'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch


The first week aboard

The first week back is bound to be interesting.
Realistically, you can’t expect to walk away from something like a boat or a house for five months, in a hostile climate, and not have a few issues to deal with when you start to use it again, so we expected a few surprises.

But what’s been most surprising to me – in a good way – is how few and how minor those surprises have been. A couple little leaks to deal with (like that Dorade box, above), a few sticky, corroded bits of metal that didn’t move when they should, a leaking urine holding tank… 

Basically, though, Sionna woke up and went right back to doing what she does best – taking care of us.

So in the week or so since we launched from the boat yard, we’ve slept every night and eaten every meal aboard, plus we’ve sailed a grand total of 27 miles – from the yard in northern Charlotte Harbor to an anchorage called Pelican Bay, just off Cayo Costa State Park. That week has confirmed one critical, enormous, wonderful fact: We love our boat!
After we were launched last Thursday, we filled up the water tanks at the dock, (the diesel tanks were filled in the spring for storage, and the propane tanks were topped off before we re-installed them in the yard) said goodbye to Nicki’s incredibly patient and helpful parents, (who hosted us in their home and loaned us their car for the 8-days of recommissioning work) and motored out the canal from the boat yard to the man-made lake that feeds the canal – about 3 miles. There we set the anchor and settled in to re-learn boat life. How to move, how to sleep, how to cook. All the little peculiarities of living in a tiny home afloat came back surprisingly quickly.

And with those skills came contentment. We were home.
Oh, a word about sunsets. It’s possible that those of you who’ve never lived on a boat may not understand my obsession with sunsets, and I get that, I really do. I even had someone comment recently: “We have sunsets here regularly, you know.”

Yes, I recognize that the sun also appears to settle below the horizon where you live too. But sunsets on a boat are different. They last for an hour, sometimes. They begin in the west, but then they spread across the sky, until frequently we have a 360 degree sunset, like this one. Oh, and don’t forget the second sunset! Just as the initial glow is fading, round two kicks in. Pour another spot of wine and relax – you’ve got nowhere to go.

Anyway, after a couple days there, and having done all we could think of to make the boat ready to sail, we hoisted the anchor again and started north to exit the canal. We actually managed to sail a good portion of that trip, the wind being favorable, and discovered immediately that our one major purchase of the summer was totally worth it. The new sail ROCKS!

Two years ago we were told by a sailmaker back in Rockland that our headsail (or “Genoa”, because of its size) was on its last cruise. The fabric was too stretched to hold a proper shape or to be repaired should it rip. 

“One more year” he said, “Especially if you take it south for the season – the sun will eat it up.”

And sure enough, by May when we left the boat, you could see daylight through every stitch, and we were moving slower and slower in a given wind… our 13 year old Jenny was tired.

So we worked overtime during the summer, and had a brand new replacement sail made in Indonesia, which we brought with us on the trip back south. When the wind settled down briefly one evening while we were anchored out in the lake we installed and rigged it, and once we started moving, we unrolled that big piece of expensive cloth into a fresh breeze, and Sionna stepped out like a scalded cat. Marvelous! 

And that’s how things are, so far. Little steps, one day at a time, and face the tasks as they arrive. We’ve made a list (a rather long list) of food and condiments and such that we wish we’d brought aboard already, so the next time we have a chance to provision, we’ll do better. My list of projects to tackle isn’t getting shorter yet, but it isn’t getting longer either.  
I’m holding my own against entropy, so why complain? 

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March – the month in Numbers

Yes friends, it’s time for everybody’s favorite game show, “Where did it all go?” And where the heck are they, anyway?
We spent most of March on a mooring in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida. It’s a pretty nice place if you like company – LOTS of company – and if you enjoy having continuous excuses for spending money. 

As planned, we dropped the mooring on the 25th (Well, one day late, but that’s as close to a plan as we get these days…) and headed west. We stopped at a number of lovely island anchorages, got hoisted up the mast to recover a broken halyard shackle, chilled briefly in Key West (City slogan: “You Can’t Afford It.”), then jumped off for the 26 hour passage to Fort Myers Beach before mostly motoring north to the Bradenton area – which is where we are now! 

So with March well behind us, let’s take a peek at the events (and expenses) that kept the crew and the boat happy and mobile during our month’s travels.

Here, presented in no particular order, are some numbers that I found interesting from March, 2017 or – where so noted – since we left Rockland In August. Enjoy!
By The Way: If you want to see where we are at each stop, look us up on Farkwar. It costs nothing and won’t try to sell you anything – it just lets your know when I post a new location. Follow along!
1 – Significant equipment breakages (Main halyard shackle. I had a spare)

27 – Nights in port(mooring) in March

225- Days since leaving Rockland

4 – Days underway in March

93- Days underway since leaving Rockland 

26.5 nm (nautical miles) (30.5 statute) – Average miles covered per day underway

Current Location – Manatee River, FL. (N27 31.8208/W82 37.8887)

188 nm (216 sm)- Miles covered in a straight line in March

327 nm (376 sm) – Miles actually sailed in March

1188 nm (1366 sm) – Miles from Rockland in a straight line.

2461 nm (2830 sm) Miles actually sailed/motored from Rockland
22.4 gal. – Diesel fuel purchased in March

163.4 gal – Diesel fuel purchased since leaving Rockland

*819 amp/hours – solar electricity produced in March
**$426.77 – Provisions purchased

$89.97 – Personal care. Haircuts, replace a skirt or shirt, etc.

***$40.00 – Cash/Misc.

$18.00 – Laundry ($6.00/load!)

$0.00 – Coffee/pastries purchased (There are NO good coffee shops until Sarasota)

$126.76 – Dining out. 

$0.00 – Propane for cooking purchased in March

$31.12 – Propane since leaving Rockland

$0.00 – charcoal for heating the cabin (It’s been warm!!)

$20.67 – Boat parts (spare belts, filters, etc)

$65.00 – boat maintenance (Diver to clean bottom)

$321.43 – Mooring/dinghy dockage fees for March

$393.06 – Diesel purchased since leaving Rockland

* 28% increase over February!

**Includes food, toiletries, paper products, booze, etc. 

***That “dark money” category. Who knows where it went?


January – The Month in Numbers

It’s that time once more!  

We’re tucked (tightly!) into the anchorage in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida now. The weather here in the Keys is sublime; upper 60’s at night, upper 70’s to low 80’s in the day and horrifyingly sunny, with more boats and cool folks than you can wrap your head around. With that in mind, we’re staying put for a few weeks, it looks like. We may even get a mooring in another week or so – there’s a waiting list 41 boats long!  
Now that January is behind us, we take a peek at the events (and expenses) that kept the crew and the boat happy during our month’s travels.

Here, presented in no particular order, are some numbers that I found interesting from the month of January, 2017 or – where so noted – since we left Rockland In August. Enjoy!
1 – Number of refrigeration system “failures” – corrected by a good cleaning of the condenser coil!

*5 – New species of wildlife we’ve seen this month

4 – the number of locks Sionna rode (14’ up, 13.5’ down) while crossing the Okeechobee Waterway from Stuart to Fort Myers Florida.

2 – sets of cheap new snorkel gear purchased. We’re in the Keys, Mon!

8- Nights in port in January

23 – Nights at anchor (free!) in January

166 – Days since leaving Rockland

89- Days underway since leaving Rockland

10- Days underway in January

24 nm (nautical miles) (27.6 statute) – Average miles covered per day underway
1303 nm (1498 sm) – Miles from Rockland in a straight line.

156 nm (179 sm)- Miles covered in a straight line in January

2134 nm (2454 sm) Miles actually sailed/motored from Rockland

**184nm (211 sm) – Miles actually sailed in January
13.5 gal. – Diesel fuel purchased in January

141 gal – Diesel fuel purchased since leaving Rockland

***13.6 nmpg (15.6 smpg) – Sionna’s average fuel consumption in January

15.1 nmpg (17.4 smpg) – Sionna’s average fuel consumption since leaving Rockland

****$578.70 – Provisions purchased (Now includes booze, as separating that out was embarrassing. The Keys are EXPENSIVE!)

$19.12 – Coffee/pastries purchased (which comes with Wifi!)

$225.29 – Dining out. Sometimes… you need to.

$15.91 – Propane for cooking since leaving Rockland

$0.00 – charcoal for heating the cabin (It’s been warm!!)

$91.77 – Boat parts purchased in January

$16.01 – boat maintenance supplies

$153.38 – Mooring/slip/dinghy dockage fees for January

$325.77 – Diesel purchased since leaving Rockland

282 amp/hours – amount of solar electricity produced in January

*Tarpon, Rosette Spoonbill, Sea Turtle, Frigate Bird, White Ibis, Catfish(caught & released!)

** This is about ½ the mileage we clocked in December. We’ve arrived!

*** Down slightly – less help from the wind.

**** Includes food, toiletries, paper products, booze, etc. 
Want to know what it would cost YOU to live this glamourous lifestyle?  

The answer is – “It depends”!


December – The Month in Numbers

It’s that time again!  We’re snuggled into the anchorage in Fort Myers, Florida, the weather is generally warm (though today it’s 60 degrees and blowing stink), and we’re staying put for a few days. Now that December is history, let’s look back at the milestones and expenses – both routine and non – that marked Sionna’s progress toward warmth and sun. 

Here, presented in no particular order, are some numbers that I found interesting from the month of December, 2016 or – where so noted – since we left Rockland In August. Enjoy!

1 – Number of collisions with errant boats suffered by Sionna, causing significant but easily repaired damage to her mizzen boom. (Hint: Avoid marinas!)

1 – Number of mechanical breakdowns that required quick thinking, nerves of steel, and anchoring in the MIDDLE of the channel on the Intracoastal Waterway.

14 – Nights in port in December

17 – Nights at anchor (free!) in December

135 – Days since leaving Rockland

79- Days underway since leaving Rockland

22 – Days underway in December

24.7 nm (nautical miles) (28.4 statute) – Average miles covered per day underway

1216 nm (1398 sm) – Miles from Rockland in a straight line.
331nm (381 sm)- Miles covered in a straight line in December

1950 nm (2243 sm) Miles actually sailed/motored from Rockland

*493nm (567 sm) – Miles actually sailed in December
40.1 gal. – Diesel fuel purchased in December

127.5 gal – Diesel fuel purchased since leaving Rockland

**15.3 nmpg (17.6 smpg) – Sionna’s average fuel consumption in December

13.9 nmpg (16.0 smpg) – Sionna’s average fuel consumption since leaving Rockland

***$376.77 – Provisions purchased (Now includes booze, as separating that out was embarrasing)

$40.50 – Coffee/pastries purchased (which comes with Wifi!)

$260.00 – Dining out. It was a rough month.

$15.91 – Propane for cooking since leaving Rockland

$0.00 – charcoal for heating the cabin (It’s been warm!!)

$321.50 – Boat parts purchased in December

$345.05 – Mooring/slip fees for December (when we can’t anchor)

$294.04 – Diesel purchased since leaving Rockland

374amp/hours – amount of solar electricity produced in December

* This is more than twice the mileage we clocked in November.

** A 6 mpg improvement from November. We had better winds to help the engine.

*** Includes food, toiletries, paper products, booze, etc.


Loving the Journey, but…

Sionna at the dock – Bucksport, SC

So why don’t we write more often?  After all, the success of a blog – I’ve been told – is determined largely by the output of the writer.  Blog advisors (yeah, that’s a thing) will tell you that a blog should be posting new content every day. Every. Single. Day.

Which probably has something to do with the Sesame Street effect.  If you’re not familiar with it, it seems that a criticism sometimes leveled at the long-running children’s program “Sesame Street” was that its format of short (30 to 60 second) skits and videos (which were designed to engage and hold the childs attention most effectively) actually produced an entire generation of adults with the attention span of a Cocker Spanial.  

In the blog world, that means if you don’t publish every day, your readers forget you exist and wander off to something more interesting, like the American election circus or a MacDonalds commercial. So if you, gentle reader, feel the need to do something more scintillating, like eating a Big Mac, I can hardly blame you: It’s Big Bird’s fault.

So why don’t we write every day, like a good blogger should?

Because we’re tired.  We’ve spent the last four days driving our home along a sometimes narrow, occasionally confusing and not infrequently shallow canal that is never the same two days in a row.  Sand and mud move and flow, marks are moved, barges sweep the banks, and houses and docks are added every day. 8 hours of that and you’re ready for a stiff drink and a long sleep, let me tell you.

Grand Dunes Bridge, Mile 358 of the ICW


So we end up going to sleep about 8:30pm, wake around 6:00am, get underway by 8am, and once the anchor is down, it’s supper, secure the boat for the night and repeat.

But oh, that 8 hours of driving…

Pelicans guarding the marks: Leave this one to port… unless you’re in an area where you leave it to starboard, of course.

Reds to the right – or left. Huh?


I assumed – when we were planning this trip – that the actual travel days on the ICW (or “The Ditch”, as it’s called out here) would be basically boring.  Follow the markers, keep the red ones on the right and the green ones on the left, and try to stay awake.  I was wrong.

First off, I only have one eye working still.  Since we’re moving south, the morning sun is off my left side, which is often pretty blinding, what with the reflection off the water and all. Without that right eye to fill in, I find that it’s sometimes a it of a challenge to see where we’re going. That’s tiring.

Second, the markers are sometimes confusing, and occasionally they are actually wrong.  That’s due to something called “Shoaling”. Shoaling is the movement of mud and sand in the channel, when that loose material from, say, a hurricane, decides to build up right where last week there was a clear channel.  Yes, the Coast Guard is out here putting things back to rights, but that takes time, and the shoals change every day.  It can be pretty tense working your way through some of those changeable areas, and more than once we’ve heard the depth alarm go off, requiring a mad application of reverse and much hissing of “where’d the water go?!” before things are resolved.  At the Shallotte Inlet in North Carolina (mile 330) we actually had to ignore the markers and navigate using advice we received from friends, plus an image Nicki located on the Army Corp of Engineer’s website of the depths – and we still came within 6 inches of grounding before we felt our way through. Whew!

No wonder I’m not sleeping so well some nights. I lie awake replaying the day’s lessons and trying to plan tomorrow’s route…

Sionna going 5.4 knots over dry ground. Cool trick!


Oh, and technology?  Not 100% That’s a picture of the screen on our chart plotter – a nifty little device that projects the GPS position of our boat onto a digital chart.  Hmm… we seem to be sailing over dry land… And at over 6 mph!  This is why you watch the marks first, not the screen.

And finally there’s the trash.  Trees, sticks, floating garbage, sunken boats… They’re all out there, and they’re not fun to meet up-close and personal.  We’re constantly looking for such things, in addition to other boats, barges and markers, and the combined effect is that we get to the end of a day exhausted and ready for a nice rum beverage, a warm meal, and an early bedtime.

So that’s why we don’t write every day.  We’re loving the journey, the experience and the adventure. But sometimes, we just don’t have the energy to get creative at the keyboard.  We hope you understand. 

But you can always watch the election news if you need more stimulation!


The Art and Science of Anchoring

Want to know where we are? Subscribe for updates on our position through Farkwar!  Free, no commercials, just updates and short messages from Sionna when we arrive someplace new!

(Note: This is what we call a “technical” post. If you think discussions of gear and techniques that are directly applicable to sailing and cruising are “Deadly Boring”, you might want to move on to one of my normal, funny offerings. Really, I won’t be offended.)
In this post, I’m going to outline my patented, never fail system for choosing anchoring gear, selecting a location, and setting your anchor for a secure night or an extended stay. Ready?

Just kidding. There’s no such thing.

But if there were, and if I had it, I could make a killing. Wherever two or more cruising boats gather, the talk will – eventually – turn to the subject of anchors and anchoring, and the opinions will sometimes be as diverse and contradictory as the subjects of an election cycle. 

Well, maybe not THAT contradictory, but I promise there will be strongly held yet conflicting opinions and methods. 

Take this boat, for example. These poor guys have been having a hell of a time the last 48 hours, having anchored, dragged, re-anchored and even moved to a marina for the night (see the blown fender hanging at the side? Likely a victim of a dock bash during the night) before returning to the area where we rode out the storm without moving an inch. And at that they had to try to anchor three times before it held…

If it holds…
So what can you do to increase the odds of staying put? There are some basics that I’ve learned from reading and experimenting, but before I do that, let’s look at the picture above more carefully. I see (or saw) three things straight away that could be done better, and those deal with Scope, Shock, and Windage.
Scope: Scope is the length of rode (chain or rope or both) deployed. The more scope out, the more likely your anchor is to catch and hold well. Recommendations for scope are given as a ratio between the depth from bow to the bottom and the amount of rode deployed, with 3:1 is a minimum for chain rode. 5:1 is better, and 7:1 is reasonable for a gale of 40 knot winds. But more than a minimum is better, always.

But in the case of this boat, we watched them let the anchor out the first time they tried this morning. One fellow at the bow was holding the anchor chain with the anchor dragging in the water, probably 5 or 6 feet down. When they’d picked their spot, he released the chain he was holding, and the chain ran out for maybe 20 feet before it stopped. Since we’re here in 12-15 feet of water, and the distance from the surface of the water to their bow is close to 4 feet, that means they have – at the most – a scope ratio of 2:1. Not even enough to stop for lunch, much less for the night.

Shock: Boats move at anchor. Some even sail back and forth, tugging at the anchor at the end of each swing, and the boat pictured above is a sailer. The problem with that is that chain doesn’t stretch – not even a little. As soon as the chain comes taught, there’s an enormous shock as 14000 pounds of boat is suddenly denied its freedom of motion.

The answer to that problem is a snubber (described below) or – as we’re using right now – a combination of chain and nylon line in your anchor rode. For the last two days we’ve been riding to 75 feet of heavy (⅜”) chain plus 35 feet of ⅝” nylon line. Now nylon is wonderfully stretchy, as much as 20%, so on the occasions when Sionna decides to swing, that line acts like a shock absorber, easing the load onto the anchor progressively and spreading the load over time. The anchor is therefore much more likely to stay put.

And what’s a “snubber”? Simply a short (15-20 feet) length of nylon line with a hook on one end. The hook gets attached to the chain, the end of the line is attached to the boat, and enough chain is let out so that the nylon line is taking the load, with the excess of chain loose in the middle. 

Windage: The wind is a powerful force – a force to be reckoned with. And the stronger it blows, the greater the force it can exert. Not only that, but it’s power increases at twice its speed, meaning that if the wind speed doubles, the force it exerts is multiplied by four. In situations where you expect strong winds, therefore, it’s very important to reduce your windage as much as you can. Look at the picture again:

They removed the main sail – that was a good idea, as sails can create a lot of drag, but see the dinghy? It’s hanging from the stern like a glorified wind scoop – the worst possible position from a windage standpoint. Laying flat on deck, yes, or even trailing in the water behind, but this…

So aboard Sionna (I’ll stop picking on our neighbors now) we have a list of things we do to reduce windage, reduce shock loading, and maximize the holding power of our anchor when we’re expecting significant winds at anchor, but it began long before, when we were choosing the anchoring equipment we have aboard. 

You see, when it comes to anchors, heavier is always better, up to the point when the crew is not able to handle the weight. Same for the chain attached to it – so we chose a 35# anchor (slightly over-sized according to the books) and ⅜” chain – one size larger than normal. To that we attached ⅝” nylon line, again slightly over-sized, but also easier to handle than a finer line.  

The business end of the 35# CQR anchor

Chain and snubber deployed. The snubber takes the load while the chain acts as a backup.
What else? Anything on deck that might come loose, or which presents a significant amount of resistance to the wind. This includes our stays’l (which is stored in a bag on deck when not in use), the sun awning, the sailing rig for the dinghy, fenders, BBQ grill, throwable life ring…

Dinghy sail and mast on the starboard side deck.

Sun awning on the port side deck.
Stays’l (Stay Sail) on the port side deck forward.
BBQ grill (green) and the fenders (blue opposite, usually there are three tied there).
Throwable life ring (“Lifesling”) in it’s bag.

And finally there are the sails themselves. These enormous pieces of cloth can become dangerous should they begin to catch the wind. In a minor blow (say, less than 40 knots) we take lengths of spare line and snugly wrap them, inside their covers.
Wrapped sails in preparation for Tropical Storm Hermine.
We also tie a heavy line around the rolling head sail to be sure it doesn’t decide to unroll – something that has frequently resulted (on other boats) in loss of the whole mast.  
And for stronger winds? Or even a hurricane? The sails come off entirely and are stowed below, along with everything else previously mentioned. Yes, a storm-prepped sailboat is a mite cozy below! But all of these things add to your chances of staying anchored and undamaged in a real storm.
And that, really, is the point. Keep the boat attached to the ground and in safe water, and keep the crew safe aboard or – if it’s a better option – in shelter ashore. Safety first.