Homecoming

ANZ632-030615-
CHESAPEAKE BAY FROM NEW POINT COMFORT TO LITTLE CREEK VA-
657 AM EDT TUE MARCH 29 2016 

E WINDS 15 KT. BECOMING S IN THE AFTERNOON...WAVES 2 to 3 FT.

Greetings from Gloucester, Virginia! We’ve been back for about 6 weeks now, and I admit dear reader, that I have been avoiding you. I’ve been avoiding writing of our homecoming, of our last days on the boat, I’ve been avoiding trying to sum up our trip. I’ve been avoiding the finality of it. So off with the band aid! We left Elizabeth City, were spoiled sequentially by the crews of “Oceanus” and “Rejoice,” we had an appropriately rainy trip up the Dismal Swamp Canal, we had a great visit with Ryan’s Uncle Brooks and Aunt Lisa in Portsmouth, and as the radio transcript above suggests, we had a bumpy ride out Hampton Roads and up the Chesapeake Bay.

Upon our return to Mobjack Bay, we had a wonderful reunion with Ryan’s family, we were spoiled by the hospitality of friends, and we were warmed by the company of all. Cause all of a sudden it got pretty damn cold. And then, I went back to work, Ryan began looking for work, we moved into a new house, we bought furniture. At times it feels like we never left. Some nights I still wake up to check the anchor. In our bed in our house. Cut the lights…

 

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South Mills Lock

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Motoring North on the Dismal Swamp Canal

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Ryan, the voice of radio “Firefly”

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“Firefly” and “Rejoice.” We were treated to a wonderful Easter meal aboard, thanks guys!

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The anchorage on the Lafayette River, Halloween 2015. Southbound

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26420388141_befb4ae2bf_c Portsmouth!

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Chesapeake Bay aftermath. Definitely should have tied that down, and that, and that…

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“Firefly’s” Old-New Home at Compass Marina! Fantastico!

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“Firefly’s” New-New Home at Mobjack Bay Marina! Inexpensive-O! (also very nice)(but not quite fantastico)

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Free Dinghy Rides!

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East River, Mobjack Bay

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Gun-shy or lazy? Finally had to shake out that 2nd reef

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Poor Bug

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But in consolation, she gets her own themed beer! Courtesy of Ryan’s dad Joe.

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Fig. 12 From the yacht “Aleutka,” photo courtesy of J from Chickadee, who shares my obsession with obscure small yachts, like “Aleutka.” Also, the real lesson of the trip, see below.

I think the lesson* of this trip has been to live in the moment. (*see Fig. 12) The process of getting ready for an adventure is one of expectation, of planning, of forethought. The process of enjoying an adventure is to discard those expectations and allow the journey to take its course. I think. The tension between mindfulness and anticipation is what makes living afloat so beguiling. I love sailing because it forces you to be in the moment, to pay attention to your environment. Meanwhile, life on the water demands forethought and preparation. As we rounded the corner out of the Lafayette River and into Hampton Roads proper, we used all the tricks we had learned these past months to keep “Firefly” moving upwind into the swell. There were several moments in the swirling confluence of the James River, Chesapeake Bay, and the wide Atlantic winds we both considered turning around and trying again another (calmer) day. But “Firefly” could take it, she had taken us this far, and the only flaws she revealed were flaws within ourselves. “Trust the boat” you hear people say. I trust “Firefly,” and at the mouth of Hampton Roads we started to get our mojo back. I trusted myself, I trusted my work on the boat. I trusted Ryan, and she trusted me.  We made our way out the shipping channel and made our turn North. With seas on the beam we rolled heavily, but the more favorable point of sail sped us on our way. By the time we were abreast the York River things were moderating, and when the light at New Point Comfort hove in sight, we were rolling downwind, giddy, unbelieving. We tied up “Firefly,” and walked to our friends Jess and Jared’s house. We had made it home.

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Hand on the tiller, eye on the wind, and mind on the horizon…

...COPY THAT (BRIDGE)(CHICKADEE)(CALISTA)(ELARA)(CORSAIR)(WHISPER)
(REJOICE)(OCEANUS)(GEMINI)(STEAMBOAT)(SKOOCH)(ATOM)(NO QUARTER)(SOULTIDE) 
MOVING BACK TO CHANNEL ONE-SIX, FIREFLY OUT. 

 

On Sounds, Rivers, Bays, and Creeks

Aboard a small sailboat, the winds and seas define the experience. Waves are children of the winds, and the winds are capricious. When talking with other sailors, it’s interesting to see the breadth of different feelings towards different bodies of water. What the weather is doing on any one day colors your perception of place…we met many folks who had uncomfortable days on any one stretch of the ICW, where we had benign sunny skies and following winds. Of course the opposite is true as well. We recall with trepidation stretches which others remember with fondness.  During our trip South, we were fortunate to have settled weather during the majority of our open-water crossings (Chesapeake Bay not withstanding). Sailors speak of the Alligator River and Albemarle Sound with a shiver, we had uneventful crossings southbound. Anchorages suffer the same fate, Pine Island, Grahams Creek, Long Key were incident pits trying to break our stuff. In settled weather, they are bucolic and serene.

Before we left, Jim Wagner of Regent Point Marina showed me a poster on the wall of his office. It reads “The superior sailor uses his superior judgement to avoid using his superior skills.” Discretion is the better part of valor. It’s taken me just about the entire trip to really learn this. That being said, if you wait for superior conditions, you will never leave the dock. So when NOAA was calling for SW 10-15 kts, 1 foot seas on the Albemarle, we knew we couldn’t wait for much better (Despite the foreknowledge that NOAA almost always underestimates, or so it seems to us anyway).

We made our way North up the Alligator River and through the opening bridge. That was our first hurdle of the day, the bridge doesn’t open in winds of 35 mph or more, or on the bridge tenders discretion. We’ve heard tales of the bridge not opening in 25 mph winds…which would necessitate a 20 mile beat to windward back to the nearest protected anchorage. We were very relieved to have light winds and an open bridge. As we negotiated the river mouth, and raised our now habitually double-reefed main, the winds and seas began to pick up as expected. The truth of it is, even 1 foot seas are rather uncomfortable aboard our little boat. As we got out into the middle of the Albemarle, the wind shifted to the west, apparently funneling down the east-west axis of the sound. This set up a cross sea, with a chop from behind us from the Alligator River, and seas rolling down the length of the sound. Winds were the forecast 15 kts, but the gusts were enough to plunge the rail in the water even with our tiny scrap of sail up. “Firefly” likes to sail leaned over, no doubt. We motorsailed on, and after about an hour and a half of white knuckles and held breaths we got under the lee of some headlands about 8 miles distant, enough to check some of the larger waves. As we entered the Pasquotank River, the winds increased to 20+ kts, but by then we were in protected waters and “Firefly” put her shoulder down and fairly flew through the chop. We dodged crab pots disguised among the whitecaps. We joked and laughed in the lulls, happy to be safe. We tied up at the free docks in Elizabeth City, and fairly ran for a burger and some beers.

Experiences like this have given me a new-found understanding and respect for the small boat voyagers I consider my heroes. I can’t imagine taking a small boat in the ocean, and yet the allure is still there. Perhaps someday. Perhaps on OPB’s (Other People’s Boats) (or Other People’s Blogs). We are expecting North winds for a few days, so we have some time to leisurely make our way up the Dismal Swamp Canal and the Elizabeth River, and prepare for what will surely be a memorable sail up the Chesapeake Bay, and home.

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A Bug’s Life

We’ve written several posts detailing our many adventures aboard “Firefly,” and now I’d like to share some of our adventures in and around our dinghy, “Bug.”

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Bug!

Chris and I built “Bug” ourselves, which was simultaneously stressful and amazing, if that makes any sense. Chris wrote a post back in October with some of the details, but at that point, we hadn’t even splashed her yet.

Chris and I picked a John Welsford design called “Scraps” for three reasons: 1. She’s pretty! 2. She’s small! 3. The plans said it would take about 18 hours to build (Ha!)! It took us at least three times that, mainly accounting for newbie errors, lack of proper tools, possibly exhaustion, etc.

Real quick, we used 4mm plywood for the topsides, 6mm plywood for the transoms and bottom. We used 1×1’s (ripped down to a slightly smaller size) for the gunwales and frames. We got all the materials at Lowes. We lofted the pieces on some marine plywood, cut out out the parts, put everything together, glassed it, painted it, and Chris added some corner braces.

I originally wanted to call her “Inara” after one of the characters in the show Firefly, but as soon as we started putting her together, I knew she was a “Bug.”

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The moment we knew she was a “Bug!”

Once we finished building and painting, we had to install oar locks and find some oars. Paul, the Boatyard Manager at Regent Point Marina, where we kept “Firefly,” gave us a tip about having oar locks in two spots: One for when one person uses the boat, another for when two people do. The weight distribution changes dramatically, so you have to be in a different spot while rowing in each case. Thanks Paul! Chris found oars at a marine consignment store.

I was pretty terrified the first time we tried to get into the dinghy; I was sure we’d swamp her. I couldn’t relax at all. The first time I had fun in “Bug” was when Chris took me for a moonlight row around Locklies Creek (right near Regent Point Marina) on a flat calm evening. We had been so stressed out trying to get ready for the trip, to move out of our house, etc. It was so nice to hear the oars moving through the water and to see the waterscape in the moonlight.

And so, “Bug” just fits on the cabin top when we need her to, and is very light and easy to tow. We’ve had our fair share of adventures in the little boat, that’s for sure!

“Bug” on the cabin top vs. being towed. When she’s on the cabin top, we have to do what we call “boat yoga” to get down the companionway. When we tow bug, if we hit any kind of big wave or wake, we always yell “Hold on Bug!” 

Chris is the primary rower; he’s been rowing since he was a kid. I’ve really only tried once, and it was pretty laughable. So I’m pretty much cargo.

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“Bug” and her motor.

Landing the dinghy can be an adventure depending on where we are. When we were anchored in Lake Worth, the dinghy landing area was pretty crowded. We had been told that dinghies were being stolen and that we definitely wanted to lock ours to the poles provided. However, upon landing, the tide was up past the poles. So Chris had to lock the dinghy and climb a wall to get to the little beach. After first dropping off the cargo on dry land of course!

Chris climbs to dry land. Cargo snaps photos.

Another time also in Lake Worth, after having a rollicking time with the crew of “Calista,” we were rowing back to “Firefly” (again, when I say “we,” I mean Chris!) and one of our oars broke in half (they are collapsable so they’re built to come apart) by accident… this was at 4am in what I would call a light chop. Luckily, Giles, captain of “Calista,” had decided to dinghy over to make sure we made it alright. We pointed at our oar half and yelled to him, and he zipped over, scooped it up, and then towed “Bug” back to “Firefly.” Thanks Giles!

On a related note: We keep our oars on “Firefly’s” cabin top when we are underway. This one time, when we were getting ready to pull into the St. Augustine Municipal Marina on a windy, choppy, nasty day, I was frantically running around trying to get docklines and fenders set up while trying to talk to the dockmaster on the VHF to figure out where they were going to put us. I (in my frenzied state) accidentally knocked an oar, just enough for it to go overboard. Chris, at the tiller, saw this happen, leaned over, and managed to scoop up the oar while we were moving!  Later, the guys in the dockmaster’s office were like “nice catch, man.”

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This photo shows where the oars live.

We’ve also had to use the dinghy in less-than-ideal rowing conditions. For example, when we visited my brother in Titusville, we had to row back to our boat in a quite a nasty chop (against the wind of course) in the dark. This was the first time I really thought we might capsize. I was screaming obscenities at every wave that soaked us (and we did get pretty soaked), AND we weren’t sure which anchor light was ours… so it took us longer than usual to get back to the boat and dry clothes.

One thing that can be a little difficult with a hard dinghy vs. an inflatable is that when “Bug” bumps into “Firefly” both boats can be harmed, and the noise wakes us up. This usually happens if we have any kind of wind-against-tide phenomenon. “Firefly” with her full keel prefers to face into any current. “Bug,” being very light, gets blown around by the wind. So, if the wind is against the tide, “Bug” will get blown into the transom.  In that case, we usually pull her up to our hip and tie her there with a fender keeping her from bumping.

The night we were anchored out in a gale in Long Key Bight, “Bug” alerted us to the fact that we were dragging. We weren’t really sleeping because the wind was so loud and the boat was swinging so much, but all of a sudden we hear “Bug” slam-slam-slamming against “Firefly.” Chris and I got up and Chris realized at that moment that we were beam-on to the wind and therefore dragging. So “Bug” was kind of our watchdog.

When we pulled into the marina in Tavernier in mid-January, we both noticed that Bug was looking pretty beat-up. So, one day when we had some time, we decided to do some repairs.

Before Pics

We pulled off the old corner braces, made new ones, covered them in epoxy this time, then repainted. We also added some cleats, and then the sailing rig (Chris linked to a video of him sailing “Bug” in high winds an earlier post).

After Pics

She’s looking pretty good these days!

I must say, when I look at “Bug” I am always filled with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Not only has she been completely necessary on this trip, but I think she is beautiful. My husband put at least 3x more hours into building her than I did, but having had any part at all definitely gives me a strong emotional attachment to her.

One more story: I ordered lettering for her transom before we left. It simply said “bug.” All lowercase, same font as “Firefly.” I thought it was super cute and I was really excited about it. We hauled all our boat and trip related stuff out to “Firefly” before we left, and somehow the lettering got lost.

Over the course of the trip, we’ve realized that it can be hard to see our boat name when we tow “Bug.” She gets in the way a bit (she’s such an attention hog!). So, recently, I decided to re-order letting for her. This time it would say “bug T/T Firefly.” (T/T means “Tender To”). That way, people would know who we are! I ordered it a while ago, and expected it when we got our mail forwarded to us in Palm Coast, FL. We got the package, and I was all excited and then… the lettering wasn’t there. At all. I still don’t know what happened to it. Instead, I had a jury duty summons.

It seems the universe wants “Bug” to have a blank transom!

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The Long Road Home

New Smyrna, Palm Coast, Pine Island, Fernandina, Fredericka River, Crescent River, Cattlepen Creek, Wilmington Island, Bull Creek, Factory Creek, Wappoo Creek, Five Fathom Creek, Bucksport Plantation, Calabash Creek, Southport, Big Lollipop Bay, Goose Creek, Beaufort City Docks. Pheew! Since last we spoke we’ve been pushing hard, trying to bank as many miles as possible to get home by April 1. Where our trip down was a languorous meander, our return has been more of a delivery. From here in Beaufort, NC we have about 250 miles and several large bodies of water ’til we’re home! At this point we’re both pretty ready to get back to Virginia, we’re looking forward to a full size kitchen, regular bathing, and seeing family and friends. At the same time, we’re sitting at the dock, it’s a beautiful Spring day here, and we know it’s going to be tough jumping back into dry-land existence. Despite the increased pace of the journey home, we’ve been fortunate to meet some very fine folks and have enjoyed many gorgeous mornings-afternoons-evenings-nights on the water.

 

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Off Watch

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Bridge of Lions, St. Augustine

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We had a couple cold mornings in Georgia…Spent a few days holed up in the marsh waiting for some contrary winds to die down enough to get across St. Catharine’s Sound. Wind against tide down there is serious stuff skipper!

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Crescent River, Georgia

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Lots of current down there in Georgia.

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Wanted: A Shower

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Southport, NC

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This right here is a seal, hanging out on some mud. I’m pretty sure they don’t have seals in North Carolina, and yet here this guy is. I guess they have seals in NC? Extremely advanced animatronic facsimile?

Beaufort, NC has been very cool. When we skipped it on the way down, everyone was like “whaaaaaaat!?” Highlight? The marina has a courtesy car you can use to get groceries and the like. Check out this old warhorse:

25865669335_76bdb3baf8_cTotally sweet right? I like not having driven for a while, and then getting in an ancient over powered station wagon with loose steering and dodgy brakes. It was awesome. So we stuck our heads in the local marine consignment and met a guy who just bought a Pearson Ariel! The first sister-ship of the trip! She’s anchored right down the creek from where we’re tied up! Awesome!

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Firefly’s Sister Ship!

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Finally, if you’ve been enjoying our blog and are interested in expanding your nautical-blog-horizons, check out https://siximposserousthings.wordpress.com/ We met these guys (who are from right across the river from us in VA!) down in Key Largo while dodging a line of thunderstorms. Very cool folks. Tomorrow, if we can get out this slip without crashing in all this current, we’ll head north for the Neuse! See you on the other side!…of the state line!…knock on wood!

Meals on Keels

Hi, hello, and howdy dear readers! Chris and I are currently holed up waiting out some nasty weather (this gets old, let me tell you), so our journey home has turned from sprint to mosey. However, this gives me an opportunity to finally write this post, which I’ve been meaning to get together for some time now.

Meal preparation is a huge challenge here on “Firefly,” mainly because we don’t have a galley or refrigeration (or, ahem, room to do much of anything). What we do have is a two-burner Coleman camp stove that we hook up to our propane tank (a 10-lb aluminum tank that lives in a stock pot on the stern rail), and a cooler (which sometimes has ice in it and sometimes doesn’t). We also have a nice set of “nesting” stainless steel pots/pans that my in-laws very kindly gave us for a Bon Voyage gift.

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Coleman camp stove, which lives on the counter under the companionway, along with the cutting board and plastic washtub. Every time we make a meal we have to pull out the stove, pull out the propane tank, hook everything up, cook, then put it all away again.


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Nesting cookware tucked away(ish). Note: This photo was taken before we left. The interior of “Firefly” has never since looked this nice, clean, or organized. 

We also don’t really have room for the cooler, so we have made it the second step that you use to come down the companionway.

That being said, we have to buy food that will store well, that (mostly) doesn’t need refrigerated, and that is still (hopefully) yummy. We usually have some combination of the following produce on the boat: Onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, apples, oranges or clementines, and lemons. They live in a net. We also learned that eggs don’t actually need to be refrigerated (you have to turn them over once every couple days), and these are a staple for us. We have way too much canned food on the boat as well, to include salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, roast beef, chicken, black beans, kidney beans, mixed veggies, canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, soups… well, you get the picture. Then we keep other staples like pasta, brown rice, quinoa, etc around. Excess canned items live in the bilge and the items that we need to get to easily go in what has been dubbed “the meat locker.” Coffee, condiments, etc live on some of the easy-to-reach shelving we happen to have.

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Produce (and a baguette we grabbed before leaving Tavernier)!

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The kind of foodstuffs that live in the meat locker…

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…stuffed unceremoniously into the meat locker.

So, as you can imagine, getting a good, nutritious meal together can be a production, especially while we are underway.

As Chris mentioned a while back in his A Day on the Waterway post, I make coffee and breakfast down below every morning while Chris gets us going and mans the tiller. I think I got the better end of that deal… mornings can be chilly! I very much believe in the cliche that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I know we burn a bazillion calories while we’re sailing, so I try to pack in quite a bit of food to our first meal of the day.

I make coffee using a stainless steel french press, of which I am now very enamored. We both like Italian roasts and have been really enjoying Trader Joe’s Italian Roast coffee beans. I hand grind the beans with a little stainless steel grinder on the coarsest setting, dump the grounds into the french press, and then get the tea kettle on the camp stove with enough water to fill the press.

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Coffee beans in the coffee grinder.

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Kettle on to boil.

Here are some secrets I discovered (using the Google) to a good cuppa: Let the kettle boil and then set it aside for around 30 seconds to just cool a bit. Then, pour a bit of the water and try to evenly wet the grounds in the bottom of the press. Wait 30-45 seconds (this is also a great time to stick your nose in there and get a good whiff of deliciousness) and then vigorously pour in the rest of the water (you want to agitate the grounds now) so that you get a nice frothy foam in there. Wait another 30-45 seconds before putting the lid on the press.

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Coffee coffee coffee!

Now, after you put the lid on the press, set the timer for 12 minutes (none of this 4 minutes crap like most people tell you). Then, after your 12 minutes, push the plunger down gently and enjoy! You’re welcome!

I’ve also developed a couple different breakfasts that work well for us while underway. One I call “Ryan’s Not-Yet-Famous Underway Breakfast Bowl,” and this is how it’s made:

Ryan’s Not-Yet-Famous Underway Breakfast Bowl

Serves 2.

Slice up 1 Onion and 1 Potato or Sweet Potato (or both!)

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Coat a pan with cooking spray, then add some olive oil. Get the onions sizzling and then throw in the potatoes. Cook until potatoes are done and season to taste.

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Meanwhile, as the onions and taters cook, slice up an avocado and put half in one bowl and half in another.

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When the onions/potatoes are done, add half to each bowl on top of the avocado.

Then, crack a couple eggs into the pan you cooked the potatoes in (we don’t want to do any more dishes than necessary, yes?) and fry over easy. Throw an egg on the top of each bowl.

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Hand one bowl up the captain, and take one for yourself. Devour.

You’re welcome (again).

I think Chris is usually pretty content when I hand him up his coffee and his breakfast bowl in the morning!

I’ve also taken to making a breakfast that I call the Modified Ploughman’s Breakfast. It was inspired by an incredible meal I had at a little British pub in Dania Beach called The Ploughman’s. It’s basically a little of everything you have lying around sliced up on a plate with a few choice cooked items. The version I had at the pub included a Scottish Egg (Google this), sliced up cheeses, a little salad, some sliced up pork, tomato slices… it was awesome. Here’s what my version often looks like:

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Yessah!

Lunch is another story, indeed. We’re usually pretty busy around lunchtime… we’re both above-decks and involved in steering, navigation, etc. Lots of times (especially at the beginning of our trip when we were still getting into the swing of things) we’d sort of forget to eat in the middle of the day.

Lately we’ve taken to eating easy-to-prepare snacky lunches. Since we have no table or anything at the helm either, this is what a typical “Firefly” lunch can look like:

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Sardines on saltines, pretzels, cuties (clementine-y thingies). Sunscreen not included in this meal.

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Sliced up baguette with brie (we found a single-serving cheese wedge packaged version that is fine without refrigeration!), peanut butter, and olive oil/garlic/italian seasoning.

As you might imagine, we are often famished by the time we drop the anchor, especially if we’ve put in a 50+ mile day. Chris and I sort-of take turns making dinner (there’s really not room for two people to cook), though occasionally we will sous-chef for each other. Dinners range from heating up a can of chili (lazy, tired) to putting on a delicious production. If we’re recently coming from somewhere with a grocery store, we’ll have some refrigerated ingredients on ice in the cooler at our disposal.

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Sous chef-ing! Note that the cooler is not only our step, but also our table. 

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The finished product! We keep corn tortillas around and eat them a lot… tacos are pretty sweet after a long day on the water.

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Christmas dinner this year was special in that we had fresh ingredients from the grocery store that day: Meat sauce with leeks and zucchinis over pasta. 

Pretty much nothing beats catching a fish and eating it for dinner (we have only managed to do this a few times)… This one time Chris caught a Crevalle Jack (fish) and we made delicious fish tacos for dinner. Another time, I caught a Blue Fish and Chris made a fantastic meal for us out of it.

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Fish acquired…

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…taco fixin’s prepared. Not the best photos but one of the better meals we’ve had on the trip!

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Blue Fish and veggies, nom!

There have been some days where I’ve been so exhausted, windblown, and over-sunned that I couldn’t muster enough energy to cook dinner at all. But mostly, we’ve gotten pretty good at making sure to get three decent meals in, despite all the work involved.

At the end, there’s dishes and then we do it all again!

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Keys Disease

Ladies and Gentleman, we are fair-weather sailors and not ashamed to admit it. I will tell you straight up that running downwind at 7 knots is more scary than fun on our little boat. As a result, we are currently holed up in a marina waiting out some excessive wind to continue our journey home. This is what we got up to these past few months.

Got out for a few daysails on Florida Bay…

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We did a little modeling for our buddy Jeff’s yacht service company…

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Did some dinghy exploring…

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And some dinghy sailing…

…and checked out the local breweries…

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The best part of our time in the Keys was all the great folks we met. We chased our pals on “Chickadee” from Cocoa all the way to Tavernier, and now we’re besties.

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Florida Keys Penguin Research Team: Coldest Place on Earth

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Some more crazy kids on a sailboat…with Django the dog!

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Tiki Hut People…

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There was also an element of this…

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I can’t take credit for this particular memey-thing…

So it was with mixed emotions we turned our bow North…after a month tied up to a dock we were ready to be on the move again, but reluctant to leave our friends. Also, we don’t want to be cold. So, with “Bug” on the roof in anticipation of some weather…

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…and after dodging some gnarly thunderstorms…

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…we had a perfect day of sailing up Biscayne Bay. We set the big genoa, turned on the tiller pilot, and sat on the foredeck watching dolphins play in our wake.

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We anchored at No-Name Harbor and met a young couple from White Stone, VA just a stone’s throw from where we keep the boat on the Rappahanock. They’re trying to get back to Virginia by April as well, and are sure to be featured in a later edition of this blog if the crew of “Firefly” can keep up with their blistering pace. We’ll see. Anyways, we left Key Biscayne for a few days of 10,000 bridges, mega-yachts, and wakes…

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“Venus,” built for the late Steve Jobs

Northbound we had much less trouble than our way down…turns out running between Lake Worth and Miami on the weekend between Christmas and New Years is a spectacularly terrible idea. Lesson learned. So now you’re caught up! Our goal is to be back by April 1st, so that I can get back to work, and Ryan can start looking. We’ve got a few stops planned at places we missed on the way down, stay tuned eh?

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Spiny Liebster

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The Biiiggest Spiny Liebster Award EVER!

Tricia and her man Rich live in Cornwall “On Gwen,” a ferro-cement gaff cutter. That means it’s a badass, somewhat old-school, thoroughly sea-going boat with lots of strings to pull on. They’re in the process of getting the boat ready for cruising, and potentially an Atlantic crossing. I am envious of that aspiration, I am intimidated by it as well. Tricia writes of their life and travels aboard with honesty and a certain British-Isles-Panache that is beguiling. Their photos are gorgeous. You should check out her blog here.

During our own preparations and subsequent blogging, we were fortunate to internet-meet like-minded souls who were suffering through their own fiberglass-dust-induced fits of asthmatic-lung-hacking. In some cases that dust was ferro-cement in nature. We traded trade secrets, and encouragement. More recently, we’ve been Liebster Awarded- which is a way for bloggers to recognize each other and say “hey, we dig ur shiz.” So, to the crew of “On Gwen,” many thanks for reading our stuff, thanks for the inspiration, and thanks for the recognition!

The Liebster Award is given from one blogger to another in recognition of blogging. “On Gwen” has posited some questions, our answers, as follows:

1) What’s the plan?

Chris- Our immediate plan is to take the boat North, back up the Intracoastal Waterway to the Chesapeake Bay in time for me to get back to work in April. We’re looking forward to hitting a few places we missed on the way down, as well as using our somewhat-newfound confidence to explore some nooks and crannies off the beaten track. “Firefly” is just about the perfect Chesapeake Bay boat, relatively shoal draft but also thoroughly seaworthy. We’re looking forward to Springs, Summers, and Falls exploring the nearly endless coastline of coastal Virginia. Beyond that, I’d like to gain some bluewater experience crewing aboard boats heading offshore to the Caribbean during the annual Fall migration. I definitely feel like we have unfinished business with the crossing to the Bahamas, and beyond that, I really, really want to take “Firefly” there. We’ve been talking about getting a trailer so that we can do trips to the Bahamas or even up North (all you Mainers and Nova Scotians watch out!) without taking off work for unreasonable amounts of time. That’s the plan, I’m sticking to it.

Ryan- My plan is to keep as warm as I can on the trip home, and to try to enjoy as much of the rest of the journey as I can. Then, it’s back to “real life” and I have to find us a house and find a job!

2) Who would play you both, and your boat, in the film/television adaptation of your blog?

Ryan- Emma Watson.

Chris- Rupert Grint.

Firefly- The Durmstrang Ship.

3) (stolen from Emily) What has made you poo your pants in fear so far?

Chris- Dragging anchor at Long Key Bight. We had some tense moments elsewhere, at crowded bridges maneuvering under power, or more prolonged as during our aborted Bahamas crossing and our first day out on the Chesapeake Bay. Nothing even close to the immediate necessity of getting the anchor re-set in 40 knots of wind. Honestly I had never felt fear of that nature before, my mouth was dry, and I found that I had unnatural physical strength. Weird. Scary.

Ryan- Our attempted Bahamas crossing was probably the most scared I’ve ever been. My entire body was so tense while we were out on the water that I was sore for days afterward. The darkness, the waves, the almost exaggerated healing-over “Firefly” does when she’s close-hauled, the sea-spray that completely soaked us both within 30-minutes of leaving the inlet, and then the engine cutting out in the middle of it all… I was terrified. At one point I was mewling so loudly that Chris barked an order for me to go below. But I was too scared to move, so I stayed put. I didn’t poo my pants, but I did almost pee myself because I was too scared to go below and use the head.

4) What would you be doing if you weren’t sailing?

Chris- Dreaming of sailing? Growing lots of oysters, which is also deeply satisfying. Sailing isn’t always fun, but is nearly always satisfying. I think humans aren’t necessarily wired to find satisfaction in languor and relaxation so much as action and accomplishment. Much more important to take pride in something than to be briefly content.

Ryan- I’d be doing yoga everyday, growing a big ole garden, going for long runs, and I’d have like a million pet rabbits and doggies. I’d also have a job and stuff, cuz money. Also, for the record, I love languor and relaxation.

5) What is your top tip for surviving a boat building project?

Chris- Ehhhh, we barely survived ours, I’m not sure we’re in any place to give advice. Don’t try to move out of a house, finish prepping a boat for a cruise, and tie up loose ends at work during a weeks time? It certainly takes a certain amount of hard-nosed obsession to push through. Maybe knowing when enough is enough and just slipping the docklines. Does she float? Does she move? I would say don’t take on anything with significant deck delamination, hull blisters, or structural damage. Oftentimes a “project boat” is a false economy, in our case the desire to fix up a beautiful old boat and gain boatbuilding skills was part of the attraction. If you just want to go sailing, buy a boat that can go sailing.

Ryan- I’m going to take this question in a different direction than Chris did. We built our dinghy, “Bug,” and both really enjoyed it. I say, be patient, expect it to take longer than you think, and definitely jump up-and-down when she starts to look like an actual boat. Take pride in your work, brag to everyone that you built her, and, if someone says something mean about her, flip ’em the bird. We started getting comments/looks about our tiny, hand-built, man-powered dinghy once we made it to Fort Lauderdale, but it only made me love her more.

 

And So, with the power bestowed upon us, we nominate Ed and Vicky of “Elara” for a Liebster. We met these good folks in Elizabeth City, NC and were fortunate enough to continue bumping into them throughout the trip. They blog over yonder at Catching the Horizon.

  1. Why are you sailing, where are you going?
  2. How do you get your mojo back after a major setback like you guys experienced in Charleston?
  3. What has made you poo your pants in fear, and poo your pants in happiness?
  4. What do you guys do while not underway?
  5. How do you divided responsibilities on the boat?

 

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Painkillers on “Elara” in Oriental, NC.

 

West of Here

I hear maybe you got a little bit of snow up there eh? A bit cold perhaps? Normally, inclement weather up North is cause for unseemly gloating on our behalf. Unfortunately this time around it delayed my family’s visit by a few days, and my seesters couldn’t make it down as a result. However, the team rallied and we had a wonderful week long visit with my folks, saw the sights in Key West and Marathon, and generally lived it up. (i.e. enjoyed real beds, full size kitchen, and flush toilets)

Ryan and I rented a car and drove down to the condo in Key West. First time driving in several months…scary.

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Scary for Ryan that is.

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The aforementioned full size kitchen.

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Homemade mango daiquiris? Uhh, please and thank-you.

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Our initial plan was to try and get the boat down to Key West in time to meet the family. That didn’t work out weather-wise, so we left the boat at a marina in Tavernier. It ended up for the best- there aren’t any all weather anchorages in Key West, and with the succession of cold fronts bringing winds from all quadrants, we would have had to move the boat every other day! Case in point, we walked down to Sunset Pier and watched the poor sods on anchor bouncing their teeth out. Hard to tell in this picture, but there are 120ft megayachts bucking like a dinghy out there. No thanks.

All that wind made for some interesting beach combing…

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We celebrated a belated Christmas, which consisted mostly of my mother asking Ryan if she was warm enough and me if we had enough snacks. Yes, no. (No, no?)

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Thanks Ma and Da!

I came down with a wee bit of the sickness, so I hung out at the condo and everyone else went and had fun…I ate all the cookies in the house out of spite.

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After recovering from my illness/cookie binge, we checked out the “Little White House” where President Truman came to get out of D.C. Very interesting guy, made a lot of big calls. Supposedly as young man he aspired either to working in politics or playing piano in a brothel, because, no big difference right?

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We enjoyed a truly-unfair amount of wonderful meals, how’s all that snow treating ya?

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“It’s probably cold and freezing rain in Virginia.” “Hah! Pass the rum.”

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Sushi-grade tuna seared on a personal grill? Uhh, please and thank-you.

One of the nice things about living on land is that when it’s windy out, you’re like “eh.” My dad and I lucked out and were able to squeeze in a snorkel trip on the one day that it wasn’t blowing a zillion…

24552938009_11e81ae62a_cVisibility was excellent, we saw a moray eel and a pretty good sized grouper…the blood was pounding in my ears (INNERBEASTAWOKEN) but grouper is closed in Florida this time of year…I am nothing if not slavishly adherent to fisheries regulations.

On our last morning in Key West, we brunched at a place called “Firefly!” Ryan’s dad Joe did the legwork and sent us a gift certificate, thanks Joe! Clearly we were meant to eat here.

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Not only that, but the staff was wearing shirts that said “Bug Life.”

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Bug is the name of our dinghy, if you haven’t been paying attention.

We were able to get my folks out for a sail on their last day in the Keys, we went out to Butternut Key and anchored up for lunch with the crew of “Chickadee.” Everyone got the full experience when our motor popped off it’s mounting thingy in the outboard well and we anchored under sail…No stress eh?

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The brave crew of “Chickadee.”

We had a wonderful time with my family, it reminded me and Ryan of how much we miss everyone back home, but in a good way. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone again soon! My folks winged their way back to the tundra, and we settled back into life aboard. We’ve had all sorts of things afoot here, had some excellent day sails and Keys-Adventures, and have been nominated for a Liebster award by our internet friends from across the pond…check out Tricia “On Gwen!” More on that in a few days…Finally, the title of this post is also a plug for our friends The Curry’s, their new album is called “West of Here,” and you should click on over there.

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“That fried Key Lime Pie was so good I’m crying”

Hark Upon the Gale

Author’s Note: All pics were taken pre-or-post gale, it was a freakin gale ok? Not like we were taking photos. Also, so you don’t get the wrong idea, we were (semi) anchored during the gale (details within), not like we were about to go sailing around in that stuff.

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Alma Mater Hail!

This sailing racket can be pretty hard. It may seem like we blithely flit from anchorage to anchorage, watering hole to watering hole, sharing adventures with other like-minded piratical maniacs, but the truth is that sometimes this sailing racket can really suck.

Our plan was to try and make it down to Key West in time to meet my family for a week’s visit. Failing that, we figured we could leave the boat at Boot Key Harbor in Marathon. We left Tavernier early in light and shifty winds, motored through the sounds of the upper Keys, and had some beautiful sailing just outside the Channel Five bridge, southwest of Islamorada. We anchored in Long Key Bight, which is protected from the North-West-South, in anticipation of the cold front forecast to bring strong winds clocking from SW to N the following day. Long Key Bight isn’t a particularly snug anchorage, but there weren’t many options with protection from all the right quadrants. Plus, we have (extremely) oversized ground-tackle, so we weren’t too worried.

The winds began to increase around midnight that evening, and by 2:30AM had increased to the point where sleep was increasingly unlikely. At 4AM the winds increased again, and we were roused by the sound of “Bug” (our dinghy) slamming against the side of “Firefly.” I leapt on deck to discover us beam-on to the wind, suggesting strongly that our anchor was dragging. I ran forward to check the rode, usually you can feel the anchor skitter across the bottom if it’s not set, but the rode was rock solid, albeit streaming aft at a weird angle. Then I saw a lobster buoy float by at about 1 kt, there was no doubt, we were dragging. If we didn’t act fast, the boat would be on a shoal, mud if we were lucky, coral if we weren’t. I would have estimated the wind at a steady 30 kts at this point, radio said later it was gusting to 40. It was pitch black, very rough, very loud, and very, very scary. Ryan came up on deck, we got the motor started, tried to get the nose around into the wind and haul in the anchor. (In our underwear, of course) We couldn’t quite get her around, so I hauled the anchor up the side of the boat. I remember thinking that it was surprisingly easy to pull the anchor and chain in. 5 or 6 days later I’m still sore though, so I think adrenaline had something to do with it. At any rate we were able to get the anchor aboard, use the gps to find a safe spot to re-anchor, and get the anchor set again. This time I put out all 100 feet of our chain plus another 20 feet of nylon rode, and she held. We spent the next 36 hours on anchor watch, and on pins and needles until the gale blew itself out. I’m not sure what was worse, the craziness at 4AM or spending the next day and a half stressing about the anchor holding. You often hear about the howling of wind in the rigging, and it’s no exaggeration. There was no escape from the noise, and the pitch of the wind varied minutely with its strength. The effect is like some psychotic improvisation, with gusty peaks an valleys, motifs and threatening phrases as the boat swung on her rode. Coupled with the sharp slap of waves against the hull and the hissing of whitecaps it was pretty intense. I can’t imagine a storm at sea.

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“Are we dragging again?!” “Just a wind-shift” “Are you sure?!?” “No” “Let’s check the ducky” (gps)

The wind was blowing 20 kts 2 days later, forecast to decrease to 15 kts, but they were still calling for 5-7 ft seas in Hawk Channel (the only way to get to Marathon/Boot Key Harbor), so we decided to slog back the inside of the Keys to Tavernier. The first hour was “salty,” but we hoisted our double-reefed main, heeled the boat just a bit, she steadied out, accelerated, and all of a sudden we were having fun again.

What follows is a nautical-nerd discussion of anchoring technique, feel free to skip to the part with the pictures if that’s not your thing.

In hindsight I think I didn’t have enough scope out for the amount of wind/chop we had, coupled with less-than-ideal holding. (Scope is the ratio of how much chain/line you have out to the depth of the water, holding is how good or bad the bottom is for setting an anchor) We have regularly anchored in 25 kts of wind on relatively short scope, 5:1, due to our oversize anchor and chain-rode. It’s super useful in tight anchorages to sneak into spots the big boys and girls can’t fit. What I neglected to consider is that the force exerted by the wind on a surface varies by the square of the velocity…double the windspeed and the force increases by a factor of four. Which is terrifying if you really think about it. Anyways, not a situation in which to skimp on the scope. Secondly, the holding was somewhat marginal, which I didn’t realize until I hauled the anchor aboard and saw in the light of my headlamp a medicine ball-sized clump of grassy-mud. I think the anchor sawed a piece out of the bottom wholesale.

Now that we’ve recovered, we’re looking forward to spending some time with my family and exploring the islands of Florida Bay from our current base of Boater’s Mangrove Marina in Tavernier. Here are some highlights from our trip south from Ft. Lauderdale.

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Morning fog, Florida ICW

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It took me 2.5 months and 1200 miles, but I finally installed the tiller-pilot. Pretty awesome.

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Sailing on Biscayne Bay

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Stiltsville, USA

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No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne

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Boca Chita! Not to be confused with Boca Chica! Or is it Boca Chica! Not to be confused with Boca Chita!? I don’t remember.

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Boca Chita! (def Boca Chita), beautiful home of 10 Trillion Mosquitos.

 Perhaps the most compelling reason for us to make Tavernier our base for a little while is the presence of J & K the crew of “Chickadee,” whom we originally met in Cocoa, FL. These guys are awesome, J works on a head boat here and the whole gang went a-feeshin.

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Ryan was by far the most successful fish-killer. We all went back to the Tiki Hut, made fish tacos, and FEASTED

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Wise words, thanks Tiki Hut!

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Double reefed, blue skies, and making for safe harbor.

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Hark! the students’ voices swelling
Strong and true and clear.
Alma Mater’s love they’re telling,
Ringing far and near.

William & Mary loved of old
Hark upon the gale,
Hear the thunder of our chorus
Alma Mater – Hail.

A Change of Plans

Our alarm went off at 1AM New Years Day, we were underway by about 1:30, and we headed down the ICW towards Port Everglades, Bar Cut, and the Atlantic Ocean. We had come from Lake Worth to Ft. Lauderdale a few days prior, having decided to attempt the crossing to the Bahamas from a point further South so as to get a better lift from the Gulf Stream. The forecast was for SE winds 10-15kts, shifting S during the day, seas 2-3 feet subsiding over the course of the afternoon.  We passed the last few New Years Eve party boats as we turned the corner off the ICW into the inlet channel of Bar Cut. As we made our way out the inlet, the flat calm of the ICW gave way to the somewhat less placid surface of the ocean. A Port Everglades pilot boat pulled alongside and requested that we turn south in order to allow the container ship he was escorting to make his turn. With the ship past, we hauled up the main and working jib, and the press of the sails steadied the boat’s motion somewhat, although we were still moving around quite a bit. With the SEish wind, we were just able to steer our course, 90° E, close hauled. Our plan was to motor sail the entire way, with the engine running at about ¼ throttle and both sails pulling, we were doing about 5 kts, which would put us into West End at around 2 PM. The motion of the boat was considerable, despite our previous experience in “boisterous” conditions on the Chesapeake, the motion of the ocean as it were was something completely different. At this point I felt that we were managing the conditions. Ryan may disagree. Our friends Annick and Giles on “Calista” left a few hours behind us and were giving us encouragement over the radio. After about 2 hours and 10 miles progress, our motor cut out. I fiddled with it a bit while Ryan steered, I thought that maybe the tilt lock had come undone. Got the motor started up again, ran for a few minutes, cut out. We gave it one more chance, the motor started, ran for a few minutes, cut out. We made the decision to turn around, I didn’t relish the idea of coming into West End under sail alone, and our crossing strategy relied upon the motor helping us make good speed. We turned the boat around on a reciprocal heading, and shortly passed by “Calista.” We tried taking pictures, but it was too dark, but Calista made quite a sight slicing to windward under genoa, main, and a bright moon. We checked our speed and realized that we were making between 0 and .3 kts over the ground, having just encountered the edge of the Gulf Stream prior to turning back. We altered course to the West, and as soon as our course over ground indicated that we were no longer being set N by the Gulf Stream, altered course for the sea buoy marking the entrance to Bar Cut. Which of course was just about close hauled. We sailed in the inlet, having just a few moments of worry sorting out the lights of the buoys from the lights on shore. Bar Cut is wide and strait though, so navigating back was fairly straightforward. Upon making the turn onto the ICW, we got the motor started, it cut out again. We sailed a little further towards the 17th St bridge, the seas quieted, the motor started, and stayed lit until we dropped anchor right where we had left 7 hours prior. Occasionally in the course of this blog I have, if not censured, then understated the occasional stressful moment so as not to worry our worried mothers too much. J The final detail of this particular yarn is something that I was tempted not to mention, but it plays into our subsequent decisions. Upon getting the boat squared away and cleaned up, we discovered the bilges were full of water, right up to the floor boards. “Firefly” is a nice full keeled boat, with deep bilges, that’s quite a lot of water. It took 10-15 minutes to pump all the water out, manually of course. I set to trying to figure out where the hell it came from. Turns out the hole I drilled in the lazarette bulkhead to run the wires for the solar panels was the culprit. When there is any wave action at all, the lazarette fills with water from the motor well…this is normal, we fill it up just about every day on the ICW when going through wakes etc. However, with the exaggerated motion of the ocean, as well as heeling the boat hard over close hauled, there was enough water in the lazarette to just about submerge the hole for the wires, funneling it below and into the bilge. Needless to say this scared the shit out of us. So we have decided to forgo sailing to the Bahamas and are instead heading to the Florida Keys. Ryan did not have any fun sailing in the ocean, I don’t blame her. I fixed the hole, but am somewhat concerned that some other nasty surprise lies in wait should we test the boat offshore again. Fortunately, we should have ample opportunity to sail the boat in the Keys, and give everything a good thorough testing. In some ways the experience has also made me more confident, despite the various challenges, we were able to safely navigate the boat back through an inlet at night, having never gone offshore previously.

Although we’re both pretty bummed about missing the Bahamas, we’re excited to hit the Keys and catch up with some folks we know headed down that way. (WE R COMING 4 U CHICKADEE) I also still have every intention of shooting fish in the face with a spear. Now, to end on a more positive note, while waiting in Ft Lauderdale for our (somewhat dubious in hindsight) weather window to cross, we had a rager of a time celebrating Ryan’s 30th birthday. We started out at the Southport Raw Bar with Annick and Giles of “Calista,” which is the de facto sailors hang out due to their dinghy dock.

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There we met Dave and Rose of “Cloud 9.” Giles drove us back to the anchorage aboard their dinghy, skillfully dodging mega yachts and the Ft Lauderdale Fun Killers (aka water police) all the way. Giles and I then drove around the anchorage and invited all takers over to “Firefly.” The French crew of a large sailboat joined us, so we had 10 people, 2 languages, and 1 dog aboard. We were somewhat down by the stern. We had a blast, a right good party for my lovely wife.

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She’s pretty awesome eh? Some pics between Lake Worth and here.

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We thought this place was pretty big until we saw how they do it in Lauderdale.

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Then there was the time a palm tree fell in love with the prop

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Quick, suck in that beer belly!

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