Friday, November 28, 2008

Southbound to Florida – The Reality

We found a nice marina, Waterside Marina right in the heart of Norfolk, VA that had easy access to restaurants, laundry facilities, children’s museums, etc, and was a good jumping-off spot for the trip ‘round Hatteras. We stayed there for a week waiting for John and Larry to join us, and then for another week waiting for the right weather.

Once the weather looked right we finally left – the whole crew was really starting to get impatient on the wait, but it was worth it. We had a mostly uneventful rounding of the cape. We fired up the engine any time the boat speed dropped below 5 knots to make sure we stayed on schedule. This was important as the weather window was not a big one and we wanted to be in Charleston before the weather closed in. As it worked out, we motor-sailed about half the way.

The Gulf Stream did cause us a little trouble as it must have wandered in pretty close to Diamond Shoal Light. We passed the light close enough to touch up the paint and then turned south west. Even still, once past the light we did brush up against the current – we were fighting about a 1 knot current for about half a day. The winds were out of the Northwest and west, and made the sea state pretty lumpy and uncomfortable while we were near the stream. We were very happy once we worked our way closer to land and the seas flattened out some.

Once we made it to Charleston, we got off the boat and had a great dinner in the historic district of downtown Charleston. Great food and a beautiful town!We liked Charleston quite a lot so we decided to extend our stay and wait for a cold front to pass. We ended up staying about 6 days.

Many thanks to Larry and John. They were very fun to have aboard and made the trip both safer and more enjoyable!

Southbound to Florida – The New Plan

We had two options. Cut our mast down 2 or 3 feet or take the “outside” route - out on the Atlantic Ocean. We decided on the ocean route. The biggest hurdle in going outside down the coast was getting around Cape Hatteras. This bit of geography is a challenge for sailors for several reasons...

  • Diamond Shoals – the waters up to about 30 miles offshore are not safe due to shallow water and sand bars that shift about so frequently that the Coast Guard won’t bother to chart it. They mark the outer boundary with a light and recommend you keep out of the area.
  • Currents – The Gulf Stream passes just off of Diamond Shoals – anywhere from 2 to 12 miles. A vessel passing southward needs to squeeze in between the shoals and the Gulf Stream’s 3-5 knot northbound current. Aside from the problem of fighting a current that’s going a fair percentage of your boat’s max speed, the strong current will produce very, very steep and large waves if the wind is blowing from the north. In addition to the northbound Gulf Stream, there is another less powerful current heading south along the east coast, the Labrador Current. This current of cold water runs down the north east coast of the US until it reaches Cape Hatteras, where it ducks under the warm Gulf Stream. Because of this, care must be taken by a sailboat not to be pushed by the Labrador Current into the Gulf Stream.
  • Weather – Cape Hatteras seems to be a favorite place for strong weather systems to roll off of the US into the Atlantic.
  • Magnetic Variances – The charts report (and we experienced) variances in the magnetic field around Cape Hatteras of 6 to 8 degrees. While we use a GPS for navigating, we steer by a compass course, so we had to keep a close eye on the GPS to make sure we were pointing in the right direction. With only a few miles of sea room to work with between the Gulf Stream and Diamond Shoals, a few degrees can be a problem.
  • Distance – There is no place to pull in if the weather pipes up. The inlets along Cape Hatteras are about the last place you want to be in bad weather, so you’re committed to a minimum of a 250 mile sail to go from Norfolk, VA to Beaufort, NC. Since a Beaufort landfall would take us about 40 miles out of our way (each way -both in and out of the harbor), a more appealing landfall to us is Charleston, SC, which is about 400 miles from Norfolk.

Southbound To Florida – The Plan

Mirasol is back in the Atlantic for the first time after her delivery passage from France. We had a fun summer in the Chesapeake Bay, but it was getting cold and it was time to start heading south in search of palm trees and warm beaches.

During the summer in the Chesapeake, our plan for heading down the coast took a radical turn.

Originally, The Plan was to take the Inter-Coastal Waterway from Norfolk, VA to some point south of Hatteras like Beaufort, NC or Moorhead City, NC, and then exit the ICW and shoot down the coast in short 1 or 2 day hops. The ICW, or “The Ditch” is a collection of rivers, lakes, bays and canals which allow transit up and down the entire East Coast of the US without the inconvenience of venturing out into the Atlantic Ocean. The ICW is best suited to power boats since sailing is not possible in the restricted waterways and the ICW is very shallow in many areas. However, in spite of these problems, 95% of sailboats heading up or down the coast use the ICW rather than head out into the Atlantic. This ratio is an estimate from my observations, but I think it’s pretty accurate.

The Plan relied on Mirasol being able to get under the fixed bridges crossing the ICW. According to the manual, Mirasol’s mast is 64’ 9” tall. The published minimum clearance for fixed bridges along the ICW is 65’ at high tide. The Plan was to transit these fixed bridges during low tide. Over the summer, we found there were several flaws in The Plan. One was that our mast height is really 66’ 2” to the top of our instrumentation on the mast, and about 69’ to the top of our VHF antenna. (I climbed to the top to find out). The second big problem is that the tides we had counted on to squeeze under the fixed bridges were only a foot or less at the bridges from Norfolk to Beaufort. So much for The Plan. As the summer turned to fall, the New Plan came together, and caused more than a few raised eyebrows from our new friends in Rock Hall, MD.

Friday, November 7, 2008


While they have not yet actually sailed on a catamaran, John & Larry seem to be enjoying themselves aboard Mirasol...
Barring any unforeseen problems, we expect to FINALY depart Norfolk tomorrow around noon. At the moment, conditions look favorable to head all the way to Charleston, SC.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Harbor Rot

Sigh, we're still in Norfolk. It's blowing 20-30's in the marina and 50's out in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. That's not too much for Mirasol, but it's more than Jen and I are interested in dealing with if we can avoid it.

We almost decided to leave this afternoon since it's forecasted to ease up later today, but after some consideration it still looks too bumpy at the mouth of the Chesapeake, so we're going to wait. 30 knot winds and 10' waves. By waiting, we miss a window before a cold front comes through on Saturday, so we'll have to wait until Saturday afternoon or probably Sunday AM.

We're making use of the time to get more chores on the boat completed and doing some fun stuff in Norfolk with Quinn. I finished the upgrade to the autopilot yesterday and will probably do more work on the water maker installation over the next couple of days.

We'll probably go back to both the Children's and the Maritime Museums as Quinn really enjoyed those, and the Maritime Museum is very cool for me too, if a little mind numbing for Jen. The USS Cheesehead, er I mean USS Wisconsin, is parked next to the museum and they let you get on board and wander around. That is one HUGE battleship. Very impressive!

The marina is PACKED with sailboats that are either too tall or too deep to use the ICW, all stacked up waiting for the window we are. The fact that none of them seemed inclined to leave today helped us make the decision to stay another few days.

John Gaich and Larry Mitchell both hanging with us, and are as anxious as we are to get moving. It's been fun having guests on board and I think Larry may already be a multihull convert. He already has 5 boats, so why not add one more to Commodore Larry's fleet?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Watiting for the Weather Window

We were planning on leaving on our jump around Cape Hatteras, NC to Charleston, SC tomorrow or Monday. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has decided we need to hang in Norfolk a little longer. As they say, a picture says a thousand words. This is the prediction for the weather for the next several days off Cape Hatteras. Each feather on the barb means 10 knots of wind.
So, we've decided to wait it out and leave later in the week.

John Gaich and Larry Mitchell have flown in to join us for the trip and are currently in Savanna Georgia visiting with Iowa National Guard folks and waiting for the word that we're going. They'll likely drive up on Monday. We're happy to have them on board for our first coastal passage. Quinn's also looking forward to some company on board.

It's been fun hanging out in this marina, which is frequented by sail and power boaters who are heading down the Inter-Coastal Waterway (ICW, or "the ditch") for the winter. Every day it fills up and then empties by noon as everyone leaves to head on south. We don't have the option of using the ICW as our mast is too tall. Fine with me, it would just be a lot of motoring, and this is a sailboat after all.

Quinn had fun Trick-Or-Treating yesterday. He scored lots of good stuff and had a lot of fun. We were hoping there would be some action in the marina, but there wasn't much. So Jen found out that there was some Trick or Treating in the local mall and we headed there for some loot. I wish there was this type of thing when I was a kid. Quinn scored big time, especially at the Godiva and Lindt stores (Jen and I may appropriate the treats from these stores).

We'll update everyone when the weather gives us a good window.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

You don't have to go home but you can't stay here

Yesterday, I couldn't have gotten this shot of Mirasol - the marina was PACKED. Today, by about 8 AM, the mass exodus was nearly completed. We watched boat after boat head across the river to Mile Marker 0 on the ICW and begin their journey south.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

So there I was...

It was dark o'clock and I was warm and snug in bed, half asleep and half thinking about getting up to take the flag down because it was squeaking, when I hear "HONEY I NEED YOU WE'RE DRAGGING!!!!" accompanied by the rumble of the twin diesels coming to life.

While uttering a few choice four letter words, I quickly dressed and headed to Gregg's side at the helm station and saw the approx. 100 ft path on the nav system (notice the yellow arrow pointing at the long straight line). It was pretty windy and I was struggling to wake up and not adjusting perfectly going from slumber to maneuvering the boat. So, Gregg suggested I go up front and run the windlass, in the dark, for the first time. I thought it best to collect myself and work the helm. We dug the anchor in again and let out more scope, but the excitement may not yet be over. Hopefully we will get some rest tonight. But for now, too wound up to sleep, we are both on anchor watch, staring at the blue screen of the E120, hoping we stay pretty much in one spot.

I fear this will be the first of many "So there I was..." entitled blog entries.
UPDATE (7:30 AM 10/22): We stayed on watch until 3 am and kept alarms set on wind speed and vessel drift until present time. We did not drift again, much to our anchoring neighbor's delight... and ours. Getting ready to head out - today should be a good sail down to Yorktown.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Honey, did he say 'Gale Warning'?!?!?

We had our first test of the family crew in big(ish) winds on Saturday. We left Solomons, Maryland mid morning with a 48 mile sail in front of us. As we left, the wind was out of the north at about 15 knots, and forecasted to gust up to 20. Once we left the shelter of Cove Point and entered the main body of the Chesapeake, we discovered the winds were in the 20’s, gusting to 25 so we quickly rounded up and tucked in a reef in the main.

I was happy we had practiced reefing in mild weather as the process went smoothly. With a reef in both the Main and Jib, we turned south and blew south down the Bay. The ride was very comfortable doing around 7 or so knots until we reached the mouth of the Potomac River where the winds cranked up to the high 20’s gusting into the low 30s and the waves got steep and lumpy.

We put in a 2nd reef in the main and tucked in a little more of the jib and continued south surfing along at about 8.5 knots. We could have left more sail up as Lagoon suggests that you can run downwind with full sails until the boat reaches 15 knots or accelerations become strong and sudden, but we weren’t in any hurry and I wanted to be able to maneuver comfortably at any point of sail without having to reduce sail first. The thing about catamarans is that you can reach downwind very fast with lots of sails, but you must be prepared to reduce sails fast if you need to maneuver or you risk breaking something. Jen and I were happy surfing in the mid 8’s with 2 reefs in the Main and Jib.

By the time we reached our destination, Sandy Point in Wicomico River Virginia, the winds were blowing a full 30 knots (gusting to mid 30's) and we were hearing gale warnings from the Coast Guard on the VHF. Dropping the Main in this wind was a little exciting, but as usual when Mom and Dad tells Quinn we need him to sit still while we run the boat he is a good boy and sits still. Somehow he figures out that its not a trivial request and doesn't pull his usual schenanegans.

The anchorage Jen selected worked out very well. We were protected from the worst of the winds and although we were still in 20+ knot winds, the waves were a foot or less. Our anchor held fast on the first attempt and settled down to a well deserved steak dinner.

Jen and I were very happy with the performance of Mirasol in these winds and 6’ steep waves. We had to gibe several times in strong winds, but with the wide traveler on a catamaran, it’s as easy as tacking. Simply leave the Main sheeted in at the far end of the traveler, perform the gibe and then ease the main to the lee with the traveler. Quite civilized in comparison with gibing on a monohull, which can be um, exciting, so to speak.

Just about everything stayed where we put it, including photo frames, books, etc. A couple of plastic glasses tumbled out of the overhead cabinet when Jen opened it while preparing dinner, prompting her to comment “take care opening overhead compartments, contents may have shifted during flight” which we both found very funny, having both spent more than our fair share of time flying around the world in our work life.

Anchoring overnight in 25 knot winds was new to us and I was up several times checking to make sure our anchor was holding. It held like a champ all night. I think it’ll take many more nights like this before I can rest easy on the hook when it’s blowing in the 20’s.

Since we're almost to Norfolk, we decided to wait out the rest of the wind on Sunday and spent the day learning more about the electronics, planning our route to Norfolk, doing Halloween art projects and playing with legos. Quinn is quite proud of his lighthouse!

Tomorrow we're off to Irvington, VA.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Rule Of Threes

A common question I've been asked when talking to family and friends is "are you keeping busy, and what are you doing with ALL THAT FREE TIME?" Well, that's a good question. What the hell am I doing with all my free time, because I don't seem to have much... certainly not enough to keep this blog up to date!

Before I delve into this, my apologies to all you "working folk" as this might sound like I'm complaining about living on a boat and not going to work 5 days a week. I'm not. In fact, I still dance little jigs on the foredeck when I remember that it's a weekday and I'm not driving to work or responding to countless tiresome emails. People on neighboring boats probably think I'm nuts. My wife certainly does.

If I'm to answer the question about how I manage not to go nuts from boredom, I have to bring you up to speed about a fairly well known (around boaters) but little understood natural law called "The Rule of Threes"

For those of you unfamiliar with this quirk in space-time, The Rule of Threes must be respected if you are to have any hope of completing a boat-related project in time for happy hour, or even a late dinner. This force of nature applies to every task performed on a boat, big or small. Simply put, take your worst-case time estimate for a boat related job and multiply it by three. That gives you the absolute minimum time required to complete the job.

For example, as I started writing this blog, I felt the need for a little nourishment to feed my muse, and I happily recalled that we had some of my favorite crackers stashed away... somewhere. Now, in a house you would simply stroll into the kitchen, root around in the cabinets and select the snack du jour. My task was a little more involved. First, since I knew the cabinet where we stored snacks did not have any of the tasty treats I was wanting, I had to guess where we had stowed the backups. Luckily, I found the crackers in the first spot I looked, but it required shifting all the stuff stowed in front of the box and then re-stowing it all once I had retrieved the crackers. So a 2 minute task to retrieve some crackers turned into a 10 minute task. For those of you checking my math, yes, the Rule of Threes was established by a hopeless optimist, and should be considered a best case scenario.

The Rule of Threes demands a change in pace to what Jen and I call Boat Time. Everything takes longer to do, and requires a lot more effort. Things as simple as lighting a stove or going to the toilet are more complicated. Throwing out the trash may mean a quarter mile walk each way. This change in pace can be frustrating until you realize that it's all part of the package and the extra effort is worth it. We're not on a schedule after all, and so everything slows down to boat time.

So with the Rule of Threes in mind, here are some of the things I've been doing to occupy my mind and time:

2 chart plotters
Water maker (mounting and wiring, still need to do plumbing, yuck)
LifeTag Man Overboard system
Lifeline netting to keep Quinn on board when jumping on the tramps
Remote control for autopilot
2 new anchors
New outboard, fuel tank, nav lights and anchor for our dinghy
Satellite Phone
Single Side Band radio receiver

Maintenance Stuff:
Oil changes on 2 diesels and transmissions (haven't had to yet on the generator)
Fill water tanks - weekly
Empty turd tanks - weekly
Scrub 1000 sq ft of deck - should be done every week or so
Maintain sailing gear
etc etc etc...

Head Stuff:
Routing for trip around Cape Hatteras (weather and gulf stream) and points south
Equipment and spares needed for cruising
Weather analysis
Establishing maintenance lists

Since this is getting long and it's getting late, I'll leave to other blog entries to detail the fun involved in some of the installations. Think "flying trapeze" and you'll be on the right track...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Gone Baby Gone

I sold my car a couple days ago. I'm a little sad - it was my first new car. Some new friends we met at NPM in Rock Hall, Kathy and John from OCEANA, bought it. It's going to a very nice home.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Home" Again

We're back in Rock Hall. Hannah, fortunately, was little to no impact to us except for the pocket book as Jabin's was not a cheap place to stay. But, it was a prudent decision to stay there. We found out once we returned to Rock Hall that all the boats on T-docks (which would have included us) were sent to other marinas in the area. Don't know where we would have gone. Anyway, we're back.

The top wind speed we encountered during Hannah was 30.4 knots, which happened around 4:50 pm on Saturday, Sept. 6. About an hour or so after that, we had Chinese food delivered to the boat. It was entertaining for Quinn & I to watch Gregg and this kid try to exchange money & food across the about 6 feet stretch between the boat and the dock.

Plans for our immediate future include trying to find a few good days to anchor out for the first time. St. Michael's is supposed to be very nice - it's about a 35 nm sail for us which means a pretty long day.

Today, Gregg worked on getting the radar installed. I got to hoist him half way up the mast (ok, I used an electric winch), and then lower him back down by hand. No, I didn't feel the line slip at all. :) I'm sure he will give more details about the actual installation process at some point.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Staying Put

We're staying. We decided we'd get through the storm better here at Jabin's. So, that's OK. There's lots to do around Annapolis. I've also found the best stocked grocery store I've seen since we moved on the boat. It's just over a 1 mile walk from the boat, but worth the effort. The plan now is to go back to Rock Hall on Sunday. I'll definitely be making one more run to the store before we head out.

I took Quinn to the Chesapeake Children's Museum today. We have definitely been spoiled by the Chicago CM, but for $3 per person, it was worth it. Quinn got to play with a few other kids his age and he had a great time. Tomorrow I will probably take him to the Annapolis Mall for a while. It's supposed to start raining here in the afternoon and not stop until sometime Saturday night so I need to get him off the boat to do something or he gets a little stir crazy. It'll be worth the offensive price for the cab ride. Plus I can finally get Quinn's hair cut. Leslie, I'm trying to muster up the courage to do it myself... I'm just not there yet. I don't want to screw it up so bad I have to buzz him.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Right now we are in Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard in Annapolis, getting some warranty work taken care of. This place has a real operation going – a Bald Knob on steroids for those of you on the river who are familiar with that marina. They have three forklifts for providing in-out service for powerboats and small sailboats, but the surprise for me was the three large travel lifts they have for providing in-out service for large power and sail boats. Call ahead and your 45’ sailboat or cruiser will be picked up from the lot, trundled over to the dock and gently deposited in the water for your boating pleasure. At the end of your day or weekend, drop it off at the dock and they pick it up with the travel lift, power-wash the bottom and trundle it back to the lot where it waits for the next time you want it. All for about the same price than a regular slip. Not sure if the cost is more or less, but it’s close either way. Check out their web site at if you want to check out some photos that show one the travel lifts and the stacks of boats. Jen’s posting some pictures on our web site too.

Most of the scheduled warranty work was completed today and the rest will be finished tomorrow. The big decision in front of us is if we want to extend our stay several days or head on back to Rock Hall. We had planned on meeting Eric and Kristi Richardson this weekend, but with Hanna on her way, it probably won’t be a good weekend for a visit and a day sail! Hanna's due here in the Annapolis area late Saturday.

We like our spot here at Bert’s better than at Rock Hall with regards to riding out a storm. We’re on one of three long docks with 50’ between our dock and the next, so we’ll be able to string dock lines between the two and keep Mirasol out in the middle. Also, this marina is very well protected from almost all directions. The down side is that it is quite pricey here and we have a paid-up slip back at Rock Hall. We’ve decided to wait until Thursday to make the call. That way we’ll have a better idea of how strong Hanna will be if/when she hits. We’ll post updates as we figure out what we plan to do.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A few days in the BIIIIIIIIIIIG city...

Looks like we're going to be in a marina in Annapolis starting Monday (Labor Day). CatCo has arranged the vendors for our warranty work so we are planning to set out Monday morning for Jabin's Yacht Yard. The current plan is to return to Rock Hall on Thursday, but we'll have to wait and see what happens with the work. More later.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jellyfish, Stinky Heads, the Rock Hall Nazgul & Other Observations

OK, as painful as it may be to be stung by a jellyfish (which I haven't been yet), they look cool. Particularly to someone from the Midwest who has never seen one up close and in person. The surprise for me is, they're all over the place here - in the harbor, at the marina. And they're HUGE. Bigger than I would have expected anyway. I've seen a couple with bells the size of softballs. Photo shot off side of boat, uploaded 8-17. This one's bell was probably 4" in diameter.

Moving on. Marine heads stink. Bottom line. Brand new boat, freshly pumped out - it still stinks. We tried some environmentally sound holding tank deodorizer with limited to no success. After talking to friends (Kevin and Joe - see the pirate weekend photos on the main site), the only stuff that works when it's this hot out is the stuff with formaldehyde. Quoting Joe, "if it can pickle a body, it can pickle a turd." Brilliant. Thanks, Joe.
Along with the seagulls, which are abundant here (but nothing like in Manitowoc, WI), we have osprey & blue heron, among others. Now, I don't like birds. Kinda think they're gross. However, blue herons are pretty cool looking birds. One minor problem. Their call is awful. To further accentuate the issue, they've been known to hide under the dock along our .2 mile stretch to get out to the boat. When you walk above them, they take off with a scream reminiscent of a Peter Jackson Nazgul. Nearly scared the crap out of me a few times. The photo doesn't do it justice, but this bird has a wingspan of greater than 6 feet.

On high-tide. I would just like to say "JEEEEEZZZZZ" it's a long reach to get on the boat at high tide. According to the documentation, Mirasol's deck is 8' above the water line, so that makes the mid-ship step (about a foot below the deck) to get on about 3.5' high and 2.5' out from the dock (further when the wind is blowing her off the dock). Oh yeah, we can only get to the step on the side of the boat now because we're blocking our neighbors (very nice English couple - not going out for a couple more weeks) from getting out so that our mid-ship is over the finger dock. When we're pulled ahead where we should be, add a foot to the height of the first step up onto the boat. I'm 5'7". In either case, it's a bit of a leap. We bought a step-stool.

Rock Hall is nice. Very small & I'd be losing my mind without a car, but nice. Looks like we'll be in the Annapolis area next week for the warranty work we need done on the boat; sans car, but if we're in or near the city, who cares? Anyway, back to Rock Hall. Aside from the Nazgul, it's pretty peaceful. A nice dockage. I would recommend this marina (, by the way. We're a little bouncy being right at the mouth of the harbor with all the commercial/charter fishing traffic, but it's not too bad. The pavilion at the jetty has gas grills, picnic tables and rope lights at night. The bathrooms & showers on land are always clean. And Lori, the owner, is one of the nicest and most accommodating people I have ever met. We were delayed for a month and it was no problem to shift our reservation for a month. Then we showed up a few days early and that was also no problem. This is my first coastal marina experience, and all-in-all, a nice one. It's a bit of a hike into town for groceries (only beverages and ship store at the marina store). I would come back... not for 2 months without a car, though.

Quinn seems to be enjoying it here, although there are virtually no kids, except on weekends, and even then, hardly any his age. We'll be getting one of those "Kids On Board" flags at the next boat show. Anyway, there's a pool at the marina, a couple decent parks, and plenty new stuff to see & do. So we're doing our best to keep him entertained. He misses Abby very much and he's still saving the left side of his bed and his second pillow for her.

One last thing, mostly for Cara, we haven't bothered to hook up the TV in the 3 weeks since we've been here. I'm actually surprised at how little we miss it. We have watched Shrek a few times, but that's about it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Not Enough Soap In the World

So, we've been docked a week. It seems like a long time to sit on a boat on a dock, but we've been BUSY. I imagine that most of you reading this are figuring we've been lallygagging around looking for things to keep us busy. Not the case! We've been toiling away in the hot August heat unpacking, stowing, organizing, re-organizing, you know - the usual mess you deal with after a move to a new home. Two days ago we finally got our cloths sorted out and put away - we had left that until last.

So it's Sunday morning and we've been anxious to get out and get some sailing in and we're ready to go. The weather is quite nice - 80 degrees F and a comfortable 10 - 15 knots of wind. We're all set to go... yet there's one last chore. The holding tanks are almost full and we need to get that taken care of.

For those of you not familiar with the specifics, boats have holding tanks to collect the sewage from the toilets. When they get full you need to "drop off the brown trout at the turd aquarium" (thanks John). This involves motoring over to the pump-out dock, tying up, unscrewing the cap on the deck that leads to the holding tank and stuffing the end of a 2 inch diameter hose with a rubber nozzle into the hole. The rubber end of the nozzle is supposed to give you enough of a seal to allow a pump on the other end of the hose to sluuuuuurrrrrrp the brown trout out of the holding tank and send it off to the the municipal sewer. It is a quick process and isn't USUALLY as gross as it might seem. When we're offshore we can just dump it to sea by turning a valve on the bottom of the tank inside the boat, but that's not possible in the Bay (or the Great Lakes).

We had a holding tank on our power boat so I was familiar with the process and had executed the "stuff and slurp" maneuver without incident on many occasions. So, with great confidence we untied from our dock and motored over to the pumpout station and docked without incident. (Ok, so I might have preferred to do this during a weekday when there weren't bunches of onlookers to view what was my second attempt to dock Mirasol, again with the wind blowing off the dock. Use your imagination and don't snicker too loudly - it's not nice.)

So there I was, all set to pump out the tanks and head for the Bay. The cap was unscrewed and the vacuum hose was stuffed into the hole. Now a quick turn of the valve on the hose and let the vacuum sluuuuurrrrp our brown trout off to the sewer. All very simple and tidy, right? Well, to my dismay, no. Not so tidy.

As it happened the vacuum on this particular pumpout station was powerful enough to suck an elephant through the hose. So, when I flipped the valve wide open, the contents of our holding tank shot up the tube between our holding tank and the access hole in the deck like the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Now, it's interesting to note that the tube between the holding tank and the deck access port is 4 inches in diameter. As I mentioned earlier, the vacuum hose is 2 inches in diameter. Those of you with a physics background may see the flaw in this arrangement...

When the Turd Tsunami slammed into the bottleneck of the vacuum hose which I had stuffed into the access port, it overwhelmed my efforts to hold it in place and shot out around the rubber gasket and sprayed yours truly up the leg, across the chest, and to my complete disgust, right in the face. Sadly, my mouth was NOT firmly shut.

I had a strong desire to throw up. Jump in the water. Run screaming down the dock to the marina shower. But no, as I had foolishly selected a weekend to pump out, there were a couple of other boats at the dock and I had an audience. Composure must be maintained! So, with a shudder and a grimace I let the turbo-powered vacuum complete it's job and focused on not swallowing and not vomiting. The nice young lady supervising the pumpout dock courteously noted that most people find it works better if you crack the valve open until the turds start flowing, and THEN open the valve wide.

Useful, if somewhat delinquent information.

I thanked her politely and asked if she could please pass me the water hose.

Once we had undocked and motored out into the Bay, I quickly rinsed my mouth with about 4 gallons of water and a shot of mouthwash, shed my fowled clothing and scrubbed my face, arms and legs. With soap.

LOTS of soap.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Two Years and Twenty Miles

Two years of planning, organizing, fantasizing, researching, explaining, worrying, packing and moving are over. We're standing on our sparkling new boat ready to cast off the lines for our maiden voyage. It's a bit of a stretch to call a 20 mile day-sail across the bay a "voyage", but to the three of us it was a big deal.

Mirasol was a long way from being ship shape, but we had to move her to our slip in Rock Hall and the weather was as favorable as it was going to get for several days. Jen let slip the dock lines and I eased Mirasol off our Annapolis dock. The wind was blowing 20-25 knots so we motored out of the close quarters of Spa Creek and into the Bay before raising the main.

It was "smooth sailing" the whole way. Early on, we got on the wrong side of a string of crab pots but Jen saw them in time and we back-tracked to go around. I and the rest of the crew were a bit anxious for the first hour or so, but by the time we cleared the Bay Bridge, we had all relaxed. It was a comfortable broad reach and we took it easy while we got familiarized: a reef in the main and no jib for most of the trip. Towards the end we raised the jib and let her stretch her legs. I was very pleased that with Mirasol loaded up with all our worldly possessions, she still pulled 8+ knots in 20 knots of wind and a reef in the main.
Jen navigated, I trimmed the sails and we split the helming and Quinn-watching between us. Quinn was very well behaved - sat right where we told him, even during the mayhem of the docking...

Well yes, then came the docking. This was my first attempt at docking Mirasol, and it was a bit intimidating. Mirasol is 42' long and 24' wide, and her salon roof is 10' above the waterline. That makes for a great deal of surface area for the 20 - 25 knot winds to push around. Then there is the "T" dock we had reserved. Well, it's more like an "L"dock, where our portion of the L is only about 10' long. The rest of the "dock" is a series of pilings we can tie off to. That's all fine and good if there is no wind, or the wind is blowing onto the dock, but as chance would have it for my first docking attempt, the wind was blowing 20 knots OFF the dock. Well, I'm pleased to report that we managed to dock without crashing, grounding, falling overside, spousal disharmony or fouling of the props. We had a few friendly neighbors standing on our little nub of a dock to catch dock lines and provide advice / commentary, and with skillful use of the throttles (read: crap, we're going to hit... ok, um, port full aft, starboard full forward... TURN, c'mon baby TURN!!!, oops, too FAR! starboard full aft, port full forward, STOP turning PLEEEEASE... whew, that was close... OK... damn wind's blowing us off again... port half forward... whoops, too far, starboard half forward, NO, that's not doing it... port full aft, there, now we have it... uh oh... etc.) we found ourselves safely and securely docked. NO PROBLEM!
Honey, which box has the RUM?!?!?!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Life on board - so far

I will leave most the details and commentary on our maiden voyage as a family to Gregg. I'm just going to say it was a lot of fun. A little scary being out by ourselves, but fun and exciting. The Chesapeake off Annapolis on a Saturday is a lot like the river we lived on in IL - very busy - lots of traffic. Once we got out closer to the Bay Bridge, though, it cleared up a bit.

Quinn behaved very well - he sat down in the cockpit when we told him to, and he got to sit at the helm with Daddy quite a bit. He really liked going under the bridge. I was fine - no seasickness at all. I took a couple packs of Emergen-C and some of Quinn's Benedryl (couldn't find the adult - hadn't unpacked much before the sail) and that seemed to do the trick.

Since we arrived here in Rock Hall, we've been mostly unpacking, stowing and cleaning. We're finally to the point now that there are almost no boxes piled in the saloon anymore. We even cooked a decent dinner last night. The marina has a shelter next to the jetty with some gas grills and picnic tables so we went over there and grilled some steaks while we watched the sunset on the bay. A far cry from our first dinner cooked on board, canned black bean soup that I added some canned tomatoes to with slightly better than room-temperature margaritas (we didn't have any ice yet), but we did manage to find the tequila, chilled margarita mix and salt.

Anyway, at this very moment, Quinn is sitting at my feet, under the table in the saloon, naked, playing with his matchbox cars... so he's adjusting well to the boat. He loves his "very own sink and toilet and shower and bedroom". Although, he has a second pillow on his bed now and he is saving it for Abby (his girlfriend), whom he talks about several times a day. He misses her VERY much.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On our way...

Uggghhhhhh. Well, we had a lot more work to do on the house than we thought. We planned to get on the road by 7 p.m. Tuesday, but didn't actually get out until 3:00 Wednesday morning. We have relied heavily on neighbors and friends to help us stick to our schedule of driving overnight Tuesday night. The facility where were are storing pretty much everything we own closed at 7 .pm, so we were unable to finish moving everything out of the house. Our friends have agreed to finish that huge job for us. And, so we don't have to run the air conditioning non-stop or worry about the lawn getting mowed, our neighbor has very kindly taken on both of those jobs. Thank you so much Frank & Jen and Bud & Diane.

I have to add that this was by far, the most complicated move I've ever done. Usually, you just dump the stuff into boxes to unpack at the new house. This time, we had to make the following decisions about everything:

1. Do we need it on the boat?
2. If we don't need it on the boat, is it worth storing?
3. Is there room in the storage area for it?
4. If it's not worth storing, do we try to sell it, give it to neighbors/friends, give it to charity, or just throw it out?

Let's just say we gave away A LOT of stuff.

Anyway, after about 900 miles and 16 hours or so on the road, we are finally in Maryland, about an hour drive from Annapolis. We meet Fun Brian at the boat tomorrow at noon EDT for the walk-through. The weather Saturday morning looks like it will be the best of the weekend for moving the boat from the CatCo docks in Annapolis to Rock Hall, which will be our "home" for the next couple months.

By the way, the drive through West Virginia and Maryland was absolutely BEAUTIFUL!

Monday, July 21, 2008

We're outta here...

We have a plan. We're almost done packing up the house and intend to be on the road Tuesday evening. After a brief pitstop in Ohio to visit Gregg's family, we expect to make Annapolis by Friday morning. It's about 18 hours or so on the road, but with the 3-year-old, we need to spread out the time he's trapped in the car seat. Quinn sleeps pretty well in the car, so if we do the bulk of the traveling at night, it should be fairly peaceful... or not.

So anyway, Fun Brian (our broker) will be in town to do the walk-through with us on Friday. Then Saturday (or Sunday, dependent on weather), we will sail the boat to Rock Hall, MD, where we have rented a slip for a couple months while we outfit the boat and provision (and get used to the boat).

Quinn's birthday party with his friends was yesterday... The kids seemed to have a great time. I'm really glad we were able to squeeze in a party for him - he's kind of freaking out right now. Every time he gets up from a nap, more things are missing. He started hiding his stuffed animals in his pillow case because he's afraid they're going to disappear. He's resilient, though. He'll adjust fine... and if he doesn't, we'll stop living on the boat. I think once we get out there, though, he'll love it - it's just really hard on him now.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Thanks for last night

Our friends here threw us a fantastic "Bon Voyage" party last night. So, I write this still a little hungover this morning. And Jen K. - great call on the food! It was excellent - the bacon-wrapped dates were terrible though... ;-) We can't thank you all enough for everything you put into last night, and especially Frank & Jen for hosting the bash! We're still laughing about "Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald" playing outside as we pulled up to your house.

And to Dave, you truly missed your calling. How you can be an attorney and write greeting cards with verbiage like this?:

front: "Why is it that we always wait until someone leaves to let them know just how much they're appreciated?

inside: "Because we're scum. But we sure will miss you and we hope you don't die."

And thanks to everyone for the requisite water disaster DVD's... Poseidon, Perfect Storm, The Final Countdown, and last but not least, Blue Water-White Death.

We will miss you all very much and we expect to see you on board at some point. Maybe when we're in the Bahamas in December... you know, when it's below freezing outside here and you're cursing as you scrape the two feet of snow and ice off your cars... you'll be calling... you know you will... Oh... that reminds me. Do any of you need an extra ice scraper? Snow shovel? Space heater?

Come visit us!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mirasol Delivery - The departure

For Mirasol to meet us in Annapolis she has to be sailed across the Atlantic from France, where she was built. The delivery route takes her from Les Sables-d'Olonne on the west coast of France, out through the Bay of Biscay, south to the Madeira Islands off of Africa to catch the trade winds, a downwind run west to around 60° West Longitude, then back north to Bermuda, and then Annapolis. I joined the delivery crew for the first leg of the passage, which turned out to be from Les Sables-d'Olonne, France to the Madeira Islands. About 1,200 nautical miles, or about 1,400 miles.

When I arrived in Les Sables-d'Olonne, the fishermen had just lifted a blockade on the port. They had blockaded the port for two weeks with a fishing net strung across the exit of the port in protest of high diesel prices and strict fishing quotas. I was surprised that the police didn't simply force them to move the net, but when I asked that question at a cafe near the marina, the local I had asked looked around furtively and said quietly that the fishermen in France were like the Mafia in the US. No one likes to cross them. That explains the news article I read about fishermen trashing a local supermarket that was selling imported fish.

Fortunately, the blockade was over and once we had the crew and boat squared away, we were able to leave without any problems. We had a short delay waiting for boat documentation and insurance approval of our crew, but we received both on the afternoon of May 29th. With the weather looking good, we cast off right away.

The Bay of Biscay is known for rough seas but it treated us with kid gloves. Aside from the wind being on the nose and forcing us to motor-sail, the weather was about as mild as can be found in the Bay of Biscay. I was happy to find that Mirasol did not "pound" repeatedly while heading straight into 8' - 10' seas, even while motoring into them at 7 knots.

To get out of the Bay (which is about 300 miles across) and into the Atlantic you must navigate the shipping lanes that skirt the bay from Spain to the UK. As luck would have it, we were crossing the shipping lanes at night, which made for a busy and nervous crew. At one point we had lights for 20 ships in sight, 10 northbound and 10 southbound, and us in the middle. We were very happy when we left the Bay behind us and made sure to get well west of the busy shipping lanes that run along the coast of Spain and Portugal. We didn't see any more ships until we were quite a bit further south, off of Gibraltar. There we saw several heading for North and South America.

As we turned south after leaving the Bay of Biscay, the wind turned with us and we now had a north wind building from 10 knots to 25 knots. Mirasol handled both the light 10 knot winds and the 25 knot winds just fine. The boat was very comfortable in the big following seas.

We had originally planned on heading for the Azores from Les Sables-d'Olonne, but weather forecasts received via satellite phone and SSB radio weather faxes showed that there would be no wind south of the Azores for many days, so we continued south towards Madeira and the Canery Islands so that Mirasol could ride the trade winds west.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Azores... or not...

Ok, so the boat didn't go to the Azores. It's at Porto Santo in the Madeira Islands. They had no wind and then prop trouble. See our homepage for photos (there are 2 new as of this post, one underway, one in Porto Santo marina). I will be updating our website with more photos and videos as I get them. I'm sure Gregg will be posting commentary here once he gets an opportunity. He is currently in Paris at a hotel - his flight doesn't leave until 11 a.m. or so tomorrow. He said he had been awake for the better part of the last 30 hours.

Back here in Chicago, the river we live on is at no wake because of the GIANT rain storm that went through here last night. The water level continues to rise, as our location is well downriver of the worst part of the storm (and it was pretty bad here so I can imagine what Milwaukee looks like this morning!). Anyway, it's gone up probably 2 inches in the last hour or so.

My two weeks alone with Quinn have been spent weaning the boy of pacifiers. First week was HORRIBLE. Progress is slow. I have bruises.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Home on the Web

You may have noticed the new link at the top right of this blog. The site,, is where we will be posting more static information and photos from our travels. I have also posted the first day's worth of coordinates as reported by Gregg, and included images of the path plotted in Google Earth, with a little help from an image editor.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Les Sables-d'Olonne - Preparations

The port at Les Sables-d'Olonne is big - I'm told it has 600 slips. It seems to be evenly split between sail boats, power pleasure boats, and fishing boats. There are a number of cafes and pubs right alongside with wi-fi available, which makes for a convenient place to sit and write this.

The first full day at Les Sables-d'Olonne was spent rigging and provisioning the boat for the voyage, getting documentation and insurance squared away, and generally poking about the boat learning the systems. There are a lot of systems to learn! I spent 2 hours finding and identifying all the through-hulls (holes in the hull near or below the waterline). I lost count at 25... I'll have to go back and check again.

The delivery company swaps out most of the running rigging (ropes to you land-lubbers) so that the lines provided by Lagoon don't get worn during the delivery. The picture above was taken from the top of Mirasol's mast while swapping-out the main sail halyard and inspecting the masthead. Mirasol's mast is 65' above the waterline. Thankfully, Mirasol has an electric winch for the main halyard. There is no way Jen could crank me up this mast, and no way she'd go up the mast herself. I've already been advised of that rule. (The other rule is that I'm in charge of fixing the heads when they break. Something about "not enough soap in the world..."). Note that in the above picture taken from the masthead, you're looking DOWN at the top of the masts of those two sailboats in the fore-ground, and they are drydocked about 15' above the water.

Les Sables-d'Olonne - Getting there

Well, I made it! A flight to Paris via Washigton Dulles, the high speed TGV train to Nantes, a SLOW speed train to Les Sables-d'Olonne, and a half hour walk to the port. I didn't have directions to the boat, but it's hard to miss a 600 slip marina and once there, impossible to miss a row of 7 Lagoon catamarans tied up at a dock. I will note that I was second-guessing every piece of clothing I had jammed into my 2 duffle bags as I made my way from the train. Those bags were heavy!
All things said, the trip was a breeze. Especially considering I had no concrete plans except "fly to Paris and then take a train from there...". Armed with the French-English dictionary which Jen thoughtfully tucked into my carry-on, I brushed off my high school French and bumbled my way through.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Les Sables-d’Olonne... the current location of the boat. Gregg is at this very moment on his way there as he will be sailing as crew with the delivery company from Les Sables D’Olonne to somewhere in the Azores. I will update this post with coordinates as I get them.

Apparently, the departure of the boat was delayed due to a blockade of the port by French fishermen protesting fuel prices.

Update - 5:30 p.m. CDT: I heard from Gregg. First off, he said the boat is beautiful! The departure has been delayed a bit more due to weather. They are now scheduled to set sail on 5-29-08. Hmmm... a couple extra days in a marina on the coast of France. I can think of worse ways to spend my time...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mind the Gap

I realize it's difficult for most people to understand what we're about to do. I don't think we fully understand at this point exactly what we're getting into. I just got back from visiting friends in California and got the perspective of non-boaters & their children.

I get the impression most adults just think we're nuts (boaters or not) and we won't make it very long. In fact, one person actually said we wouldn't make it more than 2 years. Maybe I'll put a poll on the blog. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, I guess. I really hope we make it longer than that - there are a lot of places we'd like to see and I think this will be a great experience for us as a family. Not to mention... who wouldn't want to spend Christmas on the beach in the Bahamas rather than freezing your butt off in Chicago?

Anyway, the kids thought it was cool - especially once they found out there are "trampolines" on the boat. I did find myself having to explain several times that we are moving onto the boat. That the boat is where we will be living - not in a house. That was a tough concept for them (hell, it's still a tough one for me to wrap my brain around sometimes). One of the kids simply said we were crazy and another said it was a terrible place for a little kid. I think the most important thing I'm trying to take away from the less than positive comments I hear (from kids and adults, alike) is that I don't need to defend our decision.... um... although I am still compelled to do so. I really need to get over that. My friends, Daneal & Chris, were very supportive and curious about the logistics of the whole thing.

I'm going to get on a bit of a soapbox now. Chris works for a water/wastewater company so we talked a bit about wastewater and specifically pumping out and legality/practice of dumping the holding tank off shore. Somehow, Daneal & I got onto the topic of flushing medications and what a huge problem this is for wastewater treatment facilities (and more generally, for the environment as a whole). If you flush meds, PLEASE STOP!!! This article gets into the details if you're interested in learning more:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Boat

After almost two years of research, boat shows, and inspecting new and used boats, Jen and I found the perfect platform for our cruising home. We found it in the form of a Lagoon 420. Our primary criteria were 1) A safe blue-water sailboat, 2) A comfortable home, and 3) Decent sailing performance. We spent a lot of time looking at used catamarans and found that we needed to stick with fairly recent models to meet the comfortable home requirement. When we got on the 420, it was love at first sight. It feels like it was designed just for us, but more on that in later posts. We decided on buying a new 420, partially so that we could get the diesel model rather than the electric for ease of maintenance during cruising. While we thought the the electric version was cool, it was a bit of a concern for a cruising boat. We needed something that was not going to require specialized skills and difficult-to-get replacement parts when repairs were required.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Now, I know it's still the midwest, and I know it's still March... but COME ON ALREADY!!! It was almost completely gone... then yesterday... 6 or so more inches of fresh snow.
Fortunately, it doesn't look like it will be around for too long. It does, however, make the waiting even more difficult.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Chesapeake Bay

I am so ready to be out on the water again...
As much as I have enjoyed summers in the midwest, I am totally over the winters. Mother Nature must have known that this would be our last Chicago winter and decided to give us quite the send off. This has been one of the worst winters I can remember... and I've lived here most of my 39 years.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Google Earth

To those of you who are interested in watching our progress, I highly recommend you install Google Earth ( if you haven't already. It's free and you can enter coordinates for search criteria (which I will be posting here as time and connectivity permit). The app will "fly" you to the location so you can view local info, user posted photos, and of course, satellite imagery. Warning - it's a HUGE time drain.

For starters, the boat factory is somewhere in this area: 46°46'52.69"N, 1°25'49.67"W. When plugging coordinates into Google Earth, you can just leave out the ° symbol (use a space), i.e., 46 46'52.69"N, 1 25'49.67"W, for example. The boat is scheduled to exit the factory on May 5, and from what I understand, we will be able to watch it's progress as it's delivered across the Atlantic from France to Annapolis, MD.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Another boat show...

Just got home from the Miami boat show. We got to wander around the same model boat as ours, take some measurements & photos and shop for equipment the boat. We also got to ask our broker, Brian, lots of questions. He has been extremely helpful throughout this process. We know a couple Brians and I have dubbed our broker "Fun Brian" so there is no question as to which Brian is on the phone. Anyway, below is a shot of the Miami Marina with the Harbor Bridge in the background. It was our last night, and it was around 80 F. Beautiful.
But now we're back in the deep freeze - the low temp tonight is supposed to be -4 F, which by this winter's standards, really isn't THAT bad. Ummm.... next year this time, I expect to be staying in the Miami area at least for a couple weeks... before we sail somewhere else that is also WARM. No circumnavigation of Iceland for me! BTW - being a novice sailor at best, before buying this boat, foul weather gear for me would've included... well, I guess the kind of stuff I have to wear for at least the next few weeks around here - snow boots, gloves, a heavy winter coat.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


A lot of people ask us why we're leaving our home, family, friends, etc. I respectfully submit this photo. That's our dock at the bottom left of the photo. You'll notice it's covered with snow and surrounded by ice. Enough said.