Saturday, November 11, 2017

Countdown to Freedom

I'm flying my last trip before we start our cruising season, a 4-day to Santiago, Chile. I won't get any landings on this trip (two legs, three pilots) but it's not a big deal as I reestablished landing currency on my domestic trip earlier this week. Airline pilots have to make three landings every 90 days; if this lapses, I have to make a trip to Atlanta to reestablish currency in the flight simulator. Last winter I pretty well flew under the radar by making sure I stayed current, and I plan to do that again this year by flying a trip every six to eight weeks. I'll likely fly in late December (commuting from Georgetown, Exuma) and then again in early February (commuting from Luperon, DR) and late March (USVI/BVI). I'm fortunate to be flying the Boeing 757/767 as it is a relatively simple, intuitive airliner to fly after an extended absence.

I only had one full day off after my last trip (plus two partial days) and it was a cold, rainy day at that, but we've made good progress on our project list. In my absence Dawn reprovisioned the boat, sewed the cockpit cushions and handrail covers, started the dorade covers, bottom-painted the dinghy, UV-proofed all the canvas, cleaned the Issenglass, refilled the propane cylinders, and several other big projects. Together we removed, inspected, cleaned, and bent on the headsails, inspected the rig, serviced the outboard, inspected and remarked the anchor chain, disassembled and cleaned the grill, etc. A diver came and cleaned Windbird's bottom and running gear and changed the zinc. A fuel polisher is coming this weekend to help us clean out our diesel tanks. In the engine room, I rebuilt the fuel system using some really nifty fuel feed and return manifolds I created - it's a really clean install that replaced a rather ramshackle one. I replaced our VHF whip antenna only to find it didn't fix our antenna problems, and then spent a rather frustrating rainy day troubleshooting the three sections of old coaxial and replacing PL259s before finally concluding I should just replace the whole thing. The new RG213 coax should arrive tomorrow, and running it down the mast and through the boat will be the first order of business when I get back on Monday. On the other hand, my plan to troubleshoot the SSB tuner was resolved in very quick fashion when I raised Chris Parker on 8137 KHz yesterday and he reported our signal loud and clear. I'm pretty sure the last try or two I simply wasn't giving the tuner enough time to tune up on a nearby frequency. It takes a good 5-10 seconds of whistling/humming before the SWR settles down to less than 1.5:1. This is a huge relief, the first time I've been able to raise anybody at long distance on our SSB (the old tuner was fried by last year's lightning strike). I still have a couple other projects left, but they should take a couple days at most.

All our cruising friends are on the move already. John and Trina on S/V Next Place leapfrogged us to Charleston and then Fernandina Beach FL; they'll spend some time in St. Augustine before heading to Abaco about the same time as us. Erin & Kara on S/V Vela hopped offshore from Beaufort five minutes before us, stopped for a couple days in Georgetown SC, and are now already in Fort Lauderdale; they'll cross after spending Thanksgiving with family back in Texas. Dan & Isabelle sold S/V Epiic in Annapolis and are back in Canada already working hard on their next venture to pay for their dream catamaran so they can get back out there with us ASAP. Ernie & Bette on S/V Iemanga just arrived back at Lightkeepers Marina and will be heading south a couple weeks after us. And various other cruising acquaintances are on the move, all generally moving south and east.

Our plan once I get back on Monday is to continue working on projects until (if) we get a good weather window anytime after the 15th, and then hop offshore to Marsh Harbour - about 430 miles, say 3-4 days. This involves crossing the Gulf Stream on the first night out, requiring no strong N or E wind, followed by a run almost straight S during which we'd like to see as little southerly component as possible. This is a bit of a tall order and it's very possible no weather window will be forthcoming, in which case we'll head south along the coast until a good window for crossing the stream presents itself or we get to Ft. Pierce, whichever happens first. We'd love to celebrate Thanksgiving in Abaco, but as always the weather dictates all. We're just happy to be almost ready to cast off the docklines and go cruising again.

Monday, November 6, 2017

After the Storms - What Now?

Our plan for this cruising season, like all sailing plans, has evolved over time. At one point were were thinking we'd go offshore to the Leeward Islands, but then our three wonderful months in the Bahamas last winter convinced us to return there and do the "Thorny Path" island-hopping through the Southern Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Each of these are legitimate cruising destinations in their own right, though slightly more "off the beaten path" than the Lesser Antilles. We planned to finish the year with a few months of cruising the northern Leewards (Spanish Virgins, USVI, BVI) before putting Windbird on the hard in Fajardo, PR for Summer 2018.

That was before this hurricane season, which changed so much throughout the Caribbean but especially the BVI, USVI, and Puerto Rico. First came Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest hurricanes on record that scored an absolute bullseye hit on the BVI and caused extensive damage on Barbuda, St. Barts, St. Martin, St. John, St. Thomas, Culebra, Providenciales (Turks & Caicos), numerous islands in the southern Bahamas, Cuba, & the Florida Keys. Puerto Rico was spared the worst of Irma's wrath, but only two weeks later was dealt a devastating punch by Hurricane Maria. The island's infrastructure is thoroughly wrecked and it will take years to rebuild. Many residents have fled, and those who've stayed behind (including Judy Handley's son Justin & his family) are living in rather primitive conditions.

This has understandably changed quite a few cruisers plans for the coming season. Quite a few of those we've talked to are skipping straight down to the Lesser Antilles from Antigua southward. Others are spending more time in the northern and central Bahamas. Some are just staying home this year. And others are pressing on to their original destinations, but understanding that it'll be a more primitive, self-sufficient cruising experience, and perhaps with a different focus than before.

We considered skipping ahead or concentrating on the Bahamas, but ultimately decided to visit the T&C, DR, PR, USVI and BVI as planned. Part of our reasoning is that Windbird is already well-equipped for self-sufficiency, & we weren't really planning to take many docks along the way. The good anchorages before are still good anchorages today (and a lot less crowded, with the charter fleet in ruins). These islands' economies are largely tied to tourism, and by going and spending our dollars there we can help them get on their feet. And there will doubtless be opportunities to volunteer in a more hands-on fashion, helping with cleanup and rebuilding. So we're going to go, keep open minds & hearts, stay flexible, and experience what will undoubtedly be one of the more unique cruising seasons in the northern Caribbean in recent memory.

We are changing our timeline a bit. We're planning to cross to the Bahamas a little later than planned, the first weather window after November 16th. We'll spend a little time in the Abacos and Eleuthera before heading down the Exumas, hoping to arrive in Georgetown around December 20th. We plan to leave the boat there and fly back north for family Christmases (and for me to fly a trip to reestablish landing currency) before returning to Georgetown for NYE. In January we'll hop through the southern Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, and we'll spend most of February in the Dominican Republic. We were originally planning to spend March exploring Puerto Rico, but I think our cruising there is going to be more limited & transitory unless we find a well-protected port where we can stick around and be useful. We'll spend some time on Culebra and Vieques, and will probably stick around St. John for a week or two. The balance of the season, though, will likely be spent in the British Virgin Islands.

This is a bit of a change from our original plan, which didn't call for a lot of time in the BVIs. Partially this is because we've done it multiple times, partly because it was crowded with charter boats and expensive mooring balls. The beach bar scene there was fun for a week-long charter, but not something we (or our livers!) can afford to do long-term. So our BVI plan was to hit up our favorite party spots (Jost van Dyke, North Sound, Norman's Island) for a night or two at most, hang out in Cane Garden Bay & Anegada for a few nights each, and otherwise seek out the few quiet coves that the charter boats don't make it to.

The BVI we knew, though, is essentially gone - at least for now. All our favorite beach hangouts - Soggy Dollar, Bitter End YC, Saba Rock, Willy T, Bomba Shack, de Loose Mongoose, Last Resort, Anegada Beach Club - are all destroyed or severely damaged (as are many of their owners' and employees' homes). Most of the charter boat fleet sunk or was written off, including my friend Duncan Roberts' beautiful new Jeanneau 51 "Portlandia." So this is a chance to cruise the BVI as it was years ago, before it became a charter mecca, and help the people rebuild what was lost. Because we feel a connection with the BVI from our prior time spent there, this feels like a worthy use of the last two or so months of the cruising season.

The big question is where we put Windbird for hurricane season. Our original plan was to put her on the hard at Puerto del Rey in Fajardo, PR. They have a good hurricane-hardened yard that did very well during Maria. That said, Nanny Cay in the BVI was considered a safe yard and nearly every boat there was a loss to Irma. You can argue that a Cat 5+ direct hit is a once-every-500-years occurrence, but I suspect the insurance companies are going to be very, very leery of insuring anything left in "the box" for the next few hurricane seasons, no matter how well-secured. So that's a conversation we'll be having with our insurance the next few months, and we may end up changing our plans and taking Windbird down to Grenada or Trinidad for hurricane season.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Cruising Season 2.0 Has Begun!

Hooray - at last, we've started moving south again! Dawn, Piper and I kicked the new season off with a six day, 452 NM trip from Deale, MD down to Little River, SC. The weather made it more challenging than the reverse trip, which we did nonstop offshore around Hatteras in light weather in late June. This time we did a large portion of the trip, Norfolk to Beaufort NC, via the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), which is a similar distance but considerably slower than going offshore since you don't continue moving 24/7. I'm continuing to fly through mid-November and had a 6-day trip reporting yesterday (10/28), and for a while it looked like we wouldn't make it to Little River in time - plan B was to dock in Beaufort and commute out of New Bern. But thanks to a couple of early morning starts we were able to put in serious miles and get it done. Our itenerary was as follows:

Sat, Oct 21. I landed at DCA at 5pm following a 7-day international trip, during which I had a 48-hour layover in Paris on which Dawn accompanied me (thanks John & Trina for dogsitting Piper!). We rented a car and spent most of our time in Normandy touring the D-Day beaches, landing zones and battle sites. I had been considering getting off the dock immediately after getting in, but that only made sense if we were exiting the Chesapeake and going offshore. A big low pressure system and associated cold front forecast for Tuesday made that inadvisable, and there was no sense leaving early if we were going via the ICW because it's roughly 24 hours from Deale to Norfolk meaning we'd arrive there around sunset. So instead we went to Happy Harbour dockside restaurant for a farewell dinner with John & Trina and dockmates Gus and Michelle.

Sun, Oct 22. Up at 4am and off the dock by 5. It was, of course, pitch dark, but we're quite familiar with Shipwright's Harbor and Herring Bay by now so navigation was quite easy. The main danger is crab traps; to keep from fouling one, Dawn stood on the bow with the spotlight until we were out of Herring Bay. This providing an exciting moment when the spotlight's lanyard somehow came loose and Dawn accidentally dropped it in the water! It was good MOB (man overboard) practice anyways, since our spotlight floats. I just dropped a waypoint immediately, slowed the boat, turned around, and inched back towards where we dropped the light. Dawn found it using a headlamp, I stopped the boat alongside and used a boat hook to shepherd it towards the lifeline gate, Dawn leaned wayyy down (with me holding tightly to her legs!) and fished it out of the water. Sweet - those things are like $75!

The rest of the day down the Bay was uneventful, with light air motoring and later motorsailing in light southeasterlies. After sunset the wind picked up a bit and backed, and we got in a couple hours of actual sailing on a close reach during the night.

Mon, Oct 23. We entered the always-busy Hampton Roads inlet just after 3am; it took several hours to navigate the huge Norfolk naval base & dockyards, downtown wharf, and lower Elizabeth River to the start of the ICW. There's a bascule bridge near mile marker 6 (MM6; all distances on the ICW are in Statute Miles, not NM) that doesn't open between 6:30am and 8:30am, we were trying to beat that. We were a few minutes late but the bridge tender let us and another boat through anyways after a 20-minute delay, since the adjacent railroad bridge was down and preventing transit since several minutes before 6:30. While we waited for the bridge we enjoyed the sunrise & admired the other boat (S/V Arun). Our delay at the bridge had a bit of a cascade effect: we missed the 8am lockthrough at Great Bridge Lock (MM12), which delayed us an hour till the 9am lockthrough, which meant a greater portion of the day was spent fighting against increasing southerly winds, which meant we didn't make it to our preferred anchorage at MM65 (Broad Creek), instead tucking in behind Buck Island near MM60. It turned out to be a good choice because we had perfect protection from the south while the winds howled all night. I saw a high of 30 knots when I got up at 2am to make sure we hadn't dragged at all. Later we heard that south of Albemarle Sound boats reported over 50 knots of wind in some wild prefrontal storms.

Tues, Oct 24: The wind had abated considerably in our anchorage by sunrise, and PredictWind's PWG model showed much less wind for the morning than previously predicted (though the GFS remained elevated). I was originally planning to just reposition to Broad Creek but in light of the possible easing I decided to check out conditions on Albemarle Sound and cross if it looked ok. Oof, I needn't have bothered. Once we were on the sound itself, wind was right on the nose at 20 knots gusting 23. We were pounding into big short, square waves and making less than 2 knots headway, and turned around after a mile to flee for the protection of the calm anchorage. The rest of the day quite a few boats joined us there, looking to position themselves to cross the next day.

Wed, Oct 25. We had anchored just outside Broad Creek itself in preparation for a nighttime escape, which we made good at 2:45am. The ICW offers few open-water opportunities for safe nighttime movement, but this is one of them. The front had passed during the night and the wind was now 270 at 12-15, making for a beautiful, reasonably comfortable upwind leg across the Albemarle. I'd been expecting to motorsail but was able to sail much of the way across, handsteering by the stars while Dawn slept below. The only slightly tricky part was going around Long Shoal to enter the Alligator River, but most of the buoys for this area are lit. Our goal was to arrive at the Alligator River Swing Bridge at dawn, which worked perfectly. It was a nice motorsail down the Alligator River until the wind died completely, then we motored into the long, straight Alligator-Pungo Canal. We emerged into the Pungo River shortly before 3pm, making a record-fast stop at Dowry Creek Marina to top off our port & starboard fuel tanks. By now the wind had kicked up again out of the NW, and after the river turned south at Belhaven we had a spectacular broad reach for the last hour down to our anchorage at MM140. We had covered 75 statute miles and put ourselves in a great position to make Beaufort by Thursday night, and still had a good hour to enjoy sundowners before sunset.

Thurs, Oct 26. Another predawn start from a protected but easy-exit anchorage, this time at 5am. The Pamlico River isn't quite as wide as the Albemarle Sound, and I wanted to arrive at the other side and start up Goose Creek at dawn. The cold front had stalled and it was considerably windier than forecast (NW @ 24 kts) making for a wet and wild nighttime motorsail across the Pamlico. Once in protected Goose Creek, it immediately eased to near-calm. We reemerged into Bay River at 8:30am and turned into the Neuse River near Maw Point Shoal at 9:30am. It was windy as hell out there and we started our first leg, a beam-to-close reach on a starboard tack, under double-reefed main and staysail. I was expecting a hell of a beat because the Neuse turns progressively to the right but the wind veered and eased, and we were able to lay our course the whole way 'round. It ended up being a fast and enormously enjoyable 3-hour upwind sail, though at times Dawn and Piper weren't quite so enthused.

So the anticipated slow part of the day ended up being fast, but the expected fast part of the day (Adams Creek & the Core Creek Canal) was excruciatingly slow thanks to a 1.3 knot foul current. Had I done my homework better, I would have read that westerly winds set up lowered water levels in the Neuse and northerly current in Core Creek Canal. Nevertheless we arrived at the Beaufort-Morehead City Highway Bridge (MM204) at exactly our planned time of 4pm, with a welcoming committee of dolphins! Piper, as always, went wild & looked like he was going to jump in to swim with them. From there it was only a short jaunt out of Beaufort Inlet to begin our offshore overnight to Little River. Unfortunately the wind eased rather rapidly & we didn't get to sail-sail any of it. But there was still enough wind to make the first 50 or 60 miles a fast, enjoyable main-and-Yankee motorsail under reduced power. The sunset was gorgeous; it felt great to be on the open ocean again. Our friends Erin and Kara on S/V Vela were just ahead of us, as they had been since Adams Creek. We talked on the VHF sporadically, but found that we lost contact after only 5 or 6 miles separation (our handheld could still receive at this range). This confirmed our suspicions about our VHF reception, which has been an ongoing issue since leaving Charleston in January - we originally suspected our radio and then a particular PL259 connector, which I had replaced. I hooked up our SWR meter in line with the antenna and the high reading confirmed we still have an antenna problem. Once in Little River, I climbed our mast and took off the VHF whip. It appears to be in very poor condition, with one partially-melted wire that looks like it may have been a product of last year's lightning strike (so maybe a direct strike after all?). A new one has been ordered, hopefully this finally solves that issue. Now if only I can figure out why our new HF autotuner still won't tune.

Fri, Oct 27. An uneventful night with little traffic and little wind, followed by an incredible sunrise over glassy seas. Considering the light conditions we took a little bit of a shortcut across 25-foot soundings at the tip of the Frying Pan Shoals south of Cape Fear. The light breeze continued clocking NE and then E, keeping our mainsail full as we turned ENE for Little River Inlet. The fair current we'd experienced all night continued to favor us and we got to the Inlet at 2:30pm, and on the dock in Little River before 4pm. During the day we'd made a lengthy and rather daunting list of everything we need to do before taking off for the Bahamas in mid-November, and we launched into it immediately after docking and early the next morning before I headed to the airport.

I'll be working trips until Nov 13, meaning every second of my free time has to be spent getting us and the boat ready to go. That's ok, it's a price worth paying for what promises to be an incredible cruising season. In my next post I'll give a preview of where we'll be going and what we'll be doing, and how Hurricanes Irma and Maria have affected those places and our plans.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Solar Project is DONE!

Dawn and I did end up missing the SSCA gam due to a couple of unforseen events. First, our local welder wunderkind Caleb had the long-awaited solar panel frames all ready to install on our solar/davit arch, needed my help to do so, and wanted to get it done this weekend. Secondly, Dawn's childhood friend Cindie decided to make a last-minute trip to the boat. So sadly, we missed the gam. Erin & Kara on Vela say it was a good time. Hopefully we'll still make a couple days of the Annapolis Boat Show.

I did some work on our teak decks over the weekend (replacing/rebedding screws & bungs, epoxying splits) and I should finish that up in the morning, but completing the solar panel project was the main objective. And as of tonight, it's 100% done. We now have 520 watts of solar power: 200 watts in 4 PV panels on the Bimini top and two 160-watt panels in the gleaming new frames on the arch. Together with our wind gen this should meet our daily electrical needs a good 90%+ of the time.

We did manage to get Windbird off the dock yesterday for a nice easy, slow upwind sail across the bay. I had no idea Windbird would go upwind in 5-6 knots of true wind, but she does albeit at a stately 2.5-3.5 knots. We didn't even care, it was beautiful out and the apparent breeze was just enough to cool down a hot day. We anchored at Lowes Wharf just after 5:30pm and took the dogs to land (we're dogsitting Leo for our friends John & Trina on S/V Next Place). Turned out the popular beach bar there is closed on Mondays but they were ok with us walking the dogs there. We had a beautiful, quiet night on the hook, and were anchor up early today to get Cindie to DCA to fly back to Minnesota. We sailed for a bit and motorsailed at reduced power for the rest, wing-on-wing dead downwind to Deale. Once again backing into the slip went very smoothly. We're finally getting the hang of that (he said just before trying it in real wind & current!).

We spent a lot of time today doing planning for our next season. Obviously many of the places we planned on visiting have been devastated by hurricanes Irma and Marie, including the Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico, Spanish Virgin Islands, USVI, BVI, and St. Maarten. We're still planning on going but our focus will be much different as we're going to try to volunteer as much as we can in the rebuilding effort (particularly in the BVI, which got absolutely destroyed by a direct hit from Cat 5, 185-mph Irma). I'll post more about that later. Tomorrow I'm heading out on a seven-day international trip that will take me to both London and Paris, among other places. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Rest of the Story

Well, the transmission install went considerably smoother than taking it out. That's partially due to being more familiar with it this time, partially because we eliminated the unnecessary pillow block under the engine that made the driveshaft such a bear to take out & put in, but mostly because I had Dave Laux there to help. Actually, I wouldn't say he helped - in fact, he did the lion's share of the work, and I helped him. He's an older guy and is mostly retired from wrenching on boats these days, but obviously still has a great talent for it. We were fortunate to have the contact with him through the Handleys.

The installation took place on Wednesday, not Tuesday as originally planned, because the ordered shift and throttle cables didn't show up at Dave's on Monday. Instead on Tuesday I cleaned the bilge and engine compartment, repacked the stuffing box, and a few other boat chores. Our friends Erin and Kara on S/V Vela, who we met in Annapolis last year, came down from New York and docked right behind us on Tuesday morning. It was really nice to spend some time with them; we had happy hour on Vela, went to downtown Cape May for dinner, and then had a nightcap on Windbird.

Dave pulled up at 10:45am on Wednesday, fresh off the Lewes-Cape May ferry, with the shiny new transmission and other assorted bits and bobs in the right seat of his pickup truck. He had a machine shop straighten and polish our driveshaft which I had beat up a bit while trying to get the rusty couplings off. Our first order of business was to insert it below the engine and get it in position for transmission installation. Next we removed the old dampener plate from the flywheel of the engine and bolted in a new one. Then I installed the old adapter plate and isolator flange on the new transmission, as well as a new oil cooler. That left the really tricky part: maneuvering the heavy transmission into an impossibly tight spot between the engine and the front of the engine room, slipping it over the driveshaft, lining up the input shaft splines with the dampener plate, sliding it aft against the engine, and getting a bolt started before it slipped away again. It was a two-man job with only room for one person to actually do it. It only took five minutes but seemed a lot longer. At that point we realized that the aft drive shaft coupling was actually behind the prop shaft coupling, and mating them required somehow moving it forward - preferably without taking the transmission back off the engine! It took a while, but we got it, then took a lunch break for Dawn's excellent taco salad and a craft beer.

At this point we seemed 90% done, but we weren't really. We still had to bolt the aft couplings together, install the front split coupling, bolt it to the isolator flange, attach and clamp the raw water input and output hoses to the oil cooler, add oil to the transmission, run the new shift cable through the steering pedestal into the engine room, attach the linkage, then do the same for the new throttle cable (which we were replacing as a preventative measure). The last three tasks took the most time. We got some early payoff by starting the engine and testing the transmission without the linkage attached, at which point we realized the new transmission came with its shifting arm installed up rather than down. Not a big deal to change, but getting the linkage into place and adjusted just right took some doing. The throttle cable went considerably better. And just like that, we had a boat with a brand new, easy-shifting, beautifully working transmission!

We enjoyed a post-project beer and then Dave had to rush off to catch the 6pm ferry home. I reassembled the steering pedestal and binnacle, reinstalled the engine air box, and cleaned up the new cable routing with zip ties. After cleaning up my tools and project supplies, Dawn and I grilled steaks for dinner and then invited Erin & Kara over for a celebratory drink. It felt very, very good to have that installation behind us. And given Hurricane Jose's latest forecasts it felt good to be ready to head back to the Chesapeake.

We and Vela were off the dock at 7am the next morning and steaming out Cape May Inlet shortly thereafter. We were initially motorsailing into a 10 knot breeze, but it became a broad reach once we turned northward around the Cape. At first we motorsailed, then decided the wind was strong enough to turn off the engine. We were ok going a little bit slower as we were waiting for the incoming tide to catch up and give us a boost all the way up the bay. It soon did, but the wind also died after 90 minutes of light sailing; it was forecast to be light the rest of the day. Thus it was somewhat surprising to get a 17 kt gust at 1pm. We turned off the engine and roared off on a 7-knot beam reach. We kept waiting for the wind to die, but it never it - it stayed between 13 and 17 knots for four hours, making for a quick and really beautiful sail all the way up Delaware Bay. Finally it almost completely died at 5pm and we motored the last 45 minutes to the C&D canal.

We reached the C&D while it was still slack water in the canal, but we soon got a boost that pushed us along its 18 miles rather quickly; we exited into the Chesapeake right around 8pm. Erin and Kara stopped at an anchorage just east of the canal, while we continued on in the night. We kept our customary watch schedule: Dawn 7pm-10pm, me 10pm-1am, her 1am-4am, me 4am-7am. On her first watch she woke me for one boat that was crowding the channel a bit, but otherwise it was uneventful. On my first watch the fair current dwindled and then turned foul; the only traffic was a single tug pushing a barge. Dawn saw zero traffic on the dog watch, and neither did I on the sunrise watch until we were approaching Herring Bay at daybreak. It got light just in time for us to ready the lines and fenders and head straight into our marina. This time backing into our slip went very turns out that it's a ton easier when you have a transmission that readily and consistently slips into forward gear for the occasional steering blast over the rudder! In all our 139-nm passage took 24 hours and 5 minutes. Only 5.5 hours of that were pure sailing, but it was very nice sailing and most of the time motoring was very nice motoring (read: completely calm, not beating into waves like when we exited Cape May Inlet).

I was originally supposed to fly a 6-day international trip on the 14th but couldn't make it due to the delayed installation; I had to burn my once-a-year "get out of jail free" card to drop the trip. In its place I picked up two domestic trips, a two-day and a four-day, starting at 7am on the 16th. So after we arrived at 7am on the 15th, I slept a while, putzed around, talked to John and Trina from Next Place for a while (John had an absolutely insane story to tell - while we were gone he crewed on a delivery, in a catamaran that turned out to be not very seaworthy, with the owners from hell on board), and then packed for my trip. At 4:30 Dawn drove me to DCA, and despite heavy traffic we arrived in time for me to take an earlier than planned flight. I stayed overnight in Atlanta and started my 2-day domestic yesterday morning. I finished today and start the 4-day tomorrow. I'll be back on Windbird on Thursday night.

So Dawn and I are planning on attending the Seven Seas Cruising Association's Annapolis gam next weekend, and we were going to take Windbird there (it's at Camp Letts on the Rhode River, just north of Deale). However, the guy fabricating our new solar panel frames thinks they'll be ready for installation then, and that's something we really need to get done. So we may be leaving Windbird in the slip and driving, and I may have to miss one or both days of the gam if Caleb needs me to assist in the installation. Erin and Kara will have Vela at the gam and a few other friends may attend also, but getting the boat ready to go kinda takes precedence right now.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Brokedown Palace

Our trip started on a high note. The two projects that I mentioned in my previous post, replacing the HF radio tuner and installing the Garmin Gwind wired pack, both went well. I wasn't able to reach Chris Parker on the HF radio but I was able to call a friend at considerably closer distance, which narrows the potential culprits - and now our wind instrumentation works perfectly. Stringing its cable down the mast went surprisingly well, with Dawn's help.

So we got out of Deale on Wednesday, Aug 30th, and had a delightful motorsail in light winds to Annapolis, MD. We took a mooring in the inner harbor, and it was so good to be off the dock and cruising again. The next day involved a long motor in completely calm winds to Chesapeake City MD, and then early the next morning we transited the C&D Canal on a favorable current. A cold front had passed during the night, and as soon as we got out into Delaware Bay on Friday Sept 1st we were able to unfurl the sails and turn off the engine for a fantastic beam-to-broad reach to the S/SE, the delight of sailors everywhere. A squally warm front was pressing in from the south, but the forecast was just right for us to run up to New York Harbor before things got too crappy.

And then, just as we were exiting Delaware Bay, the wind died, we started up our engine, and then our transmission started acting up in rather dramatic fashion - refusing to stay in gear, particularly above 60% power. I had to laugh despite myself - this was exactly where Judy & Mark Handley experienced transmission trouble with Windbird in 2005, just as they set off to sail around the world. Then, they ducked into Delaware Bay and met a boat-mechanic genius that convinced them to repower their boat with a new Yanmar and the ZF transmission that was now, after 8400 hours of faithful service, giving up the ghost. Unfortunately I hadn't read that portion of Judy's blog in about a year and, failing to recall that the genius lived in Lewes, DE, took a left turn into Cape May, NJ.

Yeah, no, I'm not that sorry. Cape May has turned out to be a really cool place to be stranded for over a week. It's a funky old resort town turned artist commune, with a bunch of really great restaurants, art galleries, breweries, wineries, distilleries, and a cool naval air museum. We spent the first two days in a rather snooty high-end marina crowded with expensive sport-fishing boats and nearly no humans, then decamped to the much more sociable Two Mile Marina just past the Two-Mile Drawbridge. We've met some great people here who've provided great moral support as I've torn out the transmission and assorted hardware - a considerable task.

Judy Handley, bless her heart, emailed her Delawarian engine guru the moment she heard we were having trouble, and he called early the next morning. David Laux has been an absolute godsend. He gave me valuable guidance throughout the tear-out process. He called his old friends at Mack Boring for us, and hearing they no longer did transmission overhauls, called several other shops. They said ZF transmissions with this many hours on them generally aren't very economical to overhaul, so Dave found a new one in Florida for considerably cheaper than retail. They sent it our way before the Hurricane Irma evacuations got started in earnest. Dave came across to Cape May on the ferry today to make sure everything was ready for the install. He expects to receive the transmission on Monday, and he'll come back across on Tuesday to help me put it in the boat.

We drove up to New York City early Tuesday morning, checked into a hotel in Chelsea, and showed Dawn's mom all around town on a whirlwind, all-day tour ending with a broadway show. It was her first time in NYC and seemed to really enjoy herself, considering that it was a pretty exhausting day. On Wednesday we got her to Kennedy Airport for her rescheduled flight home (she was originally planning to fly out of Boston on Friday) and headed back to South Jersey.

We've been keeping a very close eye on Hurricane Irma as she's worked her way across the Atlantic (she was the Invest 93L I mentioned in my last post). For a while we were worried that she might make her way up here, where we're powerless to relocate to a less exposed spot. Instead she made an absolutely direct bullseye hit on Barbuda, St. Maarten, the British Virgin Islands, and the USVI. The devastation in the BVI is particularly painful, as we've spent so much time there on charters over the last five years. All of our favorite spots are gone, the charter boat fleet is mostly wrecked, and the people we got to know there are largely homeless. We still plan to go to that part of the Caribbean this coming season, but our focus will be drastically changed. Now we'll be loading Windbird up with supplies and volunteering to do relief work.

Tomorrow Irma will be making landfall in Florida; we're keeping our fingers crossed that she weakens and drifts further west, as she had done during much of the last 36 hours. And then we'll be keeping an eye on Jose, which the most recent models suggest may not be headed out to sea quite as soon as we thought. Ugh, this hurricane season is kinda stressful. I just want to get our transmission back in and operational, just in case we need to move our boat somewhere better. Should be there in another couple of days.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Back on the Boat

As you probably guessed by the dearth of blogging, Dawn and I have been off Windbird for the last month visiting family in Minnesota and the Dakotas, in addition to me flying several long international trips. We're back on the boat now, though, and preparing to head north to NYC and Long Island Sound on a 2-week minicruise. Our departure has been delayed by weather, namely Post-Potential Tropical Cyclone Ten that Would've Been Named Irma churning up the eastern seaboard. The rain stopped tonight and the north winds should die in the morning, so we're planning to leave Deale tomorrow afternoon or Thursday morning.

Dawn's mom Marg drove back from SD with her, and will be accompanying us on our cruise. She's flying out of Boston in about a week and a half, though we can change her flight if we get delayed much further. It's her first time seeing Windbird, and we're excited to share a little of our cruising life with her. Yesterday (Monday) we showed her around Washington DC, and today we went up to Annapolis.

While we were gone, I had our HF radio tuner tested at Burghardt Radio in Watertown, SD. It turned out to be the apparent culprit to our HF not transmitting, with damage consistent with last year's lightning near-strike. So we ordered a new autotuner, I installed it yesterday, and then today I called into the Chris Parker show...and got no response. So disappointing, but possibly just RF interference here in the marina. We'll see.

I went around with Garmin a bit on finding a solution to our malfunctioning GWind wireless transducer and finally asked to just have it replaced with the wired version, and they agreed. A Gwind wired pack was waiting when we got back to the boat on Sunday. I planned on installing it today (Tuesday) but it was pretty rainy so I'll work on it tomorrow before we take off. It'd be nice to have working wind instrumentation. It should be a fairly easy install as we already have a GND-10 networked into our N2k network; all I have to do is fish the Nexus cable down the mast (we have a pilot line) and through our cabin ceiling.

Our neighbors John and Trina on Next Place (a 2007 Valiant 50) are possibly coming with us up to NYC. I'll be fun to buddy boat with someone again. If everything goes right - a big if - we'll make it all the way to Windbird's old home of Quissett Harbor in Woods Hole, Mass. It's a gorgeous area and Judy Handley lives a few miles away in Falmouth. Even if we don't make it that far, I'd like to make it to Newport, RI. Judy could meet us there, Dawn's mom would be able to get to Boston to fly out, and it's the "other" U.S. sailing capitol besides Annapolis. But as with so much else, it all depends on the weather. After a slow start the hurricane season really got going in dramatic fashion this week; we're keeping a particularly close eye on Invest 93L.