Sailing slow into your fears

A little more than one week ago we were at anchor in Cumberland Island, enjoying the warm weather and the gentle wind. Mornings are still chilly this time of the year in these Southern lands and seas, but when the sun shows up they climb quickly and make it a wonderful place to be.

We anchored in the north side of Cumberland Island, by the ruins of Cumberland Wharf. Right in front of the stumps left from the old pier the water is deep enough for us to be still floating at low tide. Unfortunately it is a not very protected anchorage and can only be used with wind from the E or the S. That prevented us to stop here in other trips, but this time weather was with us and we had a pleasant day and night on the hook.

Kate wanted to take a stroll in this particular area of Cumberland Island to see the first African Baptist Church, built  in this settlement in 1893. A beautiful forest, with many trees down from recent tropical storms, surrounds the Settlement, so thick that it is almost impossible to cross out of the only road that is built in the area. We disturbed peaceful armadillos, looked at wild horses from a safe distance, picked up juniper berries, while walking through the forest.

The Church in Cumberland Island

There is a need for loneliness and remote areas that has a profound effect on me. It must have something to do with my feet, which are my main form of transportation right now. In quiet an unobstructed places early mornings became my treat retreat. No internet connection means freedom from constant feed and social media. It calms my urge to express quick and shallow thoughts.

Tranquility at anchor

Places like this have a restorative effect. There is nothing wrong with people, but I don’t particularly like what is built for people. Roads, parking lots, concrete surfaces, they all bring clutter and negative vibes. They all serve a purpose: take you fast and comfortably to a place where you can spend money.

In the morning I usually take some time before making coffee to write whatever comes out of my mind, without a specific aim. Then I make coffee and continue with writing or reading as I wait for Kate to wake up. It is my only private moment aboard Tranquility. Kate usually enjoys the same privilege at night when I crash earlier than her.

There is an article about Tranquility’s refit coming up in the May issue of Good Old Boat Magazine. I’ve been in touch with the editor working on few details of the story and pictures. It makes me feel a little like a professional, the exchange of information back and forth, the check coming into the mail, the editing process. I am trying to read and write better, with more intensity, and focus. I am not sure if I could ever make a living out of it, it should be nice indeed. Writing itself stabilizes my mood. I become cranky and distracted when I don’t do it enough. So you won’t get rid of me so easily.

After Cumberland Island we sailed with a clear blue sky and enough wind to move consistently toward our destination: St.Marys. I am rather pessimistic when it comes to estimate our progress, especially when we have to use our slow motor. It might not be very powerful but is indeed perseverant, and we sailed quicker than expected to destination. There we reunited with our friend Bill and other people we got to know when we were in the boatyard for a month of hard work. We visited and saw their progress, indeed slow but perseverant. If you keep moving you eventually get there.

Saturday the strong Northerlies kept us at anchor. We tried to make it to Fernandina Beach in the afternoon but the effort was not successful, we couldn’t make way in a bend of the river, where the current and the headwind brought us to a dead stop. We retreated a few hundred feet back and dropped the anchor again, then we waited for the next day when the wind dropped, and started to move timing the tides, ebbs and flow, trying to get to the inlets at low tide to use the next flood.

Again, with the use of sails and motor we did remarkably well and we darted through the marshes of Florida’s barrier islands, a journey made of dolphins encounters, birdwatching, fighting the currents and the shoals. My mind that usually see the darker picture, predicted that we would have to stop in Amelia Island and wait for the next tide the following day. Instead, winds, currents and a little help of the motor when needed, put us all the way past the Talbot Islands to a free public dock in Jacksonville, right before the St.John’s River. There we celebrated, with delicious food and with a dose of spy movies to be precise.

With this unexpected progress, we arrived earlier than I thought to Palm Cove Marina, so Kate could go easily to her doctor’s appointment.

Tranquility’s new home for February

Why am I so pessimistic? My mind often wanders about how to build faith. Not in the religious term, or maybe so, but for me faith means a deep motivation and sense of direction. It’s possible that my  interest in psychology comes from a desire to know deeper why faith is so volatile, why, basically, the mind gets in the way of your everyday life, with worries, negative thinking and other sort of anxiety-driven doubts.

Every reduction of this problem to a mechanistic view never really answered my questions. What’s the role of bad thoughts, of second guessing, of self pity? Is it something we can dismiss easily as just wrong or unadaptive or something to cure and eliminate? Is being happy and have a positive outlook to be normal?

These are some big philosophical questions, big crevasses that are hard to fill by knowledge. Depression is real, and it is no joke. It affects everybody, but in peculiar individuals, particularly sensitive ones, it takes an enormous toll and becomes a struggle.

I recently read a little more about one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace. He was clinically depressed. And he was one of the most successful writers of his generation. Eventually he could take no more and committed suicide. I am sure he experienced extreme happiness, an perhaps extreme boredom. I can imagine his life was intense and full under many points of view, with vertiginous highs and bottomless lows.

Looking at people with severe clinical depression makes me withdraw from my self pity and negativeness. I don’t consider myself depressed. I have indeed my moment of darkness, boredom, laziness, cowardice and so on. Still, I look to people that show profound faith and hope with a bit of envy, as an example, or maybe as a myth, because we tend to share only our nice part with others. The undesirable thoughts and behavior are hidden by a curtain of shame. Even there, I look for faults. It seems that people obsessed with Positive Thinking go in a downward spiral because it’s so hard to really be positive all the time. Showing just the positive and shiny parts, they hide the dark ones.

Robert M. Pirsig, who also suffered from severe depression, wonderfully put it in words in an article he wrote for Esquire called “Cruising Blues”:

You can be sure that the same mechanism that makes depression unavoidable also makes future elation unavoidable. Each hour or day you remain depressed you become more and more adjusted to it until in time there is no possible way to avoid an upturn in feelings. The days you put in depressed are like money in the bank. They make the elated days possible by their contrast. You cannot have mountains without valleys and you cannot have elation without depression. Without their combined upswings and downswings, existence would be just one long tedious plateau.

I found that moving slowly, a little bit like Tranquillity, gets you out of any situation. Keep moving slowly and things will get better.

Another disturbance in these day of rest, is the role of fear and attraction. There is a common saying that you fear what you desire. My current fear is thinking about sailing the northern route across the Atlantic. At the beginning of all this it was like a fun idea that Kate and I created once we started our boat project. The scary part at this point is that we might do it. When you start considering that a thing may happen Fear shows up, and it can be paralyzing.

Northern route across the Atlantic

There is this stretch of ocean between Newfoundland, Canada and Iceland called Irminger Sea. Named after a Danish explorer, this part of ocean that borders the East Coast of Greenland is considered one of the windiest of the planet. It is studied by oceanographer because of its peculiar oceanic currents, that sink and resurface, and play a fundamental role in the nutrient cycle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Is that scary? Yes, but it is also exciting, daring, emotional. It’s a place where not many people go. But somebody did, in many different crafts, with the more diverse crew.

Geronimo St. Martin, an Argentinian physician made it solo in a 20 ft fiberglass production sailboat, named La India. He later made it to Norway, Spitzbergen, and the Arctic circle, before turning around to reach Cape Horn, on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean.

A family of 5 who call themselves the Coconuts (two adults, three kids, now four with the last delivered while wintering in Iceland) made it on a racing boat in October, not exactly the “right” time of the year.

These examples don’t mean that this is an easy and comfortable trip. But it’s possible.

So why this fear? Because I am scared I am not disciplined enough to cope with potentially severe conditions? Because I think that my body is not strong enough to endure the trouble? That my mind will resolve to panic in a difficult situation? Because it is a place so remote that emergency responder may not get to? For sure, all the above.

Human mind assumes it is more likely to face death attempting that route rather than another one. It may be true but calculating the odds could not be that simple or possible at all, and death has very humorous ways to get to you. Fearing the Irminger Sea is both wise and stupid. Wise because it puts you in the face of a very hostile environment. It’s stupid because any Sea or Ocean is worth respect, and we as sailors should pay the same attention, awareness and preparation every time we go out at sea.

But I am also attracted by novelty, and at this point of my life a tropical beach with bar, wi-fi connections, crowded anchorages, fine dining and warm clear waters is not something that intrigues me anymore.  Remote and rugged, quiet and isolated are all adjectives that sound more attractive. There is eternal beauty that waits to be discovered. Even cold assumed a new desirable meaning. The only thing I still can’t go over is cold water. I have a natural, visceral fear and avoidance of cold water. In this Kate is much braver than me.

So what am I really fearing? I am fearing the effort, the amount of preparation it takes, the awareness, and the bare thousands of miles in cold water, fog, strong winds? The fear of failure, that comes from the judgements of others?

I can’t make my fear shut up. Fear is energy. Fear is useful. In this case  fear is telling me not to underestimate the task and to be prepared for it. And there is only one strategy that doesn’t work with fear. Avoidance. When you avoid fear you bring it with you for the rest of your life.

I think I will have to start taking cold showers.

A much welcomed “chicken move”

I am crossing my fingers as I am writing this but it seems we almost made it through the ICW. Almost because we post-poned our departure again, 6 hours from the original idea of leaving right at low tide around 6:30 am.

Here is what happened.

We woke up in Morehead City, NC where we spent few days waiting for decent weather to sail offshore and keep sailing in a general south west direction. Everything was ready from the night before, we just needed to leave the docks, raise the sails and go.

It was 5:45am when I ventured outside heading for the restrooms. The sky was dark grey, rainy and windy, the nervous chop of the bay slapping Tranquility loudly. The temperature was 39F. For as much as I wanted to ride the Northerlies and get past Cape Lookout to finally head straight to the above average warmth of Florida, the scenario of this early start was not encouraging. The drizzle in particular was very disheartening.

Back under the blankets and with coffee in our mugs we held a brief crew meeting (Kate, me and Beta) and all agreed to postpone departure to next high tide with the idea of spending the next six hours napping,taking showers and in general being comfortable.

At first I was a little mad at myself. I considered that a “chicken move”. But then I acknowledged the wisdom coming from Kate and Beta. There is no need to make your life more miserable when you already are sailing in winter on a tiny sailboat.

We should still have a good 24hrs or so of Northerlies, enough to cover the 100 miles that will put us past Cape Fear and on a SW course parallel to shore. Then we expect another blow between Thursday and Friday, a cold front passing through and bringing other strong northerlies. This time the forecast indicates that it’s not going to be as long lasting as this past one, and by then we should also be hugging the SC – GA coasts with milder temperatures compared to North Carolina, which by the way, we are very happy to leave behind.

This North Carolina endeavor has been cold and rainy, with a lot of idle time waiting for the weather to behave properly.
It sure is challenging and rewarding to be able to sail inland waters, ditches and all, but it also very labor intensive and slow. It’s something between a chess game and an endurance race, played against a very capricious opponent.

With our electric motor we belong offshore, and that’s where we are heading.

See you later.

A sailing pilgrimage

When I think about our journey I like to think we are on a pilgrimage, even when it’s not clear what is the destination. I may not know the destination of the journey, but I know the sense of it, or at least this is what I tell myself. It sounds more or less like this:

Redesign life through interaction with nature and the discipline of sailing.

On this pilgrimage we are currently  in Portsmouth VA, where our Columbia 29 MK1 was manufactured in 1965.

According to advertising material of the time Columbia Yacht Corporation opened its eastern plant in 1964 situated on a nine-acre on 2400 Wesley street in Portsmouth,Virginia. Looking at her now, 51 years after leaving the factory, Tranquility is in a very good shape.

We didn’t want to walk for 1 hour under the rain to visit a site which with all probabilities has completely changed. I feel a little proud of our little boat, still sailing. Sometimes I have weird dreams of making her lighter, without an engine and other “extras”, to enhance her sailing abilities, but then I wake up to reality when I think about boatyard time and realize it’s not time to do that. Not yet, at least.

Tranquility is probably happy to be underway again after two weeks in Hampton VA. The family trips went well and we much enjoyed the time together, the request for the removal of the conditions on my permanent residency is in the mail, heading for Vermont, and we hope for a quick response. Now it’s time to go back to sailing.

The first sail after the break was nice and fast. The boat moved at a good pace down the Elizabeth River pushed by northerlies, surrounded by a surreal vulgar display of power. Aircraft carriers, destroyers, cruisers, amphibious ships, hospital ships and other less familiar types were docked or under shipyard care while jets, helicopters, and Command and Control aircraft buzzed around.

Navy ships under repair in Norfolk VA
Navy ships under repair in Norfolk VA

We reached the free public docks in Portsmouth, VA where we met a bunch of fellow cruisers docked for the night. It’s coldish, and we are not used yet to be with no heater. Temperatures are expected to plunge further in the next days, so we are moving carefully, using the days that are in the low 40s to stay at anchor and save money, and digging in our sailing budget to dock and use shore power when it goes down to 32 as it will.

It’s our second trip southbound, and for one reason or another, it seems that we can’t avoid to run late and face cold weather again. Days are short and we find ourself in bed after dinner at 7pm and up after 7 when the sun finally comes back. Our sleeping bag and each other’s body temperature are our best allies, even our cat limits his night roaming to snuggle with us and find warmth.

The good thing about it is that we can read a lot, write, cook hearty meals, listen to the radio. Kate and I are playing tug of war over a book titled Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, a reportage written by Jeremy Scahill about the use of private contractors for security and military operations in war zones. It’s a bit repetitive in its construction, but it’s dense with truly scary information mostly about what happened in Iraq and in other unlucky places on earth.

Weird enough where we are now it’s only few miles away from Academi‘s (the new name for Blackwater) main facility: 7,000 acres (28 km2) in the Dismal Swamp. There is a canal where Tranquility could sail that runs between Chesapeake, Va to South Mills, NC. Unfortunately the canal is closed after hurricane Matthew created some obstructions on the tight ditch. I guess we will have to delay hearing gunfire until we get to Camp Lejeune.

More than marshes, barrier islands and wide sounds, it’s the military presence (with the colorful addition of their competitors in the private sector) that sadly dominates East Coast landscape by sea, a reminder of America’s strength and beliefs, if someone forgot.

On a lighter note I spent time focusing on the launch of the new website, Psychology of Sailing. I had the opportunity of interviewing few specialists, both in the Psychology and Sailing fields, about this project. I feel that I am researching the topic widely before I can confidently write about it. I forced myself to a deadline, so time is running and soon I have to break this doubts and publish.

To know better the world of live aboard cruisers I am also conducting a survey with the aim of studying a little more the phenomenon. I you know anybody cruising for more than 6 months please ask them to contact me.

If you want to receive the first post and you are interested in following this new website you can subscribe at Psychology of Sailing here. Help spread the word!

 

Living on a boat has its limitations

It took some effort to pull away from the coast. We are growing fonder of social interactions, family, friends, random people watching on a NYC train. We spent good part of early fall visiting people, re-establishing connections in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York City but also back in my home place, northern Italy. We met newborns and introduced each other to old friends and colleagues on both continents. As much as we are embracing an hermit-like lifestyle relationship and social interactions seem to grow stronger, as if quantity of interaction was not a good indicator of their qualities. This sailing life is not exactly as sequestered as one could think.

Once again we have been adopted by a kind family of Fairhaveners, and by the community at large. We have always felt like at home there, but eventually, after all we wanted to do was brushed off the wish list and after we enjoyed time with kindred spirits, we had no other excuse to linger in the ever cooler South Coast of Massachusetts and eventually we had to sail South. A pilgrim is thankful for the hospitality, but they know when it’s time to leave.

And so we left with the same destination in mind as three years earlier, this time on a more outfitted boat, a better stocked pantry and a tireless helmsman, our Norvane self-steering. The memory of the previous trip had faded in a blur of discomfort and fast downwind sailing. Going offshore in the North Atlantic in November is no joke under any circumstance, and this time we had it worse.

north atlantic sailing route
north atlantic sailing route

Relentless westerlies winds kept us far offshore, more than we actually desired to, pushing us dangerously close to the outskirts of the Gulf Stream. At first it was a spanking breeze, that later became near gale condition from WNW. Heeled on a close hauled course with nothing but a small portion of the mainsail and the staysail, pounding into increasingly bigger waves, Tranquility made slow steady progress to windward. The forecast pictured an approaching cold front bringing strong Northerlies. We were looking forward to it but the weather was late to the meeting and so we could only keep our boat bow to the waves, which was hard but safer than have the breakers on the beam. At that point we would see ten feet high waves, crest to trough.

Finally the Northerlies came so we sailed on a broad reach with winds and waves on our starboard quarter. Immediately the boat’s speed took off. It was adrenalinic. I had to take the helm from the Norvane and carefully anticipate winds and gust to avoid Tranquility taking off on the wave shoulder, accelerating to windward and exposing her beam to the breaking crests. Soon the companionway was boarded up as some of the crests were dumping gallons of water into the cockpit and on top of us. Kate and I had our fair share of showers from “rogue waves” as we called them. Down from our bunks we could hear the slosh of ocean water all over the deck, followed by the watch keeper’s curses.

Eventually I grew too weary of steering and decided to take the mainsail down completely and running on the staysail only. The boat immediately slowed down and became more docile, the Norvane flawlessly kept her on course as I switched roles with Kate. Winds and waves conjured to give us a good angle of approach to Ocean City, MD. After stopping here on our way North we benefit again of the easy inlet, probably the only good harbor on the Atlantic side of the Delmarva peninsula.

Ocean City boardwalk in winter
Ocean City boardwalk in winter

This place in winter felt even more like a bubble. You can look out the window and see the deserted beach of Assateague Island, or you can try another window and see waterfront properties with private docks sitting still in the brightest november day, empty and quiet, a lot of square feet of living space heated and cooled for none’s use. Ocean City MD is the outpost of humanity, the front that tries to resist the big emptiness flowing in from the ocean, the ruins of an idea that everybody knew was wrong but none could do anything to stop, an endless succession of buildings, streets and corners that are struggling to keep up with the passing of time, deserted by the general lack of interest. They keep silent trying to withstand another winter, in need of funding, maintenance, and love above all, only visited by scavengers who benefit from the lack of summer crowd.

Scavengers like us, who found a nice crack in this fabric and we wedged in, with fenders and dock lines and anchor and all. From three days offshore where Mother Nature gave us no discounts, to a temporary protected nest. In these ruins we plugged back in the social discourse to find out things don’t always change for the best and so we diverted our attention from that to fulfill our cruising needs, electrical power, showers and a chance to serendipitously acquire another object to expand our unassorted collection: a stowaway Kite.

Once defrosted in the waterfront comforts we sailed back to the anchorage. It had been a very, very long time since last time we dropped the hook. Since Cuttyhunk in September, if I recall, roughly two months earlier. It always feels a lot different when we are at anchor. It’s like the zero point, everything from there is just adding stuff. Adding shore power, adding freshwater, adding internet, social interactions, malls, driving, noise, smell, shame and judgmental looks.

At anchor we focus on the basics cooking food and eating, house keeping, reading, writing, sleeping long hours, watching Fellini’s movies thinking that Italy in the 60s was the most advanced peak humankind has ever reached (the romantic idea soon demolished by remembering the undisputed hegemony of DC party during those years), eating more, periodically changing the orientation of the solar panel to ensure that the maximum output is kept.

At our peculiar age, a precise step in the western society where on average we are supposed to increase our footprint acquiring a house, a car, hopefully a second one, that rice cooker, maybe a drill press for the garage, we are contained in these tight fiberglass walls that resist the natural expansion of humankind, tossing back everything that does not fall into a place, with objects constantly mixed and reshuffled by a washing machine-like motion that put moisture in the mix, leaving us, members of the advanced western society, crawling in tight corners trying to ignore the growing chaos, with our focus absorbed by primary technological needs. Eventually we reach the point where we can’t retreat any more and we have to surrender, re-organize the space through simple actions that take the entire day.

These walls resisting the colonialist expansion teach us an important lesson. Our living space is growing smaller and smaller. It takes some time at anchor to fight back and put things into place, to cut back, discard, stop acquiring. It can only take so much expansion before the growth become a double edged weapon. There is one thing I can say for sure: living on a boat has its limitations. Planet Earth is a similar type of vessel floating in an inhospitable space, and it can only take so much growth.

East Coast Northbound: climbing capes

CAPES
The Capes

Sailing in the vicinity of capes is always tricky. Wind, waves, tide and other natural events shaped their appearance and at the same time those forces are influenced by the mass of land they collide with. A vessel rounding a cape is subjected to variable conditions, and for this reason it’s always a good idea to give extra miles when rounding a headland or promontory.

The East Coast of the US has several capes that influenced our route in many ways. Mainly they were obstructing our NE progress.  After Cape Hatteras, we could all of the sudden head almost due North, and get faster to cooler weather. Sometimes to go around the coast feels like climbing mountains, the effort increases close to vertical peaks.

Wrighstville Beach to Lookout Bight, NC 72 NM

WB sunrise
Sunrise in Wrightsville Beach

A group of open water swimmers was taking advantage of the early hours and of the momentary absence of boat traffic to practice. Tranquility was the only boat under way and from the cockpit we watched carefully the colorful swim caps and kept a good distance from them. It must be a popular group in Wrigthsville as we counted at least 50 people taming the inlet at 6 am. The sun was barely up but it was clear it would be another hot day.

We had enough wind to leave the Masonboro inlet and head ENE again, but soon we hit lighter conditions and the boat speed suffered. We were hoping to get there at dusk but the pace was not ideal. The wind picked up later when we were already in sight of the Beaufort inlet and the sunlight was gone. After the last gybe we had all the rolling waves hitting us almost on the beam as we were following the bearing of two red buoys marking the entrance of the bight.

We were trusting our chart plotter that was giving us a depth of 30 ft. It was a lie. Right when we heard the sound of braking waves and realized we could be in trouble, the boat hit the bottom with the keel. A sandy bottom judging from the sound. The long keel of our boat just bumped in a sand bank, we turned immediately to port where we found deeper waters and we adjusted our position to the blinking red buoy.

Lookout Bight
LOOKOUT BIGHT VIEW, NORTH UP

We had approached the entrance with a too tight angle and the Navionics Charts had assured we were in no danger. It was a lucky way to demonstrate how chart plotters are not the solution to navigation problems. Had we listened more carefully to the sound of the sea or took a wider, more conservative angle of approach and we could have avoided that. Good lesson for the future.

lookout bight 2
LOOKOUT BIGHT FROM ESE

After the surprising and scary bump we were sailing in flat waters as the land had already cut the swell from the ocean. This time it was upwind as we turned SSW to get in the lee of the sand dunes. It was time to decide where to anchor. We observed the anchor lights at the top of masts, trying to judge the distances from the beach, from other anchored boats and find the good depth to drop our anchor. With a quick look at the horizon it became also obvious that a line of thunderstorms was on our way.

After a little recon we let the anchor sink to the bottom in 17feet of water and I was giving enough chain and rode out to absorb the thunderstorm charging for us. Just as I cleated the anchor rode and positioned the anti chafe gear the squall hit us with some violent wind gusts and blinding rain from the NW. As the anchor had no sufficient time to set, it started to drag away from the beach towards deeper waters.

Luckily we had no obstacles in our path and finally the anchor set bringing our bow to the wind and waves. I calculated that we dragged at least 200 yards before the anchor found a good bite and started to dig into the sand. The thunderstorm raged for few minutes more, before continuing on and leaving a quiet night behind. When visibility improved we noticed we were a little distant from the beach, but we were now trusting the holding of our ground tackle.

LB walk
Walking the dunes
LB dunes
Facing the Atlantic Ocean

We spent few days in the bight. One day we swam ashore and walked all around on the beach. The next day we hiked the beach and the dunes and made it to the other side in the hotter and sunnier day I experienced this summer. We made it, but it was a serious feat. During these hikes, we talked a lot about ideas, a torrent of ideas. Business plans, life plans, travel plans a big collection of our imaginary world had been discussed, analyzed and then dismissed or saved for later discussion. We thought about possible uses of shells, writing ideas, financial investments. Walking enhance our imagination to the point that we could even end up arguing furiously over an imaginary plan that is far from having any foundation.

LB boats
Lookout Bight gets busy with any type of craft during weekends

I consider the Lookout Bight one of the nicest place on the East Coast of the US, especially if you have the opportunity ti visit it on a boat. Crowded during weekends, it is remote during weekdays and at night it is absolutely quiet. We swam a lot and I even did my first bottom scrub since we launched the boat. The day we left, when the conditions we were looking for to face the longest and most difficult section of the trip finally came, I noticed a sand shark surfacing and trying to reach my breakfast pot… Even though I am aware how harmless they are, I am glad I went scrubbing the hull without knowing about it!

Lookout bight to Ocean City, MD 289 NM

We expected very light conditions for an extended period of time before venture out of the Bight to round Cape Lookout first, and Hatteras later, and that’s exactly what we got. We had an upwind first part to get around the cape, so light air was actually good, as the flat seas didn’t obstruct too much our progression. Once around, we received a little help from the Gulf Stream that pushed us NE.

I think the best explanation ever of how an ocean current works is from the Disney/Pixar movie Finding Nemo, when Crush the turtle shows it to Marlin <<You’re riding it, dude. Check it out!>>

It was a very nice ride indeed. The Gulf stream current flows close to the Outer Banks Coast. We were sailing downwind about twenty miles offshore in light winds and still we had a steady progress of 4kts even 5kts at times. On a calm ocean we slipped into our watch routine mile after mile and had no visits from thunderstorms. The depth sounder took a peak of what’s outside the Continental Shelf and settled to 385 feet (apparently its maximum reading), but according to the charts we were in an area of 1600ft of depth. Kate shivered trying to imagine such an ocean depth. Here the water was really blue and turned violet when the sun was setting.

GS dude
“You are riding it, dude. Check it out!”

The round of Hatteras went almost unnoticed. For the entire trip we kept talking about it like it was Cape Horn or Good Hope. Even if it’s blasphemous to compare it to some of the most stormy capes in the world, Hatteras has a bad reputation among sailors in the East Coast, and we were constantly warned when they heard us talking about going around. Cape Hatteras is also known as “the Graveyard of the Atlantic” because of many shipwrecks happened in the area. The presence of the Gulf Stream, the fierce storms that hit both in winter and summer, and a very thin and steep Continental Shelf make this cape a place not to underestimate and to avoid in bad weather.

After Hatteras we turned the bow North and passed the Chesapeake entrance to continue along the Delmarva peninsula. Our destination was Ocean City where we had the mission to find supplies, regroup and organize the next leg. I remember looking at the charts and asking Kate “How is Ocean City?”. She replied that she spent few summers there when she was a child. “It’s a crazy place you must see”.

OC approach
Beta and I checking the approach to Ocean City

Ocean City was attractive to my eyes because of its easy inlet in case we arrived in the dark (as our habit) and for the presence of marinas and shopping facilities. After three weeks at anchor we needed to replenish our fresh water and get a good deal of food. With some 300 miles to get to New England it was one of our last chances to stock up.

We obviously arrived in the early AM in pitch dark and I hailed the Coast Guard on the VHF to ask if the inlet had any recent change from what the charts were telling us. They gave us green light and we approached carefully. With so many buildings and lights it wasn’t difficult to find our way into the inlet and we reached our destination, Ocean City Fisherman’s Marina at 3 AM, tying up at the fuel dock waiting for them to open.

ocfueldock
Our first landing

It was a Saturday morning and fishermen were already leaving. Kate called the owner of the Marina at about 3:30AM convinced that she would talk to the voice mail. Instead she woke him up. She apologized but he reassured her that he was coming earlier anyway because of the early birds coming to the fuel docks, so he told us to go tie up to a near slip and that we could talk later.

We checked in easily and with the BoatUS membership we were granted a discount. We stayed two nights for 101$, which considering the season is not bad at all. In the morning we noticed that ours was the only mast in the marina (and probably in all West Ocean City). All around us sport fishers and other type of powerboats were the only boats.

oc neighbor
Neighbors in West Ocean City

We walked a lot, but all the shopping was close by so we quickly completed the list of our errands. On a saturday night we walked to the board walk, which is this crazy loud, sugar fueled, amalgam of people flowing up and down. Kate wanted me to try any sort of sugary extra caloric eatables and I settled for sea water tabbies and caramelized cashews. On the next monday we left early  with a fully provisioned boat to get to Cape Henlopen, with the plan to sit there and wait for a good weather window.

 

Sea legs and watch system

“One thing about the sea. Men will get tired, metal will get tired, anything will get tired before the sea gets tired”

Sitting at anchor enjoying the nice breeze and the shade provided by Kate (and her mom’s) newly designed boom tent is a good payback for all the sweat and effort, all the tense moment when we couldn’t see an end to our work and it seemed that we could never leave. Gazing at the nearby beach, observing any kind of wildlife, from sea birds to dolphins to bros riding jet skis and rude power boaters (there are few kind individuals in the category) put all this preparation labor on perspective. Now it’s time to enjoy.

Blog_Anchor
Sunset at anchor in Sullivan’s Island, SC

Nonetheless to fully enjoy our new life afloat we had to go trough countless details and preparation. A couple of passages in the open ocean and very soon we found where our preparation lacked and how bad our sea legs were. Cooking meals, resting and even personal hygiene can become difficult tasks out there. Exhaustion by sun exposure, waves shaking and wind can bring to episodes of delirious speech with a low deep tone of voice. Auditory hallucinations are not rare either and happen when your brain mistakes a particular sound for a baby’s cry or for somebody calling your name.

It took a long time to get our sea legs and cruising routines back on track. Sea legs are what keep you standing (or sitting) on top of a vessel accelerating and decelerating under the action of wind and waves. I suspect sea legs are a combination of motor control (governed by the cerebellum in the brain) and muscle tone of the core, so it takes training and exercise to establish a harmonic posture in relation with a shaky floor.

The very first offshore legs put us in survival mode, with the rolling and tossing of the boat depriving us of our natural strength, appetite and comfort. Even without being fully seasick, we were carrying a sort of  malaise. We hung in there resting as much as we could and holding on as of we were waiting for the ride to come to a stop.

 

“One thing about the sea. Men will get tired, metal will get tired,
anything will get tired before the sea gets tired”
An engineer’s observation about the collapse of Texas Tower 4 in 1961

 

Gradually we built up some resistance and developed routines. On board Tranquility we use a 4 hours watch system that starts at 20:00 (8 pm, First Watch) and cover the rest of the 24 hours so the boat is never unattended.The person on watch is in charge of navigation duties, making sure the boat stays on course, keeping a proper lookout for hazards and weather change and updating the Ship’s Log. The other crew member lays in the bunk, trying to rest but ready to be summoned in case of “all hands on deck” situation, or “condition one” as we like to call it. We strictly stick to the schedule but we are also flexible in case conditions arise or if it’s time to make landfall.

Beside navigation duties we have daily chores that are split between the two of us and include cooking three meals a day and washing dishes, redding up (Pittsburghese for cleaning), ensuring that the cockpit snack bag is always full, washing and drying rags, towels and clothes,  waste management (composting toilet redd up, trash and recycle locker) and Personal care and Beta care.

The watch schedule and the work routines help to keep us busy and comfortable. When it is properly planned a passage at sea will be mainly smooth, with occasional rougher bits, so it’s important to be ready to face the unpleasant weather in good condition and spirit. If you let the boat get dirty and messy it will affect your well being. If you don’t eat, drink or rest enough you will be tired soon.

As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and so we are picking up with the old habits and safety protocols, by trial and errors. Three years ago, we sailed the opposite route in much worse conditions, during the winter and in a barely fixed boat. Now we remember that trip as if it was not a big deal. Why we became such wimps? It’s probable that memory erases the bad parts and retain the good ones.

We are still learning a lot, and we are lucky that Tranquility behaves so well. She is a tough girl, we have been the weak ones so far. She protected and transported us during the first thousand miles of sailing while experiencing winds in the range of 4 to 40knots, the latter number only briefly during thunderstorm gusts.We have an ample range of sail area available to adapt to different wind and sea conditions and the modifications to the deck and sail controls seem all very successful. The introduction of a third reef in the mainsail, the new boom vang, the sheeting blocks for the staysail, the bowsprit for the cruising gennaker all contributes to a finer sail tuning and ultimately boat handling.

Now we are taking a prolonged stop in the friendly Fairhaven, in the South Coast of Massachussets. This is the place where Joshua Slocum rebuilt his 36ft. gaff rigged sloop Spray, before setting sail for the first ever recorder singlehanded circumnavigation of earth 121 years ago. Incidentally this is where we purchased Tranquility, fixed her up and set sail in November 2013.

We don’t have such an ambitious circumnavigation plan, but we feel the power of the maritime lore of this place. Fairhaven is the fairy tale New England village in front of the rougher city of New Bedford, the “city that lit the world”, the whaling capital of the world portrayed in Melville’s Moby Dick and the city where Tranquility was on stands in a boatyard while we feverishly prepared her for sailing. We have so much connection to this area, friends that keep helping us, favorite places and memories. We are going to keep sailing, visiting other wonders of New England, but this is probably going to be our home base for the next few months. Until winter will force our next move.

 

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!

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.

 

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.

slidhat

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.

The Grand Plan

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

Slowly, thoughts about the future arise from the fog of the present. It is a real fog, like the one that surrounds the Golden Isles during winter. From our boat we observe the foggy mornings and evenings, these interstitial moments that keep on hold the passage between nights and days.

We are recovering from our trip. It’s not a physical recovery I think that has already happened. I am talking about the recovery from escaping winter and from our first cruising together, me, Kate and Tranquility.

This trip was very demanding. We sailed in cold weather, on a boat we have never sailed before and that we fixed all by ourselves. We also encountered challenging moments onboard as running a boat depends on a good interpersonal coordination and this is also something we are finding along the way. Everything went extremely good but the trip took its toll.

The fog is where we are hiding now, resting and meditating. Gathering all the resources to open a new chapter. Tranquility is patiently waiting for more upgrades to come. She is also probably tired of us too and we avoid touching her. There are budget restrictions of course, as we are still doing it on a shoestring and that’s also why the work has not happened yet. But it’s true that after the hurry to launch and get away from the cold weather we have the chance to think more deeply on what we need to happen to improve Tranquility. When the wind blows away the fog we start to see a Grand Plan and we are struggling to catch it before it vanishes again.

Storage

This is Tranquility’s Achilles heel. We are carrying too much stuff and at this time we don’t have good storage solutions. We hope that soon we can let go of very bulky winter clothes that literally saved our life but that are becoming less and less necessary.

The V-Berth became our throw-in space but now we need some serious carpentry work to lock objects in place and allow easy access. We are envisioning two long shelves that run on both sides on the V-Berth and that can accommodate storage boxes and light objects. We can dig more storage spaces adding a shelf on the quarter bunk and opening areas in the dinette, as well as reconfiguring the navigation desk. But the key would be to get rid of unnecessary weight and redistribute it along the boat. Keep it simple.

Electrical system

I am reconsidering the idea to step down to a single battery bank that operates both the engine and the appliances adding voltage converters. This will reduce the number of batteries from 10 to 8 without losing too much power. Thanks to the donation of a solar tracker mount we will be able to fit a 60W solar panel on the stern rail.

Plumbing

The repair of the leaky water tank under the v-berth is now a priority. 25 more gallons will give us at least one week of basic autonomy during passages, extending considerably our sailing range. The hook up of seawater in the plumbing system it’s another upgrade we are expecting to complete. Even if it’s not a priority right now that we are in a marina, it will be crucial when we sit at anchor for long periods.

Sails & Rig

Our sail set performed very well in the North Atlantic. Our sail wardrobe is suitable for medium to strong winds, but we lacking in the extremes. We need sails for lighter winds (Code 0 and Asymmetrical Spinnaker) as well as storm sails for extreme conditions (you never know). To accept this upgrade we have to rig up a trysail track and a whisker pole on the mast and place a mini-bowsprit on the bow.

Self-steering gear

We can’t do a long passage without a self-steering solution anymore. It’s too tiring and unnecessary.  A good wind autopilot it’s a lot of money but sooner or later has to land on Tranquility’s stern, we hope we won’t leave Brunswick without one. It will couple with an electronic tiller-pilot when we need to motor or when the apparent wind is not enough to operate the wind vane.

Safety

Our stanchions and lifeline need a proper reinforcement at the deck level, as well as most of the deck hardware. We are also designing modifications that will  transform our dinghy in a lifeboat, adding closed cell foam collars to increase buoyancy and prevent capsizing.

Comfort

We ordered new “luxury ultra-firm” foam for our mattresses. We decided to leave Fairhaven with the old set but the foam lost all the firmness and sleeping is not very comfortable. We understand now that small luxuries make a huge difference on a boat, especially when they concern health and comfort.

kunaya
© Fabio Brunazzi

This is the Grand Plan as it’s forming in our minds. The details are not revealed yet as they unveil as we proceed. We hope to conclude these enhancements before the end of the summer, to have some buffer time for tests and further adjustments. The list seems pretty small but as we know it will expand in endless tasks, tedious preparatory work and sure annoyances. At that point, if we survived we should be ready for the wind and the ocean.

Winter sailing tips

Two months ago we were about to set sails from Fairhaven, MA. We launched Tranquility on Halloween and we were rushing with the preparations for a departure day. At that time I was watching all the episodes of the TV show “Games of Thrones” and the mantra “winter is coming” was ringing in my head as a real thing.

game of thrones winter is coming house stark 1920x1072 wallpaper_www.wallpaperfo.com_41

I was scared. I did a winter delivery in the Mediterranean Sea and I rememeber some really cold nights. I also sailed on a late departure in 2012 from Newport, RI. It was the 5th of December when we set sails but that was on SY Aventura, a 110ft sloop, a ship more than a boat, and still the “night watch” (not the military order that watch the Wall in GOT but the shifts at the helm) was terribly cold. How could we possibly sail the North Atlantic in cold weather on a 29ft sailboat with no dodger and minimal living comfort?

© Nadia Uccello
© Nadia Uccello

I opened a thread on Sailing Anarchy to ask experienced Anarchists for good advices on how we could successfully make a winter cruise along the East Coast, leaving from a northern place.

Lots of users contributed to the discussion bringing their point of view and experience. Many thought that we were completely crazy and we should just renounce the attempt and wait for the next year. Others started to debate on how heating the cabin with no electrical power, the risks of CO intoxication, explosions and other amenities. The most feared topic was condensation, absolutely the worst enemy on board a boat, with tricks of any kind to prevent mold growing everywhere. Some folks focused more on the sailing itself, foul weather gear and the route to take.

When we finally left there was an online community following our SPOT tracker and commenting our progress. Soon in the forum the word “nannies” spread out and we couldn’t wait to reach a internet connection to find out what they were saying about us. I am very thankful to all the people that contributed to the forum because many advices were very helpful for our trip and because we felt supported and supervised.

Now we are almost out of the danger area and happy that this “polar vortex” is hitting us in South Carolina rather than in New England. Still tonight the temperature is supposed to go down to 20F, the dockmaster is closing the water on the docks and we are going to seek refuge in Kate cousin’s house who lives nearby and is kindly offering us a bedroom. We are also thinking about delaying our departure by two days because of this frigid cold. “Winter is coming”.

weather

I learned something about sailing in the cold months of the year and I resumed some of this learning in the following list:

1. Pick up good and consistent weather windows and be flexible

We avoided sailing during rainy days and when the conditions were not good. Nothing is as miserable as being soaked, so avoid it if you can! We preferred cold days to warm and wet ones. We had to sit in many places we didn’t like and slow down our pace but that spared us many uncomfortable experiences. On the other hand, we kept going if the conditions were good skipping destinations we planned for our passage.

2. Wear many layers and have many changes of clothes.

We purchased all our winter clothes in Thrift Stores and we are going to be happy to leave them behind when warmer. After experience with the nice and expensive Ocean Gore-Tex gear on fancy sailing yacht I instead got myself PVC coat and overall from commercial fishing. I consider breathable foul water gear an unnecessary expense. They are very comfortable but breathable is not waterproof by definition, no matter what magical expensive technology is adopted, it is not waterproof in heavy rain and gets very heavy when soaked. Also when you have to do some serious deck work you are going to sweat anyway so I don’t see the point. A more important piece of gear is some windproof jacket, and I found mountaineering jackets more valuable than sailing jackets. Another part of equipment that deserves investment of money are good and warm boots.

During the coldest trips I was wearing:

  • Three layers of pants (long johns bottom, corduroy pants, and waterproof pants on top or PVC overalls)
  • Six layers for the body (t-shirt, long johns top, 2 sweaters, 1 windproof jacket, PVC coat)
  • Warm and stormproof boots over double layer of socks.
  • Wool hat, wool neck warmer, neoprene mask (they are uncomfortable but they are cheap and effective against wind chill)
  • Warm ski gloves for steering and work gloves for handling lines.

When sleeping I was taking off the superficial layers and crawling into the sleeping bag. Never attempt to sleep fully dressed or you won’t have any additional layer to put on when you go back to the cockpit and you will feel cold.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

3. Open the hatches anytime it’s dry weather.

We didn’t try to keep heat in the cabin because our boat is so poorly insulated that it was a desperate task. Instead we kept the companionway and forward hatch open all the time it was possible to help air circulation. The companionway door was never shut down during passage, luckily the conditions made it possible as no waves ever came into the cockpit . We dried out mattresses and locker as soon as we had a chance, and in few situations we had to fight mold growth with a mix of water and bleach in a spray bottle.

4. Look for shore power.

Our original idea of many nights at anchor changed. We had to face the reality of some extra expenses for good comfort. We have a 30$ electric heater that is simply fantastic, generates dry air and has a thermostat. In wet conditions it’s also good to have a big fan to help move the air in the cabin, especially in the sleeping areas. In New England marinas start to close water at the docks and remove floating pontoons pretty early, but they usually leave shore power. Going South the situation gets better and you benefit from low season rates and you can easily dock at public docks with no drama.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

5. Limit night watch shifts to 2 hours per crewmember.

With no autopilot we had to steer all the time so it was hard to be warm for long. During the day it was usually easier to go up to three hours each. We used the change of the watch as a moment to snack and have hot drinks.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

6. Eat enough to generate heat.

In cold conditions your body burns more calories in order to generate heat. The diet should vary accordingly. Four thousand calories it’s considered not healthy for the average person but it’s a good daily rate when sailing in cold weather.  It is important to eat often and eat caloric food, including vegetables and fruit. It is very important to be able to cook warm dishes. Don’t worry about your waist size, we lost several pounds even if we were eating pork fat everyday for just sitting in the cold.

@ Kate Zidar
@ Kate Zidar

This list is definitely not exhaustive and represents my current state of thought on the subject. It pays an immense tribute to the Sailing Anarchy posts of various users in the quoted thread. I don’t want to make any claims of ‘best practice’ and maybe in the future I would get more conservative and prudent about some statements. You grow old you grow wiser, or maybe you find yourself developing more extreme and minimalist habits as I like to think.  I also would consider changing opinion about breathable Gore-Tex foul weather gear if any famous manufacturer will sponsor me.

Columbia 29, a classic beauty

Columbia 29Yesterday I was giving Tranquility a nice soapy bath when a man came by on the dock. “I am glad to see a beautiful Columbia 29” he said. He is the owner of a gorgeous Swan 40 tied up a few slips from Tranquility and remarked how both boats were designed by Sparkman & Stephens.

We nattered quite a while and he was very curious about her, and profoundly admired Tranquility’s design. I was flattered by his ammiration while at the same time I was embarassed by the general cosmetic situation like the still incomplete toe rail, the scratches and the worn out teak (at least I had just removed the mud from the anchoring operation). Kate and I often joke about it saying we own “a classic”, instead of an old piece of plastic that has been shaking in seas for almost 50 years.

I have to say that the first moment we met Tranquility on the grass of a random yard something magical happened and we decided to buy her even if the seller was also offering a Pearson Triton in sailaway condition.

The irrational magic prevailed over the rational thinking and we purchased the Columbia. Forty percent of this magic comes from the awe and fascination of an almost bare hull that make you dream about how beautiful and custom made the final result will be. Another forty percent is for sure that no matter what boat you end up buying you made a great choice because it’s yours. Twenty percent is something unexplicable, like a siren song of boat fetishism. Or maybe it’s true that boats have spirits and she was talking to us. “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux

This magic embodied in her lines may or may not be visible but other people notice it. She has charming lines. Everyone who asks “What boat is this?” then pretends to know about Columbia 29 and the most common words associated are “seaworthy”, “sturdy” or “well built”.

I haven’t found another Columbia 29 on the water yet and after a brief online research it looks there are very few for sale. It’s not a popular boat that you run into at every anchorage, but it looks like it’s a famous one. Quite a few people still admires boats from that era. They recognize in them the golden era of classic and seaworthy designs, even if this concept is open to endless debate as it’s very hard to define what makes a boat seaworthy.

Columbia 29 is one of the first fiberglass boats that made sailing affordable for the middle class. The first boat was built independently around 1960 on S&S design #1508 and then bought by Glass Laminates of Costa Mesa, CA that launched her on the market. This boat became a big seller and the name Columbia was incorporated into the company. Columbia then expanded on the East Coast in Portsmouth, VA where Tranquility was built in 1965 as hull #85. Tranquility is the MK1 version, from the original design. Later, Columbia introduced a MK2 version with raised deck and 1000 lbs more ballast. And not happy, following a market that was going in the direction of more and more interior space they raised the deck again and launched the model called Defender.

I am happy about the choice we made with Tranquility. This doesn’t mean the Columbia 29 is a better sailboat than the Pearson Triton, but that we are happier with the features we have (masthead cutter rig, electric engine,). On the other hand there is no rationality in deciding to buy a boat and so it’s pointless to try to understand why.  It just gives a lot of satisfaction to encounter many people that admire our tiny little boat.

Hanging around Charleston

Today is the winter solstice, when we experience the shortest daylight period and the longest night of the year. From today the daylight will increase every day by a little bit reaching the maximum daylight period during the next solstice, the summer one. Sailing during winter time means having to deal with short days and long nights. If you want to maximize daylight you have to be ready for an early start at dawn, hoping to get in port by the sunset. Usually sailors plan their passages trying to avoid night sailing, expecially in the nearbies of the coast, inlets and waterways. But that’s the theory.

Often the planning and the execution take diverging paths and you end up entering port at night. It happened a lot to us, expecially because we don’t have a powerful engine and we rely mostly on freakish winds. Also sometimes we are not so prompt to leave the dock.

By the way any sailor should be competent in leaving and entering ports with dark and generally in night sailing, using the aids for navigation and the 5 senses. The unexpected is often present on a sailboat and the execution may differ from the plan forcing an approach with the dark. However, if you can sail with the full moon the visibility is great and it’s also a pleasure, but it’s during the darkest nights that you can enjoy a beautiful starry sky.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

We left the Intracoastal Waterway in Morehead City, NC and headed offshore again on Thursday 12th December. Our destination was Southport NC with an incursion in the ICW for the last 20 or so miles through the Masonboro Inlet. We wanted to avoid the long sailing around Cape Fear to clear the Frying Pan Shoals.

The day sailing was fun, cold and with some swell, but relatively comfortable. We passed very close to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, and we saw and heard them practice firing. Even if we were relatively clear off their perimeter I have to confess that at any shot you would have seen our compass jerk toward a much more southern course, even if it was ridicoulus to try to escape artillery doing 6 knots.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

We arrived at Masonboro Inlet at night even if we had good wind. We knew we could anchor in Wrightsville Beach and continue the next day. The moon that night was bright but the cloudy sky dimmed its light, and as it often happens we encountered more than one unlit buoy, luckily without shaking hands. On our way to the anchorage we kept seeing empty pontoons of the waterfront properties. We were pretty tired and thought that it was no harm to tie up just for the night and so we did, being awakened by a older gentleman in the morning who checked if we were ok and said we could stay as much as we wanted. That’s one of the few perks of sailing during off season.

We left anyway the next morning, pretending we are on a schedule. One more day of boring ICW and we got to Southport, a very little village at the outfall of Cape Fear River. Here we spent one night at the local Marina and one at the public dock where we met a little community of liveaboards, made friends, shared dinner and breakfast and saved some bucks.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

Other times it happen that you chose to leave at night because of a weather window, and that’s what happened on Sunday Decemeber 15th. We left Southport with a small group of supporters gathered at the dock to witness our silent electric engine as we pulled out at 6:30 pm, as soon as the southern winds died and the northerlies started to pick up. Pushed by the ebb flow of  Cape Fear River we met force 3 winds that put us in motion on the gentle swell towards our destination, Georgetown, SC.

That was the plan but then we changed it once again.  After a very brief consult we decided to keep going and reach Charleston, putting one more night in front of us. Kate is now a perfect salty dog able to cook on a rocking boat and to peform all the tasks required to stand watch. The last sailing bit entering Ashley River was obviously upwind and against the tide but with patience we made it up to the main anchorage, in front of the City Marina in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. We dropped anchor and slept like logs.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

Charleston is a great city and we are enjoying a lot our stay. It also has a convenient airport that will deliver us to Kate’s family for Christmas. That’s the reason why we decided to leave Tranquility here while we commute for holidays. While we were here I also had a fortunate coincidence and met friends who also were sailing south and stopped in Charleston.  We will continue our journey to Florida soon, with possible stops in Beaufort, SC, Savannah, GA and Jacksonville, FL.