Saturday, February 27, 2010

Telephoning Home - Part II

 Where is Francis Drake When You Need Him?
Portuguese Man O' War Advancing on the Starboard Beam
 Nearly Across the Florida Straits

The Budget Committee Sets our Fishing Rod - Gift from Good Friends Ben and Andree

Yesterday's blog had Meredith leave Ft. Lauderdale Saturday the 20th of February in a 32 hour nonstop to Royal Island.  Royal Island was chosen as the best anchorage in a hard blow and a cold front was forecast for the evening of our arrival on the 20th.

 The photo to the right shows the sky dawning on Sunday.   As we would say on Meredith "Bad Canary.  Bad".  Sailors prefer bright sky harbingers only at night.

The anchorage earned it stripes again as after the front passed on Sunday night we waited out an "unforecast meteorological event" lasting 24 hours with winds sustained at 25+ knots gusting to 35.  That is gusting if you consider 15 minute unrelenting assaults "gusts".  Fortunately Royal Island has 360 degree protection from waves and good holding.  We slept with only the usual intermittent arousal to complete the obligatory early morning evacuation of bladders.  Others were not so fortunate.

On the evening of the 20th a catamaran anchored close by Meredith dragged.  The Budget Committee saw the boat moving and when no one appeared to remedy the situation radioed the cat.  We are not sure if the cat had its radio on or if the boat's unintended motion finally woke the crew but frantic corrective action ensued almost immediately.  Sadly the dragging was only the canary in the mine for the cat.  By 2 a.m. in increasing winds the spreader lights went on on the cat and the crew was forced to reset the anchor.  We say forced  because no one goes to the bow of a boat riding the way that cat was riding without compulsion.  Thereafter the engine and spreader lights on the cat remained on til dawn.

By Tuesday the 22nd the storm had blown itself out.  A new cold front was forecast to rampage through the area on Wednesday.  Meredith had not cleared customs or immigration so crew could not disembarque and we continued to fly the Q or yellow flag.   We had communicated with no one since our departure on Friday/Saturday.

Governor's Harbour on Eleuthera Island was selected as our Port of Entry.  It was a reasonable day sail from Royal Island so we could make the sail and still clear in during normal office hours.  Not having cruised Eleuthera we were looking forward to the landing.  Nor were we disappointed.

Connie Goes to the Bow as Meredith Approaches "Current Cut"

 This is the Cut.  At max Ebb or Flow the current through "Current Cut" runs to more than 5 knots.  We timed our approach for an hour after high tide.

Enroute we came upon the "Current Cut" a 2 boat length wide passage between the South tip of the northern lobe of Eleuthera and the north tip of Current Island.  The current does not refer to juicy berries that might be expected to grow on the island but to the 5 to 6 knot tidal flow that rips around the island and through the cut at mid tide (changing direction with the tide of course).  This was a livening experience and helped keep the crew awake.

The Budget Committee took the bow but found herself short of work.  Depths in the cut were 40 to 60 feet and the tide kept the bottom scoured.  No problem with shoaling let me tell you.  This has to be one of the few places in teh Bahamas where a visioned person cannot see the bottom.

Reaching Governor's Harbour juts before 4:00 p.m. we cleared in at the container dock.  This had to be one of the friendliest and most efficient clearings in we have experienced.  Bahamian procedures are light years ahead of Canada Customs and  Immigration.  For one thing all of the agents are English as a first language, near the reverse of back home.  The Immigration agent answered the phone while we waited "Bahamian Immigration.  How Can I Help You?".  You could hear the smile over the phone lines.  The Customs agent, very young, was thorough but personable.  Discovering our boat was registered in Toronto he informed us he was set to leave for Toronto for a week visit with his girlfriend who was in Canada attending university.  He was a bit concerned over the temperatures until I explained the way to deal with the cold was to stay indoors, preferably in a nice warm bed.  I perceived his mood improved.

Eleuthera is our kind of place. 

Having cleared we moved to the anchorage right off the town, dropped the dinghy and then  the outboard.  It was now Tuesday and we had left friends and family in the dark as to our whereabouts since Friday.  We needed internet  or telephone.  Thankfully Governor's Harbour had a Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) office.

This blog has gone on too long and the telephone call will be concluded tomorrow.

Friday, February 26, 2010

What - A Whole Week and You Can't Even Call Your Mother? - Pt 1

February 26, 2010
Rock Sound, Eleuthera 24 52 N   076 10 W

"Nooooo.  We don't sell those."

With this declaration the rheumy eyes set deep in the dour face of the aging demon behind the cash register set me in my tracks with a baleful glare.

For a moment I was speechless.  It was as if, by asking for a simple telephone calling card, I had insulted her and spit in the pristine genetic pool of ancestors which had produced her.

"Don't know where you would get such a thing as that aroun' here".  I have heard judges issue career ending rebukes with less restrained outrage.

The meaning was clear.  There was no way on this planet I should be asking to buy something she did not stock.

Desperation had set in on my end of the negotiating teeter totter.  I had to make a phone call.  My next move was critical and a cold sweat bathed all kinds of parts I cannot name.  This was serious.

Let me explain.  Meredith set off from Ft. Lauderdale FL for Nassau Bahamas early on Saturday morning.  The plan, although why I use that term anymore is beyond answering, was to make easy passage to Bimini and check the weather to see if any greater forward progress would be possible.  If so we would continue to motor  across the little Bahamas Bank into the light headwinds we faced in the Florida Straits.

Coming up on Bimini we tuned in Chris Parker's Caribbean Weather Centre broadcast about 6:30 a.m.   Friends from Newfoundland had fretted that we would be stuck in Bimini for the better part of a week if we left on Saturday.  "And at that darlin' it will be a motor job all the way", finished our friend meaning we would not be able to sail even an inch toward our goal.  Whatever goal that turned out to be.

Chris Parker gave us a window to make Nassau.  A cold front was due through on Monday night.  Quick figuring told us we would be to Nassau early Monday morning if we motored through the night.   An easy decision was made.

Immediately a decision is made the mind starts to play with it, to see if it can be improved, to probe its weaknesses.  Ten minutes later I announced that Meredith would make for Royal Island not Nassau.

My reasoning was that Nassau was a lousy place to be in a blow.  It had poor holding for the most part but some good bits could be found if they were not occupied by other boats anticipating a storm.  Royal Island on the other hand we knew from experience to be impregnable by wave and pretty much from wind.  It was not much further to Royal Island.  Royal Island was bucolic.  Nassau was sort of industrial and all kind of dirty and busy like a working port, which I guess is a good thing considering that this is what it is.  Toronto is not a port compared to Nassau let me tell you.

The Budget Committee answered as she always does when I have a flash of insight: "I already thought of that".  "It's a good idea".

Before my mood could be destroyed we found a pod of whales lazing their way through the waters off Bimini.  Instant elation.  Such company we keep on Meredith.

Entering the banks we came on a field of Portuguese Men of War.  Fascinating pulsing colourful creatures they held our childlike attention for the better part of an hour.  It was the first time we had seen such creatures.

The pace was set by our faithful Beta diesel, whining its turbine like whine endlessly as  minutes turned into hours  turned into more hours and then more hours.

About 1 a.m. we came on the Northwest shoal.  Let me correct that.  About 1 a.m. we came on the light marking the Northwest Shoal.  About 1/2 mile wide this shoal poses no issues during daylight.  At 1 a.m. after 24 hours of virtually no sleep the light and the shoal it marks takes on different significance. 

The term "Oh God, Oh God, We're all going to die" flashed through my head like a Times Square Marquee for about 20 minutes. 

Then all was calm.  In 15 minutes we moved from 15 foot depths of the Banks to 6,000 feet and then to 14,000.  Nothing to it.  We were in the Tongue of the Ocean, a tongue shaped (duh) intrusion of the Atlantic into the  calm of the Bahamian islands.

The Beta, being one just motored on.

Dawn came or rather exploded into view.  Beautiful bright coral pinks and oranges and yellows and all so bright.  Wait a minute: Bright in morning a sailor's ....

With the rise of Sol the wind began to build.    And build.  And build.  This was all forecast.  Nothing was amiss I kept telling myself.  Did I mention the paranoia that arises from sleep deprivation? 

By 8 a.m. Royal Island figured prominently.  By 8:30 a.m. we came upon the marker for the approach to Royal Island.  This marker, juxtapostionally, is the oxidizing remains of an old wreck: the hull of  a boat that went where it shouldn't oughta of gone.  Handy reminder not to lose focus.  Did I mention the paranoia?

Twenty minutes from Royal Island the unstoppable Beta stopped.  Dead.  No warning, no cough, no sputter, nothing.  It just died. 

Cool.  Paranoia, remember?

The Budget Committee took the wheel and guided the boat under seriously reduced sail (to minimize the force of impact if that were to be our fate) and the rest of the crew started to work through the fuel system.

 No point belabouring the thing but it took an hour to change filters and bleed the diesel.  Oddly this was not the result of incompetence of crew, sleep deprivation or rampant paranoia.  Turns out the Beta has TWO bleed screws but only identifies one in its manual.  The second was discovered during a retracing of the fuel line trying to find a leak or evidence of a pinhole.

Fuel system restored we anchored in Royal Island and settled in for two days of 25 and then 30G35 winds.  We were snug.  Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean a damn thing.  It is just protective covering.  The well adjusted crew of the boat whose hulk we passed enroute to Royal Island needed a touch of obsessive compulsion and a healthy dose of suspicion.  Works for us.

Not having cleared customs or immigration we flew the Q flag at anchor and could not leave the ship.  Of course there is nothing on Royal Island so this was not a factor. 

When the storm subsided and we were ready to head out we were 5 days out of Ft. Lauderdale and we had made no contact.

Friday, February 19, 2010

We leave after Midnight

February 19, 2010

This is it, the night of nights; No more rehearsing and nursing of parts.

We know every part by heart.

Heading as far as conditions allow.  More when we have it.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dolphins and Dopplers: We are Sailing Baby

February 17, 2010
Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Thirty eight degrees Farenheit and the wind was blowing 15 knots.  Wind chill, a Canadian concept, was too low to look at.

Anchored at Lake Worth Inlet our goal was Ft. Lauderdale, some 40 nm hence.

We started out from the anchorage set on using the ICW believing the inland waterway would cut the wind and ameliorate the cold.  Approaching the first of 20 bridges with which we had to joust on the 40 mile segment from Lake Worth to Ft. Lauderdale the Budget Committee announced "When we started out this morning I was afraid of the wind and waves outside."  "Now" she continued "I fear 20 bridges more".

At 8:10 a.m. we had already changed our set in concrete plan made at 8:00 a.m.  It felt right. 
Good wind from our stern carried us south along the Florida coast at a fair clip, if you think 7 knots is a fair clip.  Because wind was from the North and we were going south our boat's motion reduced the apparent wind and we enjoyed 8 to 10 knots over the stern.

Forecast waves were 4 feet on a 4 second period: a bit choppy.  But waves, like wind, were out of the North and Meredith's southern track acted to lengthen the period to something more on the order of 7 seconds.  Four foot waves on a 7 second period are very nice.  Especially when they are from the stern and giving you a nice push.

Mid journey Meredith was met by a pod of 50 or so dolphins.  There were a lot of dolphins: swimming, racing us, crossing the bow, slapping their tails, just having a ball.  Needless to say we enjoyed ourselves immensely.  I have a video but I can't get Blogspot to take the file.  Sorry.

The 40 nautical miles from anchor up in Lake Worth Inlet to Meredith moored at Las Olas took 6 hours.

Setting up the internet on arrival we get an email from a boat of Newfoundlanders whose company we really enjoy.  "We are in Ft. Lauderdale." it read "Where are you?"

Quickly we replied that we were on mooring ball No. 7 at Las Olas.  

Nothing more was heard from Newfoundland until this morning when, attending to showers, at the marina office we run into the pair from Nfld.  They had been on mooring ball No. 7 at Las Olas until an hour before we arrived.  They had departed for an anchorage only 5 minutes away.  This morning they dinghied over to say hello.

After showers we met friends from Gatineau Quebec who are here renting for the season.  They have a CAR.  We dined at their favourite crepe place for lunch and pigged out on an outrageous seafood crepe in a subtle bechamel sauce.

Then it was off to Publix grocery and wine store to stock up on more drinkables before our departure.  

Tomorrow we go with Gatineau to Miami by motor vehicle.

A most civilized means of transport.  But no dolphins.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

February 16, 2010
Lake Worth Inlet, Florida

Sunday evening the Budget Committee and I made our final final final farewells to our friends at Vero.  We became keenly aware that we were leaving a community of very good friends. 

Moving was imperative.  Either we moved or we put the boat on the hard and went home.  Neither of us is ready for planting yet.

Last night Meredith made it all the way to Peck Lake.   Enroute the stuffing box loosened up and we had rather a strong drip, nearly a steady flow of cooling water into the bilge as the shaft turned in its bed of teflon impregnated flax.

Anchoring in Peck Lake we had an interesting time finding a spot to drop the hook which would allow Meredith to swing on an adequate rode through 120 degrees.  Not actually a lake Peck Lake is really just a brief widening in the Indian River.  Your chart shows depths of about 2 feet throughout.  The goiter in the ICW is filled with encroaching shoals from North, South and East.  Sailors have found ways in and around this "lake" but we had some challenges.

Our arrival had winds at 12 knots out of the SSW.  Forecast had these winds strengthening to 20 knots and moving to the NNW by early morning.  This is the "tell" of the customary cold front.  It would require that we swing on 75 feet of rode to the north of our anchor as we arrived and then, as the wind came around, end up 75 feet south of the anchor.  So we needed 150 feet plus some wiggle room for a safe anchoring.  A lot of slow circling and two attempts to get the hook to bite paid off and had a secure anchor all night long.

In good weather Peck Lake is marvellous, separated as it is by a very thin strip of land from the open ocean.  You can dinghy to shore and climb 50 feet over a dune to find excellent swimming and diving.  In good weather.  Yesterday was not horrible weather but it bwas too cold to go swimming.

This morning (the 16th) it was too cold to move the boat first thing.  Temperatures were 38 F last night.  We sipped coffee and listened to the howl of 20 knot wind in the rigging as we waited for things to warm up.

I found a way to access the stuffing box of our boat from the engine compartment and tended to fixing the leak.  Then, bundled in shirt, sweatshirt, fleece jacket and offshore coat I scrubbed the bottom of the dinghy clear of the oil which had accumulated there as a result of a small mishap with the outboard.

By ten o'clock  the day was bearable and off we went.  A difficult leg of the ICW lay before us as we had to deal with 8 bridges in 20 miles from Peck Lake to Lake Worth Inlet.  These 8 included the 3 BIG BAD BRIDGES , the 707, Jupiter Federal and Indiantown Road bridges.

Most sailboats will report difficulty at one or another of these bridges.  We figure Florida has put all of their total ass bridgemasters in one area so as not to screw up the whole waterway with recalcitrant bridgekeepers.

Warm and fair wind and waves are all promised for Saturday and all the week after.  As if NOAA has a clue about w;hat happens tomorrow let alone a week away.  Sounds like a little newspeak to me.  "Your government tells you the weather will be better next week.  If you don't agree you will be sent for re education."

I am beginning to understand why Americans want guns to protect themselves from their government.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Les Damnes de la Terre or Blessed Among Men?

February 14, 2010

Waking up to 38 degrees Farenheit, 3 degrees Celsius for the innumerate, is a strong inducement to remaining under the covers.  For hours.

It being my turn to put the coffee on this morning, as it is every morning, I took the liberty of starting up the generator and coaxing some heat out of our space heater.   This was strictly out of consideration for the Budget Committee of course.  I left her snuggled so deep in the down duvet I could not find her head.

Just a little taste of heat - to take the edge off.  Jesus, I am starting to sound like a heat junkie.  "No really, I can stop being warm any time I choose".

It is so cold I do not even think about sex.  Except I just did so I guess that part still works.

On a more productive and statistically probable front I will summarize the joy of cruising through the experiences of some of our close friends here on the water:

The Volvo Engine Crew out of Collins Bay, ON: Put into Eau Gallie in mid December to find out why their brand new diesel blew its head.  Still there although hoping to leave in a week or so.

Babykiller B (its preferred name not its real name) out of Toronto:  Contracted for "two weeks of bottom work" at a yard in Beaufort NC in October 2009.  Launched last Monday (Feb 8).  Immediately put to sea hoping to outrun a forecast storm.  Ran into said storm in short order.  Tied up in Surf City to wait out heavy rain (3 inches in one night) and 49 knot winds.  When the storm blew out they hightailed it south using the ICW due to sea rage in coastal areas.  They made it far as Charleston SC where  they were turned back at the Ben Sawyer bridge which was closed to all traffic for maintenance.  No Notice to Mariner had been issued.  Babykiller had to backtrack up the ICW to find an outlet to the sea.  This meant, in my estimation, going all the way back to Cape Fear river.  Another storm being forecast they arranged dockage at McLennanville SC. This second storm brought 4 inches of snow and massive winds.  When we last spoke the captain was shovelling out his aft deck so crew could get to the dock.  Poor bastards.

The Philosopher and the Speech Therapist from Hamilton, ON: Put into to Vero about 10 days ago intending to stay two or three days.  Weather stopped that idea like a mid morning heart attack.  The Philospher decided, last week, that he had time and expertise to fix the leaking shower that had bothered him for the past several months.  The plumber arrives on Monday (so the plumber says) to repair the damage.  The leaking shower had been drawn to his attention by the Speech Therapist who had ample opportunity to inspect all the fittings in the head when she found herself inextricably locked in said head for a few hours.  The philosopher did fix the door knob: he threw it overboard and installed a simple sliding latch.  The speech therapist is still undergoing alcohol therapy in an effort to deal with her incipient brush with claustrophobia.  The Philosopher joins her in an effort to forget the pending plumber's bill.

The Homebuilt Steel Boat from Kingston, ON: These guys made it to the Bahamas.  They sit in Nassau intending on sailing back and forth while they entertain guests for a while.  A gale is forecast for the Abacos for Thursday and the Nassau is not likely to escape the winds.

If we were landlubbers we might feel put upon.  As sailors all we can wait for is our next meeting so we can share out experiences - while undergoing group alcohol therapy of course- and have a good laugh.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Whither the Wind?

February 11, 2010

We are changing plans and abandoning the Abacos.  No more waiting.  We will run south from Vero until the weather improves and cross from whereever.  From today's NOAA Navtex Forecast:


 40 KNOTS.







Construction, Misconstruction, Tempests and Teapots

Even when there is no sailboat on the horizon no sailor travels alone.  My last post attempted to demonstrate this by including examples of recent expressions of concern by others for our welfare and of concern by us for others.

The examples were fairly humourous excerpts demonstrating the fairly direct way in which sailors communicate.  Terse and to the point.  This is contrary to the way in which some of us blog.

Well, haven't we had fun since that post.   So  today's topic will be all about how, on Meredith, we deal with the following:
  • sailing in the face of unsettled weather forecast
  • Wiring a Chartplotter into an autopilot, and 
  • Why was I such a cheap (&*^# when I bought the first chartplotter
First the weather:

Sailors in Florida are a cowardly lot.  Most are old and retired, a slice of demographic pie heavily flavoured with the timidity that grows on aging frames like moss on old growth trees.  Many have arranged a slip in the Abacos for 3 or 4 months.

These people are not a good source of sailing advice.  They are too cautious. 

Meredith likes to see for herself.  If a forecast is closed we don't go.  We like to think we are prudent just not stupidly overcautious.  If it looks like a weather window might open up we will go see.  We do not huddle with the rest of the pensioners waiting for the perfect forecast.  This has worked for our boat in the past.

What we do is set a "go - no go" point.  At any point up to the GNG we turn around when either of us says so.  No questions or comments.  We set the GNG well along any intended path so everyone can take their time and get settled in before deciding to bail. 

This approach has seen us make a number of passages in comfort days and in one case weeks before others with whom we had been travelling. 

All this system requires is a willingness to admit things did not work out as planned.

I loved Heather Loveridge's rebuke.  Her open and direct nature immediately endeared her to the crew of Meredith.  Unwilling to interfere with others' plans she waited until we admitted defeat before commenting.  

As for wiring Chartplotters to Autopilots Wade is absolutely correct that no sailboat should even bother to consider such lunacy.  Sailboats do not sail direct from one waypoint to another, not even when under power.   Having point to point navigation control is silly and could prove harmful.   For the record Heather agrees with Wade as do many others.  Sailors all.

To the powerboaters (fewer in number but unanimous) who expressed the contrary view you are also absolutely correct - for powerboats point to point navigation makes good sense much of the time. 

Example: crossing the gulf stream.  A powerboat travelling at 25 knots will make the trip from Florida to Bahamas in under 2 hours.  If you assume an average current for the stream of 3 knots across the Florida Straits this means a powerboat will be carried 6 miles offcourse during its trip.  This requires a 15 minute maximum correction.  It is not worth allowing for so the power guy just pops in a waypoint and pushes the button on his twin 400 hp whatevers and by the time his coffee is done he is already at his destination and looking for his VISA card to pay the fuel jockey.

A sailboat will take 10 to 12 hours.  The 3 knot current will, without correction, take the sailboat 30 to 35 nm north of this boat's intended destination.  This is almost as far as the entire east/west trip.  A sailboat cannot steer point to point.  We must plot the effect of tide and current and leeway and choose a course that, when you look at it, will take us far south or our intended destination.  We steer 15 or 20 degrees or more south of the course we need.  That way we end up where we want to go.  Our VISA cards are reserved for the bar.

Even powerboaters will not use an autopilot coupled to a chartplotter in the ICW (like Meredith was doing when its chartplotter kicked the bucket).  The navigable channel in these parts is only 100 feet across.  Most chartplotters or GPSs will only give accuracy to 75 or 100 feet.  If your chartplotter shows you in the middle of the 100 foot wide channel you only have 50 feet of water on either side.  If the gps is off by 75 feet you should not be surprised to find yourself 25 feet in the mud.

So why did Meredith, a sailboat, couple its chartplotter to its autopilot and then use it in the ICW?  Huh?  Why?

We were sitting in Vero Beach, bored out of our skulls.  We had cleaned and vacuumed very square inch, we had gone up the mast to install a new windvane, we had rewired the fuel pump, the engine room blower and the macerator pump, we had changed the Y valve for the head and even some of the hoses.  We had done every dirty stinking rotten job on our boat that had been waiting to be done.  And still there was time to put in. 

I like to tinker with things electric.  Wiring the chartplotter to autopilot seemed like a good afternoon's entertainment and the project went well.  Once done of course, the project must be tested.  A proof of concept sort of thing.  Just to see if it works and if it does what can you do with it.

This afternoon I am upgrading the wiring by adding opto isolator circuits I picked up at Radio Shack.  And looking forward to it.

Or maybe I will dinghy over and spend time with Frank on Melodeon who is still adjusting the mockup of his new anchor roller before sending it off to the machine shop. 

He has this really cool idea that just needs a little bit of tweaking...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Letters from Home - or What Constitutes Home on a Boat

This morning's email brought a strong upbraiding from our good friend, Heather Loveridge, back in Nova Scotia.  Heather and husband Pete aboard Radical Jack shared the waterway with us last year back and forth to Bahamas.

Heather is a bit of an Aunt Bee from the Andy Griffith show.  Her sharp tongue masks a motherly concern for all her friends.  In her words: "when you said that you were leaving as you thought that you had a weather window, I took a great breath and said to Pete, What does he think hes doing, he will be stuck in an open bay on anchor in a gale!".

 Thanks Mom.  We love you too.
Next email brought further harsh words from friend Wade on Joana: "I'm surprised that you wired your chartplotter to direct the autopilot. I refused to do that"

Penned by Wade the correspondence necessarily continued in painful detail to explain how wiring a chartplotter to an autopilot was the brand of lunacy found only amongst powerboaters.  Now there's an insult.

With luck we will make it to Georgetown Bahamas to meet up with Joana and cross to Cuba together.  Wade, ex military, needs  me to stay out of jail.  I need him to stay afloat.  We all need Heather to stay in the game.

Then we reread the last message we have from Randy and Donna who were having their (very nice power)boat repaired in Beaufort NC.  This couple flew to Beaufort last week intending to launch on Monday past and then run south ASAP.  We worry that they may have hit an iceberg and sunk in the now frigid waters of the ICW.  Randy has HIS chartplotter wired directly to the autopilot.

Lastly was the exchange with Ben and Andree (who still sail Douce Folie, which starts brilliantly and runs perfectly) who are arriving by automobile today.  We will enjoy a lovely lunch and then persuade Ben to drive us to the Tohatsu dealer so we can pick up some parts.  

Finally some good news. 

There is no doubt in our mind that we are most favoured among the citizens of the world.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Anybody Want a Used Chartplotter? Only Used 4 days.

GK Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton
Our Hero

"An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; 
an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered."

We found ourselves turned around in midICW heading back to Vero, our chartplotter insisting there were no satellites in the sky.  Running through the possibilities we considered and quickly rejected that total nuclear war had caused the US government to remove all nav aids to foreign missiles.  Plotter failure ranked as the number one scenario.

A black and foul mood reigned on deck and below.  Our two day window to the Bahamas was blown.

Giving up on our Cobra chartplotter, which has now failed on us 3 times in 10 months we phoned Defender to order a replacement.  It was then we discovered that my credit card was missing.  This did not prove fatal to the ordering process as I have used the card so often on the phone the relevant numbers are on the tip of my tongue.  Frequent use has me muttering expiration dates and verification codes in my sleep.

As we crashed our way headlong into the 30 knot winds out of the north and attendant waves along the ICW it occurred to us how much less advantageous it would have been had the chartplotter failed two hours out of West Palm, headed for West End.  

The credit card we discovered with our next phone call was waiting for us at the marina office in Vero Beach, abandoned by us when we filled the diesel tanks before leaving for the now aborted crossing.  Had we got to the Bahamas sans credit card life would have been quite a bit more interesting.

On our return to our old mooring ball we were greeted by two dinghies bearing concerned friends.  Tonight we are joining a celebratory dinner with a variety of couples from other boats.

Then the weather information came to us.   No two day window.  Maybe we could have gone but we are reluctant to head off in "maybe" weather.  We are thinking now that we would have found ourselves confined to the boat, quarantined by weather for several days.

So maybe we will just mosy on down the waterway.  And enjoy ourselves.

Today I force loaded a new bios into the old chartplotter and like one of the local Christian ministers I have witnessed a miracle.  The Cobra is now officially dubed Lazarus 3.  Too little too late.  Twice disabled by software issues this is relegated to the storage locker. 

The bottom of the storage locker.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hotel California: You Can Checkout but You Can Never Leave

February 6, 2010
Vero Beach, FL Again

It was a clean getaway.  Up at 7:30, fluids refilled, outboard hoisted aboard, all systems checked, diesel warming nicely the Budget Committee cast off from mooring ball #4 in the South mooring field at VBMM.  Greta, our traveling companions, was only 100 metres back.

Conditions on the waterway were brisk and choppy - as forecast.  The wind, at 8:15 a.m., was reasonable enough out of the West at 15 to 20 knots.

By 10 we were in 25 to 30 knots of wind off the starboard quarter, waves were slapping soundly against poor Meredith's hull and salt water was everywhere on deck.   Forecasts of the weather indicated a continuing delay in the timing of the cold front.  Originally anticipated on Friday, then Saturday and now Sunday night/Monday morning. 

A backup cold front was forecast to arrive as early as Wednesday, kind of a double snowball upside the head.  Our precious window seemed poised to slam shut.   Not very poised actually.

No matter.  Meredith was well provisioned.  Crew agreed we would wait out the bad weather and pounce on the gulf stream as soon as conditions allowed.

Our Cobra chartplotter, replaced with a "new" unit in January of this year chose 11:00 a.m. to start acting up.  It seemed to take a spell, its readouts sputtering a bit and its display offering physical responses increasingly bizarre at increasingly frequent intervals.

At 11:15 it had stroked out.  The screen described our position at 11:15 showing boat accurately aligned with the various day markers on the ICW.  However this is where it ended: like the majority of Florida residents our screen just refused to change.  Meredith was trapped forever at 11:15 a.m. on February 6 frozen in place.  If there were a ship named the Dorian Gray, this was the chartplotter for her.

Not much use, a chartplotter that won't plot.

On that topic for a moment - this is the third unit we have had from Cobra in the past year.  From April 2009 until now Cobra has replaced our Chartplotter 3 times.  Great service but you know what I really want is a chartplotter that plots, or charts.  Our current unit is fit only for an electronic picture frame - and then only if you want the picture that it currently displays.

As luck had it the chartplotter was tied, experimentally,  into the autopilot.  This was a new innovation wired by me into the boats systems over the past two weeks.  Now, I am not sure what language problems were raised when the Cobra stroked out but the autopilot started to misbehave.  Looking up from the gps device I saw, while my attention was diverted, that the autopilot had sent Meredith careening towards a daymarker.  In a channel only 3 boatlengths wide it does not take long to reach the marker on one side or the other.

We narrowly missed the marker.

Rapid discussion ensued.  Yes we wanted a chartplotter.  It is not necessary (our first trip south we did not own one) but on many occasions the chartplotter acts as a third crewmember - always offering the information needed to make an informed navigation decision.

No, we did not want a fourth replacement from Cobra, although they likely would have offered it.

Having a new unit shipped to Peck Lake or Lake Worth or anywhere else along our path would require we book a slip in a marina so the marina could take delivery on our behalf.  Marinas were dear.  Vero is inexpensive.

The weather was bad and not forecast to improve much over the next few days.

Bitterly we turned Meredith about, reported our situation to Greta, and headed back to Vero.

A new chartplotter, Standard Horizon, is ordered for delivery on Tuesday.

Sitting back on mooring ball #4 feeling our boat gyrate in the still raging wind, we are satisfied if disappointed with our decision.  

"What are we going to do tomorrow Brain?"

"Same thing we do every day Pinky.  Try and ..."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Checking Out of Hotel California

Vero Beach, FL
Feb 5, 2010

Its winds peaking at 25 knots inland our current atmospheric disturbance works itself out. Happily we are moored in Vero waiting.  We have been waiting for a while for stuff to arrive and the weather to favour a crossing from Florida to Bahamas.  The event is at hand.

Wednesday saw the long overdue replacement eyeglasses arrive.  Thursday heralded the arrival of new engine gauges to replace the ones that burnt out in a spray of uncontrolled high voltage.   The alternator is serviced and reinstalled.

Yesterday the Budget Committee removed and replaced the old duct carrying air from the engine room fan to a rear mounted exhaust.  A dirty and time consuming job.

While the BC attacked 2 weeks of laundry I reconnected the engine room blower rewiring it through a relay.  On a roll I carried on and installed a relay through the engine keyswitch to activate the fuel pump. 

That done the BC returned by dinghy from the marina office with our new engine gauges.  It was implied that I tend to their installation while the drying cycle finished. 

Amazingly everything came together and all our "last minute" jobs were complete in time for us to visit new friends John and Linda on GretaGreta, out of Stouffville ON, is a 3 year old Beneteau 46 with more toys than Santa Claus: Fischer Panda Generator, Spectra Watermaker, the works.   This boat is bigger than a summer cottage and generates enough power to light up a small village. 

Showing off his boat John even blushed a couple of times at the glorious excess to which he was privy.

Not all was fun and games however.  While aboard we compared notes on the weather, which has been foul offshore and our thoughts on when a crossing to Bahamas might take place.  Oddly we both agreed that Monday looked viable and so we have a loose arrangement to travel the stream together.  "No contract" as our friends Ben and Andree from Gatineau would say but an unspoken understanding.

As we discussed the crossing we were both pleasantly surprised to discover we staged out of the same anchorage just south of Peanut Island at the Inlet.

Weather plays out like this: tomorrow's forecast cold front is our cue to hit the waterway and get to West Palm beach (Lake Worth Inlet) to stage for the crossing of the gulf stream.  From Vero to West Palm is a pleasant one day trip followed by a second day cluttered with six bloody bridges.  It puts us in West Palm by Sunday afternoon.

When a cold front passes winds clock  from west through North and North East.  Eventually the winds turn south as the generative low pressure area moves further offshore.    When the north winds of a cold front meet the north moving waters of the gulf stream  matters aqueous take a  turn.  Not for the better.

Crossing the "stream" involves a bit of judgement for all save the neophyte.  Neophytes just wait until every scared little white head on a boat assures them conditions are acceptable  and they can risk their frail plastic vessel on a shot a running the 40 miles from Florida to Bahamas.   We have heard of some boats waiting a month for the "right" window.  Stupid has no explanation.

On our figuring the waves kicked up by the frontal winds will have subsided by Monday.
Winds will remain out of the North but at only 10 knots which is not enough to kick up any wave action on the stream.  Or so we hope.  

It is "common knowledge" that no one ever leaves Florida eastbound if there are winds out of the North.   Many of us do and none of us sink or even suffer vertigo.

Our companion boat, Greta, agrees.  Like us they are leaving Vero tomorrow morning anticipating a Monday crossing.  Before leaving we query the reporting buoys maintained by the US Government at various points in the Florida Strait to make sure the WAVES are acceptable.  If so we go.

John, Captain of Greta, is a very careful man who spent his life in engineering design.  Linda is a lovely hostess.  John mentioned later in the conversation that he was 73.  A surprise to us.

You do not know how much I hope the next post is not from the USA.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Reasons Why

Meredith still in Vero.
Feb 2, 2010

In the past 10 days there was one 1/2 day window forecast to cross to Bahamas. Not long enough. It takes 1/2 day to make the crossing. Windows rarely open up and we have had too many slam in our face to run with this forecast. As it turned out this window was 1 1/2 days long.

Our ordered parts did not arrive until Friday anyway. What parts? Head Repair kit, water pump repair kit for the Tohatsu, repair kit for the knotmeter transducer, spare filters for our water purification system.

Since Friday wind has blown 25 out of the North Saturday and Sunday and it rained continuously for 24 hours yesterday through today.

The No. 1 reason:

The alternator is expressing its individuality, the engine panel has shorted out and the batteries are in a tizzy.  A mechanic charges $95 an hour and this means I can spend a lot of time learning how to do it myself, even at Vero rates.  I am availing myself of the privilege.

It looks like the alternator is back on track so if I disconnect the low oil pressure warning buzzer and the overheating buzzer we can travel.  I would still like to know what killed the system and am not quite willing to just take off until I am sure.

The joy of cruising.