Our Best Day and Worst Day, Both in Bimini

It’s a small boat, right?  I mean, I know it depends on whether you’re getting tossed around in some gnarly sea conditions. Then 35-feet is quite a small boat, way too small.  You’d much rather be on a 900-foot cargo ship then.  On the other hand, when you’re docking in wind or current and you’re barreling toward a slip that looks like the mere eye of a needle that you’re expected to actually fit your boat into, she’s quite a big boat then, 35-feet is way too big to fit in that tiny slot without hitting every piling and other boat on the way in.  But, there’s also another time the boat seems a bit too small: when you’re in an argument with your one other crew member.  

I mentioned this moment in my Birthday Tribute: 37 reasons (to match my proud 37 years!) why this past voyage to the Bahamas was one of our best yet.  It was the fight Phillip and I got into when we were navigating our way into Bimini. This was after a very (I hate to say it, but sometimes it just is – luck runs both ways) easy Gulf Stream crossing from Marathon, Phillip and I were making our way into the BIMINI entrance (as shown on the Explorer Charts – do not do the Bahamas without them) when things went sideways.  

As I said before, nothing needs to be re-hashed, but it was one of the most heated moments Phillip and I have had on the boat.  And, for us, those are exceedingly rare.  Honestly, in the six years we’ve been sailing together, I can count the number of arguments Phillip and I have had, where we actually raised our voices on the boat, on one hand.  And, that’s not meant to be boastful.  I know many couples vary greatly from us and many have their own dynamic, their own way of communicating and showing their love and passion for one another, and for conveying their anger or disappointment.  Many couples fight often (and often it’s lightheartedly although their words are still sharp).  Spats are just a part of their discourse and that works for them.  That does not work for Phillip and me.  

All evidence to the contrary, I am exceedingly anti-confrontational.  I get nervous and shaky at the thought of having to argue with someone I love, which often results in me doing a piss-poor job of standing up for myself and persuasively stating my position.  I know what you’re probably thinking.  But she was a lawyer.  I said “with someone I love.”  When it’s opposing counsel on the other side, just another lawyer just doing his job, too, then look the heck out.  I’m a tiger.  But, that’s worlds away from having an argument with Phillip.  With Phillip, I turn into a sniffly puddle of goo when I have to confront him.  But I’m proud to say I did not this time.

Bottom line was, I screwed up plotting the coordinates in real-time as we were coming in via the BIMINI waypoint on the Explorer Charts.  By the time I realized my mistake, I had us closer to the breakers to the south of the entrance than either of us would have liked. 

And, let’s see what you guys can make of this.  In my state of confused worry and fear, trying to convey to Phillip that I might have had him holding too much a southern line as he was sailing toward the entrance I said:

“You’ve gone too far east.  You need to go north.”  

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  What, really? That’s crazy talk??

Phillip’s face probably looked something like yours does now.  “We’re going east,” he said deadpan.  “East is the goal until we get into the channel.”  Then I blundered and muttered and tried to show him coordinates on the chart while he’s trying to hand-steer under sail into the entrance, a very wise time to put charts in front of his face, don’t you think?  Yeah, he didn’t think so either.  

Needless to say some harsh words came my way which I deserved but did not take well. But, Phillip and I know when to put a disagreement aside for a later date so we can (pardon my French) get shit done in the moment.  Despite my goof, we made it into the channel just fine and were navigating perfectly north through the channel into Bimini.  Now it was time to find our marina (we had decided to stay at Blue Water Marina, a nice middle-ground choice between Brown and Big Game we thought), hale the dockmaster, locate our slip, and get docked.  There would always be time to discuss our little tiff later.  So, that’s what we did.  

Phillip did a great job docking the boat, with great help from a very friendly chap on the dock.  The dockhands in the Bahamas are all so helpful and friendly!  Then, later, after some steam had worn off, I mustered up some goo-prevention strength and found the courage to tell Phillip, without sniffles, that I was just trying to keep the boat off the breakers to the south and that he had hurt my feelings.  And, he, rightfully explained how consumed he was in the moment and how my north-west mumbo-jumbo was, quite frankly, a disappointment.  But, we talked it out, then we made up, joined hands and sang Kumbaya. 

I’m kidding.  Although there is, and will always be, random song outbursts on Plaintiff’s Rest.  Ironically, we learned later that the BIMINI entrance on the Explorer Charts suffers from continual shoaling on the south side of the North Bimini Entrance Point. So, my blunder probably kept us off of that unknown shoaling to the north.  Oh the irony!  But, that is just another great example of the lack of any need to get flustered or high-and-mighty while cruising.  Mistakes are just par for the course and sometimes they prove—with the benefit of hindsight—to not even be mistakes at all.  Some turn out to be happy accidents that save your hide. Or hull, as the case may be.

But, what was most ironic about having a fight make that day—our very first day in the Bahamas (which probably had Phillip and I both silently worried about how the rest of this voyage was going to go) one of our worst on the boat was that the next day turned out to be our best day of the voyage.  Cruising is funny that way in how quickly things can turn good or bad.  I think that’s a huge part of what makes you feel so alive out there.  

Everything is so volatile.  Whether or not things are going to go as planned (when you can even plan them), whether you’ll get into some unexpected weather, whether you’ll be able to safely find where you’re going, and whether that place will be a total dud or absolutely obliterate every expectation you had for it is always up in the air. Every outcome is waiting to be lived to see how it turns out.  None of them can in any way be predicted.  I’m hoping that makes sense to those of you reading who have not yet gone cruising and are just in the planning and plotting phases of it. Because, to me, the unexpectedness of it all, the IN-ability to plan your days and adventures is what makes it even better.  

Case in point: our best day in the Bahamas was the very next day in Bimini. Phillip—my Paddington Bear, the best travel buddy you can possibly have (sorry, he’s taken)—surprised me with a booked charter dive our very first full day in Bimini.  “We’re going to dive the Sapona!” he said.  I had no clue what a sapona was, but I didn’t care.  I was going diving!  “Awesome! My first sapona!” I squealed, which made Phillip chuckle.  He loves me ‘cause I’m blonde. (Sorry, I’m taken, too.)  Turns out, there’s only one Sapona, so this was my first and last, but I learned all about the Saponaon the boat ride out to our dive spot and was fascinated by its rich history. 

The SS Sapona, a cargo steamer, was part of a fleet of concrete ships built at the directive of Woodrow Wilson for use during World War I.  After the War, it was sold to a Miami developer who used it initially as a casino, then later for oil storage.  It was then sold to another developer in 1924 who used it to store alcohol during the Prohibition, but with plans to turn it into a floating nightclub thereafter. Unfortunately, the Sapona ran aground near Bimini during a hurricane in 1926 and broke apart.  Now, sitting in only 15 feet of water and having amassed an impressive fish and marine life population, it is a popular dive spot for professional charter dive boats and cruisers in the Bahamas.  You can learn more about the fascinating SS Sapona here.

It was an incredible dive with lots of nooks and crannies for fish to hide. We saw a stingray bigger than a circle I can make with both arms, a nurse shark, my very first puffer fish (and his little puffer kid!).  It was a baby puffer fish that I wanted to adopt but the dive guys vetoed it.  The huge prop and anchor of the Saponathat are partially submerged were both mesmerizing and a little haunting at the same time.  Anytime I see a man-made structure sunk underwater, I get a bit of a creepy feeling thinking the ghosts that went down with it are still there.  Do underwater planes or boats ever give any of you that feeling?  I have to brave up a little before I can swim my whole body into a sunken structure for that reason, thinking the ghost in there might grab me and never let me back up! 

What I didn’t know, however, until we completed the dive and I saw people scaling the side of the Sapona and climbing on top was that people jumped off this thing!  It’s like rite of Bimini passage.  I mean …  What did I say on the back of my Salt of a Sailor book?  

“I leapt off cliffs.”  Or old, grounded cargo steamers, as the case may be.  Phillip knew there was no way he was going to keep me from jumping off that boat.  And, boy was it a rickety climb up to the top, a plaintiff’s lawyer’s dream!  But, while we both made it, Phillip declined to scale his way to the tippity top like I did.  I didn’t call him the p-word, but you know I was thinking it.  Ha!  Sorry. You can take the Tomboy out of the backwoods, but you can’t take the Tomboy out of the girl. I scrambled my way up to the upper most point and lunged high and wide out into the 40-foot drop.  It was awesome!  I hadn’t jumped from a height that high since college and it was invigorating.  

But, this “high” still was not the highest high of that day.  I mean, Phillip and I had some pretty freaking amazing days in the Bahamas.  It was very hard to select this one, but looking back after the trip, we both did.  Do you want to know why?  

Because that day we swam with sharks!  

Not just one shark, or even just a handful of sharks, we swam with dozens of them! Right by us!  All around us!  And, this was nothing like the tank dive Phillip (again, another surprise, love that Paddington!) took me on in Tampa at the Florida Aquarium.  Awesome video of that dive for you here.  You’re welcome!

These sharks weren’t in a tank.  They didn’t swim with humans in their quarters every day.  They were out there in the open water, allowed to do whatever the heck they wanted, which would include gnawing on humans.  Granted, these sharks were somewhat “trained” in that this dive boat stopped often to take swimmers down with them and always fed them afterward.  No comment on that practice.  I’m just grateful it allowed Phillip and I a truly unforgettable encounter with one of the most majestic and important animals in our oceans.  My biggest take-away from that aquarium dive with the sharks was not simply the accomplishment of braving up and swimming with them but the education and enlightenment as to the true nature of sharks, their docile temperament, the need for them in our oceans, and the unfortunate, very human-like tragedy of the greedy plunder with which we trap, maim and needlessly kill them.  It is just sad and inexcusable.  We are not the victim, nor the prey.  Sharks are.

So, when our dive boat made an unexpected stop after rounding all of us divers and snorkelers (and jumpers!) up from the Saponaat “Shark Alley” on the way back to Bimini—the waters around our boat teeming with big black, swirling creatures—and the captain asked any of us, jokingly, if we wanted to go for a swim, Phillip and I said “Absolutely!” and started donning our masks.  

Yes, we arethose crazy people who swim with sharks.  All told there were about 15-20 reef sharks, ranging from five to maybe eight-feet long.  Big, beautiful creatures that maneuvered around us with surprising ease.  While they seemed a little curious, they didn’t seem at all hostile.  They were just swimming, waiting on their reward of a fish feast afterward.  Phillip and I were the only divers to dive down with the dive guide and stand on the bottom, still as a piling, while they circled around us.  It was an incredible, unforgettable dive. 

And, it was really fun to watch the boat crew feed the sharks afterward to see what they are capable of, but thankfully did not do while we were down there.  The swirling mass of them, circling and sliding around and over one another to gracefully inhale each piece of fish thrown in.  It was mesmerizing!  Video Annie joked: “What?  You don’t want to go for a swim?”  

And, speaking of Video Annie, I don’t have any footage to show you of the sharks because another great thing happened on that, the best day of our voyage: my GoPro broke.  Yep. It went kaput.  No pulse.  No battery. It simply would not turn on after the Saponajump.  And, for a moment I was frantically trying to pull the battery out and put it back in to reboot it while the dive guide was getting us ready to go down with the sharks, and I was frustrated and irritated and cursing it.  Then, something just clicked inside and I said, “f*ck it.”  I have mentioned many timeson this platform my dread of losing the power and feeling of a moment because I was more worried about filming it than living it.  GoPro’s death that day relieved me of that worry on that fantastic day.  With the ability to film no longer even an option, there was nothing to stop me from just jumping in, camera-free, and recording it all up here.  (Yep, I’m sure you can imagine me tapping my temple.  Right here, in the thinktank, my memory bank.)  So, I could then, in my own time, put it into spellbinding words later for myself and for you all here.  I believe in words.  And that was such a freeing feeling.  I then knew I would never have to wrestle with that decision at any other point during our Bahamas voyage.  GoPro simply wiped that worry away and silently told me: “Go.  Just live it.  Keep this just for you two.”  So, that’s what we did. And, for that, we thank him.  R.I.P. GoPro.

Next up, we’ll share our fantastic experience kite-surfing in Bimini (complete with incredible footage and photos taken by a dock neighbor there at Blue Water Marina – thank you Justin!) and our exciting sail over to Andros where we caught our first monster fish of the trip!  Stay tuned. 

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96 Hours Across the Gulf

I’m trying to think back on each and every one of them.  How can they have slipped by so quickly?  Sure, I spent some sleeping (not many, though), but the rest were spent gloriously lounging in the cockpit watching the water go by, devouring books (devouring food!), and counting a billion stars.  While you’re out there, and it’s sometimes a little rough and uncomfortable, you can catch yourself wishing the time away.  But, once the voyage is behind you—that incredible experience is tucked away merely as a memory in your mind—you want every hour back.  All 96 of them. Photos and video from our Gulf-crossing for you all below!

Phillip and I have crossed the Gulf now, on a five-day, four-night non-stop run, three times on our boat. It is always a passage we plan well in advance for, watching weather windows religiously as well as re-checking and double-checking all of the systems on the boat before we leave, because the Gulf is no freaking joke.  Having crossed the Atlantic twice now, Phillip and I always readily agree the Gulf is still one of the most gnarly bodies of water we have ever crossed. Although the Bay of Biscay is now right up there with it!  But, the Gulf never fails to throw a challenge at us.  It certainly did this time, right out of the gate.  

Now that I’ve shared the turmoil we were dealing with in the days before we left when Auto would turn notto, you know it was a stressful time for us for sure, wondering whether we were going to be able to leave or not and—if we did—whether the systems would perform consistently.  But, that’s a risk that is always present in offshore sailing.  Once everything is working as best as it can, the chance of something going wrong is no reason not to leave.  Once our auto-pilot, Lord Nelson, was cleaned and calibrated and performing perfectly and our GPS was restored after a B&G update, our boat was once again back in high-caliber condition, ready to romp.  While it was stressful dealing with these hiccups in the days before we left, Phillip and I were still grateful all the pieces came together right before a decent weather window opened up.  

And, I say ‘decent’ because the Gulf rarely offers five full straight days of perfect weather.  You’re usually going to get into some kind of stuff (think 4-6 foot seas and winds of 20+) somewhere along the journey for some stretch of time.  It’s often just deciding whether you want it on the front end or the back end.  And, there’s often an equally good chance of wind shifting on to your nose, or dying altogether.  The Gulf is like a variety show.  You never know what it’s truly going to feel like until you get waaaay the heck out there and, by then, you’re already there.  No turning back.  Just sit down, buckle in, and endure the show.  

In the last weeks of April when we were planning to shove off, Phillip and I were looking at a stretch of nice winds in the Gulf.  In the high teens and mid-twenties, mind you, but on the stern.  Downwind sailing is my favorite kind of sailing.  We were planning to let a front pass through Pensacola, bringing some rain and storms, then ride the back end of that out into the Gulf with some great north wind pushing us out.  While we knew the seas would be a bit kicked up from the storm, on PassageWeather.com it looked like once we got about five or six hours off the coast, they would start to lay down.  Looked like …

I’m not going to lie, our first day on passage was pretty intense.  I’m confident we were bucking our way through steady 7-footers with the occasional 9 or 10-foot wave that would send us careening.  I recall many times Phillip and I would be talking and we both would stop mid-sentence when we saw a monster building on the stern that blocked out the sun.  Not a word would be spoken until we watched the mighty wave pick up our seemingly light-as-a-feather boat and shove her stern hard over, the bow lunging the opposite direction in response.  Phillip and I would hold our breath as our horizon spun 90 degrees and Lord Nelson squealed out trying to get the boat back on course.  I am grateful to say, even with some of the biggest following waves he’s steered in yet, Lord Nelson held every time.  No matter how hard we were shoved and tossed, he would emit his mighty whiiieeerrrrr and bring us back on course.  When Phillip and I would regain our breath after these moments and continue where we’d left off, it always included a sentiment to Lord Nelson.  He worked so hard below-decks during that passage, steering us all 96 hours across the Gulf.  

Thankfully those rough seas only lasted the first 24-or-so hours.  Well into our second day, the Gulf laid down to 3-5 footers with following winds in the upper teens and Phillip and I were glad we left when we did (even with the bumpy start) because the winds pushed us comfortably the next two days and the boat practically sailed herself most of the way down to the Keys. We had to motor for 20-or-so hours the last stretch when the winds laid down but with all of the attention we had given Westie (our 30 hp Westerbeke diesel engine) this past summer, we knew he was eager for the spotlight and ready to run as long as we needed him. And, he certainly did, without a hiccup.

Honestly, the best part about our last voyage across the Gulf was the immense feeling of pride it gave Phillip and me in our capable, comfortable boat.  The phrase “dialed in” I don’t even believe can do it justice.  Plaintiff’s Rest was not just dialed in, she was performing the best we had ever seen her, while setting her own personal record (a speed of 10.2 kts surfing down a wave), while crossing one of the toughest bodies of water in some of the biggest seas we’ve sailed her in.  Through all of that, it was like she was telling us it was … easy.  All of the work we had put into her—replacing the rigging, reinforcing the mast, the rudder, the keel, all of that engine work, digging out rot anywhere we saw it, and repairing everything we knew was an issue as soon as we could—had made her so incredibly capable and strong.  And yet so simple and comfortable. 

While there were, of course, dolphins—which make us (me) squeal uncontrollably, still, every time—and there was phosphorescence at night, brilliant turquoise horizons, shooting stars, the joy of peeling off foul foulies, and all of the things that make offshore sailing so mind-altering for us (no fish though, those wily bastards!), I think the best part about this voyage, for me and Phillip, was the ease and comfort of it. Not because the sea state and winds made it easy or comfortable—they did not—but because the boat did.  

The moon peeking through the clouds during our departure
Moon on the bow
With a brilliant sunrise emerging on the stern
It felt like a sign of good luck for our voyage
Headed out the Pensacola Pass
Captain Phillip at the helm
Captain Annie joins him – what’s better than one Captain on a boat?
Starting to get tossed just a bit in the Gulf (this was one of the few times
we were topside during the first 24 hours)
This was one of the others. While video never does it justice, you can see we’re moving pretty good here, up and down and heeling side to side, while Phillip was re-securing the anchor.
Dolphins on starboard!
Never gets old
Day two – still donning our foulies (which were quite foul by then, trust me)
Great winds for night sailing, and we love watching ships on the AIS – it’s usually a very good night shift distraction and entertainment
“Mornin’” says Offshore Annie
Then: “Look what I found!” : )
Nothing better
Phillip fishing … not catching (those wily bastards bit off several of our lures!)
“It’s gonna be a sweet sound, coming down, on the night shift!”
Phillip just finishing his as the sun rises over the stern.
Say “Hello!” to … SKIN. Day three we were thrilled to doff the foulies!
I see that smile! That’s Phillip’s offshore smile. : )
Our new Excel anchor taking in his first offshore voyage
I love living in a bikini!
Nuff said
It’s my cruising uniform (sure makes life easy not having to
think about what to wear … an to not have to brush my hair!)
Our one glass of wine at sunset ration – makes it so worth it!
We figured we were getting closer to land once we started to see the shrimp boats
Last day on passage, we were feeling right and lazy! Thanks again for the coozie, Geckos!
Ahhh … 96 hours of offshore sailing behind us, we had definitely earned a
relaxing afternoon poolside in Marathon.
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Auto Turn Notto: What Almost Prevented Our Bahamas Departure

“What was one of the scariest moments of your Bahamas trip?” a fellow cruiser asked us the other night during our first post-Bahamas reunion.  Ironically, he had asked Phillip first while I was in the restroom, so he got to ask me separately and it was quite interesting for Phillip and I to see how differently we both answered that question.  Apparently—and this was unbeknownst to me then—THIS incident was the scariest part of the trip for Phillip.  Granted, it happened before the trip, but Phillip deemed this his biggest scare.  That, and the knowledge we gained during the process, I felt made it worthy to share.

Our boat, you see, has quite the sense of humor.  It’s like she senses a coming departure date, and she knows she’s about to have to work really hard to carry us across the Gulf.  So, to balance things out, she likes to throw a little wrench in our final prep plans and enjoys watching us work really hard for a few days figuring out her last-minute equipment failure before we leave.  This time it was one of the most important systems on our boat: Lord Nelson.

Many of you may already know who that is.  Lord Nelson is our auto-pilot—an HLD 350 hydraulic drive with a Simrad AP26 control head and an AC20 computer—named after the gallant Lord Nelson boat he came off of when we acquired him in 2016.  Previously, we had an Auto Helm 3000, a belt-driven wheel helm that was, well, pretty much useless.  It was weak and unable to hold in any winds over 10 kts.  For this reason—when we were hauled out during our extensive mast stringer repair and re-rig for three months in 2016, we built a new fiberglass shelf for Lord Nelson and had Brandon with Perdido Sailor help us with the install.  Lord Nelson is a very strong, below-decks hydraulic auto-pilot that Phillip and I have been very impressed with.  That guy’s got a grip, I will tell you!  But, as with any “new” system on the boat, you have to work out the kinks, and it became clear to us, not long after his install, that Lord Nelson’s got a little sense of humor of his own.

Screen-Shot-2019-05-29-at-4.04.59-PM

During our voyage to Cuba, our first long offshore voyage using Lord Nelson, he initially unthreaded his own arm.  Phillip and I were beating into some pretty heavy stuff during that passage, so it gave us a great deal of alarm when the auto-pilot’s Simrad device began cackling out and Lord Nelson gave up the wheel.  Thankfully, Phillip was close enough to the helm to get control of the boat before we got backwinded (or “all f&*ked up” as Annie would say).  Don’t ask me how this weird un-threading happened, because it’s still a mystery to us.  We were simply thrilled it was a super easy solution.  I hopped down in the port lazarette (we spend a good bit of time in the lazarettes on our boat),

threaded it back on, Loc-tited it for good measure (we love Loc-Tite), and we were back in business.  Finding the problem is usually 80% of the battle.  All too often on the boat it is a very, very simple fix (i.e., tightening a loose bolt) that causes a very, very big problem (i.e., the auto-pilot’s not holding).

That was Lord Nelson’s first snafu (that’s the word of the day today).  Another time, also during our infamous voyage to Cuba—you can tell we learned a TON about our boat during that bash-across.  Yes that one …

voyage2

Lord Nelson started beeping and braying and telling us he was having “rudder response failure.”  After an embarrassing amount of tinkering and troubleshooting that did not involve the basics—i.e., making sure all the nuts and bolts and connections are tight—Phillip found the nuts holding Nelson’s base plate steady had wiggled loose during our rambunctious voyage.  Imagine trying to push something to exact measurements while your feet are on shifting sand.  Thankfully, again, this was a stupid-easy fix (tighten the nuts).  Lord Nelson was then able to steer us all the way—through some serious wind and seas across the Gulf Stream—to the entrance to Marina Hemingway.  We knew then we had made the right decision in upgrading from our wheel helm to hydraulic Lord Nelson.

When we hauled out in 2018 (to, among other things, reinforce our rudder post, replace our coupling and cutlass bearing, and switch to a composting head) Phillip noticed Lord Nelson appeared to be leaking out of his rear bushing on the rod.  As with most any other problem or issue we discover while we’re hauled out, we try to tackle it then and there, when we’re knee-deep in “boat project mode” and have the help, expertise, and tools of Brandon and his crew at Perdido Sailor at our side.  Brandon recommended we take Lord Nelson to a local hydraulic shop to have them open him up and replace all the bushings.  “While you’re in there,” he reasoned.  Sage advice.  While that seemed like a simple task, it was anything but.  I’ll spare you the entire saga by simply sharing this post and saying once again how unbelievably patient and persistent this guy at Industrial Hydraulic Services in Pensacola was.  I am so grateful we fell into his hands.

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 2.48.26 PM

So, with allll that work we put into Lord Nelson in the prior years, we had very high hopes he would perform beautifully on this voyage to the Bahamas and for many more passages and years to come.  I mean, it’s an old (which we prefer), strong system that—when fully-functional—is powerful enough to hold our boat in virtually any and all offshore conditions.  Lord Nelson was definitely not a system we had any worries about when we were preparing the boat this past February and March to leave for the Bahamas in April.  Apparently Lord Nelson felt differently about it.

During one of our last day sails before we were going to untie the lines and sail south for the season, Lord Nelson shocked Phillip and I both when he beeped out this strange ACXX warning (meaning he required too much voltage to turn the wheel, so he shut off) when he was holding while we were raising the main.  After we got the main up, and put Lord Nelson back on, he was fine.  No other issues; he held for several more hours in light and some sporty winds under engine and sail.  Then again, as we were coming back in, Lord Nelson gave up the ghost (oddly again when we had him holding while we were dropping the main) with the same ACXX warning.  It was just … strange.  There’s no other word for it, and there seemed to be no discernible reason or cause for it.

This time, being a bit more Lord Nelson-savvy, Phillip and I checked all of his bolts and nuts and wire connections.  We un-connected his wires, cleaned them and re-connected.  But, he had cut out in such freak moments—that we couldn’t seem to replicate—Phillip and I were unsure whether we’d solved anything or not, which was very unnerving with our planned departure date coming up.  I can tell you one of the very first things we will not leave the dock, headed off on an extended offshore voyage, without is a reliable auto-pilot.  He’s like a third crew member; easily the most skilled and capable one at holding the wheel.  The thought of traveling with a potentially faulty auto-pilot is what Phillip readily admitted gave him the biggest scare of our trip.  Having planned and prepared for months, with a good weather window ahead of us in the Gulf, Lord Nelson’s condition was almost a deal-breaker.

Thinking there was a possibility we were going to have to replace the drive unit before we could leave, Phillip and I were frantically searching the web and making calls trying to find a replacement drive, which proved to be a challenge as our unit is so old and unique and no longer manufactured.  The only used ones available were overseas and would take weeks to arrive (although we thought about shipping them to Key West and hand-steering there—not a great idea, but one of our last-ditch ones).  Newer, different drives all proved to be too big to fit and operate on the shelf we had built for Lord Nelson.  When we did find a different newer drive (the Simrad T0) which would fit in our space, they were all unavailable or out of stock.  Multiple calls to a guy at our local West Marine resulted in just one (only one unit in the entire U.S., I’m not kidding).  It was in New York but, once located, it was deemed already sold. Unless our unit was repairable (in the next two days) our Bahamas trip looked like it was going to be postponed indefinitely.

With our focus now on fixing Lord Nelson, assuming it was possible and that we could do it quickly (two very big assumptions), Phillip did some research and discovered these mysterious motor brushes.  A mystery to me, that is, as I still don’t have my head wrapped quite around what it is they do, exactly, or brush per se, if anything.  I know they somehow make an electrical connection in the motor, but there’s still some magic going on there for me. I mean, here’s what they look like.  Weird little buggers:

Motor_Brush_Set_22691K

However, we were struggling to find what types of brushes had been installed in our unit so we could even buy new ones and hope that fixed it.  Remember our unit was made years ago and is no longer manufactured, meaning the employees at Simrad weren’t quite sure what brushes had gone in there to begin with.  Frustrated and irritated with our prospects, we got a little desperate.

Two days before our departure date, I stopped into a small motor maintenance shop in Pensacola hoping beyond hope, initially, just for answers: what brushes were in our motor and could the shop order and replace them?  Like a punch to the gut, when I told the guy the specs of our unit, he immediately told me he was sure he would not have any brushes in stock that would fit our old Simrad unit.  It was his belief, they would not be manufactured anymore and he would have to machine new ones using the old ones as a template. This could take 5-7 days, he told me, if it all went without issue.  (When do boat projects ever go off “without issue,” am I right?).  I had every intention of walking out of his shop and simply going home to tell Phillip our plight, when desperation and crazy hope overcame me.  I drove straight to the boat, sweated my ass off in the lazarette, but I disconnected and disassembled Lord Nelson and removed him.  It’s not a super fun job.

42922237_1706763942768054_3744492259773513728_o

Thankfully, having been very involved in his install and our many times trouble-shooting and working on him, I was very familiar with his assembly, so I could do this on my own. Ladies, this is a testament to getting to know your boat just as much as your counterpart so you can be just as capable as he or she when it comes to troubleshooting and repairs (because it will often, time and time and time again, come time for troubleshooting and repairs.  It’s a boat … )

A greasy, sweaty mess, I stunned the motor shop guy coming back in with my beast in hand.  “This is Lord Nelson,” I told him, as I asked if he could please get inside him as soon as possible so we could get moving on our brush project (and get the heck on our way to the Bahamas!).  Motor Man took Lord Nelson, wrote down my info, gave me a ticket, and said he would get on it as soon as he could (hopefully tomorrow).

It was all I could do. But, I would have never guessed my rash decision ended up saving our whole departure.

While I was merely hopeful this magic Motor Man would be able to get inside Lord Nelson, find the brushes, make new ones and have us up and running and heading off to the Bahamas—albeit perhaps a week or two after our originally planned departure date—I had no idea he would call the next day and tell me: “It’s fixed.”

Remember what I said about ridiculously-easy fixes usually being the source of the most ridiculously deal-breaker breakdowns?  You want to know what was wrong with Lord Nelson that was preventing him from being able to steer our boat?

He was dirty.

That’s all.  Just dirty.  Motor Man—who is a great mechanic with an uncanny devotion to customer service and whose real name is Glen at Escambia Electric Motor Service here in Pensacola (and whom Phillip and I will be forever grateful to)—found, when he opened Lord Nelson’s motor up that it was all gunked up and gummy (likely from the hydraulic fluid that had been leaking).  He was so greasy and dirty that his brushes (which were in great shape – yay!) simply weren’t able to make good contact.  Glen said it was arching and sparking in there, struggling so hard to make a connection to run the motor that it was pulling 15 amps at times.  That was the reason for the ACXX message and failure.  Once Glen cleaned him all up, Lord Nelson was running beautifully, drawing only 2 amps.  That’s it.  What a pleasant surprise.  He was just dirty.

And, it was our last day before we had planned to leave.  All we had to do was pick up our buddy Nelson, re-install him on the boat, then we could pop out for a quick motor-about to make sure he was calibrated and working properly and *voila*! Our we-almost-didn’t-go, auto-turn-notto problem would be solved.  That’s it. Boom.  Done.  You can go now.

It’s rather funny now looking back on it.  And, as is so often the case with our boat—I swear she just knows how to break down with grace at the perfect time—this snafu happened at just the right time. Imagine if this ACXX message and an auto-pilot failure had started occurring two days into the Gulf, 100 nm from shore?  Phillip and I would have had a very different, much more dangerous offshore experience.  But, no, our boat had the wherewithal to show us this problem days before we were leaving in our own protected home waters.  I mean, when you realize that, you just want to give her a massive fist bump.  Right on, boat.  *thunk*

And, please use this story as a reminder: when your boat seems to be giving you trouble and having issues, she may very well be simply trying to talk to you and tell you exactly what is going on with her.  You just have to listen and look.  Phillip and I are still not near as good as we should be, not quite 100% attune, but we’ve been through enough now to know, if she’s giving us “problems” it’s likely she’s trying to get our attention so we can fix something well before it blows up into something major.  She’s usually doing us a serious solid.

So, there you have it: Phillip’s biggest scare of our trip. And, I’ve spared from this story the issues we had with our GPS during these last days as well.  Turns out total lack of a GPS signal can be the result of needing to do a simple upgrade of the micro-chip in the B&G.  I’ll tell you the thought of leaving without a reliable auto-pilot or GPS was another pretty big scare.  But, again, this happened in just a way that we were able to address and fix it in the safety of home waters where we have unlimited wifi access.  Thanks again, boat. *bump*

Now, you may be wondering what my biggest scare of the trip was? You’ll have to follow along!  It wasn’t until we got near Andros.  But, Phillip and I hope repair and equipment failure posts like this one help educate you all and give you some encouragement if you, too (as all boat owners do) often run into problems out there.  Think of it as just your boat trying to show you something before it becomes a colossal, no-go-for-you issue and thank her!

Next up on the blog: our five-day sail across the Gulf of Mexico.  Stay tuned!

 

 

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Birthday Tribute: 37 Reasons Why This Past Voyage Was Our Best Yet

Reason No. 1: My GoPro Broke Our First Day in the Bahamas.

Why is that a good thing? Because it was the universe telling me to just live in the moment—to see, taste, and feel it, rather than film it. Ahoy crew! Now that Phillip and I have completed our Bahamas cruise and tucked in safe for hurricane season, I’m excited to share all of the fun stories and photos from our incredible Bahamas voyage with you all here on the blog. I decided—as a fitting birthday tribute (this little sailor turned a proud 37 on May 28th : )—to first share the 37 highs and lows that Phillip and I have agreed made this last voyage to the Bahamas our best trip yet. The reasons might surprise you. Remember: it’s usually not the cocktails and sunsets you remember the most.

No. 2: We Had a Great Send-Off

  • Our friends in Pensacola are keepers, I will tell you that. Brandon made (try to wrap your head around this) bacon-wrapped, beer-battered onion rings along with a massive rack of ribs, well mainly just as a Saturday BBQ—that man loves to grill—but Phillip and I commandeered it as our “send-off feast” and it was incredible! Our buddy (and original boat broker, who helped us find our Niagara 35), Kevin, also brought us a nice bottle of champagne (complete with its own boat bubble packing!), and we had one rip-roaring last hoorah at our favorite Ft. McRee anchorage before leaving. Yes, those glasses do say “Party Rock!”

No. 3: We Had Two Captains Aboard

  • Double the knowledge, experience, and credentials; double the ease of cruising. Nuff said. With both of us now equally capable of steering, navigating, AND docking, Phillip and I both felt an increased sense of confidence when we left the dock in April.

No. 4: We Had Plenty of Wine

No. 5: We Had Plenty of Storage Space for Said Wine

No. 6: We Scored on Salsa!

  • Yes, salsa is serious on our boat. I always prefer it at room temp (and, yes, I have eaten a whole jar in one sitting to enjoy the full-warm goodness before it went into the flavor-sucking hole that is the fridge. We also always try to reduce foods we bring on the boat that have to be refrigerated, so when we found these perfect single-serving sized cans at Wal-Mart that taste like they were just chopped on a beach-side salsa stand, we were stoked! These guys made for a wonderfully-tasty treat often on Plaintiff’s Rest and we were able to reduce trash by throwing the cans overboard when we were underway offshore! Win-win. What do you say? “Arriba!!”

No. 7: We Got Lucky (on a Weather-Window)

  • While Phillip and I both often readily agree it is rare to find a perfect “good” downwind five-day weather window across the Gulf, we did find a rather peachy four-day one that suited us just fine. While our first day out of the gate was a bit sporty, I’m excited to tell you in a future post how well our baby girl performed in 20 knots of wind (albeit on the stern—my favorite kind) and 6-8 (sometimes 10) foot seas. It was a romp. Whew!

No. 8: Despite a Last-Minute Breakdown, Lord Nelson Held the Entire Time

  • This is my next story coming up on the blog: Auto Turn Notto: The Problem That Almost Prevented Our Departure. It’s quite an interesting saga. It never ceases to amaze me how often massive problems (the auto-pilot is not working) are caused by the tiniest of conditions (a bolt is not tightened or a connection is loose, for example). But, Phillip and I certainly learned a ton about our hydraulic auto-pilot in the process, and we hope you will too. After solving this problem—we *hope*—we now have Lord Nelson running in a condition that will last us ten more years of cruising. That was our hope when he had Brandon with Perdido Sailor help us install him during our extended stay in the shipyard back in 2016.
Screenshot from Shipyard Video #69: Meet Our Hydraulic Auto-Pilot “Mr. Roboto”

No. 9: We Left Under the Most Beautiful Sunrise I Have Ever Photographed

No. 10: We Had Another Successful, Safe Gulf-Crossing

  • Crossing the Gulf of Mexico is no friggin’ joke. Phillip and I have told many, many cruisers that, despite our multiple Atlantic-Ocean crossings, the Gulf still ranks as one of the most gnarly bodies of water we have crossed, often packing the worst punch. We have spent too many a day and night bashing and crashing across the Gulf. So, anytime we have a successful, no damage, no injuries crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, we will happily and unapologetically celebrate it. Ahhhh ...

No. 11: We Were Only in Foulies for One Day

  • Previous Gulf-Crossings, particularly those undertaken in November or December have seen us in stinky, sweaty fouls for days. Yuck! Phillip and I were thrilled this time, leaving later in the year (April), to start pulling off those foul (in many ways) layers, just north of Tampa!

No. 12: We Got in a Massive Fight in Bimini

  • Doesn’t sound like a good thing, does it? Well it’s not when you’re in the thick of it. But, if you come out stronger and closer on the other side, it’s worth it. Couples have to fight occasionally to let the steam out and regroup. I had made a stupid error in my lat-lon navigation trying to help Phillip (who was holding the helm at the time) into the entrance to Bimini (bad on me) but Phillip responded with a comment that cut me to the core (bad on him). And, it doesn’t need to be repeated. It wasn’t an expletive, just hurtful. But, the upside was my response. While I usually swallow that hurt down, trying not to “rock the boat” so to speak, I knew Phillip and I had many tight-quarter days ahead on the boat, so I spoke up and let it out so we could vent and heal and it was the right decision. I’m getting better at this adult stuff, I’m telling you!

No. 13: We Got Stuck in Bimini

  • Again, doesn’t sound like a good thing, right? For Phillip and I—who really like to stay on the move when we’re cruising, staying usually only 2-3 days in one place before moving onto the next—a forced five-day stay in one place can be a bit of a bugger. Buuuuttt, that is only true when there’s no wind there or no good place to kite. If it’s blowing like stink for days and we have the ability to kite, Phillip and I are happy to park it and get on that wind. We spent three glorious days in a row kiting the snot out of 20-25+ winds in Bimini. It was awesome!

No. 14: We Failed (Initially) at Fishing …

  • Shouldn’t sound like a good thing, either? No “fish on” to shout about. For the first week of our cruising, when we were doing most of our offshore voyaging and expecting to catch most of our fish, Phillip and I didn’t catch a damn thing. Those crafty fish stole lure after lure, laughing at us the entire time. But, it was this extended fish failure that made our first catch that much sweeter.

No. 15: Then We Caught Our Biggest Mahi Ever!

  • It was glorious. That beautiful bounty of the sea fed us six times over, three filets a piece. I’m not kidding. Neptune rewarded our initial failed attempts in droves.

No. 16: The Weather Forced Us to a New Place

  • Morgan’s Bluff! Have any of you been there? While Phillip and I were not sure whether we were going to stop in Andros this year, as the Exumas were certainly calling (and while I would not call it a “schedule” per se, as commuter cruisers, we do have limited time and have to make destination decisions accordingly), the weather made the decision for us. Coming into the Northwest Providence Channel, the wind turned more southeast than we anticipated and began building to 18 and upwards—not a comfortable wind speed on the nose on our boat. So, it was either beat into that all the way to the Exumas or tuck in at Morgan’s Bluff, a place we knew nothing about but that brought us one of our most memorable moments of the entire trip:

No. 17: We Ate Our First Dilly (It’s Kind of a Big Dilly-yo)

  • This was such an unexpected and eye-opening experience. While Morgan’s Bluff does not have much to offer if you just dinghy to shore—a pretty beach and one little bar—Phillip and I were lucky enough to find a local to hire to drive us around the entire island and give us a three-hour tour (that, thankfully, did not leave us shipwrecked!). Kanendra, the dock master there at Morgan’s Bluff, along with her daughter, Diamond, took us around and showed us the cave where Captain Morgan allegedly hid his treasures, the blue hole (where the limestone core has fallen through and you can dive straight through to the ocean), the cute little resort bungalows you can rent, along with the extensive devastation that still exists from Hurricane Matthew. It was enlightening and incredibly interesting. And, Diamond, herself, a child of only eight, was adamant about sharing a particular experience with us—eating our first dilly fruit. Diamond picked this one herself and Phillip and I ate it right on the stop, getting all sticky in the process. It was the sweetest fruit I believe I’ve ever eaten and an awesome moment!

No. 18: We Did Sooooo Much Sailing

  • This surprised even us: Phillip and I sailed so much, we started to run low on battery power because we hadn’t cranked the engine in a while sailing almost the entire way from anchorage to anchorage. We were very lucky, both across the Gulf and the Stream, and with almost every island hop, to have steady winds on our stern that just pushed us along. It was incredible. Phillip and I did some of our favorite sailing, ever on our boat, on this last trip.

No. 19: We Reefed Right!

  • This was a little trick we learned from Andy Schell and Mia at 59-North. You wrap the reef line once around the boom and then tie it to allow the reef line to cinch the sail alll the way down to the boom to get a flatter, more effective reef. The days we did have to sail to windward in winds that require us to reef (generally 15 kts and up), this trick helped us put a tighter reef in and sail more comfortably to weather.
Feel free to comment on my “beanie hair” – I should have left the darn thing on – but you can see the reef trick! Thanks Andy!

No. 20: Two Weeks In, We Still Had Enough Wine!

Cheers!

No. 21: We Studied the Charts and GRIBS Together

  • I realize only now—with six years of cruising and a Captain’s License under my belt—how little help I was during mine and Phillip’s first cruising years. Sure, I was a hard worker. I crawled down into holes to try and fix things. I cooked. I cleaned. I got greasy and helped where I could. But, I never pushed myself to get knowledgeable enough about the more difficult things, like navigation, weather-watching, and making wise passage decisions. Now that I have, Phillip and I enjoy checking the weather together (that is an every morning and every afternoon event and conversation we have when we’re cruising), studying the charts, and deciding “Where to next?” together and we then share the roles navigating in. At least this way if we run-aground, we can share the blame! Let’s hope that never happens … although I’m sure it will again someday.

No. 22: We Were Exceedingly Impressed With Our Boat

  • She never ceased to amaze and impress us. Granted, Phillip and I put a lot of time and money into her and try our best to be very diligent, pro-active boat owners, but that does not mean you’re going to have a boat that performs 100% of the time. I’ll say our baby girl did everything we asked of her (which was often to run hard for 24 hours-plus under sail, engine, or both, with Lord Nelson doing all the steering) about 95% of the time. She was just a beast out there—moving comfortably in all types of weather, practically sailing herself all over the Bahamas. Pretty much every system worked, every bit of the time. While this is a HUGE reason we always strive for less, more simplistic systems on our boat, it was clear to Phillip and I, those choices (and the work they required) were totally worth it. I am immensely proud to say our boat is “dialed in.”

No. 23: We Made It to the Exumas!

  • That, in and of itself, was an accomplishment, as we were not sure our time allotment would allow it. We were not able to make it to the Exumas last year when we did the Abacos—although our diversion to the Berries brought us a fantastic encounter with new friends and an amazing experience that was the subject of my latest article in SAIL Magazine—Phillip and I both still had a desire to see and experience for ourselves the breathtaking beauty so many have told us is unique only to the Exumas. And, boy were they right. Photos just can’t capture it, but they can try!
Annie and Plaintiff’s Rest in Warderwick Wells Cay in the Exumas

No. 24: I Was Published Underway!

  • This was such a treat! To have an article of mine, “People With Gusto: the people you meet when cruising”—ironically about the Berry Islands in the Bahamas—come out in the latest SAIL Magazine while Phillip and I were sailing to the Bahamas. It was fun to be a bit of celebrity in certain marinas along the way where people had seen the article. Thanks again to Peter Nielson and the SAIL Magazine crew for running my piece!

No. 25: We Met The Amazing Jessie (from Jessie & Kate)

  • Speaking of meeting amazing people while cruising, we were lucky enough to cross paths with this inspiring young sailor/photographer: Jessie from Cruising Outpost’s “Jessie & Kate on a Boat” series. Leave a comment below if you enjoyed their articles in Cruising Outpost. Jessie was such a warm, candid person and so fun and interesting to talk to. You can imagine she and I immediately meshed and scurried to the corner to chatter like schoolgirls. I’ll admit to a little girl-crush on her; I’m not scared. Jessie is phenomenal. She and her husband, Luke, came into Bimini on the way back from their Atlantic-Circle honeymoon. I mean … damn. Reminds of the amazing Pam Wall. I am so inspired by these hearty sailing ladies! Keep it up salty gals!! You can follow Jessie’s continued adventures on Instagram at www.instagram.com/jessiebrave/.

No. 26: We Were Able to Scrub Our Own Bottom

  • Many thanks to Mantus on this one! When Phillip and I learned they had designed a smaller, more portable scuba set-up, we snagged one so we could use it during our cruising to dive a really cool reef that might be perhaps a little too deep for repeated snorkel dives and also to scrub our own bottom. This saves us about $100/month if we can do our bottom ourselves, so it has proven well-worth the investment for us. Plus, it’s convenient to have a little scuba set-up just for fun on the boat.

No. 26: We Got to Dive This!

No. 27: We Got to Cheers Everyday to Views Like This!

No. 28: We Got to Wake Every Morning to Views Like This!

No. 29: We Got To Swim Everyday In Waters Like This

No. 30: We Got to Swim With Friendly Guys Like This

No. 31: We Got to Eat Food Like This

No. 32: We Got to Walk Beaches as Amazing as This

No. 33: We Got to Harvest Our Own Conch

No. 34: We Got to Snorkel Pretty Much Every Day

No. 35: We Got to Spend an Entire Vacation With Our Best Friend

No. 36: We Had a Life-Changing Swim With a Turtle

  • I’m proud to say because I was IN the moment, not filming it, I don’t have an image, but I don’t need one. My words and memory will do it justice, just you wait. I named him Rasta because he was so chiiiilllll.

No. 37: Six Weeks In, We Still Had Enough Wine!

Cheers!

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See You In Annapolis! I’m Speaking at Cruiser’s University

I still have to pinch myself because I’m not quite sure this is 100% real yet, but I just saw it go up on the Annapolis Boat Show Cruiser’s University website, so it must be! Friends, followers, I have been working hard to put this together so I could finally make this exciting announcement: I am so proud to be speaking with Pam Wall at Cruiser’s University during the week of the Annapolis Boat Show in October! (I’m imagining cheers, applause, sharp whistles, maybe some confetti raining down on the stage … I love confetti!). This is such an honor for me, and I am very grateful to my very good friend and long-time cruising inspiration–Pam Wall–for agreeing to join me in a presentation and the Cruiser’s University team for taking a chance on this relative newbie cruiser and ocean-crosser.

Pam and I will be speaking on Tuesday, October 8th from 12:30 to 3:45 p.m. on how to rig an old(er) boat for comfortable coastal and ocean cruising. Our presentation is called “Old Salts, New Systems: Making an Older Boat Comfortable for Cruising.” Here is the Cruiser’s University Schedule so you can check it out!

I originally met Pam when Phillip and I attended our very first boat show, the Miami International Boat Show in February, 2015, and she was a huge inspiration to me from the very moment I saw her hands clapping and her eyes ablaze talking about her beloved Abacos in the Bahamas. Having now experienced those amazing islands myself, I can see exactly where her fire and Bahamian passion come from. In addition, Pam has also helped Phillip and I over the years analyze and update many systems on our boat; she’s helped us navigate some tricky waters and discover wondrous new anchorages to explore; she’s also connected us with many of her own personal friends and acquaintances along the way who–as many fellow-cruisers often do–opened their arms and quickly shared their vast cruising knowledge and stories with us. I am forever thankful I met Pam and am privileged to be taking the stage with her this coming October.

Our presentation (although it continues to grow and evolve) will cover many different systems new boat-owners and cruisers may want to learn about, inspect, look for, or perhaps install on a boat they are considering purchasing to make it more comfortable and capable for cruising. This will range from discussions about rigging, hull, keel, and rudder structure, weight and displacement, power management, navigation and electronics, even the basic quality-of-life items such as the galley, head, stowage, and communication. Pam and I are both excited to offer our unique forty-year spectrum of knowledge covering older tried-and-true systems as well as the newer generations of electronics and gadgets that are coming out. We expect the presentation will be enlightening and very entertaining with as much Q&A as you can dream up. Lay it on us!

For the next 7-10 days Cruiser’s University will be open to registration by Cruisers University Alum, after which it will be open to the general public for sign-up and registration. I will keep you all informed here on the blog and my social media pages as updates become available about registration or other CU and Annapolis Boat Show highlights. Phillip and I are both incredibly excited to be attending. We’ve never been to Annapolis before! How many of you are planning to go to the Annapolis Boat Show this year? If so, we hope you can join Pam and me on Tuesday during Cruiser’s University!

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People With Gusto! Article in SAIL Magazine

If someone were to ask us what cruising is about, I’m sure Phillip and I would say the adventure, the travel, the freedom, the challenges, but I’m confident our answer would also include “the people.” The people Phillip and I have met while cruising are exceptional. Even with decades of knowledge, experience, often impressive business, military, or other worldly accomplishments, they are the most humble, helpful, resourceful people you will meet. Always at the ready to catch a dock line, share some duct tape, let you borrow their dinghy, help you fix … anything, and eager to pour you a drink and swap sea tales. These are the people Phillip and I aspire to be and that we meet everywhere we stop while cruising.

Steve and Pat, who we met last year in the Berry Islands, were no exception. I wrote People With Gusto to honor this hilarious, hospitable couple who, before they even knew us, welcomed me and Phillip into their hand-built island home, taught us how to spear fish and shared not only their bounty but their stories and their rich history with us each evening over dinner and dominos in their home. I believe Phillip and I, before we even discussed it, both felt while the Abacos were breathtaking, exciting, and memorable, our time with Steve and Pat was hands-down the highlight of our entire Bahamas trip.

This made it even more of a treat to find SAIL Magazine ran my People with Gusto article the same time Phillip and I were making our way back to the Berry Islands. He and I are out cruising right now, meeting more and more people with gusto! Many thanks to Peter Nielsen and the rest of the team at SAIL for publishing another one of my pieces. It’s such an honor! Go grab a copy of the May 2019 issue to read the article and let us know what you thought of it. Enjoy!

And, bonus points for any follower who can tell where in the Bahamas the photo above was taken! : )

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My Bags Are Packed: Boat Prep for the Bahamas

Or maybe I should say: “My Jerries are strapped.  I’m ready to go.  Standing here outside your … dorade-oh.”  I’m great with lyrics. Ahoy crew!  Phillip and I are getting excited to shove off soon for the Bahamas again.  We love that area! And, while we fell in love with the Abacos last time, we want to head back to do some more exploring in the Exumas this time, and the weather is looking good for a shove-off tomorrow morning at daybreak! We don’t know exactly where we’re going or how long we’ll stay, and we love it that way. I can tell you this: Phillip and I did not pack a schedule on the boat this time!  But, we did pack a lot of other stuff and made some changes this year on how we stock and prep the boat for offshore voyaging and island life that I thought would be helpful to share with you all.  

If you can believe it, this was our short list:

And, THIS is what your boat looks like in prep mode.  Fun stuff.  Everything is torn apart, lockers emptied, tools everywhere finishing up last minute projects.  It’s a hot mess, but totally worth it.  

The good news: One thing Phillip and I have noticed over the years as we cruise half of the year and spend the rest in Pensacola—often on the hard for a few weeks or more during that time with Brandon at Perdido Sailor making repairs or upgrades to the boat—we’re getting very good at both stripping the boat down for the yard, then stocking her back up for cruising and offshore sailing.  The more you do it, it starts to become a well-oiled routine and you get better at deciding where and how to stow things, and how to best disassemble and remove things.  I’m not ashamed to say: It feels pretty f*cking fabulous to have your boat dialed in.  There’s six years’ worth of sweat and work in that accomplishment that we’re immensely proud of. So, how do we prep our boat for offshore sailing and island cruising? Let’s dive right in!

First up, the new stuff:

Purchasing and Packing Coco Bricks for Our New Composting Head

As many of you know, Phillip and I swapped from our manual pump head to an AirHead composting head when we were in the shipyard in 2018.  

I wrote a detailed blog post about it, as well as a video showing the install and shared extensively in both of those pieces how thrilled we are with the decision. It is a much simpler, more eco-friendly system.  It takes up far less space and smells a thousand times better.  It also looks better and makes our lives simpler in so many ways.  This voyage to the Bahamas will give us a true experience of cruising with a composting head both offshore and as full-time live-aboards, so we are looking forward to that.  

But, this was a “new” item for us to pack for this year, as we needed bricks and paper filters.  We were able to purchase the bricks for a very reasonable price off of Amazon. Here is a link.  They’re about $3.50 a piece and each bricks lasts 3-4 weeks.  So, we ordered 12 from Amazon, and I am pleased to say they ALL packed nicely around our trash can in the lower section of the cabinet under the head sink.  This area:

Photo taken while I was replacing a leaking Y-valve down there.

They even prop the trash can up better so it does not topple around and makes throwing those little goodies away even easier.  We ordered the coffee filters (although I love that Airhead calls them “paper carriers” – that’s classy) from Airhead as well. I think three packs of 50 was like $12, no sweat. We also swapped to a plastic trash can down there as our previous metal one was rusting and making a mess.  You know how I feel about messes … No, Sir!  Not on Plaintiff’s Rest!

With our those stored, we are good to go with the head for, gosh, 8-9 months of cruising, if not more, depending on how much time we spend on the boat consistently using the composting head.  But, man, isn’t that a great feeling?  Never having to go to the fuel dock again just to pump out, and never having to pump out again, ever.  I’ll take it! 

Packing Out the Turd Tank Locker

Now, Phillip and I had the very awesome problem of what to store in the locker that once housed our stinky, sloshing turd tank, which is now super clean, smelling of BilgeKote and baby’s breath.  I believe it’s baby’s breath. Something sweet and inviting. See? I hopped right in!

I was surprised to see—once the holding tank was out—how BIG that space really is.  There was a shelf built in to help hold the weight of our former 25-gallon holding tank. I’m kneeling on it in the photo above. But, the area underneath that shelf is about half the size of the area you see me scrunched up in here. So, a half-Annie can fit! : )

Phillip and I haven’t even filled that lower area with anything yet.  We haven’t had the need.  Each year, we find or create more storage space on the boat (and we also learn to pack smarter and lighter) and so our storage needs seem to always be met, well, exceeded is more like it.  Now, that may change when we’re getting ready to cross an ocean, but I’m fully confident when that time comes, all of these half-full, empty, and/or yet discovered areas in our boat will easily accommodate our ocean-crossing needs.  

This area, here, however, where I’m curled up and where the holding tank used to be, is pleasantly massive!  So big, we were a bit stumped at first as to what exactly to put in it. Hence, its inclusion on our packing list. What goes there? we pondered. As Phillip and I are always trying to counter-balance more weight in the lower and aft parts of the boat—to offset our 200 pounds of chain in the bow—we planned to stock lighter goods here, and I was shocked to see the following fit in this locker, with room to spare:

Our storm sail (aptly named Stormy McDaniels : )

3 (yes three!) 12-packs of toilet paper (yes, 36 rolls is extreme overkill, but we have the space for it and … that’s not something we really want to risk running out of)

6 rolls of paper towels

2 blue rolls of shop towels

And, a beach-sized bag of some of our more bulky epoxy project pieces (bins to mix epoxy, paint stirrers, random containers, rubber gloves, etc.)

All right there.  And, in the lockers further forward of this one under the vberth we were able to stow all of our extra lines (about 12-14 I’d say … many of them I have no clue what they could or should be used to do, but hey, we got ‘em!), the ShopVac, spare sheets, work towels, an extra set of dock lines (in case we have to tie off for a big storm), as well as ALL of our kite-surfing gear: (3 kites, harnesses, bars and a pump).  All of that is right here under my rump!

We were replacing our old fans with those awesome Caraframo fans here, but you can see the mound of chain behind me in the anchor chain locker that we are always trying to counter-balance.

You see what I mean?  It’s like our boat can’t get enough!  Whatever we dump in she seems to swallow it whole and shut the lid.  Got it?  Anything else? she asks.  Love that gal.  And, because we installed a watertight floor in the anchor chain locker during our extensive stint on the hard in 2016 (check out our Shipyard Video “No More Water in the Bilge!”) and ran a hose carrying the anchor chain water to our sump box in the center bilge, every locker forward of the center bilge is a DRY locker. 

Bone dry.  I’ll never regret that tedious, but well-worth-it project. 

What else was new?

New Storage Cubbies in the Bilge

So, this was fun.  During our voyage to Cuba in 2016 and to the Bahamas in 2017, Phillip and I began utilizing these spaces under the main floorboard in our saloon.

You can see our batteries are mounted here (which provides great access for their periodic water-filling) and the frame for the batteries provided two nice bilge cubbies on starboard where we stow bigger, less frequently used tools and other supplies.  Utilizing those bins effectively on our Bahamas Voyage in 2017 inspired me to create two more further forward.  I used the Brandon cardboard-cutout method (patent pending) to create templates (because boats are never square or perfect) and we then cut the necessary pieces out of starboard (conveniently from a piece that was leftover from our “potty platform” Brandon called it—the big square piece we used to make the platform under our composting head.  So, it turned out to be a great re-use of readily available resources.  

Isn’t it funny how you carry little leftovers and things along like that because someday you just might need them.  You may be wrong, and they may seem “in the way” many, many times, but you know (you just know!) the minute you throw it out, you’ll need it.  Thankfully, we held onto the remainder of our “potty platform” it seemed for this very reason.  These two new cubbies served us perfectly by housing large and small bottles of water (we bring a good bit of drinking water when we cruise) as well as three bags of wine and 3 mini 12-packs of sodas.  

Stowing the Goods!

Phillip and I have found so many new places to pack food and drinks these past few years on our boat. And, once we discovered them, I—of course!—the next time we hauled out, dumped them and slathered them with Bilgekote (I love Bilgekote : ) so they are clean and smell amazing.  Surprisingly, we store a huge amount of food around our water tank on the port side.  There is also a cubby aft of the water tank that usually houses ALL of our canned goods, if not other things like sodas, coffee, rice, and any kind of pantry item. 

This also helps balance out all the weight of the diesel tank on starboard.  All of our soft goods like toilet paper, paper towels, towels, clothes, etc., we try to stow forward and higher to help the boat maintain its balance. 

Our cubbies in the after berth also swallow a lot of wine (7 bags this time) along with waters and other goods.  As you can see, we like to get as much of the heavy weight low and aft to offset the Bohemian weight of our 200 foot chain in the bow.  For anyone curious, we probably packed 10 boxes of wine and 15 bottles, I believe, on top of the general booze.  I mean, that’s stuff’s important.  

#thewineispacked #nowecango

ENGINE, SPARES, AND SAFETY GEAR CHECK

We also do the following any time we are preparing to head offshore.  It’s been comforting to refine this list over the years and get better and better at performing these chores.  Between you and me, I think our boat really appreciates it, and sees the love that goes into getting her ready to take us to magical places:

  1. Change the oil in the engine (if it’s time – 50 hours)
  2. Check/change the primary fuel filter if needed
  3. Review and re-stock the following boat supplies as needed:
    1. Engine spares (fuel filters, gaskets, zincs, etc.)
    2. Fluids (oil, coolant, distilled water, transmission fluid, hydraulic fluid, etc.)
    3. Epoxy kit
  4. Check and update our pfds if necessary
  5. Check all of our handheld devices for updates/batteries, etc.
  6. Check our B&G (primary) and Garmin (secondary) chartplotters for updates, etc.
  7. Check and update, if necessary, our fire extinguishers
  8. Check and update, if necessary our smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
  9. Check and update, if necessary, all of our ditch bag contents
  10. Make sure we have a handful of flashlights that actually work (and plenty of batteries)
  11. Check and replenish our emergency food and water stores in the ditch bag
  12. Check and replenish our first aid kit (never fail that means more band-aids, our boat often bites!)
  13. Update and activate the Delorme and make sure it’s tracking and messaging without issue
  14. Send a float plan to designated friends back home with vital USCG and other info

I wrote a much more extensive article about the entirety of spares we pack on the boat if you are interested here.

Phillip and I also carry a spare alternator and a spare raw water pump aboard.  While we do not have one now, in the future, Phillip and I really want to find a replacement auto-pilot for ours that we can just drop in if necessary and carry that aboard when we start to do more extensive (think ocean-crossing) offshore sailing.  Experiencing what we did with Yannick on our first Atlantic-crossing, where we lost the auto-pilot in the middle of the ocean, but thankfully just a few days from the Azores, it would have been nice to have a back-up auto-pilot ready to drop in and continue sailing.  

RIGGING THE BOAT FOR OFFSHORE SAILING

Just in case we find ourselves in this kind of stuff.

Drop Our 135 Genoa for Our 90% Jib

When we get ready to go offshore, Phillip and I drop our 135 genoa (“Genny”) to fly our 90% offshore jib (“Wendy”) as we cross the Gulf, and likely as we sail around the Keys and the Bahamas, too.  After sailing several seasons with Wendy on the forestay, Phillip and I have found we’re usually more comfortable with a smaller sail up there and the option to throw up the spinnaker (“Spinny”) when the winds get light enough for us.  Having the 135, the 90%, our 35% storm sail, and our asymmetrical spinnaker, Phillip and I finally feel like we’ve got a diverse and functional sail plan for our boat dialed in.  

Install the Inner Forestay

We also hoist Captain Annie up the mast every time we prepare to go offshore sailing so I can install our inner forestay in case we need it if we get into some gnarly stuff out there.   I did a video on how to rig your boat for heavy weathera while back which shows this process in more detail if you’re interested. When we’re coastal cruising, Phillip and I generally keep that stay down to preserve it.  And … Annie loves a nice, sunny mast hoist.  It makes for great mast selfies!  (Yes, that’s a thing.) 

Stowing the Dinghy

We also pack down our dinghy and store it completely below decks with the outboard firmly fastened on the stern rail.  Any of my followers who have read Salt of a Sailor or Sometimes You Need a Hacksaw can understand why.  Phillip and I will never travel offshore with a dinghy on the davits.  That is just our preference after an expensive “adventure” during our first voyage where we lost the dinghy (and could have lost the stern rail, which could have caused us to lose much, much more).  Going forward, our dinghy, Dicta, always goes below decks for offshore voyages.  Although the assembly does require a bit of a downward dog, it’s well worth it to have nice clean decks for lounging topside on calm sailing days, and more visibility of the horizon and passing ships. #boatyoga

OTHER ODDS AND ENDS 

Replaced Worn/Aging Reef and Boom Lines

While all of the above tasks were done specifically to prepare the boat for cruising to the Bahamas, we also did a number of things that simply needed to be done to ensure our baby is in the best offshore shape for our jump across the Gulf. It can get gnarly out there. Phillip and I have told fellow sailors many times that the worst “stuff” we’ve seen was in the Gulf, not on either of our Atlantic Ocean crossings.  So, our Gulf-crossing prep included replacing our reef one at the clew for the main sail, which runs through our boom.  We also had an outhaul that was sticking so we had the guys at Zern Rigging look into that as well while the boom was off.  And, we replaced our outhaul line as well which was looking tired.  

Rebuilt the Furling Drum 

The Zern guys also came out to the dock to remove our furling drum so they could rebuild it and replace the bearings.  That thing was squealing out like a pig at the fair when we were turning it.  DJ at Zern Rigging advised changing out the bearings and re-building our swivel shackle for the head sail.

A New Reef Line Tie Method

In re-attaching our reefing lines, we implemented a little trick Phillip had learned while listening to one of Andy Schell’s podcasts at www.59-north.com.  We love that guy.  He and Mia are so inspiring.  Andy had mentioned on one of his podcasts, which Phillip listened to during our recent Atlantic-crossing, that he and Mia—while sailing under a reefed main—were not pleased with how the bowline that attached the reef at the clew to the boom seemed to prevent them from being able to truly cinch the sail all the way down to the boom for safer, flatter reef.  So, Andy and Mia devised a little wrap-around trick, wrapping an extra loop around the boom and tying the bowline as part of the wrap-around to allow the reef at the clew to really cinch the main sail all the way down to the boom.  We tied our reef lines at the clew to the boom using this method and we’re excited to see how this trick performs in heavy winds, if we find ourselves in any (because that it always totally possible!).  “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen out there.”  

Man that is some tobaggan hair there! Way to go Annie.

Replaced Our Jib Sheet Blocks

We replaced the jib blocks for our head sail which are mounted on the outside of the cockpit on both starboard and port that feed the headsail sheet to our Monster Winches (I call them) in the cockpit.  They are truly the work horses of the boat, which is why we check and service them often.  While our winches are strong as ox (oxen? oxi?), our old “dinky” blocks that guided the sheet to them were half broke, missing some bearings, and (more likely than not) causing extra tension on our jib sheets.  As you all know, when you’ve got the genny full, that sheet’s got enough tension already.  So, Phillip and I went with some new, far more substantial, and far prettier (I love stainless … before it rusts! : ) jib blocks.  

This job involved drilling the stainless plates, which was a bit of a chore, accidentally busting the blocks open and losing half the bearings to the drink, as well as having to have custom starboard risers made to create a fair lead.  It was one of those projects that begets projects that beget projects, if you know what I mean. But, we got it done and we know this will help further reinforce the strength of our head sail when we’re sailing this year. And, they just look fabulous! While we do want to do like to focus our projects on improving performance and functionality, there’s never any harm in just making her prettier. I honestly think she appreciates it and sails better for it.

Replaced Our Old (Ugly!) Dorade

Speaking of making her prettier … we got a new dorade!  This was just a fun thing to do, something we’ve wanted to do for years, and it made for a fun surprise birthday gift for Phillip that Brandon got to get in on.  Brandon conspired with me to get a new stainless steel ordered up in secret and we surprised Phillip with it.  As you can see our old plastic one was all splotchedy and played out.  Shane, at Perdido Sailor, asked me if that was the “moldy thing” mounted on our deck, and I had to say “Yes, yes, Shane.  It looked like it was covered in mold.”  Our old dorade just really aged the boat, and I knew a shiny stainless one would help perk things up.  As projects beget projects, of course the new dorade would not fit the old plexiglass cover, so I had to have a new one mocked up to fully round out Phillip’s surprise, but it was totally worth it.  “Crackeldy purple” is not a color our boat really adores. Didn’t this turn out great??

Gave the Outboard Some Love

If any of you cruisers out there have an outboard that starts all the time and never gives you trouble, please tell me what kind you have?  Or what magic kind of hoodoo outboard voodoo you’re doing that makes that happen. Is it some kind of dinghy dance before you pull the cord?  While I love our 3.5 hp Tohatsu, he’s just so darn finicky sometimes.  And, in case you were wondering his name is “Sue” as in A Boy Named Sue.  Fitting, no? Maybe he acts up because he doesn’t like the name.  In any event, during our past few weekends on the hook at McRee he was giving us trouble, so we tore him apart to clean out his carburetor.  Unfortunately, that thing looked immaculate so we’re not sure that was the problem.  Perhaps a little water or gunk in the fuel or fuel tank.  Whatever the real reason, he seemed to just enjoy the love and starting running great after that.  We’re just winging it till the next time he wants some love.  Aren’t outboards fun?

Stowed Our Spare CQR

Many of you may have seen my recent post on our decision to upgrade our our 35-lb CQR (lovingly named the “Rust Bomb”) for a 37-lb Sarca Excel.  

I posted a detailed blog article about our research and decision if you want to know more about the reasoning behind our choice, but in that decision, we knew we wanted to bring our old CQR, once removed, with us (stowed away) for deployment in case of an emergency or storm.  

But, finding a place for that guy … while I thought it was going to be rather hard, I’m pleased to say it was rather simple.  I’m telling you guys, our boat is a storage dream.  

Our old CQR sat down nice and snug in our port lazarette, along with our spare Danforth, not to mention the dock lines, spare engine parts, life raft, auto-pilot, fishing gear, bungees … I could go on.  That thing is a black hole.  Note, we did enlarge that locker, when we were on the hard in 2016, by sacrificing some engine room space with a removable wall that allows the port lazarette to extend further into the engine room.  It has turned out to be a very smart trade-off, because we can remove that wall (or maybe it’s a bulkhead on a boat … whatever you want to call it) when we need to work on the engine to give us full access back there.  With the extensive work we did down there this past year on the hard in 2018, it proved well worth it.  

Filled and Tied Our Jerry Cans

We made a board that bolts onto the lifelines before our trip to the Bahamas in 2017 out of synthetic patio decking (so no rot or rust) that is easy to install and un-install when we are not sailing offshore.  We filled three 5-gallon Jerries with diesel, one 5-gallon of water, and two 1.5 gallons of gasoline and strapped them down.  Hence my lyric: “My Jerries are strapped, I’m ready to go!”  : )

You can see our Jerry cans strapped on the port side.

IS THAT ALL?!

Whew, man, did I get everything?  I know, it can seem daunting.  Preparing to cruise is no joke and takes weeks of planning and work.  While it can be stressful, and hard to squeeze into your already busy, full work days, the process is infinitely rewarding when you finally shove off and it’s just you, full sails, the horizon, a pile of books to read and a can of nuts to munch on (or at least that’s what’s by my side out there!).  Hope you all learned a little about boat prep and how Phillip and I like approach it.  We get better and quicker at it every time, which makes each subsequent cruise that much more rewarding.  Hope to see some of you out on the water on our way to the Bahamas!  

And, sing it with me people: “I’m leeeeaving on a sailboat. This time tomorrow, we’ll be in the Gulf afloat. Leeeeaving on a sailboat.” Have fun following along!

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New Anchor: Sarca Excel No. 4 (37-lbs) – Research and Selection

Ask 10 sailboat owners what is the best anchor and you will get 20 opinions.  One, because we are opinionated (because this is important stuff!) and two, because—as is the case with almost everything in boating, it’s a compromise—it’s hard to say which single anchor is “the best” for any purpose, all of the time.  But, after extensive research, talking with fellow sailors, and watching videos on holding power, Phillip and I have decided to swap out our primary bow anchor, a 35-lb CQR, with a galvanized 37-lb Sarca Excel No. 4.  I wanted to share with you all our extensive research and selection criteria so you could benefit from what we uncovered and share your experience as well with the different anchors you all have used and your experience with them.  Here is what we learned and what influenced our decision to go with the Excel.

First, why were we in the market for a new anchor?  Age was the only factor.  When Phillip and I bought our 1985 Niagara 35, she came with the 35-lb CQR we’ve been hooking on for six years now with never an issue.  

April, 2013, Phillip and I on our first voyage bringing s/v Plaintiff’s Rest home from Punta Gorda,
with her CQR on the bow

In six years of cruising, we have never dragged (that we know of or that was noticeable) and we have never had our CQR fail to set or re-set.  We’ve always felt 35 lbs was a good size for our boat and its weight. And, our CQR actually got the test of a lifetime when we dropped it (unknowingly, but quite luckily) just before the wall of wind that hit the Dauphin Island Regatta back in April, 2015.  The severity of that storm was unpredicted and instant.  While, thankfully, Phillip and I did not get hit with the 70-mph winds that knocked several boats down near Dauphin Island, we did get an unexpected 55-mph on our anchor, with only 125 feet out at the time in Ft. McRee, and our CQR held fast. I captured some footage of that event, well after the worst had passed (we were too consumed with preparing to crank and fight the winds if we did drag to film during the incident). I can assure you, the video does not do it justice, but it’s eerie to watch that footage now and realize 6 people died in those winds that day.  

Footage from Ft. Mcree right after 55 mph winds from the Dauphin Island Regatta storm

For what she did for us that day and every other day we dropped and lived the good life on our CQR, I felt a reminder of that event and a tribute to her was in order.  We are big fans of the CQR model and have no complaints about its performance.  It has simply rusted a good deal over time and is showing its age as we did not re-galvanize it over the years.  In addition, our CQR pre-dated the newer lead-tip technology that dominates the market these days, so we wanted to take advantage of the technological advances while we were in the market for a new anchor.  With that, our research began. 

First, Phillip and I made a list of what was important to us in an anchor:

  1. Holding power (obviously)
  2. Fast, easy setting
  3. Reliable re-setting
  4. Weight 

With 200 lbs of chain already in our bow, we are always trying to reduce weight at the front of the boat, so we wanted an anchor that was, naturally, heavy and strong enough to hold us in all types of terrain and conditions, but one that would do that at the lightest weight possible.  While those four items were our core criteria, now, having reviewed many articles and videos on this topic, I imagine we may add three more items to that list: 1) whether the anchor “looks good” on the boat. There is an undeniable aesthetic element to anything you mount on your boat.  While we want them to sail across oceans and stand strong in the face of a storm, selfishly, we all still want them to look pretty while they do it.  

Don’t all men expect that out of a gal?  I distinctly remember in a blog post from yonder, when Phillip and I were preparing for our very first voyage just the two of us on our boat, I wrote:

I was going to throw lines, raise sails and hold the helm with the best of them. Eat salt for breakfast, lunch a dinner. I imagined myself a real sailor.

Of course, I was going to look like this:

While doing all of that. … Totally do-able.  

Ahhh … Annie from back in the day.  Little Sailor Who Could.  

I mention the aesthetics because one of the primary resources we considered when deciding on the Sarca were videos and insight from a fellow sailor who concluded while the Excel “could be the best anchor on the table” he chose not to mount it as his primary bow anchor merely as a result of aesthetics.  Many thanks to the Captain Steve Goodwin at s/v Panope for putting together his numerous underwater anchor-performance videos and other helpful content for fellow sailors. 

Steve created an ingenious underwater cradle that films the anchors he tests
as they drop, dig, re-set, and drag at various speeds and scopes.

After doing a compilation review of eight anchors (Danforth, Bruce, Super Sarca, Manson, Rocna, Spade, Excel, and Mantus) Steve declined to choose the Excel merely because he did not feel the angular design would look good on his (as he put it) “curvy boat.”  Personally Phillip and I were very fond of the angular design of the Excel, so that worked well for us.  But, in all of Steve’s underwater testing, he found the Excel performed true-to-form time and time again.  

In addition, during his underwater testing, Steve with Sanope also considered and documented whether the anchor pulled up a lot of bottom gunk, dirt, and debris.  I don’t believe that crossed mine and Phillip’s minds initially, but the more I watched the videos, I feel that could be a quality of life consideration, as anchors that came up clean would make weighing anchor much easier. And, anchors that shake bottom gunk likely re-set easier.  

Steve also did a lot of testing with short scope (not recommended for actual anchoring, merely for test purposes only). While Phillip and I try our best to anchor in places where we have plenty of space to lay out our usual 7:1 ratio, I can imagine the more places we cruise, that may not always be possible considering smaller anchorages with more boats, so during our research this seemed to become a more important factor.  Having thoroughly reviewed everything now, I would add the following to our list above:

5. The gunk factor (does it bring up a lot of grass/dirt)

6. Sets well with short scope

7. Aesthetics

And, of course the anchor naturally has to FIT on your bow.  I don’t see that as a factor to consider, but more of an upfront-necessity before the anchor can even be considered.  Case-in-point: as you all know, we are hard-core Mantus fans and use a variety of their equipment—their snubber, their chain hook, their dinghy anchor, and their portable Scuba pack.  Unfortunately, however, the roll-bar models simply will not come up through our bow pulpit, so we cannot use Mantus’s impressive roll-bar style anchor as our primary bow anchor.  While Mantus advised me they were working on a bar-less model, it is not available yet, or I am positive Phillip and I would have either: 1) gone with a Mantus based on their reputation and performance reports from fellow-cruisers; 2) or at least had Mantus high in the ranking for consideration.  You’ll see our bow configuration was one of the biggest hurdles for us on our Niagara 35 as the layout on our bow eliminated some very promising anchors because they simply would not fit.  

But, there are other models that would fit on our bow: a Bruce and likely a Spade, among others.  So, why did we choose the Sarca Excel? I’ll show you.  One of the primary sources for our decision was a fantastic sailor resource that we discovered during this process that Phillip was adamant I share:

Attainable Adventure Cruising: An Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Yannick, the captain we sailed across the Atlantic with initially, back in 2016, recommended this to us. We’d also heard Andy Schell talk about it on his podcast.  It is a paid blog membership (only $24 a year and worth it 100 times over) with hundreds of detailed and researched posts written by experienced sailors on dozens of topics relevant to offshore sailors. Think: anchoring, storm survival, battery care, solar power, what to look for in a boat, navigation, you name it.  As Yannick explained it (and this rang very true for us): “You know when you put a question on Facebook, and you get all those comments from people who haven’t even tried it.  Then you get the two super long, helpful comments from owners who have actually dealt with exactly what you’re dealing with and they know what they’re talking about?  Only those people post on AAC.”  Done.  With that recommendation and everything else positive we had heard about AAC, Phillip signed us up stat and we have not looked back since.  But don’t take our word for it:

AAC is a fantastic resource. And, while we were researching anchors, Phillip and I were thrilled to find a long, super-detailed review of the Sarca Excel anchor on AAC.  After 46 nights on the Excel anchor in a variety of bottoms, substrates, currents, and wind-shifts, one of AAC’s European Correspondents, Colin, an experienced cruiser, offshore sailor, and Yachtsmen, found the Excel to be well-made, robust and it performed strongly in a variety of substrates while setting fast and digging in effectively. Colin also concluded the Excel held after big wind shifts and on short scope.  He and his crew developed “full confidence” in it as a good, all-around primary bow anchor.  If you are interested in the Excel anchor and want to learn more, I highly recommend joining AAC and reading Colin’s full article.  I cannot share it here as it is proprietary to AAC and well worth the membership to read.  

Mentioned in the AAC article were the videos published by s/v Panope. I’m sure many sailors are very grateful to Steve for his thorough and well-documented video of multiple anchor drops where he lets the anchor set, he motors hard in reverse to test the initial dig and also motors the boat in another direction to mimick wind or current shift. Steve drops with varied amounts of scope and documents the anchor’s performance with commentary underwater. If you are in the market for a new anchor, I highly recommend you watch the entirety of his 40-minute video “Anchor Test Compliation” comparing six different anchors (his Excel underwater footage begins at 19:43 and his Excel re-cap at the end at 37:03).  

As far as research (and proof) of the actual performance of anchors goes, this video is the best educational piece I’ve seen out there. It is also enlightening and very interesting to watch.  Here are some highlights we found from Steve’s documentation of the Excel’s performance underwater:

The Excel dropped and set firmly and quickly every time, often in only about one anchor length.  

To mimick a severe wind or current shift, Steve motored the boat at 3,000 RPM over the anchor in a new direction, the Excel re-set within a few anchor lengths and brought the boat to a complete halt.  

Steve found the Excel held in sand, rock/sand, mud, and many other substrates.

Also, when Steve reduced the scope, even drastically, all the way down to 2:1 and put 3,000 RPM on the anchor in reverse, the Excel did not budge:

And, a plus, the Excel usually came up from the seabed rather clean!  : )  Interestingly, the “Excel” cutout name on the flukes is believed to be designed to encourage the seabed to release and keep the flukes clean for better setting and cleaner anchor weigh.  Genius!

Here is the entirety of the videos Steve with s/v Panopeproduced:

Encouraged by the positive AAC review, we also ran into a dock neighbor in Pensacola who is an experienced offshore cruiser who had an Excel anchor on her boat and said she had never had an issue with it.  “I drop it; it’s done.  It holds every time,” Kim said, which won me over.  She told us an “old salt” from Australia first told her about the Excel anchor as they are made in Australia by Anchor Right.

The entirety of our research and considerations led us to believe the Excel would be a great all-around anchor for us on our Niagara 35, the next step was to see if it would even fit on our bow.  Ground Tackle Marine, the vendor that carries Sarca Excels and ships to the U.S. included detailed specs on their website for the 37-lb Excel No. 4, which was the one we were considering as it was the closest to our 35-lb CQR.  Boat Project Annie got a little crafty with some cardboard and made—to the best of my ability—a cardboard mock-up of the Excel No. 4, so Phillip and I could test it out on the boat.  



I’m not sure how well cardboard will hold in winds and current, but we’ll have to try it out someday.  ; ) This mock-up proved very helpful, though, as it led us to believe an Excel would pull up nicely through our bow pulpit and ride very well on the bow.  I spoke at length with Nick over at Ground Tackle, who was incredibly helpful and patient with my many questions.  One of which was his recommendation for the No. 4 for our boat (which weighs approximately 15,000 pounds, 7.5 tons dry, likely closer to 18,000 or 9 tons fully loaded, let’s just guess) when the specs indicated the No. 4 only held up to 7 tons. Nick advised the numbers were intended to be “super conservative” and that if we had been happy on a 35-lb CQR previously, the 37-lb Excel would “set faster and hold stronger every time over a CQR.” Knowing the No. 5 would add an additional unwanted 10 lbs to our bow, that did it for me. “No. 4, please.”

Although Nick did not have a record of selling an Excel to a Niagara 35 owner, after sending him photos of our bow pulpit, Nick was confident the Excel would ride nicely there, but he offered to cover the shipping back if it did not.  Nice guy, that Nick.  With a price we felt was very fair in light of the performance reviews, Phillip and I pulled the trigger. 

And, full disclosure, while Nick kindly offered free shipping, we paid full price for this anchor. It was not given to us for free in exchange for an endorsement.

In just a few business days, our Excel arrived snuggled in carpet, foam, and tape!  Our little bundle of joy!  : )

I was pleased to see it appeared my cardboard mock-up had been pretty close to-scale

We were excited to see if she would pull up through the bow pulpit so we tested her out (being very careful not to drop our shiny new anchor to the bottom of the marina – doh!) on the port side while our CQR was still in its home on the starboard side of the bow, and we were thrilled to find IT FIT!!  *Voila*  We knew we were about to have a new anchor on Plaintiff’s Rest!

Getting her up on the starboard side, however, Phillip and I knew would be a small chore as the shackle on our old CQR was toast.  After twenty however-many years of holding, the shackle and pin had fused together and would not budge.  This actually turned out to be a good thing, however, as Phillip and I had been waffling on whether or not to buy a battery-operated portable grinder to make cuts like this, as needed, while cruising.  Yannick had one for our Atlantic-crossing and, while the availability of it to cut a fallen rig off to save the boat is comforting, it actually proved handy on several projects we had to undertake during that voyage.  

I wouldn’t recommend you use it exactly as Yannick is here – that crazy brilliant Frenchman!

So, now, facing a project that required a grinder, Phillip and I were encouraged to bite the bullet and buy one so we will now have one on-board s/v Plaintiff’s Restduring our future travels in case we ever need it for, let’s just hope, some underway projects, but also for the necessary rigging cut if needed to save the boat.  Plus, I had a lot of fun watching the sparks fly as we cut off the old shackle so we could re-attach our 200-feet of chain to the new Excel anchor.  

Ain’t she a beauty?  I love the way it looks on the bow.  A sexy anchor after all!

Or as Phillip said: “The anchor looks good, too.” ; )

The angular design looks good on our boat and the Excel cut-out gives it some pizazz!  Phillip did some research on shackles and we opted to get two _________ to make the 90-degree turn to connect our chain to the anchor then we were ready to …

We were able to give the Excel one test so far out on the hook recently at Ft. McRee.  We put about 100 feet of chain out in ~ 10 feet of water (with our freeboard of roughly 5 feet, that equates to an approximate 7:1 ratio) and revved back harder than we ever had to yank down on the new Excel.  

I will say I’ve never felt the boat stop so suddenly.  The Excel definitely dug right on in and held fast the entire weekend.  Granted, we didn’t have any strong winds, but we did have current shifts, and we never budged on the Excel and enjoyed a stunning weekend on the hook thanks to Sarca.