Tag: sailboat

Crossing The Gulf Stream.

I left on Thursday December the 17th. Friday was going to be bad weather with the winds switching to the North, which for crossing the Stream is a no-no. I left early at at 5:30, motor-sailing. I can’t describe the anticipations and worries leaving at night on my first ocean crossing. This was going to be the shake-down cruise for Dagny and I. She undoubtedly has more experience than myself. Truth be told, I have practically none. I fear that admitting this will get me the wrath of experienced sailors, and they would be mostly right. This is just the way I do things, from cave diving to flying ultralights. Inexperienced doesn’t mean ill prepared or lacking knowledge. I have envisioned this trip for years and learned everything I could about sailing. This was my first time alone on a boat. My total sailing experience amounted that morning to a few hours aboard a friend’s boat as a guest. Now you’re going to think I am crazy. I certainly do not suggest anyone try this. You might not come back.

Leaving the Saint Lucie inlet was fairly straight forward. The channel is well marked. As soon as I was out the swells were pretty big I though, but I had no idea. Sea sickness reared its ugly head. I vomited three times, nothing but water. I had not slept the night before. Fortunately I felt much better after that, but could not keep water down from then on. My intent was to shut off the engine but my jib got entangled so I decided to take it down and motor through with the main sail. I had to lay on deck and crawl to the bow to bring it down, all the while clipped to my safety harness. This harrowing experience was a taste of things to come. Matters improved a bit as I hit deep waters. The Gulf Stream started pushing me North. My intent was to aim for Great Sale Cay or Little Grand Cay. What I thought was going to be a twelve hour trip was quickly turning into something else. To get a heading East I had to point the bow to 160 degrees magnetic! The boat was moving North faster than it was moving East. That was a big problem because If I missed the tip of the Bahama Bank I was on my way to Bermuda! I wince now thinking of the engine quitting in the Stream. My backup plan was to get out of it as soon as possible and then tack back South to the Bahamas, probably taking days to do so with impending dubious weather.

The Atlantic water is such a deep blue, something to behold. I had never seen such a sea color. It really wakes you up when you get sprayed in the face once in a while too.. The sun started to come down. I thought of my friends at Indian Beach watching it. The fishing boats disappeared. I was alone out there, with no land in sight, in pitch darkness. Gigantic dark shapes started looming on the horizon; immense floating cities carrying cargo and people. You can make cruise ships very easily, having more lights than a Christmas tree. The commercial ships are very eery, massive, I can’t over emphasize it. A sailboat does have priority, but this would be the same as giving priority to mosquitoes over car windshields.. Stay out of the way! Nobody seems to answer radio calls either. Are they asleep? Is anyone on board?

Fatigue was taking its toll. I started dozing off. Trimming the sail correctly I found I could let go of the boat’s tiller and it would keep its course. I waited half an hour, same heading. Sleep came in bouts of twenty minutes or so. I would wake up getting spray in the face, or simply because my mind somehow knew I had to keep watch.

Dagny feels like a tank. What an awesome boat. I am learning her quirks as I learn mine. Morris sure knows how to build a boat and Chuck Paine knows how to design them. Part of the credit I give to her for keeping me safe.

Nineteen hours after departure I had reached the very tip of the Little Bahama Bank, way too far North. I couldn’t see anything and decided to drop anchor in forty feet of water. The swells were bad and the wind was increasing. I was safe tethered to the ground below, everything was going to be fine, I had made it. I couldn’t have been more wrong…

PS: I will add a video to this post tomorrow or the following day.

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Living Aboard a Small Sailboat is Actually Pretty Nice.

It has been only six days mind you, but I am settling into a nice routine. Not that living aboard is something I particularly want to do on a boat that small. I missed a nice weather window today and tomorrow because of a stuck valve on my diesel inboard. Yep, I have identified the problem, but that doesn’t necessarily help me. WD-40 and a bout of slight violence with a screwdriver handle didn’t do any good. Better have a profe$$ional check it out. Bottom line is, it is about traveling, discovering new lands and cultures… I am still at the dock, stuck for lack of finances and mechanical knowledge. One thing I have learned is that anything related to boats moves slowly. You just can’t be in a hurry. I haven’t been contemplating my navel all week though, today was very productive…

Yesterday a guy a couple slips down had a cooler stolen from his boat. I wouldn’t have left a $400 cooler in an open boat (they make $400 coolers?!), but I understand why he might have felt it was safe. My boat has been floating here for a year and a half, the last month with thousands of dollars in equipment, unlocked. The area is (was) supposedly extremely safe. This prompted me to install a lock I had purchased to secure the companionway hatch. Yes, the famous bubble hatch. The forward hatch was another problem. I solved this one with a simple bolt through and a cross bar on the inside; primitive but effective. Now I can lock the boat when away or lock myself inside if need be. It’s not crowbar-proof but it would give someone so equipped a run for their money.

Companionway Hatch Lock

Companionway Hatch Lock

Forward Hatch Crossbar

Forward Hatch Crossbar

Next, I looked at my Optimus two-burner kerosene stove and decided that it was time… Two holes, nuts and bolts later it was hanging in its new home, but leaning backwards… Weird… The stove is supposed to swing the way the boat is leaning so you can cook while sailing. No way a pot is going to stay on at that angle, yet the gimball axes are aligned with the burners. Then I noticed notches at the bottom on each sides. I immediately thought “counter weights!” You can adjust them as the tank empties… Not great, but it will work. A couple fishing weights should do fine. One burner seems to be clogged, one more thing to fix. I think I will buy new burners some time in the future. The Optimus is for serious cooking, not for a cup of tea or hot chocolate. I use a tiny alcohol stove for that. It barely burns more alcohol than required to preheat the kerosene burners, so why bother. Kerosene does smell a bit too. I also haven’t yet gotten a thin sheet of stainless steel to protect the ceiling. See my stove test video, you’ll understand…

Optimus Kerosene Pressure Stove

Optimus Kerosene Pressure Stove

While I had the drill out, boy do I enjoy my solar panels and inverter, I decided to install the fire extinguishers on the bow bulkhead and one near the engine. I am more concerned about the Optimus throwing a tantrum than anything else…

Fire Extinguisher

Fire Extinguisher

I usually get up early, around eight. There is a nice mom-and-pop breakfast place within walking distance. Actually, everything here is within walking distance, including bars, restaurants, post office, boat gear store and supermarket. Wifi is available most places. I use a USB powered special antenna (2W), which seems to work fine, but I prefer to connect at the breakfast place or the restaurant. I have learned to recharge my devices while the sun shines on the solar panels. Doing so at night drains the battery too fast.

I skip lunch, even dinner sometimes, though the restaurant across the water has sushi rolls for $8, and the one behind it has crab cakes, my favorite! Daytime is for boat work, while I can see. Not having a shower on board isn’t so bad since I noticed the hotel nearby has a pool and the showers door is often unlocked. So yes, I sneaked in! I have rented a room there a couple times so I don’t feel too guilty about it. There is another option at $30 per month, but hopefully I won’t be here that long.

The only thing missing are of course are my friends. It has been different since the coffee shop closed, but that didn’t prevent seeing my closest friends and there was also the daily sunset gathering, until now. I don’t know anyone here. So far it hasn’t hit me fully yet, but I know once I leave the Florida coast behind, it will…

Tomorrow I am installing a radio antenna on the stern and running a couple antenna cables back to the cabin. I also need to scrub the deck, but better do that when the sun starts going down. I still have a bit more cleaning to do and put a few things away, where, I don’t know. The boat is really full. By the way I did take a video of my setup, sort of a tour of Dagny, deck and cabin. There has been progress since then, but you’ll get an idea of the size of my living space, what’s left of it. I just edited the file and uploaded it on Youtube. I tried Kdenlive on Linux but it crashes all the time and really isn’t user friendly. Power Director 14 on Windows works great for me, even though I hate Windows. I could only output 480p with the trial version.

The wind vane, this mysterious device that steers the boat using wind power needs to be set-up. Fortunately I have the manual. I know, guys aren’t supposed to do that, but It’s my ass out there, excuse my French…

The next weather window I think probably won’t happen until the 22nd or later. I really wanted to leave much earlier. My engine absolutely needs to be fixed by then, and I want to leave with at least $300 in my pocket, $150 for the Bahamas entry fee. I’ll be working online throughout my trip, so no need to have a big cruising kitty before departure. I have Search & Rescue insurance through Delorme, but will add medical evacuation insurance to that as soon as I can. My forward storage lockers have food and water for forty five days. It’s time to go, I am growing a bit frustrated…

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Building a New Companionway Bubble Hatch.

When it rains it pours, and it is pouring down my hatch right now every time it rains. My most pressing issue became the replacement of Dagny’s companionway hatch. Remembering Roger Taylor’s Mingmind and Bernard Moitessier’s Joshua, I decided to add a Lexan (polycarbonate) bubble to the hatch so I could have a look outside without exposing myself to the elements. My friend Erin drew the hatch on his CAD station and sent the file to Marc at Elite Woodwork in Sarasota, who is also a friend and incidentally my last Systema instructor. Between the two of them it didn’t take long before I was heading back home with my three layers of cut half-inch marine plywood. Marc’s CNC cutting machine is amazing, just watch the video:

Next I epoxied the bottom and middle layers together. My resin pump broke, prompting me to eyeball the mix, not a good idea. It seemed to have worked this time.
I could have waited to set the bubble in until I was at the boat, but there was still quite a bit of work to do and it would be much easier to do it at home. I decided to set the bubble in, trusting my measurements and the computer model. Again I eyeballed the epoxy mix. Next was gluing the side rails in. This time my luck ran out with my mixing scheme. It took forever for the epoxy to set. The result is probably not as strong as it could be. I hope it will set fully in time.
Fortunately I found another pump to finish the job. I glued the transversal bars on the bottom of the hatch. They will receive the flat metal bars that keep the hatch secured and allow it to slide to open and close the companionway. Hopefully everything will fit. I will put one last coat of epoxy over everything tomorrow and hope to go to Dagny on Sunday. The varnish will have to wait until the hatch is installed.

Success!

Hatch Installed

Hatch Installed

The hatch fits like a glove without even a hint of sideways play. What an improvement! Happy as a clam right now..

On this next trip, the main goals will be to finish the cabin interior painting and install the hatch, along with a flurry of other small tasks of course. My radio installation isn’t quite complete. I still need to install my kerosene stove, the companionway lock, and fix the five feet of rub rail I removed. There are two small spots of rot to take care of. The list never ends. I hope this will be the last big work session on Dagny. All the big tasks should be done by Thursday.

As my departure date approaches, though I have no precise idea when that will be, the whole project is getting closer to reality. It is quite different to plan and work on a boat than actually realizing that a big adventure might soon be starting. Not that getting Dagny ready hasn’t been an adventure in itself, but leaving for me will be the start of a whole new life, hopefully. There comes a time when your days all look the same. I could describe the last three years of my life with a few sentences. That scares me more than storms, pirates or anything else. Ideally I would leave in about three weeks. There are so many things I need to do before then, it just seems overwhelming; not to mention finances and health concerns. I am forging ahead, and like we say in France, “advienne que pourra.”

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Fiorentino Sea Anchor Delivered.

Christmas was a bit early today with the delivery of my 6ft diameter Fiorentino Sea Anchor. I was surprised by the small size of the box. The sea anchor comes with a nice green bag, which was to be expected given the $400 price tag. I have to say that it does look very sturdy. The hardware is massive, with a large swivel, which I suspect to be the same for all models. The fabric is nice and thick. The nylon lines go all the way around the canopy. It does look small for my boat, but that is what Fiorentino recommends for a 10,000Lbs displacement vessel; the Morris Frances 26 weighs 7,900Lbs. There are a couple weights sewed-in the bottom perimeter of the canopy to prevent it from spinning too much.

Fiorentino Sea Anchor

Fiorentino Sea Anchor


Fiorentino Hardware

Fiorentino Hardware

I will use the anchor with a 10ft 1/4″ chain leader and a float on a 30ft line attached to the rode side of the swivel. 1/2″ nylon is what is recommended for the anchor rode, which does seem thin, but who am I to contradict the manufacturer, and my wallet.. 300ft would be a minimum. I can either use my backup anchor rode or buy a new 300 or 400ft spool, we’ll see..

Tomorrow I am getting my CNC-cut hatch parts, and will build it over the week-end. I can see a road trip in my near future!

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Cabin Painting Almost Finished!

It was a good four productive days on Dagny. I completed about 60% of the cabin painting with Pettit “Easy Cabin Coat,” a mold and mildew Resistant interior paint. A look at the previousely painted bow section seems to show that the paint works. There was no mold at all on the new paint. The only issue I have with it is that it isn’t mechanically strong. Anything rubbing on the surface will peel the paint right off. If I was to do it again I would first apply Pettit Easy-Poxy and then the Easy Cabin Coat.

The Fusion 1000W pure sinewave inverter powered my orbital sander easily and the solar panels kept the battery full. This inverter however is very RF noisy. I can’t use any of my radios at the same time. You get what you pay for. I also can’t use my laptop with it as the mouse cursor goes crazy. I hope it is the RF noise, and not a bad waveform. I will use it for charging only and run the computer on its battery when working.


I understand now the sailor’s fascination with fans! It felt like 120 degrees inside. I wore just my underwear, and it was still way too hot to stay below for any lenght of time, and not because I was half naked! Now I know how dogs locked in cars on hot days feel like.. Doing nothing laying on a bunk was barely tolerable. As soon as I moved I started sweating. I need to investigate those dorado boxed more closely. There was no wind, so I am not sure they would have helped.

One thing I will have to be aware of is my exposure to the sun. That means long sleeves, pants, and something for my neck and face, if just some sunscreen. I burned my knees this week-end just by being on deck for a little while. It doesn’t take long.

My companionway hatch is all warped because of rain and the failing of the fiberglass I glued on with epoxy. I didn’t have my sander then and sanded by hand, obviousely not well enough. I also suspect the fiberglass/epoxy shrunk, and since it was on the outside only, pulled on the planks. I will build a new one out of marine plywood left overs from my Fafnir project. I am even thinking of including a clear bubble to allow a good look around without having to open the hatch.

Another four-day session at the end of this month should be enough to finish the boat. It is never 100% finished of course, and I know of a few to-do list items I will have to complete under way or at anchor somewhere. I just didn’t want to have any big project going on to spoil my adventure. In the mean time I will probably build the companionway hatch and drop it off in a couple weeks. Rain water finding its way down below during every squall can’t be good.

A guy stopped by to offer his diving services to clean my bottom, uh, the boat’s bottom I mean.. One Dollar per foot, that’s $26 for Dagny. I eagerly handed out my money, also left him a new zinc to put on the propeller shaft. “No extra charge,” just my lucky day. I will have him do it one more time before leaving. My three-bladed prop will be enough of a drag, I don’t need the extra barnacles!

Thanks to Melina and Dave again for helping me getting there and back.

I have such good friends here, it will be very hard to leave them all behind.

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