Great Dismal Swamp To Portsmouth, VA
16 May 2018 | Norfolk, VA
Rainy with battleship grey skies
Underway Day 19
The sounds of wildlife all around us stirred me. The woods were waking up. So was I, if I didn’t want to miss the 0830 South Mills Lock opening. I had a look around and despite the heavy dew, we were all dry inside. This was dew (sea what I did there) in large part thanks to the dri-deck flooring that I custom fit before starting archeological dive ops with the St. Aug Lighthouse crew. Not only does it protect my non skid from Scuba tanks, but it keeps everything on the deck dry. Combined with the isinglass and canvas enclosure, and our teepee tent, we are well protected from the elements, better than I expected actually. We idled within visual of the lock and called him on VHF Ch. 13. After the green light, we threw a wrap around some bollards on the port side and locked up 8 feet. Mary hadn’t been through a lock before, but she’s a quick learner and is getting better every day as a First Mate. We exited into the Great Dismal Swamp’s Turner Cut without incident. Two bigger trawlers untied from the free dock wall and fell in behind us, no doubt hoping I would be the first one to bump something. Right away there were more snags and the controlling depth set by the Army Corps is only 6 feet. The guys behind me had a few bumps, but overall it was a magical morning. It was peaceful, primeval and surreal, just cruising at 5 knots. This is one of America’s treasures and only 2000 people a year enter these locks. Most choose, like I did 15 years earlier, to do Waterway Rt1, aka the Virginia Cut, with it’s12’ controlling depth, faster speeds and only 1 easy lock. Having now done both routes, the Dismal Swamp is the clear winner if your vessel fits the specs.
After some gentle rain, we came to the Deep Creek Lock, waited for two southbound sailboats to lock through for an hour and pulled in to the lock. “Ya’ll doing the loop in this?” said the lockmaster, both excited and surprised. “When you said Cat, I pictured a whole different animal.” I let him know a few details about the capabilities on board, and he was converted and happy for us. A friendly lock master can make all the difference in transit.
I understand the confusion about our choice of boat. At first glance, there is a perceived lack of amenities. I’m not sure some traditional loopers understand the beauty of simplicity. This is not a normal, or even ideal, boat to do the loop in, but it’s ours and we’re doing it. Sometimes that’s all that matters. It’s safe, comfortable, capable and fast. But sometimes the slow days are the best! Some of the scenery looks the same going 5 knots or 25 knots. Most of the good times happen with the people we meet along the way. Boat people are my kind of people. It’s them you need to throttle back to spend time with.
We The People are America’s greatest treasure, and many of us live on the water, protected by the most powerful navy on earth. And the Mombo just navigated through the heart of it, the Norfolk VA area, the largest naval complex on earth. This is where ships are born! To see a gigantic naval ships being built and maintained in dry dock is truly a sight to see. Here is some of the finest nautical engineering in the planet. This area is a maritime industrial complex the likes of which the world has never known. Keep your distance from the big grey boats, or you might get to experience the sight of a deck mounted 50 cal up close, operated by a 19 year old.
We tied up at Tidewater in Portsmouth. We enjoyed happy hour at Fish and Slips, and are now going to take a break. We will rent a car tomorrow to go and be with family. It’s time to celebrate our daughter’s graduation from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Road trip.
Oriental, NC to Dismal Swamp
15 May 2018 | Great Dismal Swamp
Beautiful with a chance of skeeters.
Underway Day 18
After a wonderful evening and a good nights rest, we were up early. The Neuse River and bay can get nasty. It’s shallow and can build up a fierce short chop, especially with wind against current, so we grabbed some coffee and bagels, cast off the lines and organized the boat for max speed while we motored out at idle. I wanted to zip across the bay before the calm morning whether developed into anything more. It was a great run. The Alligator River and Pungo Canal were calm and beautiful. Once we got to the Albermarle Sound, the wind had picked up and we had 15 kts with wind driven 3 footers on the port quarter. It wasn’t exactly comfortable but the world cat hull sliced through them while we passed some sail boats and weeble wabbling trawlers. Making time in adverse conditions is one of the benefits of this choice of vessel.
As we made it up to Elizabeth City, famous for its hospitality to transients, things calmed down. We struggled more than necessary, but without incident, to back into an 18’ wide 4 point tie, piling slip. We’ll pick a narrower one next time. We had a nice lunch, got to know a kind waitress, and planned the afternoon. Sometimes on Tuesday’s they throw parties and play movies on giant projectors for boaters, that you can watch right from your boat in the free transient slips, but that doesn’t start until June (:. The waitress said that the best we could hope for would be to hang out a few more days for the potato festival, and bear witness to the crowning of Little Miss Tater Tott! As fun as that sounds, we decided to push on and beat the weather.
We got back underway, had the bridge open for us (on demand) and moseyed up the Elizabeth River to Lambs Marina. To access, you tuck in through the trees in a narrow wooded canal. Once on the other side, there is a substantial operation hidden back in here; marina, fuel, grocery, restaurant, parts, etc. We topped of the tanks, heard some great jokes from the 75 year old fuel operator, and grabbed some snacks.
Sunset was 3 hours away and the first lock opening wasn’t until 0830 so we meandered through the Great Dismal Swamp Cana, Rt 2 on the ICW. Much of the land we are about to travel was once owned by George Washington. After trying a few anchorages for sundown, we ended up finding a perfect spot, close to the South Mills Lock. Since the canal is closed to night navigation, you are permitted to anchor in the channel.
It was a wild primeval place. We saw 3 swimming snakes, lots of turtles, and evidence of bear and bobcat. Fish were jumping. I went for a swim, checked the engines, and dried off in the sun. The waters are the color of black coffee, deeply stained by the tannins from the cypress, juniper and other trees. They are the cause of the ICW mustache, a brown stain that forms on the bow of boats transiting this area. The natural antibiotic from the leaves breaking down, made these tea stained waters the favorite for sailors of old looking for a fresh water stop. Some said drinking tannin water was the secret to a long life. They would load their casks with these waters when they could be found, and the water would store well without bacterial growth. I’m sure my Suzuki’s liked the way they tasted too. Duckweed can be a problem for raw water strainers in their area, but it wasn’t today.
After dusk, we had a brief mosquito attack. We sprayed the teepee tent with deet and climbed in, leaving the screens closed but the rain fly open. I fell asleep to a cacophony of wild sounds and songs that I haven’t heard since we lived in the jungle. It was amazing. Apparently it was mating night for dozens of species because there was some crazy sounds going on. I could only recognize a few. A few skeeters snuck in but we managed to sleep aboard, relatively bug free with a nice breeze and without any hassle. We were in the great dismal swamp and it felt like jungle and aquatic life had become one, here in some relatively unknown backwater on America’s forgotten waterway.
Beaufort to Oriental, NC
14 May 2018 | Pirates Home Port
Sunny with a chance of plunder
Underway Day 17:
I woke to a sound of a man shouting and the unmistakable groan of a sport fishing bow thruster. It sounded close. I un-snuggled myself from the comfort of the heavy survival school wool blanket to have a peek. The current was ripping in my direction in a tight fairway, but the captain knew what he was doing and cleared us safely. I went back to snuggle my wife, and fell back asleep for a well needed 90 minutes until 0730.
My gigantic head of unkempt hair and I then meandered to the showers at the quayside, a little embarrassed near the tourists, who were otherwise enjoying the morning view of the city's bay front.
Upon return to the vessel, I realized I should call Sinbad. We had a busy day planned and I wanted to make sure he was part of it. I forgot I had the phone on silent, but as I went to pick it up, it was ringing silent and it was the ole' pyrate himself!
We made plans for breakfast. I hadn't seen him in 15 years, but he was a big influence on my life when I was 24 years old and I think of him as my maritime mentor. He is one of the most interesting people I've ever had the pleasure to know. It's hard to know where to begin to tell his story. For starters, here is a link to his webpage: https://pirate-privateer.com/biography/
I had come through Beaufort on my old Corbin 39 sailboat in 2004. Despite having lived aboard for a few years at that point, I was still a green water sailor and "wet behind the ears" as they say. He had offered me some wok at the Jarret Bay shipyard and he welcomed me into his life. He provided a mooring for me while I went snowboarding that year, and provided advice before I headed offshore to Bermuda that January. That is a whole story in itself about surviving a subtropical cyclone 600nm offshore in January. It was my baptism by Neptune's fury and was published in Blue Water Sailing magazine at the time.
Back to the point, Sinbad is a real life pirate. He has a commission from President Regan (see photo) and legally changed his name to Horatio Sinbad. He custom mounts his 8 fully functional cannons on the Meka II. He carves his own wooden blocks and pulleys, splices his lines, and fabricates almost everything. He sews his own sails, and has built his brigantine in mostly traditional, old school ways. It has been his home since he ran away from Detroit in 1967. He has the highest rated ATF licence available and buys all types of charges and gunpowder in wooden barrels, 50 lbs at a time. He helped start the NC Maritime Museum, and he teaches people the history and ways of the freedom loving seafarers of old. He also does shows, complete with cannons, deck fights and all sorts of re-enactment high seas drama. I could go on, but, in short, Long John Silver has nothing on Sinbad.
We went to the local diner, the only one in town, for breakfast. It was a lovely conversation. It didn't take long to realize that despite my fears, this 75 year old man was still a badass. 15 years have gone by, but he hasn't slowed a bit. He mentioned that he needed to do some work aloft in the bosuns chair for about 5 hours later in the day. We went back to my boat for the tour, and I gave him the rundown on all the latest tech and gadgets on the Mombo. He still refuses to get a smart phone, and that's what I love about him. We both love and respect each other regardless of whether the nautical tech is modern or ancient, and I do think he appreciates the relative simplicity of the craft we've chosen for the loop. It certainly isn't normal. In fact, no one has ever done the loop in a World Cat. In many ways it has advantage.
He went back to the Brigantine to get started on his day. Mary and I prepped to get underway. We motored around the point, stopped to get fuel, and negotiated with Tom Bullock, aka Bull, another old time resident, and owner of Bulls Props. It's hard to haggle with a pro, but we made a trade for my two mismatched spare props and I walked out with a matching set of 3x16x18.5 props.
We then motored over to say goodbye to Sinbad across the harbor.
He was ready to go aloft.
Lieutenant Terry Brown, Sinbad's equally amazing wife of 38 years, gave Mary and I a nice tour of the legendary Meka II, and I fawned over all the cool fully functional nautical gear, handcrafted in traditional ways. A guy walked down the dock in modern clothes but an unmistakable braided beard. He hailed to Sinbad and looked at me and said, "who's the new crew?" Sinbad looked at me and said, "that's Blackbeard." I knew it! There is no such thing as a reenactor off duty. If my wits had been quicker, I would have told him my new nickname, Captain Greybeard.
Sinbad prepped the halyard by carefully scampering up the ratlines, off belay, like a man 50 years younger. Then he descended and mounted his bosun's chair, basically a wooden plank, like a swing set bench, nothin' too fancy. It would be his dangerously uncomfortable seat, 50 feet off the deck, for the the next 4 hours, at the top of the mast, in 10-15kt winds. I tailed the line while Lt. Terry ran the winch, and we had him up to the top in no time.
Once we hoisted him aloft, this was no time for hugs. We walked down the dock to Mombo, which was parked next to him, and shouted our goodbyes. It seemed appropriate to yell, "be safe, I love you" to a 75 year old pirate while he hung 60 feet above me on the mast head, in the noon day sun. As we pulled away into the current, I had a better idea. I switched on the new loud hailer that I installed a few weeks ago. I turned it to full blast so all of Beaufort could hear, and in my most Pirate'ye voice yelled, "Long live the Pirate"
They reply came a resounding reply across the bay. "Yaaaar!"
The incoming trawler honked his horn, and we motored to our own job for the day, the 20 hour engine service. We arrived for our appointment at Jarrett Bay, where I worked with Sinbad all those years ago. We waited a bit, and hauled the boat out. We drove it a long way in the slings, about 20 minutes down a road to the mechanic shop. A few hours later we had changed the oil, filters, lower unit oil, zinks, installed a skeg guard and the new props.
We got back in the water at 5, broke in the props and headed 15 miles north to a tiny town called Oriental NC. We considered options and almost anchored, but we decided to take a good offer for a slip and a bed at the Oriental Marina and Inn. We backed her in, dropped our bags, had a docktail, washed the boat, ate dinner and wrote this blog. If you go, try the bacon and pimento cheese burger.
Wrightsville Beach to Beaufort
13 May 2018 | Beaufort City Docks
Sunny with a chance of Dolphins
Underway Day 16:
Mary and I slept in later than expected but we needed the rest. After breakfast with the Hipp family, we edited a time lapse I had recorded from 1000 photos the day before, and tried to make a plan for the day. It was Mother's Day, aka Mombo Day. I had been hoping to get permission to spend the night at Frying Pan Tower, an old Coast Guard Lighthouse 39 miles off the coast of Cape Fear. It was purchased and turned into a vacation rental. I called the owner to make a last minute reservation but never heard back. I should have planned that ahead of time. The marina called and kindly told us to beat it or pay for another night, so Ryan dropped us back at the Mombo.
The yahoos were back on the water, now assembled at full strength on Mother's Day to wreck havoc on the Intracoastal Waterway and all nautical etiquette. We just took it easy at 7 knots, and did some trip planning, trying to decide whether to anchor out in some private cove or run to Beaufort, NC. We decided to push on, as I have some things planned in Beaufort and I don't have much time here if I want to get back on my arbitrary schedule.
I'm going to sell my used spare 3x16x20 props tomorrow and swap them for some 16x18.5's. The last number, prop pitch, refers to the number of inches the prop would move forward in one full rotation through a gelatinous substance, like water. Since the boat is fully loaded, and the rpms don't reach their full speed at wide open throttle, I want to improve the hole shot capability of the boat and reduce any excess load on the new engine. Changing the pitch by 1.5" will increase the rpms by about 300 and should do the trick. I'm also getting the boat hauled out for the 20 hour service required for the new engine. I made an arrangement with Jarrett Boat works to haul me out for a "swing in the sling" and we will just change the gear oil, motor oil, filters and props real quick while hanging in the lift straps.
I had worked at Jarrett Boatyard for a few weeks in 2003, helping to needlegun and shotblast during the refit of a salvage ship. I had the honor to be hired and work along side alongside one of my best maritime mentors, the legendary local pirate and unofficial Mayor of Beaufort, Captain Horatio Sinbad, pirate/privateer. But that story will have to wait until tomorrow, after we will reunite.
For now, we are tied up at the Beaufort city docks. We had a great meal at La Perla in honor of Mombo, watched a beautiful sunset, and the teepee tent is in full effect on the quayside.
Life is good and I feel like Mary and I are getting dialed in to life onboard this unconventional loop boat.
Charleston to Wrightsville Beach
12 May 2018 | Bridge Tender Marina
Wrath of the Sea Douche
Underway Day 15:
We woke up groggy at Wyatt's Isle of Songs compound, made some coffee, and borrowed Wyatt's golf cart. It was pretty fun to just electric glide right up to the boat and get underway. The morning was glassy and beautiful. There were dolphins and seabirds hunting everywhere. Once again weaving through the marshes at high speed is something I'll never forget. The Waccamaw National Forest was possibly the most beautiful section of the ICW so far, and we could see that the wetland foliage is changing as we move north. Once we left there, it became a bit of a nightmare. Children with no nautical knowledge zipping around willy nilly like Sea Doooche. It was like the jet ski scene from the movie waterworld, mayhem and anarchy. Tiny fleets of angry buzzing Sea Douche, jumping wakes and not paying attention to their surroundings in a tight channel. Add in some half drunken boaters by the hundreds disobeying the Rules of Road. This is all in narrow channels with active shoaling, at high speeds in unofficial "courtesy" no wake zones, of course. It was a madhouse. It was stressful and unpredictable, and nautical life doesn't have to be like that. I'm starting to change my "personal responsibility" mindset in favor of people being required to learn basic navigation and boater safety. It was like playing Atari's frogger on the water, no joke.
Anyways, we stopped for a nice lunch at Barefoot Landing marina, ran the redneck Rivera gauntlet some more, and arrived safely in Wrightsville Beach, near Wilmington NC, a run of 129nm. We met the nice owners of Bridge Tender Marina. They put us right next to a treasure hunting ship complete with blowers. A blower (see pic gallery) is a destructive overburden removal tool that redirects prop wash to blast a hole in the sea floor and uncover shipwrecks. Maritime Archeologist's like the people I work with don't usually use them, because they can be destructive to the treasure we look for, which is knowledge. Treasure hunters, on the other hand, tend to just want the yellow shiny stuff, with any historical archeological significance coming secondary. From what I heard, they have been pulling up some serious gold coin off the seabed on our neighbors Zissou style boat.
As we fueled up, my old friend from Costa Rica, Ryan Hipp, walked down the gangway. We hadn't seen each other in a decade, but we have kept in touch, and we picked up our (wife friendly) bromance right where we left off. Back around 2006, we had some fun adventures in the jungles of Uvita, CR with Ryan and his wife Karin. Ryan is an entrepreneur and man of many talents. He is an ex cop from Jacksonville, who was a realtor for a while, and he now runs a very successful power washing company. He also builds custom RV's from Sprinter Vans. They have two beautiful, funny, well behaved and athletic young boys, and it was great to see such good friends evolve into great parents. The boys nick named me "Captain Greybeard." I've been called worse.
Because their baby sitter flaked out, we decide just to swim in the pool and order pizzas at their awesome house. It ended up being a near perfect evening. We had a wonderful conversation, got all caught up with them, had some laughs, and then around 11pm, despite being exhausted, Mary and I jumped in an Uber to go to the Calico Room in downtown Wilmington. We wanted to see the last show of this years Nth Power Tour. A few red bulls later and we were having a great time. Nikki Glaspie, Nate Edgar and Nicholas Cassarino are just such incredibly talented and hard working musicians, and I love watching them work. Nick was sweet and gave Mary and I a shoutout on stage. We had a nice hang after the show and it was exciting to hear about all the new collaborations and music projects they have planned. It's great to be a witness over the years and to watch artists work so hard, face the struggle head on, and succeed.
We got in another Uber to head back to Ryan's house, and, just like on the water, we had very dangerous run in's with aggressive drunk drivers, one of whom almost hit the Uber driver and then got very aggressive and wanted to fight the Uber driver. I guess it's a college town, but it was weird and scary to see 3 obviously drink drivers in less than 10 minutes. We were tired. Fast asleep by 0230.
Charleston to Isle of Songs
11 May 2018 | Wyatt’s Isle of Songs
The weather was delicious
Blog Post 14:
Underway Day 14
After waking up in the teepee tent, we walked to a nearby diner, and then took the free marina shuttle to explore Charleston and tour the Nathaniel Russell Mansion.
I borrowed the dock masters computer and was able to get the tracking device updated and working. Live tracking can be viewed here:
Today's trip was only 10 miles and took under an hour.
We left the city docks and moved north to Isle of Palms marina. We fueled up, topped up on water and pumped out the holding tank at the Isle of Palms Marina. The staff there was great. Our friend Wyatt Durrette lives right near the marina and he met us. You may remember him from his appearance in the blog during the Bahamas sections. Wyatt and Kelly have a beautiful new baby named River, and they are wonderful human beings and amazing hosts. The house is like a giant zen garden. It is serene, peaceful and tastefully decorated. They invited us to stay in the guest house, complete with a music studio called Isle of Songs, where songwriters can come and get creative in the retreat like environment. Wyatt is in the process of starting up what is sure to be the best new restaurant in the area, Papi's Tacos, and he has been working with his old buddy Rusty Hamlin, a world famous executive chef and restraunteur, getting the place ready to open. Rusty was the star of the show "Rusty's Rock Feast" and came in 2nd place on the food networks show "Next Food Network Star." Needless to say the meal was amazing, with veggies and sauces and meat so tender it melts in your mouth. Rounding out our dinner party were our new friends Marty, a builder and boat captain, and his lovely wife Alysha. They own a vodka company called Chilled Dills Pickle Flavored Vodka, and we are looking foreword to making some delicious Bloody Mary's with the bottle they gifted us.
We laughed and talked and swapped stories until 0200. One of the highlights of the evening was bearing witness to 5 of Rusty's 32 marine animal impressions. The manatee and barnacle had me in stitches. If Rusty ever gets tired of being a badass chef, he would no problem making a living as a comedian.
We went to bed wishing we had more time to spend in such fine company, but we'll be back for tacos as soon as we can.
Savannah Splash to Chucktown
10 May 2018 | Isle of Songs
Sunny and Wyatt’s warmer weather
Blog Post 13:
Mary and I made good use of our time exploring Savannah and working on various projects. We rented a nice Airbnb cottage near Forsyth Park, went to the farmers market, cooked some yummy meals, explored the city's parks and squares, ate pizza at Vinny Van Gogo's, got a haircut, and enjoyed a fantastic self guided pub crawl. Savannah is a great town, full of history and kind people. We had an opportunity to spend some time with our old friends from Costa Rica, Chuck and Mercedes Chastain and their kids. They were in town visiting family, and it was great to spend some quality time with them.
Underway Day 13:
As far as the Mombo, things went better than expected. The Suzuki mechanic Phil Dolan was great to work with and fair on pricing. He was able to get the exact engine we needed in record time. We also installed 2 new Suzuki engine gauges, which are amazing and modernize the engine diagnostics. We splashed the boat Wednesday, fueled up, and were underway on Thursday morning. The first few hours, I was breaking in the engine gently. The spring weather was beautiful and we took a detour to explore the Savannah riverfront and check out America's 4th busiest port.
I especially liked the old tunnel that leads to the Pirate House from the river. In was used to smuggle booze underground from the river to the pirate house during both the colonial period and prohibition. Under the British, they Shanghai'd and "impressed into service" over 1000 unlucky sailors at this spot. Basically one minute you were drinking in a pub, and then after being either "over served" or drugged, you would wake up on a ship at sea. You are now part of the Royal Navy! If you didn't like it, you were flogged until your morale improved.
As we worked our way North to Charleston, I was able to throttle up, and we were once again weaving through beautiful marsh lowlands at low planing speed of 25 knots. It's really fun to cruise through some of the narrow cuts, navigating on the fly. We saw too many dolphins to count. The wetlands in N Georgia and S Carolina are extremely healthy and teeming with birds and sea life. We stopped for lunch at Dufusky Island, where Mary worked for 2 summers while we were building the house in CR. After lunch, we had smooth running all the way to Charleston. The boat just felt great, like a barking dog about to pull a sled, she just wanted to run.
It was a long day, but we powered through rather than getting an anchorage and arrived in Charleston to a beautiful sunset. Then we found out our friends The Nth Power had a show that night at the Charleston Pour House. We met up with Ben Fagan, my 1st mate from the Gulf Stream crossing, and his girlfriend Laura. We had a lovely sushi dinner. Then we enjoyed a wonderful night of music, and had fun surprising our friends in the band. After a family style hang post-show we went back to the boat, a bit too late at 0200. The teepee tent was up in minutes and we fell fast asleep.
St. Aug to Stuck in Savannah
04 May 2018 | Savanah Georgia
Weather is calm an leaking oil
Underway Days 10, 11, and 12
St. Aug to Stuck in Savanna
After months of preparations getting our house ready to receive short term renters, we finally left at 0730 with just a waterproof north face duffel bag for each of us. Since all the storage on the boat is loaded up with supplies, tools and equipment, Mary and I will be living out of these bags, riding an open boat, approximately 6000 miles around the eastern half of America, exploring its waterways.
We pulled away from the dock, remembering to take the keys to the lift with us, and started gently. I wanted to break in the new hub on the old propeller. The same one we spun in the Gulf Stream when we had to turn back. I also wanted to double check the engines after replacing the thermostats, thermostat housings, starter, stator, CPK, neutral sensors and flywheel. We headed north, I throttled up. We left our home waters and won't return until we complete the loop.
The ride was beautiful and fairly uneventful. Lots of birds and dolphins, sunshine and good music. The engines sounded great.
We ran past Jacksonville, Amelia Island, San Ferdinanda, Cumberland Island, Jeckyl Island and arrived at St. Simons Island Georgia at about 1:30.
After we fueled up and we're headed to our slip, I heard something wasn't just quite right with the port engine. I know how intimately how it sounds, like a baby calf and its mother, and something was different. As I backed into the slip, the dock master said, "you make it look easy" I replied, "thanks man, that means a lot. It's my first time" and we laughed. That is, until I popped the cowling and saw the engine. I had meticulously detailed it the day before, and it was now covered in oil. Dipstick was just barely registering oil. There were no engine codes, no overheating, no water in the oil, no blowby, fuel and air flow are good, water flow is good, so I got that going for me.
I started to mess with it, but then Mary and I decided that I was tired and hungry, it was hot, and we should take a break. We went to the bar and had a meal and a few drinks and asked around about things. The people there were super nice and I was able to get some contact info for a local Suzuki mechanic.
I made come calls, talked to the all knowing Chris Anderson back home, and then went back to get in my work clothes, tear down the engine and do some troubleshooting.
I spent the next several hours cleaning, running it, adding oil, looking for leaks, running it, drinking beer, looking for leaks. I had a nice chat with my supervisors, Mary and our friend Jason, who is a St. Simons local BBQ master, music lover, and just an all around wonderful guy to be around.
Despite running the engine, none of us could find the leak. Maybe it wasn't that bad. Sounds fine. Where did the oil come from? Could be an easy fix? We decided we had done all we could, perhaps we should go do something besides talk about outboards. We should wait to see if the local mechanic could help us in the morning. We then proceeded to get a first class tour of the best spots in St. Simons Island. Everywhere we went, Jason was well loved and we were treated like old friends by strangers. We met some wonderful people, and got to check out the 1975 pickup truck Jason is restoring after it caught fire. It was a great night, despite losing at darts. It was great hanging out in a family bar with the same decor it had 50 years ago.
Mary and I went back to the boat a bit too late, checked the dew point, inflated the air mattress on the back deck and slept in the open under the stars. We both slept well.
Underway Day 11:
After sunrise we got out the camping stove, made coffee, and I called the mechanic. As I feared and suspected, he took one look at it and declared it to be the crank seal. He was a master mechanic, but it was too big a job for him to do, given how busy he was. As the dock we were on was under construction, we were informed that we would soon be cut off from land. That sealed the deal, and we decided we would have better luck in Savannah, 80 miles north. At 11:30, we packed our gear away, topped up the oil, got underway, dodged the shifting shoals from the hurricanes and ripped up the ICW through the stunningly beautiful marshes and pristine barrier islands and wetlands of southern Georgia.
Zipping through the marsh at 27 knots in some of those narrow channels is a special experience. I wish I could have done it without the engine anxiety (no music), but everything went well. It was fun to navigate on the fly through some tricky, shifting, tight channels. I stopped and checked the engines several times, but we made it without issue. It was a good run.
We landed at thunderbolt marine in Savannah at 2:30, which happened to be the same time as a ~90 year old man was crashing his trawler into the dock and bumped a few boats. Since the busy dock master wasn't near the phone or the vhf, I got the instructions verbally by performing a dock drive-by at the scene of the trawler crime. We gently backed into the assigned dock and tied up.
Over a late lunch at Tubbys Restaurant down the street, the hunt began. We needed a haul out and a Suzuki mechanic. Unfortunately the "full service" shipyard at thunderbolt doesn't work on outboards, and they don't really seem interested in doing business unless you are a mega yacht. The people were nice, sympathetic even, but not helpful. Fortunately our friend from Costa Rica, Chuck Chastain was in town, and between me, him and Mary, calling locals and googling things, we slowly worked through the problem. We exhausted all options. We were almost defeated. It was getting to the point that we would have to run the boat 100+ miles north to Charleston to find a solution. We drank some beers with Chuck and his brother on the boat, had a wonderful evening of chit chat, and then Mary and I snuggled up on the air mattress. This time, we put up my custom teepee tent for the first time. We both slept well.
Underway Day 12:
The tent kept the bugs away, blocked the nights breeze, and caught the morning dew. I woke up refreshed and happy that sleeping on this boat could be done so simply and comfortably.
It was a new day. We needed a plan. I was researching how to do the job myself when we caught a break. I got a call back at 0800 from Phil Dolan, a Suzuki dealer at Landings Harbor Marina. He didn't think they could haul a power cat like ours the day before, but then he came through. He had found a way to get our boat lifted out with a forklift and brought to his shop. After canceling the rest of our reservation where we were, we packed up at 10:30 and ran for 30 minutes down the river. We tied up and met Phil and Rory, the marina director. They were wonderful and we found the perfect fit cradle for the boat. It was a big stroke of luck and kindness. It took a few attempts to line everything up but we soon had her out of the water and parked next to the shop.
After 20 years of dreaming and months of preparing, the prospect of the delays in our plan was disheartening and expensive, but I was mentally prepared for this. I didn't think we would have engine problems the first day, doh. That's why we did the shakedown cruise to the Bahamas. All in, life could be worse and this issue could have come at a worse time or place on the voyage.
Just like the setback on the Gulf Stream fail post, I have look at this as an opportunity and a challenge. The most expeditiously reasonable proposal was to put a new outboard on. Replacing the seal involves basically removing the entire power head. I'll spare you the details. It's an involved process, best not done in a rush. A new outboard provides its obvious benefits and gives me piece of mind that I'll have one new engine port side and one 10 year old engine with 1100 hours on stbd. It also gives me the opportunity to have the old engine rebuilt properly. I'm going to take the new one out of the crate, bolt it on the transom, and put the old one in the crate and ship it to Chris Anderson in Florida. He'll have it running like new. If I need a part, he can take it off and send it to me. When I'm done with the loop, we'll sell it and recoup 35% of the cost of the new engine. This option provides good insurance and piece of mind for the journey. We'll see what happens.
Plus, now we get to know Savannah. So far, I'm pretty happy to get stuck here. We found a great Airbnb deal on a cute little cottage near Forsyth Park, and we'll start by checking out the farmers market in the morning. Pura Vida
30 April 2018 | Dolphin Dock House
Preparations have been underway for many months, and even after the successful shakedown cruise, there was still much to be done.
Life has been maddeningly busy but also satisfying to knock so many lingering items from my to do list. From Mary leaving work, to changing addresses to a mail forwarding service, doing taxes, moving all of our earthly possessions into the garage and attic. I did hundreds of small projects to get the house “idiot proof”, labeling everything, painting, new grill, electronic keypad door locks, spares, and just too many small projects to list.
On the Mombo, I replaced the hailer and anchor light, repaired the nav lights, camera, and applied heat shrink and dialectic grease to many electrical connections, and uploaded new nautical charts for all of the US and Canada. Since I couldn’t get anyone at World Cat or their distributors to even reply to an email, I was forced to improvise, and customize many things. Most items are now more bulletproof than the factory standard. On the UV damaged vinyl cushions, I removed half of them and used the SEM system, a 3 part marine vinyl restoration technique that I’m curious to see how it goes. So far, the new light grey cushions look great. I’m not a seamstress, so the stiching is more functional than fashionable.
The boat was waxed up with a new product called Nano Extract, which cleans, polishes, and puts a nanoscopic hydrophobic barrier on the gel coat. So far, the results are very impressive.
There are many other details of little projects and preventive maintenance things I did to minimize the chances of something going wrong. I thought things were going great. All systems were inspected and ready to go, and all of our gear for the next 6000-7000 miles was stowed and organized in a rational manner.
Just one last job, turn the boat around and replace the stbd propeller, which was 1.5 degree different pitch from the Gulf Steam Incident. I waited a while to do it because there was just so many things to do at the house, getting it ready for short term rentals.
Last week, I went to start the engines, which performed perfectly on the way back from the Bahamas, and the port engine wouldn’t start, and threw a code 4-2, ie neutral safety switch. No biggie, as this is a $20 part and an easy sensor to replace on the motor.
I overnighted the part. When my mechanic Chris and I went to install it, we noticed other problems. Namely, there were hidden areas of the engine that looked like a freaking salt mine. Where was is coming from? Turns out that the thermostat housing had a pinhole leak, despite flushing with fresh water every time I use the engine. It had sprayed salt water all over the power head! Now we need to order a new stator, new starter, refurbish the flywheel, a new neutral safety sensor, new crank position sensor, 4 thermostats and 4 thermostat housings. The engine has also been cleaned and desalted, and will be all sprayed down again with the magical Corrosion Block spray, which saved the damage from being worse.
Hopefully the parts will arrive today and we will be back in action in time to depart on May 2. We have our first renters arriving on May 4, so it’s going to be close.
Fingers crossed, but at least we caught the problem early and hopefully will fix it here with my amazing mechanic, rather than trying to do it in an unknown port of call.
Mary just got back from hiking in Utah, and I’ll be honest. I’m really tired of preparing to go. I’m ready to go. I just want t untie the lines and get making way. At this point, if I overlooked some detail, we’ll just have to deal with it and improvise. Hopefully we can still untie the lines and go on Wednesday morning. Then we’ve got thousands of miles to explore before crossing our wake again.
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