Day 9: Shakedown Cruise Complete!
19 February 2018 | Ponce inlet and St. Augustine
Calm and Dewey
I was sleeping like the dead until a drop of morning dew fell from the outriggers above me and landed on my forehead. It was 0630 and the Anchorage was calm and glassy. The sunrise was glorious. The sailboat anchored nearby was starting to move. The whole boat and my sleeping bag was covered in dew. If I hadn't been so tired, I would have set up the teepee tent and zipped up the canvas enclosure to avoid this situation, but I didn't care. I knew that as soon as the sun rose a bit more and 25 knots of wind hit everything underway, that everything would dry out in no time. The salty morning air was delightful, and the fish were jumping. I boiled some water on my camp stove, and made french press Costa Rican coffee and some ramen noodles.
I headed over to the fuel dock and took on 220 gallons of gas. I had roughly 15 gallons remaining is each tank, which is nice to know, but I don't want to get that close to empty again. The fuel guy was also a musician, and he asked lots of questions about the trip and we had a nice chat. He said I could have tied up last night if I'd wanted too, but I'm glad I didn't. The anchorage was awesome, and it was the first time I'd slept out on this boat, which was one of the goals of the trip.
Overall, the trip was a great success. All major systems performed flawlessly. I got to test the boat in extreme conditions and learn more about how she handles. Although we broke a few things like the shower, nav lights, hailer, and spun a hub, those are all relatively minor, easy fixes. I was surprised we didn't break more, and I'm happy that this boat is so solid. That's the whole point of the shakedown cruise after all. I'll fix all that stuff and make it more bulletproof, and I've come up with a few more modifications and spares that I'd like to have for the Great Circle Loop.
I cruised home the last 50 miles, and it was uneventful, other than a few dolphins and some seagulls that rode inches above the water in my ground effect. It was cool to feel like the auspices were leading me home. The music was cranked up and the wind blew my crazy ass hair.
As I approached the St. Augustine Bridge of Lions around 11:30, I saw the Marine Sheriff and Fire in their big beautiful boat and hailed them over. Josh and Chris are great guys to have around and they are friends of mine. I try to help them hunt down local pirates, and they caught one while I was away. We stopped and chatted for a few minutes about the trip, and it just felt good to be back in familiar waters.
Mary was waiting for me at the dock. I tossed her the lift keys with their new Space X, Remove Before Launch, keychain, and we put Mombo back on her thru flow, no profile, lift platform. I had just made some modifications to the lift and she fit like a glove. Mary had my favorite breakfast waiting for me, a traditional Irish breakfast, complete with black and white pudding, actual rashers, and Heinz baked beans. We spent the rest of the day getting caught up on work, laundry, and cleaning and re-organizing the boat.
This will be the last blog for a while, until WE start the Great Loop. That's right, my 1st Mate is looking to make some life changes and she's coming with me. Send me a text or PM if we are coming your way and you want to join the crew for a few hours or days. We want to share this experience with people we love all over the US and Canada. The more the Mary-er. Sea what I did there?
Day 8: Alone Across the Stream
18 February 2018 | Elbow Cay to Ponce Inlet
Calm seas and a 2.5 knot push from the stream
Waking up at 0600 after only 5 hours of sleep was not easy, but I caught a burst of energy as I looked out to the East from the golf cart to the open Atlantic. I saw, that for the first time all week, the normally 6 foot crashing waves on the Windward side of the island were nearly completely calm. I had really hoped to stay longer, but there was a great weather window, and the seas would be starting to build later in the day and into the next week. I considered flying home and coming back for the boat later, but decided to seize the day. I double checked all systems, and got underway, alone, by 0700.
The boat seemed happy as I zoomed north over the glassy Sea of Abaco at 29-30 knots, constantly checking all systems were go. The tide was high, so I didn’t even have to slow down for Don’t Rock Passage. I made it to Spanish Cay by 0830, topped of the fuel, grabbed a cup of coffee, and was underway again by 0900. I set the auto pilot, cranked some tunes, listened to the news, ate some snacks. It was so calm I didn’t even spill my coffee at 30 knots. I was making great time.
Once I got to the edge of Lilly bank, and off the shelf into deep water, I had 2 options. Head back to Justin’s dock in Stuart, or cut the corner NW to make cape Canaveral. I got off the shelf, and it was still calm. I went for the Cape. About halfway across, I did some rough calculations or range, fuel, average speed, etc, and decided there was now a 3rd option. It would be close, but I might be able to shave another half day off the return trip if I could make Ponce Inlet by sundown. I turned the helm 15 degrees north and went for it.
There were a few strange things that happened weather wise in the stream, but that’s normal, and I’ll spare you the details. I slowed down as I approached for best fuel economy/ speed ratio. By 5:30 pm, as the sun was starting to set, I knew I would make it, but the fuel was going to be tight. At that point, I didn’t care, as I have towing insurance and I was now within easy towing range. I tried to get a marina, but by the time I was 15 miles offshore and in range, the offices were closed.
I glided in the Ponce Inlet, known for its shifting shoals, behind a charter fishing boat. I passed the Inlet Harbor Marina, and saw a cruising sailboat anchored up, tucked just inside the intersection between the ICW and the channel going to the inlet. I gave him a few hundred yards for privacy, and dropped the hook with my all chain remote windlass. Looking at my fuel gauge, it read 0 fuel remaining. I took a quick shower on the aft deck, blew up my queen air mattress, cracked my last beer, turned on the anchor lights, snuggled up in the Sea to Summit sleeping bag, and sent a bunch of texts to let people know I made it safely. The sound of live music from a nearby bar put me right to sleep by 8 pm. I slept with a smile, proud to have made it 300 miles in a single day, by myself, across the Gulf Stream, in ideal conditions.
Day 7: Swimming Pigs and Grabbers
17 February 2018 | Marsh Harbor, Elbow Cay, No Name Cay, Great Guana Cay
Calm perfect weather
Mary, Ben and I woke up at 10, fired up the engines, and picked up Wyatt at Firefly, before heading across the Sea of Abaco to Marsh Harbor. We fueled up the boat, and had a nice breakfast with his kind, lovely wife Kelly, who had just arrived by airplane. We the headed back to Firefly to pick up Gelbuda and Amber, before making the 40 minute run north to No Name Cay.
We anchored up in 3 feet of water and Amber, the pig whisperer, was off like a shot to go see her babies. These feral island pigs were imported to this uninhabited Cay, where they forage and feed on whatever nature, the local caretakers and the tourists feed them. Based on the number of newborn pigs, it’s looks like they have been breeding quite prolifically. Apparently they like coconuts as well, because there was a mountain of them. It was a pretty cool sensation to take a slice of apple and feed it right into their cute little sandy snouts. Nobody was bitten, which is always nice.
After the pigs had had their fill, we leisurely crossed back south to a quaint beach bar called Grabbers on Great Guana Cay. We anchored up out front and waded into the bar. We met up with some friends there on another boat, had some appetizers and flew the drone as the sun set. It was a perfect boat day, with a great crew, and we finished it off with some more fine live acoustic entertainment that night.
Day 6: Boat Pub Crawl and Warmer Weather
15 February 2018 | Pete’s Pub and Harbors Edge
Mary and I felt much better today, having slept from 0300 to 10:30. We left the treehouse on the golf cart and cruised along the beach to the Abaco Inn, where the Lobster Benedict did not disappoint. A few coffees and Bloody Mary's later, and we had assembled a fine crew of thirsty music lovers for the 30 minute trip south to Pete's Pub, in Little Harbor, which is about the furthest south one can go in the Abacos. Having been a deep draft sailor most of my life, I'm still getting used to going 28 knots over 5 feet of water, but my preparation of reading the guide books, studying the charts, and talking to people with local knowledge paid off. We made it there without incident, and everyone was all smiles as we glided into the sun bleached dock, and rendezvoused with our other friends from the festival.
Crew List, 11 Souls on Board:
1st Mate and 1st wife Mary Newman
Pirate Master Ben Fagan from the Holy City Hooligans
Mark Bryant from Hootie and the Blowfish
Sarah, Mark's awesome girlfriend
Wyatt Durrette, songwriter for Zac Brown Band
The talented Nashville songwriter Lauren Jenkins
The soulful singer Kylie Rae Harris from Texas
Event photographer Brooke Stevens
Pig whisperer/yoga with goats instructor Amber Worrick
My favorite musician and friend Chris Gelbuda.
It was just one of those wonderful beach bar days like you would see in the brochure. Hanging out with new friends. Eating coconut cracked conch. Playing ring toss. Sipping cold drinks in the hot sun. Laughing, playing music and carrying on intelligent conversation with new friends and interesting people.
As the day waned, we cut back across the clear sandy water at magic hour, and dropped the artists at the Firefly to get ready for the show. Mary, Ben and I slipped the boat back in it's slip, cleaned and rinsed her off, and golf carted back to the treehouse to get ready. We met up with the group in a golf cart caravan and made it to the beautiful seaside bar, Harbor's Edge, for the nights entertainment. The show was amazing as always, but it was extra special for me because Buda played a song I requested called Waiting For Me By The Shore, which was well received, and then Wyatt dedicated a song he wrote, called Colder Weather, to me and Mary. He even included a 3rd verse which was cut from the studio version.
That song was my anthem for a while in 2015. It had deep meaning to me from a cold lonely time in my life, after my parents had died. I was in Montana on a contract job, working 12 hour days for the better part of 5 months, on a nuclear, chemical, biological, EMP protected, 12,000 sf apocalypse bunker for a billionaire. I was lonely, and I missed my wife. I really missed my parents. My bank account was getting full but I felt empty inside. That song spoke to me at a hard time in my life, and I would sing along with it as I drove around the Montana countryside home through the snow. It was such a great feeling to have the writer himself dedicate it to us. The irony was not lost on me as I sang along with him in a totally opposite state of mind and location. I was smiling, with my wife, on a boat named after my mom, harmonizing with country star James Otto, while standing along a dock and leaning on a piling, in the freaking Bahamas. We are definitely in warmer weather now. Life is funny that way. The weather changes sometimes with our state of mind and the company we keep.
We finished off the night, and the morning, with another strong family jam session. There was lots of laughter and even a few tears as we all sang along in harmony to some beautiful songs performed by Channing Wilson, James Otto, Johnny Bulford, Buda, and Ben Fagan, among others.
Like the ocean, and the weather, music is a powerful force. For better or worse, however you choose to expose yourself to it can change your experience with it.
Day 5: Rum Punch in the head
14 February 2018 | Marsh Harbor and Sea Spray Marina
Calm Weather but a rough head
This day started out rough, and I'm not talking about the weather. The festivities from the night before had taken their toll and I had a screaming headache and little sleep. Maybe that's why the call it rum punch, because I felt like I'd been beaten the night before. I managed to rouse myself, take the golf cart over to Sea Spray Marina, and get underway slowly by myself. I cruised over to pick up an equally groggy Gelbuda at the Firefly docks, and we then crossed the short passage across the Sea of Abaco to Abaco Beach Resort where we found our imported women fresh off the plane, giggling, and drinking some very strong rum punch. Mary and Amber were excited to be in paradise, but thankfully they were tired from a long work week and travel day, so we zipped back across the crystal turquoise water and returned the boat to it's slip. Mary and I relaxed in our solar treehouse for the rest of the day.
That evening we got treated to another great round of music at Sea Spray Marina. Channing Wilson, Johnny Bulford, and Matt Warren all have diverse skill sets and different deliveries, but by the end of each song they played, I found myself singing along with their lyrics and relating to each song in my own way. The night got interesting when Mike Mills (REM), who had been living on a boat nearby for many months, was invited to sit in with Mark Bryan, who wrote most of the songs and played them with Hootie and the Blowfish. After the performances were over, most of the musicians and their guest were all graciously invited over to a well appointed mega yacht called Sweetwater, where the artists passed around a guitar on the flybrige, and everyone sang along campfire style. The combined level of skill and talent on that vessel was a sight to see and a joy to hear. I'd only known these people for about 30 hours, but as we all smiled and sang along together, it felt like family. These are the kind of hangs we live for.
Day 4: Crossing to Paradise
13 February 2018 | Gulf Stream, Sea of Abaco, Firefly Resort
Nasty and and confused seas turning to beautiful and calm
Feb 13, Day 4
Ben and I woke up at 0500 and were underway from Justin's dock at 0530.
As I powered up the vessel I noticed the nav lights weren't working. They had been the day before. Fortunately, sunrise was only an hour or so away and there was a fishing boat heading out, so we followed him out the Stuart inlet. Conditions were not much better than the previous day. We couldn't cruise at more than 12 knots, because the 4-6' seas were very confused. I tried virtually every combination quartering the waves, and various RPM's on the twin Suzuki 250's. The waves were just coming from what seemed like every direction. We slammed quite a lot and took constant spray. I was soaking wet and getting cold, but the rising sun inspired me to tough it out. Ben got creative and stuck his head through a trash bag, which made me laugh as his outfit slapped in the wind.
The trip was slow and steady. We were very uncomfortable but safe. It took 5 hours, rather than 2, to cross the Gulf Stream to the Lilly Bank in these conditions, but we reassured ourselves that the payoff would be worth it. It was! Once we reached the Bahama Bank, the ~2000 foot deep cobalt blue water changed to turquoise as the shelf rose 20 feet of water. It was a beautiful sight, akin to passing through the gates of salty hell into heavenly waters! The waves settled to 2' chop, which the catamaran hull just glided over as I increased speed to 28 knots.
Ben somehow actually managed to take a nap, while I piloted us past Great Sale Cay en route to Spanish Cay. We reached Spanish at 2 pm, cleared customs with a smile, topped off the gas, and by 3pm we were underway, dodging reefs and zipping over shallow water at full speed. We got lucky again at Don't Rock passage, which can be very tricky to navigate with shifting sands and various prop destroying hazards at only 3-6 foot depths. We followed a local boat right through, rather than having to feel the way through ourselves. We made it to Elbow Cay and tied up at Sea Spray marina by 4:45. We washed the boat, ate some nachos at Gaffers Pub, poured a stiff drink, and grabbed the golf cart I had reserved. We bounced along the stunningly beautiful ocean side with all of Ben's musical equipment and navigated on the left side of the road to our solar powered treehouse Airbnb. After a quick splash of water on our salty faces, we dropped the bags and golf carted over to meet our new musical family at Firefly Resort.
Despite a long and exhausting day of endurance and adventure, we caught a second wind as soon as we felt the warm embrace and booming voice of the legend himself, Mr. Chris Gelbuda. I knew that we were about to meet some wonderful and talented people, and all I can say is, it was worth it and my high expectations were blown out of the water by the assembled team of Songwriters in Paradise. This music event was started 6 years ago by Patrick Davis. He brings together an A team of some of the best songwriters in the country. Grammy award wining, multi platinum kind of people. Most importantly they are kind. And real. Nobody puts on airs or acts too cool for school, despite some legendary musical accomplishments. You've all probably heard their songs, but you probably associate them with the A list performers rather that the songwriters, who tend to live behind the scenes.
As we walked down the hill towards dozens of masts anchored out front and the setting sun over the Sea of Abaco, I just felt happy inside. Firefly Beach resort has a great vibe, a nice dock, pools, a quaint beach, some of the best food in all of the Bahamas, and most importantly a really fun bar. Then the music started. Each of the performers performed 2 songs, as an introduction night. I wasn't sure what to expect, but as soon as I heard the first few songs, I knew we came to the right place. You see, while I have eclectic tastes in music, I'm a sucker for a good, lyrical, acoustic ballad. It's my favorite kind of music. It was fun to hear Buda sit in with other artists and perform songs that they co-wrote together.
It was a beautiful evening all around that led into the wee hours of the morning as we had those kind of "get to know you" conversations. But these people were different, and interesting, and super talented and witty. My intuition told me that not only were we in for some great music all week, but that I was going to make some new awesome friends. I might have even recruited some crew members for the Great Loop, as we are headed to places like Charleston, Nashville and Muscle Shoals along the way.
When Wyatt Durrette, who has a ridiculously impressive 14, #1 hits, (Zac Brown Band) sang the lyrics to a particular song, I teared up as I sang along. "Maybe I'm crazy, maybe you are too, but I'd walk the desert, swim the seven oceans just to be here with you." It felt like the story of the past 4 days of my life getting here, and it moved me, which is the highest compliment I can give a song.
Mombo had made it to Hope Town. Now hurry up and slow down. Ho o o o o o oh. O o o o hopetown.
Gulf Stream Fail! Lemons to lemonade
12 February 2018 | 30 nm offshore to the middle of the Gulf Stream and back
A bit stacked up but improving conditions
Ben and I woke up at 0600, made coffee, and were underway towards the open ocean by 0630. My new crewmenber is Ben Fagan. He is a multi platinum songwriter, 1st place winner of the CBS reality TV show Pirate Master, and has been voted #1 male vocalist, musician, and band by the community of Charleston for several years. Him and I are friends from Costa Rica and own property near each other there. We've had some fun in the jungle doing ATV, waterfall, and musical adventures and have sailed in the BVI together. We make a good 2 man team. I'm so excited that he made the time to come with me in between gigs in Charleston and a tour of Costa Rica that he begins in 10 days.
As we left the inlet, the seas were about 3-5' with the wind from the SE. They were stacked up pretty tight. I plowed up with the bow high, just below planing speeed and we cruised along at 15 knots, occasionally slamming, and only slightly off course to properly quarter the waves. All was going well. We were cranking tunes, and every time we got deeper the wave period increased, along with our speed. We had been cruising at 23 knots, 30 miles offshore, halfway to the Bahama Bank, and while not ideal, we were looking good. In the middle of the Gulf Stream.
Then zzZzZzZzZz! The revs kicked up on the Port engine to redline. I throttled back and after investigating the situation, in the 5 foot swells, quickly determined that the problem was likely the Starboard lower unit. This part of the engine is like the transmission in a car. It's a series of gears that bring engine power to the propeller. Mine had been rebuilt 2 years ago after taking in some water into the oil. It's a complicated job so this was likely the obvious culprit. We had lost propulsion in one engine. After some debate, we decided to head back rather than try to fix it in the Bahamas. After about 5 minutes with my head down reading, and working the problem, while sloshing around in the waves, I became seasick. I haven't been seasick in a decade, and it's a rare thing for me. I'm usually Iron Stomach, but not today.
Puking over the side, turning around in failure, with a hangover, I felt like crawling up into a ball on the floor and pouting like a baby. I was debilitated by the sickness. Where was a tree when you need one? My big crossing day that I had been planning for a long time was falling apart. But I kept my mind state practical and tried to stay positive. I was still in command of a small boat offshore and needed to keep my wits about me.
As we limped back to land on one engine at 6-7 knots for 4 hours, in a following sea, my condition improved. Having Ben and his positive attitude around was nice. As we approached land, my seasickness began to abate. I held down some food and water, and I turned on the cell phone signal booster and had Justin, Scott, Mary, and my friend Conrad in the keys all making calls to find me a trailer/place to haul out, and a new lower unit. They lit a fire under me, and I determined I was going to bust my ass and hustle to get back on the water ASAP.
I had Mary look at flights just in case. They weren’t cheap.
We made it to Justin's dock house at 1pm, got in his car, found a used lower unit for half price and talked a grumpy travelift operator named Jack into hauling us out and keeping us in the slings until we swapped out the $2000 used lower unit. We had to be done by 5pm or grumpy Jack would be mean. We went back to Justin’s. He went to get Lulu from school. I took the boat to Jack’s lift. I had graciously thanked him in the office and told him I appreciated his kindness. He said don’t tell anybody that he was nice. I said, yeah, I wouldn’t want to ruin your reputation. He cracked a smile.
As he hauled the boat out of the water at 3:30 and it floated down the road in the slings, I said, “hey jack, if you weren’t so ugly, I’d kiss you right now.” This time I got a full smile. Now we’re getting somewhere.
As I watched the boat move, a thought occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t a damaged lower unit, but maybe a spun hub. I never really diagnosed the problem at sea. I just assumed it was the whole lower unit. As soon as the boat stopped, I jumped on, put both engines in gear, checked the lower unit gear oil, and it was clean, no metal on the magnetic plug. I was right! I knew at that moment that it could get done.
We went back to the mechanic, where they were prepping the $2000 (plus rush install fees) unit. We cancelled that order and bought a used propeller, sent the old one to be re-hubbed, and ordered a spare for the port side. We went back to the boat. 9 year old Lulu supervised and gave Ben the inquisition, while Justin put on the prop nut, and I topped off the gear lube. 5 minutes later, we were heading back up the road and swingin’ in the slings. Ben had grabbed some burgers to go. We had not eaten much all day, were getting some sunburn, dehydrated, hungover, and recovering from seasickness, but I felt great as the boat splashed down at 4:35. We topped off the fuel, parked, ate burgers, jumped in pool, and cracked beers. I wish they had been margaritas, because we turned lemons to lemonade.
Total cost: $300 for the used prop. $200 for the haul! Someone else can have the expensive unit they prepped! Mine appears fine. I tipped the mechanics, and the haul out guys too. I’m so grateful it turned out to be relatively cheap and easy, despite the hassle. Everyone’s a winner.
As I sit here about to go to bed early, so we can get underway at 0330, I’m realized once again why I love doing shit like this. The salty grit, and sunny determination, combined with endurance and adventure. I could do with a bit less seasickness though. Meeting a challenge that seemed impossible and winning. Making Grumpy Jack smile. It looks like Neptune is going to smile on us too. The seas are continuing to lie down, and so will I.
Tomorrow, we will try again.
Cape Canaveral to Stuart
11 February 2018 | McLane Dock
Windy and Choppy
I woke up at Sam's house, and after a quick shower, I went downstairs to enjoy a delicious traditional Indian (Gujarati) breakfast of Chai tea and yummy cracker breads. Sam was kind enough to drop me back at the marina and toss off the lines.
Cruising back down the glassy canal by myself for 20 minutes was the best part of the cruise. The rest of the day was inside the ICW, but in very wide and exposed areas with 20 kts of wind right on the nose and quite heavy chop. The catamaran design and vectro flow hull sliced right through the chop and I made great time most of the day. Every time I had to stop for a bridge or no wake zone, however, the boat would sneeze and it became frustrating to get salty spray on my face and have to clean my sunglasses repeatedly. I was also using the back shower and broke the sprayer, which was old and brittle from UV damage. Breaking and replacing small items like this is part of the reason for the shakedown cruise. It's important to dicover any weaknesses or deficiencies in the vessel and rectify or improve them.
Just south of Vero beach, I came across a bad boating accident, just moments after it happened. See the attached pic of the overturned boat. Two people had fairly serious injuries, and while I offered to assist with my med kit and first aid, others were already on it. The injured parties had been plucked out of the water onto another boat and were just about to be taken to a local hospital. The USCG was notified by VHF, and they were onsite within 5 minutes, which I found very impressive. One of the few areas in life where I feel we get a good value for our tax dollars.
The chop got worse as I approached Stuart, but I arrived safely. The boat was fueled up, and across the way my old buddy Justin had been eyeballing me and was waiting at his dock. Justin is a solar integrator, restraunteur, and all around construction project managing badass. I gave Mombo a nice bath. We went shopping and had happy hour, which was a great time to catch up and reconnect with his beautiful wife Angeline and their 3 adoroable children. Then the guests began to arrive for the dinner party. Scott, a charter boat Cap'n and boat broker, has been to the Bahamas hundreds of times, and in 10 minutes gave me more useful local knowledge, navigation tips, and fun places to go than all the months of reading charts, forums and guide books. Thanks Scott! Kind experts like Scott are not only important sources of intel, but they remind me of how much I love the boating community. His wife Christy and friend Lance were also great company.
Our friend Shana and her husband Dean, who run Pura Vida Dive Shop in Palm Beach, were nice enough to pick up my crew member Ben Fagan from Palm Beach airport and drive him up an hour. We hung out on the boat, had an amazing meal cooked by the McLane's, and the conversation and company was fantastic and interesting. Justin's daughter Lulu plays the violin as was enamored with Ben and is now his biggest fan. We all became fast friends and had a wonderful evening. I had trouble falling asleep with some anxiety for the crossing, but finally got to bed around midnight.
Thanks again for the hospitality Justin and Angeline!
Day 1, St. Aug to Space X
11 February 2018 | Cape Canaveral
Thick fog and choppy
Day 1: A very auspicious start to the journey! I had been planning to do this initial leg solo, ~110nm from our home base in St. Augustine, to Cape Canaveral. However, my trusty delivery crew member, and go-to construction project partner, Justin Ackley, decided to join me at the last minute. We got underway a bit late at 0830 in heavy fog. Visibility was only 20 feet or so. We put on the radar and fog horn and slowly got underway. I know these waters well, and wanted to ease out of the gate anyways. Just a few hundred yards off the dock, we encountered a degrading floating mylar balloon, with the words "Let's Party" on it. Hope you guys had a nice party. I know the turtles would love to eat your stupid balloon. We recovered the balloon before it was ingested, and through the fog a dolphin jumped right in front of us. We passed many local fishing boats and were grateful to see them on the radar as we crept along at 6kts. The fog lifted at 10:30 and as I advanced the throttle to cruising speed the boat just felt smooth as...! The fresh oil, gas, and gear lube, combined with glassy water and the lifting fog were magical, with several dolphins playing gracefully on all sides.
We ran the ditch south, cruising at 25 kts, seeing a few manatee, and slowing for various no wake/ manatee zones. The beautiful houses and pristine marsh rolled by. Pelicans were dive bombing and killing it. As we entered Mosquito and Indian Rivers, there was a decent nasty little short chop kicked up by the 15-20 knots of wind over the shallow shoals outside the cut, but the catamaran design and vectro flow hull made short work of it, and the boat just rolled right over it like it wasn't there. Didn't even spill my coffee. We watched the mono hulls slamming and sloshing about, struggling, while our Sirius Jam On station and Ari Fink played familiar music and set a nice vibe.
I had done this route once before with Maritime Historian Brendan Burke, when we returned our research vessel Empire Defender home after my first season working with LAMP in 2016, so it all seemed familiar. Going forward, we will be putting unfamiliar water through the sponsons.
We arrived at Harbortown Marina to find my friend Sam Patel, the Launch Engineer for Space X, waiting for us at the fuel dock. We filled her up, rinsed her down, cracked some beers, and went to the lovely waterfront bar and had a nice meal. Sam gave us the inside scoop on the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which happened a few days ago. It was just mind blowing to nerd out with him on all the details of the mission, testing, and successful launch of this rocket into the history books. It was great to celebrate the hard earned victory that him and his team achieved. All of humanity should be proud of this accomplishment. I know I am, because I like using my GPS over a sextant and Loran C. This opens a whole new world of bigger, better, cheaper satellites into space.
After Justin's wife Dallas came and picked him up, Sam and I went back to his house and had the kind of conversation that I live for. Intelligent, thoughtful, educational, insightful, meaningful kind of stuff. He has been a gracious host, and gave me a Space X T-shirt and some other super cool gifts as well as a place to lay my head for the night. He also invited me for a private tour of the Space X facilities, which will require some paperwork that I'm more than happy to fill out! I can't wait! Thanks so much to Sam and Justin for the love, help and support. I truly couldn't imagine a more wonderful way to start the trip.
Tomorrow, I'll be getting underway early, solo, for the 89nm trip down to Stuart, FL. A private house, dock and a dear old friend and co-worker await! This goes back to the contract I did workling on a nuclear, chemical, biological, EMP protected underground apocalypse bunker for a billionaire in Montana, but that's a different story and I'm pretty sure the NDA is still in effect.
My jungle buddy, the Master of Pirates himself, Señor Ben Fagan, will be flying in from Charleston to jump on as crew for the next 8 days, as soon as he finishes spreading the love playing a gig tonight! Who needs a radio when you have a badass mariachi as crew? We might, but I hope he isn't off duty the whole time.
Personal Background & Shakedown Bahamas Prep
08 February 2018 | Boat House
55* and foggy/windy
This is my first blog post ever! I'm extremely excited to finally start a journey that's been almost 20 years in the making. America's Great Circle Loop is a ~6000nm journey around the eastern half of the US and parts of Canada by water. It goes through the arteries of America, and there are so many side creeks and river trips, locks, quaint towns, etc that I don't know where to begin, so I'll just ease into that as we go and see where the voyage leads us. After all, there's probably not much point in blogging about things I hope to do, but suffice it to say that I've got a helluva trip planned, and expect to have some of the finest company along the way. As my Dad used to say, "There's no point in buying it, if you can't share it with people you love."
The first stop is a long awaited shakedown Cruise to the Bahamas, but first, a little background on how I ended up here. It's a long story, but I'll try to summarize. I grew up in the Midwest, and while ski boats on lakes, and Jon boats, sunfish, river canoes and rafting, were all a big part of my childhood, I never really expected to become a man of the sea. I had never even spent the night on a boat until I was 22, and that was because I was dating a girl named Oceana, and she was raised on a Sailboat in California. I didn't know people did that, but after that night, the seed was planted. So when a few months later I found myself working in NYC on a PBS Documentarian salary, and living on my brothers couch, unable to afford the rent, it clicked. Maybe I can live on a boat in NY? Do people do that? Turns out they did. So I borrowed $20k, and moved onto a boat in Liberty State Park, across the Hudson in New Jersey.
I can still remember the day I bought that 1979 Catalina 30 in 1999. On the 2 hour sail to my slip, the seller said to me, "I can teach you how to sail today, but it'll take you the rest of your life to become a sailor." That stuck with me, and as I was continually challenged over the next 2 decades, I did learn, that there was always more to learn when boats and Mother Nature are involved. It was at this time that I first learned you could head up the Hudson River, and go all the way to Chicago. It was part of the great loop. I fantasized about taking a small boat and doing it, and I vowed to do it some day. Turns out some day starts tomorrow, 19 years later!
The Catalina lasted a year. I had found an adventurous woman who wanted to move in and we needed a bigger boat. So we signed a "pre-nautical agreement" and bought a 1983 Corbin 39' Pilothouse that had been outfitted by a good friend to sail the world. I sold the Catalina, parked both boats next to each other, and had the easiest move of my life, just passing all my earthly possessions from one boat to the other.
I had since switched jobs to do Associate Producing and Location Sound for National Geographic Channels International, and everything was going well until 9/11/2001. That's a whole different traumatic story, but after that day, we began to plan to leave, and a year later, we were underway, headed south. We went through the ICW during an ice storm, made it to Beaufor, NC, where I worked at a shipyard for a few weeks with a pirate named Horatio Sinbad, while waiting for a weather window. Then we crossed over to Bermuda, but couldn't make landfall because of hurricane force winds caused by an extra tropical cyclone. We published an article about that 12 day knarly, life threatening storm in Blue Water Sailing Magazine. 16 people died in that storm, and I learned heavy weather sailing the hard way.
I'll save the details for perhaps a different blog, as I have journals from that voyage, but over the next 2 years, we sailed 12,000nm down through almost every one of the Leeward and Windward Islands, across Venezuela, Columbia, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, and then after my brothers wedding there, we broke up. We then still lived together for 6 weeks and sailed 700 miles back to Key West. We remain friends to this day. She was a great friend and sailing partner, but we parted ways at a beach bar in Key West. My uncle John then flew down, and we sailed from Key West to Annapolis, MD in a 10 day straight shot.
In Annapolis, I did odd jobs at a boat yard, fixed boats, varnished, built docks, sailed a tall ship and giving tours of the harbor. I even played a 16th century sailor as an extra in The New World with my old buddy Colin Farrell.
I also met a tall beautiful woman, with an 8 year old daughter. Mary is now my wife, and my “insta” daughter Maggie is about to graduate college! Mary introduced me to her neighbor Phil, and he provided me not only with great friendship, but with a steady high paying job as an ROV Pilot/Tech, flying and repairing the largest work class robotic submersibles on the planet. We were laying and repairing sub-sea fiber optic cables across the sea floors of the worlds oceans. That job took me far and wide, with many days at sea all around the world. Typically I would work 6 weeks offshore and then have a month off. Since they would just fly me wherever in the world the massive cable ship was, Mary, Maggie and I decided to move to Costa Rica. After quite some time going back and forth, I was able to raise some money from investors to build a spec house in Costa Rica, but I became a jungle lubber for several years. Other then the odd fishing trip with my buddies and a one week charter captaining aboat in Tahiti, I was hardly ever on the water. Lots of time at the beach, waterfalls, watching my friends surf, but not ON the water. I missed it.
In 2010, my parents became sick. My Dad had ALS and Mombo (my mom) had blood cancer. My family and I moved back to Chicago. My daughter went to high school (she was home schooled in the jungle), and my wife went to nursing school. I took care of my parents full time for these 4 years, and tried to manage way too many things at once. Still dealing with the business in Costa Rica from afar was not easy. It was a stressful time, but I found new friends and was back together with my 3 brothers. There was still something missing. Riding the Harley across America several times didn't cut it. Doing various boat deliveries helped, and I got a few thousand miles under my keep doing San Diego to Cabo, and Ft. Lauderdale to Sint Maarten deliveries. But that was only 2 weeks in 4 years! I needed the ocean back in my life.
So we moved to St. Augustine Florida after my parents passed away. We found a great deal on an awesome house right on the water, with a dock! Life was a dream. My problem is that it's still a house. I'm still a landlubber. I have a policy that I won't buy an ocean going, live aboard vessel, unless I'm going to live on it full time. Instead, I bough the best boat for the area, both onshore and offshore, and named it after my mom's nickname, MOMBO.
After some time, I began volunteering with the local St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime museum. They have a program called LAMP (Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program), which trains young scientists on actual shipwrecks to become Maritime Archeologists. I had been diving since I was 12 years old, and they trained me to be a scientific diver/ volunteer underwater archeologist, and I captain my boat for them during the season as an auxiliary vessel. It's been wonderful diving on old spainish wrecks, meeting interesting people, and learning to be a better diver and mariner.
The people at LAMP, and a lot of my old friends, who have been calling me Cap'n Kev since 1999, inspired me to actually earn the nick name. Although I'd been a boat captain for all those years, I never got my Captains license, so this past spring, I went and got a whole bunch of certifications, including a 50 Ton Masters, STCW, Emergency O2 Aministrator, etc etc. While taking those classes, I was reminded of the Great Loop, and became obsessed again. You see, my wife and I want to live on a big ocean going Catamaran and go cruising, and soon we will. But I love the Mombo, too, and don't want to sell her, or buy the big cat, until I've completed the loop.
Preparations have been underway for months. Read the list of things I've installed on this boat, and you might think I'm a mad man, but I'm going to turn this open fishing boat/ dive boat into a glamping live-aboard and take her counter clockwise thousands of miles around and through America. It's never been done before on this type of boat, but we're going for it. This week I put in the water filtration system, a solar charger, and a 12v fridge/freezer. I've got a head, shower, and have provided other comforts as well, like a teepee tent custom fit, and a queen size air mattress. Some nights we'll get marinas and hotels, like when I have lots of guests. Other nights it'll be just me, or me and one other lucky crewmember, just anchored up in some remote backwater along the route.
While not the official start of the loop, let the shakedown begin! Let’s go hear some music played by my friends in the Bahamas.
I'll introduce the cast of crew and characters as they arrive.
Capitán start your engines!
Attached pic is baby me and Mombo the mother, not the boat