Sunday, October 23, 2016

Goodbye! The First Day of Echo II's Latest Journey

I know I put it in here somewhere! Darn, it's crowded.

Tight fit in Echo II's quarter-berth: food, galley supplies, linens, rain gear, clothes, folding bike. The only substantial storage area on the boat. I love plastic bins. So organized. Pope hates them. (But he always asks me when he can't find something anyway.)

Let's see, does this one go on the port bunk? Or is it part of the dinette back? Let's leave the plastic covers on the cushions, please, until we get the leaks fixed.

Pope's brother Henry uncovers the sail (note the spiffy new sail cover in elegant navy blue) and adds some reefs to prepare for 25-to-30-mph gusts. Henry will accompany Pope on the first segment down the Chesapeake Bay to Hampton, where the deck leaks will be re-examined for alternative solutions, since Plan A didn't work all that well.
Pope and his brother Henry puzzle over how to get the boat safely out of the narrow slip in unpredictable winds.

The sparkling water in Whitemarsh Creek belies the seriousness of the wind. Note the pilings surrounding the narrow boat slip, the proximity of the dock next door, and the tiny turning basin: a slalom course on a gusty day. Add shallow water, with less than a foot under the keel at mid-tide, and it becomes even more important to get it right the first time.

Final step: unplugging from shore power, the last grounding link to land and our home marina.
Waited for the wind to die down for a brief calm moment and leveraged her out, with me on the dock holding her off the neighboring boat with a stern line, and Henry pulling her around to the right with a bow line around the front piling. Whew! Safely out of the slip before the wind picks up again.
Leaving the marina for good. It's up to the boys now, to get her to Hampton safe and sound. Then on to the Intracoastal Waterway, where I'll catch up in a few days. Final destination: The Low Country of South Carolina? St. Augustine, Florida? The Berry Islands of the Bahamas? Depends on the weather, condition of the boat, and our own patience and stamina.

Goodbye! A tear or two escapes when Echo II--the boat Pope and I slaved over for the last few months (well, at least Pope did)--disappears around the bend.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Crunch Time: Now


Is it (a) the sound of autumn leaves underfoot, (b) the sensation of biting into corn flakes at breakfast, (c) a strenuous exercise for developing abs of steel, or (d) none of the above?
The answer is (d) none of the above. At least for today.
It’s the tense, action-packed 24 hours before departing on a 6-month journey, when: you’ve only cut down your TO DO list from 4 pages to 1-1/2; the boat is still leaking; a furnace valve starts leaking inside the wall; the oven door falls off; you realize you forgot to arrange care for your house plants; and you have to re-thread your sewing machine with stiff, hard-to-handle, UV-resistant thread and sew loops on the end of your jackline (a sailor's tether in a storm).

Me: “Are you looking forward to leaving?”

Him: “YES!! I’m SO looking forward to getting out of here. This place is falling apart.”

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mid-October Update: Work, Work, Work, Play

My goodness, is it really mid-October already? Loyal readers, I know that some of you have been wondering whether we rushed headlong into the Intra-coastal Waterway (ICW) just in time for 100-mph winds and 20-foot coastal surges.

No. The week before Matthew upset plans up and down the east coast--from anglers to hikers to festival-goers--we discovered some dramatics leaks aboard our boat, Echo II.  Pope considerately shouldered the burden of finding and sealing them; after all, it is his "project" boat. (For the uninitiated, buying a "project" boat is like buying an "as-is" house.")
On a "project" boat, most of the holds are filled with tool boxes rather than normal vacation gear such as snorkel masks, beach towels, and margarita mix

Alas, the sources proved mysteriously elusive. In other words, we couldn't find where the damn water was coming in. During a heavy rain last week, a couple of gallons flowed into a dishpan beneath the galley stove, located roughly in the middle of the cabin, from who-knows-where. A few more liters flowed down from somewhere deep in the ceiling onto the nav table, soaking our marine charts and operating manuals. So,z after consulting with several boatyards who laughed and said "come back in February," Pope set about removing, repacking, and replacing every screw, bolt, nail, and rivet on the deck--by himself.
Un-bolting, re-packing, and re-bolting every hatch, window, trim, and track

"It's hopeless!" I cried. "There are hundreds!"

"No, only dozens," was his calm reply.

You may recall, a few months ago, my blog post about how a sailboat cruise to the islands--and owning a sailboat at all--is more work than play. I'm experiencing a sense of deja vu here.

While Pope grunts mightily to conquer rusty threads and rotted caulking, I am addressing other preparations. I wish I could claim that I am preparing margarita mix to store in the galley, or perusing the library book sales for intriguing novels. No. Instead, I am: holding the socket wrench on the nuts while he struggled with bolts on the other side; attacking black mold with Tilex and Borax; making mosquito nets; and sewing an over-the-boom awning for shade against the intense sun of the islands.
Making a very big mosquito screen--our companionway is too big for any of the ready-made screens available for purchase; that makes it easy for both people and flying critters to get in and out!

Unlike Pope, however, I insist on mixing some play in with my work. Such as gym workouts, Toastmasters meetings, and playing and singing music around town. After all, the boat trip is not my singular goal like it is Pope's, and I sorely need to prepare my body and mind for extreme withdrawal from routine DC-based activity.
Singing Cajun at the Dew Drop Inn in Brookland, with the Capitol Hillbillies

After 7 days of intense labor on board Echo II, I became concerned about Pope's sanity and dragged him to the Richmond Folk Festival, where the festival grounds were inundated by several inches of rain and mud of the hip-boot variety. Slightly damper than our boat. Despite the downpour, I enjoyed some zydeco dancing under a tent while Pope fretted about whether the boat would stay afloat without him.
People showed up for the music in vinyl ponchos and rubber boots, on a soggy day

Despite the nasty weather, the music was fine in Richmond. Our local harmonica champion Phil Wiggins (from Takoma Park, formerly of the duo Cephas and Wiggins) played some mean blues and gospel.
Phil and colleagues wowed the discriminating audience

But back to the main story. After Richmond, Pope solicited help from another old salt, a veteran Maine sailor he has crewed with extensively, who knows a thing or two about deck leaks. They are at the marina now, well into Day 4 for the duo, staying overnights on the empty boat. Pope reported that they were surprised to find "beaucoup" leaks. I asked if they were able to fix them all.
Mike T. knew how to 'strip' the interior cabin features to gain access to the remaining bolts through the top deck

His emailed reply: "Still 4 staunchions to go and a few other small fittings but the hardest part (genoa tracks with 62 damaged bolts) is all done. I am striving for 0 deck leaks. If  not, I am determined to search and destroy each and every remaining one no matter how small before going into North Carolina."

We were also surprised by the first solid news about boating conditions on the ICW. In short, damaged and, in a few places, dismal. Many sections of the canals and rivers closed to navigation for a while. Marinas and docks are damaged and in a few places, boats are piled up like blocks.
Hilton Head marinas were ravaged (photo from Greenville News)

Even the homes of people we are planning to visit along the way are drying out and smelling like fish.
Drying out at a friend's home in St. Augustine (photo from Lynn Healy)

However, today, drawbridges on the ICW began to reopen as power was restored, and several sailor friends left their summer ports on the Chesapeake Bay for points south, hoping for a return to normalcy by the time they reach North Carolina. Navigational aids (like iSailor on the iPad) will remain unreliable because of shifted sandbars, especially in inlets from the ocean, so word-of-mouth news among sailors will be de rigueur. If sections of the ICW remain closed or impassable, our friends will detour into the Atlantic and bypass the inland canals and rivers.

Pope is willing to tackle the ocean, so there's a good chance he'll finish the deck and want to leave in a week or so. Personally, I don't think our boat is ocean-worthy (or maybe I'm not), so I may ask him to line up other crew for the offshore passage. I would be happy to fly down the coast to meet him in Florida in November--or whenever the marinas' docks, boater lounges, and hot showers are restored.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Readiness--a State of Being, a State of Mind, or Just a Confused State?

What does it take to get a boat ready for a winter cruise? Or should I ask, how much fortitude does one need to successfully complete the process without interim trips to the emergency room or the loony bin? 

As most of you know, Pope and I hope to take our sailboat, Echo II, south along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and possibly all the way to the Bahamas, this fall and winter.
Preparing Echo II to leave home port in Edgewater, Maryland--someday soon...?

For hundreds of US and Canadian sailors, this is no big deal; many have gone south every winter for 10, 20, or even 30 years. For others, it is a lifetime dream. And, for most, a logistical migraine.

Our friends Bruce and Gayleen, who live on Pearl (, are old hands. They rescued me from ocean-crossing panic disorder and prevented an emergency flight home on Christmas Eve 2013.
Bruce and Gayleen salvaged my trip with a warm smile, a box of kleenex and the calm voice of experience

Maybe we'll meet them somewhere along the ICW--the series of coastal rivers and canals that allow you to travel from New England to Florida without venturing into the ocean. Or we'll see them in a Bahamas harbor or on a crowded beach. (Sorry to disabuse you of your notions of paradise, but most of the deserted beaches that look so appealing at first glance are actually frequented by biting sand fleas.)

Ed and Joan, normally casual Chesapeake Bay cruisers like us, are planning for their first trip south on Dolce Vita ( Having endured the same preparations in 2013, I am totally in sympathy with what they said in their recent email: "Joan and I have been going crazy getting the boat and the house ready for the trip!" Note the "going crazy." How does one cope with paying bills and taxes from a boat; keeping up with births, deaths, and family news; monitoring furnace reliability back home; clearing cabinets of anything that could spoil or attract pests; getting prescriptions filled en route? How does one pack a boat for an excursion to an island nation with virtually no agriculture, mechanics, or medical care? More important, how can one prepare for the frustration of days or weeks without hot showers, electric appliances, and internet??!!
I can write, I can read, but when, oh when, can I upload???

Ed and Joan one-upped us in preparing for their maiden voyage: they sailed the Atlantic on the far side of the DelMarva Peninsula a couple of years ago, to test their boat and better prepare for the upcoming ocean crossings. We, on the other hand, were rank novices. In other words, we learned along the way. (Our exploits and mis-adventures were well-documented in this blog, much to Pope's chagrin. And loyal long-time readers will recognize many of the photos below.)

We tried to replace a broken water pump in North Myrtle Beach on a holiday weekend. Ha ha! We replaced our dinghy and outboard in Miami, after more than one experienced ICW traveler laughed themselves silly when they saw the ones we dragged down to Florida from DC. The old dinghy tried to sink somewhere around Melbourne Beach; to quote from my journal: "seam split; took on gallons of water immediately."
Shiny new dinghy and outboard--wow, what a big step up in reliability from our former leaky raft and classic British Seagull engine, which looked nice but rarely started!

We sewed no-see-um nets for our hatches by hand when the necessity became appallingly clear, and repaired ripped sails by hand with dental floss.
"Amber, do you have any more of that Johnson & Johnson white dental floss? The mint green doesn't go well with our genoa."

Before leaving the US, I embarked on an emergency trip to a shopping mall to buy shoes. Who knew that grappling with sea legs for eight weeks could wear out your soles?
Proper fit, ankle stability, and good arch supports: essential for hours and hours and hours (and hours) at the helm

My first ocean crossing was a bit bumpy--an understatement. Upon arrival in Bimini, despite the fact that it was Christmas Eve and the sun was shining, I cried for hours and refused to take off my life jacket and harness. (Just ask Bruce and Gayleen--the welcoming committee.)
Is it safe to come out now? Oh, you say the sun is shining? But surely you can see the tracks of my tears?

After that came the REALLY hard lessons! We found out on our crossing to Bimini, one of the closest islands in the Bahamas to Florida, that our hull-deck seam leaks dramatically in ocean waves. Following closely on that semi-disaster, we spent a month in Nassau getting our diesel engine rebuilt when a bad bearing destroyed the crankshaft. (I may have the mechanics slightly wrong; however, there's no doubt when it all started: my hyper-over-sensitive paranoid self knew immediately that something was wrong. To quote from my journal: "I noticed a clatter in the engine.")
After they took away our engine, we spent most of January stuck at this Nassau gas station, eating french fries and begging to use the toilet

We occasionally hear stories about brave young couples who quit their jobs, buy a boat, and sail off to the South Pacific, with no spare parts, no live-aboard experience, and no concept of sailing by the stars when the electronics break down. By and large, these modern adventurers survive. What I want to know is: did their boat leak? how much blood was lost? did their relationship survive? were they treated later for PTSD?

Echo II's departure this fall, originally planned for October 1 in order to travel with Dolce Vita, will be delayed until later in October--just like the first time in 2013, when, because of our late departure, we suffered fewer hours of daylight and sub-freezing temperatures all the way from Edgewater, Maryland, to Fernandino Beach, Florida.
Shivering in the winter sunshine somewhere in Georgia, in ski cap, wool gloves, and down jacket

I'm wondering if our boat doesn't want to go on another long trip; it chose this week to dramatically spring some substantial leaks, top and bottom. Top leaks are a matter for grit-your-teeth-and-get-out-the-mold-killer endurance; bottom leaks are a matter of life and death. Just about the same time, the bilge pump malfunctioned. Echo II, what are you trying to tell us????!!!
A watery grave awaits those who attempt an ocean crossing without securing the through-hulls and fixing below-deck leaks

While Pope patches together the boat with flour-and-water paste and a screwdriver, I am busy sewing multiple and redundant mosquito nets, having read the bad news about zika in the Bahamas.
This year, unlike 2013, we will not be rushing headlong toward the islands at a breakneck pace. In fact, if it weren't for the cold and the shorter days, we would prefer to drift leisurely down the ICW at a very relaxed pace. Personally--regardless of the onset of chilly temperatures--I intend to grant myself long respites along the way: in Charleston, to visit friends Cindy and Dave; in St. Augustine, to play music with Lynn Healey, my guitar instructor at music camp this summer; and in Daytona Beach, where a member of our local sailing group, Annapolis Sailors Club, moved recently.

Something to look forward to--getting off the boat in a real vacation spot rather than a shallow, mosquito-infested canal!

Not sure what Pope plans to do during those times while I am resting on my laurels enjoying my vacation instead of charging non-stop toward no-see-um-ville (the Bahamas). He tends to like books and naps, especially naps after long days at the helm. Most days, though, will probably find him addressing the never-ending need for boat maintenance and repair. Learning more lessons, naturally.

As of this writing, Ed and Joan are still planning to leave October 1, three days from now. Hmm. I wonder if they've heard the news: due to excessive rain and high water, parts of the ICW in southern Virginia are closed! (Lesson #1: keep your schedule flexible; no deadlines.)

Once Echo II gets underway (or should I say, if...?), you can follow our adventures here on my blog, and occasionally on Facebook. In the absence of any postings over a longer-than-normal period, be sure to check the hospitals and loony bins.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Pine Tree State--Yep, There's Plenty of Them--and Other Observations on Maine

Maine: it must be a fad. No fewer than nine of my friends vacationed in the Pine Tree state this summer or fall. 

But how many of them sailed?

Having finally emerged from the slump I descended into when I dropped my camera into the drink from a dock on Swan's Island, while--or maybe because--my friends were negotiating to buy lobsters at the other end of the dock, intending to boil them alive (it's enough to upset any self-respecting vegetarian), I would like to share with those of you who are NOT vacationing in Maine a few additional observations from my sailing trip in September.  
Here is Larry choosing his 1-pound dinner while I troll through the bottom mud with a 20-foot boathook, fishing for a 1/2-pound Olympus.
Lobster boats (photos are at the bottom of the ocean) and sleek sailing sloops (photos below) dot every harbor. The surprisingly clean, well-kept, and freshly painted lobster boats (alas, no photos) surprised me--quite a change from the usual dirty working boats in most fishing harbors of the world. The lobster industry is flourishing because the lobster population is exploding, apparently because the lobsters' predators (big fish) have been fished out. The prosperity is reflected in the quality and high level of maintenance of the homes in the fishing villages--again, quite unusual.

Eleven-foot tides require docks that float up and down with the water level.  Boaters tie up to these, and long ramps that connect the floating docks with the upper shore creak and groan as they adjust, their slope ranging from almost level at high tide to steep angles at low tide.
Every few mornings in September, dense fog rolls in (apparently more frequently in August), reducing boaters' visibility to a few hundreds yards or less. Many of the navigation buoys rely on bells clanking in the fog. Lighthouses employ fog horns. For us, iPad-based marine navigation and a robust radar helped reduce the anxiety of sailing in the fog.
On the rocky coasts (when visible), rows of stately pines reach for the clouds. Despite the thriving tourist trade and the usual profusion of expensive new mansions along many sections of the waterfront, there is still plenty of heavily wooded coastline in Maine.
Lighthouse photo by Larry Catlett
Farther inland, rock and pine dominate the windswept landscapes.  

In contrast to the natural beauty, Mainers love profusions of flowers, in parks, gardens, and window boxes. May they enjoy these bursts of beauty before the winter snows set in.
In even greater contrast to natural beauty--everywhere in the world--are the scourges of Tourist Central, such as the ones in the town of Bar Harbor, gateway to Acadia National Park.
Hanging out in a tourist town has one big advantage, however--restaurants. A break from primitive cooking on a crowded boat. And in Maine, a chance to lose one's self in the culinary ecstasy of wild blueberry ice cream and blueberry pie. Here we are rushing intently off to town to take advantage of those delectable delights, probably for the fourth or fifth time.

Final observations: in Maine or elsewhere, sailing wouldn't be the same without settling back on our cockpit settees at sunset, to enjoy the subtle layers of color in the sky above, on the water's surface, and in the rum cocktail balanced on my lap.