Friday, December 30, 2016

Come Together (Right Now)

When it became apparent that the refit was going to drag on to the point that we wouldn't get back to Myrtle Beach this year, Dawn and I looked for someone here in Charleston to install the electronics we bought in Annapolis to replace those zapped in the lightning storm in August. I asked the boatyard manager for recommendations and without hesitation he said "Call Jeff at Tidal Marine Electronics. He's the best in the area. Good luck getting ahold of him, though - he doesn't really return calls."

Much to my surprise, I got ahold of Jeff the very next day - and he was out at the boat the day after that. He took a look at our current electronics and the boxes in the v-berth containing their replacements and cables and networking equipment, and pronounced it a fairly easy 4-day job. In my excitement over having found someone apparently competent to install the electronics, I forgot to ask Jeff just how soon he could start.

That was in early-mid November. Since then I've been calling Jeff on a weekly basis at least, and until recently never got through to him, and never got a call back. The boatyard manager was certainly right about the communication; I hoped he was equally right about the competency. About half the time I called Tidal Marine I got voicemail, and the other half I got a very nice young lady named Emily (I think she's Jeff's wife), who always regretfully informed me that Jeff wasn't around but she'd ask him to call me back. When I left the message that we needed the electronics installed by Jan 1st, she was eager to reassure me that the job would be complete by then - but there was another big job that needed to be finished before they got to us.

Finally, around Dec 15th or so, Emily said Jeff was there & had been wanting to talk to me, and suddenly he was on the phone saying they were almost ready to start on our boat and would in fact be onboard the very next day. Indeed, the next time I was on the boat I saw a few access covers and pieces of equipment dislodged, which led me to believe that Jeff had been onboard and the installation was imminent. But then, nothing. The boatyard reinstalled the chainplates and stern iron, restepped the mast, and launched the boat, but nothing further was done with the electronics. I began to despair that our southward sail would be further delayed.

I needn't have worried; Jeff was just finishing up his last project and had every intention of getting me done by Jan 1st. This Tuesday, while I was off flying and Dawn was on Windbird, Jeff and his assistant Steve got on the boat and attacked the project head-on, working afternoons and evenings for 4 days straight. Today they finished the entire installation, minus autopilot commissioning which is awaiting one part that will arrive Tuesday. Dawn texted me pics of the new electronics and later took me on a Facetime tour of the installation, and it looks absolutely wonderful. We have a Garmin 7607 chartplotter at the helm, a new Garmin 18xHD radar on the mast (Dawn and I installed that), two GNX-20s and a GMI-20 for sailing instruments, Gwind wireless masthead transducer (we also installed that), Airmar triducer (depth/speed/water temp), GHP Reactor Autopilot, Vesper XB-8000 AIS transponder & Nmea gateway, and an ASUS Transformer tablet for planning, weather gathering, and as a backup chartplotter. It's all networked and integrated with new NMEA 2000, and should work together. I'm really excited to get familiar with the system and use it on our next hop south to Fernadina Beach, FL.


Ahem, about that.... The stem iron still isn't on the boat; the mast is still being held up by two halyards in place of the forestay. The machine shop has apparently had a heck of a time getting this fairly complex part to fit properly, but they think they have it now; if so, it'll be installed Tuesday. Then Dawn and I can put all the running rigging back on and rebend the sails, among many other last-minute projects that'll likely take the better part of a week. But at least the electronics won't be holding us up!

Monday, December 26, 2016

An Almost-Cruising Christmas

I was off flying while Windbird was splashed but got done with my 3-day trip in Atlanta on the morning of the 24th and, after missing one flight that went out full, landed in Charleston at 3pm. This gave me 24 hours at home for Christmas - which was intentional on my part. Nearly all airlines build pilot schedules based on one's seniority in their position. With three years of seniority at my airline, I would be somewhat senior in some smaller aircraft at less popular bases, but on the Boeing 757/767 in Atlanta I'm about a quarter from the bottom of the First Officer list. That virtually guarantees that I'll work Christmas, New Years, and every other major holiday that more senior pilots will bid off. So my December bidding strategy was to snipe one trip that got done early on Dec 24th and another that reported late on the 25th.

After Dawn picked me up from the airport we went straight to the boatyard so I could take a look at Windbird in the water. Dawn had cleaned her decks and cabintop, moved the dinghy to the davits, and also re-erected the bimini and dodger in my absence; she almost looks normal now although her stem iron still has to be installed and the headstay reattached (two halyards are taking its place for the moment). We spent some time talking to Jon and Sarah, a younger couple that is about to launch their older C&C 30 and head south to Florida & the Bahamas. It's an interesting boat - Jon replaced the original Atomic 4 gasoline engine with an electric motor out of a forklift. The boat has somewhat limited battery capacity (and it can only be replenished by solar or shore power), meaning they'll primarily use the engine for docking or entering inlets. I love sailing, but I'm not certain I'd have the patience to cruise almost engineless!

While we were aboard Windbird, Dan and Isabelle on Epiic came back at sundown from a daysail in Charleston harbor. On their last daysail, with a sailing instructor aboard, they got distracted while chatting with the instructor and accidentally hit a massive navigation buoy almost square-on and caused some fiberglass damage to their bow! Their anchor took the brunt of it or the damage would have undoubtedly been worse; nevertheless they had to get hauled back out for repairs. They were splashed again the same day as Windbird and were happy to take Epiic back out for a much less eventful daysail! After docking their boat, they came over to Windbird for happy hour with me, Dawn and Piper. Being in the water and having the canvas up, our cockpit already feels much homier.

When we got back to the apartment around 8pm, Dawn made hors d'oeuvres and we opened our presents to each other, which is her family's Christmas tradition (my family waits 'till Christmas morning, but who wants to wait!). Dawn got me a pretty sweet Guy Harvey cruiser hat, a rashguard for snorkeling, and two books on stargazing. I got her Phillips wireless over-the-ear headphones and a big cushy yoga mat. Piper got treats and a new stuffed toy!

We were quite lazy on Christmas morning; I was originally planning to go to the boatyard to do some work but we never made it. It was absolutely gorgeous outside: 74 and sunny. After Dawn dropped me off at the airport she took Piper for a 3-mile walk on the beach and she said it was like the 4th of July near our place, but still quiet down on the south end of Isle of Palms (which is where she took the below photo).

I had one leg yesterday to Guatemala City, Guatemala, which is where I am at the moment. I'll be in Denver tonight, get done late tomorrow, and will stay overnight in Atlanta where I have a doctor appointment on the morning of the 28th. I hope to get back to Charleston later that day to help Dawn move our stuff back to the boat...we only have the apartment through the 31st, and I have a four-day trip the 29th-1st (including 26 hrs in St. Martin over NYE!). After the 1st I've already dropped all my work trips for January... meaning we can finally get busy rerigging the boat and getting ready to head south ASAP!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Launched at Last

When Dawn and I got back to the boatyard after landing in Charleston on Tuesday afternoon, we were pleased to find that the chainplates were back in the boat, however the stem and stern iron was still not installed and the mast still had significant assembly required before it was ready to go back up. So the hope that the rig would be ready to go up Tuesday afternoon proved to be inordinately optimistic - pretty much as expected. We only spent maybe two hours at the boatyard on Tuesday, most of it spent unpacking and stowing all the Amazon/Defender/Jamestown Distributors treasures that arrived in our absence.

When we arrived at the boatyard Wednesday, one of the workers was just finishing up installing our new Garmin triducer (it required a slightly larger hole than the old airmar depth transducer). I set about riveting the gooseneck assembly base to the mast, having finally procured the correct size of blind rivets (1/4" x 5/8") from Fastenal. Unfortunately our rivet gun broke on the first rivet! They're stainless steel and a real bear to "pop." So we borrowed the boatyard's heavy-duty riveter to do the other seven. Meanwhile, workers installed the stern iron and prepared to install the stem iron. The riggers arrived and started reassembling the mast at a rapid clip. Dawn and I worked inside the cabin reassembling trim that was covering the aft chainplates (the cabinets disassembled to access the forward and mid chainplates will require a carpenter to reassemble, and he's not able to do it until after Jan 1st). Suddenly, there was a whole bevy of problems: the riggers discovered that the mid chainplates had been drilled too small for the pins that secure the upper shroud turnbuckles; the stem iron had been bent too shallowly for the bow rake; one of the welded spreaders had redeveloped a crack. It sounded to me like our slow trawler would never again sport a rig to harness the wind.

But solutions appeared just as quickly. The boatyard manager called the machine shop that has fashioned the chainplates and stem iron, and within 30 minutes two machinists appeared, drill in hand to drill out the appropriate holes (I was skeptical about using a handheld drill on stainless steel, but they did a really nice job). They left with the stem iron to be rebent at the machine shop. And the boatyard manager said he would drive the cracked spreader to and from the welder's (90 minutes each way) that very night, and it would be painted in the morning. Rerigging and launching was still possible on Thursday, he said. Nearly three months of delays fueled my skepticism. In any case I would be gone Thursday, beginning a three-day trip that ends on New Years Eve day. No worries, he said; they could launch without me.

And so it was via a series of photos texted to me by Dawn, Dan and Isabelle, and the boatyard manager that I followed today's progress. The stem iron was not completed in time, but no matter; the spinnaker halyard made a suitable temporary headstay. The spreader was rewelded and repainted, and the rig went up in mid-afternoon. Shortly thereafter the Travellift lifted Windbird from the jacks that have supported her since October 3rd and lowered her into the Wando River. When I turned my phone on after landing in Seattle, I nearly jumped for joy at the sight of Windbird afloat and tied up to the boatyard's docks.


So now we are waiting for the stem iron to be reinstalled, for the rig to be tuned, for the cabinets to be put back in, and above all for Tidal Marine Electronics to replace all our lightning-fried instruments & gizmos. Rerig the boat, finish a few miscellaneous projects, move the remainder of our stuff from our beach apartment to the boat, do some reprovisioning, and we can head south to Florida. That kinda sounds like a lot, but it's really not compared to what we've already done. Right now I'm just thrilled to be back in the water.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Family Ties

Dawn and I have been visiting family in Minnesota & South Dakota since last Wednesday & it's been just a bit chillier than SC. A few days ago we woke up in Brookings SD to -28* F temps, plus about 20 mph wind. Brutal. But it's been really nice visiting with family over the course of our Christmas celebrations, as we don't anticipate making it back until springtime.

Backing it up a bit since it's been a week since I've posted...last Tuesday we spent a full day at the boat doing last minute projects that needed done before raising the mast, plus installing the engine room insulation. It looks nice.


Wednesday we dropped Piper off at DogVacay and then headed to the airport. The flight to Atlanta was open but the connecting flight to MSP had filled up so we went through Indianapolis. We got there a bit later taking three flights but got to sit together in Delta Comfort Plus the whole way. We stopped off at our old apartment to pick up a package and at our storage unit to grab our winter things before heading up to my folks for the night. Several of my siblings were there & I got to hold my 5-week-old niece Haven for the first time. Precious.


Thursday we were on the road to Dawn's parents in Rosholt, SD. Along the way I called the boatyard and was happy to find out that most of the chainplates were done and installation had begun. Also on Thursday, Atlantic Boat ACR got on the boat and repaired our air conditioning by replacing the control panel, and Tidal Marine Electronics began the process of installing the new instruments, chartplotter and autopilot. Whew!

After stopping by the in-laws to pick up some mail, we headed out to Watertown to apply for our South Dakota drivers licenses and then in Sisseton we transferred titles and obtained SD registration for our Xterra and motorcycles. I must say, South Dakota bureaucracy is shockingly efficient and pleasant.

We spent all of Friday hunkered down indoors as the South Dakota deep freeze began in earnest and snow began falling to boot. Dawn's brothers, sister-in-law, and nephew Jordan were all there so we did lots of visiting, baking, watching college football, and setting up Asus tablets with CM93 charts and OpenCPN plugins and all the sailing apps one might need. Ok, only I did that last one. I also called the boatyard and got an update.

Saturday we headed down to Brookings SD where we had rooms booked at the Hampton Inn and tickets for that night's concert by Home Free. A few years ago my family began a Christmas tradition where in lieu of gifts we all get together for a concert, play, or comedy show (ok, the nieces & nephews still get presents!) and this year Dawn's family decided to follow suit. I wasn't really expecting to enjoy a Christmas concert by an acapella quartet but knew Dawn and her mom were really excited, so I kept an open mind and actually ended up enjoying the show. The guys from Home Free are obviously talented & are good, funny entertainers as well. Their all-vocal repertoire turns out to include EDM genres like house and dubstep. I'm not even kidding. Many South Dakotan minds were blown.


Sunday dawned sunny, breezy, and stupid cold. We weren't sure how the roads were going to be and our rental car had Texas plates and tires that might've as well been racing slicks in the snow, so we headed east early. Even the back roads turned out to be just fine and 3 hours 45 mins later we arrived early at Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo, MN. My family's Christmas outing this year was a performance of "A Gone Fishin' Christmas," a two-act comedy play. Pretty funny if a little over-the-top silly in parts. Afterwards we had an early dinner at Dehn's Country Manor, a supper club that's been popular in the area for ages. Both of my Grandmas were with us and they both used to go to Dehn's back in the 50s through 70s. I think the same waitresses were working there back then!


Yesterday was another lazy day at home, though my brother Jon and his girlfriend Heather stopped by early and stayed the whole day. Later my sister Rachel came with her toddler Emory, and then my brother Josiah and his wife Nessa showed up with Haven & Oaklyn. I worked on my mom's non-profit organization's website & we planned Mom & Dad's visit to Windbird in the Exumas in late March. It turns out my brother Steve is also going to be in Florida in early Feb, and he's going to try to do the crossing to Bimini and Nassau with us. Steve is a keen sailor (he and I used to own a 21' Santana together) so I really hope that works out.


Last night Mom, Dad, Dawn and I travelled down to my sister Sarah's for dinner & to see the house that she and new hubby Scott just bought. Scott's daughter Emelia is a bit older than Sarah's kids Justice & Ariella, but not too old to play, which along with their giant poodle Chai and new Chihuahua puppy Essie (and Scott's older daughter Kayla) makes for a VERY busy household! For those keeping score, I have five siblings (3 brothers, two sisters), the three youngest of which are married and have 7 kids/stepkids. I'm the oldest, & our house growing up was just as loud & chaotic as Sarah's is now if not moreso. My parents are absolute saints as far as I'm concerned - they deserve a late-winter escape to go pet some swimming piggies in paradise!

Yesterday I called the boatyard and got confirmation that the chainplates and stem iron are mostly back in  the boat and the mast may be ready to go up as soon as this afternoon. We'll see. Dawn and I were up at 3am to catch the 6:25am flight to Detroit...all the flights to Atlanta filled up (surprise, surprise). We should be back to Charleston around noon and will be at the boatyard this afternoon. I am so looking forward to seeing Windbird's new rig go up, and to getting her back in the water where she belongs. I go to work on Thursday and have very few breaks until the New Year, so we'll see when we actually get her launched. But the end of the beginning is finally in sight; we can now look forward to turning our bow southward and leaving winter well astern.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Lazy Saturday, Busy Sunday

In an effort to avoid boatyard burnout, Dawn and I have been taking Sundays off (other than last Sunday, when I was in London). One Sunday we visited Fort Sumter, another we toured the USS Yorktown and USS Laffey at Patriots Point. This weekend, we switched things around and took Saturday off instead. Dawn woke up feeling under the weather, and a cold front had blown through and lowered overnight temps below freezing, making both varnishing and my deck project impractical. So we just vegged out for much of the day; in the afternoon I made a visit to the boat to inventory my supplies for the deck project and then stopped at West Marine to buy some 2-part epoxy. That night we got together with Canadians Dan and Isabelle in downtown Charleston. We had pre-dinner drinks at the Griffon Pub and then had dinner at historic McCrady's Tavern. It was a really nice time getting to know a cruising couple our age - a rarity.

Sunday was considerably warmer and we were able to get work done. Dawn had sanded the cockpit caprail on Friday afternoon so she was able to tack and varnish it. We were fortunate that the morning dew earlier in the week didn't ruin the entire finish, and decided that given the current forecast and the shortness of the days right now we'd wait to apply more layers until further south. So, I took off the masking tape today. The caprail looks great. The companionway hatch looks a little off, though - I don't think we sufficiently sanded down to bare wood before we started applying Rapid Clear. I think the lessons here are #1) stay on top of varnishing so you don't have to start over and go back to bare wood and #2) if you do start over, put a lot of time into getting the prep exactly right. The varnishing itself is pretty easy, so long as the weather cooperates.


Meanwhile I started on my deck project. Everywhere there was a popped bung, I pulled the screw and countersunk the 3/8" hole in the teak just a little deeper. There's not a ton of meat left on the teak, so I had to be careful that I didn't drill through to the underlying deck. There were a few places that the teak was too thin, or the screw had snapped off, and in those holes I didn't replace the screw. For most of the holes, though, I mixed up a batch of West System epoxy with fast-cure hardener, which I injected into the screw holes using a syringe. Then I screwed in a new screw, squirted a little epoxy on top, brushed epoxy into a 3/8" teak bung, and tapped it into the hole. This went much more smoothly with Dawn helping me - initially, she was down below organizing in the aft cabin and I simply didn't have enough hands. By now it was fairly warm - around 60° - and the first batch of epoxy "kicked" in only 15 or 20 minutes. With Dawn's help I was able to finish the deck using the second batch. It was really a pretty easy project, I don't know why I procrastinated on it. With the age of our deck, replacing popped bungs will be an ongoing project. There are actually a number of partially-exposed screw heads right now, but they have a layer of epoxy on top and are likely sealing just fine for now, so I left them alone.

Just as we were wrapping up the deck project, Dan and Isabelle came up from the docks for a short tour of our entirely torn-apart boat. Afterwards we moved the party down to their Jeanneau 41 for sundowners and a few hours of chatting. It was nice just being out on the water, for a change. Right now I'm starting to think of boats as expensive, compact stilt houses with dusty yards that one accesses with a tall ladder!

Today Dawn stayed at the house but got a bunch of sewing done, including new fender covers for all our fenders. I went to the boat and finished up the deck project, took the masking tape off of the cockpit combing and companionway, did some reorganization of maintenance supplies, and a couple other small projects. It was a fairly unproductive day but we really don't have much left that we can do before the boat is back together. Just as I was leaving, our order from Jamestown Distributors came. That gave me another potential project as the shipment included an engine insulation & soundproofing kit, but installing that will really be a two person job, so it'll have to wait until tomorrow.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Let the Sun Shine

It was another late start at the boatyard today as Dawn and I spent time making calls, doing paperwork, and working on our Global Entry applications this morning. We've been meaning to apply for a while, as we've typically gone abroad together several times per year for the last ten years, plus I'm now flying internationally for work as well. But now it makes even more sense as having Global Entry will smooth our application for the CBP's Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS), formerly Local Boater Option, which allows you to clear into the US & territories with only a phone call (sometimes...sometimes they still want to see you face-to-face). I figure that'll be useful next year going between the DR, Puerto Rico, USVI and BVI. We're waiting to actually submit our applications until we have our South Dakota drivers licenses, which we'll be getting next week on our Christmas visit home.

Once we got to the boatyard we got busy right away. Today's main project was replacing our lightning-fried Trace C12 solar controller with a new Victron 75/15 MPPT solar controller. It's mounted in the electrical cabinet, which is a somewhat strange place for it as it involves long wire runs forward from the solar/davit arch and back to the battery bank under the aft berth. My eventual plan is to move the solar controller(s) to under the aft berth and install a charge monitor that'll track both wind and solar charging, but I'll wait to do that until we buy new solar panels next spring. Our 2-panel array is currently only about 170 watts; there's room on the davits for about 300W of new, more efficient Sunpower panels, and I plan on adding 200W in flexible panels to our bimini as well. Those will be subject to shading from the boom/sail so I plan to use small MPPT controllers for each half and a single larger controller for the stern arch array. As you can see, it'll be a pretty major change to the system that will nearly triple our solar production, and will involve some pretty complex setup. Until then, I'm keeping it simple by installing the Victron 75/15 right where the Trace was. It only took an hour or so to remove the Trace, mount the Victron, and reroute, strip and insert the battery and PV cables. It was a sunny day, so we turned off shore power and the wind and solar easily kept up with our scant on-the-hard loads (refrig is off, that's the big consumer). 


This morning I called Atlantic Boat ACR and left a message inquiring about having them replace our lightning-fried air conditioning control panel. To my great surprise, they called back within about 30 minutes, had me text them a few photos, came up with a potential solution right there, and two hours later had one of their technicians on our boat to confirm our current installation. Thus far in my boat ownership experience I've found such responsiveness among marine service providers to be extremely rare...normally, getting anything done is like pulling teeth. Hopefully this continues to be the exception.

This afternoon Dawn sanded the cockpit caprail and companionway hatch; it appears that we narrowly avoided moisture-borne disaster yesterday and will be able to continue varnishing without completely sanding the whole thing back down to bare wood. We'll see whether we get the next coat of varnish on tomorrow; it largely depends on how quickly it warms up from a very chilly overnight. We don't want to wait so long that there's no afternoon sun left to dry the varnish, which was our problem last time.

While Dawn sanded, I replaced the raw water strainer under the V-berth. This is the intake for the washdown pump and the forward head, and the strainer was a bit on the small side so I replaced it with a more robust unit. In doing so I noticed that most of the hose clamps in that area were old and several were badly corroded, so I replaced them all with Skandvik Marine ABA clamps. I got a 48-piece cruiser kit from Defender a few weeks ago and have since been replacing clamps every time I see degraded ones in safety-critical spots (which, it turns out, is most everywhere there are hose clamps in the first place!). I'm already nearly out of several popular sizes and will be reordering a bunch before we take off. They're pretty expensive for clamps, but this is one place it's stupid to be cheap. It doesn't take very long at all for salt air, heat and vibration to turn cheap hose clamps into rusty, brittle timebombs. I like saltwater but have a rather profound interest in keeping it outside of my boat!

After our $1100 order with Jamestown Distributors yesterday, we dropped $550 with Amazon tonight. Frighteningly easy to do, but zero impulse purchases; it was all stuff we knew we needed and had been researching and considering for a while. Several more items on the "before heading south" list have been checked off. The nice thing is that because I've continued working full-time and we're living relatively cheaply, we've been able to pay for most of the boat stuff out-of-pocket without dipping into our refit fund. That's good because the boatyard will be taking a BIG chunk of it when this boat is finally done!

Not entirely sure what we'll be doing tomorrow - probably early stops at West Marine and Ace Hardware. Not quite sure if I'll work on our teak deck or not. I'm really trying to psych myself up for it but it may be too cold for the epoxy to kick. I'll have to read up on it tonight, it's been ages since I've worked with the stuff.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

See and Be Seen

We started the day with shopping at West Marine and Radio Shack, which open at 9am, so we got to the boatyard a bit late but still got most everything on our list done and left earlier than usual. Actually, we didn't get another coat of varnish on...when we arrived, it appeared that the cockpit caprail varnish might be ruined because it collected dew last night before the varnish cured. Basically, we just sanded and varnished too late in the day yesterday so it never dried. But the varnish was actually still wet, and we were able to get rid of the milkiness by wiping it down. It dried to a normal color this afternoon, albeit not very glossy. I'm hoping we can salvage it with another few coats of varnish, it'd be a shame if all that work was for nothing.

I had a few minor electrical projects today but my main project was installing the VHF antenna splitter and AIS transponder. We had already installed the AIS' dedicated GPS antenna on the radar arch and ran its cable most of the way forward; I extended that to the nav station. The splitter I mounted inside the electrical compartment, while I mounted the transponder inside the shelf alongside the nav station. I installed a terminal block just above the splitter; the terminal block receives power from the VHF radio circuit breaker and now powers the VHF radio, antenna splitter, and AIS. I powered everything up and was able to verify that the AIS unit is working correctly, though of course it can't receive or transmit properly until the mast is in place and the VHF antenna is hooked back up. The Vesper has quite a few auxiliary features, like an anchor alarm, or being a NMEA2k wifi multiplexer, but its main role as an AIS transponder is an important one in my estimation, particularly on a shorthanded boat at night. It's a pretty big safety boon to be able to see commercial traffic, where they're headed, and what their callsign is so that any evasive action can be coordinated over the radio.

The other thing we got done today was sealing up a hole in the bottom of the propane locker that the propane hose (and now, the AIS GPS antenna cable) pass through. The previous sealant had come loose and anyways we had to dislodge it to run the cable; propane being heavier than air, the opening was a safety hazard (plus a potential source of water ingress into the cabin) so we sealed it up well.

After Piper's beach time I took a nap today, then put in a big $1100 order with Jamestown Distributors that should pretty well take care of the supplies and spares we needed before heading south. After dinner we watched The Revenant on Dawn's computer. Tomorrow I'm planning to install a solar controller to replace the one that got fried by lightning, and perhaps start work on replacing popped teak deck bungs.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Cleanup on Aisle Three

My three-day work trip to London went well. I spent four hours in the British Museum, had a few pints and dinner with the captain and other FO, read Chris Parker's Marine Weather Manual and Stephen Pavlidis' Exumas Guide, and still got a little online shopping in. I have a pretty good order going at Jamestown Distributors, though I'll hold off on closing out until I'm sure I have all the spares and supplies we need to order. My commuter flight back to Charleston was delayed on Monday night, so I didn't get back to Isle of Palms until after midnight. It was a slow start yesterday and we didn't get a ton done - we mainly just installed our new Wirie Pro wifi/xG booster/antenna/router. There's a good spot for it on the port side of the solar arch that will accommodate larger solar panels later on, we just had to move a solar-powered secondary anchor light to the starboard side. I spent some time routing the power cable up the arch, making it as inconspicuous as possible, and made a good waterproof splice with the existing power cable.

This morning we arrived much earlier and were fairly productive today. We finished the annual and semi-annual servicing of our Yamaha Enduro 15 outboard; it and the dinghy should be good to go for our Bahamas cruise, I just need to make up a dinghy tool kit (to bring along on extended dinghy explorations) and get some extra 2-stroke oil. We dried out the settee cushions that got soaked this weekend when rain leaked through the holes where the chainplates used to be (the yard put plastic over the holes, but it wasn't a great seal). We fine-sanded the cockpit caprail & companionway hatch, and brushed on the 3rd coat of Epifanes varnish. I messed around with our Wirie Pro's settings for a while - for some reason it's not detecting the boatyard's wifi (neither is Dan & Isabelle's Wirie, so it's not just us). I started the installation of our VHF splitter and Vesper AIS transponder, then changed my mind about where it should go, started over, and got sidetracked (again!) into the rats nest in our electrical panel. I really want to clean it up but can't really do much until our autopilot is replaced. Oh, speaking of which, I finally got ahold of Tidal Marine Electronics; they couldn't give me a start date but said we're in line and they should definitely be done by January 1st. That would be great but with all the other delays we've had, color me a bit skeptical.

Our other task for today was one I've been procrastinating on because it was pretty messy and nasty. A while ago, presumably while we were sailing to Charleston, a bunch of West System resin spilled in the compartment above the engine room. It was in a bag, in a can with a metering pump on it, and was back where I couldn't really see it, so I had no idea the can tipped over and was slowly oozing resin onto the floor of the compartment...which is also the ceiling of the engine room. There are several holes for cables to pass through, and eventually the resin oozed down through them and then saturated the foam/foil engine room insulation attached to the ceiling. Some then drizzed onto and around the engine. I didn't discover this until a week or two ago, when I cleaned out the compartment above the engine. What a sticky mess. Today Dawn and I removed all the insulation fasteners and then tore down the sticky resin-saturated insulation and threw it away. I then vacuumed around the engine room and scrubbed off the resin. Disgusting. We measured the areas we need to get new insulation for, and will look for it at West Marine tomorrow along with a few other things. I also need to stop at Radio Shack to get a terminal block that will make for a cleaner install of the VHF splitter and AIS box, and an OS-238 terminal for the VHF antenna coax from the mast...the riggers cut off the old one when they were removing the mast. I have a few other small electrical projects on the back burner as well, so tomorrow will be quite electric. The nice weather is supposed to continue for another few days so we should be able to get on the fourth coat of varnish as well.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Productive Friday

Wrapping up a rather productive week of boatwork, I had a pretty ambitious list put together and got most of it done (plus a few extras not on the list). We got the first coat of varnish on the cockpit caprail as well as the companionway hatch (which we sanded and coated with five coats of Epifanes Rapid Clear several weeks ago before rainy weather and boatyard worker traffic intervened). Dawn will get a second coat on tomorrow after I fly to Atlanta; then it's supposed to rain on Sunday and Monday so we won't get on subsequent coats till later next week. After that I spent time clearing unused cabling out from behind the nav station, electrical panel, and port settee. In some cases I left lengths of wires to be used as pilot lines through inaccessible passages, but overall the rats nest is quite a bit more manageable now and will be even better once the new NMEA2k network is in and all the old NMEA0183 stuff is ripped out.

I mounted the dedicated GPS antenna for our Vesper AIS transponder on our davit/solar arch, and fished its cable down through the arch, through the propane locker, down behind the aft bulkhead, under our bed, and under the aft cabin cabinets. This took a while but ended up being fairly painless. We recently removed a cockpit spotlight from the arch; its power cable will be used for our WiriePro wifi antenna/booster/router when it arrives next week, but in the meantime we were able to use it to get two pilot lines down through the arch. One pilot line pulled the power cable back through and the other ran the GPS cable. From there it was pretty easy, just a lot of snipping zipties and fastening new ones. I'll finish installing the Vesper next week, but this was the most labor-intensive task.


During the day we got our new Frigidaire 900W/0.9 cu ft microwave from; it replaces the old White-Westinghouse that the lightning fried. The new one is slightly smaller. I tried it using our inverter and it works fine...though our power monitor recorded a battery-draining 110 amp draw! Won't use that off of shore power too often, but it's nice to have for reheating underway or avoiding heating up the cabin in the tropics by using the stove. More excitingly, we also got our new Doyle mainsail today! Can't wait to see it and even more to sail with it. Just need a mast to put it on, at this point!


This afternoon we lowered our Yamaha Enduro 15 outboard to the ground using the crane, and I did most of the required annual and semi-annual maintenance. It's in really good shape; two years ago Mark and Judy had it professionally refurbished, and it still looks like new. I wasn't able to pull the spark plugs though; my deep socket set only goes up to 19mm and the spark plug appears to be 20mm or possibly 13/16". Good to find that out here!


We finished up at 5pm, a bit later than usual, and headed home to get Piper his beach run, albeit in the dark. He didn't care, he still ran his little heart out. Lately he and I have been playing fetch in the water with his favorite floatie stick; I've been coaxing him to chase it further and further out, and he's becoming quite the salty swimmer dog. He's even managed to accidentally doggie-surf a few breakers! We stayed on terra firma tonight, though, as it was likely too dark for him to see the stick in the water.

Dawn and I were originally supposed to go out tonight in downtown Charleston with Canadian cruisers Dan and Isabelle, but they had to cancel when she had to unexpectedly fly back to Canada today. We'll reschedule for another week. Instead Dawn and I decided to stay a little closer to home this week, and had dinner at Poe's Tavern in nearby Sullivan's Island. Cool place with great food.

Tomorrow I head to Atlanta around 11am; I'm working the 7:10pm flight to London-Heathrow. I have a 29 hour overnight there and get back late Monday. Dawn will be varnishing Saturday, taking Sunday off, and then doing a whole lot of shopping on Monday (West Marine, Lowes, Autozone, the local Yamaha dealer, etc). Meanwhile I'll do some remote shopping in London on and Amazon while planning out our next week of boat work.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

On the Move

Windbird was moved today for the third time since coming out of the water. The boatyard needed the space to put new plastic sides on their painting shed, but it's for the best - it was pretty cold in the shadow of the shed and we could use the sun as we're about to apply several coats of varnish to the cockpit caprail. The other big news today was that we finally got the machine shop's estimate to fabricate new chainplates and stem iron. The dollar amount is about what I expected, but the timeline to complete the job is a lot longer than we expected: a full two weeks. Add on probably another week of work after we get them back, and we'll be lucky if the boat is in the water by Christmas.


With that in mind, we went ahead and just rented our beach condo for the full month of December; it's about the same cost as two weeks rental anyways. We'll be back in MN & SD with our families from the 14th to the 20th, and then I'll be working the 22nd through the end of the month with only the morning of the 25th back in Charleston. So really, unless the boat is ready to launch on the 21st, it probably won't happen until after the New Year. Florida and the Bahamas seem very far away right now but all we can do is keep plugging away at our "before going south" list. There's actually a fair amount that can be done out of the water. A lot of it consists of ordering spares, supplies and provisions, and we've started doing that in addition to all the big and little projects in & around the boat. Tomorrow I'll be doing the annual service on the outboard, replacing degraded soundproofing in the engine room, and running wiring for our new AIS transponder. This afternoon we taped off and sanded the companionway hatch and cockpit caprail, and Dawn will get the first coat of Epifanes clear varnish on tomorrow morning and a second on Saturday before the weather turns rainy on Sunday.

I actually picked up a three-day London trip for Saturday to bring my December schedule back up to full-time (I had dropped two overnight trips). With the yard not doing anything on the boat for two weeks I can spare the time, and we could use some extra cash to pay for the ever-spiraling refit. And I can order stuff from Defender whilst belly-up to the bar at a local pub just as easily as I can from home (probably more easily, considering the slow wifi here). I don't commute to Atlanta until Saturday afternoon, so Dawn and I are having another Friday Night Date in downtown Charleston tomorrow night. Dan and Isabella from s/v Epic (the Jeanneau 41) will be joining us, should be fun.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Boatyard Bums

The neverending saga of the chainplates continues. They've been off the boat for a good three weeks and the machine shop(s) haven't duplicated one. It took several days for the boatyard to get them to a shop; eight days later the boatyard inquired (at my insistence) and discovered they had been misplaced and the shop hadn't even looked at them. A week later they concluded that the curved portion of the stem iron was beyond their capabilities - and so they didn't do anything. It took several more days for the boatyard to retrieve them and send them to another shop. They were supposed to have an estimate yesterday; now we're hoping for tomorrow. The cost estimate is almost irrelevant at this point, of course; with the boat torn apart for over a month and most everything else done, we just need the damn things done.

Despite the frustration of delays and ever-increasing costs, I'm starting to take a perverse liking to life as a boatyard bum. We have our routine of showing up 8-9am and leaving at 4am to get Piper his beach run. Every day I have a list of things to get done, and I usually get about 70% of the list done - though the last few days I've been unusually productive (or just unusually realistic in my goal-setting). We've come to know many of the boatyard workers and contractors, and they've all come to know us as the couple with the cute dog that keeps watch from the high prow of the green and white Tayana. We've picked up a lot of new skills and a good deal of advice from those who've been there and done that. We watch boats come and go and get worked on, and we've met many of their owners including several couples doing exactly what we're doing. One young Canadian couple, Dan and Isabella, showed up with a new Jeanneau 41 on a trailer to commission; they're currently transforming it from a production boat into a sleek cruising machine and then will be headed the same places as us. We took a nice field trip to their boat on the docks a few days ago and will likely do a happy hour aboard one of these days. It's nice just to see a boat in its intended environment instead of on jackstands high above a dusty yard!

Ideally, we'd be headed south to Florida just after the New Year. At this point that's pretty ambitious considering that work on the lightning-struck electronics hasn't even begun (other than what I've installed myself). We've put together a list of everything that needs to be done before we head down the coast, and it's a daunting one. We've essentially done everything we need to do on the boat in the yard and are just waiting for the chainplates right now, so we're launching into doing everything on that list that can be done on the hard. Not everything can be; for example, we want a diesel mechanic to go through the Yanmar thoroughly but there's little point doing so until the boat is in the water and the engine can be run. But annual servicing on the outboard can be done right now, as can shopping for and stowing a full compliment of systems spares. 

We did get a pretty major reminder that we're doing the right thing with this refit today. The riggers finished disassembling the staysail furler and discovered that the forestay had several broken strands near the mast-end, making it dramatically weaker. That's an area that's very seldom seen, just like the chainplates below deck level. It's unlikely we would have noticed it before it failed. Other things we're doing, like bead-blasting & repainting corroded areas of the mast, weld-reinforcing crack-prone corners of the spreaders, and replacing the gooseneck fitting are all being done in the hopes that this rig will be able to last another decade of cruising usage. Oh - on that note, I got a call from Doyle today that our new mainsail is done! It shipped today and we should have it by Friday.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Move to Windbird and Daily Projects

Our lease in the St Paul apartment ended October 31st, so I spent time organizing our belongings again (boat, storage, and donation items) and had Sam help me clean as much as possible during his last five days in the apartment with Piper and me. I moved out Friday night prior to Halloween and spent the weekend with my family.

Here lies our belongings in a 5x10 storage unit in MN.  We have our bikes stashed in my brother's garage and some holiday decorations in his basement (all in ND). 
The morning of the 31st, Piper and I set out for Indianapolis where we needed to pick up Sam around 9 PM. It was a twelve hour drive that took us fourteen hours and then we lost an hour for the time zone. I arrived late so met Sam at the hotel. 

Our second day of travel. Piper did well in the car, not usually his favorite thing, but by the third day, he was relaxing in the back seat

During the next travel day, we planned to stop at a few Bourbon distilleries in Kentucky. We first stopped at Four Roses. We watched a film on their history and got a glance at their facility since they were under construction, which was doubling over the next year. Here we learned why the trees, barns, and fences were all painted black. During prohibition, people illegally made moonshine; however, the distilling process gives off a chemical that turns the trees black, so all people painted their trees, barns, and fences black so the authorities couldn't tell who was illegally making alcohol. 

We had lunch between the Four Roses and Wild Turkey distilleries. Once at Wild Turkey, we were too late for their tour but paid to have a tasting. The tour guide was young and was knowledgeable about the distillery but seemed more interested in talking about drinking the whiskey than anything else. We were glad we just did the tasting. Then we took back roads to Woodford. 

I loved the Kentucky countryside. We drove this road between the Wild Turkey distillery and Woodford Reserve distillery

At Woodford Reserve, we waited for their 3:30 tour so we took Piper out for a short walk around the property. We took him down to the river where he enjoyed running through the murky water. Then we got on a bus to drive down to the original, and still operating, buildings on the property. I believe the only reason for the bus was to make it accessible to all tourists; we could have easily walked up and down the hill. Our tour guide was amazing and sure did love her job!

Woodford is one of five companies in the entire world who still distill from copper pot stills!

Here at Woodford, the tasting was whiskey and truffles. Can I say 'amazing!' I have a new found appreciation for the "Woodford on the Rocks" that Sam enjoys on our Delta flights when we travel for fun. 

Continuing on with the drive. By day three we made it all the way to Charleston. We rented a one-bedroom vacation rental just a block from the ocean in Isle of Palms, about 12 miles from the boatyard. We plan to spend around 4-7 hours each day at the boatyard, depending upon our to do lists, and then spend the rest of sunlight walking the beach with Piper. 

This is Piper's first trip to the ocean. We didn't know how much he would enjoy it and looks forward to going each night. 

I took video of him during this first walk. He just went crazy. He has so much energy, we barely tire him out. 

Each morning we make breakfast and lunch to eat at the boat. Sam and I have worked on mounting our new RADAR dome on the mast along with running the new cables. We've unpacked our 'boat' belongings, or what we can because a few projects down below are being done by the professionals. Each night, Sam comes up with a list of topics we try to complete during the next day. 

Here's a glimpse of our list from today. Of course other items get added as the day progresses. 

We bring Piper to the boatyard daily. On the first day, while we moved our belongings on board, we left him tied up on the ground. He barked at everyone who passed. He had to either say 'hi' to everyone or let them know he was around. The next day, we carried him up the ladder because we were doing some things inside the boat. He loved standing up top and watching everyone below. He barely said a peep except when he had to go to the bathroom. So now we bring him every day. He is slowly warming up to the people who work in the yard, and they enjoy seeing him every day. 

For a good part of the day he'll take naps either in the sun or the shade. 

We have our, now two-bedroom, apartment through November 22nd and hope the boat will be done by then or at least the end of the month. We'll keep you updated in how things go. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Back to Work

Over the weekend I flew a 4-day trip with layovers in Raleigh-Durham, Richmond VA, and Orange County, CA. Meanwhile Dawn drove her Jetta all the way to North Dakota, where she gave it to her brother, and then stayed at a friend's place in Minneapolis for a couple nights. And Piper stayed at a DogVacay in Charleston, and seemed to have lots of fun going on walks and playing with resident dog "Duke." I got back here late on Sunday night and drove to the boatyard to spend the night on Windbird. It was pretty cold and rainy out, and I arrived to find that the boatyard had been quite busy on Windbird on Thursday and Friday - it was a mess on board! For starters, the cabinets behind the settees had been disassembled and the chainplates removed. The aft cabin berth was torn apart so technicians could repack the rudder stock bearing, and the mattress was piled in the salon. I cleared off one settee and tried to sleep, and was soon shivering. I went and dug a few more blankets out of the piles of boxes in the aft head, and set up a ceramic heater on the salon table, and was able to get a few hours of sleep. Can't wait until this boat is back together and everything can be put in its place. New chainplates are being made at a local machine shop right now, so it won't be long.

I picked Dawn up at CHS just after noon and we went out to eat, spent a little time piddling around on the boat, and then it was time to pick up Piper from DogVacay and check into our apartment for the next nine days. It's in the same complex as earlier this month, but the 1BR apartment we rented before wasn't available so the landlord rented us a slightly larger 2BR for the same price. We really like the location on Isle of Palms, and Piper loves his nightly runs on the beach even more than we do. When Windbird is back in the water we plan to move her to Charleston Harbor Marina until we're ready to head south after the New Year; that's in Mount Pleasant, not too far away from here and nice & close to West Marine, Ace Hardware, and Lowe's.

Last night we went out to eat with Mark and Judy's New Hampshire friends Alan and Helaine, who are visiting Charleston this week, and their RVing friends temporarily based here, Jim and Marilyn. Alan and Helaine are longtime sailors and racers who own a J40 that they've cruised in Maine, the Caribbean, and all points in between. Judy has mentioned them many times in her blog and it was nice to put a face with the name; we had a good time talking with them. It's funny how Windbird seems to have come with a built-in fan club and network of supporters!

We had a good morning of boatwork today, getting items steadily checked off our daily list, but a few of these led to a bit of a wild goose chase this afternoon. One was lubing the prop shaft pillow block bearing under the engine. The zerk fitting to attach a grease gun is on top of it, only a few inches below the engine oil pan, and is terribly uncomfortable to access...I basically had to slide toward the bilge head-first, squeezing my torso into the narrow slot behind the engine and ahead of the fuel hoses, aux pump, engine battery, etc. And then I had to reach under the engine with one hand grasping the grease coupling and trying to slide it over the zerk fitting. There just wasn't enough room below the drain pan, even with a flexible hose mounted on my grease gun. Dawn had to basically drag me back up to the land of the living. This afternoon we checked a hardware store, Walmart, Autozone, Lowe's, and finally another Ace Hardware store for a lower-profile coupling before the hardware store attendant had the bright idea of attaching a 1/8" NPT 90-degree brass elbow between the flex hose and the grease coupling. Duh, why didn't I think of that? Boat ownership has given me a brand new appreciation for hardware stores and the practical-minded folks who work at them.

The other goose-chase involved finding replacement LEDs for our incandescent cabin lighting. I've had it in the back of my mind to switch everything over to LED for a while now; there's a lot of power savings to be had, which means the solar and windgen can do a bigger percentage of our power generation. The masthead tricolor and anchor light were already LED and we switched the mast steaming light last week - I still need to check the deck-level nav lights. Today I took a good look at our two Alpenglow lights in the salon; they're both the older CFL style but still relatively efficient at 9 watts per light. Alpenglow will actually convert them to their modern LED style for $93 each but this only saves 3 watts in high mode. We still may do it because it also gives you a more efficient low setting as well as ultra-efficient red night lighting. I love having red lighting at night for while on passage. We have two dome lights in the galley and one over the nav station, all with two incandescent G4 bulbs; the nav station light and one galley light each have red cellophane over one of their bulbs, giving a night mode. And then in the aft cabin we have one light with two G4s and one light with a single GE 1004 bayonet-style bulb. So part of our afternoon was spent finding suitable LED replacements for all these. We found good warm white G4s, of which we needed six, but they won't fit under the cellophane for the two night lights; it makes sense to just get red LEDs for those. I hunted those down online along with a GE 1004 replacement once we got home.

We got some good news today. Work was supposed to begin on the skeg but the technician and then the boatyard manager went over it with a phenolic hammer and couldn't find any evidence whatsoever of delamination or water intrusion. He thinks that the surveyor that did the bottom survey (which was done separately from the main survey we attended) was unfamiliar with the skeg's construction and mistook the areas that have framework underneath for dead spots. He was a powerboat guy, so it's possible. Anyways they suggested we leave it alone and look for dead spots or blistering next time we haul, and we agreed. So that'll save us a bit of money, which certainly goes against the overall trend of this refit.

Have another good full worklist for tomorrow; off to bed with me. My next "break" to go make some money in the cloud mines is Nov 22-25, when I have a 48-hour London layover that includes Thanksgiving. Dawn will be coming with on that one, so we're trying to finish up our project list by this weekend. I suspect Windbird will be back together and ready to splash the week after Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Trump Card

Throughout this amazingly unhinged election cycle I've had the thought in the back of my head that if my fellow Americans proved dumb enough to elect a certain cheeto-faced stark raving lunatic to the highest office in the land, having a boat to bug out for saner shores would be a good "trump card." Well. they did...and we do! Almost. Some assembly required, or rather reassembly. But work is finally proceeding at a steadyish clip. This week one crew sanded and painted Windbird's bottom, and another went to work removing the stem iron and chainplates. The stem iron actually proved to be remarkably easy to remove, but the chainplates are going to require more interior surgery than I expected. The cabinets behind the settees will have to be partially disassembled. A carpenter came by the boat today to look at it and declared it perfectly doable - it just takes money and time, like anything else. So that'll be going on the next couple days. And then the machine shop will make new chainplates, and then the yard will put them back in, and then the riggers can see about getting the stick back up. I'll consider us lucky if the bottom's wet by December 1st.

That said, we've made a decision that'll make the timing a bit less critical. We're going to give up the idea of going back up to Myrtle Beach this year, and get the electronics work done down in Charleston instead. The boatyard manager recommended a company that he said is really good, I met with the owner today, and he said it's a fairly small job and they have time to do it. So it'll be done concurrently with the other work, and if it's not done by the time we're back in the water they can finish up at a local marina. I tried calling Lightkeeper's Marina to give up our slip today but wasn't able to reach the dockmaster; I'll try again tomorrow. I also have to let our original electronics guy know we won't be coming his way anymore.

The three of us are going separate ways for a few days. I traded my work schedule around, so tomorrow I head to Atlanta to fly a 4-day trip that gets back late on Sunday (that'll have me off until the 22nd). Dawn is driving her Jetta all the way to North Dakota, where she'll be giving it to her brother. And Piper is headed to a local DogVacay, which he always loves. This one is nearby so he'll get to continue his daily beach time. He sure does love running his little heart out and jumping through the waves. Still hasn't quite figured out not to drink the saltwater, though. We're likely going to rent another apartment in this complex when I come back, as the boat isn't really in any condition to live in just now. One more transitional period in a season full of them....

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Home Sweet Home

Dawn, Piper and I made it down to Charleston way back on Wednesday, but I haven't posted simply because I've been too exhausted every night. We've been working on the boat, and every night is taken up planning the subsequent day.

Monday night I got done with a trip around 5pm and then flew to to Indianapolis, where I met Dawn and Piper after a very long day from Dawn's parents in Rosholt, SD. On Tuesday we had a leisurely day exploring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, visiting the Four Roses, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve Distilleries. We were originally planning on spending the night in Lexington but ended up changing it to Knoxville to make it a shorter Wednesday to Charleston. We had decided that living on the hard here with a dog was going to be too hard, and so had rented a fairly cheap dog-friendly vacation rental in Isle of Palms. I think that was a good call - in our first four nights here, we've had Piper down on the beach all four nights and he's really enjoyed it. After 4pm the beach is a leash-free zone so he can run to his heart's content, playing with a bunch of other dogs whose owners have brought them down and getting his first tastes of saltwater. It's a good introduction to his new life, I think - well that and being perched high on Windbird's decks while Dawn and I go about our boatyard business. Bringing him up and down the ladder hasn't turned out to be too much of a hassle, and he seems to enjoy soaking up the sun on the teak.

Dawn and I have been hard at work on the boat for three days. We've moved all our boxes from home aboard but couldn't unpack many of them due to ongoing projects. I have the troublesome fuel system completely rebuilt, and it seems to be delivering a steady stream of clean diesel to the bleed screw but I guess I won't know if it's really right until we get the boat into the water and I can start the engine. Dawn scraped all the barnacles off the bottom and prop in preparation for a new coat of bottom paint once the water intrusion into the skeg has been addressed. We installed the new Tides Track on the now-detached mast. I made some LED lighting upgrades. We have the new masthead transducer installed and a new radar mount bracket designed - will have to find a machine shop to make it on Monday. I drilled a new hole in the mast for the radar power and data lines today, we'll be running the wires through the mast tomorrow. I cleaned the bilge and we both completely sanded the companionway hatch & surrounds today in preparation for a repair and fresh varnish in the next couple of days. The boatyard finally got the rig down last week and will be hopefully tearing out the chainplates this week along with a couple other projects. They're saying everything should be done by Nov 15th but I have my doubts. We're considering staying in Charleston until we head south but that would entail finding somebody new to work on the post-lightning electronics repairs. We have all the components we ordered at the Annapolis Sailboat Show and I have a good idea of what our new system will look like, but I'm loathe to install it myself give that insurance is paying for a professional install job. I'm all too aware that everything I do myself entails a steep learning curve, and usually several things done over. Still, I always learn from the things I do wrong. I think the trick is to find someone knowledgeable to work on the boat while allowing you to gain from their knowledge.

Amidst all the bustle and filth of the boatyard, I'm trying hard to imagine Windbird swinging peacefully at anchor in the Bahamas. That's the goal for this season. Wish us luck - we may need it.

Ok - off to bed. Yay for our hour extra sleep tonight.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Gone Baby Gone

Well, this is it, the moment we've been working towards. We have a boat, our home in Minnesota is sold, Dawn quit her job, I transferred to Atlanta and am in a good position to drop my work schedule to a minimum this winter, and as of this morning we moved out of our temporary apartment in St. Paul. This was our intermediate step between 2500 sq. ft. house and 200 sq. ft. boat. In the last two weeks we've sold or given away our remaining furniture, stored some household goods we'll want whenever we return, donated all other household goods and many of our clothes, and ended up with eight or nine boxes to pack in the back of our Xterra to bring to the boat in South Carolina.

I'm still flying a full schedule so I only had two days off to help Dawn pack all this up and clean the apartment. We unintentionally slept in a bit this morning so I didn't help with the final cleaning as much as I intended, it took a while to load up the last boxes headed for our storage unit, and I ended up at the airport a bit later than planned. No biggie, I made my commuter flight and got down to my new base airport of Atlanta in plenty of time. I'm in Austin tonight, West Palm Beach tomorrow, and Kansas City on Sunday night. After my trip is over on Monday I'll be flying to Indianapolis, where Dawn will meet me so we can drive the rest of the way to SC together. We're hoping to do a bit of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail along the way, and should arrive in Charleston on Nov 2nd.

We're not actually moving onto Windbird right away. She's still on the hard, obviously, with the rig down and the chainplates being replaced, with some attendant cabinetry dust and general boatyard grime. Living without refrigeration, water or plumbing presents its own difficulties. But mostly it's the idea of hauling Piper up and down a 12 foot ladder that is dissuading us. Judy mentioned that she lived on the hard with a small pup once, hauling her up and down the ladder in a sack. We tested that idea out with Piper in Minnesota and...yeah, it didn't go well. So we found a dog-friendly VRBO in Isle of Palms for $490 a week, and will live there the first week at least. There really aren't that many things we need to get done before splashing Windbird, but I figure we should take full advantage of the time she's in the boatyard to get projects done that might be harder in the water - and being there every day will allow me to supervise the boatyard's work. Leigh Jones will be coming down from Myrtle Beach to help with the radome, masthead transducer, and thru-hull transducer installation, and I'll likely do the initial installation on the Garmin chartplotter. But once the boatyard work is done we'll be heading back up to Myrtle Beach so Leigh and Rico can replace the rest of the lightning-fried equipment, and Dawn and I can get the rest of the boat ready to head south to Florida and the Bahamas in January and February.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Refit Priorities

Windbird's refit has finally begun in Charleston, three weeks into the month in which I was hoping to complete it. Most of that is thanks to Hurricane Matthew, plus some shortcomings in my communication with the boatyard. As a matter of fact, due to our early arrival to the yard last month I neglected to insist on an estimate before the boat was already out of the water. It finally came in earlier this week, and was quite a bit more than expected - $20k to replace the standing rigging alone, plus another $3.5k to yank the mast and restep it. It's considerably more than we were budgeting, but it needs to be done, and frankly I put myself in no position to bargain. So onward we go, the refit of our old boat behind schedule and over budget. Shocking, right?

I had a 5-day trip to Lagos from Saturday until Wednesday. I've been to Africa a number of times but never for work and never Nigeria. Due to the crime & security situation in Lagos, my airline "strongly recommends" not leaving our layover hotel compound. So I had 52 hours to be productive writing my monthly column for flying, researching boat stuff, ordering supplies.... HAH! No, I frittered it away eating and drinking with the crew, sitting by the pool while keeping one eye out for malarial mosquitos, and finishing one book ("Steaming to Bamboola") and starting another ("Seraffyn's Mediterranean Adventure"). Actually, I also did some thinking about our goals and priorities for this winter.

We want to do a shakedown cruise  - really, shaking down the boat but mostly gaining experience ourselves - that lasts several months. I don't think I've actually said this explicitly in previous posts, but we've modified our plan to include cruising Florida and the northern Bahamas this winter/spring, returning to cruise the U.S. east coast next summer, and then heading to the Caribbean in Nov 2017. This new plan (really our original plan) allows for some of the refit to be done next summer, but the most important things should be done this fall. If we try to do it all, we'll never even leave Myrtle Beach. To my mind, the three areas that are most important are: #1: Current & adequate safety equipment. #2. Sound mast, rigging, and sails. #3. Good navigation and self-steering equipment.

We've just began to address safety equipment by purchasing good offshore PFDs and tethers at Annapolis. We will be getting the liferaft repacked while in Charleston. I still need to go through the ditch kit, inventory its contents, and replace expired items. Ditto the medical kit, which is actually still up in Cape Cod with Judy. The mast, rigging and chainplates we're taking care of in Charleston at great expense, and hopefully will be done by ~ Nov 10th. We'll also be repacking stuffing boxes and repairing some water intrusion into the skeg while on the hard, and also refreshing bottom paint, but we'll not repair the small blisters that have started to pox Windbird's bottom at this time. We got quotes for a new mainsail from multiple lofts at Annapolis and ended up going with Doyle; we'll be getting our replacement main for considerably less than we thought ($3300 vs $4600). Windbird was previously adequately equipped for #3 but the lightning shot that all to hell, so installing the new chartplotter and autopilot will be priorities once we get back up to Myrtle Beach.

One previous priority - replacing the dodger, bimini, enclosure, and stack pack - has been shoved aside. Like everything else, this has turned out to be more expensive than we anticipated, and it would've taken up additional time too. The reality is that the fabric is faded but still servicable; the expensive issenglass is just fine; it's just the stitching thread that is sun-rotted. So after I landed in Atlanta from Lagos on Wednesday, I flew to Charleston, grabbed all our canvas out of our V-berth, and drove it to Georgetown to be restitched. The boat would look sharper with new canvas, sure, but the current stuff should get us through a year just fine. Another thing I would like to improve but that can really wait until next year is our solar power array. I got some great ideas by talking to knowledgeable folks at Annapolis, and I'm sure I'll learn more by looking at other cruiser's setups while we're down south.

I have several more trips to fly this month so I don't think we'll be getting back to Windbird until November 2nd, when we'll drive from MN after having moved out of our apartment. We've decided we don't really want to live on the boat on the hard with Piper, so we're looking into alternative accommodations until the boat is splashed. In November I don't fly until the 18th, which I'm hoping will give us time to get the boat back together and up to our slip in Little River. My goal is to head south sometime in January and be in the Bahamas before March. Like all boat plans, we'll just have to see how that goes,

Friday, October 14, 2016

Annapolis Day 2 + Cruiser's University

The Annapolis Boat Show was a lot less soggy on Sunday, and a lot more windy too was we got the doublewhammy of a passing cold front and inflow into Matthew, which had turned and was heading offshore. We called Charleston City Boatyard at 10am and got the good news that all the boats were still standing and undamaged...that wasn't the case at some of the marinas downtown. Dawn and I arrived at the show before it officially opened so we went to Pussers for coffee and mapping our strategy. Well, we only had to visit a few electronics vendors before pretty much everyone said go with The GPS Store for the best wholesale prices. So we did. I ended up ordering the Garmin 7607 chartplotter, 18xHD radar, GHP Reactor autopilot corepack, a wind/speed/depth bundle with Gmi20 and Gnx20 indicators plus another spare Gnx20. All this came to a discounted boatshow price of $5800, not bad as retail was over $7k. Then we headed over to Defender and ordered a Vesper XB-8000 AIS transponder + wifi multiplexer at a $140 discount. And I wrapped up my electronics shopping by ordering a new Blue Sea VSM-422 on

Finishing the electronics shopping so early gave us a lot more time to goof around checking out all the boats. Judy Handley alerted me that her good friends Kevin and Claire were at the boat show and would like to meet, so we got in contact and set up the rendezvous. I "knew" Kevin and Claire from Judy's blog - they have a long history with Windbird as they were Judy and Mark's liveaboard neighbors in Boston and were there to cast off the lines when they took off around the world. Later they joined Judy and Mark for a sail around Thailand, and then it was Kevin that helped them do the emergency 5-day delivery from FL to SC in February. They're not much older than Dawn and I, and I thought we hit it off. After checking out the new boats we went over to Brokerage Cove to check out some used ones, and then they went their separate way while Dawn and I resumed shopping, this time for foulies. Judy texted the previous night saying that Mark had received a brand new Henri Lloyd jacket at the Massachusetts General Hospital's America's Cup Experience fundraiser last year, and he'd only worn it once, it was my size, and I could have it - but she didn't know which jacket it was. She sent a pic, though, and the helpful folks at the Henri Lloyd booth immediately identified it as the Ultimate Cruiser Jacket (now called Freedom Jacket). That's perfect as I had been considering buying that jacket. And in fact at the show they were selling Ultimate Cruiser salopettes for a very good closeout price, so Dawn and I both ended up buying a pair.

On Monday through Thursday we attended "Cruiser's University," which is four full days of seminars on topics relevant to prospective liveaboard cruisers. My knowledge level in a lot of the areas of my chosen classes was already a lot higher than when we signed up, but most of the classes were still pretty useful, especially for Dawn (we took the same courses maybe 1/4 of the time and otherwise split up). We met a lot of really great people - including a few that'll be doing about the same thing as us, at the same time - and enjoyed the nights out with classmates in Annapolis immensely. It's a great town, and we hope to spend some there with Windbird next summer.

Yesterday I dropped Dawn off at DCA after class and she flew home, while I drove overnight to Charleston. I stopped at a truckstop to nap between about 2:30 and 6am, and arrived here at the boatyard just after 8am. I'm happy to report that Windbird did indeed weather the storm very well. The boatyard is almost back to normal and work on Windbird will commence next week. I got some boatwork done today (boom vang bail is fixed!), will be commuting to Atlanta tomorrow, and then fly my first Atlanta-based trip, a 5-day to Lagos, Nigeria. Finally on Wednesday Oct 19th I will get home to MN for the first time this month. It's been a crazy couple of weeks, I miss my dog a lot, and I really cannot wait for us to all just be living on the boat.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Annapolis Sailboat Show, Day 1

We drove 500 mi north from Charleston on Thursday and arrived at the home of good friends in Patuxent River, MD before 9pm. Sylvia Grandstaff and I have been flying-nerd buds for over 15 years; six years ago tomorrow she married an equally big flying nerd, Hugh, who also happens to be a big sailing nerd since he attended the US Merchant Marine Academy and sailed competitively there. The four of us have a ton of the same interests and outlook on life and get along famously, but we don't see each other nearly enough. Sylv is a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army - I would've voted her "least likely" when we met - and is now attending the extremely selective & rigorous U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Pax River (yes, they train Army rotary-wing test pilots too). On Saturday Sylv gave us a tour of the Naval Air Station and USNTPS, and I got to see the Blackhawk in which she suffered a catastrophic engine failure last week at the worst possible time (good engine at idle, up against airspeed and rotor speed autorotation limits). If she hadn't done everything right she probably wouldn't be here to tell me about it - but this being Sylv, she did everything right. After the tour we rented a pontoon boat and goofed around on the river until sundown, and then hung out all evening in their 270 square foot tinyhome which they share with two cats, a bird, a ferret, and their cuddly rescue pitbull "Savvy." Yes, Sylv and Hugh are that awesome. We can't wait to have them down to Windbird.

Dawn and I drove up to Annapolis today and Sylv & Hugh followed about an hour behind. It rained all day, more heavily in the afternoon, as Matthew's far northern bands crossed the Midatlantic region. Accordingly, I intended to shop for foul-weather gear first-off, but we initially didn't find anything we really liked in our price range at the Helly Hanson or Henri Lloyd tents. I did find a bunch of really excellent vendors to talk to about or get information on electronics, new mainsail quotes, our Awlgrip bootstripe color (Jade Mist Green, I think!), bottom paints, our worn windlass gypsy, offshore PFDs, LED lighting, etc etc. But it wasn't until Hugh arrived that he steered us towards the Zhik and Musto foul-weather apparel booths. "Oh boy, here it comes," I thought - I knew how expensive Musto is. But amazingly, they had a BR2 Women's Offshore Jacket in Dawn's size on sale for $200, which is a fantastic bargain, so she got that. I tried on an MPX Race Offshore Jacket and thought they had marked it down to $290, but alas, that was the bin number - it was $680 (on sale from $800). Fantastic jacket, I loved it, but not willing to spend that. Hugh ended up getting a Zhik jacket for $330, on sale from $400. I tried one on and it was pretty decent, but it was still a bit above our intended budget and seemed a bit on the light side to me. Well, Gill didn't have any medium OS2s ($199) in stock and I wasn't in love with the Henri Lloyd Freedom jacket on sale for $175, so I didn't get anything and instead got soaked all day in my wool sweater. I was maybe being a bit stubborn because I didn't want the rainy weather to pressure me into making a purchase I'd regret. So tomorrow I'll go back and try on the Henri Lloyd and Zhik again, and maybe hunt a little harder for bargains in the Musto tent. I love Dawn's jacket. It's comfy and built like a tank - it should last her 20 years.

Some nice friends of Sylv and Hugh's (Dan and Nancy, I think?) met us at one of the restaurants near the town dock where we had lunch and painkillers before pushing back out into the rain. Eventually the four of them departed to find the Hendricks Gin tent while Dawn and I continued our search. We tried on PFDs several places and ended up buying Spinlock 5Ds, which are considerably more expensive than we were planning on, but with absolute top-of-the-line features and extremely comfortable to boot - and about 25% off retail. We also bought tethers while we were at it. And lastly just before 5pm I decided to get one of the new battery-powered SOS strobes that meet the USCG signaling device requirement. The flares on Windbird are expired (shhh!) so this will make us legal, though I'll keep the flares in the ditch kit too.

After we left the show, we met up with the four others at the Fox's Den bar for pizza and beer, then said our goodbyes (Sylv and Hugh won't be coming back up tomorrow) and headed up to our Airbnb condo north of the Naval Academy. It's a really nice place, and we laid low tonight drying out and planning our day for tomorrow. I feel like we didn't get a ton done at the show today, but we did get a pretty good feel for what is where and should be more efficient tomorrow. I finally made a decision on which direction we're going to go with our post-lightning electronics overhaul, and the final result should be pretty awesome. So I have about $8000 worth of electronics to order tomorrow, gulp, and I'm gonna see if I can't get them all for maybe $6800 or so. There are actually a lot fewer suppliers of marine electronics here than I expected, so there's pretty limited opportunity to play them off each other. Mind you, insurance will be covering a portion of it, but probably less than we thought...there's a "new-for-old" adjustment I didn't realize would apply. In other words, we don't have much choice but to buy a new autopilot brain, but they'll only give us the depreciated value of our 10-year-old one. So we're still value shopping, even for stuff the lightning took out.

Awright, so talk about burying the, we do not yet have any news of how Windbird fared during Hurricane Matthew. South Carolina seems to have been hit a lot harder than Florida and Georgia, as Matthew finally came onshore in the Charleston area. The winds weren't terribly high (60 kts was the highest I saw reported at Charleston Airport) but the storm surge was pretty big and came right at high tide. Up in Myrtle Beach, John Schwab reported that Lightkeeper's Marina came close to losing their docks as the water lifted them to the very top of the pilings (and this at a place 6nm from the nearest inlet, where they only had 3' of storm surge during Hugo). See pics below. So that has me a little worried...Windbird is 14nm from Charleston Harbor but the Wando River is entirely tidal. I called Charleston City Boatyard tonight and the call was routed to the manager's phone number; he said he had evacuated with his family and hadn't heard any news from the yard yet (that's good, right?) but should know in the morning. So I'll call then & try to resist doing it obnoxiously early.



Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Connection & Celebration

Boats, like airplanes, seem to take on lives of their own, with unique histories and distinct personalities, at least in the minds of their owners. Boat ownership, for most, has a certain emotional component, with the accompanying highs and lows, bouts of love and hate, joy and sorrow. But you try to keep emotion out of it when you buy a boat (or, for that matter, when you sell it). You make lists of boats, crunch figures, ascribe pros and cons, enlist the help of impartial brokers and surveyors. But the reality is that very few will pull the trigger on such a big purchase unless they like the boat, if not love it. Windbird wasn't the cheapest boat we looked at (most certainly not after refit) nor the best equipped, or even the most ideal for the type of cruising we'll be doing - but we liked her. And worse (from an "impartial buyer" standpoint), we really liked her owners.

I'll be honest, Windbird wasn't love at first sight. My first thought when I saw her was that she looked used. The broker had been frank in my initial discussions with him and so this didn't come as a surprise, and I tried to look past it knowing that cosmetics are a rather small component of selecting a boat - but I came away from that initial look without a great deal of enthusiasm. And then I started reading Judy Handley's blog, and the more I read the more I was impressed with what they did with Windbird, and I started to see the real value of many of her features. When I went back to see the boat with Dawn, it was after having read about half of Judy's circumnavigation logs, and I seemed to see Windbird with different eyes. I was aware that reading the logs were giving me an emotional attachment to the boat - and to Mark & Judy - but I kept reading anyway and pretended that emotion didn't influence the final decision. It undoubtedly did. Now I look at Windbird, and while I still see the "used" bits (really, the bits that are awaiting our attention), she looks beautiful to me. I imagine her rocking at anchor in exotic landfalls during her circumnavigation, and surfing down greybeards in the December Atlantic with Mark at the helm. I dream of our future life aboard her. Every time I walk away, I turn around to admire her. My "like" is turning into "love."

As Dawn and I formed this connection with Windbird, we've also formed a connection with Mark and Judy that I think is stronger than most owner-buyer relationships. During the negotiation & sales process they struck me as very fair and reasonable people, and I tried to act in kind. I read the rest of Judy's logs and we started corresponding regularly via email, while Mark and I mostly talked on the phone. I often read new emails and logs to Dawn. Mark and Judy showered us with books, tools, equipment, and advice. We were really looking forward to meeting them and having them down to the boat - the request was actually included with the purchase agreement - but the sale dragged on and we waited longer than we should've to put it together, and then Mark's health took such a downturn that we scuttled the boat plans and decided to travel to Cape Cod instead - but alas, we were too late. Mark's death hit Dawn and I a lot harder than you'd expect considering that we'd never met the man in person. Nevertheless I felt a real connection there, and knowing he was gone left a really hollow feeling inside - almost like an early preview of losing a parent.

Dawn and I were really honored when Judy invited us to attend the Celebration of Life hosted by New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord, NH, and even moreso when she asked me to read one of Mark's favorite passages at the event. The timing worked out really well and we flew up from Charleston to Manchester via LGA yesterday morning. We checked in at the Concord Days Inn, which is where Judy met us yesterday afternoon (with another two tubs of tools, books and equipment to bring back!). It was oddly like running into an old friend. She has a personality that immediately sets you at ease - something I later also noticed about her daughter and son-in-law, and several old friends we got to know over dinner. I love that.

The Celebration of Life took place at the Capitol Center for the Arts in downtown Concord and featured a number of speakers who had worked with Mark during his years at NHPR and NPR, both in management and on-air roles (Mark was President & CEO of NHPR for 15 years and also Chairman of the NPR Board of Directors for several years). Most had been sailing with Mark on Windbird or other boats, as he clearly loved sharing his passion for sailing with others and treated his work colleagues like family. As they spoke, I realized that I couldn't really go up there and read the piece without somehow explaining my connection to Mark as something other than just the guy who bought his boat. So I scribbled out a few sentences about how I'd come to know and admire Mark in the last months of his life and how I continue to discover more about him as I become more intimately familiar with his boat, the physical embodiment of an ambitious lifelong dream that he and Judy actually made come true. Shortly after I was done writing, Heather (Mark & Judy's daughter) gave a really wonderful, remarkably composed eulogy, and then it was my turn. My speech wasn't polished and the delivery wasn't practiced so I basically read it, but I think the audience understood what I was driving at. And then I read this selection, which was James Kavanaugh's introduction to his 1970 book of poetry "There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves."

Afterward Dawn and I hung around a while talking to Jed and Heather and various friends - including quite a few names that rang a bell from Judy's blog - and then her friends David and Susan invited us to dinner with them, Judy, and three others at a nice bar and grill a mile or so away. It was a quite enjoyable time with some very smart, friendly people. Our discussion veered strongly into politics for most of the time - which these days is mostly a really cringe-worthy topic for me - but this stayed quite civil if for no other reason than that all of us (Republicans / newly-ex-Republicans included) were sane enough to recognize that Donald Trump is a stark raving lunatic. But we didn't get to talk to Judy a ton, other than an entertaining discourse on how to best lug a full supply of beer around the world! The evening wrapped up fairly early and we retired to the Days Inn.

We went to breakfast with Judy this morning and had more time for discussion, mostly boat-and-weather-centric (yes, Matthew is still bearing down on us) plus a little more politics. We made plans to have Judy down to the boat once Windbird is back in the water, exchanged hugs, and took a group picture (send a copy, Judy!). It was really special meeting Judy and spending time with her and her family and friends, and Dawn and I were both very happy that we were able to come up to NH for the Celebration. Our flights back down to Charleston went fairly smoothish (ok, if you don't count the stop in Raleigh-Durham for a medical emergency), but on the drive back to the boatyard we were surprised to see the streets are already almost completely abandoned. A lot of people have already evacuated, and every inland hotel in the state is reportedly full. We'll do a little more storm prep tomorrow, and then head out of town to visit friends up in Maryland, do the Annapolis Sailboat Show, and attend "Cruiser's University" next week.