07 May 2019

A Further Taste...

Continuing on from last time, I've been trying to give you a taste of the more interesting jobs we've done in just the last couple of days. There has been painting and varnishing going on, too (hey, it's a steel boat), but even I find painting boring, so I chose to ignore them!

So, where was I?

New VHF Radio

Modern VHF radios, equiped with DSC, or Digital Selective Calling, are one of the best safety features you can have on an offshore boat. By pressing the little red button on the front panel, you can trigger an automatic SOS which includes your exact GPS location, the identity of your boat, and even the nature of the distress call. With a masthead antenna up 60 feet or so, and a 25 watt radio, your mayday signal can be heard by the Coast Guard or other ships from a long way off.

However, to be of use, the radio needs to be programmed with the boat's MMSI number. And unfortunately, once programmed, the radio can't be re-programmed. I have no idea why.

We had a perfectly good VHF radio on Petronella, but it had John and Gill's MMSI number programmed into it. I bought a replacement radio quite awhile back, but then realized that it would be a big job to install it. I've been putting it off ever since!

The problem is that radios have gotten smaller in the last few years, and the new radio was far too small to use the old mounting location. To mount it, I needed to make some sort of flange which would fit the new radio to the old hole.

The gaping hole left by the old radio
I finally got around to it. I thought about using a piece of sheet aluminum, or maybe plastic, but in the end, I am still most comfortable working in wood.  I made this flange out of a pice of plywood, and gave it a few coats of varnish, just because I like varnish.

Flange for new radio

I decided to epoxy this over the old hole.

Clamped in place
The hard part turned out to be installing the brackets which hold the radio in place. This took both of us an hour of sweaty fiddling to get them installed. But it feels good to have this vital bit of equipment finally working.

New DSC VHF installed and working
Bowsprit Anchor Snubber

This is an idea that Larry Pardey came up with a long time ago. Instead of running the anchor snubber over the anchor roller, as we have done for two years, the idea is to run it out to a block at the end of the bowsprit. This gets the snubber out of the anchor roller, and more importantly, gets it in front of the bobstay so it can't rub and chafe on it. It also exerts more leverage on the end of the bowsprit, holding the bow down, and reducing the tendency to yaw around the anchor. It also makes the snubber longer, which allows it to stretch a bit more, reducing shock.

That's the theory, anyway. We shall see how it works in practice.

View of the lead, from on deck, with Helena doing a great job holding the chain hook.

Snubber soft-shackled to the end of the bowsprit
Larry says everyone wonders about having all that force on the end of the bowsprit, but points out that a jib applies far more pressure on the bowsprit than an anchor ever could. And his bowsprit was wood, not steel.

This was another fun job that involved splicing the chain hook to the 3/4" nylon line, and making a honking big soft shackle. I love soft shackles!

If our bowsprit fall off, I'll let you know.

Fo'c'sle Reorg

Is this a real job? It took a couple of hours to do, so I think so!

Before leaving, I wanted to reorganize our fo'c'sle to make it easier to get to things we need at sea. Namely sails.

Reorganized Fo'c'sle
This is the third time I've reorganized this important space, and this time I have two years experience to work with. It's easy enough to get to anything when you are at anchor, but when you crawl forward in a nausea-inducing seaway, you want what you need to be immediately at hand.

We have a couple of light-air sails that I wanted to have instant access to: our cruising spinaker and our mizzen staysail. We also have a hank-on jib in case we lose our roller-furler jib, and a storm jib in case we find ourselves in the Southern Ocean by mistake.

They are now on the top shelf, easy to pull out, and everything else is on the second shelf. I also cleaned out some of our 'extra' lines, stored to starboard. We still have too many, probably...

Ugh! My back hurts just thinking about these jobs, but they are now crossed off our to-do list, which is looking pretty good right now. Only a few dozen more to check off, and we'll be ready to go!

Ah, the vigerous life...

Next Up:

A Taste of Our To-Do List

It would be impossible, I think, to write about every single job we do on Petronella. Not only impossible but boring! But as we race to finish the last few 'essential' items on our long to-do list, I wanted to record -- at least for myself -- a taste of some of the jobs we are doing.

So, skipping all the jobs that involved a scraper, sandpaper, or paint, here are some of the more interesting projects we've finished in the last two or three days:

Strap for Iridium Go

Last year we got an Iridium Go to allow us to get surface charts and GRIB data quickly and easily. I'll be writing a lot more about the weather in the near future, but suffice to say the Iridium itself needs to be mounted so that it can see as much of the open sky as possible. A good way to evaluate positions is to put your eyes exactly where the unit would be and to see what you can see from that position.

This led me to the top of our boom crutch, which is about as unobstructed a position as I can reach from the cockpit. However, the mounting bracket for the Go is not the most secure. It was far too easy to imagine this vital bit of technology vibrating loose and pitching overboard. Thus the need for a little 'seatbelt'.

Iridium Go 'Seatbelt'

.I hand-sewed this one up from a bit of webbing and some velcro patches. Simple, but easy to make. The strap goes under the mounting bracket, which is screwed into the top of the boom crutch, and wrapped around the Go.

It goes under the bracket
This picture makes me feel a lot better.

The Iridium Go in position and buckled in

Second Cockpit Tether

Speaking of seatbelts, we always clip on while at sea, even in the cockpit. Yes, we do have a MOB procedure, but frankly, I never want to try it out. So we clip on.

After being caught in a night of gales off Cape Hatteras last year, I thought it would be a good idea to have a second tether in the cockpit. The idea is for the on-watch crew to clip in on the port side of the cockpit with his persona tether, and then to clip on to a second tether attached on the starboard side. This way, even if one of those monster waves found its way into the cockpit, it would be impossible to be washed out of the cockpit.

Overkill for the east coast of the US? Probably, but we are gearing up for an Atlantic Crossing next year, so it doesn't hurt to start thinking about really nasty storms.

Spliced up from some dacron three-strand rope
Besides, I love splicing, so this was a fun project. Those are Wichard snap hooks, spliced into 3-strand dacron.

It's just long enough to reach comfortably across the cockpit.

Second tether in the cockpit
Teak Seats and Floorboards

We've been doing some serious work in the cockpit (more on that in a future post), so we had the teak seats and floorboards out. Helena took the opportunity to give them some TLC by cleaning and oiling them. The seats are back in, but the floorboards will have to wait until we finish the cockpit job.

Freshly cleaned seats, reinstalled
Backup Running Lights

We use a tri-color mast-head light for our main running lights. They are LED, so don't use much power and are very bright. However, the original running lights are still installed, and I like their classic looks. We like to think of them as our 'backup' running lights which, if you think about it, is not a bad idea. One problem: they didn't actually work. I decided to get them back into working order before our big trip.

Classic-looking side light from the early 70s
I traced the power to the sidelights, and then discovered the root problem: the lamp sockets were corroded enough to break the connection. Easy enough to clean up.

Corroded lamp socket
While I had the lights apart, I thought I would replace the 25-watt incandescent bulbs with LED equivalents but I wasn't able to find them in time, so I opted to buy a couple of spares. Actually, there was a 10-watt bulb installed in the starboard light, so I replaced that one with a 25 watt. Combined, they draw a decent bit of power, but they will be better than nothing if the masthead light goes out.

The stern light was more of a problem. Instead of a classic light, it was a cheap plastic LED light which was full of water. It still worked, but you'd be hard pressed to see it more than a few feet away.  And unlike our 40 year old side lights, it was unrepairable. That should tell you something. I removed it and replaced it with a new, hopefully waterproof LED.

New backup stern-light in place on back of the propane locker.
We keep the SSR number just for old-time sake. It probably isn't legal!

Gosh, you see the problem. I'm only halfway through the list of projects I wanted to write about, and already this post is too long. I will resume tomorrow, but meanwhile I will have completed a few more jobs. It really is impossible to keep up!

More tomorrow...

Next Up: A Further Taste

03 May 2019

A New Season Begins!

The other day, Helena and I were both busy doing jobs on Petronella, preparing for our long passage from St. Mary's GA to Block Island RI. We'd both been so absorbed in our work that we'd barely seen each other.

"How's it going?" I asked.

"Great!" she said. "I started the day with ten items on my to-do list. I've done eight of them, and I only have twelve left!"

That's kind of how it goes with boats, as any cruiser will tell you, but we seem to finally be getting ahead of the curve. Since returning from France, we've done one major repair job (well, major for us, anyway), and a dozen routine maintenance jobs, but most of the projects have been improvements to Petronella, which is really great.

My big push this spring has been to make changes that will make sailing Petronella physically easier to do. This is just recognizing the reality that fatigue is the big limiting factor for long range cruising -- especially offshore. You can't just 'give it all', because you never know when King Neptune is going to want a bit more. Sometimes a lot more.

One big (i.e. expensive) change we made was to swap out our old, non-self-tailing sheet winches for a pair of Lewmar 46 self-tailers. It's amazing the strength needed to crank and tail a jib sheet in 35 knot wind. We did alright last year with me cranking and Helena tailing, but self-tailers should make the job much easier. The Lewmars are more powerful than our old winches, as well.

Can't wait to try these out!
The other physically draining activity that I wanted to address was getting up the anchor in the morning. We have a manual windlass, and neither Helena nor I mind cranking in 30 or 40 meters of 1/2" chain every day. We think of it as our morning workout. But washing the thick, stinky, gooey, *$&@^!)!) mud off the chain is a complete drag. And dipping a hundred buckets of water from over the side was not doing my back any good. Helena thinks I'm a sissy, but last fall I decided we were going to have the most powerful washdown pump I could find, and now we do.

The installation was pretty interesting. I installed it under the sink in the head, which is near the bow. There was a stand-pipe for a source of water, and it was near some heavy duty wires that normally drive the bow-thruster. I ran the outlet up to a through-deck fitting. It took some time in the thinking chair to get everything right -- as well as several trips to West Marine to find all the right plumbing bits -- by eventually I got it done. Again, I can't wait to try it!

The under-sink pump. 
We still have lots of chores to do before Nick arrives next Saturday to help us sail the boat up to Block, but nothing that can't be done in New Engand if need be. All eyes are on the weather now! Fingers crossed!

Next Up: A Taste of Our To-do List

14 March 2019

We've Been In France!

Wow, time flies. I've just been too busy to keep up this blog for the past few months, but this morning I suddenly got the urge again. So where have we been?

In France! Yes, after sailing non-stop from Cape Fear down to St. Augustine, and discovering that the yard we planned to haul Petronella in had a broken travel lift, we headed back up to St. Mary's GA and hauled out at the well known and much recommended St. Mary's Boat Services yard.

Petronella hauled out for the last time for a while, I hope!
After hauling out, we tidied Petronella, emptied the fridge, lifted up all the cushions, and opened up all the locker hatches to allow air circulation, locked her up, and headed off to Thanksgiving dinner at my daughter's in Charlotte.

From there, we flew off to live in France for two months.

First day in Paris...
Wow, how do I even begin? We decided to take this trip because we are seriously thinking of sailing Petronella to Europe, and in particular to France. But would we like it? It seemed crazy to sail all the way across the Atlantic, only to find out that we didn't like it there.

I mean, I've been to Europe probably a hundred times on business. But there is a big difference between a hurried business trip to an airport or conference, and a long term stay away from large metropolitan areas where colleagues and hotel staff all speak English. Helena is very good with languages, but I am not. Would it be isolating to not know the language? Would people be friendly? All unknowns.

So we decided to rent an apartment in Montpellier for two months and to give it a try. We picked Montpellier because it has several good French-language schools. We chose to attend LSF to see if we could get our French up to a rudimentary conversational level.

Gateway to Montpellier, France

Sandy, our French teacher at LSF
I won't keep you in suspense: We loved France far more than I expected. Montpellier is probably the nicest place I have ever lived, the people were outrageously friendly, we made a bunch of friends, and even learned enough French to get into trouble with.

Montpellier is in the south of France, within biking distance of the Mediterranean, so the weather was pretty warm for December and January. The city is about a thousand years old, and at one time had a wall around it (which is still there, in some places), so it has the feel of a classic European 'old city'. But it's a university town, so there are loads of college kids and young adults. It's incredibly lively, with tons of restaurants and outdoor cafes, amazing food, and loads of narrow streets and plazas and parks to explore. I didn't want to leave.

The main plaza at Christmas time

Just cold enough to need a sweater and scarf

Lots of little streets to explore

And the food... did I mention the food???
Another city gate
One of the things I liked most about Montpellier was the lack of cars. Only a few delivery vans are allowed into the city itself. It makes such a difference to live in a place that isn't overrun by cars. You just have no idea if -- like me -- you've never lived in such a place. The streets are for people, there's less noise and dirt, you get lots of exercise walking up and down hills, and it even smells different -- no exhaust fumes in the air! After a few weeks there, I could distinctly smell the fumes from cars whenever we left the city. It's amazing what you can get used to.

Anyway, what more can I say? I loved it.

We also toured a few nearby towns, but I was always ready to go back home to Montpellier.

Roquefort, where they make the cheese

Séte, to check out the huge marina on the Mediterranean 
Carcassonne, because it's amazing!
Bottom line, we answered our question: yes, it would DEFINITELY be worth sailing across The Atlantic to spend more time in this great country, and I'm sure many others in Europe and around the world. So, reluctantly, after two months, we headed back to Petronella to get her ready for her continuing voyage.

More on that very soon!

Next Up: A New Season Begins!

31 October 2018

Wrightsville Beach

We had a fast, if bumpy, offshore passage from Beaufort down to Wrightsville Beach. Dozens of southbound boats, including lots of Canadians. But we found a spot to anchor, launched the dingy, buzzed over to the town dock, and Ubered to Harris Teeter for some much needed provisions.

Now we are headed down to Southport where we were lucky enough to score a dock in a marina. The marinas are mostly sold out, and there are no good anchorages down there, so we were lucky.

Petronella seems to be in great shape. We were able to test the Aries on the way down and it performed perfectly. So nice to have silent steering while sailing!

Next Up: We've Been To France!

29 October 2018

The Slow Virginia Cut

Like lots of other cruisers, we have been working our way through the Virginia Cut, and I do mean working. 

The VC is a 200 mile 'short cut' inside of Cape Hatteras. The alternatives are to either buck the 3 or 4 knot current off Hatteras, or to head far offshore to get outside of the Gulf Stream before turning south. Both of which options start to sound pretty good after a week or two of motoring down the ICW, or slogging across an angry Ablemarle Sound (it's alway angry, right?), or beating down the Neuse River against 20 knot winds. 

But, hey, it's not all bad. Not with early winter storms forcing us into creeks to anchor for one or two days at a time. We think of them as mini vacations. At least until the meat and eggs and veg and fruit start running low!

But we are almost through to the other end at Beaufort NC, and miracle of miracles, it looks like we've timed it perfectly for an offshore hop down to Cape Fear. We will anchor this afternoon just inside the Beaufort inlet, hook up our Windvane, rig preventers, stow loose objects, and head out this afternoon. We should arrive at the Wrightsville Beach Inlet (yes, those Wright brothers) early tomorrow morning. We'll then anchor, take a nap, launch the dingy, and head into this beach town for provisions and hopefully a decent meal at a nice restaurant. 

The weather is finally nice again so we are enjoying every minute of it. May it last more than a day or two!

Next Up: Wrightsville Beach

17 October 2018

Petronella On The Move

Well! Finally! Our 'Absolutely Must Do' list is completed and we are headed South again. And not a moment too soon.

Hurricane Michael dragged a cold front behind him, and it has been positively chilly for the past few days. That made completing our to-do list easier (less sweat involved).

The final big job was to bend on all the sails, and to sort out any rigging tangles that were left. We of course put all the halyards, etc., on the mast before re-stepping it. We got MOST of it right, but had one twist at the very top of the mast that could not be sorted from the deck. Helena quickly fixed that problem.

Then we were off! We dropped our mooring yesterday morning and headed out into the Chesapeake where a stiff northerly breeze was blowing. The Bay was quite choppy, but once we were able to turn south, the following seas were no hindrance.

We had 50 miles to go get across the wide mouth of the Potomac to our anchorage at Mill Creek, and our house batteries were nearly flat from all the cloudy weather we've had lately, so we motor-sailed all day, with jib and main set.

We averaged 7 knots, hitting 8 for long stretches, so made excellent time. There are a mess of boats heading south, so I wanted to anchor early to secure a good spot in the creek.

I shouldn't have worried. The anchorage was empty when we arrived around 14:00.

Our plan is to travel in the morning, and to anchor early enough to do other things. We shall see how long that resolution survives!

It's good to be on the move again.

Next Up: The Slow Virginia Cut

16 September 2018

Early Christmas Present

When Helena was last in Brazil, she went to a kind of antique shop looking for a ship's bell. We've been thinking we might need one if we ever get up to foggy Maine.

She didn't find a bell, but did find something she couldn't resist buying for me. As soon as I saw the case, which was very finely made, I knew she'd found a treasure.

Can you tell a sextant by it's cover?
The case had been built with care, and had nice brass hardware, including a lock with key.

Inside was a bronze-framed sextant, made by Filotechnica Salmoiraghi of Milan Italy.

Sextant in case
With inverting telescope installed
Compared with the only sextant I've ever used -- a plastic Davis Mark 15 -- this one felt like the real thing. It has a real heft and the micrometer moves smoothly as silk, with no backlash. All the original parts are in the box, including three different telescopes: a monocular, an inverting telescope, and a "zero magnification" tube. It dates from the 1940s.

It's definitely been used for navigation, so it could use a bit of cleaning up. I will be doing that when other projects allow.

Interestingly, the calibration chart says that this sextant was calibrated on Christmas Eve, 1946, not long after the end of WWII.

Well, Florence is currently making her deadly way through South Carolina. She's supposed to loop up north, and pass not far from the Chesapeake. Today is fairly clear, but it's supposed to rain Monday and Tuesday in Solomons, where P is hauled out. We're debating whether its worth heading down there today to do some painting while the sun shines, if we're going to have to sit out torrential downpours until Wed.

Decisions, decisions...

Hurricane Florence Position

Next Up: Petronella On The Move!

14 September 2018

Hiding from Foorence

Fredrick, MD

We are currently hiding from hurricane Florence at our son Nick's new apartment in northern MD, well out of the danger zone.

We had to make a decision to haul or not on Tuesday morning, because after that, the marina would only be doing storm hauls, which did not including power washing the bottom. Since we've been in the Chesapeake for several months, I was pretty sure our bottom would be foul, so I definitely wanted to get the bottom cleaned if we were hauling.

Also, on Tuesday, Florence looked like she might just turn north once she hit the coast. Other people in the marina were clearly not too worried, but Petronella is our home, and we were not taking any chances.

Out she came!

Of course, the moment Petronella was secure on shore, Florence decided to turn south in search for easier prey. I was perfectly fine with that.

At the moment, we are getting light rain and winds in Fredrick, but Southport, NC, the town we spent Christmas in last winter, is getting hit hard. Hope everyone in one of our favorite towns is doing well!

Florence's track as of this writing

Next Up: Early Christmas Present

13 September 2018

Fixing a Wooden Mast Part 2

After pulling Petronella’s main mast, the boys at Zahnizers laid it on sawhorses outside the shop of Dave the in-house boatbuilder. Dave grew up in a boatbuilding family, and an all around nice guy, so I was looking forward to seeing him work.

I didn’t have long to wait. He was already at it when I arrived mast-side at 9am, looking for both the source and extent of the rot. The good news: the mast had definitely been soaking up water from the deck. The further up the mast, the dryer the wood.

Also good news: I didn’t swoon while watching this surgery take place. With every handful of wet wood dug out, we got that much closer to having a sound mast again.

At least, that’s what I told myself.

Looking for the extent of the rot
Fairly quickly, Dave had all the rot removed and he had started cutting scarfs to re build the compression core. Unfortunately, while cutting the various scarfs, he discovered a previous repair!

With all the rot removed
This was a problem, because if he left the old repair in place, there would be too many scarfs too close together.

After a consult, we decided that the old repair should be cut away, so that there was just one repair, properly done.

With some previous repairs removed

After cutting more old wood away, Dave discovered not one but two more previous repairs, one a 'Dutchman's scarf' using some sort of white wood, like pine.

If we left all these scarf in place, there would be 6 scarfs, all within a foot or so of each other. Clearly not acceptable, so he kept cutting.

Finally, all the old repairs were exposed and removed, and the demolition phase was over. Mostly.

With even more (but not all!) previous repairs removed

The long side in the photo above actually has three scarf in it, but Dave left it in place as a guide and support for the repairs. When replacing the compression core (photo below) he inserted wax paper between the long side and the core so that the epoxy would not glue the core to the side. This would make removing the long side easier later.

Demolition phase (almost) complete... reconstruction begins
Here is with the core and most of the sides scarfed into place. It's starting to come together, now...

Reconstruction continues...

And here is with that final, long side completely removed. We cut it high enough so that we could see above the compression core, into the inside of the hollow mast, above the core. As we'd hoped, it was bone dry, and the old core (with black Resorsinol glue showing) dry and sound.

Phew. This confirmed that the leak was indeed coming from the deck, and not from some where up the mast.

The long-awaited look inside the mast -- all dry!

The final scarf, for the final side.

Fourth side and all old repairs removed

And the whole repair glued up.

Final side scarfed in
All that was left was to shape the repair to match the rest of the mast.

Shaping already in progress!
And that is a repair, properly done! In the end, we decided to paint the bottom of the mast with epoxy, but not to use any fiberglass. The goal is to prevent the mast from sucking up water from the mast again, causing a problem 10 or 15 years down the line.

Repair complete!

And then it was time to paint. Since the mast already was painted with a 2-part epoxy paint, I decided to stick with that, although the prep work for it is crazy.

Here it is with the first coat of 2-part epoxy primer. It doesn't look like it, but I was racing a thunderstorm, so it was a big relief to get that first coat of paint on.

First coat of 2-part epoxy primer on!
That was a few days ago. After lots and lots of painting, I'm NEARLY done, but I've had to abandon the mast job and prepare for the imminent arrival of Hurricane Florence!

More on that adventure, later...

Next Up: Hiding from Florence