Archive for 'Florida'

We left Bimini before 6:30am Friday morning and just after 3pm in the afternoon we officially completed our circumnavigation by crossing our track at approximately 26 degrees 4 minutes North and 80 degrees 3 minutes West.  It’s going to take a day or two for it to sink in.  It seems like we were in Australia yesterday, and it still feels a little bit like this is just the next stop on our trip instead of the end of an adventure.

DSC_0670 We did it!!!  The world’s newest circumnavigators.

DSC_0678 Treating Pura Vida to some hard-earned bubbly

As usual, we made the trip from Bimini in light winds, motorsailing most of the way.  We did have one last bit of excitement, however.  Jackson has been pretty nuts about fishing, so we put both lines out and he made sure we kept checking both lures for seaweed.  Just before noon, Tim saw a fish jumping behind the boat, and sure enough, we had a fish on.  I started to pull in the hand line without putting gloves on first, and the fish was so strong that it took off and pulled the line right through my hands, leaving a few little burn blisters.  When it jumped again, I could see that it was a large bull dolphin (mahi mahi or dorado).  After patiently working it to the boat and with some help from Tim, I was eventually able to gaff it and bring it on board.  At around 44 inches, it was easily the largest fish we’ve landed.  It made a great lunch and provided plenty of filets for the freezer as well.

DSC_0647 Bringing this guy in was a team effort

For a country as obsessed with security as the US is, border security is as lax as anywhere we’ve been.  Aside from the occasional random Coast Guard boarding, you’re pretty much free to motor in to where ever you want.  The official procedure is just to phone in your arrival to CBP and then come by the office sometime in the next 24 hours to get your passports stamped.  We’ll drop by later today to make our re-entry to the US official.

We’ve added a couple of fun (for us) pages to the website for trip Stats and a few Tips, Tricks, etc. that we’ve learned along the way, but this will probably be our last blog. Our plans are to move the boat farther north and work on getting it in shape to sell.  We’re hoping to spend some time road tripping in the US visiting friends and family that we haven’t seen for a while before heading back to southern California.  I’m sure it won’t be long before we’re yearning for more adventure; we’ve started a list of potential new adventures, but we don’t have any firm plans for the future as yet.

Thanks to everyone who’s followed along by reading the blog during our trip.  It’s been fun to share the experience with you and we’ve really enjoyed reading your emails.  Thanks as well to Wes, Tim, and all the others who have supported us with dinners out, brought us parts, and helped co-ordinate assistance when we had problems at sea.  In addition to being there for us, we owe a big thanks to our parents for providing mail service and helping us with stuff stateside during our trip.  I’m especially grateful to Lauren, who’s been an amazing partner in this adventure.  I can’t say enough about her great attitude, spirit of adventure, and hard work (and her iron stomach).  She really jumped in with both feet and has made the experience memorable for me, our crew, and for the many people we’ve met along the way.  We’ve gone from being uncertain about even a short passage to being confident in our ability to cross oceans and navigate new, unfamiliar countries together.  Cruiser’s often call each other by their boat name (e.g., Hey, I saw Marionette at the market!), and it’s been great to hear the way our friends say “It’s Pura Vida!”

The trip has been life-changing for both of us, and like Lauren said, we’ve been lucky to have this experience at a relatively young age.  I’m sure the experience will continue to impact us for a long time.

Final Preparations

 We’re currently under the impression that we’ll be able to shove off tomorrow (Wednesday).  Here’s how the saga of the shaft alignment problem has gone over the last week or so:

 Friday (4/10): Found that there was an alignment problem that was likely a bent shaft.

Monday (4/13): Mechanic confirmed that there was an issue aft of the engine/transmission so we hauled the boat out, dropped the rudder, pulled the shaft, and took it to the mechanic to take to the machine shop.

Tuesday (4/14): The mechanic brought the machined shaft & coupling by on his way home from work, but we’d already found an issue with some glass work on the starboard keel, so we wouldn’t be ready to splash until Thursday.

Thursday (4/16): We re-installed the shaft and could have gotten back in the water, but the travel-lift at the yard broke and parts wouldn’t be available until Friday morning.

Friday (4/17): Splashed the boat around noon and called the marina where the mechanic has his shop, but they didn’t have a place for us to tie up; we have to wait through the weekend.

Monday (4/20): The marina still didn’t have a free spot to tie up, so we had to wait until Tuesday.

Tuesday (4/21): A spot on the fuel dock finally opened up and we were there before noon.  The mechanic came by, but wasn’t able to align the shaft to the engine.  At this point, they suspect the issue is the metal spacer between the shaft coupling and the engine transmission as the mounts seem to be OK and the shaft aligns properly to the transmission without it present.  We’ll replace it with a drive-line saver, a sacrificial nylon spacer that isn’t as demanding in terms of alignment and will protect the transmission from damage in the event we get the prop shaft fouled with a line in the water.  Unfortunately, the drive-line saver is damaging to the wallet and the mechanic/dealer didn’t have one in stock.  It should be here by 10am tomorrow and if things work with it installed, we’ll be ready to go.  If things don’t work, we’re going to be in for some more time in sunny Key West.

 Since we’re tied up at the fuel dock, we’ve spent the day filling water and fuel tanks & jugs, spraying down the boat, making final repairs, defrosting the fridge/freezer and reducing its space to conserve DC, and stowing gear in preparation for our passage south.  This is our first real diesel fill-up so we aren’t sure exactly how we’re doing on fuel economy, but it’s looking like about half a gallon an hour, which is about what we expected.  With 50 gallons in each fuel tank and several jerry jugs, we should be able to motor quite a ways if needed, especially if we conserve fuel by running only one engine at a time.

 Pura Vida has quite a bit of storage area, including lots of space in the bows.  We’d tried to use the bows to stow only light items, but in spite of our attempts, the bows were a little low on their waterlines. Also, they seemed to bury too easily when heading into the waves close-hauled, and we were pitching or hobby-horsing more than we’d expected.  Because we’re living in the forward cabins, we moved most of the stuff in the bows back into the aft cabins.  The bows are definitely riding higher now and we’re hoping we’ll have a more sea-kindly motion as a result.

 We have to give a shout-out to several of our friends who’ve provided hard drives with more music than we can possibly listen to.  It has come in very handy.  Our favorite approach is to copy songs onto a Flash drive and then use the flash drive in our stereo.  My friend Kopan also sent us a hard drive of movies, which has made for great entertainment in the evenings while we’re at anchor waiting for repairs to be completed here in Key West.

 Speaking of generous gifts, here are a couple of pictures from the underwater camera that we got as a gift at our wedding shower.  The wind died down a little yesterday, which made things warmer on the boat and improved the visibility in the water where we’re anchored.  Lauren took advantage of the clearer water to take a break from the heat and do some snorkeling around the boat.  We wanted to get an anchor pic, but the Rocna completely buried itself in the sand.  She did see a few fish and a discarded marine head.





Discarded Head

Discarded Head

 For those of you keeping up with the various equipment issues, here’s a brief update.  The autopilot did really well from Boca Raton down to Key West, including doing a good job of “auto-learning” our boat characteristics while headed into 3-4 foot seas.  The one exception was that when sailing downwind, the autopilot couldn’t correctly keep track of the rudder orientation.  It would eventually accumulate so much error in the assumed rudder position that it believed the rudder was hard over even though it wasn’t and would stop trying to turn the rudder anymore.  It was easy enough to reset the autopilot, but annoying to keep an eye on it, so we installed the “optional” rudder reference and that should finish up the autopilot for the most part.

 The problems with the electric starboard head (that’s the dumper, Casey & congrats on your engagement) turned out to be an old joker valve on the discharge.  We replaced the joker valve and the bowl no longer back-fills.  The somewhat weak discharge pump seems to have been partly due to the semi-clogged discharge elbow that houses the joker valve.  It’s up and running like a champ, which has made things a little more pleasant in the port hull.

 We haven’t had the battery capacity we’d expected after replacing the house batteries in Ft. Pierce.  In fact, we’d had about half the expected capacity.  We checked the battery connections, water levels, etc. and found that I’d missed tightening up the nut on one connection, so we’re now expecting to double our battery capacity.  We have four Deka GC15’s, which should give us about 430 Ah (due to charge/discharge characteristics, it’s only reasonable to use about a third of the capacity, but we still should be able to go at least a couple days with little battery charging).  We haven’t done too badly, even without all our battery capacity, as we so far haven’t had to run the engines just to charge the batteries.  We’ve either had plenty of wind for the wind generators stopped at a marina, or had to run the engines anyway to get in or out of an anchorage.

 Yesterday I installed the ICOM AIS receiver that had been back-ordered.  We’ve hung around long enough that it finally came in, and Dad was able to send it to us.  We’d purchased a radar, but the radome didn’t fit due to the jumpers on the forward portion of our mast.  Because we’re not planning to sail in areas where fog is a frequent problem, we sold the radome and elected to get an AIS instead.  AIS transmitters are mandatory on all large international ships, and we’re planning to use our receiver like a poor man’s radar.  The AIS uses VHF frequencies to broadcast a vessel’s name, location, speed, heading, destination, etc. and is used primarily for collision avoidance.  When you’re sailing near or crossing shipping lanes, especially at night, it can be difficult to tell exactly how far away a ship is or what its course may be.  The AIS should be pretty handy in helping us identify and avoid shipping traffic, as all vessels with AIS transmitters now show up as targets on our chart-plotter.

 We’ve made numerous other small repairs on a daily basis, and it does seem like we’re making a bit of progress in terms of functionality on the boat as well as settling into boat life.  

The Salt Life

We are back on the water, so I am once again inspired to blog. Not that being “on the hard” was so bad. It definitely had its perks. For example, we enjoyed some delicious Chinese food that Dallas and Wes’ thoughtful brother, Tim, had delivered to us (thanks, Tim!). We took advantage of the boatyard facilities that were actually plumbed with city water, unlike the showers at “Fort Prison” that, with their rotton-egg-smelling water and lack of shower curtains or tiled floors created conditions in which even Tiffany and I took short showers. We also met some interesting people, including three Germans with whom we had some (mis)adventure when the captain fell down the companionway stairs on their Morgan monohull. (We helped them to navigate the American medical system (i.e., ambulance, E.R.) which, incidentally, they found to be “immer langsam” (always slow) and incredibly expensive. On the other hand, they weren’t too thrilled about paying half of their income to the German government to cover the cost of nationalized healthcare.) Finally, we were able to complete repairs such as the fiberglass patch on the keel using the trusty folding bikes to obtain necessary supplies.




Wes Repairing the Keel

Wes Repairing the Keel




There is nothing like the “salt life”, though. Despite that we are still in the U.S. (just barely–we are closer to Cuba than to the nearest Walmart!), life on the water is novel enough to feed our desire for adventure for the moment. For those of you who have not experienced it, allow me to share with you some of the adaptations that this requires.
In a previous blog, I mentioned taking showers with a bug-sprayer. This might give the impression that we have a primitive plumbing system of our own on board, but not so. We have showers in the heads (bathrooms) plumbed with fresh water, but the on-demand propane water heater that we purchased seems to have two settings: off and scalding. Also, our heads are so small that it is difficult to move around comfortably. Thus, it is much more fun to find a time when there are no other boats around, take one’s clothes off in the cockpit, and have one’s spouse spray pressurized water from the bug-sprayer that has been heated with the warmth of the sun. Surely even the most modest can imagine the freedom of bathing in the sun surrounded by nothing but the ocean and the breeze. To truly capture the experience I must also state that by the time one gets around to taking such a shower, one tends to be pretty sticky and salty, so becoming clean is especially delightful.  




Marine Head

The Marine Head

Less delightful is adapting to the heads–in this case I am referring to the toilets specifically. Marine heads are unique in that they are easily clogged, so in general, sailors make it a policy not to place any toilet paper in them. On Pura Vida, we have two heads (we decided that this was essential for two couples), a manual and an electric. The latter works much like a typical toilet in that there is a button that is depressed to flush it. The difference is that the waste is then pumped to a holding tank, which, in our case, has resulted in the head becoming somewhat “odiferous” (per Dallas). The manual head is less problematic in that it discharges into the ocean. However, according to Coast Guard regulations, this can only be used when one is at least three miles offshore, so in the meantime, we need to address the source of the unpleasantry on the electric side. This is Dallas’ unfortunate project of the day. 


For Tiffany and I, cooking three meals a day without a microwave began as a bit of a project, but we are getting used to it. She and I make a good team. Since our boat design is “galley-down” (i.e., the kitchen is down in the hull rather than up in the salon area, as in many catamarans), it helps tremendously to have two of us working on dinner so as not to have one person feeling like a galley slave while others are upstairs socializing.  




The Galley

The Galley

One of the advantages of “galley down” is that the galley is larger and nearer to the pantry. In terms of what we have to work with, we have a nice, propane stove with two burners and an oven that generally works, although it is not uncommon for one or both heating elements to turn off without provocation. I have found that we can prepare just about anything that one might eat at home (except for some mac n’ cheese that I bought that I later discovered was for microwave prep only) as long as one has the necessary ingredients. As far as that goes, I have noted before that we have an abundance of canned food on board, thanks to Dallas and Wes’ mother, so it is only produce and cheese that we are likely to crave. (We made sure to get plenty of multi-vitamins to compensate for nutritional requirements.) Also, when we are under sail, it can be pretty tricky to create anything beyond basic pasta dishes without becoming sea-sick (at least until the sea-legs have fully formed), so we will save the gourmet meals for times like this when we are at anchor.


I think I will close by mentioning one of my favorite aspects of being on the water: the opportunity for water sports such as diving and snorkeling. Although we have yet to break out the scuba gear, we are going to do some snorkeling today in the green water and take some pictures using our underwater digital camera.


Monday we head back to the marina for a quick alignment of the port engine, and then it’s back offshore! Since we are so far behind schedule, we are considering making a run directly to Panama  with the option of stopping in Mexico if necessary to rest or resupply. Once offshore, I am sure that I will be reminded of some of the primary benefits of the cruising life, including freedom of mobility, the tranquility of isolation, and the pleasure of self-sufficiency. While not for everyone, it certainly has its merits.


Relaxation in the Trampoline

Relaxation in the Trampoline

Mixed Luck

 Well, we’re back on the hard again (boat is out of the water).  Monday morning the mechanic confirmed that there was an issue with either the prop (propeller) shaft or the coupling.  I got in the water to take a look under the boat and make sure it wasn’t possible to pull the shaft while we were still in the water, but the rudder and rudder post were in the way.  There was a 3-4’ tarpon under the dock waiting for me when I jumped in, but he left pretty quickly after I jumped in.


Our 21’ beam makes it hard to find a yard with a travel-lift big enough to haul us, but as luck would have it there was one within sight.  We just motored out of the channel at Oceanside, made a U-turn, and headed into the channel for the Old Island Boatyard.  The travel-lift there is 21.5’ and we used almost all of it.  We weren’t quite as nimble using only one engine, but the guys on the dock gave us a hand and we were in the slings in no time.


Pura Vida about to be hauled out


Wes and I worked for about an hour to disconnect the steering quadrant from the rudder so it could be dropped.  We ran into more of the same – stainless bolts running through aluminum that have set for years in the marine environment.  The result is lots of galvanic corrosion that seized the bolts.  Luckily, there we didn’t have to try to use the propane torch in the small space; plenty of PB Blaster, the breaker bar, and lots of elbow grease were enough to get all the required bolts moving again.  Tiff had a close call when the rudder finally came loose.  We didn’t realize it would drop so suddenly once the last of the steering quadrant was disentangled or that it was quite so heavy (the rudder shaft alone is about 6’ of solid stainless 2-3” in diameter.  She was below helping to steady the rudder as we dropped it and got a bit of a surprise when it finally dropped.  Luckily, other than a pair of broken sunglasses and a little soreness when she winks, she’s unscathed.  Once we’d dropped the rudder, the guys in the yard lifted the boat in the slings nearly as high as it would go until the top of the rudder shaft cleared the bottom of the hull and we were able to move the rudder out of the way and allow the boat to be moved to a semi-permanent spot on the hard.  We were fortunate that it was a slow day in the yard and we had plenty of time to sit and work in the slings.


In the slings

It turns out that our shaft was bent by about 0.004” and the coupling needed some minor re-facing as well.  Overall, that’s better than having to buy new hardware, and we’re hoping to be back in the water and ready for an alignment on Friday.  Worst-case we should be ready to set out again early next week.



While we were out of the water we also make the unfortunate discovery that the keel repair we’d had done in St. Marys in January hadn’t stuck.  We re-drilled the stop in the starboard keel and got a little bit of moisture out of it.  Wes re-worked it yesterday and we’re hoping that this time it will last longer.


While we weren’t moving, we took the opportunity to try to do some much needed haircutting.  We’d purchased clippers before we left with the intent of doing our own haircuts.  Unfortunately, the clippers that had been recommended to Lauren were actually trimmers and were completely overwhelmed by the task of cutting a full head of hair.  After several attempts, Wes was left with a patchy half-head of hair that was a sight to see.  A new set of clippers cleared up the problems, tough, and Wes and I were both able to get a proper haircut.  Mine haircut was the first time Lauren had ever cut hair and she must have had beginner’s luck.  She did an impressive job.


Wes Post-Haircut


Dallas Pre-Haircut

Dallas Post-Haircut

Dallas Post-Haircut

The cruising community isn’t a huge one, even here in Florida, and we were happy to meet up with Freddie and Deby again.  They’re friends from St. Marys, GA that we met while we were in Amelia Island.  Freddie would stop by every week or two to visit, talk about boats, or help with repairs.  They finally wrapped up their boat hunting and bought a Wildcat 35 they’re going to call Stray Cat.  As fate would have it, they were actually here in Key West at Old Island as well getting ready to head back north to Georgia.  They had a rental car and were generous in taking us shopping for several needed items.  We wish them good luck on their trip north.





Deby & Freddie Aboard Stray Cat


The Conch Republic

We arrived in Key West Wednesday morning after a good sail over from Largo in N & NW winds.  We hadn’t spent the night in a marina since we were in Ft. Pierce, so we decided to spend the first night at the Key West Bight city marina to make it easier to do a couple repairs that needed power tools and make sure everyone could get a nice shower.  We’ve all been to Key West before, both by sail and by car, but it is still a fun stop.  Mallory Dock at sunset and Duval Street haven’t slowed down a bit, and there’s still a pretty good talent level in the numerous live bands that play for no cover in the nightlife district.  Dante’s is also a great stop as they have a large pool by the Bight docks that’s open to pretty much anyone.



Mallory Dock Entertainment

Mallory Dock Entertainment


Tiffany and Lauren Enjoy Duval Street

Tiffany and Lauren Enjoy Duval Street




The island proclaimed itself the Conch Republic in 1982 as part of a somewhat tongue-in-cheek secession protest due to a Border Patrol blockade and checkpoint on US Highway 1.  The highway is the only road in and out of the Keys and the blockade resulted in a significant inconvenience for the residents and a decrease in tourisim.  The Conch Republic celebrates Independence Day on April 23 and has the slogan “We seceded where others failed.”


The major repairs on the list for this stop were installing a rudder reference for the autopilot (it’s supposed to be optional with this model and the autopilot did pretty well on every point of sail except downwind, where it seemed to lose track of the rudder position, so this should be an improvement), having a couple sails repaired (we mentioned the spinnaker in the last blog but we also lost some stitching and chafed the jib on the spreaders on the way here), installing an anchor chain stop to hold the anchor & chain while underway, fixing our dim anchor light, and doing the 50-hour oil change on our newly rebuilt engines.


The first several repairs went smoothly.  We got the rudder reference and chain stopper installed on the same day we tied up and handed the sails off for repair the 2nd day.  Unfortunately, while doing the engine oils changes I noticed that the port engine, which had been vibrating more than even a small diesel should, was out of alignment with the prop shaft.  It’s something we’d suspected before leaving Amelia Island, but our mechanic didn’t have time to make it over to check things out before we left.  Aligning the shaft to the engine transmission is a little tricky and it’s one of the repairs that I’ve left to a mechanic in the past, but I gave it a shot on my own this time. It looks like we might actually have a bent shaft or an issue with the shaft coupling, so we’re headed into a marina tomorrow to have a mechanic take a look. Worst-case, we may have to be hauled out this week to have the port prop shaft replaced.  We’ll keep you posted on that one.  There’s no end to the fun :)


In terms of places to be held up for a bit, Key West isn’t too bad.  The anchorage is nice and of course free (though use of the dinghy dock is $6/day and use of the showers is $20/week — I know, it’s not exactly rent in LA).  Wes just checked the weather for the next 4-5 days and every day is the same — partly cloudy with a high of 83 and a low of 74.  Not bad.



We’re all starting to do a bit of reading as well.  Tiff’s been reading a novel, Wes started the cruising guide for the South Pacific, Lauren has started Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (a great read, for those of you who haven’t read it yet), and I’m about halfway through a book on the history of circumnavigators.  The stories of the early ocean crossings and circumnavigations are truly amazing.  Without accurate charts (in some cases no charts at all), no accurate way to find longitude, no knowledge of how to prevent scurvy, and small wooden ships, it’s no wonder that most of the early circumnavigations involved quelling a mutiny at some point, loss of most of the ships in the small fleet, and significant loss of crew due to death & desertion.  The author concludes that the day of circumnavigators is over in that the challenge and commercial utility of circumnavigation is essentially gone.  This is definitely true for something on the level of a commercial or state-sponsored venture, but it’s still not a trivial undertaking for the small boat sailor.  

New Shoes

On the walk back to the dinghy last night, Lauren and I spied a cardboard box with several pairs of flip-flops in it at the edge of the dock.  A passing local informed us that tourists often leave items on the day-charter boats and never retrieve them, so they’re just left on the dock.  As I’d had my flip-flops eaten by a dog in Amelia Island and Lauren had just lost one of hers overboard a couple of days ago, we tried them on and both found a great pair with a perfect fit and already broken in!