Saturday, December 10, 2011
Little San Salvador
From Nassau we headed across the banks to the top end of the Exumas at Allans Cay. It’s a well protected anchorage and has some good lobster hunting nearby and we were very excited about starting the new season. We anchored where we normally do and went for an hunt bagging a lobster for dinner. We went to bed very happy and looking forward to tomorrow.
During the night we were woken by a bang and the feel of the boat moving. It felt like the rudder had hit something solid, but there was no obvious thing it could have hit, we had 12’ of water at the stern, checked with a lead line. I shortened the anchor rode juts in case and we went back to bed with no further incidence.
In the morning it all became clear, right behind the boat submerged in the water was a large dump truck! It wasn’t there last year and has somehow appeared in the water at a small isolated cay in the middle of nowhere! The damage to the rudder was minimal, just a small nick off the trailing tip, and soon repaired temporarily with underwater epoxy, but we were lucky it wasn’t worse. Any ideas on how this truck got there gratefully received!
After a few days of hunting there and enjoying the Exumas we decided it was time for a change and headed over to Cat Island, our first visit there.
We passed an excellent 10 days, we were the only cruising boat there so had all the anchorages to ourselves. We met some very kind expats when we anchored off there gorgeous house at Pigeon Cay, and as a result got to tour to a really nice resort on the NW tip for dinner.
Cat Island is also home to the highest mountain in the Bahamas, all 63 metres of it, atop said mountain is The Hermitage, a true hermitage built by Father Jerome a priest who had spent many years in the Caribbean building and designing churches. In 1940 or so he retired and was granted the land on the hill by the Government and built his retreat. It looks like a huge imposing building on a big hill:
But when you get close you realise it is a tiny, low ceilinged cramped single bedroom hermits house on a very small hill! Still it’s not often you scale the highest peak in a country, especially in flip flops!
From there we went out to the small island of Little San Salvador, up until 1997 a remote pristine cay, but then bought by the Holland America cruise ship line as a day stop for their cruises on the way from Nassau to the Caribbean, and subsequently renamed half Moon Cay.
We had one day with just us and two days with ships there, and in fairness despite the delivery of humans the resort is run well and if you closed your eyes you wouldn’t know 500 people were sharing it with you!
Still the lobster hunting was excellent and despite being slightly rolly the anchorage was amazing at night when the ships had gone, sitting under the stars in our own private island
To cap it all off we even caught our first fish of the trip on the way back to the Exumas, a nice big Mahi Mahi.
So now we will hang out in the Exumas until the New Year, and then start the trip south to the Eastern Caribbean.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
West End, Bahamas
We carried on down the ICW as far as Brunswick, GA pursued by very strong winds and unseasonably cold weather enjoying the ability to move during the day when the sun was out rather than doing an overnight run.
With the Spanish in Florida wanting to move north, Georgia provided a useful buffer from the lucrative colonies in the north. So fortified settlements were attempted to stake a British claim. One of these is on the Frederica settlement and a tour of the ruins attested to the frontier feel. Yes, those cannons are trained on Matsu!
The final Georgia section from Brunswick involves a very shallow stretch and a fixed bridge so we decided to head back out to sea, as with a high tide for the shallows we would hit the bridge and with a low tide for the bridge we would run aground.
We decided that the Georgia ICW was like Paris Hilton, pretty but shallow (insert additional non family friendly gags yourselves).
Our next stop was Cumberland Island one of our favourite spots and subject of several earlier blog posts. We stayed here for well over a week as the winds howled and the temperatures plummeted. We were on the Florida border for goodness sake and wearing woolly hats and gloves during the day!
Finally we got a great window of moderate northerly winds and left on a cold but clear morning in company with Chandelle and Discovery. It was a great sail if a bit chilly enlivened by a great dolphin visit yet again.
With the short days we couldn’t make Lake Worth before dark so we went to a new destination Fort Pierce. We timed it perfectly for the outgoing tide and had a very uncomfortable trip into the inlet with big standing waves, not at all pleasant, but Matsu looked after us well.
The next day we hopped to Lake Worth to begin a mad dash to get ready for the weather window coming up for the Bahamas trip. We had a couple of minor boat chores to do and things to buy plus a last stock up at a USA grocery store. We took the dinghy towards our usual store but on the way saw a huge, brand new Publix store had opened. We left the dinghy at a nearby marina and wandered in. It had opened the day before so the service was impeccable, but we think we left them thinking we were mystery shoppers sent by head office!
I had the distinction of being the first person to smash something, which caused chaos as nobody could find the spill cart. Then as we were also buying food for friends Linda and I paid separately at the tills. The bank saw two simultaneous charges on the cards at the same place so declined them, we were whisked off to customer service to make calls to the bank to verify etc etc.
Finally we tried to leave with the trolleys to take the food back to the dinghy, but the state of the art trolleys had wheels that locked automatically as soon as they crossed a yellow perimeter line. Legions of customer service people arrived and we explained what we were doing, so a ride up in the lift, carry the trolleys over the line in the car park, unlock the wheels and then they pushed our trolleys to the marina for us and helped us unload!
They were now convinced that we were plants from head office hence all the amazing service and we were too embarrassed to ever return!
Amazingly we had the preparations done in time and on the morning of the 16th November left the USA for the last time in a while we think, for a very straightforward trip over to West End, Grand Bahama. With customs cleared it was time for a beer, and then the next day we set off again for an overnight sail to Nassau. At least this time we had no water spouts like last year, and we were wearing shorts and t-shirts for night watch rather than jumpers and hats.
We headed into Nassau harbour at sunrise just behind a huge cruise ship and so here we are, back in one of our favourite places and ready to head for the Exumas tomorrow. But first we must have a Kalik and some conch!
Monday, October 31, 2011
For a few years now Larry & Bev on Chandelle have been telling us that even with our deep keel (7’ 6”) and high mast (65’) we could run the tides and do the Intra Coastal Waterway through the swamps and marshes of South Carolina and Georgia. So when Chandelle joined us in Charleston and said they were happy to act as tour guides we decided to be brave and give it a go.
The first leg was back on the outside though as we motored in a flat calm from Charleston to Port Royal at the north end of Hilton Head Island. It should have been stress free, but for the second year in a row the day started with a snagged anchor in Charleston, although we managed to free it without scuba gear this time much to my relief.
The motor was easy and then just before the shoals at Port Royal the engine slowly died. It was obvious straight away that it was fuel rather than mechanical with the new baby installed but I could see no reason how we would have a fuel problem either. It turned out that for some reason the new engine was pulling fuel from only the port tank, despite both being turned on so we had sucked the tank dry, a quick change of the manifold, 4 pumps of the fuel primer and we were back on our way.
We were lucky to get this important lesson in the middle of the sea rather than in a tight cut on the ICW, as while it was a quick fix it wasn’t quick enough to avoid running aground in a tighter space, so in a funny way we were grateful for the interruption.
The trip down the ICW so far has been great, we are basically following a combination of rivers, sounds and man made canals joining them travelling 5-10 miles in from the coast past a series of barrier islands.
The travel is slow as we have to have high tide for the shallow sections and low tide for the two fixed bridges we have negotiate. So far no groundings and we haven’t touched either bridge even with our VHF antenna.
The highlight without doubt though has been seeing the amazing spectacle of the local dolphins “strand feeding”. They work in a team and herd the fish into the beach where they can’t escape and then all four dolphins surge out of the water onto the beach, grabbing a few fish to fee on and then wriggling their way back into the water to do it again. Sadly we didn’t have the camera the first day, but the second time we did and while they were more keen on mating and playing we still got some amazing shots!
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
We left Annapolis after the boat show on the 12th of October. We had three day trips down the bay before staging for the trip round Cape Hatteras. The trip was varied to say the least, we had one day of sailing, one day of gentle motoring and one day of bloody awful motoring into a shocking head sea taking waves over the bow despite being in Chesapeake Bay and generally hating every minute of it! Charlie sulked all day in the back cabin, letting us know how bored he was every time we descended the companion way!
We sat for about 3 hours at between 8.5 and 9.3 knots so imagine our surprise when we turned round and saw a sail rapidly catching us up! It turned out to be a 70’ custom carbon yacht called Route 66, so we felt less embarrassed by being passed by it when it finally caught up.
By the time we got to Hatteras the wind had backed off and gone North so we had gentle motor sail from just north of the cape, round it and down to Cape Lookout arriving just before sunset, the $50 of diesel being a small price to pay for the lack of 10’ seas and high winds we normally seem to get!
Our first day at Cape Lookout was stunning, the sun was out and temperatures in the high 20’s, just like summer, I even managed to get sunburned. We walked for about 6 miles on the beach round the whole Cape and then back through the most insect infested interior track we have ever seen. Little black flies that obviously haven’t seen human blood for a while and were ravenous for it.
Tuesday dawned clear and still but there was a battle between our two weather sources. NOAA the official US weather service were saying 2 days of 20-25 knot SW winds so nothing much, BUT Chris Parker our custom weather guru was saying that 3 weather systems were going to collide and we should batten down for 40-50 knot winds, ie more than we had during the hurricane!
Sadly but predictably it was Chris who proved to be right and so after a lovely sunny calm day the wind filled in that night and howled non stop for 48 hours, it also lashed down with rain and was generally horrible.
Lookout Bight was great place to be for it mind, we snugged up near the beach and let out 100 metres of anchor chain in the 6 metres of water we were in, so no danger of dragging (and even if we did it is 1.5 miles to the beach on the other side so we had plenty of time to sort it out!).
The second night was the worst when it blew at 40-50 knots all night with no let up, the only stress was the constant noise of the wind, the peace that reigned when it finally backed off on Friday morning was wonderful and meant we could finally sleep uninterrupted.
On checking the GPS I found the boat had sailed 5 miles while at anchor in the 48 hours!
Almost as soon as the wind backed off and went North, the seas died down and the conditions were great for moving on. We motor sailed over to Wrightsville Beach and the had a fabulous sail on Sunday overnight to Monday down to Charleston, sailing the whole way to the entrance channel at Charleston. We got our customary visit from a huge pod of dolphins once round Cape Fear, 20-30 dolphins swimming with the boat for around 20 minutes just at sunset – see last years post for the photos!
We timed our arrival into Charleston perfectly for the peak of the outgoing current, we were pushing 3.5 knots of current at one time, plus had to share the entrance channel with an enormous container ship.
We will have a few days in Charleston and then head for Florida.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Burley Creek, Annapolis, MD
Well it has certainly been a busy summer of improvements to Matsu, apart from the engine we have got through a huge list of upgrades either as part of the engine project or since returning from Canada.
We have replaced the old manual pump heads (toilets) with new electric flush ones, future visitors will no doubt appreciate this as much as the crew do, no more playing the Las Vegas slots every time you want to flush, just push a button. As they are still boat heads I am sure they will require regular unblocking and all the usual unpleasantness but at a day to day level the improvement is huge.
The old 110v generator powered fridge system has been replaced. This was a bit like the engine in that we thought it would be nice to do before the old system died, and then during the removal of the old system it became clear that we were very lucky it still worked! The old compressor turned out not to be attached to the boat in any way at all after several things have broken over the years, the only thing holding it down were the refrigerant lines and some good luck. Similarly one of the holding plates ruptured when I lifted it out!
The new Sea Frost system is superb, it runs on 12v so no need to run the generator twice a day and with digital temperature controllers we can keep ice cream frozen and other such luxuries. The solar panels and wind generator should provide most of the power we need. While doing this we have custom built interior shelving and boxes so that the fridge and freezer are more like a home set up than a very large cooler bin.
On top of these flag ship projects we have completely replaced the fresh water plumbing, plus we have new taps and shower heads. We have installed reversing up and down switches on the anchor windlass, a fresh water wash down so we can clean the salt off the varnish and all the usual day to day maintenance required. Linda has not exactly been idle either having done all the exterior varnishing and quite a bit of the interior, painted all the lockers and cupboard interiors, new cockpit cushions, clean and polish of the hull so she shines like new.
So Matsu is now shinier and better equipped than ever, we are obviously a bit poorer but doing the work ourselves has saved us a lot. The plan is to head south to the Caribbean for a few years, basing ourselves there so leaving with the boat in top shape is a huge bonus.
Hopefully this means we can enjoy the rum cocktail and sunbathing side of cruising a bit more with the marine engineering side covered off! However, cleaning, polishing, varnishing, etc will always be on the list … at least we’ll be lucky enough to do this in tropical paradise…
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Burley Creek, Annapolis
Well what a week, we are tied to the dock at Larry & Bev’s and had planned to potter around doing a few boat chores and then heading out for a few days on the boat to do some motoring to make sure all is working well with the new engine before we head south. However Mother Nature has other plans and we have a far more eventful week than we hoped.
On Monday I am working away inside the boat while Linda pops up to the motor bikes to take some photos to stick on EBay. I feel the boat shake as the piles bang against the hull but given it is flat calm can’t think why, there is then a lot of banging and the rig starts to shake.
I run up on deck and see Larry coming out of his office saying that was an earthquake, we both head up to the house and find Linda and Bev both literally and metaphorically shaken. Linda had been wheeling her motor bike into position when the ground began to tremble and the bike shake, she miraculously managed not to drop it, but was clearly taken aback by the whole thing. We watch the news to find it is a 6.5 on the Richter scale quake – quite a shock.
The rest of the week passes watching the weather news as Hurricane Irene homes in on us, by Friday it is inevitable that it will pass right over us, so we move Matsu to one of the neighbours docks that is vacant (thank you Marvin and Judith) and start to tie ourselves up with a maze of long lines kept specifically for this purpose but obviously well stored away as you don’t need them very often!
The storm itself arrives on Saturday morning, initially with lots of rain and some wind, and then late afternoon and overnight Saturday (why does bad weather always come at night?) we get the bulk of the winds and rain.
Burley Creek is incredibly well protected, high banks on either side, no room for a fetch to develop and lots of mature trees to cut down the wind. During the night we only saw 40 knots on the wind instruments, and that for a short time, the rest of the time it was 25-30 knots all very manageable. The only scary bit was knowing that the wind at tree top height was 60-70 knots and wondering if a tree may fall on the boat.
During my frequent excursions outside to check lines, that was the scary bit, the sound of breaking branches making me flinch from time to time, but luckily all I got hit with were a few leaves! By dawn on Sunday the worst was past, winds backing right off and even the endless rain starting to slow down.
After breakfast we head up to see the damage on land, there are lots of branches and trees down in the neighbourhood and obviously no power. But miraculously not just Larry & Bev’s house but all the houses seem to have escaped damage.
We spend the day chopping wood and clearing up and by afternoon the sun is out, the branches are gone and it almost seems like a bad dream.
Ironically given how worried all the homeowners were about us on our boat in the storm, we are now fine and it is them that suffer. We obviously still have electricity and water while they have neither for a week afterwards!
A big thank you from Linda and I to the local community for looking after us so well during the hurricane and indeed the whole summer.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
New England, Maine, Nova Scotia, Quebec
We still have the motor bikes we bought last year so as this will be the last chance we get to use them we decided on a grand tour of the NE corner of the Americas.
From Annapolis, we rode north through Pennsylvania into the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire then back down to the coast again in Maine meeting up with Jan and Karyn on Bella who were having their summer cruise in the Mt Desert region.
We spent 4 days with them on board and had probably as good weather as you could ever have there, it was well into the high 30’s Celsius and even warm enough to swim off the boat in the anchorage provided you stayed in the top 4’ layer of warm water! We climbed Cadillac mountain to stretch our aching motor cycle limbs, rewarded with stunning panoramic views of Acadia NP.
Another highlight was boiling up Maine lobster on the beach, it was my first taste of them after eating many Caribbean ones, and I will be controversial and say I couldn’t really tell the difference, especially once dipped in gorgeous garlic butter and washed down with sauvignon blanc!
By now the weather was less warm and sunny but we did get a couple of gorgeous days and taking in the tidal bores of the Bay of Fundy and the stunning coast south of Halifax, including the lovely Peggys Cove a traditional fishing village and Lunenberg the maritime capital of the area. Both areas with moving memorials, the former to the Swiss Air flight that crashed here and the latter to the many fishermen lost over the years.
From NS we were faced with a very long ride back to Quebec, our amateur geography had somehow convinced us that Nova Scotia was “on the way” so we were somewhat surprised to ride back via Maine passing within about 50 miles of Jan & Karyn after a 1200 mile round trip!
Time in Quebec was spent with Linda’s family and friends, it was really great to catch up with everyone once more.
By mid August we realise that our to do list on Matsu isn’t getting any shorter but the time until we leave is, so saddle up for the long ride home through the Adirondack’s getting back to Annapolis after a round trip of well over 3,000 miles.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Bert Jabins Yacht Yard, Annapolis, MD
When we bought Matsu we had some concerns about the age and condition of the original Nanni Mercedes engine and after four more years of cruising it has now done 23,000 hours and is 24 years old. In all that time it has never let us down (including motoring us most of the 1,000 miles back to Annapolis this year), but there is a growing list of issues that need to be addressed, corrosion, broken brackets that have been bush repaired, belching white smoke and a lack of power.
We realised we could either wait until it breaks down comprehensively and deal with it then, or be proactive and deal with it on our own terms, maybe earlier than strictly necessary but avoiding the potential problem of a destroyed engine in a remote location.
We decided that this summer would be when we did it on our own terms. The first question was whether to recondition the existing engine or buy a new one. A big part of the cost of either is removing and replacing the engine from the boat, and once we got a feel for the reconditioning costs we decided that the extra cost of a brand new modern engine with readily available spare parts worldwide was the better bet, as Nanni no longer support the old engine.
The Starting Point
Other than buying the engine the vast majority of the cost of repowering is labour (around 70% we estimated) so the even bigger decision was taken that I would draw on all my years of accounting experience and replace it myself – scary!! Again the logic being that at over $100 an hour for a mechanic versus my time for free we could save a lot of cash even if it took me bit longer, plus of course I would 100% understand the engine installation and drive train for future maintenance.
We order a new Yanmar 110hp engine from Bay Shore Marine in Annapolis, they are used to working with DIY installations and provide great support to us throughout. We also decide to do the work at Bert Jabins Yacht Yard, a great reputation, we can do the work with the boat in the water making life aboard much more pleasant, and bay Shore are based on site. So on 25th May we pulled Matsu into a berth at Bert Jabins Boat yard in Annapolis and started work.
One of the first problems I had thought of when we started this was how to get the engine out, a fellow Passport owner told me the great news that he “thought” there was a removable panel in the cockpit floor for the purpose.
Given the alternative was to remove a lot of very nice teak wood work you can imagine our joy at finding out he was right!
While removing the various wires, cables, hoses etc from the engine we get to see more of it and the level of corrosion and decay is revealed, it shows how durable diesel engines are that it was still running.
We also have our first cock up when draining the engine oil when we switch the drain pump from suck to blow and cover ourselves and the engine room in old oil!
By June 1st we are ready for the crane to come and pull out the engine.
It all goes incredibly smoothly, the guys from Jabins and Bay Shore doing great work and within 45 minutes we are engineless and the true state of the old engine is revealed.
The second stage was also now fairly obvious, and we embarked on the huge process of cleaning up and redesigning the engine room. For 24 years owners and mechanics had been adding systems to Matsu and installing them in or around the engine room in cramped spaces so not necessarily doing the job as well as it should have been done. We now had a golden opportunity to set that straight and leave ourselves with good access to the new engine and a clean clutter free engine room.
Without too many boring details we cleaned huge amounts of oily waste from the bilge, removed the old battery boxes, sanded and painted the bilge with 4 coats of Bilgekote paint, replaced and moved the wiring, the engine plumbing, the control cables, the exhaust system, the Racor filters, the bilge pumps, the fresh water plumbing, new sound proofing etc etc etc.
Now time for stage 3: installing the new engine.
By installing an aluminium bar spacer and covering it with aluminium angle the engine would be perfectly aligned and the beds narrowed sufficiently to take the new feet.
This was one area I did leave to the professionals and Nick from Bay Shore did a great job in working with me to get everything bolted down and ready for the new baby.
So on the 23rd June after an enormous amount of work the crane returned and the new engine arrived.
From there it really was all quite straightforward. Nick helped me get the alignment spot on and bolt the engine down. This is critical to the way the engine will perform in the future, and even though we have a flexible drive there is no harm in getting at as close as possible. Nick being a perfectionist meant we probably don’t even need the flexible drive now it is so well done!
After that I have a busy 2-3 days connecting all the things an engine needs to work. Electricity, cooling water, diesel, control cables, and an exhaust system were all joined up and then the big moment: On June 27th almost exactly 1 month later we press the starter and vroom! off she goes purring away and doing all that a diesel engine should.
We head out for a sea trial and she passes all the tests with flying colours, Matsu hits hull speed nice and early in the rev range, the engine hits the target maximum RPM and unbelievably we have done it, installed a new engine!
By way of a PS, if any fellow Passport owners or fellow yachties are thinking of doing a similar thing, feel free to get in touch via email if you have any questions or would like some more detailed information.