16 August 2017

Coinjock

The last time I crossed Albemarle Sound, I got beat up by the daily round of afternoon thunderstorms, so wanted to get a nice early start. So it was still dark this morning when I crawled out of the aft cabin and started the coffee.

The smell of brewing Starbucks drew Helena out of bed too, and we were soon underway.

We passed through Helena's first swing bridge, which reminded me how excited (ok, scared) I was the first time I had to deal with a bridge opening, and then we maneuvered through the shoals that led out onto the broad Albemarle.

There was a bit of a chop with ten knot winds from the north, but much easier than I had it on the Blue Moon. We crossed without incident, and then made the long trip up the North River up to the North Carolina Cut, and the Coinjock Marina.

Looking forward to a shower, fresh laundry, and one of the marina restaurant's signature prime rib dinners.

Life is good...



Our Location

15 August 2017

Crossing Pamlico Sound

Yesterday we put in a ten hour day to cross Pamlico Sound and to keep moving north.

This is a beautiful part of the ICW, but the rare blue sky made it hot, hot, hot.

Meanwhile, Gert has become a hurricane, confirming our decision to move in land. No sign of Gert here!

Send us a breeze, Gert!

13 August 2017

Go Away, Gert

This morning we made the final decision to skip the offshore passage from Beaufort to the Chesapeake because the weather 'disturbance' we'd been monitoring in the Caribbean suddenly got a name: Tropical Storm Girt. 

While Girt isn't expected to hit the US, it is clearly going to stir things up out on the Atlantic in a few days. While we *might* be able to out run it up the coast, racing tropical storms isn't really our thing! 

So we are taking the inside route to Norfolk and the Chesapeake beyond. The ICW path will give us an extra buffer of land between us and whatever weather the storm brings with it. It will probably be a big non-event, but why take risks?

We cruised up Adams Creek this morning and are anchored tonight right near the Neuse River. We won't be stopping at Oriental this time. Instead, we will push on up the ICW another 25 miles or so tomorrow. Hope to be in the Chesapeake this time next week.

Go away, Girt!




Meanwhile, here is a taste of the ICW...




Next Up:



11 August 2017

Beaufort, NC

So! After a mainly-offshore voyage of 600 miles, done in 4 long legs - West Palm Beach FL to Cumberland Island GA to Charleston SC to Southport NC to Beaufort NC - we are poised to take the 'shortcut' to Norfolk VA and the Chesapeake beyond.

Because we are so late in the season, we probably won't try to go further than the Chesapeake this year. We would love to have a bit of time to explore and enjoy that great sailing ground, rather than continuing to hurry north, only to have to turn around and hurry south in October.

So, the hard part is done -- at least in theory -- and we should have two and a half months of easy sailing ahead of us. I'm really looking forward to exploring the Chesapeake, in the Autumn, in depth.

If you have any must-see ports to recommend, please let us know!

Meanwhile, we are anchored just inside the Beaufort inlet, right next to the Coast Guard station. I've stopped here before, in the Blue Moon. A nice, easy in/easy out anchorage, well protected fro the southwest winds expected tonight.

Ah, the vigorous life!


10 August 2017

Cutting Corners

When Helena and I started north from West Palm Beach a few weeks ago, we had dreams of reaching Maine quickly, by sailing four or five-day legs that would cover 4-500 miles at a stretch.

Well... best laid plans. We did these kind of legs coming up from Martinique, but 1) there were four of us in the crew, and 2) even with four they were tiring. With just the two of us, and one of us being a fairly inexperienced sailor, such long legs are all the more difficult, particularly for me because I end up getting very little sleep.

So we have sort of settled into doing one or two-day legs of 1-200 miles each. This is still much faster than traveling the ICW, but isn't so tiring. It's all about striking a balance we are comfortable with.

Coincidentally, we are in a part of the US coast that consists of a series of capes a couple hundred miles apart. Cape Romain, near Charleston; Cape Fear, near Southport; Cape Lookout, near Beaufort; and the granddaddy of them all, Cape Hatteras, near nothing, probably because it was too dangerous a place for ships in colonial times.

So we have been sailing cape to cape, ducking in to the nearest inlet just south of each cape, resting a bit, and then carrying on.

I was talking to Steve Wallace of Zimmerman Marine in Southport the other day, and he suggested 'cutting the corner' off of Cape Fear, by taking the shortcut inside on the ICW, rather than going over 20 nm in the wrong direction to get around Cape Fear off shore. I thought this a pretty clever idea, so that's what we've done today. You can see our route today on the chart below, which took us about 5 hours to cover. We are now comfortably anchored off Wrightsville Beach for the night, and will have a relatively easy run offshore tomorrow to the next cape -- Cape Lookout.

Cutting the corner at Cape Fear
This has me thinking about the next cape, Cape Hatteras, which anyone would love to cut. The only problem is that there isn't convenient inlet just north of Cape Hatteras. In fact, there is nary a navigable inlet between Cape Hatteras and Cape Henry, at the mouth of the Chesapeake.

Cape Fear, Cape Lookout, Cape Hatteras, Cape Henry
Gulp.

Seriously thinking of cutting the Cape Hatteras corner completely by taking the ICW through the Neuse River (think, Oriental), Palmilco and Albemarle Sounds, right up to Norfolk and the Chesapeake. This would allow us to do some good 'inside' sailing in the beautiful NC sounds, while avoiding a couple of storms that are currently threatening this part of the coast.

We shall see. Tomorrow, we head toward Beaufort with fair winds forecast.




Next Up:



On To Beaufort, NC


Docked in Southport Marina

After a three night stay in beautiful Southport, NC, we are headed today up to Beaufort, where we hope to meet up with kids and grandkids. It will be a blast to have them sleep on board with us. The weather looks favorable, so hoping it works out.

Southport, we will be back!

07 August 2017

Southport, NC


We sailed into Southport, North Carolina this morning, after an easy sail from Charleston, South Carolina. Southport is a quaint little seaport town with a harbor right in the center of town. I anchored there in the Blue Moon, about 10 years ago, and was looking forward to repeating the visit, but when we motored into the harbor, we discovered that the harbor had shrunk! Not really, but Petronella was far too big for the little harbor, so we turned around and went to the marina just a few minutes down the IntraCoastal Waterway. Oh well!

We enjoyed a shower at the marina, and lunch in town, and a well deserved nap afterwards. This evening, we are thinking about making some popcorn and watching a movie on the marina wifi. 

Ah! The vigorous life!





Driftwood-strewn beach on Jekyll Island.




Sunset at sea last night… Every one is different!





03 August 2017

Playing with Porta Bote

Thursday, August 3, 2017 -- Jekyll Island, GA

Well, it took longer than we thought to make the relatively short sail from south Cumberland Island, up the ICW to the next island up the coast, Jekyll Island.

What we didn't factor in was tropical storm Emily popping up off the west coast of Florida. The storm hardly touched the protected ICW, but the same couldn't be said for the inlet we had to cross. The pilots all warned against attempting a crossing except in unsettled weather, but we stuck our nose out anyway, just to see what it looked like. A 50-foot ketch was about a mile ahead of us, and watching her nearly pitch her masts out was enough for me. We beat a hasty retreat to the Brickhill River and spent two nights in a beautiful and peaceful anchorage, watching Emily's lightning show from a safe distance.

Sunset over the Brickhill River, North Cumberland Island, GA
That gave me some time to edit a short video we had made while bringing our ten-foot Porta Bote back aboard Petronella for the first time. I had been a little nervous about this maneuver, since the boat seemed much larger than the inflatable that had come with Petronella.

This ancient eight-foot inflatable had given up the ghost as soon as we had landed on American soil, and we'd bought the Porta Bote as a replacement, for a number of reasons.

First, I didn't like the enormous amount of deck space the inflatable took up. John and Gill had partially deflated it when sailing, but I didn't like that because the drooping tubes obstructed the jack lines and made it more difficult to move forward with a clipped-on harness. Sailing with the inflatable still inflated was a bit better, but it still took up a lot of space, and obstructed the view forward.

Second, I don't like having a dingy that can't be rowed easily. They are inherently less safe, IMHO; but they are also inconvenient: sometimes it's just easier to row than go through the rigamarole of dealing with an outboard. 

Third, inflatables are fragile, short-lived creatures. John and Gill managed to nurse theirs along for many years, but most people seem to just replace them every few years. 

Anyway, we went with the Porta Bote, and launched it for the first time on Cumberland Island. It was easy to put together on deck, and to launch (just tip it over the side), but recovery seemed a bit more difficult. A couple of guys could have man-handled it up and over the guard rails, but I didn't want to put Helena through that, so looked for a no-muss, no-fuss single-handed method. 

And came up with one! Check out the video below for details.





Porta Botes... highly recommended!



Next Up: Cutting Corners



30 July 2017

Cumberland Island

Sunday, 30 July 2017 -- On Cumberland Island, GA

I'd stopped at Cumberland Island during my last trip up the coast, but this time I had my best friend with me, and that made all the difference.

Native Americans lived on the island for roughly 4000 years before Europeans arrived. When the French tried to plant a settlement in the area in the 1560s, the island was occupied by the Timucua group, which dominated all of northern Florida and southern Georgia.

I happen to be interested in these facts, because I'm working on a novel that takes place in that particular setting. I'd hoped to get a feeling for what the island might have looked like, so long ago. And though the original live oak forest that used to cover the island is long gone -- harvested by none other than Revolutionary War hero, Nathaniel Green -- large second-growth live oaks have again established themselves on the island, and thanks to the island being protected as a National Seashore, it is about as wild and rugged a place as you can expect on the east coast of the USA.

At any rate, it is a truly beautiful island and we've enjoyed our three day stay here.

Helena took tons of pictures, so I've assembled some of them into a short slideshow that will give you a taste of the Island.


 

Click to view full-size

Today is a rainy, cool Sunday, so we are on the boat, tidying up and getting ready to head north tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be pretty nasty offshore, so we are going to take the ICW up to Jeckell Island, which is supposed to be a fun place.


Next Up: Playing with Porta Bote



29 July 2017

Welcoming Party

Wednesday, 26 JUL 2017 -- Anchored off Cumberland Island, GA

After two days and two nights of sailing north, we were just 20 miles from our first landfall -- Cumberland Island, where we hoped to enjoy the National Seashore for a few days. But as we closed in on the St. Mary's Inlet, we noticed a welcoming party was waiting for us. A welcoming party in the form of a huge thunderstorm.

Welcoming party over Cumberland Island.
We were located at the blue cursor.

If you are familiar with reading radar images, you will see that this one was a doozy. At the time, we were 5 or 6 miles offshore, heading north. We turn around and ran another couple miles out to sea, just to get some more sea room, and then waited to see what would happen. From the radar, I thought the storm would continue to move to the northeast, but Mother Nature continues to surprise...




After the storm passed, we continued to the anchorage off Cumberland Island, finally arriving at 11 pm. An excellent reason to aim for all-weather inlets that can be entered day or night.


Next Up: Cumberland Island



28 July 2017

Taken For A Ride

Tuesday, 25 JUL 2017 - Off Cape Canaveral FL

It wasn't all lessons-learned today. A whole fleet of dolphins surrounded the boat this afternoon, and then accompanied us for a few minutes before speeding off to do whatever dolphins do. They do always seem to be doing something and going somewhere, don't they? Wonderful when they stop long enough to say hello.

Oh, the seduction of making 7 easy knots. North! Towards deliciously cooler weather. For free! Who could resist?

Not me, but as I should know by now, there’s a price to pay for everything.

As we raced north last night, tracking our course-made-good on my iPad, I realized that while we were headed practically due north, the coast of Florida was slanting off to the north west. Gradually, ever so slowly, we were getting further and further from the coast.

By the time we passed Stuart, I lost my cell phone signal. 12 miles out. Not so bad. I would have preferred to stay within cell phone coverage distance, but as we were sailing dead down wind  (again) on the starboard tack, we would have to gybe to head more west. It is not so easy to gybe with a wind vane steering the boat, so I put it off and put it off, hoping the wind would shift to the south east. It never did, so well after dark, I finally stirred myself and gybed over to the port tack.

This allowed me to steer more to the west, and I figured we would gradually close with the coast. But I didn't count on the strength of the mighty Gulf Stream. This pushed us north faster than we were moving west, and the coast also slanted away, so by the time we were passing Cape Canaveral at dawn this morning, we were 46 miles off shore.

Clearly it was time to get more serious about this going-west thing, but the wind - all 6 knots of it, had turned to the northwest, limiting our options. Reluctantly, I set a course to the southwest, hoping to cancel out the effect of the Gulf Stream. It did, but our speed over ground dropped down to 3 knots as we bucked the mighty current. At that rate, it would take all day to reach the coast. Here was the bill for our easy progress north.

Helena took over the watch and I went below for a couple hours sleep, still hoping for that wind shift.

By lunchtime, the wind away faded altogether, just to put a fine point on the lesson.

Ah, the vigorous life!
We are now motoring over a calm sea, towards the northwest. At 5 knots, it will take 8 hours to close with the coast. I'm still hoping for that wind shift, but the lesson has been learned. There’s no such thing as a free ride on the Gulf Stream.

At least not today.



Next Up: Welcoming Party



27 July 2017

Shoving Off

Monday -- 24 JUL 2017 -- Off the coast of Florida

More alert readers might notice that there is a huge gap in my blog -- the events between leaving Georgetown in the Bahamas, and leaving West Palm Beach FL for points north.

First, a brief synopsis: After Petronella's previous owners, John and Gill, left us in Georgetown, Helena and I were joined by our son Nick. The three of us had a fabulous cruise through the Exhumas, crossing the bank to Nassau, across deep water to Great Harbour Cay, and then west across the bank again to the edge of the Gulf Stream. We had a fairly easy crossing, nipping into Lake Worth Inlet just ahead of a big storm. 

Since then, we have been wildly busy, selling my mom's house, settling our affairs, and -- mostly -- refitting Petronella for the next leg of her journey. We emptied out every single one of her many, many lockers, cleaned her from stem to stern, replaced her house battery bank, sorted out all her spares and equipment, refreshed the varnish in the main salon, replaced all the salon and v-berth cushions... the work went on and on, and the point is that I had no time or energy left for blogging. I considered trying to catch up, but realized that would leave me so far behind that the blog would never reach real-time again. 

I have loads of pictures and memories of that trip, but it will have to wait for a day when I have lots more spare time. Meanwhile, we pick up our story which is currently in progress....

* * *

After a 6 week refit of Petronella in West Palm Beach FL, Helena and I finally shoved off and headed north towards (hopefully!) cooler weather.

Lockers stuffed with provisions

Petronella (and Helena) read for sea, after refit in West Palm Beach, FL
First impressions: sailing offshore is soooo much easier and more pleasant than grinding out the miles in the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway.)

Main reasons: speed, no steering, and shade.

Let's consider speed first. When motoring up the ICW on the Blue Moon, we generally did about 5 knots. Even with very little wind (currently 5 knots apparent, from the starboard quarter,) we are making about 7 knots over the ground. How is that possible? We are traveling on the back of a great river: the Gulf Stream. As a result, we have covered about 35 n.m. — as the crow flies — in the last 4.5 hours.

That's amazing! It took a Herculean effort to cover 35 miles on the ICW in a day. Oh, and we are not done for the day, even though the sun is heading west. We can keep going all night. No one travels the ICW at night. I don't know how far we will get by morning, but it will be several times what we could have done in the big ditch.

Hercules took today off, but one of his former jobs was hand-steering all day, otherwise known as the worst job ever.

Me. Not steering.
Wanda, our Aries wind vane, did all the steering today. Thank the stars.

All I had to do was look around once in awhile to scan the horizon for ships and/or maniac power boaters. Haven't seen either for the last few hours. No weekend warriors, no kayakers paddling obliviously, no first time jet-skiers stalling out right in front of us.

Marvelous!

And finally, shade. Because we have been on a steady course north all afternoon, Helena has been able to keep the cockpit nicely shaded. When you are following the twisty ICW, this is not so easy to do. For a connoisseur of shade, like myself, this is of critical importance.

Looking forward to a quiet night of steady progress. Will we get it? Only one way to find out…


Next Up: Taken for a ride



10 June 2017

Joshua 40 Survey

March 15-16 -- St. Lucia in the Caribbean

There were three rogue waves that could have dismasted our hopes of buying Petronella: not being able to get insurance, not being able to import her into the US, and not passing inspection.

A few days ago, we surfed over the first two. My super insurance agent, Lynn Callahan of Heritage Marine Insurance in Mystic CT,  stuck with us long after most other agents would have abandoned ship, and helped us get the insurance we desperately needed. If that sounds like a plug, it is. Long time readers know I rarely recommend anyone or anything, but Lynn vastly surpassed all our expectations and we are grateful for all her work. If you are looking for insurance for your wooden hull or classic design, look no further. Highly recommended.

And then I was finally able to find someone at US Customs who was able to confirm that we would be able to import Petronella with her 1985 Mercedes diesel engine. These engines are legendary for their reliability and long life, but we were worried about meeting strict emissions requirements that weren't even laid down until years after the engine had been manufactured. I thought that the engine would qualify under the grandfather clause that granted exceptions to such engines, but I needed more than that. I needed confirmation from someone in authority. A few days ago, I got it.

That cleared the way for the survey. We'd already found one of the few surveyors in the Caribbean qualified to survey a steel boat -- Christopher Kessell who was based in St. Lucia. It was just a matter of scheduling a survey, and getting Petronella from St. Martin to St. Lucia.

The owners, John and Gill, were greatly relieved about the insurance and emissions requirements, and were happy to sail Petronella to St. Lucia. After a fairly stormy passage, they dropped anchor off the Rodney Bay Marina, the only marina in St. Lucia with a travel lift. Helena and I flew down to meet them.

I wanted to be at the survey for the usual reasons, but also to pick Chris's brains about steel boats. He knew a lot about metal yachts, having grown up on one. He was also a fan of classic designs, and seemed thrilled to be surveying one of the famous Joshuas.

I told him I was mainly concerned with the three essentials: the hull, the rigging, and the engine. I'd already seen the sails, electronics, etc. I considered them to be replaceable 'accessories'. The hull, rigging, and engine were different. I didn't want to undertake extensive or expensive repairs to the basic boat. But as long as those three essentials were sound, we'd definitely buy Petronella.

Assuming he didn't find some disaster we weren't anticipating.

The first day we spent with Petronella afloat, surveying everything we could without hauling the boat. That included digging through every locker and deep bilge in the boat -- and Petronella has a lot of lockers. We spent a lot of time looking a few small rust spots at the bottom of one of the deep bilges in the bow, trying to guess how deep the rust went, without being able to do something simple, like, oh, hit the rust spot with a center punch.

Rust in the bilge

"We don't want to sink her at her mooring," Chris said, wisely. John and Gill vehemently agreed. We'd have to wait to haul her to find out how bad the rust was.

As I hoped, Chris spent a long time inspecting the engine. He knew a lot about the big diesel -- more even than John who had spent the last 10 years taking care of it. He even told them that they'd been starting it wrong all those years. There was no need to give it any throttle when starting the engine.

"An diesel in good shape should start with no throttle at all," he said. John and Gill seemed skeptical at this, but when we tried it, it started beautifully.

"That's a good sign," Chris said.

Chris wanted to take the boat for a sea trial. That meant testing the engine under load.

"Lot of owners baby their engines, never running it at more than 1600 or 1800 rpm. Then when they really need their engine to pull them out of a jam, and run the engine at high revs, pieces start to fly off and spit out of the exhaust. If that's going to happen at high revs," he told me in private, "you want to find out now."

I fully agreed.

We motored out into Rodney Bay to put the engine through its paces. Gill put Helena at the helm, to give her a taste of handling Petronella. We did the usual maneuvers, testing the engine and transmission, but through out all, Gill kept the engine rpms below 1800, and indeed that seemed a pretty reasonable speed even to me.

But Chris wanted to see more.

"Bring the revs up to 2000," he told Gill.

She seemed reluctant to go past the self-imposed limits they had put on Petronella's poor engine, but grudgingly gave the engine more throttle.

No bits flew off.

"Let's try 2200," said Chris.

Now genuine fear seemed to cross Gill and John's faces.

"She'll handle it," said Chris reassuringly.

Shaking their heads, they increased the revs to 2200. No smoke billowed out the exhaust. No sudden noises emanated from the engine. It continued to run smoothly.

2200 rpm was the most she would do, and clearly 2200 was beyond what John and Gill had ever called for (and more than I would use except in an emergency.) But the engine ran brilliantly, and I think even they were impressed by how their old engine performed.

"Very good, very smooth," said Chris as he signaled Gill to resume normal revs.

She seemed relieved.

Then it was time to return to the mooring to inspect the rigging. How? The only way possible.

Chris heading up the main mast

Frankly, I was glad it was Chris and not me up that mast, but tapped his way up one side of it and tapped his way down the other side, and was generally well pleased. The masthead tri-color was twisted a bit to one side, and one of the spreaders needed adjustment, but everything else looked good.

And he had quite the view, so he should know.

At the mast head
The next day, we hauled Petronella out to inspect her bottom. Her very impressive bottom.

I have to say Gill wasn't the only one who was nervous. I guess every boat owner hates to see her precious home dangled over concrete. I know I did, and I didn't even own her yet!

Gill just a little nervous


However, the boys at the marina knew their stuff and she was soon blocked up on the hard.

Having read just enough about steel boats to be dangerous, I had rented a rather expensive ultrasonic tester, which was supposed to be able to read the thickness of the steel hull. Chris had one, as well, but the purchase price of my rental unit was about 40 times the price of his, so we spent a lot of time taking readings. Generally speaking, we found the steel to be around 5mm -- exactly the thickness it had been the day she was built.

But what about around those rust spots? Wouldn't the steel be thinner there? That was my big worry, so I spent a lot of time trying to pin down the location of the rust spots from the outside. We had a couple of elusive 3mm readings, but found them impossible to replicate. Had they just been false readings? Glitches? As time passed, the paint dried out in the hot sun, and the machine stopped taking readings.

So much for modern technology.

"I'm going to try my hammer," said Chris, who proceeded to try to knock a hole in the boat with his ball peen hammer from the inside and the outside. He made a racket in the processes, but produced no daylight in the bilge.

"If it can survive that kind of hammering, it can't be too thin," he pronounced. "That's a hundred times more punishment than it will ever get from the sea."

I was a little more leery. There had been those low readings, even if we hadn't been able to reproduce them.

We debated it back and forth for awhile, but in the end, John and Gill decided to err on the side of caution.

"You won't be happy unless you know it is okay," they said to me and Helena.

We agreed, so they had the problem fixed.

How do you 'fix' a suspect spot on a steel boat? Nothing could be easier. That's one of the huge advantages of a steel boat. No replacing planks, no replacing sections of fiberglass (how would you even do that?) Just cut out the suspect section and weld a new piece in.

Rust spot? No problem, man!
We located a welder and, voila, problem solved.

Of course, Chris surveyed several hundred other parts of the boat that I don't have time to talk about, but in the end, he pronounced her to be in very good condition.

We were buying a boat.

A steel boat.


Next Up: Shakedown Cruise




12 May 2017

Authorized to Navigate

12 May 2017 — Black Rock Harbor, Exumas

I think I mentioned previously that our insurance company insisted that we be ‘checked out’ by an independent, professional captain before we were authorized to ‘navigate’ on our own. The checklist itself covered fairly rudimentary skills — skills that surely I would have after sailing for decades, single-handing the Blue Moon from Steinhatchee, FL to Huntington, NY, crewing with Eric Forsyth a thousand miles down the coast of Brazil and across the Caribbean, not to mention crewing and then commanding Petronella 1100 miles from Martinique to George Town, but still, I worried. It would be a real pain if I flunked on some technicality and we were stuck in the Bahamas, unable to move the boat ourselves, with hurricane season bearing down on us.

However, the checkout process went very smoothly and we received authority from our insurance company to set sail on Tuesday. Huge relief, followed immediately by a new anxiety: could I actually sail Petronella on my own, with Helena as mate, of course? She seemed bigger than ever, now that John and Gill (the previous owners) were gone. I felt confident, but what if something went wrong?

When we received word, Petronella was in the Emerald Bay Marina on Great Exuma Island, just north of George Town. Our plan was to depart the marina, then sail about 30 miles up the coast (on the ocean side) to the Galliot Cut, between Cave Cay and Big Galliot Cay — one of the easiest ‘cuts’ leading from the ocean onto the Exuma bank. But ‘easiest’ doesn’t mean ‘easy’, unless the conditions were favorable. The conditions I was looking for were: light winds from the east so there wouldn’t be a sea breaking across the cut; a rising tide which is always a good idea when navigating shallow water; and the morning sun at our back to make it easy to ‘read’ the bottom. 

The weather and tide forecast for Thursday (yesterday) looked perfect, so we got the boat ready the night before, so we could leave at first light. 

To get out of the marina slip, I needed to back Petronella out of her slip, then turn 90 degrees to starboard, and then motor out and around the fuel dock, and then through the narrow inlet leading to the ocean. 

I’d steered her into the slip just a few days previously, and found the maneuver fairly easy, so how hard could it be to reverse her out?

I have had lots of experience backing the long-keeled Blue Moon out of slips, but the 40-foot Petronella was a whole different problem. I’d practice turning her in place, back in the BVIs, to prepare for just this scenario. Now it was time to try out my boat handling skills for real. With no one around to take over the helm if things went wrong. 

I must admit I lost a bit of sleep thinking through the maneuver, over and over again.

Worrying never helps, but thinking and planing does. With the sun just over the horizon — and no one up in the marina to watch and call out helpful suggestions — we slipped our spring lines and backed smoothly out of the slip. I executed the 90 degree turn to port without a hitch, and just like that, we were on our way. Petronella may be a heavy-displacement, long-keel boat, but she handles like a dream. I can only repeat my original assessment: she handles much easier than the 23-foot Blue Moon. 

‘Nimble’ is the word that spring to mind. 

Once a couple miles offshore, we set all four working sails and headed north on a broad reach with the wind blowing force 4 (11-16 knots). We hooked up George, the auto-pilot, then sat back to enjoy the sail. The remnants of the Trade Winds blew so steady that I never touched the sails or adjusted the auto pilot all morning. 

There were quite a few yachts heading up and down the coast with us, but only one catamaran came close enough to require attention. Since we were on starboard tack, and he on port tack, it was up to him to keep clear of us, and he did, so even that encounter didn’t require us to touch the tiller. 

After noon, the wind decreased to force 3 (7-10 knots), slowing our progress, and as the afternoon progressed, it gradually died away to force 2 (4-6 knots). This is the kind of wind that would have left the Blue Moon rolling in place, but I was very pleased to see Petronella making 2 knots with just over 4 knots apparent wind. This was a new experience for me, since I’ve always owned fairly heavy boats that were more or less useless in such winds. It was so enjoyable, that I wanted to sail the whole way, even if we did arrive a bit late. 

By the time we entered the Galliot Cut, it was 3pm and the sun was decidedly in our eyes. Not ideal for sailing on the bank, but the wind was light and the tide was rising. We passed through the narrow cut without incident, and went on ‘visual navigation rules’ with Helena in the bow with her polarized sun glasses. She guided us through the shallow water to our anchorage behind Big Galliot Key. We dropped anchor in about 3 meters of water — plenty for our 1.6 meter draft even if the tide went out a meter, which is what I expected.

And that was that: our first independent voyage complete without a hitch. A big ‘phew’ at the end of the day, and a terrific boost to my self-confidence. We launched the dinghy and motored to our own perfect, private beach for a swim. A fabulous day!

Our own private beach



Next Up: Heading North



03 May 2017

The Passage So Far

3 May 2017 -- George Town, Bahamas

After a long and boisterous sail from the BVIs to the Exumas, I'm reminded of the difficulty of trying to keep a blog up to date when so much is happening, and there is so little time for writing. I had the same problem when trying to blog on the Blue Moon during my trip from Florida to New York, but I'd hoped I'd gotten better at sticking to a writing schedule.

Nope. Just as bad as ever. 


Hopefully once the passage phase of the trip is over, Helena and I will have time to catch our breath and put everything down on paper before we forget it (the bad bits, especially, fade so quickly!), but for now, I'll just have to do the best I can.

Anyway, we are in the Bahamas, approximately 1100 nautical miles from Martinique. Here’s a rough outline of how far we’ve come, so far:

* Fort de France, Martinique to Portsmouth, Dominica — April 9, 2017 — 70 nm
* Portsmouth, Dominica to Leverick Bay, BVI — April 10-11 — 250 nm
* Moored in Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda, BVI — April 12-14
* Leverick Bay to Soper’s Hole BVI — April 15 — 25 nm
* Moored in Soper’s Hole BVI — April 15-19
* Soper’s Hole, BVIs to off the Library, Grand Turk Island — April 19-23 — 420 nm
* Grand Turk Island to Cockburn Harbor, South Caicos — April 24 — 22 nm
* Anchored in Cockburn Harbor — April 24-25
* Cockburn Harbor, South Caicos to Bermudian Harbor, Providenciales Island — April 26 — 50 nm
* Bermudian Harbor, Caicos to George Town, Bahamas — April 27-29 — 260 nm
* Anchored in George Town — April 29-May 4

And here's a chart of the route. You can just see George Town at the top of the image. Please click to view a larger image.

The route so far...
So, it feels really good to have the hardest part of the passage completed. Now that we are organized and back on line, I will go back and fill in some of the interesting details, before I forget them!

To the vigorous life!



Next Up: Authorized to Navigate



16 April 2017

Boat Handling Experiments

16 April 2017 — Soper’s Hole, West End of Tortola, BVI

It is Easter Sunday and we are holed up in the appropriately named Soper’s Hole — a very protected harbor on the west end of Tortola. We thought everything might be closed for the holiday, but most of the pastel-painted shops along the quay are open, the restaurants are doing a good business, and a steel band is playing Caribbean style music. We have taken over a deserted balcony above the party scene, enjoying the light breeze and relative peace.

So, what are we doing out here? I haven’t had time to explain exactly what happened to get us out here on the Spanish Main. 

Briefly, our insurance finally came through and the deal to buy Petronella — the steel Joshua 40 that I’ve been blogging about — came together all of a sudden. Helena and I had to pack and jump on an airplane to Martinique without much preparation. That’s probably just as well. Less time to worry!

As part of the deal, the current owners, John and Gill, have agreed to sail with us at least as far as the Bahamas. It’s part of the deal because realistically Helena and I weren’t ready to buy what seems to us a very large boat, jump aboard, and sail her 1300 miles back to the US on our own. There were just too many things that could have gone wrong — probably very wrong. 

So we are now on a delivery cruise, but we are also taking the amazing opportunity to learn how to sail and handle Petronella from people who have cruised her for nearly 10 years, including an Atlantic crossing. In addition, we are learning everything we can about her various ‘systems’ (engine, electronics, plumbing, etc.) 

That’s a lot to learn in three or four weeks, but learning them on our own would be much more difficult. The value of these lessons is incalculable. The most important of these lessons so far involved boat handling.

My biggest fear was that Petronella — with her very long keel — would be too difficult for us to handle, particularly in tight situations like picking up a mooring or coming alongside a dock. I knew it was possible to maneuver such a boat in close quarters, having watched Luke Powell pivot his even less maneuverable pilot cutter 180 degrees in place. However, even though I’d watched him do it, and quizzed him extensively on the maneuver afterwards, such feats of seamanship seemed beyond my reach. Or were they?

Luckily, I’d come across a very good description of the turn-in-place trick in Tom Cunliffe’s ‘Day Skipper’ book. The fact that he’d put it in the first book of the RYA how-to-sail series clearly indicated it was a skill even beginners should and could learn, so I was determined to master it.

Taking advantage of a calm day, we motored Petronella into the middle of an empty bay

First experiment: see how she handled at dead-slow speed. I stopped her with her bow into the wind, then put her into forward gear without giving her any throttle. She began to move forward very slowly, but with steerageway, meaning that she responded to her helm.  Excellent, but what how would she handle with a cross wind? Would her head just blow off at slow speeds? 

Coming to a stop with the wind on the beam I repeated the experiment. Surprisingly, the wind seemed to have no effect. She just motored ahead slowly. I guess that if the wind was harder her head would fall off a bit, but since the wind was light, I didn’t have a chance to try this. Nevertheless, I was much encouraged. At least I didn’t have to worry about losing steerageway at very low speeds. Chalk that up to her long keel and big rudder, I guess.

Second experiment: turn Petronella 360 degrees in place to starboard — the direction favored by her prop walk. 

What is prop walk? It is simply the direction the stern swings when the engine is put into gear, before she gathers way. The direction it swings depends on whether the boat has a right or left-hand propeller. In Petronella’s case, her stern swings to starboard in forward gear, and to port in reverse gear. It must be emphasized that prop walk is noticeable mainly when the boat is stopped. As soon as she gather’s way, the keel gets a powerful grip on the water and cancels the effect out. To use prop walk to pivot the boat, you must keep her from moving ahead or astern. That’s the key trick to turning in place. Or at least that’s what I understood from reading Tom’s description.

Again, I let Petronella come to a stop. Turning the wheel all the way to starboard, I shifted into forward gear and gave her half-throttle, until she began to move forward — just a few seconds. The prop walk effect wanted to kick the stern to starboard, but the wash of her prop slamming into the hard-over rudder was much stronger, and her stern kicked slightly to port. 

I then throttled her down, waited a second or two for the revs to come off, put her into reverse, and again gave her half-throttle. 

In reverse, the wash from the prop was forward, so the tiller (still hard over to starboard) had no effect. This allowed prop walk to push her stern to port, thus continuing the clockwise turn.

When she started moving astern — again, just a few seconds — I reversed the action: killed the revs, put her into forward, and gave her half-throttle. Again, the wash slamming into the hard-over rudder overcame prop walk, and Petronella continued to turn clockwise.

And that was it. Like magic, the large and seemingly ungainly boat turned tamely in place 360 degrees. Wow!

According to Tom’s book, it would be more difficult to turn the boat in the opposite direction because prop walk would be working against the maneuver, but he urged readers to try it for themselves, so I did. 

Surprisingly, she turned nearly as well to port as to starboard. I theorize this is due to Petronella’s large rudder. The effect of the prop wash slamming into the rudder must be that much larger than the effect of prop walk, so she turns just as happily the ‘wrong’ way as the ‘right’ way. 

When I’d completed both maneuvers, John and Gill applauded loudly then declared I was ready to attempt to pick up our mooring. 

It was mid-day, so many boats in the mooring field had cleared out for the day’s sail, but there were still enough boats in the field to make maneuvering amongst them challenging. To keep it simple, I picked out a mooring in the back of the field for my first challenge. 

I approached in my usual way — from down wind with low revs. When we were lined up and perhaps 50 yards off the mooring ball, I throttled down to nothing, but left her in forward gear, slowing the boat to a crawl. When we were maybe 20 yards away, I took her out of gear altogether and let coast up to the mooring. I had steerageway until she came to a stop, so was able to bring the mooring ball right up to the port bow, where John and Helena neatly grabbed the mooring lines with a boat hook. A few seconds later, we were high-fiving each other.

We repeated the experiment several times, but each time Petronella handled beautifully. In five attempts, we missed just one pick up and that was because I came in too hot. Over confidence, I guess!

The next day, I practiced coming along side the fuel dock at the marina, but by that time, I was convinced that Petronella was no more difficult to handle than the Blue Moon, at least in moderate winds. We haven’t had enough wind to try maneuvering in stronger winds (where are the vaunted Trade Winds?!?!) but I suspect Petronella will be less likely to get blown around than the Blue Moon, so am feeling pretty confident at the moment. Not to say cocky!

So, a very big tick in the boat handling box. There is still lots to learn, but I am no longer worried that I will not be able to learn to handle Petronella in close quarters. A big boost to my self-confidence. Thanks to Tom Cunliffe and his excellent book, we are off to a good start.

Next Up:  The Passage So Far...



14 April 2017

Out of our Comfort Zones


12 April -- In Blunder Bay, BVI

After crossing the gap between Martinique and Dominica, we decided to anchor for the night in a little cove at the north end of Dominica. Since we were only spending the night — not going ashore — we didn’t check in with Immigration. Just hoisted the yellow quarantine flag, laid out the anchor, tidied up, and sank thankfully into our bunks. 

The next morning, we headed north again. Again the seas in the gap between islands was rough, but as the day progressed, Helena and I both felt better than the day before, but were still off our food. John and Gill were sympathetic, but seemingly unaffected by the motion. 

As the day progressed, islands slid by in succession: first the several islands of the Iles des Saintes, then Guadeloupe, and then when we were half-way to Montserrat, the setting sun lit the trade wind clouds in shades of gold. Absolutely gorgeous, and best of all, I was hungry. Famished, in fact, but I thought it wise to eat moderately.

Once past Montserrat, our course turned further to the west towards the BVIs. This put the wind right behind us. Wanda the wind vane steering system managed quite well, but as we passed into Montserrat’s wind shadow, the wind fell below 10 knots, which wasn’t enough to keep Wanda working. We then switched to George the electronic autopilot, and that is when the trouble began. 

The problem was that with the fairly high waves and light wind, George could not hold a completely steady course. The best he could do was to steer within 10 degrees to either side our our intended course. Since we were on starboard tack, it didn’t matter when he wandered off 10 degrees to starboard, but when he steered 10 degrees to port, the main tried to gybe. We had a preventer rigged, of course, but no one on board liked the main to be back-winded, least of all poor George who struggled to put the boat back on course. 

We tried adjusting George to make him react faster and more vigorously, tried balancing the sails better, but of course, nothing helped. George just wasn’t sophisticated or powerful enough to steer the boat perfectly straight. On average, he did great, but asking him to steer without every going 10 degrees or so off to port occasionally was too much to ask. The only solution was to tack downwind — first steer say 10 degrees off our course to starboard, and then 10 degrees off our course to port. This would have kept demands made on George within his capabilities, would have kept the boat moving fast, and probably resulted in less rolling. However, this is the one trick we didn’t try.

Instead, we tried hand steering, which worked because humans can steer accurately enough to sail down wind without accidentally gybing, but only for so long. I found I could handle about a half-hour before getting very tired of the job. We traded off every half-hour as we cruised past St. Kitts.

Off the coast of Saba Island, night fell again and the wind died away almost completely. After trying a few adjustments, and talking about breaking out the light wind sails, we gave up and started the engine. With the sails down, George was again able to steer the boat downwind without gybing — because there were no sails to gybe. 

We motored the rest of the night, with no wind and the seas gradually moderating. What had happened to the infallible Trade Winds? They were gone, but luckily Petronella’s hearty Mercedes truck diesel engine was up to the task of running for 24 hours straight, and this morning, we reached Virgin Gorda, checked in at immigration, and picked up a mooring in Blunder Bay. 

We’d covered 350 miles in three days in not-perfect conditions. We both had our sea legs, and a challenging passage behind us. 

The GRIB forecast is for very light winds for the next few days. Time to get some rest, do some blogging, and work on the list of 43 chores that John has drawn up, including checking the engine for a faint ticking noise that developed during the night.

Ah, the cruising life…






Next Up:  Boat Handling Experiments



11 April 2017

Getting Our Sea Legs

9 April 2017 - Aboard Petronella, anchored off Dominica

In Arthur Ransom's "Peter Duck", Captain Nancy -- Chief of the Amazon Pirates and Scourge of the Seas -- suddenly get sea sick when the weather turns bad and the seas rise. What shame! Not Captain Nancy!

I've never actually been seasick, but today I came close. It was in the gap between Martinique and Dominica. The seas in the wind shadow of Martinique had been calm and the sailing great. But now, in the middle of the gap, with no island between us and the coast of Africa, the wind whipped up a confused sea that tossed us -- or at least the contents of my stomach -- like fruit in a blender.

I found myself staring at the waves, trying to keep my eyes on the horizon, breathing deeply.

"No!" I thought in horror. "Not me. Not on our first day out!"

I tried to pretend I wasn't feeling sick, but I was. I was sitting to windward. Captain Gill was between me and the lee rail. What to do? The boat was heeling away from the wind, the deck slanting towards the ocean blue. Could I even get to the lee rail?

After a moments indecision, my head getting woozier by the second, I made a decision.

"I need to get horizontal. Immediately," I announced to the surprising crew. Not waiting for a response, I scrambled down the companionway, kicked off my shoes, and hurried onto the port side settee.

After a few gulps and several deep breaths, I wasn't in imminent danger of being sick, but didn't trust myself to sit up again.

"Just lie still," I told myself. "You'll be fine in a minute..."

Four hour later, I climbed back into the cockpit. I'd missed a watch, dinner, and what Helena described as one of the most beautiful things she'd ever seen ( but I will let her tell that story.)

The seas were calmer, and I felt better, if humbled. No, I hadn't been sea sick, but only just. How long would it take to get my sea legs?

"Three days," I predicted confidently.

I hope I was right.



Next Up:  Out Of Our Comfort Zones



08 April 2017

The Shakedown Cruise Begins!

8 April 2017

Aboard Petronella -- a META built Joshua 40 -- in Fort de France harbor in Martinique.

That would be our Joshua 40. Or at least half ours. The whole boat will be ours once we reach the Bahamas.

So, yes, we've done it. Despite the 143 obstacles thrown in our path by a half dozen bureaucracies in at least four countries, we've made it at last.

We flew down from chilly Miami this morning, met John and Gill at the dinghy dock, enjoyed the humid tropical heat while ferrying 150 lbs. of charts, cruising guides, sight reduction tables, my old fashioned sextant and Walker trailing log, foul weather gear, heavy duty offshore harnesses and tethers, and lots of other gear. Enough stuff for a 1200 nm. voyage up the leeward side of the island chain to the BVIs, then onwards to the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, to Lake Worth, FL.

Exciting. A bit terrifying. Just a bit.

I hope we can handle it. I think we can. We will soon find out...

We set sail tomorrow.



Next Up:  Getting Our Sea Legs




19 March 2017

A Sailing Romance


If buying a sailboat is like falling in love, then having an insurance agent in the middle of the courtship is like bringing a lawyer along on each date. It's the opposite of romance.

Insurance woes also make for pretty dull reading, so I won't spend too much time on it, other than to discuss a few issues I've never seen mentioned anywhere else.

First, no American company seemed interested in insuring an older steel boat. I'm not sure whether it was the age or the material that bothered them, but certainly the combination was toxic. I never got past first base with the Americans.

On the other hand, a famous British marine insurance company had no problem with an older steel boat, but they didn't like me at all. Specifically, they didn't like that the largest boat I'd owned previously was a 28-foot Southern Cross. They didn't think I could handle a 40-foot boat.

"But I know loads of people who own boats they can't handle," I protested to my insurance agent.

"I know, I know," she said. "And I have many clients who would not qualify for insurance -- if they were applying today. The rules have gotten much stricter in the last few years, and you are trying to break the 10-foot rule."

"What's that?"

"The rule against buying a boat that's more than 10 feet longer than what you've owned before," she said.

"That's a rule? So if I was looking at a 36-foot boat?"

"No problem. I could write the insurance this afternoon."

"But we have spent the last few years getting experience on bigger boats -- sailing a thousand miles down the coast of Brazil, sailing the Caribbean, crossing the English Channel..."

"Sorry, that doesn't count. They weren't your boats."

"What if we got ASA certified?" I asked.

"Wouldn't make any difference."

So Romeo could marry Juliet today, but break the 10-foot rule? Taboo!

Even worse, we were trying to buy a boat in Martinique -- there was no way even a famous British marine insurance company would give us coverage outside the US and Bahamas.

Nevertheless, I persisted. There must be some way through this thicket of senseless rules, I thought. And I was right. Eventually my (genuinely helpful) insurance agent and I found the way. At least I think we have. I still don't have final approval, but we are close. Very close.

Briefly, for the benefit of others who might try to break the 10-foot rule, here is the compromise we worked out:

First, we had to have the Joshua delivered to the US or Bahamas by an 'approved operator'. That's insurance lingo for an experienced delivery crew. If we were buying a super yacht, that would have been a small detail, but hiring a delivery crew would have raised the cost of the more reasonable Joshua by at least 50%. Talk about romance killer.

That's why the current owner's offer to deliver the boat to the Bahamas was so important. Our insurance company was fine with giving us coverage for a one-time passage from Martinique to the Bahamas, as long as Captain Gill was in command.

And the experience we would gain by sailing with Gill and John on the 1200 mile passage would help us get over the experience hurdle. We would use the long passage to learn how to handle the Joshua, and then prove our new-found competence to an independent 'checkout' captain in the Bahamas. Once he or she signed us off as 'competent', we'd be over the 10-foot gap and free to sail the boat ourselves.

So that's the plan: buy the Joshua in Martinique, sail her to the Bahamas with the current owners, learn as much as we can along the way, and get signed off. It seems a bit absurd, but that's 2017 for you. Romance may be eternal, but rules and regulations are ever changing, and we must, it seems, change with them.

Helena and I are just back yesterday from St. Lucia, surveying the sturdy Joshua. More on that adventure, next time...


Next Up:  Joshua Survey