Saving The Worst For First

Some say that for cruisers, the voyage is the destination. But I guess we’ve never really thought like that. As we approach the start of our third year of cruising, we’ve definitely learned that for us, getting there is usually just something we endure in order to be there. We put up with cold food, fight seasickness and suffer the physical and mental fatigue of a 24 to 36 hour passage so that we can spend weeks exploring an interesting new town, drop anchor in a pristine cove, or immerse ourselves in the culture of a different country. Maybe if we had more idyllic, balmy tropical crossings under the light of a full moon we might feel differently, but it very seldom turns out that way. Our overnight passages have generally been cold, dark, unpleasantly tiring experiences.

Cruising Up The Gulf County Canal

We call Pensacola, Florida home and spend the summers there waiting out hurricane season. Unfortunately, because of its location, when the time comes to head south, our only choice is to do a pair of overnight passages, the first from Pensacola to St Joseph Bay, and another from Apalachicola to Clearwater.  These legs are by far our least favorite parts of voyaging, and we always approach them with reluctance and a touch of anxiety. It probably has something to do with the fact that when passing through these waters, we’ve either just departed Pensacola for what we know will be at least half a year away, and the sweet sadness of wishing friends and family farewell still weighs heavily, or we’re on the last leg of a long trip back home, and we’re generally suffering from a major case of “are we there yet?”

Tied To The Wall In Apalachicola

Contributing to our dislike of these legs are the short, choppy seas common in the northern Gulf in anything but the calmest conditions.  In order to have smooth seas, there has to be virtually no wind, as it only takes 10 to 12 knots of breeze on the shallow northern Gulf to start stacking up the waves.  No wind means 24 to 30 hours of motoring for each leg, and the constant drone of the engine can really wear a person down.

Welcome To St Petersburg!

With a rest stop for a 5 hour nap in St Joseph Bay and a night spent tied to the wall in Apalachicola, we managed to make Clearwater about 76 hours after leaving Pensacola, and motored over to St Petersburg Municipal Marina, our home for the next six to eight weeks, the following day. We had been pushing to take advantage of a three day weather window that would allow us to cross the Gulf in advance of an approaching cold front bringing rain and higher winds, and we made it to St Pete just as the window slammed shut.

After spending the holidays here in St Petersburg, a town we really enjoy, we’ll once again start working our way south. But for now, we’re just happy to be here, the trip from Pensacola to central Florida now comfortably behind us.

Getting Ready For Round Three

November is upon us, and hurricane season is winding down. We’ve had a leisurely five months relaxing here in Pensacola while waiting it out, but now it’s time to prepare for round three of our Life On The Hook™.

If you’ve been following along, you may remember that during round one (our shakedown cruise), we explored Florida’s west coast and the Keys, northwestern Cuba , the Mexican island of Isla Mujures and the Dry Tortugas. For round two, we gunkholed through the Bahamian Exuma island chain. So where to next? Well, it’s already getting too darn cold here in Pensacola for our thin blood, so in the next few weeks we’ll be heading back to St. Petersburg, where we have a reservation at the Municipal Marina for the remainder of the year. Then? We’re not completely sure. We’ve only seen about 20% of the Bahamas, so there are a whole lot of islands left to experience. We know of at least three or four boats here in our marina that have plans to spend the winter there, so maybe we’ll meet up in a big flotilla.

But we’re also thinking about submitting another request to the Coast Guard to return to Cuba. During our previous two week visit, we barely scratched the surface of that interesting and perplexing place. We also long to spend some more time in Mexico. So we’ll see. That’s the great thing about cruising. You don’t necessarily need a definite plan. Just be ready for opportunities as they present themselves, and then follow your whims and impulses!

So now it’s time for the getting ready part. We’ve started bringing back onboard all the cruising gear that we offloaded when we returned home last June.

Our dinghy needed a new inflatable keel, so we ordered the part from Boats.net and dropped it off at the inflatable boat repair shop. It’s back now, and we’ve had it inflated on the pier checking for leaks in preparation for lashing it back on deck.

Our outboard is now five years old and still on its first water pump impeller. During several of our long dinghy rides down in the islands, the thought would cross my mind that it would really suck if the impeller failed and the engine overheated and I had to row all the way back. For peace of mind I wanted to install a new one.

Some people wait until the part fails before doing this necessary chore. But I’m Navy taught, and I have a strong belief in preventative maintenance. Considering how old it was, ours was still in pretty good shape. It had a definite set, but hadn’t lost any vanes yet. New on the left, old on the right:

We’ve had two persistent issues with our VHF radio and AIS sytem, which piggybacks on the VHF. We’ve been told that when we transmit from our remote mic, we have a bad buzz in our signal. Also, we get an intermittent AIS alarm that indicates a VSWR fault, which means a problem with the radio signal transiting the antenna system. I’ve always suspected that the problem was coming from the VHF antenna jumper that came with our AIS antenna splitter. It’s way too small in my opinion, and I wanted to replace it with a spare length of RG213 coax I had in the spares box.

Here’s the much-too-small jumper that I replaced. The new one is about as thick as my index finger (I forgot to take a picture) I took our handheld VHF and walked around the marina while talking to Rhonda, and everything seems to be working fine now. Hopefully this will also cure the intermittent AIS VSWR alarm.

While I had my arms inside the pedestal, I tightened the set screws on the autopilot drive gears, adding a lock washer to the lower one. Both top and bottom gears had worked themselves a bit loose and the steering was getting some slop in it.

Our batteries are approaching their third birthday, which makes them about 35 years old in people years. To make sure they still have what it takes to power us through another cruising season, I first turned off the battery charger for a few days, letting the batteries float on the solar panels. I wanted to run the batteries down until the amp meter read about 75% state of charge and then check the gravities in each cell.

All cells measured 1.250 specific gravity, which indicates about an 80% state of charge, and they were all equal. This tells me that our batteries are still young at heart, and we can trust the amp hour meter to give us an accurate reading.

Work continues on our dodger, which should be finished in the next few days.

Our sternrail sports a brand new barbeque. While the old one was only a little over three years old, the internals had started rotting away. Apparently when exposed to high temperatures, stainless steel loses its chromium and nickle, turning it into just plain carbon steel, which then rusts away. When we priced out buying all new internal parts, it was actually cheaper to throw the darn thing away and buy a new one.

The instructions on the new one say that for maximum life, you should thoroughly clean the interior after each use. Rhonda and I got a good chuckle out of that. As in, “Yeah, sure, I’m going to dismantle the grill and scrub all the parts clean every time we grill steaks.” Not.

We’ve reactivated our InReach satellite communicator in preparation for offshore passages and have installed the latest updates. Garmin lets you turn off your account when you don’t need to use the device, which saves us $69 a month when we’re not out cruising.

And we folded up our bikes and zipped them into their storage bags. This time, we’re going to find a home for them down below when we get underway. We learned with our last set that living on the lifelines is fatal to bicycles.

We still have the last big provisioning run to complete, the one where we load up on several months worth of pasta and Spam and rum and coffee. But we’re almost ready to go, so it won’t be long before our bow is once again pointed south in search of warmer temperatures. As if in acknowledgment of our pending departure, we received a farewell fireworks salute from our neighbors at the maritime park.

It’s been a good summer, Pensacola, and we’ve enjoyed the time back home reconnecting with family and friends. But it was 45° F when we woke up yesterday morning, and that means it’s about time for us to go.

An Unpleasant Encounter With Nate

It started out as just another week. Monday, October 2nd dawned warm and clear, and the weather news talked primarily about the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and its just concluded rampage across Puerto Rico.

On Tuesday, the National Weather Service noted an area of disturbed weather in the Caribbean off the coast of Panama, and gave it a 40% chance of developing into a tropical system. It seemed too far away to worry very much about. Rhonda spent the day running errands with her sister, while I had a long lunch with my brother followed by beers at Pensacola Bay Brewery. Our canvas contractor was onboard Eagle Too templating our new dodger.

dodger

Wednesday morning, the area of disturbed weather had become tropical depression 16, with the forecast track taking it to the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday. That afternoon, our marina issued the first in a series of emails expressing concern and reminding us of their criteria for determining when to close and evacuate the marina. We really hoped nothing would come of it, as we didn’t want to have to implement our hurricane plan. Boats began to leave, however, because Pensacola Shipyard had implemented its hurricane haulout plan. Our anxiety level started to ratchet up.

Before closing for the day, the marina office informed us that a decision would be made the following morning regarding a mandatory evacuation after the 10AM CDT update from the National Hurricane Center. We started talking through the steps in our plan. We both slept poorly that night.

Thursday, October 5th began as another sunny, humid Florida day. The storm was now Tropical Storm Nate, and was forecast to make landfall to our west as a hurricane in less than 72 hours. I felt it would be too far away to do us much harm. We idly puttered around the boat waiting for word. When midday approached with nothing from the marina, we felt it was safe to go into town and do some shopping. At 1PM, my phone dinged notifying me of an incoming email. The subject was “MANDATORY EVACUATION OF MARINA.” It was a punch to the gut. I still didn’t think the storm would amount to much, but it wasn’t our decision. We had to go. We wrapped up our errands and returned to the boat, spending the remainder of the afternoon collecting the things we knew we’d need to take ashore.

One of the reasons we’ve returned to Pensacola the last two hurricane seasons is because we have options here in the event of a storm. The marina at the nearby Naval Air Station is tucked in the arm of a well protected bayou, and we have family here with whom we can seek shelter rather than have to try and find transportation and a hotel room. We hoped we’d never need to invoke our plan, but it was good to have one regardless. Some of our marina neighbors were at a loss as to what to do.

The evacuation order gave us until noon on Saturday to leave, but we knew that conditions would begin deteriorating Friday afternoon. So after another restless, anxious night, we were up early Friday to prepare to get underway.

nate1

An hour later, we were safely tied to the Transient Dock at the Bayou Grande Marina at NAS Pensacola. They put us on the inside, which is where we wanted to be. Less chance of being hit by another boat there in the event one broke loose, plus the strong southeasterly winds would be pushing us off the dock rather than hard against it.

nate2

We worked the rest of the afternoon and into the evening preparing Eagle Too for the coming storm. My first concern was to break down our solar panels and bimini. If you’ve read our More Power Scotty! series, then you know we designed our bimini mounted flexible panels to be firmly attached, yet easily removable in the event of a hurricane. In two years, this was the first time we’d had to test that process. Fortunately, it only took a little over an hour to remove the panels and wiring, unzip the canvas, and fold up and secure the frame. Everything stored compactly below.

removingpanels1 removingpanels2 panels

All loose gear was brought below, and we tripled up our lines, running additional “just in case” spring lines to take over if a primary line chaffed through and failed. I still didn’t think we’d see winds over 60 mph, which we’ve experienced in the past in thunderstorms, so instead of taking down the jib, I tightly wrapped it multiple times with our spinnaker halyard to keep it from unfurling accidentally. The marina confirmed that they would leave the power on, so we decided not to empty our refrigerator and freezer. With our solar panels offline, I knew our refrigeration would only be able to run for about 48 hours in the event of a loss of shore power before our batteries were dead, so I secured our power cord with bungee cords and duct tape to prevent it from shaking loose and unplugging itself.

Exhausted from stress and storm preparations, we headed to Rhonda’s sister’s house for the evening. We had another restless night.

Saturday morning saw us back at the boat to finalize our preparations. FInally, we stood back, looked everything over, and declared Eagle Too ready for a Cat 1 hurricane. We gave her a pat, wished her luck, and headed inland.

secure secure2

First though, we stopped back by Palafox Pier to see how the evacuation had gone. It looked eerie seeing all the empty slips.

slip

Although the storm was still 12 hours away, the surge was already starting. It was still hours away from high tide, but our floating dock was already higher than we had ever seen it. Normally the walkway around our marina is at about my head level.

surge

It was a long evening, as we sat at Rhonda’s sister’s house glued to the Weather Channel. For reasons I’ve never understood, hurricanes seem to prefer to come ashore in the dead of night, and Nate was no exception. Landfall occurred as a strong Cat 1 storm just after midnight.

weatherchannel

One thing in our favor was the fact that Nate obviously had someplace it needed to be. While a typical hurricane might rumble along at 8 or 10 miles an hour, Nate flew by at over 20. In just a few hours, the worst was over.

Sunday morning, I received a text from another boater who had ridden out the storm on his Lagoon catamaran across the dock from Eagle Too, informing us that she looked just fine. Whew! What a relief it was to receive that news. We’d left our wind instrument on when we departed, and found out when we returned that the wind had peaked at 44 knots, or about 50 mph, which really wasn’t that bad, merely tropical storm range.

And by Monday, it was all over and it was just another week. The weather was partly cloudy with a gentle south wind, and Palafox Pier emailed to notify us that they were open for business again. We took Eagle Too out of bondage and headed back downtown, having a pleasant sail for most of the trip.

returning returning2

By lunchtime, Eagle Too was securely back in her slip, and we watched as other boats began finding their way home.

slip2 slip3

We have a bit of work ahead of us, restoring everything back to its proper place onboard. As it happens, we were already planning to remove our solar panels and bimini so that our canvas contractor could attach a zipper to tie it to our new dodger, as well as fix a few areas that have gotten worn during our travels. Removing all our shades and covers also revealed that we have a bit of deep cleaning to do, which is something we’d want to attend to anyway before heading out next month. So I guess in hindsight, there was some benefit that came from it all.

But we hadn’t been back in our slip more than a few hours when Rhonda looked up from her phone and said, “So did you see that there’s a new Tropical Storm in the Atlantic?”

Her name is Ophelia. I hope she stays far away from us. It’s someone else’s turn now.

A Fresh Rinse

Sometimes when we raise anchor, it comes up coated in thick, black, foul smelling mud. I don’t want the stinky muck to end up in the chain locker, but the only practical way to wash the anchor and chain has been to keep dropping a five gallon bucket over the side with a rope to dip up seawater for rinsing, repeating a dozen or more times until the anchor is back onboard. At eight pounds per gallon, a full five gallon bucket weighs 40 pounds, and my poor back is usually begging for mercy after the first half dozen drops.

We love it when Rhonda can hook a big Mahi or other pelagic fish while we’re offshore. But by the time we finally get the darn thing onboard, subdued and filleted out, the cockpit looks like the shower scene from Psycho. There’s blood spattered from the swim platform to the companionway, and rivers of red run through the cockpit. We can get to some of the mess with our existing cockpit handheld shower, but cleaning the rest requires going back to the bucket brigade.

I’ve known that someday we’d want to install a washdown system so that we could just break out a hose and spray away the messes. Since we usually have plenty of fresh water onboard, I wanted to start out with a freshwater washdown, because it was the easiest to install. All we needed to do was tap into the boat’s existing water system. A saltwater system would have required a new hole in the hull for a dedicated thru-hull fitting (which would have required hauling the boat), and installation of a washdown pump and associated electrical circuit.

Something that made this job a pretty easy one to tackle is the fact that our Hunter (and probably most modern production boats) are plumbed with PEX piping, which is a semi-rigid plastic. The plumbing is put together with Qest fittings, which are just about the easiest, most fool proof plumbing connectors you can imagine. You just cut the plastic pipe and slide on the Qest connector nut, metal collar and compression acorn, and you’re ready to connect up to a new fitting. No special tools or skills required.

qest

Developed for use in the mobile home and RV market, Qest fittings aren’t something you can usually find in your local Lowe’s or Home Depot. But we can find whatever we need at our local RV dealer, with the added benefit that they’re sold at cheap RV store prices, rather than at a marine store markup. They’re also available from several online sources, such as PlumbingSupply.com.

The first step was to empty out the starboard lazarette in order to gain access to the plumbing for the cockpit shower, disconnect the cold water line from the shower, and cut the line in order to insert a T connector.

wash1 wash2

Next I broke out the drill and hole saw, because every good boat job involves making a hole in the boat. I placed the hole where there was enough depth to connect the plumbing, carefully avoiding interfering with the engine stop cable.

wash3 wash4 wash5

Next I installed a Jabsco washdown quick connect fitting in the newly drilled hole, bedding it with some butyl rubber for a watertight seal. I liked this fitting because it sits flush so that when you disconnect the washdown hose, there isn’t an ugly ankle-knocking hose bib sticking out.

wash6 wash7

The last step was to use a Qest elbow and a short length of 1/2″ hose with the appropriate connectors to tie the washdown fitting to the newly installed T.

wash8

The washdown fitting comes with a quick connect that you attach to a standard hose. You then just insert the hose into the washdown fitting and give it a little twist to lock it in place when you want to do a rinse.

wash9 wash10

We purchased a 50 foot coiling hose so that I can easily stretch it up to the bow to deal with a muddy anchor.

wash11

But the hose coils up compactly enough to easily fit in the lazarette when not being used.

wash12

We could probably use a washdown connection at both ends of the boat, but for now I thought we’d just put one back aft since it was the easiest place to access the existing freshwater system. Maybe when the day eventually comes when we’ll have to haul the boat again, we might consider installing a new thru-hull somewhere up forward so that we can add a saltwater washdown system also.

In Praise of Production Cruisers

This is a post for those of you that geek out on the technical side of boating and marine design. I was having a conversation recently with a fellow boater who told me that he was shopping for a cruising sailboat, but was advised to ignore production boats (e.g.  models by Beneteau, Catalina, Hunter, Jeanneau) as they weren’t suitable boats for cruising. Next to the relative merits of different anchor types, few topics will generate a more heated discussion among a group of sailors than the suitability of modern production boats for cruising. On one side you have the Old Salts, who think only limited production, heavier displacement, craft-built boats like a Hinkley, Westsail or Bristol can safely transport you to faraway islands. On the other side, you’ll find a large number of sailors who own and actively cruise their late model production boats and who know from experience that no matter where you go in the world, you’ll find the harbor full of boats that Old Salts will swear were never capable of making the trip. It’s clear which side we fall in with. We’ve traveled close to 5,000 nautical miles so far on our 1997 Hunter 376, and think she’s a terrific boat for island hopping.  There’s a list of features that we think make her a great cruiser, but the one I’d like to talk about today is how the use of an interior fiberglass floor pan stiffens and reinforces the hull.

At one time, builders hand-fitted wooden frames into their hulls, and then fiberglassed them in place. Unfortunately wood rots, particularly if water finds a way inside the fiberglass. And all the labor needed to do this fitting and layup costs a lot. So as fiberglass technology progressed through the 1970’s and 80’s, builders began devising ways to cut production costs by molding a solid fiberglass floor grid consisting of a series of box beams, and then gluing this into the hull interior. The Old Salts will say that this makes access to the interior of the hull impossible in the event that you get holed (you hit something at sea that punches a hole in the bottom of your boat). But the modern naval architect will point out that as an engineered, wood free structure, this grid is incredibly strong, light and will never rot. Personally, while both may have a point, I’ll take light, strong, cheap and durable, which benefits us every single day, over the extremely unlikely possibility of being holed while underway, requiring an emergency repair at sea.

We recently pulled up a portion of our cabin sole in order to refinish it, in the process exposing some of our boat’s interior floor pan.

floorpan1a floorpan2

As I looked at the box beam grid, I realized that I had seen this method of reinforcing used before. Here’s a shot of a Metro subway station in Washington, DC, which Rhonda and I have ridden many times in years past:

washington-dc-metro

The box beam construction they used when building this tunnel makes for a light yet strong structure that resists the weight of the city above. And if you took the top of that subway tunnel and flipped it over, you’d have something pretty similar to how a modern production boat hull is designed.

To give you an idea of how long engineers have known that a box beam grid makes for a strong, light structure, here’s a picture of the Roman Pantheon, constructed almost 2,000 years ago and still standing despite being built in a seismically active area.

roman-forum-2

This is pure engineering excellence. So as far as I’m concerned, if an Old Salt tells you that production boats aren’t strong enough to take cruising, ask them how they can doubt a technology that’s been in use and performing well for over two millennia.

Boat Hacks – Outboard Edition

Here’s another item in our Boat Hacks series, which are posts about little things that solve little problems. Today we’re looking at an easy fix to a recurring problem that has dogged us for quite some time, the dreaded issue of outboard motor clamp lock.

There are a lot of things to dislike about outboard motors. My feelings toward them are about the same as my feelings towards horses – they’re evil, spiteful things that continually look for ways to openly defy and frustrate you, and you count your blessings if they uneventfully deliver you to your destination. One major source of problems comes from the use of materials that aren’t fully compatible with a marine environment, or at least a saltwater marine environment. For instance, the screw clamps that you tighten to lock the outboard in place are made of a metal that doesn’t really get along well with the engine mount casting. Consequently, if left alone for too long, corrosion causes them to seize up. When they do, the short toggle handles you have to use to loosen/tighten the screw clamps are too short to apply sufficient force to break them free.

outboardtoggle1

I’ve kept a short length of stainless rail in the stern locker to slip over the toggles to use as a cheater bar to get extra leverage, but if you get overzealous, then you shear off the toggle pins and the handles fall off. We keep a small supply of these pins onboard as replacements since they seem to break pretty frequently. The thing about these shear pins though is that you peen them in place with a hammer, and they’re not designed to be removed.

Recently our screw clamps froze up so firmly that I actually fractured the toggle handles themselves trying to get the clamps to turn. Life actually got a bit easier as a result, because with the toggles now gone I could just put a crescent wrench on the end of the screws to turn them. But I didn’t like the idea of having to always remember to grab a wrench when I wanted to put the outboard on the dinghy. Then I had my “duh” moment.

Instead of replacing the toggle pins with another set that are peened in place, why not just use a couple of stainless cotter pins? That way I could use the toggle handles to tighten up the outboard, but if the clamps seize up, I could just pop the cotter pins out and remove the toggle handles so that I could put a wrench on the head of the clamp screws.

outboardtoggle2

Since we’re a sailboat, we keep a handy box of various sizes of stainless pins and rings onboard. I found two that fit, popped them in, and they worked great.

The true solution to this problem is following a proper preventative maintenance schedule, and I’ll have a post soon about PMS (the non-hormonal type). But it’s good to know that if this issue ever gets away from us again and the screw clamps seize up, I can just pull out these cotter pins to bring more power to the problem in the form of leverage from a big wrench.

Making Space

If you’ve spent any time around boats, you know how valuable storage space is. There’s never enough room for all the “stuff” you want to bring onboard, and being a cruiser and liveaboard means life is a constant exercise in possessional triage, where every item has to have enough value and utility to make the cut and find a home on board, with the rest ending up stored ashore or disposed of. Things are even a bit worse when you own a Hunter, like we do. Hunter put a great deal of effort into packing the biggest living spaces possible into the hull, which makes the boat live like one that’s significantly larger. But it comes at the expense of little things like storage lockers. You get a lot of room to lounge on a Hunter, but not a lot of places to store stuff. So when we find a way to turn an unused area into a locker, we jump on it.

While waiting around to see what Hurricane Irma was going to do, we decided to start pulling out our cabin sole (interior floor) to apply some coats of polyurethane. When we unscrewed the chart table seat from the deck and removed the sole panel, we found this vacant, completely empty, totally unused void. There’s probably two whole cubic feet of potential storage there! Enough to allow for a significant expansion of our wine collection, an additional case of beer, or possibly even something practical, like groceries and spare parts.

locker

We know a really good, reasonably priced marine carpenter here in Pensacola, so I immediately gave him a call to ask him how busy he was at the moment. As things worked out, his truck was at the repair shop and he was just puttering around his shop working on this and that. Could he do a quick plunge-cut on a sole board to put in an access panel, I asked him? Sure, drop it on by, he said. So we dropped the panel off, and four hours later we had a newly cut and trimmed out access panel, opening up this formerly sealed void that probably hadn’t seen the light of day since April of 1997 when Eagle Too was built.

locker1 locker2

Cutting the hole took a lot of the strength out of the panel, so before reinstalling it we attached a cleat to the head bulkhead to support the edge of the sole panel. I’m actually surprised the factory hadn’t put a support cleat here since that was such a large, unsupported span, and it explains why that particular floor board always creaked when walked on.

cleat

Do you own one of the hundreds of Hunter 376’s (or possibly a 380 or maybe even a 386, which are later versions of the same boat)? Then you might want to look into opening up this enclosed void. Because it’s an easy way to create a couple of cubic feet of that most valuable of spaces, a place to store your stuff.

Storm Fatigue

One hundred and seventeen years ago this week, the National Weather Service office in Galveston, Texas received spotty reports via telegraph of possible storm conditions in Cuba. Anecdotal information from ships arriving at the port indicated that something serious was possibly brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. On the morning of September 8th, 1900, the manager of the weather service office noted a falling barometer and a steadily increasing wind. By midnight, between 6,000 and 12,000 residents of Galveston were dead, killed by the wind and surge effects of a direct hit by a major hurricane that no one saw coming. To this day it’s unknown how many ultimately died, as the bodies of the drowned were burned in huge funeral pyres on the beach to prevent the spread of disease from the rotting corpses. There is no count of how many simply washed out to sea, never to be seen again.

Yesterday, Hurricane Irma roared ashore in the Florida Keys as a strong category four storm. Although similar in size and strength to that estimated for the Great Storm of 1900, only a handful of deaths have been attributed to it. The difference is technology. In 1900, there were no weather satellites or remotely monitored ocean buoys. No Weather Channel to provide updates, and no radio to spread the word of approaching danger. Ships returning from sea were the only reliable sources of offshore weather information, which in many cases was days or weeks old by the time they made port.

hurricane-irma

On that fateful Saturday morning 117 years ago, most citizens of Galveston probably awoke and went about their business, completely unaware that by midnight, they’d be struggling for their lives, a battle that thousands would lose. Today we can see a storm before it’s even born, rolling off the coast of Africa as a tropical wave. We can follow it as it forms and develops, predict its path, and observe its impact on those whose lives it crosses. But there is a small downside to this. Thanks to our technology, we now have a week or more to fret, worry, and obsess about what may come. Days of watching stores sell out of water and gas, resupply, and then sell out again. Days to watch shelters open and highways clog as evacuees jam the roadways, fleeing the predicted point of impact. Days to view looping videos endlessly repeating reports of destruction from places already hit, as sandbags are filled and emergency measures implemented in the places that are next in line.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy beyond measure that through our technology, we can avoid a disaster like the Great Storm of 1900. But it does take its toll in sleepless nights and high anxiety, waiting and watching, watching and waiting. I’ll be immensely happy when this whole thing is finally over, and everyone we know in the affected areas has checked in as safe.

We’ve been extremely fortunate this time. Hurricane Irma stayed far enough to our east that we only felt some gale force gusts and a few light sprinkles. Since we’re tucked into a slip that sits directly below a three story building, effectively protecting us from the north winds the storm is generating here, we just removed all loose gear topside. We didn’t have to implement our hurricane plan, which would have had us moving Eagle Too to the well protected Bayou Grande Marina at Naval Air Station Pensacola and then evacuating inland. We still had our mooring lines doubled up from our trip to Charleston SC a few weeks ago to see the solar eclipse, and because our mooring cleats have a fair lead and don’t run through chocks (since chocks are probably the worst idea ever implemented on a boat, guaranteeing maximum line chaff during a blow), we didn’t have to add chaff gear. With maximum gusts predicted to be less than 35 knots (about 40 mph), or about what a passing thunderstorm produces, I saw no need to strip the sails, and we didn’t have to collapse our solar panel-covered bimini , as I engineered it to take 50 knot winds (although we did remove our Sunbrella sunshade).

hurricane-irma2

Yes, after a week of following the weather reports, we’re suffering from a severe case of storm fatigue. But we’re very conscious of the fact that friends of ours, people we’ve met in our travels down in the Islands and who keep their boats in places like the Keys, Marco Island, Vero Beach, Bradenton and St Petersburg, would probably trade places with us in an instant. We hope that they and their boats are all well, and that this will be the last time we need deal with such a situation this hurricane season.

Here’s a terrific book I’d recommend about the Great Storm of 1900 if you’d like to learn more about the tragedy in Galveston that occured 117 years ago this week:

Issac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, And The Greatest Hurricane In History

What’s In A Name?

Several years ago, while on vacation in Hawaii, I picked up a T shirt sporting a picture of the Hawaiian state fish. I liked the shirt because it showed the fish’s name in Hawaiian, which is Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. It’s a real mouthful to say, but after some practice it soon flows easily off the tongue, and even tickles a bit in the process.

humuhumu

A year or so later, I was driving home from work (this was back in our pre retired-to-go-cruising days) and I found myself following a trailered boat by the same name.  There plastered across the entire transom was Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. It just barely fit on a boat that was easily nine feet wide. I laughed out loud. Because the name just tickles my funny bone.

But now it’s several years later, and Rhonda and I have a few thousand miles of cruising under our belts, and the thought of boat names has been on my mind. Particularly because I’ve seen a few lately that make me go, “Hmm, I wonder if they really thought that through.”

You see, one thing we’ve learned in our travels is that sometimes a boat name works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  And while it may seem as though an inappropriately named boat might be merely inconvenient, in our experience it can sometimes become a bit of a problem. So I find myself pondering the issue of how to choose an effective name for a cruising boat, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the subject.

Now none of this really matters a great deal if your plans don’t involve cruising. But if you do intend to head out over the horizon someday, then here’s what it all boils down to. While cruising, you are going to find yourself interacting with foreign officials. They may not speak English very well (or at all), but they’re going to have to hear and understand your boat’s name. Second, you’re going to have to fill out forms and declarations that will require you to list your vessel’s name, and sometimes the space to write it isn’t very large. But most importantly, you’re going to find yourself having to use your boat’s name on the radio quite often. From speaking to bridge tenders to negotiating crossings with other vessels, responding to the Coast Guard or checking in and out with harbormasters, you’ll be on the radio a lot more than when you were weekend sailing around your local waters. And long, complex names just don’t work well on the VHF.

The first tip I’d suggest when choosing a good name is to not use something that suggests nefarious intent. This would seem so evident that it hardly needs mentioning. Yet there we were in Marina Gaviota Varadero, Cuba, watching some very un-amused Cuban police detain the crew of an American flagged vessel that had just arrived. Their boat was named “Guns and Drugs,” and sported a large graphic of an assault rifle. Now this might have really cracked up the boys back in Miami, but it didn’t go over so well in Varadero. Our check-in only took two hours. We didn’t see the crew of Guns and Drugs for three days. So if you think “Human Trafficker” is a hilarious name for a boat, don’t be surprised if the Customs and Immigration officers fail to share in your mirth.

I’d also recommend avoiding foreign phrases. If you think “Occupandi Temporis” or “Mi Velero Impresionante” is just so c’est chic, then have at it. But please know that you’re going to be phonetically spelling it slowly and often on the radio, usually to someone who is dealing with background noise from boat or helicopter engines and can barely hear you. Most importantly, try to keep it short. When it comes to VHF radio communications, the shorter the better. One or two syllable words work best. “Ultimate Retirement Strategy” might expertly define your life situation, but it’s a mouthful to have to keep repeating to the Coast Guard every 30 seconds while reporting a vessel in distress. “Cool Sea Breeze” sounds lovely and is pretty easy to understand. But “Sea Breeze” is better, and the best option would be to just keep it to “Breeze.” Trust me, you’ll thank yourself in an emergency.

A boat’s name can often be a highly personal reflection of the hopes, dreams or desires of its owners, but choosing an appropriate one can involve compromise. The point of all this isn’t to dissuade you from putting what you truly feel is the best expression of yourself on the back of your boat. We just wanted to give you a few things to consider when making your decision. Because I can only imagine the issues the crew of the good ship Humuhumunukunukuapua’a would face if they ever tried to take their boat cruising.

Gone Too Soon

Today we mourn the loss of some dear companions who have accompanied us on all our adventures to date. The dearly departed are not of flesh and blood, but rather of aluminum and steel. We’re talking about our less than two year old Back Bay folding bicycles, and this will be their final review.

bikes

We introduced you to our old friends in a previous post, in which we praised their utility. In a subsequent post, we described the issues we were having with their durability in a marine environment and the steps we had taken to maintain them in serviceable condition. I’m sorry to report that upon our return from our recent six month cruise to the Bahamas, we discovered that both bikes had lost their battle with the elements. I’d held on to hope that one more trip to the bike shop for maintenance and repair would render them functional once again, but the cascade of bike organ failure caused by continual exposure to salt spray was just too much for their poor little systems to handle. The brakes were once again frozen, the shifters didn’t shift, and the freewheel on Rhonda’s bike (the set of sprockets on the rear wheel) spun freely in both directions, when it was supposed to turn in one direction only. But the final, fatal failure was the disintegration of the wheels. Numerous spokes on both bikes had corroded through and broken free.

spokes

So at a minimum we were looking at total replacement of the front and rear wheels on both bikes, the replacement of at least one freewheel, and yet another overhaul of the brake and gear systems.

Enough was enough. We’d invested almost $600 in the purchase of these bicycles, and had spent another $300 in parts, repairs and maintenance after our initial shakedown cruise to Cuba and Mexico last year. But we were easily looking at another $250 to $300 to get them back on the road again, and it was just good money after bad at this point. So we chucked a thousand dollar investment in the dumpster and decided to start over again.

trashbikes

The lesson we learned is that you can’t store bicycles on the deck of a cruising boat. The salt corrosion is just too aggressive. We’d tried keeping them in zippered bags. When that didn’t work to stave off attack by the elements, we tried leaving them open to the air, thinking that occasional rain showers would provide regular fresh water rinses, washing away the salt spray. Who knew that it hardly ever rains in the Bahamas in the spring?

While not quite essential gear, we feel that having a set of folding bikes onboard makes life a lot more pleasant. So we wanted to purchase replacements. But this time, we’ll store them below. It won’t be easy to find the space belowdecks on a 37’ sailboat for two folding bikes, but a year and a half of cruising has taught us a bit about wants versus needs, and we’ve therefore been able to offload a bit of what we’ve been carrying around in our “garage,” (i.e. the V berth), so there should be room.

Our Back Bay bikes had 20” wheels, which I feel is the minimum size for a good, natural feeling ride. In addition to looking just plain silly, I don’t think the little 12” or 14” wheel  “clown bikes,” (my name for them)  could handle the curb jumping, pothole dodging, railroad track hopping sort of urban exploring we’ve used our bikes for in the past. This time I thought we’d take it up a notch and spring for a set of folding bikes with 24” wheels. When folded, they’d only be a few inches larger than our old pair, but the larger wheels and thus bigger frame means you’re not sitting directly above the rear wheel when riding, a position that often makes me feel like I’m going to do a wheelie and flip off the back when trying to peddle uphill.

A few hours of poking around on Amazon turned up exactly what I was looking for, at a price that I was happy with. Durban is a Brazilian company that designs and builds folding bikes in Rio de Janeiro for urban and commuter use. Their Street model folding bike was less than $175 delivered, and I could tell as soon as I unpacked them that they were much sturdier bikes than our old Back Bay bikes, and used much better components with a more precise fit. For instance, the seats slide effortlessly from the collapsed to the extended position, something that was always a struggle on our Back Bay bikes, and the included luggage rack is actually sturdy enough to carry cargo on, unlike the mostly decorative rack on our Back Bays. And they have no chromed steel. Believe it or not, the chromed steel parts on our old Back Bays were the parts that rusted the worst.

newbikes

We’ve had the new bikes for a few weeks now, and so far we like them a lot. As I suspected, the 24” wheels deliver a ride that’s almost exactly like a standard mountain bike.

Only time will tell how long our new Durban folding bikes will last. I’m hoping that by storing them below when on passage and with regular oiling, we’ll get much more than the something less than two years of use our previous bikes gave us. Because even though we all know that BOAT means Break Out Another Thousand, it’s just too painful to have to throw a thousand dollars in the dumpster.