Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The bottom of your boat is akin to the bottom of your car.  There is a lot going on down there but for the most part, as long as things are working, we tend to let well enough alone.  Seems like a reasonable strategy.  My challenge, however, is the 'leaving well enough alone' part.  Most of the projects I work on while aboard Maya are self inflicted.  I seem to be able to find problems where there are none.

Such was the case a few days ago.

We were at a party the other night and one of our good boating friends mentioned to us that he had a great discount at one of the local prop shops.   This shop would pick up the props, polish and rebalance them and then return them to the boat.  It sounded like a great deal.  He asked when the last time we had this done.  It didn't take me long to answer.  "Never."  Well, from the look on his face, I knew that my answer didn't fall into the category of responsible boater.  "Never, he said?"  "Well, yeah." I said.
"I clean them up when I have the boat pulled but I have never had them off to be rebalance."

He said, "well you need to do this right away.  It will make your boat run so much smoother... and you will save fuel in the process."   That sounded great to me.  Besides, I was in between boat projects and this sounded like a lot of fun.

A few days later, we arranged to have him stop by and pull the props off the boat.  Another friend in the marina was doing his props too and we all decided to help each other with the process.  What needed to be done was to dive under the boat, remove several large nuts that hold the prop onto the shaft and then (theoretically) slide the prop off the shaft and lift it out of the water.  How hard could that be?

The first thing that I will tell you was that the water was cold.  Even with a wet suit, you could still feel the chill around your hands, face and head.  It was going to be a tough job. Things went pretty well on the first boat we did.  The props came off pretty quickly and without much trouble.  Maya, however, was determined not to give up hers without a fight.

Now I really don't know how long it had been since the props were off the boat.  I can say for sure that it has been over five years and I would be willing to bet that it has been over ten.  Metals that are submersed in salty water for long periods of time tend to take on properties that are unlike those exposed to the air.  The large metal nuts that held the prop on the shaft were apparently very happy in their present state and were not interested in coming to the surface.  Even with our very large pipe wrenches, it was difficult to get them to budge.  There was a lot of banging and pulling but we finally got the port side prop off.  It took almost an hour just to do that one alone!

The starboard side was going to be more problematic.  As it turned out, there was no way we were going to be able to loosen the nuts that held the prop in place.  We tried everything.  At one point, we had three guys under the boat, with one person with his back on the keel, pushing with his legs against a pipe wrench that we had added a 5 foot extension to.  That is a lot of torque.  Finally we threw in the towel and admitted defeat.  We were going to have one shiny prop and one, well, not so shiny.

A few days later, the props (our single prop and our friends double) were ready.  My gosh, they were beautiful.  They were so clean and shiny that they looked like solid gold.  They are solid brass, btw.
Putting them back on was a lot easier.  They simply slid on the shaft.  We added the two bolts and cotter pin that held them in place and we were good to go.

All in all, this job I thought would take just an hour or so, wound up taking over six.  Even with that, we still were only able to get one of Maya's props done.  Later on, I did buy some 80# wet sand paper to use on the 'stubborn side'.  I spent about a half hour sanding away under water.  While she isn't as beautiful as her sister on the port side,  the starboard side now looks a lot better!

I have to thank my wonderful boating friends Bill, Stephen, George and Dick for helping out with this project.  It wouldn't have happened without you.  Guys like them are what make boating such a great experience.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

The other day we had the opportunity to go for an afternoon cruise with some friends.
We happened upon a pod of dolphins who were interested in racing us.  Check out the video
below for some of the fun.

Monday, January 14, 2013

One difference that I notice about television shows from the 70's and the current slate of TV shows is the lack of a snappy theme songs at the beginning of the show.  There were so many catchy little tunes from the older sitcoms;

     "Here's the story....of a man named Brady"

     "Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Jed"

     "Well, were movin' on the eastside"

     "Love....exciting and new.  Come aboard, we're expecting you!  The Love Boat...."

     "Green Acres is the place for living is the life for me"

However the one that was stuck replaying in my mind for several days on our Bahamas adventure
was from Gilligan's Island;

     "Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale from a fateful trip, that started from this
       tropic port about this tiny ship...."  (skip to third verse)

     "The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed.  If not for the courage of the
       fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost..."

Now let me say from the start that at no time was the Maya ever in danger of being
lost.  At the very worst, I could say the tiny ship was tossed.  But let me start from the beginning.

Staniel Cay is about halfway down the Exumas chain in the southern Bahamas.  Its a tiny outpost of small grocery stores, a marina, a restuarant with a bar and a small airport.  Its a favorite for boaters like us as it provides a link to civilization (and the internet) in the vast and mostly uninhabited island chain.  On top of that, Staniel Cay has one of the nicest and most protected anchorages around.  The beaches are pristine and generally the weather is always perfect.  It is the epitome of what boating in the Bahamas is all about.

We had been enjoying our time there in Staniel Cay for about a week when we started to hear rumblings of a nasty weather system that was headed our way in the next day or two.  You must understand that boaters live and die on weather reports and rumours of impending bad conditions spread like wildfire.  Add to that the lack of viable and current information and you have a recipe for mass hysteria.  Now the panic didn't rise to that level but lets say that the coming cold front was the talk of the town.

The chatter on the radio was that those in the know were heading 'out of Dodge' to find protection from the nasty thunderstorms and winds that were anticipated.  The problem was that the weather reports were conflicted.  Some of the weather guru's were saying that the front was going to peeter out and amount to nothing more than a wind shift.  Others were offering a much different view.

My background is steeped in weather.  I know how to read a weather chart and can put the pieces together generally, on my own.  From what I could see, the pattern seemed a little benign.  On top of that, it is almost unheard of for a strong cold front to make it all the way south to the Exumas in late April or early May.  Never happens.

Over the next day or so, the anchorage where we were started to thin out.  From a high of about 50 boats, the numbers of boaters staying was shrinking.  The day before the front was supposed to come through, there were probably about 10 of us left.  Most of our cruising group decided to stay put, however a few of the smarter ones got a marina slip or headed to a mooring ball several miles away.

The afternoon before the storm was forecast to hit, the weather was clear and the winds were calm.  Maybe we were going to be right after all.  Much ado about nothing?

Around sunset that evening, the weather began to turn.  We were expecting this and had prepared for a least a bit of unsettled conditions.  We had raised our dinghy out of the water and put her back onboard the 'mother ship'.  We doubled our lines and battened down the hatches, so to speak.  We were ready.  Our thought was still that there were going to be some light rainshowers and possibly some windy conditions for a few hours, but by morning the sun would be shining again and life in the Bahamas would be back to normal.

Around  midnight the first wave of thunderstorms hit.  At night, the lightning can put on a spectacular show as the bolts can be seen for many miles away.  Even though a bolt seems close to you, it really isn't.  This storm brought us a fair amount of rain but as luck would have it, we were in between the worst of the storm cells.  One of our fellow boaters had access to live NextRad weather radar and he observed a strong squall line that extended from Virginia through Cuba.  There was no way it was going to miss us.  This was not good news.

So we hung on that night, not sleeping much.  One of us kept anchor watch to make sure that the 44 pound piece of steel that was holding us in place kept doing its job.  Even though there were fewer boats in the anchorage, there were still lots of rocks lining the shoreline.  We surely didn't want to hit those!  By far these were the worst conditions we had ever been in on Maya and we were worried that our equipment would hold together.

By morning, the rain had let up.  The thunderstorms were over but there were still lingering rainshowers that dotted the horizon.  I went up to look at the dinghy and found about 7 inches of water in her bilge.  Thats a lot of rain!  But, we had survived the night.  What does it say in the Psalms?.....'joy cometh in the morning'.

By about noon, the sun was peaking out and we thought the worst was over.  With any cold front in the northern hemisphere, a frontal passage is marked by a wind shift from the south to the northwest.  We were prepared for this shift although, as it turns out, we were not ready for the increase in the velocity of the post frontal winds.  All the forecasters, including myself, guessed that after the front went through, the winds would shift and the velocity would increase a little, but would die down by the time midday had passed.  This is typical behavior for most cold fronts, especially those that make it as far south as the Bahamas.

No, this front was a record setter.  As it turned out, the winds did shift to the northwest, but the velocity increased.... a lot.  And they kept on getting stronger.   And stronger.   By five that afternoon, the winds were clocking in at almost 40 miles per hour.   And to make it worse, they were coming in from the Northwest; a direction in the anchorage where we had no protection from the resultant waves. 40 mile an hour winds can kick up some pretty big waves.  They were all headed right for us unfortnuate few still left in the anchorage.

This turned out to be much more problematic than the previous night's thunderstorms.  The chop and waves created by thunderstorms are pretty much short lived.  When the storm is over, the waves die down.  The winds created by this front, while forecasted to last only a few hours actually last for THREE days.

For three days we were prisoners on our boats, riding the waves like a  monkey on a skateboard.  Inside Maya was not a pretty sight.  We had taken down about everything that could be tossed around on the boat.  Nothing was left on the tops of shelves or tables.  We had to sleep on the floor as it was impossible to stay on the bed as the boat heaved back and forth, up and down.  We had heard on the radio that several other boaters were in worse shape.  Those on sailboats were getting beat up even worse as they didn't have the benefit of Maya's heavier weight and deeper keel.  All we could do was watch and wait for the winds to subside.  After the second day, Kim was ready to call a boat broker and list Maya for sale.  She had had enough.  By day three, we were ready to abandon ship and fly home.

But the winds did subside. 

And so did our anxiety.  It was a bad living experience but a good learning one.  As a pilot, I always erred on the side of conservatism.  Had we been on an airplane, we would have headed to higher ground at the first hint of bad weather.  I learned that we must treat the weather with the same respect I did with the airplanes I flew. 

But that was months ago now and while it seemed terrible at the time, it makes for a great story now.
In the years to come, as we retell our saga to those who haven't heard it, I am sure the waves will be bigger and the storms even stronger.  Such are the lives of those on the sea.

"So, join us here next week my friends, you're sure to get a smile."  "From the two intrepid castaways, sailing to Maya's Isles"