28 December 2011

Caribbean way of life

We LOVE the Caribbean and its way of life - the water is so clear you can see every detail till the bottom, each building is painted in bright colors, the ice-cream van tootles through the street, in the stores you buy what they have (maybe that's what you want), music is playing day and night and the people are laid-back. Sailing in paradise? So far so good. Let's see how we'll think about it in a couple of weeks...

There are two possibilities: firstly - we still love it, are as relaxt as the locals and take every day as it comes (that's what we hope for!) or secondly - we may refuse to go for a swim as you can see in detail what's actually swimming underneath (you name it: sharks, tarpons, jellyfish, stingrays, all kind of waste), we may get tired about all the colors (in particular about the eye hurting patterns on T-Shirt's, mostly worn by tourists), we hate ice cream as the constant blaring is really bugging us or we may freak out while heading from store to store to get what we really NEED....

But in this case we would just rush to the next island to check out the options there....life is great, isn't it?

In the meantime, with love from paradise

24 December 2011

Christmas in the Bahamas

Our Christmas present:
lifting the Bahamian courtesy flag

After a stressful time the past few weeks with the arrival in Bimini hopefully our "real" adventure started as of today! No major repairs, no more waiting for a special tool, no shitty harbors anymore - OK, let me dream a little ;-) But honestly, it's like a Christmas present: clear blue water, nice scenery, Caribbean feeling. We're really looking forward to explore the Bahamas and kick back a little!
Shortly to our Gulf Stream Crossing and my first night passage ever: actually it went quite smooth. Yes, the course we had to steer to get to our target wasn't too comfortable but hey, the arrival in paradise wipes away all misery! Sailing while it's pitch dark around you is a bit spooky... But there are so many helpful tools like radar or AIS and of course your own eyes - during the night your eyes adapt to the dark quite well. The weather forecast was very accurate too - we've subscribed to the service by the Marine Weather Center. But my biggest fear has always been: how would I feel when there is no more land in sight! And you know what? It turned out that it isn't a problem! Sure, it was only a few hours when we lost sight with Miami and before the Bimini islands appeared on the horizon. Still, I'm relieved! And, I fully trust Habibi to be save, strong and stable in any situation - as long we're treating her well. Like the wash down with sweet water after this salty crossing ;-)

Even in the harbor the water is crystal clear

Merry Christmas everyone!

23 December 2011

Crossing the Gulf Stream

For those among you who are not sailors, let me briefly explain why we are talking so much about the Gulf Stream: The sea between Florida and the Bahamas has a very strong current, which flows from South to North. See above the forecast chart as per today.

So first of all, you have to check the weather carefully. If for example the wind is blowing against the current (North wind) the sea starts to build up very high (several meters!) waves. You will try to avoid that under any circumstances even it means to wait for another few days or weeks before you cross..

Secondly, you have to consider the current while steering. If you sailed straight over, the current would shift you away from your target. In our case it could be up to 22 nautical miles (40km) that would be a big miss! So you try to consider the current: This could look somehow like this:

Line 1 = Straight course from Florida to the Bahamas (F to B)
Line 2 = How much the current will move you while under way – so you add this to your target and this gives you a theoretical course to steer which ends up in Line 3.

To make things a bit more interesting, the current is not everywhere the same (stronger in the middle of the gulf), so you try to use it as well to your advantage which may end in sailing an actual S-Curve which I painted red…That way I will avoid to angle into the current.  

Hope not added to much confusion and we wish you all a pleasant x-mas!

Addendum: Watermaker install, Cheers!

As already mentioned in a previous post I opted for a Echotec Watermaker with the installation carried out through the US distributor. To make an already long story short: It was a bit of a challenge, especially in the beginning!
Unfortunately the install was not that smooth as promised. We had a few obstacles all the way until it worked. Some highlights listed here:
  • As the delivery contained the wrong feed water pump (one size too big & wrong Voltage) they had to make an emergency shipping out of Trinidad - makes an additional day since it was weekend.
  • By accident I got four holes drilled in my fresh water input pipe. Fixing this took another few hours of course, including mounting a new pipe. As mentioned before, we could not test the unit under full pressure in the dirty harbor water – so we tested with fresh water and low pressure and all looked OK. As the devil seems to be in the detail we had some issues while running it in “production” mode. One small leak only, but then for some reason the tank got too much pressure. I spare you the technical details!

Needless to say that I was very disappointed. We'd spent already too many days in this shitty harbor just to get the delayed install done - and then when we finally tested under real conditions in Key Biscayne the unit was not working as it should!
After several encounters with craftsman I have to mention that I’m surprised by the overall work quality & organization in the US: I would expect much higher standards (Yup, I’m well known to be picky, but my family history is full of successful mechanics, carpenters and architects.. you may call it heritage but it enhances your own standards..)

Nevertheless I assume I've been also a bit unlucky with the install all in all. I’m pretty sure there have been some hidden Gremlins working against both of us! But hey, where work gets done mistakes can happen and as usual, the overall quality of a company is best measured if a problem pops up AFTER they've gotten your money. Based on my past experiences with some boating related companies, I was still furious and prepared myself for the worst…

That's the point when I got caught by surprise: After my mail on Sunday evening, I got a call back first thing Monday morning to assess the issue over the phone. The same afternoon the guy who installed the unit promised me to be on-site to fix the problem by Tuesday morning! I may have to add, that the company is in Clearwater, which is at least a five hour drive down to Key Biscayne! And the promise was kept - Tuesday morning I drove Rahel with the dinghy ashore to do some girls stuff (laundry ;-)) and picked up the guy. After a few changes in the system it works now flawless.

And that’s where credit is due to ECHOTEC USA: They've been on-site within 24h to fix the problem - even if it meant a 10 hours drive for both ways! Not necessarily common these days. Great to know I’m in the right hands!
Thanks Eric!

And now we can enjoy our own fresh water made out of saltwater- It's like magic!

15 December 2011

paint & zinc

Habibi got hauled out. And to be honest, we feared that moment! It could be revealed everything and nothing: while cruising the ICW we ran aground several times! Don't worry, we managed always to free ourselves without having to call Tow-Boat US (they come and "tow" you out of your predicament) BUT we really didn't know if there was any kind of damage. Most people we talked to assured us the ground was mostly sand and mud hence there shouldn't be too much harm. Phew, and they we're right! Only the antifouling paint below the keel was gone, literally "sanded" away!
Same with some of the zinc anodes but that wasn't because of the sand. This is pure galvanic corrosion as you maybe remember from your chemistry classes: when two different metalls have physical or electrical contact with each other and are immersed in an electrolyte, the more active metal (the anode) corrodes at an accelerated rate and the more noble metal (the cathode) corrodes at a retarted rate. In our example the electrolyte is the saltwater Habibi floats in and the zinc anodes have the only purpose to corrode before our propeller or other metall parts do.
We were all relieved, got the keel repainted, the anodes changed and back into water she went! Now we're anxiously waiting for a good time (means weather) to get out of this marina, down to Key Biscane and from there to the Bahamas!


14 December 2011

Watermaker finally installed!

The control panel

After several days the Watermaker is finally installed! What a relief to have the boat back in normal and not full of tools, hoses and wires lying around. The install looks OK, I guess. We could hide most parts behind lockers and under the floor. That makes the installation actually much more complicated but as space is a premium we had to bite in that lemon. We have a few bruises more, quite an amount of money less but we should be able to spend more time on the hook without carrying water canisters in the dinghy.

There will be later on a special entry about the install story itself, but lets share so far what we have done and why we went this way.

A Watermaker is actually a simple thing: Basically a few pre filters, a controller, two pumps and a membrane (like a filter) which separates the salt from the sea water. The problem is, that the membrane needs a LOT of pressure and sea water to be able to do that process - up to 950PSI or 65 Bar! Means you have to pump seawater with that pressure trough the boat, up to 50 liters to get one! liter of fresh water. This high pressure is one of the main reasons why watermaker (or the high pressure pump) are failing. The membrane itself is very sensitive against oil, chlorine or too much dirt (as fish poop). Any of you may ask yourself now: is it safe to drink that processed seawater? Yes, if the membrane is in good shape, it "filters" up to around 0.0005 micron: A virus is usually 0.01 - 0.04 micron big and bacterias have between 0.1 and 15 micron. So our water should be safer than water from most harbors in remote islands.

high pressure pump (20kg!!!)
and vessel mounted in a locker

After a very long decision process we opted for an Echotec 12 Volt Watermaker (http://www.echotecwatermakers.com). This models are not the best in terms of energy use, but virtually bullet proof engineered, built by a German Engineer/Sailor who lives in Trinidad. The system lacks any electronic for automated processes or a hype "power reverse energy saving system". I like that simplicity along with the use of high quality standard parts, there's not much to break. I talked/chatted to several cruisers on this, and as usual everybody opted for another system (of course the one they had on their own boat). As a contradiction, almost every Echotec user had a different brand of Watermaker before and was not happy so he changed towards Echotec. And what is better than learning from other peoples mistakes? The unit by the way comes with a three years warranty overall and a life time warranty for the high pressure pump. Great promise.

some filters in the bilge

The bad thing is we could not really test the system yet, as mentioned above, the membrane hates oil and there is always some in a harbor. Se we just let it run for a few minutes with fresh water (filtered with two charcoal filters to get rid of any chlorine). Looks great so far and not too noisy (OK, was not much pressure on it). We will try and check it in two days, before we're heading over to the Bahamas. Keep your fingers crossed that after that nerve wracking install everything will be OK!

07 December 2011

Creatures of nature

You KNOW that a lot of things will happen to your fresh painted wood. The rigger may stand on it (yes, he did), dust from the nearby yard could blow on it (yes, it happened as well), not to mention the unforeseen rain.... But you do not expect that some fancy monsters tramp on it!! One of them was over a meter long and we just noticed it because it was jumping on the boat next to us. The third one jumped straight into the water just to climb up the pile our boat is moored to - feels a bit like being under Alien supervision...Funny stuff. Otherwise we are very busy with bringing the boat into ship shape for the ride to the Caribbean and since the internet was out of order the last four days - some updates will follow...

01 December 2011

Over 7 bridges you have to go...

... or in our case 22! Yes, that's the number of opening bridges we've passed only today from 7am till 6pm. Poor Habibi, we might have pushed her a little too hard - let's hope she'll forgive us. It was the price we had to pay as we couldn't take the shortcut over the Atlantic Ocean. Northern wind against Gulf Stream = no bueno. Even we've chosen to continue the ICW it was still choppy enough. I don't want to imagine how it was on the ocean... But we had to bite the bullet - on this last piece of our journey on the ICW Florida one bridge follows the other. And almost each one has it's own opening schedule. Either they open on the hour and half hour, or on the quarter and three quarter hour or on demand! So we calculated sharp from one bridge to the other, gave full throttle and tried to persuade the operators to wait two more minutes with the opening!
Along the way we passed exclusive residential areas such as Palm Beach - the waterfront villas are getting more luxurious and the boats bigger. The water already looks much more pleasing with its lighter color and the temperatures (water and air) are rising every mile now.
By tomorrow we should be arriving in Fort Lauderdale - we've only to pass around 10 bridges, a piece of cake!