Friday, August 5, 2016

Miami to Fort Pierce, Part II

Sunset over SE Florida
This is Part II of the Miami to Fort Pierce trip. For Part I, please click here.

Pete and I watched the sun go down over Boca Raton and then come back up over the Atlantic Horizon as we passed Jupiter (not the planet, the town in Florida). The night was clear and billions of amazing stars twinkled in every corner of the sky. My crew saw a dolphin, but there wasn't much for wildlife other than the phosphorescence we saw at night as nearby waves disturbed the water. No ships were near enough during the night to cause us any concern.

Being able to watch a beautiful sunset and still be there when the sun rises is like going to church for me. In the morning, a fuzzy line at the horizon began to emerge out of the darkness. Gradually the line hardened in soft colors, clouds became discernible and the sky changed from black to blue and grey. Soon the whole horizon splashed with purple, peach and orange. And finally, with the sun peaking through, the sky filled with the yellows and oranges of a new day. It was sublime and holy.

Once we got to Fort Pierce, the wind was blowing straight down the channel [Editor's Note: sound
Ft. Pierce Inlet
?] Damned if I didn't try to sail in anyway. While Pete was telling me it couldn't be done, I inched my way toward the last pair of day markers. We were out of the channel a bit as I tried to slice the wind thin enough to make it in under sail. The Fort Pierce Inlet has a dogleg turn about a third of the way in from the Atlantic. If I just could have made it to that turn, we might have sailed all the way in. Alas, Pete was right – dammit – it couldn't be done. After gently bumping the bottom, testing Emma's patience, I pushed the tiller over and we spun back into open water. We were starting to get the hang of sailing a cutter. Patience with the jib sheet is critical, but even with a couple rank amateur cutter sailors, Emma tacked nicely for a heavy girl.

And we called for another tow. Happily, this one was considered an emergency. Pete and I made a big lazy circle toward open water and just as we headed back toward the inlet, our tow was already steaming toward us.

The Cormorant, Fort Pierce, FL
As I was pushing my luck trying to sail through, a Coast Guard cutter (same term, but not a sailboat) came by, passing us as she headed in. As we were towed past the Coast Guard Station, home to the cutter we'd seen, the Commanding Officer spotted us and sent a launch to investigate. The Coasties later told us the CO was convinced on seeing an old sailboat getting towed, we must be drug smugglers.

I had told the marina that we would arrive Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. Having arrived at 8:30 Thursday morning, we were really early (thanks, Gulf Stream). Further, there is some kind of friction between the tow boat company and my marina. Towboat/US wasn't going to tow me in until they talked to the marina manager. Apparently, the tow guys were worried about being able to maneuver Emma, or any boat, into the slipway without damaging theirs or anyone else's boat. Riverside's channel is tight and the docks are full of boats of every variety; sailboats, fishing boats, catamarans, trawlers, etc.

When it was all said and done, I couldn't get into the marina at 8:30 am because Emma and I were
Riverside and the spoil island.
scheduled for the afternoon; they had a full schedule for the day. Fair enough. They planned their day based on when I said I would be there. Towboat/US towed us to a spot off the Intracoastal Waterway, next to a spoil island and right across from the marina. We dropped anchor and as I signed the tow bill the USCG launch hovered nearby.

“Don't worry, they're just training,” the tow captain assured us.

When the launch arrived, however, we learned we were suspected drug smugglers. The Petty Officer chuckled and said “I could see how high your boat was floating in the water. I knew you weren't smuggling anything.” We got the inspection; PFDs, fire extinguisher and – oh, shit – a signaling device. I meant to grab a bag out of storage that was stuffed with miscellaneous boat stuff – including a couple air horns and a whistle – regulation signaling devices. I had no such device; a USCG requirement. On top of that, my crew's passport and license were Canadian; a whole different number to call; a different system to check.

Nevertheless, since we were nice guys and cooperative, despite the boat being a mess from the overnight passage, but mostly because the Petty Officer knew from our conversation that I was headed right across the river to be hauled out for more than a year, we got a pass for the missing signaling devices.

Mid-afternoon, Towboat/US came back to tow us in. Emma was skillfully nudged into the slipway. Riverside Marina hauled her out of the water, pressure washed her hull, and parked her out back on jackstands. We're in the northwest corner of their yard. I can't say enough how well I was treated by Towboat/US at each end of the trip. Riverside not only took care of setting Emma in a safe spot 'on the hard', but they have been great to work with ever since.

Emma is in her new temporary home and my work has begun. Finally, all my stuff is in the same

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Miami to Fort Pierce, Part I

 I'd been spread out all over Florida since February. Emma, my boat, in Miami, the job in Fort Pierce, a rolled up inflatable dinghy in the back seat, and half my life in the trunk. I've been living out of a bag since I started driving a truck, so that went without saying.

In the meantime, I'd been trying to work on the boat whenever I had some free time. But she was almost three hours away in traffic and I had tripped into working 6 days a week. Most of my boat money was going toward cheap motel rooms because often I didn't have enough time off to make a trip to the boat. It's a funny thing for a vagabond to feel rootless and spread out.

The previous mess.
 After switching jobs, it only took a couple weeks to get the boat set up to be able to move her. I wired just enough to have running lights for the trip. Emma's wiring is so bad, I'll have to replace nearly all of it eventually. Nevertheless, the solar panels that were on the boat have been keeping my new battery bank well charged. Also, the composting toilet that I installed has worked great and is super easy to maintain.

As I got close to being able to move Emma, my buddy Pete from Canada contacted me about a big motorcycle trip that he had been planning. He was going to be in Florida and wanted to come by for a beer and to catch up. As his timing began to converge with my need to move Emma, I offered to take him sailing on my decrepit boat. Emma was neglected enough that I could afford her, but she was in the water, floating, dry inside and ready for a new life. I was just the man for the job, but sailing her without an engine 120 miles from Miami to Fort Pierce was safer and more practical with some crew. Pete didn't hesitate and he didn't abandon ship once he saw Emma's current basic accommodations.

Emma has a few chunks of foam in her cabin but no upholstered cushions. The dinette would fold
The Galley
down to make a double bed but has no table. The head is solid and installed but a little too high off the floor in its temporary position. The galley is a one burner swing stove that I brought from my much smaller previous boat. She has no refrigerator or sink. As mentioned above, she has no engine; no motive power other than sails in the wind. (Editor's Note: Sound Familiar?)

And she sails like a dream, but we'll get into that later.

I got back from my week of trucking and met up with Pete on Monday, July Fourth. Pete parked his motorcycle at the marina. We ran a few errands in town, forgot to grab a bag out of my storage unit, and took off for Miami in my vehicle.
Pete, hard at work at the tiller

Poor Pete, a Canadian remember, had already been on the road for 4000 miles and I drug him into the thick tropical swelter of Miami in July. After provisioning, we dinghied out to the boat Monday night. We didn't do much but organize ourselves and get ready to crash. Auspiciously it was the Fourth of July. As we sat in the cockpit, having a beer, we could see six different fireworks displays. What looked like the main Miami display was fantastic but the display toward Kendall or Pinecrest seemed to go on all night long. Mother Nature even got in the game flashing lightning off of huge thunderclouds that gathered over the Everglades.

Tuesday we did some boatwork; tuned the rig, taped off all the cotter pins, got the jib sheet and the downhaul installed, and generally got ready. We were feeling ready so soon that I called and moved our tow appointment up to Wednesday morning from Wednesday afternoon.

Yeah, towing. In addition to having no engine, Emma was moored deep on the wrong side of the
Emma was four rows down from the top right corner.
Dinner Key Mooring Field. Without a tow, I would have had to get through the maze of other moored boats, sail across Biscayne Bay, and make it out one of the channels through the shallows and into the Straits of Florida (the Atlantic) – under sail – the first time I'd ever sailed my boat. It was much safer and efficient to get towed out.

In no hurry, our tow captain talked our ears off before he even tied a line to Emma. After the chat, he decided to tie up at Emma's hip to get us out of the mooring field. Which meant he was beside us rather than in front of us, but we were “attached at the hip” and easier for him to control in close quarters. Once in the channel, he untied and tossed a line to tow us from the bow. We were attached off center from the starboard hawse, so I had to steer toward the tow boat to keep Emma in his wake.
Someone else's starboard hawse

Originally, the Miami Towboat/US franchise had told me that they thought I'd be covered by my insurance for the tow out. When I called Boat/US corporate to have the tow dispatched, they informed me that their service is for emergencies and I didn't have one. They determined that because I had purchased a boat without an engine, Ihad known all along I'd need a tow. I did, however, get a good discount from the Miami guys for being a Boat/US member. And it sounds like the office newbie gave me a pretty low quote to begin with. They were all great and stood by the quote.

We had a pleasant ride across Biscayne Bay and down the channel between Key Biscayne and Stiltsville. Just past the last marker, we were set free. The towboat captain hung around to watch us
hoist sail and get underway. We set the yankee, the staysail and raised the main. The wind was easy, 5 to 10 knots, and Emma began to sail gently straight north. As soon as I could feel that surge of wind against sail, I was in my element. Emma sails wonderfully well for a heavy, wide bottom girl.

I had set up some waypoints and researched the waters about five miles offshore. Unfortunately, the wind we had wouldn't let us get farther offshore without pointing the boat almost perfectly south – the wrong direction. I hadn't really studied this particular patch of
The Sail Plan
water, but we sailed on. There was lots of water underneath us and not much traffic around us. And Emma was just happy to be back in the ocean!

We made it past the Port of Miami without having much ship traffic. Port Everglades was busier but we only had to watch one ship as it crossed our bow a good distance away. Several ships and a tug towing a huge barge were offshore heading north and would be no trouble to us.
Nine Knots!!

The sailing was glorious. The wind piped up on a few occasions but was steady and went easy on us. We might have had some gusts to 20 knots but the wind stayed 10 to 15 knots most of the way. Once or twice we were nearly becalmed; just gurgling along, but we only tacked once the whole trip. Though I had expected the wind to shift behind us, it never did. We were on a beam reach nearly the whole time. Check out the screenshot of Emma making 9 knots over the ground. Pretty nice for a 20,000 pound boat. The Gulf Stream current almost doubled our speed even as the ride was smooth as silk.

Below, forty seconds of our peaceful trip:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

If it was easy .... Part II

Yet another sunset ...
I gave myself a twinge the other day when I posted yet another beautiful sunset picture on Facebook. It felt like I was committing a lie of omission. I really was enjoying the sunset, however, I don’t want to leave the impression that everything in my boat life is peachy keen either. Eventually, I’d like this blog to be a rather honest portrayal of one man’s escape into the life he wanted. By keeping it honest, I think that I can show that anyone can find their passion and escape from the mundane existence that has them bogged down. To stay in that spirit, I will add some details to my boat report about the condition of Emma and the work to be done. The following will occasionally sound like a bitch session, but that is not my intention. I hope to illustrate that while l have learned to pause and soak up the occasion sunset, there is still a lot of work to be done. I intend to show that by force of will, doing my own work as much as is feasible, and by being too stubborn to quit, that a fairly humble man can create the life he dreams of. Further, my current goal is to get the boat ready, to be able to wander. This is not an end point, a destination, rather this goal is the point of departure for another set of goals; the wandering itself.

I am bogged down right now with the electrics of the boat. All I really need is running lights and a radio to sail her from Miami to Fort Pierce. To accomplish that, however, I had to replace the battery bank. And because of the unpredictability of my previous schedule, I had purchased new batteries a month ago, but just got them to the boat. Once there, I realized the ‘kitbash’ nature of the wiring on the boat. There is Romex house wire in a couple places; which is really bad on a boat. Worse yet, the majority of the wiring is old school quad phone station wire, probably pulled out of a dumpster and repurposed. Anything more than a small light bulb at the end of such thin wire is a fire hazard. I am just rewiring now what I have to in order to move the boat, and will end up taking all the wiring out and redoing it from scratch.

Two of the three solar panels aboard are from a Miami company with a less-than-stellar reputation for either selling good panels or standing behind them; according to my Googling anyway. Occasionally, their panels are grounded differently than everyone else’s. Yet I have three panels all wired together. None of which was connected to the charge controller or battery bank. Further, the panels are wired together in what looks like a great mess of gooey, old school electricians tape. I have yet to tackle that. I don’t know if this wiring mess was working at one time or was slapped together and then abandoned without ever being tested.

There is a VHF radio onboard, but no antenna on the masthead. If anyone has pressed the transmit button on the mic without the antenna, the radio is probably blown. I have a handheld radio that will suffice, but really wanted the stronger reach of a full size radio. I may attach an antenna to the stern pulpit to see if it will work.  Cheap enough redundancy again.

The rig is OK to get to Fort Pierce, but I will replace it rather than trust it any further than that. In the photos, Emma obviously had a wooden boomkin and bowsprit. However, they are not the original, but a home constructed replacement. I was going to replace them with the stainless steel versions anyway. The bowsprit is fairly loose right now. The bobstay is chain which is not as stable as cable. The whisker stays are also loose, and I hope that they will tighten before the turnbuckles bottom out. The forestay needs tightening but will have to be balanced with the backstay to keep the mast plum.  The stainless steel chainplates are rust stained on the outside. I dread seeing the inside but will replace them during the refit. Various hardware at attachment points for the the stays on the bowsprit and the boomkin are not appropriately sized. Luckily, most of them are too big, but occasionally that is causing some scarring on the hull.  

The running rigging has been baking in the sun for some time. I hope it will get me to Fort Pierce. This will all be tested a little more before I leave. I haven’t raised all the sails to get a look at them yet. At that time, I can evaluate the halyards and sheets.

The depthsounder that is so elegantly installed in the companionway will not likely work. The transponder is unceremoniously glued inside the hull with a great blob of what is likely 3M 5200.
When Alex and I painstakingly installed an inside-the-hull transducer on his W42, complete with the oil filled PVC pipe, the hull was too thick to get a signal through. I can hang the transducer off the stern as we did on Eleanor, but the readings of depth right behind the boat are far less valuable than a reading right under the boat, for obvious reasons.

Nevertheless, I am super happy with the composting head that I installed. And I have cooked aboard on my single burner swing stove. There is lots of work ahead, but, hell, life is good. A bad day on the boat still beats a good day at the office.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Epilogue: Whatever is going on with you, take time to pause and really enjoy a sunset when you catch a good one. Then get back at it, and make your life your own.

Reflecting on Swiss Time

Hiking with the kids and Presley.

Long before I found the boat, long before I found the Florida job, my brother and his family invited me to visit them in Switzerland. It was great fun to hang out with them and hike around the Alps. Of course, going from sea level to hiking at 6000 feet can almost kill a crusty old truck driver. Besides hiking, we went to a water park in the Italian part of Switzerland, went to a park with rope bridges and various swinging things on a trail through the trees, went to a concert, and I ate more cheese and chocolate in a week than I had in the previous couple years. Thanks, DT’s!!

It was also good to finally be able to take a deep breath and evaluate what was going on in my life. Nine hours each way in a plane will help you do that. When I came to Florida I had a new-to-me boat in Miami, a storage unit and a seasonal job hauling sod in Fort Pierce, where I wanted to eventually keep the boat. It all seemed to fit together so well.  

Crewing on Alex’s W42 down the East Coast last spring, we ended up at the Riverside Marina in Fort Pierce. Ironically, I had picked out that very marina on the web. My original plan with the Michigan boat was to sail out and down the coast to spend a few months in the Bahamas, and then backtrack to Florida and Riverside Marina(!) to find a job and do some boatwork. Riverside Marina is where I hope to keep Emma, my Westsail 32; as soon as I can get her there.

So, I’ve been here since mid February, hip deep in ‘sod season’ and running so hard that I’ve only seen my boat a few times. I bought new batteries, an inflatable dinghy and an outboard engine. The batteries finally made it to Emma - just two weekends ago. Hopefully, they haven’t completely self discharged. Twice I drove more than two hours to Miami just to pay for my mooring ball and peak at the boat from the bayfront.

Truthfully, I always have a Plan B. And even though the sod company might have kept me on, I had been keeping track of employment opportunities in Fort Pierce, and in Miami where the boat still lies. When I found a trucking gig that was 7 days on and 7 off, I simply had to take the opportunity.  Staying true to my boat project occasionally means making tough decisions. I was working for a good little company, but I never intended to get pulled into a six days a week schedule. There was no malice and I have no hard feelings but, just the same, it is an unforgivable sin that I haven’t been able to work on my boat.  

I started the new gig last Monday.