Sunday, March 20, 2016

We Are Here...

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. 

Kilkenny Creek

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!

Monday, May 25, 2015


Jo Beth

Much time has passed since my last post here. And in that time, a lot of work aboard Jo Beth has been completed, or brought closer to its finish.

The biggest news to report is that we’re renters now and homeowners no more. Our house of nearly 11 years (we originally intended to own it for 4-5 years), in the last ‘old’ neighborhood when heading south out of Savannah, has sold. And it sold quickly. The house was listed for just two and a half weeks, and in those few days it was shown no less than five times. Amazingly, we also had three offers within that same time frame. We closed the deal on May 4 and Jo Beth was launched on a breezy Thursday, May 7.


Clearly, we can’t move all of our furniture and general crap which has accumulated over the years with us to the boat. A couple of weeks ago, we had a ‘come get our stuff’ party which turned out to be a surprisingly successful event. The things which are left; mostly glassware, plates, linens, and the like, and a few odd pieces of furniture are either going to Goodwill or a local auction company, as are several pieces of my photography. Of course, we’re keeping some things and delivered those items to our shore side storage locker yesterday. We plan to start transitioning to being aboard Jo Beth this coming week and will be aboard full time before the end of the month – that’s when the lease on the house runs out!

With few exceptions, Jo Beth doesn’t look so different. The overhead in the cabin is completed, but much of the cabin is still in disarray. The rigging on the outside looks no different than before. However, as we all know, looks can be deceiving. Under her skin, Jo Beth has had lots of work done.

The finished cabin overhead

Much of the work involved plumbing and piping; ways and means to move water from the storage tanks to sinks and showers, or in the case of waste water, overboard or into a holding tank for discharge and disposal at a shore-side facility. The pumps for the fresh water, both electric pressure and foot pump, were replaced with new. The pressure water runs through the new, pull-out faucet (matches the new sink) and the foot pump dispenses via a new bronze spigot (replaces the old stainless one). Hot water is available via the pressure water outlets. We also installed a hand-pump to pump in seawater into one side of the sink for dish washing. At sea, or on the anchor, the fresh water on board is limited to what we can carry in our two water tanks, a total of 75 gallons. The sea water can be used for dish washing, and even showering or bathing, provided enough freshwater is available for a rinse. Lemon-Fresh Joy and Dawn lather beautifully in saltwater!

Filtration systems are also fitted on the freshwater pressure and foot pumps. We also use a filter on the filling hose. Our fresh water supply is filtered as it goes into the on board water tanks, then again as it’s drawn out via the pump system. We also plan to create a system by which we can fill our water tanks during rain storms. Every pump that draws seawater into the boat is fitted with a strainer system as well. A tank monitoring system was installed so that we can know at a glance how much water is in either of the two water tanks. The system also monitors the diesel fuel level in the fuel tank and the state of our batteries, showing charge and consumption levels at any given time.

Hinckley riggers Greg and Mark positioning the rudder after the replacing the worn rudder bushings with new ones

In other areas, carpentry was finished and the partition for the freezer/refrigerator was fitted. (Lisa has concerns the freezer area is too large and doesn’t leave enough space for fresh food storage.) The rudder was dropped and stabilizing bushings, long worn away, were replaced. The old tiller, a wooden ‘pole’ constructed from mahogany and ash trips laminated together, and which attaches to the rudder shaft and is used to steer Jo Beth, was replaced with a new one from Ruddercraft (what a beauty!) and varnished. And while the rudder was out, the propeller shaft was removed for cleaning and inspection, and the propeller shaft bearing and seal were replaced. Hundreds of wooden bungs, small and tapered plugs of teak covering the many screws which fasten railings to the decks and hull, were fitted to replace those which have fallen away over the years.

Hinckley mechanic Dave secures Jo Beth's propeller shaft after replacing the propeller shaft seal

Work is also being done outside of the Hinckley boatyard. Thunderbolt Marine, another boatyard in Savannah, has an excellent in-house canvas and upholstery shop where Jo Beth’s exterior canvas and interior cushions are being made. The new air-conditioning and heating system and refrigeration systems, installed by Donnelly Yacht Services, have been brought online and tested. We’re still trying to figure out our new refrigerator/freezer controls. They also replaced the shower/waste water sump pump with a new one when the one installed early in the refit proved to be faulty. Jo Beth is sporting her new coats of beautiful, rich red anti-fouling paint on her bottom and fresh new zinc anodes. (This post explains why metal fittings made of zinc are affixed to the underwater portions of the hull.)

 Painter Marion Daughtry applies finishing touches to Jo Beth's bottom anti-fouling paint

Of course, the part of the refit we’re most looking forward to is the sea trials. Once the rigging work is completed and the sails are ‘bent’ back onto the boom and forestay (the forward most wire which supports the mast), it will then be time to take her out and sail her. When this is done, the rig will be ‘tuned’, a procedure sort of like having a car tuned up or aligned. Tuning the rig ensures the mast is standing true and straight, and that the stresses placed on the mast, rigging wires, etc., when the boat is sailed are divided as equally as possible. Tuning a sailing rig is something of an art, and it will likely take two or three tries in varying wind conditions to get it the best it can be. It’s a critical procedure to get the most performance out of Jo Beth.

After a year and a half, she's floating again

Jo Beth will stay on the Hinckley service docks for a few weeks longer while things are wrapped up. We expect to be aboard full time by the first of June, to begin this new phase of our lives. It’s been a long time coming.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Big Leaps Forward, a Small Step Backward, and Another Leap Forward...Again!

A lot has happened since the last update. The mast, boom, and rigging are in place, and plumbing and mechanical work has restarted. We’ve made an interesting discovery about our boat, and have run into a few small roadblocks. Still, we’re moving ahead.

The old backstay chainplate. The tape was placed on the hull to show the length of the spaces between the bolts.

One of the roadblocks came about because of a thin, small, and very important piece of the rigging system. It’s called the ‘backstay chainplate.’ As I explained in an earlier post, chainplates are pieces of steel which are bolted or otherwise mechanically fastened to the hull structure. The rigging wires, called stays and shrouds, are attached to these chainplates and hold the mast upright and in place. Because of the age of the existing chainplates, we replaced them all with new ones as a part of the refit. When I was ordering the new ones from the builder, Thumper Brooks, (yes, that’s his real name!) the operations manager for Pacific Seacraft advised me that around the time Jo Beth was built, the mounting configuration for the backstay chainplate had changed slightly. I took careful measurements of the existing backstay chainplate and forwarded them to Thumper.

So, you can guess what happened when the time came to install the chainplate – the configuration, with regard to where the bolt holes were cut in the chainplate and in the hull – were slightly off. Thumper had said the chances of getting an exact fit were going to be slim. The fit wasn't too far off, about 1/16 of an inch. The problems were easily addressed; a new backing plate, to match the correct configuration of the bolt mounting holes, has been made and the plate fitted. The mast was stepped and the rigging fitted. The boom has been installed, the halyards (lines which raise and lower sails) and mainsheet, (the line which controls the mainsail), have been run. Rigger Greg Johnson will be installing other small but important accessories on the mast and boom during the next week or two.

Hoisting the new mast to be stepped aboard Jo Beth

Hinckley riggers Greg Johnson and Mark Edwards guiding the new mast on to Jo Beth

Jo Beth with her new mast and boom

The new mainsheet assembly

The final steps to convert the quarter berth to a useable storage locker are underway. Aboard Jo Beth, there is a single large storage locker in the cockpit on the port side of the boat. The starboard side had a storage locker as well, but it was fitted with a shallow pan, perhaps 6 or 8 inches deep, in which we stored spare power cords, line, etc. Beneath the pan is a quarterberth, a supposed sleeping area in the cabin. In reality, a quarterberth is a dead space on the boat, not useful for sleeping or storage. (I described a quarterberth in this post.) We decided to remove the pan in the starboard locker, build a bulkhead in the cabin, and make the quarterberth a useful space. The pan is cut and the conversion well underway.

 The locker pan is cut, opening the quarterberth space into a storage locker

However, with the removal of the locker pan, we’ve discovered another issue. On the inside of the edge of the locker where the pan was attached, the fiberglass structure had only partially bonded to the deck structure. This is something that apparently occurred during the construction of the vessel. It’s not a serious issue by any stretch of the imagination, but it needs to be repaired. And so, repaired it shall be – another unplanned line item to the budget.

 This is the area of non-bonded structure found in the starboard cockpit locker; it can also be seen in the photograph of the water heater, below

The new water heater, fitted in the new cockpit locker

The new lifelines, wire cables strung between stainless steel stanchion posts which provide security for persons on deck, are fitted and small repairs made to the boarding gates and bow railings. We’re also ordering a stainless steel folding boarding ladder which will fit inside one of the boarding gates and allow us to get on the boat from the water or dinghy. The ladder will work on either side of the boat.

Repairs to the portside boarding gate; also, the new chainplates can be seen also

Here's a test fit of the new insert made for one of the two overhead deck hatches aboard Jo Beth; finish work on the hatch inserts and battens remain to be done

The new engine control panel box and cover

Now, we’re at the stage where plumbing and mechanical projects are underway and heading towards completion. The new canvases for the boat exterior and interior cushions are being made. The new engine control panel box and cover, now watertight, is installed. The overhead is nearly completed. The refit is getting to the point where, with some degree of confidence, we can start to anticipate a completion date. Even so, much work will remain, even once Jo Beth is afloat again, but the day when we can once again sail her into the wide waters of the Atlantic are in sight.