The end of the season sort of snuck up on us; it seemed a little surreal that we would be moving off of our home of the last 17 months and putting her on the hard in a boatyard for the summer. There was a pretty substantial list of tasks to be accomplished before doing so, and I suppose my natural inclination for procrastination kept the season’s end at bay as I putzed around with some of the less time-critical items during our stay at St. Croix and our cruise of Vieques. But the list kept growing and it was clear that soon we would need to devote all our time and energy to preparing the boat for her haul out. I didn’t have any great desire to spend any more time in the marina than required, so for our first three days of work we sailed from Vieques to beautiful Isla Palominos and took a mooring on its protected lee side. Of course, these three days happened to be a weekend so we had lots of company from the mainland, mostly rafted up speedboaters partying just off the beach and playing their stereos over each other at top volume! We actually didn’t mind it; the party atmosphere seemed to give us energy to keep going from dawn till well after dark, with a few fun breaks to take Piper to the beach for potty time, ball chasing, and swimming-for-treats (and admiring pats from bikini-clad Puertoriqueñas).
During those three days, we took everything with any windage down from the deck and lifelines, except the dodger and bimini which we left for the marina (and actually should have left up until the boat was out of the water - it was miserable working when the boat was sweltering inside and the sun was beating visciously outside). This included all fenders, docklines, fishing pole and kit, davit lines and hardware, Wirie router, man overboard module, life sling and canister, downwind pole, and wind generator blades. We removed the staysail and its halyard, sheets and furling line, but left the other sails in place until we got to the marina. We removed the foredeck dinghy lift / block & tackle, the spinnaker halyard, and the downwind pole topping lift, which we had jury-rigged after it chafed through on our first passage of the season; we’ll replace it before next season. I removed the flexible solar panels from the bimini and tidied up its wires, as well as reworking the wires to the rear solar arch to make them more wind-resistant (those panels are staying in place). I spent a long afternoon giving the bottom a very thorough scrubbing, so we wouldn’t have to powerwash it after haulout. I did a final water maker pickling and removed the heavy pump and drive from its place below the galley sink; the reason it had been regularly cavitating became immediately apparent. What looked like a hairline crack with the pump in place was actually a major crack plus one missing bolt on the pump-drive coupling housing. Once we got to Puerto del Rey I called the local Katadyn dealer; he’s replacing that housing plus doing major servicing to both the pump and drive during our off-season. The parts and labor will come to about $1300 - a good bit of change but considerably less than the cost of a new pump/drive unit ($2500) or a whole new watermaker system ($5000). It’ll be awesome to have a reliable watermaker again, especially since we have more than enough solar output these days.
The rest of our time at Isla Palominos was spent giving the boat a very deep cleaning, inside and out. Dawn washed every surface in all the cabins plus every cabinet, drawer and locker with a soap-vinegar-water mixture to help keep mold at bay. Meanwhile I cleaned out the propane and dinghy lockers and vacuumed and scrubbed every bilge and tank (using a wire brush to remove all surface rust). We gave the cockpit cushions and dodger and bimini a good scrubbing, and polished all the issenglass. Dawn went through a good portion of our gear and clothing onboard and set aside anything we hadn’t used in the last two years, and we sorted them into three piles: keep, bring home, or donate. We threw out all opened food containers plus anything not in a can, glass jar, or lockable Tupperware container; once at the dock we put these items in large lockable Tupperware bins, and then thoroughly cleaned the freezer and refrigerator. I know a lot of cruisers take all food off the boat but we were loathe to throw everything away, and we think our precautions (plus lots of rat, roach and ant poison) should be sufficient for keeping critters off the boat.
On Monday June 4th we sailed the final five miles to Puerto del Rey and were assigned a slip near the end of 12 dock. One of the guys that turned up to catch lines turned out to be just the guy I wanted to talk to: Quino Sanchez. Quino came highly recommended by fellow cruisers both as a rigger and for his hurricane tie down and boat watching service (the boat watching part is run by his daughter and son-in-law Bianca & Johnny). They came over to talk the next day and Dawn and I decided to use their services this off-season; the cost is pretty reasonable for the services provided and the peace of mind of having someone watch the boat. We’re also having several projects done to the boat while we’re away (bottom painting, replace a couple throughhulls/seacocks, minor carpentry in rear cabin) and needed somebody competent to manage the projects in our absence. Our initial impression of Quino based on his assistance during the haul out and Johnny & Bianca’s reports since has been favorable.
After arrival at PdR, we rented a car from the Avis down the street in Ceiba, and then ran a number of errands in Fajardo. We dropped off several bags of donations at Salvation Army, bought bins and other storage and cleaning stuff at Walmart, and picked up a shipping crate for Piper at Petco. Once we got back to the boat Dawn began the Herculean task of laundering every piece of clothing, bedding, cushions, etc on the boat - basically, everything cloth. Once laundered, she sealed everything in a giant ziplock bags and pumped out the air with the shop vac. Meanwhile I took advantage of our first unlimited fresh water in over three months to give the deck and cabin top a very thorough cleaning.
Early the next morning we took advantage of the lingering night lee calm to take down the Yankee and mainsail. This went amazingly quickly and smoothly compared to previous times, even though I had to go up the mast and slide down the forestay to tighten a couple of set screws on the rolling furler foils (they were backed out enough to prevent the halyard car from sliding down past them). We removed and stowed the yankee sheets, halyard and furling line, the mainsail reef lines and outhaul, the boom vang/preventer, the Gybe-EZ, the mainsheet, the traveler lines, the lazy jacks, and the stack pack. Amazing how many lines there are on this boat! Any piece of running rigging that went through the mast or boom we replaced with a messenger line to make rerigging in the fall easier. While up the mast, I removed the wind stick and masthead fly. We took the battens out of the main and folded and bagged all sails, and took them to Fajardo Sails and Canvas for inspection and repair. In the middle of all this we somehow got Piper to the vet to get his health certificate, which the airline requires to ship him. When we got back from that, Dawn had more laundry to do! And I polished the stainless.
By now we knew we were going to get everything done by haulout and could breathe a little easier. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if we did a lot of this after haulout, but a hot boat on the hard in a tropical boatyard is a truly miserable place to work. We had motivation to finish everything before Thursday at 2pm. On Wednesday Dawn finished putting all the food away and cleaning the fridge and freezer, and we vacuum sealed the last of the freshly laundered clothes and bedding that were staying on the boat and finished packing everything that was coming home with us. I assembled Piper’s crate (he loved it, though it’s been nearly two years since he’s used a kennel) and we took down the dodger and bimini and secured the stainless framework. I launched Dawn’s paddleboard and scrubbed our disgusting waterline and the sooty exhaust area with On-Off hull cleaner, then washed & waxed the topsides with Awlwash & Awlcare.
Thursday morning was a whirl of small last minute jobs, like removing the dorade scoops. After our last lunch aboard, fellow cruiser Harriet came by to offer her assistance handling lines as I maneuvered Windbird into the slipway. Very kind, and as it turned out very helpful. The yard wanted us stern-in, meaning I had to back Windbird in with a strong quartering headwind to catch her bow. Windbird doesn’t back well under the best of circumstances, and in that situation it’s damn near impossible. Indeed, I aborted our first two tries before getting the timing down just so on my third circling approach. The yard workers caught all of our thrown docklines and then pulled us to one side; Dawn, Piper and I stepped ashore for the last time this season and watched as the 70-ton Travellift plucked Windbird out of the water. Dawn had tears in her eyes as our home of 17 months dangled precariously in the air, swinging slightly from side to side.
It turned out to be a bit of a long process bringing Windbird all the way to hurricane storage, clearing our spot and dropping plastic for our eventual bottom job, transferring the boat from the Travellift to a crazy spider-looking machine that maneuvered the boat to her spot, and finally blocking the boat, arranging the jackstands, and strapping the boat down to the ground anchors. These tie into PdR’s impressive underground lattice system, which is what makes
We had little to do the next morning: winterize the engine, close the seacocks, a few last minute projects, give instructions to Johnny and Bianca, and lock up. One last look at Windbird, a silent prayer for an uneventful hurricane season, and we were off to start the long trek north to our home for the summer. Most of our cruising friends continued south to Grenada or Trinidad, where most have recently hauled out; a few are keeping their boats afloat and staying aboard for storm season. Seeing the Facebook and Instagram photos of their trips down island has us really excited for next season. We’ll discuss those plans in a future post, after a season-in-review recap and “what we’re doing this summer” show-and-tell.