Saturday, September 28, 2013

Not the Greatest Day

Oh where to begin? I guess the beginning is as good a place as any. Today was supposed to be leg 1 of our big offshore passage around the garden state of New Jersey. Was going to be a long day so we got an early start. During our passage planning last night winds were forecast to be a moderate 10-15knots from the North-East. Waves 2-3 feet from the east with a period of 12 seconds. No rain. Visibility good. All looked good and I thought that since we were headed south, winds from the the North East would be good for a broad reach (a point of sail where the wind is coming from almost behind the boat, about 7:30 on a clock dial). 

Most was as forecast. Waves were more like 3-5feet with a period of 12 seconds and wind was more from 7:00 on a clock dial. Sailing on the ocean is not like sailing on a lake, the biggest difference being waves. Those interminable waves. Hitting us from the side they made the boat very rolley. This rolling swings the sails from side to side and the only moderate wind was not able to counteract and hold the sails on one side. There was a lot of bouncing around and luffing and gybing. The rigging took a beating. And so did we. Poor Cassandra got very seasick (she may go into more detail on her blog but I won't here). I don't claim to be a master sail trimmer but I know a thing or two and believe me I tried all kinds of things for many hours. Without the waves we would have been laughing, but with the waves I could not get her to hold a course direct enough to get us to our planned destination in time. Putting the motor back on and motorsailing didn't help matters much because that made the apparent wind even weaker which gave the waves more influence on the sails. I was at my wits end and finally we dropped both sails to motor a direct route the rest of the way. Even flopping around, the sails had some damping effect on the waves and when we dropped them it got even more rolley. But we drove on! And Cassandra even took the helm to motor a bit. Things flying around the cabin, falling, creaking. Ah the Ocean. But that is not all my friends... no... because then all of a sudden came a sound which is typically my favourite but today was my most dreaded; the engine stopped. Full throttle to put put put, stop. Silence. Scary silence. I was in shock. This was bad. Here we were, now just drifting in the rolling ocean. Yikes (not the exact word I used). While this was a very dire situation I am happy to report that all is well and that I am very proud of the way we handled it. We unfurled the foresail to at least give us some forward propulsion and steerage (Rule #2 make sure you can steer your sailboat - you can't steer a sailboat if it's not moving!). I jumped downstairs and examined the front of the engine. I could not see anything visibly wrong, no leaks, no lose hoses and ya it was really hot but not too much more than usual. A diesel engine essentially needs three things fuel, air (combustion) and water (cooling). Cooling, water seemed to be flowing. Lack of air is extremely rare but it's an easy fix so I removed the air filter. The engine would re-start but die soon. It had to be the fuel. I emptied out all the stuff from under the cockpit seat (chucking things everywhere in the cockpit and down below) to access the fuel lines on the side of the engine. Nothing abnormal. 

As luck would have it we happened to be passing an inlet that we had identified as a Plan B (should anything go wrong) the night before. I radioed a nearby sailboat (just like last time going into an inlet...hope this doesn’t become a thing), explained the situation and asked if it was possible to enter this inlet under sail. He said it was possible but not so easy and gave me some tips & advice on how to enter and where to anchor quickly once in. We considered our options. He radioed back and said that actually he was going in and we could follow him. I wanted to try one more thing on the engine a before attempting to enter the inlet under sail. He agreed to wait a few minutes. I jumped back down stairs, broke out the ratchet set, which of course in my haste I opened upside down and all the ratchets fell everywhere on the floor. After rummaging and finding the correct size I was able to loosen a screw in the fuel line and bleed the system to remove any air. And it appeared there was air. Once sweet fuel started to squirt out I retightened the nut and after a two tries the engine ran!! I was so relieved! All this while we're rocking & rolling in the ocean swells. We were both done for the day and radioed our escort that while we had fixed the engine we would nonetheless follow him in under motor. 

We are now anchored in too shallow water (will likely touch bottom at low tide tonight) and close to a channel with lots of weekend boat traffic coming & going. We'll put extra lights out tonight on deck to make sure we're very visible. 

Once secured at anchor Cassandra immediately went for a well deserved nap and although I was exhausted I started to clean and organize the boat. Used label maker to label the ratchet set with “Top – Open Here” & “Bottom – DO NOT OPEN”, cleaned up all the chaos from the rolling and the engine issue and went further and organized many other things. I just had to. It's funny, but organizing was my coping mechanism from the traumatic experience! To get things sorted out in my head I had to get things sorted out around me. I'm sure I get this from my mother. After everything was in it's place and I had a pile of things to throw out I felt much better and went for a nap myself.

We left with about ¾ of a tank of diesel and when the engine cut out we had just over ½. I think that with all the rocking & rolling swishing half a tank around some air may have gotten into the fuel lines. Before leaving tomorrow we'll try and top off at one of the marinas here or from our extra jerry can.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Nassau Already!

We made it to Nassau today! Not not the capital of the Bahamas but Nassau county in Long Island NY. We spent the week in Long Island, and what a week it's been! Here's a brief synopsis.


  • -First and foremost my little sister, brother-in-law and little niece. We did come all this way to see her! Such an angel. Let it be known that she took her first steps during my visit. By the time we come back up she'll be running circles around her parents. A week side trip, east instead of south, was well worth it to spend valuable time with family.
  • The Ozners. I know of no family who should have their own TV show more than Uncle Lynn, Auntie Sue and daughter Stephanie! Cracks me up! Uncle Lynn actually set us up with dockage... behind a dental clinic! Not the most scenic dock we've ever had but definitely a budget saver!
  • We went out for dinner with everybody our second night there and then had the pleasure of hosting a dinner party on board later in the week. Cassy 's culinary masterpieces impressed everybody (as always!).

Boat Projects:

  • Fixed the leak from the stuffing box. That was priority number one (keep water out of the boat!).
  • Replaced the defective automatic bilge pump switch, which would turn the pump on, but not off and thus drain the batteries until the pump could stop... and then the boat could sink (call me paranoid but again, keep water out of the boat!)
  • Recessed the bolts in my homemade (read ghetto) outboard rail mount so the bracket would fit correctly (thanks Matt!)
  • Installed a “jug board” along the starboard side to attach extra jerry cans of diesel, gas and water (thanks Matt)
  • Tested the wind indicator & display; wired it up directly from the base of the mast powered by a mobile battery pack just to make sure it was functioning properly before going to the trouble of wiring it to the cockpit.

  • We have phone and internet!! I was under impression that getting a US mobile phone plan with data tethering would be easy and cheap, man was I wrong! The frustration that we went through with all the big carriers was ridiculous (Verizon, AT&T, etc.) and I may dedicate an entire future post to this but suffice it to say for now that we have mobile phone & internet (albeit sometimes slow) on board thanks to Radio Shack and their Cricket network.
  • Personal Flotation Devices (PFD's) with harnesses: while we've always had the requisite life jackets on board they were always the bulky type for families. Now we have sleek professional ones that auto-inflate when you fall in the water (can also be activated manually). Additionally they have a harness built-in to prevent / minimize falling off the boat in rough weather. They cost a mini fortune but since we saved some money on the self-made outboard rail mount I guess we can fit them in the budget.
  • Food, drink & booze: a lot.
  • Fuel: Diesel, gas
  • Water
  • Pump-Out
  • Laundry

Things not done:
There's no way we could get everything done, especially with the unexpected leak and bilge repairs. It's all about prioritizing! Things I was hoping to get done but didn't include:
  • Wiring the VHF Radio to the GPS so we could get AIS (a system that allows us to see other ships in the area and them to see us – kind of like radar.) Once we get that up & running you can even see where we are on the internet. Our fathers are impatiently waiting for this to become so.
  • Wiring the auto-pilot to the GPS to allow the autopilot to steer a pre-set route we define on the GPS. We won't be able to go for an hour nap but at least we won't have to hand steer all day (which is very tiring).
  • Refilling our propane tank: the tank the oven & stove run off must be getting near empty and with no microwave on board that will only leave our little BBQ
  • Shave. I did not have the time (and i forgot my razor) to shave in a land bathroom. I don't want to clog our boat's sink. The Ernest Hemingway look goes on...

This was essentially our last significant land based stop, a pause from the the initial shock of adopting a water based life and a chance to accomplish a whole bunch of things that couldn't be done while on the move. As always we are very grateful for all the help and support during our visit. We are blessed.

Today we left Freeport and retraced our track along Long Island almost back to NYC. There was hardly and wind and the seas were calm (like a lake someone said on the the radio) so we had to motor sail the entire way. Unfortunately Cassandra is still finding her sea legs again after being back on land for so long and got seasick pretty early in the day. She feels better now. We are now on the hook at Sandy Hook in New Jersey where we'll spend the night before making a run offshore down the coast of tomorrow.

I like your jewlery!
Don't let them fool you, the Yankee Clipper Marina is not that classy!
Get'er done!
What an attractive family!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hello Ocean

We left our mooring ball in NYC this morning. Against the flood tide current on the Hudson we made slow progress south, only about 2-3knots. Fast moving ferries between NYC and New Jersey are an important part of the public transportation system. So much traffic it was like playing Frogger on a boat but with following wakes bouncing us up & down. We finally reached NY Harbour, raised sails paid homage to Lady Liberty with an official sail past, now dodging big tour boats and Staten Island Ferries. Next it was on through the Narrows under the Varezanno bridge, huge cargo ships and tugs towing barges with long cables were the challenges on the this level of the video game Escape Manhattan.

Hello Ocean!! From here on it was all ocean baby! With a reefed main and reefed genoa (hey we're being cautious) we passed Coney Island and then skirted the southern shore of Long Island. Ocean winds are often pretty constant in both strength and direction which makes for great cursing sailing. Once in the ocean we didn't tack even once, which is good because Cassandra was getting pretty tired from all the tacking around shipping in NY Harbour. To test ourselves we unreefed the genoa and then the mainsail. We we're flying along at 6-7knots and heeling quite a bit. I took my yet to be installed inclinometer and it read 20degrees (we're more comfortable with 10-15degress). At some point, we didn't even notice from the cockpit, the salon table ripped out of its supports again (inadequate supports to start with in my opinion – another thing to be fixed. Sigh). Apart form that we had an excellent run all the way to Jones Inlet. We have never entered an ocean inlet and our new chart plotter didn't offer much guidance (in fact is actually said that due to frequent changes it didn't have reliable depth or buoy information. Another sailboat had been behind for much of the day. I hailed him on the radio and asked if he was also entering the inlet and if he could guide us. He was, could and would. Vinny, single handing his Hunter 34 Asisu, swiftly passed us and we not only followed him in but also followed all his streaming advice on surfing the following hurricane swells and avoiding nearby sandbars (he had had first hand experience). We are very grateful for his help, things could have turned out very differently without.

Once safely in we waited about 20mins for a bascule bridge to open and then penetrated deep into the vast network of canals to our destination dock at the Town & Country Dental clinic in Freeport Long Island. I know... a dental clinic with boat docks? That's how boat centric Long Island is!

We'll be spending about a week here visiting with my sister, brother in law and baby niece. We'll also obviously be spending a lot of time on boat repairs, installations and other boat stuff.

Can't get a checkered cab in NYZ!

The new Freedom Tower dominates NYC skyline

Armpit hair... she's French

Awful sail trim... I know, it was a lot to manage at once.

Table's anchored... floorboards not so much...

Our guiding light

Now this is a HOUSEBOAT!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Get it Up

Topanga is feeling much better with her mast up and sails installed! Sean, Tim and Buck at Hop-O-Nose marina were great! Professional, helpful, laid back, patient. We would highly recommend them for mast stepping / unstepping and also just as a nice marina & restaurant to stop in the upper Hudson. They gave me time to install our new masthead wind indicator (been waiting 3 years for that one – now just have to get the cockpit display wired. Sigh). They even lent me a grinder to grind out a little bit of the mast head plate for a better fit. We actually left our mast supports there and will pick them up on the way back when we unstep there next year. Speaking of mast supports, the crew at Hop-O-Nose were very impressed (unsolicited) with our mast supports' design, fabrication and installation; simple, efficient and effective. Even how they fold up for easy storage, and these guys see a lot of mast supports! Nice!

We borrowed a car and ran some errands in Catskill. Visited Verizon and AT&T for cell phone research (it's going to be complicated), food at Price Chopper & Walmart, some beer, wine & booze (alcohol is soo cheap in the US!), laundry, etc.

We intended on only spending two days there but ended up staying four. I tightened all the rigging as best I could (trying to recall all the rigging advise my friend Charles had given me). My parents delivered our sails and we installed them together (get on that winch mom!). We also had a wonderful surprise visit from my sister and niece! Such a little cutie! We're headed to see them in Long Island but we got a little sample of this little angel now!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lock Down

What goes up must come down, so as we went through 10 locks in the Chambly canal lifting us to Lake Champlain so we just went through 10 more dropping us back down. The New York State Canal system was the primary historical driver for not only the state's empire status but ultimately the entire countries superpower status (that's what it says in the canal system's information guide). We got through all ten locks in two days, which is good because we only bought a two-day pass (if you take longer they make you buy another pass). These were by far the easiest locks i have ever been through, which was a blessing because given previous lock experience I had a lot of anxiety about doing them with the mast down. All the locks were open and ready when we arrived, we'd radio ahead. We were the only boat in all the locks so there was plenty of room. In fact we never crossed another boat the entire canal! The turbulence inside was minimal so the ride was smooth. The weather was hot, sunny and windless.

The only complication was significant dredging operations going on between locks 8 to 5. We had to weave our way through ginormous barges, tugboats and earth moving equipment. Keeping an eye out was essential.

We overnighted at a municipal dock under a bridge in a small little town called Fort Ann. Quiet! We stretched our legs and went for a little walk around town and get a couple of things at the gas station convenience store.

Learning to crochet
Add caption
GPS Chartplotter accuracy... questionable...

Go right ahead sir
A guard gate
Tuckered out
Our spot overnight in Fort Ann
Living under a bridge
Old canal, they really squeezed 'em in there
Locks are so you don't have to go over this in a sailbyacht
Work gloves to keep those hands soft