In an effort to post shorter tidbits, and more often – here you go!
Ever since we had the built-in benches and fishing tackle storage center done, we’ve wanted to put “fiddles” on a couple of them. (Fiddle: noun – a small ledge or barrier raised in heavy weather to keep dishes, pots, utensils, etc., from sliding off tables and stoves.) These also double as handrails, when going onto and off of the flybridge helm area and the swim platform.
When we’re underway, especially if it’s a many-hours trip, we have a lot of stuff up on the flybridge – a little table for lunch, life preservers, a basket full of odds and ends that we need throughout the day, etc. If it’s at all rough, that stuff tends to slide around, which is never good. Not anymore! I attached seven stainless steel loops around the perimeter of the area, then made custom length bungees for each span.
Yep – that’s all. Just a few minor improvements that we can cross off the To Do List, and that will make life on Smartini just a little bit better.
Fran, May, and I made it back to Smartini, in the Key West Bight Marina, two days ago (Thursday, September 21), for our first look at her after Irma’s visit. Now that we’ve had a chance to look at the whole boat, the only things we found wrong that we didn’t already know about (from the pictures sent by a friend of a new acquaintance, shown in the previous Smartini vs. Irma update) were a broken radio antenna and a navigation light that came loose from its mount.
We’ll spend a few hours each day getting the boat put back together (i.e., getting everything back to its normal spot on the boat – seems like we moved everything to a safer place when we were preparing), and the rest of each day trying to be useful in the community.
Yesterday, eager to get started on that, we first walked around the neighborhood nearest the marina, part of what’s called Old Town. Lots of small homes, very close together, very old, with yards full of tropical trees and other vegetation. To our surprise, every downed tree and limb we could find had already been chainsawed and stacked in the street. So I just started driving around, while Fran stayed on the boat and searched the web for opportunities to help.
I ended up at one of the many disaster relief supplies distribution centers, a totally makeshift operation at Baby’s Coffee, at about Mile Marker 15 (about 10 miles north of Key West). I helped organize the literally tons of supplies that had been brought in (and that kept coming), and helped hand it out to the folks who just kept showing up. This was completely the effort of Gary, the owner of Baby’s – he got the word out, and people and stuff just started showing up. They had hot meals, cold drinks, and just about every kind of supply people needed. (By the way – for future reference – after about Day 3 of a disaster relief effort, they probably don’t need much more water! All three places we’ve helped with supplies in the past week have had way more water than they needed.) Today, someone (I think it’s Denny’s, the restaurant chain) is bringing in a 54′ mobile kitchen to Baby’s giant parking lot to feed people for the next two or three days. Then it will likely return to a distribution center for awhile, while Gary tries to get his coffee roasters back in gear. If you’re driving to or from Key West, stop at Baby’s at about MM15, and buy something!
Then Fran called with a delivery mission. A group called Healthy Start, whose mission is to help women with babies (sorry, can’t be any more specific than that – that’s all we gathered), had collected a storage unit full of diapers, wipes, and other baby supplies and needed a bunch of it taken to the Kirk of the Keys Presbyterian Church in Marathon. Most of the supplies had been collected in Aventure, near Fort Lauderdale, and delivered to Key West by the Aventura Police Department. How cool is that? So we did that delivery, and by the time we finished, it was almost 6:00, so we called it a day.
Well, we did one more thing to help the community: we went to the Waterfront Brewery for dinner. Since so much of the local economy is tourism, all the locals who depend on that are hurting right now. We’ll be doing our part every day for the foreseeable future, eating and drinking in the local establishments, and overtipping like mad.
It’s Saturday morning. After we finish our couple hours of Smartini “restoration”, we’ll probably go find another distribution center and see what they need, hoping to find someone whose yard still needs some trees and limbs cut. I still haven’t had a chance to fire up the new chainsaw I bought, and I’m itchin’!!!
Oh, by the way, May is incredibly happy to be home. If she never has to go for another car ride in her life, it’ll still be too soon!
(This should be almost the last update – the last one will come after we have a chance to get on Smartini ourselves, hopefully later this week.)
A couple days ago, Fran and I drove over to Lakeland, Florida to the airport there, to help load relief supplies onto small planes bound for Summerland Key. We did it because we wanted to start doing something useful, but also for a selfish reason: we hoped one of us might hop a ride down there to somehow get onto Smartini. But the planes we were loading were not getting close enough to Key West for us to get there. However, most of the other volunteers loading the planes were actually from Key West – displaced to Lakeland during the evacuation. Within minutes of meeting some of them, one of them was on the phone with a friend still in Key West, directing him to Smartini for an inspection. Thank you Janet (the fellow volunteer) and Wade (the inspector)!
Although we did our best to keep Smartini from hitting the dock, we fell short. Partly because our giant fenders didn’t stay in place – they’re inflatable, so it makes sense that they would have been blown around by the wind. But even that shouldn’t have mattered, as we thought we were tied sufficiently in the middle of the slip that we couldn’t even reach the dock. So we don’t know if some lines didn’t stay in place, or if the pilings on the other side of the boat that we tied to may have given way – only an on-site inspection will give us the answer.
In spite of rubbing the dock, the pictures Wade sent reveal only superficial damage – mostly to the wooden caprail that we spent four days refinishing earlier this year. Also to the paint in those same areas, but that’s trivial to repair, right Chris and Christina? (Click on any image to open all of them in a slideshow viewer.)
I hope it’s obvious that we consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have such minor damage. Hurricane Irma was, after all, the biggest, baddest hurricane ever documented in the Atlantic, and she passed right over Smartini. For the first time, we have a reason to be happy that we have a steel boat!
There’s a guy on a sailboat in the Key West Bight who’s been sharing pictures and video on his Facebook account: S/V Andromeda. (I can’t seem to share the video outside of Facebook, but I’ve shared it on my FB page, so if you have FB, just go to my page, and you can watch the video.) With about 25 seconds left in the video, he points to a boat and says “Guy over there lost his mast” – at that point, Smartini is just to the right of his hand. As you can see, it’s perfectly upright, and although his lens isn’t as clear as I’d like, there doesn’t appear to be a solar panel out of place, which we thought might be the case from the satellite image we saw yesterday. Fingers crossed.
The Mayor of Key West released a statement within the last few hours saying it’s likely to be 7 – 10 days before people will be allowed to return to their homes, so unless we can find another way in, we’ve got some time to kill. We’re going to try to find some volunteering to do in the Northern and Middle Keys, as they open those areas up, so that we can be close, and to try to help out. Wish I had a chainsaw!
We just saw a satellite picture of Smartini, floating in her slip in Key West Bight Marina. Looks like one solar panel is very much out of place, but the dinghy is where it should be. That’s about all we can tell from the image, but at least we know she didn’t break loose, and that the docks stayed in place.
If you want to look at the imagery yourself, click here, then zoom in on Key West. On the north side of the west end of the island is the Key West Bight Marina, which is labeled in the image. Zoom in on the silver-roofed building in the middle of the marina, and Smartini is in the first row of boats to the east. She’s the one that’s even with the north end of the building.
We still need a first hand report from someone in Key West, so if anyone reading this knows anyone who’s still in Key West, and has any way to communicate with them, please send me an email at email@example.com with their contact info.
Smartini was left in Key West Bight Marina, secured as well as we could, and we drove north to Satellite Beach, our old stomping grounds. As you may have seen on the news, Key West got hit pretty hard, but our initial “insider” reports are that it wasn’t as bad – at least, not as much damage – as everyone was expecting. We’re still trying to get an update from someone who’s in Key West – someone who can actually go take some pictures of the boat.
Steve Powers, whose family now owns Turtle E. Awesome (we were half owners with them originally), drove to Melbourne last Thursday, and all three of us (Fran, Steve, and me) spent all day Friday getting him into a better-protected slip, and all tied up. Initial word is the marina’s in great shape, so we have no reason to believe the Turtle isn’t, too. We’re heading that way in a few minutes to see for ourselves.
We’ve all spent the last several nights at dear friends’ places – first at Robin’s in Indian Harbour Beach, and the last couple nights in Melbourne, at the currently vacant condo of the father of our friend Q. Can’t thank you guys enough for letting us hang out here – it’s been great to have comfortable digs during this whole thing.
And in case you’re wondering – May seems to be fine.
More news later, when we have pictures of the Turtle and Smartini.
A brief update on Fran, Brian, May, and Smartini, in light of the #$%&@ hurricane that’s heading our way.
Just to let everyone know, Smartini is in Key West, pretty much dead center of the predicted path for Hurricane Irma, 4 – 5 days from now. We’ve considered all of our options, and “running” doesn’t seem like a good one. Where would we run that wouldn’t have at least a decent chance of being the actual location of Irma’s landfall? The Florida Keys aren’t an ideal cruising ground for Smartini – with our 6′ draft (how deep under the water we are), there aren’t many places that we can get into. Marathon and Key West are about it, and although we could make it back to Marathon before the storm hits, then we’d be on a mooring ball, surrounded by an awful lot of boats that aren’t in such good shape, and whose owners are either completely absent, or at the very least not too concerned about their vessels. In other words, we’d be very likely to get slammed by one or more loose boats. Here in Key West, we’re in a nice marina, protected on three sides, with what seem to be solid pilings to tie up to.
It’s now Tuesday night. Tomorrow morning, we’ll finish the boat preparations (bringing everything inside that we can, and putting every line and every fender we own between the boat and the dock), and tomorrow evening, we’ll drive north to our old stomping grounds – Satellite Beach / Indian Harbour Beach / Melbourne. There, we’ll visit friends, get some wings at Long Doggers, drink lots of great beer at Intracoastal Brewing, and watch Irma from a safe distance. When it’s safe, and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office says we can, we’ll drive back to Key West and hopefully find a fully intact Smartini, ready to continue the Big Adventure. And if not… well, that’s why we have insurance.
What started as a planned two-week haulout to re-do a poorly done bottom job finally ended last Saturday, after 5 months, 1 week, and 3 days, when we got Smartini in the water again!
What started as a planned two-week haulout to re-do a poorly done bottom job finally ended last Saturday, after 5 months, 1 week, and 3 days, when we got Smartini in the water again!
I’ll do a more thorough article on a lot of the things that were done, but here’s a partial list (in case you think we’ve just been goofing off!). Also, we were away from the boat for various reasons (some good, some not so good) for a total of 56 nights during that stretch – almost two months!
Bottom job re-do (sandblast entire hull below the waterline*, apply 5 coats of epoxy “barrier coat” and 3 coats of anti-fouling “bottom paint”.)
Remove rudder; drain oil from it (it’s hollow, so has to have some liquid in it to prevent it from rusting inside); paint it with 4 coats of epoxy; re-mount it with all new hardware, half of which required having parts ground down to fit into the tight confines; re-fill it with propylene glycol (an environmentally friendly anti-corrosive).
Drain keel cooler of 15 gallons of antifreeze; repair small leaks; prime and paint; refill with new antifreeze.
Disassemble “get home” propeller; research and learn that it was assembled totally improperly when the bottom job was last done; clean and reassemble; prime and paint. (This was all Fran – her next trick will be to do this all UNDERWATER.)
Disassemble prop shaft line cutter; clean and reassemble.
Remove all hull zincs for bottom paint; re-install after painting.
Remove side boarding door for rust repair; repair, fair*, prime and paint*; re-install.
Remove rusted metal around one porthole and around the anchor windlass*; weld in new metal*; apply fairing to repaired areas to make them flat and smooth*; prime and paint those areas.*
Remove the anchor windlass (the hydraulic winch that raises and lowers it) and all associated hardware; remove fresh water spigot from same area (all in preparation for the aforementioned rust repair).
Remove every porthole on the boat (eight of them); inspect for rust (one was bad, the rest were minor); repair minor rust; wait for major repair (welding), fairing, and painting*; clean all the old 5200 (sealant) off the portholes (which took Fran two entire days!); reinstall.
Clean, reorganize, and paint the inside of the “chain locker” – the area below the windlass where the anchor chain is stored when the anchor is not in use. (I easily spent 30 – 40 hours in this space, which I began to call the Pit of Despair. Sweaty and dirty beyond description – and incredibly cramped!)
Remove main engine exhaust elbow insulation; remove exhaust elbow and take it to welder to repair leak; have new insulation made; re-install elbow and test; remove it again to take it back to the welder for him to fix it right this time; re-install.
Remove transmission cooler and take to be cleaned; reinstall it.
Remove main engine temperature sender; replace with new one (after 3 trips to the auto parts store to get the right adapter, then having to drill out and tap the inlet hole another 1/4″).
Reinstall the windlass and all associated hardware; relocate the fresh water spigot.
Minor repair of over 40 small rusty spots all over the boat, mostly on the deck. Most of these involved some fairing, and all needed primer and paint.*
Remove stainless handrail all around the boat to give access to mahogany “cap rail”; remove 15 years of varnish from cap rail with heat guns and scrapers; apply 3 coats of sealer to cap rail (to hell with varnish – that would have required 12 coats!); fill and redrill all screw holes in cap rail for attaching the handrails; reattach handrails. (This project took us the better part of 8 days of both of us working all day. In the future, we should only ever have to reapply the sealer, which at this point is easy.)
Remove four “hawse holes”, repair minor rust under them, wait for fairing and painting*, reinstall them. (A hawse hole is a hole in the side of a boat though which dock lines are passed, to fasten to a cleat on the inside of the hole. You don’t actually remove the hole, of course – you remove the stainless steel liner.)
Remove old bench seat at upper helm and install fancy new captain’s chair.
Replace installed fan beside each bed (much harder than it sounds!).
Cleaning, buffing, and waxing of all the blue part of the boat.*
I may come back later and add some more pictures, but so many people have been asking “When will you be back in the water?” for so long, I just can’t wait to post this!
* Asterisk indicates things we paid other people to do, as they were beyond our skill level.
Just a quickie update. We’re FINALLY wrapping up all the projects on Smartini at the Cracker Boy Boat Works boat yard, in Fort Pierce, FL. The final painting of all the small repaired areas is almost finished. Most of the hand rails that came off for refinishing the caprail are back on. The rudder is back on and filled with propylene glycol (don’t ask). Eleventy-seven other projects, big and small, have already been completed.
In these two pictures, you see how we put 14 gallons of anti-freeze back in the engine yesterday, in no time flat! The fill hole is about eye level, and too close to the ceiling of the engine room to just pour it in. So we used a handy little pump that’s turned by a drill. Well under a minute to pump each gallon.
We expect to be ready to be back in the water before a short visit to Fort Collins, CO and Houston, TX, coming up on the 25th. When we return on June 5, we should be no more than a day or two away from splashing!
(If you just want to see all the pictures from the trip, click here.)
Like all ocean crossings (I know – it’s only 54 miles from FL to the Bahamas, but it’s still an ocean crossing!), we spent a good bit of time planning this one. Weather and sea condition forecasts, fuel planning, provisions, and the hundred other details that must be considered for an eleven day trip. But this one was actually in the planning stages for over five years! Because this trip was going to be the first time that all three of the original dreamers got to go somewhere on a big boat together. It was at least five years ago, in the warm comfort of our living room in Indianapolis, drinking good homebrew, that Fran, me, and our dear friend and neighbor Steve Powers started dreaming about traveling the sea on a trawler.
Steve actually introduced us to trawlers – we literally didn’t know what one was until he brought over a couple issues of Passagemaker Magazine. We immediately took to the idea of a big, slow, comfortable, “apartment on a barge” kind of boat on which we could explore the Bahamas and Caribbean for a good, long time. The three of us looked at boats, and destinations, and dreamed of the day we could be living those magazine articles. TrawlerFest became something to eagerly look forward to. Steve and his wife Challen went to one in Baltimore and returned with a bag o’ goodies that fueled our conversations and imaginations for weeks. Then Fran and I went to one in FL and brought back more dream fodder. Then we’d start looking at the calendar to find the next one that one of us could attend.
Then one day, it happened – somebody said “We should buy a boat together – an older, not-too-expensive one, that we can learn on, and try out the trawler life on, and if we don’t love it, we’ll just sell it and find something else to dream about.” Their middle son, Brady, was going to college near us in Florida, and was a certified boat nut who wanted to live on one, instead of in an apartment, so the whole idea was really practical – even financially responsible, don’t you think? Thus, the idea of “the Practice Boat” was born. Our dreaming immediately turned to scheming – what would we get? how big? one engine or two? how much would we have to pay? what brands should we look at? should we wear a captain’s hat or a pirate’s hat when we’re driving it? www.yachtworld.com experienced an increase in load that must have puzzled their sys admins: “What’s with all the search activity in Indianapolis all of a sudden? We’re going to need to bring another server online just to handle it!”
The short version of the ensuing 3+ years is that we threw our money together, bought the Practice Boat, named it Turtle E. Awesome, and it did, and still does, live up to its name. Fran and I took it to the Bahamas three times, decided we were going all-in on the trawler thing, bought Smartini, and sold our half of Turtle E. Awesome to Steve and Challen. But here it was, at least five years after the seeds were originally sown, and Steve and Challen had still not been able to be on a boat they owned, crossing an ocean to a tropical island. That was all about to change with this trip, and Fran and I were at least as excited for Steve and Challen – especially Steve – as we were about taking Smartini on an ocean voyage for the first time.
We had plenty of time for the trip: the Powers (Steve, Challen, Brady and their youngest, Bennett – yes, they have a son named Bennett, too – he and my son Bennett are best buddies) would leave Melbourne, FL on the Turtle on December 17 and didn’t have to be back in Melbourne until January 1 for their flight back to Indy. Factoring in the cruise south on the ICW to Lake Worth, both crossings, and the cruise back north to Melbourne, we’d have nine full days in the Bahamas. Assuming we could do the crossings on the days we wanted to, of course. But at any time of year, especially winter, you can’t rely on good weather (hence good sea conditions) for the crossings. We were fully prepared to wait two or three days on each end of the trip for a decent weather window. But I think Santa Claus, Mother Nature, and Poseidon must have gotten together and decided that Steve had been a good boy all year, and that he had waited long enough, so they told Boreas (Greek god of the North Wind) to take a few days off. We were able to cross over on the first day of our weather window (and later, to cross back on our last), giving us the maximum amount of island time for the adventure.
We staged in North Lake Worth, a nice, big, calm anchorage a few miles north of the Lake Worth Inlet, the night of December 18. Steve served us all jambalaya on the Turtle, we checked every weather source for the thirty-seventh time that day, and made plans to pull anchor before sunrise and be leaving the inlet as BOB (the Big Orange Ball) poked his nose over the Eastern horizon. Fran and I slept well on Smartini, but I’m guessing Steve’s sleep was like that of a six year old on Christmas Eve, every fiber of his being tingling with anticipation for what the morning would bring.
Day One: The Crossing
6:00 a.m. alarm, make coffee, check everything one last time, pull anchor, head for the inlet. Make the turn around Peanut Island, head for the middle of the inlet, and cross fingers and toes that all our preparations would be adequate, and that Boreas had, in fact, taken the day off. At the mouth of the inlet, the waves are way bigger and closer together, than had been forecast. Damn! But wait – it’s always worse at the inlet with wind from the East, as the waves and swell pile up in the relatively shallow water – don’t panic. There’s BOB, lighting our way – no, just piercing our retinas, making it almost impossible to see in front of us. “Turtle E. Awesome, Turtle E. Awesome, this is Smartini – how you guys doing back there?” “Turtle E. Awesome, doing fine!” It’s official – we’re heading to the Bahamas.
It was lumpy / bouncy / sporty / snotty / <fill in your favorite term for a little uncomfortable on the water> for thirty minutes or so, and then settled into about what the forecast had been: 2 foot waves on a 5-6 second period. (The period is how often the peaks of the waves come – the shorter the period, the bumpier it is. 2 foot waves every 3 seconds is way, way worse than 4 foot waves every 10 seconds.) We all concluded it was doable for the 7 hours we had in front of us, but we’d be glad when we were in the marina at Old Bahama Bay. Throughout the day, as the wind would change a little in direction and intensity, it would get slightly better or slightly worse, but it ended up being pretty consistent. Both Smartini and the Turtle are very happy cruising at 7 to 8 knots (a knot is 15% more than a land-based mile per hour), and fuel economy is always better when slower, so we settled in at about 7.5, and watched the miles and the minutes churn away under our hulls.
Good news: Smartini’s stabilizer system, which is supposed to significantly reduce rolling (the side to side motion of a boat), works! Although the waves were mostly on our nose all day, there was enough of a side component to set up some noticeable rolling – just ask the crew of the Turtle. But with the stabilizers on, we experienced almost none of it. Later in the trip, when we had bigger seas, from behind us at an angle – the real test of a stabilizer system – it performed as expected. Yay!!
There was one member of the crew who didn’t have such a great crossing – May the Boat Kitty. Seven hours of non-stop pitching (and a little rolling) left her green around the gills. She didn’t hurl, but we’re guessing she felt like it, from the look on her little black furry face. The good news is, that was the last time she seemed to have that happen, including on the crossing back to Florida, which was about the same in the seasickness-inducing department. She’s a real boat kitty now.
We pulled into Old Bahama Bay Marina, at West End, which is the settlement on the very west end of Grand Bahama Island, where Freeport is. There’s not much at Old Bahama Bay except the marina, but it was exactly what we wanted at the end of a long day of bumping across the Atlantic. It’s a great marina, protected on all sides from waves, tides, and even wind for the most part. That day (December 19) was literally their first day open since Hurricane Matthew. They had suffered a lot of damage, but fortunately, none of it major. The docks were all in perfect shape, but there was no power to them yet. The restaurant was open and served us a delicious dinner that evening, and their beach can be fun for a day or so – but there’s really not much to do from that spot. So we decided, since we still had nine days before we had to get back, that we’d keep heading East to the heart of the Abacos – Green Turtle, Great Guana, and Hopetown, planning to be in the Lighthouse Marina for Christmas.
Days Two and Three: Across the Little Bahama Bank
It’s seven or eight hours from Lake Worth to West End, but still another fourteen hours to Green Turtle Cay. (Throughout this story, when you see “cay”, say “key”. After only a dozen years or so, it may become habit.) There’s a really cool island, Great Sale, about halfway there, with excellent anchoring. After a good night’s sleep at Old Bahama Bay, we set our course for Great Sale, and motored across the Little Bahama Bank on almost flat calm water, with full sun and just enough breeze to keep us from sweating. We reached Great Sale, tried unsuccessfully to find the blue hole that’s supposed to be on the south end of the island, then moved into the huge anchorage on the west side for a good night’s rest. The next day, from Great Sale to Green Turtle, was the same, only calmer. We saw a turtle or two, a single dolphin, and a few sea birds. But this part of the trip – aside from the beautiful turquoise water stretching to the horizon in every direction for much of the day – is actually kind of boring. If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship, it was like the days on the itinerary called “At sea” – but without the buffet.
The Little Bahama Bank is a huge area in the northwest Bahamas with very few islands, and a typical depth of less than ten feet, with lots of areas where it’s less than five feet. See the picture. (By the way, the dark blue surrounding the Bank is a few thousand fee deep!) So although it feels like you’re in the middle of the ocean because you can’t see land anywhere, you better stay on one of the charted courses across the Bank, or risk running aground. It’s virtually all sand – that’s what gives it that color, but it’s also what makes it kind of boring. A flat sandy bottom doesn’t typically attract much sea life, and that’s very much the case on the Bank. So you turn on the autopilot, pick an XM Radio station you like, and just enjoy being on the water. Surprisingly, it can kick up and be quite uncomfortable, as Fran, Brady and I found on our very first trip across the Bank in the Turtle, almost two years ago – but not this time. It was like being on a lake.
We pulled into the anchorage on the south side of Green Turtle Cay as the sun was getting low in the sky. We maneuvered Smartini into a spot among the half dozen boats already anchored, dropped the hook – and thus began our intense dislike of the anchor that came with the boat. It’s a 66 pound Bruce anchor (aka “claw”). It’s way undersized for a boat as heavy as Smartini (83,000 lbs), and with its three rounded flukes, it won’t set in a grassy bottom, no matter how much you swear at it. Brady dove on it (only about nine feet deep, thankfully), managed to get it into a small sandy area, and finally, we were hung. And not for the last time did we wish we had gotten our new anchor before leaving on this trip. Meanwhile, the Turtle dropped its properly sized CQR anchor, and they were hung like the stockings by the chimney with care.
We decided to go ashore, explore the little settlement of New Plymouth, and find somewhere for dinner. It was a bit odd seeing Christmas decorations in this tropical locale, especially the snowmen – but why not? We had a very fine dinner at The Wrecking Tree, took the dinghies back to our floating homes, and made plans for the next day’s adventure – Around the Whale!
Day Four: Around the Whale, and Sweet House
Look at the picture above of the Little Bahama Bank. On the right edge, just southeast of Green Turtle Cay, you’ll see a small spot of turquoise. That’s the spot where the entire width of the Sea of Abaco is no more than about three feet deep at low tide, about five feet at high tide, but only in a few spots. The Turtle has been across that area four times on two previous trips – always at mid to high tide, and usually with slightly tightened sphincters as we passed the shallowest point, near Don’t Rock. But the Turtle draws only 3 ½ feet. Smartini draws six, so there ain’t no way, no how, we’re getting across there. The only alternative is to go “around the Whale”, referring to the route around Whale Cay, which is plenty deep – and which can be plenty dangerous. Because on the outside of Whale Cay is the open ocean. With big waves coming from the Northeast, you can get what they call “rage seas”, as those big waves break over the barrier reef and start piling up in the much shallower water inside the reef. Not even very large yachts – 100 feet and more – will go around the Whale when that’s happening. We had told the crew of the Turtle that we might not be able to make it past Green Turtle, and they’d have to go on to Hopetown without us. But for the second time on this adventure, conditions were conducive to a safe, even comfortable, ocean journey (albeit one of only about three miles in total), and around the Whale we went!
At the end of the Whale Cay passage is the northwest tip of Great Guana Cay, a seven mile long island with a lot going on. Just off that tip is a gorgeous beach, some shallow coral reef, and a little farther out, the actual barrier reef. On that day, the barrier reef was almost totally flattening the four to five foot seas that were crashing into it, making the inner reef nice and calm. It’s a dive site we named Sweet House on a previous Abacos trip with my longtime business partner Joel Kozikowski and his boat, eSea Street. We had decided, with the Turtle crew, that if the conditions were good, we’d meet there, anchor, and see if we could shoot some dinner – with lobster, grouper, and hogfish all in season. We anchored in sand in about eighteen feet of water, radio’d the Turtle to come join us (they had taken the inside passage past the Whale), and got out the snorkel gear.
I’d love to tell you that we shot a Nassau grouper perfectly sized to make fish tacos for six, along with six lobsters. But I’d be lying. The truth is, we saw a lot of groupers, but didn’t have the skills to skewer any of them, and we saw no lobsters nor hogfish. But the snorkeling was excellent, Steve and Bennett got their first taste of real Bahamas coral reef, and we had plenty of dinner fare in the freezer, so no one was disappointed. We motored down to Fisher’s Bay, dropped the hook, and all piled in the Turtle’s dinghy to Grabber’s Sunset Grill for cocktails and a beautiful Bahamian (not Bohemian, Brady!) sunset.
Day Five: Great Guana Cay
Great Guana is about seven miles long and runs NW to SE. It’s the first island in the Sea of Abaco after Whale Cay, so represents one end of Smartini’s no-worries cruising area in the Abacos. (Little Harbor is the other end.) It’s home to world famous Nipper’s Bar, Grabber’s Sunset Bar, Dive Guana, Orchid Bay Marina, the very hoity-toity Baker’s Bay Resort (did you really need to build a freakin’ golf course?!?!), an assortment of other small businesses, and a lot of homes, most of which are apparently rentals. On its NW tip is the aforementioned Sweet House dive site, off its SE tip is a beautiful and protected (i.e., “no take zone”), dive area called the Fowl Cays (where our adopted niece Katie Stanhouse officially became a scuba diver in 2015!), and on the SW side, just off Grabber’s beach, is one of our favorite anchorages in the Abacos, Fisher’s Bay. It’s protected from the prevailing winds, it’s deep enough for Smartini to anchor at low tide, it’s a short dinghy ride to Grabber’s beach, and there are lobsters there! With all that going on, and Hopetown less than two hours away, we decided to anchor here for two nights, so we could spend an entire day exploring.
The Turtle crew dinghied in to explore the island and found some of the amazing Bahamian bread that is, all by itself, enough to get me to visit the Abacos again. After they returned, the menfolk on the Turtle started hunting for dinner among the small rocks and ledges near the anchorage. Fairly shortly, word came that they’d located some, but weren’t sure if they were of legal size, and not sure how to get them out of the rocks. It didn’t take me long to drop what I was doing and suit up, and in short order we had six of them in the bucket – fresh lobster for dinner! We were never more than a few hundred feet from where we were anchored, right there in Fisher’s Bay.
We spent the rest of the day just putzing around the island, and ended it with cocktails at Grabber’s, watching one of their gorgeous sunsets.
Day Six: Christmas Eve – Hopetown
We left Fisher’s Bay about 9:00 a.m. for the two hour run to Hopetown. We wanted to get to the Lighthouse Marina before 11:00, thinking they closed then (they didn’t), and hoping they had slips available (they did). In fact, the marina was empty when we arrived, and we were the only two boats in it the whole day and night. Paul, the very nice dockmaster there, welcomed us back (the Turtle had been there a few nights on each of our previous Abacos trips) and directed Smartini into the only slip they have that’s deep enough to accommodate our 6 foot draft. A few minutes later, Steve pulled the Turtle into the slip opposite us.
When we first got the Turtle, none of us had any big boat experience. (At 43′, and with twin diesel engines, the Turtle is definitely a “big boat” by our definition, since all previous boating had been on 20′ lake boats.) Fran, Brady, and I were able to get some experience pretty quickly, as we all lived where the boat was. But Steve’s time on it was extremely limited, so each time he came to Florida and took the helm, he was kinda back at Square One. Handling the boat in close quarters – in and out of the slip, with other boats only a few feet away – wasn’t something he had much opportunity to gain confidence at. But here he was, pulling the Turtle into the slip with wind from one direction, current from slightly another, and a very shallow spot just off his starboard stern to worry about, with total confidence and competence. For just a moment, I felt a great sense of pride for him, and then I realized that he was just doing what Fran, Brady, and I had done before him only because we’d had the opportunity. My feeling of pride gave way to a feeling of incredible happiness for him. He was, after all these years, finally seeing his dream come true: he had just captained his boat a hundred miles south on the ICW, then across the Atlantic Ocean to the Bahamas, then across the Little Bahama Bank and the Sea of Abaco, and was pulling it into a marina at the base of a hundred year old lighthouse, in a cozy little Bahamian settlement, with his family, on Christmas Eve. “You pretty happy, Steve?”, I asked from the dock. “Freakin’ ecstatic!” was his understated reply.
While Fran and I gave Smartini a top to bottom rinse, the Turtle crew dropped their dink in the water and headed across the harbor to town. (You can’t walk from the marina to town – you can only go by boat.) They returned a few hours later with some fresh bread from Vernon’s Bakery and keys to bikes they had rented. Meanwhile, Fran and I made new friends! I was on the upper deck, putting away the hose after rinsing Smartini, when a man stepped onto the dock looking for Paul to get fuel for his runabout. I noticed he was wearing a hat with the AOPA logo on it (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), so I said “What do you fly?”. He looked up at me, puzzled, but answered “A Baron, among other things.” We immediately started chatting about airplanes and flying, and were five minutes into the conversation when he said “The hat!”, realizing that’s how I knew he was a pilot. “You know, I’ve had this hat for probably ten years, and this is literally the first time I’ve ever worn it.” Not the first time that a seemingly insignificant decision sparked a conversation that led to a friendship (right, Richard and Beth?), and a reminder to me to continue to engage new people. Especially if they’re boaters, or pilots, and absolutely without fail if they’re both.
Mark and Diana are from Orlando, and have spent a week or two in Hopetown every year, often over Christmas, for the last dozen years. They fly the Baron into Marsh Harbour, rent a small boat and a house, and remind themselves what keeps bringing them back. We ended up spending a few hours with them, and with Steve and Challen, having cocktails at the Hopetown Inn’s poolside bar on Christmas afternoon. I could write several paragraphs about them just from that conversation, but I’ll summarize by saying these are people we want to hang out with some more! Having a Baron and not being afraid to use it will hopefully facilitate that.
After we gave Mark and Diana a tour of Smartini, Fran and I put our dink in the water and putted over to Hopetown. As we were walking away from the dinghy, I heard “You’re Brian, right? And you’re Fran?”. What? Someone in Hopetown knew us? It was Caleb McDaniel, a fishing buddy of our dear friend Charlie Tudor, there with his family for the holidays. The next day, elsewhere in Hopetown, the same thing happened when his dad, Chris, saw us. Small world!
We love Hopetown, and the whole island it’s on, Elbow Cay. It’s small, but has everything we’re looking for when vacationing. It’s got great history, which is apparent when walking around town. On one side is the ocean, and on the other side is the harbor, so it’s a water lover’s paradise. There are plenty of restaurants from bare bones to barbecue to elegant, and plenty of places to get a cocktail. And there’s Vernon’s Bakery and Grocery. Trust me, if you’re in Hopetown, you want to go to Vernon’s. He makes bread that’ll make the gluten-intolerant among you question your very existence.
That evening, on the dock at Lighthouse Marina, we watched the Christmas classic, “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Steve and Brady projected it onto one of Steve’s Christmas presents, a high tech stretchy screen strung between the two tall antennas of the Turtle. Over our left shoulders was the Hopetown Lighthouse, with strings of Christmas lights strung from the ground to the top, making the biggest Christmas tree in the Abacos. It was warm enough for shorts and t-shirts. You know – pretty much like any ol’ Christmas Eve in Indianapolis.
Day Seven: Christmas Day
On Christmas morning, there were no presents to open, but there was the next best thing – Vernon’s Cinnamon bread that Steve made into French
toast, on the dock, in brilliant sunshine and perfect temperatures. (I know I keep talking about Vernon’s bread, but if you’ve ever had it, you know why!) The only thing that would have made it a better Christmas morning for me would have been for Maddie and Bennett to be there with us. That’s one of the costs of this lifestyle Fran and I have chosen – being away from friends and family. I guess life is full of compromises, and always will be.
After breakfast, we all rode bikes to the southern tip of Elbow Cay, stopping along the way for pictures by the ocean, and a cocktail at Sea Spray, a very nice restaurant / bar / marina on White Sound. We stopped the bikes at the gate that said “Private Property”, and walked on the beach, picking up shells, chunks of cool coral, and beach glass for Steve to take home to their lake house in Indiana. Brady and Bennett stayed with us for a bit, and then decided to push on to the very tip of the island, which happens to be one of the most beautiful stretches of sand I’ve ever seen, Tahiti Beach.
After a grueling 18 minute bike ride back to Hopetown (hey – they have a hill!), we returned to the boats to find Mark and Diana looking for us, wanting to go have cocktails at the Hopetown Inn. We don’t normally drink so early in the day, but it was Christmas, so what the heck! Over the next few hours, we learned that Mark was a fighter pilot, a flight instructor specializing in professional athletes and celebrities, and is now a top secret scientist for the NSA. Diana is the head of the animation studio at Disney. They have a talking pterodactyl named Sammy. At least, that’s how I remember the conversation. As I said earlier, we wanna hang out with those two some more!
Christmas dinner was a buffet at Sea Spray, but rather than risk bikes in the dark, they sent their limo for us – a 6 seat golf cart. The driver was a nice man named Robert (I think). When we were going through the buffet line later, Robert was refreshing the pan of fried grouper and I said, “Robert, you’re a man of many talents – what exactly is your role here?” “Umm… I sign the checks”, he replied. We all thought it was pretty cool that the owner drove the golf cart, kept the buffet line full, and was also probably the chief cook and bottle washer. Dinner was excellent, although just a bit windy (we were outside under the coconut palm trees), and the ride back to Hopetown was uneventful. We had a different driver – I’m pretty sure he was just a regular customer of Robert’s who was happy to help out. You meet some nice people in the Bahamas.
The only negative about Hopetown that I can think of is that, at Smartini speed, it’s three full days from Florida. Given that Steve, Challen and Bennett had to be on a flight back to Indy on New Year’s Day, we couldn’t linger in Hopetown. By 10:00 a.m. on Boxing Day (they really call it that there), we were saying goodbye to Paul at the Lighthouse Marina and heading west. The forecast for the crossing was excellent for the 29th and horrible for the 30th, so as much as we wanted to, we just couldn’t stay. The rest of the trip was, with a few exceptions, unremarkable, so I won’t bore you with the details (more beautiful water, bright sun, great food, blah, blah, blah), but here’s a summary:
Day Eight Our third lucky weather and sea state let us go back around the Whale, giving us a better test of the stabilizers. We ended the day in a perfectly protected little cove on Munjack Cay, a favorite of our friends Beth and Richard, so we were a little sad we didn’t have to time to explore it.
Day Nine Up before BOB, motor all the way to Mangrove Cay, anchor just before sunset. We did that long day so that our last day crossing the Bank would be short, and we’d have all afternoon at Old Bahama Bay.
Day Ten Three hours to Old Bahama Bay, with a quick stop along the way on a textbook Bahamian coral head, where we were able to decimate the lionfish population. (But still no grouper.) All afternoon exploring the coastline and tide pools around Old Bahama Bay, and the absolute best octopus experience any of us may ever have. (That’ll be a separate post, with great pictures and video!) Smoked brisket dinner on Smartini that night – that Fran smoked while we were underway!
Day Eleven: Going Home
Fran and I needed to get to Lake Worth to be hauled out for a new bottom job (that’s a whole other story that we’re in the middle of as I write this). The Turtle crew wanted to get as close to Melbourne as they could that day, so they were heading for the Fort Pierce Inlet. This meant we wouldn’t be crossing back together, but after this long, everyone was confident in their abilities on the water, and in their boat’s reliability. For the fourth and final time on this trip, we needed good weather and seas to get somewhere, and we got it – the forecast had only gotten better over the past three days. At 6:00 a.m on the 29th, the Turtle pulled out of Old Bahama Bay, followed an hour later by Smartini. We were able to maintain radio contact until about 10:30, and both boats were within sight of land a few hours after that. Smartini pulled into the Riviera Beach City Marina by mid-afternoon, and Turtle E. Awesome, apparently eager for some night time navigation practice, motored into the ICW at Fort Pierce, then all the way home, pulling into their slip at Anchorage Yacht Basin about 10:00 p.m.
When you want something for a very long time, and you finally get it, it may let you down a little – may not live up to your expectations. Let’s see if that’s the case here: “Steve, was it everything you hoped for?”
A long, not-too-interesting account of dealing with the only scary maintenance issue on Smartini – rust!
Warning: this post won’t be interesting to very many of you, as it’s very “nuts and bolts”, and not about interesting people, beautiful places, or awesome food. Read on if you like, but don’t feel bad if you lose interest after a paragraph or two and stop. I didn’t enjoy writing it – you don’t have to enjoy reading it!
M/V Smartini is a steel boat – from the bottom of the keel all the way up to and including the upper deck, she’s made of steel. The vast majority of pleasure boats are made of fiberglass – it’s way easier to make a boat out of fiberglass, because you make a mold and just keep making the same parts over and over again. Neither process is better, although a steel boat is stronger than a fiberglass boat – if one of each type were to smash together, there’s no question which one would suffer the greater damage.
But no one plans on smashing their boat into another – or into anything, for that matter, and when we were looking at boats to buy, we were no different. So we didn’t set out to buy a steel boat. We just happened to fall in love with a boat made of steel, and we bought it. So we have a steel boat.
If steel is allowed to be in contact with water – especially salt water – for any length of time, it will rust. That’s a fact. “But a boat’s in contact with water ALL THE TIME!”, you may say. Yes, it is, but several years ago, they began using epoxy paint on the hulls of boats so that the water never actually touches the hull. This was a huge step forward in making steel boats last a long, long time. But the inside of the hull, especially below the waterline, is very susceptible to condensation, because of the almost constant difference between the temperature of the hull (since it’s in water) and the temperature of the air inside the boat. Think of a glass of iced tea outside on a hot, humid day – that’s what happens on the inside of steel boats. That’s why it’s often said that steel boats rust from the inside out – it used to be very true.
But boat builders figured out if you spray the entire inside of your steel hull with a thick layer of “closed cell” foam (it doesn’t absorb water), you can keep the inside of the hull just as protected as the outside. Smartini has at least 3 inches of foam on every square inch of the inside of her hull, as well as 3 coats of epoxy on the outside of the hull – so we should never have to worry about the hull rusting below the waterline – yay! She won’t sink!
Now, you don’t think I’d write a whole blog post just to assure you our boat’s not going to sink, do you? Of course not. I’m writing about the rust that can, and does, occur all over the rest of the boat – the main deck, the upper deck, the sides – pretty much all of the boat you can see. Because all of those parts are steel, and are frequently wet. Not a problem, as long as they don’t STAY wet. Smartini doesn’t have very many areas that stay wet for very long, and most of those have a really good coat of paint, so rust isn’t a problem in most places. MOST places, I say…
The first time we looked at the boat as serious potential buyers, the broker, being the responsible broker he is (thanks, John!), pointed out every flaw he knew of on the boat. That included the fact that there was a little water in the aft bilge area, and it had sat there long enough that it had caused the paint to loosen, and some rust to form. This was a very small area – about the size of my hand – and I could tell the rust wasn’t bad, so I wasn’t worried about it. I knew I could repair it, and I didn’t even have to rush to do that. The bigger question was, where was the water coming from? If I could figure that out, I could stop it, and totally solve the problem.
Well, I’m pleased to say that, in about 15 minutes of sleuthing, I discovered precisely how the water was getting into the boat. John said he noticed the water in the bilge after it was washed, or after a heavy rain – it was dripping through a hole that had been cut in the aft deck to allow hot and cold water lines, and some wiring, to be run up to the aft deck for a shower and an electric outlet.
The hole had apparently not been properly sealed, or if it had, it had failed at some point. I couldn’t see into the area very well, as it was enclosed by a wooden “shroud” into which the shower was mounted, but I could see well enough to confirm that was the source of the water in the bilge. Specifically, the water was getting into that area, behind the shroud, through a pair of drain holes that had been cut into the base of the shroud on each side. I was confident that all I needed to do was properly seal around that hole, and I’d solve that problem. If only I had been more concerned about it, I’d have done it sooner. If only…
This was in December 2015. We bought the boat in January 2016, and all through the summer and fall, we did all kinds of work on the boat – fixes, additions, modifications – but I was never too concerned about the rust area. Finally, in mid-November, less than a week before we were to move the boat to Titusville to have a bench seat / dive gear storage bin built onto the aft deck, I decided I really wanted that shroud removed, so the bench could be longer, and the shower and electric outlet could be mounted in the side of the bench, instead of the shroud. Also, I didn’t like the fact that it was so hard to get to the back side of the shower to inspect it and work on it if necessary. It was the perfect opportunity- I’d remove the shroud permanently, re-seal the hole, and construction of the bench could begin.
Out came a few hand tools, and in less than an hour, the shroud was gone, to reveal, finally – this:
Ugh! I sure wasn’t expecting to find that peeling paint and the obvious rust, but how bad could it be? Turns out, pretty bad. The more rust I removed, the worse it got. In the end, there were three areas where the deck had been completely rusted through, exposing the foam on its underside. All around the hole where the water lines and wiring came through, and a spot on both sides of it, just inside the drain holes in the shroud. Ironically, I think the holes never did let any water out of the enclosed area – but they sure let a lot of water in!
The entire rusted area was about 22” x 12” – pretty big. But I figured I’d just get a welder to weld a patch plate over each of the holes, I’d put some epoxy paint on it to keep it from rusting anymore, and the new bench seat would cover it all up, and keep water from ever getting to that area again. No need to panic.
But what about that foam? It’s FLAMMABLE! And welding is hot – really hot. So hot there’s no way to weld that area and not set the foam on fire. Fire on a boat is a bad, bad thing. No welder was going to touch this job with a ten foot welding rod unless I got all of that foam away from the area.
I couldn’t get much of the foam out through the rust holes – they seemed huge, but I could barely get a hand through even the largest one – and I had very poor access to the underside of the foam. To make matters worse, the foam in this area wasn’t 3” thick – it was as much as 8”, maybe even 10”, in some places! If I was going to rid the area of foam, I was going to have to have some bigger holes to work through. Yes – I was going to have to CUT HOLES IN OUR BOAT! But I didn’t have anything that would cut through steel. I do now, though!
Gingerly, and with a bucket of water and a soaking towel close at hand, I started cutting away at the steel around the rust holes. The shower of sparks thrown off by cutting through steel with a grinder would absolutely catch the foam on fire if I wasn’t careful! So I was careful. Very, very careful.
After several hours, I finally had the holes big enough to start tackling the foam removal. First from above, then from below. Then above again. Then below again. With a hacksaw blade, and a couple of different screwdrivers, and a pry bar, and anything else that seemed like it would help chip away at the foam, I attacked it. I removed more than two 5 gallon bucket loads of foam, and in the end, I had a foam-free zone at least 4” away from the area where the welding would have to occur, 6” in most places.
Just about the time the welders arrived, I was finished. They determined that one big plate, welded over the entire affected area, would be better than a smaller plate over each hole. They made a cardboard template of the area, cut a steel plate to match, and were ready to get started. They had an electric welder (Mig? Tig? The Stig? Something like that) that concentrates the heat in a very small area. But I wasn’t going to take any chances with all that foam under there, even though it wasn’t close to where they’d be welding.
I got a bucket of water and a kitchen towel, and went down to the underside of the deck where they’d be welding. By lying on my back on top of one of our giant stern thruster batteries, and across the steering arm, in a position I would describe as somewhere between torture and the yoga pose depicted here, I could apply the soaking wet towel to the underside of the area they were welding.
They’d yell “Go!”, and I’d apply the towel to the glowing red spot, preventing any sparks from coming through to the underside. They’d weld for about 30 seconds at a time– about an inch-and-a-half. By then, my wet towel was getting pretty hot, and the area I was working in was getting a little smoky. They’d stop for a minute or so, I’d re-soak my towel, blow the smoke out of my area, and we’d do it all again. After about 30 minutes, we were done!
The hard – and scary – parts were finished. We no longer had three holes in the deck! But I did need one hole, for the wires and water lines to come through. Off to Ace Hardware for a 2” hole saw. Back to the boat to cut the hole, only to find out the saw required a 1/2” drill, and mine is only 3/8”. Back to Ace Hardware to buy a 1/2” drill. Back to the boat to cut the hole. Never having used a hole saw on metal before, I didn’t do it right, and I actually bent the hole saw. Back to Ace Hardware to return it for another one. Back to the boat to cut the hole. This time – success!
Now, I just needed to seal the bare metal with a sealer, and paint it with the protective coat. Since this would be totally hidden by the new bench, I didn’t need to worry about a pretty topcoat of paint. Both the sealer and the protective coat are two-part epoxies – you mix the two parts, and a chemical reaction begins that starts to cure the mixture into a hard surface. Once you mix it, you have only a certain amount of time before you can’t apply it anymore – the warmer it is, the shorter that “working time” is. The sealer needed only one coat, so I mixed it, applied it, and tossed the remainder. It had to cure overnight, so off we went to Kasey Powers’ wedding in Orlando.
I haven’t yet mentioned how stressful this whole project was, for many reasons. Cutting holes in our boat, the risk of fire from the welding, never having worked with these epoxies before and knowing I had only one chance to get them right, and the time crunch. We missed Kasey’s rehearsal dinner the night before because I had to get the area ready for the welders, and we just barely made the actual wedding. But the main time crunch was this: we were booked on a flight to Indianapolis for Thanksgiving on Monday morning. If I wasn’t finished by then, the bench seat project was going to have to be delayed by another whole week. The project we specifically came to Titusville to get done. The project that was keeping us from finally heading south. The project that had begun in JUNE! I was not OK with another week’s delay, so I was stressed like a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
Sunday morning, it was time to mix up the epoxy protective coat and apply it. It was going to need two coats, but the time you have to wait between coats is about the same as the time before it starts to be too hard in your cup to apply. But the chart showed that the working time is quite a bit longer if the temperature is cooler – so I just put it in the refrigerator! Brilliant, right? It certainly worked – 6 hours later, when my first coat was dry enough for another coat, the paint in the fridge was still liquid enough to brush on. It was only the next morning that Fran started to notice that everything in the fridge had a nasty chemical smell and taste. The butter, the cheese, it even seeped through the plastic wrappers for the bread and hot dog buns! Thankfully, it did not affect the beer – that would have been tragic.
By Sunday evening, I was finally cleaning everything up from this whole / hole ordeal. We got on the flight to Indy the next morning, and all the stress was gone. Over the ensuing couple of weeks, the built-in bench was built in, and now, no one will ever know about the big, scary rust holes that used to be there, because as you can see, the built-in covers the area completely. (No one but me, that is – I had some inspection panels cut into the back of the bench, so every once in a while, I can poke my camera-on-a-stick back in there and make SURE the rust is gone for good.)
I guess the moral to the story is never, ever let an area that seems like rust might be starting go very long without a thorough inspection. We actually have one other area I’m a little scared about now, but with this one under my belt, I think I’m ready to get out my chipping hammer and see what it looks like!