Thursday, 14 September 2017

South West, To Warm Water & Sunshine

Repaired & Heading For Warmer Water
Having completed repairs at the excellent Journey's End Marina in Rockland, Maine, we quickly made a jump south and west over the past two days, chasing warmer weather.

Penobscot Bay To Block Island Sound
Crystal Blues was launched on Monday at 13:00hrs and we fueled, conducted a small sea trial and finished rigging the boat that afternoon. Early Tuesday morning we struck out southwards down a very cold Penobscot Bay, dodging the ever present lobster traps all the way until we reached the open ocean.
A Cold Captain

From there it was SSW to the Cape Cod Canal, a 150
nautical mile run that we covered in around 22 hours of mixed motoring and motor sailing.  We zoomed through the 9 mile canal in just under an hour and continued WSW down Buzzards Bay in light airs. Sunshine and warm air lightened the mood - Ley turned to the galley and produced multiple loaves of fresh bread from the oven.

What a difference a solid day of travel can make - by 4:00pm yesterday we were anchored in the Great Salt Pond on Block Island, stripped of our multiple layers of clothing and enjoying balmy conditions around 25degC. We had passed the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and were into warmer Rhode Island waters.

Thick fog shrouded the boat this morning, so we delayed our departure until mid-morning when it had mostly cleared. It was a glorious day for sailing with 12 knots of wind and smooth seas, so Crystal Blues was in her element. It was our best sailing day in many weeks.

We romped along at 8 knots for most of the afternoon, hard on the wind with only a light salt spray decorating the foredeck. Six hours of travel now finds us back in New York State, in Greenport at the home dock of our friend Arthur Stroem. It's damn good to be away from the cold, and even better to be away from all those rocky reefs and ledges .....

Warm Air & Sunshine At Last - Approaching Long Island This Afternoon

Here in Greenport we'll do a complete rig survey - it needs to be carefully checked since our incident with the rocky ledge. Then we'll look for a weather window to take us safely south to Reedville, just off the Chesapeake Bay. September is the major hurricane month on the US East Coast. While Texas and Florida are cleaning up from the last two hits, hurricane Jose is hanging around out there in the Atlantic, and two more disturbances are now rated 70% chance of forming hurricanes in the next five days. You can update on those right here.

A Busy Month For Atlantic Tropical Storms

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Navionics Sonar Charts & The Missing Reef

Part Of The Keel Damage
Early on August 9 we departed Potts Harbour, heading for Booth Bay, Maine. Leaving the anchorage we collided with a submerged reef, bringing the mighty Crystal Blues to an instant stop from around 5 knots. Ouch. Our first computer assisted grounding!

Fact is, we were lucky.  The mast and rig stayed up, the hull was not breached and the damage could be repaired fairly simply. However a boat built less heavily would have been in severe trouble. The story that follows is intended to serve as a warning for others, to help prevent further accidents. So how did it happen ?

First off, I made the mistake of trusting Navionics Sonar Charts, which I'm unlikely to do again. Secondly, I failed to check any secondary navigation aids or references. So with more care I could have avoided the reef. Dodging lobster pots, early in the morning, I was busy at the helm and trusted the charts that had brought us into harbor the afternoon before. Never again...

It's ironic that I was actually looking at the charts (on the iPad) as we connected with the reef - when Ley stumbled up the companionway and I picked myself up off the wheel, we both looked at the chart on the iPad - it showed over 13 meters of water depth. Wrong. In fact very wrong.

Crystal Blues was at that point bobbing on the gentle swell, afloat, but occasionally colliding with the reef on the bottom of the swells and occasionally hitting something as she rocked from side to side. Not wanting to start the engine in unknown waters, we lowered the dinghy and towed her away to deep water using the outboard motor. We lifted the floor boards and inspected the bilges for damage or leaks, and then (more than a little shaken) proceeded to Booth Bay, where I dived on the boat and captured the image above.

Pulling Away From The Reef

So now, over three weeks later, we're hauled out of the water at Journey's End Marina in Rockland, Maine, working towards repairing and refinishing the keel. In the time since the accident both we and others have had time to look at the Navionics charts for the area in some detail, and the results are not good.

The Missing Reef

First of all, this problem has nothing to do with zoom levels on the screen. No matter how close in you zoom, that reef was not shown. So here is what we were viewing on screen right when the collision occurred :

With the wisdom of hindsight, it does look weird. The yellow line is our track, and it shows just over 13 meters where we came to a sudden stop. When we checked the standard Navionics chart (not the Sonar Chart version), a serious chart error became apparent :

You can see that this version shows a depth of 5.4 meters nearby, and the dark blue zone adds to the message that we shouldn't be there. However it gets worse, much worse.

The official government chart, above, shows a minimum depth on that reef of less than 1 meter. Yoiks ! So, not only the Navionics Sonar Charts were wrong, but also the "standard" Navionics charts.  How can this be ? How widespread is this problem ?

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Cruising The Lobster Coast

Goat Island Lighthouse Greets The Full Moon
We worked our way north from Boston, stopping overnight in Portsmouth  before another day hop to Cape Porpoise Harbor, just a few miles north of Kennebunk. It's small harbor, almost full of moorings but with space for perhaps three yachts to anchor just inside the sheltered zone.  During high tides a little swell does cross over the reefs, though it was never uncomfortable in the time we were there. Strong onshore winds could change that, so Cape Porpoise needs to be treated with respect.

It also has an incredibly dense field of lobster traps at the entrance - a huge tangle of floats on the surface, almost blocking the entrance - though with care we found a pathway through.

Crystal Blues At Anchor, Cape Porpoise Harbour, High Tide

Inside, the harbor looks huge at high tide, but is reduced by almost 70% at low tide to a much narrower channel between the islands, with dozens of lobster trap boats lying on moorings. A processing plant sits on a pier head with the two good restaurants adjacent, plus a large dinghy dock. The local supermarket is only a half mile walk, and has everything a cruiser could want.

The Admiral In The Lighthouse
At the entry to the harbour, the Goat Island Lighthouse is fully functional (using an LED light source we noted), with the historic site and buildings maintained by the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, who open the site for visitors most days.

The small floating dock on Goat Island can be accessed for an hour or so each side of the high tide. We used our dinghy to cross the pond, climbed to the top of the lighthouse and enjoyed the warm sunshine - something that was becoming scarce as we moved north east.

Lobster Dinner, Of Course, With Ralph Hurlbutt
Here, close to Kennebunkport,  we enjoyed a great reunion with Ralph and Louise Hurlbutt, whom we had last seen in the year 2000. We had worked with Ralph in Sydney, and even lived with Ralph and Louise in their Sydney home.
Stowaways In The Forepeak
Of course they cooked up a storm of local lobster, clams and seafood, and we shared a grand table with Ralph, Louise, their family and friends. Later, we played host to them onboard Crystal Blues, where the kids explored the boat while the adults explored the local wines, a perfect arrangement.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Lobster Madness

A Carpet Of Floats
Coastal Maine is famous for it's lobsters - last year they landed more than 130 million pounds of lobster and exported over $200 million dollars worth of live lobster, with the majority flown to Asia. Along the coast, lobster shacks decorate every harbor, serving the thousands of tourists that flock to this coast in the summer months.

Cape Porpoise Lobstermen Landing Their Catch
Each lobsterman can have up to 800 traps in the water, and there are more than 6000 licensed boats out there. 

Estimates put the number of lobster traps in Maine waters at over 3 million, and I figure we've seen and dodged the floats marking half of them.

In fact sailing on this coast is hard work, with constant vigilance needed to steer around the thick carpet of floats that dot the water. In places you could walk across the floats with snow shoes.

On foggy days the navigation work load increases even further. Watching the radar for traffic, dodging floats, managing the navigation and constantly peering into the fog means that even a short four or five hour coastal passage is exhausting - we prefer not to go to sea if it's foggy here.

So how do you deal with this carpet of obstacles ? First, we simply don't navigate at night, but there are other things that help .....

Onward to Cape Cod, Boston & Maine

Cape Cod Canal Transat
After two busy weeks in Greenport we moved further north east with a day hop to Block Island. Next morning we continued, heading for Buzzard's Bay and the Cape Cod Canal. With favourable tides we managed to run up the bay and into the canal by mid afternoon, where currents took our ground speed up to more than 11 knots for most of the 8 nautical mile transit.
Plymouth Harbour Entrance

With all that water helping us along, we were able to press on to Plymouth Harbor that afternoon. We were heading for a reunion date in Boston, and with help from the weather and tides we entered Boston Harbor late the next day to a very warm welcome at the Hingham Yacht Club.

There, seventeen years on, we met with the exuberant Nick Steffey once again. He hasn't changed a bit.

Our last time together was when we delivered his boat from Newport in Sydney to Newport in Road Island.

Nick sailed with us often in Sydney, and he stepped on board Crystal Blues with his friend Linda Goulding, at Hingham Yacht Club near Boston. His first words ?  "Boy, I sure drank a lot of good wine on this boat!".

So of course we proceeded to do exactly that. Nothing has changed really.

From Hingham, as we continue north and east toward Maine, the water and climate are growing very much colder, and we're starting to see the whales and seals that this area is known for.

It is summer here, though it sure doesn't feel like it.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Crystal Blues USA Land Cruise - Where Should We Go ?

Sitting in the unusually chilly waters of New England, we've started to dream about another type of voyage. This time, we plan an anti-clockwise circuit around the central USA, by car, taking in the north, the midwest and the south - the American heartlands.

So now it's your turn, please - tell us your favourite places to visit in the US, your favourite restaurants, bars and music clubs. Plus the cities and national parks that you love.

We're building a custom Google map to guide us on our travels, and we'll add selected locations to build a route for our land cruise. Note - we'll be starting and ending the cruise in Virginia, not far from Washington DC. Our timeline will start in early September and run through until early November.

Please comment below or email us with your ideas!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A Hostile Target Becomes A Gracious Host

Our Track In The Old Bahama Channel - Nordik Light Is The Green Target Close Behind Us
We first met Arthur Stroem and his crew on Nordik Light in the dark, 35nm north of the coast of Haiti, in the Old Bahama Channel. Nordik Light was following us on a moonless night, edging closer on a course that would bring her - well, a little to close for my liking.  So we altered course, but they followed and settled in behind us again, still getting closer....

There was other traffic around, and I wasn't so comfortable with this mystery boat getting closer in the dark, so I called them on VHF and suggested that they should alter course, away from us, or I would have to declare them a hostile target. This seemed to have the desired effect, and after a few words they altered course and passed us in the blackness.  We thought nothing more about the incident until we docked in Charleston, South Carolina, and there just across the dock was Nordik Light.  That morning Arthur and his crew came down to say hello and apologised for following us in the dark that night.  One thing lead to another and we ended up spending that week together, and Arthur invited us to his home town of Greenport on Long Island.

Lighthouse On The Approach Into Greenport
The Machine Going In
Which is how we found ourselves berthed safely in Greenport at Arthur's dock, doing essential maintenance and undertaking a slightly major washing machine replacement.

The days flowed into one another, the 220volt machinery was ordered (more on that here), delivered and installed and the engine serviced, and we were truly very comfortable in what was a beautiful and social maritime setting. Greenport is a very pretty town, compact and essentially maritime in nature.

Arthur and Valerie, with their friends, Susie and Michael, were gracious hosts, entertaining and very supportive as we worked to service and repair Crystal Blues.  We grilled in the yard, drank wine at sunset on the waters edge, played badminton on the lawn, watched rabbit, deer and squirrel play on shore and generally felt very spoiled by the American hospitality.

After way too long in port we finally (sadly) made a break for the ocean, but are already looking forward to our next visit to Greenport.

Click on the link below for some images of beautiful Greenport homes and environment.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Ocean Cruising Club Gathers In Cuttyhunk

OCC Members On The Beach At Cuttyhunk - Image Courtesy Peter & Patty, SV Serendipitous
From Newport it's only a 20nm day sail to Cuttyhunk, part of the Elizabeth Island chain that leads north towards Buzzards Bay. We motored into 25 knot headwinds and grey lumpy conditions to get there, to spend some time with the Southern New England Rally, run by the Ocean Cruising Club. On arrival we swung to a mooring in "the pond" for two nights, then moved outside to anchor for another night when the weather settled. This was to be our first "on the water" club event, since joining way back in 2004. A fine bunch of cruisers from several continents shared experiences, food, drink and generally played the fool for three days. Well done to the organisers, Peter & Patty from SV Serendipitous.

Cuttyhunk is a real New England gem, a low set island with an absolutely protected mooring field inside the salt pond, populated by a mix of weather hardened locals and seasonal summer residents. The local Raw Bar delivers fresh clams, oysters and mussels right to your boat, so there is no need to leave the boat to sample local seafood. The scenery here is stunning - click the link below for more images. Crystal Blues moved on after three days, leaving the group and heading south west, bound for Block Island and then Greenport on Long Island.


Thursday, 3 August 2017

An Ocean Garden

The things we miss most when at sea? Let me think - it has to be fresh greens!

Onboard Crystal Blues, the Admiral maintains a garden of green, in a (relatively) small plastic planter tub. Right now its growing Basil, Italian Parsley, Arugula (Rocket) and Rosemary.

At least three times a week we get a lovely fresh leafy salad off the garden, and Ley also makes fresh Pesto when we really need to tame the Basil, which is growing like crazy at the moment.

The planter tub is tied down on the port aft quarter, and yes, we do have to "tack the garden" sometimes when sailing - those plants really do not like salt spray. In poor conditions we move the planter to the bathroom, which I think it kind of secretly enjoys....

The planter is a Greensmart large size pot, available in cream or black.  It has a magical self watering design that simplifies the garden maintenance.

This pot worked for us right across the Indian Ocean and then down to Chagos, though the plants suffered badly on the way south to Rodrigue, when we were hard on the wind for many days - we abandoned the remains in the southern Indian Ocean. However its perfect for coastal cruising! Click the link below for an image of the pot on deck.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Boating On Steroids - An Electric Foiling Speed Boat

Seen here during testing on Bristol Harbour, this appears to be a prototype high speed foiling power cat. We did see her rip across the harbour, silently, late one afternoon in the fading light. When I approached the crew later they were unable to talk about the vessel at all, except to say it was an "electric speed boat".

The presence on the dock of a technical support vehicle from Goetz Composites shows that these are serious structures - Goetz have built 10 Americas Cup challengers and defenders, and have been involved in 5 Volvo Ocean Race (Whitbread) campaigns. Ironic that the testing of this high tech vessel was taking place right in front of the Herreshoff Museum, where the boats of the Americas Cup legend were originally created.

Reliance & Shamrock III, USA Library Of Congress Image

Bristol Fashion, Herreshoff And All That

A visit to the Herreshoff Museum in Bristol, Road Island, was an essential stop for us on our New England cruise. We day sailed north from Newport to Bristol and took a mooring offered by the museum, the cost of which included museum entry for the crew.

The museum occupies the original Herreshoff factory site, amazingly complete today, with some buildings leased by shipwrights who are building and restoring wooden boats on a commercial basis. Dozens of Herreshoff boats are on display - from dinghys to motor launches to catamarans. It was here that the great Nathaniel Herreshoff conceived and built the beautiful yachts that originally challenged and defended the Americas Cup over a 100 years ago.

I've cruised extensively on H28 and H37 ketches designed by L Francis Herreshoff, son of the master designer Nathaniel. Our afternoon in the museum was an overdose of timber, craft and history, graciously supported by one of the museum volunteers, who recognised our keen interest and escorted us around the site.

The museum is a living, breathing heritage site that, to my delight, operates youth sail training programs in classic timber Herreshoff boats. In the image below you can see the crews getting underway for an afternoon of sailing - they sailed on and off the moorings, bringing back a flood of memories for me, as I started my sailing experiences that way.  Yes, we have sailed Crystal Blues both onto and off moorings, though it has been a while ...

Sunday, 30 July 2017

220 Volt Boat Systems, In A 110 Volt World

Charge Master Multi Voltage / Multi Frequency
Sailing the Eastern Coast of the USA for the past couple of months, we've learned to be careful with our AC power management.  Crystal Blues is of course a 220volt /50cycle boat, basically incompatible with the 110volt/60cycle power supply typically available in the USA.

We have friends who plugged in to local shore power this year, thinking all would be well, only to find they destroyed a set of house batteries in just a few days - the battery charger was not actually charging. Other friends blew up a perfectly good air conditioner. Both boats thought the dual phase 220 volt service that many US marinas offer would be OK - an expensive mistake. It's actually two phases of a 110 volt service, without a neutral conductor (which is kind of dangerous) and it runs at 60 hertz - be real careful with that.  Even a transformer won't save the day - sure it can convert the voltage, but does nothing to correct the frequency problem.

So the number one item for sailboats cruising in the USA, Caribbean and South America, is a battery charger that will deal with all voltages and frequencies. We upgraded ours specifically for this task, when we arrived in the Caribbean. This allows us to keep the batteries charged from shore power whilst at the same time running the systems on the boat from the inverter. More detail on that topic in a recent post here.

But what happens when something fails - when a frequently used electrical device stops working?  Traveling north through the Caribbean I worried about our microwave oven, which was starting to make nasty noises. So we replaced it in St. Martin, almost the last place (heading north) with 220volt 50 cycle appliances for sale. I definitely did not want to have it fail here in the USA, where I could not replace it.

A Quiet Beer To Celebrate The Installation!
Then, as we cruised through US waters, we were dismayed to hear warning signs - bad noises again - coming from our washing machine. Now we were in trouble!

However our friend Steven Shaw was absolutely sure we'd find 220 volt / 50 hertz products for sale in the USA - check the internet he said. Sure enough, we came across a supplier who specialises in 220 volt / 50 hertz products, based in Illinois. 220 Electronics had four different washing machines in stock, one of which was a perfect fit in the space we had available.

It was ordered last week, arrived on  Monday and is now installed and working - I'm pleased to say the Admiral is a happy lady again. The folks at 220 - Electronics have everything from power tools to refrigerators, kitchen appliances and gensets, all running 220 volt 50 hertz, and they ship anywhere.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Newport Rhode Island, Social Cruising Continues ......

After a relaxed 50 mile passage we sailed into Newport, Rhode Island, arriving on schedule for a much anticipated dinner date. Coming into the harbor we dodged beautiful schooners and even more beautiful 12 Meter Americas Cup boats, all carrying passengers on commercial harbor cruises. Newport just oozes sailing tradition, money and tourists. We were lucky - old acquaintances and business connections had come forward, inviting us to dinner at the spectacular  New York Yacht Club facility in Newport.

So the mighty Crystal Blues, flying her Royal Yacht Club Of Victoria and Ocean Cruising Club burgees, rested on a mooring in front of the New York Yacht Club, while Ley and I prepared ourselves for dinner, not such a simple task!

New York Yacht Club At Newport, R.I.

Barbara Horton Lees and Steven Lees were relaxed and gracious hosts, having arrived in Newport themselves just that afternoon. We enjoyed a magic dinner on the great balcony of that beautiful building, looking out over the lawns, then standing with the members for the traditional cannon firing and flag lowering at sunset. After dinner we toured parts of the club house, once the Brown family mansion.

Of course this is the club that had just lost the Americas Cup to team New Zealand, though the spirit at the clubhouse didn't show it, and by the end of the evening we might have felt just a little guilty for cheering on the New Zealanders a few weeks earlier .... though I have a feeling that the New York Yacht Club won't hesitate to take up that proud fight again.

They have an incredibly active sailing program, hosting numerous race series for many classes, plus active sailing development programs.

Our hosts, Barbara and Steven, have lived on board their own boat for many years, and are working toward a full-time cruising life, so we were able to share stories of our own experiences.

The celebrations continued next morning with breakfast on board their boat, before we parted ways, hoping to meet at sea again in the future. We departed Newport later that morning in a light fog, bound for Bristol, Rhode Island, accompanied by beautiful sailing schooners and memories of a very special evening.

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Great New England Social Cruise - Part 2

Noank Waterfront Homes
Leaving Norwalk, we motor sailed against a 25 knot north easterly wind to reach shelter in New Haven, Connecticut. Once again, this was a slightly disappointing harbor destination, however it did allow us to stage our way to the North East along Long Island Sound, in quite poor weather.  Life looked better the next day when we arrived at the village of Noank, at the southern end of the Mystic River channel, this time in beautiful sunny conditions.

Crystal Blues At Ram Island Yacht Club
First some perspective - Ley and I vacationed in Noank some 22 years ago, before we owned a boat.  In those day we just did a lot of boat looking, and there are very few ugly boats in Noank ... these folk have been raised with proper values! Everything is a classic, even the fiberglass versions.

This is a picture perfect New England village, set on a peninsular that sprouts beautiful scenes at every turn. All traffic for the Mystic Seaport Museum goes upriver past Noank, so it is a great place to sit and watch the passing parade of fabulous wooden and classic boats.

We were welcomed and hosted here by Sidney and Sandy Van Zandt, who are the Ocean Cruising Club Port Officers in Noank, having settled here after there own circumnavigation in a boat they built with their own hands - more power to them!

Sidney and Sandy also arranged a mooring for us to use, right across from their yacht club, made available by other club members.

Being social and resourceful folk, they also invited several members of the local Ram Island Yacht Club to welcome us, at their home, the very evening we arrived. The club is a family run organisation, supported by the goodwill of volunteer members and shows great family spirit, with an active junior sailing program.

So our three nights in Noank became a celebration of cruising and sailing, with many local guests visiting on board Crystal Blues.  We had gracious support from the Ram Island Yacht Club and it's members, who invited us to use the club wharf on our last evening in town. We really did not want to leave.

However we had to move on, as our very social cruise had forward bookings. So we sailed from Noank, onwards to the North and East, heading for yet another social event .....

Moonrise Over The Mystic River

Very Social Cruising In New England

Beautiful New England
Since leaving New York City our cruising life has become extremely social. An unplanned series of connections somehow linked up, to create a cruise through beautiful New England like no other.

We started with a visit to the New York Athletic Club Yacht Club, at Travers Island, Pelham, just north east of the city.

Here we celebrated Independence Day on July 4th, with our good friend Steven Shaw and his sons Eli & Ethan. Steven's friends Paul and Elaine Osmolskis arranged access to the club for us, and became truly sensational hosts. I should say here that Steven was Best Man at our wedding, and Ethan is our Godson, so it was a great and long overdue reunion.

It is hard to understand how important the 4th of July really is, unless you call America home. Its a time of family reunion, contemplation, celebration and fireworks.

We dressed Crystal Blues with signal and club flags, plus our big battle flag, and made ready to join the party. We learned that night that the New York Athletic Club was pivotal in the start of the modern Olympic Games - together with a similar club in Chicago they basically kicked the ball off and started the modern Olympics. While berthed at the club we also received a visit from Thomas and Linda Delaney, OCC Port Officers for New York, who had seen our burgee flying and wanted to make sure we were looked after ... which we certainly were.

Incidentally, the US Declaration Of Independence is reprinted and published each year on July 4, by the New York Times. Check it out here.

NYAC Yacht Club Launch - A Proper Way To Go Ashore
The 4th Of July Picnic Cruise

We started the 4th of July with a delightful picnic cruise on Long Island Sound, before heading back to the yacht club for a serious overdose of fireworks that night.

Two Old Friends - Now Very Old !
Next day we moved on, arriving in the town of Norwalk, Connecticut, after a four hour passage. There we met with David and Jody Neaderland, long time friends that started with a business relationship back in the 1980's.

Dave and Jody were at our wedding in 1998, and also cruised on Port Philip Bay with us.

Now they have two great children, a growing business building AV middle-ware and a marvelous newly renovated home. It has been a long time ....

The reunion in Norwalk was warm and memorable, however once we recovered the next morning we needed to move on, and departed before the Norwalk dock authorities could attack our bank account again ..... (fifty US dollars for every six hours on a very crappy town dock was a bit steep).  Dave & Jody - we'll be back guys!

And the unusual part about the start of our New England cruise ? In two consecutive ports we met with old friends who were present at our wedding - couldn't have planned it better.