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Lightning Strikes Twice

Dear Friends and Family ~

The Great Wicomico River is situated on the Chesapeake Bay's western shore, mid-way between Norfolk, VA, and Solomons, MD. The town of Reedville, on the river's northern bank, was once home to the Bay's large Menhaden fishing fleet and a number of large processing plants. Now the site of the very last Menhaden plant, a couple of marinas and the Tangier Island Ferry, Reedville has reverted back to being a peaceful, picturesque backwater village like so many of the Chesapeake's estuarial communities. And it was there on the night of June 14 at about 8:30 pm that were struck twice by lightning.

That evening Jane and I walked to a large picnic pavilion near the boat to attend to email and phone calls. As dusk began to give way to darkness a low squall line passed overhead and as the first drops of rain began to fall, Jane ran back to the boat to close hatches and ports. I remained under the pavilion's galvanized metal roof, sheltered from the weather, to finish up the evening's communications.

The first bolt struck the VHF antenna atop our mast with a tremendous bang. A jagged yellow-white streak, conducting millions of volts of electricity, lingered at the masthead for a fraction of a second and then disappeared as a ball of sparks floated down to the water's surface. A cloud of grey smoke floated over the scene. As it began to drift away, a second bolt struck.

By the time I reached the boat a minute or so later, my hands were shaking. When I dropped down the companionway I found Jane standing in the saloon, her hands on her hips, in a mood in which I had seen her only once before. Speaking in angry sentence fragments she complained bitterly that "we had just installed new radar and a new VHF radio and now they were fried by the damned lightning and all that money had been wasted" and on and on. When she exhausted that particular subject, she still needed to vent some additional frustration and since I was nearby . . . well, you get the picture. Fortunately, that tempest blew over as quickly as the lightning storm did.

After assuring one another that we were unhurt, we did a quick inventory and drew up a list of all damages we could see inside and outside the boat. Then we called our insurer, BoatUS, to report the situation. Exhausted but unable to sleep, we turned in and talked about what to do next. We decided that, if we could get under way the next morning, we would head for Bert Jabin's Yard in Annapolis, about 75 miles to the north, where we previously had work done. Along the way we would stay overnight in Solomons, MD.

So at 6:00 am we cast off and followed our friends aboard s/v Blackfoot out into the Bay. For the next eight hours we enjoyed a pleasant sail under full main, genoa and staysail . . . undistracted by chart plotter, instruments, radar or radios . . . and picked up a mooring in Solomons well before dark.

The next morning we rowed ashore and met Mike McCook, a yacht damage surveyor sent to us by BoatUS. Together, we arranged for Zahniser's Yachting Center to short-haul the boat so that we could look for hull damage. Other than a bit of fairing compound and bottom paint which had been peeled off a few thru-hull bolt heads, we could find no structural damage. Jane and I got to know the Zahniser's folks through this process and decided to have them do the damage inventory, repair proposal and all repairs. Two days later we stepped off the boat and since then have been visiting in Maryland, Connecticut and Pennsylvania and house / pet sitting in Lancaster and York, PA.

For much of this time Zahniser's has been been busy examining every inch of the boat's interior and rigging to determine what had been destroyed or rendered inoperable by the lightning. They then put together a damage inventory which was both exhaustive and inclusive. From this list they prepared a $40K+ proposal for repairs which we reviewed and edited. The third draft of the proposal was subsequently forwarded to BoatUS for their review and approval.

In summary, the lightning destroyed all of the following electronics and electrical gear . . . chart plotter, VHF, single side band and AM / FM radios, radar, anemometer, depth sounder, knot meter, wind direction and velocity meters, wind turbine generator, auto pilot, 12 volt breakers, navigation lights, deck lights, hailer and more. Additionally, the plug end of our Dell 12 volt battery charger was melted.

Repair and replacement efforts, which began three weeks ago, will be complete in another two or three months whereupon we'll move back aboard. At that point we'll cruise the upper Bay for a month or so, shaking down and learning to use the new gear. Then, by mid-October, we will be on our way south to Southport, NC, where we'll jump offshore for the two day passage back to St. Augustine and a berth at Camachee Cove. There we'll celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and spend the early winter. Given a milder and less blustery winter and spring than last year, we'll head back to the Bahamas where we'll stay and explore until June of 2011.

It's been an interesting start to the summer, to say the least, and certainly not the one we planned. But by now we have learned that planning and cruising are not always compatible.

Bob & Jane Fulton
Aug 2010

Jane's Fifty Hours Off Shore

Dear Friends and Family ~

After leaving the dock at Camachee Cove marina at 8:30 am Wednesday morning, we were headed out the St. Augustine inlet within 15 minutes. The sun in our eyes made it difficult to pick out red (keep on the left) and green (keep on the right) buoys marking the channel. This was our first transit of this inlet so I had a few butterflies. There were breaking waves on each side of the channel indicating low water and shoaling. This is one of the inlets on the NOAA charts not shown in detail because waves and shoaling constantly change the channel location. Rather, you must depend on the buoys that mark the channel at your time of passage.

We did thread the buoys and made it through fine, out to the whistle buoy, about a mile offshore, before turning northeast toward Cape Fear, North Carolina, a little over two days and nights away.

I experienced some seasickness just outside the inlet because I was below putting movable things away. We should have done that before departing. Candles, guitar, fruit baskets, knife holders, dishes and more . . . all had to be secured to berths or stowed in lockers (cabinets and closets). We were bouncing fore and aft and rolling side to side, so lots of things were falling and crashing. By the time I was done I was really queasy.

In October of '08 we bought some "snake oil" at the Annapolis Boat Show which was guaranteed to prevent sea sickness. I put a dab behind each ear lobe, then went back above. It's much better to be in the cockpit in the fresh air and with the horizon in view. The rocking and rolling quieted some once we put up the sails. Once all 3 sails were out and making 7+ knots with an east wind 7 to 12 knots, 2 to 4 foot chop and 6 to 8 foot rollers, we were finally sailing! It was about three hours before my stomach was fully settled by the snake oil, some ginger ale and a few ginger snap cookies (ginger helps seasickness). I had no problems after that.

Our friend Stu hailed us on the VHF as we were setting sail. He saw us leaving the inlet from his back deck in South Ponte Vedra and radioed to wish us safe voyage. We really appreciated his call.

We set the autopilot for a course of 35 degrees, the direct or rhumb line to the Cape Fear inlet, and followed that course for almost 300 nautical miles to the inlet's whistle buoy. We lost sight of land only three hours outside the St. Augustine inlet and didn't have it in sight again until we were about 10 miles off Bald Head Island Friday morning. Our farthest distance from land was about 60 miles off Savannah, GA.

So what was it like being aboard for the passage? First of all, we followed a three hour on / off watch schedule. When on watch I was in the cockpit scanning the horizon 360 degrees for other vessels and monitoring the VHF radio, checking the sail set and making (or calling for) adjustments as needed, watching the engine temp gauge to prevent overheating (when the engine was on), eating to keep up blood sugar, drinking to stay hydrated, monitoring and logging our progress and (rarely) adjusting the autopilot as needed to fine tune our course. Wind, waves and current occasionally combined to push us slightly above or below the rhumb line. When using our magnetic compass, we steered 40 degrees magnetic to make 35 degrees true. During daylight hours, I read and worked crossword puzzles between these tasks.

When off watch, I slept or tried to sleep, got food and drink for Bob and occasionally helped with sail changes. I was able to get at least one hour of sleep each off watch, sometimes almost three. Bob did not sleep until Thursday night, his last two off shifts. The motion kept him awake he says but I think he was unable to relax fully when I was on watch. Finally he got so weary that he had to sleep and so he did.

Sometimes we stretched out in the cockpit with the breeze blowing over us. Other times when it was particularly rolling, we slept on the salon settee. We used a lee cloth for the first time, a canvas cloth that affixes to the front of the settee and is tied vertically to the cabin ceiling. This creates a cloth "wall" that keeps you from rolling off the settee. When the wind became calmer and the bow was not rising and falling, we slept on our forward berth which was the most comfortable, soft and large enough to prevent rolling off.

From our experience crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas last year we learned that preparing a meal isn't as easy on a rolling sea as it is at the dock. For the 18 hour Bahamas passage, I had stocked our fridge with leftovers like stew, soup and casseroles and envisioned heating things on the stove top or the microwave, both of which were impractical for several reasons. The microwave doesn't work well when the boat is healed because the turntable doesn't turn, the dish inside ends up at the back wall or on the door and the food doesn't heat evenly. Using the gas stove isn't much better although the stove is gimbaled and swings freely to an (approximately) level position. But you still have to stay below in the galley to ensure that food doesn't spill as the stove swings to and fro and on a rolling boat you know what that can do to one's stomach. When in the cockpit it is difficult to eat with a plate in your lap. And putting a plate on a cockpit table while under way practically insures that food will spill all over. Then comes the washing up, again done below while rocking back and forth, staring at roiling dishwater. All of this discourages normal food preparation and consumption.

The solution for us turned out to be pre-preparation of finger foods and eating just a little bit every hour or so. For this passage I assembled carrots, radishes, beef jerky, cold chicken thighs, oranges, apples, hard-boiled eggs, cheese sticks, granola bars, brownies and ginger snap cookies. Bob and I filled a small bowl with a few items and munched our watches away. We did make sandwiches, egg salad and chicken salad, when the seas calmed. Ice water, ginger ale and Crystal Lite rounded out the beverage list.

As the passage progressed, the wind veered from east to southeast and lessened to 4 to 6 kts and a four to six foot swell kept rolling in from the stern quarter all day Wednesday, rocking Voyageur, sometimes violently, fore and aft and side to side . . . at the same time. We raised the iron jib (turned the engine on) about 5:00PM Wednesday afternoon to help with speed and stability and we kept it up the rest of the way. By Early Thursday morning, all sails were furled as the wind continually lessened and its direction became unpredictable. At one point Thursday night, while motoring under bare poles, I put out our big Genoa (jib) for a couple of hours when the wind briefly picked up to 5-10 from the southeast. This steadied the boat and helped Bob got his first real sleep. In fact, he was still sound asleep at the appointed time for watch change so I let him sleep another hour as I was doing fine.

We saw few other vessels. Once in a while we saw a sail close to shore or on the horizon east of our course. Two freighters appeared from the north, miles away and two casino boats appeared the second night out off the South Carolina coast. During the day sport fishing boats appeared as the seas moderated under a beautiful cloudless sunny sky.

Thursday afternoon, 41 miles off Charleston, we passed NOAA buoy 41004. Such buoys collect and relay wind, wave, temperature and current data which is subsequently reported on a NOAA maritime website. Our GPS chart plotter showed us on a course that would take us directly over the buoy. So when we got close, we slowed and scanned all around us but couldn't spot the buoy. I envisioned us hitting it, putting it out of commission and the NOAA website saying "41004 not functioning, hit by Bob & Jane Fulton aboard s/v Voyageur". We didn't know what it looked like or how tall it was. I was wishing that it was night because the buoy's flashing light, if operating, would allow us to see it more easily. Finally, we spotted it about half a mile off our starboard bow. It looked to be a frame 5 feet high but not very substantial. Whew!

Several times, dolphins, individually or in groups, joined us, racing along side or plunging under Voyageur's bow, riding it's compression wave for a good distance. Thursday afternoon a pod stayed with us for quite a while, adults and several youngsters. The youngsters swam alongside us just underwater. The sea was so clear we could easily see their spotted backs and light grey bellies just under the surface. Occasionally an adult would calmly swim over to join the juveniles, perhaps to ensure that they were all right or to impart wisdom gained by experience regarding this particular kind of surfing. When on watch just before dawn Friday morning I sensed dolphins were on both sides of the boat. There was a lot of splashing going on close to me.

We did, from time to time, check our progress against our endurance. For example, Thursday afternoon at 2:00 pm we considered an option to continuing on to Cape Fear, then 112.5 nautical miles away. There was a more southerly inlet available so we consulted the tables on our GPS chart plotter and compared tides, currents and other data for both destinations. Voyageur's GPS chart plotter is more than a navigational device displaying position and course. Its computer, processor and memory combine to provide helpful info such as tides, currents, speed, time and distance . . . both covered and remaining. Additionally, we listened to NOAA's weather forecast on our VHF radio which included predicted wind and sea states. All looked and sounded favorable for continuing on our original course. Assuming that we would lay the Cape Fear whistle buoy Friday morning at slack tide and current, we thought we would hold on for another 20 hours.

I had trepidations about the Cape Fear inlet which has currents of up to 4 knots on an ebbing tide and almost 3 knots on a flood tide. Voyageur does 7 knots under power. Additionally, Cape Fear is one of the few east coast inlets where harbor pilots are required to guide commercial ship traffic thru the inlet. Our sailing friend Linda cautioned us not to try the inlet when wind and tide are opposed. She says she "almost lost her life there" the one time she did it. The chart of the area is littered with ship wreck symbols and the name of the cape itself is scary!

So we checked and double-checked multiple data sources for times of tide and current change. If we could start in the inlet by 9:30AM, during slack current between ebb and flood, it would be safest. We constantly checked our progress Thursday night and early Friday morning to ensure that we would arrive at the whistle buoy on time. As it turned out, we arrived at precisely 9:30 with the wind at 5 knots or less and the seas calm . . . benign conditions.

A large freighter was coming out the ship channel just as we started in. His wake produced the largest waves we had seen for 36 hours. At just the right moment, Bob turned Voyageur perpendicular to the freighter's wake, we hobby-horsed a bit and the waves threw water over the bow. It was over in five seconds. From that moment, it took two hours to transit the ship channel and tie up at Southport Marina's gas dock. My legs were a bit wobbly when I stepped ashore after 50 hours at sea but we had made it! Having reached this milestone in our sailing experience, we now have a better idea how to handle a long passage.

Jane Fulton
May 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

Dear Friends and Family ~

On May 4, 2010, the morning was cool and crisp in St. Augustine with the promise of even cooler North winds later in the day. Divers Tom and Joe had just finished cleaning and inspecting the hull below the water line and replacing one of the sacrificial zincs that protect the prop and shaft from electrolysis. Soon the mild St. Augustine spring would turn into a hot, humid Florida summer and, because we don't have air conditioning aboard Voyageur, we would head north, ending our ten month respite from daily migration.

It's been over thirty-five years since I first wondered what it would be like to live on a boat and almost fifty-seven years since I took my first sail on grey, windy Lake Winnebago one fall afternoon in 1953. A friend of my sister owned an M-16, the boat that put Harry Melges on the sailboat designer map. A fast, wet, low volume racing scow, sixteen feet long with a main and a jib, she had twin rudders and, instead of a deep centerboard, had two shallow bilge boards . . . perfect for the waters off the Oshkosh Yacht Club. I had spent the summer crawling over, under, in and around the sailboats at the club. I was hooked on the textures and smells of 1950s sailing . . . cedar, varnish, bronze, paint and canvas . . . which inevitably led me to harder stuff. I wondered what it would be like to cut through the water, tiller in hand, and feel the power of wind and sail.

Wishing turned to reality in a cold spitting rain that blustery fall day when my sister's friend asked if I wanted to take a ride. The next half hour was both terrifying and exhilarating! In spite of the fact that I ended up in the bottom of that boat screaming to be returned to shore, I've been happily sailing or paddling white water ever since. Thus ended my first bitter sweet lesson in "Being Careful What You Wish For". And as for living on a boat, you might say the second and third lessons came with sleet on the deck in Bel Haven, NC, pictured above, and frost an inch thick from a 9 degree wind chill in Fernandina Beach, FL, three months later.

It's been over a year and a half since we typed our last blog entry. During that time we left Long Island Sound, raced down the East River at over 12 kts, transited the New Jersey Coast and Delaware Bay for our first overnight passage, cruised the Intracoastal Waterway from Norfolk to West Palm Beach, Fl, crossed the Gulf Stream to and from the Bahamas and stood fifty hours of three on / three off watches aboard Voyageur from St. Augustine to Southport, NC. Along the way we enjoyed the warmth and openness of the boating community, visited old friends and made new ones, shared coffee with transoceanic veterans and circumnavigators, spent nights at sea under countless stars from horizon to horizon and slept in sheltering coves and harbors in places we never would have seen without Voyageur.

Pictures and stories of these and some of our other journeys are available on this site for you to explore. Click on "PHOTO GALLERY" to view sixteen photo albums which are arranged chronologically, top to bottom.

As it turns out, full time cruising (or "living aboard" if you like) is not a vacation . . at least not so far. It's just another lifestyle with both peace, stress, smiles and heartache and plenty of work to be done. We've not been at it long enough to be able to answer the question, "Is it all worth it?" However, I can say with some authority at his point that Jane likes livin' on a sailboat even better than I do. To see how fortunate and blessed that makes me, buy a motorcycle or a sports car, move to Tibet, run for Governor, quit your job or take a lover and, after a couple of years, see if your husband or wife can say he or she likes it better than you do.

On Wednesday, May 12 at 9:00AM we started out the St. Augustine inlet, bound for Southport, NC, a 300 mile offshore passage away. Jane's description of the journey appears above. From Southport we'll head North along the Intracostal Waterway to Norfolk. After spending June on Chesapeake Bay, we'll head for Long Island Sound and the docks where our journey began at Brewer's Pilots Point Marina in Westbrook, CT. When we arrive there, we will have been aboard Voyageur for two years, having put over thirty seven hundred miles under her keel. Then, in September, we'll turn around and head back to Chesapeake Bay to start south all over again.

We trust you'll come along.

Bob & Jane Fulton
May 2010

May You Live In Interesting Times
08/27/2008, Litchfield, CT

Dear Friends and Family ~

Reputed to be an ancient Chinese saying*, the phrase "may you live in interesting times" expresses an ironic blessing. Having prepared for a life afloat for the past year, Jane and I are now only a week or two away from casting off. As embarkation day approaches, our lives are becoming more and more interesting while our two worlds . . . land and sea . . . begin to diverge.

The autumn-like weather last weekend was perfect for our tag sale.

We still have a bed, card table and chairs and a TV in the house and the few cherished pieces of furniture and wall art and both business and household records from the past few years have been distributed among family members. Settlement on the house is scheduled for next Thursday. Bon Voyage gatherings are under way with our many Litchfield friends and this past week was capped off by a beautiful sunset family dinner featuring grilled salmon, mutual validation and love.

Meanwhile, at a Brewer yard on the Sound, the boat waits with re-commissioning nearly complete. Upgrades include a new 860 Ah battry bank, new Link 2000 control panel, water cooling for the refrigeration condenser, installation of non-permeable sanitation houses, bacterial and particulate water filtration and new GPS chart-plotter, fresh water pump, deck wash-down pump, radar reflector, cockpit canvas, shades, screens and curtains and a new 9' Caribe RIB and 9.9 hp kicker. Refurbishment efforts were directed to thru hulls, propane system components, prop and rudder shaft packing glands, davit reinforcement, sail cleaning and stitching, bright work renewal and conversion of hanging lockers to shelves.

With Voyageur's preparations nearly complete, goodbyes are becoming more numerous and more heart felt. The house echoes. The boat waits. These are truly interesting times for Jane and me but, as a good friend recently remarked, "Why worry when you can pray".

Blessings to you, family and friends. We'll see you along the way.

Bob & Jane Fulton
August 2008

*Its earliest known appearance in print, however, is in a science fiction story written in 1950 by Duncan Munro (one of the pen names of Eric Frank Russell) called U-Turn.

When One Door Closes, Another Opens
12/29/2007, Litchfield, CT

Dear Friends and Family ~

As 2007 draws to a close, Jane and I are looking forward to our post-career years together and are putting into motion plans which we have been making for some time now.

In 2006, I left the company I started in Dallas and went back to the corporate world in Hartford for about a year. Jane, who works for a bank data processing company in Avon, CT, will join me in retirement this coming April.

While in Dallas we bought an ODay 322 in Rochester, NY, and trucked it down to Lake Texoma (the home of Valiant Yachts), about 75 miles north of us. We re-christened her Voyageur and spent most of our weekends for the next five years at anchor and under sail.

When we moved from Texas to Connecticut in 2000, we left our first Voyageur behind but continued to charter with friends in the Mediterranean, on the Sea of Cortez, the Chesapeake Bay and even aboard narrowboats on the network of restored canals that thread through the beautiful English and Welsh countryside.

All the while we have been looking at boats of all sizes and descriptions for the right one to take us sailing again. This fall, we found a sound, well equipped Island Packet 40 and came to an agreement with her (now previous) owners. A few weeks later we sailed her to Portsmouth, RI, where she will spend the winter and where we will recommission her next summer.

We plan to sell house, cars and other worldly possessions by July or August and begin full-time cruising then. Eventually, we'll probably return to Pennsylvania's Lancaster County. But until then, Jane and I will live aboard our new Voyageur.

As our transition, embarkation and cruising plans evolve into reality over the next few months and years we'll keep you posted here at . . .

. . . where you can read about our journey, see the people and places we discover along the way and view a map of our progress.

We hope you'll visit us here and aboard Voyageur often.

Bob & Jane Fulton
Dec 2007

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