Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Bad Engine Blues

Our drive to Atlanta went well on October 23-25th, and the flight down to San Juan PR on the 26th went off without a hitch. Well, not quite - we bought a cheap ticket on SWA for Dawn since all the flights on my airline were oversold. I was on a jumpseat pass on the same flight we had paid to have Piper shipped as cargo, and it turned out there were plenty of seats due to misconnects - we didn't have to pay for Dawn after all. Oh well. Piper did very well with being shipped, again.

Our four days in the boatyard were hot, dusty, and busy. The boat was a little dirtier and moldier than we realized, so Dawn had some work cut out to make it habitable. We steadily worked our way down the long project list and got everything done by our scheduled launch at 3:30pm on Oct 30th. In the week since I had last visited the boat, mechanic Gerry Martino had finished flushing water out of the crankcase, removing water from the top end, and lubricating the cylinders through the injector holes. He also installed a new raw water throughhull and seacock, the job whose estimation (my another mechanic) led to the initial discovery of the water in the bilge. Gerry very briefly ran the engine while the boat was on the hard; I was really worried about internal rusting and potential damage down the road. As it turns out, I was right to worry.

The launch went very smoothly. Once in the water, the engine started right up but smoked heavily, which I initially attributed to the extra oil Gerry had injected into the cylinders. It made decent power to get us to the dock, though, and we were quite happy to be off the hard and moving aboard (we had spent the previous nights in a rented apartment about 10 minutes north of the marina). Over the next few days we continued provisioning, rigging Windbird to cruise, I fixed the air conditioning and it promptly broke again, and we kept running the engine at various RPMs. Our initial goal had been to leave the marina on Friday, October 2nd, and we would have been ready to do so if our engine had been running right. It was still smoking quite a bit and running a little rough, and there was a pronounced top end clatter. Gerry came to adjust the valves on the morning of October 2nd and that cleared up the top end noise, but now the roughness of the engine was more evident. He isolated the problem using the old "crack the injector hold-down" trick: the #4 cylinder was dead. The next morning he came back to swap injectors (between #2 & #4), but the #4 cylinder stayed idle. The injector was clearly squirting out fuel. This left compression as the primary suspect, a very bad sign.

We hung out the rest of the weekend as it rained and poured, and on Monday morning Gerry and his assistant David came with their compression tester. Cylinders #1-3 all showed around 425 psi, while #4 registered just under 300. Exploratory surgery was necessary. Gerry and David tore out the head and took that back to their shop, where Gerry inspected it yesterday. He found all valves seating and sealing normally, and no leaks from the top end. This is the worst case scenario. It means a broken ring, possibly a scored cylinder wall (we can't see any evidence of that from the top of the cylinder, though). It means removal of the engine for overhaul, or else replacement. It means putting a ton of money into the boat, and being stuck here for the foreseeable future. It means our plans for this season are on hold for now.

Because the current engine has nearly 8500 hours on it, Dawn and I are strongly leaning towards replacing it with a new Yanmar 4JH5E, which is basically identical to our current 4JH4E. It would be about as painless of a repowering as is possible. We'd be able to use our brand new ZF 15 MIV transmission, which thankfully survived its own dunking without water ingress. We'd possibly even be able to leave the boat in the water, as Mark and Judy Handley did when they installed the current engine in 2005. We know the engine will fit through the companionway and down the aft cabin passageway to the engine room, which would have to be partly disassembled. We know it can be done with our main halyard, a few other ropes, and a 1-ton chain hoist. We have lots of photos and descriptions of the process from Judy's blog. It would allow us to do a few other projects to greatly improve our engine room and bilge. But it would doubtless take a while to be shipped down here. We're waiting on a quote from R&B Power in San Juan. In the meantime I'm starting the process of filing an insurance claim. That's going to be interesting, as our insurance has been a pain to deal with every time we've had contact. We would have switched if it didn't require a new survey.

In the meantime, though, we're flying over to the BVI for 10 days. Two of my brothers and eleven of their friends are flying in for a charter of a large Moorings catamaran on Nov 10-17th. Windbird was supposed to join them but obviously won't be making it, and besides their need of our sailing expertise there isn't enough room on the cat to sleep everyone. Fortunately some good friends of ours who are also Moorings owners gifted us the use of their points to charter an additional 38' monohull, which Dawn, my brother Jon, his girlfriend Heather and I will sleep on. Piper will be going to a "doggie resort" here on Puerto Rico. Though we're getting the extra boat for free, I honestly hate to leave Windbird here like this and run off to the BVI, but we're doing it because it's family and they've had this planned for a long time, have nonrefundable tickets, etc. My hope is to get the new Yanmar ordered and headed this way while we're gone, assuming we decide to go in that direction. We'll be trying to make a decision in the next three days.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

More Offseason Adventures

Huh, I guess it's been two months since we've posted...time for an update!

Our offseason has continued to absolutely fly by. I've still been working a full schedule, mostly flying Europe trips, while rebuilding our cruising kitty. But in between work trips, we've found a few things to do that have kept us pretty busy.

In August we flew out to Salt Lake City, where we had stashed our motorcycles in June and where my airline pilot / motorcycling buddy Brad Phillips had recently purchased a Yamaha Tenere adventure bike. This was our first motorcycle trip with Brad in several years, and we had a lot of fun. The first day we hit the road in early afternoon and made it up to Bear Lake, Utah, where we camped in a state campground on the south shore. Day 2, Brad's birthday, was a really nice day of riding into Jackson, WY with a short stop in Grand Teton National Park, then riding through Yellowstone to Madison Campground where we camped for the night (low of 37° F, brr!). The next day's route was a winding series of roads along the Montana/Idaho border all the way to Lolo in the Bitterroot Mountains, where we found a really cool old lumberjack bar (The Jack Saloon), where we hung out and danced till after midnight and rented cabins for the night. The following morning we absolutely feasted on over 100 straight miles of nonstop curves on one of the most glorious roads I've ever ridden on: US-12 from Lolo Hot Springs, MT to Kooskia, ID. The rest of the day took us further south in Idaho, then through Hell's Canyon into Oregon, where we stopped in Baker City for the night. With four good days of riding under our belts, on Day 5 we just booked it to Vancouver, WA to give ourselves time to clean and pamper the bikes before flying out the next morning.

Our next adventure was in mid-September, when we flew to Europe for two weeks with Dawn's brother Paul. We actually flew out to Brussels a day before him just in case the nonrevving went sideways, rented a BMW X1 from Sixt, and spent the night in beautiful Bruges. The next morning we picked Paul up in BRU, added him to the rental agreement, and pointed the Beamer east. In Bastogne we visited the 101st Airborne Division Museum - which covers the Battle of the Bulge - had lunch in an old tavern, visited the Mardasson Memorial, and accidentally happened upon Jacques' Woods, site of some vicious fighting and shelling that was depicted in HBO's excellent WW2 miniseries "Band of Brothers." We continued through the Ardennes into Luxembourg and then into Germany, where we spent the night at a chateau in the ancient Roman town of Trier, which is where many of my ancestors from my mom's side of the family were from.

The next day we drove through a bit of France to reach the spa town of Baden-Baden, where we walked around, had a beer and bought picnic supplies before driving up into the Black Forest via the Schwarzwaldhochstraße, which was quite scenic and a fun drive as well. We spent a rainy night at a B&B in Hornberg, and the skies had cleared by the next morning when we did some hiking at a waterfall above Triberg. We then continued out of the forest, across the Rhine into Switzerland, and on to Vitznau on the shores of Vierwaldstättersee, i.e. Lake Lucerne. I haven't been to Switzerland since Dawn and I spent several weeks hiking the Alps in 2006, and I had forgotten how drop-dead gorgeous the country is. We were staying at the base of Mt. Rigi; there wasn't quite enough time left in the day to justify taking the cog railway all the way to the top,
but we did take the cheap local cablecar up to Hinterbergen and hiked a bit further up to a grassy saddle with beautiful views east and west. Dawn and Paul waited for an hour while I climbed another 700' or so to a commanding side peak; unfortunately the top was overgrown and the views weren't much better than the saddle. We had a beer at a small restaurant below the saddle and then hiked all the way down to Vitznau, about a 2500' drop down a pretty forested ravine.

The next morning's drive east through the Alps was stupendously beautiful, especially the first part across the Klausen Pass. Our route took us through Lichtenstein and the Tyrol region of Austria to the town of Reutte, near the German border. There we explored the ruins of Ehrenburg Castle and stayed up late to watch the Minnesota Vikings lose very badly to the Buffalo Bills (!). The following morning dawned very dark and drizzly, the only bad
weather in what was otherwise a remarkably good-weather trip. We toured Neuschwanstein Castle, had lunch and delicious monk-brewed beer at Andechs Monstary, and visited Dachau before heading to our hostel on the eastern outskirts of Munich. It was Oktoberfest, but for the first night we elected to just walk around the Marienplatz and have dinner at the Hofbrauhaus, which was a lot of fun.

The following day we did laundry in the morning, explored Munich in the afternoon, and headed to the Wiesn at 4pm. There we met our Munich friend Uli Zinn, who we met on the Navimag ferry in Patagonia in 2011. We went into the "old Oktoberfest" with Uli for an hour or two, then headed to one of the big Paulaner tents, the
Armbrustshützenhalle. There we met an airline pilot friend of mine, Erica S, and a group of her friends - one of whom turned out to be one of the last pilots I flew with at Compass, my last airline. Erica and I went to college together and have been chasing each other around the industry ever since. This is the third airline we've been at together, having always been hired within a couple months of each other. Uli's sister also joined us. We had a table right next to the bandstand, and it turned out to be a pretty fantastically fun night. I'd love to do Oktoberfest again.


Our subsequent legs took us to Nuremburg, Heidelburg, and Frankfurt. After Frankfurt we spent half a day exploring the Middle Rhine River Valley, which is very familiar territory for me, and then
headed up into the Eiffel Mountains to a little town called Nurburg. There we watched all sorts of exotic sportscars (plus some not-so-exotics) run the famous 20-km circuit known as the Nurburgring - and then we took our gutless rental BMW for 3 laps the next morning! Paul, Dawn and I each took a lap. I'm happy to say we didn't wreck the car, and it was great fun. I wouldn't mind doing it in something a little more high-performance next time though. After the motorsports fun, we headed to Amsterdam for a couple of days, then down to Brussels, where we spent one more night before flying out. The nonrev gods were smiling on us, and we made it all the way back to MSP through JFK on the same flights as Paul. Of course, then I had to head straight back to work!

My most recent adventure was a decidedly unplanned one. Two weeks ago, a mechanic was at Windbird to do an estimate for replacing some seacocks when he discovered that our bilge was full of rainwater - over the transmission, partway up the engine above the crankshaft. Our boat sitters had missed it accumulating over several months. The boat sitters pumped the water out of the bilge but the mechanic subsequently got too busy to investigate further, so I flew down to Puerto Rico a few days ago immediately after arrival from Frankfurt at the end of a six-day trip. What I found was not good. I had accidentally left the cockpit scupper seacocks closed. All the rainwater that accumulated in the cockpit over the rainy season (we'd removed the bimini) drained through an unbeknownst-to-us leak where one of the pedestal guard legs came unbedded from the cockpit sole. All this rainwater leaked directly into a compartment above the engine, into a box containing my epoxy supplies. Eventually one or more of the epoxy containers ruptured, and epoxy-tainted water overflowed onto the engine below and then into the bilge. It was quite a mess to clean up, and much worse I found the engine absolutely full of epoxy-scented rainwater. I pumped it all out and then changed the oil 4 times, at which point the oil was coming out only slightly cleaner. I could crank the engine over by hand only with great effort through a ratchet, indicating there's some water in the cylinders as well. The only good news is that the water level didn't reach any electrical components, and the seals in our brand new transmission kept the water out of that - I changed its oil and it came out clean.

I rebedded the pedestal guard in the cockpit to prevent a reoccurence and recaulked our propane locker which was letting some water in above our bed, and engaged a mechanic to work more on our engine as I had to fly back north for another work trip. The mechanic is using a pump to flush the crankcase with a cleaning solution and removing the injectors to evacuate water from the cylinders and lubricate them and the valves. I'm hoping against hope that there's no long-term damage, but we'll see in the coming days. It was a pretty stupid mistake on my part to forget to open the scupper seacocks (I'd closed all seacocks to check operation after hauling, intending to reopen the scuppers), made worse because our boat sitters never checked the bilge or turned on the bilge pump when water appeared.

In any case, Dawn and Piper and I are driving to Atlanta in the middle of next week and flying to Puerto Rico on Oct 26th. Barring major problems with the engine (or late-season hurricane activity), our launch is set for Oct 30th, and we hope to be out of the marina and headed east a few days later.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Our Crazy Summer Ashore & Aloft

It's absolutely incredible to me that it's already mid-August, the summer is almost over, and Windbird has already been on the hard for over two months. We've been quite busy working, visiting friends and family, traveling, and doing other fun land-based stuff in that time, and it doesn't look like it's going to slow down at all between now and when we head back to Puerto Rico at the end of October.

First, I'm glad to say it's been a very quiet Atlantic hurricane season thus far, not just for our sake but also for all the islands and communities still rebuilding from Irma and Maria. The sea temps in the tropical Atlantic have been average or below-average, with persistent high upper-level wind shear that has prevented much cyclonic formation. We had one category I hurricane, Beryl, go through the Lesser Antilles and weaken to a tropical storm before passing just south of Puerto Rico in early July, but all activity since then has taken place in the subtropical Atlantic, where sea temps are above average. Of course we are just now entering the heart of the storm season, from now until late September. Here's hoping it continues to underwhelm.

When we left Windbird in early June, we spent one night in Old San Juan and then flew to Atlanta, where our Nissan XTerra was parked in an ATL airport employee parking lot. This was Piper's first time being shipped by air, and he seemed to handle it very well. I was jumpseating on the same flight in my pilot uniform, and was thus able to go out on the ramp and check on him & give him a little snack both before and after the flight. Once we landed in Atlanta, we had a lunch with friends Kevin & Jeannie and then hit the road, driving to Nashville. Unbeknownst to us, CMAFest was in full swing at the time, and downtown Nashville was CRAZY! Piper handled the commotion remarkably well, just a year or two ago he would have been shaking with fright. I think the cruising lifestyle has really helped him get over his fears (namely, adult strangers, bicycles and loud noise).

The next day we drove all the way to Minneapolis, and the day after that to Rosholt, SD where we moved in with Dawn's parents for a couple months. Tom and Marg live on Lake Traverse, which forms the border between MN & SD. Shortly after moving in, we installed a mooring system off of their dock and I helped Tom set up their 25' MacGregor sailboat, so Dawn and I have been able to do a little lake sailing! But actually, I've spent very little time in SD considering how busy we've been.

I started flying a full schedule in June. Because landing currency isn't a problem for me in the summer, I've been bidding almost all Europe flying on the B767-300ER, with layovers in Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam (and U.S. layovers in New York, Orlando, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh). I've also made getting current in small planes a priority for this summer,  which has led to some really cool experiences. On a Frankfurt
layover, I flew an Ikarus C42 microlight from Flugplatz Mainz-Finthen up the Rhine River Valley, and in Paris I flew a classic taildragger Robin DR.221 out of Saint-Cyr-l'Ecole airport (both of these with an instructor, as my FAA license does not automatically transfer to JAA). In my hometown of Princeton, MN, I got checked out in a rental Cessna 172 so I can take my nephews and nieces flying this summer. And this past week, I used a long Orlando layover to go to Jack Brown's Seaplane Base in Winter Haven, FL, to start a 2-day seaplane rating course in a Piper J-3C floatplane. After I finished the work trip, I flew back to Orlando for day two of training and the checkride, which I passed with "flying colors." It's been really enjoyable getting used to flying small planes again. Dawn and I both miss owning our Piper Pacer, and the question of what plane we'll buy "post-boat" has been a frequent topic of discussion.

Another disused form of recreation that we've revisited this summer is riding our motorcycles. From July 7-18, we took off on a 2500 mile trip to the Black Hills, Colorado, and Utah. Dawn's been wanting to ride out there for years, and it proved to be a pretty epic trip with beautiful riding, good hiking and nice camping. We spent time in Arches, Canyonlands, and Bryce Canyon National Parks, which were all eye-poppingly gorgeous. The bikes ran quite well considering I had only recently resurrected them from two years of disuse. We did, however, wait just a little too long to replace Dawn's rear tire, leading to a flat about 20 miles outside Page, AZ. The bikes are currently stashed in a storage unit near Salt Lake City airport, and we'll be heading out there next week for a 5-day ride to Portland OR with my best friend, Brad Phillips, who bought a bike in SLC for the trip. Hope we can avoid forest fires, this has been a crazy fire season out west.

Also in July we headed north of the border for a weekend to visit our friends Dane, Mak and Isla from S/V Sea Otter. We camped together at Falcon Lake (90 mi east of Winnipeg) for two nights and then hung out in Winnipeg for a 3rd night. Just before our arrival, Dane and Mak shared the exciting news that they're expecting their second child (a boy)! Sea Otter is still for sale in Ft. Lauderdale; they'd like to return to cruising in another five or six years, once the kids are old enough to appreciate it. It was so good seeing these guys, it's like we've known them for years though we really just hung out for several weeks this season. We hope to have them all down to Windbird sometime in the next few years. Incidentally, we took Piper with us on this trip as Isla loves playing with him, and he's very good with kids. Canada is the sixth country Piper has visited.

For the first part of August, we moved to my parents' place in Princeton, MN, as Dawn has been helping my mom in the runup to her annual charity 5k race, which takes place this Saturday. Being closer to the Twin Cities has made my commute to Atlanta easier, and we've been able to hang out with my family and catch up with our Twin Cities friends (some of whom will be coming to visit the boat this winter). Last week I had lunch with my first flight instructor, Jerry Graham - it was really good seeing him, he's one of the people in my life who was instrumental to me becoming an airline pilot.

Our next big adventure (well, after the next motorcycle trip) is in mid-September, when we'll be taking Paul to Europe for two weeks. He's never been outside the U.S., so we'll enjoy showing him around Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands. We're renting a BMW 3-series to thrash around the Autobahn, will be in Munich for Oktoberfest, and are visiting the famed Nurburgring racetrack for a few practice laps on a "Tourist Day." We'll be flying back on October 3rd.

And then finally in late October, we'll return down to Puerto Rico and get Windbird ready to splash the first week of November. In the meantime I'm having a throughhull replaced, the bottom repainted, and some carpentry work done to the aft cabin sole. After our crazy summer, I'm looking forward to the more relaxed pace of cruising! 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Season 2.0 in Review

I'm not actually even sure this was season 2.0. Last season we spent three months in the Bahamas, our shakedown cruise, which was something like a season 0.8 Beta. But it also included a couple months of cruising up and down the east coast, with some pretty significant sea miles, so I guess we should count it as a season. This definitely felt like Season 2.0, so I may as well stick to that naming convention.

That said, this year almost felt like two separate seasons. There was the season of Bashing Down The Thorny Path, and then there was a season of Cruising The Islands. Let's review our stately progress down the Thorny Path:

November '17: We crossed directly from Little River, SC to Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas - 478nm, 90 hours. Hung out in Green Turtle, Nunjack Cay, Man-O-War Cay, Great Guana Cay, and Marsh Harbour while we had a local alternator shop replace the diodes in our malfunctioning Balmar alternator. Good weather first few days, then stormy, cloudy, windy.

December '17: Down to Lubbers Cay and Little Harbour for a couple days before a rougher-than-forecast overnight crossing to Spanish Wells, Eleuthera (55nm). Uneventful daysail across the reef-strewn Middle Ground to Highborne Cay in the Exumas, where we discovered our alternator had failed again. We visited Shroud Cay, Warderick Wells and Hog Cay before running to Staniel Cay to hide from the season's first good norther. In the middle of that we were joined by my brothers Jon and Steve, and once things calmed down a bit we headed up to Cambridge Cay, then down to Pipe Creek, Black Point, Little Farmer's Cay, and Georgetown. The weather was decidedly mixed in December: lights winds and sunny skies one day, rainy and squally the next. We made do without the big alternator thanks to the help of new friends Ken and Tracy on S/V Makana and their Honda 2000 generator until Jon and Steve arrived with our new alternator. We flew out of Georgetown shortly after Jon and Steve to join our families for Christmas, and for me to fly a three-day trip.

January '18: We flew back to Georgetown in time to celebrate New Years with friends on S/V Makana and Adventure Bound II; around that time we were also joined by S/V Pura Vida, a family of four we had met in Georgetown SC in May '17, and S/V Rondo, another family of four we met in December in Staniel Cay. Due to the holiday we weren't able to get Piper's health certificate in the Bahamas until January 19th; in the meantime we went to Conception Island and Joe's Sound with our friends Dave and Leslie on S/V Texas Two Step. The weather was pretty dreadful during this time, with a lot of high winds, rain, and several bouts of severe thunderstorms including one that put us on a pretty hairy lee shore in Conception for a couple hours. After the delays for Piper's paperwork, we got a perfect weather window to make a 213 nm / 40 hr run all the way down to Mayaguana. We got stuck there waiting out the blow of the season, with gusts to 44 knots, during which we met our great new Canadian friends Dane and Mak and their infant daughter Isla on S/V Sea Otter. After the blow we crossed to Provo, Turks and Caicos (60nm) together along with a third boat, S/V Safara. Safara bugged out out Provo the very next day but we elected to stick around for the next weather window.

February '18: The weather in the Turks and Caicos was frustratingly steady for the first two and a half weeks of February: sunny and clear, but with high winds that would have made for a rough passage to the Dominican Republic (170nm). We and Sea Otter hung out a lot, and Dawn got to know them much better when I left for six days to do a four day trip and two days of training in Atlanta. My friend Brad came back to Provo with me in order to do the passage to Luperon aboard Windbird, so that Dawn could crew on Sea Otter, freeing up Mak to take care of Isla. It was a fairly quick and nice passage, a little bumpy southbound out of Big Sand Cay but wonderfully smooth in the night lee of Hispaniola. The verdant hills of Luperon on arrival were like a technicolor dream. We loved Luperon and enjoyed our 10 days based there, during which we rented motorbikes, did the 27 Waterfalls, and shared a rented 4x4 with Sea Otter to go experience Carnival in La Vega and reprovision in Santiago. The only downer was poorly maintained mooring balls, one of which cast us adrift in the anchorage in the middle of the night. At the end of the month we took advantage of a short window to motorsail 120nm / 24 hours east to Samaná, while Sea Otter stayed in Luperon to wait for another crewmember to arrive and help them make the next passage.

March '18: Shortly after arrival at the beautiful and cheap Puerto Bahia Marina in Samaná our friends Erin and Kara on S/V Vela caught up to us for the first time this season, along with new friend (and experienced Aussie cruiser) Steve on S/V La Mischief and lively young couple David and Joanna on S/V Oceananigans. We did two days of touring the Samaná peninsula with a 12-passenger van packed with cruisers, and then Dawn and I went to Santo Domingo to pick up Windbird's former admiral Judy Handley and tour old town Santo Domingo, which we loved. A day after we returned, we had a nice calm window for a motorsail across the Mona Passage, about 170nm / 30 hours to anchor down in Magaguez. We met Judy's son and daughter-in-law and their kids, and spent some time with them as they sailed with us to Boquerón and then showed us their home in Rincón and the surrounding countryside of western Puerto Rico. Then, a series of early-morning motorsails moved us further east along Puerto Rico's south shore using the nightly lee: Boquerón to La Parguera to Gilligan's Island to Ponce. We spent two nights there and repositioned to Coffin Island in preparation for a 70nm hop to Fajardo.

Season of Cruising the Islands

I think of Ponce as marking the end of the bash, because we had an almost completely calm overnight motor to Fajardo and from that moment on it felt like we'd arrived at our destination, even though we'd been sailing through and visiting many fantastic destinations in their own right. But now the weather was better, the wind steadier, the waves calmer, the distances shorter, the schedule more free and easy...and we sailed everywhere! And did so in considerable company. We visited La Mischief in Fajardo, Sea Otter caught up with us in Culebra, we
met friends Duncan and Katie and fam on their new charter cat, S/V Yo Dawg, in the BVI, and a whole flotilla converged upon Jost van Dyke for my birthday in mid-April: Vela, Sea Otter, Rondo, Pura Vida, Savannah, Carpe Ventum, and our "cruising godparents" Andy & Lance chartering Jada. Later we also met Britican and Be As You Are, which made the core group of 10 boats with which we spent a great deal of time over the last two and a half months of the season. We loved the social aspect of this season, making some likely lifelong friendships and helping to cement others.

Much of the territory was familiar to us, and yet we enjoyed our slow-cruising schedule to poke through the lesser-used anchorages of the BVI. And there was plenty of time to thoroughly explore St. John (*****), St. Thomas (**), Culebra (*****), St. Croix (****) and Vieques (***&1/2). The whole area was heavily impacted and to varying degrees changed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year, and it was interesting to see the various reactions and how each island is going about rebuilding. We originally planned to do some volunteering, but by the time we showed up cleanup was essentially complete and the rebuilding effort was being mostly handled by professionals. Asked what they needed, the locals frequently replied: we need the tourists to come back. We did make a conscious effort to spend more at the restaurants, bars and shops of the BVI and USVI than we normally would have. Nobody should mistake our profligacy for charity, but it does seem to be the sort of thing the USVI and BVI needs to get back to normalcy.

After our early alternator troubles, the boat ran exceptionally well. After a little tweaking, our solar improvements are meeting all our energy needs. We had some ongoing issues with the watermaker, the cause of which I discovered at the end of the season; it should be in good working order for next season. The dinghy engine also ran rough for part of the season but it never left us stranded and I eventually tracked down the culprit, becoming much more familiar with outboard engine repair along the way. Boat maintenance and repairs came more naturally to us this season, as did everyday boat life with its associated chores. Dawn absolutely killed it on provisioning, meal-planning and cooking. We did a lot better fishing and lobstering this year. I felt we did a pretty good job of passage planning and picking weather windows, though we had a somewhat rougher than hoped for Gulf Stream crossing at the very beginning of the season when we cut a cold front a little too fine. The couple hours that a severe thunderstorm turned our placid anchorage into a raging froth against a lee shore on Conception Island was likely the most dangerous occurrence of the season, but our trusty ground tackle held firm. We didn't make any dumb mistakes like our predawn exit of Little Farmer's Cut (sans jacklines) last year. With all the maneuvering and hand-steering we did around the Virgin Islands, our boathandling skills got pretty good. If our insurance allowed us to race the house, I'd be fairly comfortable doing so double-handed.

Nevertheless, the season wasn't always easy. The weather in the Bahamas was really pretty shitty from November through January, and the incessant wind of February got old. The weather was better in late Feb and early March, allowing us to make steady eastward progress, but the nearly uninterrupted motorsailing from Luperon all the way to Fajardo got monotonous. Towards the end of April Dawn and I seemed to be grating on each other, the boat getting smaller by the day. A six day work trip and a change of pace when I got back seemed to help that, and we were getting along pretty well again in May. Seven months of nearly uninterrupted cruising can be a long time; and in reality we'd been living on Windbird full-time for 17 months by then. Dawn and even I were ready to get off the boat for a bit by hurricane season. And now that we've been off the boat for over a month, we're super excited to get back on her in November and head downisland to unexplored territory!

There's one aspect I haven't mentioned, cruising with Piper. I'm
going to write a separate post about it because it's a subject of such interest to potential/future cruisers, but suffice it to say he adds a lot of joy to our life afloat. We really enjoyed having him aboard this year and watching him run his little heart out on beaches from Abaco to Anegada. But there are definitely some paperwork challenges to having a medium-to-large dog on board, and they will likely get more burdensome (if not impossible at times) as we move down-island. As with all things cruising, we'll stay flexible.

Did I say we've been off the boat for a month? Strike that, make it six weeks...we have been BUSY! It's not all work, we've been having a ton of fun with land-based adventures, even visiting some of our new cruiser friends. I'll try to get a post up about that before the summer is totally gone!