Monthly Archives: September 2015

Finally slipped the lines

Southport NC
Posted by Bill

I can’t believe it has been 4 months and a day since we have docked the boat here in Southport, and we have not untied the lines once. Today we did it! It took us about 2 hours to get everything stowed, clearing the decks, disconnecting power chords and cable TV cable. When you live aboard and stay in one place for an extended period, you get lax about keeping stuff secured, and that was the price paid to get it back to voyaging status. Tide and wind looked good, so off we went.

We invited our dock neighbors John and Marianne to go with us. Most of their boating has been on power boats or their sunfish day sailor, and they have only been sailing on a bigger sailboat a few times. We have become good friends and we do stuff with them frequently, and this was a fun way to spend the day with them. In addition to all of that, we needed to do some shakedown sailing to prepare for the trip south, and I also wanted to check out how the new autopilot worked.

We shoved off, motored out of the Cape Fear River, and sailed down along Oak Island. Then came about and sailed further out into the ocean, motoring back in the Cape Fear shipping channel.

Oak Island and Caswell Beach, including Caswell Beach lighthouse:

Sailing back toward Bald Head Island:

Bald Head Island and Bald Head lighthouse:

Marianne took the helm!

John helped with the lines.

The weather was great and we all had a great time. Believe it or not, this was the first time in over a year that we left the dock to just go sailing for the day!

4 days in the hole

Southport NC
Posted by Bill

The heat finally broke and we started to attack the to-do list in preparation for our trek south. One of the biggest to-dos was to install a new autopilot. The old one, a Raymarine ST7000 is of 1995 vintage. The autopilot is a really nice instrument. You engage it, telling it to keep the current course, or steer to a direction based on the wind (i.e. 45 degrees off of the wind direction), or you can steer to a waypoint via the chart plotter we have (think Garmin map like you have in your car). It is especially nice for long passages to get a break from steering, but we also use it for short periods of time to run and get a drink, or to eat something, or to turn the page on your chart book (maps), you get the idea. The ST7000 started acting up in 2013 when it wouldn’t stay engaged, and flash LOW BATT on the screen, indicating that it wasn’t getting sufficient amperage to operate. After much cursing and troubleshooting, I found a loose ground wire, promptly fixed it, and viola…Otto (what we nicknamed the autopilot) is working again! The people at Raymarine told me that there was no way to repair this unit because it was so old that there are no longer repair parts, so I kept watching for a deal on a new one, knowing it was just a matter of time. I found a great deal months later, which included a Seatalk conversion kit (more on that in a minute) and a free wireless remote, so I grabbed it and stashed it away, trying to get every last bit of time out of the ST7000.

Seatalk is a proprietary network for Raymarine electronics, essentially the language that all of the devices speak when they are connected to something from Raymarine. Our boat electronics are all Raymarine devices: Depth sounder to monitor water depth, speed meter to measure speed through the water, wind to monitor wind speed and direction, GPS (I am sure everyone knows what that is), autopilot, marine VHF radio, chart plotter for electronic maps, and AIS – Automatic Identification System – most ships have this and it shows us on our chart plotter where ships are, how fast they are traveling, the direction they are traveling, and will alert us if we are on a collision course. All of these devices are connected together and share information via Seatalk. The new autopilot is a Raymarine EV200 which uses Seatalk NG (next generation), as do all of the “new evolution” devices on the market today, and of course is not backword compatible with Seatalk. Thus the need for the Seatalk conversion kit.

So on our way back north from Florida in the spring, I put Otto to work one day, and out of nowhere he takes a quick right turn, heading for the river bank. I tried re-calibrating the gyro compass that it uses to know what direction we are going, and it works for a bit, then starts going crazy again. Once we got to Southport, I did more troubleshooting and research, and pinned the problem down to the gyro compass, so it was time to install the new EV200.

I was also putting this “little” project off because I knew the major pain in the ass that it was going to be. I cannot adequately describe the maze of wires that runs through the boat, mostly in inaccessible spaces, to connect and power all of this stuff. Most of it is not labeled. Most of it is tightly bound by zip ties and screwed to bulkheads, making it a real treat to track down what it goes to and what it comes from. I have had to deal with our wiring many times since we got the boat, and it still took a full day to track down the old autopilot connections and plan the new install. To top it off, the area we needed to work in was primarily in the cockpit locker and the quarter berth (guest bedroom…aka – our garage), both packed to the hilt with crap. It took several hours to pull it all out, cockpit locker stuff going up on deck and garage stuff stacked elsewhere inside the boat. Here is a picture to give you the idea:
There was more stuff too, and we had to walk around it for 4 days, as if the limited space of a boat isn’t enough.

The base stations of the electronics are primarily installed in the cockpit locker on the starboard (right) side of the boat. Here is looking down at the empty locker:

Once inside the locker this is the area I spent most of 4 days in:

The new autopilot base station is the last one on the right:

The display portion of the electronics are installed on the steering pedestal or in the cabin at the nav station, but the autopilot is next to the helm (where you steer the boat) on the port (left) side of the boat. Back in the “garage” we took off the fiberglass cover that goes over the steering and pedestal mounts, so that we could get to the wiring area:

Isn’t this lovely:

The components that needed to be installed and networked together are: base station, display unit, rudder reference transducer, gyro compass, Seatalk conversion kit, and wireless base station. Of course, the Seatalk cables that come with the package aren’t long enough to install the system the way you want to, so there was much analysis (and cursing) involved to determine how to install them with the cable you get. The display unit wouldn’t fit in the hole where the old display unit was installed, so we needed to borrow a hole saw and drill a bigger hole over top of the old hole. Based on that, I decided to install the base station and network all of the components to test them out before we installed them permanently. They all worked great, so the next step was to install the Seatalk conversion kit and see if the autopilot could talk to everything else.

Having been responsible for information technology in my previous life (management…so I don’t know how to fix your computer…before you ask), experience has taught me that communications protocol conversions never work as stated, and usually take most of allotted time on a project. I expected the Seatalk conversion kit to be the same, and was dreading this part the most. The connector that plugs into the old Seatalk network was not compatible with our network, so I had to cut and splice some wires, but other than that…it worked like a champ and everything talked like it should…ah, but wait…the AIS is not communicating to the chart plotter! That is not even part of the new system so I must have broken something during the de-install of the old Otto. So I thought. After some research, I used a troubleshooting function on the chart plotter and AIS started working again! We then installed all of the new components in their permanent locations. Tricia was a huge help through the whole thing, especially the part where you have to stick your arm through a 3 x 4 inch access, make a right turn, feel around blindly for mounting hardware, and unscrew the nuts. My arm was too big to fit!

4 days later…new Otto, and everything is back to normal on Island Bound. Now we need to do a test run at sea.

After finishing the autopilot install, we changed the oil in the transmission and cleaned the filters on the shower sump pump, both of which require the garage to be cleared out. Cocktails where served at the end of the dock by 5:00. I am exhausted!

Passing the one year mark

Southport NC
Posted by Bill

Well today marks one year since we left our home dock and started cruising full time. Time does fly when your having fun! So far it has been the adventure of a life time. When we left we had a general goal to make it to Florida and maybe the Bahamas for the first year, but if anyone asked what our plans were, we always said “not to be cold anymore”. We achieved all of those things. We also said that we would continue doing this until it wasn’t fun anymore, and we are looking forward to the next year! It hasn’t been without it’s challenges…rough weather, shoaling, currents and tides, boat maintenance. But, the rewards have far exceeded the challenges. We are no longer novice cruisers and have graduated beyond newbie!! It is amazing to think of what we have experienced and learned in one year.

Here is a picture from the day we left:
Departure 2014

And here we are just last week at Lockwoods Folley Inlet…not much worse for wear!:

Initially we had intended to cruise down the eastern Caribbean island chain for our second year, but after cruising the central and northern Bahamas, we wanted to go back and cruise down the southern chain of keys. We have sailed several times in the Virgin Islands, and after being in the Bahamas, we are not sure it is worth going further. That being said…I think Cuba will be our target for the year following this one. We want to check it out before the rest of the world screws it up.

Thanks for following us via this blog. I am amazed at how many people are reading it…never expected it. I still get a load of crap for not keeping it up as often as I used to. Stay tuned. Once we get moving again I’ll have more to share.

So far this week we got the secondary anchor locker cleaned out and the fuel filters cleaned/changed. We also redid the stitching in the sacrificial leach of our genoa (front sail), which wasn’t even on the official list of stuff to do. It was a pain in the ass, but we got it done! Thanks to our friends John and Mary Ann for letting us use their truck and driveway, it made it so much easier!:
We also got all of the stuff ordered that we needed for the boat to get the other projects done. Just a few more weeks!!

And so it begins

Southport NC
Posted by Bill

Now that the labor day and Tricia’s birthday celebrations have ended, we begin to get ready for moving south. As in everything with this life style, it depends on the weather, but we have been planning to leave anywhere between the middle of October to the first of November. Our general plan is to spend December in Marathon in the Florida Keys, and then wait for a weather window to cross to the Bahamas. Once in the Bahamas we want to explore the Exuma chain of keys and islands (in southern Bahamas), and then work our way back through the Abacos (northern Bahamas) on our way home. This year, weather windows were very hard to come by to make the crossing, so we may have to wait it out for awhile again in January.

We would like to stop at Isle of Palms/Charleston, Beaufort SC, St Augustine, Vero Beach, and Key Biscayne/Miami along the way. At least a couple of days each. Given that, we need to leave no later than November 1. That gives us 4 – 6 weeks to get the boat ready to go…yikes! In that time period we need to:

– Replace the auto pilot
– Replace the voltage regulator
– Have the bottom cleaned and check zincs
– Stain teak
– Get a Kettlewell cruising guide for the ICW (we found out this is a must have)
– Clean out the secondary anchor locker
– Do another round of waxing and stainless polishing
– Replace rusted hose clamps
– Change engine oil and transmission oil
– Clean out fuel filter canister and replace filter
– Check out all major systems to prepare for ocean travel

Many of these things were put off so that we didn’t have to work in the high heat indexes here in the summer months, so now we need to get serious! The next week looks pretty bad in that regard, and I am hoping that the weeks after provide some better relief.

On top of the maintenance, we also want to spend a few days taking the boat to downtown Wilmington, and to Bald Head Island. Guess I better get busy!!

Boat trip to the beach

Lockwoods Folley Inlet, NC, ICW
Posted by Bill

Today we joined Tony, Priscilla, and Tommie in their fishing skiff and motored down the ICW to Lockwoods Folley inlet. Matt, Shirley and Jimmy joined Rick and Barb in their fishing boat, complete with dogs, and we all did some wallowing and fishing on Holden Beach.

Matt and Shirley

We were a little concerned with the weather as there were storms rolling in off of the ocean. We had a little sprinkling of rain on the way there, but once we were at the inlet, all of the bad stuff parted and went to either side of us. The water there is also much clearer than our normal beach spots around oak island because it is further away from the Cape Fear river entrance and is not influenced by the river water. We motored back just in time to avoid a downpour, and had another cookout, this time burgers and dogs. Great day!

Another party on D dock

Southport NC
Posted by Bill

Well we had another great party on D dock today. John and Mary Ann brought some tuna that they had caught the other day, Greg brought some red fish that he caught today, Matt and Shirley brought some marinated chicken thighs, we brought some hot Italian sausage, and I can’t remember who else brought what for the grill. Everyone also brought side dishes and desserts. Matt did a great job manning the grill (as usual). It was a great feast! Everyone sang happy birthday to Tricia and ate and drank late into the night. Even the weather cooperated!


Paying it forward and acts of kindness

Southport, NC
Posted by Bill

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that one of the coolest parts of a cruising lifestyle is the cruising/boating community. I have written about it several times and it continues to renew my faith in mankind. If you don’t follow the blog, here is the cliff notes version: People watch out for each other. It doesn’t matter how long you have known them. Everyone is willing to share, give, help and loan, just about anything that you might need, especially in an emergency. It is definitely a “pay it forward” community, and everyone knows what it is like to need help when you live like this.

The people here on D dock have been an amazing example of this, and we have taken advantage of the use of cars especially (since we don’t have one). Matt and Shirley have given us a standing offer to use a car any time we need it. Our friend Greg gave us carte blanche use of his truck that he leaves here (he is here mostly on the weekends only). Friends Mark and Jane have offered to give us one of their cars any time we are in need, and so have friends John and Mary Ann. I always hate asking, even though they have put the standing offers out there, but when we really need a car…we take it. Most recently, John and Mary Ann’s son Patrick left for college and they offered the use of his truck while he is away. Knowing that we would do anything to not have to ask for it, they brought it to the marina and gave us the keys. They (like our friend Greg) actually said we are doing them a favor because cars do better when they are used, which may be true, but I suspect that they highlight that to help us feel better about it. These are true acts of kindness that must be talked about, along with the countless other things, from sharing fish that were caught to giving up a spare part to help someone in need.

I also include “people taking you out for a ride on their boat” as one of those acts of kindness and friendship. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a fanatic about being on the water, and I rarely pass up a boat ride! Today our friend Rick took us out on his fishing boat. It was a beautiful day and we rode up the Cape Fear River, through Snows Cut, up in to the Masonborough area, and back.

Pulling out of Southport Marina:

Cape Fear River:

It only took a couple of hours or so to make the trip in his boat…a trip that would take us all day in ours! A fun thing to do on a hot day.

Many thanks to our D dock neighbors, and all the others who have helped us along the way!

There is another side of all of this that makes the kindness of the cruising/boating community work. Most people we know strive to be self sufficient. They would never expect to freeload or take advantage of each other. There are exceptions like everything else…but the exceptions are rare. I believe that it provides a base level of trust where people can feel open and free to give. Not so in our society at large today. If everyone starts with a “pay it forward” mentality, and an act of kindness, perhaps we can transform society at large. Let’s all start today!!

Wrap up from up north

Southport, NC
Posted by Bill

We closed up the lake house and headed back to Columbus for a few days. We will miss our friends at the lake and hope to see them next year!

The Columbus visit was a whirlwind and very emotional. With the death of our friend Terri, we attended calling hours and the funeral. We were glad that we were up north so we could attend. After the funeral, the family threw a big “Terri style” party complete with bubble machine, blinking glasses, jello shots and munchies…typical Terri flair!! It was a great way to celebrate her life and the fun that everyone had with her. We made around 200 jello shots as a contribution to the celebration:
Copeland family, our thoughts and prayers will be with you.

The next day we celebrated Tricia’s parents 65th wedding anniversary with fresh Lake Erie perch and peaches. Great seeing everyone!

We had lunch with the kids and grandkids one day, and then breakfast on Sunday when we left for Cincinnati:
I did a terrible job of getting pictures…oh well.

It was sad saying goodbye to the family. We miss them all very much. We were also sorry that we didn’t get to spend more time with our Columbus friends…just too much happening in the short time we were there. We stayed a day in Cinci with my brother Chip and his family, and had a visit with my Mom. Great time with them!! Can’t wait to see everyone again.

Then the long drive back to Southport. Driving is insane! I have no idea how we dealt with the insanity every day in our old lives. Glad to be back in the world of tides, currents, sand and sea. It was good catching up with our friends in Southport, as we missed them too! Thanks to Matt and Shirley for watching over our floating home while we were gone. We settled in to our old routine of having happy hour at the end of D dock, watching dolphins, boats and pelicans. Here is the latest visitor to the marina…nice boat:

The “real world” has it’s conveniences, and we enjoyed them during our trip, but there is something about living this close to nature and living on the water that trumps the “real world”. We all like different things, but I am grateful to be able to live like this, for however long it can go. Now if we could just get those other friends and family here……