Monday, April 20, 2009

Marsh Harbour and still varnishing ...

I'm getting into the home stretch on renewing Alizee's exterior varnish.  I got the first coat on the caprails yesterday and sanded for the second coat today.  I would have liked to have put down the second coat but rain is predicted for tonight, and I would have hated seeing the whole thing ruined by rain coming too soon, so I've gotten pretty good at patience ... it's perhaps the greatest virtue for a sailor to have.

Meantime, I've read a couple of good books: E. L. Doctorow's The March: A Novel, about Sherman's famous march through Georgia and up through the Carolinas in 1864/65, and although I'm sure I read it some years ago, he's such good writer, I enjoyed it almost as though it were a first read.  I'm now reading Graham Swift's Waterland, a story told through the narration of an English grammar school history teacher.  So far I'm finding it fascinating and absorbing.  On the sailing side of things, I've read John Kretschmer's Flirting with Mermaids, which is a well-told memoir of his life as a delivery captain.  I highly recommend it.  I also read Tom Horton's An Island Out of Time: A Memoir of Smith Island in the Chesapeake, which initially was excellent but seemed to lose its punch and holding power toward the end.  But if you're interested in the Chesapeake environment, the lives of watermen and their women in this part of the bay where life has hardly changed in a hundred years, it's well worth looking over.

Saturday night I went to the Jib Room Restaurant in Marsh Harbour Marina for their steak night.  They do a great rib dinner on Wednesday nights, which I've had a couple of times, but I was a little leery about steak.  Au contrair, the steak was the best I've had eating out in years, perfectly medium rare, a crispy well-baked potato, steamed vegies, and a nice salad.  Yum, yum!!

And, I had some good conversations, particularly with three fellows who had just sailed down from Wilmington, North Carolina in their Hinkley 42 center cockpit ketch.  Unlike the mill-pond which Keith, Rob, and I crossed, they had a good and fast ride down in 12-14 foot seas with 15-20 knots of breeze and they made it in three days.  They are hoping to go on down through the Exumas and Turks and Caicos to the Dominican Republic and asked, since one of them has to leave in a week from here, would I like to come along.  I didn't have to think twice about saying no, but it was nice to be asked.  I saw them today and they were trying to fix a major problem ... one of their fuel tanks sprung a leak, and they had to get all the fuel transferred to the other tank and repair the leak.  Oy vey!  That's a problem I surely would hate to have.

Another "cold" front is coming in from the eastern seaboard tonight, so I'm readying myself to spend the night watching the anchor.  So far I've not dragged anchor anywhere, although I did re-anchor the other night because someone else anchored to close to me.  They should have moved but seemed nonchalant about it, so I figured I'd must move, make some hot water with the motor running, and then get a nice shower.  Life is too good here to get upset over small shit.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Zen and the art of outboard motor maintenance...

Over the past three or four days, I've confined myself largely to the boat and to varnishing, finally getting two coats of varnish on all the exterior teak except the caprails.  And, I got the last coat on just in the nick of time, for about ten hours later a deluge came by way of a line of squalls in front of another cold front moving off the Southeast U.S.  The rain did not spoil it at all, for which I was very grateful. 

But boats and their gods have a way of giving with one hand and taking away with the other.  The morning after the rainstorm, I decided to hold off on the caprail until after the cold front, which was promised that evening.  Since my batteries were down half way, I ran the engine for an hour to charge them up ... the wind generator keeps up pretty well, but over about three days or so if the winds are not a steady 15 knots, the generator cannot produce enough amps.  While I don't like running the engine without a load, at least it gave a byproduct which I enjoyed: hot water.  So as soon as possible after I cut the engine, I took a warm shower. 

In the process of showering, the head sort of instantly gets washed down, so a byproduct of my body washing is cleaning the head, and this led me to decide to do other boat chores for the day: brush down the upolstery, clean the cabin sole, pack up all the garbage and take it in to a dumpster, do a load of wash, and also pick up my Raymarine C-80 chart plotter, which was finally repaired.  So around noon I loaded a big bag of garbage as well as a bag of laundry into the dinghy, and then the boat god bit me.

I could not get the engine started.  For an hour I tried all the recommended techniques, read the owners manual over, pulled the spark plugs and cleaned them, and nothing seemed to work.  Eventually I off loaded the garbage and laundry bags onto Alizee, and called a couple of local shops, both of which directed me to Rainbow Rentals, where Andy told me to bring it in the next morning to his shop down by the freight dock.  A bit later, I heard an "ahoy" outside, stuck my head up and Harvey and Nancy Melfi from Stardust, anchored just near me, stopped by to ask if I'd heard about the boat dragging through the anchorage during the storm.

"Did you hear the horns blasting," asked Harvey.

"Not a sound," I replied a bit sheepishly.  "I slept right through it.  I'm glad it wasn't me dragging.  I've got enough problems."

"Say, how are you with outboards, Harvey?" and I told him my problem.  He suggested I try putting in new sparkplugs, as he'd experienced a similar problem a year before and that worked.  I said I'd try that, but I only had one spare plug (the engine takes two), so he agreed to stop by around 1600 and, if changing out one plug hadn't gotten the problem solved, he'd take me in to the marine store to get some more new plugs.  I tried it, and briefly got the engine started, but it died and wouldn't restart just after I untied from Alizee, so I got to row back to Alizee.  

True to his word, Harvey stopped by around 1600 and took me into National Marine, where I bought the last three new plugs of my engine's type.  While there we bumped into an old friend of Harvey's who said he'd had the same problem a while back and the plugs were the solution, so I was uplifted and we went back to  Alizee where I swapped out the plugs.  Ah ha!  Success!!  The engine fired and kept running, so I dinghied over to Stardust to thank Harvey and get a boat card from him.  Wouldn't you know it!  The damned engine died when I turned it down to idle, and it would not start again.  Harvey agreed he'd tow me into Rainbow Rentals in the morning, and I rowed back to Alizee thoroughly dejected, frustrated, exhausted, and drained.  I tilted the engine on the dinghy, leaving it out of the water, a practice I sometimes do, but often don't because I'm in and out of it so often, and poor Penelope got to hear me whine for most of our evening Skype conversation.

The night brought the cold front (really not very cold, just wind, lightning, and rain), and for me it was pretty exciting because I'm not used to lightning.  I think we had a couple of strikes within a couple of thousand yards, although I haven't heard that any boats suffered a hit.  Anyhow, I didn't sleep too well because of my frustration over the engine and the storm, and was up before 0800 to get ready to take the dinghy over to the shop.  When Harvey pulled up, he said: "Have you tried starting it?"  "No," I replied."  "Well, go ahead and try it."  And, damned if it didn't start up on the first pull, just like it's suppose to start.  "I'll follow you over," said Harvey, and we set out across the harbour.

When we arrived at Rainbow's docks, I turned off the engine and then restarted it ... just like it's supppose to restart.  Nevertheless, we walked up to the shop and talked to Andy, the owner.  After telling him everything that I'd tried, what the symptoms were, and so forth, he suggested a couple of other things I might do if it kept recurring.  It might be the carbuerator, getting a little water in it, and I could drain it and also check for a fuel blockage by pump fuel through with the drain out.  It could be the kill switch faulting, and I could override that by disconnecting a single wire.  Meantime, maybe it resolved itself, he said.  "Just like the boat gods to do that," I mused.

She started right up and has successfully started and restarted a half-dozen more times today, allowing me to pick up my C-80 plotter, go to the wine shop to restock the larder, and sneak into Curly Tails for a quick lunch ... sort of in celebration.  Of course, I now notice another oddity on the engine ... the oil warning lamp goes out after the engine's started as it is supposed to go out, but then comes back on and stays on.  I know there is plenty of oil (I checked it when changing plugs three or four times), and the owners manual troubleshooting guide gives only two options.  The warning light being on either is saying the engine is running to slowly and there's no oil pressure, or the warning light is defective.  I'm guessing it's the latter, or perhaps I jiggled a wire when puzzling on the the starting problem.

Well, another day in the cruiser's life, and another way to gain respect for the boat gods.  At least I've got a good classic boat, and I'm not driving what I can only describe as a most bizarre sort of watercraft, a waterborne RV.  The Abacos is clearly not the Caribbean ... it's all too Floridian (thinking Boca Rotan) or Southern Californian (thinking Newport Beach), although this RV appears to be sporting a German flag ... go figure.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Practicing the Zen art of varnishing in Marsh Harbour...

To wile away the days that Penelope is cavorting in Florida, spreading mulch across her yard, planting rose bushes, and spray painting anything old and rusty she can get her hands on (it's a good thing I'm in the Bahamas), I am at anchor in Marsh Harbour reading, napping, doing the ocassional boat chore, enjoying my sundowner martinis, and trying out the only cheap wines available here, which are from Chile and are not bad at all ... I especially like a Cab/Merlot blend under the Aliwen label made from grapes provided by the Undurraga family, which owns over 2000 acres of prime vineyards in Chile's foremost appellations, the Maipo and Colchagua Valleys.  At $10 a bottle, it's a good buy.

Meanwhile Penelope and I manage to stay in close touch with each other thanks to my investing in the new Engenius wireless internet antenna, and also thanks to Yahoo Messenger and Skype.  We've discovered that we can have pretty clear video conversations over Yahoo, and recently even clearer and better video phone coversations on Skype-to-Skype.  So we talk a couple of times a day, which makes being apart a little less onerous.  Not tolerable, mind you, but just not brutally painful.

After watching yet another lovely sunset a couple of days ago, I decided that I should start paying attention to the varnish, which is starting to wear.  So, I have turned to the Zen art of varnishing, beginning by chipping away some bad spots, sanding, and building them back up as best I can.  This is never very satisfactory, particularly because I really don't know what kind of varnish (or clear coat) is already there.  The way it is breaking off, I'm pretty sure it's a clear coat of some sort, probably a clear coat over Cetol.  But, I am not going to undertake stripping everything and starting over.  I'll save that for another year.  The patching will just have to do for now.

Today, however, in addition to doing the third or fourth build up coat on my patches, I taped and sanded and applied a full coat of Epifane high gloss to the eyebrows.  Taping and sanding is not my thing, but I do love flowing a nice coat of varnish on to teak.  There is really something absorbing about the process, getting just the right amount on one's brush so that once applied it doesn't run, blending about an eight inch run into the run just done before, and doing it with just two to three strokes of the brush.  It's not painting, at all, but really is flowing the varnish on to the teak.   I can hardly wait for tomorrow so that I can sand and apply a second coat.  Already the eyebrows look much better!

There is a lot of wood on Alizee: teak combing around the cockpit, probably twenty linear feet, a teak caprail which is close to ninety linear feet, and then a teak trim piece of the same length below the caprail on the hull exterior.  There is are also two dorade boxes, and then, of course, the hatch covers and companion way trim.  Inside is almost entirely teak, and while there is work to be done inside, I need to find some good satin varnish for that, something that could not be found in Oriental, N.C., and which would be outrageously expensive here.

The cost of things in the Bahamas is truly exorbitant.  Anything that is imported has a duty on it, for some things such as U.S. wines, apparently as high as 55%.  Hard liquor seems to be about the same price as in the U.S., but beer (Budweiser, Red Stripe, Heinikin, etc) sells at over $45 a case or more.  The only reasonably priced good beer is Kalik, the Bahamian beer made in Nassau, which is still $36 a case.  Food is expensive, too, again because of import duties.  It used to be that parts for boats "in transit," that is on a cruising permit in the Bahamas, could be shipped in duty-free, but a couple of years ago the government ended that, which means lots of folks carry spare parts in their luggage or just don't fix things until they return to the U.S.  I had considered having a watermaker part shipped in, but decided against it.  Water is available and relatively inexpensive, so I can do without it this trip.

Well, it's time for that martini, for it's past five o'clock and another sunset will soon be on the way.  And, I have to consider what I'm cooking up for dinner tonight.  Chili is on my mind, and since I've got all the stuff, I might just as well do that....

Sunday, April 05, 2009

National Maritime Historical Society to meet in Vallejo, CA ...

This doesn't happen often, but for all my friends in the SF Bay Area, particularly the Encinal Yacht Club, take note that the NMHS is meeting in Vallejo at the California Maritime Academy, CSU in Vallejo from 14-17 May 2009.

If you like the sea, sailing vessels, steamships, the whole maritime shebang, then you'll really enjoy this gathering! For more plus registration information go to the Sea History web site.

Wish I could get back for it, but you'll just have to take notes for me!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Manjack to Green Turtle to Guana to Marsh Harbour ...

April 4 - We left Manjack Cay on March 31, a dreary day with flat seas, and we motored at 2300 rpm the 4.14 nm to Fisher's Bay on Green Turtle Cay in an hour.  We got a nice spot just off New Plymouth settlement and went into the Pineapple for a sundowner, where we had a good time talking with some other cruisers.

Next morning, we readied to leave for Guana Cay, which would take us through the Whale Cay channel ... out on the Atlantic for a couple of nautical miles, then back into the Sea of Abaco.  We left, under sail, and enjoyed a wonderful 25 nm sail in just under 5 hours, averaging 5.3 knots, maxing 7.9 knots, and catching a Blue Runner Jack coming out the Whale Channel into the Atlantic ... about 14" and it provided two very nice fillets which Penelope deftly managed to prepare, and for which I deftly managed sushi rolls for two meals +.  Excellent!!

We arrived at Fisher's Bay, Guana Cay, and had our first failure to anchor on the first try, primarily because the chain got jammed and we dropped it in grass, which did not hold.  Seemingly out of nowhere, Rick Clayton, Sojourner, a Catalina 380 from Houson, Texas, appeared and led us over to a spot of sand.  A retired cop, Rick seemed to take great pleasure in helping out folks, whether they appeared to need it or not, and led several other boats into good anchoring spots. 

After we were set, he told us there was a cruisers' potluck at Grabbers that evening ... just bring in a dish (anything), buy your drinks at Grabbers and enjoy.   Before we got things ready, we got a hail from Sojourner: was that our dinghy that Rick had snagged and was saving from drifting away.  Yep, it sure was.  How embarrassing!

The cruisers' potluck was fun, I baked some biscuits (regular and banana nut), and we had a good time, meeting some U.S. cruisers as well as a couple from Germany who keep their boat in the Bahamas.  Rick's wife, Linda, didn't come in, as she's recovering from  ear infection that keeps her in during the evenings.

The next morning we arose thinking about heading off to Marsh Harbour, and when I went to pull in the fishing line I had sitting on the bottom, it had been pulled way out.  As I tried to pull it in, it appeared to be caught around Sojourner's anchor line, but I didn't see how, since only a few feet were out and barely reaching the bottom.  Then I got a hail from Rick ... he was pulling my line, which he'd found wrapped around his anchor line.  He cut it, I reeled it in, he saved the swivel, and Penelope solved the riddle.  When she awoke during the evening, she thought she heard the fishing line going out.  She looked but saw nothing and went to back to sleep imagining it was a dream.  Alas, a bottom fish had snagged the lure and bait, made off with it, and in the process wrapped it around Sojourner's anchor line, whence it broke and the fish was free.  Must have been pretty good size ... the leader was 30 lb +.

Anyhow, once the line was freed, Sojourner headed off to Treasure Cay, we repaired our line, put on a new lure (one I'd gotten in Oriental), and set off for Marsh Harbour.  We had to beat most of the way on tacks with 17-25 knots and maybe gusts up to 30 knots, but we managed the 17.4 nm in 4:30 hours.  When we got just inside the North Man-O-War Channel and tacked back to Marsh Harbour, we still had our fishing line out, and lo-and-behold we hooked what appeared to be another small Jack, but while reeling it in, it jumped the hook.  Great fun, but too bad.

We sidled into Marsh Harbour in early afternoon, dropped anchor very close to where we had been when we left a couple of weeks before, and spent the afternoon and evening relaxing and reflecting on life ... 94.80 nm sailing over the two weeks.  Not bad, and lots and lots of fun!  The only sad thing was that the screen cover on the forward cabin overhead hatch fell a bit prematurely and caught P. on the upper lip.  Poor, poor Penelope! 

April 3, Friday, and Penelope had to leave for Florida.  We lingered, but I got to the taxi stand for the airport at 1:30 ... she went to the airport, and I went to the Out Island Internet office to figure out why I kept getting kicked of their net (which I'd paid for).  Turns out my antenna from Engenius needed a  new driver, but the driver wouldn't work on Windows Vista (another big reason to not buy Microsoft based computers ... I'll get an Apple for sure, next time).  The ultimately solution was a ethernet based Engenius system, which I decided to get.  And, it works beautifully, as though I have DSL on the boat.  Good decision.

Now I'm in Marsh Harbour for four or five days.  My Raymarine C-80 was fixed and shipped back, and I picked it up on Thursday afternoon, when we got back in, only to find that Raymarine had shipped it back without some of the keypads on it and without screwing the whole facing unit back on to the main chassis.  The problem really should have been covered under warranty, but they refused to do that, and then this ... truly unbelievable incompetence.  At the moment, the shop here that represents them is dealing with it, but it's not their fault.  It's really a corporate screw up, and I suppose after the past couple of years of corporate greed and ineffectualness, one shouldn't be surprised if every large American company has floated up to the level of ultimate stupidity ... the Peter Principle at work on a massive scale.

Today, P. gone, I've caught up on email, uploaded a bunch of photos covering the crossing to the Bahamas from North Carolina to Flicka, arranged to do laundry tomorrow at the Marsh Harbour Marina, wiped off salt from all the stainless steel, and visited with Brian and Sheree Harvey on the schooner William H. Albury.  With Yahoo messenger and Skype I've also been able to talk to friends and, most important, to Penelope.

Manjack Cay ...

March 31 - Yesterday was a gorgeous, sunny, light breeze day.  We were going to leave for Guana Cay but decided to take advantage of the warming and spend another day proguing about the island.  After breakfast we took a long, slow dinghy ride across the anchorage, stopping along the way to chat with Lee and Barbara on Windward, who are out of Long Island.  We dinghied up the coastline, staying in really close and going only about idle speed, spotting fish and crabs and investigating the shore line.   After a good hour or so we turned back and on the way followed around a nice grey snapper we’d brought out of his lair on our first pass.  Shortly afterwards, we were passed by a pair of beautiful and good sized manta rays – perhaps three to four feet across – which were swimming along the shoreline in the opposite direction.  Finally back at Alizee, we each took a turn snorkeling over to the shipwreck on shore, perhaps 300 yards away, where we saw a number of fish making a home in the artificial reef developing from the shipwreck. 
Later a couple from Bounty IV, a 1988 Pacific Seacraft 34, dinghied by to find out what make of boat was Alizee; they the other cruisers we’ve met have been here since November, and are planning to head back to their home in Toronto soon.  Like David Sawyer (who just flew out today), they are leaving their boat on the hard at Abaco Yacht Services.  They suggested I ask soon, if I was interested in leaving my boat there, because the dry storage is usually pretty booked up.  I still haven’t decided what to do.  I have to get the water maker and the macerator pump repaired, and I’d have to pay duty on parts shipped into the Bahamas.  My insurance would also go up substantially if I leave Alizee here … probably double.  Yet, going back to Oriental will put wear and tear on the boat and then I have to bring it back down here in early November to head on to the Caribbean.  Whatever, I think I’ll be in the Bahamas until early June, and then either move Alizee north or, if I put her on the hard here, stay a week or two longer.