Thursday, May 20, 2010

Back in the USA

Dock lines are ON!  

We're tied up on the New River where we spent Christmas in 2008.  Matt, the Dock Master here remembered us and came out to greet us as we pulled alongside to tie up. 

We called in to US Customs to clear in and they took our info and that gives us 24 hours to appear in person.  This policy makes arrival in a big port like this much more convenient.  We'll take a taxi tomorrow morning.

It will be a busy week here.  Tomorrow we will move the boat further up New River to the Lauderdale Marine Center where we will get the boat hauled out for new bottom paint and other maintenance.  I have a lot of chores I want to accomplish while the boat is out of the water and getting them done without interfering with the guys sanding and painting the boat will be interesting.  

Once the boat is back in the water we'll move her back down the New River to where we're docked now and spend a few days getting ready for the trip to Charleston, SC.  I enjoy spending time on the New River with all the incredible mega yachts that get towed through here, and easy access to ANYTHING you might need for boat maintenance.  However, we do need to move on soon. We're pushing a little to be sure we make it to Norfolk, VA in time to leave the boat there so that we can attend a wedding in Kentucky late in June.

Our trip ended with a bang, but fortunately the bang was not ours.  As we were waiting for the 17th ST bridge to open so that we could enter New River, a catamaran that had followed us into the channel passed us and headed straight for the bridge.  I was surprised as it was about the same size catamaran as Mirasol and we are 10' taller than the bridge clearance.  Jen exclaimed that they weren't going to make it, but when I looked at it I figured looks are deceiving whenever approaching a bridge and since they were not slowing down at all they must know they can get under it.  Nope.  BANG!  With at least 5 feet of their mast unable to pass under the bridge, the catamaran's bows rose out of the water and the boat tipped back at least 30 degrees before the forestay snapped and the whole rig came down, folding in half as it went.  We were stunned.  No one appeared to have been hurt as the entire mast fell to the port side of the boat.  

I can not imagine what the captain had been thinking.  The bridge is a massive structure that could not be missed, it's clearance is clearly marked on the charts, and there were at least 2 other sailboats ahead of it who had pulled to the side to wait for the bridge to open.  Either he didn't see the bridge for some reason or he felt he could easily clear it as he did not slow down at all and hit the bridge at about 5 or 6 knots.  All I can guess is the captain went below and left a guest at the helm without giving them instructions to stop before the bridge. What a mess!  

With this reminder of how a good day can turn bad fast, Jen and I were very happy to get the dock lines tied on and the ice cold beer opened at last!

BVI to Ft Lauderdale - Day 7

The past 24 hours have been a pleasant motor-sail through the Northeast and Northwest Providence Channels of the Bahamas. The winds clocked from East to Southwest so we went from a dead run to a beat, but winds were mostly under 10 knots, so it was a motor-sail the whole way. We were frequently able to see land during this part of the passage, which is a treat after 5 days of an unremarkable horizon.

We also saw lots of ships while transiting the Bahamas. The New Providence Channel is a busy shipping channel for both cargo and cruise ships. We always had a ship in view or at least on radar. At one point last night around 3AM Jen commented to me that she felt like an air traffic controller as she had 5 ships on radar, all in close proximity to Mirasol.

At about 5:00 AM this morning we rounded the northern tip of the Great Bahamas Banks and entered the Straits of Florida. We set our course for Miami so that as we drift north with the Gulf Stream during our crossing we should end up somewhere around Ft Lauderdale by the time we get to the Florida coast. As I write this, we have a 3.4 knot northerly current and a whopping 4 knots of wind from the east. I am glad our port engine continues to behave itself.

We’ve seen quite a few sport fisherman fishing boats boiling across the Straits on their way to clear in to the Bahamas at Bimini for a long weekend of fishing. I must admit a twinge of envy knowing they will make the crossing in under 2 hours instead of the leisurely 8 hours we will require for the same distance. I do not, however, envy their fuel bill!

Once we arrive in Ft Lauderdale and clear customs, our plan is to find a slip for the night along the New River. Quinn will be excited to see the Jungle Queen – a brightly decorated double-decker river boat full of tourists that cruises up and down the New River. He would seldom let it pass by without running on deck and waving during our last visit in December 2008. All three of us will be excited to step foot on land and spend some time off the boat. Jen has already decided that she wants pizza for dinner tonight. Yummy.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

BVI to Ft Lauderdale - Day 6

Welcome to the Bahamas, Mon! Most of yesterday we were working our way up the Atlantic side of the south eastern islands and cays of the Bahamas. Just now we made the turn around Eleuthera Island and into the Northeast Providence Channel. The Providence Channel is a large body of deep water that runs generally East-West and separates the Abacos and Grand Bahama to the North from the rest of the Bahamas to the South. We can see Eleuthera Island to our port and it’s nice to be in sight of land for a little while after 5 days at sea. Jen and I wish we had time to make landfall here and enjoy a few weeks in the Bahamas, but we just don’t have the time. Between the haul-out in Ft Lauderdale for new bottom paint and the need to get north of the hurricane box we need to give it a pass this time around. If we return to the Caribbean next year I expect we’ll be sure to leave enough time in the schedule for several weeks in the Bahamas on the way back north.

We have been motoring for the past 24 hours as the winds have been under 10 knots directly on the stern, giving us only a few knots of useful wind. Normally we motor on only one engine to conserve fuel, but about 14 hours ago fuel became a secondary concern. I downloaded a weather update using our satellite phone and discovered that the winds are expected to pick up from the North mid Friday and continue blowing from the N-NE through Sunday. North winds will make the Gulf Stream crossing lumpy and uncomfortable, so Jen made the call: “light the fires and kick the tires, honey” and since then we’ve been making our best speed towards Ft Lauderdale. We have sufficient fuel to motor the whole way, but I’m hoping that won’t be necessary.

Those of you paying attention might notice that we are motoring on both engines. The problem with the port engine overheating has not reoccurred. We’re keeping our fingers crossed and a close eye on the exhaust water stream and with a little luck we won’t run into that again on this passage. As a precaution we’re running that engine at 2200-2300 RPM instead of our usual 2400-2500 RPM cruising range. Once in Ft Lauderdale I’ll go over the entire cooling system very carefully and if I don’t find anything I’ll replace the coolant temperature sensor. I’ve always wished for engine temperature gauges on Mirasol instead of lights that give you no warning that something is starting to go wrong (my Dad calls these “idiot lights”), so installing gauges might become a summer project.

We currently have about 185 nm to go so we are hoping for a Thursday landfall in Ft Lauderdale. All arrival times subject to change without notice!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

BVI to Ft Lauderdale- Day 5

Yesterday and today have been somewhat eventful. Yesterday was our 7th wedding anniversary. We celebrated with a steak dinner of Steak au Poivre with sherry mustard sauce, green beans and basmati rice. Alas, no wine as we maintain a dry boat when on a passage. We’ll revisit the celebrations once we are in Ft Lauderdale.

With light winds, we had the Gennaker up yesterday morning until around 10AM when gusty winds and local squall activity prompted us to roll it in. We managed to get it in a “figure 8” while furling it, which is a bit of a pain. Of course I was quite collected about the whole thing and only shouted when necessary for her to hear me from the bow over the wildly flogging sail. Once we managed to clear up the mess and furl the sail, Jen mentioned that I was shouting at her. My reply that “you couldn’t hear me from the bow unless I shouted” was noted, and then I was reminded that I continued to shout when she was standing right next to me. Apparently I channeled Captain Bligh again. On our anniversary. Oops. Jen was pretty nice about the whole thing, though.

For the rest of the day and evening we made good time with winds in the mid teens and speeds of 6.5 – 7.5 knots. By 1AM this morning the wind died down and we cranked up the port engine to keep our speeds in the low 6’s. Sometime early yesterday we passed our halfway point.

At 7:30 this morning, the engine over-temperature alarm went off and we shut it down. After inspecting the strainer and finding no debris, noting that the coolant overflow was at the normal level and the fan belt is ok, I elected to restart the engine to see if we had raw water flow instead of opening the raw water impeller plate to inspect the impeller, which involves wrapping oneself around a toasty warm engine. The engine started, the over-temp alarm sounded and then shut off, and we noted that plenty of water was ejecting from the exhaust. Hmmm. Maybe it was seaweed or a plastic bag blocking the intake, which subsequently fell off. So we hoped.

About 2 hours later the over-temp alarm went off again. Same drill, only this time I went overside to visually inspect the raw water intake. It looked normal (and the surrounding water was the most amazing deep blue). We restarted the engine and it’s raw water flow is once again just fine. We’ve discussed our options and we decided to continue running on the port engine for a while to see if the alarm goes off again. When it does, we’ll check the exhaust for water flow prior to shutting down the engine. If water flow is not OK, then I believe we have some blockage inside the sail drive that is getting stuck in the seacock upstream of the raw water pump, and then falling back down the sail drive when the engine is shut off, effectively but temporarily unblocking itself. I feel the impeller and heat exchanger are not faulty as we have very good raw water flow when we restart.

If the raw water flow is OK while the alarm’s sounding, we’ll leave the engine off overnight to cool completely down and I’ll check the coolant level in the heat exchanger. The overflow tank is at the proper level but maybe something is preventing it from feeding the coolant back into the engine and we have a low coolant problem. That will be easily corrected. If neither of these are the problem, I’ll poke around the plumbing of the cooling system and coolant pump as best I can to look for a problem. Failing that, we’ll rely on the starboard engine for the rest of the trip, transferring fuel from the port tank if and as required. We’ll leave the port engine off except for when we need it for maneuvering. It’s nice to have two! (except when working on the maintenance list).

So, as I write this Jen’s showering (jealous of my swim, I suspect), Quinn’s napping, and I’m fantasizing about an ice cold beer. Mmmmm.

Monday, May 17, 2010

BVI to Ft Lauderdale - Day 4

Sunday (Day 3) turned out to be a very nice day and night for sailing. The wind moderated enough for the seas to settle down to 6’-7’ easterly swells and we made good time. At dawn we shook out the reef in the main and by 8AM we had the Gennaker up. Around noon we had to drop the Gennaker and switch to the Jib as the winds picked up into the low twenties. At dusk we tucked in a reef to the main and the overnight sail was uneventful with the exception of a few ships passing us on their way to Puerto Rico.

We saw a couple of ocean going tugs pulling cargo ship-sized barges loaded high with shipping containers. It always surprises me to see such a small vessel towing barges so large they dwarf many cargo ships. The towing cable appears to be between a half to a full mile long.

We’re expecting today, our fourth day at sea, to be the slowest sail so far. The winds have dropped down into the mid teens and are now nearly dead astern.

Our satellite phone either has 112 minutes left, or only 12, we’re not sure. So, if you don’t see any more updates, it’s because we’ve run out of minutes! Check our web page for our current position, about 60nm North of the Caicos Islands.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

BVI To Ft Lauderdale, Day 3

Our third day a sea finds the crew in good spirits. Everyone seems to have found their sea legs and no one is now suffering from mal de mare. I am still fighting the last of a chest cold, but Jen and Quinn are over their colds now.

Day two was a bit of a challenge as everyone was still getting used to being at sea and still fighting colds. The winds stayed in the mid 20's until early afternoon when they dropped into the high teens, still in the East. The seas remained in the 7-9 range, gradually abating to 5-7 overnight. We maintained sailing with a reef in the main until dawn as we were making decent time and there was still a risk of squalls.

Just when I came on shift at 2:00AM, the GPS data went a little haywire. Our position suddenly jumped 10 miles to the southwest, which caused François (the autopilot) to go into gyrations to get us back on course. Resetting the GPS and the navigation system did not help. After about five minutes, our position error jumped back to within a half mile southwest of what we thought was our correct position. Then, about 20 minutes later our position slowly drifted northeast, eliminating most, but not all of the remaining "error". This drift once again gave François fits as he tried to correct for what he was treating as a HUGE current pushing us sideways.

During both of these GPS position changes, our GPS showed that it was locked on to a minimum of 8 and sometimes 10 satellites. After considering the behavior of our navigation system, I've decided the error must have been in the data being received by our GPS antenna. Uncle Sam must have been making some adjustments in the GPS system. I've encountered erroneous GPS data on several occasions and have confirmed it using one of our backup GPS handhelds. The last time this happened we were just exiting English Harbor, Antigua and our position jumped a mile inland. Great Fun.

We did not have any more boarding seas yesterday, however last night we did have a boarding flying fish. He flew right over my shoulder while I was at the helm and landed in the cockpit. This was a big one, about 10 inches long with a 6 inch wingspan. I briefly considered frying him up for a late night snack, but it seemed more trouble than it's worth and so back to the sea he went.

This morning at dawn we shook out the last reef on the main and raised the Gennaker as the winds are continuing to abate and clock to the South East. You can see our 8:00AM positions on the Current Position page of our website.

BVI to Ft Lauderdale, Day 2

We did leave as planned on Friday around 8:30. As it was a Friday, we performed the obligatory counter-clockwise circle to ward off the bad juju of leaving on a Friday. I’m not sure where this tradition originated, but that’ll be something to look up when we get to Fort Lauderdale.

So far the passage weather has been as forecasted by NOAA and Commander’s Weather. Winds in the mid to high 20’s out of the East and seas 7-9 feet on the beam, which makes moving about the boat quite challenging. The winds are moderating slightly today and should remain in the low to mid 20’s for the next 24 hours or so. As the week progresses and we move north, the winds and seas are predicted to quiet down gradually.

We ticked off 157 nautical miles in the first day, which is a little slow for these winds, but we were sailing with an extra reef tucked in due to the forecasted fast moving and strong squalls. As we are sailing shorthanded we are being quite conservative with the sail plan. We did encounter a few squalls overnight, but the strong ones missed us.

We did have a few boarding seas , one of which broke well above my knees as I was standing at the helm (5’ above the waterline and 4’ inboard.) This is far and away the most water we’ve taken into the cockpit but the scuppers did their job nicely and no water made it into the salon in spite of the open door between the cockpit and salon . As usual, Quinn took it completely in stride and thought it was funny!

Check the Current Position page on our web site for our 8:00 AM position.

BVI to Ft Lauderdale, Day 1

And we’re off! About 1000 nm, route will take us up the eastern side of the Turks and Cacios and then along the eastern side of the southern Bahamas. We’ll cut through the NE Providence Channel and then NW Providence Channel of the Bahamas and then across the Gulf Stream to Ft. Lauderdale. We’ll keep the blog updated as weather, technology, and the authors disposition dictates!

Our position updates can be seen on the Current Position page of