Thursday, September 29, 2016

Back to the Boat

We made our way slowly, painfully back down to the boat today for what's planned to be a 3-week stint away from Minnesota, for me at least.  Dawn will be flying back after the Annapolis Sailboat Show and Cruiser's University on Oct 13th, while I'll be flying a 5-day trip to Lagos, Nigeria starting Oct 15th and won't return home until the 19th. Dawn's brother-in-law and his family are watching Piper (they own Piper's mom), thank God...we'll see if that poor dog even recognizes me in three weeks.

We had a 3am wakeup to make a 5:20am flight to Atlanta. Rather than sleeping on the flight, I played with openCPN on my newly refound Asus tablet (yes, it was in the little-used back pocket of my overnight bag along with the notebook containing my conversations with Mark). The flight to Myrtle Beach filled up so only I made it by sitting on the jumpseat, while Dawn had to wait for the next flight. Beth Schwab was kind enough to pick me up from MYR since Dawn's Jetta was still at our marina - thanks, Beth! - and then I drove back down to the airport to pick Dawn up. The Jetta was misfiring badly last time we were in town, and reseating the spark plug wires didn't help it this time. I figured it was a bad coilpack, which are notorious for failing on VWs in rainy weather (and it was a very stormy day, much like our last visit). So after I picked up Dawn we took the car to a nearby garage and waited for about 3 hours. They ended up replacing the spark plugs and wires as well as the coil pack just to be sure. Maybe not what I would have done right off the bat but my tools were down at the boat. Three hours and five hundred bucks later we have a perfectly-running Jetta. Oof. We probably should have just sold it in MN and rented cars every time we come out here.

Our two-hour drive to Charleston was interrupted by having dinner at a waterfront bar in Georgetown that we had visited the night we anchored there. We got here after dark, and thankfully found a way into the locked boatyard and down to the dock to Windbird. This time everything seems to be in order - we turned off all the circuit breakers except the battery charger and refrig when we left the boat. I spent some time tonight working on the Asus plotter tablet and finally got OpenCPN talking with our external GPS dongle. I also wrote a plan for tomorrow. We'll get up early to unbend the sails while it's still out, reshuffle the Vberth to get some things we need and stow some other things we don't, go on a West Marine shopping run, then in the afternoon I'm going to try to track down this fuel problem once and for all. The way I see it, there are two possibilities: running on a somewhat low tank that had sat for six months resulted in ingesting some sort of gunk that fouled lines or components upstream of the Racor filter, or else we're getting air into the system in some insidious way I hadn't considered (as Al commented in my last post). Frankly the recurring nature of this problem seems to point to #2. I think I have a good thorough troubleshooting methodology sketched out that should allow me to eliminate potential sources of either problem one at a time.

The rest of this weekend we'll do various other decommissioning tasks, on Monday morning Windbird will be hauled out and the refit will begin in earnest, on Tuesday we are flying to Concord NH for a celebration of Mark Handley's life hosted by New Hampshire Public Radio (Judy's asked me to do a reading, which I think is a pretty big honor - I've also liked the selection since I first came across it a few years ago), on Wednesday we're flying back down here to do some work on the mast and boom, and on Friday we drive up to Annapolis. Whew! In between I'll be coordinating lightning repair work with Leigh Jones as we'll likely want to do some of it while Windbird is out of the water and the mast is off. This is all (hopefully!) leading up to us moving aboard full-time around November 1st, so I just gotta keep my eye on the prize as we put in the long days of hard work necessary for that to happen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Neither Here Nor There

Dawn and I had our first multi-day cruise together on Windbird last week; it was eventful but ultimately successful as it did quite a bit to increase our confidence in venturing further afield and being able to handle problems as they arise. Because some fairly major problems did arise. In a somewhat related note, the boat is not back in Little River; it's already at the boatyard in Charleston, where we were originally planning on bringing it this week. But I digress.

After our rainy boatwork day last Monday we were up early to a nearly as dreary Tuesday. We got off the dock by 8:30am and were soon steaming southward (really, more westward) on the ICW. We had one swing bridge right off the bat in Little River, followed by swing bridges at Barefoot Landing and Socastee. Everything else was theoretically 65' clearance or better...there was one bridge that was known to not have its published clearance during flood waters and the recent rain made me worry a bit, but we took it slow and Windbird visibly cleared it by a good bit (61' air draft). Going under bridges is always a bit of an exercise in nerves, because from 56' below it always looks like you're going to hit. We did a good job of timing the tides and had a positive or neutral current all the way to the Waccamaw River, where we had about a knot and a half positive current all the way to Thoroughfare Creek. We got there by 4pm but it took us a few passes to get anchored right where we wanted next to the sanddune considering the ripping tidal current (switches 4x a day), northerly winds blowing through, and the proximity of the bushy shore. Seriously, it was close to 2 knots current on the outgoing tide and 1 knot incoming. I ended up standing a quasi-anchor watch that night (using anchor alarm + waking up every hour or two) but needn't have, our 66 lb Spade stayed thoroughly planted in the thick creekbed mud. We launched the dinghy soon after arrival to explore the nearby canals that were dug for a long-defunct resort project and were shocked to find a nearly-new Beneteau 45 docked alongside one of them. This guy apparently regularly takes that boat through the narrow cut from Thoroughfare Creek - it seemed skinny even from the dinghy! As soon as we got back rain started falling, then stopped long enough for me to lube our windlass and resecure the hawse pipe to the anchor locker. Then started falling again as soon as I put dinner on the grill. Sigh.


We were up early the next morning only to take advantage of the outgoing tide because we had a quick 3-hour motor to Georgetown. The weather was gray but dry, and we were anchored in Georgetown's inner harbor on the Sampit River by 10:30am. I called up Sharp's Canvas right away and Chris Sharp came out to measure our enclosure for a replacement estimate. I'd originally told him we'd take a dock at Harbourwalk Marina but we decided at the last minute to stay on the hook instead, and he was gracious enough to still come out and brave a dinghy ride to and from the boat. After that we had lunch, went in to explore the town, came back and took naps, went up the mast to try to take pics of the lightning damage (there wasn't much), did a few other boat projects, reanchored to move further away from a shallow area in case forecast northerly winds overnight swung us south (they did), and went to dinner at the River Room. I had shrimp & grits on someone's recommendation and while I'm normally not a grits guy, it was delicious.


I slept much better that night, sure that our anchor would hold securely. It was pouring rain when we awoke Thursday morning and hadn't let up much by the time we pulled up the anchor in the predawn darkness. We had our anchoring routine down pretty well by now: I work the windlass and Dawn drives according to my hand signals. She stayed at the helm out of the anchorage and well into Winyah Bay. At a wide point in the bay she headed upwind and I raised the mainsail just in case we should lose the engine on our way out the inlet. The forecast was for light easterlies with small seas and we decided to go offshore even though returning the way we came, via the ICW, was a lot shorter and more practical. Dawn hadn't been offshore in Windbird yet and I figured it was a good day for it.


Well no sooner did we get out on the ocean and headed NNE than I found the wind directly on our nose at 15 knots or so, with steep short waves from the same direction that slowed Windbird down to 3 knots as we pounded into them. I thought maybe they were being kicked out by a nearby thunderstorm but they persisted as we slogged miserably northward. After an hour we were still in sight of the Winyah Bay sea buoy. At that point we talked through our options. If we persisted we would get to Little River inlet way after sundown. The inlet itself is lit but the winding course back to Little River is not, and I'd never done it after dark. Otherwise we could turn around, fight the current 18nm to Georgetown, and then start in on the 52nm ditch cruise back to Little River - again, contra-current. We'd have to find somewhere to tuck in for the night along the way. The final option was to turn southwestward and head to Charleston a week early. The wind was favorable, and it normally isn't this time of year. The distance to Charleston harbor inlet was the same as Little River inlet. We decided this was the best option, turned around, put out our yankee to go with the main, and motorsailed on a broad reach at over six knots.

All was well until about halfway there, 22nm from Charleston inlet, when the engine began rapidly losing power. A visual inspection turned up no problems, and it soon died completely. The racor gauge showed high vacuum pressure, and my first thought was a problem with the Racor filter. Before I started troubleshooting I got the sails all trimmed up for what had become a very light-air downwind sail, and once we had Dawn on a good heading to keep the yankee drawing - about 20 degrees left of the rhumb line - I headed downstairs to start working through the options. The racor was fine; there was just no fuel going into it. Eventually I narrowed it down the blockage to the small inline fuel pump used for bleeding the system, or so I thought. My troubleshooting was interrupted several times by passing squalls that necessitating running upstairs to reef, and then again 15 minutes later to shake the reefs out. My reasoning was that if we couldn't get the engine running reliably, I wanted to sail to near the inlet and then call TowBoatUS to tow us inside, and that meant keeping our speed up as close to the rhumb line as we could manage. The shifting winds meant that one minute Dawn was ghosting downwind at 1.5 knots in light zephyrs, the next minute beating upwind at 6 knots in a light squall. She did a magnificent job standing watch at the helm for several hours with no autopilot.

I took the small fuel pump out of the system, put it together, and fired up the engine. It ran fine for about an hour as the sun set over the inlet, still about 7nm away. Then it died again. Obviously I had not fixed the problem after all. This time I realized that the way I previously plumbed the system, it wasn't necessarily the fuel pump, it could also be the fuel selector. So back down the engine room I went as Dawn sailed upwind in suddenly fresh 20 knot westerlies. This time I bypassed the fuel selector by plumbing the system directly to the starboard fuel tank, though still without the electric pump. Bleeding the system using the small hand level on the lift pump took forever, but once I was done the engine ran fine. I was still very suspicious of it so we kept the sails up the whole way to the anchorage, motorsailing in case we suddenly found ourselves engineless. But it stayed running all of that night and the next morning without a hiccup. I need to troubleshoot the entire fuel system much more thoroughly when we go back to the boat this weekend.


It was nearly 9pm and pitch dark by the time we reached the inlet, which is at least very well charted and marked with lighted buoys. Several ships preceded us but there were none overtaking, so at least we didn't have that to deal with. It was 11pm by the time we finally dropped anchor just off of The Battery on Charleston City's southern end. We had gone some 70nm over 16.5 hours during the day motoring, motorsailing, and pure sailing, we'd reefed several times, and I'd spent several hours in the engine room while Dawn sailed. Exhausting, but we made it.

We slept in slightly the next morning, picked up our anchor, and headed around the bend to get fuel at Charleston City Boatyard. We weren't out of fuel in any of the three tanks but all three were a bit low and I thought that perhaps that was why something had apparently fouled the fuel selector. $260 later we had our full 170 gallons of diesel aboard. It was another two hours up the Cooper and Wando rivers to Charleston City Boatyard, which given its location we quipped should be called Charleston Country Boatyard. I misunderstood the docking instructions and we had to switch our lines and fenders from port to starboard at the last second, then I completely misjudged the ripping upriver current and botched the approach. It's actually the first time I've approached a dock with a big current on my stern, and if I had messed it up any worse we would have smashed gelcoat. Fortunately there was a strapping young lad on the dock to catch our stern line and he was able to hold on to our 30,000 lb behemoth until I could jump off the bow and run back to help him haul in the stern. Embarrassing. My docking technique had been pretty good until then.


So now Windbird is safely tied up at Charleston City Boatyard. We'll be flying to Myrtle Beach tomorrow to retrieve our car - still sitting at Lightkeeper's Marina - and then will be on the boat over the weekend doing decommissioning work to prepare for our haulout on Monday morning. I finally got ahold of our insurance company and got the ok to commence repairs on the lightning damage, which is a very good development since we can replace the radar and masthead wind transducer while the mast is still off of the boat. Having now taken the boat a few places with no autopilot, most sailing instruments inoperative, no chartplotter, no radar, and worst of all no stereo, I'm very excited to get everything up and running again, with new chainplates and standing rigging to boot. There's a lot of work to do before this boat is ready to head south - almost too much to think about, at this point. But we'll get there, slowly but surely.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Rainy Boatwork Day

Our flight out of Charlotte last night was delayed a bit and we didn't get to the boat until 1am. I was alarmed to find that both our Asus nav tablet as well as my "boat notebook" containing all my notes from the calls with Mark were not where I expected them to be. When Lance and I left the boat 10 days ago I thought I stuck both in my overnight bag, but when I got to Atlanta a few hours later they weren't there so I assumed I had left them on the boat. Nope. I've looked everywhere. I called Myrtle Beach Airport as well as Delta and neither have them in lost & found. The one other possibility is that I put them in the rarely-used rear pocket of my overnight bag - I'll check that when we get back to MSP. I sure hope that's where they are, otherwise they're likely gone for good. I really don't know where they could have gone between the boat and the ATL baggage claim.

Our other surprise on arrival was that the freshwater pump wasn't working. There was still pressure in the accumulator and the water tanks were still full, but that was all the troubleshooting I did last night. I drifted off to sleep thinking of boatwork, and decided not to take off for Georgetown this morning as originally planned but instead fix the pump, do some other projects, take our time provisioning, and then take advantage of the later tide on Tuesday to make good time down the ICW. That decision was borne out when we woke to booming thunderstorms and pouring rain that lasted until nearly noon. It's been raining off and on ever since. The next few days are supposed to be a little better, though still not great.

I didn't really get a lot done this morning but was more productive after we came back from provisioning, lunch, and the obligatory visit to West Marine. I used my multimeter to troubleshoot the pump and quickly ascertained that there was power to the pump, the ground was good, and the pressure switch was working. Strange that the pump burned out in our absence without actually running, but that's apparently what happened. I remembered seeing a spare water pump somewhere so Dawn searched our boat inventory spreadsheet, which quickly located it in a hideyhole under a drawer in the aft cabin. This made me smile, as Judy told me that on the night Mark passed away he was mumbling something about a boat part in a drawer. Got it, Mark! I tore out the old pump and just hooked the "new" one to the wires without connecting the plumbing; it didn't work. But when I bypassed the pressure switch, it did. So I had one bad pump with a good pressure switch, and one good pump with a bad pressure switch. With a little parts-swapping and wire splicing, I had myself one good freshwater Frankenpump assembly! So we have pressure water again. I may see if anyone around here can rebuild the old pump & sell me a pressure switch, otherwise I'll have to buy a spare from West Marine ($175).


My other rainy day projects consisted of opening a messload of boxes from Amazon, mostly new additions to the ever-growing tool collection; reorganizing said tool collection; playing with my new Dremel; fixing my electric razor; making another futile call to our insurance company; measuring the boom, ascertaining the model (Isomat NB-40), and finding some parts for it; installing another all-USB DC outlet (the 3rd I've replaced, Tayanas came with weird Type-A plug DC outlets that are useless except for running some of the DC fans in the boat); and replacing the water pump circuit breaker, which was stuck on. I took apart the old circuit breaker, an ancient German Stotz-Kontakt 20A. A broken metal tang was jamming it open, there was no fixing it and they're very hard to find, so thank goodness Mark had a couple extras lying around to send to me.


We had a nice dinner of grilled steak & asparagus (the grillmaster got a bit soggy) and then walked up to John Schwab's to visit for a bit. I'm planning to get off the dock around 8:30am tomorrow, weather permitting, as the incoming tide will give us a nice boost down the ICW to the Waccamaw River. I have a nice anchorage picked out at Thoroughfare Creek, which will give us a short Wednesday to Georgetown. It'll be a long haul back on Thursday - whether via the ICW or offshore will depend on the weather.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Planning the Haulout

We're getting a lot closer to the big, expensive part of the refit: hauling out Windbird at Charleston City Boatyard, securing her on land for a month, yanking the mast, replacing her chainplates, stem iron, and standing rigging, fitting the mast with a new Tides track, replacing a cracked gooseneck fitting, fixing a small area of water intrusion in the skeg, replacing a seacock, refreshing the bottom paint...and oh yeah, replacing the radar and masthead wind transducer if I can ever get the insurance company to call me back. Dealing with them has been pretty frustrating. It's been a full month since the lightning strike and I still don't know when they'll send out an adjustor. I'd hate to move the boat to Charleston before then.

Regardless, we've set everything up with CCBY. We'll be arriving on Sept 30th, decommissioning over that weekend, and hauling out Monday Oct 3rd. We'll be headed to Annapolis the following weekend which will give me a week to work on the mast and boom. When we get back, before splashing the boat we'll paint the bottom. Apparently I'm going to work a few days in there, too. It's my first month based in Atlanta and I bid efficient trips to several places I haven't been before: Lagos, Nigeria and Bogota, Colombia. 

Dawn and I spent all day today trying to nonrev out to Myrtle Beach; we eventually gave up on getting out of MSP on Delta and took American through Charlotte, which worked much better. We'll be cruising the ICW and Waccamaw River to Georgetown SC the next few days, getting some boat projects done along the way. Really looking forward to moving aboard at the end of October so we can spend less time traveling back & forth & more time getting the boat ready...and so I can see Piper more than a couple days a month. I definitely miss my pup.


Monday, September 12, 2016

In Honor of Mark Handley

I never met Mark Handley, Windbird's last skipper: I only know him through his wife Judy's blog, the few posts he wrote there, our phone conversations and emails over the last few months, and the boat that he called home for the last fifteen years. Dawn and I really wanted to meet him, because he sounded like a really neat guy, a good guy, one of our sort of people - someone who dreamed big dreams, wasn't afraid to make them happen, and enjoyed sharing those dreams with the people he loved. But we were simply too late, his cancer finally too aggressive in the end. We planned to have Mark and Judy down to the boat in August but his health took a major downturn shortly before, so we decided to postpone until September 18th and if they still couldn't make it, we'd come to spend a few days with them up at Cape Cod. In the last few days it became apparent even that would be too much for him. And then last night he passed away at home in Falmouth, MA, with Judy by his side. They've been together 44 years.

I last spoke with Mark on Friday afternoon. I had a few boat questions that frankly weren't all that important, but I enjoyed talking to him and getting his perspective on Windbird's setup - at this point, everything that doesn't involve major carpentry is his handiwork. The change in his energy level and mental clarity from our last call a week or two ago was noticeable, but he was still able to recall changing out a boom bail slide in American Samoa a decade ago. I asked why the bilge pump and raw water intake vented loops were fitted with nipples and hoses to the scupper drain instead of the more usual check valves and the answer was typical Mark: "Check valves stick, especially in salt water and all the debris you find in seawater and the bilge. You don't want a stuck check valve gushing out water when you need the engine or bilge pump." A lot of things on the boat are set up with being hundreds or thousands of miles from the nearest civilization in mind. As I come across them, they'll remind me of Mark and all the time and energy he put into making this boat the fulfillment of his lifetime dream of sailing around the world.

I think the thing that impresses me most about Mark isn't just the circumnavigation - no small feat in itself - but the fact that he kept living aboard, kept the boat going, and did a fair amount of cruising including a number of offshore legs all while fighting cancer and undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for nearly five years. Of course that's largely thanks to Judy, who despite initially being a reluctant sailor ended up loving it and enthusiastically supporting their life afloat. She's another amazing-sounding person - another of "our people" - and I look forward to meeting her. The last time she and Mark were on Windbird, it was an emergency five-day delivery from Florida to Little River so that Mark could undergo an intensive drug trial in Boston. At the time Mark didn't have the heart to tell Judy that they'd probably be selling Windbird, but he knew. John Schwab told me that the last time Mark walked up R dock, he turned around, stopped, and looked hard at Windbird for a long minute. He knew it was his last time seeing her, and he was saying goodbye to a huge part of his life for the last 15 years. Judy told me yesterday morning how happy it made him to see Windbird in good hands. I'm so glad that we bought the boat when we did.

Now Mark Handley is gone, but his legacy lives on in Judy, in his two kids and five grandchildren, in New Hampshire and National Public Radio, in the many friends he made around the world, and in the boat that will soon carry Dawn and I across far horizons as she did Mark and Judy. I only hope that we will be worthy caretakers. Judy, you have our deepest sympathies. Please know that you and your family are welcome aboard Windbird as long as we own her, wherever she lies.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Great First Cruise

As hoped, I finally got Windbird off the dock for a night and it was a very nice first mini-cruise, though not without its exciting moments. As Dawn posted on Tuesday, she's at home with the fur-child and my parents had to cancel their visit to the Carolinas, but my flying/sailing friend Lance Yesdnil flew into Myrtle Beach from Seattle on Tuesday morning. I provisioned and prepped the boat Monday night and Tuesday morning, picked Lance up at 11am, gave him the tour of the marina and boat on arrival, and were headed out of the marina by 12:45pm. We were headed to Southport, North Carolina; for some reason I was thinking it was only 20nm up the coast but closer inspection revealed a 33nm course via the ICW or 38nm offshore & up the Cape Fear River. The forecast was for lightish winds so I seriously doubted we could make Southport by nightfall given our somewhat late time off the dock. That said, I really wanted to sail, and knew we wouldn't make it before nightfall motoring on the ICW anyways. We decided to go offshore, and if our speed was such that we would arrive in Southport well after sunset we would just turn around and spend the night at Bird Island anchorage just inside Little River Inlet.


Well, the weather gods were smiling on us; it turned out to be absolutely perfect sailing conditions, with wind at about 210 at 15, later creeping closer to 20 (hard to know for sure, as the wind instrument is still dead) for a very nice broad reach. We started with main and yankee flying, later flew the staysail as well, and then as the wind piped up furled the staysail to tame the weather helm. Our speed over ground averaged a bit over six knots, and in one gust we registered a downright racey 7.9! There was one unfortunate incident on our otherwise lovely sail up the coast: the port lifeline gate came open on its own and as I bent down to resecure it, Lance let the boat drift just a touch downwind (no autopilot, remember), the main blanketed the yankee, and the yankee sheet flogged right into my head, knocking one lens out of my sunglasses and flinging the frames and remaining lens overboard. I was rather fond of those sunglasses and being prescription, they weren't exactly cheap. Oh well, my first gift to Poseidon of many to come, I'm sure.



As we turned into the Cape Fear River channel south of the Jaybird shoals, the increasing south winds collided with the river current and built up some pretty big, short, steep waves - not quite breaking but if you threw in an outgoing tide I'm guessing they might've (we arrived an hour after slack low water, so the adverse current was "only" two knots). Windbird is pretty heavy on the helm and hand-steering in those conditions was a real workout. In retrospect we should have dropped the main, because the wind was pretty close to behind us and twice a big wave pushed us around and we accidentally gybed. The first time the "EZ gybe" seemed to do its job but the second one was a bit violent, and I later discovered that it broke the boom fitting that the boom vang is connected to. It's a simple enough part but it's in a groove that requires taking off the gooseneck (or boom endplate plus another two fittings) to take the old one out and slide the new one in. We'll do it next month while the mast, boom and rigging is off the boat.

The sun set while we were making our way up the Cape Fear River and we used the last light to anchor at a nice spot in the Southport Yacht Basin (which was thankfully empty - there's only enough room for one or two boats, plan B was to take a dock at Southport Marina next door). We had a great night on the hook: grilling steaks, drinking beer, and telling sailor's yarns. The next morning I tuned up Chris Parker's weather net on 4045 kHz (SSB works at least in receive mode, yay!), then did some boat work after I discovered a hose had come off of the bilge pump's vented loop, dumping water into the compartment above the engine room whenever the bilge pump came on (propshaft gland was leaking a bit). Finally we launched the dinghy, went to get some coffee, and walked around town a bit. On our return we tidied up the boat and then spent a good 20 minutes getting the hook up thanks to some really nasty black mud that had to be washed off the chain as we raised it.


We were motoring south along the ICW by 10:45am, having decided not to go offshore due to strong WSW winds that would be right in our teeth. Besides, I wanted to see this section of the ICW and get some experience navigating across two notoriously shoal-shifting inlets (Lockwood's Folly and Shallotte). Our late start meant that we arrived at Lockwood's Folly right at high tide and Shallotte about an hour and a half after slack water; we never saw less than 11 feet on the depth gauge, which I think translates to about 7' under the keel. Otherwise it was a long, somewhat dull 7 hours of motoring, though the scenery was mostly nice. I could see several weeks of transiting "the ditch" getting pretty tiresome. We did get a lot of thumbs up from passers-by on smaller boats...maybe because they liked Windbird, maybe because they assumed we were cruising south from Concord NH! Still have to change the hailing port.


The last few miles from Calabash Crossroads to Lightkeepers Marina were excruciatingly slow as we fought a nearly 2-knot current on the outgoing tide, and then the current made for a bit of a tricky entrance (one of the red markers is missing but there's a big rock there; you have to approach at an angle, close to the rocky shore to port. With 2 kts current setting me east, my crab angle had me pointing to shore - right up until the current died as we entered the cut, requiring a hard turn to starboard). We planned our double handed docking strategy beforehand and it went extremely smoothly; we were tied up and walking to the Officer's Club for $1 taco night by 6pm. 

Howard & Michelle from La Bonne Vie were right behind us into the Marina after an eventful inaugural sail of the season, and they joined us for dinner and swapping stories. Afterwards Lance & I hosed the boat down, reinstalled dorade covers, and fixed a leaking deck plate. It was early to bed after the long day on the ICW.

Dawn and I will be returning to the boat on Sept 19th, after a side trip to Boston to meet Windbird's last owners, the Handleys. We plan to cruise the ICW and Waucoumma River to Georgetown, then come back via the 68nm offshore route if possible. Can't wait for our next sail on Windbird!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

[Not Going] Back-to-School

Today marks the first day of the 2016-2017 school year for many teachers and students in Minnesota; however, this does not include me being I was granted a leave of absence for this school year.  My summer flew by with time spent with family, an occasional trip to Little River to work on Windbird, and bimonthly visits and outings with a coworker.  Whenever I was at our apartment, I sat around watching Netflix (in the near future I won't be able to do this anymore), and I researched different purchases for the boat like cooking on a liveaboard and growing food on a boat.  I have become excited about the prospects of living aboard our sailboat but still quite nervous about the actual sailing part; hopefully experience will help me get over that feeling.  But, I digress.  This past week, my coworkers were back in their classrooms preparing for the upcoming school year and meeting their students during Open House.  I have been feeling a little down lately; I wasn't sure it if was due to the fact that Sam will be gone for the next ten consecutive days or if it was because I wasn't going back to school with the rest of my coworkers, people who have become my friends over the past nine years.  As I spend the morning in bed, since it's raining outside, I have an empty feeling in my stomach and I know it's due to the fact that I miss being at school.  These next two or three years will bring me many challenges and enjoyment, but there will be a little whole in my heart that may not be filled with the cruising lifestyle.  Cruising and Teaching can't really be compared because they are so different from each other, but I know that I'll miss planning lessons, teaching students, and catching up with my coworkers and friends.  At the end of this past school year, I wasn't sure when I would be ready to go back to teaching again, I now have a feeling that I'll be eager to get back at it once we've completed our liveaboard dream.  I want to send a shout-out to all my coworkers at MMW and hope you all have a wonderful 2016-2017 school year; please know that I'll think of you often and wish I were there with you.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Fuelishness Fixed

I flew one leg from Orlando to Minneapolis yesterday and then immediately bummed a ride to Atlanta. Unfortunately Momma D cut back her flights for Labor Day weekend so I had to wait 7 hours in ATL for the flight to MYR, during which time I hung out in our crew room, played with OpenCPN, and read its entire (quite thorough) manual. I arrived in Myrtle Beach a bit after 10 and our marina in Little River about an hour later, where I was happy to see that Windbird survived Hermine unscathed.

This morning I was up at 6:30 to bend on the staysail while the winds were light, and it was a good thing I did as they picked up around 7:15. The post-Hermine weather is gorgeous here: not too hot, a brisk northwesterly breeze, and decent humidity. After getting the staysail on I putzed around with various projects until the marina office opened, when I went to retrieve a TON of packages that had been delivered from Amazon, Defender, Home Depot, and the Handleys. I had ordered a number of tools and various supplies online a week ago on a layover, the better to save me time-gobbling West Marine and Harbour Freight runs. In fact I didn't have to visit either store today.


My #1 priority today was to fix the problem with our fuel system. Our first outing on the boat last week was cut short when the engine lost power multiple times, and the Racor vacuum gauge gave a strong clue with an abnormally high reading of 9-15" Mercury. I figured it was a blockage, a persistent air bubble, or a loose clamp that was letting air into the system. Before I started troubleshooting I had to fix the engine room floodlight (loose connection, corroded terminal block), then decided to start with the easiest thing: checking all the fuel line clamps for tightness and all the hoses for signs of leaks. Then I figured I'd bleed the system once more, but be a lot more aggressive than last time. I'm using a small inline diaphragm pump that's just downstream of the Racor, and I previously stopped using it once it started spurting fuel out of the designated high point in the system, a bolt atop the secondary fuel filter that I had loosened. This time I continued pumping the fuel into a rag for a good 10-15 seconds to make sure I got all the air out. And when I started the engine, the Racor vacuum gauge returned to its normal reading of 2-4" Hg! For once, the quick and easy fix turned out to be the correct one.


The easy fix gave me time to tackle lots of other boat projects, some of which I had planned for tomorrow. I think I got the instrument & navigation network pretty well figured out. The instruments are SeaTalk, the GPS is NMEA, but virtually everything goes through the now-fried Raymarine SmartPilot autopilot brain like Mark said. It acts as a multiplexer among other things. Since I'm planning to replace it with a like unit, I think I need to use the current installation as a guide to figure how I'm going to integrate the Vesper XB-8000 as well as the Garmin 741. I'll do some more thinking about that tomorrow.

I put the fried Garmin 76Cx's chart chip into my spare Garmin 76Cx (that I'd previously used for dirtbiking in Baja and a self-drive safari in southern Africa) and tried to fire it up. It didn't work using the power/data cable at the helm, which was expected because the now-fried 76Cx hadn't been getting power from it either (and my battery box is too corroded to use). So I traced the cable back to the compartment above the engine room and was surprised to find that the power wire is connected to a terminal block on the galley circuit (along with the high water alarm). I'm not sure why that is, it's a bit strange and I'll eventually change it, but for now there is no harm keeping the galley circuit breaker on so long as the propane solenoid is off when not in use. So now my Garmin 76Cx powers up and navigates...but since the data in/out wires are routed through the SmartPilot, it's not supplying any information to the instruments and I have no way of uploading routes to it. Can't wait for the insurance adjuster to visit so I can start fixing this stuff.

One of the packages I received from Amazon was our new Asus Transformer Book T100HA. I've spent much of tonight downloading, installing and configuring OpenCPN as well as the NOAA raster and vector charts for the east coast. I think it's going to work great as our nav station plotter/planner. It also perfectly fits the tablet mount that Judy Handley sent us, so I won't have to buy a separate mount for backup usage at the helm or on the rod behind the bimini that was formerly used to mount the Pixo remote monitor.


I met some new people on R dock today, Howard and Michelle, a very nice couple from St. Louis with a Beneteau 390 named Le Bonne Vie. They're doing basically the same thing as me: working on their boat to get it ready for cruising. This afternoon I helped crank Howard up his mast to retrieve a lost halyard; sadly he didn't have the needed tools to access it so there will be a repeat performance tomorrow. They're hoping to get off the dock this week, as am I. My parents had to cancel their visit but my friend Lance is planning to fly in from Seattle on Tuesday morning. With the fuel problem fixed, we should be able to go sailing for a couple days!

That means I have a full slate of labors for Labor Day tomorrow, so it's off to bed. It's good to be back on the boat.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Adios Hermine, Lightning Strike Stickershock, and More Nav Setup

Hurricane Hermine handed out a few jolts as we flew around it to the east this morning, but otherwise proved fairly benign as it was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm. It was pretty calm but rainy in Myrtle Beach until this afternoon, when the wind finally picked up. I've been monitoring the METAR reports on the Aviation Digital Data Service site; it looks like MYR registered top wind of 190 @ 35 gusting 48, though for the most part the gusts have stayed under 35 knots. John sent me a picture of Windbird in a very wet Lightkeepers Marina this morning. At least I won't have to wash the bird poop off the deck on my return!

We got the damage estimate from the lightning strike for our insurance yesterday...over $23,000!!! Mind you, that's if everything I think might be inoperative actually is, and includes professional repair/installation. Thank God we had insurance. I'm not going to gripe about the 5% lightning strike deductible now.

There are three things I'm not sure about. I think the big Rule 2500 bilge pump is inoperative as it normally comes on for a short burst every two minutes or so. It doesn't have a float switch; instead it has a pressure switch. If there's water pressure when it activates, it keeps going until there isn't any. Otherwise it shuts off right away. Normally you can hear its cycling in the engine room but after the lightning strike it was silent. I need to see if the pump can still be manually activated, though. Secondly, the AirBreeze wind generator might be fried, or I may have just never run the batteries low enough to reach its cut-in voltage. Right now it doesn't turn much except in the strongest wind (48 knots should do it!), which is exactly what it's designed to do until the battery can use it to charge. While in cutoff mode an LED light on the side of the wind generator is supposed to blink. It's not, but that could just be a bad LED. So I need to get the boat off shore power for a while and then see if the wind gen will make power in a decent breeze.

And the last thing I'm not sure about is the SSB. It's 100% plausible that a lightning strike would cause it to malfunction, but the fact that I've never used an SSB means it could be operator error. They're very similar to the HF radios I use when crossing oceans at work, though. The surest way to test an HF radio or marine SSB's reception is to tune up 5000, 10000, or 15000 kHz and listen for the ticking clock and time hack every minute. On Windbird I can only pick it up very faintly. I also tuned up Chris Parker's Weather Net on 4045 kHz at the appropriate time of morning and didn't hear a thing. I unplugged shore power and turned off all unnecessary electrical services on the boat, and that didn't help. talking to Mark & Judy, it turns out that Lightkeepers Marina has a ton of interference, and they were never able to pick up Chris Parker there either. So I really need to spend a night on the hook, read the Icom's manual, and get up early to try to pick up a weather net and maybe get a radio check.

I talked to Mark about the nav setup after my post on the subject a few days ago. He confirmed that there's no NMEA 2000 on the boat and everything he had wired up was NMEA 0183 except for the p70 autopilot control head, for which he used a Seatalk-NMEA bridge. That made me inclined to replace the masthead wind transducer and wind instrument with identical ST60 units, to avoid mixing and matching network types. However while looking through ST60 installation manuals it turns out none of them have NMEA 0183 ports except for the ST60 multi instrument in the nav station. So now I'm curious if maybe the 3 cockpit instruments and the multi instrument aren't networked using SeaTalk-1 cables after all, and the ST60 multi is providing NMEA 0183 output for the three others. If that's the case then a new i70 masthead unit and display would be just fine as it supports SeaTalk-1. Something else to check out on this trip.

One surprise from my conversation with Mark was that while he was bringing GPS and other NMEA data into his laptop via a RS232 port, he was not using that data link to feed waypoints or routes back into the GPS. He was typing in GPS waypoints manually with lat-longs. If there's one thing I've learned in 15 years of flying advanced airplanes it's that any manual entry involving easily transposeable lat-longs is a prime opportunity to screw up navigation. So I'm looking at alternatives. One is to transfer routes and waypoints via SD card. However, it actually turns out that the Garmin 741 will accept routes and waypoints via NMEA 0183; you just need to connect one of the wiring harness NMEA input wires with Pin 3 (data output) on the RS232 plug. Since I'll be getting all the tablet input data wirelessly via the Vesper AIS/multiplexer, the only time I'll need to connect the RS232 (via USB dongle) is when transferring waypoints and routes. Easy 'nuff.

Speaking of the tablet, I decided to go with an Asus Transformer Book T100HA. It has 4GB RAM, an Intel Atom cherry trail quad-core processor, and a 64GB solid state drive. Once I remove the current radar monitor, I'll figure out a good nav table mounting solution (likely using a RAM X-grip mount, which we use for our electronic flight bag tablets at work). I'll make it easily remountable at the helm and behind the dodger where the remote monitor was previously mounted. The Asus should arrive tomorrow before I do, so I'll likely take some time to get OpenCPN up and running on it.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Hello Hermine

Word from Lightkeepers Marina is that Windbird's lines are doubled up & John Schwab is keeping an eye on her. Hurricane Hermine should be down to a tropical storm well before it reaches Little River, and the current forecasts have it going by a little inland. That's actually not really the best scenerio, it means there will be leading edge winds from the southeast, the one direction from which the marina isn't well protected. The Myrtle Beach TAF is currently calling for winds 140 at 30 knots gusting 45 from 3pm Friday afternoon until the end of the forecast period (8pm). In the meantime I'll be on layover in Orlando having flown from Detroit over or around the storm Friday morning, and won't get to Myrtle Beach until Saturday night or maybe afternoon if I'm lucky. Here's hoping Windbird stays snug as a bug in a rug at her slip on R dock.