Thursday, May 25, 2017

Shakedown cruise in the Very Thin Gulf of Mexico or a boy runs aground several times with old boat while girl becoming somewhat cross.

The shakedown cruise begins! To clarify, a shakedown cruise is a trip where you move a newly acquired boat and do things waiting to see what breaks. To give you the punchline- this was successful in this context. We moved, saw things and things broke. The following is un-expurgated, non-romanticized and only a little softened. If you’re looking for “sailing is fabulous and relaxing”, look elsewhere, this is reality.

The boat in question is a 1979 Pearson 365, purchased inexpensively two months ago after having been brought to life by the previous owner after about 10 years of real neglect. The survey and purchase trip had revealed the systems worked, the hull was solid, the sails were intact but she is not the belle of the ball. One of the repairs made during the time away was a refinished cabin sole (nice, thanks Tom).

I had driven with a load of stuff and Lola, the ancient Springer Spaniel, from Phoenix in three+ days. This is likely Lola’s last big adventure (she’s 13) so we decided to drive and bring her with us rather than kennelize her in Phoenix. I had some business in Austin and Birmingham and a wonderful meal in Northern Louisiana, but otherwise the trip was uneventful. I arrived in Yankeetown Thursday before Kathleen’s arrival on Saturday.

Day -3- Spent the day putting the boat back together, moving foam for the salon setees (that probably sounds better than they are (more like benches in a good-sized closet)), bedding and the new mattress to the boat, assessing systems and doing some cleaning. The NO-SEE-UMS are horrible from about 6-8 pm. Sleep on the boat on the new mattress (pretty wonderful).

Day -2- Kathleen was due at the Tampa airport at 5 pm. My plan was to give the boat a final cleaning and get things shipshape before heading to Tampa. Best laid plans… We (Lola, the ancient Springer Spaniel and I) woke to a classic Florida rainstorm. Hmm, boat cleaning was on the agenda for the morning but mother nature intervened, so we got in the car and headed off to West Marine. Having bought a pack of flares (USCG required) for 2.5x the WalMart price, I got back into the car (still raining kittens and puppies) and pulled out of my spot. The car died completely in 20 ft. Started right up again, and died again in 50 ft. and would not start. Problem, but Kathleen wasn’t due for 8 hours so time to recover. Called AAA for a tow to a local AAA-recommended service place, they would be here in one hour. Went into Wendy’s for some chili and called the garage AAA recommended. Found they were busy and probably couldn’t do anything on the car til Monday. Called AAA again and asked for a garage on the way to Tampa so at least I would be moving in the desired direction. Found one in Tampa that instilled some confidence over the phone and was put on the flatbed and taken to Tampa. 80 miles on a tow truck, closer to the airport but the boat would get no shape shipping (ship shaping?).

When we got to the garage the mechanic recognized the problem immediately, fixed it for free and I was on the road in 30 minutes. A little shopping and it was time to pick up Kathleen. Everything went smoothly at the airport, easy drive home and a FANTASTIC dinner at a seafood bar in Homosassa called “the Freezer.” A bucket of mussels in garlic sauce, 2 lbs of shrimp and a couple cold beers and the day’s stress was gone. On to the boat- would she or wouldn’t she?
Quick answer- she would!!! She saw the value and the utility. Istana (now re-documented, but not completed “Joy”) is not a beauty pagent winner, but the galley passes muster, the salon is comfey, the new mattress in the V berth is A HIT! And not having the day to get the boat polished meant I didn’t take the hit for not having polished well enough! (lemons/lemonade, silver lining/grey clouds)

Day -1- Boat cleaning and organizing, trips to Wal-Mart, West Marine, Harbor Freight, Winn-Dixie and the storage locker. By the end of the long day we were ready to push away from the dock with the early high tide. Tom (the guy who has done a lot of work on the boat for the PO and for me) came over and chatted with K and I and among other things started the engine (immediately, with no hesitation) with a comforting diesel rumble.

Day 1!!- Missed the high tide, but plenty of water to get away from the dock. The high tide was at 6, we left the dock about 7:30 and were hard aground by 9:30!! The water is thin (not deep, shallow) and I strayed a few feet to the right of the channel. Nothing serious, Kathleen took advantage of the stable pause to take a shower (shower is a plus, good pressure, etc.) Only problem was one of the pipes in the cold water side of the system pulled loose and we pumped one tank (of 3) of fresh water into the bilge before we had it diagnosed. Spent a significant amount of time while aground trouble shooting and were level and floating again before we knew it. At this point I made my second error of the day and decided to continue for our planned destination- Tarpon Springs, about 40 miles (maybe 55) away.
Had a great day sailing on the starboard tack, jib, main and mizzen all drawing and moving us at 6+ knots. Smiles all around, although we had some testy moments figuring out the delay as the compass moved more slowly than the sailboat changed course with the wheel and learning to sail to the wind. But sunset came before Tarpon Springs and we still had 15 miles to go. Altered course for Hernando Beach and we were aground again, literally in the channel. Did I mention thin water? On this occassion it was just after high tide, the water wouldn’t lift us off the bar until 5:30 the next morning and we spent a terrible night on our side, in the channel, with commercial shrimping boats going out around us and coming back around us 7 hours later. Kathleen took the first watch on deck, the boat was on its side at 28 degrees and now saltwater was coming in through one of the (normally) above water-line through-hulls. Still safe, the bilge pump handled the inflow fine, but not a perfect ending to not-a-perfect first day with our new old boat.

Day 2- As I took the second watch about 2 am, I assessed the tide state and the timing of high tide and realized the next high tide wasn’t very and if we didn’t make it off with the next tide it was going to be another 12 hours until the high high tide of the day. I called TowBoatUS and arranged to have them on site an hour before the high tide to be sure we made it off. They were there, got us off and Day 2 was looking up! More beautiful sailing, both Captain and crew enjoyed a beautiful sail and we motored into Tarpon Springs to Turtle Cove Marina about 1 pm.
Got in the channel without running aground! First time docking this boat in a marina, no problems, a little mis-communication, but the dock guys got us secure easily. Turtle Cove is a pretty amazing facility with four-story racks and forklifts for big motor boats and slips all around an artificial island. Very convenient to the old part of Tarpon Springs and we were enjoying more great seafood at the Rusty Belly Restaurant by 4 pm!
Took Uber to Ace Hardware for parts, was able to find what we needed to replace the through-hull for $9 at Ace (respectable marine section in this historically marine industry community). Other purchases brought the tab to about $100, but we felt pretty good and started the repair that evening. Late night swim and hot shower made the day seem pretty successful.

Day 3- In port. More repair, mission accomplished, laundry, some additional provisions, more tourist activity, more seafood and a great relaxing day.

Day 4- We planned to sail out to Anclote Key, anchor for the night, dinghy ashore with Lola. Got away from the slip about 4 pm after getting the holding tank pumped, lunch at the Rusty Belly, more provisioning, etc. Got out the channel without incident (other than one wrong turn), raised the sails and had a great sail over to the east side of Anclote Key. Realized when we got there that the easterly wind was making the anchorage quite rough and we would be only a few hundred feet from 1 ft depths and another grounding.
Changed course and decided to anchor on the west side of the island, which was about a 1 hour sail. As we rounded the south end of the island the wind rose to 15-20 knots with some white caps.
Great sailing, but we decided to reduce sail by rolling in the jib (for you non-sailors this is normally a trivial tug of one line). We tugged the furling line, the furler turned, but the sail didn’t roll up. Yikes. Dropped the main and the mizzen, started the engine for control and assessed the situation. Back in my M-16 days on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis dropping the jib was trivial, but this was un-familiar equipment and a big jib. Going up to the bow and examining the furling system, it was apparent that a 40-foot long nylon zipper was wrapping the forward part of the jib around the furler. To drop the jib I needed to unzip this zipper while Kathleen held the bow into the wind to de-power the jib. All went as planned, the jib came down, but another boost of adrenaline we really didn’t need. Then we realized we were aground again! Calm water, smooth sand, and the tide was coming in, no problem, we would float again. Fifteen minutes later we realized our reading of the tide info was wrong and if we didn’t get off the sand quickly it was going to be another night on our side! Yikes. Fortunately, the boat still swiveled on the keel, so it wasn’t stuck hard, revved the mighty Westerbeke and broke free! Alleluia! By the time we were anchored again we were about a half mile off-shore, the chop was much rougher than it would have been if we were closer in, but we were in 7 feet of water, had 70 feet of anchor rode out and laid safely through the rough night. And if the anchor dragged we had 500 miles of sea room before we went aground in Mexico.

Day 5- Motor-sailed from Anclote to Crystal River (about 50 miles), arrived in King’s Bay by about 6 pm, anchored in about 7 ft of water. Not much sailing as we hadn’t raised our somewhat funked up jib, but still … Crystal River is where I had hauled the boat during the purchase process, so I had seen the channel going in. We read all the markers correctly, dolphins sounded beside us, somewhat magical!! Success! A full day of moving boat without crisis. Got the dinghy in the water and rowed Lola to an island nearby. She promptly ran off into the undergrowth and I feared (sort of) never seeing the old dog again. But just as I stumbled through the mud back to the water somewhere the dinghy wasn’t Lola popped through the grass and swam out to come along. Back to the dinghy and the boat and only a little wetter than I had been after spending a couple hours doing boat repairs in the FL humidity (that is soaked to the skin).

Day 6- At anchor in King’s Bay, Crystal River. Mounted the motor on the dinghy, tried on the snorkeling equipment and struck out for a day of aquatic adventure! The little 4 hp Johnson outboard worked GREAT! I was somewhat shocked at how the Crystal Springs experience had degraded in the 40 years since I scuba’d Crystal River as a senior in high school. The water was cloudy, the spring bowls full of debris, and development threatening the whole eco-system. State government is in the process of approving a further residential use of up to 11% of the flow from the 30 springs in the watershed! Insane, this is a preferred mating and wintering ground for the manatee and it’s clearly under pressure as it is, less water flow certainly won’t be good. Used the dinghy to do a little more boat repair shopping. Got back to the boat about 4 pm.
If you’ve never crawled over the transom of a big sailboat from a small, tippy, dinghy you can’t imagine how hard it is. And our dinghy, while seaworthy, easily rowed, efficiently motored, and other great qualities, is quite tippy. As Kathleen arose from the dinghy like Venus from the half shell, the dinghy had the temerity to whack her on the shin causing a yelp and a bruise! “I’m never getting into that dinghy again!” So I got Lola onto the dinghy for her potty trip ashore, ordered takeout from Cracker’s Restaurant (yummy) and dinghied back with yummy hot food to go with cold beer from our (wonderful) cold refrigerator to find Kathleen back to her even-keeled self looking up dinghy’s and boarding a sailboat on Google and our Kindle reference materials! Yummy dinner, more boat jobs (changing oil in V-drive for the second time on the trip) and exhausted from a good somewhat painful day! New mattress is awesome!

Day 6- Got underway early for the trip back to Yankeetown, motored the whole way, no incidents (other than that very brief grounding (hardly counts)). Left Crystal River about 8 am and were back in the lagoon by 1:30 or so. Started cleaning up, went in to Yankeetown for a pizza, got the sails off the boat, washed, folded and into the car, the bimini and dodger taken down and the canvas in the car, packed more stuff into the car, got a motel room for 2 nights. Excellent move, a nicer hotel would have gotten me more points. Is this a vacation? Not really, shakedown cruises are painful.

Day 7- Monday in Yankeetown. After unloading stuff at the storage locker, we rented a jeep for Kathleen to be mobile while I drove to St. Pete with the damaged jib and the canvas for repair. Trip went smoothly, can’t say enough about Peke at Adriatic Lux Canvas in Tarpon Springs and Tom and Mike at Sail Technologies in St. Pete. I know the valuable boat parts I’ve entrusted to them will be better when they’re done working on them. Got back to Crystal River, met Kathleen at McDonald’s for ice cream sundaes and resumed cleaning and preparing the boat for hurricane season in Yankeetown. We’re not planning on being back to the boat until November, so we stripped the boat of extra windage, rigged lines across the lagoon for holding the boat off the dock and swinging in the lagoon rather than against damaging hard parts. Good stout lines tied around trees and strung back to strong cleats on the boat. Ran an anchor out to the mouth of the lagoon, talked to our waterlords about our preparations and they suggested we put the dinghy under their house- PERFECT. Very late night, Kathleen went back to the storage locker with her last load while I worked to finish so we could leave Tuesday morning.
When I got to the motel and went over our list Kathleen asked a couple questions I didn’t know the answers to. We would have to go back to the boat Tuesday morning.

Day 8- Woke early, took my load to the storage locker while Kathleen enjoyed hot water and shampoo. When I got back to the motel, I loaded our travel equipment into the car (just) and we returned the Jeep to Enterprise. Thank you, Enterprise Crystal River! Great service.
Back to the boat, short list quickly completed and we were on the road for Savannah, GA for a day of sightseeing. Some Vacation after a Shakedown cruise (not vacation)!

Summary- Shakedown cruises are not vacations! Things break, other things are learned. This is a big, powerful sailboat and lots of the systems worked perfectly- the engine, the galley, the head (almost). Some things broke and we were able to fix them or stabilize them and minimize the impact. Our navigation system with Android tablets, laptops and OpenCPN worked beautifully. Didn’t use some of the gadgets (wind speed is too little, just right or too much, you don’t have to know whether it’s 18 or 23 knots). Binoculars, cell phones, VHF were all essential to navigation and calling for information and assistance.

Would like to addruise before the winter c-
Better dinghy/yacht boarding system- wider ladder, swim platform?
Autopilot- we sailed and motor sailed about 150 miles. 10 hours of steering is tedious and inattention results in bad things happening.

Still to fix-
Cold water connection for shower (obscure parts)
V- drive (water in oil)??

Water is very, very thin on Florida’s west coast north of Tampa. This was a shock to this Puget Sound sailor, where I could be in 400 ft of water 100 ft off shore. Mexico they say the gain a foot of depth with every mile off shore. That’s about right. We’re both bruised, tired and bug-bitten. I hope Kathleen is not down on the dream. She is way more valuable and crucial to my happiness than a 38 year old boat and a 30 year old dream.

Hope you enjoyed the story.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Starting on our first cruising adventure!

Yes, it's been about six weeks since I bought the boat. I have been back in Phoenix buying supplies and safety items to build a safety net for our shakedown cruise. There are still items coming in from and Tom (my boots on the ground in Yankeetown) is ticking things off his list. All new halyards, the outboard for the dinghy is running, the cables to the engine (shift and speed) are changed out, the engine starts and runs. These are good things.

The plan is for me to leave this Monday and drive to Florida (with Lola) via my sisters' in Austin, Tx; a property we have a loan on in Oxford, MS and our rental in Birmingham, AL to put eyes on them. Should be in Yankeetown by Thursday. Then I'm buying a new memory foam mattress at Wally World to cut to shape for more comfort and clean in the V-Berth. Will try to get mildew and cleaning accomplished before Kathleen arrives in Tampa about 5 pm on Saturday. Hopefully, the boat will be ready to catch the high tide out of the lagoon on Sunday morning (5:09 am) or 4 pm Sunday afternoon. Time and Tide wait for no man, Kathleen! We plan to hop down the coast to Tampa with our farthest south being Manatee River just south of Tampa Bay. There are three good harbors between Yankeetown and Manatee River. Thinking 1,3,5 down, extended stay in St. Pete harbor- museums, beach, swimming, bars, food (fish), food (shrimp), food (seafood). Sorry, I got distracted there. Then back starting on day 6 to Tarpon Springs, then Crystal River again and home to the dock on about Saturday, May 20. Pack up the boat and start driving north to NY Tuesday am.

Liz graduates on Saturday, May 27th! Yay, Baby Girl!! So proud, then she is going hiking on the Appalachian Trail with friends from Bard after Andy's wedding.

Andy and Sydney get married on June 2 in Brooklyn! Sisters Ginny and Marilyn are joining us at an AirBNB in Brooklyn for the wedding! Kathleen catches a jet out of Newark Sunday, June 4 and I start the road trip home! I hope to stop and see Falling Water in western PA on the drive back, but other than that- ??