Cruising with Grace

13 September 2017 | Needham MA
11 September 2017 | Hingham MA
08 September 2017 | Hingham MA

How I got to where I am today.

13 September 2017 | Needham MA
In roughly 30 hours I’ll be retired. In 11 days I’ll set out on my journey.

The origins of this trip probably started when I was a child. My father was a passionate sailor – even though he lived in western Mass and had only lakes to sail on. He and a friend had an old Star (racing sailboat designed in the 1920s). They would buy ripped sails and broken masts, repair them, and then go out sailing during the thunderstorms that rolled through the Berkshires. Sails would rip, masts would break, but they had spares and could go out again! I remember as a child going for evening sails. I would crawl up under the foredeck and fall asleep in the ropes.

When I was in college in Durham NH, I took possession of my father’s Comet-class sailboat, called LuLu after his mother because it was painted lavender – her favorite color. A friend dropped out of college, bought a 32’ sailboat, and took it down the ICW to the Bahamas and then back before Christmas. This was in roughly 1973 – before GPS, Cruising Guides, weather-maps-on-your-phone, etc. I moved to New York, had a friend with a 24’ sailboat and I would do weekend races with him. When I moved back to Boston, I joined sailing clubs. You get the picture.

But this trip really originated from two events.

In 1995ish, my wife, two sons and I had a vacation on Mt Desert Island in Maine. One day we were walking along the rocky shores of a cove off Somes Sound, and met an older couple looking in the rocks for periwinkle snails to cook for dinner. Out in the cove was a 40’ sailboat at anchor. This was their boat, and they said every spring they sailed up from Florida to New England, and then every late fall, they sailed back. What a wonderful way to live, I thought.

Then around 2002, knowing my interest in sailing, my boss gave me a book called “An Embarrassment Of Mangos”, by Ann Vanderhoof. This is a wonderful book about a couple’s two year sojourn to the Caribbean, with recipes for each place they spent time. (BTW – this book has been described as ‘Under the Tuscan Sun meets the wide open sea’. Very appropriate). I was hooked.

Two years later, I bought my first ‘big boat’ – a Catalina 30 called Peripatetic, and started to think about what kind of boat would be good for this journey. Ten years later, I was watching YouTube videos, and thinking about how much this trip would cost.

And now I’m in the last stages of getting ready to go. It’s always good to have a goal, and a plan, and then see it come together.

Getting Grace Ready To Go

11 September 2017 | Hingham MA
Alex Cullen
People dreaming about a trip like this often are very interested in the boat.

I acquired Grace in 2015, to replace a Catalina 30. When I was searching for a boat, my requirements could be summed up as 'the boat I'll be going down the ICW and to the Bahamas in'. Specifically:

- Shoal draft. The ICW is shallow in spots, as is the Bahamas. Grace draws 4.3'
- 6+ kt cruising speed under power. There is a lot of motoring, and sometimes against the current and waves. Grace has a 27hp Perkins and a 3 blade prop.
- Swim platform in stern. I love swimming off the boat, and sitting on the platform with a beer in my hand.
- Anchor windless. Yes, I can pull up the anchor by hand, and have many times, but a windless is a nice thing!

Complete set of electronics was a nice-to-have, as I could add what I needed. Grace came with autopilot (required), chartplotter with radar, speed, depth and wind. More on the autopilot and chartplotter later...

This past January, I made my list of needed enhancements:
- 2nd reef on main.
- Foam luff on genoa.
- Spinnaker (ok - this was an impulse buy, not on the list).
- Larger anchor with more chain in the rode.
- RIB kit for my Walker Bay dinghy.
- Bimini, and awning for when at anchor.
- Bigger alternator, smart charging system (from Sterling Electronics) and new batteries. Grace came with a 55 amp alternator and two 4D AGM batteries - resulting in chronic undercharging and damage to the batteries.
- Various and sundry smaller enhancements.

But of course, things never end up as expected.
This summer I decided I needed to replace the autopilot - an Autohelm ST4000, with something that had better tracking abilities in windier conditions. In the process of installing a Raymarine S1 Evolution system, my chartplotter stopped receiving GPS signals. Should be easy to solve - right? Well, after many hours trying to solve this (including new GPS antenna), I threw in the towel and bought a new chartplotter.

Then, on the way to the dock to calibrate the autopilot, my transmission failed! Also should be (relatively) easy - just purchase a new ZF10 transmission and install it. Well, it turns out the Hurth ZF isn't making the ZF 10 anymore, and nobody wants to rebuild them because of parts availability. The recommended replacement is a ZF 12 - except that it is slightly bigger... That meant raising the engine and modifying some fiberglass work. I'm fortunate I have a great, responsive mechanic (Tedd Gwilliams, if any is looking for one).

All this together was about $5k more than budgeted. Oh, well, you know what they say about B O A Ts...

However, now, with 2 ½ weeks until departure, everything is set and 'almost' ready to go.

Introduction - our voyage

08 September 2017 | Hingham MA
Alex Cullen
I'd thought about calling this blog "our voyage of discovery" (after Lewis & Clark), but decided that was a little too much - even though it will be a 'voyage of discovery'.

I've spent the last 40+ years in professional employment, raising two sons with my wife of 31 years, paying bills, tending to things, etc. In one week, I'll be retired. My boat Grace, a 1995 Catalina 320, has spent her life in Long Island sound and New England coastal waters. We (Grace & I) plan this fall to go down the east coast of the US (traveling via the Inter-coastal Waterway) to Florida, then over to the Bahamas, returning next spring. This blog will recount for my friends the passages, sights, happenings and people I meet along the way, and also include some philosophical musings as I explore a new stage in my life.

I have about three weeks before planned departure. This time is being spent going through two long 'To-Do' lists - one for retirement, the other for our trip. My specific plans are to solo sail to Norfolk VA (my wife has a few more years of working), join the other cruisers in Wally Moran's Sail to the Sun rally, find a place to leave Grace in Fla for 3 weeks while I come back north for my mother's 90th birthday and Christmas, and then cross over the gulf stream by early January.

I'm also watching the path of Hurricane Irma, and Jose after that, and the damage they will cause to Georgia, Florida and the Bahamas.

It's important to have a goal and plan - get to the Bahamas by early January, but also a 'Plan B' - if the hurricanes cause a lot of damage, then go as far as I can and see what's next. And maybe even a 'Plan C' - if this turns out not to be the year for this trip.

Let's hope for Plan A or maybe Plan B!
Vessel Name: Grace
Vessel Make/Model: Catalina 320
Hailing Port: Needham MA
Crew: Alex Cullen
Extra: This trip will be my 'transition to retirement'
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Grace's Photos -