Hinckley rigger Greg Johnson snapped this shot as Jo Beth Left the Hinckley Yacht Services Docks
Once again, much time has passed since my last post in this blog. I began that last post, some 10 or so months ago, with those same words. And just as last time, I’ll follow with more same words – sort of: “and in that time, a lot of work aboard Jo Beth has been completed, or brought closer to its finish.” The ‘sort of’ is that the work associated with the refit at Hinckley Yacht Services is now finished. Well, sort of.
That last ‘sort of’ is there to reiterate a commonality of the boating life: the boat is never really finished. A lot has happened – a lot – since the last post in May, 2015. To put it all down in details would result in a long and tedious tale. Instead, I’ll share some of the highlights.
Lisa and I fully transitioned to living aboard on May 31, 2015. Actually, it was just me. Lisa happened to be out of town, starting work for a new client. The first week was a juggling act of tasks, much as any other move would be. Work by the boatyard was continuing, and it wasn’t uncommon for one or more of the Hinckley crew to be working on deck, in the rigging, in the engine compartment, or in the cabin during the time I was settling in. Truth is, this routine carried on well into December. One very important and newly installed piece of equipment was working beautifully – the reverse cycling air conditioning system. It kept the cabin at a comfortable 70° during the often 100°+ days. The reverse cycling unit can also be used to provide heating, a good thing as we remained at the yard into winter.
The refrigeration and freezer unit, bought second hand from another sailor, was and still is working beautifully as well. We have an ice-maker attachment for the freezer unit and now have ice cubes – huge two square inch ice cubes – on demand!
After Lisa’s return, we worked together getting things organized and finding ‘homes’ for everything we have aboard. We’ve estimated the livable/useable square footage on the boat to be less than 300 square feet. That’s the total useable space, which includes the forward cabin where we sleep, the galley where we cook, and the saloon where we live and work. The actual square footage where we can stand – the space which our feet can occupy when we walk in and through the cabin – is probably around 50 square feet.
Getting organized is an on-going project. Things are constantly being taken off the boat. They’re not always replaced unless it’s with something which can do the same job more efficiently. We look for equipment with multiple utility, and are always adjusting to improve efficiency. When people ask me what it’s like to live on Jo Beth, I tell them it’s like living in a tiny house, only tinier, and with a chance of drowning. Actually, we are quite safe, comfortable, happy, and content aboard our little floating home.
In early August, we conducted the first of several sea trials. This first one was under power in the Wilmington River. This was an important step, as when Jo Beth’s diesel fuel system was being serviced, we found a significant amount of water had gotten into the fuel. The fuel in the tank was at least three years old, and the plan had been to dispose of it and clean the tank anyway. The presence of water in the fuel reinforced the need to follow through. The source was determined to be a failed O-ring on the fuel fill cap. Once the tank was cleaned, dried, and filled with fresh fuel the sea trial was conducted and went flawlessly.
Rigger Greg Johnson and the new headsail
In middle August, our new sails arrived. They were built by Ullman Sails, in the Deltaville, VA loft. Jo Beth’s normal ‘suit’ is of a mainsail, a headsail, and a staysail. Right now, we have her rigged as a sloop; that is, she carries only the headsail and the mainsail. The staysail isn’t an efficient sail for sailing close to shore on inland coastal waters where a lot of maneuvering is required; it’s a small and rugged sail, which we’ll use when sailing in the open ocean or on longer coastal passages. Once we’re rigged with the staysail, Jo Beth will magically transition from being a sloop to being a cutter. To get the sails and their associated rigging in place took the better part of a week, some of which was taken up by Savannah’s almost daily dance with afternoon thunderstorms. On September 14, 2015, we took Jo Beth on her first sailing sea trials.
|Sailing Trials in the Wilmington River|
We proceeded east-southeast on the Wilmington River towards Wassaw Sound on a warm and sunny afternoon. With winds at nearly 20 knots, we couldn’t have asked for more favorable conditions. Lisa and I were on board and were accompanied by Hinckley general manager Dustin Hartley and rigger Greg Johnson. Jo Beth performed beautifully, blasting through the waters at a solid 6 knots, flinging spray aside and occasionally over the decks. To be sure we could get the best idea of her performance, we had stowed as much of our everyday gear on board, and had the fuel and water tanks filled to capacity. It was a fantastic sail on a lovely afternoon. However, once back at the dock, we made an interesting discovery.
Jo Beth's new mainsail and headsail, filled and drawing nicely
One of the on-board systems which we’ve had persistent issues with is the plumbing system, our potable water supply. What we found was that the aft water tank, according to the new tank monitoring system, was down to 70%. This meant that during our romp under sail in the river and sound, we lost roughly 30-35% of the water which was in our aft water tank, approximately 12-15 gallons. This may not sound like a lot, but it’s important to remember that Jo Beth’s two water tanks have a combined total capacity of 80 gallons. This is water we use for drinking, cooking, bathing, etc. The forward water tank remained at 100%, as did the diesel fuel tank, thankfully. There was no water in the bilges, so we know the bilge pumping system worked to pump out most of what had leaked. We did find some standing water in a couple of our interior storage lockers, including the cockpit locker under which the aft water tank is situated.
After investigation and testing, the source of the leak was found to be a fracture in the inboard side of the tank structure, very near the top of the tank on the forward end. This was repaired and the tank tested by pressurizing it with air. Unfortunately, the amount of air introduced into the tank was too much, and burst the seal between the tank lid and the tank. The lid would have to be removed, cleaned, and refitted – and this meant that a bulkhead which had been installed earlier in the project also had to be removed. It was to be a messy project. Lisa and I moved off the boat for a week and stayed with friends on Hilton Head Island while the work was done. Thank you again, and again, to Keith and Julie!
Jo Beth is blessed by Father Kelly
Prior to the work beginning on the aft water tank, Lisa and I had Jo Beth blessed by the Episcopal Priest from her church in Savannah. It was a lovely ceremony attended by friends and fellow sailors, as well as several of the boatyard crew from Hinckley.
At this point, we were well into October. The tank repairs and most of the other big projects were now behind us. The bulk of the work now being done were small and quickly completed jobs. Lisa and I began to really think about permanent stowage for our safety equipment, and other gear which we hoped to have to never reach for except to have it serviced and maintained. With some excitement we began to consider our departure date.
The last of the jobs were completed the week prior to Thanksgiving. Given the weather at the time, and the necessities and duties the holiday placed upon us, we chose the Friday after Thanksgiving as our ‘go’ day. We would be motoring south on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway as opposed to sailing offshore, for which conditions were not ideal – nearly windless days and nights, but sunny and relatively warm. Plus, Jo Beth was essentially a new boat with a lot of equipment with which we weren’t yet familiar. We shuttled a car from the boatyard in Savannah to our marina home, Brunswick Landing Marina in Brunswick, GA.
A collective ‘gasp’ from fellow sailors went up when our planned Friday departure was announced. One of the oldest sailor’s superstitions is to never – never - begin a voyage on a Friday. It’s said to be bad luck, and to lead to a troubled passage. Many of the Hinckley crew mentioned this to us, and with surprisingly genuine concern. I reasoned that we weren’t really ‘beginning’ the voyage; that the voyage had actually began in 2013 when Jo Beth arrived at the yard on a cool and rainy Tuesday morning, and had started her journey to the boatyard on the Monday before. Our departure from the yard was a continuation – a closing of the loop. Whether they bought into my reasoning or not, I don’t know, but it didn’t matter. Friday came, and we left early morning on a nearly high and flooding tide.
We made it less than 2 miles.
Marine engines in small yachts use seawater for heat exchanging, or cooling the engine. The seawater is sucked in as the boat moves through the water, and is circulated through a box called a heat exchanger. Inside the heat exchanger is a network of tubes through which the engine coolant – the anti-freeze – flows. As the seawater circulates around these tubes, it absorbs the heat from the engine coolant thus, cooling the engine. The seawater is then mixed with the dry engine exhaust gases and ejected with the exhaust over the side.
As we were motoring along, I noticed a sudden change in the ‘pitch’ of the engine. I throttled the engine to idle and shifted from forward to neutral. Lisa was sitting near the back of the cockpit, a puzzled expression on her face. I asked her if water was pumping water out with the engine exhaust. She looked and her answer was a distressed and resounding “no!” We shut the engine down immediately and began drifting. I went into the cabin and lifted up a small engine compartment access hatch, carefully and slowly. A dirty and wet cloud of acrid diesel exhaust and steam billowed into the cabin. I dropped that hatch closed and went to the foredeck to ready the anchor. Lisa had been steering as we coasted and then drifted slowly backwards in the still incoming tide. The anchor, another new piece of equipment, set quickly into the river mud and we came to a stop.
I went back into the cabin and Lisa was already there, opening the ports. I looked again into the engine compartment with a flashlight and quickly saw what had happened. The ‘mixing elbow,’ that portion of the engine exhaust system where the exhaust gases and cooling seawater are mixed together, had broken apart. This allowed the mixture of the engine exhaust and seawater to be ejected directly into the engine compartment. Every surface glistened with salty water. The bilge pumps were discharging the excess water back to the river.
The failed exhaust mixing elbow, above; the photo below shows replacement components installed
Years of hot engine exhaust and seawater had taken their toll on the metal components. I had gambled on replacing them, against the advice of a trusted mechanic and friend in the Hinckley yard.
Anchoring in a navigable channel is a big no-no; illegal, actually. I picked up our VHF radio microphone and began transmitting a warning to whomever was listening. I gave our position, and that we had broken down and were anchored awaiting a tow. I then picked up my cell phone and called for a tow boat to assist. Within two hours of leaving the Hinckley Yacht Services docks, we were back, tied alongside. The next day, when we should have been arriving at our marina home, we went to retrieve the car we had just shuttled down.
It was early December now, and we were more than anxious to be underway. The necessary exhaust system parts had been ordered and installed. We set our second departure date, this time a Sunday. The boat was provisioned and ready. The car shuttle was done again. We unplugged the yellow electrical shore power cord and stowed it away. The engine was running and purring along, the new exhaust system components performing wonderfully. Lisa was at the helm, and I released the stern dock line – then the forward spring dock line. Just as I was removing the bow line from its cleat, the engine oil pressure alarm sounded. We shut the engine down and checked the oil level. It looked fine. We decided to wait an hour, let the engine cool, and check it again. An hour later, the oil level was still good. We restarted the engine, and again the oil pressure alarm sounded. We shut it down.
Monday morning, Hinckley mechanics Bob King and Steve Puckett determined the oil pressure switch had failed. The part was ordered, expedited delivery, and the waiting began. As the part was to arrive quickly, we didn’t go and retrieve Lisa’s car a second time. Wednesday came and went, and on Thursday, the small switch was still not received. Investigation by Hinckley parts manager Cheri revealed the switch had been sent by mistake to another Hinckley repair yard. Cheri reordered the switch and had it sent via overnight delivery.
By Friday afternoon, the oil pressure switch was in and another sea trial completed. All was well. However, we had a less than desirable weather for the weekend and first portion of the following week. By mid-week the forecast was much better. On an overcast and muggy Thursday morning, December 16, 2015, we finally left the Hinckley Yacht Services docks, underway by 8AM.
Finally, we were moving south. The miles ticked off uneventfully. Dolphins swam close alongside Jo Beth as we transited from the Wilmington River to the Skidaway River, and we marked familiar landmarks as they passed: Isle of Hope Marina followed by the new Skidaway Narrows Bridge; Green Island Sound and Vernon View; the entrance to Delegal Creek, etc.
At noon we entered Hell Gate, a narrow land-cut which funnels water in and out of Green Island Sound and Ossabaw Sound into the Atlantic Ocean with each tidal cycle. Currents can be challenging here, and our plan to be in the Gate at noon, which was high tide and slack water, worked beautifully. Soon we were in the Florida Passage and then into wide and deep Kilkenny Creek. We crossed a calm St. Catherines Sound and by late afternoon had the anchor down in Cattle Pen Creek, a wonderful anchorage situated towards the southern end of St. Catherines Island. A delicious pot of chili finished the day nicely and we slept soundly in Jo Beth’s cozy cabin.
Cattle Pen Creek Sunset
We woke the next morning to find ourselves in a flat calm under a heavy and wet blanket of fog. The densest fog seemed to lie eastward. As our course in the Intracoastal Waterway would take us south and a little west, we decided to go ahead and get underway. We had a good start, and as we motored out of Cattle Pen Creek and back into the main waterway channel, the fog seemed to be thinning. But after less than two miles along, we were in it thicker than ever and had a ghost ship chasing us! A lovely ketch rigged sailing yacht, she played hide and seek with us for a few hours, appearing veiled and shadowy for moments at a time, behind us and slowly gaining. Once we were in Sapelo Sound, she materialized on our port side, a half a mile or so to the east. Then she disappeared, not to be seen again until we sailed out from behind the foggy curtain and found ourselves in bright sun under blue skies, the ghost ship now nearly a mile in front.
We had one more shallow water passage to make, this one through the aptly named Little Mud River. We arrived with perfect timing for the high tide, and transited the narrow and shallow stretch with room to spare beneath our keel. The skies were clouding up again and by the time we entered St. Simons Sound and our home waters, rain was falling. We arrived in our slip in Brunswick Landing Marina at 4:30PM on December 17th in a steady rain shower.
Approaching the Torras Causeway Bridge and St. Simons Sound
The next few days are a blur; we shuttled back to Savannah to retrieve our other car from the boatyard and worked to get Lisa’s mom moved into her new apartment in Brunswick. The following week, which was the week of Christmas, we both became ill with a ghastly and incredibly long lasting stomach bug of some sort. By New Year’s we were finally feeling better and getting settled in and accustomed to life in our new marina home.
The last phases of Jo Beth’s refit proved more hectic and stressful than we had anticipated. Since arriving home, we’ve been pretty much dock bound; the days which weather was good for a sail were days we either had to work or were otherwise obligated to be elsewhere. And while the winter was generally mild, there were cold fronts passing one after the other. We saw gale and even tropical storm force conditions on more than one occasion. We’ve reconnected with old friends and made new ones, and now that winter is transitioning to spring, many of them have left for points south – the Florida Keys, The Bahamas, the Caribbean and other more exotic locales – we’re here and enjoying our new life.
Jo Beth in Her Slip at Brunswick Landing Marina
Now that things are much more settled, I plan to return to keeping the blog current and updating with the goings on in our live aboard lives. Thanks for sticking with us through the quiet and boring times. Here’s to hoping for more fun and exciting adventure in your lives, as well as ours!