Preparations – February 6, 2011

The house is an utter disaster. We have boat gear and trip related projects scattered and strewn about the whole house. Hardly a room is spared. Sandy is running a 3 ring circus in the kitchen, fixing up large quantities of granola and several varieties of sweetened and spiced peanut and almond snacks. Stacks of foodstuffs, the result of her first few trips to the grocery store, are stacked on the counters, pending their transfer to the guest bedroom which presently serves as our provision organizing and packing room. The dining room table is covered with her sewing projects: lightweight pull on pants made of solar-guard fabric, a Sunbrella cloth pocket organizer for the head, and a cover bag for my big landing net (so the netting won’t snag on anything in the king berth when she grabs for it while I’m battling the Big One). I have gear spread out all over the living room. Maps, charts, books and travel guides are stacked in the back corner. The cockpit cushions line the entry hallway (why I’m not quite sure, except that I haven’t figured a better place to put them just yet). Assorted gear bags are stacked below the TV in the family room, ready to be hauled out and packed in the boat. Clothing duffels and miscellaneous cruising stuff lie in piles in the front bedroom. My shop has yet to be cleaned up following completion of the latest boat projects, which include installation of the new auto pilot and fitting Dri-Dek tiles into the vee-berth. The garage sports several stacks of boat gear which have been pulled down from shelves but not yet organized for loading into the boat. It’s gotten to the point we need to call time-out and organize things a bit. Lately, we’ve been spending way too much time asking each other where the heck the scissors or the West Marine catalog or the hardware for the fishing reel ended up.

And what about the boat, good old Chinook? I look out onto the driveway where she normally sits, and the parking pad is disturbingly vacant. I know the reason why, of course, and it’s both reasonable and necessary. Last week I towed her across the mountains to Blue Water Yachts, to get some last minute work done on the trailer and outboard. I hadn’t relished taking the winter cover off this time of year, but it had to be done. As far as the drive was concerned, the first 30 yards were toughest. We got freezing rain the night before I left, so boat and truck were both encased with ice on Friday morning. Our parking pad is at the head of a steep driveway (16 percent slope), and it too was a solid sheet of ice. I scattered snow melt crystals up and down the driveway, and once it was secure enough to walk on, I slowly eased her down to the street. Roads were good heading over to Seattle. Now I’m just hoping for good conditions next week when I drive over to retrieve her.

I’ve already mentioned a couple of boat improvement projects. Early in the planning stages I was forced to make a serious strategic decision. Should I bite the bullet and spend 7 boat bucks or so on re-powering, or attempt the trip with our Nissan 50 hp TLDI. We got the Nissan new with the boat in 2002, and she now has around 800 hours on her. I’ve maintained her well and she’s performed reliably throughout most of her service. We’ve had a couple of problems along the way, but nothing too serious. I’d like the peace of mind which should accompany cruising with a new engine, but budget considerations suggested this just wasn’t the time.

I opted instead to upgrade a wide range of systems and equipment. I opted to go with an inflatable instead of the 10 ft. Porta-bote which has faithfully served as our dinghy up until now. I selected a 9 foot, high pressure floor inflatable which is lighter overall, less bulky to store, and more easily hauled out of the water when we prepare for major crossings. I replaced our 9 year old Garmin GPS/Sounder, since the sounder part no longer worked. We got a new laptop to run our electronic charts. The old laptop was also about 9 years old and had become quite “quirky”. I ordered and installed a Raytheon Smart Pilot X-5 wheel pilot model. Considering the number of major crossings and passages this cruise will entail, I’m really eager to give it a try. I’ve rigged up a stern anchor, complete with nylon rode and chain and a storage bag which mounts on the stern railing. This will free me from going up to the bow and grabbing the spare Fortress Guardian anchor and rode, and toting it back to the stern when we need to set a stern anchor. I’ve installed panels of Hyper-vent material between the foam and the underside of the cockpit seat cushion covers, to help keep the seat cushions dry. The new tiles of plastic Dri-Dek, which I’ve fitted into the vee-berth area should also help in that department. Most recently, we’ve purchased a large Breeze Booster wind scoop for the forward hatch, which will provide improved ventilation in the cabin when we’re basking or baking in those sunny Bahama anchorages. This last thought is particularly appealing as I look outside at our dreary winter landscape.

Organizing, Cleaning, Provisioning and Stowing – February 15, 2011 – 15 days until departure

I retrieved the boat from Blue Water Yachts this past Saturday. Driving conditions were good, and with an extensive series of Pacific storms rolling in all this week, I’m grateful that Todd got his work done quickly enough to allow me to beat the weather with my road trip. The brake repair job went well. Todd found both the master cylinder and backup solenoid needing replacement. He bled the brake lines, and assures me that the brakes now are fully functional. Regarding the outboard, he had intended on replacing the high speed fuel filter. However, one of the bolts which must be removed proved stubborn, and rather than risk shearing it he opted to leave the old filter in place. He looked things over and test ran the engine. Everything checks out fine. Let’s hope the old Nissan is up to the task ahead. When I climb aboard to work on last minute projects or stow gear, I pat her on the cowling and make positive, appreciative comments.

We’ve now completed most of the items on our preliminary checklists. These are major projects, mods, and service items. The major projects are now done. It’s time to put together a more detailed preparation list. Clean boat interior, clean truck, get truck oil changed, figure out stowage plan, cancel the paper, drop insurance level on the car, drop garbage service, arrange mail forwarding, pay property taxes, find someone to water houseplants, and dozens of other tasks. We try to think of everything, but can’t help wondering what we’ll forget. On our Alaska cruise it was the charging cords for the laptop computer. Headed for the Sea of Cortez, I left the big fish landing net and gaff behind. This time I’ve already got this stuff in the gear pile. What will it be this time?

I’m working on ways to better organize gear on board. I’ve installed several long tubes in overhead locations on both sides of the king berth area. One is made of 4 inch PVC drain pipe. I used plastic rain gutter downspout pipe to make 3 others. They work out great, and will be very useful in storing things like our hatch vent wind scoop, beach umbrella, hand bilge pump, and similarly shaped gear which is usually heaped on the king berth floor. These items will be much handier to grab when stowed in their overhead tubes.

In 5 more days I’ll begin monitoring the 10 day extended weather forecasts for places along our driving route. I know that we’re likely to encounter below freezing temperatures, at least during the first half of the trip. With the Wallas stove heater doing its job we’ll be able to camp comfortably enough in the boat, but it occurs to me that if temperatures in the mid 20’s or lower are forecast, we’ll have problems with liquids freezing. I wonder if we dare stock up on provisions like beer, pop, and juice before setting out. I think I’ll test some items out here at home to see how quickly they freeze when left out in the truck overnight.

We’ve managed to establish contact with Abe McIntyre of Bahamas Methodist Habitat, and plans for our Eleuthra mission project are beginning to take shape. We are hopeful that this element of the trip works out. We look forward to meeting folks on Eleuthra and becoming involved in the housing improvement work being done there.

February 23, 2011 – One week until departure

At this time, one week from today, we’ll be on the road. We got another couple inches of snow this morning, and I had to go out and blow it off with the leaf blower once again. This routine is getting old fast. The temperature is forecast to drop to near zero here on Friday, with half a foot or more of snow on the way. Weather like this really makes us yearn to be headed for warmer places.

We’re in pretty good shape with preparing and stowing. I’ve got all my boat projects completed, and have tested systems and sorted through all the miscellaneous spare parts and repair kits. The boat cabin is freshly cleaned, and I’ve begun stowing gear into lockers, drawers, and the king berth area. Sandy has done a terrific job with the provisioning, and is now assembling food into our plastic storage tubs. She’s put together the ingredients, with pre-measured quantities, for various specific meals. Complete meals are separately bagged and stowed in plastic tubs. The tubs are inventoried, labeled, and logged on her menu sheet. This system should minimize having to dive into the back of the king berth, in search of a missing ingredient that we’ve just run out of. With so much food stowed on board, it’s critical to be able to access things with a minimum of hassle. Crawling around in the back of a congested king berth when its 88 degrees outside is the last place I want to be spending time.

Sandy has been testing out recipes for things we can bake in our Outback Oven. This reflective oven sits on top of a single burner propane camp stove. She baked up a pizza with a new crust recipe for last night’s dinner. It came out great, so we’ll be bringing pizza crust fixings along. This evening she tried out a scratch bran muffin recipe, and they were outstanding. She’s prepackaging packets of muffin mix, so we’ll be able to enjoy muffins around once a week. Tomorrow she’s going to experiment with foccacia bread. If successful, it will provide a good source of sandwich bread when our loaf bread runs out.

My checklist is down to details such as canceling the paper, reducing insurance on the car which will be parked for the next 3 months, arranging to forward mail, canceling garbage service, and temporarily discontinuing TV service. Tomorrow I’ll clean the truck and have the oil changed, and then I can start packing things in the back seat area.

February 26, 2011 – Final stages of preparations

Provisioning is now complete, except for last minute shopping for perishables such as bread, fruit, salad fixings and meats. Sandy has completed organizing and packing the food tubs. 8 large tubs to be stowed in the king berth, and 3 smaller tubs (our “working tubs”) which go in the forward settee storage area. It’s pretty amazing that you can assemble provisions for 3 months in such a compact stack. In addition, food for the road trip and meals for the first 12 cruising days are in marine tote bags, so we shouldn’t have to dig into the large tubs until after we reach Chub Cay. I don’t plan on inflating the dinghy until then, and the dinghy is stowed in front of the stacks of large tubs. I want to avoid lugging it around the cabin if at all possible.

Packing the boat and truck is being seriously complicated by our weather. Following the snow of the last couple days, it’s turned unseasonably cold here, single digit cold. I’ve pulled the truck into the garage so I can thaw it out and pack in relative comfort. It’s a very tight fit. I want to have everything possible packed ahead of time. Strategizing how to pack, travel and camp in sub-freezing temperatures is proving to be a challenge. Some food items in the tubs might freeze, and if they do I’m unsure whether they will leak. Also, we’ve bought our pop, beer and wine. From unhappy experience I know that pop and beer cans rupture when frozen (I forgot to completely empty the pop rack in the bilge last fall), so I’ve packed the beverages in the truck cab. I’m hoping the truck will retain enough heat when parked overnight to avoid a hard freeze of drink cans. The first few days will be most critical, with night time lows forecast to be in the low twenties in most places where we’ll be staying.

February 27, 2011 – Serious Snow

It’s been snowing all day. The routine of shoveling a path out to the boat, then blowing the snow out of the cockpit and off the cabin roof every time I want to stow more gear, has definitely progressed well beyond the novelty stage. At church this morning, during announcements, I made a brief power point presentation to the congregation describing our cruise plans, with emphasis on our planned volunteer mission week on Eleuthra Island. The church gave us $300 to present to Bahamas Methodist Habitat on behalf of Leavenworth Community United Methodist Church when we arrive there. This afternoon I drove to Wenatchee for some last minute shopping while Sandy parked herself in front of the sewing machine to fabricate a new mosquito net cover for the forward hatch. The cover we already have won’t work when we set up the new forward hatch ventilation scoop, so we’re making one which will install from inside the cabin and which can be used with the scoop in place. Of course, creating a prototype design such as this requires frequent trips to the boat to check fit. With snow piling up at a rate of 6 inches per hour, I shovel the path and blow off the snow for each trip. Forecast is for 8 inches tonight and tomorrow, and more on the way Tuesday. It seems that winter is trying its best to hold us in her grasp. However, we’re determined to pull out Wednesday morning. I’ll be thinking of Florida palm trees and rum cokes all the while I’m shoveling the driveway.