Thursday, April 30, 2009

I hate to quote Donald Rumsfeld but he was right about one thing.  "You don't know what you don't know..."  

Our first trip, now safely in the books was really great.  It was fun and exciting yet nerve racking and sometimes scary.  More than that though, it was a great learning experience - akin to being hit with a fire hose full of information.  

For months, we had been planning this trip down to the last detail.  We had all the bases covered and felt that we had a good handle on things.  We had spent hours pouring over the charts, surfing the blogs and reading Chapman's guide to Seamanship.  At some point though, you have to just get out there and do it.  Enough of theories and technique. Time to put down the books.  We wanted to get in the game!  

And so we did.  

We headed down to Norfolk on a beautiful Saturday morning to make ready the final preparations to the boat.  She needed a day to make a few last minute adjustments, most notably a change in her port of call.  The United States Coast Guard requires that all documented vessels have their name and home port clearly marked on the transom (back end of boat).  The previous owners had their home port in Southport, NC and it was with a little melancholy that we removed those letters.  On some level we were taking over stewardship of a wonderful piece of machinery that had brought years of joy and wonderment to all her past owners.  The torch was being passed and now it was our turn.  As I affixed our lettering to Maya, it reminded me of when we brought our first child home from the hospital a day or so after he was born.  As I was fumbling around trying to put him into the car seat for the first time, I thought to myself, "damn".... "do I really know what I am doing?"  

I am sure "W" felt the same way on January 20th, 2000, however, I am not sure that he ever recovered.  

And so the next day, with two full tanks of fuel and a wing and a prayer we quietly slipped from our berth and headed eastward down the intercoastal waterway (ICW).  The conditions for our first day were spectacular.  Clear skies, calm winds and water like glass were the rule. Surely King Trident was looking out for us on our maiden voyage.  

Within the first hour, we encountered a draw bridge.  This bridge didn't raise up like most, but rather swung around to let you through.  We were the only boat going through and I think Kim felt a little guilty looking at the line of cars waiting for us to pass. At a top speed of 10 mph, it takes a little time to get through.  My thought was that it was Sunday morning and if they were on their way to church they would surely be reminded that patience is a virtue.

Most of the day was uneventful.  That portion of the ICW is essentially a man made canal where navigation is not required.  It is a 300 foot wide ditch that goes for miles.  It made for a nice start to the trip as we had nothing to do for 5 hours except keep it between the treelines.  Low stress.  

Around 2 o'clock, we had planned to stop at a nice little cove and try our hand at anchoring. Two is a little early to stop for the day but the thinking was that since we had never dropped the anchor, it might be wise to give ourselves a little extra time to figure it all out.  That turned out to be wise thinking.  As we pulled into the anchorage, we noticed that there was another boat already there.  It was neatly tucked into a spot and her occupants were sitting on the aft deck enjoying what looked to be an early happy hour.  Little did they know that there was going to be entertainment involved with their evening cocktails.  The water looked deep enough and the charts and depth finder confirmed this.  We had 4 feet of water under the boat and that should have been plenty.

I put on my gloves and made my way out to the bow where the anchor was.  I don't know why but it looked strangely like a child's car seat (but I think we covered that already.)  Kim was up on the flybridge, keeping the boat as stationary as she could, given the winds and the current.  I needed to work fast so we could set the anchor where we were.  I knew what all the books said about anchoring and the procedure seemed simple enough.  Untie the anchor from the bow and let gravity take over.  Once it hits the bottom, slowly move the boat backwards allowing the anchor to set, or dig itself into the bottom.  You will know that it is set as the chain that holds the anchor to the boat gets taught.  You will also know because you stop moving.

It was that second part that didn't seem to be happening.  The anchor was on the bottom, this we knew.  We moved the boat backward and the chain got taught.  After a few moments, we noticed that we were still drifting backwards (towards the weeds in the shallow water).  In the flying biz, when you are coming in a for a landing and things don't look right, you do a 'go around'.  In that maneuver, you climb back into the sky and come around again for another try at the landing. In the Navy, I am told that is called a 'wave off'.

So we waved off.  No big deal.  We pulled up the anchor, took the boat back out into deeper water and tried again.  Same procedure.  Drop the anchor, back up the boat and pray like there is no tomorrow that it catches.  No dice.  We were drifting again.  Another wave off.

Okay so we are new.  These things happen (although in the flying biz, you have to nail a landing eventually or you will run out of fuel).  We had lots of gas- it was pride that was running low.  An hour had gone by and we were still getting nowhere.  I am not sure but I think we had four or five wave offs.  Finally we heard a crackle on our radio.  It was the crew from the boat parked next to us.  Apparently they couldn't take it any more either.  They offered a simple suggestion to us.  They said to let out 100 more feet of extra chain before backing up the boat.  That helps the anchor to drag along the bottom instead of lifting up as you move backwards.  The dragging is what makes the anchor catch.

Well we knew that you needed to let out some extra chain (they call it the 'rode' in the marine world) but we didn't think you needed that much. At that point however, we were willing to try anything.  We let out the chain, Kim put it in reverse and the boat stopped moving.  Let me tell you that it is amazing how long you can hold your breath if you have to.  We stood there hoping that this was the time.  One minute, two minutes, three.  We were holding.  Five minutes, ten.  I think we did it.  Fifteen minutes and the other boat called again.  "Nice job" they said.  "Looks like you could use a drink" they added.  "Come on over, the bar is open."

Thanks to their help we never had another problem anchoring.  From then on we nailed it every time on the first try.  Just like that car seat.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We have checked the weather and it is looking grand.  Sunny skies and calm wind for the whole week of our first voyage.  You couldn't ask for better conditions.  The ship is essentially ready.  We have fuel and water.  The engine problems have been overcome.  All that is left to do is to make for provisions and do a little light cleaning and we should be underway.

As much as we like to think that we have thought of everything, the one issue that is still lurking around in the great unknown is the 'togetherness' thing.  I don't mean that we don't like spending time together.  We do.  It is just that we have never done it while confined to such a small space.  Our boat is 44' long and has a few levels.  The lower levels have the staterooms and the middle level has the salon, cockpit helm and galley.  Outside is the aft deck and above that is the flybridge.  Sounds like a lot of space, but when you are there, well, not so much.  Like aboard all boats, space is tight.

I know that a lot of folks live aboard their boats full time and never have a problem and I am sure that we won't either.  It is just that we have become empty nesters recently and now that our house is quiet, we kinda like it.  It is nice to find a room in the house to go hide and read a book or watch TV.  On the boat, the other person is going to be aware of everything you do - when you do it.  

There is going to be a transition to this new lifestyle.

The really great thing is that the boat has been outfitted very comfortably.  It has a couple of music systems, satellite TV (which we don't know how to turn on) DVD player with surround sound (don't know how that works either) and four separate remote control units.  I think I counted the buttons once and all together the remotes have 135 of them.  That being said, we plan on bringing several good books along just in case we find ourselves unable to connect to the outside world.... which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Of course we will have our trusty laptop and cell phones for emergencies, but all in all, we are cutting ourselves off from society for awhile.  It is exciting and scary all at the same time.  Isn't that what life if supposed to be like anyway?  

Wish us a bon voyage.  We will try and update as we pass by some wifi hotspots.

Monday, April 13, 2009


I was  almost certain that I would find the mystery switch in the 'on' position.  As it turns out that switch wasn't so mysterious after all.  As a matter of fact, it is the largest thing hanging on the bulkhead wall and it is bright red. Duh.  Anyway, it was, of course 'on'.  As soon as I saw it, the words' boat unit' came to mind.  Not only was I sure that we were going to have to buy a new battery, but I was also sure that we were going to have to pay someone to help us remove and haul away the old one.  It weighs in at 170 pounds.

If the adage is that "behind every great man there is a great woman", then the corollary to that must be that "behind every husband's great idea, there is a patient wife."   My great idea was to get Kim to help me and move it ourselves.  The first thought was not to tell her how much that giant 8D battery weighed.  If mind over matter has any standing at all, I figured this might be a time to test the theory.  The second thought was that my first thought wasn't too smart.  I decided to be practical and instead of saying it weighed a lot,  I just said it was "a little heavy".

I don't know if it was the adrenalin, fear or the thought of spending yet another boat unit, but somehow we lifted the behemoth out of its resting place.  It took several spurts of energy and many breaks but eventually we made it out to the rental car.  With one last burst, we hoisted it into the back end of the car and I was off to the local Autozone .  A nice young man came out to help me unload that monster from the trunk, but before I could regale him with tales of my fetes of strength, he reached in and lifted the thing out like it was a ten pound sack of potatoes and carried it to the store.  He even waited to hold the door open for me, but I couldn't let that happen.  I had too much pride.  "After you" was all I could mutter.

I wound up buying two smaller batteries with the thought of wiring them together in parallel to increase the amps.  With the advances in technology, these smaller batteries carry as much as wallop as the larger ones.  Now we'll have more power with less battery.  On top of that, the 31's weigh about 25 pounds each and cost a fraction of a replacement 8D.  What a deal.  On the way out, that nice young man suggested that I get someone to help me unload the batteries when I got back to the boat, effectively ending any chance he had of getting a tip.  "They're pretty heavy", he told me.

I love a happy ending and I am glad to report that the starboard engine sprang right to life on the first try.  I love it when a plan comes together.

We spent the rest of the weekend cleaning up the interior and getting ready for our trip down the ICW.  Two weeks and counting.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Every twelve to eighteen months, it is necessary to take your boat out of the water in order to inspect, clean and repair the bottom. Over time, after sitting in the water for an extended period, algae, barnacles and associated parasites build up on the keel. Unchecked, they can eat through the painted water barrier exposing the bottom to destructive forces. On top of that, it is just a good idea to make sure that the rudders, propellers, stabilizers and through hull fittings are in good shape and not leaking water.

Our boat is 44 feet long and weighs 44,000 pounds. It is a heavy ship. Taking it out of the water is a big deal. I often wondered how the marina yard workers are able to handle this chore. As one would expect, there are tools and machines for everything. This contraption is called a travel lift and is used to pick boats out of the water. Some are capable of lifting nearly 100,000 pounds.
It works by placing heavy duty straps strategically under the boat and hydraulically lifting the ship out of the water. Once 'in the straps', the travel lift can move the boat away from the water and take it anywhere in the boat yard. Often the boat is lowered onto wooden blocks where it is released from the straps and lashed down to supports. There it can be cleaned, painted or repaired. Sometimes boats are lifted out of the water and put on the 'hard' for long periods. This can keep them safe from strong hurricanes or allow bigger projects to be completed that wouldn't be feasible if the boat was in the water. In case you are interested, they generally charge about $20/foot for this service. That is .8 boat units.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Well, the maiden voyage had to be postponed. We ran into some last minute scheduling issues and on top of that, the weather wasn't going to cooperate. I have heard that one thing that cruisers do not do is maintain a schedule. As the operation is at the mercy of mother nature, those who choose to tempt fate often find themselves in trouble. As they say in the flying business, it is better to exercise your superior judgement than to demonstrate your superior airmanship.

We were able to get down to MAYA for a few days. My dad accompanied me for a short two day affair. We were able to knock out a few of the more pressing projects and I am happy to report success on all fronts. It is fun to have dad come down and help out. He is so interested in all the machinery down in the engine room and is a big help. He changed out some water lines for me and helped while I installed a new fuel transfer pump.

We decided to start up the engines and let them run for awhile. The port engine (left side) came right to life however the starboard engine (right side) was dead as a doornail. At first glance, it appeared to be a dead battery. The boat has been idle since last November and its not out of the realm of possibility that it gave up the ghost during that time. It is a big battery and I couldn't understand how it could have just died like that. In my mind, there had to be some other reason that we were not getting it to start. So, like the newbie that I am, I got on the internet and starting phoning the experts. Turns out that there is a 'secret' kill switch down in the engine room that would prevent an engine start if it was left in the 'off' position. My guess is the boat yard mechanics that helped winterize MAYA last November left it in the off position by mistake, as I have never heard of nor seen this switch. Unfortunately, I will have to wait until the next trip down to reset it. If not, I think we might be into spending some serious Boat Units before we head for the Carolinas.

Some congratulations are in order for Kim, hereafter known as Admiral Kim. She completed her training classes with the Coast Guard and passed her tests. This boat is definitely a two person operation and I am glad that one of us has official credentials. I am going to have to sharpen up my salute as she is now the superior officer on deck.