Saturday, January 30, 2016

Just Like That, She's Mine!!!

My(!) Westsail 32
So, on the ocean with Alex and the good ship Eleanor, I learned that though my Albin Vega was a proven ocean capable design, I wanted a bigger, heavier boat. Part of that motivation was the seakindliness I experienced aboard Eleanor, but also because I plan to cruise permanently with no home base for a good while. I need more room than I had with the Vega. Bella would compare to a nice camper. A Westsail 32, or something similar, would be more like a nice apartment that I could retire to and not ever have to worry about outgrowing. The Westsail has about twice the interior volume as the Vega.

I became obsessed and surfed the web constantly. It was taking over my life, and, as I mentioned, I was in the process of cooling my jets, convinced I was maturing about boats [false alarm]. My plan had evolved to waiting until about June when I might have $15,000 or 20,000 to buy a good boat and not have to make some kind of deal. Then last week, an ad for a Westsail 32 popped up on Facebook, I just knew it was a good deal on the right boat. And I could nearly afford it. However, there were only three exterior pictures in the ad and she was in Florida.

Often the lack of interior shots is an indication that a lot of work is needed inside. Despite that logical conclusion, as soon as I'd seen the ad, I started blowing up the poor guy's phone last Wednesday morning. At
I did get some interior shots
first I was getting a message that 'the cellular customer is not available at the moment.' Frustrated, I waited for a half hour or so, and tried again; and again. When the ‘not available’ message disappeared, the phone just rang and rang and rang, I gave up after three or four tries. I figured they were ignoring their phone because they had already sold the boat. I got dressed and went to the gym. Of course, I called once or twice from the parking lot before I went inside. 

As I was driving home, all sweaty, I checked my phone with all the coolness of an expectant father. Nothing. No calls. 

This was looking grim; another near miss. Nevertheless, a bit closer to home, the phone rang and the caller was from an area code I knew was Miami!  The guy apologized that his personal phone was not near him all morning and he had missed me. I apologized for stalking him.  We had a good rapport and talked about boats and other Florida things for a while. The Westsail needs some work. He had gotten frustrated by a boat shop dragging their feet on an engine project. In a moment of weakness and frustration, he had fallen in love with another boat. 

More conversationally than as a formal bid, I told him what money I had that I could send that day. If we couldn't start something with that then I wasn't going to be able make a deal. He countered that if I was just going to buy her right then and not have the chance to change my mind when I saw her, he'd come down to my price ... and we had a deal. 

By then I had gotten all the way home to the driveway, but I backed right out, went straight to my credit union, got a bank check, and went to the post office to overnight the money to Coconut Grove.  The next day he had it, the following day - Friday - with clear funds in his bank, he pulled the ad and asked me how and where to send the title. Suddenly, she was mine. My head still spins.

By now, I have the title and she is already registered in Michigan for now. The next paperwork to do is to officially document her with the U.S. Coast Guard as soon as I get the Michigan Title in the mail. Essentially, it is required to 'document' your boat to easily get in and out of foreign countries, besides the Bahamas. This boat and I have big plans.

This Westsail 32 needs a little bit of work. There is no engine, but the good news is there is no old
Badass. I am smitten.
engine in the way of installing the new one. She is in the water but dry. The interior is in the process of recovering from another owner's pukey green paint. With the price I paid, compared to what I would have had to pay to get into a Westsail 32, I have plenty of budget for an engine and getting her refit properly and shipshape. I will replace the bowsprit and the boomkin which are the original wooden parts. She needs a proper galley, especially a stove. There are no interior cushions inside, but there is a home built composting toilet. Actually, I've been looking at composting heads lately, but I'll install a commercial one. Moreover, I’m getting pretty good on my Sailrite sewing machine and just finished upholstering cushions for my current boat. Cushions and a dodger are on the agenda. The sails are supposed to be in decent shape, but I'd like to make a tanbark set of sails someday. There is a anchor windlass
My Sailrite machine and first project, a duffel.
on the bow.

She might have been named Muriel at one point. The previous owner had taken off a 'sticker' but hadn’t really named her. I'll keep her in the Dinner Key Marina mooring field temporarily but plan to move her as quickly as possible to the DIY boatyard in Ft. Pierce where Alex and I left Eleanor. Riverside Marina is the best deal on the Southern East Coast of Florida where you can do your own work. I have to move her about 100 miles with no engine and the I probably have 8 to 12 months worth of work. Most of the working capital I'll need will have to be earned while I'm down there. I'm looking into trucking jobs that will allow me some boatwork time, but I'll probably mostly drive for a time and then quit to run through the punch list and get her back in the water. I don't have a name for her yet.

That’s really all I know. I’ll go down to see her in a couple weeks and will have a complete report.  For now, I am out of my mind, excited to own a Westsail!! She is one badass, old school full keel cutter!
Not mine, but a sister ship; just frikkin' beautiful. 

Norfolk to Florida, the abridged version.

The Great Bridge Lock
[Note: In order to get caught up to recent developments, I'm just sketching the rest of my trip with Alex and Eleanor from this summer.]

Poor Joe caught a bug on the flight to meet us, but we had a great time cruising down the Intra Coastal Waterway. Even though he was suffering a good deal of the time, Joe was a great addition to Eleanor's crew. We wandered down through Virginia and into the Carolinas. There were beautiful anchorages, explosive sunrises and sunsets. One afternoon, we were overtaken by a strong squall and even had to dodge a mini tornado! [Editor’s Note: that day alone should have had its own blog post.]  Just as we were trying to get to the creek we had picked
Storm Captain
out for the evening's anchorage, we were consumed by a storm coming across the Pungo River from Belhaven. Alex had to steer hard to miss the hissing whirlwind of spray that cut across our bow. Neither of us could see as the wind raked the rain across our eyes. Yet somehow, with no visibility, Alex managed to get us into the narrow opening of Slade Creek. The sunset after the storm was a beautiful apology from the universe for our troubles.
Apology Accepted

At Charleston, there was a small Dorsey family gathering and then Joe and Alex decided it was a good time for Joe to get home over land and try to get better. I did a little more caulking and cleaned up aboard Eleanor while enjoying the chance to hike around the old neighborhoods of Charleston. It was here that Alex and I were joined by another third crewman, Wade, who was a very interesting cat and a pleasure to sail with. He helped us out a lot, right when we needed it too. [Editor’s Note: Wade should rightfully be the star of two or three blog posts.]
Old Charleston

From Charleston, we left the ICW at Port Royal and cut the corner across the Atlantic to Jacksonville. The ICW in Georgia is notoriously shallow and Eleanor needs more than 5 1/2 feet of water. The night watches on the ocean were very special to me. The chance to be alone with the moon and the ocean, and at one point, an enthusiastic dolphin, was like going to church.

Night Watch Church
On the way down the Florida ICW, we took advantage of some free city docks and tried to use the dock of an acquaintance of mine. Without enough water to get all the way up next to Carl's dock, we opted to head back out and use the Melbourne anchorage. I got to chill out here with Wade as Alex went to check in on his dad. Unfortunately, Joe was not doing better and Alex chose to end the trip to stay there in Florida and help Joe. The good news is that Joe came through well and is now living in Panama near Alex and Carla. By all accounts Joe is truly enjoying life, I am super happy for him. [Editor’s Note: Actually Joe too should have had his own blog posts too.]

Wade jumped a flight home and Alex found a marina to store Eleanor until he returned to complete the trip to Panama. Though I have an open invitation to finish the trip and even to stay right there with Eleanor, I had decided by then that I needed to get back on my own plan. I learned more in two months with Alex than I can ever explain. Having lived the life on a daily basis, my nautical confidence has soared. However, the most important thing I learned is that out there on the water is exactly where I belong. My focus was sharpened on this goal and I came home determined to get back to the ocean as soon as I possibly could manage.

Life Changing Atlantic Sunrise

Whew ... it's been a while.

I'll tell you about this one in a bit.
A lot has been going on in Bubba-delphia since I returned from Florida - good god - in June(!). When I returned, I was nearly broke (on purpose) and jumped back into the working world. I continued blogging for a bit as I tried to catch up and cover the whole trip. My schedule went right back to crazy; driving a truck all night. Also, having been on the ocean for the first time, and able to spend a couple months learning from one of my sailing heroes - my mind was thoroughly bent.

Sailing on the ocean aboard Alex’s Westsail, I fell in love with the seakindliness of a heavy displacement boat. Even though their production stopped in the early 1980’s, Westsails are some of the best built boats out there. Alex and Carla do some chartering and bought a 42 footer. I don't need all that space, but the W32 seemed just right. I started chasing W32s as soon as I got home and was a man possessed. There was one in Alaska that they never sent me the info they promised, one on the West Coast that sold quickly though it had some bizarre modifications, one in Florida that wasn't even put together, and two in rough shape on eBay - one in Maryland and one in Louisiana. Oh, and there was one in Texas rumored to be available but
Atlantic Sunrise
was not. There were nights I hardly slept as my brain tumbled through how I was going to attempt to acquire any one of the boats I’d seen.

After a time, I had given up on finding a W32 I could afford. There were plenty available but they were all well beyond my price range. So, I started falling for other boats. It was like a Junior High Dance, I would get absolutely smitten and possessed by one and turn around to see another equally attractive with many, clearly superior qualities, and then I would see another and then ... I talked to a guy in Virginia, a couple guys in Ontario, a boat broker in Miami and those were just the boats that I was captivated by enough to actually make calls. Many others caught my eye and wrecked my sleep for a couple days. And just when I had convinced myself to just not look until I had enough money ... someone shared an ad on the Westsail Facebook page - an inexpensive W32!!!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I really meant to finish telling the story of the trip. Though it seems like years ago now, it was this last spring and summer. I left off when Alex and I had got to Norfolk, Virginia. We did some caulking and other boat work after crashing down the Chesapeake, spent some time enjoying the hospitality of a fan of Alex's website, and we picked up Joe, Alex's dad. In fact, we worked so hard there are no pictures in Norfolk, but I was living the life. Next, I’ll try to sketch the rest of the trip and get on to more recent developments.

If you came here from a link, click on 'Newer Post' on the left toward the bottom to see the rest of the story.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Annapolis to Norfolk on the Chesapeake

Wide Planer Board Trolling Rig
Damn thing, anyway ...
Thimble Shoals Light

When we last left our heroes, they were up a creek in Annapolis, MD having escaped the buzzing of the  Sailing Capitol of the U.S.A. After a peaceful night in Weems Creek, beyond the Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard Bridge, it was up and at 'em. Breakfast and coffee and hoist the anchor. This was, after all, a delivery, not a cruise. The sun languished in a purpley-pink sunrise as we got back into the bay.

We were in the middle part of the Chesapeake, between Annapolis and Norfolk. The winds were against us so we were motoring. Even more ships in this part of the bay, but with so much open water it seemed like less traffic. More annoying than the ships were the fisherman. It was the weekend and we figured that they were fishing for pleasure rather than scraping the bay for a living, though there were likely some working fishermen out there too.

I don't know if they were fishing Rock Fish or Stripers(striped bass) but all the boats were trailing these annoying planer boards to spread out their trolling jigs. The planer boards ran out wide and behind like little toy boats. Trolling requires dragging at a particular, constant speed, back and forth over the shoals, shallows and depth contours. Apparently, the best contours are those that are right at the edge of the channel. So as we sallied our way south, fishing boats were lazily cutting in and out of the channel to cross and recross these magic spaces. As they concentrated on their specific, probably secret, speeds, depths and fishing spots, the fishermen got really uptight when we thought we had the right of way in the channel. One guy bellowed that he was going to report us for making him alter his route. At least, that's what it sounded like he said. We were a bit too far apart for communicating and the right of way was, in fact, ours.

Though we were motoring against the wind and not sailing, the sun was shining and the salt air, like a cool salve, soothed every spiritual cell and opened every dirty pore, sloughing away the crust of civilization. I stood on the back bench of the cockpit minding the autopilot and soaking up the universe. Every foot of boat and bowsprit spread out before me as I leaned and swayed with the rocking of the deck. It was as if I were on a forty two foot long paddleboard. We were working hard and traveling long miles each day getting Eleanor closer and closer to her new home, and yet it was so relaxing and soul enriching. I had struck this bargain, quit my job and joined this voyage exactly for moments like this. I've learned so much about sailing and about myself already that I can't imagine having not done this; having missed this … this right here.

We dodged the trolls, er I mean, the trolling fishermen and apparently didn't get reported. It was a great day of voyaging. Just beyond the mouth of the Potomac River, Alex had picked out an anchorage for us. We were using Active Captain in addition to perusing the charts both on OpenCPN and on the chartplotter. Off Fleeton Point in Virginia, it looked like enough water for us to cut behind the Great Wicomico River Light and up into Ingram Bay at the mouth of the river. All shortcuts being equally ill conceived, we were soon surrounded by crab pot buoys and had to jump to attention. One of us at the wheel and the other amidships keeping an eye out for buoys that mark where a trap for crab or fish had been dropped. Buoys float above the trap connected by wire rope. Running over a float means getting that wire rope dangerously close to the propeller and shaft. Wrapping any line around the prop and shaft can cause serious damage to the transmission. At the very least, the engine must be shut down and the rope cut away. This is bad enough with run-of-the-mill rope or fishing line, but the uncuttable wire rope would be a disaster.

Nevertheless, we made it through the maze and back into open water. At the mouth, the Great Wicomico River is a wide bay with several creeks on either side. Gradually, it narrows and turns hard to port where a large cove, like a burl on a tree branch, awaited us. Just past a nice park on the tip of yet another 'Sandy Point' and around the #9 day marker, we entered the quiet rounded cove and dropped anchor. Despite the million dollar vacation homes on the beach arcing around us, we each took a turn in the not-so-private cockpit for a bucket shower. We would make Norfolk easily the next day.

The next day was glorious as we made our way down the lower Chesapeake to the Thimble Shoals Light and turned into the Hampton Roads. It was a pleasure to pass another bridge I'd crossed a few times in a semi truck; this one with a twist. The Hampton Roads Tunnel is both a bridge and a tunnel. A long causeway leads to the tunnel entrance from the Norfolk side. The bridge ends at a little island where the road dives under the Roads to allow Navy ships uninhibited access to the Norfolk bases. Beyond the tunnel where many berths with aircraft carriers and all assortment other ships. There were yards repairing ships and lots of other activity in support of the Navy.

At the confluence of the James, Nansemond and Elizabeth Rivers, we headed toward the downtowns of Norfolk and Portsmouth down the Elizabeth. We rounded Hospital Point on the Portsmouth side and passed Red Bouy #36, the official start – mile zero – of the Intracoastal Waterway(ICW). Not only a milestone for our trip, but a stop where we were treated by one of Alex's Project Bluesphere fans. Marty had arranged for us to have two nights at the Waterside Marina, downtown Norfolk. Not only that, Marty drove down from Richmond two days in a row; first to take us to lunch and arrange the berth at Waterside and the next day to grab us and go pick up Joe, Alex's father, at the airport. Joe was joining us for the trip down the ICW to Florida. But since we had arrived a day early, we motored past the Tidewater Marina to check out the free city dock at Portsmouth.

We peered into the small basin as Eleanor crossed the opening. Already inside were four or five boats, snowbirds surely, and the north landing of the ferry that runs between Portsmouth and Norfolk. It looked mighty crowded to me, but Alex was game to try. I cringed as we headed deep into the basin for the last spot on an angled dock at the back. With a flawlessly executed turn to back into the corner and some help from fellow boaters to catch our dock lines, we were in for the night. Downtown Portsmouth was a delightful spot with nice restrooms at the tourist information office and a little lunch counter right across the street. We settled in for the evening. The next morning we had time to have a little breakfast and wait to cross the river to Norfolk before Marty was to arrive.

In Norfolk, we wandered into town for a nice lunch with Marty, did some caulking on the outside of the cap rail around the boat, did some laundry, had real(!) showers and reprovisioned. After getting Joe at the airport, thanking and saying goodbye to Marty, we were ready to hit the ditch, the Intracoastal Waterway. The ICW runs all the way to Miami, but we were likely to make another offshore jump before then. Our story continues …