Saturday, November 28, 2015

Minim creek to Whiteside Creek

Just some pictures today. No grand philosophical observations or practical guidelines. Enjoy!

You see this exact scene for hours on end in this part of the ICW

Cormorants are everywhere

A great blue heron looking for breakfast

We've been playing hopscotch with this boat the last two days'
It was really good to see this dredger in place. This is one of the most difficult stretches of the ICW

Whiteside Creek anchorage. A first time for us here and it's lovely.

Do you ever tire of sunsets?

A couple groups of dolphins came in the anchorage this evening. These two were going nuts over a school of fish.

Friday, November 27, 2015

In the middle of the tribe

Sometimes one just has to face the music, throw in the towel, belly up to the bar...and go back on the ICW. We had every intention of jumping down the coast to Charleston, then northern Fl, then southern Fl. Three, maybe four hops and we would celebrate being back where the air is warm and the water clear. (Well, clearer anyway.) Each day, several times a day, we would debate the weather. Each time, it seemed, the forecasts were just a little less encouraging. Mostly they foretold of big rolling seas and sailing for hour upon hour in the ditch. We have done that in Kintala on several occasions. It can take all the fun out of a day. And doing it at night? (At this time of the year most of the jumps down the east coast involve overnight sailing.) We have done that as well and it makes for a very, very long night.

Leaving Bucksport this morning with the full moon still hanging around in the brightening sky

So, instead of overnight runs through clear ocean water it has been day runs through the brown; Wrightsville Beach – Southport – N. Myrtle Beach – Bucksport – Minim Creek. We passed through Lockwoods Folly and the Rock Pile with nary a drama, and have a good plan for slipping over the Mud Flats instead of plowing our way through them. I don't think one can get enough practice at this sailing thing to be perfect at it, but a couple of years of practice sure seems to make it easier.

The moon and the endless trees along the Waccamaw River

Minim Creek is out near the edge of the grid, though there has been a lot of little boat traffic today. Camo colored boats filled with camo dressed people. Given that we heard pretty loud gunfire several times this morning my guess is some kind of hunting season opened around here today. (That, or there was a Wal-Mart somewhere near and the Black Friday crowds are getting serious about their Christmas shopping.)

I have no idea what kind of hunting is done from little boats. In any case I was glad my jacket is bright yellow. Then again, maybe they hunt something big and yellow from little boats? Oh well, we are here safe and sound, and hope to be in Charleston before the weekend is out.

Even though we left Oak Harbor months ago and have traveled nearly 800 nm, it feels like we are - just now - getting back to our tribe of sailboat gypsies. With friends close behind and other friends ahead, it seems like nearly everyone is on the move. The chatter is of where we might meet and places we might go instead of the list of summer boat projects that lay ahead. Some are still working on projects. There are bimini tops and enclosures, mast work and rigging, bits of this and pieces of that still being finished by impatient crews. On Kintala the first thoughts of things that will need addressed next “work season” are already flirting around in the gray. (The Beast has taken to oozing more oil than normal, the list of teak bits that need attention is starting to grow, and the non-skid remains unpainted in spite of the best intentions of last summer.)

But, for now, most thoughts are about where to go, when and how to get there, and the friends that will be met along the way.

It is good to be back with the tribe.

A boat school bus? Maybe it needs a coat of yellow paint.

You see all kinds of boats on the ICW

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Six degrees..., not the thermometer reading (although it felt like it yesterday morning), but Karinthy's theory - six degrees of separation. Karinthy proposed that any two people could be connected in the world by just six acquaintences and the more we cruise, the more I believe it.

Northern Star and their 63-1/2 foot mast. Yikes!
This morning we got up early and, after a brief hug and goodbye with friends David and Nancy at Barefoot Marina, we were off down the ICW by 7:00am. We needed to clear the infamous Lockwoods Folly Inlet when the tide was still at least at mid level. Our preparation paid off and we transited the problem spot with 8 feet depth being the least we saw anywhere. We enjoyed a crisp but warming morning with cups of coffee and then hot chocolate, and I switched out my wool hat for my baseball cap for the first time in days. We watched as the shadow of our mast slid over the remnants of colorful fall leaves along the shore, and tracked the bridge clearances for our friends on Northern Star who would be following shortly with a 63-1/2 foot mast.

The current was favorable, allowing us a 6-1/2 knot forward speed toward our day's destination of Butler Island. About 20 miles out I realized that we were going to arrive at our destination by 1:40 and started to take a look on the charts to see if we might be able to go a little farther to another anchorage. Just as I began to look, we hear a call on the radio, "Sailboat in the ICW passing Bucksport Marina, we're having a $.75 per foot dock special to Boat US members and that includes a free Thanksgiving meal at 2:00. Why don't y'all come on in and join us?" We looked at each other and, after a very brief discussion, decide to take them up on their offer, in spite of the early time. We had passed this place multiple times and always said, "Some day we should stop there. It looks like a neat place." It was the day.

We were greeted by the owner Jeff and his son, Jeffrey who caught our lines and got us secured. The place is a scenic stop on a side creek off the Waccamaw River in the middle of absolute nowhere. The docks are well-maintained and easy to get to, the facilities clean, the people friendly, and you just can't beat their prices. I spent the few hours until the 2:00pm dinner relaxing on the wide deck in the sunshine enjoying the panoramic view of the Waccamaw and planning some new routes to accommodate the change in plans.

The dinner guests for the free Thanksgiving feast included some other cruisers, some folks from the full-time liveaboard dock, some full-time residents of the RV park that Jeff also owns and manages, and some town folks from nearby Bucksport. After filling our plates from the large spread, we sat at a table and began to introduce ourselves to the others seated there. Within minutes we discovered that the folks across the table from us were from Tim's home town, went to his high school, had family who lived on his parents' street and knew some of his siblings. In the middle of nowhere. In South Carolina. On a dock that we almost passed by. On Thanksgiving. At a dinner that a marina manager provided free to friends and passers by.
Life is just too weird, and I guess that's one of the best things about cruising, that chance to snag some unexpected opportunity that we might have missed otherwise. So we leave tomorrow morning to continue our trek down the ICW toward Charleston, thankful for this life. Our tummies full we have smiles on our faces and, oh, it's finally a whole lot warmer than 6 degrees.

The dock at Bucksport Marina

The Captain's Lounge across from the docks where the dinner was served

The on-site restaurant and more docks
The Waccamaw River

Northern Star going through The Rock Pile stretch of the ICW

Kintala's mast shadow sliding over the trees

I'll take one!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Anchor Management

(Ed note: This is a long post and may bore those of you who are accomplished, experienced cruisers.)

I've avoided posts on anchoring because, let's face it, there is an over-abundance of information on it out there as well as an abundance of MIS-information. In addition, we've only been cruising for a little over two years and it seemed there were many more experienced people out there to offer advice. Then there's the fact that NO topic yields more ridiculous hot-headed argument in sailing and cruising forums than anchoring. But, after having shared with a good friend our method of anchoring, I was asked to do a post to share it with others, so share it I will. Use it or discard it as you see fit.

When getting ready to leave for full-time cruising, we did due diligence on the whole anchoring issue. We read all the chapters in the most well-known cruising how-to books, we read the advertising promo on all of the anchor manufacturer websites, we scoured the vendor aisles of boat shows and we talked to tons of people. We had an oversized CQR (39# on a 27' boat) on our first boat, Nomad, which seemed to do well on the lake in the muddy bottom. Kintala came with a not-oversized CQR, which also seemed to do OK on the lake, although we did drag once while we had a half dozen boats rafted up to us. Knowing we were going to be in much rougher waters and many different bottom types, we began the search for a good cruising anchor to replace it.

I'm not exactly sure how we found out about the Mantus anchor initially, but after researching the details, it seemed like a good choice. It was robust, it had great reviews and, most importantly, it was affordable which allowed us to purchase a size larger than the recommended size.

The Mantus after installation with Kintala still on the hard.
I remember the day the Mantus 65 was delivered to Tradewinds Marina where we had the boat on the hard getting her ready for the truck voyage to Oak Harbor. I believe the words out of Tim's mouth when he saw the box were, "Are you kidding me?" He grumbled through the whole assembly. He grumbled through the mounting. He still grumbles through every morning of pulling it up, but not because it's a bad anchor or because he doesn't want it, only because he doesn't have a shiny electric windlass to pull it up with. The Mantus anchor was one of the few major purchasing decisions that I got right. And so very right it is.

One of the things that few people realize about anchoring is the fact that only half of it is technique. The other half is the anchor itself. While I firmly believe that every single boat out there should have a new generation anchor of some sort (Mantus, Rocna, or similar), many of the other anchors will do just fine if they are sufficiently oversized. And this we found out our first trip over to the Bahamas. So point one:  

Buy the absolute biggest anchor that your bow roller / windlass / back / biceps / budget can handle.

Learning to sail on a rural lake in Illinois never afforded us the opportunity to actually see our anchor on the bottom, in spite of the fact that the water in Carlyle Lake was rarely more than 8' deep. The lake was a runoff of local farm land and, as a result, was filled with sediment and the byproduct of our modern chemical fertilization methods, not to mention the somewhat less offensive byproduct of the cattle. It wasn't until we reached Elliott Key in Biscayne Bay that we even saw the anchor at all, and that was just barely. When we crossed to the Bahamas early in 2014 and began our trek across the Abacos, it was an epiphany. We had an anchor! We could actually see it on the bottom through clear water!

A well set anchor in sandy bottom

After traveling across the northern Abacos and anchoring in the anchorage just outside Green Turtle Cay, my curiosity got the best of me. I had been listening to anchoring gurus tell me that I needed to back down on the anchor to set it, and I began to wonder how many RPMs it really takes to stretch 75 or 80 feet of chain out fully extended. I wanted to be sure that I had been applying sufficient power. In this anchorage we had laid out 75 feet of chain, backing slowly as we released it so we didn't pile up the chain, then backing on it to set it. After completing this, our standard procedure, I talked Tim into donning his snorkle equipment and swimming out to a position directly over the anchor to do a small test.

We had agreed on some hand signals, him telling me to back down until he could see that the chain was fully extended, and then I would apply power to set it. He motioned me to back and I did. After a few moments his hand signal to back became more vigorous. I backed harder. Another moment and his head popped up out of the water and he shouted, "Are you backing?? Because nothing is happening. The chain is not moving." I had been using nearly 2000 RPM and was unable to even move the accumulate length of chain from its position in the sand where we had dropped it. I revved the Westerbeast to 2500 RPM. Still no movement in the chain by the anchor.  We were quite surprised, to say the least. It led us to the conclusion that a 50hp motor and a typical bow roller setup are not strong enough to drag 75 feet of chain taut, let alone pull on it hard enough to set a 65-pound anchor.

Over the next few weeks, we traveled around the Bahamas and began to take notice of our chain more closely. When we anchored off Rose Island northeast of Nassau, we saw our chain form a perfectly round spiral as the wild current there continued to swing us 180° every 12 hours. The winds were sometimes 18-25 knots and Kintala would travel back and forth as the current changed, the chain continuing to add to the spiral, but never straightening out. We began to rethink our anchoring strategy.

Over the next few months we gradually began to refine a new technique for us. A side note - over this time, as well, we have moved from having headsets to not having headsets (they succumbed to the harsh marine environment), to using whistles. And this brings me to point two:

When anchoring, be sure that whatever communication you choose is easy and of limited stress. Spend whatever money you have to in order to assure this. It will be the best money you spend. If you choose to use hand or whistle signals, be sure they are clearly defined beforehand.

After quite a few months, we've settle on the following technique and it's working well. So well, in fact, that when we withstood a 56 knot gust and subsequent high-40s for 5 hours at Foxtown, the anchor held well enough that the bow chock broke in spite of using a doubled snubber. Boats around us dragged, but Kintala stood her ground in the face of 5 foot waves and green water over the bow. Here is the procedure, and I'm going to use a depth of 8 feet as an example because it's the most common depth we anchor in while in the Bahamas.

First, we talk. Tim gets the anchor ready to deploy then comes back to the cockpit (since we have no more headsets) and we talk about where we might want to anchor. We drive around and look at possible spaces. We make a decision, figure the scope we need and how much rode we'll end up with, and he goes forward. From this point on we use the whistle signals we've devised. In our example, we have the 8-foot depth plus 4 feet to the bow plus 2 feet of tide = 14 feet, so our 5:1 scope (no storms predicted otherwise it would be 7:1) will be 70 feet minimum.

Next, Tim signals me that we are at the desired location. If I've done my job at the helm well, I will have coasted there and won't have to reverse much to stop the boat. He starts by laying out 25 feet of chain as I leave the boat in reverse with no power.  If there's any wind at all, the bow will swing out to one side as he lets the chain out slowly. When we're in the islands I'm usually in my bare feet and, as we back slowly, I can feel the instant the Mantus point digs in. There is a subtle change in my balance and the bow swings. We allow the idle speed to stretch the chain a bit, but not so much as to dislodge the tip. As soon as the point digs in, Tim lets out the next 25 feet, again with me slowly backing. The bow again swings out to one side, and then swings back as the chain is stretched out. At this point we do a hard set. I slowly bring the engine up to about 1800 RPM. The bow dips slightly, the chain stretches fully, and the anchor is set.

Next, Tim lets out the remaining chain of our scope, at this point about 20 feet, and again as I slowly back. The boat goes into neutral and as it rebounds slightly on the chain Tim sets the snubber. (More on our snubber below.) Boat goes back into reverse but no power and I slowly back on the snubber. Once the snubber is fully extended, I set the anchor a final time, bringing the engine slowly up to 1800 RPM again until the bow swings back forward and dips slightly.

That's the basic technique that we developed, the main difference from everything else we have read and heard being the fact that we pause at 25 feet and set the anchor twice once at 50 feet and once at the full length. We set it once in the middle of the layout because it became evident that the motor had insufficient power to fully stretch out the weight of the chain and set the anchor, leaving the anchor un-set in most instances. There are several things worth noting, though, about other anchoring scenarios in less than perfect conditions.

One, is how the procedure changes in soft mud bottoms. We see countless people come into anchorages with soft mud bottoms, drop the anchor and immediately begin to back on them at something akin to 1800 RPM. The anchor skips across the bottom and after a half dozen tries they give up saying that the anchorage sucks. We've learned that when anchoring in soft mud bottoms, we set the anchor on the bottom with about 25 feet of chain (again 8 foot depth) and then I hold our position with the engine so that no pull is on the chain. Then we sit there and look at each other and the beautiful scenery for at least five minutes. We let the weight of the anchor settle slowly through the soft mud to the harder mud below it. Then we go ahead with the technique above.

Let the anchor settle through soft muddy or silted bottoms to the harder substrate below, then set it.

The other issue is when dealing with higher winds. The higher the wind, the longer the scope, so make sure there is adequate swing room for the longer scope. We usually try to pick a spot with enough room for 7:1, anchor with 5:1, and then have room to let out more rode if needed, should a storm pop up. During the storm at Foxtown, we had 110 feet of chain deployed which was 8:1. We now have a new length of chain that's 200 ft and we would have let even more out in that blow with this chain. In harder winds, also, the wind may back us too quickly so I sometimes have to use some forward power to slow us down. If I don't do this then the anchor can skip.

A word about the snubber. We constructed a custom snubber for our boat. We used 25 feet of three strand, stretchy nylon. Tim threaded the line through  a Mantus chain hook, folded the line in half, threaded the lines through a piece of fire hose chafe guard and spliced loops on each end sufficiently large to go over our bow cleat. This one doubled snubber goes through one bow chock and over one bow cleat. Some boats do better with each end of the snubber going to two different bow chocks and cleats, but we have found that Kintala rides at anchor better with a snubber arrangement going only through one chock and onto one cleat. Every boat is different, so what works on Kintala may not be the best arrangement for your boat. What arrangement you use is not as important as the fact that you use a snubber.

Use a snubber to take the load off of the bow roller and windlass. Make it from stretchy nylon.

The last point worth mentioning from our experience is that of making sure that you have the right chain. Our chain had been replaced at one point and the owner at that time, attempting to save money, bought proof coil chain. It is the only chain that does not work in our windlass, so every time Tim tried to use the gypsy to advance the chain, it would skip. Now that we have the correct chain on there it moves swiftly and quietly. So....last point -

Don't skimp on your ground tackle. It is the single most important thing on your boat.

See the Mantus?  No? That's the way it should be!

 As a final note, we are not paid by Mantus and receive no compensation for our positive reviews, other than many peaceful night's sleep and some of the best customer service in the marine industry.

Island time and temp

The Wrightsville Beach anchorage,Kintala in the second row
The crew of Kintala is struggling to get south, and it seems many of the cruising tribe are sharing our travails. Hurricane Kate and my Father's passing put us weeks behind where we had hoped to be. So we are, once again, caught in late Autumn's relentless series of low pressure areas spinning off the mainland, along with their associated cold fronts. We have been in Wrightsville Beach for nearly a week, and it is starting to feel a lot longer than that. The wind in the rigging sings a note of 20 knots worth of wind out there right now. Near gale force winds are forecast for the next 24 hours. Two potential weather windows have already collapsed, and it looks like two days is about all we are going to get on the back side of this current cold front.

The good news is there are a lot of worse places to get caught than Wrightsville. The bad news is there are a lot of better places as well, places we would much rather be. But, at the moment and living on a sailboat, we can't get to any of them from here.

Wrightsville Beach on a winter day.

We have heard rumors that some of the places we would like to be, parts of the Bahama Islands, are enduring a bit of a crime wave. It seems that fancy, and some not so fancy, fishing type boats (particularly those sporting outboard engines) have taken to disappearing from their docks. They turn up later sans engines and avionics gear. I suspect the rumors are a bit overblown, not that they matter much to us anyway. I can't imagine 30 year old sailboats are much of a temptation. And though Dink theft is a constant concern, a Merc 3.5 hp that can barely get out of its own way on good day, probably isn't much of a temptation either.

Fishermen bundled up

A gaff rigged smaller sailboat out for a rare November warm sail
I have to say though, if the rumors are not overblown, I hope a bunch of the fishing types here in Wrightsville are planning a trip to the Islands. Apparently the fish in these parts are very fast. Blasting through a bunch of anchored boats must be the only way the fishy types can hope to run them down to snag a share. Or maybe they are worried about getting a parking spot at the town dock. Either way, we are regularly rocked as these guys slalom around our hull. Which is weird because both the docks and the bridge that mark the fishing spot they all head for, are barely a few hundred feet away. Slowing down a bit as they go through the anchorage would add, maybe, two or three minutes to their trip. As usual, when it comes to people who live on land, I wonder, “Just what is the hurry?”

The Islanders, and their “Island time” would make much better use of the boats. So far as I am concerned, they are welcome to them.

One would think a nod to “Island time” would help shrug off a weather delays like the one we are enduring now. And I am trying. But there is a glitch. The Islands have their “time” but they also have their “temperature”. (I think the two are related.) Here the temperature will touch lows of the mid 30s in the next couple of days.

Time to get to the Islands mon.

Wrightsville Beach (Good)                                                             Treasure Cay Beach (Much better)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

It's the peeps

I've seen discussion on some of the Facebook cruising forums on what makes cruising special. On one occasion, two people got into a discussion where one said it was the people you meet that made it all worthwhile. The other disagreed hotly, saying it was the places they went, the beauty of nature, and the power of the sea.

While I do enjoy seeing new places and being humbled by Mother Nature and the sea, for me it's the "peeps" as my friend Sabrina says on her blog. We've met some pretty incredible ones, all of whom are noteworthy, but I wanted to tell you about one couple we recently met in particular.

Judy and David

Two years ago when we ended up stuck in Oriental for a month because the Westerbeast had blown the injector pump, we had the good fortune of meeting Ellen and Randy through the Inland Provision Company. Randy gave Tim another hand while he removed the pump, and Ellen graciously delivered the pump to the overhaul shop for us while she ran errands nearby, and loaned us her truck when it was time to pick it back up. When we were strolling down the street on this visit, Randy happened by, which led to some discussion about some friends of theirs that they were waiting for. Their friends, David and Judy, were arriving on an 80-year-old wooden fishing boat - a classic Eastern-rigged dragger. David is a fisherman by trade and fishes during the summer season in Cape Cod, but this year they decided to do some cruising on the Richard & Arnold during the off season. We happened to meet them during their stay in Oriental and had the opportunity to spend a good bit of time with them.

The Richard & Arnold

The first thing you notice when you meet David and Judy is their smiles. These are folks content with their lot in the world, and genuinely happy to meet you. They are settled inside, grounded, and exude a quiet confidence from every pore. Judy would disagree, I'm sure, since she is brand new to the cruising thing and a little unsure about the technicalities, but life as the wife of a New England fisherman has given her the strength and flexibility to go pretty much anywhere their travels take them. David has fished New England waters in the Richard & Arnold solo for so many years I don't think there is much that would phase him. His face is perpetually smiling, and there's a twinkle in his eye that suggests this friendship with the sea, while challenging at times, is a mystery he has untangled.

We spent an hour with them on their boat the other day, Tim with Dave in the pilot house engaging in a rowdy discussion from which copious amounts of laughter ensued, and Judy and I in the salon talking book writing. Judy has two published books, Nautical Twilight - the story of a Cape Cod fishing family (which I bought but have yet to read), and The Fisherman's Ball, her first novel. We exchanged stories of our respective publishing experiences, the advantages of self-publishing, of our upcoming projects, and of missing our grandchildren. We left with smiles on our faces, their contentment and sense of humor spilling over to envelop us, a common occurrence for anyone with the good fortune to meet these intriguing folks.

Of all of the many benefits this life has afforded, the richness that folks like David and Judy bring to our lives has been the greatest. It's cold and rainy outside, but my heart is warmed as images of the many people we've met come to mind. Each one has woven a new color thread into the tapestry that is our cruising experience, and for that we are extraordinarily grateful. On this rainy day I can think of nothing I wish for you all more than the blessing of good peeps like these in your lives.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

An honest comment

Email from a reader:

I Have tried to leave comments a few times but the new CAPTCHA keeps going
on and on and on (honestly,  I gave up after 10 iterations!)

Here was my comment on "Honestly"

Not sure I totally agree with you on the safety comparison between driving
and living/cruising on boats.  Yes, there were many times I feared for our
safety (why or why does it have to be mostly in the dark of the night?),
but was almost never for our lives (maybe once,  briefly, off the Northern
California coast...).  Rather,  it was for the safety of Pelagia (equipment
breaking, anchor/rode letting go, engine dying with no wind, hitting hard
things, etc,etc). Certainly, this worry happened a lot more than I care to
admit, but not for our own personal safety.   Now driving, that's a
different thing - -  stats are pretty clear on that being worse (as long as
watercraft such as PWC, wake boats, etc are not in the comparison) .



Sorry you are having trouble with the CAPTCHA on the blog. The best part of it (besides keeping kids and grand kids aware of were we are) is comments.

I suspect you are correct about the safety stats. We had the same kinds of stats on flying and they were true, as long as they were massaged correctly. But my experience of the reality was different. Everyone I knew drove. Maybe half the people I knew flew. One person I knew, the son of a friend, was killed driving. My personal list of friends who died flying ended up at 12. Some of those were, I admit, living in the high risk end of the flying life, airshows specifically. But several died just doing the charter / flight training / personal flying thing that pilots do.

I was also a motorcycle guy, with more than 250,000 accumulated over the years. I knew a bunch of riders as well. No one I knew personally was killed riding. Set that against the dozen I knew lost to flying. Statistics are statistics, but they are only statistics. Elaborate averages that have little effect on personal experience.

Which is, perhaps, the main point. There have been a number of times in the last couple of years that I just didn't feel safe on the boat. Part of that is weather, particularly thunder storms and the associated lightning. Even on the lake being exposed with a big metal stick poking into the air as the storms rolled overhead was no fun. Out in open water add big swell, a long way to shore, and the fact that boats seem to break often and in the worst ways.

Another aspect is, when I took risks flying, riding, or driving, they were my choice. The risks that come with this life are often outside of my control. The weather blows up unexpectedly and we are not in a place to hide. Something on the boat breaks at a place and time that changes an easy day into a threatening one. I was, and remain, a risk taker. But I prefer to choose when and where those risks are taken. And it doesn't work that way on a boat.

In the end it is my perception that this life has more risk in it than the one I left. That isn't a show stopper, I like living this way. But it is an unexpected perception that runs counter to pretty much everything I had read or heard from "the cruising world".

Take care.

Monday, November 16, 2015

You gotta do

Once upon a time, night flying was one of my very favorite things, and the more hard-core, the better. A night instrument take-off (ITO) into low hanging pitch black clouds was my cup of tea. Climb to the flight levels, maybe shedding a little ice along the way? Even better. Make a long run solid in the clouds (IMC) with a dead nuts (called that because nutsing it up would get you dead) approach to absolute minimums. Then finish it off touching down on a rain or snow-swept runway that appeared out of the mists at 100 feet. (Yes, one could go that low on an ILS if, at 200 feet, the runway threshold was in sight.) Now that's a pizza!

I really liked night flying but, for some reason, night sailing? Not so much. Which is a little weird since we liked sailing at night on our little lake. Since coming “out here” though, night sailing hasn't been near the magical fun it was at Carlyle.

Just a bit of color on this night sail though we had expected a glorious sunset.

I'm trying. We keep doing overnight runs partly because there is little choice if one wants to get to the Islands in the fall. Daylight is in depressingly short supply. Today, where we are, the sun will set at 1705, not to return until 0645 in the morning. Nearly 14 hours of darkness. Making any kind of distance means sailing at night. Besides, serious cruisers, even coastal ones, make multi-day runs and, someday, I would like to be taken for a serious cruiser. So sailing at night is something we just need to do.

We did one last night as part of our Oriental – Beaufort – Masonboro – Wrightsville Beach run. So far as night passages go, it was as benign as could be. Perhaps a bit too benign as there was little wind and we motored the majority of the way. Fortunately the tiller pilot mod to the Cape Horn wind vane was working pretty well. A nice surprise since it, literally, works on a shoestring. The sky over Kintala was clear and, though there was little moon, lights reflecting off the clouds over the distant shore made it less dark than it could have been. It should have been an easy passage. It was an easy passage. But I still could not wait until it was over.

I keep trying to figure out why. A lot of esoteric explanations come to mind, but none of them really matter. I just don't like sailing at night. Really though, last night had its charms. No one gets the view of the night sky that a sailor gets. There is no windshield in the way, no ground lights, just stars and planets wheeling overhead horizon to horizon, punctuated by the occasional meteor streaking across one's sight. Nothing will make one feel as small on the one hand, or as grand on the other, as seeing the cosmos laid out in all of its glory. There is barely a spiritual bone anywhere in my body, but I couldn't help wonder if my dad is out there now, a part of the mystery, and whole once again. One doesn't get that kind of healing on land. Sorry.

All things considered did a pretty good job. The stern nav light came a cropper with traffic closing in from behind. Some duct tape and a dinghy light got us visible once again. With the auto-helm working, the on-watch person could sit in the dodger while the off-watch person slept below. A huge improvement from sleeping in the cockpit when not standing at the wheel for hours at a time. The Masonboro inlet was new to us, but there was no way to time the trip to get us there in the daylight. So, as much as we wanted to be done with the hook down, we made the call to idle around the “A” marker until the sun was up enough to see. Masonboro is an easy inlet, but it was the right call to make.

The Wrightsville Beach anchorage

A walk to the beaach at Wrightsville Beach
And now we are tucked deep into the anchorage at Wrightsville Beech. There is some weather due to start building tomorrow night, so we will likely be here a few days. We liked this place when we came through here two years ago, but didn't stay long enough. We hope to remedy that this time around. It is also a chance to work the Dink and the Merc a little, both of which have been sitting idle for too long. And we are back, laying to an anchor in a pretty place. Which is why we came this way in the first place.

Then, like it or not, more night sailing will be required to keep on moving south.

You gotta do what you gotta do.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Oriental Harbor Marina

Deb and I probably got into cruising the wrong way around. We did not get here by fulfilling a life-long affair with sailing and boating. Our parents never lived on boats, never raised either of us to live on boats, or even spent any time on ocean-capable cabin boats. (Deb's Dad had a fishing skiff. One of my grandfathers a little wooden run-a-bout that could pull a water skier, though fishing was its main purpose.) We did not come this way as an attainable path for exploring the world or traveling to exotic locations. Mostly we (read that as “Deb”) were looking for a different way of living. One that would let us escape the relentless job search needed to keep up with the bills and allow us a sense of being in a place of our choosing.

We accepted, and in fact welcomed, the idea that such a life would be inherently modest. After years of motorcycling and camping, the idea of being mobile was attractive as well. There are (believe it or not) full time motorcycle wanderers and everyone is familiar with the RV world of the “snowbirds”. For some reason, though, neither one of those lifestyles managed to sink a hook into our dreams.

Instead we ended up “out here”, living on a 42-foot, 30-year-old sailboat, our only connections to land being friends and family. There is no storage area, no little house to visit for part of the year, no car. Within 20 feet of where I sit writing is every material thing I own on the planet. We can live for weeks “off the grid”. Making our own power, carrying the water and food we need, with a dry place to sleep, eating well from the galley (and Deb's considerable cooking skills) and with a comfortable place to sit while taking in incredible views. We have become members of an incredible tribe of gypsies, have seen things that few get to see, live at our own pace with our own priorities. We live a human dream rather than an American one.

There are down sides, chief of which is having good friends and family who don't live on boats. Instead they live deep inland, and our hearts carry the burden of loved ones far away. This is also a very exposed way to live, not as comfortable, or as safe, as some would like to imagine. The boat lacks heat and air conditioning, often making for a very humid environment. If it happens to be cool (or downright chilly) where we are, it can take a long time to shake a cold, cough, or sore throat. (The good news is we rarely visit crowded stores, don't spend much time around school aged kids, and only rarely make our way through airports.) Weather rules, we spend many a day hiding from it. Waiting days for an appropriate “window” for the next leg of a journey is normal. Indeed, we are waiting for just such a window at this very moment.

Nor do I believe this cruising life is as safe as it is often cracked up to be. Anyone who claims that driving to work each day is somehow more dangerous than working the fore deck as the weather goes bad somewhere out in the middle of the Gulf Stream, or resetting a hook some stormy and wave swept O-so-dark-thirty in an exposed anchorage, really needs a risk assessment re-calibration. Lightning sizzling overhead, the darkness seeming to suck the photons right out of the deck light, wind singing through the rigging, black water slapping a violently pitching hull and reaching out to sweep the unfortunate into its embrace... I have been “concerned” way more often in the last two years than in the previous 40. Afterwards of course, when the problem is solved and order restored, every nerve and fiber sings in celebration of a life being well lived. But that only happens when the risks are real with no guarantee of the outcome.

There is much to learn about being “out here”. Which seems to be a bit of a problem for the American cruising, and chartering, crowd. Americans have a reputation for thinking that we know everything. There is also the belief that being good at one thing automatically means we can be good at anything. Then there is the stark reality that most of us don't know much of anything about most things, but we talk a good game. And then we make the mistake of believing our own words.

Mother Ocean will cure that misunderstanding in a hurry. What follows is a crash course (sometimes literally) of mastering a diverse set of skills as quickly as possible and as if your life (and the soundness of your hull) depends on it. It does.

I like this life. I certainly like it much more than a life dedicated to making money for other people. They let me keep a little of it to try and pay my bills, which was nice of them. Some of us think those “other people” are government. Some think those “other people” are Wall Street, CEO's, and MFAs. I think they are one and the same. Every inch I manage to put between me and them is another inch of happiness.

But this is not a life of “sailing”. We do some sailing. I have met some who race weekends and Wednesday night who do a lot more sailing than we do. It is not a life of being retired. We simply work way too hard, the callouses on my hands are tougher than those I used to have when working full time as a mechanic. It is not a life of vacations. We do visit some vacation spots, but so do the people who work at those spots

It is a life of accepting that forces far beyond our kith and kin will set the rules. It is one of being responsible and accepting the consequences. It is one where humility and a willingness to learn new things will go a long way toward happiness.

It is not for everyone.

And we should be pretty honest about that as well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Looking for a show

Our little book on “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat” has made a tiny little splash in the cruising community. Having garnered some nice reviews from people with a long history of sailing and living on boats, it has also gotten us involved in a conversation or two in the blogger's world. Usually the conversations revolve around an equipment choice or the size and style of boat to be considered. And, somewhere in nearly every conversation, comes mention of the pitfalls, trials, and generally miserable condition of the boating industry when it comes to the manufacturing, marketing, maintenance, and support offered to those of us whose boats are also our homes. The continuing discussions, plus our accumulating experience of being full time live aboard cruisers often has me rehashing my own take on the industry, this lifestyle, and all related subjects.

While it would be difficult to cast me as a supporter of the marine industry in general, once in a while I wonder if the industry is really all that guilty. Many of us, I think, believe that the business communities of the the world, and particularly those based in the US, long ago abandoned any pretense of being motivated by anything other than pure greed. No business is in the business of doing anything but returning the maximum amount of money to its investors as possible. Doing this requires pricing be maximized while goods and services provided be minimized. It also requires a maximum of work and production be extracted from employees in return for as little pay and benefits as can be managed. The only restraints on the malfeasance of any business are those of written laws and enforced regulations. In our society, business writes the laws, and enforcing regulations mostly results in fines levied against companies; fines that are ultimately paid by consumers. This is the Wall Street / American standard business model. A model that bodes ill for quality and customer service in all matters of business and industry.

Why expect the marine industry to be any different?

Mind you, I am not making any judgment call here. This is the society the American public has insisted we want. For many decades it is the one we have supported with both our votes and our pocketbooks. As a result, it is the the society supported by both political parties without any viable alternative. Like pretty much everyone in the world throughout all of human history, we have exactly the society we are willing to tolerate. The real question is, how do we manage to live the kind of life we want given the society we have helped build?

Many of us who live on boats have managed by forming a remarkable community of people who work together and look out for each other. We know full well that pretty much the only help we are going to get is that which we offer. A saying in this group is “paying it forward” but, every day, “it” gets paid forward, backward, sideways, up, and down. Nearly every conversation we have with fellow cruisers includes tales of those who treated us well, and those who did not. We talk of what is working on our boats, and what is not. We often sell, at way below market (or outright gift) parts, charts, and equipment to other cruisers. And we have learned that the only really good information available on buying, outfitting, and maintaining “cruising” boats comes from those who are, or have been, “out here”. Yet there is still a problem waiting to be solved. Getting to that information can be difficult unless and until one is “out here” as well.

And by then it is often too late.

The Internet is helping, but winnowing out the helpful information is difficult. (Read anything on anchors or anchoring to see what I mean.) The world of self-published books can help as well but, once again, it is often hard to tell the good from the bad. The good news is one can get to the information with the help of those “out here” before one buys a boat and casts off the lines. But there needs to be a near-universal recognition that getting “out here” is damned difficult, that "industry" is a huge part of the problem, and that being "out here" is not for everyone. (More on that, maybe, in a post lurking out there and waiting to be written.)

Something I would love to see is boat shows getting into the act of a) making such information available and b) emphasizing just how hard this can be. Every show I have ever been to (3 Annapolis Strictly Sails and 4 Chicago Strictly Sails) had a whole list of seminars being run during the event. Weather, engine maintenance, off-shore sailing, the list seemed to be nearly endless. I never saw one with the headline "You probably don't want to go cruising." And I never saw one that headlined a no-holds-barred assault on the pit falls, traps, problems, and challenges facing those who were trying to make the transition from land living to cruising. Yet the crowds at boat shows are full of people looking to make that very transition.

Now that would be a show worth going to.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Weather windows

The journey back to Kintala was aided by my Brother-in-law and Sister-in-law. They drove in from PA to meet us at Oak Harbor so we could drop off the car. We then went off for dinner with family from that half of the family. The next morning we stuffed their car with the stuff we had stashed in the hotel room and headed to Oriental.

The plan was to have them stay with us on the boat for a couple of days but, alas, boats move. As much as we like this town, boats at the piers near the bridge in Oriental will move a lot in surprisingly little wind. In less than five minutes of sitting in the cockpit my sister-in-law decided that staying on the boat would not be an option. They took a room at the marina. A very nice room for a very reasonable cost. The total package was good enough to keep them here an extra day, so we all had a kind of mini-vacation.

My brother and sister-in-law and yes he does look like Santa :)

They left Oriental yesterday morning. Normally we would have started in on a couple of boat projects with the idea of being ready to head south at the first available weather window. Unfortunately, as stated, the piers here are not very well protected. (Unless one manages to snag a spot at one of the free docks.)

On our first day back, Kintala suddenly danced, swung, and rolled against her lines like she was trying to get away from something. Deb and I both popped up on deck to see what was going on (along with virtually every single person who was on a boat at the time) but there was nothing to see. No mega yacht had just passed through throwing a monster wake. There was no tsunami sucking the water out of the bay, airliner crashing into the harbor or tractor truck falling off the bridge. Still, it was a serious hit. The power boat on the face dock just off Kintala's bow got tossed into the pilings so hard that the rub rail was split and the starboard side upper hull was cracked. Ugly.

We never did figure out what caused it.

Now, two days later, the boat is still dancing and rolling.  Truth to tell, after a couple of weeks on the hard we haven't gotten our sea (pier) legs back yet. Sitting and reading (or typing) is not a problem. Well, not a big problem. We do get off the boat to "stretch" pretty often, but that is only because we have been sitting too much for the last couple of weeks. Right? Hanging upside down in the bilge to install a new gray water tank or to find a small oil leak under the Beast? That will pretty much ensure we will be getting off the boat to do more than "stretch".

It may take a weather window to get us ready for a weather window.

Then we can get started south once again.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Going home...

First, for all who have offered kind thoughts and good wishes as we left the boat for a while to lay my Father to rest: there is a tendency to think that such offerings mean less than they do, that words are hollow and offer little. This is not the case. Our hearts have been lifted by the many who have reached out during these past couple of weeks. The words that can't carry the load, that actually do sound a little hollow, are “thank you”.

We left PA this morning after a week or so of offering what help we can to deal with the details of closing out a life. Social Security, Veterans Affairs, Insurance, Finances...all require forms, mailings, and phone calls. There was even a trip to the heart of downtown Pittsburgh to get some information. We drive through the city now and again, but it has been years since we were in downtown. If pressed I will confess to preferring a city to suburbia every day in every way; so that trip was kind of fun.

Downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Most fun was having kids, grand kids, and family, mostly staying in the same hotel. A hotel with a pool. Though we were gathered for a pretty solemn reason each evening saw the pool full of laughing, splashing, playing kids all cavorting loudly with Grampy-T. Those will be favorite memories for a long, long time.

My Dad would have approved.

But now we find ourselves heading toward the boat once again, and back to the life we have made as cruisers. Though we loved the time with family, it would seem we are ill suited to land living any more. A comfortable house, big screen TV, ice cream in the freezer, and unlimited hot water for showers is like a vacation visit. And, like a vacation, after a week or so some things start to wear thin. It turns out my capacity to tolerate traffic, silly drivers and, (believe it or not) bumper stickers, is severely limited. Why announce being stupid to everyone on the road? At least the in-your-face pro-gun stickers let me know which vehicles likely contain the slightly deranged violence lovers. They also tend to be very aggressive and somewhat inept drivers which, I'm sure, is just a coincidence. Best to treat them like container ships and give them a wide berth.

Pennsylvania back country roads

Even xfinity TV and its endless list of programs, movies, sports channels, and specialty networks; all projected on a monster, high definition screen (one bigger than Kintala's main bulkhead), gets tedious quickly. Did you know there are multiple different TV series' called NCIS something? They all appear to be the same thing; bad people, dead people, goofy science, gunfire, problem solved. There is a series about various kinds of monsters based (very loosely based) on old fairy tales. Mostly it is about bad monsters, dead monsters, goofy science, gunfire, problem solved. There are a multitude of cop shows based on bad people, dead people, goofy science, gunfire, problem solved. There was a hospital ER show that included bad people, dead people … you get the drift. I've been walking around for 60 years, spent time as an air ambulance pilot. There are more dead people in one half hour of TV than I have seen in my entire life. No wonder land livers are convinced the world is a dangerous place with bad guys (and monsters) lurking around every corner.

Even with xfinity TV one can't always avoid the ads, especially the political ads. (Never watch TV during an off-year election campaign.) People running for local and state positions appear to be, impossible as this may sound, even more inept and corrupt than those running for national office. I like to think of myself as a somewhat capable story teller. I can't hold a sputtering candle to people who stare straight into a camera and tell the most bold faced lie with a smile and a glint in their eye. When it comes to slinging nonsense there isn't sailor on the planet who can match a politician.

In just a day or two life will return to normal. It is two steps from the galley to the salon. Four more steps will reach the head, and a single step from there will bump up against the v-berth. From the galley it is ten steps to the cockpit, eight of them mostly straight up. The cockpit is our back porch, which looks out on our back yard, which is a big chunk of the North West Atlantic ocean. We will watch the sun set and the moon rise. The night sky will be full of stars again. While we have been away, friends heading south have caught up and passed us by. It is our turn to catch up now, with Stuart, FL then Biscayne Bay being the immediate goals.

It will be good to be home.

Downtown Pittsburgh, PA