Sometimes being prepared isn’t enough.

When I talk about sailing offshore I often get comments wondering about how scary it must be to be so far from land, of course, followed by something like “what’s the worse conditions you have encountered”.

Fortunately, I have never run into any conditions that were truly life threatening or at least if I did, it wasn’t clear to me at the time.

Life threating our not, I am keenly aware that when I am at sea, hundreds of miles from anything, I am, for all intents and purposes, on my own.

I love to read when I am on passage and it isn’t unusual for me to read a book every day.  However, when it comes to subject, I almost never read stories about sailing or worse yet, disasters at sea when I am aboard.   Being aboard and in the middle of nowhere is enough excitement so I read books about anything but being at sea.  I’ll read books about disasters when I am in my “armchair sailor” mode.

I generally feel pretty safe aboard Pandora, but there are times when I wonder what would happen if we had a major gear failure far from land.   I stock spare parts for everything that I can think of and might possibly fix while underway with the hope that what breaks is the stuff that I have spares for.  That generally works out but sometimes not.  Fortunately, I have never had to deal with a major failure like the loss of the mast or major leak.

When I think of injuries at sea, the first one that comes to mind is falling overboard and the recent fatality in the Bermuda race illustrates this point.    It was reported that the skipper fell overboard and was lost.  His body was recovered after an extensive search by his crew.

I do not have any details to go on but it reinforces the point that being securely tethered to the boat is the best way to avoid being lost in the wake if you fall in the water.  Aboard Pandora, when we are offshore, everyone is to be clipped on at all times, even when in the cockpit and especially on deck.  Additionally, nobody leaves the cockpit unless there is someone else in the cockpit to keep a careful view of those on deck.  The sad fact is that if someone falls into the water, untethered, especially at night, the odds of finding them is not great.

I can not imagine a more distressing view than to see your boat sailing off into the distance while you float helplessly in it’s wake, in the dark.

There are so many things that can go wrong aboard a sailboat in the ocean and it is important to try and be prepared for anything that might go wrong.

In addition to having the right gear on board it’s so important to get good weather information and to follow it.   I have been working with Chris Parker of Marine Weather Center for a decade now and I take his recommendations seriously.   I also have a subscription to Predict Wind and can download detailed weather gribs via my Iridium Go.  Seeing the graphics on my iPad make it much easier to fully appreciate the weather information that Chris is providing.

This spring, as I was bringing Pandora north from St Thomas, I heard about the loss of Calypso, lost off of the South side of Long Island.  Fortunately, the crew was safely rescued.  I recall wondering what they were doing in that area at that particular time as the conditions that they encountered were forecasted.  I have no idea about what specific circumstances lead to the loss but this video of the rescue is hair raising. Tragic events like Calypso are rare and with modern weather forecasting, it’s easier than ever to avoid conditions like this.   This link is a report out of Boston covering event and loss.

Having said that, some years ago I took Pandora on a run from Beaufort NC, to the BVI with the plan of leaving in early January.   I had consulted with Chris about that plan in advance of leaving Pandora in Beaufort earlier in the season.  For family reasons, I needed to delay my run south until after the New Year and wanted to be sure that a departure at that time was prudent.  He said it was and would work with me as I prepared to leave.

As we prepared for departure, Chris told me that there would be a developing ridge near Puerto Rico but that I should be able to get ahead of it as long as I was able to maintain a speed of about 7kts which should allow me to get past that area before the ridge moved into our path.  As long as we were south and east of the ridge we’d have good sailing with 10-15kts on the beam, wonderful tradewind sailing.

However, my speed was about a half knot slower than expected and the ridge passed in front of us about 12 hours sooner than forecasted.  As a result, our lovely tradewind sail was replaced by 40kts and 20’+ seas from our stern.  We had a wild ride for more than four days, surfing down big waves at double digit speeds, a few times cracking 20kts, only to crawl up the back of the wave at 4-5kts.   It was way to rough to do much but hold on and not fun at all.   It also put  a lot of strain on the autopilot that lead to breakage of a critical linkage.  Fortunately, I had a spare part but it took hours to locate it and make the swap.

I shudder to think of what that sail would have been like if we had been forced to sail on a beam reach or worse in those conditions as strong wind wind was bad enough.

The simple fact is that when you are at sea, and far from land, you basically just have to do your best to take what is thrown at you.  This all sounds pretty terrifying but nasty stuff doesn’t generally come without warning so as long as you are prepared and do what is needed to make the best of difficulty conditions, things generally go pretty well.

With bad weather you generally have time to get used to it.  The analogy that comes to mind, and I’ll admit that this comparison is fortunately anecdotal, is to compare what it is like to “inherit” a teenager by marriage, being tossed into the deep end of the pool, as opposed to starting out with an infant and growing up with them for more years before they become surly, or should I say “stormy” teens.

However, in spite of our best efforts, things can still go bad with little warning.

You may have heard about the recent tragic loss of long time cruisers and fellow SDSA members, Annemarie and Frank of SV Escape as they made their way from Bermuda to Nova Scotia this spring.  They had hoped to participate in our Homeward Bound Rally from the USVI in May but mechanical issues kept them in St Martin.

After an uneventful run to Bermuda they met crew for the run to Nova Scotia.   Facing a narrow weather window they departed, well prepared with a well maintained boat and the experienced crew needed for such a passage.

A few days out, conditions began to deteriorate and as they prepared to reef the main the mainsheet parted, allowing the boom to thrash wildly.  As Annemarie and Frank attempted to bring things back under control, both were seriously injured.

As they were so far from land, it took time for the USCG to reach them.  Everyone aboard were evacuated yet both Annmarie and Frank succumbed to their injuries during the return to shore.

It’s hard to prepare for everything that you might encounter and in spite of being on a well found boat with experienced crew, things went terribly wrong aboard Escape with devastating circumstances.

This spring, as I made my way back to the US as part of the Homeward Bound Rally, everyone aboard Pandora came down with Covid.  Our symptoms proved manageable as we were all fully vaccinated, a good thing, being so far from shore and isolated from medical support.  I had spent two seasons in the Caribbean and successfully avoided infection but it finally caught up with me and my crew.

There is no question that everyone who heads offshore wants to be as safe as possible and while tragedy rarely strikes, it is important to be as prepared as we can possibly be.

The terrible loss of Annemarie and Frank reminds us that while tragedies like theirs are rare, there are still risks.  We all need to continue to do everything we can to ensure that when we head to sea we are as prepared as we can be with the knowledge that sometimes being prepared just isn’t enough.

Escape was salvaged and is now in Nova Scotia.

SDSA made a donation in memory of Annmarie and Frank to the USCG foundation. They will be missed.

 

 

She wrote in her blog: “We really enjoyed our short visit to St. George’s. We are really looking forward to what Bermuda has to offer in the coming days.

“However, we are well aware that the foreseeable future does not hold just relaxing sightseeing for us. ‘Alex’, the first tropical storm of the season, is approaching.

 

 

Registrations for the fall Rally to the Caribbean are running well above any year in recent memory and with the addition of a planned departure from Newport we are expecting very strong turnout.

Everyone involved in the rally, SDSA shoreside support, skippers and crew, are very focused on doing what is needed to prepare for a safe and fun passage and recent tragic events remind us that regardless of how well prepared we are, things sometimes go terribly wrong.

 

Antigua, here we (all) come, soon.

Last week I presented an overview of our plans for the fall Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua, along with a broad “itinerary” of what cruisers might want to do during the season as they make their way down the islands of the eastern Caribbean between Antigua and Grenada.

Some will likely opt to make the run home to the US in the spring but some will also plan on leaving their boats in the Caribbean, mostly in Grenada and Trinidad, outside of the hurricane belt.

It looks like we will have a particularly large number of boats heading south this fall with the rally.  As of now, we are running way ahead of normal pre-pandemic signups with nearly 50 already booked to join the rally.  This compares very favorably with 30 signups by this time in 2019, the last “normal” year.   If this continues to hold, and most signups generally happen in the last few months, we could very well have 100 or more boats in the fleet.

This year we are going to try a second start point, Newport RI, when we join forces with another rally, the NARC, North Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.  And, as an added treat, we have a planned stop in Bermuda, a nice way to break up the 1,500 mile run to Antigua.

Being back in Bermuda will be a bit of a milestone for me as it will be the first time I have been on that island since I did my very first offshore run several decades ago on a friend’s boat on a delivery back to Norwalk CT following the Bermuda race.

My presentation, tailored to those who are considering a run to Antigua, focused on some of the highlights of Nelson’s Dockyard and the two weeks of events associated with the fleet’s arrival.

Additionally, I talked about a number of special events that we will tie in with during the season including Carnival in Martinique, Yachtie Appreciation week in Dominica, the Easter Regatta in Bequia and the Classic Yacht Regatta in Antigua in April.  We also plan a week or more at a beautiful resort in St Lucia, Marigot Bay Resort.

My talk was about 40 minutes followed by 15 minutes of questions.  If you want a sense of what visiting Antigua and cruising the eastern Caribbean is all about, check out the link to the presentation below.

Doing a talk via Zoom isn’t quite as much fun as presenting to a live audience, with the unblinking camera the only feedback, but it’s a great way to get the word out.  I’d be interested in your thoughts on my presentation.On the home front, it’s nearly the end of June and I am making pretty good progress on my “honey-do” list.  The gardens look wonderful and the kitchen and guest bathroom are “demoed”, if that’s a word and the kitchen floor tile is in place.

Over the next few weeks the new kitchen counters will be delivered and the painters will begin prepping the cabinets for a fresh coat of paint, light grey, I think.

I have also made good progress on the guest bath and expect to begin Sheetrocking today in preparation for the waterproofing of the shower enclosure.  While things are progressing nicely on the kitchen and bath, I’ll admit that I am tiring of living in a construction zone.

The good news is that we can now begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel and soon, I hope to turn my attention to Pandora.

Sadly, work hasn’t yet begun on the installation of the lithium bank and wind generator but I am told that they expect to have the work completed by the end of July.   If they make that date, in spite of having Pandora since mid May, I guess that will be OK.

The good news is that I am not paying for dockage so that has saved me some money at a point when I would not have used Pandora much anyway.  I don’t want to get too excited about that savings as it will be dwarfed by the expense of the new systems.

As soon as I get Pandora back to CT I’ll have to consider what I have time to tackle prior to heading back to Antigua.

All I can say is that I am very glad that I tackled the big projects at home as it makes having Pandora stuck in Deltaville a bit easier to swallow.  Boatless or not, at least I am busy.  However, with Brenda away for much of the middle of July, that would have been a great time for me to bring Pandora north.

Well, we are where we are and things here at home are progressing nicely.  I hope the same will soon be the case for Pandora.

One way or the other, late October and the plan to head south is coming soon and I hope that I am ready to head south with what will likely be the largest fleet, perhaps ever, for the Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean.

Antigua, soon, here we come soon and I hope I’m with them.  If I am, I expect to be warmly welcomed, as I was last November when I was summoned by the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda and presented with a medal for service to the Yachting Community.   I just stumbled on this link to an article about that event.

I wrote about that experience in this post.  I’ll tell you it was a thrill, for sure.  As for Pandora, all I can do is hope…

Kitchen and bath?  That’s a lot more certain, for the moment anyway.

I hate to have to say this yet again but wish me luck and while you’re at it, consider heading to Antigua with the Salty Dawg Rally.  

I sure hope that when it’s time to head back to Antigua, that I am ready.

 

 

Pandora awaits…

Pandora has been in Deltaville for a few weeks now and I am told is in cue to have work on her begin soon.  Having said that, I really don’t know when they will begin the jobs as they are very busy with other work.

Between the upgrade to lithium, the wind generator and the new fuel tank, there is certainly plenty to keep them busy for a while, once they get started.  All of this is going to cost a lot and with that in mind, I wanted to do some of the prep work  to get the boat ready for the new battery bank.

There was a lot of disassembly needed to pull up the floor in the main salon, where the house battery bank is secured.   To provide context, here’s a shot of what the main salon looks like with everything in place.  This photo was taken underway in “passage mode”.  Trashed, yes…but it’s the only “before” shot I had. While I’m on the subject, on passage, we store all of our gear up in the forward cabin, complete with lee cloth to keep everything in place. The batteries are under the main cabin sole and to get at them for replacement, is not a simple job and involved hours of disassembly, something that I didn’t want to pay two guys by the hour to do.

As you can see below, the benches are out as well as the dining table.  The floor had to come up too, obviously.   The batteries, toward the back of the photo, look tiny but they weigh nearly 200lbs each.

Interestingly, the new lithium bank will save in the neighborhood of 500lbs, compared to the current AGM battery bank and yet provide more usable power.

The two tanks forward are for water.  I am told that the two of them total 100 gallons?  I guess, but they re different sizes.  I’ll have to measure them when I get back to see if I can better understand their capacity. If history is any guide, the design specs for the water capacity will not match what is actually in the boat.  To that point, each of the three fuel tanks are reported to be 50 gallons each but based on how much fuel I have been able to fit into each “empty” tank, I believe that it’s more like 35 gallons of useable fuel per tank.

Because of the leaking fuel tank that is out for repair or replacement now, I installed a temporary fuel bladder in one of the vented aft cockpit lockers.  The lost capacity from the leaking tank was about 35 gallons so the 45 gallon capacity of the bladder more than makes up for the missing tank.

Setting aside the leaking tank I have I have two more 35 gallon permanent tanks and 6 five gallon plastic jugs.   So once the leaking tank is repaired/replaced, I will have a combined capacity of 180 gallons.   This will allow me to motor nearly 280 hours, more than 11 days without turning off the engine, a remarkable capacity.

This will allow me to motor at a low RPM, in fuel conservation mode, for more than ten days, enough time to motor nearly all the way to Antigua.

However, more likely, I will just run at a higher RPM to keep moving when the wind is light.   To date, the most hours on the engine for a run south has been 150, more than 100 hours short of my “new capacity”.

I installed the fuel bladder as I was quite concerned about having enough fuel for the run north this spring.  However, we ended up sailing so much of the time that I only used a small fraction of the fuel.  I still had all the fuel left in the jugs as well as the bladder and at least one of the two remaining tanks.   All and all, I only ran the engine about 50 hours, consuming about 30 gallons of the 145 that I had on board.

Here are the components of the bladder assembly as I prepared the system to take to Antigua and Pandora.  The bladder itself is over 5′ long.  There are a lot of parts involved in setting up the system.  The tank does not come with fittings as that gives you the opportunity to put them wherever you wish so you can get good access for filling and transferring fuel at sea.  The bladders are often used by sport fishing boats or yachts making a trans-Atlantic run.  They come in a variety of sizes, most much larger than what I have installed.

I opted for the 52 gallon tank as it fit perfectly in my aft vented cockpit locker.  I sourced the bladder from Defender but the photo on their website shows it with fittings, which it does not include.  However, there are a number of options available and are easy to install.

Beyond working out how to configure the full system, it was particularly difficult to source the fuel transfer pump.  After a lot of looking,  here’s what I came up with.  There are battery powered versions too but I was concerned about the battery loosing it’s charge as it would be used so infrequently.  The roll of tubing is to run from the pump to the forward fill ports for each fuel tank.   The bladder, installed, but still empty, in the aft port vented locker. Here you can see the fill tube, installed near the end of the bladder, with the transfer tube nearby.  The clear tube will attach to the transfer pump that will be stored remotely until I use it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of the filled bladder in place.  I did have some difficulty in filling the bladder with fuel as when the diesel foamed, which it always does, a large “bubble” accumulated in the highest part of the middle of the bladder.  I had some difficulty “burping” out that air.  The foam made the bladder look full even though it was nowhere near capacity.  I was able to get some of that air out by pulling up on the fill hose.  However, that proved to be messy as when the air was released through the fill tube, diesel splattered all over the place.  The solution will be to put a vent tube in the highest part of the bladder that I can open up with a valve to bleed off the captured air.  There is already a screw fitting in place that I can adapt.

All and all, there’s a lot to do on Pandora and that’s only the things that I am asking the yard to do.  I have no idea when I will have Pandora back home but that’s ok if it takes weeks as I have a load of stuff to do here at home.

Having said that, Brenda has a conference in the Carolinas in mid July and that will be a good time to head to VA to bring Pandora home.  I sure hope that the work is done by then.  Given current progress, I can’t say that I am particularly optimistic.

Meanwhile, things are progressing here at home with the tile guy coming on Wednesday to begin putting down the floor tile in the kitchen.  Getting the old tile out, by me, was quite a job but the site is nearly ready to transition from a destruction to a construction zone. . The rebuilding begins this week, first the floor, then the counters and backsplash and finally, painting the cabinets a light grey.  I have been a bit overwhelmed by the process as all the demo had to be done by me.   But, all that is nearly done now so I can turn the job over to the professionals. 

In a few days I begin remodeling the third and final full bath, the one off of the guest room in Brenda’s studio.  I’ll be doing most/all of that job myself and I have to begin the demo before the dumpster is taken away later this week so I can get any rubble out of the place easily.

No rest for the weary, or handy.  Meanwhile, Pandora awaits…

 

 

Pandora is a pariah, but it could have been worse.

Pandora arrived in Deltaville VA this week after an 8 day run from St Thomas.  My crew, Craig, Alex and me were part of the Salty Dawg Homeward Bound Rally to the US, along with about 20 boats, most heading to Hampton VA.

The run was fairly uneventful, setting aside minor mechanical issues and a leaking heat exchanger on the engine.  All and all a, sort of, uneventful voyage.  We did have a very sporty last day before crossing the Gulf Stream when winds picked up to near 30kts for about 12 hours but other than that, we sailed much of the 1,350 miles.

Oddly, after those strong winds and as we approached the Gulf Stream, we had a 180 degree wind shift that took less than a half hour to unfold.  At first I thought that it was actually a result of a squall but then realized that the shift was not temporary.

By the time we got to the Gulf Stream, some hours later, the wind had diminished to less than 10kts and we crossed the Stream in near flat calm conditions.  It felt more like Long Island Sound in August than the mighty Gulf Stream.  It’s all about timing and with Chris Parker’s support, we hit it just right.

As we approached Deltaville, we decided to use the last of our supply of covid tests and learned that all three of us still tested positive.   As you can imagine, this was quite upsetting as it had been quite  along time since we had tested Alex and learned, a few days out from St Thomas, that he was positive.  We assumed that me and Craig were too although we didn’t check ourselves as we didn’t have enough tests on board.

When Craig and Alex first noticed symptoms, we were very upfront with the rally fleet, sending out an an announcement to all that we had been in contact with prior to departure.  We didn’t hear anything back so I am assuming that everyone else was ok.

Fortunately, our symptoms were limited to sore throats and a cough and as all of us had been vaccinated and had been twice boosted, the problem was fairly minor.

By the time we got to our destination we were faced with the question about what to say and do about our condition.  In my case, we were pretty certain that I was the first to get sick so I was probably no longer a threat to anyone.

I won’t go into any details about what happened next except to say that our arrival was akin to a group of lepers showing up at a garden party for hypochondriacs and it wasn’t pretty.  Given the response when word got to them.

I was unsure about how candid to be about our status and ultimately decided not to say anything because I had likely been positive weeks prior and, according to CDC guidelines, was no longer contagious.   However, news travels fast and the marina management found out anyway, along with everyone else in the marina.

To say that it was awkward doesn’t begin to describe what happened and it was clear that we were not welcome.

So, the question wasn’t really about if we were still contagious but that we had tested positive, something that I have learned isn’t necessarily a marker for being contagious after enough time has passed .    The current science, and CDC guidance, is that you are safe ten days following initial onset of symptoms but public opinion isn’t clear on that at all.

Testing negative isn’t necessarily the marker of safety as omicron, the now dominant variant, can continue to test positive up to 90 days past the initial infection.  Based on the reception that we received, good luck trying to explain that when everyone thinks that you can’t reenter society until you have had two days of negative test results.

In the interest of fair balance, I will acknowledge that there are two sides of the story and I should have been more upfront with everyone.  Having said that, there is so much emotion and misinformation out there, I doubt that things would have been much different if I’d said something upfront.   I guess I’ll never know.

Yup, really awkward.

So, we cleaned up Pandora and left as soon as we could.  No reason to hang around when we were clearly not wanted.

Pandora remains in Deltaville awaiting the installation of the lithium bank and some other work to be determined.

Enough of that for now.

Meanwhile… when I’m on passage, I always worry about a catastrophic failure of some sort.  Things always break but they are usually little things.   When it’s really “sporty” or “salty” as Chris Parker likes to say,  I listen to the sounds of the boat and always have in the back of my mind, a fear that the rig is going to fail in some way.

I say this knowing that my standing rigging was replaced two years ago by a very competent rigger but I still worry.   Given all the stresses on any boat in a seaway, I am always amazed that Pandora holds together in spite of everything we run into.

However, sometimes things do break but fortunately, Pandora’s failures have been pretty minor.

Last fall one of our rally boats had a major failure when they lost their forestay in pretty rough conditions.  I won’t go into detail about this except to say that things turned out fine but several Salty Dawg boats came to the rescue and at one point the USCG came out in a chopper from Puerto Rico as someone on board set off their EPIRB emergency transponder, only to cancel the call by the time the chopper arrived.

Fast forward and that same boat was heading back to New York a few weeks ago and found themselves in pretty rough conditions off of Long Island, this time with terrible results.

I don’t know the specifics except to say that the captain reported to the USCG that they had been hit by a “rouge wave” and lost their entire rig.

The USCG send out a Jayhawk chopper and lifted all four crew to safety.   The Coast Guard records video of all operations and to see this footage is very sobering.Check out this link to a news report of the incident from a TV station in Boston.

So, there you have it.  Sure we had a good passage but the arrival, not so much.

All I can say is that it didn’t feel good to be greeted like lepers but at least we didn’t have to be rescued by the USCG.   Having said that, it’s nice to know that they will be there if we need them.

Let’s hope that’s never the case and I hope to never hear the words, “Good evening, I’ll be your USCG rescue swimmer today”.

Nope, I’d much prefer being a pariah as it could have been much worse.

 

 

 

 

Crossing the Gulf Stream

It’s been 8 days since we left St Thomas to make our way back to the US and, all and all, it’s been a fairly easy trip.

Last night, running into a line of nasty squalls, was the most difficult day of the trip.  We had a few minor gear issues that required two of us on deck at midnight to fix an errant reefing line that had to be rerun a few times until we finally got it right.  And there were myriad issues that needed attention but are too numerous to list here.

We were also treated to a full moon that lent a bit of additional drama as we surfed along at 10 kts in big seas and nearly 30 kts of wind. I understand that there was also a lunar eclipse but somehow we missed that, perhaps due to all the excitement and efforts at managing the boat under difficult conditions.

It was certainly our most challenging night of the trip but it’s actually been a pretty uneventful run.  It seemed like I had to go up on deck a dozen times last night to check lines or make minor tweaks and repairs to keep things running smoothly.  It’s been a long time since I had to reef and un-reef so many times in a single night.

It was tough on all of us and I don’t think that I had more than perhaps a cat nap for 10 minutes before things calmed down around dawn when I was finally able to lie down for a few hours.

We also had 180 degree wind shift that happened in about 15 minutes, and was totally unexpected in spite of our downloading current weather information.  It took me a while to understand that it was a shift and not some sort of squall that was changing wind direction temporarily.

As I write this we are about 2/3 of the way across the Gulf Stream, that conveyor belt of warm water that moves up from the Gulf of Mexico nearly to the Arctic and back down past Northern Europe, tempering the climate for millions.    The amount of water that is moved by the current, often at up to 5 kts, is the largest moving body of water on the planet and a huge amount of heat is circulated from the tropics to the Arctic year round.   Imagine a body of water a mile deep and 50 or more miles wide moving at 5 kts 24/7, day after day for millions of years.  That’s a lot of water.

The Gulf Stream also marks the end of the trip for us as the entrance to the Chesapeake is only about 100 miles beyond the western wall of the Stream.

We still have another night at sea and come morning we will enter the Chesapeake and then in another 30 or so miles we will arrive at our destination.

One night more or not, crossing the Gulf Stream is a big deal and signifies  that we have come a long way.

Here’s to being mostly there!

This Could Get Interesting. I Hope Not…

It’s Sunday afternoon and we are sailing along on a broad reach, about 440 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay

I still think that we will arrive in Deltaville, our destination, on Wednesday, probably in the afternoon.

There’s not a lot to report about the weather with pretty good conditions for much of the rest of the trip.

Yesterday evening the wind began it’s shift from the East to the Southwest as the prevailing winds off the US East Coast began to kick in.  This meant that we had wind directly behind us for many hours and light until things finally filled in and allowed us to turn off the engine and begin sailing again.

We ran the engine most of the night and while I generally look into the engine compartment, under the galley sink, about once an hour, I didn’t notice that the engine coolant overflow, a white translucent reservoir that captures excess coolant from the engine when it expands with the heat of the engine, was overflowing.

Normally there is a subtle ebb and flow of coolant in and out of the reservoir as the engine heats up and cools after being shut down.   However, late last night I noticed that the reservoir had filled to overflowing and was spilling into the bilge.

This is not a good thing as it suggests that there is some sort of leak between the heat exchanger that circulates fresh water mixed with antifreeze within the engine and the seawater that circulates around the heat exchanger.
There should not ever be any mixing between the internal cooling system and the sea water (raw water) flow.   Clearly, something has happened to allow seawater to get into the internal cooling area and is forcing the coolant into the overflow.

And it appears to be happening at a fairly consistent rate of about a cup or so every 4 hours.   That doesn’t sound like a lot but it means that when the salt water gets into the engine it is diluting the antifreeze which might allow the hottest parts of the engine to make the water boil.  If that happens, it could cause problems with some portions of the engine not getting enough coolant or the engine cooling system might boil over.

I have estimated that for us to finish the trip we will have to run the engine at least another 24 hours so that suggests that the antifreeze will become dangerously diluted.  The good news is that I have about 1.5 gallons of new antifreeze but in order to make sure that what’s in the now diluted system, I will have to find a way to drain out some of the antifreeze and replace it with new fluid.

This isn’t a terribly complicated process except that it will have to be done on a hot engine, which isn’t great.

All and all, this is manageable but will take constant monitoring to be sure that things don’t get out of hand.

The good news is that we have mostly favorable winds and if needed, we can just go slower and avoid running the engine if the wind falls light.  However, some adverse winds will come up in the Gulf Stream early on Wednesday morning, say around 04:00, and we really have to be past that point by then, so going slow if the wind drops isn’t very practical.

I believe that we can manage things but it could become interesting.  Let’s hope not.

It’s funny, in a not so funny way, how making passage seems to be just a series of “issues” that have to be resolved.  I suppose that’s just like life except you can’t call a repair guy when you are 500 miles from land.

Such is life on the high seas.  Wish us luck

Following Seas and the Wind at our Backs

It’s Friday morning and we are moving along at decent pace, about 6 kts.  I’d like to be going faster but the wind is behind us and not as strong as it was for the first few days.

Our run over the last 24 hours was a bit under 150 miles giving us an average speed of about 6 kts, substantially less than the earlier part of the trip but still acceptable and what the weather forecast suggested would happen.  I expect that this will be the case for the next few days.

We are about half of the way and I still think that we are likely to arrive sometime next Wednesday, giving us a dock-to-dock time of 9 days, considerably less than the near 12 days for my run south last November.

This is not surprising as the run north takes better advantage of prevailing winds and is generally an easier run.   I expect that we may have some days of motoring and perhaps a few days of wind forward of the beam, but it should not be particularly challenging.

Everyone has settled in pretty well, now that the first few days are behind us, which is typical.  It won’t be long until we will have made it more than half way there which is always nice.  And, with the wind continuing to be behind us, it will begin to feel like it’s downhill from here.

Yes, with following seas and the wind at our backs, it’s a pretty good run.

Music to My Ears

Pandora has a way of telling you that she’s moving along nicely.  At just about 7 kts, she begins to hum, a sort of harmonic vibration that you can hear and feel throughout the boat.
I have no idea what the source of this noise is but it is very consistent and depends on the speed of the boat moving through the water, not the speed of the wind.

As 7+ kts is a very nice turn of speed for Pandora, the sound is very much “music to my ears.”

The perennial question that everyone has, including me, when we are on passage, is “when will we get there?”  Of course, as our speed is dependent on the strength and direction of the wind, asking that question is sort of like asking “how much does a car cost.”

Another key question, beyond how fast we are going, is “are we going toward our destination,” which is often not the case at all.

From when we left St Thomas, three days ago, we were basically sailing due north, with the goal of staying east of some nasty thunderstorms that were moving across our path for several days.  A course that wasn’t really toward our destination.

Going the wrong way isn’t great but it’s way better than being stuck in nasty thunderstorms for hours or days.   I will say that getting struck by lightening or being knocked down by 50 MPH winds, makes me very nervous and while a lightening strike is rare, the thought of having all of our electronics fried while far from shore is pretty scary.

Anyway, by heading north for the first few hundred miles, we were able to stay to the east of the storms.  After they passed, we turned a bit farther to the NW and toward our destination.

We still have a long way to go, nearly 1,000 miles, but it is nice to at least be heading in the mostly right direction.  And, we continue to be heading there at a good speed.  I mentioned that we made nearly 190 miles on our first day and I was surprised to see that yesterday’s run was nearly 180 miles.  Very respectable.

So, with about 25% of the run done, and good a good wind forecast for much of the remainder of the trip, it’s beginning to look like we could end up in Deltaville sometime next Wednesday.

Happily, nothing more has broken and the repair on the jib outhaul seems to be holding for now.  With us moving along on a broad reach, the pressures on the rig aren’t all that great, even though the wind speeds are in the low 20s much of the time.

All of this is good as a broad reach is a comfortable point of sail and with the wind in the low 20s, it’s strong enough to keep us moving along nicely.

I guess that the biggest issue for us right now is that we forgot to get cookies so the supply is pretty limited.  I do have a cake mix and as the temperatures seem to be dropping as we get farther north, perhaps I can whip up a cake or cupcakes in the next few days.

Pandora is happy, humming away and that, along with the possibility of cupcakes, is music to Pandora’s crew’s ears.

So far, so good and pointing in the right direction.

Stuff Breaks

One thing that we always worry about when we are offshore is stuff breaking.

Some years ago the headboard at the top of my main tore off, probably because the webbing that attached it to the top of the main decayed in the sun.   Sadly, I didn’t notice that it had any decay until it broke, taking the headboard to the top of the mast and the sail ending up on deck.

Getting that resolved was a harrowing experience that had me going up the mast while far offshort, not an experience that I want to repeat.   It was terrifying, to say the least.

Well, today we had yet another failure but in this case it wasn’t all that bad.  The jib is on a boom and to pull the sail out there is a line that runs from the aft end of the boom up to a block on the back of the jib and out to the end of the boom.   This line takes a tremendous amount of load so the line is a fairly high tech material with a special anti-chafe exterior to help it resist breaking.

Unfortunately, that line failed anyway leaving the jib flapping madly in the wind.

With help from Craig and Alex I was able to rerun the remaining line and tie it back onto the fitting on the boom and after about an hour we were back in business.
I will say that I am not confident that it will hold so I am going to watch the repair carefully.  So far, so good.

One reason that folks opt to leave their boats south for the summer is to avoid the wear and tear on crew and boat and it’s issues like this that are a good example of why that makes sense.

The forces at work as the boat moves through the water at 8-9 kts for days on end are pretty remarkable and it is no wonder that things break.

Speaking of 8-9 kts, we had quite a run for our first 24 hours, a total of just under 190 miles, an average speed of 7.9 kts, an impressive performance.

Chris Parker has had us moving more to the north for a few days to avoid a line of very strong thunderstorms but we should be able to begin heading for the Chesapeake, perhaps Thursday morning.

All and all, the wind should be mostly favorable and behind the beam most of the time.  I am hopeful that we will continue to sail with good wind and hopefully, won’t be hit with any major thunderstorms.

A squall isn’t all that bad but lightning can be a real trial, something that we want to avoid.

So, as of now things have been pretty standard, with the exception of that broken line.

Let’s hope that our luck holds out, along with the favorable winds.
And yes, it’s still hot and sticky.  The good news is as we get farther north things should cool down.

I guess that’s about it for now.  it’s nearly time to think about what to make for dinner.   Simple sounds good.

Underway at Last…Deltaville, Here We Come!

It’s Tuesday afternoon and we have been underway since 10:00 this morning.  After two days in a marina with the AC running, I have to say that it is hot.  Try 90 degrees down below.

As we have to keep Pandora buttoned up to avoid having the occasional wave find it’s way down below, it really doesn’t cool down much in the cabin.  As the engine is under the galley, all the heat from that mass of iron radiates into the cabin for hours after it’s turned off.

Eventually, it cools off a bit but then we have to run the engine again to charge the batteries and the cycle starts all over again.  Hopefully, once I have a new battery bank and a wind generator, I will not have to run the engine quite as much.  Of course, all this assumes that there is wind.

And there is, wind that is, about 15 kts on the beam.  A lovely point of sail. The sea state is reasonable and Pandora is tracking well at about 8 kts, a a respectable turn of speed.

I tried to set up the wind vane steering today and gave up after a while.  I guess I am out of practice.  Perhaps tomorrow.  It is a good way to cut down on electrical consumption compared to using the electronic autopilot, so I don’t have to recharge quite as often.

I am always amazed about how much has to be done to get ready to head offshore.  Moving from island to island means that we have to put everything away that might come loose and break or crash around down below.  However, at sea for days at a time, there are so many unknowns that we have to prepare for just about everything.   Big waves, rough conditions, high winds, you name it…

While I don’t put the dink on deck when we are moving between islands, offshore I deflate it and put it up on deck, securely lashed to the cabin top.  The engine is put in it’s holder on the stern pulpit and the sailcover is securely lashed out of the way to avoid any sort of chafing.

Between that, changing the engine oil and filters along with checking for loose fittings and belts that might be worn, and grocery shopping for two weeks of meals at sea, it takes a full two days to get everything in order.

And, of course, ultimately it’s about the weather. In preparation for the departure of the rally, about 20 boats strong, Chris Parker spent about an hour last night and Sunday going over what we should expect to encounter along the way.

I won’t go into a lot of detail except to say that we are currently heading due north and not directly to the Chesapeake to avoid a very nasty line of thunderstorms that are directly in our path.  By heading north for a few days and then bearing off to the northwest, we will hopefully avoid the front and then have a better angle of wind to head the rest of the way.

That isn’t much out of our way and I am hopeful that we will have a straight shot to the Chesapeake after perhaps Thursday.

With all of this in mind, and if the wind holds for most of the trip, we should arrive at the mouth of the Chesapeake sometime next Wednesday.

That would be a pretty good passage of about 1,400 miles.

So, all is well and soon I’ll begin getting dinner ready.  A rotisserie chicken, chilled, over greens.  A good first-day-at-sea dinner.

More tomorrow about how it’s going.