Green Turtle Cay (GTC), oh how we love thee! – by Kara

Who wants to play me? Asks Garrison, basketball in hand.  Sitting in front of Miss Emiley’s Blue Bee – “home of the original Goombay Smash”, our group idly looked at each other as if asking who was going to respond “no” to the 10-year-old local GTC boy. However, once I realized Garrison was making this request solely to the boys, I took him up on the challenge.  My decision may have been fueled by the delicious fruity rum punch called the “Goombay smash”, but I gave Garrison a run for his money as we took off barefooted to the basketball court just across the narrow road.  The friendliness, openness and unassuming nature of Garrison to challenge a complete stranger was characteristic of all of the people at GTC.

Blue Bee Bar home of the Goombay Smash with our friends on Next Place

At first glance anybody could admire Green Turtle Cay’s brightly colored houses, chickens that regularly crossed the road, well taken care of, free roaming cats and the fresh coconut bread baked at Mcintoish (if you go to Mcintoish’s for breakfast get the French toast and eggs!).  A slightly deeper look into the cay and you could get lost on the beaches that surrounded the island with plentiful reefs and spinney lobsters, but it wasn’t until you interconnected with the locals that we found ourselves truly among the privileged to know and love Green Turtle Cay.

Giliam’s bay with white sand beaches with clear blue water.
Lobzilla

Donny, who could trace his lineage back to the British Loyalist that were chased out of the newly independent United States was the owner, manager, mechanic, diver and crew of the mooring balls and marina we were on during our stay.  He opened up his own home to anybody needing a hot shower and was happy to share his mini bananas with folks who sat around his property trying to soak up the wifi.

Bananas given graciously to us by Donny

Donny wasn’t the only one that could trace his lineage back to the British Loyalist.  In fact, Gully from the band Gully Roosters who we met on the island’s Friday night happy hour Shenanigans tour (an event as folks walk from Pineapples bar to the liquor store then to 2 shorty’s for a bite and back to Pineapples for live music) told us that he needed to find his wife on another island and bring her back to make sure she wasn’t actually his cousin.

By the end of our stay, we felt like we were becoming one of the locals especially since we shared different traditions like the 12 days before Christmas caroling.   Around 5 in the morning before the suns first light we walked through each of the streets in town banging the drums and loudly singing Christmas songs. This tradition had been carried for centuries and came from the caroling in started in England long ago.

Eventually we came to a point where we saw that it was time to move since our 2 day planned stay had turned in to 2 weeks, so we said goodbye to our new friends on Green Turtle, but want to thank them making us fall in love with Green Turtle.

Last night at the Tranquil Turtle bar

Staten Island to Long Island Sound

We’ve been a bit lazy on the blog lately and will do our best to do a better job keeping it up to date.  In the mean time, here’s a few quick pictures from today’s trip up the East river.

Varazono Narrows Bridge

Manhattan to port
Brooklyn Bridge

Cruising is not vacationing – Lessons learned in a month, by Kara

“How long are you on vacation for?”  The woman at the bus stop in Ft Meyers beach, 12 days post untying our lines, asked us at our shared bus stop.  “Well we aren’t on vacation … we live on a boat” is all we could muster in response.

After stumbling upon the 2013 world premiere of “Maiden trip” at our local Austin SxSW film festival and falling in love with the notion of traveling the world via boat, Erin and I began preparing for life as a cruiser.  Part of our prep was minor things like learning to sail and buying a first, then the second sailboat and refitting, but the other part was learning what it means to cruise.  We would read every piece of cruising and sailing material we could get our hands on, diving into blogs and listening to podcasts on every commute.   However, similar to landing your first job out of college, it doesn’t matter how many classes or aced tests one has on a subject, some things can only be learned through experience.  Finding out that we love cruising, even though it is not a constant vacation, is one of these.

Our sailing prior to cruising was either point to point or in a protected bay.  The sheer amount of logistics when cruising is overwhelming at first.  Not only did we need to figure out what the weather was doing to see if we could travel, but also what destinations we wanted to go, which route: ICW or outside hop, how will the weather effect either route and how much time either route would take so we could leave at the correct time to have daylight when getting in or anchoring.  Where to anchor, how deep the water really is (charts are often wrong) and at what tide level, how will the current verses wind affect our anchoring, will Florida laws actually allow anchoring in this area or do we need to grab a mooring ball?  How does the process work for mooring or calling bridges for openings or docking at a random fuel dock?  The logistics were intimidating to say the least and I felt the nerd inside of me daydreaming about creating a “Google Maps” type app that would just figure out all of these variables and calculations for you.

Sail Flow showing the wind forecast for our Dry Tortuga passage

Cruising boats are physical and hard work.  However common sense this might be, it wasn’t until we were cruising did I accurately understand the concept.  Mind you, prior to cruising, we did some pretty intense work on the boat redoing many of the systems, so we were all too familiar with “boat yoga” and associated boat bites.   Before we untied our marine lines, we had cars – our flip flops were several years old before the soles were worn unlike the month of walking it takes us to wear down flops now.  With cars, you don’t travel daily in the dingy, hauling it and the motor up every night.  We had water right on our dock so hauling Jerry cans full of water, gas and diesel was never really a thought.   When it rained, we slept soundly in our air conditioning not waking up with water splashing in from open hatches scrambling up to in a dream state to check on the anchor in high winds.

With the added inconveniences and less creature comforts comes a more rewarding existence, one that is more in tune with nature.  Dolphins would feed at every anchorage we had on the west coast of Florida, day or night.  They would play in our bow wave and catch a ride down the ICW in our stern wave.   Watching Baby Osprey, Pink Ibis, 7 foot wing span Frigates, acrobatic pelicans, and a slew of other avian animals I cannot name became one of our favorite pass times.  Lastly, I can’t forget the manatee we hung out with at Cabbage key and the two we saw quickly in Key West.  Gentle and sadly beat up, but beautiful creatures, such a pleasure to see.

Baby Osprey on ICW marker, Florida
Ibises eating fish in Costa Cayo
Manatee at Cabbage Key

There is something special about stars away from land and under full sail.   A cool summer night with a gentle breeze propelling your house to its next destination, stars crowding the clear night sky so that you can’t distinguish even the most familiar constellation. Luminescent waves lighting up the stern of the boat and traveling off into the distance.   In the morning a fiery sun would paint the sky’s clouds purple, orange and red.

Sunrise, Gulf of Mexico – Houston to Tampa passage

Coming from the western muddy waters of the Gulf of Mexico, any color water besides brown would have us thrilled, but I didn’t realize how many different hues of blue and green the water could be.  More colors than in a giant box of Crayola crayons; we needed to make up names for the different colors because there really seemed to be something missing in-between midnight blue and Navy and dark blue just wasn’t descriptive enough.

 

Calm waters in the gulf – Houston to Tampa passage
Dolphin riding the stern wave – West coast Florida

Cruising is not all about beaches and umbrella drinks, but in my month long experienced opinion it’s not exclusively boat work in exotic places either.  There is a healthy amount of work and even stress, but we have finally found the correct amount of work life balance to lead a fulfilling life.

Dry Tortugas to the Marquesas (keys)

Ft Jefferson – Garden Key Dry Tortugas

 

Howdy Folks,

As I write this, I’m sitting in the cockpit as we head East from Ft Jefferson.  We’re motor-sailing East towards the Marquesas Keys in about 4.5-5knots of SE wind and about a gentle 2 foot swell.  We spent 3 incredible nights anchored at Ft. Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas National Park. To say it’s an absolutely amazing place, just doesn’t really do it justice.  This is one truly remote and beautiful place.  If we didn’t need to keep moving and head north for H-season, we’d probably still be anchored there.

Really the only way you can get to the Dry Tortugas is by boat or float plane.  There is a ferry that comes in once a day around 10:30 with a load of tourists.  The ferry stays until around 2:45 to allow them some time to check out the fort and do a little snorkeling.  Then they load up and the place is really peaceful.  There’s also a pair of float planes that make 3-4 trips a day each for folks that don’t want to deal with the ferry.

Once you’re in the Tortugas, the only options for overnight are to either camp on Garden Key near the fort, which looks pretty cool.  Or of course to be on your own boat.  Want to guess which option we took?  Either way, you must be self-sufficient once there, no water is available and you’re required to pack in and out all food and trash.  There are some very basic toilet facilities available and you can pick up things like shirts, books and sunscreen/bug spray at the store in the fort, but not much else. That’s what makes this place so great it’s only about 60 miles from Key West, but feels much further removed from the hustle of daily life in the “real world”.  The place is quiet and beautiful and an amazing monument to government waste.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all preachy here, but the fort is absolutely huge.  imposing old red brick walls enclose 16 acres of land in the middle of nowhere and since it was never completed it never  really served it’s intended purpose for the US.

Defending the harbor
Never completed but truly massive
Not a bad view from the top of the walls

But man, is it a cool place to visit now.  A massive crumbling brick fortress, surrounded by a salt water moat.  It covers Garden Key almost completely and is surrounded by the bright blue waters of a naturally protected deep water harbor.  The harbor is the reason the fort was built, to protect ships that patrolled the gulf and straits of Florida. The harbor made for a perfect supply base and safe harbor during storms and allowed the ships to maintain a vital trade route along the Gulf coast.  Anchoring in the Dry Tortugas was a new experience for us.  It was so cool, to be in calm water surrounded by reefs that break the waves from the Gulf but almost nothing visible on the surface.  This leaves you with the feeling of anchoring in the middle of nowhere.  There’s no real wind protection, so most nights we had a great breeze blowing through the boat and keeping our SilentWind wind generator singing as it kept the batteries topped up. Even when the wind really piped up, the water was calm thanks to the surrounding reefs and shallows.

Bush Key is off limits this time of year due to the nesting terns…1000s and 1000s of them

Again, we’re very glad to have added the wind gen option. Many of the days have been overcast, since getting to Florida which of course impacts our solar production.  Without the SilentWind, we’d likely have had to run the motor to charge a few days.  With the combo of wind and solar, we’ve been able to return the batteries to 100% state of charge pretty much every day but 1-2 and have never been forced to run the motor simply to charge up the house bank.

 

So, as Kara and I kick back in the cockpit to enjoy a fairly lazy passage the Marquesas (not THE MARQUESAS I keep dreaming about…but the Marquesas Keys) we’ve been chatting and just realized we’ve now been cruising for 3 weeks as of yesterday.  We haven’t been in a Marina since our initial landfall in St Pete.  So, for about 2 ½ weeks we’ve been anchored out, or on a mooring ball.  Many places in Florida don’t really want you to be able to anchor for free (Sarasotta and Ft Myers Beach are the ones we’ve been through so far).  It’s their solution to the derelict boat problem they have to deal with in most of the more convenient anchorages.  We’ve seen the problem first hand in many anchorages, with old unmaintained boats that just sit in one place and dump their head waste directly overboard.  It’s easy to recognize the problem, but prohibiting anchoring altogether, just seems heavy handed.

 

For the last 2 ½ weeks, we’ve been sans Air Conditioning and have relied almost entirely on wind and solar for our power and have cooked most every meal aboard Vela.  It feels like we’re finding our groove and that’s been awesome.  Don’t get me wrong, we still do things like drop the anchor 3 times at Ft Jefferson before we find a place we’re happy with.  Or forget to secure the dinghy well, resulting in one of our neighbors saving it for us…talk about embarrassed but SUPER thankful.  But then we also get to pay it back to the cruising community when one of the other boats got their rigid dinghy swamped in the surf at Loggerhead Key yesterday.  Kara and I were able to land our dinghy in the surf, slide it up on the beach and then jump in to the water and, with the help of several other cruisers, wrestle the dinghy up onto the beach…over the course of about 90 minutes.  Result dinghy and 20hp outboard where saved.  Eminding us of something heard early on in our sailing live …  “Somedays you watch the show…somedays you are the show.”  The important thing is to learn from those experiences, not let them get you too down and embrace the constant state of change that is cruising.  Sometimes it’s crazy squalls at 2 am, that have you rushing around the boat securing all the hatches in a sleep induced haze.  Other times it’s kicking back on top of an old fort, near a massive old cannon in the middle of nowhere, with frigate birds soaring past at eye level, as the sun descends into the bright blue water…with an ice cold beer and your chicky beside you.

Frigate bird riding the thermals above the fort
Sunset above the fort with Loggerhead Key in the background.
Not a bad way to end a day

 

All in all…yeah I’d say I’m enjoying this new experience.

 

Now, bring on the Marquesas…(keys) and tomorrow hopefully Key W

We finally untied the lines

Heading out!  Thanks to our friend Jenn from Forever living Irie for this pic of us finally leaving. We really miss y’all!

 

Howdy Folks, below are a couple posts I wrote during or recent passage from Kemah TX. to St Petersburg Florida.  But before I share them, I wanted to say that Kara and I finally did it.  We actually quit two excellent jobs, moved aboard and untied the lines and headed out into the wide blue world.  We took a total of 5 days to cross the gulf of Mexico to Tampa Bay.

Since leaving Kemah, the day after my 44th Birthday (May 23rd 2017).  We’ve been slowly working our way down Florida’s gulf coast and are now sitting at anchor at Ding Darling – National Wildlife Refuge.  We’re hoping to spend a day or two here SUP’ing, biking and exploring before heading down to Naples and prepping for an offshore hop to the Dry Tortugas, if the weather cooperates.  We really want to go, but also need to be moving to the Atlantic side so we can start working our way North.  So, if we can get a weather window in the next week or so, we’ll make our run to the Tortugas.  If not, we may just have to settle for the keys and continue around.

But more on that, a little later.  If you’re interested, see below for my ramblings on the passage.

 

Escape from Kemah – Day 3/4 Friday

Howdy Folks, as I write this I’m relaxing in the cockpit under full sail and a crystal clear blue sky.  A cool 7-9 knot breeze is blowing out of the South East and we’re  making somewhere between 4-5 knots towards Florida.  Our intended landfall is St. Pete but currently our course has us heading north of Tampa Bay due to the wind direction.  Fortunately the wind is expected to shift to a more southerly SSE tonight and tomorrow.  We have the autopilot set on windvane steering which allows us to trim our sails for a close hauled course and then as the wind shifts South, our course will follow it, since this option allows us maintain our course relative to the wind angle.  This was something we had intended to do with the Hydrovane self steering system we bought and paid for, but Will and the folks at Hydrovane don’t actually stand behind their “guarantee that it will work for our boat”.  So, we had to make other arrangements.  There will definitely be more details to follow on the Hydrovane debacle, but until then suffice it to say that after spending many MANY days working on mounting and addressing the various clearance issues we ran into.. I believe it to be a fantastic product with absolutely abysmal customer focus.  They have no willingness to stand behind what they tell you at a boat show.  Once they have the cash, it’s your problem…but I digress.

This isn’t about that, this is about us finally untying the dock lines and making our way to Florida to begin our cruising lives.  Kara and I planned, prepped and saved for years. It was about a month behind our intended departure date, due to project poop tank.  But sitting here now enjoying this cool breeze and deep blue water (Irie – you guys would love it) it all seems worth it.  We left a day after our revised departure date due to some challenges getting our top down spinnaker furler installed, but we did in-fact finally leave.  And you know what…that feels pretty great.

Sure our first night out, right in-front of a low pressure front was a bit..sporty with plenty of wind and lots and lots of rain and lighting.  That all amounted to us motoring pretty much all that first night, but we were on our way.  The next morning, as expected the winds clocked around to NW and then to W, which is a great thing if your leaving Texas for Florida.  So with a reefed main and full Genoa, we headed due East.  Over the next couple days we played a little Frogger with the rigs and shipping traffic .  I must admit, AIS and Radar make life much simpler than when we did the reverse of this trip a couple years ago and had neither.  If you can swing it, I highly recommend both.

 

One of the roughly 40 Billion rigs we had to dodge.
“There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich.”

Last night the wind was too light to sail and right in our face, so we motor sailed with the main and Staysail.  Which reminds me, I’m super glad to have that dinghy off the deck and secured in the arch…thanks JZ customrails.  Now the winds are out of the SE, but there’s enough of it to sail.  Which makes for a nice relaxing afternoon, even if it is a bit slow at 4.5 knots in an 8 knot breeze (currently).  The beauty here is the engine is off, solar and wind are EASILY keeping up with the AP, instruments, fridge/freezer and various other charging requirements.

 

If this keeps up we should be in St. Pete sometime late Sunday, which would be great.  That would mean 5 days of actual travel to make Florida.  This is the reason Kara and I opted to start our cruise off with a delivery skipper.  Since we’re still building our skills from a cruising and managing the boat 24 hours a day while underway perspective.  Having someone aboard to share their experience and make the watch schedule a bit more manageable seemed like a good move.  So, we called our friend Blaine Parks who helped get the boat from Maryland to the Bahamas and then down to Texas a few years ago.  Now that we’re out here, I know we’ve been more efficient from a routing perspective, with Blaine’s help.  The trick is to always be dealing not only with the weather you have, but be looking at what’s expected tomorrow and the next day, to plan the moves you make today and set up for tomorrow’s weather.  So yes, having him here has been great, but now that we’re here, I’m also confident that we could have done this on our own, and sometimes I think we SHOULD have.  Not because Blaine’s not great at what he does, he certainly is. More because asking for help, even paid help…always feels weird and leaves me thinking, you could have figure this out yourself.

 

On the other hand, having him along has reduced the stress level significantly aboard Vela.  I don’t know about everyone else, but for us…selling our house and cars, trying to rent the condo, and dumping all your stuff, and quitting your jobs, and saying goodbye to all your friends and family, and let’s not forget last second boat projects and blown deadlines…all kinda adds up.  We knew that due to the later than intended departure date we really had two options.  We could either keep stress down and go the ICW route.  This would have been less stressful in that your inshore and able to anchor every night, but it takes a long time and  would have forced us to rush through Florida to get north for H-season.  Or, go the direct across the Gulf route and have the stress of 5-6 day crossing in what can be a challenging body of water as a short handed crew on a 24 hour a day schedule. So, we opted for the direct route, but with help.  Thanks Blaine!  For the record, if we were in the ICW we wouldn’t even be to NOLA yet.  In fact if this weather holds. we should be to Florida in under the week it would have taken to motor up the ditch to NOLA.

Oh and did I mention we’re sailing, there’s absolutely nothing on the horizon but blue sky and even bluer water..and it’s freaking B-E-A-U-tiful out here?

 

 

 

….We might need a new grill cover though…

 

Pretty sweet, no?

 

Day 4

Howdy folks,

Despite the fact that we’ve had almost no wind (2-3 knots most of the day) today’s been another great one.  Who’d have thought we’d have such great weather for this passage?  I mean the forecast looked great for everything after the first night, but I just assumed it was too good to be true.  Of course, with the complete lack of wind, we’ve been motoring all day which obviously isn’t ideal but fortunately Vela carries a lot if diesel, so we have the range to do it.

Obviously motoring all day isn’t the great part, yesterday afternoon and evening was great with 10-15 knots from the SE, so we where able to sail through the night until this morning when it just stopped.  But of course with no wind comes nice flat, and I mean flat calm seas, almost glassy.  So we showered in the forward head to reduce the salt and grime level aboard.

Pretty calm for 150 miles offshore

 

To reward us for our excellent hygiene Neptune sent us not just one, but two pods of playful proposes today.  We got one about mid day that stayed and played for 20+ minutes in the bow wave.  Then, just after a dinner of chicken fajitas, we noticed a pod feeding on something near the surface.  When they noticed us, the race was on to see who could be first to ride Vela’s bow wave.  It’s so cool to watch these guys play, it honestly looks and sounds (you can hear them calling to each other) like they’re just having a blast.  In fact they seem to really like the attention and increase their acrobatics for us any time we cheer…and cheer we did.

Our new friends
Not bad for the gulf of Mexico

Love the bubble

These guys where super playful
And Fast

 

 

 

 

So now Kara and I are in the cockpit relaxing for her 6-8pm watch.  She’s reviewing video content so we can finally get off our asses and but together a video or two and I’m going through photos from the days visitors as the sun sinks behind us into the now crystal clear blue water.  It looks like we’re about 120 miles from Tampa, which should put us into the bay tomorrow.  In fact I think we’ve decided we’ll head to St. Petersburg for 1-2 nights in a marina while we clean up the boat and restock. Then we’ll start working our way south towards the Dry Tortugas and into the Keys.

 

OK, time to kick back relax and enjoy the view.

Carless… – by Erin

The end of an Era – Long live the mighty Tundra

Howdy Folks,

I’m sitting here aboard Vela in our slip at Waterford harbor marina in Kemah, in the great state of Texas, just sort of letting that title sink in.  No, that’s not a typo, Kara and I are in-fact carless.  For the first time since either of us has been legal to drive, we don’t own a motor vehicle.  So gone are things like car insurance  (at least it will be when I finish this post and remember to call our insurance guy).  Gone too are state inspections, gas bills and road rage…of course, with that goes minor things like the ability to jump in my old Tundra for the 15 trips to Home Depot, West Marine and the hardware store, that it usually takes me to complete a simple project.

It’s kinda crazy, I’ve always had a car and never even given a second thought to how much easier it makes everyday life.  Untill now that I’m carless.  I actually loved my old Toyota Tundra.  It was by far the best vehicle I’ve ever owned and I’ll miss it’s 11 year old, 185,000 mile self.

That being said, being carless really drives home the fact that we’re doing this thing.  Vela is pretty much ready to go, still some fine tuning but this Monday (weather permitting) we’re planning to finally untie the Eff’n dock lines and get moving.  That’s right, actually use Vela for her intended purpose and get out and start doing the things we’ve been prepping and planning for, for the last 3+ years.

The last couple weeks have been an emotional roller coaster of boat projects (ah the poop tank), provisioning, stowing and re-stowing everything we own aboard Vela.  Coupled with the seemingly endless stream of logistics it takes to wrap up our affairs and put our land-life on hold and behind us for a while and start looking towards that unknown future.  So as I lay here, I’m pretty exhausted but as I take metal stock of what’s going on in our lives, I realize I’m also excited, nervous, hopeful and just plain ready to go.  Let’s do this, or, as my late and amazing grandmother used to say…lets blow this popsicle stand.  At the same time the hardest part about leaving is..well leaving.  I mean, pretty much everyone we know and love (with the exception of each other), we have to leave.  Our families, amazing friends, comfortable homes and great well paying jobs (ah paychecks…I miss those).  We have to leave them all.  Many folks say they’ll come visit us in cool places and we’re extremely hopeful that will happen, but until then…we have to get moving.

And that my friends, is an exciting, scary, crazy, terrifying and positively life changing thing.

So please hang around and follow along with us.  Because this week, the plan is to jump across the Gulf of Mexico again, but this time heading into the rising sun and spend some quality time in Florida as we work our way north up the east coast for the summer.

 

Our reward as we grilled dinner at the marina. Not long and the view will be changing…finally!

“Shit Happens” 4-26-2017 revised. by Kara

As the sun sets on day 6 of “Project poop tank removal”, I’m reminded that 18 months ago we had set today, “Four, twenty-six seventeen“ as the day we would untie the lines and set sail.  While that day was never meant to be anything more than a target it now symbolizes how close of a bullseye we would have achieved if it hadn’t have been for shit happening…  Quite literally.

A couple weeks after we both had given notice at work, we received a call from our marina friend alerting us of our secondary bilge pump alarm continuing to go off.  Not a fun call to receive, especially when a round trip to the boat is a full day’s drive.  Ultimately, we discovered that years of urine and salt water had corroded our aluminum black water holding tank and as Erin says “if we wanted to keep shit out of the bilge” we were forced to delay our departure and replace the tank.

The quote that we received for 10 thousand dollars, mostly for labor to replace the tank, made us realize that we would be doing the majority of the slog ourselves as unemployment and the lack of a steady pay check was looming.  Six days and plenty of blood, sweat and tears later we successfully cut through our fiberglass birth, have the tank removed and are well on our way of replacing all of the hoses.

4-26-2017, while this is not the day we set sail, it does give us a chance to reflect on the changes that have occurred as month long live-a-boards.

Our cars have become storage units – no real need to drive them far, as Home Depot, West Marine, Blackburn Marine, Kemah Hardware, Target, and Walmart are all within blocks of the boat.  The vehicles are much more practical to hold our personal items that would normally be stored in the boat holds, back in the days when we had indoor plumbing or a bed didn’t take up the entire length or the galley.

Getting to know our neighbors, both the human and avian type has replaced watching our favorite TV shows.  I no longer go to the gym each morning, but still get a workout in without realizing it.  Computers have taken a back seat and are only touched a few times a week.  I actually surprised myself when my calendar showed zero April meetings.  Sock are no longer part of the wardrobe, no need for these with flip flops being our main shoe.  Happy hours have shifted to BYOB, but are quite possibly happier.

4-26-2017.  While it is quite disappointing to be delayed, each day we directly see the impact of our labor and know that soon it will be our time to “Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.  Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

A weekend on the hook – Finally

Howdy Folks,

If you’ve managed to make it through a few of our blog posts, chances are you’ve asked yourself…”Do these guys ever actually get out and use their boat?”

Fair question, I know Kara and I have been joking with each other and most of our boating friends about that for a quit a while.  The fact of the matter is, we’re 3.5 hours 1 way from the boat…after our move back to Austin (4.5 hrs before we sold the house).  That distance combined with the large list of items we wanted to address in a short period of time, has meant that the majority of our weekends on the boat (2-3 a month) have been dedicated to working on the boat vs. actually enjoying it.

While we’ve made some real progress this last year, all work and no play has been frustrating at times.  So we talked to a few of our marina boat buddies and decided that this past weekend (Nov 5 2016) we where dedicating to getting away from the dock for a change.  A weekend away for a little sailing and few nights at anchor…what an novel concept.

Unfortunately work conspired against me and I had to be in Austin for an important customer meeting Friday afternoon.  The original plan was to work in Houston and make for an early afternoon.  Get out and anchored in time to fire up the grill and enjoy a few sundowners with our friends.  As it turned out Kara and I weren’t able to join the rest of the group until 10PM on Friday.  But hey, we made it in time to launch the new dink and row over (still working to replace some missing fuel fittings for the outboard) to a friend’s boat and join the group for a few drinks in the cockpit.

We anchored out at redfish island in Galveston bay, which is an oddly cool anchorage.  Not real picturesque compared to the type of images that come to mind for most of us when contemplating the cruising lifestyle, but cool none the less.  It’s a little man-made island right off the Houston ship channel.  The shape provides good shelter from the East and NE as well as blocking the wakes from the passing ships.  It’s out towards the center of the bay so you get a nice breeze and can sit in the cockpit and watch the massive ships role by, so cool in its own right.  Oh and did I mention….it’s outside the marina, that might be the best part.

Chart view of Red Fish with the Houston ship channel to the East

We had a nice night at anchor and got up early to enjoy a little coffee in the cockpit while watching the ship traffic.  The original plan suggested by our friends was to sail down to Galveston just outside the ship channel and possibly anchor in the Galveston yacht basin.  Our original target of Offatts Bayou and Moody Gardens wasn’t really an option due to the Galveston causeway rail bridge being closed for work between 7AM-7PM.  Since the clearance is around 8 ft when the bridge is closed, that was out.

Our buddy boats at anchor Saturday morning.  The shipping traffic is much closer than my iphone shows here.

Our friends boat Irie (Catalina 36)

Vela at anchor, as seen from Irie.  Thanks Joel and Jennifer for the pic.

We got a late start the next morning and a tight wind angle combined with close quarters to very large fast ships made for a stressful situation for Kara and I.  Since the goal of the weekend was to have fun, we opted to turn around and just spend the day sailing around the bay.  Once we made that change, we had a nice relaxed afternoon of sailing.  We tacked and jibed our way around the bay, while watching a few Saturday afternoon rum racers fighting it out around the marks. Then just decided to be lazy and head back over to Red Fish to set the hook and grill a few turkey burgers over sundowners in the cockpit.  The wind picked up overnight but our 73lb Rocna didn’t seem to notice, which is just how we like it.

Too cloudy for much of a sunset but hey, at least we where able to take advantage of the breeze with our new silentwind generator.

The next morning we made coffee and enjoyed breakfast in the cockpit. Stowed the dinghy on the davits and upped anchor for a nice sail back to the marina.  For the first time in WAY too long, we went the whole weekend without touching land, nice change.

This was also our first real test of the new solar panels and wind gen, both worked perfectly and our old degraded lifeline batteries never dropped below 13v all weekend.  Of course, we didn’t put much of a load on them either, but it sure was nice to enjoy a little piece and quiet for a change.  Of course this weekend, it’s back to the grindstone…we have several projects to knock out.  But we’re getting there.

According to my little countdown app….we’re a little over 5 months away.

Gulp…

Project update – Stern Seats, Davits and a new Dink

Howdy Folks,

Just a quick update on our progress to date.  We’re now finished with the new stern rail seats and they turned out even better than we where hoping.

New stern seat – 3 coats of Cetol natural and 3 coats of gloss

Getting there – We’ve since replaced these speakers with a new pair of fully waterproof speakers from wetsounds.

New seats are much more usable and orders of magnitude more comfortable than the old ones.

The next step was finally taking Vela over to Seabrook for some much needed fiberglass repair.  This was primarily to patch all the holes we made when removing the old stern hardware to make room for the arch.  We removed an old wind generator, davits, stern light and various hardware to make room for the arch.  We installed a new LED stern light on the arch to make it more visible, due to the added height.  The new wind generator is also up on the arch, so we had several holes left in the fiberglass as a result of the moves.   Getting these all fiber glassed in, means we no longer have a bunch of duct tape covered holes on Vela…so we’re pretty happy about that.

Vela patiently waiting at the dock to patch the holes and finally remove the duct tape.

Our next order of business was rigging up the davits and motor lift to get ready for our new AB lammina 10AL dinghy.  To do that I finally learned to splice double braided line, thanks to our friends at Stix-n-Rig’n, who where kind enough to teach me…and then a bit of trial and error back at the marina.

Newly rigged davits with 6:1 lifting tackle.  The motor lift took a little more time since I had to splice it directly onto the becket of the top block.

Then a few days later our new dinghy showed up.  The best pricing we could find, even after heading to the Annapolis boat show, was from Defender.  Of course that presented some logistics challenges trying to coordinate shipping when we’re 3.5 hours away from the boat.

Fortunately, being a Texan I drive a truck.  Big thanks to our friends at JZ Custom rails (they built our arch) for letting us ship the dink to their shop and loading it into the truck with their forklift.

Unpacking back at the marina

Good ole Texas neighbors helping bring her down to the slip.
Inflated and ready for Vela to return from the fiberglass work.  No fiberglass on this boat 117lb of aluminum and Hypalon.

Good looking dink, can’t wait to share many cruising and diving adventures with her.

And finally, my reward for a ‘quick trip’ down to pick-up the dinghy.

Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned.  Our next update is actually a full weekend….away from the dock….crazy!

Progress and more projects

Howdy Folks,

Been a while since the last update, but we’ve been super busy.  First the saga of the arch, stern seats and swim platform is finally complete.  We’re super happy to be done with that one and the quality that Jason over at JZ custom rails came up with is truly impressive.

Before the panels went on – gotta love the tape covering all the old holes.

Still shows the old dodger and empty bimini frame, not to mention the ever present holes in the fiberglass, need to get those filled…eventually.

Welding on the solar panels

Here’s our new swim platform and transom step.  The swim platform is completely removable by removing to thru-bolts and sliding it out of the brackets.

Then of course, true to form we had to have the canvas folks get started immediately after.  They made us a new bimini and dodger out of sunbrella supreme, which turned out great.  I’m realizing we don’t have any great pictures of those but will share what we have.  The outside of both dodger and bimini are black, with supreme you get a nice linen (tan) color on the inside which brightens up the cockpit and cuts down on absorbed heat from reflected light.  At least that’s the claim, anyway we love the look and it’s 100% waterproof which is a nice bonus.  You’ll also notice our new polycarbonate windows in the dodger still have the protective brown paper on them, which looks odd for now.  We’re leaving this on until the teak work is complete…

Here you can see the new dodger and bimini.

Windows still covered while the teak work is in progress.

Sterm view showing the interior color, seems dark due to covered windows.  Swim platform was off for fine tuning the fit.

Good view of bimini and newly sanded teak.  Connector piece between dodger and bimini is in the works.

Yep, you heard that right.  We’re also refinishing our teak, since we’ve been drilling holes in everything and have completely let the teak go while re-working the windlass, arch and stern railing.  Since we’re so far from the boat, we unfortunately had to pay someone to do this for us.  It’s not super difficult but very time consuming to strip everything down to bare wood, sand a re-coat it all.  So we talked with a few folks that where recommended by our marina neighbors.  One, that we really liked quoted us a price of $5500 for the full boat (yep, crazy) but then we found another lady that was a bit eccentric but said she’d do it all for $1800.  We can deal with a lot of eccentricity for 1/3 the price, particularly when she agrees that we pay when it’s done and are happy with it.  So she and a helper stripped everything down and put a couple coats on last week.  They should finish it this week.
 
We also removed our old stern light and put a new LED up on top of the arch, installed a down light on the bottom of the arch to help light the cockpit and rear of the boat and the solar panels, new MPPT controller and wind generator should be hooked up this week.

In our free-time (dripping sarcasm)…we also closed on the sale of our lake house and have moved into the condo.  We were both fairly bummed when this finally happened but are trying to focus on the positives.  We’ve paid off Vela, so she’s 100% ours now.  We also have the cash to payoff the condo that we’re living in now and will be renting when we head out to cruise.  This means more $ in our pocket every month from that rent, which equals a nice boost to our monthly budget.  In the process of moving we sold and gave away a ton of stuff.  Which means things are starting to get real…quickly.  We’re still selling big ticket items on craigslist in Austin but have done pretty well with the downsizing.  Of course, we’ll have a lot more to get rid of once we move onto the boat.

Our last night on lake LBJ.  We’ll miss you… But as our friends Joel and Jennifer say, we trading in the lake house for waterfront property…anywhere in the world!

I had to include this one.  As I mentioned we where not exactly overjoyed to be selling the lake house.  So, imagine my surprise when I hooked up this uhaul trailer (that I didn’t get choose) and realized it had a sailboat on the mural.  Sometimes the universe just…makes sense 😉

Now both people that actually read this blog know the reason for the long silence.  We’ve been crazy busy making major progress on our target date.  Next week, we leave for the sailboat show in Annapolis (including cruisers university) which should be fun.  Then we’ll be back, selling stuff and working on the boat, we might even leave the dock one of these weekends…that would be rad.

I’ll leave you with a marina sunset, the best we can do with so many projects in the works on Vela.