Archive for April, 2008

Key West Again

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

We are anchored in Key West again. We arrived yesterday afternoon, having sailed from Newfound Harbor. I made my previous log entry from Rodriguez Key, and we motor-sailed from there to Marathon on Saturday, and then from Marathon to Newfound Harbor on Sunday. We haven’t left the boat since leaving the dock at Key Largo last Friday. We had very pleasant sailing each day and the anchorages were nice and pleasant each night. Nancy helmed the boat all the way from Marathon to Newfound Harbor. She usually manages the helm and I manage the anchor while we get anchored and leave the anchorage, but this is the first time she has stayed at the helm both entering and leaving through the channels. She did a great job and is justifiably proud of herself. Newfound Harbor gave me some concerns entering and leaving, though. It seems to have shoaled up a little and we would probably not be able to get in and anchor, or get back out, at low tide. We left on the falling tide and bumped bottom a few times going from where we anchored to the channel. It is very pretty there, though, and if we are ever there again for more than just an overnight stop, it would be interesting to explore by dinghy. Key West is much as it was the last time we were here, even many of the boats in the anchorage are the same.

We ran the new engine pretty hard Saturday and Sunday. The wind was light and we wanted to give the engine a good workout anyway, so we just motor-sailed those days and the engine is working perfectly. Monday the wind picked up into the 10-15 knot range, so we shut the engine down and sailed down to Key West. The new mainsail worked fine, but it is a little different from the old main and I’ll have to get used to it. It does let us sail probably 10 degrees closer to the wind than our old sail would. The wind generator is working like a champ. The wind today is about 15 knots, with gusts up to maybe 20, and the wind generator seems to be putting more amps into the batteries than we are using. I expect that in less than 15 knots we’ll use more than the generator can produce, but on average, we should only have to run the engine every few days to let the alternator charge the batteries, and we’ll probably run it more often because it also heats our hot water for showers.

Based on the current weather forecast, we will leave here Thursday and sail to Dry Tortugas. We will probably spend a couple of days in Dry Tortugas, snorkeling and exploring, and then head for Isla Mujeres. It should take about 3 days to get from Dry Tortugas to Isla Mujeres. If we can pick a good weather window, it should be a very pleasant sail and I’m looking forward to some more blue water sailing. I may not make another log entry until after we get to Isla Mujeres, so stay tuned.

Underway Again

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

Today we finally got underway again. We left the dock at Key Largo Harbor Marina around noon and motored out to Rodriguez Key, which is right next to Key Largo, and dropped the anchor. Tomorrow morning we will head to Marathon and anchor in Boot Key Harbor. We may stay there a couple of days waiting for a front to move through before continuing on to Key West, then Dry Tortugas, and on to Mexico.

It felt really good to finally be away from the dock, but we were very sad to say goodbye to John. He’s become a really good friend during the time we were in Key Largo. We are hoping he will follow us to Isla Mujeres when he gets his trimaran “No Smoking” in the water. He has all the work pretty much done and is waiting on the Coast Guard to send him the documentation papers.

I finally installed the wind generator while we were in Key Largo and this is the first chance we’ve had to really see how it works. So far I’m impressed with how quiet it is (some wind generators are very noisy). Right now the gage says it is putting 3 to 4 amps into the batteries and the wind is only about 10 knots.

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

It has been over a month since my last log entry. I haven’t made one since we arrived in Key Largo, mainly because there hasn’t been much of general interest going on. and also because life has been pretty hectic getting the new engine installed and doing other maintenance chores on the boat. We made it to Key Largo with no problem from No Name Harbor and timed our arrival for high tide because the entrance to the Key Largo Canal is 5 feet and our draft is 6 feet. The canal itself is plenty deep, but there is a stretch just before you enter the canal that would be too shallow at low tide. Since we have been in Key Largo, we’ve not done much except work on the boat. We did take a road trip up to Mississippi for Dads 80th birthday and that was fun. We have also made a new friend. John is a guy who lives on a trimaran that is in the same marina we are in. We´ve been having cocktails in the evenings on either his boat or ours, or sometimes both. He makes a really awesome avocado sandwich, which I’ve added to my own repertoire. He is getting his trimaran ready for launching (it has been sitting on the hard for 3 years).

The engine install went pretty well. We replaced the 33 HP Yanmar with a 54 HP Yanmar. The new engine is actually a little bit smaller than the old one, giving me just a little more space in the engine compartment. We have also had a new main sail made and just put it on the boat this past weekend. I bought a wind generator a few months ago and we just installed it this past weekend. We also had our diesel tanks cleaned and the fuel “polished,” which just means it was run through a 2 micron filter a bunch of times. I was pleasantly surprised with the condition of the tanks, which were in pretty good shape to start with. We developed a pinhole leak in one of our fresh water tanks. I think it is from one of the welds where the internal baffles are welded in. I was just barely able to see where it was leaking and reach it with one hand, so I sanded and cleaned where the pinhole was and smeared on some Marine-Tex sealant. We just refilled that tank and the leak is gone. Hopefully it will be a while before another develops, if ever. In short, we have been doing all kinds of boat-related projects while we’ve been in Key Largo.

We should be able to leave Key Largo within a week and we will head for Isla Mujeres, Mexico. We will almost certainly stop in Dry Tortugas on the way and may or may not stop in Marathon and/or Key West. Our target date for departure is Friday, 4/11, if the weather permits.

We have been live-aboard cruisers for 3 months now, and I thought I’d take some time to reflect on the lifestyle and our experiences so far. My ideas and opinions will probably change over time and it will be nice to look back at this in later years. More than one person has asked what I think of it so far, so I decided to post it as a log entry on the web instead of in my paper journal.

My first overall impression is that I really enjoy it and expect to continue to enjoy it for quite some time. I expected this life to be challenging, but I have been surprised so far with the frequency of the challenges. For a while there it seemed like we went from one adrenaline rush to the next, with no breather in between. I think that is because we are so new to this and some of the things that were challenging for us will become routine as time goes on. I am very pleased that so far we have been equal to each of the challenges we have faced.

My biggest frustration so far has been our dinghy. It is an inflatable, but I think it should be reclassified as a deflatable. I have to pump air into it about every other day. That is really the only thing I have found disagreeable about cruising and it is easily solved, either by finding the leaks and patching them, or getting a hard dinghy. I´m seriously considering the latter solution. This dinghy is going to have to be replaced eventually anyway, and a hard dinghy would row much better. I enjoy and prefer rowing to using the outboard whenever conditions permit. It would also be possible to get a sail kit for a hard dinghy and I think that would be fun as well.

I don’t think we really know what cruising is like yet. We have a much better idea, but our first 3 months on the boat have been atypically hectic, I think (hope). I’ve had very little time to read anything except technical manuals and I expect that to change over the next few months, as I get more and more of the major maintenance chores done. There will always be periodic maintenance to be done, but there has been a lot of it all needing done at once. Once everything is pretty much ship-shape, I’ll be able to plan out a maintenance schedule and won’t have as many surprises.

Here are some thoughts on how cruising is different from shore life. Generally speaking, there ain’t nobody to call when something goes wrong. At least not immediately. You’d better be prepared to deal with pretty much anything yourself. I find myself trying to anticipate all the things that could go wrong, and figuring out what I could do to either fix the problem, or bypass the problem. We have spent a lot of money on various spare parts since returning from the Bahamas for just this reason. We have a lot of spare line (rope) for when halyards, sheets or other lines break. We have spare hoses for water lines. We have rebuild kits for various pumps. We have a spare bilge pump. We have spare parts for the engine. We have a spare VHF radio and a spare GPS. Until we get used to this life and know better what to expect in the way of problems, it can lead to a heightened level of anxiety, especially when you are a few hundred miles from land and the weather is deteriorating. You ask yourself, what is going to break and do I have the tools, materials and skills to deal with it? Inevitably, something does break and you deal with it, which leads to an almost euphoric sense of accomplishment. I guess what I’m trying to express is that life afloat is much more intense, both the highs and the lows, than life ashore. I feel much more alive, aware, and “in the moment” than I did ashore. I am constantly aware of the weather and the wind. I am attuned to small noises and will come out of a deep sleep if a new noise occurs or a familiar noise changes in some way.

There are also many moments of overwhelming peace and beauty. Sailing along in a favorable wind and gentle seas, or anchored off a picturesque beach, I am often struck with an incredibly deep sense of awe and wonder. When I have such a moment, it is hard not to reflect on how much time I spent ashore, waking to the alarm, hurrying the morning coffee and breakf
ast, rushing slowly through traffic so I could sit in a sterile, windowless, artificial, air-conditioned cubicle, listening to people complain about life, work and the latest batch of software bugs. I think I would call what I feel now a wonderful sense of contentment. It is hard to describe, but the feeling is very pronounced. This is really what I was hoping for from the cruising life. Sure, I want to travel to exotic places and see lots of interesting things and meet lots of interesting people, but this sense of contentment is what it is all about for me.