Author Archives: Jay

Bailing Out

We like to have contingency plans. The worst case scenario is usually imagined and planned for, we have backups for backups, and our travel itineraries always identify bailout points.

Yesterday we tried to go from Nevis to Montserrat. The weather we expected was wind from 90 degrees at 15-18 knots gusting to 20. Our only bailout option was a return to Nevis.

Like most catamarans, Take Two just does not sail well to windward. The sails will draw at about 35 degrees apparent wind angle, but we’re slow and make a lot of leeway. Speed reduces leeway. To build speed we have to bear away, but the increased speed brings the apparent wind forward again, so we bear away more. We reach equilibrium at about 60 degrees true, which is the number we use for planning. It’s pretty bad. Then there are the waves… We try not to go upwind.

The course from Nevis to Montserrat is 135 degrees, and with wind from 90 we’d only be able to sail 150, so we knew it would be an uphill battle. But the wind in these parts is seldom far from 90 degrees, it’s just something you have to deal with until you get far enough East. So we went out thinking we would deal with it.

The general strategies available are to sail giant 120-degree tacks that take us far out of our way and back again, to sail as close to the course as we can and then motor directly upwind for the final leg, or to motorsail the course (use the engines to provide the extra power needed to hold us closer to the wind).


Unfortunately, the wind we found was a lot stronger than was forecast, which seriously impeded our desire and ability to make windward progress, even with the engines. Motorsailing wasn’t going to work, sailing off the wind and then motoring upwind was going to be very hard, and tacking upwind would almost double our distance for the day. Once we were well clear of Nevis and confident we were seeing the real wind unaffected by mountains, a decision was needed.

On several occasions, I’ve felt compelled to apologize to the crew after days that were harder than expected. I did not want this to be one of those days. Ahead was a challenging upwind struggle to an uncertain anchorage dominated by an active volcano. Behind us was an easy reach to a calm anchorage with friends, a nice beach, and understanding customs officials. There wasn’t a reason why we had to do the trip that day. So 7 miles into our trip to Montserrat, I pulled the plug and turned us back to Nevis.

We rolled back into Nevis slightly abashed, but smiling. We were not defeated or damaged. So we’ll sit back and relax for a few days, celebrate Midsummer Day with our Swedish friends, and pick our weather more carefully next time.

The name “Take Two” is appropriate because it sometimes takes us two tries to get something right. If the first try doesn’t work out, we usually nail it the second time. But if it doesn’t work the second time, then in the immortal words of Curly, “If at first you don’t succeed, keep on sucking till you do succeed.”


The Culverts

We’re bad about digital media, which should be evident by the lack of it in this space. Pictures aren’t often taken, and then they rarely get offloaded and organized. Videos are even worse.

It’s a tedious process and I don’t have the patience for it. Every once in a while Tanya will stay up late and wade through our backlog, usually when she’s looking for something specific, but she’s years behind and not keeping up.

I know the lack of pictures reduces the interest level for the average reader, but that isn’t what motivates me. I worry that someday we’ll want to relive our memories, but can’t because they didn’t get recorded.

My hope is to get the kids to take some ownership in the saving of these memories, and we have cameras that they are specifically invited to use. So far all I’ve gotten back are a couple hundred blurry close-ups of the cat.

So I was extremely pleased that they thought to take the GoPro with them this week when they went to shoot the culverts. These are concrete tunnels under a road where the tide rushes back and forth in pursuit of the moon and adventurous types allow themselves to be sucked in one side and flushed out the other. It’s great fun and not very safe, which makes it exactly the right kind of activity for a GoPro.

I stitched the clips together, but the footage is all theirs.

The Salt Life

We live on the water, but we don’t really live in it. Sure, we go swimming and snorkeling. We go to the beach. The older kids surf, Tanya kayaks, and Sam likes to fish. We sail from place to place.

But we rarely take the boat out just for fun. We rarely go fishing. The kids don’t really like to surf. Snorkeling and swimming trips are usually brief, and then only when you can see the bottom in 20 feet. Tanya and I are certified to dive, but haven’t done a recreational dive in 20 years.

It isn’t because we don’t have the gear. Oh, we have the gear. Six fishing poles, three spears, hand lines, and tackle out the wazoo. A hookah with five hoses. Two air tanks. Fins, and masks, and snorkels to outfit a platoon. Two dinghies, two kayaks, two surf boards, and two body boards.

The only reasonable conclusion is that we don’t like the water. Which isn’t true. I’m not really sure what the problem is. We like the water, but we lack a passion for it.

We’ve seen the passion in others. Roy, Pierre, and Camden are boat kids we’ve met (three different boats) with fishing in their blood. With them, it was all-fishing all-the-time. Sam has that gene too, but it needs to be cultivated. Eli doesn’t care about fish, but he’s a natural hunter and could probably feed the whole family. I want that for both of them, but I don’t know how to give it to them.

Ken and Amy live here in Marathon with their three kids. The whole family is absolutely crazy about the water. Okay, Ken is the crazy one and everyone else is happy to go along. He is constantly fishing, spearfishing, crabbing, or lobstering. He spends far more time on the water than I do, and I live there. He has the passion I need.

So while we’re in Marathon for the next couple months, we’re making a concerted effort to become water lovers. And Ken is my mentor. Seven-hour spearfishing marathon? I’m in. All-night bullynetting for lobster? You bet. Offshore trip for Mahi? I’ll buy the fuel. Eli and Sam are my companions in this quest.

There is hope for us yet. Eli and Aaron are getting certified to dive. They’ve done three days of pool work, but then came down with head colds, so have yet to complete the open water part.

Sam is fishing almost constantly here. We have a little aquarium right off the back of our boat with snappers, grunts, parrot fish, lobster, and even a resident moray eel. Sam will sit out there for hours. Tanya buys him bait at the grocery store.

We’ve had the boat out twice in the three weeks that we’ve been here, which is probably a record, especially since it means turning off the air conditioning and backing out a narrow channel. We even braved the craziness and took the boat out on the 4th of July, a first for us.

Summer in Marathon is the right time and place for this kind of transformation. The weather is calm, the water is warm, and the local culture is all about the salt life. It’s not just a bumper sticker down here.

Project Recap

I tend not to write much when there are boat projects underway. I don’t think many people are interested in reading about them, and I’m too mentally occupied to write about anything else.

Tanya says I need to write more, so I figured I’d at least give a high-level run-down of what has been changed on the boat recently. I could write a big post about each of these, but I probably won’t. So use the Contact page if you want more details.

Air Conditioning – This project was actually finished last spring, but I don’t think we ever talked about it. We pulled out the old split-gas system and put in 5 separate combo units. We have a big pump in each stern and use relay boxes for the units to demand water. The pumps feed manifolds that have valves to isolate each unit, and dedicated ports so I can circulate acid occasionally. The return manifolds have eductors which use the Venturi principle to suck the condensate water out of the pans. I put little float switches in the pans to sound alarms in case they back up. The units themselves are installed in semi-airtight boxes so we can filter the air. It’s amazing how much dust we generate.

Instruments – We took a phased approach that was ongoing for a long time, but is now complete. I chose Simrad/B&G because I was excited about what they were doing with FMCW radar, the sailing features in the Zeus chartplotters, and their reputation for autopilots. We also replaced the instrument displays, the VHF, and added an AIS transceiver. Everything is native NMEA2000. The indoor and outdoor chartplotters are networked together, so they can share charts, waypoints, and the radar; and networked with the rest of the boat, so we can view and control them from Wi-Fi tablets. I expect to rest better when I can open one eye and see a mirrored chartplotter display from my bunk.

Mainsheets – We used to have a 14-foot mainsheet traveler across the back of our cockpit. I originally viewed that traveler as a mark of awesomeness, but living with it was another matter entirely. It had a continuous-line 6:1 adjustment that was hard to use, the cars were noisy when the wind was light, and I’d been worried for years that the thing was going to take a kid’s fingers off. We continued to use it, but usually with the addition of a preventer to “triangulate” the boom. The final straw came when we began to reimagine the cockpit for better seating and enclosure. I removed the traveler and replaced it with dual 3:1 mainsheets. I decided to have dedicated winches available for both the main and spinnaker sheets, which necessitated a little winch rearrangement am still in the midst of.

Hardtop – We built a hardtop to go over the cockpit. The structure we built a few years ago was designed to support a hardtop, but initially we only covered it with fabric laced to the edges. Even with fabric, this ranks as one of the best all-time improvements we’ve made to the boat. The new full-solid top radiates less heat, looks better, allows rain catchment, and provides for attachment of better curtains to help keep the elements out of the cockpit. But it was A LOT of work.

Bowsprit – I’m planning to update our sail inventory with something in the asymmetrical off-wind category. While it may not be strictly necessary, I decided I wanted a bowsprit. For $100 in materials, $100 for welding, and $100 for painting, it was surprisingly easy and inexpensive. I still have to install the padeyes in the bows for the guys that hold it down.

Rigging – The big ticket item has been the mast re-rig. This was just maintenance, but very important. You want to fix it before it fails. We replaced the standing rigging that holds the mast up, the electrical wiring, antennas and conductors, stripped all the hardware off of the mast and repainted it. The only real changes we made were trimming down the step for the old radar, and adding a small crane to the front of the masthead to support a spinnaker furler. We also replaced the plastic sheaves in the boom for some with ball bearings to try and eliminate an annoying squeak when we’re under sail.

There have been a lot of other little things done, but those are the big ones I can think of off-hand. Of course, we have more on the drawing board.

New Sail – The code zero/gennaker/screecher/spinnaker has already been mentioned. This will be on a furler on the end of the bowsprit. We currently have a symmetrical spinnaker in a sock. I expect the new sail to eminently more useful and usable, which should translate into more sailing.

Stern Protection – Our sterns are constantly being bashed by docks and dinghies, and I often envy the protective cages you sometimes see on the back of workboats. I’ve got a design and very reasonable quote from the local welder to add some reinforced tubing around our sterns. It would also provide handholds for people in the water and attachment points for fenders and towables. I love the idea, but I’m always hesitant to make a major change.

New Dinghy – Our 12-foot RIB and 25hp 2-stroke have seen some hard years. Sam and I took them fishing this past week. The motor was initially very grumpy (but got over it) and a fish managed to puncture the dinghy in two places. I applied my first patches ever, and they seem to be holding. But there’s a very “tired” feeling coming from them. I also think we should go up a size. A 13-footer with a 40 sounds about right.

New Watermaker – We’ve outgrown our Spectra. Spectras are great machines, but they’re built for high-efficiency, not necessarily endurance. We spend about $1,000/year keeping ours running. We’ve had an expert out to check our install, and the consensus appears to be that we’re just running it too hard. We have to run it about 5 hours a day to make our water quota, and being in coastal water doesn’t help any. We may squeeze another cruise out of the Spectra, but we’re eventually going to switch to a higher capacity high-pressure design that can make our daily water during the generator run.

New Batteries – This one has been on the table for a while. Our Lifeline AGMs are nearing their end of life. We are definitely going to switch to Lithium, which I am very much looking forward to. It’s the kind of project that has to be done proactively and probably while at the dock.

Cockpit Redesign – The cockpit has to support the functions of operating the boat when we’re underway, and regular life when we’re not. It doesn’t really do either very well. We’re trying to think outside the box about the cockpit design, even to the point of questioning the necessity of a helm seat. I think the kids sit there more than I do.

This list might seem overwhelming to some, but boat projects sustain me. I’d be bored without them. My only regret is that I have to keep making money to afford them.

We typically like to keep our life a mix of moving and sitting, and our ratio is a little skewed right now, but that will get straightened out eventually. We have to find something to do with ourselves this summer, but we’re gearing up for a bigger trip in the fall.

Local Knowledge

Part of the beauty of homeschool is the ability to design it according to your own priorities and principles. One of our principles is “life is school”. This means two things to us. One, that education isn’t only found in books and classrooms, and two, that learning opportunities can be found in daily life if you have the flexibility to recognize and take advantage of them.

We love it when these opportunities come from people outside our family. Because of our transient lifestyle we get to know of a lot of interesting and talented people, and occasionally they’ll take an interest in sharing their knowledge with our kids.

This has numerous benefits for the kids. It allows them to learn about things that we can’t necessarily teach. It allows them to form independent relationships with other people, and be themselves away from the influence of their family. It allows them to learn about work.

Fort Pierce is lacking in a lot of things, but it is rich in these kinds of learning opportunities. While we’re here, we’ve dedicated one day a week for what we call “work study”, where the kids go off and pursue their own interests.

Eli is taking flying lessons. All of the kids have spent tons of time on Combat Flight Simulator 3, which has pretty realistic flight dynamics, and is one of our few approved video games. Eli is studying and collecting hours in the air with an instructor that he can use to qualify for a license when he’s 16.

Aaron goes to work with a friend of ours who is a marine mechanic/engineer. Some days Aaron just fetches tools or sweeps out the shop, but other days he’s genuinely helpful. On those days he comes home extremely dirty but also very happy. But every day he learns, and every day he gets to hang out with real working men, and not just his sits-at-a-computer-all-day dad. We like to envision it sort of like the barber shop scene in Gran Torino. I meet people now who know me as “Aaron’s dad” and tell me about what he’s fixed on their boats.

Sarah helps out at a horse ranch. She loves horses and enjoys just being around them. She feeds them, bathes them, and shovels out their stalls. She’s approaching the point where her help is valuable enough to trade for her riding lessons. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day she has a job working with horses.

Sam joins the older three for private kickboxing lessons volunteered from a friend. Jim works them hard and they’re learning fast. Apart from the physical skills, they’re also learning the discipline and respect that is typical in martial arts training. I often go just to watch.

We’re all about exploration, growth, and progress toward a vaguely defined goal. These kinds of activities help us feel like we’re still moving forward, even while the boat is tied to the dock.

Fender Covers

We learned a long time ago that PVC fenders and Florida sun do not mix. They get gummy and attract dirt. In addition to looking terrible, they also smear the sticky mess on the side of the boat and it is nearly impossible to get off. As with PVC dinghies, the solution is to keep them covered.

Initially, we used the fleecy kind from Taylor Made (the maker of the fenders). These worked okay to protect the fenders, but the fabric was not up to the rigors of the sun or being constantly ground against the dock. Eventually they began to look ratty and Tanya decreed they must be replaced.

I found some that seemed to be made from better material, but it was still a fuzzy “blanket” type of material. Tanya wouldn’t hear of it. They must be made of Sunbrella for durability and to complement our color scheme. I couldn’t find any made of Sunbrella, and I didn’t want to make them myself. We deliberated on this for a while with our old nasty fenders a daily reminder. Finally, Tanya declared she would make them.

Now, Tanya is not a girl with a lot of free time on her hands. She still undertakes the occasional project, but usually at the expense of something else. She once volunteered to edit a friend’s book and we didn’t eat for a week. So I was dubious about her making the covers. I thought it would be cheaper to buy them pre-made (at twice the cost) than suffer the disruption of her making them, but I dutifully ordered the material.

The fabric arrived and sat in the cockpit untouched for several days, people stepping over it to get in and out of the boat, without any mention of when this was going to get done. It was bothering me, but I knew better than to ask. I was willing to do it myself at this point, but I couldn’t offer either. Any pressure would be received as lack of appreciation for all she does for our family, and this is seriously unwise (and untrue). A hint was required.

So one evening she “caught” me measuring a fender. Of course, I had measured them before I ordered the fabric. That did the trick and the next day the fender cover factory went into full gear. She knocked out seven fender covers, each better and faster than the last.

Fender Covers

There is a certain satisfaction in doing something yourself, a kind of joy in making something. And for as hard as it is to get a project started, it’s almost as hard to stop. We call that the First Law of Projects. Tanya was still in a full-blown cover-making frenzy when we ran out of fenders. She began to eye the neighbor’s coverless fenders. People were going to be getting fender covers for Christmas. Fortunately it passed before things got out of hand.

Now we have great looking fenders again. The Sunbrella should last a very long time in the sun and stand up much better to abrasion from the dock. They are louder, though, creaking as the Sunbrella rubs against the boat, and I’m not sure how well the boat is going to stand up to abrasion from the Sunbrella. Time will tell.

A few days later I was down in one of our lazarettes, the one where we store the fenders, and saw… way in the back… an eighth fender.

Joining the Club

Take Two’s latest piece of electronic gadgetry is an AIS transceiver. This broadcasts our name, position, course, and speed for others to see. We’ll appear on the navigational displays of vessels equipped to receive AIS and they’ll be notified if our courses converge. They’ll be able to hail us on the radio by name, or by “dialing” our number. There are even base stations that receive the AIS information and publish it on the internet.

For years, we’ve been content to only receive AIS data from others and had no interest in transmitting our own. Typically I prefer to be anonymous, but recent experiences have shown me a few reasons to transmit.

In August, we were off Cape Canaveral when a big thunderstorm rolled off the coast as two cruise ships left the port. Visibility was zero and our radar display was just a big green blob. Fifty knot gusts were kicking up a nasty chop, and our best option was to run with it. I would like to think that the ships could see us on radar, but if ours couldn’t see a cruise ship, how could I be sure that theirs could see a sailboat? It was too loud to call and ask. Knowing they could see us on AIS would have greatly reduced the stress of that situation.

When entering Chesapeake Bay in the middle of the night, we were hailed by Virginia Pilots as “sailing vessel approaching the north tunnel”. There was a ship behind us heading for the same tunnel crossing that we were, and Virginia Pilots wanted to make sure we saw it, and were not going to be in the way when it got there. It was a very pleasant exchange, and I was grateful for the call, but also somewhat chagrined that they felt it was necessary. Had we been transmitting, I think they would not have been concerned.

On our 5-day passage back from the Chesapeake, we were in the company of a boat named New Moon. We very rarely saw them, and then only as a light or a sail on the horizon. But because they were transmitting AIS we were aware of their presence. I actually found it comforting that they were there, experiencing the same conditions we were. Tanya called them once on a lonely night watch hundreds of miles from anywhere, and I think they were surprised to learn of our existence. The camaraderie we felt was totally one-sided.

Somewhere off Georgia, we were hailed by the US Navy with “sailing vessel in vicinity of 30 degrees 49 minutes north, 79 degrees 22 minutes west, this is Warship 59”. They had to repeat this several times before I figured out they were talking to us. The coordinates they were giving were not very close to our current position and it wasn’t immediately apparent if we were “in the vicinity”. I think the Navy receives AIS, but generally does not transmit for obvious reasons. If they had our AIS information, hopefully they would have hailed us by name. Incidentally, Warship 59 was clearing a box so they could play with their guns and wanted us out of the way.

Originally, I only saw AIS as information for my own navigational use (and entertainment). I wanted to see everyone else, but didn’t want anyone to see me. That position forced us to act defensively in every situation, and also denied others the use of our information. Now I see that there are advantages to transmitting, even if they don’t benefit us directly. Transmitting AIS data makes us part of a community, and in any community there is a give-and-take. We are giving up some anonymity, but the more vessels that transmit, the more it benefits the community as a whole. Eventually, some kind of EPIRB or AIS transponder will probably be mandated for anyone going offshore, but we’re choosing to transmit now voluntarily, despite the extra cost, in the interest of better navigational information for everybody.

Bold New Look, Same Great Taste

Take Two Sailing is now on WordPress.  You may have noticed that our pictures widget disappeared from the right sidebar some time ago.  It broke, and rather than figure out how to fix it, I upgraded the whole shebang.

Everything should be back to normal or better now.  The pictures are back.  We might be changing things around a bit, but for now I’ve gone for equivalency.  If something doesn’t work, use the Contact page to let me know.

Spanish Wells Haulout

It’s summertime, so it must be time to haul Take Two.  Last year we hauled out to replace the engines, but didn’t touch the bottom paint.  It was two years ago when we blasted all the old paint off, refaired the bottom, and repainted it.
Two years is about the life expectancy for bottom paint, and Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, FL is about the worst growth conditions you can find.  After sitting there for 5 months, our bottom growth was looking pretty wicked.  The picture below is not one of Tanya’s homemade pizzas, although it does look tasty — it is the bottom of the kids’ Minifish sailboat after about a month in Boot Key Harbor.
There are five places I know of in Florida that can handle Take Two’s beam, and we’ve used three of them.  Some we'd do again, some we wouldn't.
This time we decided to mix it up a little bit and try the boatyard in Spanish Wells.  There are several advantages to this.  First, it’s in the Bahamas, and so is a destination in itself — we wanted to swing through after leaving the Keys anyway.  They use a lifting platform, which in theory is easier on the boat.  A bottom job is cost-effective — materials are expensive, but labor is cheap.  And they’ve got the good paint.
We rented a great house, only 100 yards from the boat yard, where we can be in vacation mode and I can still supervise the work on the boat.  Take Two can be seen easily from the front porch, and it’s only a short walk to go check on things.  We’re right on the waterfront, so there’s lots of activity to watch.  Ferries, mail boats, tankers, and barges.  Oh my!
When Take Two is in the water, the house has a dock where we can tie her up.  Which is highly convenient when we have the necessities for seven people, plus almost the entirety of Tanya’s galley to transport between the boat and the house.
We’ve really enjoyed being here.  We had stopped in Spanish Wells twice before, but it was only to drop off trash or buy eggs.  This time we got a much better feel for the place.  
As haulouts go, this was a winner.  The previous occupants of the house were the owners of the previous boat on the lift and have been hauling out here for 10 years, so we are not the first to figure this out.  I can’t say for sure that we’ll do this again next time, but our future haulout options have officially been increased. 

Bird Brains

One of the fun things about living on a boat is you never know what problems you’re going to face.  Maybe it’s keeping your boat from sinking, and maybe it’s keeping your hammock in the shade.  Every day is an adventure.

This morning we woke up to the twittering of little birds, and soon realized that they were building a nest in our rigging.  Cute, right?  How about baby birds falling on the deck during the next strong breeze?  Or rotten eggs up on our mast because we’ve moved the boat and mom & dad can’t find their nest?  And what about the poop?  Not so cute.


So we spent a significant part of the day trying to get the point across to these little birds that our mast is not a good place for a nest.

We started by sending Sam to remove the nest-in-progress from the second spreader, and to sit up there for a while and play scarecrow.  The birds were quite perturbed by Sam’s presence and wanted to peck him, but he’d shout and scare them off each time they tried.   They gave up, but it was only temporary.

They’d go away and come back, go away and come back.  Eli took a turn playing scarecrow.  We tried Nerf guns.  We tried an air horn.  They weren’t getting the point.  Itty bitty birdy brains.

Eventually the female gave up and only the male would return periodically.  He’d alight on the mast and chirp an “all clear” to his mate, which simultaneously alerted me to his presence.  I’d go out and shake the rigging until he went away again.

Finally, I managed to whack him by swinging a halyard.  There was a small puff of feathers and he fluttered away, beaten but unharmed, to the distant trees.  He fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia", but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go in against a Sailor when his deck is on the line"!