welcome to our blog!

This blog tells the story of our 22-month sailing journey from Oakland, California, to Bristol, Rhode Island, aboard our beloved Bristol 32 sailboat, Ute. Please feel free to browse through the archives (partway down the sidebar to your left) to see pics and read stories of our adventures in North America and Central America . (Sorry the first 3 months of the trip are missing - they vanished somewhere in an internet cafe in Mexico - but all you're missing is CA, Baja and Western Mex).

If you're trying to track us down now that we're landlubbers, try us at uteatlarge at yahoo dot com. Thanks!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Finally, The Tranny!

So, lightning, it is really powerful. Maybe we were just too cocky about all the power the wind generator was producing? Maybe we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Maybe we didn’t have the boat properly grounded? Who knows? We were struck by lightning early Friday morning and were about to find out what else could go wrong.

Cora left off with Ute being towed into the marina.

After we got the lines all secured Hebe had cold beers, two kinds of cake and fresh popcorn to help bury our sorrows. We commenced a quick but very important debriefing session. Then we needed to figure out how we were going to approach the two very big problems we had.

1. The fact that our entire electrical system could be fried or at the very least most of our high priced gadgets were very hurt.
2. The transmission was not spinning the propeller shaft.

We decided the transmission was the first and most important problem to solve. It was also the most pressing, as we didn't want to spend any more money on the marina than we had to spend. Since we don’t usually go into marinas we weren’t too keen on spending money on this one. So, we put the lightning strike out of our heads, for the most part. Loud noises and flashes of light would make the hair stand up on our necks for the rest of the weekend and then some.

Cora and I sat down and decided that we would only focus on the transmission and if either one of us began to stress about the electrical system the other would gently place a hand on the others shoulder and remind them of the transmission and the problems it is having.

Since we were in the marina, we figured that we should make use of all their facilities, so Cora started our laundry, got all the trash and other stuff off the boat. She figured she would remain close by in case we needed anything but also remain busy so as not to dwell on the other things that one could dwell on, in a marina on a Friday afternoon, after taking a direct hit from lightning.

So we decided that the first course of action was to figure out what was wrong. Did the bolt back out again like in Nicaragua and Panama? If it did, did it strip the splines again? We had to get in there and figure it out. So, I started to pull the transmission coupler off the shaft. The coupler is made of two halves that bolt together and hold the shaft and transmission together. The shaft spins our propeller, which in turn makes the boat move. The output side of the coupler is held on to the output shaft of the transmission (which is different from the actual shaft) by a hardened steel bolt about 1.5 inches long. It is actually metric (as everything on our engine is, since it is Japanese and the transmission is German) but that isn’t important just yet.

Before we even got the marina, I knew this bolt had failed us in some way, I just didn’t know what way. So I squished myself into a pretzel and lay on the cockpit floor for about twenty minutes getting the coupler separated. I very carefully had my hand under the coupler halves because I knew there would be a bolt there and slid the two halves apart. The bolt fell into my hand and I carefully slithered myself back into a sitting position. With Cora, Timmy and Ariel gathered round we looked at the bolt.

Our hearts all sank at the same moment. The bolt didn’t back itself out, it sheared off completely. This was not good. It was 3:30 on a Friday afternoon and (cover your ears) we were TOTALLY F@#%ED!

This meant that the other piece of the bolt was still in the transmission. We couldn’t get a drill in there to drill the remaining piece of the bolt out even if we had a right angle drill. There just wasn’t enough space.

Timmy and I tried to come up with some options. I knew that the only one was to pull the transmission but I was willing, even eager to come up with something else. Was there enough thread remaining inside the output shaft on the transmission to reinsert the old bolt or even a new one and make it work for a little bit? Could we hand turn a drill bit enough to get an easyout in there? Was lightning going to strike twice in one day? How much was Ute worth without an operational engine and with fried wiring? We decided to have a bite to eat and think it over. Actually, I think we only had a couple of beers and some pasta that Ariel was making. We finally realized our only hope was to pull the transmission. So we decided that we would prep the engine to pull the tranny in the morning. We finished with the prep work around eleven and said our goodnights. Cora and I debriefed for about five minutes and fell asleep solidly soon after.

Let me try to describe the process of disconnecting the transmission from the engine and then getting it out of the boat. The tranny only weighs 38 pounds and is not much bigger than an averaged sized toaster, but the engine with all its oil and other fluids weighs 500lbs.

First, bunches of hoses, brackets, and control cables have to be removed. Then the coolant and the raw water have to be drained. Unfortunately, the transmission is connected to the bell housing from the inside so the only way to remove it is to remove the bell housing. The bell housing is on the back of the engine and connects the transmission to the rest of the engine. The unfortunate problem with that is the bell housing has the engine mount brackets on it. This means that the engine has to be lifted up and held there while the transmission is out of the boat. There are eight bolts that hold the bell housing to the engine and various other little pieces that need to be removed.

We did this in Panama, but it took us a whole day to get the transmission out, then it took a month to get it repaired and then a week to get it back in and aligned. Remember this time frame.

So at seven the next morning, we all got up had some tea and went to get pieces of wood to chock the engine and use as supports for our block and tackle systems to lift the engine off its mounts. We almost have to lift the entire engine out of the boat to get the transmission out. Boats carry lots of blocks (pulleys) and line (rope). We eventually had two 6:1 systems set up, one inside the cabin to lift the front of the engine and one in the cockpit to lift the back of the engine. We also set up a system to hold the tranny once it was free of the engine.

By nine, we had the transmission out of the boat. The engine was supported by some 4x4s and some climbing rope made by the company where my brother worked.

Looking at the transmission, we decided we need to get to Sears or some outfitted hardware store and purchase some E-Z outs and some reverse drill bits to get the broken end of the bolt out of its hole. Being a Saturday, we weren’t sure where we would find one or how we would get there. The marina had “courtesy” bikes available but no one seemed to know where we could find them. The guys in the front office even looked at me strangely when I asked if they knew of a machine shop that would be open on Saturday.

We then decided we needed to rent a car since we were back in the USA and public transportation is not so great. Also, we had no idea where anything is and knew it would take us twice as long as a local to find the tool store. We found a rental company that would pick us at the marina. They did so at 10:00 am and I needed to go back with them to the office to complete the paperwork. No problems. I made sure team tranny would be ready when I returned with the auto. Cora cleaned up from the morning’s removal and got us set up to reinstall when we returned. Timmy was cleaning the parts so we could get on them a coat or two of paint.

On my trip to the rental office, I brainstormed some, more and figured that in Florida there had to be some machine shop with a drill press open on Saturday at least until noon. On my return to the marina, I found yellow pages and wrote down every single machine shop that was in a 30-mile radius. There were only about 10-12 but I figured it was worth it.

Timmy and I immediately started dialing numbers. Answering machine, closed, out of order, no answer, misdialed calls. The last number we called, it had no address in the phone book but I wrote it down anyway, someone answered. Timmy began talking to him.

Uhhh, yeah we need a bolt removed from a transmission.
Oh you don’t? huh.
Do you know anyone that could?
Oh, okay well thanks,
What? Oh, you might, well we are stuck in the marina, it is costing us an arm, and a leg and we gotta get this broken bolt out of the transmission. Yeah it is out of the boat.
Ok, yeah where are you, wait let me get some paper.
Talk to my friend that is going to be driving.

Apparently the guy on the other end told Timmy they didn’t really do work like that and it was Saturday, but then he, for some reason, decided to help us out. He did tell us we need to be there (30 miles away) by noon. it was 11:22am. I got driving directions and the man’s name, Tim.

We hustled everyone together and rushed them out of the marina. There really wasn’t a minute to spare.

The shop was in a town 30 miles south of us called Port St. Lucie, home to the spring training facility for the NY Mets. The shop happened to be directly across the street from the camp and was in a classic American strip mall turned industrial park but over half of the strip mall was this machine shop and the other bit that was left over was some church. They told us there was a small black sign outside but none of us saw it as we passed so the guy had to come outside to wave at us as we drove past.

We pulled in and here is a classic machine shop guy, although he wasn’t dirty at all, he had on jeans and a Harley tee shirt. He smiled and asked us what we had. We knelt down on the grass in front of the shop and showed him. He gave it a look, told us he thought he could help us and asked us to follow him.

The four of us followed him through a nondescript door into the most amazing machine shopweI have ever seen. Most of the tools I couldn’t name but there were 4 C&C machines running. A C&C machine cuts metal very precisely and exactly. It uses a computer to tell it where and how much to cut. Something like .0000000001” variances! There must have been 20 drill presses doing different things and some of them were computer controlled. We followed Tim, the machine shop guy, through this shop out one door to the next shop over to only find more cool metal shaping, cutting and forming machines. We later found out that they make parts for the Space Shuttle, which we watched launch the previous night from our marina slip. Their current project was the final stage of an unmanned submersible mine hunter for the navy. We were sure it was some black project that we weren’t supposed to know about.

To be honest I don’t think any of us got the names of the other two guys that helped extract the bolt from the transmission. Nevertheless, extract it they did, they tried welding a piece onto it, hoping they could just spin it out but the bolt just broke again. Finally, they had to get one of their drill presses into the mix and that got it out. After looking at the bolt they agreed with us that it looked like the bolt had broken in three places and it could have been caused by lightning. We pretty much accept that as gospel these days.

They also rethreaded the hole and custom made us two bolts for the coupler out of some super strong NASA metal. Very cool.

I then asked them what is would cost and Tim looked at me and said Don’t worry about it, you guys have been through enough, just go out and have fun.
I looked at him is shock and shook his hand and walked out with a huge grin on my face. When I told everyone else, they were understandably totally shocked also. We thought maybe we could buy pizza for the whole shop but since it was Saturday, we weren’t sure how long they would be there. So Cora and Ariel ran back in the shop and asked Tim what we could do for them. His response was to let him go home so he could get out on his own boat. The girls then went into the shop and asked the guys what kind of beer they wanted.
We ran down to the quickie mart and picked up two twelve packs of Bud Bottles.
They wouldn’t accept anything else.
Coolest machine shop in the world, for sure.

We jumped back in the rental and hurried back to the marina so we could try to get out of there with only paying for one day of the marina. The only way that was going to happen was if we could actually get the transmission back into the boat and aligned so that the shaft was not shaking around.

We got back to the marina after a quick stop at the boat store. Immediately we painted the parts that were a bit rusty and started to get the transmission back in. With Cora and Timmy, maneuvering the transmission into a space that it barely fit into I was muscling the engine around on its two pulley systems trying to give them as much room as I could. Finally, it dropped into to place and after some futzing, we go it to slide into place on the back of the engine.

We then reconnected the bell housing and all the other cables, hoses and brackets we had previously disconnected. After that, we needed to set the engine down on its brackets and align the coupler with the shaft. It sounds easy but the shaft coupler and the output coupler on the tranny needs to be within .005 of an inch. You can see that gap but it is thinner than a piece of paper. We used a gauge called a Feeler Gauge. It has thin strips of metal that are different thicknesses. It took us until 5:30 to get it all done and everything back on the engine. With our fingers crossed, we fired her up and checked for leaks. Seeing none, we doubled crossed out fingers and slid the transmission into gear.

We slowly started to pull at our dock lines. Ute was mobile under her own power again and Kiki the engine was chugging along nicely. We all let out our breath and top fived. (our kind of high fiving)

We started to clean up and Timmy looked at us and declared that they were getting out of the marina. Cora and I looked at each other and we decided the same thing. Why give this marina anymore of our money when we could be on the hook for free.
Cora ran up to the marina office and tried to pay our bill, the office was just closing and we squeaked in there. I finished filling the water tanks just as Cora returned and we cast off our lines and were safely at anchor 20 minutes later.

We were so relieved to have that little tranny back and operating that we pretty much crashed in 20 minutes.

The entire time spent in the marina about 25.5 hours.
The time it took to pull the tranny and put it back in so that it was operational not including sleeping time: 14 hours.
The total cost of broken bolt removal: $12.99 + tax
The total cost of whole transmission episode: $350 for towing and towboat member ship, $50 for the rental car, $68 for the marina and $50 for food and other beverages.
Total about $500 to get our tranny pulled, fixed and replaced. There was no way that we could have found a mechanic to do the work in the time frame for that kind of money. Figure they get at least $60 an hour and still needed to get the bolt out. We rocked.

I would like to really thank Timmy for his motivation; he kept us on track and focused. There were many times where he had to stop us from drifting back to the lightning. He did a great job getting dirty and helping get it out and put back in.

Ariel kept us in food and beverage. She pitched in where ever she could, helped clean parts, and keep the troops happy.

Thanks to all of you that spoke to us in the first 48 hours and were there to support us and let us know that you would help us with whatever we needed.

Finally, we could not have done any of this without Cora. She was there every step of the way, handing us tools, lifting engines, cleaning parts, making sure we had what we need where we needed it. She helped me keep my chin up and made me smile when I thought the entire boat was crumbling around us. She is the greatest wife, co-worker, helper and lover ever.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


just a spoonful of spoonbills
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the St. Aug posse
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Fernandina Beach

..this hot, sunny Tuesday night finds us anchored next Amelia Island - one of our last stops in Florida, we think. Heavy afternoon showers - luckily with no lightning in attendance - passed over quickly and gave way to sunshine (and mosquitoes).

We spent all of this last weekend in St. Augustine, which was a blast! Tim and Ariel drove up from Melbourne to visit us and also their old friend Jim from California, who we hadn't seen in years, so that was fun. They also had a British friend Mark visiting - Tim and Ariel volunteered at a bear research station with him in Ecuador last winter. I know all of this only makes sense to us, but I had to post it anyway because we had so much fun, and we are constantly thrilled with the strange and random connections we make in all these different places, with all these different people. we have had such good fortune to cross paths again and again with some pretty cool folks!

Speaking of, we also got to see our friends on Minke, and boat we met almost exactly a year ago in Colon, Panama. We knew they were coming up the east coast this summer too, but weren't sure if or when we would run into them. We were already parked for the night last Thursday when we heard good' ol Minke come over the airwaves on Channel 16 to request a bridge opening just a mile or so down from where we were. We jumped up and said, "Was that Minke?!" in an overjoyed sort of way. sho' nuf! we didn't get to hang out with them too much as we were busy being squatters at Jim's house for most of the weekend, but we did catch up with them for a little while before we took off. the fun part is, they wrote and edited the ICW chart book we are using right now, so they are THE source for nav advice. Thanks Minke! hopefully we'll catch up with them in the Carolinas.....

After leaving St. Aug Monday morning, the ICW got even prettier than before! The terrain has changed subtly from barrier islands to sprawling wetlands and huge seas of marsh grass, threaded with meandering tidal creeksa. The bird life is nothing short of spectacular. We've seen so many wood storks and roseate spoonbills (these guys are pink, like flamingoes) that they almost seem commonplace. Along with the usual dolphins and manatees, tow sea turtles said hello yesterday. Last night we anchored next to Ft. George Island, which is home to a wildlife sanctuary and a very old slave trader's plantation, which is now a NPS site. One of the things we loved about being on a boat in Central America was having access to places we'd normally never get to go, and it looks like that is holding true for North America too - the park was closed to traffic and visitors for the night but we were able to pull the dinghy up on shore, tie it to a tree, and go exploring. The local family or barred owls was none to pleased with this, but we enjoyed it. It was super jungley in a very mossy, Southern sort of way - gorgeous. The dinghy also allowed exploration of a near-hidden watery trail through the marsh grass. Even after 18 months it's still amazing to me that we can park our house next to spots like this and stay the night! We are so fortunate.

We'll probably stay here for a couple days as we are still waiting on the return of our repaired autopilot. I'll spare the details but suffice to say that next time I hear anybody complaining about lousy customer service or disorganized businesses in Latin America, I'll set them straight with a few stories from the last couple weeks in the U.S......

Hugs to everyone, UTE

Sunday, June 24, 2007

here are the pics that were supposed to publish with the Miami post...dunno why they didn't work

Friday, June 22, 2007

Derek kayaked out to meet us in the ICW when we came up from Ft. Pierce...talk about a welcome wagon!

thanks goodness the lightning didn't fry the propane solenoid.....we never could have fixed all this stuff without hot tea!

"America's Oldest City"

...I find it amusing that St. Augustine, Florida is called that, when really they mean "oldest continously occupied European settlement". My history is a little rusty but I think there were a couple humans here in North America before the Spaniards. No matter, it looks like a charming little town - we just pulled in - and the row of waterfront businesses does look decidedly quaint and, yes, European. And accordingly overpriced. Of course, coming from South Florida, anything that is not a turquoise-and-peach strip mall looks quaint and very blueblood. There's a cool fort right next to the anchorage that will be explored by us just as soon as we can get the dinghy blown up......it's been awhile - maybe six months or so? - since we got to explore a Spanish fort.

Our trip here from Melbourne was blissfully uneventful...we have been motoring up the Intracoastal Waterway, or ICW, doing about 40-50 miles a day (that's 8 to 10 hours of motoring at normal Ute speeds, and no I'm not joking). It is terrifically novel for us to do all of our moving around in the daytime, to not be seasick, and to see changing scenery - instead of hour after hour of blue water to the horizon - as we go along. It's delightful and feels so easy after all of our offshore miles. The ICW is so pretty down here - like a big river dotted with islands and sandbars and flanked by stately river homes - but even better because it is saltwater, so we are accompanied in our journey by dolphins, manatees, jellyfish, even a shark at one point! We’ve seen dozens of herons, wood storks, anhingas, and egrets. The prettiest stretch so far was the Merritt Island Nat’l Wildlife Refuge, where we passed one wild island after another, almost near enough to reach out and touch the stout palms, swamp oaks, and beach scrub that looked downright prehistoric. We pass under about half a dozen bridges each day, and about two thirds of them are low enough to the water so as to necessitate the bridge being raised or swung just to let lil' old Ute through. Hope it doesn't go to her head!

We experienced a standard ICW rite of passage yesterday when we ran aground. Well, I ran her aground, to be fair. Sure does stop you quick to run into a mud bank. Luckily, a powerboat was passing by just then and offered to pull us off. They ended up pulling us off by our stern, and they yanked us off so fast that we were probably going 15 knots backwards. Leave it to us to achieve our highest speed of the entire trip while traveling in reverse....I'm not sure what to conclude about that....

Our week in Melbourne was both so enjoyable and so productive that we were sad to leave. After some serious work and a few thousand bucks the good ship Ute is up to snuff again, with a few lingering casualties but ready to hit the road again, mostly. A big Thank You is in order to the great neighbors at Eau Gallie Yacht Basin, one of the country's last decent marina communities. Thanks Derek, Karen, Don, and everybody else - you were a fantastic help! We are waiting for our new radar and repaired autopilot, without which we are forced to travel the ICW instead of going offshore. As you may have gleaned from the previous paragraphs, going the ICW way is not a hardship, really, aside from high diesel prices these days. We both love not being seasick - we're so much more productive, so that when it's not our watch we actually want to do something like read, write, or work on the boat, instead of just trying to not feel gross. There will probably be some residual bugs to work out on board, but we're at the point where we have to get out there and sail to figure out what they are. The wind generator is irretrievably dead, but we can live without that for the next couple months - we'll just have to run the engine to charge the batteries (especially when we indulge in using power-guzzling appliances, like this laptop!). A new charge regulator brought our solar panels back online. Many of our lights and instruments got replaced and rewired, including the lights on the mast whose bulbs had become molten in the strike and melted into lumps of silica! We have a brand new VHF antenna atop the mast – the old one, a 3 foot whip antenna, was completely vaporized by the lightning – and a brand new VHF radio. Oh, and a new auxiliary fuel pump, and new stereo, and……jeez, we reworked, repaired and reinstalled so much stuff I can’t even remember it all. Suffice to say, it was a time-critical makeover worthy of a reality show.

Thanks much to all of our friends and family out there who have offered help - you are wonderful and we appreciate it. It feels good to be underway again, and we couldn't have done it without you!

P.S. scroll down two posts to see pics and a post from our time in Miami, and yes, Allen is going to post his lightning-recovery tales VERY soon. really.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

pics from a fix

Now We Have Superpowers!!

Okay, we're not entirely sure that's true. But we DID get struck by lightning, yes lightning, last Friday at around 8 in the morning, about 5 miles off Ft. Pierce. To answer the most FAQs: the boat is floating, yes it was f*&#ing terrifying, yes nearly everything wired into our 12V system got fried, and yes we are totally fine. better than fine, really - in fact we're thrilled. Thrilled? well, to take a direct hit (which we did) and not suffer more damage to both the boat itself and our fleshy little conductive bodies is practically miraculous! We're the luckiest unlucky folks we know. You have to admit, getting struck by lightning is a pretty damn good excuse to not post on the blog for so long. in fact we plan to use this lightning excuse for everything for at least the next five years. don't say we didn't warn you....

So there we were, about 7 miles offshore, headed for the Ft. Pierce Inlet to enter the famed Intracoastal Waterway after a beautiful overnight sail from Miami (more about our fabulous time in Miami later). I came on shift at 6 AM and Allen nodded off to sleep. There was a huge squall threatening on the radar, but it looked like mostly rain with little electrical activity. About 20 minutes later the heavens opened and we were pelted with the kind of tropical torrent we haven't seen since Panama. Ariel was on shift on Hebe, just a few hundred yards away, and we chatted over the VHF about getting the shampoo out and taking cockpit bikini showers in the rain. no scary stuff yet. The wind died and the water was so calm that I was able to open Ute's water tanks to collect the rain water without risking salt spray sneaking into the mix. wonderful!

A couple miles later, around 8:00, somebody up there flipped a switch and brought in the lightning and thunder, seemingly out of nowhere. we've been in worse electrical storms, but I've never seen one sneak up so quickly. Sky-to-water strikes were happening all around us. I felt like we were caught in one of those stupid lightning-ball desk toys at Sharper Image. it was difficult to tell which direction might constitute an escape route, and with an average speed of 5 mph we're not much as an escape vehicle anyway. So I started to take the usual precautions: I cut power to all the non essential electronics, and made sure I neither of us was touching anything metal. As the strikes happened closer and closer I put the GPS in the oven (the oven, being a solid metal cage, offers great lightning protection for any electronics we can stick in it. unfortunately, most of our nav toys are not so easily detached from our electrical system). Since the wind had completely died, I was hesitant to turn off the autopilot and the engine as we would then be adrift with no steerage.

When I saw a bolt hit about 50 yards off our beam and felt the strike in my gut, I reprioritized. "Wake up baby, this shit is about to hit us...I'm turning off the engine, 'kay?" I hollered at a bleary Allen on the side berth. He popped right up and immediately started helping me turn off the few things that were still on. We killed the engine and started to bob (the phrase "sitting duck" springs to mind, but we couldn't put our beloved engine, Kiki, at risk). In an effort to ensure we weren't taking on water, Allen lifted a panel in our cabin sole and reached for the electric bilge pump switch and.....

CRAAAAAAAAAA-ACK! we heard and felt the bolt as it chose Ute's mast as the path of least resistance to the Atlantic. It was like a cannon shot that we felt from head to toe. It was, of course, over in a nanosecond and our first reaction was to check and make sure the other was basically intact. After a fetching display of our continued ability to wiggle fingers and form sentences, the next step was to grab a flashlight and check all of Ute's six through-hulls. For all you non-boaters, through-hulls are essentially valves, embedded in Ute's hull below the waterline, that allow the (intentional) entry and exit of water through hoses. In some cases the water is exiting, say from a sink or a toilet, and in some cases it is entering, for example in the case of the sea water that is pumped into and around our engine to cool it. More to the point, these through hulls have metal fittings and thus offer lightning a tantilizing exit point in a boat made of fiberglass (which is much less conductive). Lightning that comes in has to go out somewhere, and when a lightning bolt tries to squeeze its whole big flashy self into a wee through-hull fitting, it usually results in a huge hole in the hull which, as you might guess, generally results in sinking.

So, we were relieved to see no water, cracks, holes, or melted parts around any of our through-hulls. Ute was still floating! Huzzah! the next step was to see if the engine would start, which, miraculously and thankfully, it did. The next step of turning on all of our instruments and appliances to assess the damage was a little less rewarding: basically, the only things that still worked were the interior lights and the propane solenoid. The depth sounder, radar, autopilot, running lights, VHF radio, auxiliary fuel pump, and more were kaput. While we were still ecstatic to be alive, we were now stressed out that A) we weren't out of the storm yet and B) our boat had just lost thousands of dollars in value with one flash of lightning (it's not that we're materialists, but we are two near-broke individuals who were hoping to sell our boat mighty soon). We were already starting to contemplate just what this might mean for our Big Picture.

We dug our handheld VHF out of our ditch bag (abandon-ship bag) and found that its batteries, which had been purchased new and packaged separately in their own ziploc, were dead. we couldn't help but laugh - good thing we weren't actually abandoning ship, knock on wood. the moral of the story there is, don't go to a Chinatown in Panama and by batteries called, say, EverFready or DuraSmell. spend good money on your ditch bag! We raised Hebe on the radio, confirmed that they were still doing okay, and informed them that we would be heading into a marina in Ft, Pierce instead of anchoring out, as we normally would do. Not only did we need to assess the damage to Ute and have access to businesses on land, but because our wind generator and solar panels seemed to be fried, we didn't have a reliable way to live off-the-grid like we usually do aboard Ute. Hebe had lost their GPS when lightning hit close to their boat, but hadn't suffered any direct hits and was doing okay....

An hour later we found ourselves standing off in the entry channel to the marina while Hebe entered her slip there (they decided to come into the marina to to offer us help and moral support - thanks a million Tim and Ariel). When the harbormaster radioed us to give us the green light to come into the marina, Allen shifted the engine into forward and got - nothing. oh, boy. the transmission coupler bolt had apparently chosen that less than opportune moment to fail us. Luckily (that is becoming such a subjective word, isn't it) we were not in any danger as we drifted out of the channel and ran aground in the soft clay mud bottom of the ICW. That wasn't our finest moment. We had weathered the lightning strike pretty well, and were starting to deal with taking a huge hit in the final lap of our trip, but the transmission thing did test our resilience a bit. I threw out the anchor just to make sure we were parked and not endangering other boats while Allen bleated out words and phrases I can't share on a family blog.

After a couple solid minutes of being simpering, self-pitying idiots we got back on the proverbial horse and called Sea Tow on the radio. Mind you, we had reviewed the available on-the-water assistance plans (these are like marine AAA) in Miami and had it on our to-do list to sign up for one once we got in the ICW. I guess our timing was a little off on that, but after covering 5,000 very UNassisted sea miles since CA (most places we've sailed there wasn't an option of radioing anyone, let alone a tow company), it didn't seem like a high priority in this land of great marine resources. Sea Tow was happy to inform us that for the bargain price of $200 they would be happy to tow Ute the last 10 yards into the marina. Under any other circumstances we would surely have made Emeryville marina proud by assembling some eyesore of a jury rig to get that boat in - we probably could have pushed her with our dinghy and outboard - but since we were hitting all-time lows on the Luck-o-meter that day, we didn't want to add liability for property damage to the marina or other boats to our growing list of Ute's Issues. (The U.S. does have a lot going for it, but it can also be a ludicrously expensive place to make a simple mistake).

So we swallowed our pride, dug out our credit card, and paid Sea Tow about a dollar a foot to drag our sorry asses into a totally overpriced marina. Hebe was ready at the dock to catch our lines and hand us cold beers to cry into. Before we could even think about the state of our instrument and wiring, we knew we had to pull the transmission out and fix the coupler.

Now I'm getting into the part where Allen and Tim really worked some serious magic, so it's only fair that we let Allen write the next chapter of this saga. As I type this in a park next to the Eau Gallie Yacht Basin in Melbourne, FL, Allen is hard at work on Ute, adjusting Kiki's valve clearances with help from our friend Derek. He's promised to take a break soon-ish and chime in on the blog. (Here's a teaser: in the next chapter we find out how the lightning strike and the coupler failure were related).

To snapshot our current situation, we have been working on the boat pretty much nonstop since last Friday. Last Monday we motored the 48 ICW miles to here (Melbourne) where Derek was kind enough to get us a cheap slip at his marina. (We met Derek a year ago when we linehandled on his boat in the Panama Canal, two weeks before Ute went through). The nice folks at Car Collector magazine in Titusville (employer of Rick Carey and sometimes Allen) have been generous enough to loan us a truck for our daily runs to the marine and hardware stores here. Thanks guys! It seems like we picked a great spot to break down (maybe we have a knack for that - if you can't keep everything running, at least break down in the right places). Tim and Ariel have ended their sailing journey here, as planned, and have very generously taken time away from job-hunting and house-hunting to show up, voltmeters in hand, and help with the systems rehab effort. I guess you could say we stole their thunder - somewhere, in a parallel universe, we're spending our last dollars on a "Way to Go Hebe!" party instead of replacing stuff we already had. We sure couldn't ask for better friends than those two.

Until a couple days ago, we weren't sure we'd be able to continue our journey north due to time and money constraints, but we've decided to make a go of it. The last week has found us doing a condensed version of many of the projects that we did in the six months before leaving Emeryville - it's a bit overwhelming, but also a fantastic learning experience. We have a new radio, and a new depth sounder (luckily just the head unit was fried - the transducer took a lickin' and kept on tickin'). Our radar is at the Furuno shop in Washington, where they assured us that their quote for fixing it was less than a new one. We'll see about that. West Marine was either kind enough or clueless enough to honor the two-year warranty on our autopilot, despite the fact that it expired in April. Most of our days
have been spent running new wiring, testing circuits, and ordering new
parts. Many thanks to Capt. Tom Kennon in Maine for working some magic
with the West Marine manager down here!

Nobody believes me, but I still love Florida. It is incredibly beautiful here.....the ICW is like the Mississippi but with manatees, ospreys and ibises toolding around....the people are great...are we're making friends here we won't soon forget.

back to work now! more soon. hugs to everyone, UTE

Key West to Miami

Our sail from Key West to Miami was nothing short of fabulous. Hebe and Ute left together on a picture perfect morning with turquoise seas and baby-blue - almost lavender - skies overhead. A swim stop was mandatory for both boats....the string of keys looked tantalizing and we promised each other we'd come back and explore someday when we have more time. We were halfheartedly racing in very light winds and Hebe was winning - that is, until we deployed our secret weapon - the spinnaker! They claim this was cheating but have since confessed they were just extremely jealous.....

We spent three very fun days in Miami, which turned out to be a much more sailboat-friendly town than we'd expected. Our first stop was No Name harbor on Key Biscayne, where we finally saw our first manatee! so exciting! he popped up right next to Ute while munching on weeds. The park around the anchorage was beautiful and we took advantage of the cold showers and the great running path.......

The next stop was Hurricane Harbor, which is a tiny cove surrounded by some very hoity-toity real estate. the beauty of being on a sailboat is you can drop your anchor and park your scrappy little messy boat right off the backyard of some of the world's fanciest homes, and share their oceanview, and it's totally legal. and free. Ya gotta love that. One of the homes we anchored near was Brad Pitt's, but despite our great vigilance in watching the propoerty, neither Ariel nor I were rewarded with even a glimpse of the hunk. It was a great anchorage nevertheless.....

Next we enjoyed a quick sail across beautiful Biscayne Bay to Dinner Key anchorage. Biscayne Bay reminded us of Belize: there was a nice stiff sailing breeze but the water was flat and bottom-of-the-pool green as far as the eye could see. Great sailing grounds! Who knew?

After a couple days in Miami we finally tore my cousin Nat away from his work long enough to hang out with us. In his defense he was working round the clock doing last minute jobs on a gorgeous Formosa 56 that was about to leave for the Bahamas. His employers were generous enough to invite us out for lunch and then over to their boat so we could admire Nat's hard work. Even Ariel, who has been certified in soldering by Nasa, was oohing and aahing over the systems Nat installed. Nat is from the "real sailors" branch of Cora's family and as such, knows as hell of a lot more about boats than probably ever will. We learned a lot hanging out with him! Thanks Nat! We wish we could have stayed longer, but evidently we had a date with a lightning bolt that we just couldn't miss. Next time Nat tells us we "just have to" stay longer I think we'll pay better attention!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

For the last two weeks, Hebe and Ute have been sharing one "station wagon" to run errands: Ute's inflatable dinghy. The quarter-mile trek to land across major chop, serious tidal currents and powerboat wakes is always a good way to get soaking wet - especially when it's loaded down with the four of us and whatever we need to take to or from land! The tourists at the watefront restaurants always seem to enjoy the show when we show up covered in foul weather gear, trash bags, carrying our laundry, garbage, shower gear, and triple-bagged laptops to get online.

we potted our new plants at the dock to try and save the boats from all that dirt

here's a little video of Ariel coming to pick us up this morning, just to give you an idea of how fun this ride is even just with one person aboard!

Hebe's sailing rig for their dinghy came in handy here

it's cool to see ibises just walking around town....

a Barry wet night in Key West

So here we are, still in Key West on June 2nd...hard to believe...and not quite what we'd planned! We woke yesterday morning to hear the warm and wonderful computerized voices of the Wx channel perkily reminding us that June 1 marks the official start of Hurricane Season. Allen would have loved to be as far north as about Annapolis right now and I feel much the same way.....but what can you do? The last two weeks have been a total weather shutout in terms of northbound travel, and we know it's not just us as there are dozens of boats stuck here waiting for the same window as we are....

The plot thickened yesterday when, following a "cruising meeting" with Tim and Ariel and a weather check online, we walked into our favorite happy hour hole (we've been here long enough to have a favorite - yikes!) and found everyone in the bar riveted to the Weather Channel....where they had just announced the season's Second Named Storm: Tropical Storm Barry. I watched the color drain from Allen's face and heard him whisper, "Dammit, I knew we shouldn't have taken the time to go to Belize!". Mother Nature is wasting no time getting a jump start on this year's season. Tropical Storm Barry lay just 200 miles west of Key West yesterday evening, and treated us to pelting rain and howling winds for the entire night. Ariel told us today it was the first time she'd been seasick at anchor. We didn't sleep much, but we were happy to have not one but two anchors set out in a nice solid Bahamian moor (that's two anchors deployed from the bow, set 180 degrees apart from one another...a very solid ride).

Fortunately, Barry's main objective for his short life seems to be getting out of range of the Keys. at last check he was chugging N-NE at a very healthy rate, which we appreciate. The sky looks less ominous by the hour and the sun is even trying to shine. It looks like, amazingly, we'll be able to stick with our plan of leaving here early tomorrow morning, with the goal of reaching Miami Monday afternoon-ish. Sure hope it works.....

We have had a great time in Key West, all things considered. We've taken lots of bus rides to the shopping centers. One mall in particular has provided us with the Great American Makeover (on a budget) - we walked away with a cell phone, khakis, running shoes, a fixed front tooth, a haircut, pizza, some new herb plants, and new Craftsman tools in exchange for the broken and abused ones we brought in from Ute. Not bad! And we're always looking for a bargain in a town where we pay $5 just to park the dinghy every time we come to land, and $4 for a not very nice shower. Catching fish off the boat with a chicken rig is our new strategy for putting meat on the table at night: we've enjoyed fried feasts of yellowtail snapper and blue-striped grunt this week. We've taken advantage of the local park system and the beaches - and we've been reminded again of what an amazing and diverse state Florida really is. My childhood enchantment with Florida has been fully rekindled - I could definitely live here. But good jobs in the Keys are few and far between and we're hardly in a position to settle down until we've found either a buyer for the boat, or at least a safe place to park her that isn't in the path of hurricanes. So....the journey continues. Hopefully tomorrow. It will be nice to be underway again, for sure.