Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Charter Day 2 - What Have I Done?

The past few days tropical storm/hurricane Sandy had been approaching the US and we awoke this day to the storm starting her pass by Florida.  Yes, she was well east of us (all the way across the width  of Florida and a good distance out to sea) as well as a bit south of us, but because she was a big storm, this was still causing some stronger winds all the way over in Tampa Bay.

After breakfast and making use of the showers at the Vinoy hotel, we see a couple sailboats out in the bay sailing with reefed sails.  We decide to get going thinking that, if we don't like the conditions, we can always come back to the marina.  So we get ready to go...for the first time by ourselves in a large-enough-to-live-in boat.  Taking into account the direction the wind will blow the boat while we were in the slip, we remove the spring lines  and all but the one dock line that will help us keep the boat under control until we get a bit of speed coming out of the dock (when the rudder becomes effective).  We set the one line as a running line so my wife could cast it off while standing on the boat as I motor the boat out.

We leave the slip without incident and make our way out of the marina and the protected cove. As we leave the protection of the cove we notice the seas were choppier than the previous day.  By the time we made it far enough away from the St. Petersburg pier, it seemed we were in 3 ft seas...and this was in Tampa Bay.  The winds were from the northeast, so the fetch was all the way across the  bay.

Raising the main on this boat is a little different, as the main rolls up inside the mast.  Since the winds were a steady 20kts and gusting higher, we wanted to reef the main, so we prepare to partially unfurl the main.  Unlike having reef points, with a roller you have an infinite ability to reef the sail.  So, we take our best guess and bring the main sail part way out.  We get the main set, and I shut down the engine.

With the rough water the boat slowed and we started losing directional control.  So, I started the engine again and I opted to bring out a little of the head sail so hopefully it would give us a bit of power without overpowering the boat.  Since I was at the helm at the time I asked my wife to do it, but she seemed to be having some difficulty with the rigging of this boat, so I set the autopilot and went to help.  We got the head sail about 50% unfurled and I set a broad reach  course and put the engine in idle.  This time we were getting some power.

The roughness of the seas  combined with our control difficulties made the decision to just head back to the marina an easy one.  Maybe this wasn't the best day to be making our first leg of a trip by ourselves on a boat with which we have little experience. I head the boat up into the wind to get us heading back in the general direction of the marina and ask my wife to re-trim the sail. Again she was having difficulty.  It was about this time that I start to realize that something more was wrong.

The rough sea, the gusting wind, and the rolling and healing of the smaller mono-hull boat all combined to scare my wife much more than I had realized.  Add in the urgency of needing to get the sails set before we lost steerage, and I was apparently more barking orders than calmly discussing them, and the combination of it all was too much for her.  What have I done?  Have I just pulled the rug out from under all of this?  To my wife, I am very sorry for being part of the problem.

After getting the sails trimmed, I decided the best action we could take was to start the engine, drop the sails, and just motor back to the marina.  I start the motor, head the boat into the wind and set the autopilot, and then furl the sails.  On the bright side we didn't have a problem with the roller furling head sail, but I apparently got it rolled so tight that there was about a one foot triangle still out when I ran out of furling line.  I was able to get the main furled and we motored back to the dock.

At the end of our lesson the prior day, we were told that we could pick up a Sailing Florida employee to help return the boat to the slip, so that is what we did.  I figured having someone else take over at this point was the prudent move.  The boat was uneventfully returned to it's slip, but the damage may have already been done to our long term plan.

We decided the best course of action for the rest of the day was to get off the boat and look around the St. Petersburg area instead.  As the day came to an end, we watched the sun set on the gulf side.
A pretty sunset and much calmer on the lee (protected from the wind) side..and you can still see some surf.  Not a bad end to a rather trying day.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Our First Sailboat Charter - Day 1

So, what do you do the day after you get your ASA 104 and 114 certification?  You do your first bareboat charter of course.  So after waking up and bidding Tracey's catamaran and our classmates farewell, off we went to the Vinoy Marina in St. Petersburg to pick up the Catalina 309 we booked for 5 days from Sailing Florida Charters.
Going from a 41' catamaran to a 30' monohull is quite a downsize, but going from a crew of seven to a crew of two makes up for it.  The boat is actually quite spacious for it's size, with a queen size berth tucked under the cockpit, a V-berth up front and a nice size salon/galley area.  The only thing that was small was the head, but who wants to spend much time there.

After we arrived, we had an orientation where we went through all the boat systems and signed the paperwork.  What I've heard about renting seems to be true.  They didn't ask to see our credentials (maybe this was just an oversight this one time) but they did want to see the credit card.

Since this was our first charter and I think it always makes sense to have help familiarizing yourself with something new like this, we arranged for an instructor for half a day.  The instructor met us at the boat shortly after we completed the orientation and got our bags aboard.  Now we've been on a 30' boat before...once.  So, seemed like a first thing to practice was docking.  After we were comfortable with getting the boat back in its slot, we took her out on the water to do a few maneuvers.

Just as with the latter part of our catamaran trip, we had pretty decent winds.  We raised the sails and were immediately reminded we were not on a catamaran anymore.  Yep, monohulls heel.

Consistent winds and large bodies of water are not things we had to work with in Colorado, so this is exactly the experience we've needed on a mono.  It definitely feels a bit different.  We practice the usual maneuvers and get comfortable with them.  Everything went fine...until we went to furl the genoa.  Normally roller furling is easy: pull the furling line while keeping some tension on the sheet and it rolls up nicely.  Someone needed to tell this particular rig that.  About half furled, the thing jams up on us.  We go forward to see what the problem is and find that one loop of the furling line has somehow found it's way around the outside of the drum.  We try to free it up, but since we are almost at the marina it would be easier to get the boat tied up and then deal with it.

One of the other Sailing Florida employees sees the issue and we end up picking him up at the dock.  We then do a little more docking practice while he works on the roller furler.  The lesson was over, and this guy is still working on the stubborn furler.  In the end he was able to get it fixed, and he changed the lines path to hopefully resolve the issue.  Kind of a bummer that the problem occurred, but the customer service aspect the Sailing Florida employees exhibited was a very refreshing change from the usual service I get, or don't get, back home.

We figured that this first day would be spent with the instructor and provisioning the boat and then we would take off for other anchorages after a night at the marina.  So, we come up with a plan for the next few days meals and head to the grocery store.  Provisioning for such a short period is difficult, and we try to figure out things that will make a couple varied meals without a lot of waste...don't want to eat the same thing for every meal and can't pack stuff back on the airplane.  We came back with bread, lunchmeat, hamburger, and spaghetti, milk, cereal, fruit and vegetables, chips, and rum of course.

Back to the boat, time for a sundowner, and off to bed so we can get an early start on our adventure the next day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cruising Course Day 5 - ASA 104/114 Tests and Maneuvers

Every day so far Captain Tracey making coffee has been our alarm clock...but not this day.  Since we were in Bradenton, he spent the night at his place in Bradenton, so it was just us students on the boat.  I got up and made the coffee.  My wife says I'm an early riser...I've just not been good at sleeping when the sun is up since I left college.

Being in port, we were once again able to take advantage of marina showers.  The Twin Dolphin Marina has a nice setup with a number of nice clean private bathrooms upstairs with plenty of hot water.  After the shower we had eggs and bacon with potatoes for breakfast, finishing up some of the provisions.

We then took our ASA 104 (bareboat chartering) and 114 (cruising catamaran) written exams.  Both exams covered the material out of the respective books (Cruising Fundamentals for 104 and Multihull Cruising Fundamentals for 114). The 104 exam was a similar format to the 101 and 103 tests with 50 true/false questions and the remainder as multiple choice.  Unlike the earlier tests, these focus more on the various systems found on a larger boat (engines, plumbing, electrical, propane), trip planning and navigation, weather and emergencies.  Here are a few examples of the types of stuff on the test:
  • True or False: Diesel engines use special spark plugs.
  • True or False: Float plans are filed with the Coast guard.
  • Multiple Choice: What should you do if you find yourself dragging anchor?
  • Multiple Choice: Using a supplied chart, plan a course between different points and determine your ETA and fuel requirements.  Provided performance specifics, calculate your speed and fuel used.
  • Multiple Choice: What is the proper phraseology to hail someone on the VHF radio.

The 114 exam was a bit different.  It consisted of less than 50 questions with point values ranging from 1/2 point to 2 points (100 point total).  There were true/false questions, multiple choice questions, and short answer questions.  The test focuses on the differences between a cruising monohull and a catamaran.  Here are a few examples of the types of questions found on this test:
  • True or False: Jack lines are not needed on a multihull because they are more stable.
  • True or False: Catamarans have good windward ability.
  • Multiple Choice: How can you reduce sailing on the hulls while at anchor?
  • Multiple Choice: Excessive speed in heavy seas can cause what to happen?
  • Short Answer: Explain the various types of bridge decks found on catamarans.
  • Short Answer: How does the stability of a multihull differ from a monohull?
After taking the tests, we took the catamaran out for some maneuvers.  We went out and practiced heaving to, which is a tiny bit different in a catamaran due to the limited travel of the mailsail boom, mostly just a bit touchier in getting the boat to stabilize.  Then we practiced man overboard drills...and practiced, and practiced.  It's a good thing though, as my wife and I as well as the other couple will eventually be the sole crew on a boat, getting this maneuver right when short-handed is an important skill.

After the maneuvers, we went back to the marina and those of us that didn't get to take the boat out of the marina now got our chance to maneuver the boat in the marina.  With the breakwater that protects the marina, there are a couple of pretty tight 90 degree turns...especially tight for a 41' long, 23' wide boat.  With the twin engines, even a catamaran that large is pretty maneuverable.  I was able to put it back in the slip without too much difficulty.

We then sat down and went thru the tests.  Unlike our other course, we got to find out exactly which questions we missed...not that there were many.  Neither of us recall our exact scores on the 104 exam other than they were both above 90% (and I think my wife did slightly better than I did).  I got a 95% and my wife got 87.5% on the second.  So, we both passed and now have our 104 and 114 certifications.  Yea!

Technically this is the end of our course, but we weren't scheduled to pick up our charter until the next day.  Tracey let us and the other couple that was there for the 104/114 course stay on the boat an additional evening so we didn't have to go hunt down a last minute hotel.  We're getting a lot of experience with what it is like living on a boat.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cruising Course Day 4 - Cabbage Key to Bradenton

Do I need to say it?  Coffee, anchor, and away we go once again.  Same start as all the previous days...but we did sleep in just a bit later.  The winds were again with us, up slightly from the previous day so after motoring out of the bay, we were able to raise the sails and travel by the power of the wind.  Apparently much of Tracey's earlier trip was missing the wind so we've been pretty lucky the last few days.

As with the previous days, we again took turns manning the various lines to raise the sails and then each of us took turns at the helm.  We've also taken turns cooking, washing dishes, and of course lounging around on the boat as we travel.  Yeah, it's a rough life.

I haven't really mentioned it yet, but thus far we've made breakfast, lunch, and all but yesterday's dinner while en route.  Breakfast ranged from fresh fruit and yogurt to omelets, lunches were generally just sandwiches, with hot dinners as varied as corned beef and cabbage to a spaghetti casserole.  All in all, we've been eating well and cooking has been easier than one might think.  The boat came with a 3 burner propane stove as well as a refrigerator and a freezer (we're told it doesn't keep ice cream well though) that runs on the house batteries.  Having a seawater pump for the sink helps save fresh water supplies while washing dishes and the Dawn dish soap didn't seem to have problems with it.

We made good time on this leg and arrived in Bradenton in the afternoon.  While this was the end of our 282 nautical mile trek, it was not the end of the course.  We will be staying on board another night and doing some maneuvers that we didn't have the chance to do during the trip the following day.  Having done a fair amount of cooking we chose to eat at the restaurant at the marina.

One other thing happened that day: After disappearing for a while, Captain Tracey came back with our tests for the 104 and 114 course.  Nobody really wanted to take the test while we were sailing (I personally wanted a little more time to study), so we postponed it until the next morning.

Thus far we have learned quite a bit about what it is like to live aboard a sailboat while traveling.

Here's the rough map of this leg of the trip:
View Cabbage Key to Bradenton in a larger map

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cruising Course Day 3 - Marco Island to Cabbage Key

As has become the routine, we awoke to the morning coffee making ritual followed by raising the anchor and continuing our journey.  Our winds from the prior day continued so after motoring out of the nice protected anchorage, we were able to again raise the sails.

Anchorage near Cabbage Key

As seems to be the case when you are actually going somewhere in a sailboat (instead of just puttering around a reservoir), we set and trim the sails and head on without having to do much adjustment or re-trimming.  The hardest part of sailing these past couple legs have been avoiding the crab pots. The captain must be getting more comfortable with his student's skills too as he disappeared into his cabin for a little while during this trip.

A little while after we were underway, we see a powerboat heading straight for us from about our 2 o'clock.  As they get closer you can tell the boat has that gray "government issued" look to it and indeed it was the coast guard.  They swing around behind us and come up along side.  We've been intercepted.  As it turns out, they were looking for another sailboat that had radioed a mayday and then contact was lost.  They asked if we had seen them and when we said we had not they asked us to let them know if we see this boat.  I hope those folks are OK.  It is nice to know that the fine men and women of the Coast Guard are out there, and it is also a stark reminder that everything worth doing has some risks.

We sail up the coast past Naples, Fort Myers Beach and pass by Sanibel Island to enter Pine Island Sound as we head toward our planned anchorage across from Cabbage Key.  I'm once again at the helm and bring the boat into the anchorage and drop the anchor.  We set out the proper 7:1 scope for an overnight anchor and I take a range-like sighting off a couple trees (one behind the other) on an island off our right to watch for dragging.  We don't appear to be moving and so we set the chart plotter's anchor alarm and call it a day.

Several folks go for a swim off the back of the boat.  Two of our group head a bit closer to the nice homes at our anchorage.  A "nice" lady apparently comes out of her house and asks them if they are aware there are crocodiles around.  Yeah, we get it, you don't want us peasants swimming near your fancy abode...well sorry, but the waters are public here.

Cabbage Key
After the swim we break out the dinghy and head over to Cabbage Key for dinner at their restaurant and to watch the sunset from their water tower.  After a few minutes at the water tower, the mosquitoes change our mind and we take refuge back at the restaurant for dinner.  After dinner, we hop back in our little rubber floating "car" and head back to our floating "house".  Another nice day in the books.

And trying something new...a rough map of this leg of the trip:
View Marco Island to Cabbage Key in a larger map

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cruising Course Day 2 - Sandy Key to Marco Island

After a good night's sleep anchored near Sandy Key, we were awoken by Captain Tracey making coffee in the galley before the sun was up (he has a nice metal thermal coffee press, seems particularly good for a boat).  As would be a familiar theme on this trip, in addition to the lessons, we were also on a schedule to get the boat up to Bradenton by the 25th so we would once again get an early start.  We raised the anchor and continued our journey as the sun rose over Florida Bay.
The winds were still light and so we continued steaming along the ICW in Florida Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.  As we got to the more open waters of the gulf and made our turn northward, we were greeted with better winds out of the northeast.  Finally, we could sail!

Raising the main on a 41 foot Catamaran is quite a chore by hand.  Fortunately the boat had an electric self tailing winch, so after we made sure the sail's battens weren't getting hung up in the lazy jack system, push the button and up the main went.  If it weren't for all the main halyard on the deck to deal with, it couldn't have been easier.  We also unrolled the 150% genoa and the result was 6~8 knots on a broad reach with no drone of the engines.  Much better.

Sailing on the ocean actually seems easier than all the sailing on reservoirs that have made up much of our prior experience.  On our reservoirs near the mountains the winds would often be inconsistent, blowing from different directions at different times.  This left us constantly tweaking sails to get the right trim for decent power.  Ocean breezes, as one might expect, tend to be more consistent in direction if not in speed.  Of course, the chop of the waves was not something we generally had to deal with...but in a 41' catamaran, they weren't much of an issue either.

While underway my wife went down into one of the hulls and it made her a bit queasy.  She took some Bonine and pretty much went to sleep at the saloon table for a little while.  The other couple didn't seem too interested in a lot of learning either , so we just had a nice relaxing sail up the coast.  I was at the helm a fair amount of the time, dodging the occasional string of crab pots along the way.

We ended our sailing day anchoring off the northwest shore of Marco Island.  Unlike the previous night, we anchored in the light this front of some expensive homes.
Of course, the view the other direction at sunset was a bit better...
While a boat floats in water, fresh water on a boat is a very limited resource so another thing we tried that evening was bathing off the back of the boat.  Basically, it is swimming with a little soap and a fresh water rinse from a hand shower mounted in the transom.  It works fairly well and definitely saves on the fresh water use.  Our regular soaps and shampoos don't work great in salt water though, so we'll have to try some of the specially formulated ones at some point.

It was a nice relaxing day...something I can definitely get used to.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

ASA 104/114 Live Aboard Course, Day 1

I know, I know...haven't been posting anything the last couple weeks...but I have a good wife and I were in Florida working on our Intermediate Cruising/Bareboat Chartering/Cruising Catamaran combined course and our first bare-boat charter.  So, I'll be catching up over the next several posts.

On Friday October 19th we flew to Miami to meet Tracey and his Maine Cat 41 for the last leg of his annual migration bringing the boat from it's summer home in New Jersey to it's winter home in Bradenton, Florida.  My wife and I and another couple are taking a combination ASA 104/114 course as we crew the cat down thru the keys and then up the Gulf Coast.  There are also two other gals on the boat that are accompanying Tracey just for fun.

We don't arrive in Miami until the afternoon, so we spend a little time going over the particulars of the boat and getting settled in.  The Maine Cat is a very utilitarian designed boat, you won't find a lot of pretty woodwork on it...or doors separating the berths.  But it has ample galley space, enough room for 6~7 to live aboard for several days, and a nice open patio style saloon/cockpit.

We spend the night on the boat at Dinner Key Marina, enjoy our last infinite hot water shower, and head out early the next morning as the sun rises.  We depart the marina and motor across Biscayne Bay, passing Stiltsville as the sun rises.

We follow the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) thru the upper Keys and over to Florida Bay.  Winds were light and we tried putting up the sails, but other than a small leg, we were forced to motor-sail or steam (play motorboat) most of the day.  From a learning perspective we each got our turn at the wheel and coaching on how to stay in a channel when there are currents, etc. to deal with.  We also did a fair amount of navigation work, looking for appropriate anchoring spots using the charts, Skipper Bob's guides, etc.

It ended up being a long day and at dusk we still had a little bit more to go.  To make things more difficult, it is stone crab season and the area we were in just adjacent to the Everglades park was full of crab pots.

So, motoring slowly with spotters at both bow pulpits we made our way over to the park boundary (where fishing isn't allowed so there shouldn't be pots to get wrapped in the props).  We make our way to the lee side of Sandy Key (a small dot of uninhabited land in the Everglades park boundary) and drop the anchor in the light of the moon...and the steaming light.  We then learn how to set a bridle for the anchor so we don't sail on the anchor (wind will catch the hull and cause the boat to swing excessively).

We then hung out on the cat's trampoline enjoying the pristine night.  Not a bad ending to the first day of class.