All posts by Tom

Antennas

A lot of “landlubbers” that visit our boat are curious about all the antennas mounted on our cockpit arch. We didn’t install these all at once but have accumulated them over time when a need or new technology requirement arose. Follow along with the featured picture from left to right. Here’s what they all do:

TV – We used to have a much sleeker looking disc shaped “marine” TV antenna. It had a range of about 40 miles and was quite expensive. That antenna was one of the items torn off our arch in the Bahamas last year when a wayward sailboat side-swiped us while we were docked in a marina in Bimini. We decided to replace it with a much cheaper outdoor “house” antenna from Walmart. While not “marinized”, most of the parts of this antenna are not corrosion-prone and it was about 1/10th the cost of the previous one. In addition, this new antenna has a range of 70 miles which brings in all the HD “off-the-air” channels from Jacksonville, about 45 miles away.

GPS – This is our main GPS antenna (Garmin Model GPS 19x). It connects directly to the marine electronics data “bus” on the boat (NMEA 2000) and provides location information to all other devices connected to that same bus.

VHF – Spare VHF antenna. Our primary VHF antenna is on top of the mast, 60 feet up. In the unlikely event that our mast were to come down, we did not want to lose VHF communications. The wire from the spare antenna runs all the way to the back of the radio inside the boat but is not connected. If we ever need to use it, we just unplug the mast mounted antenna wire at the back of the radio and plug-in the spare antenna wire. Both our mast-mounted antenna and the spare on the arch do double duty with our Automatic Identification System (AIS) transceiver. Our AIS setup has proved invaluable in numerous circumstances and worth every penny of its cost. AIS uses the VHF radio band to transmit a boat’s name, size, location, speed, and bearing every few seconds. It allows us to easily identify/observe the boats around us (within about 20 miles) with much more detail than radar. However, while it is a requirement for all commercial vessels to transmit AIS information, it is optional for recreational boaters. Thus, we still need radar.

WiFi – Range extender (Model: Rogue Wave). This is much more than just an antenna. Within the silver-colored section at its base is a web server computer. An ethernet cable connects this antenna to our wireless router inside the boat. That same ethernet cable also delivers the necessary electrical power to the antenna to run the web server embedded in its base. Once the little server in the base of the antenna boots up, it searches for all the available WiFi signals up to 5 miles away. From a computer inside the boat, we can login to the antenna’s web server and choose which signal we want to amplify and send to our router. The WiFi signal we choose has to be unencrypted, otherwise we need to know its password. This works best for connecting to a marina’s WiFi when we’re in a distant slip or out in their mooring field.

GPS – Dedicated GPS antenna for Chartplotter at helm. In the event our marine electronics bus suffers a complete failure and/or the main GPS antenna described earlier stops working, this GPS antenna connects directly to the Chartplotter at the helm station. In our normal mode of operation this antenna isn’t used and is only there as a backup capability.

Radar – 18” Diameter, 4kW Power, Range: 36 Nautical Miles (Model: Garmin GMR 18 HD). We use the radar mainly at night to “see” other vessels around us. As many boats are now transmitting an AIS signal, we often can “confirm” a radar contact with its corresponding AIS contact. The radar is also useful during all hours for tracing nearby rain/storm cells.

Sirius/XM – NMEA 2000 satellite receiver (Garmin Model GXM-51). We originally got this antenna to take advantage of the satellite-based marine weather service offered by Sirius/XM. We wanted a reliable way to receive up-to-date weather information if we were beyond the range of Cell/VHF/WiFi signals. This proved to be very disappointing. The antenna connected to the satellite just fine, but the weather information transfer was agonizingly slow. When we finally did get it, it usually proved to be inaccurate based on what we were experiencing directly in front of us. We discontinued the service. On the other hand, this antenna was also capable of receiving all the Sirius/XM music channels, a function at which it excelled. We can use our Chartplotter to select the different music channels and pipe the music through to the boat’s stereo system. There is a small monthly fee for this, but it works great.

Anemometer – Ultrasonic wind sensor (Maretron Model WSO100). When we first got the boat, the previous owner had installed a traditional anemometer on top of the mast – the kind with the spinning cups. When hurricane Sandy came up the Chesapeake Bay ( we were there at the time), the strong winds damaged the anemometer. We decided to replace it with this ultrasonic model that has no moving parts. When we first did this, we mounted it on top of a small pole that extended above the Radar dome. It remained there for several years. Then last year in the Bahamas the ultrasonic  anemometer and the pole it was mounted on were both torn off the arch in the same incident with the wayward sailboat described above that destroyed our TV antenna. The ultrasonic anemometer you see in the picture now is a newer 2nd unit we had to buy. Its new mounting location isn’t as ideal, but still works well enough. It also measures air temperature, humidity and barometric pressure.

GPS – Dedicated GPS antenna for Chartplotter at Nav station. This antenna serves the same purpose as the backup GPS antenna for the helm Chartplotter mentioned above, but is instead connected directly to our 2nd Chartplotter at the navigation station inside the boat. Once again, in our normal mode of operation this antenna isn’t used and is there as a backup capability.

Cell Phone – 3G/4G Cell signal amplifier (Model: weBoost Drive 4G-M amplifier, Antenna: Wilson 4G omni-directional marine antenna). This setup, which includes a small amplified unit inside the boat, is meant to be used inside a car to boost a weak cell phone signal when driving in rural areas. We hoped it might work just as well on the boat. We purchased a larger “marinized” antenna to use in place of the short little magnetic antenna that came with the amplifier which was meant to be mounted on a car roof. While in the Exuma island chain in the Bahamas, this device worked beyond our wildest expectations. We were able to have a connection to the Internet via cell signal everywhere we went. This is the device that enabled us to post both articles and pictures to our blog site every single day while cruising these islands. While it is advertised as being compatible with the US-based cell networks (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint), it worked just fine on the BTC cell network in the Bahamas. We mainly used it to make one of our cell phones a “hotspot” to which our computers connected for Internet access.

SSB – A 50’ section of our port backstay is electrically isolated from its top and bottom connection points and used as an antenna for the single sideband radio. We mainly used this capability to receive weather forecasts early each morning from Chris Parker’s weather forecasting service. It worked well enough to give us another reason for not needing the Sirius/XM weather service. This also gives us the ability for long range radio communications.

A Captain’s Chair

One of the things we always wished was better on our boat was the view from the helm when sitting on the helm seat. We like the mounting position of our Chartplotter on the binnacle and don’t want to change it, so we need to be able to see “over” it. This works great when you’re standing behind the wheel. However, if you wish to sit, the helm seat is so low that not only does the Chartplotter get in the way, but the dodger and cabin top impede the view as well. Here’s what it looks like when sitting on the bare helm seat.

You can still see out the side windows of the dodger, but the front view is blocked. Even if the chartplotter wasn’t there, you can’t see what’s immediately in front of the boat – the angle is too low. This isn’t too much of a problem out on the ocean, but on crowded rivers or in the ICW it’s not good.

The boat came with a stiff factory made helm seat cushion that, when snapped to the helm seat, will boost you up by about six inches. It still wasn’t adequate. The cover on our seat cushion was starting to look raggedy so as Paula undertook to make a new cover, she also added another two inches of foam to make the seat even higher. Here is what that looked like:

This was the arrangement we had while on our Bahamas cruise last year. It was improved, but still not high enough.
The view is now better being perched on that tall cushion, but still not ideal. This might’ve worked if the chartplotter wasn’t there, but we really liked it where it was. We thought we might be able to get the best of both worlds by having the seat just a few inches higher.

It helped some, but was still not quite enough. It wasn’t practical to extend the cushion any higher because it started to become unbalanced (the height would be bigger than its width/depth) and it was beginning to make the backrest less useful. We thought about just permanently mounting a real captain’s chair to the helm seat, but there were two big problems with doing that:

  1. It would completely block the passageway to get onto the swim platform.
  2. It would cover up (or at least impede) access to the rudder post where the emergency tiller attaches.

So if we were to go with a real captain’s chair, it had to be easily removable and able to be stowed below. We also had just varnished the teak on top of the helm seat, and wanted whatever solution we came up with to be “friendly” to the nice finish.

The new varnish job on the helm seat teak. Underneath the little cut-out in the middle is where the emergency tiller goes if it would ever be needed.

We thought if we could mount a chair on top of a platform that could itself be easily secured and removed from the helm seat, that might work. To start with, we chose starboard as the material for the platform since it is weatherproof and wouldn’t scratch the varnish finish on the seat. We special-ordered a 1 inch thick piece from Boat Outfitters cut to the largest dimensions of the existing teak seat (21”x17 ¾”). The starboard color choice “seafoam” closely matches the light ivory Island Packet gelcoat color. Here is the piece as it came:

The 1″ thick piece of starboard we ordered.

Next, we cut the starboard to match the profile of the existing seat, and then used five stainless latches to secure it to the original helm seat.

I traced a line underneath the square-ish piece of starboard to match the contour of the seat and then cut-off the excess with a jigsaw. Five stainless latches secure it to the helm seat and make it easily removable.
These are standard marine hold-down latches that can be additionally secured by putting a “pin” through the hole in the part of the clasp that sticks out when in the closed position.

By stacking up a bunch of books on the existing seat, we determined that the optimal height for the new seat would be 14” – 16” off the teak surface of the existing seat. Since we already made up 1” with the thickness of the starboard platform, we now had to find a pedestal/seat combo that fell into the 13” – 15” range. We went with the shortest version of the Springfield heavy-duty Mainstay Pedestal (hydraulic adjustable from 10” – 12”) and the Springfield Newport molded seat. The molded plastic seat plus its cushion added about 3” to the overall height when mounted on the pedestal. This setup gave us the ability to adjust the seat from 14” (me) to 16” (Paula). The first step to mounting the pedestal on the starboard was to drill the mounting holes and recess the underside of each hole to accommodate a fender washer for the nut and bolt.

Since we wanted the pedestal thru-bolted to the starboard, it was necessary to recess bigger holes so both fender washers and the nuts would sit “inside” and not touch the teak.
The pedestal is mounted on the other side and the nuts and washers are in place.

The version of the pedestal we got has a sliding seat mount allowing the seat to be moved fore and aft. It also swivels and can be locked in place at any position. The chair can be removed by pulling up the chair from the pedestal (once the interlock is released) for storage or if chair replacement is desired.

This model pedestal has a fore/aft slide adjustment (left lever), swivel lock (center lever and knob), and height adjustment (right lever).

When in port or at anchor, the latches are released and the entire package is stored below in the aft cabin opening up easy access to the swim platform. Should we ever need to use the emergency tiller, the platform can be quickly unlatched for access.

The happy Admiral with a comfortable, secure and commanding view. The platform, pedestal and seat combo is easy to remove and stow below and is not as heavy as I thought it would be. The seat can be pulled off the pedestal if need be for storage.
Seated in the chair, we can now see fully out over the front of the boat and glance down at the chartplotter. This is about the same view we have when standing at the helm.

Transom Upgrades

We’ve never been totally satisfied with the transom arrangement on C Ghost. We like the molded in swim platform, but the way the factory designed ladder is stowed and deployed hinders more than helps our activities at the aft end of the boat. Here’s what the original ladder looks like when it’s deployed:

To be fair, it is a very easy ladder to climb, having wide steps that also make good handholds. But as you can see, it renders the middle (and most spacious) part of the swim platform unusable. While it appears there is room on either side of the ladder, the upward curvature of the platform and narrowing of the standing area greatly limits the usable space on the sides. Also, the hinge in the middle of the two-part ladder, seen just below the level of the platform, happens to be at a height that pokes the tubes of most inflatable dinghy’s that land at the transom. And boarding the boat from the dinghy with the ladder down always seems awkward, especially because that third step is only a couple inches above the platform surface. It’s amazing how many times a foot manages to get caught in that little space even though we know it’s there.

Here’s what the original ladder looks like when it’s stowed – it first folds in half onto itself and then folds up to the level of the cockpit railing:

The ladder stows nicely out of the way, clearing the largest part of the swim platform to make it more useful. But this stowing arrangement makes it very difficult to get on to the swim platform from the cockpit with the ladder up. You have to do some gymnastics to climb over the railing and then either jump or take a big step down onto the platform. And once you are on the platform, you have to be careful of the sharp edges on the two hinges where the ladder attaches to the boat. It’s equally difficult to get back into the cockpit with the ladder up. One other safety situation we weren’t completely happy with was the near impossibility of deploying the ladder from the water if for whatever reason you found yourself in the water with the ladder up.

Despite all these negatives, we kept it like it was for eight years before finally deciding to change it. The catalyst for this project was the failure of one of the mounting brackets for the ladder while we were in the Bahama’s last year. Here you can see the problem:

That weld was just about to break and would’ve resulted in the ladder separating from the boat as one of us was climbing it.

Knowing we had to go through an expense to replace/repair the ladder, we decided to ditch the whole thing and change the design entirely. At the same time, we wanted to reinforce the part of our cockpit arch that overhangs the transom so it could easily handle the added weight of our new larger dinghy when it hangs in the davits.

We began this project with a new swim ladder design. We wanted the ladder to not impede the middle and most spacious part of the swim platform in either it’s deployed or stowed position. We wanted to make it much easier to get onto the swim platform from the dinghy, and then up into the cockpit from the swim platform. And we didn’t want the ladder to interfere with landing the dinghy at the transom. Lastly, we wanted to be able to deploy the ladder, if needed, from the water.

To accomplish all this, we built a small separate platform on which we mounted a hinged telescoping ladder.

We used 3/4″ starboard to make a small platform just for mounting the telescoping ladder. Here you can see how the ladder brackets mount to the starboard with the ladder “open”.
With the ladder folded up and “closed” it makes for a nice compact package.
On the underside of the platform we mounted three beefy hinges to attach the platform to the boat. All screws for the hinges as well as the ladder are thru bolted with fender washers.

This platform/ladder combo was then mounted on the starboard side of the boat’s swim platform. The hinges on the new ladder platform allow it to be stowed up against the transom when not in use. The telescoping ladder has four steps and goes down 4 feet. This model has a handhold at the top of the ladder and we installed an additional handhold on the transom just above the ladder platform. A stainless clip screwed into the transom holds the ladder platform up against the transom when in the stowed position.
We also mounted a folding step on the transom next to the new ladder arrangement. This step is used to easily get on and off the swim platform to and from the cockpit and folds up out of the way (with no sharp edges) when not in use .

The folding step and the ladder are both deployed. Note the hand-hold rung at the top of the ladder and the the other hand-hold rung mounted to the transom above the ladder.
The folding step and ladder are both stowed. The entire swim platform is now usable. To get in/out of the cockpit to/from the swim platform we just flip down the aluminium step. It is easily reachable from the cockpit to flip up or down. The new ladder platform can be reached and deployed from the water to get back on the boat in an emergency.

Another problem we always had with the dinghy was how it would rub against the engine exhaust flapper when launching/retrieving from the davits or just “docking” the dinghy at the transom to get on/off the boat. Not only did this prematurely weaken the hinge part of the flapper, it left black marks on every dinghy that landed at our transom. To solve this, we fabricated a couple of rigid bumpers out of starboard and teak and glued them to the hull on either side of the flapper. The smooth surface of the starboard lets the dinghy tubes ride up and down smoothly when raising/lowering the dinghy from the davits and also prevents hitting the flapper when landing/docking at the transom.

These “bumpers” are blocks of teak glued to the fiberglass surface of the boat. Pieces of starboard were then screwed onto the surface of the teak. There were no holes drilled into the boat here.

The one issue we haven’t addressed yet is the obstruction of the name on the transom from these changes. When we cruise, the dinghy is usually in the davits and totally obstructs the name anyway, necessitating a boat nameplate hung on the outboard side of the dinghy while it’s in the davits. Even so, we know we need to fix this – just another project.

New Microwave Cabinet

When we bought C Ghost, it came with a small microwave oven tucked into a cubby hole that looked almost custom designed around the oven. We never thought much about it until a couple months ago when the oven started making weird noises and then stopped working. I replaced an internal fuse and got it going again, but only a few days later it stopped working for good after 17 years of service with two owners.

The original microwave oven that came as standard equipment with the boat. Notice how it fits just perfectly into the space designed for it.

We thought this would be a simple matter of buying a new ~$70 microwave and plugging it in. Nope. Not even close. As it turns out, this brand of microwave is no longer made and the dimensions of this oven were apparently unique in the world. In particular, the height dimension of 9.3 inches cannot be found on any small microwaves on the market today.  When I looked on the Island Packet user forums, a number of people with older model boats have exactly the same problem. Some just choose to do without a microwave once it fails, while others  go to great lengths to have their broken oven repaired. No one it seemed, had tried to enlarge the space where the oven fits.

We thought of trying to get the oven repaired, but there were a couple other things we didn’t like about it that wouldn’t be addressed with a successful repair. First, the inside volume of the oven is very small and we wanted one slightly larger. Second, at only 550 watts, the oven is underpowered – so much so that it can’t even pop popcorn. So we decided to enlarge the available space (increasing the height was all that was actually necessary) to give ourselves a lot more choices.

The old oven removed from its cabinet. The two little rings on the “floor” are where the front feet of the oven sat inside to prevent it from sliding out. The hole towards the right is for the power cord.
The front piece of molding came off easily by drilling out the three bungs and removing the screws beneath.
Next was the messy part – removing the “roof” of the cabinet. The only way to do this was to cut it out as it was screwed in from the back on two sides and was a solid continuous piece on the third side. A Dremel tool and an Oscillating cutter did the job (although they made unavoidable marks on the surrounding surfaces). This expanded space could now accommodate dozens of different brands of microwaves currently on the market.
I found some scrap teak at the local sailors exchange to cover the marks made by the cutters. I also fashioned some captive “rings” to hold the feet of the new oven in place. They are the usual brown rubber floor protectors for the bottom of furniture feet. I just turned them upside down and drilled out a properly- sized hole for the new microwave feet to drop into. I then screwed down each rubber ring to the floor around its outside perimeter.
This angle shows how the new teak molding around the top edge interfaces with the original more fancy piece of molding.
All the new teak has been varnished and the new microwave is in place. This model was on sale at Lowe’s for $59. It is bigger inside and has 700W of microwave power (150W more than the original oven). I installed a teak “strap” across the rear portion of the top of the oven to keep it from jumping out of its foot holders in rough seas and from tilting out when we are heeling to port. This piece can be raised if necessary for an even taller microwave if there is a future need. While in port or at anchor, we store plastic containers on the top of the oven, and in effect have not lost any storage space with this improvement.

Bahamas Recap – Technical Report (6/14)

Our Bahamas wrap-up is being published in two parts. The first part (below), is oriented more towards the mechanical and techie-type things that worked and didn’t work throughout the trip, and was written by Tom. Part 2, which will be published in a separate post, is from the Quartermaster’s point of view, covers the food and provisioning topics, and is written by Paula.

What worked well:

Cell Phone Signal Amplifier – This device is made for your car and purports to “boost” a weak cell phone signal when you are driving through fringe coverage areas. We thought it might be useful in the Bahamas when we were anchored near uninhabited islands in the Exumas and distant from any cell towers. It was a bit of a risky purchase since we needed to match it up with a special ($$) marine antenna (not the little car antenna it came with), and there was no information in the packaging indicating it would work with the Bahamian cell phone network. This turned out to be the best pre-departure purchase we made. It worked beautifully and was the main reason we could publish a blog post everyday no matter where we were. There were only two nights out of our entire 118 day trip that we didn’t have Internet access by way of the cell phone network.

Solar Panels – We’ve had our three solar panels for a while on the boat, but this was the first time we relied on them exclusively for all our energy needs for 30 consecutive days at anchor. They worked great. There was only one day we had to run our diesel generator to recharge batteries, and that was because we’d had two straight days of clouds and rain. As well as it all worked, we would like to add one more panel to the mix since we will be using the new watermaker a lot more which is a significant energy consumer.

Fridge/Freezer – We did a lot of upgrading to these 12 volts systems in the two years before this trip and it paid off. We had no problems at all, and the freezer stayed at or below 11 degrees the whole time – cold enough to keep ice cream.

Phone weather apps  (Windy, Wind Finder, Predict Wind, Weather Underground) – These smartphone weather apps were excellent and generally very accurate. We had access to them nearly all the time because of how well the cell phone signal amplifier worked.

Chris Parker Email subscription – Before we left Florida, we bought a four-month email subscription to Chris Parker’s weather service. This got us a very comprehensive forecast each afternoon for all areas of the Bahamas, Gulf Stream and Florida coast. This subscription also gave us access to his live stream (via his website) weather report every morning at 6:30AM if we couldn’t receive it on SSB radio. The subscription was well worth it and had the side benefit of teaching us a lot about weather patterns.

Anchor Pro app – This is a smartphone app that will sound an alarm if our anchor was dragging. It worked great and is highly recommended.

Mantus Anchor – We had four different styles of anchors on board with us not knowing how many different bottom types we would encounter. As it turned out, we only ever used our Mantus anchor (a Rocna style anchor that can be disassembled). It held fast in every anchorage in the Bahamas and we never drug. Because of the clarity of the water, we could actually see it hit the bottom when it was lowered and watch how its “roll bar” worked and how the anchor dug in. It was very consistent.

Spot Tracker – This was an inexpensive tracking device that allowed our blog followers to see where we were at anytime on a Google map. It works exclusively via satellite and does not need cell phone, wifi, or VHF connectivity. It worked flawlessly wherever we were. It had the added benefit that its map and location data could easily be integrated into our blogging software (WordPress) making it very user friendly.

Garmin G2 Blue Charts – We had three types of electronic charts with us (Navionics, Garmin G2, C-Map). When we traveled down the US east coast on the ICW, the Navionics charts were generally the most accurate as regards the depths and location of the channels. However, everywhere we were in the Bahamas the Garmin G2 charts were king. In fact, the Navionic charts were sometimes dangerously inaccurate and therefore we rarely used them. The C-Map charts were also very accurate, and we used them to create all our routes on the laptop which we then transferred to our Garmin Chartplotter.

Kindles – The only way to read a book in bright sunshine.

WhatsApp – This is a smart phone instant messaging and voice calling app similar to Skype that exclusively uses Wi-Fi. It avoids the per-message cell phone charges that can pile up when using the phone’s native messaging app. It’s much simpler than Skype, worked quite well, and saved us a lot of money. This was another service that was greatly enhanced by our cell phone signal amplifier.

Crocs – Our footwear of choice for going ashore in the wet dinghy, walking on trails, and anywhere there was a chance of getting our feet wet.

Shorty wetsuit – Paula had one of these and Tommy wished he did. During February and March the air temperature in the Bahamas was perfect, but the water temps were a little on the chilly side. For short swims it didn’t matter, but when snorkeling for an hour or so it did and the shorty wetsuit was the ticket. Tommy has a full wetsuit, but that was too warm.

Cyper 8 bug spray – We used this on our dock lines when in marinas and it kept the crawly things off the boat.

Underwater Camera – Before we left Florida, we bought a small underwater camera at Walmart (Nikon Coolpix) for $100. It worked perfectly, and we got some great snorkeling pictures.

What didn’t work so well:

Dinghy – This was our biggest disappointment during the cruise. We purchased our dinghy 6 years ago in Maryland when we were cruising the Chesapeake Bay. It was perfect for that environment when all we needed was a small (8’6”), soft-bottomed dinghy with an electric 3HP motor. We never had to go more than ¼ mile to shore, there was no sharp coral to contend with, and there generally was no wave action in any of the anchorages. Also, we never had to carry snorkeling gear or make big grocery or trash runs. All of this was different (sometimes dramatically) in the Exumas, and our dinghy was wholly inadequate for longer distance exploring in rougher waters and less hospitable shore lines, all while needing to carry more stuff. A much better setup looked to be a 10 – 11 foot hard-bottomed inflatable with a 10 – 20Hp engine.

Watermaker – We were apparently one of an acknowledged few unlucky customers who had problems with their new watermaker from Spectra. We had no problems with the installation and everything tested out just fine before we left Florida. However, after only 1 month of use in the Bahamas, three problems occurred simultaneously with the system that rendered it unusable. We were able to contact a Spectra technician via email and got the system working again through a combination of field repairs and temporary workarounds. This was a very expensive addition to the boat from a highly-regarded manufacturer that we counted on using a lot. We expected much better. Spectra was very helpful, and agreed to replace the parts that failed free of charge so hopefully we will end up with a reliable system for our next cruise.

Sirius XM Weather – We have a Sirius XM satellite receiver on the boat and subscribed to the Sirius marine weather forecasting service before we left. The advantage to this weather service is that it is delivered via satellite and does not need a cell signal, Wi-Fi, or VHF radio to receive it. It was a complete waste of money. The forecasts were very slow in arriving, covered far too general an area, and were highly inaccurate. That wasn’t the worst part. When we tried to cancel the service from the Bahamas, we discovered that the Sirius website blocks all Internet access attempts from the Bahamas (they claim it’s a security measure). Since we had a limited pre-paid voice plan on the Bahamian SIM cards in our cell phones, waiting on “death hold” with Sirius customer service was also not an option. We ended up having to pay for this rather expensive service that we never used until we got back to Florida since there was no way to cancel it.

Fishing gear – We’ve never been big into fishing, but we were told by many how good the fishing was in the Bahamas and that we should give it a shot. We only had older and lighter gear, far more suited to catching small fish in a lake than big fish in the ocean. We did feel like we missed some good opportunities (especially Paula) since we weren’t properly prepared and are now motivated to equip ourselves much better for next time.

Autopilot – When we installed a new autopilot four years ago, we saved a lot of money by reusing the drive motor from the previous autopilot installation (circa 2001) and marrying it to the electronics of the new autopilot (circa 2014). At first, all seemed to work well. However, about one out of every three times we tried to engage the autopilot, it would display an error code and shut itself down. The only way to recover from this was to restart all the electronics that were integrated with the autopilot, including the Chartplotter. We knew this was related to the older drive motor not being entirely compatible with the newer electronics (in addition to being older, the motor was also from a different manufacturer), but thought we could muddle through by just restarting everything when necessary. It ended up becoming a real nuisance on this trip, particularly since there were several long passages where having a reliable autopilot made a huge difference in safety and comfort. We need to bite the bullet and get the proper drive motor.

Cockpit side shading – In addition to the early morning, the time of day we enjoyed most were the few hours before sunset. The angle of the sun at that time allowed it to shine directly into the side of the cockpit with no shade from our overhead canvas. We took to hanging makeshift shades using towels or other material and then constantly shifting them around to follow the swing of the boat at anchor and the sinking angle of the sun. We clearly needed a more permanent side-shading solution that is easier to deploy. This is one of Paula’s main projects for the summer.

Hot water bag – There are only two electrical items on the boat that cannot be run by our solar energy system, the air-conditioner and water heater (they draw far too much power). Since the temps were in the mid 70’s most of the time, there was no need for air-conditioning. However, life at anchor is much more pleasant if hot water is available each day. To this end, we went “old-school” and used a camping hot water bag we got from REI that laid out in the sun all day full of water. It yielded about 2 gallons of hot water each evening when we brought it in. We never figured out a good place to hang the bag, either in the shower or near the galley sink. Plus, it leaked, its hose kept kinking with the slightest bend, and the nozzle could not be open/closed with one hand. We clearly need a better bag, but we also should’ve tested out and setup good mounting locations before we left.

Credit cards – We were able to use credit cards in most places, but quite often there was a substantial “convenience fee” charged, especially in the Exumas. It was much better to use cash.

Day 117 (6/1) – Saint Augustine

Last night after dinner we strolled around the Hammock Beach Resort at Palm Coast. We got another look at the ocean there which featured whitecaps and few boats. We were happy to see that the golf course, which had been virtually destroyed by salt water from Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, had recovered.

A view of the 18th hole at Hammock Beach Resort, Palm Coast.

We had a leisurely start this morning. We wanted to arrive at the Matanzas Inlet on a rising tide as it is sinuous and can be shallow.   So we slept in a bit and  delayed our departure until after 8 am. The ICW waters were still and beautiful and full of bird life as we traveled. We passed many small bass boats, dinghies, kayaks, and john boats outfitted for fishing and enjoying the quiet. Folks in the homes lining the ICW appeared to be still sleeping as all was silent except for a few pups that barked at our passage.

These homes line one side of the ICW and have a view of the marsh on the other.

The marsh is full of birdlife, dolphins, and often fishermen.

It was a very enjoyable trip, made more so by the comfort of seeing the approach of familiar landmarks like the 312 bridge and the historic and beautiful skyline of St. Augustine.

Once we saw the 312 bridge, we felt we’d arrived home.

Our marina manager met us on the dock and we were tied up in nothing flat, right back in our old lucky slip C13. We met new neighbors on the pier and were welcomed back by old friends and acquaintances. As a bonus treat,  when we walked to the parking garage in downtown, our car started right up and looked as good as new except for a layer of dust and pollen.

We made it back to the marina just before the sky opened up in a brief but noisy thunderstorm. After a quick shower we went to a delicious boat-made dinner prepared by one of our closest friends in St. Augustine and attended by two more of our closest friends! We feel so fortunate and welcomed. It’s great to make journeys, and it’s great to be home.

In the next day or so we will post our “Wrap up: Bahamas Edition” detailing what worked well on our trip and what we could have done better. After that we will resume periodic postings on various “Life Aboard” topics until our next cruise.

Thank you all so much for keeping in contact with us via your readership and comments.  It made our trip just that much more fun.

The featured picture today is the quintessential view of what it looks like ahead of you when traveling on the ICW on a nice day.

 

Day 116 (5/31) – Palm Coast

When the rain stopped last night around 7PM, we had a very calm and peaceful night in the anchorage. We had to contend with mosquitos and no-see-ums, something we never really had to deal with in the Bahamas, but we were used to that. There was one funny, and all-too-common scenario we watched unfold in the anchorage. A boat anchored near us included a couple our age and a small dog. The owner walked the dog to the bow of the boat with a small square of green Astro-turf in the hopes the dog would relieve himself on the fake grass. It didn’t work, and there was a lot of dog vs. human staring for a while. Finally, the dog won the battle as shown in the below picture.

This doggy refused to go on the grass mat his owner put out on the bow of the boat. He had to be taken ashore for some real grass.

We left the anchorage just after sunrise so as to arrive at two known ICW shallow spots on a rising tide. Once we got past those, the main part of today’s trip was to go through the city of Daytona and all of the bridges that cross the ICW. The featured picture is of the approach to Daytona on the ICW from the south. Unlike the area between Palm Beach and Ft. Pierce which is riddled with restricted-opening drawbridges, the city of Daytona now has only one drawbridge, and it opens on demand at any time. All the other bridges are high rise 65′ footers that we can fit under. However, that one drawbridge has a unique challenge. Technically, it is a “double leaf bascule” type bridge which means it has two halves that swing up from the middle. During hurricane Irma, a sailboat sank in the ICW channel directly in front of the eastern half of this bridge. It is still there, and a temporary navigation marker has been placed to the side of it so boats won’t hit any of the underwater parts. Because of where it is, only the western half of the bridge now opens, making it a very narrow slot to get through followed by an extremely close shave past the sunken sailboat. Throw some current into the mix along with other boat traffic and voilà, you’ve got a super tense and scary boat handling situation.

The drawbridge is closed in this picture, but you can clearly see the sunken sailboat in front of the eastern (left) span. You can also see the small green buoy in the water marking the front of the sunken boat that is underwater. That buoy is actually in the center of the ICW channel. Only the right half of the bridge opened, and it didn’t open to a completely vertical position (it was slightly tilted toward the center). Driving C Ghost through this was very nerve-wracking.

We’ve just gone through the half-raised bascule bridge and had to pass very close to the sunken sailboat immediately after. At least it wasn’t raining.

Once through Daytona, we went through a short stretch with some very large and beautiful homes. This was followed by a long stretch of pretty and unpopulated shoreline where we saw more dolphins and a couple eagles. The two eagles were fighting with an osprey over custody of a plump fish that the osprey was carrying. As the birds dive-bombed each other, the fish wriggled free and fell back into the water with a splash. The osprey and one eagle flew off, still locked in aerial combat mode.  The second eagle (pictured) landed on a piling, where it stood looking miffed.

This mansion was just north of Daytona.

We saw two eagles today for the first time in a while.

This is what the ICW looked like for most of todays trip north of Daytona.

We finally arrived at Palm Coast and tied up in almost the same spot we’d been docked to last time. We looked for our friends’ Chris Craft trawler, but didn’t find it. They are likely in Ocean City for the summer.

We took the shuttle to the resort proper and had dinner there at a very nice restaurant with a view of the golf course and the ocean. Paula had steak and Tommy had mahi-mahi. Afterwards, we walked the grounds and went down the ocean. There was a stiff, damp breeze and 3 to 4 foot waves visible against a purpling sky.  We are excited to think that we should be home tomorrow afternoon.

The trip to Saint Augustine tomorrow is only 25 miles. There is a tricky shallow area in the ICW about 10 miles north of here at the Matanzas inlet that we have to traverse at mid-tide or higher to get across safely. High tide occurs at that shallow spot just before 11:30AM tomorrow and then not again until midnight. This is the reason we chose to stop here at Palm Coast for the night, so we could get to that shallow area on a rising tide in the morning.

Day 114 (5/29) – Titusville

While we had heavy rain and thunder for most of the afternoon today, there was a nice break in the weather this morning for a few hours. We took full advantage of it and went for a long walk around town through some of the residential areas we hadn’t explored yet. There are some really gorgeous homes on the tree-lined street of the Indian River waterfront. All of them have a spectacular view of the launch pads at the Kennedy Space Center on the other side of the river. We can’t imagine what it sounds and feels like here when one of the big rockets goes off.

Another stately home on the waterfront with a perfect view of the launch areas at the space center.

We also had a chance to walk around more of the grounds of the state park that surrounds the marina on three sides. The park is bordered on the east by the Indian river which, for a change, was calm this morning. The featured picture is a statue of Poseidon in the park looking out over the river (his trident is broken off). We also got a good look at a sunken sailboat  in front of the park seawall. There was no obvious reason why it sunk (it was in a marked channel) and may be a left-over casualty from hurricane Irma.

The very well-kept grounds of the marina and surrounding park area along the Indian river.

This sunken sailboat is actually on the correct side of the markers leading into a small dock in the park. We don’t know the cause of the sinking.

The forecast for the rest of this week calls for rain every day, but the strong wind gusts from Alberto have now subsided and there is less chance of convective squalls after today. So, we will be casting off the lines and leaving here early in the morning. Our destination will be an anchorage just south of Daytona where we stopped on our way down the ICW in early February. It’s a relatively short trip (34 miles) compared to our two most recent outings. This is because we’ll be back to a section of the ICW where we have to take the tides into account to get over a few known shallow spots which now dominate the route planning.

Tonight’s dinner was baked chicken thighs, collard greens with bacon and sliced potatoes sautéed in a bit of the bacon grease.

Day 112 (5/27) – Titusville

Another weather hold day in Titusville as Alberto tracks up the eastern side of the Gulf of Mexico. We are getting lots of rain and wind (35kt gusts), but certainly mild in comparison to the weather the folks near Panama City are experiencing. We are hoping folks there are safe and protected. Tropical storm Alberto is a fitting end to what has been a very rainy and windy month of May for us. By our count, there have been a grand total of four “nice” days (no rain, some sun, moderate wind) since we got back to Florida. Three of those four days we used for travel. The featured picture today shows the wind effect on the palm trees, the grey skies, and some thrill-seeking kite surfers in the background.

In between bands of rain, we were able to get out a bit. Folks were still making efforts to pursue weekend activities. One fisherman who had pulled his runabout and trailer right to the edge of the boat ramp before deciding conditions were too unfavorable to launch, parked his boat and truck in a parking space and fished from the ramp’s edge. Also fishing on our pier were three pre-teen boys, who called upon Tommy to assist in removing an embedded hook from a catfish’s mouth. We could see tarpon gulping air in the fairway in their weird rolling way, but the manatees have been absent.

Tommy did engine maintenance while Paula read online about manatees, dugongs, and tarpon, and did a little cleaning. Across the ICW, people flew land-based small kites in the gusts. One could imagine that the palm tree tufts, streaming wildly, were cheerleader’s pom-poms, cheering both the kite-flyers  and kite surfers on.

Knowing today was going to be a bad day to take pictures because of the weather, we saved some pictures from the last two days when there were brief periods of sun so we’d have some good pics for today’s post. These were taken just walking around the marina:

We love the ingenuity displayed in the pictorial representation of these “don’t do it” signs.

Here’s someone who was not about to give up one passion in order to pursue another. The question is, how does he get the motorcycle on and off the sailboat?

This truck is parked right outside the marina and has a boat on a trailer attached to the back (meaning the owner has  probably not gone deer hunting). We were a little startled by the driver.

Back to the land of alligators.

Paula made pseudo-beef stew from some canned soup and added meat and vegetables for lunch, and then we vegged out ourselves watching the Indianapolis 500.

Tonight’s dinner will be shrimp with tikka masala sauce, rice, and green beans.

Day 111 (5/26) – Titusville

Today at dawn Paula took the laundry to the marina’s facility. Since many boaters are also early risers, she was able to socialize with others similarly engaged. Despite the forecast of bad weather to come, many boaters had decorated their vessels for the Memorial Day Holiday with festive results and it was fun to view these in between changing the clothes from washers to the dryer (featured picture).

One boat on our pier went all out for Memorial Day. It looked great!

While the clothes dried, Tommy and Paula had coffee in the cockpit and discussed last night’s amateur production at the Titusville Playhouse, which was excellent and featured a cast which ranged from elementary school-aged to adult. The singing and acting was great, and the stage sets were professional and well done. If we lived here, we would definitely get season tickets.

We saw the production “Fun Home” in Titusville’s 105 year old playhouse. It’s undergone a recent renovation and was very cozy inside.

After laundry and chores, we set off to find the Dixie Crossroads, a seafood restaurant recommended by Paula’s parents, who enjoyed it during their cruising days, 30 years ago. The restaurant was still functioning and still had great seafood.

The Dixie Crossroads restaurant was alive and well and still quite popular.

After lunch, we extended our walk to the spit of land just under the Max Brewer bridge. By now the sky had gone gun-metal gray and threatening, and there was a brisk chop in the ICW and a stiff breeze- advance notice of the predicted deterioration of the weather for the next few days. Accordingly, boats began to appear in the channel to the marina on their way to tie up to secure berths.

This is the entrance channel into the marina.

Tommy spent some time wrestling with the charts and forecasts, trying to plan the best timing and route for the last 100 miles to St. Augustine, considering tides, currents, bridges, shallow areas, and possible anchorages and trying to predict the likely effect Alberto will have. Later, in the cockpit, we had the great pleasure of watching three manatees sporting in the fairway, seemingly enjoying the mild drizzle that had begun. Before this, we had only had glimpses from afar of these placid giants, but now we got to see and hear them “blow” like dolphins, watch them surface and submerge together in apparent play while flashing their round, flat tails.

Two manatees surfacing side by side right behind our boat in the marina.

The drizzle increased, so we came inside and took in the cockpit cushions and pillows. Paula made dinner while we listened to music. Tonight, we had the last of the Bahamian baked chicken leg quarters, tri-color pasta in tomato/basil sauce and pan-sautéed zucchini. Tommy also had rye bread and butter, but Paula skipped it. A quick look in the full-length mirror in the marina’s head has convinced her she is approaching manatee proportions after three-plus months of eating with no running.