Thursday, March 31, 2016

Back on Board

 We've been working on an old sailboat for years now. Fond families and favored friends who've faithfully followed our foolish and frustrated follies found some fun in our flummonoxities.  Is that even a word?  They've watched our glacial progress since we first struggled to sail it down to the islands  in 2012.   That 40 days and 40 nights set the tone for the next 40 months.    Ah, but things are starting to look a little better lately.  This photo is of a recent dawn.  Nothing new there, but the fact that it was taken from the anchorage at Sapodilla Bay, Providenciales is a fairly big deal to us.  Yes, we finally got the old girl out of the marina for a while.  I'm talking about the boat here, just to be clear.

The bright lights in the distance are from a container ship delivering supplies to the South Dock commercial area, which is just on the other side of that hill. Which is Sapodilla Hill.

We're watching a lot of boats these days.  This is what one of those looks like from our 'back porch' during daylight:

And here are a few sailboats coming into the same bay where we're anchored.  We've seen as many as sixteen others here with us so far.   And as few as none.

We're finding ourselves paying a lot of attention to how and where other captains choose to anchor.   The winds here sometimes go through 360 degree changes in a 12 hours period when a weather front comes through.

It's very satisfying to finally be able to use the boat as we intended.  We  had blindly started with what turned out to be a project boat from the beginning.  And we complicated that when we very briefly became ground zero to a lightning bolt halfway through the trip.  It fried most of the 12 volt electronics that came with the boat. From the VHF antenna at the tip of the mast to the alternators down in the engine compartments, taking out almost everything in between.   Most people manage to get through their entire lives without being inside something being struck by lightning.  The only good thing I can think of to say about that is that it's over amazingly quick.  Really before you even have time to worry about it.   We were sitting in the saloon of the boat having lunch, watching a line of dark clouds approaching. Then in a moment so quick you could fit a thousand of them between heartbeats the shock, noise, and flash all happened at once.  I remember my immediate thought was "Wow, we just survived a lightning strike" while seeing bits and pieces of  sparkly smoking  boat components still suspended in mid air as they flew and ricocheted around the cabin.  In the extremely brief time between my next two heartbeats the inside of the boat looked like one of Doc Edgerton's photographs.  My next thought was something like "so that's what it's like, huh?".  I'd always wondered.

The two small electrical fires on board the boat afterward actually scared me a lot more than the lightning.  Fires on boats are extremely bad news for a number of very good reasons. Well, I'm not going to recount the whole thing, but I would definitely advise against being struck by lightning, if you can at all avoid it.  Unless you're trying to build up some tolerance before applying for a research position with Dr. Frankenstein.

In early March we took the boat out for some shakedown cruises that included staying overnight out away from our nice safe spot at South Side Marina.  There was no lightning in sight when we started.

The view ahead was enough to make us consider turning back and waiting for a better day, but we self goaded and kept on going.  The plan was to anchor on the other side of that hill where the two cargo cranes are located.   I have absolutely no idea how the only thunderstorm in sight knew the exact location of our destination.  I'm convinced that the cosmos has one wicked sense of humor sometimes.  And you may notice that Dooley the Drooler was nowhere to be seen in these early photos.

The squall blew over and we managed to make it to the anchorage without any great drama. We kept waiting for something major to go wrong but we arrived and threaded our way between the boats already there without incident.  And with both engines running. La Gringa handled the anchoring chores while I just drove the boat normally.  It went suspiciously well.  Did I tell you I finally found the problem with the port engine that's been haunting me for years.  It's fixed.  Things are looking up.

That blue thing in the water in that photo is one of my flippers.  We've been in the water a lot during the last few weeks.  You can also see that we had the inflatable boat in the water while at anchor.  The RIB became the family automobile for the length of the trip.  It made for some exciting trips to shore.  

We've  gotten more experience  launching and retrieving the RIB.  We lower the boat into the water, lower the outboard onto the boat, and then load it up with life jackets, gasoline tank, anchor, and one  pushy, obnoxious little dog. This is a 3.5 meter dinghy, which is fairly large by small sailboat dinghy standards.  And yes, this is considered a pretty small sized  catamarans these days.  Plenty big enough for the two of us and the dog, though. I was interested to see how high the RIB floats on it's hull without any extra weight in it.   Those lines from the davits were slack inside the boat.

The past few weeks have repeatedly pointed out another part of the boat that needs improving.  This swim ladder would be nicely replaced by a swim platform  that extended out from the hull a foot or two.  It would be nice to have a secure place near water level.   This will go on our wish list, along with a lot of other things that it "would be nice to have" should we ever get to someplace where we can get things like that fabricated. We tried to do it here. We gave up.  The local welder just isn't interested in a big project.

Here's the dinghy (or "dink") anchored with Twisted Sheets in the background.  This has become our twice daily commute for Dooley to visit several bushes and posts near the beach to check his pee-mail.

We were expecting a shipment of various boat goodies via Federal Express while we were away from the marina. You may remember we introduced Jonas from FedEx  in a previous post. Well, this time when he called to tell us he had a delivery for us,  La Gringa asked him if he could deliver to a beach instead of a marina.   Jonas was game and we took the dog and dinghy ashore. I thought I would just relaxed in the boat while La Gringa and Dooley took a stroll to wait for FedEx.

You can just see them heading down the public path next to the wall in the middle of the photo.  But it didn't take long for Dooley to become a pain and he got returned to the boat to make life easier.

He helped me keep an eye out for La Gringa as she disappeared up the path to wait for the FedEx truck.  No, he didn't much like it.  But he had to do it.

Finally, after a few phone calls to get directions to the specific beach where we waited, Jonas and Zack showed up with our package!! Dooley let me know as soon as he spotted La Gringa and FedEx coming down the path.

Zack was carrying the box on his shoulder down to the edge of the water.  Not your normal, no-address FedEx delivery.  I know places in the USA where this would never happen. Thanks again, guys!

I was wondering if he'd start taking his shoes off to bring the package out to the dinghy, but no.  He had to draw the line at the surf zone. We were impressed that they got it this far. La Gringa could take it from there.  She was better dressed for knee deep wading, anyhow.
We're glad Jonas and Zack got a kick out of our temporary delivery address.  This has to be above and beyond the call of duty, but I also suspect they like a break from normal door and business address deliveries, too.  
We motored  back to Twisted Sheets to get the dog, cardboard carton, and us back on board.  This is a new reality for us, and we're really enjoying spicing life up a little bit again.  Getting a little bit interesting when I have to come up with physical address or zip code locations these days.  This is home now.
I couldn't wait to rip into the boxes in the carton and see firsthand the goodies that had only been photographs on Amazon's website for the past two weeks. One of the things I had ordered was a new small tripod for the camera. For some reason Dooley the Disgusted seemed embarrassed when I showed it to him. He wouldn't even look at me, or the nifty wrapping-leg tripod.
I can't imagine what was disturbing him.  He reminded me of a teenager who's embarrassed to be seen with his parents acting silly at a social function, although I can't imagine that was the case here.  Yet there was definitely something about this tripod that was disturbing him.   I guess it'll just have to remain a mystery.
He wasn't much interested in the merchandise in the boxes, anyhow.   He preferred to smell the olfactorial history of where the boxes had been, anyhow.  And he hates to have cameras close to him.  He's not a big fan of things that have bright flashes associated with them.   He knows thunder and lightning are only a nightmare away.
We lucked out with the weather for the most part on this first trip.   We stayed at Sapodilla for five days, and had essentially calm seas for almost all of it.   We got totally new sunset views to photograph every night.
We also managed to get into the water every day on the trip.   We worked out our procedure for getting the stand-up paddleboards off the racks and into the ocean.  Everything seems to take just a little more thought and preparation when we have limited space in which to work.   That cockpit area normally feels pretty spacious to us, but it can get crowded in a hurry.

La Gringa and Dooley the Demented taking a rest break after paddling around the bay for an hour or so.

He watched me swimming around this old boat wreck site I was interested in for a while.  Then he decided to hop overboard and come see whatever it was that had captured my attention. 

He made a few close passes before giving up and going back to the paddleboard. He's mostly cueing on things he can smell, and of course the old boat wreck on the bottom here wasn't really something he could get any kind of scent from. It's too bad I can't find a diving mask to fit him.

Then I could have showed him the bow of a sailboat that once anchored here very near where we dropped our hook.   Oh, the boat is still here.  In pieces.   This is the bow of the hull section.

The rigging and internal components of the sloop are all collapsed into a couple of heaps on the seafloor.  It's all covered with marine growth.   I snapped a few photos just to show you.

One section of the fiberglass hull is still stickup up from the bottom, to within two feet of the water surface at low tide.

While I was in the water I swam up to our anchor to take a look at how it was set.   This is really our first extended experience with setting the Delta style anchor. It looked hooked to me, but it really wasn't. We were up at 3:00 in the morning pulling it up and resetting it after La Gringa noticed that we were being blown toward another anchored boat on a windy night. She has an app on her smart phone that's called Drag Queen that sounds an alarm if we drift further from the anchor position.

In a subsequent anchoring location I dove on it again and noticed that when it's well hooked the entire anchor is under the sand with only the shackle and chain showing.   Later I realized that this is the photo of an anchor that's just waiting until the wee hours of the morning to let go of the sand entirely. Now we know what to look for. And letting out another twenty feet of chain made all the difference in the world.

We've made up two new bridles for the boat. One is for situations where we are on our own anchor chain, such as we were here at Sapodilla.  

The two sides of the bridle connect at a chain hook that attaches to the anchor chain.   This keeps the catamaran from swinging back and forth in wind and current. The load is distributed to the two hulls instead of to the single windlass in the middle of the bow. Much more stable at anchor.

I had plenty of little witnesses watching me while I was in the water. I noticed that this school of bait fish maintained a constant margin between their top layer and the surface of the water.  It was a very clearly defined line above which they would not venture.  I don't know if that was due to them feeding on a layer of zooplankton that was in the water column, or whether they have evolved this behavior to minimize their exposure to diving sea birds. But none of these guys got any closer to the air while I was watching them.

And back on the boat I also have a constant lifeguard keeping an eye on me.   He gets real interested when I start gathering tools and  getting my snorkeling equipment ready.  He knows something's up, he just hasn't figured out what it is, and whether or not he's going to be involved in it.

He maintains a constant watch whenever either of us are in the water.  This time it was just me, taking an opportunity to clean some of the marine growth off the hull of the boat.

It took me several hours to scrape away the moss and critters that had adhered to the boat over the previous three months in the marina. I used a plastic putty knife to try to keep from scraping off the bottom paint.

Here's a before and after photo.  Two forty foot hulls took up a large part of my afternoon on this project. I also chipped away some barnacles and hardshelled critters on the props themselves. The blue bottom paint contains high concentrations of a copper compound that helps keep the barnacles to a minimum for a few years, but the props are not painted and they get crudded up pretty well. It's a fun job for those of us who like to spend time underwater. I guess this is our version of mowing the lawn. I prefer the putty knife to a riding lawnmower.

Whatever one might imagine life on a sailboat to be, I suspect the experience can only truly be understood by doing it. It's getting accustomed to your body being constantly accelerated in pitch, roll, heave, and yaw motions.  When awake, when working on something, when relaxing, and when asleep. Just standing upright watching a sunset uses more muscles than some of us knew that we still owned. This morning I chased two fried eggs around  inside a frying pan with a spatula for several minutes trying to keep them from combining themselves into a sloshing puddle.  It was like trying to herd cats. I never knew that  simply cooking breakfast could become such a matter of timing and determination. It's a good thing to have scrambled eggs as a fall back position. I can claim I intended to scramble them all along after totally botching the 'over easy' part while chasing cackle berries.

The boat isn't finished finished, if you know what I mean. Probably never really will be.  Interior is still about half done.  But it's functional.  All the major systems are up and running.  We can live on it, and move it around, and meet our energy needs totally off grid.  I have projects going all the time, of course.  I'm still going back and forth between repairing old problems and installing new ones. I do miss my former land based workshop, but I'm also finding some real enjoyment out of using some of the old woodworking ways.  It's slower, takes more thought and care, and goes well with the lifestyle.  It's fulfilling the function whittling must have done in years past.

Life on a boat at anchor is different than life on a boat in a marina.  The constant movement of the water and the wind make the boat feel alive. Another major difference is the air and light when we're out away from land. In the marina we tend to keep the boat closed up, all the windows blocked, with the air conditioner running. We feel closed up in a darkened tube. But we can't orient toward the wind in a marina.  And we're surrounded by other people and things.  We retreat into the boat.   Ah, but on the hook we turn all the fans and noisy motors off and open the hatches to the constant breeze. The boat is free to constantly point into the wind, and the hatches catch it.  There's a steady flow of air through the boat.  There's also a steady flow of rain if we don't move fast enough, but that's another story.

And we're enjoying life on the hook.  Does that make us a couple of hookers? I'll have to look that one up. And we're getting a new perspective on downsizing and living off the grid. We used to love the sunrises just because we like tropical sunrises, but these have the added advantage of starting our solar re-charge day.

And I've ordered parts to try to repair the wind generator.  With the constant winds we see here that should keep our batteries topped up a little better overnight and on cloudy days.  But we've got about 800 watts of solar on the top of the boat. With shadows and angles less than optimal we can't count on anywhere near that much power from the array, but we do get enough to power the stuff we need all day and still watch a movie at night. Unless we just decide to watch a sunset instead.

And for those sunsets when we don't want a dog hogging the photo we can just relocate to the bow and have an unobstructed view.  Until he notices that I've moved and comes looking for me.

Once again we have an unobstructed view to the horizon.  Just the way we like it.


Unknown said...

What a great post Gringo. Thanks for sharing, again.

jschieff said...

Congrats on starting the cruising life! Must be very satisfying to have the boat functioning properly after all the work you two have put into it. Any idea how long you'll be remaining in Turks & Caicos? is there anything tieing you there now -- do you have to maintain your old house still?

Charlie Jones said...

Thank you for the update Gringo. Happy to see y'all out of the marina!

kristine barr said...

What a relaxing read. Hope it was as relaxing for you.

LA and Susan Wyatt said...

What a great post! So very happy for you guys. We are reliving the joy and freedom we experienced when we first cast off the dock lines. There is nothing so satisfying as being off the grid in your own boat, in a world of your own making. Keep those posts coming! We can't wait for the next installment! ❤️⛵️❤️

Unknown said...

Been watching your blog since the beginning - this is like starting all over again. Sure beats the below-freezing temps here right now!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if it's "Deja Vu all over again" or more like Groundhog Day, but I do know what you mean. We've been back out again since this post, and I have a bunch more photos of the same general area to show you. We're still fixing little glitches and adding things we need as part of this whole shakedown approach. I think I fixed the wind generator. I put a new VHF antenna and coax cable all the way to the top of the mast, but I didn't let go of it long enough to snap a single photo! Maybe I'll be a little more relaxed when I go back up to install the Wilson marine antenna for the cell phone. As soon as I stop shaking.
On another note, Polly is pretty sure she has the originals of the photos we took here ten years ago stored on a hard drive. If so, I should be able to rebuild all those broken links in the posts from June to November 2007. That's going to be new material for a lot of people who found this blog after Image Shack started messing around with their customers accounts. I

Dagnall said...

Super Blog, as usual!.
What stuff got fried by the lightning? "Sparkly boat components suspended in the mid air" sounds expensive?
You seemed to be motoring again pretty soon afterwards, so presumably the ignition was ok..Or was the refitting of instruments too painful to record?

I had my onw (minor in comparison to yours) masthead (raymarine) instrument issues after having the mast down for its 10 year check this winter. Wind direction and speed showed every sign of the earth wire not being connected. So I paid for the yard to send someone up in a crane to re assemble/ re fit the mast instrument. Of course, as soon as he was 10ft off the ground, the instrument started working again. I still let him go up and disconnect it and reconnect it with a a generous amount of electrical magic spray.. So far its been working ok....