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Tallship Bounty Sails to Philadelphia

For our final leg up the Delaware River HMS Bounty sailed side-by-side with privateer Lynx. We were astonished by the strength of the current in the Delaware River and the amount of debris in the water. Many large chunks of wood and even a 30 ft tree!

It has been pushing 100 degrees the last few days with little to no wind, but we came in under full sail for the city of Philadelphia.  It took the crew just 20 minutes to set every sail on the ship, quite a feat in the hot weather!! Although we were motoring in the calm conditions, those towers of white canvas were, as always, a wonderful sight to see.

hms bounty by velocir

After all the sails are set the work is not over, later when they are struck all crew must go aloft to furl them back up on to the yards.  (Much more work than our sloop Velocir!!!!).  It is exhausting for us to keep up with the crew.  Hands become calloused and muscles ache.  But after a few weeks you become astonished at your own strength!

hms bounty by velocir

One of the best parts of being on the ship is climbing all over it.  Out to bowsprit, up the masts (three to choose from) and down into the depths of the ship.  Amelia’s favorite spot is the bowsprit.  It juts up and gives a beautiful view of Bounty cutting through the water.

hms bounty by velocir

Captain Robin brought the massive ship into the dock as smoothly as if she were our little Velocir. (He knows the ship well; even dropping the massive 900lb anchor twice doing a 180 degree turn in tight quarters with a side wind while we were in Annapolis to line up the dock just right.) After helping get the sails furled and the many, many lines coiled down; we went over to help the 110 year-old barkentine Gazela dock close to Bounty and watched yet another masterful docking of these huge ships. (www.gazela.org)

Amelia and Grant took the night watch of the ship last night so the crew could sing their chanties and drink their beer with the other tallship crew. While Grant was below pumping bilges (wooden boats…) he felt the boat suddenly heel 15 degrees….at the dock! Amelia was on deck saving the flags before the thunderstorm/squall came upon us blowing gale force and causing a complete whiteout. The crew stopped hanging the disco ball in the tween decks and burst from the ship clad in foul weather gear to rescue a tent on the dock that had exploded and then everyone jumped to repositioning dock lines and gear in the pouring rain after the wind had subsided.

We have had a lot of fun seeing old shipmates and getting to see all the historical sights Philadelphia has to offer. We will miss the wonderful crew of the HMS Bounty and although this the end of our journey on the ship, Bounty’s does not end: (www.tallshipbounty.org)

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Aboard Tallship Bounty

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We have left Velocir for a larger ship!  Well, only temporarily to crew the tall ship BountyBounty was built in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia in 1960 for the 1962 Marlon Brando movie Mutiny on the Bounty.  A wooden ship- she is 180 feet long overall.  The height of the main mast is 115 feet. (www.tallshipbounty.org)

This ship is significant to us because it is how we met!  Grant was a professional crew member and Amelia was a volunteer when they crossed the Atlantic together on Bounty in 2009.  Being back on the ship three years later is a fun experience.  It is also a lot of work!  Bounty has over 18 sails to hoist, furl and many projects to attend to.

Tallship Bounty by Velocir

Our watch the first morning was from 4-8 am, so we enjoyed the beautiful sunrise on the calm waters of the Chesapeake Bay as the anchor was hauled up and we got underway.  We had spent the night near Turkey Point, where the C&D Canal and Susquehanna River part.  There was a lot more current here then we expected, and moving into the Delaware River the current picked up even more.Tallship Bounty by Velocir

During the day, the barque rigged tall ship Guayas from Ecuador (launched in 1976) moved past us in the channel just before the entrance to the C&D Canal. Many crew members were aloft in orange work suits and waved to us.

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From 12-4 pm is work party!  During this time the Bosun gives the off-watch crew (crew not on watch) maintenance projects to do around the ship.  Today all the lines were taken off the pin rails so that the wood could be oiled.  Amelia and other crew also went up to the top of the rigging to tar the shrouds while Grant hung off the side of Bounty to do some painting.  We’ve tried to highlight these interesting and unique projects in our videos!

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Amelia stood bow watch as we came into our anchorage.  Just for a fun challenge, the mates turned off the GPS and used traditional navigation (compass bearings and paper charts) to get us near shore.  We were only .2 miles from our intended destination, so we did rather well.  Dodging crab pots was also a challenge but we managed to avoid them all!

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Later in the day privateer Lynx anchored near us.  (www.privateerlynx.com) After we are at anchor Bounty goes into a rotation called “anchor watch.”  One person spends each hour on watch logging our GPS position, writing down the compass bearings of three specific buildings on shore, completing a boat check and pumping the bilges.  We spent the night off Newcastle, DE in anticipation of our next stop, Philadephia!

Check out more tallship activities at: www.sailtraining.org

Velocir’s Albin Vega Sail Design

A long winded discourse on our sails and why we chose them.

Small sails, big sails, old sails, new sails, high tech sails, old school sails, cheap sails, expensive sails and the sails that came with our boat fit into the cheap and old categories. I worked for 2 years at Bacon Sails and Marine Supplies in Annapolis, Maryland. Around since the 1950’s, Bacons is a family-owned consignment and new marine gear shop that specializes in used sails; and more recently new ones. My job title: “Sail Inspector”. Although the job came with neither badge nor magnifying glass I learned more than I ever thought you could know about sails.

Velocir's Albin Vega Sail Design

Sails are like a dress for your boat, you want a dress to look good and fit well. There are also about as many possibilities for a dress as there are for sails. I had seen so many designs and materials I wanted to put the lessons and my newfound knowledge to work; and with my employee discount I could!

I could have gone with a classic cross cut dacron sail, the kind you see on 90% of sailboats, but if we are building sails for our boat I want the best I can get.( FYI Dacron is a brand name like Band-Aid or Kleenex) Time after time I kept seeing these old sails come in just beat to hell and still holding together and with more shape than any Dacron sail its age. Cruise Laminate is, as the name says, a laminate, but not the plastic material (mylar) you see on race boats. Cruise Laminate is most commonly made up of  two layers of Dacron sandwiched over a grid of a white string looking material called pentex, the grid of pentex  provides a rigid strength far superior to Dacron alone.

Velocir's Albin Vega Sail Design

Sun is a sails number one enemy, Dacron will turn yellow and become extremely brittle, its called “sun rot”. Cruise laminate will not only hold its shape better, be stronger per weight of cloth compared to its Dacron counterpart, but will last longer. I have seen sails where the Dacron has completely rotted away in sections, but was held together by the pentex. Cruise Laminate has its own problems too. Older versions of the cloth were notorious for having the laminate separate which ruins the sail and all Cruise Laminates are susceptible to having mold and mildew grow inside the laminate and spread throughout. The mildew is merely a cosmetic issue, the whole sail can turn black and be fine and the cloth is now made with anti-mildew chemicals in it, but it is a problem.

     So we decided the positives outweighed the negatives and went with a 7oz (weight of the cloth) genoa and an 8oz main in Cruise Laminate. The sails were all stitched with a strong triple throw style stitching with Tenara thread. Sail thread is a frequent weakness in sails, often if the Dacron survives into old age the thread will rot and usually on the leach of the sail (trailing edge of the sail). Suncovers on rollerfurling genoas often need to be restitched several times in their lives.Tenara is a Goretex based thread which is sun stable, ie does not sunrot. Our suncovers and our entire sails were stitched with this thread and our leach is a heavier weight of Dacron so it will last longer.

     Most sails are horizontal bands on Dacron stitched together, called “crosscut”; strong a simple. Our sails are known as “tri-radial”, the panels of cloth radiate out from the three corners of the sail. The reason for this is that the sails can be designed with a 3-d shape cut into them, computers design the shape and tell you how to cut the panels and assemble the sail. The sails definitely improved our pointing. For most cruising boats the cost-benefit ratio of this style is generally not worth it, but for us it was negligible.

Velocir's Albin Vega Sail Design

     Our main sail is loose footed, which means the bottom or “foot” of the sail is only connected at the tack and clew. This gives the bottom of the sail a cleaner shape and the ability to have a line inside the foot to adjust for shape. Sails traditionally had the foot slide into the boom or had little slides to attach it. The general consensus is the materials of today make the sail and boom strong enough it is not necessary to distribute its load along the boom like that.

     Battens, oh the great batten debate. Battens are the (generally fiberglass) sticks in the sail that help give it a good rigid shape. Many cruisers will go with fully battened sails, which means the battens run the full width of the sail. This gives the sail a flatter shape and a generally good trim in all points of sail, but on the other hand mean you can’t adjust the sail shape much, they can be somewhat of a bear to wrangle when flaking or reefing, and really load up pressure on the mast side which can lead to problems when gear weakens over time.

Velocir's Albin Vega Sail Design

I love to fuss with sails, I enjoy tweaking things here and there as we sail along, it’s a game, it gives me an activity as we sail. So I went with what is called a “powerhead” setup. The top two battens are full while the bottom two battens are standard (ie go about 1/4-1/3 in from the leach). This means I get some of the plusses of full battens, but the body of the sail can still get some belly to it with some adjusting. We also got batten keepers that were lashed shut, not velcroed. Velcro will go bad faster than anything else on the sail and really how often are you taking out your battens that you need the speed of Velcro.

We went with two reef points rather than the classic cruiser three. Our reef points each take away 33% of the sail area, so they are quite deep. On our Bahamas trip we thankfully never had to use the second reef. The reason for this was less weight hanging in the sail which would hurt us in light air and less gear to lead back, in such a small boat the reinforcements in the sail and the lines hanging on it can make a big difference.

      Again, sails are like a dress, they should be a good fit and ideally a tailored fit. We measured everything 3 times over and altered the measurements from our old sails. We took about a foot off of the leach of the main sail so the boom would be just over head level in the cockpit. We made our genoa on the smaller side, 130% so we could roller reef and get good shape, in beam reaches or below we would fly the asymmetrical spinnaker, so we would only miss a big genoa head upwind in light airs. More often than not on our trip the genoa had at least a little reefing in it. We also had the genoa cut a little higher so we could see under it better from the cockpit.

     The leach line for the mainsail was run overhead through a turning block at the top of the sail (head) down to adjust at the tack. Now we could adjust the leach shape at the mast rather than trying to get to it out on the end of the boom since when I want to adjust it is when we are reaching or on a run. After using the sails for a year I have decided while this is good in theory, this setup has too much friction in a sail this small. It worked, but not as well as I would have liked.

Velocir's Albin Vega Sail Design

      Along the luff of every good roller furling genoa is some sort of padding, usually foam or rope. The reason for this is that when the sail is on a roller furler it can only reef so far before the sail becomes really baggy, which you really want a flat sail when reefing. Padding at the front of the sail helps bulk up the first few turns to give a flatter reef. Foam is the cheaper option, but over time will compact and stay that way. So we had 3 pieces of polypropylene rope in descending lengths on our luff.

       Again and again I saw shortcuts and problems with the design of suncovers on roller furling genoas. Firstly, unless you are racing, I think Sunbrella should be used for suncovers. Yes they weigh more than other options, but they last 3 times longer than other options and are easily replaced. Adhesive sun treated Dacron doesn’t work well and its remnants will look awful on the sail. I have also frequently seen a shiny mylar material that is also terrible. There is a vinyl like material that works ok, but is only slightly cheaper than Sunbrella and Sunbrella works so much better!

    Also make sure if your genoa has new suncovers put on that they wrap the suncover all the way around the edges of the sail. Often for cheapness or laziness the suncovers will be folded under themselves leaving the leach and foot tabling of the sail exposed to the sun. Though it may look like it will be fine, they will rot and your leaching will catch on the spreaders and tear it to pieces, happens all the time.

    Draft stripes, often a dark line of Dacron across the middle of the sail help you see the shape of your sails and are quite useful on bright days looking at a white triangle. We also found a product called Glofast which makes adhesive Dacron for draft stripes and whipping line that GLOWS in the dark. We have 2 glowing draft stripes on the main that really helped us see our sails and their shape on dark nights. The stuff will last the entire night and they are bright! It is comforting to see the sails with such ease on a dark night especially dead down wind, it helped us see the luff bubbling warning us of a possible accidental jibe.

Velocir's Albin Vega Sail Design

   My final piece of unsolicited advice is to protect your sails from the sun. Put the cover on the main sail, zip up your stack pack, and make sure the sail is totally covered. The biggest thing though is to take your sails down when you are not using them! If you are not using the boat in the winter take off the sails. Though they are covered, the sun will still get to them. If you hang up your boats dress and take care of it, they will last so much longer. Sails on a SAILboat are expensive and often neglected.

Velocir's Albin Vega Sail Design

Spinnakers! Light air and down wind nothing beats a spinnaker. Huge area of sail and made with material 1/6th of the weight of your normal sails. Cruisers today love asymmetrical spinnakers, aka gennaker, aka cruising chute. Similar to a traditional spinnaker, but with no spinnaker pole to deal with, fewer control lines, and easier to jibe. Mostly they come in 0.75oz or 1.5oz rip-stop nylon. Usually boats over 40ft will use 1.5oz, but we found a good deal on a used 1.5oz asymmetrical at Bacon Sails. We love everything to be stronger than is necessary and we had some fun flying our heavy duty spinnaker in over 25kts.

Velocir's Albin Vega Sail Design

Spinnakers are often used today with a snuffer, aka sock, aka spinnaker condom. A snuffer is a tube with a rigid mouth and a body of lightweight material used to help set and douse the sail. They make handling a spinnaker so much easier. They can be expensive, but we made our own without too much hassle and never had a problem with it. The two main types are chute scoop (budget) and ATN (Expensive French now made in China, but decent quality still).

Part of using an asymmetrical spinnaker is having a tack line. Asym’s are awesome because they can be sailed from a beam reach on down. Part of this is adjusting the tension of the luff with a tack line. Asym’s are meant to be flown in front of the boat, great for bow sprits but not so great for us production boats where the bow pulpit is the most forward thing of the boat. Our bow pulpit is well attached so we welded a ring on its front and ran the tackline back from that.

Velocir's Albin Vega Sail Design

Another piece of Asym gear on a common production boat is something to keep the tack of the sail in. When on a run you loosen up the tack line, so the sail wants to slide out sideways usually putting the tackline’s tension on the top of the bow pulpit, which can chafe it or when the sail luffs hard bend the pulpit. So many people will use something attached to the tack of the sail that goes around the roller furler. This allows the sail to slide up and down the furled sail as you adjust the tack line tension, keeping the asym in the center of the boat. ATN sells its “tacker” which does this quite well, though I have been on a boat with a tacker with a cheap shackle that kept failing. We have a piece of wire with two eyes and plastic beads (perroll beads) in the middle that roll up and down. The tacker seems to work best, but they are unnecessarily expensive (so what else is new with boats).

So, that’s all the big stuff I learned working on sails for 2 years and how it translated itself onto our boat. I hope this hasn’t been too long winded and can help somebody. Some will disagree with my opinions and observations, but people agree on sails about as much as anchors.

Ah, Home at Last- Back in Annapolis

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There was a lot of excitement about getting back to a house.  This last month we had really been pushing ourselves with long days.  Laundry and other projects had been put aside.

We LOVED our trip but there were some things to be desired- showers, real bed where you can stretch your legs out, standing up straight inside, refrigeration/freezer, and knowing when it rains the bed will stay dry/and when there is a storm, waves will not roll you.  It’s not that many things, but we do miss them after 8 months of cruising and 11 months of living aboard Velocir.           

As a special treat, our family and friends gave us a welcome-home party!  So much delicious food and amazing to see everyone again.  It was a taco party, and we made white sangria like we’d had in St. Augustine.  There was also tons of ice cream and cake!! 

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Velocir makes 98 miles in 14 hours

We had waited in Old Point Comfort, VA two days for good weather.  It would take us three days (140ish miles) and realistically the weather didn’t look good for the entire week.  Our family had planned a party and relatives were coming- oh  no!

It was a tough to be so close but yet so far.  We’d gone out and come back one morning when NOAA called for S  10-15 knots but it was ENE 25 knots all day. With 4 ft choppy swell on our beam, Velocir couldn’t make much speed and we were getting tossed around, so it wasn’t worth it.

The next day the wind finally turned S 25-30 knots.  A bit rough for Velocir, but we were headed N so the angle to the waves was okay.  We put up our main with a reef in it, kept the engine going and let out a scrap on genoa that keeps us from rolling in heavy seas downwind.  We were screaming down the bay at 7.5 knots the whole day!!!!  From 6AM to 8PM we made 98 miles to Solomons, MD.  Quite a feat for us and a distance we’d thought would take two days.Chesapeake Bay Lighthouse by Velocir

The Chesapeake is fun because instead of bouys our new marks are historic lighthouses.

Commercial Fishing on the Chesapeake by Velocir

Amelia saw some major commercial fishing on the Chesapeake Bay near the entrance to the Rappahannock that she didn’t know existed.  There were three massive blue fishing trawlers (like you would see in Alaska).  Bigger than shrimping trawlers, probably over 150 ft.  They were doing circles off the channel, which was very confusing to us and other cruisers around us.  Many people tried to call them on the radio but they did not respond.

As we got closer, Amelia realized each huge trawler was momma boat to two 30 foot silver fishing boats that were open-deck and had two giant 20 foot cranes on deck.  The cranes supported giant nets, and the two smaller fishing boats would circle around dropping the nets and picking them up again, while the huge trawler circled them. (Three groups of momma trawler with 2 crane boats)

To complete the whole process, two white planes circled them in the sky the whole time, obviously a part of the fleet.  Amelia was surprised this kind of fishing went on in the Bay?!?  Also worried because she spotted a sea turtle nearby.

We made it to Solomons, MD with an hour of daylight left to spare, staying at a friend’s dock.  Our last day is tomorrow!!!!

Straight Through the Alligator River

After a relaxing day at the town dock in Oriental, NC we headed out into calm calm weather and were greeted by a beautiful sunrise.  The wind picked up as predicted mid-morning so instead of motoring inside the waterway, we sailed around a few peninsulas before coming up the Pungo River to Belhaven, NC.

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Calm as can be outside Oriental, NC!  Later that night in the Pungo River massive thunderstorms swarmed around us.  To our north, lightening continued in bright bursts for hours and hours!  It was fun to watch and we didn’t get directly hit.

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The next day we motored through the Alligator River, which we’d skipped on our way down last Fall by sailing near the Outer Banks.  It was a straight canal, with submerged logs and stumps everywhere.  Thankfully no collisions!  We made it to Elizabeth City a day later, sailing across the Albemarle Sound.  It was some great sunny weather and warmer temperatures!

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When we finally reached the Dismal Swamp Canal we felt home-free!  Almost back to Annapolis. (After this we are practically in the Chesapeake Bay!)  The swamp canal was just a beautiful as we’d remembered.  Lots of birds, tons of turtles and lily pads.

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The first lock, South Mills, raised Velocir up 8 feet with water gushing in.

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At our second lock, Deep Creek, we added a conch shell to the lockmaster’s collection.  The conch garden is quite full! 

We headed to an anchorage we like near Old Point Comfort, VA.  It was so close from the Dismal Swamp Canal but many obstacles were in our path.  The only scheduled bridge was on a temporary schedule, so it was opening less-frequently than we thought.  By the time it opened, a train bridge in front of it had come down and a train was stopped in the middle, not moving.  It took two hours and there was a huge pile-up of boats waiting!

Now we will sit near Old Point Comfort for a weather window to sail north up the Chesapeake!

Matt Rutherford Returns to Annapolis!

Congrats!  Matt Rutherford has returned to Annapolis after sailing around North and South America in support of CRAB (Chesapeake Regional Accesible Boating). He sailed solo, non-stop through the infamous Northwest Passage and the even more infamous Cape Horn!

matt rutherford albin vega homecoming by velocir

His blog:  www.solotheamericas.org

Matt sailed the journey in an Albin Vega (our type of boat).  Before he left last year, Grant met him and they discussed Albin Vega weaknesses.

My parents attended his homecoming, telling us:

We saw Matt’s homecoming at the town dock.  He did a sail-by and then took down sails and was tug-boated in by an inflatable.  Greeting him were the governor and his wife, the mayor, other politicians, Gary Jobson, the CRAB folks, the head of the Vega association, and the head of the OCC.

matt rutherford albin vega homecoming by velocir

Albin Vega, St. Brendan, coming into Annapolis, MD

matt rutherford albin vega homecoming by velocir

Matt Rutherford

Surfs UP! Oh, Georgia..when will you end

Happy Easter!  We decorated some eggs and ate a bunch of candy.

Easter Eggs by Velocir

After our busy social scene in St. Augustine, we headed to an anchorage we like on the Ft. George River in Georgia.  It is by one of America’s oldest plantation homes.  The windy weather ended, making for some good surf (we hoped!)

Surfing by Velocir

We took the dinghy Raptor and surf board to an inlet south of Little Talbot State Park, where to our surprise the beach was easily accessible.  The surf was wrapping around the point perfectly.  Grant used his bisecting longboard we keep in the v-berth.  It has two sections that clip together with a rod in the middle for support.

Surfing by Velocir

Grant got a few good rides in.  Amelia took a few tries for fun, but still can’t seem to stand up yet!

Grant also had a close call with the authorities this week.  After his surf session, we were back at our anchorage.  We were the only boat in a remote river, so Grant commenced showering in the cockpit.  Minutes later, a Sheriff’s police boat zoomed up.  They started shouting about how Velocir was dragging at anchor.  Then, they realized Grant’s precarious position and yelled, “Hey man, you got pants on?”  Grant replied, “no, you guys have perfect timing”  (Note: extremely effective tactic to keep law enforcement at a distance…also true in this case).

Amelia came up from below and saved Grant.  “You were way over there this morning,” the police boat insisted, pointing up current from Velocir.  “Yes, but we have out some good scope and as the current moves our boat will too,” explained Amelia.  (Just to clarify, we were not dragging). Then, they asked where our boat was registered, where we were going and where we came from.  All simple questions, and soon they were on their way.  Grant finished his shower with no more interruptions.

We headed the next day to Fernandina Beach, a cute beach town.  On the radio we heard someone calling Sandpiper.  It could have been anyone, but sure enough it was our friends from Georgetown!  We walked around town and had dinner with them.  It was fun to catch up on where we had both gone since Georgetown.  They have been ambitious, sailing offshore quite a lot.

Cumberland Island by Velocir

The next day we visited Cumberland Island, one of our favorite stops last Fall.  This time the beach had even more shells!

Cumberland Island by Velocir

Cumberland Island by Velocir

We saw two groups of wild horses for the first time on Cumberland Island!!

Now we are trudging through Georgia.  Six days of motoring, with a little genoa every now and then helping us keep our speed up in the current.  It’s a lot of marshland and curvy rivers.  Every inlet we see at least one US Border Protection boat is zooming around, but they never seem to bother anyone.

We Feel the Love, Thank you!!!

Thank you readers and commenters, we are overwhelmed by all the supportive and positive comments we have received recently.  It is a special experience to have this blog and share it with others.  We wish you all the best on your adventures and would love to follow your blogs as well.  We could go on and get really mushy, but know we are just really really really thankful and grateful at all the wonderful people reading our blog and watching our videos!  We feel the love, thank you!

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Just this Friday we had a delicious dinner in St. Augustine with Carlos and Steph who love sailing and had found our blog.  The next day we took them out on Velocir for a morning sail.  They have a Flying Scot and are interested in cruising one day.  It was so amazing to talk with them about cruising—there is so much to talk about!  They said they felt like they already knew us from our videos, but that we were much taller in person!!

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We also met Richard and Charlotte who are sailing their Albin Vega Alpha Lira to the Bahamas from Charleston.  They were so excited to begin their trip and had already done a few successful voyages offshore on the Vega.  “Alpha” means brightest star, and the star “Vega” is the brightest star in the constellation “Lira”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vega)  Such a cool name! 

Really it is somewhat difficult to say “Velocir” and have someone understand what you are saying (bridge tenders, other boats).  Basically, Amelia and her cousin thought it was a cool boat name when they were younger, and it stuck!  The only person who has really gotten it without explanation was a 10 year-old French boy we met in Little Farmer’s Cay. He had lived cruising on the boat his entire life.  When we said Velocir he went to the front of the boat for a minute and came back with a book of papers.  He took one and carefully unfolded it, revealing a poster of dinosaurs.  He found the Velociraptor and pointed at it with a cute grin on his face.

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Now we are motor sailing our days away on the ICW, taking in all the wildlife and sunsets.  Above is a Osprey eating a huge fish!

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Beautiful sunsets.

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Downtown St. Augustine.

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The kitchen of the “Oldest House” in St. Augustine.

Video #22:  We enjoy some sunny and rainy weather, and at one point get offended by another cruiser who is very vocal about not waiting at a bridge for the "small and slow" Velocir.

Back to the USA: Good & Then Really Bad

To get a sense of the first two days of our voyage please watch this video:

It was our “watch activity” to record a little something about how everything was going.  To summarize the video: everything was going GREAT.  Beautiful weather, a fresh caught Snapper for dinner, doing a little sailing (only used 6 gallons fuel the whole way), boosted speed by the Gulf Stream.  It was so great, and the weather predictions continued to be so good (wind 10 knots, calm seas) that we decided to be ambitious and continue for St. Augustine.

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Then it all went downhill and ended very badly for us.  The boat is healthy and we are healthy.  But the whole ordeal was so traumatic we couldn’t bring ourselves to take any video or photos so we will just describe what happened.

At about 6 pm Amelia was preparing dinner and we changed watches.  Everything was great.  The weather was calling for calm wind and seas, with a slight chance of thunderstorms inland and south of our location, near Lake Okeechobee.  We were sailing along at 7 knots in the Gulf Stream 30 miles NE of Fort Pierce, FL, and we were going to push another day for St. Augustine.

After about 15 minutes on watch Grant spotted thunderstorms forming on the horizon.  Dinner was finished.  We immediately took down the main and reefing leaving a little genoa out for stability, got out our hatch boards to protect the main cabin, putting on our safety gear.  Boat check, cockpit check.

The first storm was south of us, and was going to miss us, but we turned the motor on to get closer to shore and closer to Fort Pierce.  Given the drastic change in weather our destination was now Fort Pierce.  We were north of the inlet, and the Gulf Stream and swell was continuing to push us north, but we motored through the swell.  It tossed Velocir every which way being so close to the wind and swell.  The wind picked up to 30-35 knots and the swell increased.  Amelia wedged herself in the v-berth while Grant steered.

Amelia closed her eyes to try and relax and let the time pass, knowing it was only hours before Velocir would be safely inland.  She looked up too see how Grant was doing and noticed smoke coming from the engine.  She immediately leapt up and started screaming to turn it off.  We turned the engine off.

The thunderstorms were all around us now, and one was approaching.  The weather reports had changed– now thunderstorms/squalls with winds reaching 55 mph were being predicted, with squalls continuing throughout the night and into the next day. Velocir calmed down immediately as we turned north again with the swell astern (behind us).  Waves, peaking at about 10 feet, still crashed over Velocir, soaking the cockpit, but the movement was not as violent.

A hard downpour and winds came with the storm, but it was only the edge of it and lasted about ten minutes.  Amelia sat in the cockpit steering and having a mild panic attack, while Grant tried to fix the engine.  A water intake hose was kinked, so he quickly replaced it.  Amelia never wanted to sail Velocir offshore again, wanted to stop cruising.  What was so bad about living in a house and turning up the volume on your TV when the thunder got loud? Closing a window when it rained?  What was wrong with us?  Grant fully agreed but told Amelia to get it together.

Amelia quickly composed herself and the rain stopped.  She started pumping the manual bilge pump.  There was A LOT of water in Velocir.  The engine cooled down and we started it up again, went a little ways and it overheated again.  Amelia pumped out Velocir again—more water.  We tried again to let the engine cool, thinking maybe the oil pressure was just having a hard time recovering.  More water came into Velocir.

Every time we turned the engine on not only was it overheating, but more water was coming into Velocir.  Was it pumping raw water or exhaust water into Velocir?  How could that be related to the overheating, if at all?  The only way to know for sure was to unscrew and remove the cockpit floor (a fair weather option only).  The water could be coming in from other places too:  the cockpit drains, a thru hull, the water tanks etc.  More storms were coming and it was now dark.

The moon was half-full, but we could see lightening nearby.  And without an engine we did not have enough speed to get 30 miles to Fort Pierce because the Gulf Stream continued to push us north.  We called the Coast Guard to keep them advised of our location and situation in case things deteriorated.  We asked for an updated detailed weather report.  She replied it was, and we quote: “nasty.”  A few minutes later Grant started to feel physically ill, exhausted and had to lay down.  Thirty hours of 3-hour watch rotations were catching up to him.

After another storm passed the wind shifted from SW to N.  It was freaky.  Now we could not sail.  We tried to sail West, closer to shore.  But with the swell and Gulf Stream we couldn’t make any progress.  The wind pushed against the prevailing swell, causing steeper chop.

It was time to call it quits, our safety is priority one.  We hailed a tow boat to come get us.  It was now 1930 and it would take them 2.5 hours to reach us—okay.  It felt like forever before they arrived.  The Captain kept hailing us, asking if we could see his blue flashing light.  He was ten miles out, could we see it?  No.  Six miles?  No.  Four? No.  Amelia tried to explain Velocir is only a few feet off the water and that we would probably not spot him for a while in this swell.

Finally he got near Velocir and threw us a tow line.  Grant went up on deck and wrapped it around our bollard that has a ridiculously reinforced backing plate.  Thank goodness for that!! ..because he was towing us almost directly into the swell.  Velocir was bucking and hammering, literally being pulled through the waves.  The tow boat slowed down a little in some parts because it was just too rough.

28 miles before we were inside the cut.  Amelia had been steering, still in warm weather clothes.  She was freezing in the night, so she went down to change while Grant took the helm.  He steered Velocir behind the Tow Boat for a long time while Amelia huddled under a blanket.

Then, Grant started not feeling well again, and Amelia came up to relieve him.  We sat in the cockpit together for a few moments while Grant realized the NAVIK did not look right.  The lower paddle that helps steer the boat (when in use) was horizontal in the water, not vertical as it should be.  Grant was able to grab it before it completely detached from the upper unit.  (The cast aluminum frame it is pinned into had shattered).  Due to the force of the waves and speed?  Not sure, we were not going faster than usual but we were getting thrown a bit.

Grant headed down below.  Amelia sat down on the starboard side of the cockpit and saw a jerry can full of diesel fuel perched, all alone, on the deck.  What?!?  She calmly yelled down below, “take the tiller for a minute,” then grabbed the can before it went overboard.  With a harness and life jacket on, she quickly went forward to put extra lashings on the other three jerry cans still on deck.  The amount of water pouring over Velocir was immense.

8.5 hours later, at 4 AM Velocir was at a marina in Fort Pierce.  It cost us $1400 to be towed in.  Quite a bit to swallow, but we would do it again.  In the long run, I think we got off easy.  He told us he didn’t charge us the full rate and we believe him.

We are now members of Tow Boat US, which we hadn’t joined before because we didn’t think we were coming back to the States so soon and then forgot. For us:  If Velocir runs aground we can get her off, and if Velocir has an engine problem inland we can anchor for a few hours and fix it.  But unfortunately this one unlikely situation where we would need a tow happened to us.

As soon as the Tow Boat left we called family, started the customs clearing-in process, and checked email .  Amelia read this blog comment aloud as Grant changed our water soaked sheets so that we could collapse in bed:

WOW!! So, my Hubby and I sat down last Sunday evening…. found your blog and enjoyed EVERY picture, video and comment. We’re just learning to sail and you have sparked a dream in us!!! You make it look like so much fun! I know we have MUCH to learn, but you have taken the fear out of it for me!! Thank you for sharing all that you have! It’s a lot of work!! We have a Flying Scot which we’re removing old paint and repainting ourselves!! It’s a blast!

Thanks again and have a safe and fun trip back to the US!!!

Amelia, exhausted, could not help but laugh.  We are still laughing at the comedic timing, it was so perfect.  This is one of the first comments we’ve ever gotten from someone that’s not close family or friends.  Thank you, we hope this experience does not dissuade you.  Despite this event, every bit of preparation we did has paid off and we have had almost zero problems overall.  It’s been extremely rewarding, all the time we’ve spent together and all the amazing experiences we’ve shared.  With the ups must come the downs.

24 hours of retrospect: everything is okay, we made the right decision, these things happen, thankfully it happened within the USA, cruising is fun, this is the only bad thing that has happened in one year of being on the boat and it turned out fine, we still like cruising and will continue for a while, a house one day will be nice.

The engine is now fine….we think.  It was a series of little mishaps that resulted in the overheating.  The hose kinked starving the engine of water.  This caused the coolant to overflow.  Without the coolant it wasn’t cooling down.  The exhaust hose had come loose and was gushing most of the exhaust water into the bilge.  After repair and test runs we think we are good now.

There was a Publix grocery store near the marina we were towed to.  Being around so many people and a large developed area, we just stared at everything.  Inside the grocery store we grinned like idiots at all the nice and inexpensive food.  Grant bought beer and ice and now he is happy.  Amelia bought strawberries and now she is happy.

UPDATE: THE GULF STREAM DILEMMA

We have had several people ask us about the squalls we ran into off the coast of Florida and why we made the decision we did; so we decided we would take a moment and review the situation, our potential options and the factors leading to our decision. These are excellent questions to ask and lessons can always be learned.

So, lets recap: “Nasty” squalls predicted for the next 36 hours, large (peaking 10ft) steep confused swell, shifty heavy breeze, no engine, taking on water from an unknown source.  Our position: 30 miles offshore in heavy shipping traffic unable to make ground, Gulf Stream pushing us NE 3+ knots

Options:

1. Heave-to:

We heard this a lot from people, the classic salty thing to do. Heave-to, lash down the tiller and strap in, go below and take a nap, let mother nature rage, the boat can handle it. When the weather lightens up try to fix the engine or sail on in to St. Augustine.

Why we didn’t: Well we did, for a little while. Vegas do heave to well; however, from that point on North, the Gulf Stream begins to head NE and the coast of Florida goes West a bit, so if problems worsened we would be a lot farther than 30 miles off the coast. (If you are 30+ miles offshore it is extremely unlikely a towboat will come to get you, the Coast Guard will come and rescue your person, not your boat).  Also, we could not in good conscience have no one on watch; many freighters use the Gulf Stream to save on fuel and bright lights or no, like the race boat heading down to Mexico last month, freighters do from time to time run things down.

Let’s not forget a big one, exhaustion. It is near impossible to sleep on Velocir when she is pitching every which way. We had been underway for over 36 hours and 3 on 3 off was beginning to wear on us physically and mentally. We would not have slept that night and if conditions had worsened we would have an even harder time with it.

2. Get Towed

While we were in touch with the Coast Guard we also got in touch with TowBoat US to find out if they would even come out to get us and what that might cost. There is a $150 insurance you can buy, but this is about the only scenario we could think of we wouldn’t just want to handle ourselves. So, to add on to all the reasons listed above not to continue on is the idea that the tow services are not as likely to come any farther than 30 miles out to get us, especially if conditions worsened. That assumed we would be even near a navigable inlet. We had our EPIRB and a life raft, but if had more problems we could lose the boat and that would cost us a LOT more than a tow.

So, all of these reasons and a few more combined to paint a pretty clear picture of the most reasonable thing to do. When reviewing all these options the #1 motivation was to keep us safe, while the tow was certainly expensive and not at all glamorous, it was the safest thing to do.

In the end it was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. We broke our wind vane, got numerous cuts a bruises, and were really glad we put a huge backing plate on the bollard on our foredeck we were towed through that mess on. The engine problems and water coming in were what we suspected but could not confirm, a series of minor problems that took about 20 minutes to repair. The predicted 36 of squally Hell that was predicted never materialized.

Hindsight, we should have hove-to and continued for another pleasant day of sailing. However, with water coming in from an unknown source and an easy exit  quickly slipping from our grasp I would make the same decision a hundred times over.

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