It’s Our Liveaboard-iversary!

It was December 27th, 2014 when Rhonda and I checked out of the extended stay hotel we’d moved into after selling our house, and settled into our new life onboard Eagle Too. That makes today the 4th anniversary of our embarking on our full time liveaboard life.

So here we are, four years later, deep in the midst of a transition back to life ashore. A friend of ours said we’re going to be CLODs. I guess it means Cruisers Living On Dirt. Will we still be considered cruisers once we have a permanent address ashore? Perhaps not. I’ve often said that someone shouldn’t claim membership in the cruising tribe who spends more nights sleeping in a bed ashore each year than in a berth afloat. For the last four years we’ve felt a strong affiliation with the tribe because we could literally count on one hand the number of nights we spent sleeping ashore in a year. But next year? Probably not. We do still hope to venture out in the future, but it will most likely be for weeks rather than months at a time. I guess maybe we’ll become part of the Cruiser’s Reserve? (that should totally be a thing!)

We’ll probably have more to say in the future about our thoughts on this transition. But for now, just know that while there are parts of this liveaboard life that we’re going to miss, there are also some pretty definite plusses to moving back ashore that we’re anxiously anticipating. For example, after four years, I think Rhonda and I have both gotten pretty weary of marina showers and restrooms. And there is absolutely nothing I think we’ll miss about trying to wash clothes in a marina washer or at a laundromat. And I really didn’t appreciate how much we missed having a car until we recently bought another one. Traveling around is now quite easy again.

And then there are days like today. A strong cold front is approaching the area, and we’re being buffeted at the dock by 30 knot winds, as the boat dances about, rolling, swaying and creaking. It will be a pleasant change on days like this to be under a sturdy roof surrounded by four brick walls, sleeping in a bed that isn’t tilting and rocking.

We’re supposed to be closing on our house in a little over two weeks, and we’ve starting thinking about the things we’ll need for a life ashore that we at one time owned, but got rid of in the great downsizing after selling our house. Our life today is filled with chartbooks and binoculars and lifejackets and VHF radios. But we’ll soon need things like small kitchen appliances and an iron and a broom and mop and towels for the guest bath. Meanwhile we have a mover scheduled to transport the contents of our 10×20 storage unit to our new home. We’re referring to it as Christmas in January, because we have boxes full of things that we packed away four years ago, and we really can’t recall exactly what might be in them.

But we don’t have a Christmas tree. Or at least, not a proper house-sized one. But since it looks like we’ll be CLODs soon, we used the Everything Must Go! day-after-Christmas blow-out sale to pick up what we’ll need for next year’s holiday decorating.

So I guess that means we’re really on our way…

The Right Tool For The Job

I love the easy engine access our Hunter 376 provides. I really feel sorry for some of the folks whose blogs I read, when they post pictures of the cramped little holes they have to crawl into in order to service their engine. But there’s one routine task we have to perform that’s a real PITA, and that’s changing the raw water impeller. On our last boat, the raw water pump was a belt driven unit that was mounted right on the front of the engine and was totally easy to access.  But on Eagle Too, the raw water pump is gear driven and set into the engine block on the port side of the engine, tight up against the bulkhead. For reasons known only to a handful of Japanese engineers, the cover plate for the impeller faces aft, right in front of the starter. There isn’t enough room between the pump cover and the starter to use a socket wrench, and the location is almost impossible to get a visual on. You have to use a box wrench to remove the four bolts that hold the impeller cover on and pull the impeller entirely by feel. I actually can’t even get my hand into the space without first removing the alternator to open up an access. It just seems like a really bad design for something that has to be serviced pretty regularly. Some people actually cut a hole through the bulkhead and install a hatch in the head (bathroom) in order to have another way to approach this problem. We just didn’t want to cut a hole in the boat for a job that’s only done once a year.

Alternator removed to give me access to the area indicated.

This is the small space you have to work in. Raw water pump to the left, starter to the right.

One thing I did discover though is that having the right tool makes the job quite a bit easier. In this case, the right tool is a pair of right-angle pliers. The first time I tried changing the impeller, it stubbornly refused to come out. I had to use the old trick of prying at it with two screwdrivers to try and get it out of the pump body, ripping it to shreds in the process. One thing I did to make the next time go a little easier is that I coated the pump shaft with Tef-Gel before installing the new impeller. This Teflon based paste keeps parts from corroding and freezing together, and it’s very useful whenever you have to put something together that you hope to be able to easily disassemble again in the future.

The other trick was the pliers. Since there’s very little room to work, I thought the perfect solution would be to use a set of right-angle pliers to reach into the pump body, grasp the impeller, and then pull it out. A quick trip to Harbor Freight turned up exactly what I was looking for.

The owner’s manual for our Yanmar 3JH2E diesel engine says the impeller should be changed every 600 hours. After we returned from our last season of cruising, we were right at 650 hours, so it was due. While the job was still a bit of a pain, the combination of having used Tef-Gel when installing the impeller and using the special pliers to get into the tight space made the job go much easier.

It looks like the recommended maintenance interval was spot on, because when I examined the old impeller, I could see the beginnings of cracks on some of the vanes. Let this job go for too long, and these vanes start breaking off, travel through your cooling system and end up clogging the tubes in your heat exchanger, causing your engine to overheat.

Vanes just starting to crack.

If you’ve done this job, you know what a pain it is. Try the Tef-Gel and bent pliers. I think you’ll be pleased with how much easier things are.

If you haven’t done this job, what are you waiting for? Don’t let a worn our impeller leave you stranded.

Caution: Detour Ahead — Part Three

Our visit to Antietam had set us to thinking. Thinking more deeply about where and when would be the right set of circumstances to purchase another home. Not swallow the hook (give up cruising entirely and become landlubbers once again), but establish a base to operate from between trips on Eagle Too. Keeping the boat was important to us. We know we’ll eventually grow too old to continue this Life On The Hook™, but we hope that’s still years in our future.

Maybe the home we’d recently seen was a good fit for us. But the numbers just didn’t quite work. Some calculating told me we’d need to sell Eagle Too to pull it off. And we just weren’t prepared to consider that. So we put the idea away and looked again at the weather with an eye toward departure.

Then I received a momentous email. When we’d visited the model home at Antietam, we’d left our contact information with the sales agent. “Let us know if any good deals come up,” we said, or words to that effect. Well apparently, our ship had just come in. The agent was contacting us to tell us that the builder was close to finishing the house we were interested in, and wanted it sold. So they were dropping the price $10,000, as well as giving us another $10,000 in cash to use for closing costs. I’d already done the math, and had a pretty good idea that this would tip the balance in our favor. We could swing the house, and keep the boat as well.

“Throw in the complete appliance package, including refrigerator, washer and dryer, and put blinds in all the windows, and you have a deal,” we told them, with an eye toward conserving as much of our cash as possible.

“Done,” they replied. “In addition, we’ll pay your first year’s Homeowner’s Association dues,” the sales agent added, icing the cake for us.

So it looks like we’re buying a house. It’s about a 90% done deal at this point. We’re just waiting to hear back from the underwriters regarding our mortgage. We easily pre-qualified, but it won’t be official until we get the final thumbs up from the bank.

So what does this mean for the crew of Eagle Too? Well, we currently have a preliminary closing date of January 14th, 2019. It will probably take the rest of the winter and the following spring to get our stuff out of storage and into the house, and take care of setting things up. We’re guessing that by the time we’re finally settled, it will be close to hurricane season again, which means we’ll once again be waiting it out here in Pensacola. But maybe next fall we’ll be able to head out once again, for a trip of two or three months. If we can pull it off, it should be a nice compromise and an interesting life, spending some quality boat time in the Keys and maybe the Bahamas, but with a nice home with all the comforts a dirt dwelling provides to return to.

Stay tuned. We’ll let you know as soon as we hear from the bank…

Caution: Detour Ahead — Part Two

The area on the northwest side of Pensacola has grown explosively in the last few years. The primary driver has been Navy Federal Credit Union’s decision some years ago to build a sprawling corporate campus there for their southern headquarters. The complex has grown to over a dozen large office buildings where thousands of people work. The sleepy little two lane state road through the area is in the final stages of being converted to a four lane divided highway with direct Interstate 10 access, and an adjoining section of land (640 acres, or one square mile) that the Navy has used for helicopter flight training is in the early stages of being converted to a major industrial park. People have flocked to the area for the better-than-average wages, good schools and semi-rural surroundings, and homebuilders have taken note, with new subdivisions popping up like spring flowers.

It had been quite a while since Rhonda and I had visited the area, and with little to do while waiting for the weather to improve enough to let us start the trek south for the season, we decided to take a drive one afternoon and see what was new.

With no specific destination in mind, we just let whim and impulse dictate our course as we wandered along rural back roads, investigating all the new construction. In the back of our minds was the recognition that while our Life On The Hook™ had no set end date, we knew we wouldn’t be liveaboard cruisers forever. At some point, maybe in a couple of years, or maybe four of five, we’d want to buy a house and reestablish a home base rather than live as full time gypsies of the sea.

A sign caught our eye. It was a new gated community called Antietam. It sat at the top of a ridge with a western exposure. We loved the location. Most of our lives it seems the homes we’ve owned have come with water and drainage problems, and high on our list of must haves if we ever moved back ashore was a place on high ground with good drainage. If you’re at all familiar with Florida, you probably know that ridge-top property is almost non-existent. At 130+ feet of elevation, Antietam practically sat on a mountain top by Florida standards.

The name resonated with us. Rhonda’s family had strong ties to northern Virginia. Her grandfather’s farm had sat on the edge of the Bull Run battlefield. A development named after a major Civil War battle, with streets named after famous generals, had a familiar feel.

The model home was open. We stopped and took a look. And we learned that Antietam was Northwest Florida’s first Freedom community, a development concept D R Horton designed for what they termed “active adults.” Briefly, the basic idea was to allow the homeowners to travel extensively without having to worry about their homes.  All lawn service was provided by the Home Owner’s Association. The houses were all built as Smart Homes, fully internet connected with remotely monitored intrusion and alarm systems. And as a gated community, it was access controlled. So you could just lock the door and leave on extended travel with no worries.

It was as if it had been designed just for our needs.

We were blown away by the model. Somewhat small and almost non-descript from the outside, it opened up to enormous interior spaces with room to spare to swallow everything we’ve had in storage for four years. At just a little over 2,000 ft2, it felt larger than the 2,500 ft2 home we’d sold in 2014. A house with the same floorplan was already under construction at the highest point on the ridge.

It got us to thinking. Maybe this was what we would want when the day came to move back ashore. We could still cruise, maybe two to four months at a time, but with a comfortable home to return to. A home that we knew would be well looked after in our absence.

We returned to Eagle Too and pondered the possibilities. Now probably wasn’t the time. The boat was ready to head south as soon as the weather broke. We really planned to keep cruising fulltime for at least a few more years. And the numbers didn’t quite work out. The price was just a little bit out of our reach. Maybe we’d check back next season, or the season after that. The most desirable ridge-top lots would all be gone by then, of course, and we’d end up further down the hill, but we’d still have the Freedom Community amenities.

We put the idea aside and refocused on preparing to leave.

Then my phone chimed, and an email arrived that profoundly altered our plans…

Caution: Detour Ahead — Part One

“When are you leaving?”

It was a question we heard fairly often as October gave way to November. We had commitments in Pensacola that held us here until November 5th, but our plan was to depart in order to start our 4th cruising season whenever the next weather window opened after that.

With that in mind, we prepared Eagle Too to get underway. All the gear we’d put in storage for the summer came back onboard. We finished our final provisioning runs and stowed a season’s worth of supplies. We topped off the fuel tank, and filled the Jerry jugs with extra gas and diesel. We settled up with the marina, the diver, and the canvas shop. We had our final meals at our favorite restaurants, and said our goodbyes to friends and family.

Eagle Too ready for departure

Then we waited. We had a reservation at the St Petersburg Municipal Marina beginning November 15th. We intended to spend the holidays in St Pete, and then start heading further south after the first of the year.

Everything was ready except the weather. As the first week of November came to an end, a stalled front settled over the area, generating significant rain, rough seas and unfavorable winds.  For almost a week it wagged back and forth, settling a little south of us, and then retreating a bit to the north.

Then a series of winter cold fronts stacked up one after another. The strong north winds they brought finally blew the stalled front away, but produced freezing temperatures in their wake. If you know us even a little bit, you know that we can’t stand sailing in cold weather. And 58 degrees is cold to us. When they say the lows are going to be in the 30’s, well, you can just forget it. We do this to have fun— it’s not some kind of personal endurance test.

We almost left during the second week of November. It looked like a 48 hour window with predicted mild temperatures, gentle south winds, and calm seas would give us just enough time to motorsail directly across the Gulf from Pensacola to Clearwater, Florida before an extremely strong winter cold front blew through. We were so certain we should take the window that Rhonda pre-cooked underway rations and I stopped by Subway to pick up two 12” subs (an easy underway snack). But when we woke up on what would have been departure morning, things just didn’t feel right. While we believe Eagle Too is in excellent shape, she’s sat mostly stationary for five months now, and I just didn’t feel comfortable depending on the engine to wake up from its prolonged slumber and propel us for 48 straight hours across the Gulf. If any little hiccup at all had occurred, we’d have been caught 75 to 100 miles offshore with a huge front bearing down that was predicted to bring 35 knot winds and 6 to 8 foot seas. Better to wait for a longer window so that we could break the trip up into several smaller leaps and slowly reintroduce the boat to cruising again.

With all our preparations made and little left to do except wait for weather, we found ourselves with some time on our hands. So one day, we asked our dock friends Stephen and Beth on S/V Cattywampus if we could borrow their car to take a drive, run a few errands, and get off the boat for a few hours. They happily obliged.

We had no way of knowing at the time how profoundly their little gesture of kindness would affect the trajectory of our lives…

Getting Legal

Our days are growing short here in Pensacola, and we’re working though the final items on our list of boat chores that need completing before we once again point Eagle Too’s bow south. Today we made Eaglet Too legal.

For some people, a stencil and some spray paint or a permanent marker is good enough for applying their dinghy’s registration numbers. You really can’t argue with the thriftiness of that approach. But we’ve always preferred something a little more elegant, I guess because we take a little pride in how our stuff looks. Plus the paint or marker approach usually needs periodic re-application.

We used glue-on number plates from BoatNumberPlate.com on our first dinghy, and they still looked great when we sold her seven years later. So we really wanted to go with the same solution on our new dinghy. The first time around, we used the glue-on version of the product, which we needed to apply with hypalon rubber cement. This time, they offered a self-sticking version, which sounded like a much easier way to go. Plus, have you looked at what a tube of hypalon glue goes for these days? Almost as much as the number plates themselves!

They did qualify that the self-sticking version isn’t recommended for boats that you want to deflate and roll up. But now that we have an aluminum RIB, rolling up the boat really isn’t an option any longer, so we thought we’d give them a  try.

These things worked great! We picked a dry, sunny day with temps in the upper 70’s. Then we test fitted the number plates to the boat, and traced the outline of the plate with a Sharpie. Next, we masked the outlined area with blue painter’s tape, and then thoroughly cleaned the spot with an acetone soaked rag so the adhesive on the number plate had a clean surface to grab.

You peel off the paper backing on the number plates, line them up and apply then, being careful not to trap any air bubbles underneath. You need to make sure you get them on straight, because the self-adhesive glue is VERY aggressive.

Peel off the blue tape, apply your state registration sticker to the area provided on the port number plate, and you’re done! No waiting for glue to cure and no mess to clean up. It literally couldn’t be easier.

One last thing. You can order boat number plates directly from the site above, but you can actually save about $5 if you order them through Defender instead. They’ll ship you a small package containing a redemption code that you then use on the manufacturer’s website to order your number plates.

You know what? It’s been quite a while since we’ve given something our Life On The Hook™ seal of approval. I think it’s time to dust that off and use it. This one’s for you, BoatNumberPlate.com!

The LOTH Seal of Approval

Why Won’t My Engine Start?!

Spend some time on any Hunter owner’s forum, and you’ll eventually find a thread discussing the dreaded “Why Won’t My Yanmar Start When I Turn The Key?” issue. The problem goes something like this: you turn the key or push the button to start your engine, and it totally ignores you. Or maybe you hear a “click,” but the starter doesn’t engage. Whatever is causing the problem seems to be linked into the boat’s Crisis Detector circuit, because normally the engine will start just fine when it’s a pretty day and you just want to back out of the slip for a short sail, but it will fail to turn over when there’s a squall bearing down on you and you’re being blown onto the rocks while on a collision course with a fuel barge.

We’re not talking here about a significant engine issue, where you’re having a fuel or compression problem or your exhaust elbow is clogged and you can get the engine to turn over but it just won’t start. We’re talking about a transient little electrical problem where the starter solenoid randomly decides it just doesn’t want to do its job today.

It’s really annoying because it comes and goes. Sometimes you can go weeks with the engine starting every time, and then suddenly it just says no. And even though it’s a widely reported problem, it’s one that Yanmar claims they’ve never heard of. Go ahead, call them. They’ll say “why no, we’re not aware of anyone having this problem.” Meanwhile I’ve seen posts by people saying that they’ve complained to Yanmar so many times that they’re looking into a class action lawsuit over the issue due to the potential risk it creates for boat owners when they can’t reliably start their engines.

Some have claimed that the way to fix this problem is to install an additional solenoid in the starting circuit. IF you’ve researched this issue I’m sure you’ve seen this fix.  I’m not going to go into detail with that solution , other than to say that I think it’s the wrong approach. You’re not fixing the problem, you’re just treating the symptom, while also adding additional complexity to your starting system. We had this problem on our first boat, a Hunter 336 with a Yanmar 3GM30 engine. Over the last year, it has now also cropped up on our current boat, a Hunter 376 with a 3JH2E. On both boats, the solution turned out to be much cheaper and simpler.

I believe the problem is caused by the fact that the engine control panel is usually quite a ways removed from the engine, and the builder used a long wiring harness to connect the two. The harness is usually pieced together from shorter lengths and has multiple in-line electrical connectors. With two, three, sometimes four or more wiring connectors in the harness run, there are plenty of places for corrosion to develop and introduce resistance in the circuit, causing a voltage drop in the line. You turn the key to start the engine, but not enough voltage makes it to the starter solenoid to engage it. I think the reason the problem comes and goes is because electrical resistance across a corroded connection can vary due to changes in temperature or humidity. Today might be OK, but not so good tomorrow.

So how did we fix the problem? But running a separate, continuous #10 wire from the engine start switch all the way to the starter solenoid. This eliminates all the in-line electrical connectors with their potentially voltage-sapping corroded pins.

Engine control panel removed from pedestal, original starting circuit wire removed from start switch. Haven’t crimped a ring terminal on the new wire yet in this picture.

Chasing the wire from the engine control panel in the cockpit to the starter solenoid on the engine is the hard part, usually involving some cabin disassembly and a lot of wiggling into dark places. Once the wire is run, however, it’s a pretty simple task to crimp the proper ring connector on the switch end and a disconnect fitting on the solenoid end and substitute the new wire for the old one.

New wire attached to starter solenoid.

Put some insulating shrink tubing on the ends of the old wire to keep it from causing problems and protect the new wire with some plastic wire loom, using a few zip ties to make sure it stays where you want it, and you’re in business.

I followed the exhaust hose for part of the run.

This fix has worked great for us on two boats now. If you’ve having a similar problem (and I think many of you with older Yanmars probably are), then give it a try. I think you’ll be pleased with the results. And it’s such a relief to no longer have to wonder “what kind of mood are you in today, Mr. Engine?” when you reach for that switch.

Anchor Maintenance

What’s that? Anchors need maintenance?

They do if you have a Mantus. They’re terrific anchors that grab quickly and hold you in place like you’re welded to the bottom. But to make them easy to ship, they come in three pieces that you bolt together. And after three years of use, I just didn’t like the way the bolts on our 55 lb Mantus were looking. Loose scaly rust was developing on the ends.

First bolt removed

Now these aren’t your typical Home Depot variety galvanized steel bolts. They’re grade 5 high strength fasteners. Fortunately, Mantus sells a replacement bolt package for just a few bucks (real bucks, not boat bucks!), which can be ordered from their website.

The bolts arrive with a package of Lanacote to apply to them to add corrosion protection. It’s been three years since I put The Beast together, and I’d forgotten that little fact. But when I took a wrench to what I thought were rusty bolts, they actually released very easily, and once removed, I could see that the threads and body of the bolts were pristine. The Lanacote had done a good job of protecting them, and they probably didn’t need to be replaced. The rust was limited just to the exposed ends. But for the minor expense involved, it was worth it for the peace of mind.

Next, our Crosby 3/8″ shackle was looking a little corroded. I’ve always been conscious of the fact that the safety and security of our entire boat depends on this tiny piece of metal when at anchor, which is why we only use Crosby shackles for this vital role. It took all of five minutes to swap out the old one for a new one (we carry several spares onboard) and mouse it with stainless steel wire.

All bolts replaced and a new shackle added

Finally, it was once again time to re-mark the first 100 feet of our anchor rode. We’ve tried a variety of ways to mark the chain so that we know how much we pay out when anchoring. The cheapest and easiest way we’ve found is to just spray paint a mark on the chain every ten feet. We’ve tried several different types of paint, from fluorescent marking paint to galvanized steel primer before finally settling on white Rustoleum automotive enamel. Nothing holds up in salt water for more than about six months. But it’s only about an hour’s work to lay the first 100 feet of chain on the dock and repaint it.

And with that, we’re another step closer to starting Season 4 of our Life On The Hook™. 🙂

Hurricane Michael—The Aftermath

Hurricane Michael grew to be the third most powerful hurricane to ever make landfall in the US, But being on the “good” side of the storm made all the difference in the world for us. The conditions we saw pretty much matched my expectations. Winds topped out at 35 knots (40 mph), a bit of rain, but nothing too unsettling. For once, the worst of it came during daylight hours instead of in the middle of the night, which was a pleasant change from the usual state of affairs.

Now that the storm has passed, I think I did just the right amount of boat preparation for the conditions  encountered. The only “hardship” I experienced was that the dockmaster cut the power to the marina at about 9PM last night, because he was afraid that the storm-surge-driven rising water would reach the marina power distribution boxes and flood them. So I had to spend the night without air conditioning. Oh the humanity!!!

It’s only been a few hours since the storm passed, but already the sun is peeking out and the wind has dropped to a gentle breeze. It won’t take long at all to have everything back in its proper place, and the forecast says this weekend is supposed to be beautiful, which means we might spend it out on the hook somewhere. Hopefully we’ll hear soon from others we know who were (or may yet still be) closer to the center of the storm. Meanwhile, the airport is supposed to be reopening tonight, which means Rhonda should be returning tomorrow from her trip out of town. I have to compliment her on her timing. It was a good week to be someplace other than the Gulf coast of Florida.

It’s Not Our First October Surprise

We’ve been living on the Florida Gulf coast long enough to know that you can’t turn your back on the Gulf in October. While the Atlantic hurricane season is wrapping up, with fewer tropical waves rolling off the coast of Africa and developing into storms, conditions in the Gulf are still ideal for cyclogenesis.  Some of the northern Gulf coast’s worst storms have been October storms.

So here we are with a monster Category 3 hurricane named Michael roaring towards us. Three days ago it was just a blob of thunderstorms off the Yucatan. But as proud members of Drunk Donkey Nation (as the half–million followers of Mike’s Weather Page are now known), we’ve been following this system for almost a week and knew it was going to be something big.

What to do about it was the question. It’s easy to underreact to an approaching storm, but it’s equally easy to overreact. Our hurricane plan is to move Eagle Too to the very well protected marina at Pensacola Naval Air Station in the event that Palafox Pier and Yacht Harbor, where we spend our summers, declares a mandatory evacuation. We have access to the Navy base due to our military affiliation. But if Palafox Pier doesn’t force us to leave, we don’t, primarily because we’ve already paid for the slip here. Moving to the base costs us several hundred dollars for a three to four day stay, and as thrifty cruisers, we’d rather not spend that money if we don’t have to. Plus we’re really just moving from one marina with floating docks to another a couple of miles away, so it hardly seems worth it if we don’t have to do it. And a haulout? Forget it. We’re not full time residents here in Pensacola anymore. Since we spend seven months or more of every year somewhere else, we’re not going to pay the thousands of dollars necessary to get on Pensacola Shipyard’s hurricane haul out list. And if you’re not on their list, you don’t get hauled out, plain and simple.

Our frustration always comes from waiting to see what Palafox Pier is going to do. They finally declared a “voluntary evacuation” yesterday. I had to go to the marina and ask them what exactly that was supposed to mean.  I interpreted it as “leave if you want, but stay if you’d like,” which is just another way of saying “business as usual.” But I guess maybe it gives them some liability protection if you stay and your boat gets broken by something in the marina. After all, they did tell you to “voluntarily evacuate.”

Regardless, if the evacuation was voluntary, we weren’t volunteering. Besides, as it just so happens, my first mate and lovely wife (that’s one and the same person just in case you weren’t sure) is up in Virginia visiting family this week. That means I’d be voluntarily evacuating by myself, which I’d rather not do. Not that I haven’t had several sincere offers of assistance, but I just don’t like moving Eagle Too without Rhonda at the helm, as I’ve grown accustomed to her hand on the wheel.

So here’s what I knew about Michael. Ever since he formed, the models were consistently taking it to our east. That meant we’d be on the “good” side of the storm, with winds coming from the north, off the land. The friction of blowing past trees and buildings would slow the wind significantly. Next, even though the predictions wobbled around a bit, it was pretty evident that there was firm agreement among the models. The eye of the storm was unlikely to get closer to us than about 75 miles. That’s a long way, even for a big hurricane. We’ve been though about a dozen of these in the last couple of decades, and my experience told me that the distance plus the wind direction probably meant we’d never see more than 45 or 50 knots of wind, even from a Category 3 storm. Possibly quite a bit less. Working in our favor is that we’re docked right below a three–story building that would block a lot of the wind, and our bow is pointed east, which means our dodger and bimini were at a good angle to shed the wind rather than catch it.

So what preparations did I make to hit the sweet spot on the under/over prepared scale? First, I decided not to take the sails down. Our mainsail furls inside the mast, so it’s basically impervious to wind. And we’ve ridden out 50+ knot winds in squalls with the jib furled and it never started coming loose. But just to add some extra insurance, I took about a dozen wraps around the furled jib with our spinnaker halyard, candy-striping the line down the length of the sail to keep it from trying to unfurl.

Eagle Too in her Ready For Tropical Storm Force Winds configuration

I also decided not to strip our dodger and bimini. I did take the sun covers off the dodger, because they were only loosely attached. But we over-engineered the dodger and bimini frame, using only steel rail rather than straps for support, and I knew it could handle 50 to 60 knots with no problem, especially with the wind coming from the bow initially, then shifting to the port side.

Not a good day for sailing

Next, I made sure our dinghy was well tied down with both ratchet straps and lines, and then removed all the loose gear on deck and brought it below. Solar lights, water hose, chairs and cushions, all the little things hanging around topside that could get torn lose got stowed.

I also doubled the lines and rigged all our fenders, and put bungees on several lines that I know like to slap in a gale. It’s hard enough trying to sleep during a good blow. It’s even harder when lines are slapping away like crazy.

We’d have naturally done more if Pensacola was Michael’s destination. We’ve been in a Category 3 hurricane; Hurricane Ivan back in 2004, and I have a great deal of respect for the power of such a storm. But my gut (and the data at spaghettimodels.com) has been telling me that Michael had other plans. So I feel good about our approach to this storm. We’ll see in a couple of days whether I chose wisely…

Some thoughts: this irked me a bit. The marina insists that all the boaters make sure they’ve removed any loose gear that can become airborne from the docks. But then they park their work barge just upwind of our dock, covered with loose gear that can become airborne.

Yes, that’s a machete sticking out of that sawhorse. A sawhorse that’s just sitting there, because I could push it and it would rock.

And it’s always a gut check when you see out of state power crews staging their equipment for the upcoming recovery effort.

I think we’ve adequately prepared. I really feel for the people in Panama City, Port St Joe and Apalachicola, because I think their lives are about to be profoundly affected. For now, here’s the calm before the storm…