Hello friends and family from Fort Lauderdale, FL! We have been hard at work getting our boat and ourselves ready to sail to the Bahamas. At least the weather has generally been sunny and warm. I’ve found myself thoroughly enjoying wearing shorts and sandals in February!! It is such a delightful treat after living in the Pacific Northwest for so long. I wish we had a little more down time (okay…any down time) to enjoy it some, but we have been pushing hard to get boat projects done, closing the sale of our house, establishing residency in Florida, stocking up supplies/food/parts, and just general organizing and cleaning.
Our first priority in setting sail overseas involves seaworthiness and what I would call mission essential upgrades. Our boat started out its life as a bareboat charter vessel in the Caribbean. Bareboat chartering is essentially renting a boat without a captain. At least one person in the group needs to have some basic knowledge of sailboat handling, but I honestly have no idea how much sailing expertise one must have…it doesn’t seem like a lot. Charter companies expect “renters” won’t really sail the boat much (or at all), but rather motor around in the islands for a week or two. Our boat is structurally well-designed to blue water sail, but the sails, lines, and winches really weren’t set up to handle blue water sailing effectively.
We discovered on our first trip from West Florida to Fort Lauderdale that our sail handling set up was not going to work for us. We battled with the main sail on the first day and gave up after that. It was just too cumbersome for the two of us to handle safely.
For my non-sailing friends, lines (rope) that do certain functions have certain names. The line that hoists and holds the sail up is called a halyard. Our boat’s halyard had to be winched up manually at the mast. This doesn’t work well with a two-person crew for two main reasons: first, being up on the fore deck during rough weather is just asking for an injury or worse; and second, we have a BIG main sail and that thing is HEAVY. It takes a lot of muscle and time for one person to manually winch it up (ask me why I know this). We realized really quickly that we needed to run the main halyard back to the helm and install at least one electric winch. We also decided we should run our reefing lines (lines that take in some of the sail when it’s windier) back to the helm as well. This would remove the need for anyone to handle sails or line on the fore deck unless something has gone awry.
Ed managed to get one electric winch installed earlier, but we still had the issue of reconfiguring some of our running rigging. We FINALLY got it done yesterday and we will give the new set up its first test drive on our gulf stream crossing in a couple of days. We also have the parts to install a second electric winch, but we have some additional modification we have to make in order for the motor to fit. We will tackle this at a later date.
We also had a small tear in our genoa that had to be repaired. We finally got it back yesterday and mounted back on our furler (that was a work out!). See hoisting halyards on manual winches, supra. Sorry…lawyer nerd joke.
Another aspect of bareboat charter boats is the only way the house batteries get charged is with a diesel generator, main engines, or if you’re plugged into shore power. Our generator has certainly been used a lot. It has about 8,800 hours on it, and they generally reach the end of their life at around 10,000 hours. Most owners who purchase a sailboat out of charter have to add solar panels or some other way to generate power as relying on diesel isn’t a long-term or viable way to live off-grid. Lucky for us, the previous owners did most of this work. We have a decent house battery bank, inverter, charge controller, and whatever else is needed to make our system work (sorry…I’m not an electrician). That said, the solar array was a bit anemic in its wattage, and we also had a wind generator to make up for the rest. After listening to that wind generator make a ridiculous amount of noise in wind speeds above 25 knots, we ripped that f-er right off the boat almost as soon as we got it docked in Fort Lauderdale. This, of course, meant we had to make up the difference with more solar, but not enough room on the bimini to fit more panels.
Enter the new solar arch with new davit system:
Jon, our fabulous welding guru, did a beautiful job. The man is an artist. You can check out his business here:
We HIGHLY recommend him and his team. This has been our most expensive upgrade so far, but we are REALLY happy with the result.
We also had the boat hauled out while we were on our cross country trek to take care of a few minor repairs: rudder bearings, sail drive service, bottom job (not as dirty as it sounds…lol), mini keel repair, and new feathering propellers!
Lastly, our refrigeration and A/C was acting up, so we had that serviced. We still have some work to be done with A/C units, but we can defer it for a later date. The only thing left to do is connect the new solar panels and move the stern light onto the arch so it’s visible. The electrician will be out tomorrow to take care of this.
Serenity is just about all patched up and ready to sail! Other than regular maintenance (or when things decide to break), any other work we have planned is mostly living space and aesthetic related.
House sale is in its final stretch
We did hit a small hiccup in our house sale. The first buyers backed out after they did their home inspection. It seemed like it was a case of the husband made the offer before the wife saw the house, and once she saw it, they decided it was a no-go. This wasn’t a huge problem for us because we had a back-up offer for about the same price and also cash. That said, it did delay our closing, and meant more trips to have paperwork notarized. It wasn’t ideal to have this bit of extra work tacked on, but these things happen and have to be dealt with. In any case, we are now smooth sailing ahead (pun intended) and the house closes next week.
Cutting “official” ties with Oregon
Ed and I are Oregonians at heart, but we don’t love paying state income tax there. As we are not living there anymore, it was time for us to become Florida residents. Oddly enough, getting a mailing address in Florida was more difficult than getting a driver’s license and registering to vote. We don’t even have a residential address here (although our mailing address is a “physical address”), and that was not a problem. I remember I had to jump through way more hoops when I moved from California to Oregon. Perhaps because there are so many yachties here, they just decided to not make the process a pain in the butt for us. I’m ok with this.
Provisioning the boat has been quite the learning curve, and I still don’t know if I did it quite right. I’m sure I’ll get better at it as I continue to do it. My first order of business was to get a Dometic portable freezer for extra meat storage. I had to order this and have it shipped since I wasn’t finding it in any of the marine stores around. Ed and I found out after the fact, however, that West Marine does carry them in-store. Some West Marine employee just cost his company a $900 sale because I guess it “wasn’t his department.” Side note: I have found customer service in a variety of stores around here to suck. Imagine the laziest employee at Home Depot…that’s like the norm here…ugh. Get it together, Florida.
Other than my portable freezer snag, the rest of the process has been fairly manageable, albeit time consuming. I can break down some general steps involved, because ultimately what a person likes to eat is a personal decision.
Step 1: Figure out your usual recipes (this may be a challenge if you eat out a lot or don’t really cook). Most people have a surprisingly small number of dishes they tend to make regularly. Stick with those to start with. Also, how many mouths are you feeding?
Step 1.5: When will you be in a port next? This will inform decisions on the remaining steps.
Step 2: What goods are procurable at your next port? Can you get them at all? Are they really expensive? Is quality or food safety oversight a concern? Or is it a good that is readily available for about the same cost as your current port (like rice)? This involves a little understanding of the goods commonly produced in the country you’re in, and also a basic understanding of how produce (and meat) grows in the first place? For example, what kind of climate do berries need to be productive? Garlic? Greens? this will help you understand what may be readily available at your next port. Even though I am a seldom consumer of maple syrup, I have included a small jar because it’s virtually unobtainable anywhere else.
Step 3: Understand that space is limited. One must triage when provisioning. Give first priority to those ingredients which you eat regularly AND which are difficult to obtain elsewhere: These two elements work on a sliding scale. Hard to come by safe beef, but you are a vegetarian? Obviously you don’t need to stock up on beef. Your next port is tropical but you really don’t eat berries? Probably don’t need to take up space with berries. Things like flour, beans, and common canned goods can be found really anywhere…don’t pack a year’s supply of that stuff. Only provision what you need for the next crossing plus a bit extra just in case.
Step 4: ANYTHING that has a non-refrigerated version…get that. Sure, fresh or frozen tends to be a bit tastier than canned. However, wrapping back around to the triage point…reserve freezer and fridge space for those items where there is no shelf stable alternative. I’d say the one exception to this rule is frozen meats versus canned. Right now that is a personal preference on my part…say no to spam. Blech.
Step 5: Provision in steps. I hate having to slog through grocery shopping. I did the first round with shelf stable items, round two was meat to be frozen, and round three will be perishables: items which must go to the refrigerator, not freezer, fresh produce, and those last minute items that come up. I’ve left the “perishable” category errand for the day before departure.
Step 6: (some of which happens before step 5) Organize and get rid of as much packaging as possible…especially paper and cardboard (wet paper=pest problems). Understand what items that are shelf stable may be a little more temperature sensitive than others. Make sure they are given priority spaces which are darker, drier, and/or cooler. Some items may not be moisture sensitive but will be temperature sensitive. The bilge might be the place for those items. Canned goods can kind of go anywhere…remove labels (or lacquer over) if in a moist area. Goods packaged in paper need to find their way to a plastic container…I.e. flour. Don’t bring a crap ton of it either…this is a good found anywhere.
Again these are just some general points to consider when provisioning. I, like any other new sailor, will be learning through the school of hard knocks along the way.
Understanding Weather and Crossing the Gulf Stream
I have done A LOT of reading on this topic…partly motivated by our…ahem…christening into wind opposite of current on the ocean. See my previous post titled “Get-there-itis” for my write-up.
Getting to the Bahamas involves crossing the gulf stream. Perhaps the most famous ocean current, it is basically a river imbedded within the Atlantic Ocean. Between Florida and the Bahamas it moves at about 2-4 kts in a northerly direction. Waves in the gulf stream can quickly become unsafe when the wind has ANY northerly component to it. The opposite direction wind will amplify the wave to a certain degree, but the really challenging aspect comes with the shortening of wave period and also a “confused” sea state (read: washing machine). I’ve learned that a good rule of thumb to follow is wave period should ALWAYS be a larger number than wave height (in feet…not meters).
The short version of understanding the interaction of wind with ocean is crossing the gulf stream to the Bahamas means one must have wind in a generally southerly direction. Ideally, the prevailing wind is southwesterly at about 15 kts. This is not a combination that shows itself often. A south or even SSE wind is workable too, even up to 20 kts (with occasional gusts), but much more than that is going to be a challenge to sail. As wind starts prevailing from an easterly direction, one must either tack through it, or fire up the iron genoa (engine). I take at least 15 minutes every morning to look at various weather models to see when a “weather window” will present itself for a good crossing. I saw the first glimmers of hope on Monday (four days ago), but even that is a bit long range to really commit to a day to cross. Wednesday (yesterday) was the first day I really settled on a stable weather pattern presenting itself for the weekend with some wiggle room in departure time. As of this evening, Saturday is still showing as our most promising day, although with winds a bit higher than would be ideal. More importantly, a northerly cold front that could have mucked things up is losing strength, and is very unlikely to present a problem for us.
With a good weather window in hand, that brings us to our last challenge: what’s involved with sailing internationally during a pandemic??
Oh COVID-19…how we loathe ye.
The Bahamas actually has a fairly workable and straight forward entry process. The details can be viewed here: https://www.bahamas.com/tourism-reopening
The Cliff’s Notes (or Spark Notes for the kids) version is:
- Get a negative COVID PCR test. The clock also starts when you get the test, not the results. Test day is day zero.
- Once you have a negative test result in hand, you can apply for a travel visa (gone, for now, are the days of showing up randomly with a US passport). I will be doing this tomorrow as soon as we get our test results back (we were tested this morning with a guaranteed 24-hour turn around).
- With an approved travel visa, one must ARRIVE to a “public dock” in the Bahamas within five days of COVID testing to be allowed entry. When traveling by sailboat, you easily chew up one day alone for the transit. Never mind trying to time a weather window just right….
- Upon entry, one must then get a rapid antigen test five days later. Then, you are free to move about the country. We also have to pay for “COVID insurance” as part of our visa which largely covers the cost of test number two.
Between knowing you have an adequate weather window, and getting the COVID test and travel visa squared away before setting sail, it’s a bit of a threading the needle type operation. Luckily, I am not a total hack at sewing…haha.
My apologies for a lengthy post, but I had a lot to cover! This wasn’t even all of it either. Unless we run into some major snags, the next post will be from warm, tropical Bahamas. Enjoy the snow, Portland, and we are thinking warm thoughts for you!!