Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Planning the New Nav Setup

I'll be heading out to the boat next on Sept 3rd and staying until Sept 8th, when I fly to Atlanta for recurrent training. Dawn will be staying at home with the PiperDog this time, though. My #1 priority is to get the fuel problem fixed; Mark emailed a few days ago with a couple of ideas. Otherwise I'll be putting the staysail back up, changing transmission oil and changing alternator belts, doing general boat maintenance and cleaning, and knocking some of the putzier items off of the refit list. My parents may be joining me for part of it, and a sailing friend possibly for part of it as well. If I have extra crew I'd like to get off the dock for at least a night, maybe two, though this requires reasonable confidence that none of my intended projects will require a last-minute West Marine run!

I have the claim paperwork off to the insurance company, and am waiting for a local repairman to complete his estimate & then for the insurance to send out an adjuster. I can't really fix anything until they see it, which means I'll still be without AirCon for the next visit (additional motivation to get off the dock). In the meantime I've been doing a fair amount of research on what we'll be replacing the fried electronics with. In the case of the navigation setup, I already had a pretty good idea of what we'd be doing but the loss of the GPS has pushed the timeline up a bit.

The Handley's navigation setup consisted of a laptop computer running MaxSea, a repeater monitor that could be mounted in the cockpit (in a fairly protected location under the dodger), and a Garmin 76Cx handheld GPS mounted on the pedestal guard with a power/data cable. They planned their routes on the laptop and fed them to the Garmin via the data cable; the Garmin also fed position, speed and direction information to their Raymarine ST60 instruments.

When I first looked at Windbird I thought we'd replace the 76Cx with a large Garmin chartplotter like the 7610 or 7612 and use it for planning as well as plotting. But the more I thought about the Handleys system the more I liked it. I know from experience that even the big plotters aren't ideal for planning; a computer is far handier for scanning the route at a sufficiently detailed zoom level, comparing various chart sources for discrepancies, and downloading GRIB files for weather routing. And once you've planned the route, a small GPS is just as effective as a large plotter for navigation. Besides, a big glass plotter would look a bit gauche in the cockpit of a traditional-looking cruiser like Windbird. So I decided to use a dedicated mini-computer plus LCD monitor for planning in the nav station, keep the 76Cx for the time being and eventually replace it with a modest Garmin 741 chartplotter, and use the cockpit monitor connected to the mini-computer as a backup for navigation. My MacBook would be the backup for the mini-computer, and both Dawn's iPad and mine running Garmin BlueChart Mobile software would be the backup to the backup.

Well, now the 76Cx is toast from the lightning strike, so I'll be putting in the Garmin 741 sooner rather than later (was kinda hoping to wait until October, so I could at least wait for the Annapolis boat show to try to score a deal). I've also changed my mind on the mini-computer, and am going to instead go with a Windows tablet for our dedicated navigation, SSB communication, and boat recordkeeping station. I'll normally keep it mounted (and plugged in) at the nav station, but its portability opens up the possibility of planning at the saloon table and as a backup it could also be mounted (in a waterproof pouch) at the helm or behind the dodger, in lieu of the heavy, power-hungry, and somewhat clunky remote monitor. I'm currently vacillating between a Lenovo Miix 310 or an Asus Transformer Book T100HA. Both reportedly do a good job of running OpenCPN, the feature-packed open source chartplotter software that I've been messing around with on my Mac for the last few months. I've downloaded NOAA raster and vector charts for the east coast as well as worldwide CM93 (CMAP) charts and OpenCPN makes it easy to switch between them as appropriate.

Another thing that will now be getting replaced sooner rather than later is the ancient Raytheon RL-9 radar. Before the lightning strike it worked ok so I didn't mind sticking with it for the time being and replacing it a year down the road if we ran out of time before heading to the Bahamas, but considering the number of night passages we're likely to do on our way south I'd rather not go entirely without radar. So I'm likely to pick up a Garmin 18xHD in Annapolis and install it while the mast is still off the boat in Charleston. Open CPN is able to display Garmin radar, as does the 741, so I won't be replacing the dedicated radar display at the nav station (that'll be where the tablet is normally mounted).

Another planned Annapolis buy is the Vesper XB-8000. This amazing little $700 black box is an AIS transceiver (not just receiver) as well as a GPS antenna and NMEA multiplexer...and best yet, it streams AIS, GPS and NMEA data wirelessly to up to five chartplotters, computers, and iDevices! Too cool. Anything that cuts down on nav station wire spaghetti (and the amount of wiring I have to do) is a good thing.

As far as the autopilot is concerned, the only part I'm pretty sure is fried is the brain box; the linear drive, control head, remote, and flux gate compass might be ok (and are all fairly recent). So that along with Raymarine's reputation for building quality autopilots means we'll probably stick with Raymarine. That'll mean less integration with the Garmin chartplotter but I'm ok with that...I don't think it's a very wise practice to have your autopilot synced up to your chartplotter route anyways, especially on sailboats.

And that leaves instrumentation. We have Raymarine ST60 speed, wind and depth instruments in the cockpit plus a ST60 multi at the nav station. The lightning only knocked out the wind speed & direction unit (plus the masthead sender, as the multi unit can't find it anymore). The instruments are a little older but perfectly functional; both the Garmin and the Vesper black box can handle NMEA0183 (an older marine electronics standard protocol, the new one is NMEA 2000) so I'll just replace the wind instrument & masthead transducer, sticking with Raymarine. The question is whether to get secondhand ST60 stuff or upgrade to the new i60 system. The new one isn't really any more expensive, it'll just look goofy next to the older instruments and require more work to well as possibly requiring a NMEA2000 backbone. Maybe not, it also works with SeaTalk (Raymarine's own protocol) and I'm pretty sure Mark already had some SeaTalk stuff connected. Obviously I need to think about this a bit more, and find out exactly how it's networked right now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

First Sail

Yesterday Dawn and I got up early to put the newly reconditioned sails back on the boat while the wind was calm. It was a bit slower and a lot more frustrating than when we took them off a few weeks ago, but now that we have the system down it'll go a lot smoother next time. We actually had to put the yankee on twice as I completely screwed up my attachment method in a fairly boneheaded way the first time. The Neil Pryde backup mainsail used much smaller battens than the now-defunct Hood main so my first order of business was to cut the battens down, sand & wrap them. We then tried positioning the heavy main a few different ways on deck before deciding to feed it from the foredeck, which I think was probably a mistake. The problem is that you have to feed the clew into the front of the boom, but then once the foot's bolt rope is in the groove you need the luff of the sail near the front of the boom to feed the slugs into the sail track. In retrospect we should've put the main upside down along side the boom, pulled out the bottom ten feet or so and fed it forward between the mast and the "sissy bars," and then proceeded. We'll get better at this.

Oh, we did discover that the "spare staysail" which was in a bag labled staysail was actually a storm trisail, complete with slugs for the second mast track. I'm actually happy to have it, but we don't have a staysail on the boat for the time being until we get it back from North Sails. 

After the sails were on we took a lunch / West Marine shopping break, and then the rest of the day was occupied with various small putzy boat jobs including washing the cabin top, but we didn't get around to polishing the stainless steel & bronze portholes like I wanted. Next time. We grilled steaks for dinner, and right about the time we were splitting a piece of red velvet cake for desert, John and Beth Schwab paid us a visit. John is the broker that sold the boat for the Handley's and lives in the marina here; he and Beth are a really nice couple that loves to sail (they own a very nice Pacific Seacraft 34, which they use for crewed day charters), and we've enjoyed spending time with them over the last few months. We sat in Windbird's cockpit for a while talking and drinking beers, then we moved the party over to a 40' motor yacht kittycorner to Windbird where we met Charlie, Cathy, Charlie's brother Allen, and their 120 lb boat dog Duke. All four of them are a real hoot and our first R dock party was an enjoyable one.

We didn't let the party run too late as we were planning to take Windbird out for her first daysail today. First Leigh Jones met us at the boat at 8am to go over the list of equipment taken out by the lightning strike. He'll put together an estimate for our insurance. I've discovered a few extra things that might be dead; he suggested I leave the claim open as the nature of lightning strikes is such that problems may continue to crop up down the line. Ugh. I do suspect that Windbird took a direct hit since her "bottle brush" lightning dissipator at the masthead is now canted at a drunken angle and missing a few bristles.

Beth and John showed up around 9am and we soon had Windbird off the dock and headed north up the ICW. It's only about 6 miles to the Atlantic Ocean via Little River Inlet; we were planning to go offshore for a few hours of sailing and then anchor behind Bird Island for a bit on our return. However shortly before we got to the inlet the engine started momentarily losing power. It would just dip a few hundred RPM and come back. I went below, switched fuel tanks, and took a good hard look at the engine, particularly the fuel lines and Racor housing I just had apart on Monday. There was no sign of a fuel leak, collapsed line, or air entry into the system. Then it seemed to run ok until we started out the inlet. Suddenly it lost so much power I thought it was going to quit, and so we did an immediate 180. We had the mainsail up and could have made it back in if the engine actually quit, but decided it was best not to go offshore with an unreliable engine. John went below once we were safely inside the inlet and said he didn't see anything either. We dropped the mainsail, turned around, and headed to Bird Island. Along the way I remembered that there was a Racor vacuum gauge mounted under the companionway, so I checked it. Over 15 in. Hg, well into the red. Ah-hah.

After we were anchored at Bird Island - a really peaceful, beautiful anchorage that I'd like to spend more time at - I went down and changed the fuel filter again. The one I'd just put in was still clean, but it was a 10 micron filter, while Mark had been running 30 micron. This time I switched back to my spare 30 micron filter, and when we ran the engine the vacuum gauge was in the yellow band instead of the red. Maybe this engine doesn't like the 10 micron filter, maybe it's another problem that this only slightly improved. In any case the engine ran fine the whole way back to Lightkeeper's Marina, all the way up to 3000 rpms, with the vacuum gauge indicating 9-10 in. Hg. I'll have to ask Mark what it normally reads. I'd hate to call out a mechanic to diagnose an intermittent problem that might not resurface for him. We'll see.

So our first sail was kinda disappointing; we never got to actually sail. Actually that's not right, we had the mainsail up most of the way in, and on the way back we put out the yankee and were romping along at six knots with the engine in neutral for a while. Just a little taste to tide us over, I guess. From what I can tell she stands up well to her sails, tracks quite straight, is a bit heavy on the helm (look Ma, no autopilot! Zap!), and turns in close quarters like a Mack truck. I took her off the dock and brought her back on, and she definitely maneuvers a lot differently that the light, turn-on-a-dime Beneteaus I'm used to (to say nothing of 2-engine cats). Oh yeah, left-hand prop also requires a reversal of thinking about prop wash. But with some helpful hints from John it was actually a pretty decent approach and docking. It helps that the transmission shifts extremely smoothly, making it very easy to use judicious blips of forward and reverse power as needed.

We're leaving tomorrow morning and then I'll be back September 3rd, though Dawn will be staying back in MN. I just found out that my parents are coming out this way on their vacation about that time, so I'll likely get to introduce them to Windbird and perhaps even get off the dock for a night. But nobody rides for free - I'll put them to work on boat projects and make a dent in this growing refit list yet!

Monday, August 22, 2016


I really like the marina where Windbird has been based but it's certainly not the easiest place to reach from Minnesota. There are no direct flights; Delta flies to MYR once a day from Detroit, once from New York, and five times a day from Atlanta. And it can be ridiculously hard to fly standby from Minneapolis to Atlanta. Yesterday was one of those days: every flight oversold and around 60 on the nonrev list. Instead we took a late flight direct to Charlotte, landed at 11:30, rented a car, chugged some coffee, and drove straight here, arriving at 3:30am. I noticed right away that the air conditioning - which we just paid $1300 to fix - wasn't running, and when I turned on the breaker there was a hum from the compressor but the control panel remained dark. Hmm. No worries, it was "only" 80 degrees (with 80% humidity) outside and the aft cabin was fairly comfortable with the fans going. And really we were tired enough to sleep through pretty much anything.

We woke up at 9am and got going on our day. We started by unpacking the two boxes of boat stuff we checked with us as well as all the packages that had arrived at the boat in our absence including some great additions to our cruising library from a reader of my other blog. Thanks Pete! We also got a bunch of spare parts & filters I'd ordered, two inflatable PFDs, and a bunch of boat decor stuff Dawn is writing about right now as we sit in the cockpit enjoying a cool night breeze....

My main boat projects for the day were cleaning the Racor primary fuel filter, changing the secondary fuel filter, and changing the oil & oil filter. I started by verifying the Racor model, calling Mark Handley for a quick rundown of the fuel system, and heading to West Marine to buy a replacement filter element plus a few spares. Throw in lunch, shopping at Publix, and a stop at the canvas shop and it was already 1pm when we got back. Ugh. Dawn headed up to Carolina Beach NC to pick up our repaired sails from the sail loft, and in the meantime I tackled the Racor project. As Mark predicted, it was a dirty job. I picked up a small plastic dishpan and that kept most of the mess contained at least. There was about an inch and a half of thick sludge in the bottom of the bowl & trying to get it out the 1" hole only resulted in pushing it up further into the filter. I finally just took apart the entire assembly, cleaned it up really nice, reassembled & remounted it, inserted a new 10 micron filter, and put on the lid and T-handle with new gasket and o-ring. Pretty easy, just messy. I then replaced the secondary fuel filter which on this engine is a 2-minute job with a filter wrench - it uses a spin-on fuel filter very similar to an automotive oil filter. Disassembling the Racor and replacing the secondary filter introduces a lot of air into the system which would normally make it a real pain to bleed (especially since I didn't have any spare clean diesel to top off the Racor)...however, Windbird has a small diaphragm pump just downstream of the Racor that can be hotwired to the start battery. It had the Racor refilled and the air bled from the top of the secondary filter housing in no time flat! The engine started right up, quit after a few seconds, but then ran great the second time. I talked with Mark again later in the day and he said that diaphragm pump was the idea of Dave Laux, the engine genius who handled Windbird's repower in 2005 when the original Perkins engine & transmission started acting up only two days into their circumnavigation. It's a good idea that saves a lot of time & frustration.

I let the engine run for five minutes to warm the oil, then shut it down and let it sit for a bit. Earlier I had put in a call to Rico, the guy who had repaired the AC. He had called me back while I was elbow-deep in diesel, but I now listened to his voicemail. The news was not good. A few nights ago a huge lightning storm hit the marina, multiple boats took hits, and he suspected Windbird was one. He had stopped in the next morning and the AirCon had quit working; near as he could tell, the control unit was fried. This rather alarmed me, so I started turning on various systems. The masthead wind speed and direction instruments weren't working. Neither was the autopilot. The GPS wouldn't turn on. The vessel monitoring system was dark, as was the solar panel controller. None of the stereo speakers worked. The large bilge pump might be dead. Ugh.

I decided to put it out of mind for the moment and went back down to the engine room to change the oil. Mark has a brass pump with a hose that connects to the dipstick; you put the outlet in an empty jug and pump for a few minutes, which is a rather civilized way to do an oil change. Dawn came home then with the sails and I detoured to figuring out the propane system, changing propane cylinders & getting the grill going; we had grilled salmon & asparagus for our first real boat meal, plus a grilled banana-chocolate-marshmellow dessert we tried for the first time. After dinner I went back downstairs and changed the oil filter, which is unavoidably messy as it is mounted horizontally. I used absorbent pads & didn't spill too much oil into the bilge. I put the new oil in, cleaned up, and headed up to the pool to call my mom while dangling my legs in the cool water. It occurred to me that I managed to stretch maybe an hour and half's worth of work for an experienced cruiser into a full day of putzing around. Oh well. I'll get better at this....

I'm a little sick to my stomach over how much damage this apparent lightning strike has done - in our first few days of ownership! We have insurance, but our policy has a higher deductible for lightning strikes which means we're on the hook for the first $4250. Moreso, it adds a lot onto an already-long project list. I'll make a full check of equipment and do more troubleshooting tomorrow. We'll also be getting up early to put the sails back on while it's still calm, and will also wash and wax the cabin top and polish the stainless steel. On Wednesday we're planning to do a daysail with John Schwab (the selling broker) and his wife Beth. We were hoping to spend a night anchored out this trip but I don't think it's going to happen. Next time....

The Handleys were originally thinking of coming this week but Mark hasn't been doing very well lately. We'll try again in September, hoping his new treatment has a positive effect. He's been incredibly helpful on the phone; we'll likely do a lot more talking in the next few weeks in hopes that I can glean a fraction of his expansive knowledge of this boat. Whether they make it down to Windbird or not, I'd really like to meet him and Judy. I've been around the world enough to know just what a huge accomplishment taking a 42' sailboat around it is. A couple that can do that together in their retirement years impresses the hell out of me - as does living aboard, keeping a boat going, and even sneaking in some cruising while battling cancer for 5 years. I just finished all 11 years of Judy's blog, and I suspect that in the face of challenges like this recent lightning strike I'll often think of the all the obstacles they overcame with this boat. That definitely helps.

Making Windbird a Home

Sam and I are back on Windbird for another four days to continue working on her and become more familiar with her systems. We plan to take her for a day sail on Wednesday with the selling agent and his wife. When I've been back home, I've enjoyed purchasing things to make Windbird feel more like home.  I purchased kitchen things from the clearance sections at Target. I used these fish as my inspiration for my color theme on the boat.


I had fun looking at and purchasing a runner rug for the salon and decorative pillows. I also purchased pillows for the cockpit; however, they were just covers and were too large, I will be sending them back. 


When I spent some time on Windbird the first week in August, I took time to hang some outside cockpit lights, temporarily. We use them every single night. In fact, I'm sitting in the glow of the soft lights while writing this post. 😀


I spent a good part of the late afternoon unpacking the clearance dishes and some of the other kitchen items we checked on the flight. We're hoping to check a bag/box of things each time we visit Windbird in hopes of only having to fill the Xterra and not bring a trailer when we move at the end of October. 

Sam and I have a list of things to work on, which we started today. I believe Sam will write about them later, but I spent about three & a half hours picking up our sails from the Sail Loft so that we can do that afternoon sail on Wednesday. I'll update more later. Ta ta for now; I'm off to bed in preparation for an early morning of putting the sails back on the boat. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Initial, Official Training for the First Mate

In one of Sam's posts, he mentioned making preparations for ourselves.  Well, June was an extremely busy month for me as I prepared for different changes in my life.  First, we closed on our home June 7th.  Saying good-bye after five short years was bitter sweet.  I remember seeing it for the first time, falling in love with it, and hoping to spend the rest of our lives there.  A young couple bought the house and got a puppy.  They love the house and are excited to spend many years there.

Second, my last day of teaching was June 10th.  After 9 years teaching math in Minnetonka and 14 years total, I am looking forward to a little time off to sail and reevaluate what I'd like to do after cruising.  I will miss my coworkers and students, but looking for the very needed break.

Third, as I ended two chapters in our life, I prepared for our next journey by completing a week long sailing course in the San Juan Islands.  I participated in the ASA 101, 103, and 104 through San Juan Sailing out of Bellingham, WA.  I spent the week between school ending and the start of my sailing classes studying the material from the three course books.  By the time I read through my third book, I felt somewhat prepared to take the first written exam aboard our sailboat.  Throughout the week, I had three written tests and practical skills tests to complete onboard. I flew into Portland PDX airport Friday afternoon where my friend April Strong picked me up and drove north to Bellingham WA.  We boarded SV Esprit de Mar (the owner's Jeanneau 45) Saturday just after having lunch with Captain Anne and the four of us (Jessica, Callie, April, and I).

Esprit de Mar in Friday Harbor

We were informed that we would be taking our first written at lunch, but the weather was not ideal, so we focussed on getting off the dock and motoring/sailing out for our first night.  We stayed at Blind Bay on Shaw Island.  We finally took the first test on Sunday morning. I scored a 95/100 and was pleased.  April and I had studied in bed the night before.  Captain Ann has been an instructor with San Juan Sailing for almost 5 years now and has great materials and successful routines she uses every time she takes out a new group.  I loved the way she broke up the duties on board: The Skipper who was in charge of getting us safely from point A to B, The Navigator who was responsible for weather briefing and navigational course (dead reckoning) for the day, The Mechanic who was in charge of checking the systems on board along with assisting the deckhand, and The Deckhand who was responsible for mooring/anchoring and bumpers and lines along with dish duty.  We rotated through the roles each day so we became comfortable with all positions on a sailing vessel.  I hope to put a few of these systems into place on Windbird. Today we spent the majority of our time sailing and learning the different points of sail along with knowing when to ease and trim the sails.  If I recall correctly, we were also in search of whales throughout the day. :)

Sunday night we anchored at Garrison Bay on San Juan Island (one of our favorite anchorages).  We arrived early enough to take the dingy to shore and did some walking at English Camp.  A family of deer lived on the island and didn't seem to be people shy. 

Garden at English Camp

Esprit de Mar after Sunset - Garrison Bay

Monday morning, we had breakfast and took our second written test (I scored 97/100).  We had to make sure we left to get out before low tide.  We motored over to Roche Harbor where we practiced figure eights to get the feel of the motor.  We also practiced stopping alongside a buoy.  We had time to take showers before a quick sail to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island where we spent the Summer Solstice.  

Friday Harbor

Full Moon during Summer Solstice

Tuesday morning the winds were somewhat strong in the harbor.  The wind was blowing us into the dock, so it was a little stressful to motor off.  I was the skipper for the day, so that was my job, which was quite stressful for me, but Captain Anne was there to guide me and step in if she needed to.  We agreed to practice stopping along side the dock where the wind was blowing us off.  I'm sure it appeared to others that we didn't know what we were doing, but we were practicing.  Our boat was magnificent and every time we came into port, people watched.  Many would want to jump in to help 5 women, but we had to mention that we were a student boat and had it under control.  We had mapped out a location for where we wanted to spend the night, but the winds and currents were strong enough that we ended up picking a different location.  We sailed to and moored in Shallow Bay on Sucia Island.  It was a peaceful place.  We took the dingy into shore where we had a quick hike to the other side of the island.  We spoke to an older couple who had kayaked in during low tide.  Jessica and Callie went for a jog and walk respectively while the rest of us went back to the boat to prepare dinner.  April and I drove back in to pick up the girls about an hour later.  

The kayakers relaxing and enjoying the view

 April and I

 Madrone Tree - Native to the area

Upon waking Wednesday morning, we took our final written exam.  I was most nervous about his one because I felt the least prepared; the test consisted of systems and more rules and regulations.  I ended up scoring 93/100.  I was very pleased with all three scores but felt like I needed more practice with the skills portion of the tests.  We left Shallow Bay headed for Rosario on Orcas Island.  We had a nice morning sail, heaved to for lunch, sailed a little more before practicing man overboard and then arrived in Rosario in time to see Christopher Peacock played piano and organ at The Mansion.  After the concert, April and I took showers and Jessica and Callie went for a hike.  Captain Anne made spaghetti, her special sauce, and garlic bread for dinner, which we ate late because the girls had taken a wrong on their way back to the boat.  It was another late night while we planned our sail for Thursday.

For our final FULL day of sailing we had steady winds and currents.  Captain Anne asked us not to lean on her for advice because she wanted us making decisions on our own.  We teamed up and took turns sailing as if we were a two person crew.  I was hoping that I'd become more comfortable at the helm during this course, but realized it will take me much longer than these six days.  I also realized that I really like easing and trimming the sails.  On our way over to Inati on Lummi Island, we stopped at Vendovi (Captain Anne's secret stop) to hike and meet the couple who live on and manage the island.

 We saw slugs and this beautiful snail

Esprit de Mar with Lummi in the background

It was a quick sail over to Inati where we moored and stern tied.  April and I were acting deckmates so were responsible for rowing to shore and tying down the stern.  By this point we docked two nights, moored two nights, and anchored two nights using a different anchoring system each night.  

Friday morning was sunny and windy.  We had a beautiful sail back to Bellingham with winds up to 25 Knots at times.  We reefed before raising the anchor, so we were ready for the winds.  Once arriving back to base, we needed to refuel, empty the holding tanks, and fill the water tanks  Jessica docked us at the dump dock where the wind was blowing us off the dock, Callie docked us at the fuel dock, and I drove us to the dock.  We had to be off the boat by noon.  All in all, we had a great time and I'm glad that I took the course.  I have plenty more to learn, but it will be aboard our boat Windbird.  Next month Sam and I will be attending some classes at Cruisers University in Annapolis.  I'm excited to learn so much more.  I've been spending time joining Facebook groups like Women Who Sail and Cooking on a Boat to help me be more prepared before I move aboard by November 1st.

Final sail back to Bellingham Bay. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cruising on Two Wheels

The last few days Dawn and I took a short break from thinking about boat stuff to get our motorcycles out of storage and take them for a 2-day romp through the hill country of Southeastern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. Our adventures over our 15 years together have taken many forms, and motorcycling has been a major one since 2008. That was the year I bought my 1985 BMW K100RS in Aspen, Colorado, largely because Dawn could comfortably ride on the back (unlike my earlier Yamaha FZ600). In 2009-2010, I made a 14,680 mile trip around the circumference of the Lower 48 states in multiple stages, and Dawn rode on the back for some 5000-odd miles of it and really enjoyed it. Later in 2010, my good friend Brad Phillips and I were planning a trip to Alaska and back for summer 2011, and Dawn gave her permission but wanted to come along. "Ah, gee, honey - two people and all our stuff for a month on one bike would be kinda tough" - to which she suggested she get her motorcycle license and her own bike! Which is exactly what she proceeded to do. We bought her 2005 Yamaha FZ6 in Portland, OR (where the Alaska trip was departing from), and when we took off in June 2011 she had all of six days of street riding experience under her belt thanks to a run down the West Coast to Napa and back we did over her Spring Break that year. Dawn did great on the 6500+ miles of the Alaska ride and has been an avid rider since - these days, she puts more miles per year on her Yamaha than I do on the BMW.

When we embarked on the "sell everything and go sailing" plan, "everything" originally included the motorbikes. But then we decided we would come back to MN and live with family during the first hurricane season down south (when the boat will live on land), and it made sense to keep the bikes since we'll be back north during prime riding season. For now we're keeping them in a nearby storage unit, and this fall they'll go to Dawn's brother's garage for the winter. Sadly, we haven't got much use out of them this year - there's been precious little time between Delta keeping me busy flying, boat purchase and now refit trips, etc. When we were getting our saddlebags and camping equipment out of the mini-storage space in the basement of our apartment building, Dawn somewhat reproachfully said "You know, you get really gung-ho for one hobby, go full out for a year or two, and then move onto the next big thing." Ouch! She's not exactly wrong. I do have a pretty wide variety of hobbies & interests. It's not like I lost interest in motorcycling, but my passions for flying small planes and sailing have both blossomed over the last few years, and we continued to travel fairly extensively during that time as well. There's only so many days in the year, and well, some of those we have to work. Now that we've committed to cruising nearly-full-time for several seasons, pretty much everything else is getting shoved aside. That's not a bad thing. This is a big undertaking and it deserves our full attention. But I'm going to have to be a lot more single-minded and not "move onto the next big thing."

I've put nearly 50,000 miles on the BMW since I bought it (it's close to turning over 100k miles - these old BMWs are known for running pretty much forever), and so it didn't take long to get back into the groove once we got back out on the road. Our little two-day, 450-mile trip reminded me just how much I enjoy motorcycling once I actually get out and do it. But it occurred to me last night, while we sat in a small-town Wisconsin tavern eating dinner and sipping New Glarus Spotted Cow ales, that my enjoyment of motorcycling, flying small planes, international travel, and sailing/cruising are all different sides of the same (apparently 4-sided) coin. They're all adventurous ways to get out and explore the most beautiful corners of our diverse, fascinating world and meet a wide variety of interesting people while doing so. Cruising will allow us to do this in a much more in-depth and unhurried fashion than we're used to, and that prospect has me really excited.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

We're Hers

I was originally going to title this post "She's Ours," but I think the opposite is just as true if not moreso. Either way, Dawn and I and Windbird have officially tied the knot! Earlier this week the Handleys were able to get the USCG Satisfaction of Mortgage form from their bank, which was the last remaining obstacle; our bank released the funds on Thursday, we overnighted the check to Triton Yacht Sales, and as of yesterday we are Windbird's official owners. It was an event that mostly passed without fanfare; Dawn packed for a weekend trip to visit high school girlfriends and I packed for my next work trip that reported at 1am this morning, and in between we refined our refit schedule and cruising budget. It didn't really quite hit me until I read Judy Handley's blog post last night, The End of a Chapter. I think the sale of Windbird is almost a bigger deal to the Handleys than it is to us because she took them around the world and has been their home for the last 13 years; they know exactly what they're giving up, while we don't know yet exactly what we're gaining. I sure am excited to find out, though.

Our next trip to the boat will be August 21st-25th. The Handleys are hoping to fly down to Myrtle Beach for 2-3 days to brief us more extensively on boat systems and go sailing with us, but it really depends on Mark's cancer treatment and how he's feeling, both of which have been quite in flux lately. Best case scenario, we'll spend two days exploring the Waccamaw River and Georgetown SC before sailing outside back to Little River the third day - but if the Handleys can't do this, we'll do it ourselves sometime in September. We expect to have the sails back on the boat August 22nd. I don't know if I mentioned this the other day, but the North Sails loft that inspected Windbird's sails declared the primary mainsail "dead on arrival" due to UV degradation, which I suspected might be the case. The good news is that Windbird came with a backup Neil Pryde mainsail that's still in decent shape, so we're having it reconditioned and will use it as our primary mainsail for the time being. In October or November we will have a new North Sails mainsail made and that will become our primary and the Neil Pryde will be our backup. The new mainsail will be a $4800 expenditure but should drastically improve Windbird's sailing performance. We're also looking at having a new stackpack made at the same time, which will run around $1600.

We'll continue to do the smaller, putzier bits of the refit in September, but in October comes the major yard work: replacing the chainplates, bow stem, gooseneck, and standing rigging, repairing the skeg, and repainting the bottom. We were thinking of doing this at Zimmerman Marine in Southport NC but they recently lost their rigger and were going to send us up the ICW to their other yard in Mathews, VA; now I'm thinking we'll do it at Charleston City Boatyard in Charleston, SC. We'll then have the new enclosure made in November or December, likely by Sunset Canvas in Little River. In the meantime I'll fit Windbird with an AIS transponder, a PC-based chartplotter system, and possibly a new radar.

Right now I'm frankly doubtful that all this will proceed on schedule and we'll be ready to take off for the Caribbean come January or February, and so we've been considering an alternate plan: just get enough done to take a 2-3 month shakedown cruise in the Abacos and Exumas in Feb-Apr, come back to the States to finish up the refit next summer, and then take off for real in the fall of November 2017. This was, after all, our original timeline. But we'll see. We don't want to launch into the rather remote southern Bahamas before we and the boat are ready, but at the same time are aware that a lot of boats languish on the dock way too long while the owners embark on the "ultimate refit." The main idea here is to make sure the sails, rigging and engine are up for the long windward slog to the Greater Antilles while addressing a few of the other things that have worn out during Windbird's epic trip around the globe and the five years since. And yes, we also need to get in some trips up and down the Carolina coast to better familiarize ourselves with Windbird's systems and maintenance.

One big part of our plan fell into place yesterday when I found out I'll be converted to an Atlanta base on October 1st. We recently had a vacancy bid in which I put in for and was awarded the transfer, but I wasn't sure when it would be effective. This is perfect as we'll be moving down to the boat permanently in late October. Piece by piece, it's all coming together.

A Quick Tour

Just before leaving Windbird last week I thought to grab some video of a quick tour of the boat. The sails are off, battens laying on deck, enclosure closed and cushions drying due to a thunderstorm that just passed, etc, but it'll give a good idea of the layout and appearance.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Chance Encounter?

I know I've mentioned it before here, but if you're interested in the previous adventures of Windbird under her present/soon-former owners Mark & Judy Handley, you should check out The Voyage of Windbird blog. Judy (and very occasionally Mark) posted almost every single night, sending logs via ham radio with pactor modem when they were offshore. The first six years are a well-written look at daily life as a circumnavigator; the five years since make for more sobering reading as Mark was diagnosed with colon cancer soon after their return, but through the ups and downs of his fight they find joy in their grandkids and extended family, each other, and Windbird herself. I've come to really admire the Handleys through their blog, our email and phone conversations, and getting to know their boat. Be forewarned, though: don't dive into the blog without a good week or two set aside. It's long. I started reading right around the time we started getting serious about Windbird in late May, and still haven't completely finished.

In fact I just recently read Judy's Year 10 account of their cruise through the Bahamas, in Feb & March 2015. This was really interesting because Dawn and I flew our Piper Pacer through the Bahamas in late March 2015, and in fact it turns out we crossed paths with Windbird in a most serendipitous way. On Sunday, March 29th, Windbird was cruising from Warderick Wells to Hawksbill Cay in the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park. Judy wrote:
We skipped Hawksbill Cay on our way south, so we were elated that we got the opportunity to stop here today. It is billed as the most beautiful island in the Exumas. I’m not sure I totally agree with that, but it does have an interesting coastline. It has outcroppings of what I call the ‘prickly’ limestone (jagged and sharp) as well as layered limestone that that is much smoother. We are moored right in front of the entrance to a creek that goes inland a bit and there are beautiful white sand beaches. There are lots of snorkeling spots here, but by the time we got here, it was well after low tide so we chose not to snorkel. Instead, we picked up Lee and Lynda in our dinghy and headed about a mile north to a little beach with a path to some old Loyalist ruins.

Meanwhile, my brother Steve and I had landed in Nassau to pick up Dawn, who was flying in from Minneapolis on Delta. We hopped over to Norman's Cay on the northern end of the Exuma to meet up with friends who were flying a second airplane...
Then we took off together and flew formation for 32 stunning miles of the Exuma Islands chain: the turquoise of the Grand Bahama Bank to the west, bleached cays and scrub-covered islets, shallow lagoons, narrow cuts, pristine reefs, empty sugar-sand beaches, and the deep dark blue of the Atlantic to the east.

During this flight we flew over the Exuma Land and Sea Park including Hawksbill Cay, right around the time that Mark and Judy were exploring the Loyalist ruins while Windbird bobbed at anchor. Dawn and I loved the almost surreal beauty of the Exumas and couldn't believe we were flying over it in our own airplane, but I also noticed all the boats negotiating the mazelike chain and thought "what I wouldn't give for a sailboat and a month or two of free time to explore around here!" As it turned out, this flight and our other explorations of the Bahamas that week would be one of the catalysts for our decision later in 2015 to sell everything and go cruising sooner rather than later. And as it turns out, we were flying over our future boat at the time!

Note: I also wrote an article about our March 2015 flying/sailing trip for Flying Magazine. You can read the online version here.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Windbird Workweek

I was intending to post every night this week about individual boat projects but that didn't happen. The nights went late and we got up early each morning to beat the heat, which didn't leave much time for blogging. Dawn flew home today as she could only find puppy care for 4 days, and I'll head home tomorrow since I have a five-day trip starting Saturday afternoon. We'll be back to Myrtle Beach on August 22nd-25th and will resume boat projects then and maybe even get off the dock for a night or two.

During my last trip for work, I made up a list of projects to be accomplished this week. It was ambitious & I knew it; I figured aiming high would motivate me to get as much as possible accomplished. It turns out I'd need that motivation, because it was insanely hot: multiple days of 95+ in blazing sunshine. John Schwab, Windbird's broker, was on vacation and offered Dawn and I the use of his condo in the marina, but we ended up sleeping on the boat all six nights. The nights were cool enough to make it comfortable with the on-board 12V fans plus a borrowed box fan. As for the days, well, we adjusted pretty quickly after I moved kinda slowly the first few days.

As expected, we didn't get everything done that I wanted to get done, but we did do a lot:

Move Aboard

Dawn's car was still full of boxes from our house, full of my tools and books and other stuff we thought we'd want on the boat. I did this on Saturday after I got in and spent two hours on the phone to Mark Handley, Windbird's current owner, talking systems and maintenance. It took a while to organize and find homes for everything, and then we received five boxes of goodies from the Handleys that their friends had mistakenly removed from the boat in April. It all made a circuitous journey to a local storage unit, over to Charlotte, up to Cape Cod, and back down to Little River. Most of it was charts, guidebooks, and reference material, plus Snuba gear (think scuba with a hose from a compressor that stays on the boat - useful for scraping the bottom or clearing a fouled prop), rubber-bottom dishes, and a sextant. I'm told another box is headed this way. Fortunately Windbird has a lot of storage space so we still have room to move our clothes, galleyware, additional books, and personal items aboard in November - plus pack the food and spares needed for extended cruising.


This one sounds simple enough but took the longest of all the jobs: we started Tuesday night and didn't finish until Thursday afternoon. Windbird came with a lot of equipment, spare parts, cleaning supplies, varnishing & painting supplies, various chemicals, etc. It was too stultifying to catalogue everything at once so we broke the boat into thirds which made it more manageable (although we could have saved ourselves a few trips to West Marine & Home Depot if we had done it all straightaway). The current admiral, Judy, had done a nice job of mapping and listing all the various storage compartments, which made it easy to list our inventory in a searchable Excel spreadsheet totaling some 20 pages - so far.

Fix Leaky Aft Head: 

see last post.

Flush & Fill Freshwater Tanks:

This was supposed to be my first project but I arrived at the boat to find that sometime in the recent past, the freshwater pump assembly had fallen clean off the engine room wall and it now gushed water into the bilge when I turned it on!

I waited a few days until I bought a good cordless drill (see below), thought about how to go about it in the meantime, bought a few 1x4s and stainless steel fasteners, and then tackled the project Wednesday morning. It wasn't a hard project persay, it was just in an inconvenient location in the engine room that required awkward maneuvering, and I ended up tweaking my back a bit. But with a working freshwater pump we were able to drain both tanks (150 gal total), remove the top access panels, scrub as much as the baffles would allow, spray a hose around to reach the rest, partially fill the tanks, drain them again, and then refill. The water now smells much better and tastes good too through the Seagull filter system.

The story doesn't quite end there: the "off" side of the circuit breaker for the freshwater system was sticking, and then Dawn accidentally broke it trying to turn it off. So I'll have to manually disconnect the system before I leave the boat tomorrow and then try to find a vintage white Stolz circuit breaker.

Buy Tools

I swear, it seemed like half our time was taken up making runs to Home Depot, Harbor Freight, and West Marine. I have a pretty good set of automotive tools but am lacking in compact power tools and specialized boat tools, as well as any sort of organization system. I had a workbench at home and kept my tools on and under that, and so I never bought a good toolbox. I brought a fishing tackle box and a cloth Army toolkit from the Pacer, which were actually just the right size to fit my plumbing and electrical tools respectively. I ended up buying a really nice, heavy-duty cloth Husky tool bag from Home Depot; it's small enough to lug around the boat without bashing into everything, but has a bajillion pockets to nicely organize my general tools.

Other things I needed were an angle grinder (purchased at Harbor Freight), a wet/dry shop vac (got a very compact bucket-top system at Home Depot), and above all a good portable battery-powered drill. Our cordless drill at home was always pretty crappy and finally died in the last year. My corded drill is a hardcore drywall machine that's complete overkill for any job requiring finesse. I ended up selecting a Milwaukee M18 (18v) driver-drill and impact driver set with two lithium batteries and a charger. I've heard great things about the M18 system, and am so far really impressed. The tools are light and powerful, battery life seems very good, and the batteries charge in like 20 minutes. Next on the wishlist: a multitool. A Fein would be nice but it's quite expensive, and now that I have the M18 system I might as well go with the Milwaukee version.

Commission Dinghy

We purchased Windbird with "Little Bird," the Handley's West Marine RIB dinghy, and "Ethel," their Yamaha Enduro 2-stroke 15hp outboard (named in honor of Judy's centenarian Aunt in hopes of similar longevity). The outboard was rebuilt in Florida last year but hadn't been run since February, so I feared it would need some coaxing to get going. Well, first we had to get it off Windbird, and there was a padlock preventing us from doing so! We couldn't find the key aboard, John didn't know where it was, and the Handleys thought they might have it but weren't sure (going by Judy's blog, it seems the search put her in a divesting mood!). In the end Dawn just cut the lock off with a bolt cutters and we bought a replacement padlock. We then used the dinghy davits to lower the dinghy - whoops, plug's out, back up she goes! Plug in, back down, and then used the very handy outboard crane to swing and lower the outboard oh-so-carefully onto Little Bird's stern. Three pumps on the fuel bulb, a little choke, and Ethel roared to life on the third pull! She ran a bit rough at first but after warmup a couple of "hole shots" demonstrating that famous 2-stroke torque got her running smoothly. Last night we took the dink to dinner at the Officer's Club on the other side of the harbor (though we easily could have walked in five minutes) and took a short cruise on the Intracoastal Waterway afterwards.

Replace EPIRB

Actually dismounting the old one and putting our new ACR GlobalFix V4 in its place took five minutes; it took longer to register the new one on the NOAA website (particularly to find Windbird's MMSI number). EPIRBs (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons) have come wayyy down in price in the last few years: this one was $399 from Defender, and it's a pretty nice one with integrated GPS and a user-replaceable 10-year battery. Just replacing the expired battery on the old one would have cost as much. 

Get Estimate for Dodger/Bimini Canvas Replacement

We really like the Dodger/Bimini/Enclosure on Windbird but UV has taken its toll on the fabric (actually moreso on the thread which has had to be restitched multiple times, taking a toll on the fabric). So from the start we were planning on having a replacement made. There's a local canvas guy who comes highly recommended (he also did some work for Mark & Judy, which they thought was good); he came out to look at the enclosure Thursday, and if his estimate isn't outrageous we'll likely go with him. But there are also canvas shops in Georgetown and Southport that are worth checking into; for them we took a series of photos and measurements of the existing enclosure.

Remove Sails and Get Inspected/Repaired 

The sails on Windbird date to before the Handleys' circumnavigation; they have a lot of miles on them, but seemed salvageable during the survey. Tuesday morning, we got up very early to take advantage of a still morning and unbend the sails. This was a bit intimidating as I'd never done so on such a big boat with big, heavy sails, but it actually went quite smoothly. We had all the sails off, folded and bagged within a couple hours and then took a field trip up to the North Sails loft in Carolina Beach. We also brought two spare sails that had been living in Windbird's vberth, a mainsail and a staysail.

Today Rodney Allison of North Sails emailed to report that the mainsail is "dead on arrival" due to severe UV degradation, but the staysail and genoa are both repairable and in reasonable condition. Better yet, both sails that were in storage are quite good. So I think our plan is to have repairs made to both staysail and genoa, then use the spare staysail and keep the current staysail as a spare, and use the spare mainsail for the time being and have a new mainsail made before we go cruising. That's not cheap but will greatly improve Windbird's upwind capability.

In addition, we're looking at replacing the stackpack since we're getting new canvas for the enclosure and its zipper seam is currently torn; but we may choose to hold off and just get this one repaired, since Rodney thought it was saveable and we're otherwise going to be laying out a lot of extra money for a mainsail. 

Clean Teak Deck

As I've written before, Windbird's teak deck has been cared for but is nonetheless quite old and there's a good chance we'll eventually have to replace it. Thus, it behooves us to exercise great care in our handling of it. If you want an aged teak deck to look beautifully new, it just takes a whole lot of elbow grease, lots of sanding pads, and a good chunk of wood off the top. Not an option for us. I don't mind the silvered look, but six months of sitting had turned Windbird's decks dirtily ugly. So we attacked that Thursday morning with two soft-bristle brushes and a mild mix of cold water and Dawn detergent. Apparently plain old seawater is even better for cleaning but the dirty brackish water of Colquina Harbor is definately NOT suited to cleaning! We were careful to use plenty of water, brush with the grain, and make multiple light passes instead of brushing heavily, and the results were pretty spectacular at the time. After drying out, the deck is still a lot nicer than it was but is nevertheless mottled in spots. We'll try another cleaning next time we're at the boat, and then look at using a mild commercial teak cleaner.

Wash & Wax Hull

Windbird's topsides were last painted in 2009, in Thailand, using Awlgrip. This requires the use of specialized cleaning (AwlWash) and waxing (AwlCare) products. We bought West Marine's last bottle of Awlcare yesterday before finding it today in Windbird's aft head. I drove Dawn to the airport this afternoon, met the local canvas guy at Windbird afterwards, and then chilled out in the cockpit drinking a beer and taking a short nap while waiting for the heat to die down a touch. Then I spent two hours rinsing, washing, and drying the topsides, reaching from the dock where feasible and working from the dinghy at the bow, stern, and non-dock side. After a long hot day (7:30am-8:30pm) of cleaning inside and out, I was happy to be done even though I didn't get to the waxing. Windbird already looks a lot better, but I'll try to get a coat of AwlCare on her in the morning.

Service Engine

I was fully intending to change engine & transmission oil & filter, drain the Racor housing and replace primary & secondary fuel filters, change "fan" belts (there's no fan, they run pumps & alternators), top off the starting battery with distilled water, &etc, but didn't get around to it partially because I hadn't found the spare filters yet. I found out tonight that there aren't any on the boat (the folks who unpacked the Handley's stuff when they had to go to MA requisitioned the filters for their Island Packet, which is in the slip next door), so I'll run to West Marine in the morning after the boat waxing and what I don't get done before I fly out, I'll do when I arrive next time. 

 There were several other small projects planned & unplanned along the way, but that's pretty well the gist of it. Besides the engine the uncompleted items include cleaning stainless steel & bronze on deck, diagramming systems, cleaning electrical systems, replacing a raw water strainer for the washdown pump, lubing a zerk fitting on the pillow block, and servicing the windlass. We'll get to those next time - hopefully some of them while tucked away in a quiet anchorage off the dock.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Head Honcho

I'll be honest: when I first wrote up a conditional acceptance after the survey, I initially included the leaky aft head among the deficiencies to be corrected by the owners before closing. All the others were safety-related items; this one was simply because I didn't want to be the head to be my very first project as a boat owner. But then I decided that I was being a wuss: working on the head is an inescapable albeit less-than-glamorous part of cruising, and I'd best make peace with it sooner rather than later. So I deleted the head from my "punch list," and I tackled it soon after arriving in Myrtle Beach this Saturday for a week of boatwork.

I started my "headwork" in Nigel Calder's "Boatowner's Mechanical & Electrical Manual," proceeded to the Jabsco website, and from there watched a YouTube video about rebuilding my specific model of toilet. Both of the heads on Windbird are dirt-simple Jabsco 29090 manual pump toilets; there are only a few parts that can fail, mostly seals that get leaky with age or valves that get fouled with, er, "debris." Fortunately in this case it was only a leaky top piston pump seal, meaning I didn't have to dig too far into the "dirtier" parts of the head. I did have to extract the piston that moves everything along to change the seal assembly, but overall the job was pretty tame and only took five minutes once I got down to it.

I moved a carload of stuff onto the boat Saturday and spent most of Sunday organizing and doing pidly jobs, and then Dawn flew in on Monday and we've been hard at work since. Shortly after arriving I discovered that the freshwater pump assembly had quite mysteriously fallen off the engine room wall (it's attached with four screws). One of my first planned projects was to flush and clean the freshwater tanks but I wasn't going to pump out 150 gallons using the galley foot pump! I've done some thinking about how to better secure the freshwater pump and will tackle that tomorrow morning.

I'll do a couple other posts about miscellaneous boat projects but have to say I've rather enjoyed putzing around our "almost ours" boat thus far. Windbird is already feeling a lot more familiar and homelike. I'm looking forward to getting her off the dock and into a breezy anchorage for the first time...I really like the marina we're in, but South Carolina in the summertime without AC is not an ideal place to be stuck in a marina!