Making progress south-until now

Lisa finished her hand therapy last week and we left Baltimore with beautiful fall weather on the Bay. I really wanted to get south quickly before we encountered any really cold weather. Normally we try and travel every other day, enjoying a day at each stop. But the cold fronts were marching east so it was time to go.

First stop, Solomons. We like Mill Creek. We go back as far as we can and usually have the spot all to ourselves. Totally protected, 12′ deep and thick mud bottom. Nice homes on shore. We left the next morning, only to turn around after facing 3-5′ chop kicked up by winds on the nose much stronger than predicted. Back to Mill Creek.

Next day was much better. We like the bay just south of the entrance into Deltaville. Good holding, no crowds and no shallow entrance to negotiate. Another quiet night on the bay. From there, Norfolk and Waterside Marina. We arrived about the same time as a Navy war ship so slowed down to let her in ahead of us, mindful of the 500 yard separation requirement. As it turned out the war ship, some sort of missile cruiser, dint object to any of the cruiser traffic around her. We had lost a half hour waiting for nothing, apparently. This is quite different from our prior experiences with these ships, often escorted by patrol boats and the USCG pushing everyone out of the channel. Later that evening we listened on the radio as an aircraft carrier came in and had the cruisers scrambling to get out of its way and out of the exclusion zone. Maybe it is the size or type of ship that generates different handling of nearby private vessels?

Anyway, got off the boat for dinner at Waterside then headed to Coinjock the next evening. As we approached Great Bridge lock, the tender announced a closing due to high water. Luckily just a higher than normal high tide so after two hours of holding in place we were on our way, arriving at Coinjock by 5pm or so.  Our first time here, I knew they liked to pack them in tight but was still apprehensive.

Following the dock master’s instructions I approached our parking space, which looked a bit short for our 57′ LOA. But the dock master said he had measured 62′ so I inched into the space. To make it into the slip my swim platform had to slide under the bow anchor of the boat behind me and my bow sprit hung over the cockpit of the boat in front. Not sure how they measured the 62′ unless they included the air space above and below the other boats. They say you pay for the dock space you occupy. I should have paid for 53′, not 57′. Regardless, the dock hands at Coinjock know what they are doing and will get you in. Precise handling is still required!

Lots of AC comments abouth the quality of the prime rib. Mine was excellent.

From Coinjock we cleared the Alligator river on the last day of normal opening. For the next two weeks the bridge will supposedly be closed to ICW traffic. Some openings, maybe. As we passed, another boat asked the bridge tender about the upcoming schedule and he said he didnt know. So good luck to those behind us.

We anchored that night on the Pungo river just south of the Dowry Creek marina. Open to all directions but South, but forecast was for L/V and it was. Perfect conditions for morning fog.

Sure enough, we were fogged in that morning. Four hors later we were still in it.Mostly 1/4 mile vis or better so not too bad. Only felt the need to slow down once, but did add to the tension till the fog cleared at noon.

Now we are at Morehead City Yacht Basin. An industrial setting but a very nice marina catering to sport fishermen. Our plan was to lay over one day then go overnight to Charleston. Not going to happen. As I write this a cold front is overhead, with rain and wind. Two lows will follow over the next two days so we will sit a bit. Bunch of other southbound cruisers here as well so the marina is full.

Friday we will leave here, with options for ICW, a day trip to Masonboro inlet or an overnight to Charleston. Just now it looks like the ditch for us unless the forecast improves.

Baltimore – waiting

We are at Anchorage Marina in Baltimore harbor. Not quite the inner harbor but a local community called Canton. We ended up here as Lisa needs a few more weeks of OT for her tendon injury to her hand. Looks like she will be released on 1 Nov. so we will head south soon thereafter. Meanwhile, we are enjoying Baltimore.

Before this trip we knew little of Baltimore, but from what we have seen so far, a great city. Some time back in the city’s history, somebody must have come up with a master development plan. It is working. First, a comment about the marina. Anchorage Marina is all privately owned slips with slips rented out to transients as available. Decent condition, friendly and helpful management ( apparently a significant improvement from prior management, we are told), and an excellent location. Also a great deal if staying for a month or so. Much cheaper than inner harbor marinas and arguably better located. Canton is an up and coming neighborhood, with Safeway, West marine and many restaurants within walking distance of the marina. Fells Point, also a nice neighborhood is also a short walk.

As tourists, we did the inner harbor rounds of the old ships and submarine, rode the water taxi, toured Fort McHenry, etc. All very interesting. Working our way through the local restaurants now.

While Lisa does her OT, I get to spend playing with the boat. New zincs all around, waxing, polishing, etc. Evening happy our is on the fly bridge, watching the boats in the harbor. Pride of Baltimore II just return last evening. Quite a sight.

Weather has been fantastic. I feel that it is wasted on us as we sit in a marina. Should be on the move. I am sure the weather will be every bit as nice in early November when we re-start our trip south.

Risk Management for offshore sailing

This is an article I wrote that was published in Blue Water Sailing a while back. Mostly sailing oriented, but offshore trawler folks might enjoy:

November is not the best month for sailing from the US east coast to the Caribbean, but for lots of reasons, that’s when most of us sail down. Between the frequent gales coming out of the northeast,  opposing gulf stream current, and squally weather north of the islands, there are often plenty opportunities for boat damage, gear failure, crew injury and the like. It was this subject, things that go wrong at sea, that was the topic of discussion for a number of us at a local BVI watering hole not too many days after a recent passage south.

One captain recounted how a squall had come up out of nowhere and the microburst blew out his jib. Another described how a crew person had slipped on the companionway steps and broken his wrist. And still another, me, recounted how a crash jibe had led to a bent vang. The ensuing conversation suggested that these were the typical, and almost expected, mishaps associated with a challenging ocean passage. Weather gods act out, people make mistakes, hardware fails, and despite extensive safety precautions, some amount of “stuff” happens. It is the offshore sailor’s fate. Or is it?

Regardless of the level of preparation, we all take on some level of risk when we head offshore. And let’s face it, we can’t expect to complete every voyage with zero equipment failures or injuries. Or can we? Aren’t at least some accidents inevitable in risky endeavors such as ours, or are we setting our standards too low? Is it possible that a paradigm shift in our thinking, to one of zero tolerance for accidents, coupled with a proactive approach to reducing the risk of those accidents, could significantly change outcomes?

Over the last 10-15 years, industry has embraced proactive Risk Management. My personal experience in the manufacturing industry taught me that a change in attitude from the pragmatic, “some level of accidents are inevitable”, to the proactive, “all accidents can be eliminated”, made for a significant reduction in accidents. Offshore sailing is no different than manufacturing in this sense. They both can be inherently dangerous environments. But that does not mean that accidents are inevitable. In both environments, a proactive approach to identifying and mitigating risks, that is, removing the potential for accidents, can significantly reduce sailing injuries and equipment failures. For offshore sailing captains, making the paradigm shift from, “…some accidents are inevitable” to, “…zero tolerance for injuries or equipment failures” is long overdue.

Many initiatives aimed at improving safety at sea are ongoing and surely have helped reduce injuries and deaths. But these efforts tend to be generic approaches to physical safety based on lessons learned and do not provide a systematic approach to evaluating and mitigating the risks being faced by a particular crew on a particular vessel preparing to embark on a specific passage. The Risk Management process provides a proactive approach that each captain and crew can apply to significantly reduce injury or accident at sea. So what is Risk Management?

Paraphrasing from ISO (International Organization for Standardization) definition, Risk Management is the identification, assessment, and prioritization of risks followed by the application of resources to mitigate the probability of occurrence and severity of impact of unfortunate events or maximize the likelihood of achieving an objective. Risk Management transforms the intangible appreciation that in any complex and hazardous endeavor some things will likely go wrong to a set of specific, tangible and actionable steps that can reduce both the likelihood and severity of those events actually happening. Risk Management encompasses the spectrum of equipment, technology, human factors and the environment to generate an inclusive and comprehensive plan to accomplish a goal with the minimum disruption due to unforeseen negative events. A simplified flow diagram looks like this:

  1. Identify any risks to the safe and efficient completion of the voyage, to include injuries, equipment failures, environmental factors, etc. Consider Risk Multipliers.
  2. Assess the vulnerability of crew and ship to these risks and score the Probability of Occurrence (Po) and Severity (Si) of impact should the risk be realized. Prepare a Risk Matrix and determine initial overall risk.
  3. Mitigate both the Po and the Si with specific actions and then prioritize and implement those actions based on resources and time available. Update Risk Matrix and determine resultant overall risk.
  4. Manage the resultant and accepted remaining risks

 

Step 1: Identify Risks

Begin by preparing a simple Mission Description. A short statement of your objectives for the voyage that everyone can agree with. For example: “…to safely and efficiently sail (boat name) from (origin) to (destination) while incurring zero injuries and no equipment damage. We will depart as closely as possible to (date) and expect to spend (X) days en route. Our emphasis will be on crew comfort and safety over speed so we will accept delays on both departure and arrival dates.” Alternatively, the last sentence might read, “…weather permitting, we intend to sail fast and exploit the performance characteristics of our boat in order to minimize our time at sea.” Without suggesting which approach might be safer, each will create different demands on crew and equipment, potentially leading to different risks being identified.

The next step is to develop the list of risks. This can be done in a variety of ways and can include a sit-down brainstorming session, above and below deck walk arounds, and practice sails. The objective is to exercise as many functions as possible while constantly looking for anything that might go wrong. A few examples of identified risks might look like this:

  • There is a risk that a crew member might trip on the reefing line as the line crosses the deck
  • There is a risk that the GENSET might fail and we will be unable to re-charge the batteries

Next we brainstorm any possible risk multipliers. These are factors that are capable of increasing either the Po or the Si across the board. In our notional case, we have chosen four risk multipliers:

  • Crew experience – we have two crew with limited offshore experience
  • Crew age and health – we have two crew in their late 60’s
  • Sleep deprivation – tired crew make mistakes
  • Weather – the North Atlantic in November can be unpredictable

At the completion of the Identify process we have built a list of maybe 15-20 risks and the list looks like this:

Assess

 

During the assessment phase, each risk is discussed and assigned both a Probability of Occurrence (Po) and a Severity of Impact (Si) score. While this is a distinct phase in the process, it is practical to combine the Identify and Assess processes so the Po and Si are discussed among the crew as they are identified. This can speed up the process as it will eliminate low level risks before they get on the list.

In our case, the crew decided to drop the GENSET failure from the risk list as the main engine is capable of charging the batteries and there is a stand-alone battery bank capable of maintaining the navigation lights, radios and basic GPS capability. At the completion of the Identify and Assess steps, it may be helpful to lay out the risks on a grid and see where the combine risk index falls for the trip:

 

Composite Risk Index = Impact of Risk event x Probability of Occurrence

 

Mitigate

This is the action oriented step. Here is where we come up with specific actions that will either reduce the Po or Si or preferably both. We look at the context of the risk and then develop mitigation actions. For example if the general risk is “Falls” and the specific context is the companionway ladder, then we come up with physical changes, procedures or Standing Orders to reduce or eliminate the risk. In the case of the Falling risk at the companionway ladder, a new Standing Order to always use the companionway as a ladder (facing the steps) rather than stairs, reduced the falling risk from Medium to Low.

 

So here are some examples of recent Identify, Assess and Mitigate steps prior to voyages south. For continuity I have combined the Identify, Assess and Mitigate steps for each risk:

MOB

We decided to evaluate the MOB risk first since it is often a hot topic among offshore sailors. Our initial score identified the risk as a Low Probability but Very High Severity. We discussed opportunities to reduce the probability of occurrence (Po), that is, the probability that someone would fall overboard, and our list of mitigation actions looked like this:

  • Jack Lines – already in place on deck and in the cockpit (PHOTO)
  • PFD/harness and Tethers – all crew were so equipped
  • Standing Orders – Available but could use update

It was agreed that the best approach to reducing the probability of a MOB incident was to strengthen the Standing Orders to require 24/7 wearing of the PFD/harness while on deck and use of tethers whenever outside the cockpit, at night or in inclement weather. We all agreed that mandatory use of a tether in the cockpit during calm, daylight conditions did not appreciably reduce the Po so we stopped short of requiring 24/7 use of tethers. We did stipulate that at any time there was only one person topside, that person must be tethered and must remain in the cockpit.  With these adjustments to the Standing Orders we agreed that the Po had moved from Low to Very Low.

Next we looked at the Severity of impact. That is, assuming there is a MOB event, how severe is the outcome. Our mitigation steps included first making sure the MOB stayed attached to the boat, and second, if not attached, then able to be found and recovered. Our list of actions looked like this:

  • PFD/Harness with crotch strap – not all crew had crotch straps and this was considered to be the greatest risk to a MOB becoming separated from the boat, assuming the Standing orders regarding use of tethers were followed
  • MOM -8 – installed. Deployment training required
  • Life Sling – installed. Deployment training required
  • Personal Locator Beacons – we have AIS type beacons for each watch member and some crew had their own Personal EPIRB’s
  • MOB recovery method – our Standing Orders described the Quick Stop maneuver and an MOB hoisting approach
  • Training – we had not practiced the quick stop maneuver with this crew on this boat, nor had we demonstrated how to recover a MOB from the water using a spinnaker halyard and winch. We also did not have a plan to deal with a comatose MOB.

We agreed that those without them would add crotch straps and we would rehearse MOB recovery on the water, to include plans for recovering a comatose victim, before we departed. While any MOB event is serious, we determined that with these steps we could reduce the Si from Very High to High since we now had greater confidence that an MOB could be recovered successfully.

Tripping and Falling

At an overall High Probability of occurrence and High Severity of impact, Trips and Falls are an all too common event on an ocean voyage and are often a step in the sequence of a MOB. Rough seas, common to the November run from New England to the Caribbean are often a contributing factor to the Po.

Our approach to first Identify and then Mitigate was a detailed walk-around the boat looking for potential hazards. After the walk around, our list looked like this:

  • Companionway ladder – on Chasseur the ladder is gradual enough to suggest one can take the four steps down to the saloon facing forward. But this puts one’s feet on the slippery forward edge of the varnished step and not on the non-skid tread. We all agreed that the steps would be treated as a ladder, with crew facing aft when using them. Admittedly, this rule required constant reinforcement by the captain! (2 photos, side by side)
  • Inner Staysail furling line – crosses forward deck at ankle level; too difficult to re-route so added reflective tape to the line (PHOTO)
  • Boom preventer attachment – the preventer attaches to the end of the boom which requires some extended reach beyond the safe confines of the cockpit and a bit of a balancing act to connect. We added a loop of line to reduce the reach and allow the furling line to be attached from the cockpit. (PHOTO)
  • Throttle/Gear shifter – Chasseur has a step-through cockpit combing that is often cluttered with sheets and furling lines during sail adjustments and a trip here often results in a reach to the binnacle and a grab for the nearest object, the throttle or gear shift. Bad news if the engine is running. We agreed that a hand would go to the grab bar on the top of the binnacle whenever traversing the step-through, whether needed or not. Thus conditioned, an off-balance crew would be most likely to grab the hand hold and not the throttle. (PHOTO)

Re-scoring the Trip/Fall risk dropped all of the Po ratings and some of the Si evaluations, allowing us to revise the overall score from High/High to Low Medium

 

Equipment Failure

Our definition of a successful voyage includes not only a goal of zero injuries but also zero equipment failures and an on-time arrival. We approached equipment failure risk in a fashion similar to the others, with a walk around and then by taking notes during a familiarization sail prior to departure. Our list came out like this:

  • Main sail luff tape – easy to tear the tape during mainsail furling operations. We agreed only the captain would furl the main until watch captains were fully trained
  • Crash gibes – Preventer installed, but will not completely protect against an inadvertent gibe. Risk is greatest while running at night due to wind shifts and disorientation. Our mitigation included a number of procedures:
    • Crew members would hand steer at least 50%, both night and day to insure adequate helm experience
    • Downwind sailing angles limited to 145 degrees apparent at night to provide adequate control margin
    • Radar to be used at night to track and avoid squalls
  • Chafe to sails and running rigging – Mitigate with daily inspection. Each watch to insure furling lines are taught at all times.
  • Standing rigging failure – Chasseur has rod rigging with recent rig inspection. Daily visual and hands-on check of rig tension are specified in Standing Orders
  • Sail damage – risk was considered greatest at night with full sail in squally conditions. We decided that we would carry full sail at night unless the evening weather report forecast changed or radar identified squalls or convection in the area. Under these conditions, a preemptory reef would be tucked into the main.
  • GENSET or engine failure – we carry significant spares and a large battery bank. A separate bank backs up nav lights and radios. The risk of an engine failure we can’t fix is low and the severity also low.

Crew health, sea sickness, etc.

We shared each other’s health issues, prescription drug requirements, proclivity for sea sickness and the like. Most of the crew had extensive offshore experience and had proven techniques for dealing with sea sickness. For the two inexperienced crew we recommended Stugeron. We inventoried the ship’s first aid kit, antibiotics and pain meds and were comfortable we could treat most illnesses or injuries.

 

Risk Multipliers

Sleep deprivation can be a major contributory risk, imparting a negative impact to all other risk Probabilities, essentially a risk multiplier. With a crew of five, we scheduled two watch teams of two each, with me floating. I handled navigation, communication and systems and relieved individual crew members on a rotational basis to give each crew member a few hours extra sleep every few days. During periods of rough weather I would augment the on-watch team for sail adjustments. Otherwise, my job was to be fully rested should I be called upon to fill in for a disabled crew.

We treat weather as another risk multiplier. Everything becomes more challenging as the sea state increases. Reducing the risk of weather impacts brings the overall risk factor down. We do this by getting the best possible advice prior to leaving, and then insuring we have multiple sources and methods for getting updates en route. Sailing efficiently and maintaining our speed keeps us on schedule and reduces our exposure.

Our primary method of accessing weather products offshore is our SSB, backed up by our Iridium sat phone. Besides the NOAA products we employ contract weather routing services from Commander’s Weather and Chris Parker. We also have a weather FAX machine but rarely use it these days.

All that data isn’t of much use unless applied effectively to sailing plans. In our case, we schedule a morning and evening watch overlap where we share a meal and discuss the forecast and our options. I have found that the team often arrives at better decisions than I, especially if I am a bit tired. On a prior trip south, faced with betting on a predicted wind shift or sailing the best VMG at the time, the team voted to go for the wind shift, overruling my vote for the VMG now, and we were rewarded nicely.

 

 

Monitor

 

Every boat, crew and passage is unique, so your list of risks will surely look quite different than ours, as will your mitigation approach. All that matters is that the mitigation process results in a significant reduction in overall risk. Once you have done your best with your Mitigation process, then it is time to go sailing while evaluating the effectiveness of your plans and monitoring for new risks. On arrival, and before everyone disappears to the bars, it a good idea to plan a short lessons learned session to capture what worked and what did not.

Summary

The Risk Management process can only work with buy-in from the entire crew, especially if the mitigation involves changes to their normal sailing behavior. Some individuals might baulk at one mitigation action or another, such as how they are to take the companionway ladder, or when they must wear their PFD, but once they have bought into the process as a team, and see the positive effect on the Risk score, they are more likely to comply. And if they don’t then it may be time to look for more supportive crew.

It takes more than a safety-minded attitude to reduce risk of injury when engaged in inherently hazardous endeavors such as offshore sailing. A more proactive approach such as a Risk Management program can provide that added margin of safety to an otherwise safe boat.

Annapolis or Bust!

I know, trying to meet a schedule can get you in trouble. But we really wanted to make progress south from Newport. And we were committed to the Bay Bridge Trawlerfest in support of Kadey Krogen Yachts. Meanwhile, the weather sucked. We could leave just after the closing of the Newport boat show and drive through the remnants of Jose, still a hurricane, or wait a week and sail into the approaching face of Maria, still a hurricane. Two choices, wait two weeks for both Jose and Maria to pass, hoping nothing was behind them, or find a window between the two storms. And I wasn’t really seeing one.

For their part, the Kadey Krogen folks were putting no pressure on us at all. They are all boaters and appreciated the weather pattern. “If you don’t like the weather, don’t go. We will deal with it” was the response from KKY when we suggested we might not make it to T’fest. But we have made the trip from New England to the Chesapeake many times in the fall, and decent windows are hard to find. And the later in the season, the harder it gets to find decent weather.  So if there was a window, I wanted to go.

On 19 Sep I lloked at the forecast and the sea states from Jose overlapped Maria. And current buoy reports from half way between Block Island and Cape May had waves to 12 feet and steepness values of “very steep”. No window there.

This went on for the next four days. Meanwhile, Jose was slapping us around in our slip with gusts in the low Then the glimmer of hope. By Sunday, Jose would be sufficiently east and Maria sufficiently south to suggest a window. What made the window tenable was the wind forecast of <10 knots for the entire trip. Leaving Sunday we would make the turn at Cape May on Monday evening and the forecast was for 8-10′ swells from the SE at 12-15 seconds. And for once, most of the models were in close agreement. Winds were still out of the North, but at less than 10 knots, unable to generate a wind driven wave to oppose the swell. The biggest weather risk to the trip was that the winds would pick up sooner than expected. That would make the ride uncomfortable, but not impossible.

Two other Krogens were also considering going, Volunteer and Graditude, and we all agreed the door was open. When Chris Parker chimed in with a “go” we had some confirmation from a usually conservative forecaster.

We all left Sunday morning, facing calm winds and clear skies. After 3 days of Jose, this was quite welcome.. Our plan was to go non-stop, 7 knots and 48 hours. Any faster would get us there before daylight. The other two boats were hoping to stop at Schaefers in the canal so they moved out a little faster than we did.

As it turned out, conditions were even better than forecast. Some rollers, but so mild it mostly felt like we were in the marina. No wind, mostly great visibilty, albeit a little light fog now and then. The Jersey coast just doent get much better. And Delaware bay was a pussy cat. Yay!

I admit, I dont like running at night in congested areas. Offshore, no problem, but Delaware bay, the canal and the upper Chesapeake are a challenge for me at night. Lots of buoys, boats, and, of course, the ever present crab pots. But I really wanted to get where I was going before Maria changed her mind and headed up the peninsula. With a little assist by Brian, my very experienced crew, I got better at overlaying the radar and aligning the returns to line up with the buoys. Add a little MARPA acquisitions and I got pretty good at filling in the blanks. In the Delaware bay we ran just outside the channel, but in the Chesapeake we moved inside the channel because of all the crab pots in that area. That meant dealing with all the tug and barge traffic, and there was plenty of it.

So now we are at Bay Bridge Marina, the Jeresy coast is behind us, and we are looking at enjoying the Chesapeake in the fall.

 

From sail to power

Selling Chasseur, our Little Harbor 54, was bitter sweet. She was a beautiful boat, sailed well, and had thousands of hours of my labor invested. Lets not even talk about the money.

Chasseur

We bought her about ten years ago on the rebound from five years cruising with a J-44. The J was fun to sail, not so good a live aboard. Just too much comfort sacrificed for speed. On our trip to the Caribbean on the J we had our first 200 mile day. Winds 40 knots from behind us, seas 18-20 feet, speeds in the teens surfing on the backs of the waves. Just the jib. Exhilarating at the helm, a washing machine below deck. Even in these conditions she would steer easily one-handed. You just had to remember to duck every seven seconds or so when the next wave of green water cleared the dodger. Lisa said, “..get a heavier boat”. So we went from 22,000 lbs to 75, 000 lbs.

We went from being tossed by the seas to parting the seas. In conditions that would beat us to death in the J, the Little Harbor was in her element. Give me 30 knots on the beam in 15 foot rollers any time.

But as time passed, a few changes to our lives drove some desired changes to our ride. First, our two sons left for college. No more rail meat to run up the mast to catch a lost halyard. And who was going to refasten the anchor to the roller with the bow buried in blue water? Not me. And surely not Lisa. And when I used to be able to haul the sails on deck and rig her myself, somehow the sails got a lot heavier as I aged. And as much as I loved the bright work, another two weeks on my hands and knees varnishing the toe rail was just more than I could take.

So what were we to do? An interim stop at a catamaran? Lots of friends our age doing just that. Or a motor sailor? The best or worst of both worlds? We decided to not go half way. A sunset looks as good from the back of a trawler as it does from a Little Harbor, and it is the life style we care about, not the conveyance, right?

Lets skip the four years it took to almost but not quite be able to sell the sail boat. Repeat  “almost but not quite”a half dozen times. The plan was to sell the boat and use the proceeds to buy a used trawler of similar value. A cash wash. After four years of failure, Plan B, suggested by our ever patient trawler salesman to be, became Plan A. Trade the sail boat in on a new build Kadey Krogen.

Yes, I have left out some detail. You might ask how we got from a LH54 to a Kadey Krogen. Short answer; first decision, from sail to power, then power to trawler, then trawler to full displacement ocean capable trawler, then minimum water and air draft, then good looking. Answer, Kadey Krogen. I would also insist, well built and from a company with impeccable credentials for honest dealings and excellent after sale support. Nothing against Nordhaven, a quality boat, but just not me.

So after nearly a year with Privateer, our K52, and a few tousand miles between Newport and Miami and the Bahamas, what do we have to say? First, about the boat purchase decision. Best decision we ever made. A great boat from a great company. A few things we might change, now that we know more, but nothing significant. Some day I will publish my “Design and Build Specs and Goals” for you readers to quibble over. But for now, just some initial impressions of what it is like to make the transition from sail to power. And I will summarize by saying it is a bigger transition than I had expected.

For a boat that is about the same length, and about the same displacement, Privateer is huge compared to Chasseur. Especially when docking. To begin with, Privateer has every maneuvering toy imaginable. Twin engines, bow and stern thrusters, port and starboard wing stations. So you might say, what could possibly be challenging about this? Two things. First is, from any single steering position, you can see about half your environment. The rest of the view to the dock or the Picnic boat in the slip next to you, is blocked by a really big boat. Yours. Next, this boat is affected by wind and current differently than the sail boat.  A stiff wind blows the stern out, not the bow. And current moves the boat around by some mysterious calculus that I have yet to comprehend. After a year or so, I am now getting pretty comfortable with all this. But it did take longer than expected. Good news is, Lisa is quite adept and also willing, to park the boat. She would ever park Chasseur. Quite a change.

We were at Atlantic Yacht Basin refueling before parking for the night. One long face dock. Minimal current. The dockmaster says he only has one space available and it is barely 60 feet long. We are 57 feet LOA. My response, before I even thought it through,  was, “no problem!”

Privateer parks like a Tetrus game. Slide up, come to a stop, slide sideways with both thrusters, tie up. Go a head and add some current and I will add a little throttle. No problem. Easy to say, and slowly getting easier to actually do. Moving down a narrow fairway, pivoting and backing into a narrow slip still brings on challenges, but I am getting better.

The other major difference between sail and power is a little harder to explain. I used to do a lot of offshore sailing. Ten days to here or there or wherever. The usual challenges of leaving a crowded harbor, etc. But once off soundings, with the engine off and the sails full, I could completely relax. I knew that very little could happen that would keep me from reaching my intended landfall. Norfolk to the USVI for example. I dont really need the engine. And I dont even really need the genset. Take away all my electricity, all my nav toys. Not that big a deal. I can still make landfall somewhere in the caribbean. At that point I wouldnt be all that fussy which island.

The point is, once sailing, there isnt all that much I need from the machinery or the technology to keep me basically safe and moving in the general direction of my objective. But a power boat is another matter altogether. At the vary minimum, I need at least one of the engines to keep running. And at least one probably will. I hope. Better add those stabilizers, with their attendant pumps, hoses, valves and things that blink in multiple colors, I know not why. Don’t let any oil seep out of the hydraulic steering while you are at it. Summed up, if you are a worry wort, there is plenty to worry about while running a power boat.

Power boat drivers I know seem to take a rather nonchalant approach to all this. many of them are not especially mechanically inclined, most even less so than my sailing brethren, yet do not seem to think much about what happens when something important breaks. And if you are on the ICW, no big deal. Call Tow Boat US.  But if you are offshore, maybe a bigger deal. Maybe thats why sail boats go off shore and power boats, by and large, do not.

The transition from sail to power is an evolving experience for me. I am enjoying it while still not yet being completely comfortable with it. More to follow…

 

 

 

Things that go bump in the night

I tend to relax just a bit once attached to a high quality mooring ball in a protected anchorage. Warderick Wells, in this case. During the day, boats coming and going from their moorings often pass quite close since the channel is so narrow. But once evening arrives, things settle down. We go to bed when the sun goes down, so were fast asleep at midnight when I heard the rumble of a diesel engine. This made no sense to me as it was pitch black outside and there was no way a boat could navigate the narrow channel at night. At least no way it could be done successfully.

I sat up in my bunk to look out the open port light and saw a wall of steel passing by a few inches from my face. Then came the collision and I was knocked back onto the bunk, waking up Lisa.

This is the boat that ran into us. Bahamian Defense Force
This is the damage to the skin under the rail

Once i shook the cobwebs out of my head and realized what happened I went up on deck to look around. The Royal Bahamian Defense Force boat that hit us was by then tied up to the dock at park HQ. I hopped in the dinghy and met up with the captain. The questionable maneuvering that caused the accident aside, from here on out the folks involved were great. No question of fault, no question that they were good for the repairs.

As the insurance issues played out, I first contacted our carrier, Falvey, and they took charge of everything. A few months later we stopped in Nassau and the RBDF sent out someone to evaluate the damage and prepare an estimate. At this point we knew that the apparent damage was not that serious, but the experts were concerned that there might be hidden damage to the hull itself. That turned out not to be the case.

The RBDF folks wanted me to get the work done in the Bahamas. Although I have seen some exceptional glass work done in the Bahamas I wanted to take the boat home to get the work done and everyone involved agreed.

When we got back to Stuart, FL, our insurance agent asked where we would like to get the work done. The assigned surveyor suggested Hinkley in Stuart. If I were paying the bill I would maybe have suggested a yard I considered less expensive, but I wasn’t paying this one so agreed to Hinkley.

So here is my plug for Hinkley in Stuart. They did a beautiful job on the repair. They met their schedule. And they came in on cost below the estimate we had received from the yard selected by the RBDF in Nassau.

Since we were living aboard at the time, I kept an eye on when the workers were actually on our boat. Knowing their hourly rates, they never charged a minute of time they were not actually on the boat. No admin time, no time for getting and putting away tools, etc. And they new that this was an insurance job. So if you find yourself in central Florida and need work done, I can whole heartedly recommend Hinkley.

And a note about Falvey Insurance. Excellent service. Instead of leaving this for us to deal with the RBDF on our own, they stepped in between us and took over. Falvey said they would cover the repairs and then deal with the RBDF for recovery. This made everything quite simple for us. I have no idea how Falvey made out recovering the costs from the RBDF. I hope they got every penny, thank you.

Meanwhile, while at anchor now, every engine noise at night means a boat about to run us down. PTSD of sorts.

Exuma Land and Sea Park – Boo boo hill

There is a tradition with cruisers to leave a name plate on Boo Boo hill, the highest point on Warderick Wells. We looked for our Chasseur plate from 2011 but didnt find it in the rubble.

Lisa mounts our name plate. I doubt it survived the cold front that blasted through a few days later

The park is a great place to relax and enjoy the islands in as natural a state as possible these days. If you come, note there is no fresh water, no trash disposal, no store etc. But there is weak wifi! A bit expensive but if you gotta have it, you can get it. We have an Iridium Go and mail service through Ocens. For a quick email update, the sat phone approach is cheaper than buying wifi time. But for an hour on Facebook, get the wifi for the day.

The heart of the park is the horse shoe shaped mooring field at Warderick Wells. 16 or so balls arrayed in a narrow channel with swift current. You must call ahead to reserve/take one of these. See there web site to get the full story, maps, instructions, etc.

Best to arrive at slack unless you are pretty good at close quarters maneuvering in current. Well maintained gear. I dove on mine. 1″ rode to 1″ SS chain to large ring buried in the coral. I have never heard of one failing that was in good condition to begin with. But given the current, I have watched some boats run over the floats so I bet some get chewed up regularly.

The channel is deep, but narrow. Each of the balls is rated for a certain length boat. As you swing with the current your stern will pass over the shoals. Just step off the swim platform to 3 feet of water. Meanwhile your rudder will be in 10 feet. Disconcerting until you realize that the park folks have been doing this for a long time. Dont fib about your LOA.

On our ball at the park

photos from our stay in Tonga

Some Tongan friends getting ready for a Sunday outing

We spent about three months on Tonga last year while waiting for privateer to be built doing a house sit for the owners who returned for a stateside vacation. See my earlier post on the Tonga house sit. These are some photos from the trip that I am finally getting around to posting.
The resort is called Treasure Island Tonga, and is a popular place for swimming with the whales in season. This was the off season. No whales, and no tourists. Just the two of us on the island. Quite an experience

and our personal sunset

Our main job was to be sure the resort was ready for a cyclone. Here the workers are covering the dock with netting. They tied down all the structures and then we took them back to their home island to weather the storm. It turned out to be just a glancing blow to our island so we were lucky. With no services, there were none to loose! Plenty of water and our little Honda generator filled in for the drained batteries once the solar quit.

I photographed this fish every day for three months. Got only a few in focus

 

 

This was our “car” for three months. About 10 miles by boat to the nearest island with any services
we needed to get the boat off the beech at night. Cyclone season. This block and tackle worked, but it took more than Lisa and I could provide for muscle power
one day we hiked the back side of the island
the views from the windward side were impressive
the view from our falla, a thatched roof sleeping hut
Lisa doing pots and pans duty
Laundry day. The “hat” was for protection from the falling cocoanuts
a trip around the Vavaau on a go cart of sorts
Lisa chatting with a local legend

usually plenty of goods at the store, as long as you only need flour and sugar
our local work team takes time off for a traditional slow cooked lunch. They fed us well
Our work team came out to the island a few days a week to maintain the huts. palm fronds needed to be replaced every few years and it was tough work
these guys were pretty good sailors. But they thought nothing of putting 10-12 guys on a boat this size. They would stay out for 2-3 days fishing then come to our island to sleep for a day or two. We got fresh fish in return.
we usually came into Vavau once a week or so for provisions.We shopped for us and to feed the work crews that were with us mid week
one day we ran low on Heineken. A major crime. I hired a local charter skipper to bring emergency supplies in time for happy hour.
We beach the boat with the help of our trusty island dog.
It was the off season so the market was not as full as usual but we were able to stock up regularly with at least something fresh. Fresh tuna from the fishermen was $1.50 per pound.
I stayed pretty busy keeping the place running. Solar panels, batteries, generators, water catchment and the like
these guys are pretty good boat handlers. But they dont mind putting 10 big guys on a boat designed for four.

Cold fronts, and our approach.

This was our second cruise through the Bahamas so we had a good idea of what to expect from the weather. For those of you who are not all that familiar with Bahamian weather patterns, here is a short primer, focusing on the Exumas.

In the winter months, the Bahamas are mostly blanketed by the easterly trade winds. Expect 15-20 knots from the NE through the SE. When the winds pick up, then 20-30 from the same direction. Sometimes for days at a time. If you are in the Exumas and on the banks, then you are anchoring in the lee of the islands, protected from the surf and swells out in Exuma sound. But not protected from the wind. Few of the islands have enough elevation to significantly reduce wind speeds. As the winds pick up, the area of protection in the lee of the islands grows  bit, and if you can get in close enough to land you might get some protection from wind and chop, but for the most part, if the prevailing winds are 25-30 kts out in the sound, they will be nearly that strong in the anchorages so plan on it.

And then there are the cold fronts. They roll in from the US mainland every 5-10 days from Dec through February, with fewer and weaker ones as the season turns from winter to spring. As the fronts move SE through the chain, they weaken and stall. So usually they are strongest in the beginning of winter, say December and January, and stronger in the Abocos than in the Exumas. Much rarer in the T’s and C’s.

A strong front will cause the winds to first veer S to SW, then W to NW as the front passes, then return to NE trades when it is over. Figure 24-36 hrs. Assume the major shifts will occur at night. A weak cold front will bring the winds S at 25-30, then stall and back. A strong cold front will clock 360, with winds first in 30’s, gusting 40 from the S, then go nearly calm as the front comes overhead, then build to 40G45 from the west.

If you spend an entire winter season in the Exumas, figure on 8-10 fronts during that period. Most will stall out over you. A few will pass south and clock 360, and maybe one will be strong enough to bring on those gusts to 45 from the S and then W. So what do we do about all this commotion? If you take a cursory look at the Exumas chain, one thing is obvious. Plenty of places to hide in the lee of the islands when the trades are blowing. Few places to hide in the lee of anything when the winds are out of the S, or worse yet, the W. There are a few options, and my approach has been evolving.

On our first cruise we were on a heavy sailboat with good ground tackle. We rode out the weak fronts in place. We would swing to face south, deal with the fetch and wind, then swing back the next day. A little bouncy, no dinghy trips, but no big deal. We also ducked into a marina or two. This works well, but is expensive because you need to get there well in advance of the crowd, so will likely be tied up in your slip two days before the front arrives, then two days for the front to pass. So figure four days in a marina if you take that option.

Lastly, you can anchor in one of the few spots that provides protection from the west. This is one of the reasons Georgetown is such a popular place. They call it the G’town shuffle as 200 boats move from one side of the bay to the other with frontal passage. There are also a number of west facing coves and channels scattered throughout the chain. They are all well known, all obvious, and all very crowded during cold fronts. Personally, I would never go into one of these spots. Time for an aside (rant) here…

The Bahamas provide a wonderful cruising opportunity to to many sailors who do not have to deal with a significant offshore voyage such as a trip to the Caribbean requires. This can be good or bad. Other than the bare boaters in the Caribbean, everyone else has made a significant voyage to get there. Most likely they know how to sail, and anchor. Not so for the Bahamas. Motor down the ICW, day hop across the stream at Miami and you are here. Anyone can do it. And among those that make this trip are at least a few who shouldn’t. Either because their boat and gear are not up to the task or they aren’t. And some of them will anchor next to you. On a trade winds day, no problem. But in a tight anchorage filled with boats trying to ride out a 360 degree wind shift, big problem.

So here is my advice. If you are looking to hide from a strong cold front, do not go to a popular hidey hole anchorage. If Active Captain gives it a 4 or 5 star rating for cold front protection, say Bell Island for example, don’t go there. It will be too crowded and someone will most surely drag during the night. Better, take a look at the charts and find a spot that provides just some moderate protection from the fetch over the banks from a west wind. There will likely be no AC or anchor symbol there. There will also be no other boats there. Put out all the chain you want. maybe bounce a little in the chop. But relax.

Besides the anchoring and the marina option, there are also the park moorings. They are built to withstand most anything, to include hurricanes. We weathered a strong cold front on a Warderick Wells mooring this season. 40 knots from the south, then 45 from the west. The mooring field was full and all the boats survived just fine. But I am not sure my nerves could take that again. During the night of the 45 knots from the west our stern was no more than 100 feet from the rocks and I swear I could have stepped off the swim platform to the sand behind us. With just a half mile fetch across the horse shoe harbor the chop was two feet high. And our 600 lb dinghy, which i stupidly left tied out back, was going crazy.

Best bet for next time. The Hog Cay mooring field on the south end of Warderick Wells. Totally protected. Too small for any fetch. Or Cambridge Cay. Not protected from a west wind, but the shoals would cut the fetch.  Or anchored out alone by myself. If you want to have a park mooring as an option on your list, then become a park supporter for 100$ a year. It gets you a 24 hr jump on moorings.

I remember listening to the radio while prepping for the front due later that day at Warderick Wells. A boat was calling for a possible mooring, only to be told that the field was full. It had been for two days. On hearing that the field was full, the “captain” came back with, “… but where should we go?”  They likely went to Bell Island.