Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Final preparations...

Alizee is back in her berth at Oriental Yacht Harbor.  On Tuesday, Deaton's finished off the work and we tested her on the water. 

I can't believe it, but with Deaton's mechanic/ tow-boat captain on board, we went aground one more time at green marker #5 at Whittaker Point.  The mud has obviously been drifting a lot.  It was a big embarrassment for Gary as well as for me, but John Deaton quickly came out and has us free.... Ten minutes later, as we looked back at the channel when starting our water test, we saw a Beneteau that obviously had gone aground right after us.  You can literally see the mud in the aerial photo here, and marker five is close to center one-third down from the top of the photo ... you can make out the channel, which ends in the center of the photo.  One has to be more than careful navigating some of these little channels and harbors on Pamlico Sound.

Once back, I got my Sirius Weather working and have been trying to determine when a weather window is going to appear.  It looks like we've got some stormy days this weekend and the start of next week, so we'll probably motor down to Beaufort, NC - about a 4-5 hour trip - and hold there for a day or two so we can jump out at the first window.  Have to be in Marsh Harbor, Abacos, by March 11th.

I've defrosted the refrigerator/freezer and will get perishables tomorrow in New Bern.  I've been doing little minor stuff around the boat: trouble-shot the shower pump and reattached a loose wire, washed down some lines and canvas chafe protectors, and such.  Managed to get my taxes done and filed on Turbo-Tax and set up automatic deposits for refunds (the silver-lining to the recession is that I overpaid estimated taxes by a bundle) as well as for my new townhouse mortgage (refinancing in January was another silver-lining).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

So, how about getting that boat ready...

We've all heard the stories about the folks who buy a boat to go cruising and spend year after year at the dock trying to get the beast ready for the journey. Today I met a couple who made enough in the software business in the San Francisco Bay Area to take leave of work in their thirties. They'd never sailed, but they decided to buy a nine-year old Pacific Seacraft 40 in Rhode Island about six months ago (now Tarvana out of Santa Cruz, CA) and they've finally made it down to Oriental, N.C. They seem to have no fear and freely admit docking is terrifying. But they are certainly not sitting around trying to overcome their fears a year at a time at the docks.

Now I don't quite fit in either category. Because of my several years with the Islander Bahama 28 Dog Days and a few more with the Cal 39-2 Spindrift, both in the Bay Area, I'm feeling ready to just jump offshore - like the young couple I just met - but my comfort zone sometimes leads me to be the proverbial lets-get-everything-ready-before-we-leave-the-slip sort of cruiser.  So, I've tried to be thorough in getting everything ready, but I'm leaving in a week or so, whether everything is ready or not.  Doing this has made my stay in Oriental this past month interesting and busy, and it's also made me a major contributor to the Oriental local economy.

At last, all the big purchases are done.  Life raft is to be delivered this week (that took two weeks of decision-making), and I've whittled the list of remaining purchases down to five or six very small items, all of which I've got on order with my favorite boutique, West Marine.  I've got most of the non-perishable provisions aboard.  It is truly amazing how many things you can stick into hidden lockers.  The provisioning inventory is growing in size and I really cannot believe I can get this much on a little 36 foot cutter.  Hats off to Bill Crealock, the designer of Alizee.

I bought Alizee almost nine months ago in Annapolis, and since she'd already cruised the Bahamas for several years when she came to me, she was pretty well set up: watermaker, air conditioning, diesel space heater, autopilot, Kiss wind generator, SSB radio.  The only system I didn't really like was the Sitex radar working through computer based Nobeltec navigation.  So, in Annapolis, I replaced this system with Raymarine C-80 chart plotter/radar system.  I also installed davits, bought a new Walker Bay dinghy and 9.6 outboard, replaced the interior upholstry, and did some other minor things.  Then I had a wonderful trip down the Chesapeake to Norfolk and then on  down the ICW to Oriental, N.C., where I had a berth awaiting me at Oriental Yacht Harbor.

All seemed fine with the Alizee at that point, and I thought myself ready to head for the Bahamas as soon as I could get back from California in 2009.  The only problem that lurked was to determine a whistling sound that engine made the last 15 hours or so down the ICW, which I thought was probably the cutlass bearing.

But, then, since sailors always are finding new things to play with, I decided it might be prudent to add AIS (a ship identification receiver) to my electronic array along with Sirius Marine Weather (you know the satellite radio system).  So, I had that done a couple of weeks ago, and I finally got Deaton's Yacht Service to come and check out the engine noise. 

Ah ha!!  Here's where knowing local sailing conditions starts to pay off.  I had tried to arrange for a diver to clean the bottom and keep an eye on the zincs before I left for the Bay Area last September, but no one seemed prepared to take on such a task.  As fall and then winter approached, I assumed cold waters disuaded divers, particularly since my friend and past-Encinal Yacht Club member Karl Lichty, also in Oriental, tried without success to find us divers.  Therefore, I just accepted that not much would happen in five months, so no one dove the boat, and the result is where the present fun began.

I first noticed that Alizee had sluggish power forward when going to get fuel (and going aground...see the previous post), but I assumed the water was just really thin and I was simply skimming the bottom here and there.  But when the Deaton's folks came over and their mechanic Gary (who also was captain of the Tow Boat US that pulled me off the mud a couple of days before) joined Penelope and me for a ride on the Neuse River, she wouldn't go over 3000 rpm in forward, though in reverse she'd hit 3500 rpm easily.  A slipping transmission?  What might it be.  Could be a shaft problem.  Or ... maybe ... just maybe ... barnacles on the prop!  Fingers crossed, we took Alizee over to haul her and discover the problem.

Is nothing easy???  Maneuvering into position to back into the travel lift, with the Tow Boat US captain aboard my vessel, I went aground again.  I'll tell you, it was not pretty, and I can say, dredging is something sorely needed on the Pamilco Sound and Neuse River area of North Carolina if they want to keep their moniker "the sailing capitol of North Carolina."  Nonetheless, I got her backed into position and an able yard crew pulled her on to the lift straps and up she went.
The moment she came out of the water we saw the thrust problem: barnacles ... more barnacles than I've ever seen.  It's amazing the prop turned at all.  And, once we got the barnacles off and the prop pulled off (to be treated to slow future barnacle growth), it was clear the cutlass bearing was bad.  Just as I had thought.  So, I authorized cleaning and treating the prop, replacing the cutlass bearing, replacing the zincs, and also asked  Gary, the mechanic, to service my Yanmar engine and walk me through the process.  I can tell you, it's no Perkins 4-108, and I discovered a couple of things in the lessons that would have stumped me no end, such as replacing the impeller and exactly what tools I ought to have.
Penelope and I spent two nights on the hard, living aboard of course, and we took advantage of the time to clean and polish the hull and much of the stainless.  I marked the anchor with bright yellow ties every twenty feet, and generally we enjoyed the time out of water. 
Karl and Lucy Lichty came down from New Bern, and we had dinner at the Neuse River Yacht Club and I played keyboards for the folks there ... Lucy set this up ... she told the owner, Wayne, that I was pretty good on the piano, and she got me in to play Valentines Day night.  Wayne and the club members liked it so much, I've been asked back twice now. My little 66-key Yamaha keyboard is not as nice as the old Encinal Yacht Club piano, but it's surely nice to have with me.
Obviously, we all had a great time.  Good music, good food, good wine!  And when morning arrived, we had Alizee, with a brightly polished prop, a new cutlass bearing, and a well serviced engine (see Alizee's maintenance log for specifics) ...
... ready to go back in the water, where she had to spend a couple of days settling in so that the shaft alignment could be checked and adjusted.  Along the way, I had the yard replace the Raymarine anemometer, on which the set screw had backed out, causing the cups to fall to the deck.  Better they go to the top of the mast than me, don't you think?
Penelope had to drive back to Florida on Sunday (she's flying over to the Bahamas after I get there), so I spent the day putting away provisions and updating my inventories in preparation for the crossing and next two months.  This morning Gary came aboard to repack the stuffing box and check the shaft alignment and finish up a couple of small things.  The alignment is okay, but the shaft has a slight bend in it and it looks as though it may need replacing in a year or two.  Certainly the engine mounts need some attention, but that can be deferred for now (thank you lord, for the money is running out).  Soon I'll be back at Oriental Yacht Harbor and can finish up the final provisioning of perishable goods.

I'm feeling like my crew, Rob Woltring and Keith Rarick, who arrive from California on Saturday: "We can't wait to get to sea!"

More photos

Monday, February 16, 2009

Aground again...

After a really pleasant week of fairly warm weather and reasonably moderate breezes, the weather predicted colder and more unpleasant conditions: lows in the high twenties, highs in the 40s and low 50s.  Since my fuel gauge was reading less than a quarter tank of diesel, I decided I'd better get fuel so I could safely run the Espar diesel heater as much as my little shivering body desired in the coming days.  I decided this inspite of the fact that I was pretty sure I had more fuel than the gauge indicated, but it had been a few months since I'd been aboard Alizee, and maybe I had a bad recollection of how much fuel was in the tank after bringing her down to Oriental from Norfolk last August.  So, I girded my loins and hunted up Rodney, the assistant dock master, to help me get her from my slip at Oriental Yacht Harbor to the fuel dock a couple of thousand yards across the harbor near Oriental's town dock (as seen from this web cam).

Now, first of all, understand that Alizee is still new to me.  I've been sailing fin keel boats the past decade and I'm still not too comfortable (well, really not comfortable at all) with full-keel boats, even cut-away full keel boats like Alizee.  So the very idea of backing out of a slip is tentative, if in wind of any sort a bit terrifying, and from a fixed dock slip with pilings and such it's almost prohibitive.  But, the wind came up (okay only ten knots plus but nevertheless...) and the fixed dock with its pilings was a matter of fact, so there I was, backing out, Rodney using all his muscle and weight to help guide me out ... he was going to jump on, but couldn't at the last minute, so there I was on my own.

Well, this was a test.  What the hell, I'm supposed to be going to the Bahamas for two months where I'll be on my own quite a bit, I suppose ... HEY! WHERE ARE MY EYC FRIENDS WHO ALL WANT TO COME TO THE BAHAMAS?  LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU WANT TO COME!

So, I'm putting down the fairway, feeling pretty good about myself.  "Aye, aye skipper, you're doin' all right now."  And as I make the turn across the wide open harbor, going inside a sailboat anchored in the middle, I get a yell from the captain of that boat.

"Ahoy, I've got an anchor out there.  Watch out you don't snag it."

I look around, see that I've already long passed his anchor line.  "I'm sure I didn't snag it," I answer.  And, then ... then ... I realize I'm almost dead in the water.  I put my eyes back on the depth finder, which was six feet or so when the other captain hailed me, and ... OMIGOD! ... it's two-and-a-half feet.  I'm dead in the water.  Aground!  On the mud!  Expletive deleted!

I see Rodney, walking briskly around the harbor to meet me at the fuel dock, and I hold my arms up in dispair.  He leans on a railing, and I can see him chuckling aloud.  "Welcome to North Carolina," he seems to be saying.  "You're one of us now."

The captain from the anchored sailboat offers to row his dinghy over and carry my anchor out so that I might kedge off.  I think he feels a bit guilty that he distracted my eyes from my depth finder with his concerns which were clearly slight.  He did a yeoman's job carrying my anchor and chain rode out at least a hundred meters, but when I started winching the anchor in, and it dug in, the mud proved to have too strong a grip on Alizee's cut-away full keel.  Now I couldn't even bring the anchor in, as the windlass simply slipped.

Now I faced a couple of options.  Wait for the tide to go up ... at least six hours ... or do what all farsighted captains do ... call "vessel assist" and get a free tow because one was farsighted enough to have signed up for the boater's equivalent of the motorist's AAA resuce plan.  I know, you're thinking I wasn't that farsighted.  But, how wrong you are!  Not only am I farsighted, I have an unlimited "Captain's" card.  So, I called US Boat/Vessel Assist, and in fifteen minutes the tow-boat from Deaton's Yacht Service was tying up beside me, doing the paper work, and in another fiftenn minutes had raised my anchor and pulled me out of the mud.

In another fifteen minutes I pulled up to the Oriental fuel dock, where Rodney and the fuel dock attendant helped tie me up.  I fueled up (and wouldn't you know it, it took only twenty gallons; I was not even half empty; so much for the fuel gauge's accuracy), and I also filled up my water tanks (110 gallons all together), and washed off the mud from the foredeck that had been hauled up by the anchor and chain.

Leaving the fuel dock, the wind struck over 25 knots ... as I later discovered it only hit 25-27 knots during the thirty minutes I was leaving the fuel dock and heading to my slip. ... I had to try turning around twice to get headed out the harbor, and then when I reached my slip, it took three tries to get into the slip.  Thanks to help from Rodney, who rode with me on the little trip back to the slip, and to the harbormaster Ross and another sailor on the docks, I got back in.  Whew!

And all this was before noon.  Just another day living on a boat and getting ready to go cruising.  That afternoon the rain started threatening, and I managed to get my bimini up just in time to keep my dry in the cockpit.  Not sure what's next, but it's all one step at a time.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Boat prep...

Back in Oriental, and Alizee is looking good...
The past two weeks seem to have flown by, day after day filled with the tasks of provisioning and supplying Alizee with all stuff necessary to embark on a two-month cruise and with checking out systems to make sure they’re working correctly.  If I’d owned her for longer or spent more time aboard than just a few weeks over the past half-year, I suppose it would go a lot more easily, but such is life.  Instead, it’s been a bit frenetic and my insecurities abound with each new little task.
I started it out by starting to purchase provisions … food and household supplies … which was not too hard, particularly since Penelope was here to offer suggestions and join me in treks to the market.  Alas, she had to return to Florida, the real work of figuring out the needed boat stuff emerged, and I’ve spent at least a week haunting West Marine, the local marine consignment store, and Oriental’s “Inland Waterway Treasure and Provisioning Company,” not to mention buying on-line.  The purchases have been miniscule (shackles for the dinghy anchor line and gasket seal) to substantial (a Winslow four-man life raft and AIS and marine weather systems), and not surprisingly I’ve made a couple of duplicate buys, which then have required my tracking back to red-facedly making returns. 
On the whole, the buying and installation process of things has gone pretty well.  Pete Waterson, owner/operator of Seacoast Marine Electronics, provided and installed my AIS (automatic ship identification) and Sirius Marine Weather systems, which are integrated with my Raymarine C-80 chartplotter and radar, and along the way Pete helped me trouble-shoot my Link 20 battery monitors and reinstall my mast-top wind speed device.  New boxes at the bottom of the aft hanging locker (actually the only usable one, since the air conditioning unit is in the larger forward hanging locker), and wires, wires everywhere...

I’m still trying to work out some engine maintenance and trouble-shooting with Deaton’s Yacht Service, but it should get done in the next week.
The past three days I’ve finally finished putting together on Excel a full inventory of all the boat supplies (spare parts, tools, and such) as well as a full inventory of provisions (food, household supplies, and such), which indicates where every item is stored and how many units of each item there are.  I’ll use this to fill in final gaps in things … especially food provisions … and then the inventories become the working resupply documents for boat management.   

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Oriental at last...

We left Florida on Tuesday and stopped for the night in Georgetown, South Carolina.  It is a great little harbor town, and we had a great dinner at the River Room in the historic center of town overlooking the harbor.
When we drove north the next morning we were pretty stunned to be driving into a snow storm in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, home to surfing and summer fun.  The snow finally disappeared when we drove through Wilmington, North Carolina, but Karl Lichty told me on the phone that it was snowing in New Bern.  Thankfully, when we reached Oriental in the afternoon, the snow had melted away, but there was snow on the ground that morning as this photo plainly shows.
The last couple of days have been filled with hunting down items on my boat supply list (dinghy anchor, rode, shackles, security chain, tethers, jack lines, oil changing pump, another PDF, new BBQ, locks, varnishing materials, ditch bag, etc), as well as getting groceries for my stay here in Oriental for the next three weeks plus starting provisioning for the Bahamas trip (a lot more of that to do).  Penelope has been a big help in making suggestions and getting storage ideas sorted out on Alizee.  Alas, she had to return to Florida today, so I'm on my own until Rob and Keith get here on the 28th.