14 July 2018

Another Look At Weather Faxes

After my last post on the various costs of receiving weather information at sea, I received a couple of emails from people who thought I was overstating the amount of electricity required by the SSB in receive-only mode. That it should be possible to leave the SSB on receive for hours without draining the house battery excessively.

If so, that would enable me to receive weather faxes by SSB at least while anchored, or when I had the energy/time at sea to tend to the reception.

That encouraged me to take another look at it, and to see whether they were correct -- at least with Petronella's specific combination of house batteries and solar panels.

No-Power Weather Fax System

The first thing I tried (or re-tried) was using a system that was completely independent of P's house batteries. I could run this to my hearts content, and never use an electron that might be needed by the fridge, lights, fans, etc.

Since it doesn't take use any electricity from P's house batteries, I call it my No-Power system, although clearly it does take some small amount of power, tapped from the Sun of course.

The basics: SSB radio and iPad with HF FAX App

External Antenna -- this one is really not good enough for WFAX

Beefy battery, with its own solar panel to recharge it (not shown)
Battery powered, AirPrint enabled portable printe
The No-Power system consists of the following components:

1. Tecsun PL 880 portable SSB radio
2. An external antenna3. iPad running HF FAX app
4. A power source independent of house batteries (optional?)
5. Battery-powered, AirPrint enabled printer (optional)

The portable SSB is required to pluck the radio signals out of the air and convert them into sound waves. These sound waves are fed into the iPad and its HF FAX app, which convert the sound waves into images, and the optional printer is used to convert these images into actual hard-copy faxes.

To keep it independent of the house batteries, I use a rather hefty portable power source, which has it's own solar panel to recharge it.

This system seems ideal except for one thing: so far, at least, it produces pretty lousy weather faxes.

WFAX produced by No-Power System
 It is also a bit of a pain to use. I have to hoist a wire (usually up the mizzen mast) to use as an external antenna. This is always in the way, and so far, at least, the results are not great.

I'm blaming the antenna at this point, since the radio itself seems high quality. I will continue to work on this system to improve the quality.

Here is the No-Power system in action:

Low-Power Weather Fax System

Since I could not get quality results from my No-Power system, I started testing my Low-Power system. The only difference is I use Petronella's ICOM SSB and its tuned backstay antenna. All other components are the same:

1. ICOM IC-M700 SSB radio
2. Tuned backstay antenna
3. iPad running HF FAX app
4. A power source independent of house batteries (optional?)
5. Battery-powered, AirPrint enabled printer (optional)

Low-Power System
Petronella's previous owners were very cautious about using the SSB, even in receive mode, and I guess I picked up the habit without thinking. However, during our restoration process, Helena and I replaced all of P's house batteries. I'd never even tried just leaving the SSB on to see if it drained the battery. I just assumed it would.

Never assume!

After being chastised by a number of readers, I decided to put together this low-power system and to let it run for the two hours needed to download a complete set of Weather Faxes. This made me absurdly nervous -- I really didn't want to end up with a dead battery, warm fridge, etc. -- but all for nothing. At the end of the two hours, the battery still had a healthy charge.

I wish I had measured the amp-hours used for this two hour period, but I didn't think of doing that until just now. Next time I try it, I will record the actual power used by the system.

Warning: I performed this test on a sunny day in the Chesapeake, with both P's solar panels working to keep the house batteries charged. I have not yet tried this at night, or even on a cloudy day.

A more modern, energy-efficient SSB would probably use even less power than P's ancient M-700.

That said, the results were much improved. The fax below was received immediately after the one above, on the same frequency. That is, the received signal quality was the same for both faxes. Only the radio and antenna were different.

WFAX produced by Low Power System
Here is the Low Power system in action.


While it still takes more effort to receive weather faxes over SSB than to receive the same faxes via Satellite phone, and the quality is not quite as good, clearly my battery-energy argument was over-stated. It is clearly possible to build a low-power system that produces acceptable quality faxes without killing off the house battery -- and without using any high-cost satellite air time.

It's also more fun than the sat phone. It's something of a challenge to get good results, and like anything you have to work for, more satisfying to accomplish.

I will definitely be using one of these systems to receive weather faxes, whenever sailing conditions allow.

Thanks to all who got me to take another look at this method.

"Life is for learning." -- Joni Mitchell

Next Up:

26 June 2018

To The Abacos

Well, all our hard work and preparation paid off: we were were in Southern Florida, ready to cross over to the the Bahamas.

A week before, after finishing our many chores in St. Augustine, we dropped our mooring in time to make the 7:30 opening of the Lions Bridge. We meant to use the fair weather St. Augustine inlet, so I wanted to hit it at slack tide and before the wind had a chance to build. I'd heard all sorts of sailor stories about the inlet, from "There's nothing to it!", to "All the buoys have been removed for dredging! You'll never find the way out!"

As usual, there was only one way to find out for sure.

As we headed out into the inlet, I could see low breakers on either side, with the channel clear between them. On the horizon, pointy-helmeted soldiers seemed to be marching steadily south.

Clearly, it was a bit rougher outside than I was hoping for, but it didn't look too bad.

The big problem, as I'd suspected, was the dredgers. There were two of them: a big one, and a really big one. The really big one, I'd been told, was sucking sand off the bottom and pumping it through a giant hose two miles offshore. Awkwardly, the dredgers seemed to be right in the middle of the channel. And the smaller one was moving around in a brisk and businesslike way.

As we approached, I got concerned about getting in their way. I'd be happy to go around them if I could, but which way? I didn't want to end up aground outside the channel. That would be a bad way to start the trip.

"Do you want me to call them on the radio?" Helena asked.

"That's an excellent idea."

"They say to go right between them," Helena said after consulting with the VHF.

"Between them?"

"That's what he said."

The smaller dredger was still busily moving back and forth, doing whatever dredgers do, but there was a hundred foot gap between the two ships... surely they wouldn't run us down after we'd been invited to pass through.

"Here we go," I said, with what I hoped was a look of steely determination.

The dredgers looked even bigger and more menacing up close than they did from a safe distance, and the sound of heavy machinery, mixed with the steadily growing roar of the wind, was a potent stimulant for careful steering. They did seem to be leaving us a gap...

I pointed Petronella's bow towards the opening, held a steady course so they could see what I was doing, and trusted the professionals knew what they were doing.

They did, and in a few tense minutes we were safely through, past the dredgers, out of the narrow inlet, and into the open Atlantic.

"Shall I put up the sails?" asked my handy foredeck crew, sounding slightly relieved.

"Absolutely," I said.

We were on our way. If only the weather didn't get any worse...

Next Up: Arrived in Fox Town

24 June 2018

The Cost of Professional Weather Forecasts

Somewhere in the last 6000 nm, it occurred to me that I needed to learn more about marine weather. My path of learning had followed the usual pattern:
  1. Obliviousness -- I didn't know what I didn't know
  2. Absolute Surety -- I knew just enough to think I knew everything
  3. Utter Self-doubt -- I knew enough to know that I knew nothing
  4. Novice Level Awareness -- I know enough to be cautiously confident in my abilities
Having finally reached Novice Level, I want to write down what I'm doing, mainly for my own reference, but also to help others who might be further down the learning curve. I provide links to resources it took me a long time to track down, and which I would like to finally have in one place!

This first in a series of weather-related posts will focus on the cost of getting essential marine forecasts while offshore -- i.e. when the cell phone towers disappear over the horizon.

When you are beyond easy reach of the Internet, you must either:
  • Learn to make your own forecasts using the instruments available to you on your boat (eyes, skin, wind instruments, barometer, etc.)
  • Figure out a way to access professional forecasts. 
For hundreds of years, ship masters had to make their own forecasts, but the National Weather Service (NWS) with it's fleet of buoys, ships, weather satellites, and supercomputers do a much better job. Watching the sea, sky, and barometer still makes sense, but getting professional forecasts whenever you can is simple prudence.

Beyond the range of easy Internet access, you have several options for receiving professional forecasts, but the most common (and the only one's I have experimented with) are:
  • SSB Radio (which Petronella came with)
  • Satellite Radio
With an SSB radio you can:
  • Receive Offshore and Highseas weather forecasts by voice, by tuning in to the forecasts broadcast by the US Coast Guard several times a day. (Details and schedule.)
  • Listen in on weather nets, such as those hosted by Chris Parker. (Details and schedule)
By adding a SSB modem such as a Pactor, a laptop, and an email service like SailMail, you can also:
With a satellite radio, such as the Iridium Go, you can receive the same professional forecasts by email. Forecasts sent by voice over HF radio are, of course, not available, but it is much easier to receive the same text by email, anyway. (I'd rather go to the dentist than listen to the Offshore forecast on SSB.)

Thus, the benefits of SSB and Satellite are the similar: professional forecasts received in a timely manner. However, the costs are different:

Monetary Costs

The cost of an SSB transceiver, antenna, antenna tuner, and modem will set you back at least $4,000 USD, not including installation, which could be expensive. Once you purchase the equipment installed, receiving forecasts is free, apart from a subscription to an email service like SailMail.

The cost of a satellite system such as the Iridium Go is under $1,000, and installation is trivial, but you also need to purchase airtime and an iPad, if you don't have one. Depending on how much you use it, it might well cost you $4,000 over a period of years.

Energy Costs

When I started experimenting with Petronella's SSB/Pactor/SailMail system, I quickly discovered a hidden cost of SSB Radio -- amp-hours! Our ICOM SSB is relatively efficient when you are just listening, but as soon as you start doing more, the batteries start groaning.

Sending and Receiving email involves transmitting and receiving data, and also requires the use of a laptop, which has its own power demands.

Downloading a set of weather charts using RadioFax takes over an hour. You can use an iPad instead of a laptop to decode the faxes, and thus save amp-hours, but it is still taxing on the ship's batteries.

My point is that you have to factor in the cost of generating all those amp-hours, unless your boat already generates loads of excess energy. Petronella just couldn't keep up, even with four new heavy-duty golf-cart batteries, and a relatively robust set of solar panels.

The energy cost of running a satellite phone and an iPad are much less. Almost negligible, in fact.

Physical Costs

On an offshore passage, I've learned that it is critical to manage not only amp-hours, but human-energy-hours. After the first day or two, it is easy to get tired, and hard to get rested. Energy wasted listening to scratchy SSB voice broadcasts, or struggling to download email over an iffy SSB connection, or monitoring the download of RadioFaxes is time better spent sleeping. And if you happen to be dealing with nasty weather when the SSB schedule says you should be listening or downloading, well, you are just out of luck.

The physical cost of obtaining a forecast via satellite phone and iPad is much less. You can easily do it while lying in your bunk -- exactly where I like to do my weather forecasting.

Bottom Line

After getting Petronella's SSB system working and experimenting with it on several passages, I came to the conclusion that the total cost of receiving forecasts by SSB was too expensive for us, and I purchased an Iridium Go. We recently completed a six-day offshore passage from St. Augustine, FL to the Chesapeake Bay, and I can confirm that it was much cheaper, energy-wise, to get essential weather information using the Iridium than it ever was using SSB.

I am still glad that we have the SSB, since it is essential for participating in cruising nets and for long-range distress calls. However, for getting weather forecasts, we now consider the SSB as our backup system.

Next Up: Another Look At Weather Faxes

13 June 2018

Petronella Sails North - Part I

Well! How time flies. It has been more than a year since Helena and I bought Petronella, and what a year it has been.

We've had two simple goals: 1) prepare Petronella for offshore voyaging and 2) prepare ourselves. Neither has been as simple as we originally hoped!

First, Petronella herself needed some TLC. In her lifetime, she had crossed the Atlantic 11 times (that we know of), and had been used as a live-aboard in the Caribbean for quite a few years. Her three previous owners had done their best to maintain her, but by the time we sailed her away from Martinique last year, she was tired. Really tired.

We decided to focus on the basics: hull, rigging, sails, engine, in that order. If we could get those four key components ready for sea in one year, we would consider it a success.

If you've been following this blog for the last year, you know we've ticked all those boxes.

We had steel boat expert Howdy Bailey tackle the hull, because it would have taken Helena and I years to do ourselves what he and his crew did in a couple months last fall.

Cancel that -- we could never have achieved what Howdy's team did because we did not have the painting skills they did. Embarrassingly far from it, in fact.

Likewise, we had Argonaut Rigging replace our standing rigging. This is potentially a DIY job, but having watched Jason work all day on it for five days, I shudder to think how long it would have taken me to do the same job. And would I have had the same confidence in the rig? Maybe, but I'm not sure.

The masts and spars had been inspected during the pre-purchase survey, but we asked Jason to check them out as well. We pulled the spreaders ourselves to check them. As far as we can tell, the rig itself is in great shape.

We had a new set of working sails built by Hong Kong Sails. I did all the measuring myself, and thought I did at least as good as a professional would have done -- perhaps better because I took my time over it. But I must admit I was nervous about sending those numbers to a sail maker in Hong Kong. Would they fit when they arrived? The answer was yes, and so far we are very pleased with the results. Check back in 3 years to see how they hold up over the long run.

Petronella's extremely reliable Mercedes diesel engine has always run well, but I must admit it always made me nervous. It leaked various fluids into the bilge, and made a whole symphony of strange noises. We've had several engine gurus on the boat to check her out and to make small repairs, such as replacing the fuel return lines that were leaking diesel into the bilge, and replacing the raw water pump, which was adding salt water into the mix. I have become an expert in changing her various fluids and filters, and have finally found some belts that don't break every 50 hours. I even had a very experienced engine man listen to it run. I wanted to know if her various noises were normal, or if I could stop worrying about them. After listing to the engine for a few minutes, he turned to me and said, "This is one of the quietest diesel engines I've ever heard. You should hear what a noisy engine sounds like!"

So I've officially stopped fretting about them!

After pulling into the Chesapeake to avoid a storm on our way up to Maine, we discovered Solomons Island, MD and liked it so much that we decided to hole up here while Helena flies back to Brazil to check in on her parents. As long as we were here, I decided to tackle the last big item on our list: sail covers. We found a highly recommended maker right in the marina -- Quantum Sails -- and they are working on the covers as I write this. They are backed up, but I am hoping to have them before we leave. Otherwise, they will ship them to us.

And then there were literally hundreds of big and small projects to fix or upgrade this or that system on the boat. We have completed so many small projects that I can't even remember all of them. Batteries, pumps, safety gear... I would like to turn them into a blog post someday, but it's such a big job that I keep putting it off!

The result of all this work is that Petronella is in as good a condition as a 40 year old boat can be.

And what about us? Last year, I realized that the biggest gap in my seamanship was in weather. You can sail for a lifetime on Long Island Sound with hardly thinking about the weather. Just keep an eye on the western horizon, and if you see a long black cloud, duck!

Offshore, it's a different story. Not only is the weather forecast more vital, it is hard to get. I can hardly believe we sailed from Martinique to Florida with the sketchy forecasts we were able to pluck off the SSB and occasional Internet access. We are now able to get good weather forecasts just about anywhere, and I am now confident in my ability to understand them. At least at an advanced beginner level.

But you can only learn sailing one way, and that is by sailing. That's when you find out what's really working right, what's really learned. So we looked forward to our long passage from Florida towards Maine with eager anticipation. Was Petronella ready? Were we?

There was only one way to find out...

Here is a video of the first part of our passage. You can view it full-screen by clicking the [ ] button on the bottom right.

Next Up: The Costs of Professional Weather Forecasts

24 April 2018

Fender Boards

So, we went down to Miami Thursday so that Helena could renew her passport at the Brazilian consulate. Before leaving, we put out some fenders, but NOT NEARLY ENOUGH OF THEM!

I really don’t know what I was thinking. When we came back, of course Mother Nature had found a way to get behind the fenders and to rub a barnacle-encrusted piling against the side of the boat, long enough to rub off a nice big patch of paint.


“I feel like we’ve dropped our baby on it’s head!” I wailed.

“No,” said the more practical Helena. “It just has a skinned knee.”

That thought helped put the disaster into perspective for me. With a slightly calmer air, I decided to sit down and build some fender boards.

I think of them as knee pads for our baby...

Brand new fender boards

Next Up: Petronella Sails North!

18 April 2018

Arrived Daytona!

We fought through a few days of howling winds and arrived safely in Daytona. We will be here for two weeks to replace our rigging and fit our new sails. Looking forward to that first cold beer and hot shower! Not at the same time, obviously.

Next Up: Fender Boards

10 April 2018

Too short a trip!

It took a few days, but we are finally getting into the rhythm of the Bahamas. This involves being aware of the weather forecast for several days ahead, and planning sailing and nightly anchorages to work with the wind, rather than fight against it.

As a result, we've had several days of good sailing, interesting stop-overs, and comfortable nights.

The highlight of the trip so far has been our stop at Green Turtle Cay. Everyone recommends this little town, and rightly so.

The settlement at Green Turtle Cay was founded by Loyalists who fled the US during the Revolutionary War. Many of their original houses are still standing, and the village is a cluster of tiny, brightly painted cottages, with roads designed for pedestrians and perhaps horses, not cars. We had dinner and drinks at the Sunset or Sundowner bar (I forget the exact name), with a great view of Petronella in the anchorage.

Today, we plan to stop at Manjack Cay, which is supposed to have some nice nature trails and beaches. I don't want to leave the Bahamas without going swimming at least once!

Then we will be moseying back to the west, with the goal of heading back to the US on Friday night. We should be back in Ft. Pierce, or perhaps Cape Canaveral if the weather cooperates, by Saturday.

Next Up: Arrived Daytona, FL

07 April 2018

Sea of Abaco

We left Fox Town early this morning to take advantage of the strong SW wind forecasted for the day. The forecast was correct, and we had fair winds all day, and a fantastic sail down into the Sea of Abaco.

And, knock on wood, we didn't have any serious problems. I think this was because we were sailing, instead of motoring, but I might be just a bit biased.

Anyway, a great sail.

We got to our planned anchorage around 4 pm - plenty of time to anchor and square away the boat. And to have two G&Ts and a short nap before dinner. Sun, wind, seas, and G&Ts will do that to you.

Nice evening under the stars. Winds have moderated for now.

——— Forecast ———

NW Bahamas (GrandBaha-Abaco):

S-SSW@12-17g22<SW-WSW@13-18g23k thru overnight;
SW-WSW@13-18g23<veering<L&V Sun8 morning-afternoon;
L&V<SSE-SSW@8-14g18k Sun8 evening-overnight;

SSE-SSW@8-14g18<S-SSW@10-15g19k Mon9 morning-early afternoon;
S-SSW@10-15g19<SSE-SSW@5-12k Mon9 late afternoon-early evening;
SSE-SSW@5-12<7-13k Mon9 late evening-overnight;

SSE-SSW@7-13<S-SSW@12-16g21k Tue10

Next Up: Too Short a Trip!

06 April 2018

Arrived in Fox Town, Bahamas 🇧🇸

I'm taking advantage of the first semi-usable Internet we've had since leaving Lake Worth to send this update.

We had a pretty good crossing Saturday night, arriving on Little Bahama Bank Sunday morning, near Memory Rock. We then spent the day sailing to our first anchorage near Mangrove Cay (pronounced 'key'), flying our yellow quarantine flag. It felt good to lower the anchor, cook a warm meal, and get a good night's sleep.

Monday, we headed towards Grand Cay, the closest Island with a customs office, so that we could officially check in to the Bahamas. We were forbidden to land anywhere until we had done so. However, since it was 35 miles away, we decided to stop for the night at Great Sale Cay, where we had a sky filled with stars.

We arrived at Grand Cay Tuesday morning, but the harbor was too shallow for the long legged Petronella, so we anchored outside and I took our dingy to the town fishing dock too look for the customs officer. I found him on the road to his office. He was on his way home to have lunch, so I hopped in his golf cart and we did the paperwork in his kitchen.

Then it was back to Petronella. Our anchorage wasn't safe enough for an overnight, being so near, and so exposed to the Atlantic, so we lifted the anchor and headed back to Great Sale Cay.

Wednesday we sailed to Strangers Cay, hoping to spend a few quiet days on this isolated island with several nice beaches. We arrived in the afternoon, but decided to put off a shore trip until the next day. The evening was very quiet, just as the forecast predicted, and that night the Milky Way was as bright and clear as I've ever seen it. We looked for satellites and shooting stars, but Helena was the only one lucky enough to see one.

I got up early on Thursday to make coffee and check the weather. The National Weather Service was still predicting a fine, calm day, but Chris Parker — a marine weather specialist that we subscribe to — was predicting squalls and high winds in our part of the Bahamas. There was barely a breeze, so I scoffed at Chris's prediction, until I happened to glance out the companionway and saw the low line of black clouds on the northern horizon. They were headed our way.

If I'd been smart I would have immediately got the anchor up and headed out of our narrow anchorage, but I delayed, hoping the squall would miss us. It didn't, and so we had to get the anchor up in 20 knot wind — never a fun exercise. However, we managed it and were happy to get into the deeper, open water of the bank.

Then the question was, where to go next? With my new-found respect for Chris Parker, I studied his forecast for the rest of the week. The wind would gradually veer from north to east to south over the next few days, so we needed an anchorage with protection from all those directions. There was only one likely destination we could reach — Fox Town on the north coast of Little Abaco Island. The wind was high but we could just sail close-hauled, with our jib and mizzen sails set. A fantastic sail.

We arrived at Fox Town just as the wind died down, making it easy to motor into the small harbor, pick a spot to anchor, and get settled in for the night. Our Canadian neighbors, on the yacht "R Liberty", paid us a visit in their dinghy. We invited them aboard for a chat. They had been in the Bahamas all winter, so were able to tell us all the best places to stop for groceries, fuel, beaches, etc.

We hope to get ashore in Fox Town today, just to stretch our legs and have a meal at one of the local restaurants. Tomorrow the forecast is for SW winds which should be favorable for carrying us to our next stop, where ever that may be.

Next Up: The Sea of Abaco

18 February 2018

The Restoration Continues

Wow, I have a lot of respect for people who somehow cruise, work on their boat, and somehow manage to blog or videoBlog their efforts. I have never been able to keep up with all three, and of course it is blogging that suffers, because otherwise there wouldn't be anything to blog about!

With that semi-apology out of the way, let's get to blogging!

After our long, cold voyage down the east coast of the US, we finally crossed the Florida border near Jacksonville, and like magic, the weather changed. Cold, blustery weather turned into warm-ish blustery weather, which was a big improvement, believe you me. The further south we went, the warmer it got, and by the time we got to St. Augustine -- Helena's favorite town in Florida -- it was downright spring-like.

So we decided to stay awhile.

The reasons are simple: 1) The weather was good -- warm enough to ditch the parkas, but not so hot that you don't feel like working. 2) The St. Augustine Municipal Marina had room for us, while marinas in South Florida were packed with snowbirds (we called). 3) The cost of the marina was at least half the price of those further south. 4) St. Augustine is a great little city, with lots of places for our daily walks, and plenty to do -- actually nicer than many places down south.  5) We managed to find craftsmen to help us with the projects we didn't want to tackle ourselves, namely a good rigger.

Yes, since our plan is to spend a couple of months in the Bahamas, and then to do a long offshore sail to somewhere -- either Bermuda or Block Island, probably -- we wanted to make sure the rigging was up to a possibly boisterous voyage. Petronella's standing rigging -- the wires that hold up the mast -- passed inspection during the pre-purchase survey, but there is no doubt that it is past its prime. Most of it was replaced in 2002, which is a long time for rigging. And she has done at least two Atlantic crossings since.

It was enough to make me think twice.

So we found a good rigger and invited him over to do a thorough survey. The result? The Norseman fittings, turnbuckles, etc., are good, but the wires are starting to 'barber pole', which means the inside strands are starting to rust. No problem going to the Bahamas with the rigging as it is, but it is time to start thinking about replacing the wires.

Since Norseman went out of business awhile back, it is going to be a challenge to find new cones, which are needed to re-use the fittings, but I think I've found a company in the UK that is having the cones made, probably in China. That's good news, as long as they are sound. I have ordered some for the rigger to look at. Presuming they are good enough, we should be having Petronella re-rigged the last week in April.

The other potential problem highlighted by the survey was our six wooden spreaders -- four on the mainmast and two on the mizzen. They are made out of wood and are about the same vintage as the wires. The rigger was a bit concerned that they were all angled a bit too low, which meant that the tenons that fit into the sockets on the mast might be damaged, rotting, or worse. He urged us to inspect them before leaving for the Bahamas, just to be sure.

Helena and I had resisted climbing our very tall (to us) masts, but clearly it was time to do so. Luckily, I have the best mate in the world...

"Ready for work, Captain!"

"The view is great up here!"

"Loosen that shroud a bit more!"

We (ha! I say 'we') inspected all the spreaders, and only found one with some slight damage. It had indeed been tilted at the wrong angle, and the stainless steel socket the tenon fits in had damaged the wood just a bit. Hardly worth replacing the whole spreader for, though. I cleaned up the tenon a bit, added a piece of fiberglass cloth to restore the tenon thickness, and gave the whole spreader a couple of coats of paint. Good as new!

Just a bit of surface damage, but the rest of the beefy tenon is perfectly fine.

I've been cluttering the fo'c's'le with my portable workbench and wood working tools, so I was glad to use them again. Even for a little project like this, having a real workbench makes the job so much easier.

Woodworking on the dock!
We are also refitting Petronella with a full set of new working sails -- from China! But more on that saga, later.

Next Up: To the Abacos

22 January 2018

A DIY Outboard Lifting Crane

When we bought Petronella, her dingy consisted of an old inflatable that literally held itself together until the very day we arrived in Florida from the Caribbean, and a old Honda 2.3 hp outboard. I'd done my best to keep the Honda going, including replacing its rusty old carburetor.

Inside the old Honda 2.3... rust

Rusty old carburetor, and its replacement
The new carburetor got the dead engine running again, but it wasn't reliable. And as my uncle Marty used to say, if you are going to have an engine on a boat, it needs to be reliable.

When it refused to start again in Beaufort, NC, we had enough. I didn't want to get stuck in the Bahamas with a non-working outboard. It was time for a new one.

The 2.3 hp engine was enough to move the PortaBote along with two people at a stately pace of 4 or 5 knots, but I'd read that a 4 hp engine would get the boat up on a plane, which would greatly increase our speed and range of exploration. Yamaha -- my preferred brand -- makes an excellent, 37 lb. 2.5 hp engine, but I was really tempted by the 59 lb. 4 hp model.

Weight vs. speed... Weight vs. range...

After agonizing over this decision for at least 10 minutes, I went with my gut and sent Helena off for the 4 hp model. Surely I could figure out some way to lift the beast on and off the dingy, right? All I'd need was some sort of crane... a DIY lifting crane. Yeah, that was it! No problem!

Our 60 lb. Yamaha 
Lifting the engine from the dock onto Petronella's outboard bracket just confirmed the need for a good, sturdy crane. There was no way I was going to be able to just hand the outboard down to Helena, waiting in the dingy, as we had done with the small Honda. We needed some mechanical help.

Yet, we didn't have room for a dedicated crane like you see on some boats. No, our crane had to be removable, and preferably made out of parts that could be used for other purposes on the boat. We didn't have room to store things that were dedicated to just lifting the outboard.

With those two criteria, I sat down to design a simple, but sturdy lifting crane, made mainly from things we already had on the boat. The video below shows the result.

We are currently in Sister's Creek, just north of Jacksonville, FL, waiting for some heavy fog to lift. We're aiming to spend a few days in St. Augustine.

Next Up: The Restoration Continues

18 January 2018

Petronella's Continuing History

I've been working on a history of Petronella for the French Maritime Museum, in La Rochelle, which is collecting information on the 70 or so Joshuas built by Meta. I thought I would record it here for my own use, and for anyone who might be interested. This is Petronella's history as I know it at the time of this writing. It is subject to change as new information surfaces. Given that caveat, here is P's fabulous history -- so far!


In 1973, Petronella's original owner, Helmut Liebscher, placed an order with Meta Naval Shipyard -- a steel boat builder made successful by its association with Bernard Moitessier and the original Joshua.


Meta completes the build of the 29th Joshua hull in Tarare, France, and ships it to Helmut in Germany. Helmut finished the build himself, including the construction of her timber masts.

Meta included the rudder fittings for the same trim-tab self-steering system that Moitessier used, but Helmut chose to install the more modern Aries wind vane.

Upon launch, she is powered by a 40 hp diesel engine of unknown make.

Her original name: "Liebel Auf Berlin”.


Helmut uses Liebel to take paying passengers for cruises in the Mediterranean and for at least nine Atlantic crossings. Around 1985, while working in St. Barts with a hurricane approaching, they decide to put to sea to avoid being wrecked. The 40 hp engine lacks sufficient power to turn the boat in the wind, so they are forced to reverse through the other boats moored in the harbor, past the rocks at the entrance, beam on to the waves and swell before they could turn and motor clear.

“Never again!” said Helmut, and being a man of action, he threw away the 40 hp engine and installed an 72 hp Mercedes/Wizemann OM-616.918 diesel, which is still running well.

Helmut and Giesler eventually decide settle in St. Barts. They sell Petronella IN 1998 and  build a house and a set of guest rooms, mainly with their own hands. Petronella’s last voyage with Helmut was from Trinidad to St. Barts laden with timber and building materials, a bit like a journey Moitessier made on his Joshua in the South Pacific.


At the end of the 1997 sailing season, Les Weatheritt -- author of "Your First Atlantic Crossing" and several other sailing books -- and his partner Gloria spot Liebel in Trinidad where Helmut has laid her up. Looking for an upgrade from their 32-foot ferro-cement boat (named Petronella), they contact Helmut in St. Barts.

Back in London for work, Les tells his sailing friend Rod Morgan (author of many books and articles on criminal justice) about this Joshua, and Rod immediately volunteers to go half-shares in her.

When Les returns to the Caribbean for the 1997 winter season, he sails the 32-foot Petronella to St. Barts to see Liebel again. He and Helmut strike deal, subject to Rod's approval.

In 1998, Les and Rod fly to St. Barts to inspect Liebel. Rod agrees to the sale, and the he and Les then sail Libel back to Trinidad.

In May, 1998 Liebel is taken out of German registration, and into the British Small Ship Register as Petronella.

Although Liebel is already well known in the Caribbean, particularly in the French community of sailors, she gradually becomes known as Petronella over the next 10 years, wearing as her name boards the ones Les and Gloria took off their earlier 32-foot Petronella.

Petronella during Les & Rod's ownership

Les and Rod sail Petronella from Tortola to the Azores. Rod departs the boat in Horta, and Gloria rejoins the boat. Les and Gloria spend the winter of 2003/4 in the Azores, and in the summer of 2004 sail Petronella back to the Spanish Rias of Northwest Spain. While in the Azores, Les writes his second sailing book, "Caribbean Passage Making" and a novel, "Summer Storms", both of which feature Petronella during her time in the Caribbean.

Les and Gloria sail from the Azores to Europe, heading for a classic boat event at Brest. They hoped to sail to the Joshua heartland of La Rochelle, to possibly winter over at the Maritime Museum, offering Petronella as an exhibit, but they are too late to make Brest and land in Vigo Spain. They then head south to the Algarve.


Interested in another boat in California, Rod sells his share in Petronella to Les in July 2006.

In November, with the boat now in Portugal, Les sells Petronella to John and Gill Douch. They sail Petronella along the south coast of Portugal and Spain for two years, installing a bow thruster to help get in and out of marinas and upgrading the radios and electrics.


John and Gill sail Petronella east across the Mediterranean to Prevesa in Greece via the Balearics.

Petronella in Turkey with John & Gill


Making the most of his new status as a retired person John and wife Gill sail Petronella round the bottom of Greece and on to Marmaris in Turkey and overwinter there.

2011 to 2014

John and Gill live for most of the time on Petronella.  From their winter base at Kaş marina they explore both the Turkish coastline and the Greek islands, particularly the Dodecanesos and Sporades island groups.


Petronella is sailed west back through the Mediterranean to Gibraltar again via the Corinth Canal and the Balearics and then onwards to Lanzarote.


They then sail across the Atlantic back to the Caribbean and spend two years sailing up and down the Caribbean island chain spending hurricane seasons in beautiful Grenada.


Finally they sail from Martinique to the Exumas in the Bahamas with to John Almberg (author of "An Unlikely Voyage -- 2000 miles in a small wooden boat") and his wife Helena as part of the sale agreement in Spring 2017.

John and Helena spend the spring of 2017 cruising in the Exumas, then return to Florida where they import Petronella into the States, and re-flag her as a US boat. In the summer of 2018, they sail her to Norfolk, Virginia, where the famous steel boat builder, Howdy Bailey, restores her to near-original condition.

Petronella in Norfolk, VA after her restoration

John and Helena sail Petronella back down to St. Augustine FL where they completely replace the standing rigging and all working sails. They then take a shake down cruise to the Abacos, in preparation for a six-day passage from St. Augustine to the Chesapeake Bay.

Petronella is currently in Solomon Island, MD.

Next Up: A DIY Outboard Lifting Crane

09 January 2018

We Survived the Bomb Cyclone!

Mile Marker 584 - The Herb River, just south of Thunderbolt, GA

You read that right, folks: we are in Georgia. A lot has happened since my last post on Christmas Eve in Southport, NC, and I'm writing this on my all-too-brief off watch, so let's get to it...

Shortly after my last post on Christmas Eve, we were invited to a party aboard Jay and Tracy's Hair of the Dog. An appropriate name because Jay was wielding some lethal rum that night, hidden in some innocent-looking eggnog. I can't remember the last time I had such a 'merry' Christmas Eve. Good thing the docks weren't icy!

Christmas morning mimosas

The next morning, Helena and I had a lovely Christmas breakfast, with Mimosa for our 'hair of the dog', because that was one of my mom's favorite Christmas morning traditions. This was our first Christmas without her, and we did miss her a lot. Helena made me a hand-crafted wrench organizer (I know there is a name for this sort of thing, but can't come up with it), and we bought ourselves a new outboard motor for our PortaBote. The old 2.3hp Honda was just giving us too much trouble, and it was finally time to give it the old heave-ho. Actually, we dropped it off at a marine consignment shop, hoping to get $5 for it.

New outboard for Christmas? Yes!
The new 4 hp Yamaha should get the PortaBote up on a plane and will thus expand our exploring range vastly, but it's also quite heavy: nearly 60 lbs. I have invented a lifting crane for it, but more on that in a later post.

But once Christmas breakfast and gift exchanges were complete, it was time to cast off lines and grab what looked like a good weather window down to Charleston. And now a cautionary note on GRIB forecasts: don't take them too literally, particularly in winter in the North Atlantic.

As soon as we cleared the Cape Fear River and were headed south offshore, I realized the night was going to be rougher than anticipated. However (I reasoned), we did own a boat that was designed to round Cape Horn safely... how bad could it get?

The answer: quite bad. By the time we reached Charleston, after a long night of running downwind before ten-foot seas, we were happy to surf in between the stone breakwaters, into the relative peace and tranquility of Charleston Harbor. We were glad we hadn't convinced our friends Chris and Beth to follow us down to Charleston. It would NOT have been a good introduction to offshore sailing!

Anyway, we made it and spend a delightful few days in the Charleston city marina, finally seeing the sights of that famous city. We had several excellent meals, and a fun night at a downtown mystery dinner theater.

Helena and I in a very nippy Charleston
We'd been hoping for another weather window to carry us down to Savannah, or even Jacksonville, but none appeared while we waited in Charleston, and furthermore, none seemed likely to appear. It is January, I guess. Eventually, we tired of waiting, and headed south on the dreaded ICW.

On doing the routine engine checks before heading south again, I discovered that nearly a gallon of anti-freeze had somehow made it from inside the engine to the bilge -- most of it while we were tied up to the dock! That delayed our departure for a day while I tried unsuccessfully to find the leak, and then to stock up on anti-freeze. I reasoned that a leak that big would soon make itself known, so we headed off determined to check the engine every 1/2 hour for leaks.

Oddly enough, no leaks occured for the first couple of days. At least nothing big enough to spot. We would lose perhaps 1/2 inch of anti-freeze motoring all day. Did we need to stop to make the leak happen again? I wondered about that, and we soon had our answer in the form of the Great Bomb Cyclone of 2018.

By that time, we were half-way between Charleston and Savannah, basically in the middle of nowhere. I saw some bad weather coming (high winds and freezing cold), so headed way, way up the Bull River (Mile Marker 521) to the Wimbee Creek where we anchored in about 12-feet of water, with fairly good protection to the north. We were ready to sit out some bad weather, and bad weather we got!

Ice storm part of the Bomb Cyclone
Snow drift in the cockpit!

Luckily, I've finally learned the basics of anchoring with our rather picky Rocna, and we never dragged an inch through three days of 20 knot winds, bitter cold, and an ice and snow storm. Helena and I had bought a new game at the mystery theatre gift store, and spent two nights learning it. I baked my favorite oatmeal-raisin cookies, and we kept warm around our wonderful Origio alcohol heater, which really saved the day.

We also re-discovered that we have absolutely no problem spending lots of time together in a very small space.

I used the enforced delay to study our coolant leak problem. After checking the engine every half-hour on the way down from Charleston, I had a pretty good idea where the leak was. I had spotted a couple of drops falling, and seen anti-freeze glistening on a low part of the engine. A bit of poking around with a flashlight uncovered a hose hidden under the coolant reservoir, that I hadn't found during my previous hunt for leaky hoses. This one was about 4 inches long, and the hose clamps on both ends were loose. A steady drip-drip-drip of anti-freeze was falling into the bilge. With a few contortions, I managed to thighten both clamps, and the dripping stopped. Very relieved it was such a simple and obvious problem.

Our powerful little alcohol heater

By the time the storm passed, Helena was already putting down roots in Wimbee Creek, and talking about staying forever. I, on the other hand, was keen on moving south again. I spent the morning after the storm clearing the 2 inches of snow off the deck with a plastic dustpan (it just took a bit of time), and the next day, we headed for Beaufort, SC.

When we reached the Lady Island draw bridge, just outside Beufort, we joined another sailboat that was anchored in front of the bridge. We later learned that the drawbridge had been closed for a couple of days because of the storm, and that we had caught -- totally by coincidence -- the first opening of the bridge since the storm. Talk about lucky. I would NOT have wanted to anchor just off a bridge in the fast, reversing currents of the Beufort River. I get the horrors just thinking of it. Wimbee Creek was looking better and better.

We had some first hand experience with those fast currents whilst approaching the dock at the city marina. I knew the current was fast, but didn't realize it was THAT fast. The current grabbed Petronella's deep keel and pushed her stern into the dock on our approach. We weren't moving fast -- perhaps 1 knot -- but the impact was taken by Wanda, our hard-working Aries wind vane, and even a slow bump was enough to break the port-side lower shell casting, putting Wanda out of commission for awhile.

Ouch... Wanda injured!
Luckily, parts are still available for the Aries, so I ordered a new lower shell (plus one for a spare), as well as a rebuild kit for the inevitable time that Wanda needs more extensive servicing.

Meanwhile, we are heading south again. We spent the night just south of Thunderbolt GA, have full diesel and water tanks, as well as plenty of food, so we should be independant for the whole coast of Georgia.

Florida is only 120 miles away!

Next Up: Petronella's History

24 December 2017

Breaking the Ice

When we left frigid Norfolk 10 days ago, I didn't want to immediately head offshore. First, because the weather was truly dreadful and the thought of heading out into the wet, freezing cold North Atlantic just seemed like work, and this isn't about work. But more importantly, I wanted to take a short shakedown cruise before heading offshore again. A shakedown for Petronella, to discover any bits that might have broken during her long lay up (for example, the transmission control cable), and a shakedown for the crew, to get us back into the rhythms and habits of the cruising life.

It turned out that both reasons were valid. I discovered a number of weaknesses on Petronella, including the way Wanda -- our Aries wind vane -- was rigged. Just not cutting it, but more on that in a later post after I fix the problem.

And it took longer for me personally to get back into cruising mode than I expected. I had really gotten back into the go-go-go of life ashore, and found it hard to shake that off. I was obsessing over every little thing that went wrong, and just couldn't relax and enjoy the moment. A good slapping from my fed-up first mate finally brought me around, and I finally downshifted into the correct gear. Thank you, Helena.

Our intention was to cut inside Cape Hatteras, back to the all-weather inlet at Beaufort, and then hop offshore to continue south. However, the weather seemed to have other ideas. I was looking for a three-day window to head south -- moderate winds with no southern component, and not too large seas -- but this time of year, that kind of weather is rare, and three days of it in a row just wasn't showing up in the forecast.

I kicked it around with a couple of cruisers in Beaufort, and they agreed it was a conundrum: wait a week for the right weather, or just head south on the ICW? Which was the more efficient? I wasn't sure, but everyone else seemed to be fixed on the ICW.

Problem is, the ICW is hard work. People think it's easy, but it's not. You have to steer every inch of the way (mostly), and because of budget cuts, the ICW isn't getting maintained the way it should be, and you have to be on constant alert watching for shoals. We ran aground ourselves just south of Great Bridge (my fault), and I didn't look forward the long shallow run from Beaufort to Southport.

When a 43-footer left Thursday morning down the CW, I was almost convinced we should follow her, but something held me back, and I'm glad it did. Late Thursday afternoon, the heavy winds died away, the clouds cleared, and the forecast was for 24 hours of moderate northerly winds. I took one look at the sky, and asked Helena if she was up for an overnight sail to the next cape south, near Cape Fear.

"Sure!" she said, and that was all I needed. Petronella was ready for sea, so there wasn't much to do besides untie the dock lines and go. It was nearly dark when we left, and full dark when we motored out the inlet, but there was a slice of moon in the sky and the Milky Way to cheer us on. Outside the inlet, Helena hoisted the main and jib (she's all into doing everything herself these days), and we were off. It was an easy sail with the wind on our starboard quarter all night, and by morning, we were headed into Mason Inlet, just north of Cape Fear.

We could have anchored at Wrightsville Beach, but with the whole day before us, we decided to cut Cape Fear inside and motor down the ICW to our favorite town on the ICW: Southport. We had thick fog and drizzle on the treacherous Cape Fear river, but between the AIS and our own eyes, we managed to crawl down the east edge of ship channel without getting rundown by a container ship.

Tied up a the dock in Southport, NC
And then we were tied up at the Southport Marina dock. We'd saved three long days on the ICW with one overnight hop, and were very pleased at ourselves. I'm writing this on the day after, and we still haven't seen our friends coming down the ICW yet. I don't expect to see them until tomorrow.

So, that is my new strategy: to wait for one day weather windows, instead of three day ones. I've been charting out a string of inlets that are all about 50-75 miles apart, so that if necessary we can move south in a series of overnight hops. Of course, if a three day window appears...

Happy Christmas, from Helena and I aboard Petronella!

Our Christmas Tree (so cute!)

Next Up: Bomb Cyclone

12 December 2017

Baffling Dorades

Today was spent replacing the transmission control cable -- a fiddly job if there ever was one, and a job that required more contortionist skills than I imagined I had, to reach the nearly inaccessible shift lever mechanism. Helena and I got it done, but the job wasn't nearly as interesting as some of the other jobs we've done in the last few months...

I think I've casually mentioned working on our 'Dorade' vents several times. My first goal was to varnish the teak boxes, which had begun to suffer from exposure to the elements. Yes, teak is pretty resilient stuff, but if you abuse it badly enough, even teak will begin to rot. My boxes weren't that far gone, but they had certainly started strolling down that path.

Dorade boxes on the road to recovery
The solution? That lovely stuff called varnish. Not only does it look good, it's good for your wood. What is not to like?

I started by giving the boxes a light sanding, inside and out. This removed all the grey wood (just a thin layer on any piece of teak), and whatever finish (if any) that remained on the surface. In the photo above you can see an unsanded box in the foreground, and three in the background that have already had some TLC.

Then I started varnishing. This is usually a week-long process, because it's typical to have to wait 24 hours for a coat of varnish to dry. I'm sure this is why most people hate to varnish, and if this has been stopping you, I have the perfect solution: Alwgrip Awlspar varnish. You can re-coat after 3 hours, with no sanding between coats. If you stick to it, you can have your 6 or 7 coats of varnish done in a couple of days. Amazing stuff! It doesn't seem to have any UV protection, so I used a UV protected varnish for the last coat.

The results were great, but as I was slathering varnish, I realized that my Dorade vents weren't Dorade vents at all. They were just vents.

"Ah-ha!" I thought. "Maybe that's why they leak."

Yes, Helena had complained several times about the Dorade vent over her bunk leaking.

"Nonsense!" I'd said. "That's the whole point of Dorade vents! They don't leak."

"Then these drips must be my imagination," she'd said. "Lucky me."

I'd been wondering about that ever since, but now that the boxes had my undivided attention, the problem was obvious.

No baffles.

How Dorade's work.
(WikiMedia Commons)

To filter water out of the air, Dorades need to be a sort of maze that air can get through, but water can't. The air goes through the maze and down the vent into the cabin, while the heavier, less agile water just gives up and runs out the drains at the base of the box.

But my boxes didn't have any baffles. The air/water mixture could go through the cowl, and straight into the vent into the cabin below -- right onto my darling's bunk! 

Solution? Add baffles.

New baffles in place

In the photo above, you can not only see how great the boxes look varnished, but the new baffles installed. They are just a piece of plastic, held in place by two plastic brackets. All easily fabricated. These were made by Larry, Howdy's partner, before I could get the chance to do it myself.

The baffle top is level with the top of the box, but there is a small gap under the baffle. This is all that's needed to turn my vent boxes into Dorade boxes.

Dorade box with cover on

And that's what it looks like when reassembled. You can see that the air/water mixture can enter the cowl, then it has to run the gauntlet down under the baffle, and then up and over the vent into the cabin. Air can make it, but water can't.

And that, I think, is the way small maintenance jobs should be done on a boat. No shortcuts, no 'miracle' cures. Just fix whatever needs fixing so it stays fixed for a good long time. And if you can improve it at the same time, all the better.

As I have said before, easy is overrated.

And there can never be enough varnish in the world.

You can quote me on that.

Meanwhile, it is blowing like the Dickens tonight. 20+ knot gusts. Glad we are tucked up in a fairly protected spot. We've got our alcohol heater working, the cabin is toasty warm, Christmas lights lighting up our cozy cabin. My best friend smiling across the table from me... Yes, all is right with the world.

Next Up: Breaking the Ice

11 December 2017

Heading South!

I should have titled this post, "Heading South, Finally!", because it has been quite a long time since we arrived in Norfolk VA. August 22, if I can believe my own blog. In that time, we have ridden out at least 5 tropical storms, including Hurricane Irma, and painted Petronella from stem to stern.

And doesn't she look good?

For the most part, we had excellent luck with the weather during the whole restoration process, but once we hit mid-November, the weather turned iffy, and we had many weather-related delays. Just can't paint if it's wet or too cold.

But we finally lucked out with a string of clear days, and Howdy and his team were able to finish off the deck. As soon as it was dry, we launched!

This is how Petronella looked on launch day, with no sails, the Porta Bote still in the rigging, and practically every bit of deck hardware removed. That began a frantic week of putting things back together for Helena and I. I couldn't believe how many bits and pieces needed to be reassembled, but we finally finished.

Petronella afloat once again!
(And looking darn good!)
Actually, I am glossing over many, many jobs that had to be done before and after launching. I will try to catch up on some of the more interesting ones as I have time.

Howdy had us over to his amazing shop (club house?) for a going-away party with some of his other customers, including Jesse Martin -- who once held the record for youngest sailor to circumnavigate non-stop -- and his girlfriend Tina. They've got a new aluminum boat called Lionheart II that Howdy is doing some work on.

Party in Howdy's amazing shop
And then it was time to leave. Way past time, weather-wise. It was in the thirties this morning when we took these photos, just before departure. Ice on the deck! In Norfolk, VA. That isn't supposed to happen, folks! Freakishly cold weather for these parts. But we didn't think it would get any warmer!

My Brazilian wife looking cold but ready for anything.
I decided to wear my long, heavy wool watch coat instead of foul weather gear. Much warmer, and just as nautical looking, I think.

Now I know why these coats are so popular in the Navy
So we sailed just before sun up. The weather is supposed to turn really ugly in a few days, so we decided to poke on down the ICW while the wind howls outside. Hopefully when we get to Beaufort, NC, we can catch a weather window and sail off shore, but for now, we just want to start heading south.

We ran the gauntlet through the Norfolk naval base again, and had a nice cruise down to Great Bridge. The engine ran great the whole day (more on that later), but just as we approached the free dock in Great Bridge, the transmission refused to shift out of forward! WHAT THE HECK?!?!

That was my first reaction, but I soon gathered my wits and we just approached the dock at very low revs, then shut off the engine. Our momentum carried us the rest of the way to the dock, and we were soon tied up.

Minutes later, I was in the engine room with a flashlight, trying to figure out what went wrong. Had the transmission burned out? Impossible! I just checked the transmission fluid a few days ago, and it had worked perfectly smoothly all day. It must be the shift cable, I figured. 

Phew! Yes. That was it. The bracket holding the cable lost a screw somehow. The cable got out of position, and, just like that, it bent.

Bent shifter cable, and unbent throttle cable. 
Will have to locate another one ASAP. But man, were we lucky. It would have been a real drag to have this problem whilst approaching the Gilmerton Bridge or after entering the Great Bridge Lock. I don't want to think about it. Yes. We were lucky. And lucky to end up on a free dock in a town with lots of auto parts stores. Should be able to find a replacement cable tomorrow. 

Ah, the vigorous life.

Next Up: Baffling Dorades

09 November 2017

The Deck

We reached a significant milestone in our restoration of Petronella, our Joshua 40 steel ketch. The hull! It's finally done!

Hull painting complete!
How much paint does it take to completely restore the bottom and topsides of a 40-foot steel boat? Approximately 20 gallons, all told. That's off the top of Howdy's head. I will get the total when we are done, just for curiosity sake.

Originally, Helena and I planned to take care of the deck ourselves. I mean, how hard could it be? It's just paint, right?

But after seeing the quality of Howdy's work, and how fast his crew works, I realized that there was literally no way that we could do the deck work ourselves and achieve the same level of quality. Not only did we not have all the required skills, it would take far too long to do the work. We'd be lucky if we finished by spring.

Skills, you ask? Yes. Painting is a skill. Especially using the new epoxy paints. Having owned a wooden boat for nearly ten years, I thought I new how to paint. Let me tell you, compared to these guys, I know nothing. Seriously. I painted the insides of the four deck hatches, and I am embarrassed to compare my work with Howdy's. It's an order of magnitude difference.

And since we are here and have Howdy's attention, we are grabbing the opportunity to get the job done right. It might cost a little more (not sure about that, when you factor in all the costs!), but they are doing a much more thorough job than we would ever contemplate.

What kind of things are they doing? Just focusing on the big jobs...

How about sanding off the top layers of paint, including all the anti-skid. Two days on knees with a heavy rotary sander. I don't think I could even have done that! Here is the deck sanded, with the first coat of primer.

Deck sanded and primed
We liked the look of the white deck so much that we almost decided to go all-white, but Howdy convinced us that it would show the dirt too much, so we will be tinting the non-skid areas.

Another big job that really needed doing, but we probably would not have tackled ourselves was the whole cockpit/hard dodger area. Did I say big job? Big job.

Cockpit prepped for sanding
My part of the job was to remove as many of the electronics, floor boards, seats, and other bits of hardware from the area, to prep it for sanding. That alone was a big job.

Note that the old plexiglass windows are removed. They were so cloudy and scratched that they were nearly impossible to see through, even on a sunny day. Next to useless in the dark or bad weather. They have been binned and will be replaced. Helena and I are tackling all the cockpit teak, but will discuss that in a later post.

Can't wait to see how this sub-project turns out!

And then there were the Dorade boxes... We had seen some rust under them. Now it was time to find out where the rust was coming from. It didn't take long to find the problem.

Dorade vent, with box removed
The Dorade box (not shown in photo) was held to the deck by two stainless steel brackets, screwed to the deck. Unfortunately, these had not been re-bedded in some time, so the bedding compound was literally gone. Water got between the brackets and the steel, and rust began its insidious work.

Howdy's crew removed the brackets and repaired the rust damage. They will make sure the new brackets are bedded down well, to prevent future problems.

Bedding compound, people! As I have said before, it is not forever. Get out there and re-bed something on your boat today. I guarantee something is leaking on your boat if you have been ignoring this problem for several years. Particularly fiberglass boats. Don't be lazy!

Okay, rant complete. But seriously, every real problem on Petronella has been directly tied to old or missing bedding compound. Think about it. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

So, that is where we are. We'd hoped to be done with the deck work this week, but bad weather has held us back. Fingers crossed for some good weather!

Next Up: Heading South, Finally!