19 May 2018

From Chisman Creek on Chesapeake Bay

With a deep low forecast to move into the waters off NJ and NY, we decided to turn off into the Chesapeake until the coast is clear, so to speak.

The highlight of the trip so far was rounding Cape Hatteras on a very dark and squally night. I've always wondered why Hatteras has such a foul reputation, but now I have some idea. The Gulf Stream runs into the Cape there, so you get both fast currents and warm moist air injected into the atmosphere, which increases the chance of rain.

In our case, we also had a low moving up from the Gulf of Mexico, spinning off additional squalls.

As a result, we counted at least six squalls passing over us as we rounded the Cape, with one of them clocking in with 45 knots, with 8-10 foot seas! Luckily, we were down to a double-reefed mainsail by then, so Petronella easily stood up to it and we were never in any danger.

All in all, a good test of the boat and ourselves. We plan to cruise a bit in the Chesapeake, and then continue on to Block Island later in the week.

16 May 2018

Off Cape Lookout

Hello All,

Just a quick update. It's Wed morning and we are just passing Cape Lookout, heading for Cape Hatteras. We've made excellent progress, and so far the weather and wind has been just about perfect.

We are in the Gulf Stream, so are getting a nice boost to our speed. We are currently making 8-9knots, which should get us around Hatteras by dark.

After that, we will need to make a decision. There is a Nor'easter forecasted for the waters off NY and NJ on Friday. We don't want to get mixed up in that, so we will need to slow down a bit. Either poke along from Norfolk to Cape May, or perhaps duck into the Chesapeake if necessary. We should have a better idea of the weekend weather tomorrow morning.

Other than that, we are all well. We've settled into ship-board life after three days, and are enjoying this rare and interesting experience.

Hope you are all well. Again IF YOU WISH TO SEND A REPLY, PLEASE SEND A FRESH EMAIL TO US AT petronella@myiridium.net. DON'T JUST HIT REPLY.

— John, Helena, & Nick

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

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.

10 April 2018

Too short a trip!

It took a few days, but we are finally getting into the rythym 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 mosying 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.

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

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.

Hope you are all well. We have email for the day, so let us know how you are doing.

Sorry to Ken and Nick for abandoning chess games!

-- John

Sent from my iPad, so may be a bit brief.

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.

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:

18 January 2018

Petronella's 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 and his wife Giesler use Liebel to take paying passengers for cruises in the Mediterranean and for at least nine Atlantic crossings. Helmut and Giesler eventually settle in St. Barts where they build a house and a set of guest rooms, mainly with their own hands. Around 1985, with a hurricane approaching St. Barts, 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.


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 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 sail, 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.


Les and Rod sail Petronella from Tortola to the Azores. Rod leaves 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".

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.

John and Gill sail Petronella to the Algarve, before going through the Mediterranean for a few years in Turkey.

They then sail across the Atlantic back to the Caribbean and spend a few years there.

Petronella in Turkey


John and Gill sell Petronella to John Almberg (author of "An Unlikely Voyage -- 2000 miles in a small wooden boat") and his wife Helena. The four then sail Petronella from Martinique to Georgetown in the Bahamas, where John and Gill say farewell to their P, and head home to the UK.

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 is currently in Georgia, heading south to Florida where she will be fitted with new sails, and spend the winter exploring more of the Bahamas.

Petronella in Norfolk, VA after her restoration

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!

01 November 2017

More Rust Prevention Tricks

Everyone says that the trick to keeping a steel boat afloat is keeping up with rust. Obviously that is correct, but you'd be a fool if you didn't try to prevent the rust from occurring in the first place.

One place rust can get a start is when protective paint has been chipped or rubbed off. The most vulnerable parts of the boat are on deck, where paint has a very hard life trying to co-exist with pieces of steel chafing on it.

For example, where the standing rigging -- the steel cables holding up the masts -- attaches to the rail.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here is the steel tab which had one of the forestays attached to it:

Forestay tab

Now, this piece of steel has been helping to hold up the mast for 40 years, and it still has plenty of life left. It's about a half inch thick and not about to break, but you can see that it's nearly impossible to keep paint on it. Thus it is a constant source of rust stains, despite everyone's best efforts to keep it painted.

To help solve this problem, Howdy cut the tab off the boat, and welded in a replacement made from stainless steel. The picture below shows the new -- unpainted -- SS tab with forestay attached.

You can imagine how difficult it was to keep the tab painted. Now we won't have to.

Stainless steel tab with forestay attached
We were tempted to take the same approach to the rail, where all the shrouds -- the wires that keep the masts from moving from side to side -- are attached. However, Howdy recommended a different approach.

He created some new stainless steel bushings which consist of a stainless steel tube, with a washer welded on one end. The tube is inserted through a hole in the rail, and another washer fits over the tube on the other side. I should mention that the whole fitting is embedded in 4200, so it doesn't move in place.

Once in place, the shroud fitting bears on the stainless steel, not on the paint.

A picture is worth a thousand words... Here is a picture of the bushings ready to receive the shrouds.

Stainless bushings for shrouds
And here is what it looks like with the shrouds installed.

Shroud attached to bushing

Sorry for the weird photo orientation. It was a bit awkward to get these photos!

I don't expect these bushings to eliminate rust, but I do hope they will keep the paint intact longer, and thus slow it down. It should be relatively easy to periodically (once a year) remove the bushings, repaint the holes, re-bed the bushings, and re-install the shrouds. I will post an update in a year or so to let you know how this has worked.

Another place rust begins is where anchor chain or dock ropes chafe on paint. John and Gill used a set of fire hose pieces to minimize this chafe, but I wondered whether it would be simpler to put the chafe gear on the boat, rather than the lines. We found some 5/8" water hose, split it, and found that it fight tightly on the rail. We may bed it down, just to minimize chafe and to ensure it stays on the boat.

It blends in so well, you might need to click on the photo to see the hose on the rail.

On Petronella, dock lines attach to the tall bit behind the rail, and run OVER the rail to the dock.

We are using more hose to minimize chafe from the anchor chain.

Water hose clipped onto rail
Finally, here are the granny bars re-installed on fiberglass pads which have been firmly bedded to the deck. Howdy believes it is easier to bed down the fiberglass pad, than the SS feet of the granny bars. This will again slow down the development of rust under the pad.

I really hope this lasts for a good ten years, because it was a pain to take down the ceiling in the cabin to get at the nuts under the deck! Again, we shall see!

Granny bars bedded down on fiberglass pads
Inevitably, rust will rear it's ugly head again, but the black paint on the rail will make it a little less visible until we are able to effect repairs to the paint.

The big news here is that Howdy and his crew have finished painting the hull! The tape is coming off today, and I hope I will have a great photo to share soon. In the meantime, here is the latest photo with tape still masking the boot stripe and black trim.

Hull painting complete!
I'm hoping they keep the space next to Petronella empty so that I can get a good picture tomorrow with the morning sun on her. In the meantime, this back-lit photo is the best I've been able to do. We are getting there!

Tomorrow, Howdy and the boys start on the deck, and hopefully we will launch in a week or so. Cobb's Marina has been great to us, but I can't wait to head south.

Next Up: The Deck

23 October 2017

Preventing and Eliminating Rust

To paraphrase the famous sailor, Eric Hiscock: "The price of the strength of a steel boat is eternal vigilance against rust."

As part of Petronella's restoration, we are re-bedding much of her deck hardware. The first project was P's main sheet winches, under which rust was beginning to appear. Howdy and his crew removed the winches from their steel pads, and added disks of Starboard, which is a wood-like marine-quality material that doesn't rot. I think it must be some sort of plastic or fiberglass. Anyway, they bedded that down well to the steel, and mounted the winch on top. That will prevent rust from developing under the winch in the future, or for at least a long time.

Winch re-bedded on Starboard pad
Unfortunately, no bedding lasts forever -- something that many boat owners don't seem to realize. Eventually, everything needs to be re-bedded if you don't want water intrusion. That includes fiberglass boats, in particular. Steel boats rust very slowly, but a leak in a fiberglass deck can quickly cause serious and expensive problems. A word to the wise!

The boys decided that P's granny bars needed to be-bedded, as some slight rust-stains were beginning to appear around one of the legs. Since the safety bars were through-bolted to the deck, that meant taking down the ceiling under the deck. They decided to give me that job (to keep me out of the way, I think!)

Petronella's ceiling unscrews quite easily, though it's a bit of jigsaw puzzle to put back up again. I soon had the required panels down, and that's when I spotted some rust developing around the vent hole of one of the Dorade vents.

Granny bars removed.
Dorade vent, above deck
Around vent hole, under deck

Under the vent, some water or moisture gathered around the vent hole, and made some rust. Now, this is slow progress... this spot has probably been rusting for many, many years. There was plenty of steel left, so no need for surgery, but as long as the ceiling was down, it was a good opportunity to stop the rust in it's tracks.

The first step was to remove as much of the surface rust as possible. I did this with a scraper, followed up by a cup brush mounted in my portable drill. That got 95% of the rust off. (A drop cloth plus dust mask and eye protection protected both the boat and me from most of the debris.)

The second step was to hit the rust with one of the many 'rust converters' on the market. These products chemically convert the iron oxide into a material that purportedly acts as a primer. You do not remove the converted rust. You just leave it on and prime over it. Howdy likes a product called Corroseal.

Rust converter
This is what you should see when the rust converter has done its thing -- a black coating, where there used to be rust.

Rust after conversion
Once the rust converter has done it's thing, you can prime right over it. In this case, with four coats of Bar-Rust 235 2-part epoxy primer.

After first coat of Bar-Rust
That's all there is too it. No voodoo or magic potions needed. When we re-bed the granny bars again in 10 years, we'll check to see how it looks.

Next Up: More Rust Prevention Tricks

20 October 2017

Back to Red

Lots of news to catch up with. Having done my own painting for... well, forever... I'm amazed at how fast a full crew of professionals can move. We've had a few down days for weather, but for all that, the progress is nothing less than breathtaking.

I will try to take you through the process. Last time I reported that Howdy and the boys had finished soda-blasting the bottom down to bare steel, and finished priming. They primed the hull with four coats of black Bar-Rust 235. "A high performance, multi-purpose, surface tolerant, two-component chemically-cured epoxy semi-gloss coating."

Then came a grey 'tie coat', also Bar-Rust, but a different color as a signal.

Applying Bar-Rust tie-coat, in preparation for anti-fouling
Once the hull was effectively barrier coated, it was time to apply anti-fouling -- five coats of ABC-3 bottom paint, an ablative paint much used on steel commercial boats, and the Navy. According to Howdy, and the data sheet, this paint is "Capable of 60-month performance". That's five years, folks. Of course, you need lots of material, which is why we went with five coats, at two gallons per coat.

Gulp. But if I don't need to paint the bottom for five years, I will be more than satisfied.

What is a 'tie coat'? Don't feel bad, I didn't know either. In this case, the tie coat was a coat of light grey Bar-Rust which was left to dry until just tacky. The first coat of ABC-3 was then immediately applied. Since the tie coat was not completely dry, the two paints mingled chemically, 'tying' the two paints together with both physical and chemical bonds. Pretty clever, right?

Prepping topsides
Here we see the bottom with several coats of anti-fouling paint already on, and with work begun on prepping the topsides. After testing the old green topside paint for compatibility with the new epoxy red paint, Howdy discovered that the two paints were NOT compatible, so off came the old green paint. In the photo above, the topsides have been primed with more Bar-Rust. With a bit more work, the topsides were fully primed, and the bottom paint completed.

Topsides fully primed

Sharp-eyed readers will have spotted an odd shape on the bottom, in the second photo, above. After blasting off all the bottom paint, Howdy spotted some pitting in the hull which had been hidden by 40 years of bottom paint.

Pitted section of steel
This corrosion came from the inside, of course. Petronella had a water pump that John, the previous owner, kept alive for many years by periodically re-building it. However, it leaked enough so that salt water collected against the hull in this specific spot, and gradually corroded it. A reminder, if one was needed, to cure internal leaks fast. I've got that one written on the back of my hand now. Thinking of getting it tattooed.

Anyway, Howdy cut out the rusted piece, and welded in a new piece. The photo above shows the patch playing catch-up with the painting cycle.

Though I would have been happy to pick up a paint brush, Howdy didn't seem to want a complete novice on his team (frowny face), so I had to find my own projects. One of them was a sadly neglected tiller.

Sad, sad tiller
I mean, the tiller only steers the whole boat, right? I think it deserved a bit of TLC.  Howdy looked doubtfully at this poor piece of wood, but I thought there might be something worth saving under all that peeling varnish.

After removing the old varnish with a heat gun, and a bit of sandpaper love, a nice teak tiller re-appeared. It's a miracle! Here it is after drinking in the first coat of varnish. Not a very good picture, sorry. I will supply a better one when it's done.

Restored tiller
I'm also building a new boat hook from an ash pole and a bronze hook, to replace the one that was stolen right off the boat. I started varnishing the pole alongside the tiller.

The tiller has some sort of fiberglass 'side cheeks'. Not sure what to call them, because I'm not sure what they are for. They are unpainted, but unprotected fiberglass will eventually breakdown under the hot tropical sun, so I'm going to paint these odd side cheeks white after I'm done varnishing.

Finally, today was the day I'd been waiting for -- the day for the first coat of red paint! It was a clear, dry, painting day. Perfect for restoring Petronella to her original color. Here are the boys rolling and tipping the first coat on.

The big day!
This bright color is, as mentioned before, a color called Rochelle Red. A color I like to believe was named after the original Joshua (now in the Maritime Museum in La Rochelle, France) which was the same bright red.

In prepping the boomkin, Howdy's team removed some rope work which revealed a patch of red paint.

Petronella's original color (on boomkin)
Author Les Weatheritt, Petronella's second owner, told me that he painted Petronella green because he got tired of the original red fading on him. If we assume the paint on the boomkin was faded when the roping was put on, then the colors look like a pretty good match.

While the first coat was drying, Larry -- who has worked with Howdy for 20 years -- started on the black trim paint. There will be a lot more of it before he's done, but it's a start.

Starting on the black trim paint
The more I think of it, the smarter I think the original Joshua color scheme. The red will make Petronella very visible at sea. She's already pretty visible in the boat yard! And the black will hide the worst of the rust stains, which tend to occur where the shrouds and stays attach to the boat.

So that catches us up with most of what is going on. There are several side projects that I am working on, but they will have to wait for another post.

The vigorous life!

Next Up: Preventing and Eliminating Rust