This month completes the first two years of cruising by sailboat on board our boat, MAHI. Time has sure flown by! We have survived Hurricane Matthew, numerous storms, a major refit and problem solved any number of issues. We learned to provision and outfit our boat, anchor properly, and safely cruise around.
We are now home in California for hurricane season, having left MAHI back at Great Harbour Cay (GHC) in the Berry Islands, Bahamas for the next few months. GHC is a fabulous hurricane hole, and we have so many wonderful friends who help us out and watch over the boat. A shout out to friends, Jay and Karen Campbell, who keep a special eye on our boat.
Over the last two years, we have been asked many questions about our sailboat adventure. Here are just a few- along with our answers:
What was the most surprising thing you discovered about moving aboard and traveling by sailboat?
Initially, it was the stress. We packed up a trailer filled with our boat supplies and drove across the country from California to Florida. We found that the transition to living in a small space, and dealing with numerous boat failures (chain plates leaked, fuel and head hoses were permeated, head sail ripped, fridge was acting up, etc) during the initial delivery was pretty rough. The financial outlay of the refit was tough on Joe, especially as we discovered many expensive items not caught by our surveyor.
You are also on a huge learning curve with the boat- learning all the various systems, how to operate the boat, getting used to weather, maintenance, while outfitting your boat for cruising. The second year on board was less stressful and more enjoyable, except for this incident. Once we recovered from that scary event, we had a wonderful second year on the boat.
Any problems encountered the first year?
Joe was amazing at fixing any mechanical issue that popped up. We had this weird mystery issue when running the engine- it would act starved for fuel intermittently. Joe problem solved this issue but never could find what was causing it. Finally, Joe built himself a fuel polishing system and discovered a shop rag in the bottom of the fuel tank left by a previous mechanic. Problem solved!
On the health front, I struggled for most of the first season with a neurological issue. This was thankfully resolved by getting referred to a wonderful neurologist at Stanford, who revamped my treatment and medications when we flew home to California. Joe hit his head during the refit and had a retinal bleed in his left eye. Luckily, we were able to get him to the Baskin Palmer Eye Institute in Miami where they were able to determine that it was not a detached retina and his eye was able to recover, albeit slowly. Ethan had his own ER visit during the refit in Florida when he ingested a super magnet ball. The x-ray showed he only ate one ball, so he was monitored until it passed. Of course, a super magnet going down a boat head is not a good mix- but that is a Season 2 funny story you can read about here.
What do you if you have a mechanical failure?
On a boat you have to be self reliant. Joe, with his background as a mechanical engineer and all around handy guy, is well suited to fixing any issue that arises. Here are some situations we encountered in both year one and year two:
In season one, we were on a long overnight passage and had a fresh water leak in an inaccessible location under the master head. Of course, our bilge pump also decided to break, and we did not have the spare parts. We have redundant pumps, so water in the bilge was quickly taken care of. We went into Yacht Haven Marina in Spanish Wells to look for the spare bilge part, but we couldn’t find one. Later that night, at a dinner party given by friends, Bruce and Marie on M/Y Felix, Joe mentioned the problem we were having. Our friend, Hank, from M/Y My Harley, just happened to have the part and a spare, which he gave to us until we could pay him back (Thanks, Hank and Betsy!). Such is the way of cruising- with other boaters helping you out. As for the leak issue under the master head, as the leakage point was completely inaccessible, Joe wound up abandoning the failed plumbing and re-building that portion of the fresh water system.
The second season, we only had 3 things break. The first was a plastic part on our water maker, so Joe simply rigged a temporary solution until our dealer could ship us the metal replacement part. The second issue happened in the Abacos when our auto pilot stopped working. Joe went below to identify what was wrong; turns out that the hydraulic ram had fallen off of its mount. We hand steered until we could get to a good anchorage, then Joe quickly fixed it with my help in shining a flashlight while he worked. The last issue happened on a overnight passage when the alternator belt failed while motor sailing. I turned off the engine so Joe could replace the fan belt, and steered a heading where the boat could sail. Once fixed, we resumed motor sailing on our initial course since the wind was not very high.
Do you ever encounter pirates?
We get this question the most from non-boaters. We found the Bahamas to be safe and the people to be very friendly. There are areas in the Caribbean where piracy activities are known to happen, however, we plan to stay far away from those areas. For instance, piracy is an issue off the coast of Venezuela.
We take basic precautions like locking our dinghy, motor and fuel jugs to the boat. We lock our boat when we are ashore and at night when at anchor.
How do you get weather information?
At anchor in remote island locations, or out at sea, you simply do not have access to apps or internet weather. To be safe, you must closely monitor the weather several times a day. This is because the weather impacts so much of your life on the ocean- where you anchor, whether you travel on short or longer passages, how much sail you put up or down, wind, sea conditions, and more. You must plan for weather and passages ahead of time, so you need a reliable source for weather.
On MAHI, we receive weather modeling forecasts and software through our Iridium Go! sat phone. We signed up for service through PredictWind, which allows us to receive current models and forecasts. This is our primary method for monitoring the weather.
As a back up and check for what we see on PredictWind, we also get weather updates from Caribbean weather guru Chris Parker through the email feature on our Iridium Go! or by cell phone if we have cell coverage.
This year Joe was also able to get the SSB radio working (yet another story!) and this provides a 3rd way for getting weather updates. In the Caribbean, Chris Parker broadcasts weather reports over the SSB and sailors may ask questions if they have signed up for this service. We haven’t, but we like to listen in and find that we learn a lot from the back and forth that these questions generate.
How do you stay in touch?
If near an inhabited island, we can usually get cell coverage through my or Joe’s cell phone. If near a city, we have a wifi booster on the boat to assist with picking up internet. When you are out, you learn where the wifi is at. Certain cruiser friendly restaurants will offer it, so we will often bring our laptops, iPad or Kindle devices to update and receive email, download ebooks, and upload blog posts.
With regard to cell phone, we use T-Mobile so calls home only cost 20 cents per minute. Our Predictwind plan with our Iridium GO! allows us to place calls home as well, up to 150 minutes per month. This is also the only way to communicate if out to sea or out island away from civilization.
How do you keep Ethan safe?
Keeping Ethan safe is the most important job we have. Use of safety devices such as Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) and tethers anytime he comes up the companionway is a hard and fast rule we have when underway. Direct supervision is important, too, as is the effort we have done to ensure he can swim in the ocean.
To that end, we have many safety features on the boat. Our Sat Phone and other communication devices are invaluable. We also have 3 VHF radios on the boat, including a handheld radio. In case of emergency, we can call for help on the VHF radio, on the sat phone, or on the SSB. In addition, we have an Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacon (EPIRB) we could activate, which sends out an emergency beacon of our position via satellite to the USCG in case we require rescue.
MAHI has a stern mounted 6-person, Offshore LIferaft, in addition to our dinghy. For Crew Overboard (COB), we have a LifeSling mounted on the stern rail and also have a DAN Buoy to throw overboard as well.
We also placed lifeline netting on our boat. We did that initially because Ethan did not swim and to help keep him on the boat. Two years in, Ethan is now confident in the water, so we are thinking of removing the netting. Even though he now swims, Ethan is still supervised very carefully.
We also are very conservative when route planning. Predictwind allows us to see wind, wind direction, swell height and direction. We try to avoid any rough seas by waiting for nicer weather windows to travel from point to point. All the above allows us to keep Ethan as safe as possible.