Sunday, 1 October 2017

Avoiding Hurricane Maria, Working On Electrics

Back in Reedville, Virginia, we secured ourselves to the dock just two days before Hurricane Maria was scheduled to touch the coast south of here. Fortunately she lost some of her "oomph" and stayed well to the south, so we only saw winds of 20 knots or so and little rain.

While Maria blew herself out we decided it was time for a little electrical therapy. Mastervolt had replaced a three year old inverter for us, under warranty, when it started to show signs of not starting our AC refrigeration system. Excellent support from them, as usual. The new unit was delivered to us back in Rockland, Maine, and this was our first chance to swap the old unit out for the new. While working in that (difficult to access) part of the boat I also wanted to replace some of our battery interconnect cables - we had a good supply of size 4/0 ( tinned wire and all the necessary lugs, so we spent an afternoon making up interconnect cables to measured lengths.

It took us two days to swap the inverters over, upgrade the battery interconnects and also to replace a bilge pump sensor switch. That was just long enough for hurricane Maria to bounce off the coast and head away from us.

Right now we're preparing for the boat to stay here while we head off on our road trip, so we're checking all the bilge systems, shutting down and preserving the watermaker, servicing essential equipment etc. In case another hurricane sneaks in we've doubled up on all the dock lines and removed both the furling headsails and stowed them below.

We've been warmly welcomed back into the local community, the weather has also remained warm (at least in the daytime) and the social life has been great. Importantly, we're getting a good share of "dog time", walking the neighbours dog and even graced with a visit from our favorite sailing dog, the lovely Flaco, who as you'll see below is very interested in all things "boat". 

Three Boys Looking - Image By Chris Burry

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Heat, Biting Flies, No Wind ..... We're Lovin' It!

The Admiral Escaping The Flies & Heat
Welcome to Chesapeake Bay in the summer time. Heat, biting flies, no wind. But there are no lobster traps and very few rocky reefs, much to our delight. We had traveled overnight from New York down the coast, then up the Delaware River and through the C&D Canal, to enter the Chesapeake and pause for two nights in Annapolis..

Go Aussie !
A local told me that there are at least two rocks in Chesapeake Bay, but everyone has forgotten just exactly where they are. The bay is over 150 nautical miles long from north to south, and little more than 20nm at it's widest. A haven for yachting and boating in general, it is typically quite shallow with a deep water channel running up the middle of the estuary.

The world 505 sailing championships are running here at the moment. This morning, before we departed Annapolis, we had breakfast in the cockpit watching all 90 of these compact but high performance racing yachts breeze past us. The crews were from the USA, Canada, France, Great Britain, Poland and Australia, among many other nations.

Day Tripper Eats Insects, Then Departs.
As the Aussie boats sailed past we gave them a big welcome cheer, waving our large jar of Vegemite. What would the neighbours think?

After breakfast we headed south, working our way through the racing fleet and then motoring all day - no wind, but plenty of biting flies to kill. The deck is patched red with blood splotches. Just days back, cruising from Greenport to Port Jefferson, we had a beautiful Golden Finch on board. It stayed with us all day, ranging around the boat and carefully devouring every single insect on the boat. We really needed that bird with us today...

As I write we're approaching the mouth of the Patuxent River, where we'll spend the night anchored in Solomons harbor, just across the river from the Naval Air Station (remember Tom Cruise in Top Gun ? That's the place). The naval aviators aren't flying today, no super loud noises as we approach, so we'll look for them in the local bar when we arrive.

505 Sailboats Ready To Race In Annapolis

Monday, 25 September 2017

Dodging Hurricane Jose, Ducking Under Bridges

At The NYAC Yacht Club - What Hurricane ? Who Is This Jose ?
Hurricane Jose wimped out on Long Island Sound, very fortunately for us. Planning for the worst, we headed for Pelham in New York. With the help of OCC Port Officer Thomas Delaney, we arranged a berth on the pontoons in the pond at the New York Athletic Club Yacht Club. There, in the best hurricane hole north of New York City, we rode out the barely 15 knot winds that Jose finally rent down upon us. It was a fortunate anti-climax.

Determined to head south quickly, chasing warmth and sunshine, we planned a passage off-shore from New York to the Delaware River, just as soon as Hurricane Jose had passed by. To access the ocean we needed to travel down the East River of Manhattan, only then we discovered it was closed for security reasons during the United Nations General Assembly session last week. What next ?

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Urgent Boat Repairs In Rockland

After colliding with the rocky ledge some weeks back, we needed a place to haul the boat out of the water and make good the damage. Luckily we found just the place we needed in Rockland, Maine.

Journey's End Marina is well managed, clean and very well equipped. Besides marina berths they have a 55 metric tonne travel lift and hard stand areas, plus indoor storage for hundreds of boats and a complete range of repair and maintenance services.

Clad Welding The Damaged Area
Crystal Blues was efficiently lifted out of the water and blocked onto the hard stand among the many large sheds. Then, without us lifting a finger, they arranged for an engineer from their associated shipyard to inspect our damage and recommend a repair process. Given that Crystal Blues is a steel boat, this was a very welcome response.

Grinding Back
Our own local surveyor also inspected the damage. He agreed with the shipyard proposal so we proceeded with clad welding the dented keel and grinding back to a fair surface.

The shipyard also correctly insisted that we empty the keel fuel tank and test the bottom area of the keel for fuel leaks, using an electronic sniffer (that little operation added a few days to the job!). We also ground back the entire keel base and the sides of the keel for about four inches up from the base, as it was dinged and scratched up on the rocky ledge.

Then we sand blasted all the damaged areas and primed with 3 coats of our standard Jotun epoxy primer.  Obtaining the paint was a major effort - to speed the process we rented a car and drove south to New Jersey to collect it from the nearest distribution center, then drove back to Maine - 8 hours each way.

Epoxy Fairing Compound Going On
After priming the keel was faired with epoxy fillers - we mainly mix our own using West System epoxy and the purple colored phenolic micro-ballons. Then two final coats of Jotun primer before the joy of anti-fouling - three coats of Jotun Sea Force 90.

Keel Finished
At that point we lifted the boat and moved the keel blocks so we could start the process all over again, on the areas that were previously covered by the blocks.

Gori Propeller Service
Another week went by .... the weather in Maine was cooling rapidly, the thick duvet was on the bed and we were often rugged up in 4 layers of clothing.

While out of the water we also serviced our Gori folding propeller - it had served almost 4000 hours since 2005, without more than changing anodes and rubber stoppers, so we figured it was time.

That job turned out to be relatively easy - the hub and blade assembly came off the shaft hub quite easily and we stripped the assembly to replace the thrust washer under the crown gear. Putting it back together was simple, so long as all the parts were numbered... The plastic thrust washer wears over time, creating some sloppiness in the gearing, replacing it tightens up the whole assembly.

We polished the top-sides and made ready for the water, and finally the job was complete, 3 1/2 weeks after we hauled out. We were lucky we found a fantastic yard to work in, willing to let us do our own finishing work and to plan the project the way we wanted it done, while supporting us with their own team every step of the way.. Hat's off to Journey's End Marina in Rockland!

While the team at Journey's End Marine were exceptional, the real moral of this story is to never, ever, use or trust Navionics Sonar Charts!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

South West, To Warm Water & Sunshine

Repaired & Heading For Warmer Water
Having completed repairs at the excellent Journey's End Marina in Rockland, Maine, we quickly made a jump south and west over the past two days, chasing warmer weather.

Penobscot Bay To Block Island Sound
Crystal Blues was launched on Monday at 13:00hrs and we fueled, conducted a small sea trial and finished rigging the boat that afternoon. Early Tuesday morning we struck out southwards down a very cold Penobscot Bay, dodging the ever present lobster traps all the way until we reached the open ocean.
A Cold Captain

From there it was SSW to the Cape Cod Canal, a 150
nautical mile run that we covered in around 22 hours of mixed motoring and motor sailing.  We zoomed through the 9 mile canal in just under an hour and continued WSW down Buzzards Bay in light airs. Sunshine and warm air lightened the mood - Ley turned to the galley and produced multiple loaves of fresh bread from the oven.

What a difference a solid day of travel can make - by 4:00pm yesterday we were anchored in the Great Salt Pond on Block Island, stripped of our multiple layers of clothing and enjoying balmy conditions around 25degC. We had passed the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and were into warmer Rhode Island waters.

Thick fog shrouded the boat this morning, so we delayed our departure until mid-morning when it had mostly cleared. It was a glorious day for sailing with 12 knots of wind and smooth seas, so Crystal Blues was in her element. It was our best sailing day in many weeks.

We romped along at 8 knots for most of the afternoon, hard on the wind with only a light salt spray decorating the foredeck. Six hours of travel now finds us back in New York State, in Greenport at the home dock of our friend Arthur Stroem. It's damn good to be away from the cold, and even better to be away from all those rocky reefs and ledges .....

Warm Air & Sunshine At Last - Approaching Long Island This Afternoon

Here in Greenport we'll do a complete rig survey - it needs to be carefully checked since our incident with the rocky ledge. Then we'll look for a weather window to take us safely south to Reedville, just off the Chesapeake Bay. September is the major hurricane month on the US East Coast. While Texas and Florida are cleaning up from the last two hits, hurricane Jose is hanging around out there in the Atlantic, and two more disturbances are now rated 70% chance of forming hurricanes in the next five days. You can update on those right here.

A Busy Month For Atlantic Tropical Storms

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Navionics Sonar Charts & The Missing Reef

Part Of The Keel Damage
Early on August 9 we departed Potts Harbour, heading for Booth Bay, Maine. Leaving the anchorage we collided with a submerged reef, bringing the mighty Crystal Blues to an instant stop from around 5 knots. Ouch. Our first computer assisted grounding!

Fact is, we were lucky.  The mast and rig stayed up, the hull was not breached and the damage could be repaired fairly simply. However a boat built less heavily would have been in severe trouble. The story that follows is intended to serve as a warning for others, to help prevent further accidents. So how did it happen ?

First off, I made the mistake of trusting Navionics Sonar Charts, which I'm unlikely to do again. Secondly, I failed to check any secondary navigation aids or references. So with more care I could have avoided the reef. Dodging lobster pots, early in the morning, I was busy at the helm and trusted the charts that had brought us into harbor the afternoon before. Never again...

It's ironic that I was actually looking at the charts (on the iPad) as we connected with the reef - when Ley stumbled up the companionway and I picked myself up off the wheel, we both looked at the chart on the iPad - it showed over 13 meters of water depth. Wrong. In fact very wrong.

Crystal Blues was at that point bobbing on the gentle swell, afloat, but occasionally colliding with the reef on the bottom of the swells and occasionally hitting something as she rocked from side to side. Not wanting to start the engine in unknown waters, we lowered the dinghy and towed her away to deep water using the outboard motor. We lifted the floor boards and inspected the bilges for damage or leaks, and then (more than a little shaken) proceeded to Booth Bay, where I dived on the boat and captured the image above.

Pulling Away From The Reef

So now, over three weeks later, we're hauled out of the water at Journey's End Marina in Rockland, Maine, working towards repairing and refinishing the keel. In the time since the accident both we and others have had time to look at the Navionics charts for the area in some detail, and the results are not good.

The Missing Reef

First of all, this problem has nothing to do with zoom levels on the screen. No matter how close in you zoom, that reef was not shown. So here is what we were viewing on screen right when the collision occurred :

With the wisdom of hindsight, it does look weird. The yellow line is our track, and it shows just over 13 meters where we came to a sudden stop. When we checked the standard Navionics chart (not the Sonar Chart version), a serious chart error became apparent :

You can see that this version shows a depth of 5.4 meters nearby, and the dark blue zone adds to the message that we shouldn't be there. However it gets worse, much worse.

The official government chart, above, shows a minimum depth on that reef of less than 1 meter. Yoiks ! So, not only the Navionics Sonar Charts were wrong, but also the "standard" Navionics charts.  How can this be ? How widespread is this problem ?

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Cruising The Lobster Coast

Goat Island Lighthouse Greets The Full Moon
We worked our way north from Boston, stopping overnight in Portsmouth  before another day hop to Cape Porpoise Harbor, just a few miles north of Kennebunk. It's small harbor, almost full of moorings but with space for perhaps three yachts to anchor just inside the sheltered zone.  During high tides a little swell does cross over the reefs, though it was never uncomfortable in the time we were there. Strong onshore winds could change that, so Cape Porpoise needs to be treated with respect.

It also has an incredibly dense field of lobster traps at the entrance - a huge tangle of floats on the surface, almost blocking the entrance - though with care we found a pathway through.

Crystal Blues At Anchor, Cape Porpoise Harbour, High Tide

Inside, the harbor looks huge at high tide, but is reduced by almost 70% at low tide to a much narrower channel between the islands, with dozens of lobster trap boats lying on moorings. A processing plant sits on a pier head with the two good restaurants adjacent, plus a large dinghy dock. The local supermarket is only a half mile walk, and has everything a cruiser could want.

The Admiral In The Lighthouse
At the entry to the harbour, the Goat Island Lighthouse is fully functional (using an LED light source we noted), with the historic site and buildings maintained by the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, who open the site for visitors most days.

The small floating dock on Goat Island can be accessed for an hour or so each side of the high tide. We used our dinghy to cross the pond, climbed to the top of the lighthouse and enjoyed the warm sunshine - something that was becoming scarce as we moved north east.

Lobster Dinner, Of Course, With Ralph Hurlbutt
Here, close to Kennebunkport,  we enjoyed a great reunion with Ralph and Louise Hurlbutt, whom we had last seen in the year 2000. We had worked with Ralph in Sydney, and even lived with Ralph and Louise in their Sydney home.
Stowaways In The Forepeak
Of course they cooked up a storm of local lobster, clams and seafood, and we shared a grand table with Ralph, Louise, their family and friends. Later, we played host to them onboard Crystal Blues, where the kids explored the boat while the adults explored the local wines, a perfect arrangement.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Lobster Madness

A Carpet Of Floats
Coastal Maine is famous for it's lobsters - last year they landed more than 130 million pounds of lobster and exported over $200 million dollars worth of live lobster, with the majority flown to Asia. Along the coast, lobster shacks decorate every harbor, serving the thousands of tourists that flock to this coast in the summer months.

Cape Porpoise Lobstermen Landing Their Catch
Each lobsterman can have up to 800 traps in the water, and there are more than 6000 licensed boats out there. 

Estimates put the number of lobster traps in Maine waters at over 3 million, and I figure we've seen and dodged the floats marking half of them.

In fact sailing on this coast is hard work, with constant vigilance needed to steer around the thick carpet of floats that dot the water. In places you could walk across the floats with snow shoes.

On foggy days the navigation work load increases even further. Watching the radar for traffic, dodging floats, managing the navigation and constantly peering into the fog means that even a short four or five hour coastal passage is exhausting - we prefer not to go to sea if it's foggy here.

So how do you deal with this carpet of obstacles ? First, we simply don't navigate at night, but there are other things that help .....

Onward to Cape Cod, Boston & Maine

Cape Cod Canal Transat
After two busy weeks in Greenport we moved further north east with a day hop to Block Island. Next morning we continued, heading for Buzzard's Bay and the Cape Cod Canal. With favourable tides we managed to run up the bay and into the canal by mid afternoon, where currents took our ground speed up to more than 11 knots for most of the 8 nautical mile transit.
Plymouth Harbour Entrance

With all that water helping us along, we were able to press on to Plymouth Harbor that afternoon. We were heading for a reunion date in Boston, and with help from the weather and tides we entered Boston Harbor late the next day to a very warm welcome at the Hingham Yacht Club.

There, seventeen years on, we met with the exuberant Nick Steffey once again. He hasn't changed a bit.

Our last time together was when we delivered his boat from Newport in Sydney to Newport in Road Island.

Nick sailed with us often in Sydney, and he stepped on board Crystal Blues with his friend Linda Goulding, at Hingham Yacht Club near Boston. His first words ?  "Boy, I sure drank a lot of good wine on this boat!".

So of course we proceeded to do exactly that. Nothing has changed really.

From Hingham, as we continue north and east toward Maine, the water and climate are growing very much colder, and we're starting to see the whales and seals that this area is known for.

It is summer here, though it sure doesn't feel like it.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Crystal Blues USA Land Cruise - Where Should We Go ?

Sitting in the unusually chilly waters of New England, we've started to dream about another type of voyage. This time, we plan an anti-clockwise circuit around the central USA, by car, taking in the north, the midwest and the south - the American heartlands.

So now it's your turn, please - tell us your favourite places to visit in the US, your favourite restaurants, bars and music clubs. Plus the cities and national parks that you love.

We're building a custom Google map to guide us on our travels, and we'll add selected locations to build a route for our land cruise. Note - we'll be starting and ending the cruise in Virginia, not far from Washington DC. Our timeline will start in early September and run through until early November.

Please comment below or email us with your ideas!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A Hostile Target Becomes A Gracious Host

Our Track In The Old Bahama Channel - Nordik Light Is The Green Target Close Behind Us
We first met Arthur Stroem and his crew on Nordik Light in the dark, 35nm north of the coast of Haiti, in the Old Bahama Channel. Nordik Light was following us on a moonless night, edging closer on a course that would bring her - well, a little to close for my liking.  So we altered course, but they followed and settled in behind us again, still getting closer....

There was other traffic around, and I wasn't so comfortable with this mystery boat getting closer in the dark, so I called them on VHF and suggested that they should alter course, away from us, or I would have to declare them a hostile target. This seemed to have the desired effect, and after a few words they altered course and passed us in the blackness.  We thought nothing more about the incident until we docked in Charleston, South Carolina, and there just across the dock was Nordik Light.  That morning Arthur and his crew came down to say hello and apologised for following us in the dark that night.  One thing lead to another and we ended up spending that week together, and Arthur invited us to his home town of Greenport on Long Island.

Lighthouse On The Approach Into Greenport
The Machine Going In
Which is how we found ourselves berthed safely in Greenport at Arthur's dock, doing essential maintenance and undertaking a slightly major washing machine replacement.

The days flowed into one another, the 220volt machinery was ordered (more on that here), delivered and installed and the engine serviced, and we were truly very comfortable in what was a beautiful and social maritime setting. Greenport is a very pretty town, compact and essentially maritime in nature.

Arthur and Valerie, with their friends, Susie and Michael, were gracious hosts, entertaining and very supportive as we worked to service and repair Crystal Blues.  We grilled in the yard, drank wine at sunset on the waters edge, played badminton on the lawn, watched rabbit, deer and squirrel play on shore and generally felt very spoiled by the American hospitality.

After way too long in port we finally (sadly) made a break for the ocean, but are already looking forward to our next visit to Greenport.

Click on the link below for some images of beautiful Greenport homes and environment.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Ocean Cruising Club Gathers In Cuttyhunk

OCC Members On The Beach At Cuttyhunk - Image Courtesy Peter & Patty, SV Serendipitous
From Newport it's only a 20nm day sail to Cuttyhunk, part of the Elizabeth Island chain that leads north towards Buzzards Bay. We motored into 25 knot headwinds and grey lumpy conditions to get there, to spend some time with the Southern New England Rally, run by the Ocean Cruising Club. On arrival we swung to a mooring in "the pond" for two nights, then moved outside to anchor for another night when the weather settled. This was to be our first "on the water" club event, since joining way back in 2004. A fine bunch of cruisers from several continents shared experiences, food, drink and generally played the fool for three days. Well done to the organisers, Peter & Patty from SV Serendipitous.

Cuttyhunk is a real New England gem, a low set island with an absolutely protected mooring field inside the salt pond, populated by a mix of weather hardened locals and seasonal summer residents. The local Raw Bar delivers fresh clams, oysters and mussels right to your boat, so there is no need to leave the boat to sample local seafood. The scenery here is stunning - click the link below for more images. Crystal Blues moved on after three days, leaving the group and heading south west, bound for Block Island and then Greenport on Long Island.


Thursday, 3 August 2017

An Ocean Garden

The things we miss most when at sea? Let me think - it has to be fresh greens!

Onboard Crystal Blues, the Admiral maintains a garden of green, in a (relatively) small plastic planter tub. Right now its growing Basil, Italian Parsley, Arugula (Rocket) and Rosemary.

At least three times a week we get a lovely fresh leafy salad off the garden, and Ley also makes fresh Pesto when we really need to tame the Basil, which is growing like crazy at the moment.

The planter tub is tied down on the port aft quarter, and yes, we do have to "tack the garden" sometimes when sailing - those plants really do not like salt spray. In poor conditions we move the planter to the bathroom, which I think it kind of secretly enjoys....

The planter is a Greensmart large size pot, available in cream or black.  It has a magical self watering design that simplifies the garden maintenance.

This pot worked for us right across the Indian Ocean and then down to Chagos, though the plants suffered badly on the way south to Rodrigue, when we were hard on the wind for many days - we abandoned the remains in the southern Indian Ocean. However its perfect for coastal cruising! Click the link below for an image of the pot on deck.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Boating On Steroids - An Electric Foiling Speed Boat

Seen here during testing on Bristol Harbour, this appears to be a prototype high speed foiling power cat. We did see her rip across the harbour, silently, late one afternoon in the fading light. When I approached the crew later they were unable to talk about the vessel at all, except to say it was an "electric speed boat".

The presence on the dock of a technical support vehicle from Goetz Composites shows that these are serious structures - Goetz have built 10 Americas Cup challengers and defenders, and have been involved in 5 Volvo Ocean Race (Whitbread) campaigns. Ironic that the testing of this high tech vessel was taking place right in front of the Herreshoff Museum, where the boats of the Americas Cup legend were originally created.

Reliance & Shamrock III, USA Library Of Congress Image