Two months living aboard and final preparation

We hit the two months mark since we have moved back aboard Tranquility. So far it has been 24/7 work and I suspect it won’t end very soon. The difference with the previous condition is that now we are finally untethered: we sold the car, we have a provisioned and fully mobile boat and we took care of few bureaucratic conundrums strictly related with life on land. So now we can move where it pleases us!

Not too fast, though. The brake at this point is the condition of the boat that keep changing over time. We are making constant improvements in the degree of comfort and sailing performances since the beginning of April. Like the life cycle of a star, the interior and the deck keep going through a alternate state of expansion and contractions. Tools and parts come out of storage, the content of every locker and box has to be moved around, and everything shifts and gets hauled somewhere else. Every time things are put back together we can see the improvements, but then the next job brings more chaos aboard. It is definitely not easy to live and work on a boat, and this is so far limiting our mobility. Luckily we can work at anchor so we don’t have to necessarily be tied to the land, and every trip ashore we unload garbage and unnecessary items gaining more and more living space.

Despite this apparently erratic behavior our preparation happened with a specific spreadsheet-assisted path. Every step put us closer to certain milestones and eventually to the end of the preparation and the beginning of the trip.

The first milestone was to leave the docks. After two years spent running a landlocked life, Tranquility was able to get unchained and make a very slow progress toward the next step, the boatyard. It took us a few days to get there. Our destination was rather close but we experienced issues with some freeloading marine animals and vegetables that were squatting peacefully on the bottom of our boat seriously limiting our speed on the water and ultimately on the ground. Once we were lifted outside of the water they were brutally eliminated, with little or none compassion. This slow pace made for nice time outdoor, timing the tides we moved from anchorage to anchorage, savoring wonderful sceneries between St.Simons and Cumberland Island, all the way into St.Marys and the boatyard.

St. Marys Boat Services became our new home for 1 month. Personally I have been in many boat yards before but this particular one deserves a special mention. It’s very uncommon to find a place where you can both live aboard while working and have free access to their tools. I am not talking about a drill or an angle grinder. Here you have access to a woodwork and a metal shop equipped with table saw, drill press, lathe, welders, belt sanders and other exciting shop tools. The managers are friendly and ready to find a way to help you in every possible way. The community of liveaboards has set some common spaces and rules of cohabitation so it’s easy to meet interesting people, ready to share stories and knowledge.

On the hard we had the opportunity to lose and find again Beta, our cat, who jumped ship for two weeks. We also had a good look at our bottom, dropped the rudder, had a machine shop put a square key in it for a new tiller cap, we replaced the propeller, removed and fiberglassed two thru-hulls, repaired a water intrusion in the deadwood, repainted the topsides, sanded the old bottom paint and put 5 coats of new antifouling, installed a Norvane self steering, new lifelines, interior wood work and painting. I probably forget a lot of other jobs that happened while we were looking for our cat or trying to stay cool in the hot Georgia climate. I have never been a fan of 44oz Jiffy mart fountain drinks, but working in the Georgia heat made me change my mind and I learned how to add more water to the ice after the drink was gone to extend the cooling effect. This is life without refrigeration.

I’d like to go through the details of our work as I did in the past but lately the pace is too high to both work and write about it. I even feel a little guilty in writing this post as the job list is waiting for my attention. You would wonder what possibly is left to do on Tranquility after a two year refit. If you owned a boat before you probably know the answer. If you didn’t, think twice about buying a boat. The reality is that a boat is never fully finished and  wrapping up projects may take more time that you can possibly expect.

Eventually splashing time arrived, after one month exactly. I feel proud of what we did in this amount of time, I am usually pretty unsatisfied with my speed, but not this time! We immediately enjoyed being at anchor in the marshes of Camden and Glynn. The first day at anchor, right in front of the boatyard, we simply laid down and did nothing for the whole day. Then little by little we resumed our course, together with high doses of Battlestar Galactica. Now we are back where we started, saying goodbye to friends and provisioning the boat for a long trip, and of course checking off few more jobs on the list.

If you like to see us on a map, check our Delorme track: https://share.delorme.com/sytranquility

 

 

The good enough boat

There is a lot going on and around Tranquility, even more in our own lives. The final rush to be ready to leave the dock is undergoing, with printed sections of spreadsheets that follow me everywhere I go…

There is a lot going on and around Tranquility, even more in our own lives. The final rush to be ready to leave the dock is undergoing, with printed sections of spreadsheets that follow me everywhere I go. Thankfully Kate is on the organizational side now that she ended her jobs and she is doing an incredible job with boat work and trying to contain  my chaos.

Somehow I am failing to report all of this on the blog. It was difficult to sit and focus on the plan and make time to narrate what was happening. For me writing requires finding an empty space in my mind. There was definitely time and energy to do so, but as the boat required more immediate and interconnected actions, my mind was never really at ease. In fact,  once the big jobs like structural repairs and painting ended we were left with a huge list of smaller tasks and installation that required full attention. Basically we need to put Tranquility back together.

Every single one of these tasks come with decisions, every decision needs a justification. What we liked when we first set step on Tranquility was that the conditions of the boat gave us a very wide freedom of choice. Paul, the previous owner, had suddenly interrupted the refit of the boat and put her up for sale, leaving her bones exposed and unfinished. We liked her structure and her lines and we dreamed about how we could build the rest by ourselves to make her the best possible fit for us. This is the most alluring side of a boat refit, the idea to customize the boat according to your needs and desires. Three years later I just started to realize how this is a big trap we voluntarily threw ourselves in.

For example, at a certain moment you need to install fans to increase the ventilation ability of the cabin, displace moisture and have some cool air pampering your skin when you try to fall asleep, read a book or when you deal with hot pots on the stove. You also need a product that does the job while using 12v DC power frugally and that won’t cost a fortune. Then you check your wallet and try to decide how much money you are comfortable to put in this department.

The quest then starts, researching as many options as you can, scrolling through products lists and supplier catalogs, reading their description, keeping an eye on the price to easily ditch the ones that exceeds your pockets. The market is flooded with products that claim to be the best, or good enough, or just sit there available for purchase and the temptation is always to maximize the outcome, because “you always deserve the best deal”.

I spent a ton of time reading and researching about 12v fans, the ones that swivel and the ones that don’t, multi or single speed, and so on. When this was not enough I sought the opinion of experts and when finally I was very close to hit the Pay Now button the constant fear of settling for something not optimal made me delay the purchase. I was paralyzed by the fact that there could be something better or the same product for a better price, just few clicks away.

On a list of items necessary for a safe passage at sea fans surely sit at its bottom. So try to imagine how this would go for all the more important items an empty boat needs to be fitted for ocean passages. Luckily that process spread through 3 years of pondering, tests and life changes, but it is now, when everything converge to the final preparation that the sunken costs of decision making emerges from the mist of the past. It’s the bottleneck of opportunities, the crossroad of possibilities. All the indecisions and doubts have to disappear because it’s time to go. Why did I ordered two inches wide nylon webbing  instead of one? Why propane leak detectors are so expensive? Where am I going to order those mast winches? When am I finally installing that water maker?

Few years ago I experienced doing boat work and repairs in places of the world where the options were scarce. If I was lucky I could choose between product A and product B, but most of the time I had to go for a single choice, with no alternative on the price. Nonetheless the work was done, and my satisfaction towards the result was boosted by overcoming the challenges of the environment. Feeling like there were no alternatives did a lot for on my perception of the result, feeling heroic to have dealt with such situation.

Doing the same in the US, the bountiful land of opportunity, leave me often with the feeling that the job could have been done better, I look at other boats to seek comparisons, and the spiral of self-doubting keeps spinning. It seems that the number of options alone is not necessarily a good recipe for satisfaction, and instead it generates fatigue and uncertainty. After all, when you have so many options you are the sole responsible of your decisions, and most of the time you end up thinking it could have been better.

Finally the number of options decrease as we are getting close to completion. Most of the equipment is installed or on its way, few items are still missing as we make more space for decisions. Also when things finally fall into place satisfaction for starts to sink in and our good enough boat is looking awesome. I am sure the empty time of writing will be more frequent, and so this blogging adventure will be fueled by the real one. It’s happening!

Keep the paint flow

The itch of going back to the ocean has often disturbed my ability to see all the gifts the Golden Isles provided us with, from wonderful friends to work opportunities, all surrounded by beautiful wilderness and by the warmth of a great sailing community.

Two coats of epoxy primer wrap Tranquility’s deck as I walk the dock in the cold morning, the first sunbeams reflects on the pure white forming little drops of dew on the surface. The hard work is slowing paying off and the grey tormented deck is already a memory. One more coat will hide any further mark of underlayer with an immaculate cloak, then the sexy two-part polyhurethane paint will have the perfect stage to play its glossy role.

Painting and sanding punctuate our days. The weather rules our schedule, as we are doing everything in open air, vulnerable to atmospheric change. We look for dry days, the warmer the better, but this time of the year in Coastal Georgia warm means humid and we have to adapt to good enough conditions. It’s always a little too windy or too humid or too cold. We don’t have the luxury to wait for the perfect day and we do the best with what we get. Other events, from family visits to work obligations, decide when we are able to continue working. We keep pushing but we can’t always walk at the pace we would like and our March deadline is getting closer every day.

Kate is also taking the lead in re-organizing our stuff to re-enter the boat with our long discussed PileSystem©. One pile is named Back to the boat, one is For Sale/Donation, one is PermanentStorage and one is Trash. There are more complicated subpiles that I still quite don’t understand, but I have a blind faith in Kate’s skills and I simply make myself available to follow orders, which for today consists in migrating everything we don’t need from inside the boat with the same formula: Store, Give Away or Dump.

As we work to change our mindset and we go through our belongings I am feeling a profound appreciation for the place we have been living for the last two years. The itch of going back to the ocean has often disturbed my ability to see all the gifts the Golden Isles provided us with, from wonderful friends to work opportunities, all surrounded by beautiful wilderness and by the warmth of a great sailing community. We and Tranquility went through a lot during this time, more than we could have possibly hoped for when we first launch from New Bedford, MA.

My parents recently visited us from Italy. It was their first trip to the US and  we showed them around and took them to our favorite spots in this part of Georgia. We weren’t able to see them all, as they are too many. Through their amused eyes I could see once again how wonderful this coast is from many different points of view. There will a be time for goodbye and as we approach it the feelings of gratitude and nostalgia begin to pay us a visit. But it’s not time yet, we are still here and we have to keep the paint flow.

Getting ready for deck painting

During the last month of boat works I focused on preparing the deck for painting, a job that shouldn’t require a month of full time work. In reality, this task is much more than sand the old paint off and clean the surface.

The job can be summarized by this sequence:

  • sanding
  • fiberglass jobs where needed
  • more sanding
  • more fiberglass repairs
  • fairing
  • more sanding
  • more fairing

Do, repeat and loop the sequence to one’s own standard of “ready to go”.

A “detail oriented personality” could go ahead in an obsessive and repetitive challenge until the fingertips will be scratched to the bone  before considering the deck ready for painting. Luckily I am not that kind of person. On the other hand I am a victim of creative ideas randomly rising  during the progression of the project. This modifications sometimes put a heavy hand in the plan, disrupting it totally.

Deck modifications

Before a thorough deck preparation could start I had to complete few design ideas that would help solve some issues we experienced with the original deck layout.

Columbia 29s were built with an interesting deck to hull joint that rises few inches above the deck to form  bulwarks from aft to end. This was also the designer’s signature to give a very nice sheer line to the deck. We love the bulwark on Tranquility, they help keeping your feet on deck when the boat heels as well as providing a barrier for objects that wants to fall overboard.

The drawback is that mooring lines and other overhanging hardware have to climb this protective wall incurring in the risk of chafing or making their installation difficult. This is particularly true on the bow, where the anchor roller and other deck hardware had to rest on a precarious base made of untreated construction grade lumber that obviously had rotted away and became a condo for photophobic insects by the time we owned the boat. Shame on whoever cobbled up that ridicolous solution!

The problem had to be addressed with some creativity and a lot of courage. When it was clear that Tranquility required a “nose job” I went through the anxieties and insecurities common to pre and post plastic surgery. With a heavy hand and a heavy heart I pressed on the angle grinder cutting away inches of fiberglass, trying to draw a symmetric line.  I then composed a base layer using several odd shaped teak hardwood pieces, put together with thickened epoxy and fiberglass.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Olin Stephens may be turning in his grave for the new line of his design but the occasional Yacht Club guests walking by were actually pleased with Tranquility’s new look. Our friend Brian even ventured in calling the new look “race boat like”.

Similarly I did a little modification on the transom corners to create a better surface for hardware and mooring lines.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Stanchion bases

Raised stanchion bases were another upgrade we thought would improve Tranquility’s deck. A thicker and wider base would help preventing stress cracking from wobbling stanchions and keep their base raised from water puddles.

After laminating few layers of biaxial fiberglass tape I cut the stanchion base a little wider and then glassed it permanently to the deck.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New toe rail

The original toe rail was made of three pieces of teak forming an overturned U on top of the bulwark and it was  fastened with bronze screws. Age and damages had reduced the coverage and efficacy of the teak toe rail. A recent experience during a delivery raised curiosity towards the hull to deck joint on our boat and so I had to get the wood off and expose the joint. The removal job was one way and I knew that after that I needed to give Tranquility brand new toe rail. I fancied a project featuring  fancy solid teak bar bent in shape over the bulwark but after realizing that I purchased a not so great stock of teak hardwood from E-bay I had to reconsider the idea. You get what you pay for they say, so I opted for using that wood to create permanent epoxy and fiberglass toe rail that will be painted with the deck.

The project include around 100 stainless steel #8 sheet metal screws (one every 8 inches) to join the inboard and outboard teak strips as well as a huge amount of epoxy and colloidal silica and fairing compound as additives. A 6 inches fiberglass cloth was wrapped around the edge and the overhanging extremity sanded off after the resin cured.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sanding

Every project had its own portion of sanding so soon Tranquility’s deck became a patchwork. But for our particular paintjob we had to remove any trace of the one part enamel paint we used in our first refit in New Bedford MA. After giving one part paint a try we decided to go with two part that is supposedly harder and more resistant to UV action and wear. To do so we have to remove any trace of one part paint first, as it would not stand the aggressive solvent of two part epoxy primer and polyurethane topcoat and flake off ruining the paintjob.

That required a lot of scraping that we diligently executed using wood chisels. With Kate’s help we went around and scrape it all off, revealing a calico pattern formed by several layers of paint, from the original gelcoat to more recent epoxy primers.

work_deck_sanding
The multicolor deck during sanding operations

While operating the chisel closely to the deck I also exhumed several fiberglass delaminations deeply buried under fairing compound and primer. A delamination happen when two layers of fiberglass start to peel apart from each other leaving a “soft spot”. Everytime the first reaction was to turn my head away and say we would live with it. But I always succumbed to the temptation of fixing them and make the deck stronger. After all how bad could it be another fiberglass job?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Going through al these pictures I see what I spent the last month doing, and I feel a little less bad about my progress. The deck is not painted yet though and right now we are dealing with our own level of perfectionism and waiting for good weather. Meanwhile: do, repeat and loop.

 

Getting ready for deck painting

During the last month of boat works I focused on preparing the deck for painting, a job that shouldn’t require a month of full time work. In reality, this task is much more than sand the old paint off and clean the surface.

The job can be summarized by this sequence:

  • sanding
  • fiberglass jobs where needed
  • more sanding
  • more fiberglass repairs
  • fairing
  • more sanding
  • more fairing

Do, repeat and loop the sequence to one’s own standard of “ready to go”.

A “detail oriented personality” could go ahead in an obsessive and repetitive challenge until the fingertips will be scratched to the bone  before considering the deck ready for painting. Luckily I am not that kind of person. On the other hand I am a victim of creative ideas randomly rising  during the progression of the project. This modifications sometimes put a heavy hand in the plan, disrupting it totally.

Deck modifications

Before a thorough deck preparation could start I had to complete few design ideas that would help solve some issues we experienced with the original deck layout.

Columbia 29s were built with an interesting deck to hull joint that rises few inches above the deck to form  bulwarks from aft to end. This was also the designer’s signature to give a very nice sheer line to the deck. We love the bulwark on Tranquility, they help keeping your feet on deck when the boat heels as well as providing a barrier for objects that wants to fall overboard.

The drawback is that mooring lines and other overhanging hardware have to climb this protective wall incurring in the risk of chafing or making their installation difficult. This is particularly true on the bow, where the anchor roller and other deck hardware had to rest on a precarious base made of untreated construction grade lumber that obviously had rotted away and became a condo for photophobic insects by the time we owned the boat. Shame on whoever cobbled up that ridicolous solution!

The problem had to be addressed with some creativity and a lot of courage. When it was clear that Tranquility required a “nose job” I went through the anxieties and insecurities common to pre and post plastic surgery. With a heavy hand and a heavy heart I pressed on the angle grinder cutting away inches of fiberglass, trying to draw a symmetric line.  I then composed a base layer using several odd shaped teak hardwood pieces, put together with thickened epoxy and fiberglass.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Olin Stephens may be turning in his grave for the new line of his design but the occasional Yacht Club guests walking by were actually pleased with Tranquility’s new look. Our friend Brian even ventured in calling the new look “race boat like”.

Similarly I did a little modification on the transom corners to create a better surface for hardware and mooring lines.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Stanchion bases

Raised stanchion bases were another upgrade we thought would improve Tranquility’s deck. A thicker and wider base would help preventing stress cracking from wobbling stanchions and keep their base raised from water puddles.

After laminating few layers of biaxial fiberglass tape I cut the stanchion base a little wider and then glassed it permanently to the deck.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New toe rail

The original toe rail was made of three pieces of teak forming an overturned U on top of the bulwark and it was  fastened with bronze screws. Age and damages had reduced the coverage and efficacy of the teak toe rail. A recent experience during a delivery raised curiosity towards the hull to deck joint on our boat and so I had to get the wood off and expose the joint. The removal job was one way and I knew that after that I needed to give Tranquility brand new toe rail. I fancied a project featuring  fancy solid teak bar bent in shape over the bulwark but after realizing that I purchased a not so great stock of teak hardwood from E-bay I had to reconsider the idea. You get what you pay for they say, so I opted for using that wood to create permanent epoxy and fiberglass toe rail that will be painted with the deck.

The project include around 100 stainless steel #8 sheet metal screws (one every 8 inches) to join the inboard and outboard teak strips as well as a huge amount of epoxy and colloidal silica and fairing compound as additives. A 6 inches fiberglass cloth was wrapped around the edge and the overhanging extremity sanded off after the resin cured.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sanding

Every project had its own portion of sanding so soon Tranquility’s deck became a patchwork. But for our particular paintjob we had to remove any trace of the one part enamel paint we used in our first refit in New Bedford MA. After giving one part paint a try we decided to go with two part that is supposedly harder and more resistant to UV action and wear. To do so we have to remove any trace of one part paint first, as it would not stand the aggressive solvent of two part epoxy primer and polyurethane topcoat and flake off ruining the paintjob.

That required a lot of scraping that we diligently executed using wood chisels. With Kate’s help we went around and scrape it all off, revealing a calico pattern formed by several layers of paint, from the original gelcoat to more recent epoxy primers.

work_deck_sanding
The multicolor deck during sanding operations

While operating the chisel closely to the deck I also exhumed several fiberglass delaminations deeply buried under fairing compound and primer. A delamination happen when two layers of fiberglass start to peel apart from each other leaving a “soft spot”. Everytime the first reaction was to turn my head away and say we would live with it. But I always succumbed to the temptation of fixing them and make the deck stronger. After all how bad could it be another fiberglass job?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Going through al these pictures I see what I spent the last month doing, and I feel a little less bad about my progress. The deck is not painted yet though and right now we are dealing with our own level of perfectionism and waiting for good weather. Meanwhile: do, repeat and loop.

 

I know boats…

Je connais des bateaux qui s’égratignent un peu

Sur les routes de la mer où les mène leur jeu

 (transl. “I know boats that get little scratches
On the ocean roads where their games lead to”)

 Mannick, Je connais des bateux

The “Idea of Self” has given me trouble since I had memory. When sailing became an unexpected reality in my life these identity troubles got complicated.

The very first time I sailed it was on a 51ft sloop with a dead engine that we took 136 miles away from departure to give her a brand new propulsion apparatus. I still remember that as no biggity, even though I should ask Fernando (the skipper) about it. All the work needed to push the boat with the dinghy through a swinging bridge in a choppy channel in front of a crowd of waterfront breakfast eaters was just new fun activity for an incompetent sailor like me.

Sailing fun
Ignorance can be a bliss

Then there was the first dream about taking off on my own boat: it was a sailing Cayuco (dugout canoe type) from the Kuna people, my belonging stuffed in watertight barrels, coasting South American shores and pulling on the beach every night to enjoy a bonefire and a sound sleep on a hammock. No mosquitos were bothering me in those fantasies. I even dared picturing some offshore sailing in such a craft. It remained a dream when other events dragged me away from Kuna Yala before I could accomplish it.

My Dream Boat
My Dream Boat

What is left of that naive man today? Training and experience, in one word knowledge, added layers of complication to the art of sailing. The present is filled with words like safety equipment, ideal ground tackle, auxiliary mean of propulsion and proper sized elecrical wiring, as well as a lot of gadgets and products that “you can’t sail without” pushed by marketers and opinion leaders. It is extremely hard to make order in all this crap.

Since Tranquility owned our lives, I experienced shifts in what was to be expected from a boat, oscillating from “really just a hull that don’t take water in” to “safe, unsinkable, performance-oriented sailing machine”, sometimes being happy to fall in the first category, sometimes working hard to achieve the latter.

It’s hard to tell why Tranquility chose us, she won’t tell. Being far from the “perfect boat” she challenged our own Idea of Self, our needs and our goals. She proof tested our skills and endurance, she took the majority of our money, forcing us to visit places we had not planned to, before leaving us stranded in an unknown point on the chart. She made ask ourselves if we were ready and when that will be. In synthesis, she changed us.

I am happy I am a different myself, even only for the fact that there was a path in these years, any path really. I can still look behind, look at me now and think about what will come ahead. When past and present look alike, there’s a chance that the future won’t be different. So in the end I am happy about this incongruity.

I usually welcome change. Helping others going through change was part of my career back in pre-financial crisis Italy, so I can’t exclude I suffer from the prejudice that sees change as inherently good, necessary and unavoidable. Sometimes I look back with nostalgia to the man that wouldn’t hesitate to embark in an unsafe, uncertain journey on an ill-equipped vessel, and I wish I hadn’t changed.

Knowledge and experience can be a heavy and safe anchor, but when it grows too big it could block any movement at all. The restoration chapter of Tranquility has gone through the same pattern. We started performing the quickest cheapest and unfinished jury rig repairs to be able to leave before the winter gales, and now we would spend a considerable amount of time and money to make things “the best we can”.

Tranquility undergoing surgeries
Tranquility undergoing surgeries

There are definetely good learning coming from this endeavor, but the more we remain attached to a dock and in the range of hardware stores, marine suppliers and Amazon Prime, the poorer we become and the less likely we are to unmoor as the perfect boat is nothing but an illusion.

 “Je connais des bateaux tellement enchaînés
Qu’ils ont désappris comment se libérer!”
(transl. “I know so chained boats
They have forgotten how to break free!”)

Maybe Tranquility needed somebody who would give her an anti-age treatment, new life out of tiredness. Maybe she had something to teach two illiterate sailors like us, or she was looking for warmer climate to retire. Maybe it’s all or none of that, it’s very hard to get her to cough the story up. Or maybe she is not immune to different Ideas of Self battling for supremacy. She used to sail across the ocean, she has it in her bones and chances are that she misses it very badly.

I know boats that are never really finished but this doesn’t stop them from setting sail. And I have the suspect Tranquility is one of those boats.

Cockpit locker drainage channels and existential concerns

Lately the tone of my blog posts have assumed an unprecedent technical twist. I have always found hard to describe the refit of Tranquility in great detail, and most of the countless jobs proceeded unaccounted. What’s exciting about writing posts like “laminating fiberglass backing plate for deck hardware (and achieving physical flexibility during installation)“, “sealing umpteenth hole in the deck with thickened epoxy” or “screws and bolts inventory: am I missing any“?

Moreover I am a former psychologist and my education and training concernes things like “emotional defense mechanisms“, “coping strategies” and “cognitive fallacies“, and I used to handle tools like “active listening” “participant observation” and “network analysis“. The language of the master shipwright is still an uncharted territory and the rules of technical writing a mystery.

I also assume that the reader (you) is not very concerned about a bunch of technical digressions on boat construction and repair. It may be a wrong assumption in the end, as the whole point of taking an old boat and sail it through the horizon on a budget requires being able to perform a thorough analysis of the weak points of “the old lady”, and perform satisfactory upgrades with little or none adult supervision. Funny enough “How-to-Do-It-Yourself” articles are the ones I seek with a certain continuity online, to find inspirations about designs and building techniques, so I may fall out of the group of representative readers of this blog according to my idealistic audience.

These are some of the reasons why I find very difficult to write about boat projects and improvements  but despite of that not much else is happening in my life and so I would either shut up (possible) or keep telling the story of the countless jobs that are going on inside and on Tranquility.

Selecting few specific jobs and turning them into a narration is becoming an usual activiy, so hopefull it will be less and less hard.  It turns out it’s also a good way to keep track of how long these project are taking, which is very long. As soon as one is finished it has a slingshot effect to the next one and helps bringing enthusiasm to my work and to the overall goal, so I would be happy to see more and more of these posts appearing on the blog.

Lately the speed of work increased and people at the dock are noticing Tranquility changing face and stops for few words about what’s next and where are we going to take the boat (well where she is going to take us…). Kate also had some time to dedicate to Tranquility and this was another huge help to the overall project. She has a great ability for planning and in just one hour spent in the garden with a calendar in her hand we enlighted the next three weeks projects and tasks down to plankton size. With this new clarity it seems we have a possible deck painting date on mid November, and few days when we will be actually both working on Tranquility.

Drainage channels for watertight cockpit locker

During our Atlantic Ocean offshore passage and in other legs of Tranquility’s voyage from New Bedford to Brunswick rain and occasional crashing waves found their way into the cockpit locker and sloshed into the bilge. After coming to a rest on the Georgia Coast and contemplating the idea of more offshore sailing in the near future we wanted to make sure that we are not taking in water from this or other openings on the boat.

Tranquility has a cockpit locker on port side accessible through the cockpit seat via a very heavy door. The starboard side has no opening as a sleeping quarter bunk lies underneath it. None of these setups were original from the builder: the whole port quarter side was modified by one of the previous owners to fit the locker, which is divided from the interior by a bulkhead that would host the chart table on the cabin side. On starboard side, somebody did the opposite, fitting a bunk where it used to be a cockpit locker. These and other amenities are some of the surprises you could find when you buy a fifty years old sailboat.

Unfortunately for us the cockpit locker/chart table modification was very poorly done and gave us a lot of headache when it was time to improve and eventually redesign the area. The separating bulkhead wasn’t even tabbed (permanently fiberglassed) to the hull and allowed the locker to drain straight into the bilge soaking everything was lying in its path. The chart table would make claustrophobic a 5 years old kid with the resuslt of being perfectly unuseful on board. Finally the cockpit locker door was resting on a very sketchy support that was conceived with the idea of draining extra water sipping through the door sides, but that in fact was a simply terrible half-finished solution that failed completely in its purpose.

Earlier on the projects timeline I adressed the bulkhead problem tabbing it to the hull and making the entire locker a watertight section of our ship. Not communicating anymore with other parts of the boat, the locker will contribute to the buoyancy of the vessel in case water finds its way into the boat. Last spring I also rebuilt the chart table / nav station with the idea of increasing storage and housing the battery bank for our electric motor.

The Lousy cockpit locker drainage system
The lousy cockpit locker drainage system and a pathetic attempt to fix it
A detail of the draining channel as found on Tranquility.
A detail of the draining channel as found on Tranquility.

The drainage channel we found on Tranquility  was one of our least favorite part of the boat but it was also something we couldn’t handle during our first refit in New England, so we just tried timidly to improve it along the way when the real only possible way to fix it was to tear it apart and redo it from scratch. Finally after spending a lot of time designing ideas and procrastinating any concrete action in favor of other projects, I finally started to stare at the problem directly. At the beginning I was in favor of epoxy coated plywood construction, but then my friend Fernando talked me more and more into trying with fiberglass construction. Ultimately fiberglass is for life! After a lot of time spent in woodworking projects for the companionway I figured it was healthy to switch paradigm and tackle a messy fiberglass project. I think I am a messy enough person for such a task.

Mold construction for Fiberglass channels
Mold construction for Fiberglass channels

After looking at examples of drainage channel systems on other boats I finally came out with a design and I decided for angled lateral channel that will allow drainage even when the boat is heeled. Building the  molds for the fiberglass construction wasn’t hard at all as I had some rounded corner molding in my woodpile that happened to be just perfect for the job. Two pieces side by side would form a round shaped channel about one inch and a half wide. I successfully mounted them on two pieces of 3/4 of a inch thick PVC or Plywood screwed together and taped with adhesive packaging tape (cheap and easy to use). Epoxy won’t stick to plastic so if you cover anything with packaging tape or any other plastic wrap it will released the impregnated fiberglass once cured.

Fiberglas molds ready for laminate
Fiberglass molds ready for laminate
Fiberglass channel
Out of the mold fiberglass channel

I then laminated fiberglass cloth and mat onto the molds forming a slightly bigger shape than the desired part. Once the epoxy cured I popped them out of the mold and shaped them to the final measurements using an angle grinder with a cutting disk, before final sanding and cleaning. Some of the channels reminded me of delicious tacos but I restrained myself from eating them.

Fiberglass components of the drainage channel
Components of the drainage channel sanded and cleaned

Together with the three channels I laminated some 90 degrees shaped pieces that helped to fit the parts to the deck for final assembly. Screws held the structure in place while thickened epoxy cured overnight. The following day I removed the screws and engaged a grinding match in the confined space of the locker, making sure to wear all the possible protective clothing and gear for this miserable job. After clean up of both my persona and the locker I proceeded challenging the law of gravity with the messy job of fiberglassing the structure to the deck alternating several layers of fiberglass mat (for waterproofing) and cloth (for structure), and trying my best to avoid the epoxy resin dripping from the overhead.

Screws hold the channels in place while epoxy cures
Screws hold the channels in place while epoxy cures
All the parts are dry-fit before being fiberglassed in place
All the parts are dry-fit before being fiberglassed

With this last upside down job accomplished it was time to fit a lip that will give enough surface for a gasket to make a watertight seal. I had some long and thin pieces of teak lying around on Tranquility (what’s not on Tranquility?) and so I decided to epoxy and fiberglass them around the internal perimeter of the locker. To have a perfect seal with the overlying door I used again thickened epoxy placed on top of the lip. This time I let the law of gravity work for me placing the original lid on top and protecting it with with packaging tape (my new best friend). In this way the still soft thicked epoxy adheres to the door contour forming an even surface of contact after the extra material squeezes out.

The lip for the channel is made with teak strips glassed in place
The lip for the channel is made with teak strips glassed in
Lip is epoxy fitted and then laminated with fiberglass
Lip is epoxy fitted and then laminated with fiberglass

Two half inch sized holes at the lower end of the inboard channels drain the water into the cockpit and then in the ocean through the cockpit scuppers. Next, in this multi-stage multi-level project a whole operation of fairing and sanding will culminate with the paintjob soon to happen on the entire deck. For now I am glad enough I can leave the boat under the rain without having to empty a swamped locker and in perspective I feel confident that less water will find its way in the boat during blue water sailing and foul weather.

Restoring an old companionway: the sea hood

The sea hood is a curious feature on the deck of a sailboat. You can picture it as the shell of  a turtle and the sliding hatch as its head, coming in and out. When open the hatch slides underneath the sea hood, when closed it comes all the way out.

The sea hood covers and protects the opening between the cabin top and the hatch deflecting waves that otherwise will put the hatch under siege making it a very good feature for a blue water boat. Water is so good in finding its way into things that trying to stop it requires the help of multiple agents, and here the sea hood comes into the game.

On Tranquility, our 50 years old Columbia 29 mki, the sea hood is built in solid teak, like the rest of the companionway. Functioning as partial beams the longitudinal elements of the structure strengthen the deck, which on Tranquility is fiberglass laminate with no core, and so it’s a bit springy. Beside being bulky heavy and complex, a fully restored watertight seahood contributes to the sturdiness of a boat.

The project steps are very similar to the ones I described in the sliding hatch post, with the difference that I had to work on the deck instead this time.

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The old teak of the companionway

At first I worked caulking all the gaps around the sea hood, using Teak Decking Systems product. The effort has the objective to avoid that water running on deck would sip underneath the wood.

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The frame of the sea hood re caulked

After that I proceeded rebuilding the plywood support. Again, I used 1/4 inch plywood because the sea hood has a curve and thicker plywood won’t allow to bend as easily. To reach the desired thickness and strenght I laminated two pieces one on top of the other.

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First plywood board installed and ready for laminating. This time I had to use small screws to set the plywood to the frame as there was no way to use clamps. The second plywood board goes on top of it and it’s coated with at least two coats of clear epoxy resin.

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Teak strips routed
Teak strips routed

To save some expensive caulking and to make the job easier I routed 1/8 inch slot into the teak strips with a table router I borrowed from Fernando. Fernando is a good friend of mine and a talented guitar maker, check out his work on his website.

Teak strips dry-fit
Teak strips dry-fit

I had to shuffle around the teak strips to find the best match. For how hard I tried to get the most precise fit, the curved surface put some challenges to this job.

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New Teak installed and set in place with epoxy resin and thickener

Such an asymmetrical shape required custom ideas to cajole the pieces into shape. In this case some hevy weight and flexible plywood strips did the job.

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Caulking operations underway

I proceeded filling the slots using the same caulk product. After taping the wood to make an easier clean-up, I used a cheap caulking gun (still on a budget…) to fill the slots. Following with a spatula I pressed the caulk hard down into the slots working two strips at the time and removing the tape along with the progress.

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The finished Sea Hood

A final sanding to remove excess caulk left a smooth surface. I then washed the teak thoroughly with a solution of water (75%) and bleach (25%) plus a couple of tablespoon of Sodium Triphosphate and finally applied three coats of Semco Teck Sealer.

I am glad another piece of the companionway is completed. It’s amazing how complicated it is. With components sliding into each others and pieces that have to be reinstalled in the correct sequence it resembles a puzzle game and I am very glad there are less and less pieces to get to the final picture.

Restoring an old companionway: the sliding hatch

This is my first attempt to write a blog post directly from my phone. I am moving around tranquility speaking to my phone and I feel very weird. If somebody was looking at me now would think I’m a total dumbass. Which may be true. Anyway I am here gathering the necessary tools to complete my next task which is to epoxy the top of the sliding hatch.

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The two pieces of 1/4 inch plywood have been laminated together with wood glue and clamped down to the hatch frame for one day to get the curvature. I need a drill and I have to find the right size screws so I open my screw container where I keep all the screws I find on board subdivided by length and type. This time I need 10 screws 3/4 inch long to secure the plywood to the frame. The screws are meant to press the laminate down to the frame while the thickened epoxy  sets. I can then remove them and the epoxy will hold the plywood in place. This way I will have a permanent perfectly sealed joint.

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The borders of the plywood wetted with epoxy

A good practice is to wet the surfaces with resin and let it set for 15 minute before mixing epoxy with filler to the consistency of a thick cream and laying it over the ledger. An easy way to do so is to take a ziplock bag and cut one of the lower corner then fill the bag with the epoxy and use it as if it was a pastry bag. Apply epoxy exactly where you need to squeezing the bag and moving along the edge of the frame.

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Once the plywood is firmly in place held by the screws it’s time to clear coat both sides of the hatch with epoxy resin, to prevent future intrusion of water into the wood.

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After the epoxy cured (12 to 24  hours) the old teak strips can go back in place, having care to number each one to find the better combination. Once the sequence is chosen, we have to work very quickly and mix epoxy and filler to attach the strip to the plywood. I ended up using quite a bit of resin and filler to fit all the pieces.

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The epoxy is cured and the whole hatch can be sanded down with a belt sender and the orbital sander to level any high spot. As you see in the picture old weathered teak can come back to the original color once the superficial layer is sanded off.

What to do with old teak?

Teak is a fascinating hardwood. It has  a charming golden brown color and the abundance of natural oils in its grain makes it weather-resistant and unaffected by dry rot. For these and other reasons teak has always been the number one lumber for the marine industry. One big problem with teak is its atrociously high cost, as you probably know if you deal with boats or with outdoor furniture. So the answer to the question what to do with old teak could be to avoid it entirely!

When we bought Tranquility she came with the original teak features on deck: forward and lazarette hatches, companionway and seahood, toe rails. Not a full teak decking, but a classic nautical touch. If not protected against UV action with constant application of a finish, teak ages and loses part of its oils, turning grey and forming deep grooves and cracks, and after 50 years in the elements all we could see on deck were grey wrinkles on the surface of the hardwood. We were ok with some ugliness and cosmetic imperfection, we had definetely bigger problems to deal with at that time.

Teak Seahood rotted away
Teak Seahood rotted away

But the teak onboard didn’t have only cosmetic problem. Unfortunately hatch doors are built with teak in combination with plywood. The plywood used as a supportive panel for the teak strips has rotted away, and with this supportive action compromised the hardwood also started to rot and break. Trying to waterproof such a damaged door was impossible without taking everything apart and rebuilding it. When we did the first part of our refit in New Bedford we didn’t have time to repair and restore the teak doors and many other nuisances all over the boat. We had other priorities to make the boat sail before winter. This way we spent the trip learning about every single leak and taking mental notes of a future job list. All the doors leaked badly and that didn’t make for a very comfortable winter cruise. Both the forward and lazarette hatch leaked and their plywood was basically gone, and the water coming from the seahood and companionway was an enigma we couldn’t solve while we were still living on board.

Once we got in sunny Georgia we resumed our list of repairs and improvements and so came the time for woodwork. While we could protect the companionway with a tarp, we couldn’t do the same for the hatch doors so I started dealing with the lazarette and forward hatch. At first I tried to save as much as possible of the original teak, but after discovering all the damage it was clear that if I wanted a new hatch I would have to build it from scratch.

A tarp protects the companionway on Tranquility
A tarp protects the companionway on Tranquility

Being always on the cheap side of a budget I first considered other options to build a less classic door. But then a little voice started to suggest how I may wanted to keep a little accent of nice teak on deck. I followed this voice and looked around for teak. I was lucky enough to find the access to a scrapwood pile of teak. All the pieces came from different projects and those were the ones left behind and discarded. I put much labor in cutting, planing and sanding the scraps down to useful size but eventually I cobbled up enough wood to build a whole hatch. Taking the old rotten hatch as model, I first assembled four pieces of teak lumber to form a rectangular frame and joined them with screws and thickened epoxy (West System resin and 406 filler) at the extremity.

Building the frame with teak lumber
Building the frame with teak lumber

Joint detail
Joint detail

Once the frame was finished I cut a piece from a 3/4 inch plywood sheet, fit it and screwed it in place. Every gap was filled with thickened epoxy and the lower side of the hatch coated with clear epoxy resin.  Even if the plywood won’t last forever and it will eventually rot the epoxy will protect the wood from moisture and prolong its life.

The hatch ready for teak strips
The hatch ready for teak strips

The following step was to put in place the teak strips. In order to do that I decided to use #8 screws to set the distance between the strips.

How to set teak strips in place at the same distance
How to set teak strips in place at the same distance

When the dryfit was satisfactory and after correcting the math a couple of times due to my metric system bias (I have to be honest, imperial sucks!), I used several batches of thickened epoxy spreaded evenly on the plywood to set the teak strips in place. The scrap pieces formed a rough uneven surface, so when the epoxy was set I used a belt sander to shape the wood uniformly and a router to round the corners. The result was well above my expectations.

All ready before wooden bungs and caulking
All ready before wooden bungs and caulking

The finishing part took a good deal of work too, especially filling all the gaps with black caulk. Once everything was completed I applied three coats of Semco teak sealer, to protect the wood. The result pleased me so much that I understood I was going to do the same with the second hatch door, and  problably with the rest of the teak on the boat.

The hatch after caulking and three coats of teak sealer
The hatch after caulking and three coats of teak sealer

These two project made me fall in love with teak and woodworking in general and even after assessing many alternative ways to fix my equipment onboard I decided I would do the same for the companionway and the toe rails. The companionway (seahood+ sliding hatch) is made out of a solid thick lumber, massive enough that I can still reuse the frames without fear. The toe rail didn’t survived that well as it is more exposed to impacts, chafe and other mechanical stresses. I would have to replace them completely as many part are broken or missing. For this specific project I found a deal on Ebay 0f 4×4 inches teak posts that will do the job. Again the cheaper price means that I will have to transform rough lumber myself into the desired shape and I started to think I am being a little masochist lately.

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Right now I am rebuilding the sliding hatch. I started removing the rotted plywood from underneath and with great surprise the teak strips came out without breaking. Considered that they are still 3/8″ thick and in overall good shape I sanded them down to reuse it. With a bit of work and time spent in cleaning up the old teak I now have perfectly fitting strips and I can avoid cutting and planing them. Not the same luck with the seahood hatch. It was in worse shape and broke as I started taking the thing apart. To replace the old teak I will be cutting the strips out of a big plank that a friend of mine bought on a big sale so I am having it for a very competitive price. If I account for the money I spent in buying wood since we got Tranquility I may be reaching the 1000$ very soon.

Restoring teak with a grinder
Restoring teak with a grinder

Using teak on your sailboat deck may not be the cheapest or most practical way to fix your boat but for me it is very enjoyable and motivating, more than using fiberglass and epoxy again. I did enough fiberglass work this past summer and too much of something becomes quickly boring. Now it’s woodwork time again as I try to comfort myself imagining how good a little bit of teak will look on deck when I will be finished.

Bliss recharge

The last post of the delivery trilogy was holding up my writing and creativity for too long, and writing it was like a big let go. There was also something else occupying my resources: our wedding re-enactment in front of family and friends. We called it “Family blessing and feast” because technically speaking we are already married.

Photo by A.Zotta
Photo by A.Zotta

We didn’t have a public celebration when we walked in the Woodbine Courthouse a little more than one year ago, just a handful of witnesses who had a free day and a secret but lovely suprise party from local friends when we got back. Even if for “The Law” we are a family we felt important to celebrate our union in front of our kin people and also to check if our families were somehow compatible. We had some good vibes about it but you are never sure until you try so why not try to organize a family blessing and feast in La Cialvrina, a wonderful resort in the Lys Valley?

Lys Valley and Monte Rosa
Lys Valley and Monte Rosa

Kate and I have been busy planning a destination wedding for 80 people in the Italian Alps, with guests traveling from all over, one of those things I loved but that I really hope I would not have to do again. We were in Italy for a month to give us enough time to put something together for the people traveling and to try to make that a vacation for them. The amount of stress and work involved grew as we approached the event, and beside some invaluable help and support from our friends and family (and the amazing staff at La Cialvrina!) we did it all by ourselves, planning, executing and improvising. And we did a darn good job!

Photo by M.Lodola
Photo by M.Lodola

Kate is a terrific planner and organizer and I like to work with groups of people, especially leading tours and organizing transportation. But that should be a well-paid job because it’s a lot of work that really wore us down. I understand now why people who get married do honeymoon… We really need a vacation! Unfortunately our honeymoon will be delayed to Spring 2016 and between here and there there is a big chunk of work to be accomplished. We hope it will coincide with our departure on Tranquility, the original project that exists since before we decided to get married.

So now we are back in Brunswick, with the jetlag gone trying to pick up life right where we left it before the “Italian affair”. The restoration projects on Tranquility need a restart and this time of the year the priorities are set by the weather: because of the frequent thunderstorms passing everyday over the Golden Isles I must do a good job in waterproofing the last leaks on the boat. A boat with dry interior is a luxury we are ready to pay the price for, even if it’s hard to stop leaks under huge rainfalls.

But it’s not just that. We now live on land, in a nice house with a wonderful and popular roommate, a band of happy animals, a backyard a bathtub and many other luxuries. Over time we got used to certain comforts and we also accumulated junk to store and maintain. The plan to go back to a full time living in a 29ft. boat requires a re-downsizing and re-organizing of our life and this takes some serious work too. Not only muscular work but also mindset work. Luckily we did it once already.

We are trying to figure out “how” but the important step is that the “what” is pretty clear. As happened during past endeavors planning, executing and improvising will happen if we keep our eyes on the goal, and the holy energy emanated during the “blessing” is the fuel we need to get us there. I promise to post a little more about the how when I figure it out myself a little better.

Sailboat delivery with a twist(er) Part III: The Gulf

Click here for Part II

A wet re-start

It took a while to get back to the regular rhythm of life at sea. The storm created a big, rolling swell that we admired for hours. Slowly we put more and more sails up as the wind decreased, not too quickly, as if we had no energy for more trips to the mast nor for operating halyard and winches. We sat there. Everybody onboard was exhausted so we bobbed a little more without pushing the boat and ourselves.

It felt like I was washed out, my belongings scattered and damaged. Like formatting the hard drive of a computer. My watch was also missing. It was a beautiful watch that my dad gave me as a present. Boats are very good in swallowing objects, so I thought I would see it again at the end of the trip when we would unpack and repack into our suitcases.

The worst part of the storm was the damp interior and the lack of dry clothing left behind. Before leaving Ft.Myers we meticulously washed all the beddings and clothes to have a comfortable passage to Houston. With no change of clothes and no dry bunks for sleeping we still had to sail for more than 450miles. There is nothing more miserable at sea than a damp boat. Patiently we arranged the cabin the best we could to have a little comfort, but our hearts were as heavy as a piece of waterlogged driftwood.

As night approached so did thunderstorms. I couldn’t watch any more lightning on the horizon without fear and stress. I stood by the Radar display on the alert. Luckily this time it was only rain, even though we would die for some dry weather to help containing the moisture level onboard. The winds decided to blow directly from Houston so we put the boat on a motor-sailing duty and we stuck on that, but our progress was slow. We played with the revs and the autopilot and the mainsail but nothing could un-stuck us from a wretched two knots of speed over ground.

Mississippi or Loop Current?

It was obvious that an adverse current had its hand in it, but without a knot-meter we couldn’t calculate how strong it was. Thw Gulf of Mexico proved to be a tough stretch of water, more than we expected. The adverse current did not ease for another day. All kind of hypothesis thronged our conversations: at first we believed it was the influence of the Mighty Mississippi mouth even if we were at least 100 miles south of it.

Ther Loop Current and relative eddies in the Gulf Of Mexico
Ther Loop Current and relative eddies in the Gulf Of Mexico

Then we considered the Loop Current influence. This warm water current could sometimes extend far north into the Gulf, before circle back and slip in between Florida and Cuba creating the Gulf Stream that heads north through the Atlantic. We couldn’t check our hypothesis and when we had a chance we called a distant ship on VHF to ask if they knew anything about it. The captain was annoyed by the current as well but he was apparently ignorant of the phenomenon or maybe he was just aware that he could not do much about it.

Oil Rigs

When passage planning for the Gulf of Mexico portion of this trip I considered and decided to sail south of the Oil Rig extension for as much as we could, before turning NNW and head for Galveston. The Coast of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas is disseminated with platforms of any size and shape, and any work conditions. Before the trip many people told me how some of them aren’t active and not even lit during the night. Obviously no one could prove this rumor personally without hitting one.

Platforms in the Gulf of Mexico
Platforms in the Gulf of Mexico

After being swept by a furious storm and barely progressing against the Mighty Mississippi current or whatever it was, the idea of shortening the trip by more than a 100 miles taking a direct cut through the jungle of platforms was a siren song we could not resist. We plotted a straight course to Texas that brought us in the heart of the Gulf of Mexico drilling operations. At the beginning it was heart bumping, but after a while we took confidence sailing through oil rigs and all the related marine traffic.

People are often concerned about traffic and maritime operations while offshore sailing. In theory this is a concern that only a singlehanded sailor should have, as there are going to be times when nobody is standing watch on deck and he or she should adopt strategies to minimize risk of collision. A well manned vessel with crew standing watch all the time should be able to avoid any collision. The truth is that the Ocean is not as populated as we think it is, and the congested areas are very few and it’s usually where sailors pay maximum attention and further aids are offered (like buoys, pilots, etc.).

Still, the Gulf can be pretty busy in terms of marine traffic. Facing an area with high density of marine traffic and miscellaneous obstacles can be a source of stress for the crew of a small sailboat with limited instrumentation. But after a little time to get used to the new horizon, sailing through the oil rigs was not bad at all, and we were lucky not to end up on one of the infamous unlit platform that allegedly populate the area.

What bothered us most was the not cooperation from the wind, very light and mainly adverse, and with a 13,000 lbs displacement boat our only option to get to the completion of the trip was to motor. Motoring through oil rigs was just a boring and repetitive task. The inboard diesel proved to be very frugal but we were growing anxious about the lack of wind and the possibility to run out of fuel. That’s why we started talking about an on-the-go refuel stop at one of the oil rigs!

First we picked that card as a last resort dictated by fear. Even when we put down the math and realized that the fuel onboard was just enough to get to destination, we still wanted to try the new experience of asking for fuel to an oil rig.

Friendly Oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico
Friendly Oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico

After we located our target, it took few attemps to get somebody answering our VHF call, and then few extra efforts to explain what our intentions were. We realized that passing fuel to cruisers was not an everyday task for the workers on the rig who were definetely surprised by our request as they kept looking for a supervisor who could authorize it. Finally somebody on the phone gave the consent and we started the operation: at first a line was sent down from a bridge to collect our empty jerry cans. At the end a piece of paper with two words: trade please.  The lack of wind and waves made the operation easy even though the vicinity of the huge metal pilings was haunting my concentration during the manouvre. When the jerry cans came down filled with diesel we had nothing to trade but some cold cash and a thank you note. I believe booze was what they were looking for, but this is just speculation.

Refueled and happy for the help from our new friends we resumed our course to Houston and during my evening watch even the wind started to blow and turn South. I opened the jib and staysail, trimmed the main, adjust the windvane autopilot and started playing with the revs to see if we could finally turn off the engine. The wind was light tough probably too light for a boat like the Southern Cross, but I was ready to trade a lower speed for the quiet of sailing. The boat moved at 5+ knots, which was a surprise and made for a very smooth ride. This time the Loop Current was our loyal escort as we caught the Westward eddy pushing towards Houston. At dawn we entered Galveston Bay and reached Clear Lake City, where the owner proudly docked the boat in his slip.

southern cross 31
Southern Cross 31 drying her sails

We spent an extra day helping the owner and his wife to empty, re-organize and clean the boat, plus we made few repairs and improvement that we identified during the trip. Unfortuantely my watch never re-appeared, joining my phone and few other belongings in the casualty list. In 14 days trip we left Georgia, sailed south in the Atlantic, cut across the middle of Florida and spent some intense days in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the fatigue and the effort we were happy to succeed and glad the new owner could enjoy the boat close to home. He got himself a sturdy and safe boat that went through some serious tests keeping the crew safe during a very demanding trip.

Sailboat delivery with a twist(er) – Part II: green eye in the sky

Click here for Part I

Third Leg: Ft. Myers, FL to Houston, TX

We saluted the coast of Florida with a nice sailing between Sanibel Island and Pine Island, dodging the plethora of mostly drunk powerboaters going up and down the bay. We decided to use Boca Grande to get out into the Gulf and when we finally approached the channel I was so glad to leave the inlet and the powerboat traffic of the weekend. Winds were 10-15 knots from the SSW, so we put the boat on a close reach, let the tiller in the hands of the Monitor and enjoyed sailing on the gentle swell.

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Offshore sailing in the Gulf of Mexico

It was slow sailing, to be honest, as the Southern Cross 31 needs a bit of sporty conditions to move the 13000 lbs of displacement, but we were happy to make progress towards our destination while enjoying the perks of being at sea: a well equipped, fully provisioned boat, following our watch rotation and enjoying tasty meals cooked on the stove. The next day, Sunday the barometer started to fall to 1004mb and the wind backed to SE. I was worried about that reading, but I was still confident for our positive weather forecast and I went into my bunk for my rest time.

Southern Cross 31 leeward side
Southern Cross 31 leeward side

<<Fabio! Come out!>>. A green eye in the sky crowned by a circle of black clouds appeared in front of me as I cleared the companionway. I had just been summoned on deck from my bunk and I noticed it was getting pretty windy. It’s late afternoon, just an hour before my watch starts. The crew on watch was speechless because they just observed a pod of several dozens of dolphins jumping by and I am not quite sure if I they called me because all hands on deck were needed or just to share the sublime panorama of a violent storm brewing. The green color of the sky was so beautiful yet so menacing. I have never seen a sky like that one before.

Thunderstorm flashes made us understand how quickly we had to move and we prepared the boat for heavy weather. After the previous thunderstorms on the East coast of Florida we were well trained and we reduced the sail area very quickly. The storm’s edge slammed into the boat and for the next minutes the vessel was battered by blinding rain and blown nearly horizontally. We bit the bullet after this first hit but the evil sky showed no sign of mercy.

This system seemed not only more violent than the ones we encountered before but also the squalls were long lasting and so Roberto and I had to reschedule our watches to take turns on the tiller to catch some rest. With the minimum sail area possible (3 reefs in the mainsail and a reefed staysail) we managed to have enough momentum to keep the wind after the beam as we rode the big swell lifted by the storm. We kept working in the dark, removing the rolled up inflatable dinghy from the deck and storing it inside, in the fear that the storm would take it. The thick clouds neutralized the light of the moon and the night was pitch dark, only the flashes of lightining strikes showed the frightening sea conditions before leaving me dazzled.

I couldn’t decide wether I preferred to see the waves or to be surprised by a crest of water crashing on deck. The low pressure system showed no sign of dissipating, and beside a brief moment of calm while in “the eye” of the storm, the wind and the even bigger waves resumed their action. Again, I was lying in my bunk trying to have few minutes of rest when Roberto called me on deck. As I was donning my rain gear I could hear thunders and see lightning, the heralds of another stormy squall that hit us with incredible violence as I was climbing the ladder to the cockpit. The boat this time buried the toe rails and the starboard deck deep in the water. The water reached the cockpit coamings, and from up high the windward seats we could watch the green sea underneath as if we were on a rollercoaster approaching a dive loop. Even the little sail area was too much for the wind conditions. With no other option than take them down I started to crawl my way to the mast where without much elegance I let go of the mainsail halyard and the staysail too. I tied down the staysail the best I could while battered by painful raindrops and then I crawled back into the cockpit.

We were now running bare poles, occasionally blown over by a stronger gust but at least we got rid of some pressure from the mast and the rig. Like a cork the boat was going up and down the wave crests, responding slowly to the inputs of the tiller, but surely going the directions we wanted, with the wind behind the beam. Unfortunately it wasn’t finished for us.  A sail we thought it was stowed started to act wildly: the roller furler let go a little portion of the jib that started to flog and shake the forestay wildly. At first we were paralyzed by this occurrence, asking ourselves “and now, what?” We soon realized that we couldn’t afford any paralysis. In those conditions (still well above 40 knots) the flogging of the sail could break the forestay and put the whole rig in danger. Roberto made it to the foredeck and started to play with the spinnaker halyard to bridle the sail. This temporary fix worked for very little and soon more effective measures were required. Again Roberto engaged a wrestling match with the wind this time to pull the jib all the way down from the roller-furler. I don’t know how but I am very glad he succeeded. I was at the helm, trying to avoid any dangerous gybe running after the storm and I could only see Roberto’s headlamp shining from the bow.

Roberto after the storm sleeping on the jib
Roberto after the storm sleeping on the jib

Like the last of Hercules’ labors the dousing of the jib was the last hazard of that long night. As the dawn light spread across the clouds the wind remained of gale force slowly decreasing. Now it was time to admire the 20 feet high, sometimes higher waves that were towering around us, the spindrift flying around and the turbulence drawn by the gusts on the back of the waves, the spectacular turquoise water under the foaming tips of breaking waves. With no much energy left we surrendered to the finest spectacle offered by Nature. Without electronic instruments to measure wind speed we could only estimate their force referring to our past experience. I personally never been in such conditions before and I can say that I experienced the strongest wind and highest waves of my life. We agreed that more than 40 knots blew for the most part of the night, with 50 and stronger gusts during the near knockdown. The night time and the bad weather surely contributed to increase the sense of danger and perhaps affected our perception, but there is not doubt it was a hellish night of severe weather.

The sea state after the storm
The sea state after the storm
A breaking crest coming for us
A breaking crest coming for us

We tried to resume the regular schedule onboard, allowing the crew to rest after the long night, but we soon realized that something was wrong inside the boat. Somehow water found its way inside the cabin, soaking everything on the starboard side, from the navigation station (charts, log book, electronics) and on the rest of the cabin, where Roberto and I stored our luggage, soaking the mattresses and the fresh lining in the bunks. All our phones, stored in a drawer, were gone after a deadly bath in salt water.

Monitor Windvane back on duty
Monitor Windvane back on duty

We couldn’t believe it but all the starboard side of the boat was wet and so our belongings and our sleeping place. I’ve lost many phones before to salt water (mostly falling in the water while boarding dinghies) and although it is a bad feeling, you know it’s just a phone. What was very upsetting was the bedding and clothing. I was left with only one shirt and one pair of shorts, more or less soaked from the night before. We were still 500 miles from Houston, still with thunderstoms around us and on a boat that was not as comfortable as when we left. I was suddenly reminded how important is to have completely a watertight boat.

Click here to read Part III

Sailboat delivery with a twist(er) – Part II: green eye in the sky

Click here for Part I

Third Leg: Ft. Myers, FL to Houston, TX

We saluted the coast of Florida with a nice sailing between Sanibel Island and Pine Island, dodging the plethora of mostly drunk powerboaters going up and down the bay. We decided to use Boca Grande to get out into the Gulf and when we finally approached the channel I was so glad to leave the inlet and the powerboat traffic of the weekend. Winds were 10-15 knots from the SSW, so we put the boat on a close reach, let the tiller in the hands of the Monitor and enjoyed sailing on the gentle swell.

waves1
Offshore sailing in the Gulf of Mexico

It was slow sailing, to be honest, as the Southern Cross 31 needs a bit of sporty conditions to move the 13000 lbs of displacement, but we were happy to make progress towards our destination while enjoying the perks of being at sea: a well equipped, fully provisioned boat, following our watch rotation and enjoying tasty meals cooked on the stove. The next day, Sunday the barometer started to fall to 1004mb and the wind backed to SE. I was worried about that reading, but I was still confident for our positive weather forecast and I went into my bunk for my rest time.

Southern Cross 31 leeward side
Southern Cross 31 leeward side

<<Fabio! Come out!>>. A green eye in the sky crowned by a circle of black clouds appeared in front of me as I cleared the companionway. I had just been summoned on deck from my bunk and I noticed it was getting pretty windy. It’s late afternoon, just an hour before my watch starts. The crew on watch was speechless because they just observed a pod of several dozens of dolphins jumping by and I am not quite sure if I they called me because all hands on deck were needed or just to share the sublime panorama of a violent storm brewing. The green color of the sky was so beautiful yet so menacing. I have never seen a sky like that one before.

Thunderstorm flashes made us understand how quickly we had to move and we prepared the boat for heavy weather. After the previous thunderstorms on the East coast of Florida we were well trained and we reduced the sail area very quickly. The storm’s edge slammed into the boat and for the next minutes the vessel was battered by blinding rain and blown nearly horizontally. We bit the bullet after this first hit but the evil sky showed no sign of mercy.

This system seemed not only more violent than the ones we encountered before but also the squalls were long lasting and so Roberto and I had to reschedule our watches to take turns on the tiller to catch some rest. With the minimum sail area possible (3 reefs in the mainsail and a reefed staysail) we managed to have enough momentum to keep the wind after the beam as we rode the big swell lifted by the storm. We kept working in the dark, removing the rolled up inflatable dinghy from the deck and storing it inside, in the fear that the storm would take it. The thick clouds neutralized the light of the moon and the night was pitch dark, only the flashes of lightining strikes showed the frightening sea conditions before leaving me dazzled.

I couldn’t decide wether I preferred to see the waves or to be surprised by a crest of water crashing on deck. The low pressure system showed no sign of dissipating, and beside a brief moment of calm while in “the eye” of the storm, the wind and the even bigger waves resumed their action. Again, I was lying in my bunk trying to have few minutes of rest when Roberto called me on deck. As I was donning my rain gear I could hear thunders and see lightning, the heralds of another stormy squall that hit us with incredible violence as I was climbing the ladder to the cockpit. The boat this time buried the toe rails and the starboard deck deep in the water. The water reached the cockpit coamings, and from up high the windward seats we could watch the green sea underneath as if we were on a rollercoaster approaching a dive loop. Even the little sail area was too much for the wind conditions. With no other option than take them down I started to crawl my way to the mast where without much elegance I let go of the mainsail halyard and the staysail too. I tied down the staysail the best I could while battered by painful raindrops and then I crawled back into the cockpit.

We were now running bare poles, occasionally blown over by a stronger gust but at least we got rid of some pressure from the mast and the rig. Like a cork the boat was going up and down the wave crests, responding slowly to the inputs of the tiller, but surely going the directions we wanted, with the wind behind the beam. Unfortunately it wasn’t finished for us.  A sail we thought it was stowed started to act wildly: the roller furler let go a little portion of the jib that started to flog and shake the forestay wildly. At first we were paralyzed by this occurrence, asking ourselves “and now, what?” We soon realized that we couldn’t afford any paralysis. In those conditions (still well above 40 knots) the flogging of the sail could break the forestay and put the whole rig in danger. Roberto made it to the foredeck and started to play with the spinnaker halyard to bridle the sail. This temporary fix worked for very little and soon more effective measures were required. Again Roberto engaged a wrestling match with the wind this time to pull the jib all the way down from the roller-furler. I don’t know how but I am very glad he succeeded. I was at the helm, trying to avoid any dangerous gybe running after the storm and I could only see Roberto’s headlamp shining from the bow.

Roberto after the storm sleeping on the jib
Roberto after the storm sleeping on the jib

Like the last of Hercules’ labors the dousing of the jib was the last hazard of that long night. As the dawn light spread across the clouds the wind remained of gale force slowly decreasing. Now it was time to admire the 20 feet high, sometimes higher waves that were towering around us, the spindrift flying around and the turbulence drawn by the gusts on the back of the waves, the spectacular turquoise water under the foaming tips of breaking waves. With no much energy left we surrendered to the finest spectacle offered by Nature. Without electronic instruments to measure wind speed we could only estimate their force referring to our past experience. I personally never been in such conditions before and I can say that I experienced the strongest wind and highest waves of my life. We agreed that more than 40 knots blew for the most part of the night, with 50 and stronger gusts during the near knockdown. The night time and the bad weather surely contributed to increase the sense of danger and perhaps affected our perception, but there is not doubt it was a hellish night of severe weather.

The sea state after the storm
The sea state after the storm
A breaking crest coming for us
A breaking crest coming for us

We tried to resume the regular schedule onboard, allowing the crew to rest after the long night, but we soon realized that something was wrong inside the boat. Somehow water found its way inside the cabin, soaking everything on the starboard side, from the navigation station (charts, log book, electronics) and on the rest of the cabin, where Roberto and I stored our luggage, soaking the mattresses and the fresh lining in the bunks. All our phones, stored in a drawer, were gone after a deadly bath in salt water.

Monitor Windvane back on duty
Monitor Windvane back on duty

We couldn’t believe it but all the starboard side of the boat was wet and so our belongings and our sleeping place. I’ve lost many phones before to salt water (mostly falling in the water while boarding dinghies) and although it is a bad feeling, you know it’s just a phone. What was very upsetting was the bedding and clothing. I was left with only one shirt and one pair of shorts, more or less soaked from the night before. We were still 500 miles from Houston, still with thunderstoms around us and on a boat that was not as comfortable as when we left. I was suddenly reminded how important is to have completely a watertight boat.

Click here to read Part III