Archive for August, 2011
August 26, 2011
Yesterday I reported on our preparations for Hurricane Irene. Little did we know, that may not even have been our biggest threat. Just two hours after leaving the boat to come back to prepare our house for the storm, Shear Madness took a lightning strike from a severe thunderstorm passing through the area. John and Leanne were on board monitoring the storm. They are fine, but the lightning struck an antenna and caused serious problems for our electronics and electrical systems. All is stable for now, but a full assessment will be done after Irene passes by. Seems like much of the work we just had done in Florida will have to be done all over again – and then some! Why is Mother Nature so angry?? The following photos show the antenna that was struck and some of the damage.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Just two weeks ago we were anxious to depart Florida and get out of the “hurricane zone”! Tropical Storm Emily had fizzled out and we were pleased to make it to Virginia before any more tropical activity began. Generally, anything north of North Carolina is considered “safe” territory by our insurance company during hurricane season. So we breathed a big sigh of relief when we arrived safe and sound in Colonial Beach, VA. Imagine our surprise when we were hit with the largest earthquake in the known history of this area! Though not big by some standards, it measured 5.9 and was enough to cause near panic in the Washington, DC area! Shear Madness was at Colonial Beach Yacht Center where there was little impact and we were at our house in Oakton, VA where there was no major damage except for a few pictures being knocked off the walls.
But the big concern now is Hurricane Irene! She has decided to skip Florida and head on up the east coast and will certainly cause an impact in NC, VA, MD, and further north. So here we are, making plans to weather a potential major hurricane! Not what we had expected, but another of the “adventures” of the cruising life. First is an assessment of the marina. We are in a good location, well up the Potomac River. We are on a sturdy “floating dock” at the marina – it is a relatively new dock with strong pilings and the dock moves up and down with the tide. This means you don’t have to adjust docking lines for major tide increases or storm surges. All good news. The pilings are also very substantial – with more than ten feet above the dock level, allowing for a huge increase in water depth without a major problem. We also looked at other options – places we could go and secure the boat at anchor and ride out the storm if necessary. While there are a couple possible spots, we ultimately decided that the marina offers good protection for all but the worst case scenario.
So our focus now is on readying the boat to withstand heavy winds and lots of rain. That means removal and stowage of anything that can blow away, tying down and securing anything that moves, and adding extra dock lines and fenders. We also looked around to see what other potential hazards exist – for example, other boats that may not be well secured or that have items that could be blown our way in high winds. There are a lot of people here making preparations to keep their boats safe. All that remains is to wait and see what Irene does. She’s scheduled to arrive in this area on Saturday night.We’ll report again once she’s gone!
August 19, 2011
With our upgrades complete and the boat looking nice, we departed from Palm Beach just after noon on Friday, August 12 for the 800 mile trip north to Colonial Beach, VA. Our plan was to cruise straight through without stopping, which we estimated would take 4-5 days. The weather forecast was favorable and after a brief stop to clean the bottom of the boat, we were off! On a multi-day passage, we take turns standing watch as someone has to be monitoring all systems and keeping a lookout at all times. When the weather is nice, night watches on the flybridge with a full moon are truly spectacular! Fortunately for us, the weather was very cooperative, with clear skies, calm seas, and a bright moon most nights, punctuated only by an occasional thunderstorm. We could not have had better conditions for the trip!
It was nice to use some of our new systems. Our satellite weather service allowed us to get up to date weather information instantly. We also became fairly proficient with many of the features of our new navigation software (Nobeltec Trident). We did, however, experience a few glitches, most notably with our AutoPilot system and satellite compass. The AutoPilot worked fine steering a course using its internal compass, but would not work when using the satellite compass, or when asked to steer a route (in Nav mode). We did some diagnostics and will spend some time in the coming weeks to diagnose and correct those problems. They did not interfere at all with our schedule and we were able to cruise north in the Gulf Stream (a strong current which flows northward along the east coast), which added more than 2 knots to our average speed (we cruised at close to 10 knots for much of the trip)!
We did not have great luck fishing for the first couple days. While underway in daylight hours only, we trail a fishing line behind the boat, waiting for a strike, at which point, the alarm is sounded by someone yelling “FISH, FISH”. The person on watch then slows the boat down, while someone else takes control of the rod and brings the fish in. Bradley and/or John then bring the fish aboard, determine whether it is a “keeper” and if so, prepare it for the fridge or freezer. Once the fish is landed, we return to cruising speed. Leanne’s first “strike” resulted in a good fight, only to find a large plastic bag at the end of the line! It’s really a shame how much plastic is in the oceans and how much damage it does! Well, there’s one less plastic bag now!
As we passed Cape Hatteras, we were making excellent time. Conditions were still perfect but we had caught only one small fish, a dolphin fish (mahi-mahi) which we had as an appetizer. Soon that was to change! In a span of just a few hours, we caught and kept 4 Spanish Mackerel and 2 tunas. We also caught and released 2 small tunas and 2 small mackerels. We were slowing down so often, we finally had to stop fishing or we would never arrive at our destination!
By sunset on Monday, we were at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. We passed over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, guided by the Cape Henry Tower. Because there is so much shipping traffic in the area, the Tower provides traffic control, much like air traffic control for airplanes. We were in contact with the Tower, and were provided with information about outbound ships so that we could steer clear of them. It was quite helpful to have their guidance, especially as it was now quite dark!
The most exciting moment came just before midnight that night, when suddenly our navigation system went completely dark! We no longer had a chart on our display to steer by. Fortunately, we had backup systems. We had a paper chart readily available. We soon determined that the new computer running the navigation software had crashed. Further investigation led us to the UPS unit (backup power supply) that the computer was plugged into. The UPS is supposed to power the computer in the event of a power failure. For some reason the UPS thought a power failure had occurred and had begun using its battery to power the computer. When its battery was depleted, the computer lost power and crashed. Since we had never actually lost power, we attributed the problem to the UPS unit. We plugged the computer into a direct power supply and soon were back up and online. A good lesson though – always be prepared in the event you lose one or more of your systems!
We continued our cruise up the Chesapeake Bay to the Potomac River, then north to Colonial Beach. We planned to stay at the Colonial Beach Yacht Center, a marina I had found online. We knew it would be a bit of a tricky entrance, as the channel is just over 8 feet deep, barely enough to allow us in. Furthermore, because we had made excellent time, we were arriving at dead low tide. To top it off, we arrived on Tuesday, the one day the marina is closed. As we approached the entrance to Monroe Bay, we were able to raise a Navy Range boat on the radio and they provided us with some good information about depth of water and exact location of the marina. Bradley navigated us in with no problem and we found our assigned spot and soon were tied up alongside. The trip had taken less than 4 days and we still had the afternoon to begin washing the boat! (The boat always needs a washing after a trip in salt water).
Colonial Beach is a great spot for us. The people there are very friendly and it is a charming town with beautiful and well kept homes. It’s a bit different than Old Port Cove, where we were neighbors with the 155-foot Privacy and the 164-foot Mine Games (a boat which you can charter for a mere $265,000 per WEEK). Here in Colonial Beach, WE are the big boat and several folks came by for a look. Leanne and I encountered two young men looking at the boat and they asked if it was ours. When we replied Yes, they began asking questions. One asked how we had got the boat here. We explained that we had come up the Atlantic Coast to the Chesapeake, then up to the Potomac River and in through the entrance to Monroe Bay. “No”, he said, “what I meant was How big a trailer you need to move that thing?” His concept of a boat was something that could be put in a trailer. His buddy was soon explaining to him that this boat could cruise anywhere in the world and did not need a trailer!
We’ll be in the Colonial Beach and Washington DC area for the next month or so. Plenty to explore around here! Click on any photo to enlarge. To see a video of Leanne in action (fishing), click here!
August 12, 2011
The big news is that Leanne has now arrived from New Zealand, so the Shear Madness Crew – Bradley, Kathy, John, and Leanne – is now complete! We are all anxious to get to the fun part of cruising!
We have finally wrapped up our projects! The boat is clean and waxed, new electronics and communications systems are installed and ready to go, and gelcoat and finish repairs are complete. We also had some help from Bernie, who spent a couple hours helping us to figure out how to deploy our “flopper-stoppers”. This is a device that helps to stabilize the boat in a rough anchorage, greatly increasing the comfort. It consists of a pole (like a spinnaker pole on a sailboat) that goes out to the side to hang a “fish” (a metal weight that hangs in the water at a depth below the keel). After a few experiments, we determined which lines went where, how to control the pole when deploying and retrieving, and how to launch and retrieve the fish. I can’t say we are looking forward to an anchorage where we will need the flopper-stoppers, but we are ready! Note that we tested the flopper-stoppers while at a slip in a marina – this is NOT where they would actually be used.
We also had a visit from our good friends Richard and Maggie from Naples, who joined us to finish cleaning up and putting the boat back together (Maggie, not ALL guests are handed a vacuum cleaner on their first day aboard). We were able to finish up in time for a wonderful steak dinner and a well needed bit of relaxation. The only thing left was to fuel up! We visited the fuel dock and took on 1275 gallons of diesel – about a third of what we hold. This will be plenty to get us back up to the Chesapeake Bay, a trip of a little more than 800 miles. Sometime in the next few months, the boat will be hauled out of the water for some work on the bottom (this is done every 1-2 years) so we don’t want to have full tanks when hauling out. Richard and Maggie departed and are driving our car back to Naples for us.
We have now departed the marina and are stopped at anchor while John and Leanne are diving to clean the bottom. Bradley is assisting, but only snorkeling, as he has a slight cold which prevents him from diving (for you non-divers, diving requires the ability to clear your ears as you descend and pressure increases – you cannot do this when you have stuffy sinuses). We will soon pull up the anchor and embark on our journey – a non-stop (barring unforeseen emergencies) trip of 100+ hours.
We can’t wait to be back on the water!
Click on any photo to enlarge.
August 3, 2011
When I tell friends about the cruising life, I often mention the isolated, peaceful anchorages, beautiful snorkeling, dolphins on the bow, seeing whales and turtles, catching (and eating) fish, and many other wonderful things. But life on a boat is not ALWAYS filled with those images. Sometimes there’s a lot of work to do and often that work is much more difficult than similar work on land.
We arrived in North Palm Beach, FL a few weeks ago and since then have been working with various contractors to implement a variety of repairs and upgrades. First and foremost, Brian and Troy have been upgrading our onboard computers along with navigation and communications systems and software. They are also doing the upgrade of our primary entertainment system. Sounds easy enough, but every wire that needs to be run and every bit of hardware that needs to be installed requires working in small, tight spaces. Since the systems need to be designed to take a beating in rough seas, they need to be tightly secured. Then there is the dealing with various vendors like DirecTV, who insist in sending an installer for your new DVR. No amount of communication can make them understand that we just needed to have the box dropped off for our vendors to install. So when the installer arrived, we simply had to show him the hole he would have to work in and ask if he would mind just leaving the DVR for us to install. He dropped that box off and ran like an NFL running back!
Fortunately Troy seems to enjoy cramming himself into the tiniest nooks and crannies on the boat. So we are nearly set now with two new Dell computers (one for our navigation systems and one for our communications systems), new electronic charting software and charts (Nobeltec Trident), new batteries in our satellite compass (has to be done at at Brian’s workshop, requiring an un-install and re-install), new wiring to allow our monitors to display what we want, a boat-wide wi-fi that provides an internet connection via either an AT&T broadband card, marina wireless systems, or satellite, a satellite weather service, satellite telephone, and DirecTV.
We’re also doing maintenance and repairs on our Air Conditioning system (by JR) and stern thruster (see the post about the hydraulics problem in November 2010 – this is being repaired by James) as well as having the boat detailed (cleaning, compounding, and waxing by Johnny 5-Star). Unlike your car, detailing the boat takes a crew of five people a full week to complete! In addition, we’re doing gelcoat repairs (Gelcoat Jeff is fixing cracks and other problems with the finish that need to be addressed before they get worse), have replaced a motor in the flushing unit of one of the toilets (John and Bradley), and done preventive maintenance on the transmissions (James, John, and Bradley).
Our days begin early with an hour of walking, running, biking, or pilates before breakfast. About 8am we begin working with contractors, unpacking cabinets to gain access, re-packing cabinets so we can unpack the next one, running to West Marine or Home Depot to pick up something we need, testing new systems as they are installed, re-testing when the next thing is installed – well, you get the idea! Usually we look up at some point and wonder how it got to be 7pm already!
I did have a chance to catch up with some of my former colleagues from Smarthinking who were in Hollywood, FL for a sales meeting. Chuck took the Tri-Rail train up and we had a nice visit on the boat, then headed back to Hollywood for drinks with others from Smarthinking. I also had a chance to play golf with our friend Doug, and for the first time I had three birdies in one round!
We have just moved our boat to the North side of the marina where there is more room for the detailing crew to use their waxing machine without splattering other boats. We are just a couple slips down now from a well-known yacht called Privacy. Our focus now is on the weather, as we are watching Tropical Storm Emily and hoping she doesn’t intend to make a visit to Florida! In the meantime, though we don’t see the sun set from here, we do get some pretty nice sunrises!
Click to enlarge any photos. Also check out the Video page for a little video about the cruising life (this is a test of my new video editing toy)!