Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It's time for Brain Surgery.

Many people wish for toys for Christmas, we wished for a new Brain 4 Abby. Her old brain had put up a good fight but was showing the signs of 32 years of wear, it was time for a transplant.
Every time we turned something on or off, we held our breath hoping nothing would short or catch fire. On her voyage home the breaker continually tripped any time te tried to use the ac. We knew this transplant was an upgrade that we would eventually have to do and felt confident we could do it once we had some miles under our keel and time to sort out and understand the electrical systems.  Not something we wanted attempt right out the gate, ironically this was the first project we ended up taking on; after all, open fires and boats don't go well together. 

There's more to this story in the next entry "Prepping the O.R."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Are We There Yet?

August 23-24, 2013 - Are We There Yet?

We awoke to the wake of leaving boats early the next morning and got underway.  We chose to do the leg to St. Augustine up the Intracoastal.  We passed some amazing homes at the water's edge, beautiful open fields, and had lots of dolphin encounters.  I navigated my first bridge solo and each girl had time at the helm.  One of the highlights of the day was the dolphins that swam with us for awhile right alongside the boat, so close that the girls decided to feed them some of our squid fishing bait.  The dolphins loved the squid so much that they stayed where it had been thrown.  Shortly after the dolphins, we came across a pile of manatee.  We were first concerned they might be beached but soon realized they were most likely making baby manatees.  Andrew circled around and we watched fins and flippers move over the water.  Baby manatees would approach our boat, it was a pretty spectacular encounter.
Girls on the Intracoastal - pile of manatee in the background :)
St. Augustine - We continued with no issue to St Augustine.  A welcoming committee of friends and family met us in St. Augustine.  We docked at the Municipal Marina under the Bridge of Lions.  
It was an easy walk to dinner and a fun evening of stories and laughter.  Everyone enjoyed the boat tour and we all relaxed with drinks in the helm while the kids played down below.  Andrew's brother, Richard and his wife Samantha decided to spend the night on the boat with us.  It was fun having our first slumber party on board.  
Coffee before heading home.
Samantha even opted to stay for our maiden voyage home.  Before leaving the St. Augustine area we did our good deed for the day by helping some fellow sailors with a tow from their mooring they were on.  It was a bit nerve-racking - our first venture through a full mooring field and our first tow.  But Andrew navigated flawlessly and we coasted them to the dock without issue.  
First mooring field, first tow - and we haven't even made it home yet :)

We waited for the 9am opening of the bridge and were on our way home.  
Bridge of Lions behind us.
The channel was bumpy and fun as usual.  Sam was a bit anxious but laid below a bit while we got the sails up and determined our course.  We had a pretty good sail to Jax.  We needed to do a bit of tacking in and out but it was a beautiful day and we skirted around the only storm cloud in our path.  Sam got her sea legs and even took a turn at the helm.  It was a typical fun day of motor sailing - until we reached the St. Johns River.  Just when we thought we were so close to home it turned out to be sooo far away!  The mouth entry was fun and passing familiar landmarks made the time pass - at first.  We did not properly plan for or give proper credit to the strength of the current pushing out the river.  We hoped it would be a least slack tide but further up the river the tide hadn't turned yet and it made for very slow going!  Andrew tried hoisting sails and even wing on wing to help us along but there was no fighting the current and we crept along at an average of 2.5 knots.
Again it felt like an accomplishment when we reached the Dames Point Bridge but Andrew said he didn't have the heart to tell me that we were only halfway.  

That final leg was the longest of the whole trip, I think.  I went below and packed up for easy disembarking.  The only highlights of St. Johns travel was passing our first cruise ship - we felt so tiny beside it but passengers waved at the girls, so fun.  
Also, we got to see our tug boats at work - pretty cool.  

We arrived at Arlington Marina after 9pm.  It was so dark it was difficult to even take photos of the girls to celebrate making it home.  It was so late and we were so tired, it was almost anti-climatic but everyone did their best to be enthusiastic :)  We were relieved to be home and proud to have completed such a journey.  Richard met us at the dock and ran us home.  We had planned a steak dinner with Rich & Sam to celebrate but we all took a rain check and headed to bed. 
Arlington Marina and Matthew's Bridge - we are home!
We felt much more accomplished after a good night's sleep!  We shared some of our favorite memories from our journey while unloading the boat the next day.  The amazing adventure we had just completed had only started to sink in.  All of the ups and downs and to have come through it together - we are an amazing family!

The Bump and Grind

August 22, 2013 -The Bump and Grind

The open ocean was beautiful!  Rolling waves, good wind off and on and, finally, an attainable heading of New Smyrna.  Dolphins visited us throughout the day but the highlight was the sea turtle everyone was able to spot, and Paige even saw a baby sea turtle.  It was a great day.  
New Smyrna - We had a bit of a storm brewing behind us as we headed into the inlet at New Smyrna so Andrew was a bit nervous.  The girls and I loved the rockin' & rollin" but the rocks were too close for his comfort.  We made it through, no problem, and had a beautiful sail up a bit of the Intracoastal to reach our marina at Inlet Harbor.  We opted for the longer route up the Intracoastal, opposed to the more direct route from the south that showed a history of shoaling.  We radioed in with our position and requested assistance docking and instruction on where to head.  They assumed we would be coming in from the south as most other boats and didn't hear of our northern approach and we had not experienced and under estimated the power of the current so we followed their instructions blidndlyo dock "at torth of the purple roof" blindly.   I promptly began griping at Andrew because he was approaching way too fast.  The current had us and Andrew couldn't fight it.  Luckily he had us positioned just right to side up to the dock as gently as possible but we gave the whole area quite a shake as our 22,000lbs vessel bumped in for a landing.  The dock crew were super understanding and helpful and even apologetic for the misunderstanding.  Andrew says the New Symerna inlet was the most anziety for his whole trip, the bumping/crashing of the dock was definitely mine!  I needed an adult beverage!  So 45 minutes later when the tide turned we moved the boat to the proper location.  Andrew took the girls fishing right on the dock while I watched from the restaurant patio, beverage in hand.  
Relaxing at the restaurant, Abby in the background.

Bumping aside, this stop ranks as my favorite of the trip.  We had a beautiful sunset, awesome food, friendly staff and hands, an amazing evening and great sleep with the AC :)  

 Our journey continues in "Are We There Yet".

Breaking Point

August 20-21, 2013 - Breaking Point

St. Lucie Lock - Sky was up and at 'em and ready to help when we headed to the St. Lucie Lock.  We woke Paige so she wouldn't miss the last lock experience.  
We were dropped 13' to reach the Atlantic levels.  It was crazy to look at the back lock gates as our water level lowered and realize the amount of water the gates were holding back.  Then we were released and set off to the east coast of FL.  

We planned a stop in Stuart to fuel and provision.  There are some great marinas in the area and I was hoping for some much needed down time to recuperate.  Andrew and Dylan were watching the weather and saw a window for some great open water sailing to take us home.  I was shocked by the reality that they were ready to sail into the Atlantic for 48hrs straight.  It pushed me over some unseen edge and I had a breakdown!  Now you full-timers and veteran sailors will find it humorous that it only took me 4 days to reach the breaking point, but you have to realize we had never sailed before, both of us were coming off of an intense few days leading up to our departure, I was handling all the duties below deck as well as taking watches, and we hadn't had a day with less than 12 hours sailing.  I was burnt out!  I tried to explain to Andrew that I was hot and wanted restaurant food and to not cook on board and a shower and needed AC or a swimming pool - something to bring my core temp down!  (I know I sound like such a baby - but it was how I honestly felt in the moment)  So we amended our sail plan to stop in Port Canaveral, have Dylan drive on home and us continue with our journey on our own.  

So we cleared the last bridge and hit the open ocean of the Atlantic for the first time.  Exiting the channel got super rowdy and fun.  Paige and I were below closing hatches in the V berth when she said, "This is crazy!  I don't know whether to laugh or cry."  We decided to laugh it off and enjoy the ride.  
Open ocean!

I stayed below a little too long getting some work stuff done on the phone and felt a little queasy but a nap and some fresh air kept it at bay.  We had a long but great day at sea and docked in Canaveral around 3am in the morning.  The docking was a bit tricky combined with a bit of exhaustion but we slept well and I was relieved to know a bit of a break was in store.  

Docked at Cape Marina - Port Canaveral
Port Canaveral - Wednesday was beautiful, sunny and a great day to catch our breath.  We all showered, which doesn't sound particularly exciting, but when you've been on a boat for 4.5 days and don't remember the last time you removed the smarmy salt and sweat - it is an exciting day!  We took our time conditioning our hair and brushing out all the tangles.  Dylan got his rental car for his return trip to Jacksonville so we were able to drive to lunch at Grills and be served.  It was glorious!  Then Dylan ran us by West Marine and Home Depot to pick up an AC for the boat.  My boating experience was about to change drastically!  Dylan dropped us at the marina and headed on his way.  I helped Andrew load some stuff on Abby and then he had an AC/refrigerator guy he met come by to check out our SeaFrost system.  The girls and I headed to the pool to relax while Andrew chatted him up and learned all about our frig and freezer.  He was at the marina on other calls but was nice enough to come by and charge our system.  We held our charge and have had no further problems, what a blessing since we originally thought we would be replacing the system and had been using ice and dry ice to cool everything.  

The girls and I had fun in the pool and were joined by another yachty, Jim.  He and his wife have 4 small children and live aboard their 57' S/V Carisma 6 months out of the year.  He was so encouraging and told stories of other families they had met that homeschool as well and love the life of island hopping and raising children aboard.  He also shared stories of his years racing sailboats and I so wished Andrew was with us to hear the excitement in his voice and see the gleam in his eye as he reminisced - it sounded quite addicting.  We returned to a nicely cooled boat and Andrew was ready for a dip in the pool.  We walked to Fish Lips for dinner and it had an arcade below that was a hit with the girls!  This was the beginning of our "new" boating experience - just our family, alone on our boat, moving at a relaxed pace.  We slept amazingly in our cool cabin and headed out early the next morning. 

Our journey continues in "The Bump and Grind"

Lock and Load

August 19, 2013 - Lock and Load

There was a bit of a learning curve for the lock system even though we had done our homework.  Some locks are open on the even hours, some on the odd hours, meaning if you miss the opening you may have to wait 2hrs which in turn shifts your whole schedule with the domino effect of missing the following lock's opening.  It was added pressure we didn't need.

Franklin Lock - It was so exciting and nerve racking to reach our first lock.  We had to maneuver the bumpers a bit to keep from banging the sides, the lock tender was super helpful and patient with us.  We got situated and then experienced the magic of the lock :) Pretty cool to watch the water spill in and us move on our way down the channel.  
Passing a tug to enter Franklin Lock
Exiting Franklin Lock
We were settling into boat living nicely.  The girls would alternate between watching the scenery, playing on tablets, watching movies, sitting on deck and napping.  
Ortona Lock - By the second lock we were pros!  
Ortona Lock
The girls would help with lines and always wave at the lock or bridge tender.  We stopped just in front of the Moore Haven Lock to fuel, water and provision before crossing the lake because we knew we wouldn't make it out of the St. Lucie lock and there was very little docking options as far as we wanted to go.  
Moore Haven city docks.  Railway bridge and lock are just around the bend
So the girls and I walked to the store while the guys topped off the tanks.  The store was much further than we had expected and I was feeling the time crunch.  We grabbed what we could and headed back down the road.  The girls were troopers, they kept pace and even though it was hot, they never complained and understood the rush we were in.  We got back to the boat at 2:40pm.  Andrew hosed us down to cool off, we loaded the 20lbs of ice and 2 gallons of water, etc on board and shoved off.  Just as we pulled away the railroad bridge between us and the lock started to close. 
I couldn't believe it - all the rushing and efforts to make the 3pm lock now foiled by a bridge that never closes closing!  But God had mercy on us and although it was agonizing to watch it inch closed, the truck cross (not even a train) and it eek back open, we made it!
Moore Haven Lock
Moore Haven Lock - This was our last lock before Lake Okeechobee and possible open water sailing.  Note - the exit out of the Moore Haven Lock immediately comes to a "T" not indicated in our books or chart plotter.  Our instincts told us to turn left, but we were wrong.  Our friendly lock tender radioed us with the course correction, "if you're headed for the Atlantic, you won't get there that way!"  

We were excited for this leg of the trip.  Reaching the lake, knowing the next lock was wide open for us to continue on our way, and we would only have the final lock the next morning before reaching the Atlantic, we were over half way!  It was good sailing on the lake, everyone was doing well aboard.  
As dusk set in, we approached the east side of the lake and had the lock in our sites.  The darker it got, the more difficult it was to decipher the lighted beacons.  With the Lock open and water being pushed out of the lake to the Atlantic side, it was like going down a set of rapids entering the east side of the waterway.  Andrew did an amazing job navigating into and through, even with a swift current pushing us along.  

It is on this final stretch of the waterway that we approach the dreaded 49' railway bridge, the lowest point we will ever need to cross and it is in conjunction with another bridge.  It makes for a very tense half hour and I wouldn't recommend passing in the dark but we were not to be deterred.  We passed with only our antenna binging the top (our mast measures 46' -too close for comfort).  Everyone was on alert as we traveled the channel at night.  No issues and we arrived at the park just west of the St Lucie Lock around midnight.  There was much debate as to whether we should dock at the very shallow park or motor back a ways to the nearest marina.  Andrew insisted and got his way, mostly because he was at the helm and otherwise out voted by Dylan and I, but successfully and safely backed us into a slip.  The park was very nice with RV parking and facilities.  We slept well and were ready to head out when the lock opened at 7am.
St Lucie Lock in the background
Our journey continues in "Breaking Point"

Opposite Ends of Amazing

August 17-18, 2013 
South Seas Resort & Calusa Jack's - Opposite Ends of the Amazing Marina Spectrum

Feeling much better after a few hours sleep, the morning motoring was beautiful but land couldn't come soon enough! 
Sky takes the helm
I would have been glad to stop sooner but the guys were able to push on to Pine Island where we stopped at South Seas Resort.  The girls and I booked it to the swimming pool while the guys fueled, topped off the water and docked us for the evening.  We ate at the resort restaurant which was very pricey but, at that point, we did not care!  

When speaking with potential sailors, I would strongly advise against their very first day at sea - ever - being a 24hr day :)  We were safe and never in danger but the toll round the clock sailing takes on your body at the beginning of what is to be a long trip anyway may set you up for mental exhaustion later.  But, live and learn and move on, right?

We slept in the next morning to catch up on some rest.  The girls headed to the swimming pool while I did a bit more provisioning (mainly ice and water) and the guys pulled the bad sails.  Amazingly, we found two additional sails aboard that we didn't even know we had.  They were a bit smaller in size but both in good condition.  So we rigged the new sails, added some antifreeze to the engine and took a quick dip in the pool before heading out.  
Under our first bridge
Our first drawbridge
We had breakfast lunch and dinner on board, quickly realizing our appetites shrink while at sea, probably due to the heat and also drinking tons of water.  
We made good time and were excited to make it to the first lock - Franklin Lock - with plenty of light in the sky to make the published closing time of 9:30pm and have plenty of ground to cover before the next lock.  But to our disappointment the locks currently close at 7pm.due to the high water levels on Okeechobee and the Army Core wanting to push water toward the Atlantic.  So we motored back down the channel to the nearest dock, Calusa Jack's Marina.  It turned out to be a diamond in the rough.  Joe, the new manager, lives on sight and his family was super welcoming.  We fueled and topped off water to be ready for an early departure and were then invited to dinner and evening chat with other fellow sailors and Joe and family.  It was a great night of sharing stories, getting advice and enjoying the sailing lifestyle.  We were introduced to Cody and Angela, who had purchased their boat 3 days prior.  They invited us aboard S/V Dragon Star and shared scotch as we exchanged our experiences as new sailors.  After exchanging email info, we finally turned in and scheduled a 7am departure to be at the lock when it opened first thing in the morning.

Our journey continues in "Lock and Load".

Day 1 - The Adoption

August 16, 2013 - Day 1 - The Adoption

Our family has always loved the beach and anything to do with the water but had never owned a boat before.  Some may have thought we were getting in a bit over our heads but in everything we do we apply the "go big or go home" theory.   So it should be no surprise that after countless virtual tours, trips up and down both FL coasts for showings and adjusting our budget a few times, we chose a 37' Irwin CC complete with 2 cabins both with their own heads, full galley and numerous other systems that we knew nothing about :)  This is the story of adopting Abby Singer and bringing her home.

August had been a very busy month at our house.  The girls and I spent 2 weeks in Texas visiting my sister and her family, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our new nephew, Collin.  He did not disappoint - waiting until the morning of our last day there to join us meant an all-nighter the night before returning to Florida.  The girls and I flew in to Tampa and drove into Tarpon Springs, Abby's original hailing port, around 10pm where we were unexpectedly joined by Andrew.
Andrew had been away on his own adventures to India directing photography on Darren Wilson's film "Holy Ghost".  The 10hr time difference and jet lag were messing with him but he broke away from filming interviews in Orlando to join us for dinner and then return for one final day of shooting.  The following night he was joined by our friend, Dylan Wolff-our "sailing chaperone", in Orlando and the pair drove back to Tarpon Springs for the big day of closing!
She's ours!
Our plan was to sail down the west coast of Florida to Ft. Meyers, then east across the Okeechobee Waterway -a lock system that uses 3 locks to step up to the level in Lake Okeechobee and 2 locks back down to the Atlantic level, and finish with an open water sail in the Atlantic up the east coast to her new home in Jacksonville.   We guesstimated the trip to take us 7 days.  We needed to be mindful of our schedule because Dylan needed to return to work mid-week.  We also spent time online and searching the various sailing publications to tentatively schedule the crossing according to the lock hours of operation.  We hoped to be well prepared for what lay ahead..

Friday morning, bright and early, the two guys headed to the marina where Abby was waiting to become ours.  Andrew signed off on the minor repairs that had been done and we got to the task of provisioning and moving in.  That sounds like two small items but let me assure you, it was not!  The girls and I did laundry, grocery run, packed out of the hotel room, a final Walmart run and even a baby West Marine stop.  The guys hit Home Depot, made a few tweaks to the boat, West Marine, Walmart, dry ice (because our refrigeration system didn't work), and back to the boat to unload everything we brought from home and tending to last minute boat stuff.  We were like chickens with our heads off.  My rental car was busting at the seams, stuff crammed into every available nook, with both girls sitting in the front seat holding stuff on their laps!  

We pretty much just dumped everything in the salon and even had the previous owner, Darrell, continue finishing his project riding along while we headed to the marina fueling station before they closed.  On our way back to the slip, Darrell ran her aground on a sand bar.  Andrew swam to the dock to winch her off, not the perfect start but we were so enthusiastic, nothing would deter us.  Returning the 2 rental cars delayed us a bit further but we were all aboard and headed out of the channel at 7pm.  

Now, not knowing what we were about to embark on may have been the perfect "ignorance is bliss" but motoring out the channel started smooth enough and spirits were high.  We text-ed pics to various family members and received well wishes for our journey.  Once we made it to the open ocean, the fun continued with the girls jumping and giggling with every wave spray.
First time we raised the sail - didn't know it would be the last for this sail

I spent some time organizing the galley but eventually came up top to try to avoid the onset of seasickness.  Then things started to get interesting... 
The heat exchanger cap was not fully tightened after fluid check leading us to a boil over which we thought was a blown hose.  While floating in open water under a beautiful sky and napping on the forward deck with the girls, a large squall found us.  We hurriedly tried to batten down the hatches.   As the rocking intensified, so did the nausea on board.  Andrew was chumming overboard regularly while helping trim sails, Dylan manned the helm and sailed us through the worst of it.  The squall came in with such force, a batten tore through our main as Andrew was attempting to bring it down and our Genoa was pretty badly beaten. 
In the craziness, I accidentally slammed Paige's finger in the companionway.  She was bleeding and crying, Andrew puking, all of us feeling less than great - it was not the first 24hrs we had bargained for, but we made it through.  After realizing our engine issue was a loose heat exchanger cap and topping off the fluid, we were able to get Abby started again.  The essential oil drops behind the ears of the girls kept them feeling well enough to sleep and the three adults took turns as lookout while the autopilot kept us on our path through the night.

Our journey continues in "Opposite Ends Of Amazing".


This is our 3rd night ever out on the hook.  We left our "home" slip in Arlington, headed south up the river and stopped for dinner @ The Landing.  After dinner, we headed further north and dropped anchor downtown, next to Baptist Hospital.  To make sure we wouldn't drag, we backed down hard on the anchor, setting her deep in the sandy mud bottom.  Then we launched the application "Drag Queen" this one 

NOT this one

 on my my cell, to mark our position and set the alarm on the app to notify us incase we drag anchor.  This time we took caution to set the GPS mark as close to the anchor as possible, hoping to avoid false alarms like we have had on every other previous night @ anchor.  We hung out in the cockpit till about 1am, enjoying the peace and quiet of Abby in contrast to the buzz of the city surroundings, then headed off to bed.  Around 2am the anchor alarm went off.  I jumped up, only to find that the current had switched directions .  The hook had done it's job and turned with us and reset with minimal dragging.  I probably needed to loosen the alarm parameters but we were tucked between 2 bridges and land, all 150 yards away and I wanted as much warning as possible if a problem arose.  So I reset the ancor alarm and went back to bed.  I like this app drag queen.  It's pretty useful.  It's on my cell which I have to charge at night anyway and it keeps us from using power hungry devices all night. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Welcome to Howell2sail

Welcome to our blog!  If you are here looking for advice, you are in the right spot.  We are the Howell family (no relation to Thurston), my name is Andrew, my wife Summer and our 2 daughters, Paige and Sky and we would like to introduce you to Abby Singer.  We have never owned a boat, much less sailed on our own - that was until August 2013.  
So, you're in the right spot to learn from our mistakes.  Join us here to follow our journey as we learn Howell2sail
Next up The Adoption.