Thursday, 16 November 2017

Returning To The Boat - What Do You Carry ?

After two busy weeks in Melbourne we returned to the boat with over 120kg of luggage - thank heavens for Qantas being generous on the allowances. The flight landed in Dallas, where we loaded the super-Chevy truck and proceeded to drive back to Virginia, via Little Rock and Nashville.

We're frequently asked what do we carry back to the boat, so for those who are serious about this, here are our answers for this trip.

12 x 0.5kg jars of Vegemite (yeah, 6kg in total)
New 26kg regrigeration compressor
New electric jug
New electric toaster
1 x green cow hide (we like to leather things)

The electric items cannot be purchased in the USA, as the supply voltage and frequency are different ....
The balance of our monster cruising shopping list is below.

Cruising To An Oyster Roast In Reedville

Mary, Ley & Walter Sharing The Good Wine
Our journey back to Reedville was planned around a critical date - the annual Fisherman's Museum Oyster Roast. No true cruising sailor could miss this!

The simple little affair was planned to allow just 1000 people to fess up 50 bucks and then eat all the oysters they could ...... which is a lot of oysters.

While it sounds like a simple concept, in fact it takes a lot of effort to cater for 1000 people, while also providing unlimited beer, wine, BBQ meats, clam chowder, hot dogs etc. This is the major fund raiser for the museum, so dozens of volunteers chipped in.

We were among them, doing our duty serving wine to the masses for an hour or so.  Before that we managed to consume our fair share of delicious roasted oysters, which are heated over hot coals until they are hot and almost ready to open.

The Reedville Fisherman's Museum is the social hub of Reedville village in Virginia, a town that welcomes visiting cruisers and provides peaceful, sheltered anchorages.

The Next Crystal Blues ?

Crystal Blue, Image Courtesy Rolls Royce

OK, so it's not very likely, but in their wisdom the guru's at Rolls Royce have named their new 62 meter concept super yacht Crystal Blue. The cheek of them. You can read the full story of this amazing design here, note that it's hybrid powered by LNG and batteries, and does't (normally) anchor anywhere - instead, the thrusters linked to a dynamic positioning system simply keep it in place. It's planned to be accompanied by a 42 meter "tender" that will carry the water toys and act as a refueling barge for the LNG. The best part is that it doesn't have a conventional bridge - instead the crew helm the boat from below decks, using a range of sensors and vision systems. Oh joy.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Cruising Families

The Langford Boys - Dean, Peter & Neil, Onboard Pete's Power Boat, Just Cruising Again
A Warm Welcome In Williamstown !
After 12 years at sea, coming home is precious. However just two weeks in Melbourne wasn't enough time to catch up with everyone - it felt like speed dating, though we did cover a lot of people, ground and water. And of course it was very social, from the moment we arrived.

We based ourselves in our home town and stayed close to family, while working through a busy social diary plus a long list of items to be purchased and carried back to the boat in the USA. On the list was a new refrigeration compressor (only 26kg!) plus a big spring for our rod-kicker, a toaster, and dozens of other specialty boat items. The final tally was over 100kg of luggage for the return flight.

The family time was joyful, specially seeing how fast the grand kids and nieces are growing up. So we chased kids, played with dogs, kissed parents, repaired cars, planted trees and drank more than a little wine .... what joy. A special treat was the "long lunch" at Rovina, the beautiful property owned by our friend James Farrell (check the photos below).

Then on Thursday it was back to Dallas onboard QF07, an A380 flight out of Sydney. Right now we're shooting eastward in the Chevy truck, having crossed the Arkansas border at Texakarna. We're heading for Little Rock tonight and Nashville tomorrow night. Bring on the music!

Three Young Rascals, Plus An Older One

Monday, 30 October 2017

Navionics Is Sold To Garmin, & Autonomous Ships Are Here Next Year

In sailing industry news, my most interesting events of the month are these ...

Autonomous Ships

The worlds first autonomous electric powered ship, Yara Berkland, will be in service on the Norwegian coast next year. Read all about it here. She will apparently replace 40,000 diesel truck journeys on southern Norway roads. And quite a few commercial seamen will not be required of course.

Garmin Acquires Navionics

The full release is here, but two days ago Garmin announced they had purchased Navionics. Now we may see the dangerous Sonar Chart issues finally fixed.

It will be interesting to see how Raymarine enjoy having to buy Navionics charts from their biggest hardware competitor.  Ouch, that must hurt.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Land Cruising, Chevrolet Truck Style

For us Aussies, cruising in the USA is all about the timing - timing to avoid tropical storms and timing to work within the limited 6 month visa that most of us have.  In our case, our visa "window" started when we arrived in Puerto Rico back in May, so we have to leave the country before November. The result is that Crystal Blues is resting securely on her own in Reedville, Virginia, while we have headed off on a cross country land cruise with a flight back to Australia thrown in for good measure - there is no rest for the wicked. We'll be camping in the back of the truck for the next 10 days, have tent, air mattress, camp stove and pepper spray for the bears. What could possibly go wrong!

We drove out of the northern neck of Virginia just three weeks ago, heading west into the Blue Ridge Mountains. By nightfall that first day we had gained a lot of altitude and adopted a new weather paradigm - fog, cold and torrential rain. We woke next morning to a flooded tent, with our air bed almost floating inside the tent. Ok, so we were still learning how to setup the camping rig.

After drying out (we found a coin laundry at the next town) we traveled about 450 miles southward on the Blue Ridge Parkway over 5 days, reaching the Smokey Mountains, camping each night in Park Service camp sites, mesmerised by the staggering colors of fall in this part of the world. Then, crossing into the Carolinas, we climbed and climbed to the highest point in the eastern USA, before entering western Georgia as we continued south through spectacular country.

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.