Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

A brief break from the posts about the Florida trip...I only have one or two left anyway...

A wish to all my friends, both sailing and not, for 2013.

May you find the sun on your face, the wind at your back, and safe harbor when you need it.  May you find that which inspires you...and chase it.

Have a happy new year.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Charter Day 5 - Last Sail and more on the Catalina 309

It was the last day of our charter of the Catalina 309 and the weather continues pretty much as it has the last couple days.  Moderately strong winds from the North.  But the Catalina is a bit expensive just as a hotel room so we go out for another sail.

We don't go far since we don't have a lot of time, but we again set sails, do maneuvers, and  continue to get more comfortable with the boat and more sailing practice.  Since we have to return the boat with full fuel, we stop by the fuel dock and "fill up".  With all the motoring between the docking lessons, the motor running the majority of the time during the infamous day two, and the steaming thru the channnel at the anchorage and back the prior day, we still used less than two gallons of fuel.  Those diesels are efficient.

This was the last sail we took on our boat-tel.  After this we cleaned up, packed up and were on our way to a hotel...spending our first night on solid land in 10 days.

Now that we had spent several days on a boat by ourselves, here are some thoughts about the whole experience.  As I mentioned in a previous post, spending time on both a catamaran and a mono-hull we've decided that a catamaran is the way we'll likely go.  I'm not completely sure it is a fair comparison, a 30ft mono and a 40ft cat, but the cat definitely seemed more stable and comfortable.  I can only assume a smaller (35ft?) cat will only be slightly less stable of a platform and that a 40 ft mono would only be a little more stable than the 30ft.  Anyone out there have any thoughts on this assumption?

The Catalina 309 was quite a comfortable boat for our stay.  In the aft of the boat tucked under the cockpit was a "mostly" queen size berth.  I say mostly as it tapers slightly at the foot.  We found all but the headroom to be comfortable (you can't sit up on the side of the bed under the floor of the cockpit).  The bed was actually the same size as the one we had on the catamaran and the cabin was definitely more private.

Moving forward from the main berth you enter the main saloon with a small U shaped galley on the left.  The galley has a bar-sized refrigerator, a two burner propane stove and a single basin sink.  The refrigerator is DC, but I don't know how long that would last on batteries.  Ditto on the hot water, though it has an engine heat exchanger as well (I think).

In front of the galley is the main seating area.  This boat also has a LCD TV mounted on the forward bulkhead, a reasonable place for it.  The whole saloon area is actually quite spacious, bright and airy, for sitting "down in the hull" of a 30ft boat.  The light interior and woods do help.

In front of the saloon, right behind the bulkhead where the TV hangs, is the head (bathroom).  I labeled it "tiny" in the picture I previously posted (also below), and it is.  There is enough room for the typical marine head (toilet) and a small sink basin.  The room is a little larger than the typical airline bathroom.  All in all it is workable, until you realize it is a shower as well.  There is a shower curtain track in the ceiling that blocks water from getting out the door or all over the cabinet.  The sink spigot becomes a handheld shower sprayer.  I tried the shower once.  When you get wet, you are essentially wearing the shower curtain.  The separate shower on the cat was a much better option...although bathing off the back of the boat is a nice option too, and there's plenty of room there.

Finally, at the front of the boat is a V berth.  We didn't spend any time in the V-berth, it was mostly used as storage for the cockpit cushions, some racheting recliner cushions, and some of our larger provisions (soda, etc.).  I wouldn't think the berth would have enough leg room for two, but should be sufficient for one.

Overall the boat would be a good choice for a couple or a small family.  I think it may be a be a bit small for a long-term live-aboard (not the largest tanks, and not enough storage space for long term provisioning), but would certainly be good for shorter coastal cruising trips (as well as bare-boat charters).  Of course, take this analysis for what it is...someone with very little sailing experience telling you about 5 days we spent on one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Charter Day 4 - Part 2, The Return Trip and A Decision

So, when I left off we were at anchor, but not a comfortable anchor.  Even in this "protected" cove, the wind was coming over the land and blowing us around pretty good.  We accomplished our impromptu goal of heading somewhere and anchoring (even if it was just for lunch so far) so we decide to pull anchor and head back.  No reason to spend an uncomfortable night when you have better options, right?

So with my wife at the helm motoring slowly forward, I begin to haul up the anchor.  Do you recall I mentioned that there is no windlass on this boat?  Or that we had out more rode than we needed?  Well those two bits of information combine to make for a bit of a workout. Good hand signals are a necessity when doing this, and so is remembering that you can't hold the boat still by hand when being blown by 20 knot winds (note to self: don't have wife shift into idle with high winds). After a little work and a couple mistakes that caused us to lose ground, the anchor was back on board AND I still had all my fingers.  I'm definitely proving this lifestyle will be healthier for me than sitting behind a desk all day.

We might have been able to sail the channel from the anchorage to the main part of Tampa Bay, but it was rather narrow and we didn't want to chance it.  We decide to motor down the narrow channel cut into the shallow bay until we hit the deeper water.  We then unfurl the main just as we did for the trip down and we are again sailing.  This time we did add a bit of headsail as well.

Our course back to the marina puts us close hauled for much of the trip.  For those not familiar with what this means, basically we are sailing at an angle into the wind.  This means the wind "feels" stronger as you are moving into it.  The position of the sail on this point of sail also means that a larger percentage of the force created by the sail is perpendicular to the direction of the boat, causing the boat to heal a bit more.  Heading into the wind also means you are heading into the waves.  Of course by now we pretty comfortable with the boat so none of this is an issue.  It does teach me that a mono-hull, or specifically the angled deck when healing, can be more fatiguing to sail than I expected it would be.

On this trip we were accompanied by some dolphins, but they seemed to try and avoid being seen by my wife.  I'd see them on one side of the boat, she'd run over to look, and they would switch sides.  Not sure if they were having more fun playing in the pressure wave or playing hide-n-seek with my wife but both they and my wife seemed to be having fun.

Other than the dolphins, the trip back to the marina was uneventful and we made pretty good time under reefed sails.  We made it back to the marina just after 5pm.  From the time we left the marina to the time we returned was around 8 hours total.  A couple hours of local practice, the trip down and back, and a little time spent at anchor for lunch sure added up.

We got a lot accomplished and did learn quite a bit on this little trip.  We learned that yes, we can manage to navigate ourselves.  It wasn't that far and it was within sight of land at all times, but it was something we hadn't done by ourselves before.

In addition to my wife being initially uncomfortable with the heeling of a mono-hull, we also learned that heeling can be quite a bit more fatiguing than we estimated.  On our trip down when we were on a broad reach it wasn't too bad, but the close hauled course coming back caused some deck angles and bounce that really do make it difficult to just sit or stand at the helm.  Walking around and working the lines isn't any easier.

Now I don't know if it was the relatively short length of this boat or the difference between a mono- and a multi-hull, but this Catalina 309 was what I could only describe as "squirreley"... more so than the J22's we learned on.  At anchor it seemed much less stable than the cat, "sailing on the hulls" or swinging thru about 120 degrees.  And when it swings so the waves hit the beam instead of on the bow, it can really rock the boat.  We also found the boat very easy to oversteer when tacking.

So it seems we have fulfilled one goal of our trip - an important decision has been made at this point.  While the mono-hull sailboat has that classic, sexy look; the practicality of comfort in most conditions has us voting in favor of a catamaran for a long term live-aboard platform.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Charter Day 4 - Back on the Boat

When we booked this trip, our original plan was to do some cruising around the bay and the gulf coast and spend several days at anchor.  Unfortunately hurricane Sandy and our experience a couple days back took care of most of that. Now we only have two days left, having to return the boat by 5pm the second day.

Fortunately we awoke to lighter winds, in the 15 to 20 knot range.  My wife and I talked about taking the boat out for a sail again.  Since things seem to be calming down, we agreed that we should, knowing if we didn't feel comfortable we would just head back. So, we have breakfast, head over to the hotel for a shower, and then prepare to head out to try again.

We left the marina just as we did two days prior, without incident.  As we made our way out of the marina and past the St. Petersburg Pier, the swell did pick up a bit, but nowhere near as bad as it was the last couple days.  We again head into the wind, unfurl the roller furling main to a reefed point that was about 3/4 of the total sail area.  We bear away and I reduce the motor to idle.  This configuration was giving us reasonable power so I shut down the motor.  We were sailing!  I think we'll forgo any headsail for now.

I'm pretty sure my wife was a bit nervous at first.  But the conditions were calmer and I think we had the mainsail set better for the conditions so we seemed to fall into the groove of sailing the boat pretty quickly this day.  We did a number of maneuvers not too far from the marina and everything went smoothly.  So after one of our tacks we were heading south...and I was thinking that there's an anchorage only a couple hours or so away at the rate we were going.  My wife seemed comfortable now, so why not see if we can get a little more experience in these last two days?

After sailing along in the same direction for a bit I think my wife was on to me.  I had looked at the charts previously and knew of this anchorage.   It is a small bay created by Pinellas Point and the Sunshine Skyway bridge approach.  Not the ideal scenic anchorage or the longer trip we had initially planned, but it will do.  It appears to be protected from the northeast winds at least.  So when she asked, I confessed the  idea.  She was fine with it so off we went on our abbreviated adventure.

View Tampa Bay Short Trip in a larger map

We sailed south for a while, found the channel that we needed to get to the anchorage (at least without running aground) and motored thru the channel.  We made it to the anchorage in a couple hours and do a spin around the little cove to see where we think we should anchor.  Closer to the highway and deal with the noise or a bit further away where it seems less protected from the wind?  We end up choosing a point about half way between.

Have I mentioned yet that this boat doesn't have an anchor windlass?  Well. it doesn't.  It was quite a bit of fun to try dropping the anchor by hand.  We were in about 10 feet of water and my wife was trying to keep the boat in position as I lowered it.  After the anchor contacts the bottom, I had my wife put the engine in idle.  Given the winds, this was a bit of a mistake.  The boat started getting blown away from the anchor fast enough I wasn't able to keep a count on how much rode (chain/rope) was let out.  I had my wife give it a little more power and I was able to tie off the anchor at what I estimate was about 100 ft.  Since we only needed 7:1, a 10:1 scope should be more than adequate to keep us put.

After setting the anchor I watch a couple poles abeam us to verify we were not dragging the anchor.  I then set the anchor watch feature of the chart plotter as an extra safety measure.  Two lessons learned here: 1) we need to work on our hand signals during anchoring and 2) any boat we get will definitely have a windlass (at least a manual one).

While we are making ourselves lunch, we realize that the "protected" anchorage is still allowing the boat to blow around a bit.  Ok, it's swinging in an arch of about 120 degrees. This exposes the broadside of the boat to the chop a good percentage of the time. While I know what to do to prevent sailing at anchor on a cat, without another anchor or extra rode, there didn't seem to be much that can be done about the situation on this boat.

My wife and I talk about the situation and decide that maybe we didn't want to spend the night like this.  We've spent the night at anchor several times on this trip and this boat just feels unstable when it is at rest.  Add the swing and chop from the winds and  it just doesn't seem like a good idea at this juncture.

Since this post is getting rather long, I'll cover the return trip and some of the lessons learned in the next post.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Charter Day 3 - Our Boat-tel

It's nice to have some wind to sail...but this was getting a bit ridiculous. Hurricane Sandy was continuing to give us high winds, in the 25 gusting to 40 knot range.  Probably just as well though...given yesterday's experience.  No sailing today.

Now that we've had a chance to calm down and reflect on the prior days events, we talked about "the plan".  While she wasn't 100% on the idea of living full time on a boat, she definitely wanted to go sailing again.  The whole "when you fall off a horse, you have to get right back on" attitude.  Just not today.  One decision appears to have been made though.  We will probably be getting a catamaran and not a monohull.

St. Pete Pier with the Vinoy Marina Behind

Since we were going to be in port all day and I have an old friend that kinda lives in the area, it made sense to see if we could get together.  He hadn't been to St. Pete in a while so it was a good excuse.  So after visiting the local farmers market, we met up with my friend and his daughter.  We showed them our accommodations (my wife started calling our boat/hotel the boat-tel), took the $0.50 trolley tour of downtown, and then went out to the St. Petersburg Pier for lunch.  It was good to see them again.

And to try to give this post a little sailing content, here's our "boat-tel".  The Catalina 309 "It's About Time II" chartered from Sailing Florida.
The Saloon Looking Aft
The Saloon Looing Forward
The "Master" Berth
"Tiny" The Head