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!

Adventurous 2014 to y'all


We wish you a great 2014. We are in Dataw Island, SC, our temporary home base to explore the Sea Islands, the Gullah culture and maybe see an alligator. We are also waiting for our new SPOT tracker to be shipped here and taking opportunity to visit family in the area.

Thanks to Ralph for the photo!

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.

ICW days

Like in a dream we left Fairhaven and sailed offshore for more than 400miles. Then it was like waking up in Norfolk at mile 0 of the Intracoastal Waterway (aka ICW)  during a creepy cold week and don’t know exactly what to do. In front of us there were long motoring hours along rivers, channels and sounds with one eye on red and green markers and the other on the depth sounder. Our electric drive had come to the final test. The boat needed more improvement and downtown Norfolk was not exactly very welcoming for a sailboat. If we had a destroyer or a aircarrier it would have been more easy to find parts and labor. We had a slow wake up, like if we were sleeping in and craving for a robust coffee. Then the bad cold weather disappeared and we had no other choice than to start moving.

© Kate Zidar

Norfolk to Pungo Ferry Marina (23 miles) Saturday 30th November

Late start on Saturday looking for filling up the tanks for our honda generator. We made some progress down Elizabeth River thanks to good northerlies that pushed us down the first part of the Intracoastal Waterway. We thought we were the slowest ass on the ICW but “Ra” a solar powered trimaran was even slower than us, at least at the beginning. With no mast the weird boat overtook us at the bridges, that we dramatically found all closed so we had to spend the waiting time doing donuts under sail as close quarter tack and gybe practice for Kate. After the Great Bridge Lock we packed the mainsail and rely 100% on the setup electric drive/ generator, keeping a cautious 3,5 kts average. The generator keep us going but it is noisy and we can’t really listen to music and we have to speak louder. When the dark hours caught us we were close to an abandoned marina. We read that somebody before us used it as a mooring so we approached the abandoned fuel dock with caution. With great surprise we found somebody to handle lines to. It was Oliver a singlehanded sailor (with two dogs) that overtook us (like many others) just afer the lock and that had the same idea to moor on the abandoned marina. The place was very creepy and the night extremely cold.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

Pungo Ferry Marina to Coinjock (18 miles) Sunday 1st December

A nice warmer day saluted us on this motoring trip. We moved across wide winding turns and swampy shores, a very short trip that left us some daylight to explore the surroundings. Unfortunately there is not much to do or see in Coinjock and to me it looked like a truck station on the highway, a stop and go place with two marinas and one restaurant that is famous for a 32oz prime rib. I instead ordered Shrimp and grits that is becoming one of my favorite southern dishes.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

Coinjock to Manteo (29 miles) Monday 2nd December

Finally the first proper sail in the ICW! The wind in the morning was very light but soon we had enough breeze to turn off the electric motor and to move at a much more adequate pace. We sailed on flat waters in a sunny day all the way inside Manteo harbor where we moored at Waterfront Marina. We had the pleasure to meet the Dockmaster Carl Jordan, who came to get our dock lines and very kindly introduced us to the village answering with a smile to all our questions. Manteo is a great little town, small enough to be pictoresque but well equipped with everything you may need. There is a town dock that is free of charge for longer stays. We wished we had enjoyed a longer stay but the weather forecast pushed us to leave very early the next morning, for a long trip to Hatteras.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

Manteo (Roanoke Island) to Hatteras (45 miles) Tuesday 3rd December

Long boring motoring day across Pamlico Sound. We had a little thrill with the current in the channel close to the Oregon Inlet, but after that short moment we had a bit of sailing in those narrow channels escorted by flocks of birds. We arrived in Hatteras in the dark and we performed a silent ninja approaching to Village Marina. Once moored we found out that the Island was shut down because of the recent bridge misadventure (more info here) and there was no open restaurant  in miles. After walking around the whole evening looking for any possible food we sadly come back and exhausted we dined on Cup Noodles. In that very moment it was a noticeable culinary experience. We did one day stop over in Hatteras because of rainy weather and also attracted by this famous location. We rented bikes and wet but happy we biked to Hatteras Lightouse for some tourism. I also bought myself an anticipated christmas present: reel and rod for offshore fishing.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

Hatteras to Ocracoke (23 nm) Thursday 5th December

We were hoping for more sailing that day, but the forecasted wind delayed a bit too much and we again had to motor and to use the noisy generator to keep up with the batteries. We moored at the Town Dock (right beside the ferry) that was pretty cheap and had power and restrooms but no showers and no hot water. We had a nice island time . We found the good restaurant we were hoping to encounter in Hatteras (Gaffer’s). Here we met some nice people that introduced us to the life on the island.

© Billy & Becky
© Billy & Becky

Ocracoke to Oriental NC (49 miles) Friday 6th December

After some organizational hassles during the departure we finally set sails. Well this time the wind was a bit too much from the West and Tranquility was immediately heeling on starboard side fighting with some choppy seas first in the southern part of Pamlico Sound and later at the mouth of Neuse River. Kate had some KO time so I had some solitary steering that made me appreciate once again the ease of handling of Tranquility. With no autopilot but just well trimmed sails I could leave the cockpit and do some work on the foredeck while the boat was keeping the course with no hesitation. As the wind increased the seas became more steep but we kept going and tacking and Kate resurrected from the bunk to enjoy the sailing and giving a huge hand on deck. We finally approached Oriental in the dark.,doing a great job finding the channel and approaching the harbor, with perfect coordination and teamwork despite the hard and cold day. We finally decided where to moor, so we got prepared. At some 30 ft from the slip in perfect aligment we got stuck. I couldn’t believe it, there was a shoal just in front of the slips, where other boat were moored. How could that be possible? We tried our best to get out, hoisting sails, hanging from the side, but nothing worked. My mouth stopped to obey me and I wans’nt able to comunicate with Kate in a proper comprehensible language mixing up english, spanish and italian. We were both weared, hungry and just looking for an end to that journey. The last 30 ft of that leg were the most arduous. We kept it together and decided to bring two lines to the pylons of the slip with the dinghy.  Once the lines were attached we put them on the winches through the bow fairleads and winched the boat out of the shoal into the slip. (see diagram). After the misadventure we spent one more day in Oriental, also because it was raining all day long, and we discovered why we got stuck: for some reason the wind direction influence the tide in the harbor so we entered with SW wind that lowers the water in the harbor, while wind from NE raise the level. We left with good NE on Sunday morning with no problems headed for Beaufort.

© Fabio Brunazzi

Oriental to Beaufort (21nm) Sunday 8th December

Short trip with a nice speed under the mainsail only to favor visibility in the channels. We moored in Town Creek Marina, that is famous for the unfriendliness of the staff and confirmed the expectations. We are right now exploring the area and dealing with condensation inside the boat that is taking a big toll on us. The colder weather up north saved us from this phenomenon. As we are getting in warmer waters the temperature excursion and the humidity is contributing to an unpleasant experience.

© Fabio Brunazzi
© Fabio Brunazzi

Next step will be Southport NC, this time out in Onslow bay, to get some miles under the keel and some good wind in our sails, abandoning the populated but monotonous ICW. I felt protected and pampered during this route but also like a prisoner in confined spaces. I hope more offshore sailing will shake off feeling stuck.


Tranquility Voyage: Leg 2 Block Island RI to Norfolk VA – 385 nm

I believe there are mainly three reason that made this long passage possible: Tranquility, the weather and Roberto.

Starting from Tranquility I can only be happy about her. We purchased her following a positive feeling we had when we stepped onboard for the first time in a random yard (and positive reviews, especially on atom voyages website). We were anxious about testing her offshore, to confirm the accuracy of our intuition and the reputation of the Columbia 29 as capable of offshore sailing. The crew feedback is positive and unanimous: easy sail controls (reefing is a piece of cake), no sprays on deck (and on us), well balanced rig and performing sails (made in China) that allow to reach hull speed with winds of 10-15 kts. We felt safe for the entire trip, even during the most challenging moments.

We picked a very fortunate weather window departing Block Island last Tuesday at 11pm with northwesterlys blowing 20kts. The complicate part was leaving Great Salt Pond with the wind on the nose. We motored our way out the channel at about 1 knot, slow but steady, without pushing the throttle too hard worried about loosing charge and finding ourself stuck in a dangerous situation. As soon as we cleared the channel, we were in full sail on a beam reach passing Montauk and Long Island on our starboard side. The forecast was very accurate and we had costant NW winds with temperatures in 30s and 40s, cold but not too much. We experimented occasional light winds but for most of the passage we had constant favorable wind that made us decide to keep going and leave Cape May and Ocean City behind, aiming for Norfolk VA. A plan that SW winds forced us to abandon in favor of a stop in Wachapreague, 65 miles away from Norfolk. The perspective of having a dinner in a restaurant and a hot shower far outweighted one more night and morning at the helm. Navigating the salt marsh inlet was not a joke and we felt the mud under the keel more than once, but we eventually got there and had a great dinner, a deep sleep and a touristic morning waiting for the next high tide. The last portion of the leg was an easy and happy sail down to Cape Charles and the Chesapeake entrance where the approaching cold front got us and forced us to reduce sails and to a “sporty” cut to Elizabeth River and Norfolk; two long, cold and windy hours till we safely moored in Waterside Marina Sunday Morning at 2am.

The third and very important reason was our temporary help, Roberto. This passage wouldn’t be possible without him. Two crew and no autopilot would have been too extreme for a winter passage in the North Atlantic. We would’t have enough stamina and skills to do it. Plus Roberto is a kind of sailor I admire: even though he is a commercial licensed Superyacht captain with many years of experience he still has the enthusiasm and the feel for adventure to accept and enjoy such an unconventional and challenging trip. One image is representative of his contribution to the trip and Kate had the pleasure and the thrill to witness it: when she emerged from down below after her rest time she saw me and Roberto disassembling and reassembling the tiller while simultaneously steering the boat in choppy seas. His contribution was not only in terms of hands on deck, but he also suggested and performed important upgrades while keeping a joyful presence onboard. A fresh pair of eyes like Roberto’s couldn’t have come at a better time, when Kate and I needed a push and new ideas after the long, tiring and winding summer refit.

Now we are sitting in Norfolk, waiting for better weather, resting and upgrading our little home. We feel cozy in here and we can’t wait to continue our trip south along the Intracostal Waterway, a severe and interesting test for our electric engine as motoring will be crucial.


There is nothing like a boat with no wi-fi connection to help the writing process. Now that Tranquility is launched I have the luck to enjoy Fairhaven Shipyard and finally live on my boat. There is no fresh water, no working head and no lights, but everyday a new improvement happens and soon all the liveaboard necessities will be satisfied.

There is a small electric heater and comfortable bunks where I can nap or read or write under a warm blanket. Days are becoming shorter and there are so many projects to do and sea trials to run before we can possibly think to set sails for the south. We have a deadline though: leave on the first possible weather window from November 15th.

It looks like it is going to be a hell of cold and we have a lot of miles to sail before we can possibly say that we are out of the winter. So far New England has been very magnanimous and fall has been mild with unexpected hot days. But that won’t last for very long and we are trying to do our best to get going. Freezing northerlies already showed up and it’s catching one of those that will take us out of the harbor for our first leg of the trip.

Photo © Kate Zidar

Everyday Tranquility looks more like a boat, a pretty one after all the care she received in the last six months. The first sail test was amazing. On a cold windy day we manouvered all around the New Bedford Harbor, tacking and gyibing with all our sails up on a 20+ kts day. Yankee, staysail and full battened mainsail are all brand new from Leesails in Hong Kong and they all fit the new beefed up rig. At the helm Tranquility was so governable and with my surprise she was not heeling too much when close hauling. The electric engine keep taking us in and out of slips with almost no power consumption.

A harbor seal showed up to salute the first sail of Tranquility. We hope it’s a good sign for the future.