Friday, March 9, 2012

Dolphins like The Grateful Dead

We were playing Touch of Grey and they started dancing on our bow...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Project Planning

When we were out sailing on Stella Blue there were several major items that we wanted to fix when we had enough time to haul the boat and work on her. (We have an endless list of smaller projects but these are just the two biggies.) Now that we are at Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage for a while, we have begun planning for our two major projects.

First we want to remove the old engine and install a new one. This is called “repowering” in the nautical world and we’re really looking forward to our new engine.  The original Westerbeke was a great engine but it was long in the tooth and we knew it was just a matter of time before it started having issues that our limited skills would not be able to easily fix. Also, with our desire to cruise to more remote places we really felt that we needed an extremely reliable engine. We have selected the Beta Marine 38 for our new engine. We have numerous friends who have Betas and everyone seems to find them reliable. The Beta will have more power, lower fuel consumption and is designed to be easily serviced.

Beta 38. You can see how all the items we will need to have access to
for servicing are at the front of the engine.  Baxter is SO excited!

Our second major project is to replace all of our plastic portlights with stainless steel portlights. Currently, we have several of the plastic portlights that are so sun damaged that you can’t see through them.  The damaged portlights diffuse the light below badly making it darker below than it should be. Additionally, several of the lights leak and, if we were to keep them, would need to be rebedded or replaced. 

A pretty cool company in Washington state, New Found Metals, makes a stainless steel portlight that is a direct replacement for our plastic ones. When I say “direct replacement” I mean that a new portlight should fit in the current portlight’s hole with about 8 hours worth of labor for each portlight.  The portlight replacement project is worth the time and money involved, as it will improve the safety and appearance of Stella Blue. 
Pretty stainless New Found Metals portlight.
Compare the new portlights with the old look and you can imagine what a difference this project will make!

View of the starboard side old ports.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On The Road Again...

The next day we put the boat on the hard and packed up.  I went to get the rental car while Baxter took the canvas off, and secured the boat for us to leave it for a few months.

We made our way to Atlanta to see Baxter's parents and to pick up our truck.  As the hours moved on, we were adjusting to being on land more and more and missing the simplicity of being anchored on an island somewhere.  Our diet got worse with fast food for breakfast, lunch and dinner but that's just what you have to do to move forward.

We left Atlanta with a stop in Jackson and then we moved on to Salt Lake City.  As we got closer to Utah the forecast indicated a huge winter storm headed that way.  We drove to beat the storm and we were happy that as we pulled in, the snow began to fall.  It would be a fresh powder day Thursday and we would be ready to ski.

What a difference just a week makes...from being towed on a sailboat in 80 degrees to skiing down a 3,000 foot mountain, complaining about frozen toes.  I love our life!

Can you believe how much stuff we had in cubbies?
After all those miles, her bottom paint is still shiny and the best part - no crab pots on the shaft!

Canvas and headsail removed.  Van ready to be packed.

On the road again


It's been 6 months since we've seen this sign

Wasatch foothills.

Hidden Peak

Back on the lift

The Hardest 180 Miles...

We dropped the mooring ball in Dinner Key and made it over to No Name Harbor to go south down Hawk Channel.  Our estimated mileage for the day would be 67 nautical miles which is a long trip in the winter, with only 12 hours of sunlight.  We found an anchorage called Indian Key which would set us up to go through the Channel 5 bridge the next morning and then onto Yacht Channel.

We anchored in Indian Key about 5:45 p.m. - just before sunset and made sure to set the anchor hard, just like we do every time we drop it.  We had dinner and sat down to relax when our anchor alarm started to go off, indicating our anchor was probably dragging.  There was only one other boat in the anchorage and they were about a mile away, so that wasn't a concern, but if we dragged to shore and ran aground, it would be bad.  By this time it was pitch black outside and we were surrounded by crab pots.  If we moved the boat and ran over a crab pot, it could get wrapped around the shaft and could damage the prop, engine, etc - its not good, but we didn't have a choice, we had to reset the anchor.  Baxter went to the bow while I stayed at the helm (no, I couldn't even see him because it was so dark).  We pulled up the anchor and started moving guided by the chart plotter.  Baxter yelled for me to turn and I did, but the wrong way.  He ran back to the stern and said we had just run over a crab pot, at which time we both looked back to see bits of styrofoam and line being spit out of the stern.  UGH!  However, no time to deal with that as the anchor was not down.  We found a place to drop it and as we reversed to set it, it just bounced across the ground.  About this time I am really missing the crystal clear water of the Bahamas where you know what kind of bottom is below the boat.  Apparently, we were trying to anchor on old dead coral that was now just rock and our wonderful Rocna anchor wouldn't grab.  We proceeded to give it a try four more times.  We were not sure our next move if it didn't set.  On the fourth try, it appeared to hold.  We set the drag alarm again and went below.  I hesitate to say we went to sleep since I was awake every 10 minutes looking outside to see if we had moved.

The next morning we woke up, glad to have that anchoring experience behind us and on to a new beautiful day.  We went through Channel 5 bridge and had plenty of depth on the other side (Everglades National Park in Florida Bay.)  There were crab pots everywhere but since we could see them, we could deal with it.  The channel was charted at 6 feet and we saw between 7 to 9.  Yay!  Then we found a section that was a bit shallower at 5.9 (depth alarm starts beeping).  Then another at 5.6...I won't bore you with the continual decrease in water depths.  Basically, the alarm went off for about 30 minutes and we got as low as 4.4 feet - don't forget our draft is 4.2.  I think I could have reached over the edge of the boat and picked some grass off the bottom!

Well, the depth sounder stopped going off and all was good.  Until I heard the noise from the engine.  At first I couldn't figure it out - bilge?  No.  Pots in the sink?  No.  Hmmm...I took the engine cover off and YEP, there it is.  Baxter heard it now too - loud and clear.  I took the helm while he examined the damage.  There were bearings that were very unhappy and it seemed to be near the water pump.  So - our options at this point are 1) Go back the way we just came and risk running aground as the tide was now going out.  2)  Call Tow Boat U.S.  - oh wait - no, that wasn't an option we were in the Everglades.  3)  Sail - oh wait, not an option, there was zero wind.  4) Keep going.  So we chose option #4 and continually monitored the engine gauges (which were all normal at this point.) hoping that we could make it another 150 miles to Port Charlotte. We decided also to keep going through the night, despite the crab pots.  We didn't want to depend on the engine any longer than we had to and there were no ports within 80 miles of where we were and we had not seen any boats for hours.

We made it through the night on very little sleep and continual scanning of the water with a Q-Beam to see whatever crab pots we could.  As the sun rose, we were only 35 miles south of the entrance to Port Charlotte, scheduled to arrive at 1:30 p.m.  We had some breakfast and coffee and were pretty happy to be getting closer to our destination.  Kala had been on the boat since Tuesday (it was now Thursday) and was a bit ready to get off.  Baxter opened the engine cover to check on it, and all I could see was a cloud of smoke and then I heard him emphatically telling me to "TURN THE ENGINE OFF", so I did.  I asked if the engine was on fire and he said "Almost."  As he had opened the engine cover, the alternator belt flew off and apparently the alternator had seized.  Baxter was able to "McGyver" a bypass of the alternator using some line around the fly wheel and water pump, then running our Honda 2000 generator to power the electric fuel pump.  It worked - he is a genius!!  But, we were reluctant to push the engine above idle speed and we were going into a harbor we had never been.  Also, we had Tow Boat U.S. - GOLD UNLIMITED.  We called and they said they would take us to any marina we would like at no charge.  We were going to Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage that was inside locks and canals with a small dock.  No problem at all.  If your engine ever dies on you, I hope you have the same circumstances we did.  It could not have been any better - we had 7 knots of wind on the beam with relatively calm seas and we were about 8 miles offshore.  We decided to sail to the sea buoy and from there Tow Boat U.S. would meet us and pull us in to the harbor.

So, they pulled us in going about 6.5 knots and we went through the lock system and the canals as two boats tied together.  We arrived at Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage around 4 p.m. and were so tired.  Kala had been on the boat for 72 hours straight and was happy to go to shore.  We didn't have the energy to cook so we ordered a pizza and went to bed early.  We would figure out what to do with the engine the next day.

Flat waters of Florida Bay and my personal nemesis, a crab pot.
The make-shift solution Baxter rigged.  It worked!
Baxter folding the mainsail right after we hooked up to the tow.

Tow Boat U.S. after shortening the bridle to take us around corners and through locks.

In the lock (View of the stern) Tow Boat U.S. is on the bow.

Strictly Sail

The reason we picked up a mooring at Dinner Key versus anchoring was so we could dinghy to shore and catch a cab to the Apple store. Saturday a.m we received a text from our friend Steve, who lives in Key West on his Valiant 40, Chandara, and he happened to be in Miami for the Strictly Sail show. He offered to pick us up and take us to Apple. After weaving our way around the barricades of the Coconut Grove Arts festival, we met up with Steve and his friend Patricia and headed over to Dadeland mall. It turned out our video card was bad and the laptop had to be sent off to be serviced - ugh! We left it behind and Steve drove us to Little Haiti on a crusade to find a vegan restaurant - again a true adventure. The restaurant was closed so instead I found one downtown close to the boat show. Afterwards we stopped by the show hitting up Beta marine (unpredictable foreshadowing), Newfound metals and Hot Wire. We found out later that John and Amanda Neal who we sailed with last summer in the South Pacific had also been at the show but we just missed them. On display at the waterfront, they had the new Tartan 4000 which got Cruising World's Boat of the Year (Go Tartan) and we went for a look. Beautiful boats but we still love Stella Blue. By this time, we were anxious about leaving Kala so we took a cab back to the boat to take her for a walk before dark.

The next couple days involved waiting out high winds with trips to West Marine for West Florida charts, an unsuccessful attempt to find a dog park, and looking for Internet cafes. While we were at West Marine, one of the people who worked there suggested we go through Channel Five bridge and through Yacht Channel to Florida's west coast versus going all the way down to Marathon and back up. That route would save us a day and a half! That bit of info was well worth the trip to West Marine. We celebrated our last night in Miami with a big lunch at Scotty's Landing and then went back to Stella Blue, put the route in the chart plotter and were ready to head out the next day.

Love restaurants that give her water.
Love restaurants that give us beer.

Back to the States

We left The Berry's and set a course across the Great Bahama Banks heading west. It was a smooth mellow sail, which is always nice for an overnight passage. We arrived at North Rock at 4 am and despite the moonless dark sky and the fishing boats around us, we cut through the shallow inside section and our AIS and radar kept us safe. We turned south paralleling the Bimini coast line until the sun came up. That gave us a bit more southward drive than trying to fight the strong current of the Gulf Stream that would push us north.

The Gulf Stream was so calm. We have been very selective with our crossing window and it has paid off. I have seen the Neuse River in North Carolina look much worse than what we had across the Gulf Stream that day.

As soon as we had a cell signal, we took our phones off "airplane mode" and called US Customs to get permission to come back in the country as well as the Apple Store to make an appt for the next day. The ease and convenience was nice to have but we could already feel the twinge of missing the simple life the Bahamas offers, not to mention the friends we made and the wonderful experiences we enjoyed.
Taking a quick nap while Baxter is on watch
Miami skyline
Taking down the Bahamian courtesy flag in the Gulf Stream.