Saturday, July 8, 2017

Home Sweet Summer Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

When It Rains, It Pours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Back to Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Passage Log - Day 3.5

Still Wednesday, May 10th.

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

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

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

Thursday, May 11th

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

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

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Passage Log, Day 3

Day 3 - Wednesday, May 10th

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Passage Log, Day 2

Day 2 - Tuesday, May 9th

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passage Log, Day 1

Day 1 - Monday, May 8th

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued - Day 2.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Into The Blue

We spent three nights on the dock at Harbortown Marina in Ft. Pierce. Ostensibly we took a slip so that a local canvasmaker could do an estimate on our enclosure, but we stayed an extra day after meeting him so we could do boat projects more easily. We did make some headway on those boat projects - starting with giving Windbird a much needed dousing with fresh water - and buying needed stuff on Amazon and researching Annapolis-area marinas...but we also sat around doing nothing for quite a bit (at $75/day!). In all honesty I've been in a bit of a funk since we crossed from Abaco. I really enjoyed cruising the Bahamas and wasn't quite ready to come back. I'm excited to head back to the islands this fall but know there's a ton of work that needs to be done in the meantime, and a bewildering array of details that need to be sorted.

Today we got off of the dock and my mood improved markedly as soon as we were swinging at anchor. I'm just not a marina person, I guess. This afternoon I tightened the bolts on the stuffing box - it had been dripping at a faster-than-average clip, and is now back to normal. It was just repacked in Charleston & I figure I'll repack it again this summer. We also had a slow diesel leak from our low-pressure fuel pump, but on closer inspection it appeared to be a bad hose clamp - one of the only clamps on the fuel system I hadn't replaced with ABA (not sure why not). I figured I'd let it sit a bit to make sure it wasn't leaking before bleeding the system, and started a new project after a late lunch: tracking down the fault in the wiring to the V-berth portside light and fan. They haven't worked since we bought the boat, and I had previously traced the problem to the forward head aft bulkhead. Today I tried finding where that wire reemerged, and eventually found it once I took apart a few panels of the salon's ceiling. That revealed exactly where it went through the bulkhead, and by removing a single small trim piece in the head I was able to extract the bad section of wire and use it as a pilot line to run new wire.

I used heatshrink butt connectors for the spices and covered those with heatshrink tubing once I was done, so I had to use the heat gun which requires starting the engine (to avoid the inverter placing a high load on the house batteries). So I went back and bled the fuel system real quick, had Dawn start the engine, and noticed an unusually high vacuum on the Racor gauge. Aww, not this crap again! I turned back to the project at hand and finished the wire splices and mounting the light and fan, then went back to the engine compartment. I tried bleeding the system multiple times, and every time the vacuum quickly rose to the 5-9" Hg range (yellow cautionary range). Then I noticed the fuel pump still leaking, and this time it was clearly from the pump itself. By now it was 7pm and I realized that if I wanted to replace it today, all the nearby auto parts stores would be closing. So we loaded up the dinghy and headed to the marina, where Dawn walked Piper while I took uber to a nearby AutoZone. They didn't have a diesel-approved pump so I went across the street to Reilly Auto Parts. They didn't have the part but a nearby location did; they said they'd bring it over in the morning just in case I needed it.

Back at the boat I decided to reassemble the fuel system without the pump. It's really just a convenience item to make bleeding the system easier and allow for fuel transfer & polishing. While I was at it I figured I'd replace the Racor and secondary fuel filters. Well, the Racor filter was pretty filthy. It's been a few weeks since I looked at the Racor vacuum gauge and even then it was a little elevated so perhaps a dirty filter was partially responsible. But mostly I think it was air getting in through the leaky pump. In the absence of our low-pressure pump I bled the system using the little manual diaphragm pump lever on the side of the fuel metering unit, which works just fine. When I started the engine, the gauge was back down at its normal 1-2" Hg figure. Excellent.

The reason there was some urgency to fix the fuel system tonight was because a pretty good window has opened up for going north - maybe way north, all the way to Little River, South Carolina. We decided to not get our enclosure replaced in Ft. Pierce and will likely do it with Sharp's Canvas in Georgetown SC. They can't start until after memorial day, so the current plan is to return to Lightkeeper's Marina, keeping the boat there during a 9-day international trip I have starting May 17th. If we can go all the way in one shot, it'll be just over 400 nm, so far the longest passage we've done. Departing tomorrow at 9am, we'll have light & variable winds for the first few hours, then light northerlies to motorsail against for about 24 hours. After that winds are forecast to fill in from the west and then the southwest all the way into the weekend, making for a potentially pretty sweet ride to the Carolinas. If that's the case we should arrive sometime Thursday. That said, an unusually persistent low parked off the east coast of the U.S. is making the forecasts a bit more shaky than usual, so we'll be listening to Chris Parker every day (he'll be giving us a customized forecast based on SPOT positions we'll send each morning) and if the window starts collapsing we can duck into St. Augustine, Fernandina Beach, Hilton Head, Charleston, or Georgetown.

I'll try to write blog updates on passage, but with our HF transmitter (and by extension, pactor modem) still on the fritz I won't be able to post them until we get back into cell tower range. I'm looking forward to our first multi-day passage, and actually so is Dawn. There was a time when she balked at the idea of any overnight sailing but has come to actually enjoy it over the course of our seven overnights thus far. And we have a 3/4-full moon, which is a pretty sweet bonus. Now we just need to catch some fish! We actually bought a good trolling rod and red (a Penn Senator Special) at West Marine the other day - thanks Mom & Dad for the birthday money towards that. So I'll have that and the handline out at all times, and hopefully will see some results. I wanna get really serious about fishing on passage. I'm sick of all sorts of delicious sea-creatures practically jumping into friends' boats while we get skunked.

If you'd like to track our progress, we'll be sending out updates every day at approximately 5am and 5pm. Here's a link to our SPOT tracker page.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Whirlwind Week in Abaco

We docked at Fort Pierce, FL this morning at 10am, completing our nearly 3-month shakedown cruise of the Bahamas. Yep, we came back a little earlier than planned and spent less time in the Abacos than we were hoping. There was a good weather window and the long-term prognosis was not good so we decided to take it. Hopefully we'll be able to spend more time in the northern Abacos upon our return in November.

We crossed from Eleuthera to Abaco not even a week ago. We were anchor up from Governor's Harbour at 9am on Friday and anchored off Great Guana Cay just after 10am on Saturday. The first portion of the sail took us nearly due west (and almost directly downwind) - we motored until the wind picked up and then sailed, jibing downwind. Once we turned north at Fleeming Channel we put two reefs in the main and doused the yankee in favor of the staysail, as conditions were quickly becoming more rambunctious. The southeasterly trades were brisk, 20 gusting 25, and once we were out of the wind shadow of Eleuthera the swell and chop quickly built. It was a bumpy night with mostly 4-5 ft waves; we did get whacked right on the beam with a couple of 7-8 footers too. Because of the southeasterly swell we used Man-O-War Channel to enter the Sea of Abaco; it faces NE and is quite deep and wide, and therefore not prone to raging (we entered on a rising tide as well). After anchoring we swam and napped, and later went to Grabber's for a drink and Nipper's for an excellent seafood dinner.

On Sunday we beat 13nm back southeast to get to Hope Town. The entrance is quite shallow and narrow, and it was important to enter near high tide. We nailed the timing and never saw less than 7.5 feet on the way in. Hope Town was quiet due to the Sunday but we nevertheless enjoyed walking around the quaint town. We finally found an indisputably pink beach (most of the supposed pink beaches have just a slight rose tinge) and Dawn and Judy collected some of the sand for planned crafty projects. On the way back I shot some hoops with a local kid and then we stopped at The Reef bar (at the Hope Town Harbour Lodge) to enjoy the wonderful view of Elbow Cay's outer reef while sipping a cool beverage. Later we visited several cruisers around the harbour.

It was Chris Parker's weather net on Monday morning that made me realize we should probably take the upcoming weather window or risk getting stuck in Abaco. I have a nine-day international trip that reports on May 17th; I'm planning to actually fly it (gotta rebuild the cruising kitty!) and accordingly need to get the boat in position. Judy was originally planning on flying out of Marsh Harbour the following day, but we invited her to stay for the crossing if she wished, and after talking it over she decided to do so. It was great having her these last two+ weeks - she's a wonderful guest and of course a fount of information about the boat. And on the overnight passages it's very nice to have a third crewmember to stand watch.

We left Hope Town on the high tide Monday at 11:30am and made the quick motorsail across to Marsh Harbour. We pulled up to the fuel dock at Conch Inn & Marina and filled our diesel tanks; we'd used 63.5 gallons in the ten weeks since last filling up in Nassau. After anchoring out in Marsh Harbour I fixed our big bilge pump while the girls made a reprovisioning run; later we all went out to eat in town. It was early to bed in preparation for a full couple of days.

Tuesday we were anchor up at 8:15am, before the Chris Parker net had even concluded. It was a light-air day and we spent most of it motorsailing, plus a few hours sailing almost dead downwind (at 4-5 kts) under spinnaker. The Whale Cay passage was dead calm when we transited it, a rarity in winter. From there we passed Green Turtle, Nunjack, Spanish Cay, and several other cays we'd originally intended to stop at. When we launched the spinnaker we were pleased to find it flew well even at very broad reaching angles despite our lack of a spinnaker pole (which I had broken in Eleuthera). Dawn had the bright idea that I should climb the mast while we were flying the chute and I immediately latched onto the idea. With light winds and calm seas, it was perfect conditions and not quite as crazy as it seems. We got to Allens-Pensacola Cay around 5pm and found it an absolutely gorgeous spot that got absolutely hellacious with mosquitos once the sun went down and the wind went calm.

We lathered up with bug dope before running Piper to shore at 5:30am yesterday and thus survived the onslaught. We were underway at 6:30am and motored in glassy water for the first four hours. After that the wind filled in from the northeast, allowing us to motorsail for a few hours and then pure sail on a beam and then broad reach all afternoon long. The forecast was for gusty NE winds but they never really materialized, otherwise it would have been another perfect day to fly the spinnaker (and we could have flown in all night too). Instead we went back to motorsailing as the wind faded and moved directly behind us. We reached Memory Rock at 10pm and entered the Gulf Stream shortly thereafter. My "s-turn" planning worked out well again, and this time we got quite a nice boost from the current as our route to Ft. Pierce was on a 300-degree rhumb line. I had a few ships on my watch but the girls saw little traffic on theirs. I woke up again at 6:30am to listen to Chris Parker and then took the boat the rest of the way into Ft. Pierce inlet. The wind finally picked up to its forecast strength and we sailed the last three hours.

We arrived during an outgoing tide and the inlet was rather choppy with a nearly-4 kt current against the 20 knot wind. We got to Harbortown Marina and found it significantly shallower than advertised - as in, we were carving a groove in the silty bottom most of the way to our slip!! It's also a very tight marina and it took some delicate maneuvering to do a 180 degree turn in a narrow fairway and then shimmy into our rather small slip. I didn't hit anything though!

After docking I called U.S. Customs & Border Patrol to report our arrival, and they directed us to check in at a customs office within 24 hours. We decided to go right away and get it done at the Ft. Pierce airport, where Dawn and I had checked in the Pacer on our arrival from the Bahamas two years ago. The process was quite painless. Shortly after we got back to the marina, Judy's ride (family members Brad & Sue) arrived so we all had lunch at the marina bar & grill and then they headed to the West Palm Beach airport. Unfortunately flight prices had increased markedly overnight so Judy tried to get out on my Delta buddy pass, but both flights filled up and now it's looking like she'll buy a ticket on Spirit out of FLL for tomorrow.

Dawn and I took naps this afternoon and then upon waking took advantage of unlimited fresh water to give the boat a good cleaning - and to give our salty dog a much-needed bath! A big line of weather moved through with wind to 40 knots but it's gone now. I need to get to bed because we have another full day planned for tomorrow. We may be back in the US, but the cruise isn't over, and the next phase of Windbird's refit is just about to begin.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Exploring Eleuthera

Whew, it's only been 5 days since I last posted but we've done so much. I'll try to keep this to a reasonable length.

On Wednesday we showed up at the car rental place in Rock Sound at 7:45 and were presented with a 5-seat Toyota Raum. Nope, I hadn't heard of it either. This one was a right-seat-drive model imported from Japan...everything was in Japanese and every time we started the car we got a strident lecture in Japanese from the entertainment system! It was a cruiser's special at $65 for the day. Yup, that's what passes for cheap car rental in the out islands. Nevertheless it was a great way to explore Eleuthera. We started by driving to our northernmost visiting point, the Glass Window Bridge, which took about two hours. The Glass Window is the narrowest point on Eleuthera, only 30 feet across. I suppose in a few thousand years erosion will split the island into two. But for now it's a cool view from the Atlantic to the Bight of Eleuthera and vice versa. After that we went a mile south to the Queens Baths, which are several natural seaside pools that are refilled every high tide. When it's sunny out they are naturally warmed, but it wasn't sunny. In fact it was rather stormy, and we spied two waterspouts out on the Atlantic! We ignored them and enjoyed the dramatic view from the chilly baths.

Next we had lunch at Daddy Joe's bar & grill north of Gregory Town, then drove down to Hatchet Bay and Governor's Harbour. Hatchet Bay was originally our next cruising destination, but visiting by land we were struck by how run down the area was with rather few amenities for cruisers. Governor's Harbour, on the other hand, is a rather attractive seaside town with a beautiful bay. That bay is known to have poor holding but we've gained a lot of confidence in Windbird's 66-lb Spade, and it was settled easterly weather. So we changed our Thursday destination to Governor's Harbour. Next we checked out Ten Bay Beach near Palmetto Point, then bushwhacked a bit to find the alleged pink sand beach at Blue Window south of Rock Sound. I say alleged because I didn't think any of Eleuthera's beaches were all that pink, including the most famous of them all, Pink Sands at Harbour Island (which we visited with our plane two years ago).

We returned from our long day of driving to find that Piper had developed a split paw and bled all over the boat. We were having Totem's crew (minus Behan) over for dinner so Judy and I quickly stripped the covers off the cockpit cushions, scrubbed them, and set them to soak overnight in Oxy-Magic. Totem arrived shortly after 6:30 and we talked for a while in Windbird's cockpit before repairing to the salon. Totem's crew consists of former sailmaker Jaime, Behan (who flew to Annapolis early Wednesday to present a seminar at the boat show), and 17-year old Niall, 14-year old Mairen, and 12-year-old Siobhan. They're finishing up a 10-year circumnavigation in the next year; Dawn and I have sporadically followed their blog for a while now, so it was pretty neat to meet up. And they clearly enjoyed comparing notes with Judy. It turns out that Judy's blog was a frequent source of inspiration and advice for Behan as they were preparing for their own big trip. Pretty cool - Good Goes 'Round, as they say. The kids really enjoyed Dawn's Taco Pie - Niall quickly called dibs on seconds! - and afterwards the girls had fun building car houses on our salon table as Niall and I talked Papau New Guinea WW2 history.

Piper's split paw merits more mention. We think it's due to dryness caused by saltwater exposure without enough fresh-water rinses. The first few days we dressed it and wrapped it in an Ace bandage, but then the dressing seemed to cause more irritation so we've been removing it during the night and trying to keep him off his feet during the day. Easier said than done, I know. He loves exploring ashore, would prefer to run on beaches several times a day, and does frequent circuits of the deck while roaming all 42' of the boat. The paw seems to be healing more now so hopefully he'll be back to his beachside romps in no time.

Wednesday night brought several thunderstorms and Thursday morning dawned rather grey and squally. Chris Parker's SSB forecast confirmed the storms would hang around until midday, so we decided to delay our departure to Governor's Harbour and take care of a few chores in the meantime. The girls took our laundry as well as the cockpit cushion covers to the laundromat. I'm happy to report that the cushion covers are perfectly clean, though we've decided not to put them back on until Piper's paw is completely rehealed. Around noon we finally picked up the anchor and left the anchorage. It was a bit of a mixed bag sail with everything from light winds behind us to gusty wind foreward of the beam. At one point we went to set the spinnaker pole and the mast car broke...bummer! That left us with no way to deploy the spinnaker pole so we lashed it to the starboard toerail. And then once we unfurled the assymetrical spinnaker conditions faded too light to carry it...and then abruptly gusted to 17 knots while the wind backed 60 degrees! We fell off to the northwest at 7 knots and finally decided to douse the spinnaker to avoid some sandbars that were quickly looming, then set up for the close haul the rest of the way to Governor's Harbour.

Jaime from Totem told me that the holding in Governor's Harbour wasn't as bad as advertised, and he was correct. We dropped the anchor directly on a "poor holding" notation on our chartplotter - but in fact it was a small sandy patch that gave us great holding. Go figure. We arrived into town late enough that we didn't do much other than bring Piper into town for a walk, which only gave us a re-bloodied paw.  Poor guy. We planned for the following day's sail to Abaco and retired a little early. I was sad that we'd be missing the Friday night fish fry that was advertised on channel 16 right after we dropped anchor, but was eager to get up to Abaco to stage for the crossing back to the U.S. east coast.

In the next post, I'll talk about our rambunctious sail to Abaco and our explorations here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Crossing to Eleuthera

We had yet another fantastic sail from Black Point up to Warderick Wells on Friday and ended up dropping the hook right next to Epiic in Emerald Bay. It was great to see Dan and Isabelle over two months after our last passing in Ft. Lauderdale. They took a little longer than us to cross and work their way down to the Exumas but are now headed to Georgetown and points south, hoping to arrive in Puerto Rico before the onset of hurricane season. With any luck we'll see them again in the Caribbean next season.

Shortly after our arrival we all went snorkeling at Emerald Rock and the Ranger's Garden site near park headquarters, both of which were fairly spectacular on Friday. Later we had Epiic over for sundowners and catching up, and then we invited them for breakfast on Saturday. I made my specialty, Mexican Breakfast, and then we listened to the 9am park net. Unfortunately we were unable to both procure moorings in the north mooring field, but we were able to get the last two moorings in the south anchorage / hog cay - which is our favorite in the area - so we prepared to convoy over there. Just as we were bringing up the anchor, Dawn called up to say something was wrong with the steering. I let the chain back out and went to investigate - yep, it was pretty buggered up. I took the bed apart and soon discovered why: the steering cables had loosened and slipped off of the rudder quadrant. Yikes, that could have been really bad if it had happened when we were in a tight spot! The cause was that one of the backing nuts on the cable tension adjustment bolts had backed completely off and allowed the adjustment nut to slacken. I dug through our hardware stores and found some locknuts of the same size, which should prevent that from happening again.

After we were moored in Hog Cay, Dawn and Judy and I picked up Isabelle (Dan was taking a nap) and we dinghied around the south side of Warderick Wells to snorkel the Malabar Cays. It was a really nice snorkel although it was rather rough with honking southeasterlies. We got fairly soaked on the ride home - but hey, we were wet already. We had dinner separately but then got together on Epiic afterwards for our last night together. Pretty early the next morning they took off on a rather rough bash to Staniel Cay to meet guests, while we hunkered down for a stormy Sunday in the anchorage. I wrote my column, Judy caught up on logs, Dawn played games, and Piper laid pretty low. Several squalls came through and at times the wind against current had Windbird lurching on her mooring rather uncomfortably. The highest wind we saw was 30 knots, though...the same night a severe thunderstorm hit Cape Eleuthera Marina with 80+ knot winds & gusts to 110!

Monday morning dawned much calmer, with southwesterlies of around 15 knots. We were off the mooring ball by 8am and headed out into Exuma Sound for our crossing to Eleuthera. The wind direction was just right to try flying our spinnaker for the first time but the strength was kinda at the upper end so we initially held off, instead rigging the pole and flying wing-on-wing and then gibing over to a broad reach as the wind veered WSW. Finally it died enough that we felt comfortable putting up the chute. What a pretty sail - and what fun to fly it! It was considerably easier to rig, launch and recover than I realized. I'm sure we'll do it a lot more in the future.

Six or seven miles short of Cape Eleuthera the winds had finally died enough that it was time to put away the sails and start the motor in the interest of getting to Rock Sound before dark. In fact we arrived at 4:45pm and got a nice spot to anchor in front of the government dock. We took Piper to shore and walked through town, and then stopped at a neighboring boat on the way back to Windbird. Totem is a family of five who is finishing up a ten year circumnavigation; they have a popular boat blog and have written a book about cruising with kids. We initially heard of them through Delos and have checked out their blog occasionally since. Super nice family. Behan actually flew out today to give a presentation at the Annapolis spring sailboat show, but we're having Jaime and the kids over for dinner tomorrow night.

This morning we were up bright & early to go rent a car at Dingle's Motors, which was closed last night but advertised car rental on their sign. Well, we got there only to be informed that Dingle was out of the car rental business. They called around for us but all the places with cars for rent in Rock Sound were either out of cars, not answering their phones, or unable to deliver a car until the afternoon. Dawn and I hoofed it north of town to the Rock Sound Market on what turned out to be a false tip about cars for rent there - but we did find another car rental place along the way. They didn't have cars for today but they do for tomorrow, so we decided to stay another day and drive the island tomorrow. That fits better with the weather anyways - if we'd gone to Hatchet Bay tomorrow we would've been motoring all the way, 42 nm.

On our way back to meet Judy at Government Dock we found a cool art/gift shop, Blue Seahorse, that is run by two friendly young Eleutheran ladies (one of whom lived in MN for a winter!). They welcome cruisers to hang out on their patio and use their wifi. Back on the boat Judy made lunch and I loaded Garmin software updates onto our chartplotter, autopilot, radar, etc. This was primarily an attempt to fix our autopilot, which has never worked quite right since we installed it in January. It's never been able to make it through the Sea Trial/Autotune process, which means we've been setting rudder gain & counter-gain settings manually with rather unsatisfactory results. In calm seas it wanders a bit, but while annoying is at least usable. In rough seas or higher winds it has to be watched like a hawk, which completely negates the point of having an autopilot. Dawn and I are considering doing a multiday passage from Abaco straight back to the Carolinas, but if that's going to happen we need to have a properly working autopilot.

After I loaded the updates I was feeling pretty tired - we've had several short nights this week - so I laid down for a nap while the ladies went back to Blue Seahorse to shop and use their wifi. After they got back we put the dinghy on the davits, hauled up the anchor, and headed out into Rock Sound to attempt an autopilot sea trial with the new software. This time it worked, and the autopilot now holds heading and course like an absolute champ! Well, that's under power in calm seas anyways; we'll be giving it much more of a workout over the next week and hope to have complete confidence in it by Marsh Harbour.

While the ladies were in town they ran into Markus, a cruiser with an Elan 444 who Dawn and I had met in Georgetown. He noted that some friends of his had highly recommended Nort'side Ocean Restaurant a few miles out of town; the proprietress, Rosie, will pick you up in her car. We decided to make a reservation and at 6:30 Rosie came to government dock to pick up Markus and us. Man, what a treat. Her restaurant & cottages are gorgeously situated on a bluff overlooking a pink sand beach and the Atlantic Ocean, and Rosie is quite a character in the best possible sense - a warm, friendly, vivacious, proud mother of six accomplished children scattered around the world. After a wonderful Bahamian dinner of smothered grouper (Dawn & I) & cracked conch (Markus & Judy) plus peas-n-rice, coleslaw, and fried plaintains, Rosie showed us an album from her life and those of her children and grandchildren, opined at length on the sources of happiness and success, and led us in a little song about "love is a ting, you gotta give it away, give it away, give it away...." It was really a nice evening. I should mention that the prices are super reasonable for such a good meal in the Bahamas ($42 bill including gratuity for Dawn & I, including a rum & coke each). So if you're in Rock Sound, give Rosie a call.

We're headed to bed soon as we have a rental car lined up for 7:30 tomorrow and we're hoping to see a decent bit of the island. On Thursday we plan to take the boat to Hatchet Bay and then Friday-Saturday it's looking pretty good to make the 130nm passage up to Abaco. This Bahamian adventure is approaching its end, which makes us a bit sad because we've had such a wonderful time here - but we'll be back next November.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


When we told fellow cruisers that we were having Windbird's last owner on board for two weeks of cruising from Georgetown to the Abacos, we got a lot of raised eyebrows. I'm sure all were imagining a domineering former owner from hell making life miserable. Clearly, they didn't know Judy Handley. In the eight months since we bought Windbird from Judy and Mark we've gotten to know each other over phone calls, emails, a few visits, and reading each others blogs, and Dawn and I have come to really like Judy and enjoy her company. And on the boat is no different, she's a wonderful guest...particularly since we were able to dispense with the boat briefing!

We did some more chores on Tuesday before Judy arrived, and afterward we moved the boat back over to our favorite anchorage between Monument and Honeymoon beaches. We then did a bit of a dinghy tour around Georgetown before dinner. Yesterday Dawn and I had to run back across to Georgetown with the dinghy for more groceries (the mailboat came late Tuesday) and to fill one of our propane cylinders. After we got back and had lunch the weather turned pretty ugly with a series of small squalls moving through the harbor followed by cold, steady drizzle. I was thinking of every excuse not to snorkel but Judy pointed out we'd be getting wet anyways. Touché. The overcast conditions made the underwater colors pretty drab but there were a ton of fish out, so it worked out. And in any case the weather improved steadily, so after snorkeling we had an early dinner at Chat-N-Chill, and then took Piper and some drinks to Honeymoon Beach where Jerome from Gamma Gamma had put together a small, weather-delayed beach party complete with campfire and strumming guitars. It was a really, really nice way to close out our time in Georgetown. Hard to believe we're northbound already, our time in the Bahamas has flown right by.

This morning we woke up at 5:45 to take Piper to the beach and then launched into our boat preparation routines. Judy volunteered to listen to Chris Parker while we got ready, which I really appreciated as this weekend and next week are shaping up to be fairly active, weather-wise, and potentially a bit challenging for northbound travel to Eleuthera and the Abacos. We had the anchor on the bow roller by 7:05 and were heading for Conch Cay Cut under full sail a few minutes after that. The cut itself wasn't terribly rough but Exuma Sound was a bit lumpy. The wind was mostly due east at 17-19 with gusts of 21-22 kts. We had one reef in and I considered putting in the second a few times but never did, and we made really good speed: it took us 8 hours to go 53 miles to Black Point. Both Dawn and I felt a little seasick a few times but helm time alleviated those symptoms...we were handsteering as the autopilot once again proved incapable of keeping up with conditions. It underscored that I really, really need to get the autopilot working well before we take off on any extended offshore passages - such as going straight from the Abacos to South Carolina. There is a software update I can try; I'm thinking I'll start there and then get some help from Garmin Support.

I really like Black Point, especially since the anchorage isn't rolly this time (there was NW wind when we were here with my parents one month ago). We took Piper for a walk soon after arrival and the same young Bahamian kid who asked to walk him last time again approached and asked us if he could walk Piper. Too cute. We ran into some cruisers from Spirit who invited us to Cruisers Happy Hour at Scorpios Bar & Grill, so we went back to Windbird to retrieve Judy and then headed back into town. It was a fun hour or two hanging out with Rich and Ruthie from Spirit and Jim and Chris from Radio Waves. Since we got back we've been planning our passage up to Warderick Wells for tomorrow and deciding where we're going to snorkel when we get there, we had a dinner of grilled jerk chicken, and Dawn renewed our BTC data package so Judy and I could catch up on blogging. Between the early getup and the long, fun day of sailing I'm pretty bushed, so I'm heading to bed...but really looking forward to our fourth visit to Warderick Wells tomorrow, during which we'll see our friends Dan and Isabelle on Epiic for the first time since Ft. Lauderdale!

Monday, April 17, 2017


It was my 36th birthday today, but it was mostly just another day on the boat. Dawn went to water aerobics this morning while I varnished and fixed the hawse pipe (yet again - drilled new holes and used oversized screws and washers, hopefully it holds this time). Once she got back we repositioned the boat over to Georgetown and I made a few water runs and attempted to get diesel for our jerry cans while Dawn did two loads of laundry at the laundromat. I say "attempted" because the Monday after Easter is a holiday here so most everything was either closed or had limited hours. I showed up at the Shell station 5 minutes after they closed, and there was nobody who could pump diesel around the Exuma Yacht Club docks. No biggie, I can do it tomorrow morning, and in any case we don't actually need it. I think we could get back to the States on the diesel we have now and I'm planning to top off in Marsh Harbour.

After laundry was done we had lunch and launched into a bit of boat-cleaning. We have to do that more often than the average boater thanks to our four-legged friend on board. I never thought he shed that much until we moved aboard. His fur gets absolutely everywhere, in amazingly large quantities. I shudder to think how much makes it into our engine (Yanmar 4JH's don't have an air filter). So we beat rugs and cleaned upholstery and swept and cleaned the heads and swept and wiped down the cockpit. Then I decided to clean our cockpit cushions which haven't been cleaned in forever and have some mildew spotting on them. They didn't come completely clean - maybe Judy will have some tips on what she used on them. By now I had an ever-so-rare cleaning bug up my butt so I attacked the dinghy with some inflatable cleaner. It worked well but still ended in frustration as it was way too rough out. There weren't too many boats on the Georgetown side when we moved so we were able to tuck way in - further than I thought our draft would permit - but during the day the wind backed so we no longer had the protection of the small cays just SE of us.

After putting away the cleaning supplies we showered and put on nice clothes, enjoyed an early sundowner, and then took the dinghy over to Peace & Plenty Hotel for a 6:30 dinner reservation. We were originally planning on eating at St. Francis Resort (where we attended open mic music night yesterday) but they're not open Mondays - and it's for the best as we would've got soaked on the mile-long dinghy ride across the harbor. The Peace & Plenty put on a really nice meal of blackened Mahi, veggies & potato topped off with a birthday piece of rum cake. We don't really eat out much these days, when we do it's usually with guests or an order of fresh conch salad or conch fritters at our favorite beachside watering holes. The dinner did make me just a little irked that I haven't caught a Mahi yet. I love Mahi. I have lures that Mahi supposedly love. But they've been ignoring my lures while practically jumping into friends boats. For not being much of a fisherman back home I've caught fish fever pretty hard this trip. I'm still not much of a fisherman but the desire is there!

Tomorrow we have a few more chores early and then Judy Handley arrives from Boston via Atlanta. Tomorrow night we're getting together with Rick and Robyn from Endangered Species. They knew Mark and Judy ten years ago when they were cruising the South Pacific at the same time. On Wednesday we'll probably do some snorkeling and hiking, and maybe get in one last game of volleyball at the Chat-N-Chill. We'll be leaving early Thursday and hope to make it up to Black Point, and then on to Warderick Wells on Friday. Our friends Dan and Isabelle on Epiic just crossed from Nassau to Norman's Cay today so it appears we'll be getting together in Warderick after all. We're super excited about that.

I got my work schedule for May yesterday. There is a nine-day international trip starting on May 17th that I'm thinking is going to be tough to drop, and maybe I don't want to (55 hrs of pay, layovers in London-New York-Amsterdam-New York-London). So we're going to try to get the boat somewhere in the US that's convenient by May 15. With a really good weather window it could be South Carolina. Otherwise it'll be somewhere in Florida, and in that case I'm pretty tempted to get our canvas done right there while I'm off flying. I'll bid for a bunch of days off in mid-late June, and that's when we'll plan on bringing the boat north to the Chesapeake for the summer.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Three Months In

We had another really nice sail over from Long Island to Georgetown on Thursday. The wind was NE to ENE at 17 knots for a really broad reach, but we only had to gybe twice, to enter the Three Fathom Channel into Elizabeth Harbour. There was a pretty decent ocean swell on our quarter, which made for active steering conditions - the autopilot couldn't keep up - but it was still fairly comfortable and we made the 25 miles in about 4.5 hours. The cut into Elizabeth Harbour had a few good rollers in it but nothing breaking. We remained under full sail right up to the Monument Beach anchorage, sailing through a good portion of the Georgetown fleet at 7 knots in the process. That was fun, and we got a few nice comments after the fact. From here on in, we'll be inexorably northbound - for this season, anyways.

We've now been out cruising for three months, two of those in the Bahamas. We're certainly not old hands, but neither are we total noobs anymore. We've learned a ton about our boat and how to best sail and maintain her, about navigation and weather and passagemaking, about docking and anchoring, about what duties and procedures work best for us, and what tasks each person is most suited for. There hasn't been a day that's gone by where we haven't learned something new. And yet, for all that, it's been surprisingly easy. At no time have I felt completely over my head. Dawn gained an enormous amount of confidence in herself and the boat (and hopefully me). Our preparation & self-sufficiency proved up to par; at no point did we have to lean on another boat for tools or spares or know-how. In part I think we've been lucky to not have been tested with anything beyond our skill level before we were up to speed - but we've also been pretty careful not to put ourselves in sticky situations before we were ready to handle them (with one notable exception, our night exit at Farmer's Cay Cut in heavy conditions).

Reflecting on our two months in the Bahamas in particular, here are a few things that have really struck me as a noob cruiser:

It's Not Rocket Science
Because it's the first foreign land we've visited, because there's so much shallow water and many reefs and fierce currents and a long history of shipwrecks, the Bahamas held a certain amount of intimidation factor for us. But you get out here and you run into a lot of really normal people, plus more than a few complete knuckleheads, who have been doing this for years and years and have managed to keep themselves out of trouble. Most of this isn't all that hard, it's just plain common sense. This is one area where I'm really lucky to have Dawn, because she definitely has the edge on me in that area and has proven over the course of the trip that she'll reel me in when I need it.

Navigation Is Actually Easier Here
Ok, lights and markings aren't up to U.S. standards and neither are the out-of-date government surveys or the charts (paper or electronic) based on them. But the privately produced Explorer Charts are fairly accurate, and there are a number of electronic charts for iPad and chartplotter based on them. Even where accuracy is wanting, you have the advantage of actually being able to see the bottom! Before arrival I was super nervous about learning to read the water. Within the first few days, I had it. Shallows, rock bars, reefs and stray coral heads are all pretty obvious. This assumes, of course, that you're only sailing during the day on the banks unless on a route known to be free of stray heads, with good over the shoulder light, and relatively flat water.

Go Where The Wind Takes You
The winter weather isn't exactly benign here, but it's pretty predictable. Listening to Chris Parker on our SSB each morning, we knew when major systems were on their way, usually four or five days in advance, and could change our plans accordingly. Thus were we able to freely move up and down the Exumas three times despite what old-timers described as a more-active-than-average winter. There are a limited number of times to move in any particular direction and these are further restricted by the limited number of anchorages with protection from west- and north-component wind. Get tied down to a schedule and you'll miss the available windows.

Tides and Currents Rule All
Maybe this comes more naturally to people who grew up on the ocean; I know I have to think about it, and typically do at least six or seven times a day. The tides aren't huge here (2.5 to 4 feet) but taking a six-foot draft through shallow approaches to desirable anchorages makes them pretty important, and then you consider the huge volume of water that flows through a limited number of cuts resulting in strong currents. A cut that's just fine when the current is flowing with the wind can turn into a dangerous mess after the tide reverses. Current more than anything determined the timing of our deep-water passages, while tide and the availability of light determined the timing of bank-side passages.

Good Ground Tackle Is Worth Its Weight in Gold
Mark and Judy Handley swore by their 66-lb Spade anchor on 5/16" G4 all-chain rode, and it wasn't just them trying to sell the boat. This anchor does a hell of a job of laying down on the seabed nicely, biting and digging in right away, and resetting itself immediately after each swing. And you will swing mightily, every six hours as the current reverses in the majority of anchorages. Trust in one's ground tackle does wonders for the skipper's ability to sleep soundly (diving on your anchor and a good drag-alarm program for your smartphone are the other key components). Last week we did our first Bahamian moor in Joe's Sound due to the narrowness of the anchorage. That's a rarity out here these days - it's mostly a relic of the CQR anchor, which did a poor job of resetting itself after a swing. In most anchorages good modern tackle makes the Bahamian moor unneccessary, which is nice because it's a lot of work to put down and pull up.

You'll Never, Ever Be Bored
Silly me, I thought I was going to get caught up on my pleasure reading out here. I haven't even got caught up with my boat reading! For that matter, I thought I would write more, and it's everything I can do to get my column out once a month and update this blog once a week! Just everyday living - meals, cleaning, bathing, taking the dog to shore - takes up more time than land living. Then there is watermaking/hauling, reprovisioning runs, trash disposal, dinghy refueling, boat maintenance, repairs, and occasional deep cleaning to do. Moving the boat takes up a lot of time, even on short passages, when you consider the time it takes to get the boat ready to go and putting it to bed when you're done. So it's not like there's unlimited spare time to begin with, and then there's so much great hiking, snorkeling, and dinghy exploring to do out here. And then there are the sundowners, and happy hours on your buddy's boat that just sailed into the anchorage, and impromptu potlucks and bonfires on the beach. I initially thought this busyness was simply because we're new, but now I'm not so sure. I do think it accounts for the appallingly shabby cosmetic condition of a lot of the cruisers' boats out here. We had to take nearly a week "off" just to get some varnishing and other mostly-cosmetic maintenance done. 

Guests Are Nice, But...
Most cruisers are ambivalent at best about guests, an attitude I never quite understood until now. Don't get me wrong, I love having guests on board, and Windbird is really nicely set up for it. But guests inevitably tie you into a schedule because there are a limited number of places they can meet and leave the boat. This has inevitably led us to moving the boat more than we need to and spending less time in some really spectacular anchorages than we'd like (and probably has contributed a lot to the "busy" syndrome I mention above). And it's meant spending less time with some really cool cruising friends we'd probably have buddy-boated with. Even when you share an anchorage with people you know, having guests aboard makes you less likely that you'll socialize outside your boat. None of which is to say that we intend to stop having guests onboard. But we're definitely going to emphasize the necessity of schedule/destination flexibility on their part (even if it means buying last-minute tickets), and we're going to take care to schedule time "just for us" between guests.

Bahamians Are Some of the Friendliest People on Earth
That's all. I just love 'em to death. Outside of Nassau I have yet to run into a Bahamian asshole, which is more than I can say of the cruising community (where they're still rarer than average). The further from Nassau you go, the nicer they get.

Georgetown is just Pretty Nice
Ok, I've spent some time here now. I see the appeal. It's a pretty harbour. There's a lot to do, and a lively cruiser social scene. Services are plentiful and convenient. There's an international airport for guests to fly in and out. And anybody who's been here for any length of time develops a network of friends here, often encompassing the neighboring boats in "their" anchorage. But yikes, I'm not sure I understand the folks who sail straight here, anchor in Elizabeth Harbour for all winter long, and then sail back to Florida. Georgetown is pretty nice, but gobsmackingly spectacular is right next door! The week in Joe's Sound made me realize how great it was to be out of Georgetown, and I wasn't particularly thrilled to come back. Of course then we met some cool folks at the Chat-n-Chill...and invited our friends from S/V Finally over for happy hour Thursday...and Friday night there was an awesome beach party & musical jam session on Honeymoon Beach....

That's it for now, though I'm sure I'll think of a few things later. Some of the above might sound like bitching, but far from it. This isn't vacation, it's a lifestyle - one that involves a certain amount of work and discomfort and uncertainty, but one that yields daily rewards that most working stiffs can only dream of for 51 weeks out of the year. I'm having a blast out here, and I'm happy to report that Dawn and Piper are both really enjoying it as well.