13 June 2018

Petronella Sails North - Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I've officially stopped fretting about them!

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was only one way to find out...

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

Next Up: The Costs of Professional Weather Forecasts


  1. We are all wondering how much you have invested in the boat ($$) to this point?

    1. Far less than a house, which is what she is for us ;-)

  2. Solomons Island is a great place. I anchored there for a few days when I took my O'day south a few years ago. If it hadn't been so darn cold I might've stayed too. Glad to hear Petronella is coming together with her crew to be a great cruising boat.


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