+mph winds and drenching rains which helped to clear out the nasty marina basin water. While a benign storm for us, Hermine caused catastrophic damage at one St. Simons Island marina, sinking four yachts there. One of those sunk was the MASTER FOX, belonging to friends Kevin and Jane. At Brunswick Landing Marina, Docks One & Two were damaged, and one navigational aid was destroyed. Other than that, Hermine wasn’t as bad as she could have been.

Less than 10 days later, Tropical Storm Julia passed east of Brunswick, staying offshore. However, she was close enough to bring blustery winds and rain by the bucketful.

Then, there was Hurricane Matthew.

On Sunday September 19, Lisa and I left Brunswick Landing Marina for the Hinckley Yacht Services yard in Savannah. We were accompanied by friends Jim and Maryann aboard SHAMBALA, their 49’ steel hulled ketch rigged sailboat, which was going to the Thunderbolt Marine yard in Savannah for routine work and maintenance. We decided to sail together overnight and offshore as the trip is short, just under 80 miles. ‘Sailing together’ is a bit of an inaccuracy; we actually spent most of the night ten or so miles apart. We left at 3:30 in the afternoon and chatted with one another throughout the night via VHF radio. Since there was no wind to speak of, we were under motor power the entire way. It was still quite warm and Lisa and I took our off-watch time in the cockpit as the engine had warmed the cabin significantly.

Sunrise Over the Atlantic

We arrived at the entrance to Wassaw Sound and the Wilmington River at approximately 4am, and did a series of long and wide figure-eight courses as we waited for sunrise and daylight to head in. We were also waiting to follow SHAMBALA in through the shifting, dog-leg channel as she had updated charts of the Wassaw Sound channel and we did not.

Our trip to Hinckley was to finish up the next-to-last of the ‘big’, i.e. ‘expensive’ tasks on our refit list. Most of you will recall that Lisa and I had based ourselves in Brunswick to be close to her mom who was suffering from a rare neurological disease similar to Parkinson’s. Sadly, Elizabeth passed away during the summer, early on the morning of July 2. Some weeks after the funeral, when Lisa and I had returned to Brunswick from Atlanta and having finalized her mom’s affairs, we were having dinner in JO BETH’s saloon. Lisa looked at me from across the table and simply said, “we can go now. We don’t have to stay.” We decided that night to head south and spend the upcoming winter in the Florida Keys, specifically in Marathon. So, we began our plans to finalize the remaining work to JO BETH.

SHAMBALA, in the Wilmington River

After powering through the Wilmington River for a couple of hours during that sunny September morning, JO BETH was snuggly secured at Hinckley’s north service dock. Overnight trips are tough; neither of us slept well as there’s not enough time to fall into the ‘on-watch, off-watch’ routine of offshore sailing. Plus, as we were only about 10 miles off the beach, we had to be watchful for local fishing and shrimping boats. We were tired and had to drive back to Brunswick that same day to retrieve our car. After a good night’s rest dockside, the real work began; budgetary meetings were had, estimates were presented, reviewed, and revised. Within the week, work to remove the old and defunct navigational electronics was going strong.

A big part of the sailing life is awareness; staying aware of what your boat is doing, staying aware of what your mate is doing, and staying aware of what the weather is doing. Even when we’re marina bound, getting the weather forecast is my very first task of the day. It’s all very Zen like. It came as no surprise then, that the weather predictions began to worry us.

We watched as newly formed and rapidly intensifying Hurricane Matthew made the forecast turn to the north after tracking steadfastly east across the Atlantic and into the Caribbean, passing near Jamaica; we watched as it battered Haiti, eastern Cuba and the Bahamas; and we watched as it began its knife-edge scrape along Florida’s east coast. JO BETH and scores of other vessels had been hauled and blocked ashore at the Hinckley boatyard in preparation for the possibility Matthew might come too close for comfort. All the boats which were at Hinckley for work and could be hauled were hauled, and more arrived from the surrounding areas. Soon there was barely enough room to drive a car through the yard. The yard was cleared of any debris that could float, drift, or be tossed around in the wind. I also went to Isle of Hope Marina where our friend Kirby keeps his boat, RAVEN, a 1987 Pearson 31 sloop, (Kirby lives in Atlanta), and helped him secure her for the coming blow.

We can’t stay aboard JO BETH under these circumstances, and so we began to look for other accommodations until Matthew passed over. Our friend Shannon had decided to evacuate Savannah and shelter with her family in Atlanta. Shannon and her two cats live in a lovely, old restored house near Savannah’s Victorian district, just south of downtown. We eagerly accepted her offer to stay in her home and take care of kitties Max and Brie while watching the house during the storm.

By 7am on Friday October 7, rain began to fall steadily and didn’t stop for 30 hours. By 5pm winds were gusting up into the 50mph range as Matthew pushed closer. Jim and Maryann, on SHAMBALA and afloat in a slip at Thunderbolt Marina called to inform us that the low tide had not happened. Marinas in this region consist of floating docks which can rise and fall with the tides. “There’s one and a half feet of the piling left above the dock,” Jim told us in a calm and collected voice. “The forecasts are now predicting a 12-foot storm surge, on top of the normal high tide and its low tide right now. If it happens, the entire marina will float free. I’m concerned we could lose SHAMBALA and find ourselves in serious trouble.” In a spur of the moment decision, we invited Jim and Maryann to come stay with us. (This was not something we anticipated or expected; again, we want to send our heartfelt thanks to Shannon for her hospitality and her generous and compassionate response to the situation. Thank you!)

Infrared Image of Hurricane Matthew, too close along the Georgia coast

By 2am, winds were exceeding 70mph and rain was flooding down from the skies. At 5am, the center of Matthew made its closest approach to Savannah and the winds spun up into the 95-100mph range. By 8am, things were calming down and the rain began slacking. By 2pm, the skies were clearing, but 20-30mph winds persisted. And as is typical after a hurricane has passed, the weather was beautiful. When all was said and done, Savannah had received rainfall totals estimated at 18”. The predicted 12’ storm surge fortunately never materialized, but came in at just under eight feet; however, because the storm passed Savannah just at the time of the high tide, the high tide level reached nearly 13’. That’s nearly four feet above a typical spring tide, which is already three feet above a normal tide!

In our temporary neighborhood, chainsaws soon became the dominating sound. Many of Savannah’s beautiful old oaks lay in ruin and the smell of fresh pine filled the air. Remarkably, in that beautiful old house of Shannon’s, we never lost power, never lost cable or Wi-Fi, and had not one drop of water come in from anywhere. We know that many others were not so fortunate. Matthew was my fifth hurricane, and I know from experience that as bad as it was for some, it could have been infinitely worse for all. We are grateful.

Thunderbolt Marina sustained some damages to its docks, but remained intact. Hinckley Yacht Services didn’t fare as well. All of the boats which were hauled were fine, though some sustained minor damages to canvas and sails. The Hinckley boatyard however, took a punishing blow. The north service dock vanished during the storm. The south service dock was broken up, but remained connected to shore by the plumbing lines and electrical cables. The office, bathrooms and showers, carpenter’s shop, stock room, and mechanical shop were washed through by the storm surge and coated with a layer of stinking mud and debris. The yard was without electrical service and water for several days. 

JO BETH, secured shore at Hinckley Yacht Services the day before Matthew's approach; the storm surge level was almost high enough to float the ice machine over the railing

JO BETH and SHAMBALA seem to have shrugged Matthew off. We were delighted to find JO BETH to be bone dry inside. Outside, she was intact just as we had left her. SHAMBALA soon left Savannah and is now in Jacksonville, completing minor repairs to the engine fuel system and contemplating a trip to the Bahamas or other points south.

Our original plan was to be in Marathon by mid-December. With the Hinckley boatyard down, it was clear our timetable to finish the refit work and sail south to the Keys would be delayed. Additionally, we were now without a home, and would be for several weeks at least. Our friend Kirby offered RAVEN for our use and so Isle of Hope Marina became our home once again. (JO BETH was docked at Isle of Hope from 2004 through 2008.) By November, the Hinckley yard was operational and shortly before Thanksgiving, JO BETH was launched and secured afloat alongside the partially restored south service dock. The work was completed and sea trials were conducted in mid-December. The week between Christmas and New Year’s, we moved JO BETH to Isle of Hope Marina for a few days to complete our preparations to make the short run back to Brunswick.

Then I was struck with a case of the dreaded, debilitating, cold/crud/flu junk.

December fog at Isle of Hope Marina

It was early on a windless and frigid New Year’s Eve morning that Lisa and I set off from Isle of Hope Marina and traveled south in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to Brunswick Landing Marina. The day was absolutely freezing, but otherwise windless and calm. The surface of the rivers and sounds we crossed reflected the overcast skies so perfectly that where there were no islands or no shoreline, there was no horizon. Hot tea in insulated mugs kept us warmed. By 4:30 in the afternoon, under a weak and setting sun, our anchor was buried deep in the muddy bottom of the Duplin River, near Sapelo Island’s southern-most point. Lisa whipped up a steaming pot of bison chili. Neither of us stayed awake to usher in the New Year. JO BETH lay quietly through the night, swinging with the currents as the tide ebbed and flooded, and saw the New Year arrive on our behalf.

On New Year’s morning, I was awake at 6am and went on deck. It was misty and already warmer than it had been all day Saturday. In the still darkness, I could hear dolphins nearby, and marsh hens stirring on the shore. I stood at the bow and watched the soft luminesce glow of plankton and other micro-critters as the incoming tide swept them through and around our anchor chain. New Year’s Day was sunnier and warmer, and by 2pm we were in our assigned slip at Brunswick Landing Marina.

We had planned to stay in Brunswick for a week or so, to finish organizing the boat after leaving the orchestrated chaos of the boatyard, take care of banking and other personal business, etc. I also went to the doctor as my crud just wasn’t leaving. After 24 hours with antibiotics, I was feeling very much on the mend, and we began looking at departure days to move south. We had lovely forecasts and warm weather as a send-off.

Then Lisa was struck with a case of the dreaded, debilitating, cold/crud/flu junk.

I sent Lisa to the doc pronto, and she’s slowly getting through it. We’re hopeful for a departure middle of this week to continue our trip to Marathon. Unfortunately, southerly winds dominate the forecast for the next several days for an offshore (ocean run) south – that is to say, winds are forecast to be coming from the direction in which we want to go. Beating to windward, or sailing close to the direction from which the wind is blowing, is tough on the boat and the crew, and not something we want to do for prolonged periods of time if there are other options. This especially true as we’re both getting over being sick. For now, it seems as if the bulk of this leg towards the Keys will be made in the Intracoastal Waterway under motor power.

Lisa and I prefer the ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway. Having to power south in the waterway is not only a bummer for us, it’s slower. Offshore, we can sail for 24 hours at a time. In the waterway, we need to anchor or stop at a marina for the night due to the many navigational hazards the waterway presents; narrow channels and shoals, unlit and often dark colored crab trap markers, unlit and unmarked structures near the channels, etc. The other side of this is, that in bad weather, we can continue to move south in the waterway whereas in the ocean we’d be forced to sail a different course, possibly away from where we want to go, or otherwise seek some sort of shelter. It’s a trade off, and while it’s not our preferred option, the waterway is the best other option to keep moving south.

Hinckley Yacht Services rigger Greg Johnson finishing rigging work
  
The good news is, all of the major work we wanted to finish aboard JO BETH has been done. We now have functional navigational electronics, including a new GPS/Chartplotter, RADAR, AIS, wind, depth, and speed instruments, autopilot, as well as repeaters for all of the critical systems. AIS, which is ‘Automated Identification System’, allows JO BETH to be identifiable to other vessels with AIS receivers. All large commercial ships are required to carry AIS transponders and receivers.

AIS is the marine equivalent of a transponder in an airplane; at approximately one minute intervals, it broadcasts our position, our course, and our speed. It can even broadcast our starting point and destination, our ETA, and a host of other tidbits if we desire – and we receive the same information from other AIS equipped vessels many miles away. It is an excellent tool for collision avoidance.


 JO BETH's new GPS/chartplotter, top picture, and multi-display readout, bottom pictire

AIS also allows us to be tracked by various websites and mobile apps. Marine Traffic - www.marinetraffic.com - is one of these; just put JO BETH in the search box. Another is www.vesselfinder.com

(It’s important to note, that many of these sites are updated via shore stations and occasionally, by a cooperating ship at sea. Our position may not be updated when we’re out of range of one of these stations, moving between stations, or if we’re not moving for a prolonged period of time, or if we have AIS shut off while we’re docked.)

During our stopover in Brunswick, we discovered a minor glitch in the new electronics. We use an iPad Pro to ‘repeat’ the GPS/Chartplotter information, which includes data such as JO BETH’s position, speed, and course. This allows us to see what’s going on from anywhere on the boat via the iPad, without having to be in the cockpit. However, for some reason the iPad and plotter aren’t fully ‘shaking hands and chatting.’ We can control the plotter from the iPad, but cannot see the plotter display mirrored on the iPad.  Its one more reminder that boats are a continuing work in progress, and refits, projects, etc., are never really completed.

Other work we finished was to the sailing rig; we’re once again a cutter rig instead of a sloop rig, which essentially means we carry a second and smaller headsail forward of the mast and the mainsail. We also completed some tasks to the interior, deck, and sail control systems, such as installing new reading lights, fitting lashing boards on deck to secure extra water and fuel containers, adding rope clutches to make sail and line handling easier, etc. We also performed the required annual services on our safety equipment and had a full survey of the vessel done, out of the water and in, to keep our insurance coverage up to date.

More to follow as we’re back on track now and finally beginning our voyaging lives. Thanks for sticking with us!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Livin' and Learnin'

Someone recently asked me what's it like to live on board our sailboat. It didn’t take long for the answer to form in my mind. “It’s like living in a tiny house,” I said, “only it's tinier and always moving. Plus, there's a chance of drowning.” That ‘chance of drowning’ bit, I admit, was added for flair. Lisa and I are very safe and very comfortable aboard Jo Beth.

Jo Beth in her slip at Brunswick Landing Marina
But make no mistake, the transition from life in a modest brick and mortar house in a nice neighborhood in Savannah, Georgia, to a small and ever moving ‘mobile’ home is a continuous work in progress. There are lots of changes to deal with; some obvious, and some not so obvious. Not only do the physical realities of such a move have to be addressed, but the emotional and mental muscles will be flexed and exercised as well. And once in a while, bruises happen.

The physical aspects of our transition are clearly apparent. Our house in Savannah measured just under 2,000 square feet, and was a considerable downsize from our four bedroom, two and a half bath home with two car garage where we lived in Atlanta. There isn’t the same amount of space. Not even close. We’ve calculated the useable living space aboard Jo Beth – which includes storage spaces in drawers, cabinets, (called ‘lockers’ on a boat), refrigeration and freezer spaces, etc., to be approximately 250 square feet. In the cabin, the actual space where we can stand is probably less than 40 square feet. 

Everything aboard Jo Beth has a home, and there is a home for everything. Clutter can quickly get out of hand, and if we’re sailing can actually become a hazard. It takes lots of energy from both of us to keep the clutter under control. Surprisingly, the worst ‘clutter’ offender is paper. 

Since we’re both still working and aren’t (yet) able to cruise and stay in warmer weather year-round, we need to maintain an inventory of warm and cool weather clothes. We rent a climate controlled storage unit in town and ‘swap’ our clothes with the seasons. The storage locker also serves as an ‘office’ where we store our important records and papers, and holds an inventory of boat equipment, which we either don’t need aboard at the moment or will be selling at upcoming nautical garage sales.

These matters are obvious when it comes to drastically downsizing and living in a small space. However, yacht living is unique. There’s much you don’t ever think about until you’re confronted with having to do something or solve a problem not considered. We’ve been aboard Jo Beth for almost one full year. Here is what has stood out for us:

You’re going to Bump Your Head 

A lot. And your knees, elbows, and ankles. Those of you that know Lisa and I know how short we are – and for those of which we’ve not yet had the pleasure of knowing, we’re short: I’m 5’4” tall, and Lisa is 5’ 2 ¾” tall. Jo Beth’s head room is just over 6’. It’s not the ceiling (called ‘the overhead’, on a boat) height that’s the problem but things like the latches on the windows (called ‘ports’ or ‘portlights’) and the rounded corners of lockers that get us.

You’re going to Knock Things Over

Jo Beth measures 10’ 6” at her widest part, or her ‘beam.’ In the cabin interior, much of that ten and a half feet is reduced by seats, (settees), lockers, and shelves. It’s easy for an elbow to catch a cup of water, a bottle of wine, or whatever…and send it splashing to the cabin sole. (The ‘cabin sole’ is the ‘floor’ in a house.) And in this same vein, things will fall out of lockers when you open them, no matter how carefully and securely they were stowed.

Grocery Shopping is Different

This is mostly because you can only buy groceries for a few days at a time, at least if you want to have meals prepared from fresh and not canned or otherwise preserved ingredients. Our total refrigerator/freezer space is approximately four cubic feet. It’s one box, partitioned by a two piece divider into a freezer side and refrigerator side. Lisa typically assigns items their place inside of the reefer or freezer; she has a knack for seeing things spatially. Sometimes though, despite the best organizational efforts, the nature of the beast wins out. You will still have to empty the reefer to get the butter.

The Reefer/Freezer...
...and a Peek Inside
Food Storage is Different

Well, it is in some ways. Our fresh fruit resides in a hammock hung in the galley over the sink; onions, garlic bulbs, shallots, etc. reside in another hammock strung in the locker behind the trash can. Canned foods, boxed soups, etc. live under the starboard side settee in the main cabin – also called the ‘saloon’ and pronounced ‘salon.’ Crackers are stowed in plastic boxes in the same area. Snack items, like peanuts, pretzels, etc. are stowed in one of the overhead lockers in the galley. Most spices and condiments do well enough, with the exception of salt. There’s not a whole lot that can be done to keep salt from clumping. If you live on a boat which floats in salt water, you’re going to have clumpy salt in your salt grinders or shakers.

Meal Planning and Preparation is Different

Jo Beth is fitted with a three-burner propane stove and oven. Actually, the back burner on the stove is useless because of its proximity to the wooden cabinetry, so we never use it. The stove is on gimbals, so it can swing level when the boat is sailing and heeled; that is to say, pushed over to one side by the force of the wind on the sails. When we want to prepare something in the oven, we have to preheat the oven approximately 200° warmer than is needed, because when the oven door is opened, the temperature drops by approximately that amount. Of course, this makes the cabin much warmer – not so bad in winter, and not so good in the summer! Thus, we tend to prepare ‘cold’ meals in the summer. We have four dinner plates, four small bread plates, six bowls, and six forks, knives, and spoons. Our four stainless steel cook pots nest within one another, and the lid doubles as a skillet. Planning is critical, as the lockers where utensils are stowed requires the cook to reach across the stove; even getting into the reefer or freezer requires one to reach or lean over one corner of the stove. And, when the stove is in use, 90% of the usable counter space disappears with the cover.

The Fruit Hammock
You Become Aware of Resource Consumption

Even though we’re on the dock more often than not these days, all of our water and fuel for cooking is kept aboard the boat. Our electricity is provided from batteries, though we can plug into shore side electrical when we’re in our marina slip. When we’re away from the dock, all we have is what we carry until we can replenish. We’ve become much more aware of how much water we use to wash dishes, how much we use to cook, and even how much we use brushing our teeth. We have to stay alert as to how much electricity we’re using from the batteries, and so on. We have a wind powered generator which can help reduce the load on our batteries when we’re sailing or at anchor, and we can also use the engine to charge them. Still, electricity, water, fuel, etc. are commodities – even at the dock.

Doing Laundry is Different

Or, it might be like it was in your college dorm or first apartment. Gone are the days of separating clothes by dark colors and light colors; of heavy loads or delicate loads. Most marinas have shared laundry facilities and the facilities in our marina are provided as a part of the fees we pay. We get in and get out as a courtesy to other sailors waiting to use the machines. And, your clothes have to be dried until they are dry. Damp clothes brought back to the boat will remain damp. In the worst case, they can become a moldy, smelly, mess.

You’re going to Lose Things

It’s a boat, and a small one at that, right? Where can you possibly lose anything? Trust me, it will happen with regularity, and to all manner of items: earrings, glasses, medicines, and so on. On one short, but rough ocean passage, I could not find a pair of glasses I knew I had put in a locker in the saloon before leaving. When I did find them, after nearly a half hour of scouring the cabin, they were on the other side of the boat and ten feet away from where they had started. You’re going to lose things to Neptune as well. Earlier this year, my cell phone went into the drink when I was removing a towel (hung up to dry!) from one of the railings.

You Become Hyper-Aware of Sounds

People new to boats, especially those spending the night aboard a small boat for the first time, often find the amount of noise surprising, if not unsettling. The ocean is alive and as water is denser than air, it carries sound waves much more efficiently. Almost everyone notices the constant but low ‘rice-crispies-crackling’ sound made by shrimp, crabs, and other small shellfish. The wind in the rigging often makes whistling sounds, and in stormy weather, that whistle can become a roar. Then, there are noises the boat makes – the tinkling of glasses jostling together when the boat rocks in the wind; things in lockers rattling; the groaning of docklines rubbing in the chocks when the wind shifts the boat; even the rush of water passing the hull in a ripping tidal current. A loose soup can rolling in the bilge can make you crazy. Then, there are the mechanical sounds; a bilge pump cycling on and off; the fresh water pump in the galley cycling to maintain pressure in the plumbing lines; the clicking of the propane fuel system solenoid engaging or disengaging. Every time the air conditioning system starts, I listen for the overboard discharge of cooling water from the pump, and make sure the condensation sump pump runs once in a while. Each sound means something and you become keenly aware of what it is and why it’s happening.

The VHF Radio can Provide Weather and Tide Information 24/7
Weather and Tide are at the Core of Every Decision

Regardless of what we’re planning for a given day, be it leaving the dock for a day-long sail or a weekend trip, maintaining the exterior wood on the boat, or simply moving gear or groceries onto the boat, the weather and tides are given consideration. In the marina, we walk most everywhere we go and fortunately, our docks are not the hundreds of yards long docks we’ve encountered in many places. Still, carrying freshly washed and dried laundry from the laundry room in a downpour is best avoided. At low tide the dock ramps can take a steep angle of 15° or so, and in spring tide cycles, during the full and new moons, the angle can be as much as 25°. That’s not the time to be hoofing gear or groceries about. Summertime thunderstorms, with their tropical storm force winds and lightning, are always a concern. You want to avoid storms, trust me on that. We never leave the dock in bad weather. But, if we’re underway and are set upon by a squall, we always try to be prepared.

Those are a few of our observations. Both Lisa and I are reasonably experienced sailors. Lisa has sailed as crew on tall ships during deep ocean passages, most recently on the 130’ Brigantine CORWITH CRAMER out of Bermuda. My experience has been gleaned in inshore coastal and near coastal ocean waters; I singled handed my first tiny sailboat, (she was 19’), all around the coasts of Georgia and Florida, and together with Lisa, we sailed her throughout the Florida Keys. We’ve both sailed as crew on a variety of different small sailing yachts. Until June of 2015, neither of us had lived aboard together full time. However, we have spent days and weeks aboard many boats, independent of one another and as a couple. 

Why are we here? Why are we doing this? To be honest, I’m not sure how to answer either of those questions. What I can tell you is that when we see Jo Beth, we feel the same sense of pride that many of my childhood friends feel when they gaze of their perfectly landscaped lawns, or their dream car, or take that long awaited trip to a mystical destination. And, we want adventure in our lives. That’s why I began skydiving when I was 16. It’s why I’ve hiked long distances alone, and single handed my small and fragile sailboat through the coastal waters of these Southern United States. I think I’ve mentioned before that my mother once said to me, ‘you always want to be where you’re not.’ Lisa and I can move our home and almost all of our stuff anywhere in the world, on any ocean in the world. It is a simpler way of living, of learning more about who we are and where we want to go in life. Not everyone could do this, or would want to. We understand that. If nothing else, we find it to be incredibly appealing.

Inbound from the Sea, St. Simons Sound
We and Jo Beth will continue to be a work in progress. Evolving and adapting to one another will never end. But even after a year, you’d suppose we should be ‘used’ to this, at least a little, for lack of a better phrase. Or so you would think. For a month now, I’ve been looking for a box of bronze wood screws.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

We Are Here...





Hinckley rigger Greg Johnson snapped this shot as Jo Beth Left the Hinckley Yacht Services Docks

Once again, much time has passed since my last post in this blog. I began that last post, some 10 or so months ago, with those same words. And just as last time, I’ll follow with more same words – sort of: “and in that time, a lot of work aboard Jo Beth has been completed, or brought closer to its finish.” The ‘sort of’ is that the work associated with the refit at Hinckley Yacht Services is now finished. Well, sort of.

That last ‘sort of’ is there to reiterate a commonality of the boating life: the boat is never really finished. A lot has happened – a lot – since the last post in May, 2015. To put it all down in details would result in a long and tedious tale. Instead, I’ll share some of the highlights.

Lisa and I fully transitioned to living aboard on May 31, 2015. Actually, it was just me. Lisa happened to be out of town, starting work for a new client. The first week was a juggling act of tasks, much as any other move would be. Work by the boatyard was continuing, and it wasn’t uncommon for one or more of the Hinckley crew to be working on deck, in the rigging, in the engine compartment, or in the cabin during the time I was settling in. Truth is, this routine carried on well into December. One very important and newly installed piece of equipment was working beautifully – the reverse cycling air conditioning system. It kept the cabin at a comfortable 70° during the often 100°+ days. The reverse cycling unit can also be used to provide heating, a good thing as we remained at the yard into winter.

The refrigeration and freezer unit, bought second hand from another sailor, was and still is working beautifully as well. We have an ice-maker attachment for the freezer unit and now have ice cubes – huge two square inch ice cubes – on demand!

After Lisa’s return, we worked together getting things organized and finding ‘homes’ for everything we have aboard. We’ve estimated the livable/useable square footage on the boat to be less than 300 square feet. That’s the total useable space, which includes the forward cabin where we sleep, the galley where we cook, and the saloon where we live and work. The actual square footage where we can stand – the space which our feet can occupy when we walk in and through the cabin – is probably around 50 square feet.

Getting organized is an on-going project. Things are constantly being taken off the boat. They’re not always replaced unless it’s with something which can do the same job more efficiently. We look for equipment with multiple utility, and are always adjusting to improve efficiency. When people ask me what it’s like to live on Jo Beth, I tell them it’s like living in a tiny house, only tinier, and with a chance of drowning. Actually, we are quite safe, comfortable, happy, and content aboard our little floating home.

In early August, we conducted the first of several sea trials. This first one was under power in the Wilmington River. This was an important step, as when Jo Beth’s diesel fuel system was being serviced, we found a significant amount of water had gotten into the fuel. The fuel in the tank was at least three years old, and the plan had been to dispose of it and clean the tank anyway. The presence of water in the fuel reinforced the need to follow through. The source was determined to be a failed O-ring on the fuel fill cap. Once the tank was cleaned, dried, and filled with fresh fuel the sea trial was conducted and went flawlessly.

Rigger Greg Johnson and the new headsail

In middle August, our new sails arrived. They were built by Ullman Sails, in the Deltaville, VA loft. Jo Beth’s normal ‘suit’ is of a mainsail, a headsail, and a staysail. Right now, we have her rigged as a sloop; that is, she carries only the headsail and the mainsail. The staysail isn’t an efficient sail for sailing close to shore on inland coastal waters where a lot of maneuvering is required; it’s a small and rugged sail, which we’ll use when sailing in the open ocean or on longer coastal passages. Once we’re rigged with the staysail, Jo Beth will magically transition from being a sloop to being a cutter. To get the sails and their associated rigging in place took the better part of a week, some of which was taken up by Savannah’s almost daily dance with afternoon thunderstorms. On September 14, 2015, we took Jo Beth on her first sailing sea trials.

Sailing Trials in the Wilmington River
We proceeded east-southeast on the Wilmington River towards Wassaw Sound on a warm and sunny afternoon. With winds at nearly 20 knots, we couldn’t have asked for more favorable conditions. Lisa and I were on board and were accompanied by Hinckley general manager Dustin Hartley and rigger Greg Johnson. Jo Beth performed beautifully, blasting through the waters at a solid 6 knots, flinging spray aside and occasionally over the decks. To be sure we could get the best idea of her performance, we had stowed as much of our everyday gear on board, and had the fuel and water tanks filled to capacity. It was a fantastic sail on a lovely afternoon. However, once back at the dock, we made an interesting discovery. 


Jo Beth's new mainsail and headsail, filled and drawing nicely

One of the on-board systems which we’ve had persistent issues with is the plumbing system, our potable water supply. What we found was that the aft water tank, according to the new tank monitoring system, was down to 70%. This meant that during our romp under sail in the river and sound, we lost roughly 30-35% of the water which was in our aft water tank, approximately 12-15 gallons. This may not sound like a lot, but it’s important to remember that Jo Beth’s two water tanks have a combined total capacity of 80 gallons. This is water we use for drinking, cooking, bathing, etc. The forward water tank remained at 100%, as did the diesel fuel tank, thankfully. There was no water in the bilges, so we know the bilge pumping system worked to pump out most of what had leaked. We did find some standing water in a couple of our interior storage lockers, including the cockpit locker under which the aft water tank is situated.

After investigation and testing, the source of the leak was found to be a fracture in the inboard side of the tank structure, very near the top of the tank on the forward end. This was repaired and the tank tested by pressurizing it with air. Unfortunately, the amount of air introduced into the tank was too much, and burst the seal between the tank lid and the tank. The lid would have to be removed, cleaned, and refitted – and this meant that a bulkhead which had been installed earlier in the project also had to be removed. It was to be a messy project. Lisa and I moved off the boat for a week and stayed with friends on Hilton Head Island while the work was done. Thank you again, and again, to Keith and Julie!

Jo Beth is blessed by Father Kelly

Prior to the work beginning on the aft water tank, Lisa and I had Jo Beth blessed by the Episcopal Priest from her church in Savannah. It was a lovely ceremony attended by friends and fellow sailors, as well as several of the boatyard crew from Hinckley. 

At this point, we were well into October. The tank repairs and most of the other big projects were now behind us. The bulk of the work now being done were small and quickly completed jobs. Lisa and I began to really think about permanent stowage for our safety equipment, and other gear which we hoped to have to never reach for except to have it serviced and maintained. With some excitement we began to consider our departure date.

The last of the jobs were completed the week prior to Thanksgiving. Given the weather at the time, and the necessities and duties the holiday placed upon us, we chose the Friday after Thanksgiving as our ‘go’ day. We would be motoring south on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway as opposed to sailing offshore, for which conditions were not ideal – nearly windless days and nights, but sunny and relatively warm. Plus, Jo Beth was essentially a new boat with a lot of equipment with which we weren’t yet familiar. We shuttled a car from the boatyard in Savannah to our marina home, Brunswick Landing Marina in Brunswick, GA.

A collective ‘gasp’ from fellow sailors went up when our planned Friday departure was announced. One of the oldest sailor’s superstitions is to never – never - begin a voyage on a Friday. It’s said to be bad luck, and to lead to a troubled passage. Many of the Hinckley crew mentioned this to us, and with surprisingly genuine concern. I reasoned that we weren’t really ‘beginning’ the voyage; that the voyage had actually began in 2013 when Jo Beth arrived at the yard on a cool and rainy Tuesday morning, and had started her journey to the boatyard on the Monday before. Our departure from the yard was a continuation – a closing of the loop. Whether they bought into my reasoning or not, I don’t know, but it didn’t matter. Friday came, and we left early morning on a nearly high and flooding tide.

We made it less than 2 miles.

Marine engines in small yachts use seawater for heat exchanging, or cooling the engine. The seawater is sucked in as the boat moves through the water, and is circulated through a box called a heat exchanger. Inside the heat exchanger is a network of tubes through which the engine coolant – the anti-freeze – flows. As the seawater circulates around these tubes, it absorbs the heat from the engine coolant thus, cooling the engine. The seawater is then mixed with the dry engine exhaust gases and ejected with the exhaust over the side.

As we were motoring along, I noticed a sudden change in the ‘pitch’ of the engine. I throttled the engine to idle and shifted from forward to neutral. Lisa was sitting near the back of the cockpit, a puzzled expression on her face. I asked her if water was pumping water out with the engine exhaust. She looked and her answer was a distressed and resounding “no!” We shut the engine down immediately and began drifting. I went into the cabin and lifted up a small engine compartment access hatch, carefully and slowly. A dirty and wet cloud of acrid diesel exhaust and steam billowed into the cabin. I dropped that hatch closed and went to the foredeck to ready the anchor. Lisa had been steering as we coasted and then drifted slowly backwards in the still incoming tide. The anchor, another new piece of equipment, set quickly into the river mud and we came to a stop.

I went back into the cabin and Lisa was already there, opening the ports. I looked again into the engine compartment with a flashlight and quickly saw what had happened. The ‘mixing elbow,’ that portion of the engine exhaust system where the exhaust gases and cooling seawater are mixed together, had broken apart. This allowed the mixture of the engine exhaust and seawater to be ejected directly into the engine compartment. Every surface glistened with salty water. The bilge pumps were discharging the excess water back to the river.



The failed exhaust mixing elbow, above; the photo below shows replacement components installed

  
Years of hot engine exhaust and seawater had taken their toll on the metal components. I had gambled on replacing them, against the advice of a trusted mechanic and friend in the Hinckley yard.

Anchoring in a navigable channel is a big no-no; illegal, actually. I picked up our VHF radio microphone and began transmitting a warning to whomever was listening. I gave our position, and that we had broken down and were anchored awaiting a tow. I then picked up my cell phone and called for a tow boat to assist. Within two hours of leaving the Hinckley Yacht Services docks, we were back, tied alongside. The next day, when we should have been arriving at our marina home, we went to retrieve the car we had just shuttled down.

It was early December now, and we were more than anxious to be underway. The necessary exhaust system parts had been ordered and installed. We set our second departure date, this time a Sunday. The boat was provisioned and ready. The car shuttle was done again. We unplugged the yellow electrical shore power cord and stowed it away. The engine was running and purring along, the new exhaust system components performing wonderfully. Lisa was at the helm, and I released the stern dock line – then the forward spring dock line. Just as I was removing the bow line from its cleat, the engine oil pressure alarm sounded. We shut the engine down and checked the oil level. It looked fine. We decided to wait an hour, let the engine cool, and check it again. An hour later, the oil level was still good. We restarted the engine, and again the oil pressure alarm sounded. We shut it down.

Monday morning, Hinckley mechanics Bob King and Steve Puckett determined the oil pressure switch had failed. The part was ordered, expedited delivery, and the waiting began. As the part was to arrive quickly, we didn’t go and retrieve Lisa’s car a second time. Wednesday came and went, and on Thursday, the small switch was still not received. Investigation by Hinckley parts manager Cheri revealed the switch had been sent by mistake to another Hinckley repair yard. Cheri reordered the switch and had it sent via overnight delivery.

By Friday afternoon, the oil pressure switch was in and another sea trial completed. All was well. However, we had a less than desirable weather for the weekend and first portion of the following week. By mid-week the forecast was much better. On an overcast and muggy Thursday morning, December 16, 2015, we finally left the Hinckley Yacht Services docks, underway by 8AM.

Finally, we were moving south. The miles ticked off uneventfully. Dolphins swam close alongside Jo Beth as we transited from the Wilmington River to the Skidaway River, and we marked familiar landmarks as they passed: Isle of Hope Marina followed by the new Skidaway Narrows Bridge; Green Island Sound and Vernon View; the entrance to Delegal Creek, etc. 


Kilkenny Creek

At noon we entered Hell Gate, a narrow land-cut which funnels water in and out of Green Island Sound and Ossabaw Sound into the Atlantic Ocean with each tidal cycle. Currents can be challenging here, and our plan to be in the Gate at noon, which was high tide and slack water, worked beautifully. Soon we were in the Florida Passage and then into wide and deep Kilkenny Creek. We crossed a calm St. Catherines Sound and by late afternoon had the anchor down in Cattle Pen Creek, a wonderful anchorage situated towards the southern end of St. Catherines Island. A delicious pot of chili finished the day nicely and we slept soundly in Jo Beth’s cozy cabin. 


Cattle Pen Creek Sunset

We woke the next morning to find ourselves in a flat calm under a heavy and wet blanket of fog. The densest fog seemed to lie eastward. As our course in the Intracoastal Waterway would take us south and a little west, we decided to go ahead and get underway. We had a good start, and as we motored out of Cattle Pen Creek and back into the main waterway channel, the fog seemed to be thinning. But after less than two miles along, we were in it thicker than ever and had a ghost ship chasing us! A lovely ketch rigged sailing yacht, she played hide and seek with us for a few hours, appearing veiled and shadowy for moments at a time, behind us and slowly gaining. Once we were in Sapelo Sound, she materialized on our port side, a half a mile or so to the east. Then she disappeared, not to be seen again until we sailed out from behind the foggy curtain and found ourselves in bright sun under blue skies, the ghost ship now nearly a mile in front.

We had one more shallow water passage to make, this one through the aptly named Little Mud River. We arrived with perfect timing for the high tide, and transited the narrow and shallow stretch with room to spare beneath our keel. The skies were clouding up again and by the time we entered St. Simons Sound and our home waters, rain was falling. We arrived in our slip in Brunswick Landing Marina at 4:30PM on December 17th in a steady rain shower.

Approaching the Torras Causeway Bridge and St. Simons Sound

The next few days are a blur; we shuttled back to Savannah to retrieve our other car from the boatyard and worked to get Lisa’s mom moved into her new apartment in Brunswick. The following week, which was the week of Christmas, we both became ill with a ghastly and incredibly long lasting stomach bug of some sort. By New Year’s we were finally feeling better and getting settled in and accustomed to life in our new marina home.

The last phases of Jo Beth’s refit proved more hectic and stressful than we had anticipated. Since arriving home, we’ve been pretty much dock bound; the days which weather was good for a sail were days we either had to work or were otherwise obligated to be elsewhere. And while the winter was generally mild, there were cold fronts passing one after the other. We saw gale and even tropical storm force conditions on more than one occasion. We’ve reconnected with old friends and made new ones, and now that winter is transitioning to spring, many of them have left for points south – the Florida Keys, The Bahamas, the Caribbean and other more exotic locales – we’re here and enjoying our new life. 


Jo Beth in Her Slip at Brunswick Landing Marina

Now that things are much more settled, I plan to return to keeping the blog current and updating with the goings on in our live aboard lives. Thanks for sticking with us through the quiet and boring times. Here’s to hoping for more fun and exciting adventure in your lives, as well as ours!