Saturday, July 8, 2017

Home Sweet Summer Home

The morning after my last post, the coolant pump for our engine finally arrived and I spent the day putting the engine back together. It now runs perfectly, leak-free, and quite a bit cooler than it ever did in the past - no more than 170° F, under load on a hot day. It was a really great feeling to fix it myself and gain a much better understanding of our engine's cooling system in the process. My other projects came together nicely, too, and I finished my ambitious to-do list only an hour before I left for my work trip to Lagos, Nigeria on June 24th. It had been an extremely busy, productive four days off work.



Dawn did a wonderful job of provisioning and readying the boat for departure while I was gone (and driving our Xterra north to MD!), and we were ready to leave as soon as I got back into town on Tuesday, June 27th. We said our goodbyes, did our final checks, and cast off the lines at 2pm. We had been in Georgetown, SC for a month and two days, and had come to really enjoy the town. It felt great to be finally moving on, though - the itinerant cruiser lifestyle agrees with us both, it seems. We left on an strong ebb tide and were steaming out into the Atlantic only two hours after departure. We had a benign weather window for rounding infamous Cape Hatteras offshore, sparing us from days of droning up the Intracoastal Waterway, but it wasn't a great sailing forecast for the first few days: no wind Tuesday, light to moderate northeasterlies Wednesday.



We put up the mainsail and in fact there was just enough northwest wind to keep us steady in the swells as we motored east through the night. During my 10pm-1am shift the engine began faltering; I shut it down, rolled out the headsail, and called Dawn up to take the helm while I changed a rather filthy Racor filter, a quick ten minute job. Our first offshore leg in a month had obviously churned up some sludge in the tanks. In the morning, shortly after we passed Cape Fear, the predicted headwinds filled in, right on the nose with a short ugly chop that slowed our progress below three knots. It was only predicted to stay NE for twelve hours and shift SE as we neared Cape Lookout, so we just tacked back and forth and kept the sail driving us through the chop. Unfortunately, the wind didn't shift as forecast, and we were continuing to beat as night fell. It finally shifted, suddenly and decisively, just after midnight, but it also quickly faded so we kept the engine going at a reduced power until 10am Thursday, when the wind finally filled in enough to sail after 44 hours of motoring and motorsailing. We rounded Cape Hatteras in the early afternoon with a big course change from NE to NNW, and we ran with the wind for a while. Sure was nice to have the downwind pole back! The wind faded at sunset; it still would have been strong enough to keep us moving under spinnaker, but we didn't feel comfortable flying the kite at night (with solo watches to boot) so we started the engine again.



Friday morning found us with land in sight again as we passed Virginia Beach, crossed the Chesapeake shipping approaches, rounded Cape Henry, and finally passed over the northern gap of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The wind picked up enough to sail into the Chesapeake, abruptly died, and then filled again rather strongly first from the east and then shifting south. We enjoyed a fast, rollicking downwind sail the rest of the day, alternating between a broad reach and wing-on-wing, surfing down short steep waves that took us astern. By 5pm we were getting a bit overpowered and the autopilot was having real difficulty keeping up; for a while I hand-steered, and then we rounded up to drop the mainsail. As we did, the clew came loose and the sail whipped viciously until we could get it down. At first I thought we had ripped the clew out of the sail; closer inspection showed merely that the pin securing the clew to the outhaul car had somehow come out. No worries. We continued northward under yankee alone, which resulting in a fairly rolly ride but a much better steering job by the autopilot. Late that night the wind shifted more SSW, and I called Dawn up a bit early for her 1am-4am shift so we could gybe - a slightly lengthy process when the downwind pole must be gybed as well.

While we were offshore there had been absolutely no traffic for the first 36 hours - I actually thought our AIS was broken - and then a few ships that passed no closer than four miles and a single sailing catamaran that overtook us just off Hatteras, passed within a mile, and hailed us on the VHF for a friendly conversation somewhat shortened by our horrible reception (I had just replaced a faulty PL-259 connector on our antenna coax, but it clearly hadn't fixed the problem). Now, in the Chesapeake, there was a steady procession of large cargo ships, both north and southbound. We quickly learned to stay just outside of the shipping channel. At least they all had AIS. During Dawn's shift on Saturday morning we started to cross the channel, and right on cue a big white oiler appeared coming up our stern at 20 knots. Dawn wisely woke me from my morning nap (she seldom rousts me on her watches, but has proven smart about when to do so), and I hailed him without result - maybe our faulty VHF, maybe he wasn't listening to 16. Just to be sure we turned 30 degrees to port and scooted out of the channel. The oiler was still several miles away, but the extreme disparity in speed means our changes have to be early and decisive to make a difference.

I napped for another hour and then it was time to roll up the Yankee, start the engine, and head into Herring Bay. It was 10am on Saturday, July 1st, the start of a four-day holiday weekend, and there was already a steady stream of boats coming out the entrance channel for Herrington Harbor Marina and Shipwright Harbor Marina, the latter of which is our new home for the summer. We had covered 477nm, a new record for us, which took us 92 hours for an average of 5.2 knots. I hadn't realized that our fixed-dock slip has a very short finger pier, making it necessary to back in. I tried a few times but the westerly wind was making it very difficult to back into our west-facing slip, so we ignominiously retreated to a nearby T-head for the night and relocated to our slip the following morning when it was calm.

I was originally supposed to work July 1st-4th, but was somehow able to trade for a trip on the 7th-11th, so we had a few days to settle in and get more boat work done. The morning that we arrived we spent a few hours washing the boat and putting her together from the passage, and then explored the marina and environs. Shipwright Harbor consists of five docks arrayed around a point of land that divides two rivers; the much larger and fancier Herrington Harbor North Marina is arrayed along an opposite bank. Sailboats outnumber powerboats at both marinas - a big change from South Carolina - and both feature nice amenities, regular events, and lively communities of liveaboards and cruisers. There are a number of smaller marinas around plus several lively dockside restaurants, a large West Marine at Herrington Harbor, and a decent hardware store in Deale; otherwise the small town offers very little. Groceries and most other things are in larger towns 5 to 15 miles away, but the drive through the beautiful green wooded hills west of the Bay is quite pleasant. Washington DC is only 30 miles away (making DCA very convenient for my commute to ATL), but you'd never know it. Annapolis is 20 miles north. Those who warned us about the summer heat and humidity of the area weren't exaggerating; we're very thankful that Windbird has working air conditioning. Our slip is extremely sheltered, which will be a good thing if any hurricanes head our way, but it doesn't get much breeze.




Our good friends Dan and Isabelle on Epiic beat us north by a few days; their boat was already on the hard at Herrington Harbor. They had decided to come back to the US to sell Epiic and upgrade to a catamaran, but on arrival CBP decided their three months in the Bahamas didn't count as a "meaningful exit" and they're being banished back to Canada until this winter. We had two last nights with them, though. On Saturday we all went up to Annapolis, showed Dan & Isabelle around town, and then met up with our friends Roy and Christina on Moor Passages, whom we had met and buddyboated with in the Exumas and narrowly missed in the Abacos (we sailed into Marsh Harbor as they were pulling up anchor for the passage to Annapolis). They were departing for Maine the next day, but we had a wonderful time catching up. And then Dan & Isabelle came over to Windbird for sundowners on Sunday night, which ended up lasting wayyy after sundown...I felt bad the next morning as they had to be up early to drive to Ottawa! We'll miss those two and hope they'll come sail with us while they're between boats.

A whole new project list sprouted once we arrived in Deale, and we made pretty good progress on it this week even though we basically took the 3rd and 4th off. I found out it was our VHF radio that was the problem, not the antenna; a replacement is on its way. I rebuilt our Racor and replaced fuel hoses, clamps, and the low-pressure aux pump in our engine room; we'll be getting our tanks cleaned & fuel polished later this summer. I troubleshot our faulty wind instrument (which was dead all passage, thank God for our new bimini window so we could at least see the masthead fly) and tracked it down to a faulty wireless reception box, which Garmin is replacing. I've tweaked our bimini solar system and will be installing digital monitors for our solar controllers next week. Our new Solarland fixed-frame solar panels (160W each) for the davit arch have been ordered, and once they arrive a local welder will be modifying our stainless angle brackets to accept them.  Our fairly new VSM-422 electrical system monitor died due to water ingress (an adjacent hose that came loose) and I am in the process of replacing it with a Victron VE.net battery controller and Blue Power Panel, which will also serve as the remote switch for our new Victron charger/inverter. I even designed a new custom Blue Seas Systems circuit breaker panel, though the $1700 price tag and abundance of other projects will probably dissuade me from ordering it this summer.



I'm trying to get these projects done fairly quickly because we're planning on spending the bulk of August with family in Minnesota & the Dakotas. And then at the end of August and beginning of September, we're now planning to take a two-week trip through the C&D canal, down Delaware Bay, up to New York, and down Long Island Sound to visit Judy Handley and Windbird's old haunt of Falmouth, MA at the base of Cape Cod. We had toyed with doing the trip before but it's now been rendered necessary by the discovery that Maryland imposes a 5% use tax on any vessel that spends more than 90 days in a calendar year in the state. Dawn's mom is actually going to come out and do the northbound cruise with us, which is really exciting. But this definitely means we have to get our projects done sooner rather than later, and it might limit the amount of cruising we actually do in the Chesapeake this summer. That's ok; our real focus is on getting the boat completely ready to go for the Bahamas and Caribbean this winter. We're really getting excited for that.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

When It Rains, It Pours

Still in Georgetown, and not headed north until June 27th at the very earliest - probably later. We've had a bit of a deluge of boat problems and projects, and I've been spending every waking moment working on the boat, except when I'm at work, which has been quite a bit lately. I actually picked up an extra 4-day trip starting late this week because we've been shelling out money at an insane rate lately. Here's the rundown:

Boat Canvas Project: The whole reason we're in Georgetown is to have our canvas replaced at Sharp's Custom Canvas (~$8000). I'm happy to report that our new dodger, bimini, connector and enclosure curtains are all complete and on the boat, and they look spectacular. We ended up having them more-or-less copy the existing canvas, except that we added a zip-open skylight to the bimini, added a zipper to the bottom of the connector, and added canvas strips with velcro to the bimini for securing our new solar panels. Sharp's did really nice work and the project was completed almost on-time despite incessant rain showers and thunderstorms that made patterning and fitting a bit challenging.



Batteries: Our five new Firefly Carbon-Foam AGMs ($2400) finally arrived during the second week of June, and I had two days off between trips to install them. I actually got the project done in a single day; it ended up being pretty easy. Hauling the three existing 140-lb Rolls batteries out of the boat was a bit of a bear but Dawn was able to help get them up the companionway ladder. I positioned the new Fireflies under our aft berth, installed chocks and straps to keep them from going anywhere, and connected them in parallel with beefy 2/0 AWG battery cables to create a single 550AHr bank. The new batteries look great; here's hoping their performance lives up to the hype.


Charger/Inverter: We shipped our faulty Xantrex Freedom SW2000 out to a service center in Bradenton, Florida, and they confirmed that we have a shot FET board and main logic board. Repair would cost $1100, or a new unit would be $2000 through them (I found it for $1600 elsewhere). This was only a 4-year old unit, and the Handleys had gone through another Xantrex as well; they simply don't have a very good reputation. I decided to switch brands and ordered a Victron MultiPlus 3000W inverter/120A charger ($1100) through eMarine in Ft. Lauderdale. It arrived on Monday and I installed it yesterday. As of right now I haven't decided what remote panel I want to get for it, so to switch the inverter on we have to remove a cover under our companionway ladder. But that aside, it seems to work great...and now that we can use shore power to charge our batteries, we have refrigeration again! And air conditioning, which has come in very useful as the rain has made it necessary to keep the boat closed up most of the time.


Solar Project: I originally ordered three 50-watt semi-flexible panels and one 100-watt panel for the bimini but the fit ended up being very problematic, so I returned the 100-watt panel and ordered another 50. Meanwhile I took our current solar controller out from behind our circuit breaker panel and relocated it to the locker behind our nav seat, just below the air conditioning equipment. We now have three solar controllers there, two Victron 75/15s for the bimini panels and one Victron 100/30 for the davit arch. We still have our old Siemens 85s mounted there but will replace them later this summer, and this bigger Victron controller will handle 320 watts just fine. I have all three controllers wired in parallel via a Blue Seas Systems bus bar / fuse panel and then via a very short run to the positive battery bus which starts under the nav seat. The PV wires run through a waterproof gland I installed on the cockpit combing, through the salon ceiling, and down into the air con/solar controller locker. I'm still working on wiring the PV wires from the panels through the bimini. I originally used the short stock lead wires and hooked up the PV wires via MC4 connectors right on the bimini, but it looked absolutely terrible. So instead I am splicing in longer leads that will hide the MC4 connectors in a zipped-up pocket where the bimini attaches to its frame. I worked on that tonight and should have it done tomorrow by noon, I think.



Leaky Water Pump: This seemed like such a minor project that I don't think I've even mentioned it until now. Our coolant circulation pump was leaking and it seemed to be coming from the cylinder return O-ring. So I ordered a new o-ring and two new gaskets online, but they took forever to get here. When I put them in last week and got the engine back together, it was still leaking. Closer inspection revealed that it was really leaking from a weep hole in the pump itself, which is indicative of an internal seal failure. So I ordered a new water pump from A&M Marine, a local repair shop, and on a bit of a whim decided to have them install it since I was leaving on a trip and we wanted to get headed north by June 20th. Can do, they said - since your cooling system will be apart, would you like us to go through your heat exchanger too? It was on my list for this summer but I figured yeah, as long as the system is apart, let's do it and be done with it. Fast forward to two days later when I got a phone call in London: two of the heat exchanger cover bolts were corroded frozen and snapped, so now I was looking at $3500 for a new water pump, heat exchanger and exhaust manifold, plus labor. They already had 7 hours into it at $125/hr and were estimating 8-15 more. I told them to order the parts but I'd put them in myself.

This morning we got the heat exchanger, exhaust manifold and associated parts, but not the water pump. That should be here tomorrow, hopefully. In the meantime I washed down the engine and replaced a few hoses that looked dodgy as well as all the hose clamps that my Skandvik ABA jihad hadn't reached yet, and then installed the exhaust manifold and heat exchanger. Hopefully by tomorrow night or Friday morning we'll have a running Yanmar again. But jeeze, those were a couple of expensive bolts. I don't fault A&M, persay - they tried everything they could to get the bolts loose without snapping them, including soaking them in penetrating oil overnight. But I think I would've been more patient, and if I had still broken them at least my labor would've been free. And in any case I'm learning a lot more about the cooling system by doing the installation myself. Eventually I'm going to get it through my thick skull that the only person that should really be working on the boat is me.

So yeah, that's what's going on. I'll have another few full days of working on the boat and then I'm off to lovely Lagos, Nigeria to pay for some of this! It could be worse. We're sharing the dock with one sailboat that just turned a bearing and is looking at a repower, a big cat that just took major damage from a lightning strike (I feel your pain, brother), and a new cruising family with a new-to-them, 17-year-old Beneteau that has absolutely everything going wrong. We're shelling out money, yes, but it's mostly on stuff that will make Windbird a better, more reliable cruising platform.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Back to Work

Well, the not hardly working thing was nice while it lasted, but my employer has shifted to its summer schedule, meaning a rapid uptick in block hours, and all our pilots are flying whether they want to or not. Besides, it's time for Dawn and I to rebuild the cruising kitty. We have a number of boat improvements on our plate for this summer and will be paying for a slip, so some income will be nice.

A few days after we arrived in Little River, I flew to Atlanta to report for a 9-day trip (which doubled the number of days I'd worked in 2017!). It was a trans-Atlantic international pairing with layovers in London, New York, Amsterdam, New York, and London again. Simultaneously, we sent Piper off to a dogvacay and Dawn flew back to MN/SD to spend a week with her family. Before leaving, we had befriended a cruising couple from Vermont, Ernie and Bette of S/V Iemanja. They had come up from Florida a half-day ahead of us; it was their Chris Parker forecast I was cribbing since Chris forgot to give us our own. Anyways, they promised to poke their head into Windbird every couple of days just to make sure everything was ok.

On my second New York layover, Ernie texted me to let us know our low-voltage alarm was going off. Our Xantrex charger/inverter was on and indicated that it was still in charge mode, but our house bank indicated 10.6v - dead flat. At that voltage our fridge and freezer don't work, and apparently hadn't for some time as all the food was warm and defrosted. Bette set to work cleaning everything perishable out and throwing it away, while Ernie dove into the Xantrex to do some basic troubleshooting. It had good shore power going in, and good 120v out to our main AC bus, but there was less than 1A being put out to the batteries. Ernie observed that it was almost like it was stuck in trickle charge mode. Once the engine was started, the alternator charged the batteries pretty rapidly, but by the next day the voltage was back down to 12.2 with no overnight loads. Our three Rolls AGM house batteries are 4 years old and evidently struggled with sulfidation issues during our Bahamas cruise, but I'd been hoping to get one more season out of them. This pretty well killed them, though. We've been operating with minimal house loads (lights, fans, USB charging, bilge pump, wifi, propane & CO2 sensors) totaling less than 30Ah per day and the batteries still regularly fall below 12.3v, requiring several hours of engine charging to top back up.

I'd already been considering switching to Oasis Firefly carbon foam AGMs when I thought the house bank might need replacing this summer, and decided that now was the time to do it. They're expensive at $480 per 110Ah Group 31 battery; a bank of five for 550Ah set us back a whopping $2400. Ouch. The upside is that they are known to be extremely resistant to sulfidation and can be operated at a partial state of charge (PSOT) as low as 10-20% without repercussion. Traditional AGMs like ours shouldn't be run below 50% charge, which effectively halves our house bank to 330 usable amp-hours. Carbon foam batteries don't lose capacity when you fail to charge them that top 5% absorption charge that takes forever, which was the problem with our batteries this winter (we were sailing everywhere and then running the engine for battery charging - and nobody runs their engine for several additional hours to put only a couple extra amps into their house bank). Carbon-foam longevity is also much better than traditional AGMs, being rated for a whopping 3500 cycles at 50% depth of discharge - and 1000 cycles at an impressive 90% depth of discharge.

The problem is finding anyone with Firefly batteries in stock; they're typically backordered by 2-3 weeks. That's fine for a planned replacement, but a long time to go without refrigeration for an unplanned order. Bruce Schwab at Ocean Planet Energy - a friend of Ernie and Bette's - didn't have any in stock, but gave me a hot tip that Fisheries Supply in Seattle did. They should arrive on Monday. That still leaves us with a bad battery charger, meaning we'll still have to recharge the batteries with the engine until it's fixed even though we're on a dock. I've done all the troubleshooting I can, I'm trying to get somebody local to take a look at it, and if that doesn't work I'll ship it back to Xantrex for repair. If that's not possible, I'm not going to replace it with another Xantrex - they don't have a good reputation for reliability. In that case I'll go with a Victron MultiPlus 3000W unit.

The other part of our electrical refit, which was already planned, is upgrading our solar. Part of this will be replacing our ancient Siemens 85w panels on the stern arch with new twin 160w panels, which will take us from 170w (probably more like 120w these days) to 320w. Additionally, we're adding 250w in flexible solar panels to our bimini top. Between 570W of solar and our BreezeX wind generator, we should be entirely self-sufficient using renewable energy with plenty of juice to spare for things like watermaking. There is nothing that irks me more than enjoying a fantastic sail only to get to the anchorage and having to crank up the loud, stinky diesel to charge the batteries. More than half of our engine time this season was for battery charging.

I ordered three HQST 50W sunpower panels and a single 100W HQST panel off of Amazon; they arrived at Lightkeeper's Marina while I was on my trip. I'll be using a separate Victron 75/15 MPPT charge controller for the port and starboard sides, to avoid shading issues. Before leaving on my present trip, I came up with a pretty good scheme for mounting them and running/hiding the wires; this will be incorporated into the new bimini top we're having made in Georgetown, SC, in the next few weeks.

Last weekend, Dawn and I repositioned Windbird from Little River to Georgetown. There was little wind, so we took the ICW, a repeat of a trip we did in mid-September. Being Memorial Day weekend, there was a ton of traffic on the ICW, but it was a beautiful day and everyone was in a great mood - lots of waves and mostly considerate skippers. We got a late start on Saturday - as we repositioned our Xterra truck to Georgetown early in the morning - but timed the tides just right so we had a mighty boost from the current plus outgoing tide on the Waccamaw River, and made it all the way to a peaceful anchorage at Butler Island, only six miles short of Georgetown. On Sunday it was a quick jaunt down the Waccamaw and up the Sampit to downtown Georgetown, where we docked at Harborwalk Marina. This has a really nice location but is pretty expensive in transient season; we only stayed here because the other marina didn't have room due to a marlin tournament. Tomorrow after I get back to the boat we'll be moving to Georgetown Landing, which isn't quite as proximate to the cute downtown but has much better weekly rates.

On Wednesday, Sharp's Canvas started patterning and building our new dodger. Once that is complete they'll build a new bimini, and then the enclosure curtains. They estimated two weeks to do it all, though I suspect that's a little ambitious. I'm done flying for the month on June 19th, and we'll head north to Annapolis the next day. We'll do as much offshore as we can, though it would require a pretty good weather forecast to go offshore around Hatteras. If that doesn't work, we'll go via the ICW. We've selected our home marina for the summer: Shipwright Harbor Marina of Deale, MD. It's about 20 miles south of Annapolis, within convenient driving distance of both DCA and BWI. I haven't done any sailing in the Chesapeake yet, & I'm really looking forward to it.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Passage Log - Day 3.5

Still Wednesday, May 10th.

By late afternoon the wind has backed southwest and filled in, and we've finally picked up a little fair current; it's looking like we'll get in before sunset after all. Dawn and I are in a really good mood and talking about what a nice passage it's been, though I would have liked to motor less. No sooner do I say this than the engine overheat alarm goes off. Crap. I reduce the throttle - and the temperature keeps climbing, above 210 degrees. There's plenty of water coming out of the exhaust. Ugh. I shut down the engine and roll out the Yankee - our first priority is to keep sailing. The wind is actually strong enough that we can do just over 4 knots dead downwind, wing-on-wing, though it's not ideal with no spinnaker pole. It seems we're always going downwind ever since we broke it on the sail from Rock Sound to Governor's Harbour, and on this boat it's supremely useful. A new inboard fitting from Rig Rite is one of the first things we'll order back in SC.

Down below, I remove the engine access panel and find coolant dribbling out from where the water pump joins the cylinder head. I also find a broken hose clamp on the raw water side of the heat exchanger, though the hose is still attached. I put a new ABA hose clamp on but this clearly isn't the problem. I check the coolant overflow canister, as I do every day before starting the engine...and it's showing completely full! Hmm, something doesn't add up. I wait for the engine to cool, and then remove the heat exchanger cap and start adding coolant. It takes over half a gallon. I try to tighten the bolts holding the water pump outlet to the cylinder head but they're quite snug. So apparently the O-ring let go, we've been losing coolant for umpteen hours, I never detected it because I haven't had reason to check the engine while it's running lately, and there's some sort of blockage in the hose to the overflow canister so the loss of coolant hasn't been reflected there. Once I've finished adding coolant I have Dawn start the engine. Yep, it continues leaking from the same spot - but at a rate of 10 small drips every 30 seconds. We can easily make it into port. The water temp heats up to its "normal" figure of 190 degrees (actually a bit warmer than it should run, which is why I''ll be reconditioning the heat exchanger) and stays there. We continue to use the engine, and I go down below every 30 minutes to make sure the leak hasn't worsened.

We enjoy a spectacularly red sunset thanks to some inland fires, and it's the later stages of dusk when we reach Little River Inlet. The safe water, entry, and exit buoys are all well lit but there are a few unlit & uncharted temporary channel buoys that get moved as the deepest channel shifts; Dawn lights them up from the bow with our spotlight, and the entry is perfectly easy. We drop the mainsail and ease into the Bird Island anchorage. There's one boat in there already, leaving room for us and maybe one more. It's just past high tide and the current is just starting to oppose the 15 knot south wind, plus the full moon isn't very high yet, making anchoring a little tricky. We drop the hook once and belatedly realize we're a bit too close to the reedy shoreline; we're in 11 feet of water, which will be only 6 at low tide. We pick up and relocate two boatlengths westward. Perfect. I'm suddenly very tired, hungry and thirsty, with a distinctly windburned, headachy feeling. We make up some celebratory Dark & Stormys and eat a simple meal of gourmet meats, cheeses and crackers, catch up a little on the news and facebook, and collapse into our beds - which are still the seaberths (salon settees with lee cloths). It feels odd for the boat to be so still. I set my drag alarm and immediately fall asleep into a deep, deep slumber.

Thursday, May 11th

I don't get up at 6:30am to listen to Chris Parker, and for once I miss the sunrise. It's a beautiful morning in the still anchorage. I make egg-cheese-and-kielbasa sandwiches on Dawn's homemade habaƱero-cheddar bread for breakfast and brew up some coffee. John Schwab calls to let us know that he's somehow come up with a slip at the usually-full Lightkeeper's Marina, and we tell him we'll be in later today. The tide is already outgoing and we don't feel like motoring 7 miles against a fierce current. On deck we find a prodigious amount of poop on the foredeck - it's only Piper's 2nd time pooping since the passage began, though he urinated on the foredeck fairly regularly. Good dog! Now that he's over the mental hurdle of going on the boat, we need to get another grass mat and teach him to go on that for easier cleanup.

Nevertheless we launch the dinghy, since we want it on the davits while we're on the dock, and take Piper to shore for a slightly more civilized bathroom experience and a good hard run on the beach and up a few sand dunes. Back at the boat we put together a monstrous Amazon.com order based on a list that Dawn's been compiling all season long. I call RigRite and order our spinnaker pole fitting - nearly $650, ouch! John and Beth Schwab stop by the boat on their jetski, and we make plans for sundowners later this evening. At 3:30pm we top off the coolant, start the engine, pick up the hook, and motor the last seven miles to Lightkeeper's Marina. The last time we were here was September 21st, when we left on a planned 3-day cruise that ended up detouring to Charleston. James is on the dock to help us into slip S-5, which is beautifully located near the head of the dock just across from the bathrooms, laundry, and pool. We tell him about our winter in the Bahamas and almost immediately people start dropping by to introduce themselves and check out our boat. I forgot how friendly people are here. I'm not much of a marina guy but this one is pretty tops - very well protected, nice floating docks, immaculately clean facilities, extremely friendly and helpful staff, and very reasonable monthly rates. This will be a great place to pause for a month or so while I work, Dawn visits home, and we get some boat projects done including, perhaps, our canvas.

So that's it. Our first long(ish) passage: 411nm, 61 hours enroute, 6.7 knots average SOG, 24 hours sailing, 2.5 motoring, 34.5 motorsailing, ten 3-hour watches apiece, four fish caught, three incredible sunsets, three beautiful full moons, one minor breakdown, and two grateful sailors that really enjoyed the experience (plus one salty dog that seemed to have a pretty good time, too!). The ICW is interesting in its own way, but I think we definitely prefer going offshore - and Windbird clearly does, too.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Passage Log, Day 3

Day 3 - Wednesday, May 10th

I alter course for an oncoming big freighter out of Charleston just before sunrise, which puts us on a truly broad reach in which the headsail flogs a bit every minute or two. I hate doing this - not just because it’s hard on the sail and sheets, but because it’s quite loud down below for the off-watch crewmember. But when confronted with a ship doing nearly 20 knots, there's typically only one way for a slow sailboat to go to get out of their way...in this cast it's further east. I could gybe but in this wind that's much easier done with two people on deck.

At 6:30 I turn on the HF to listen to Chris Parker weather. Today his part-time sidekick Stormy is broadcasting, and he gets quite flustered when a regular caller, “M/V My Position,” calls in to request assistance. They lost a crewmember overboard last night at 8pm in the Tongue of the Ocean between Nassau and Andros, with no life jacket, and are asking for someone to call BASRA so they can begin a search. Not good at all. With Dawn and I doublehanding and standing solo watches we have a rule about wearing our life jackets whenever abovedecks after dark and not going outside the cockpit unless the other person is up top. It’s way too easy for a weird wave to knock you off balance while you’re preoccupied – and once you’re in the water at night, the odds are against you even if someone saw you go in. And if nobody saw you, forget about it.

Anyways Stormy/Chris forgets about us again but I understand given the circumstances (Chris is calling BASRA in the background while Stormy fumbles ahead with the weather). After the weather and breakfast I head to bed, telling Dawn that it looks excellent for getting into Little River Inlet before sunset. I should've held my tongue. When I get back up at 10am the wind has veered NW and faded markedly, and we have a 2.1 knot current nearly on the nose! Yuck! I fall off 20 degrees to keep a hot angle and get across the current which I suppose is outflow from the Waccamaw River / Winyah Bay, but it persists well past the river outlet. Meanwhile the wind continues dying and I start the engine at 10:30. By 1pm there's only 4 knots true wind speed and I furl the yankee. We creep along at 5.3 knots with barely 4 over the ground. My hopes of getting in before sunset fade.

I think back to the daysail from Little River to Southport that I did with my friend Lance Lindsay last September, and realize I remember the route we took out of the inlet. There was plenty of water, and tonight we’ll be arriving near a high spring tide. The inlet is lit, and there’s a nearly full moon to help us get into the Bird Island anchorage (which is fairly straightforward from the inlet, but trickier from the ICW). So I’m actually feeling reasonably confident about doing this after sunset.

At 2pm Dawn sees a line of splashes across the horizon, which we assume is a pod of dolphins. Sure enough, soon a rather large pod is swimming in our bow wave! Piper goes absolutely ape, running up and down the side decks yelping excitedly, tail wagging. He pokes his head through the bow pulpit and I think he's going to jump in to play with them! There are 12 or 13 dolphins in all, including two juveniles and a baby; two the adults hang around for a good 10 or 15 minutes before taking off. This is the first time that’s happened on our boat, and it's quite a nice welcoming committee back to SC!

I take a nap from 2pm until 3:30 or so and then get up to relieve Dawn a little early. The wind is light and dead behind us, and the day is fairly sweltering so both Dawn and I strip down to our skivvies. We put on some tunes, put the fishing line back out, and are kicking back enjoying a nice day on the water. Later we’re planning to grill up some more fresh Mahi for dinner, and now it’s looking like we’ll be coming in the inlet at 8:40pm, still the later stages of twilight. Bird Island is the very first place we anchored Windbird, back in August, and I’m looking forward to a nice quiet night with plenty of sleep before we take Windbird to the dock tomorrow morning.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Passage Log, Day 2

Day 2 - Tuesday, May 9th

At 6:30am I listen to Chris Parker's weather broadcast on the HF radio; he apparently forgets to give us our own forecast though I had sent him an email requesting one. It's not a big deal as the general forecast is as expected and there is another boat on the same route a half-day ahead of us; I copy his briefing. I'm still pretty tired after Dawn starts her shift at 7am so I head back to bed and sleep until my watch starts at 10am. When I get up the wind has backed WNW and freshened to 10 knots; Dawn already has the Yankee out and we are finally able to kill the engine after 25 hours of motorsailing. We eat a little breakfast, put the fishing lines out, and enjoy the close reach at over six knots, with speed over ground occasionally hitting 9 plus.

Just before noon a fish hits the handline – yet another Mahi, a good fighter but a bit smaller than the first two so we let him go. The Mahi seem to love that green squid skirt lure, so it’s a bummer when the line snaps a bit later and I lose the lure. I have the handline rig set up on the port side, and on a port tack it's elevated enough that the line rubs on the prop of our dinghy outboard, which is on its mount on the aft port side. This is the first time I’ve lost a lure that way, but I have seen lines get tangled there before, so obviously I’m going to have to rethink where I rig the handline. The starboard side would be the obvious solution except that it’s a much better place for the rod & reel.

At noon I calculate our noon-to-noon mileage: 179nm! That’s gotta be a record for Windbird or close to it. At this point it is obvious that we are going way too fast for our planned Thursday morning arrival... but if we're able to stay in the Gulf Stream all of today, I reckon that we can possibly make it into Little River inlet before sunset Wednesday. Once inside, there's a great little anchorage at Bird Island. So I adjust our course to the east to more closely follow the predicted Gulf Stream path, and then Dawn goes further east on her shift while I'm napping because she sees the water temperature falling and the current easing. Smart girl. Later the wind starts backing WSW and then SW, which makes us have to chose between keeping a hot angle or staying in the current. I decide to dig out the spinnaker, which let us do both. We're only able to fly it for 2.5 hours until the wind picks up to 16 knots, at which point we're doing over 7 knots STW and hitting an incredible 11.3 SOG! That’s pretty much the sailboat equivalent of breaking the sound barrier, at least in a heavy cruising boat like Windbird.


Alas, 16 knots is near the limit for our spinnaker and the sun is going down so we hurriedly finish our delicious Mahi dinner and doused the chute. At sunset we see the “green flash” (more of a momentary greenish pinprick) and I head downstairs to nap before my 10-1 watch. Since yesterday's sunset we have logged 188 nm and we are now nearly abeam the Georgia/South Carolina border, with only 147nm to go (140 to Little River Inlet).

When I come up for my 10-1 watch the wind has continued to pick up and is now blowing at 17 with occasional gusts into the low 20s. I consider reefing down before Dawn heads to bed but as we are on a very broad reach the boat is still well in control, so I keep up the full main. Over the next three hours the seas build considerably, but after midnight the wind slacks off to a steady 17-18 knots so I again keep full sail when Dawn comes on watch. This whole time the wind has been at 210-220 degrees which keeps us from going directly the way we want. We initially gybed to stay in the Gulf Stream but that was taking us quite a bit further east than we wanted to go so we've gybed back onto the port tack and hold that the rest of the night. The wind slowly shifts westward through the early morning hours, letting us slowly veer back towards our course line. It also picks back up between 1am and 4am, but Dawn doesn't want to interrupt my sleep so she doesn't call me up. As I'm preparing to go on deck for my 4am watch, Dawn tells me to “get up here!” with some urgency; she later admits that we really should have reefed an hour previously (if not at 10pm). Regardless, we're able to reef under sail pretty painlessly though it involves turning the boat into some rather large, steep seas. We take one good splash over the bow but Dawn somehow escapes most of it at the mast.

Once reefed, the boat scarcely slows down but the autopilot does a much better job of keeping things under control. It's fairly cold out and palpably humid, so I spend my watch hunkered down in the lee of our forward port enclosure panel, facing backwards and watching the big moonlit waves overtake us. There are two distinct swells and every once in a while they join to form a bigger wave that rises above the level horizon. Windbird rides really well in these kind of seas – which is the whole point of having a heavy-displacement boat with a modified full keel – and so it's not scary at all, but rather mesmerizing. I watch each wave racing in, lift the stern, and roll under us with a deep hiss, a spritz of spume splashing over the toerail. It's beautiful out here.

Passage Log, Day 1

Day 1 - Monday, May 8th

I am up at my usual time, 6:25am, to listen to Chris Parker. I submitted our itinerary to him via email and asked him to keep us updated on weather every day since our HF transmitter is still on the fritz (it receives just fine). The forecast has not changed substantially and it still looks like a good window all the way to South Carolina as long as we get in before Friday afternoon – though Chris does warn that we will be motoring into light northerlies for at least 24 hours and possibly 36. After that the wind is forecast to fill in from the south, west, and southwest, making for a pleasant downwind approach to the Carolinas.

While I take Piper to shore one last time Dawn prepares the boat, and we are essentially ready to go once I return and we stow the dinghy on our foredeck. I use the last few minutes to take care of some emails and details before we lose contact for several days. We're anchor up right at 9am, exactly as planned, and I'm glad I finished working on the fuel system last night instead of continuing to tinker with it this morning. It's a quick smooth ride out of Ft. Pierce inlet, and the ocean is practically lakelike as we hoist the mainsail and turn to a 042° course for the first 15 miles. There's  quite a lot of traffic, most of it sportfishing boats plus a few ships here and there. Nearly every ship we’ve run across in US waters has AIS, which makes dealing with them considerably easier.


The wind is initially NNW at 5 knots, and it backs a little further as we turn northward into the Gulf Stream just after noon. We start out with 2 knots of tail current, which increases to nearly 4 knots as we ease our way into the stream. I've had both fishing lines out ever since the inlet (both rod and handline) and at 2pm we hear the snap of the clothespin signaling that the handline has been hit. At long last - a Mahi! At first glance he doesn't seem that big but once we get him onto the boat he turns out to be big enough to keep – in fact we get some decent meat off of him. And then just before sunset, another Mahi hits the handline, and shortly thereafter we hook a fat Bonito on the rod and reel. A three fish day – the drought is over! I think my previous mistake was trawling the lures too close to the boat. This time I'm letting them out much further, and it seems to make the difference.


By 4pm the wind has shifted NNE and we begin to tack back and forth across our course. I want to stay in the Gulf Stream but intend to ride its western edge in case it gets too rough and we have to duck out. North wind under 10 knots is usually ok, but anything over that and the stream starts to get rough. The waves actually start kicking up before sundown – I later learn that there had been 25 knot north winds well to the north of us, and this is the messy leftover swell. We are at slightly reduced power due to an overtemp alarm on our engine this afternoon…it hasn’t done that since last year. It is putting a normal amount of water out of the exhaust, but I do know the heat exchanger is due for a going-through. It's fine at 2200 rpm. At that power setting in the chop we are averaging little over 4 knots speed through water, but 7-8 knots speed over ground.

Dawn naps a bit in the afternoon and I take an hour-long snooze after dinner (which is delayed for me to clean the two fish we catch just before sunset). I'm back on watch at 10pm and pass my 3-hour watch by reading a Kindle book. Just after midnight the wind starts to pick up above 10 knots and it gets markedly rougher, and I tack back inshore. When Dawn comes on watch at 1am I leave her with instructions to continue on a NNW heading until 5 nm west of course (W80°05’) and keep going if the ride hadn’t improved. When I come back at up 4am she is nearly back to our original course on a port tack; she reports that at W80°05’ the water temp was down a full degree and the current down to 2 knots. Back at W80° the wind is down a bit but it's still rough so I tack back inshore again, though not quite as aggressively, and as the wind shifts more NE I am able to parallel our course about 2nm west with a reasonable ride. As the sun rises the wind begins to die and the seas start to calm, and our speed over ground rises above 8 knots. Under such conditions, the Gulf Stream becomes like a magic carpet ride northward....

To be continued - Day 2.