Thursday, November 27, 2014

Taking action towards the dream - AKA Downsizing

The view we're giving up

Well, for the last couple weeks Kara and I have been packing and gradually moving stuff from our beautiful condo in downtown Austin, to our little place out in the Texas hill country.  We both love the house and it's great to be on the water at Lake LBJ but for several years now we've had (for us) a perfect setup by spending the work wee at the condo where we're close to pretty much everything and our weekends out at the lake for a little relaxation.

With our need to really up our savings rate for the cruising kitty and the Austin real estate explosion, the time was right for us to move out the condo and get it ready to rent.  We talked with a few folks about what we could rent the place for and it looks like we can get close to $3000 per month for it.  Which to us seems crazy, we love the place but there is no way we'd pay that much to live there.  So, we've spent the last few weeks packing and gradually moving stuff.

Ready for moving day #1

As you can imaging going from two places to one means we had a good deal of overlap in STUFF, so we've given away a couple sofa's in exchange for moving assistance on the things that where too heavy for Kara and I to get down the stairs on our own.  We're now down to a bed, dresser, and recliner that we'll be moving this weekend, while everyone is in town for the Thanksgiving holiday and we can wrangle a little more assistance.

Now we're able to enjoy the beauty and quiet of the lake on a daily basis.  We just have to learn to deal with being an 1.5 hours away from everything instead of the 10 minutes we've grown used to.  We also want to make sure we don't drift away from some great friends we've made in Austin, so we're hoping to be able to do some weekend couch surfing and enjoy a night out in the big city, from time to time.

It's definitely peaceful out here.

Eventually we know we'll have to sell the lake house before we make the final jump to the boat.  This strategy allows us to enjoy it for the next several years while putting another $36k a year on the into the kitty.  Due to location our goal is to keep the condo for the long term, since it should be easy to rent and means we're never more than 12 months away from being able to move back into it...just in case.

It's a big change for us both, but it's another big step towards our dream of untying the lines and doing some serious cruising in the not too distant future.  And that....makes it all worth it.

Plus, being at the lake does have it's upside.

Sunset Kayak on lake LBJ

Thursday, November 20, 2014

First offshore trip - Oxford Maryland to Abaco Bahamas

Howdy Folks, (buckle in this is going to be a long one)

After a little over 700 nm, most of it offshore in the Atlantic we can confirm Baboo (soon to be renamed) is in fact in great condition and has been extremely well maintained. That's not to say we didn't run into a few issues along the way (details to come) but overall we're very pleased.

We closed on the boat and less than a week later Kara and I flew to Baltimore rented a car (1 way) and drove to Oxford Maryland to spend our first night aboard. Since we each had to work that Friday (Oct 3rd) we didn't actually get to the boat until almost 1AM on Saturday. We still needed all the basics and had to stop at Walmart on the way in for essentials like bedding, coffee and breakfast. But once we stowed our gear and all the goodies we brought for the trip and finally rolled into that nice comfy pullman berth, it was 2AM and we where more than ready our first good night's sleep aboard.

We got up early the next morning, hand ground some coffee, boiled a kettle of water and french pressed a few cups off coffee. For two folks from Texas it was downright cold but we enjoyed our coffee in the cockpit. Then we got down to work inventorying everything on the boat. Despite have dug through many similar boats, once you get everything out it's really astounding how much storage there is on the IP40. Under-sole tankage definitely has it's downsides, but the storage it allows is truly impressive. We inspected the work we coordinated with the yard in Oxford, the only real issue we'd found during survey was that both the exhaust and manual bilge pump hoses needed to be replaced. Since we needed to get the boat moving before it got cold, we opted to have the local yard do the work and where very pleased with the result. We then made our first trip to West Marine for the basic gear we knew we needed and a few items our delivery skipper had requested. After (literally) 4+ hours in West Marine we had our foulies, oil, engine coolant, spare life jackets, spare racor filters, jerry cans, and all the various spares/odds and ends we thought we might need. On our way back to the boat we stopped at the local Giant for our first real provisioning run. Then headed back to the boat and put everything away. 
During all the remote prep work for the the trip we knew we'd need a dingy or liferaft as an emergency option and since we don't intent to start our real cruising for a little over 4 years, we worked with the sellers broker to coordinate a cheap inflatable and old 3.5hp Nissan outboard. He was such a great guy that he not only helped us find one but drove to pick it up and paid for it out of his pocket ($500) until we where able to sync-up with him late that Saturday afternoon to pay him for it.

Our "new" dinghy

...and the matching outboard

We also opted to buy a spare/replacement windlass from the PO that's a direct bolt-on for the current electric windlass and at the last minute also bought the his Tahatsu 6HP 4-stroke ($200), so now have two outboards. So our first day was productive and we where exhausted, but managed to enjoy our first Sundowners in the cockpit that night...before it got super cold and chased us inside.

The view for our first sundowners in the cockpit - Oxford MD.

Sunday morning we prepped meals for the trip and the PO dropped by to step us through all the systems again. Always nice to take any remaining guesswork out of the plumbing/electrical systems. He's been great so far and I'm glad we where able to effectively negotiate on a price we could all live with and remain friendly in the process. I guess after 15 years of meticulous ownership, he really wanted to make sure we'd take good care of his baby. We then jumped in the car to return a few things to West and pick up parts for our pieced together deck fill water filter and stop at Walmart for another blanket...did I mention it's cold in Maryland by Texas standards?  We then met our delivery skipper (Blaine Parks) who turned out to be a great guy. Well worth the high praise and multiple recommendations we'd heard. Together we finalized the provisioning and headed back to the boat. We did a preliminary, check of the boat where he noted a few minor things we addressed and also pointed out that he thought the outhaul for our roller furling main was "well oversized". We mentioned that it had been very difficult to unfurl and furl the sail so made a note to follow-up on this. Unfortunately, Murphy intervened and we didn't get back to it...more on that later. After the walk through Kara decided to bake some banana bread for the trip and we realized the propane bottle was empty. No problem the other one is full so I swapped it. During the process of swapping it I must have bumped the original and very corroded solenoid because it no longer worked. Each time we turned it on, it would come on and then immediately trip the breaker...crap. But wait, during our inventory I had noted a spare solenoid, so promptly dug that out. problem is, it's too tall to fit due to some extra elbow fittings.  Since the spare had been in the box so long and the elbows where sealed with putty it was completely gummed up...this was a potential show stopper,  We need to be able to cook on our week long trip to the Bahamas.  Quick google search and Lowes is still open for a little over an hour, so Blaine and I jump in the rental and zip off to find a vise we can use to break everything free. We slide into the tool dept and there's a vise out on display, clamp the solenoid and use a large crescent wrench to break the fittings free of their putty gunk and we're off to the races. Back to the boat and about 90 minutes later, Kara was finally able to bake that banana bread she started earlier.  We're finally able to get to bed around 12:30.

Capt Blaine and our last minute fix before departure. Thank you Lowes for the display items!

Monday morning - departure day.  We finish doing our best to tidy up the solenoid enough for the trip. It ain't perfect and I'll need to address the wiring once we get the boat home but it should get us there. We run into town to return the car, deal with a few last minute purchases at Wallyworld and it's finally time to cast off the lines.  We'd been expecting pretty crappy conditions for the first 2 days of the trip but our schedules combined with Blaine's meant we had to make it work.  As we're heading to the fuel dock to fill our 90 gallon tank we realize the wind is right where they'd been predicting it, straight SE (not good for exiting the Chesapeake) but is a bit stronger at 25-30 knots. We fill the tanks, enjoy a Bon Voyage ice cream, batten down the hatches and ports (non of which leaked BTW) and motor into 30 knots and a fairly steep chop of 3-5 ft...write on the nose. 
I've mentioned this previously but as a refresher Kara and I are not (yet) super experience sailors.  Our sailing experience prior to this trip was limited to inland lakes on our Catalina 22, ASA 101 on a lake, a week long live aboard class in the BVIs for 103/104 and a few weekends of crewing on other peoples boats, local beer can races etc... Which is why we opted for a well known delivery skipper with a ton of miles in Island Packets. Blaine let us know up front this wasn't going to be a fun passage and that we'd be working hard but that was the whole reason we wanted to crew vs. just having the boat delivered for us...we wanted to experience it.  So we had prepped ourselves for a truly miserable trip.  As a result we where expecting it to only get worse from here and that neither of us would be able to sleep, and we'd be puking our guts out the whole way but we didn't get any of that.  Don't get me wrong, beating into a stiff chop in 30 knots wasn't exactly fun, and we where taking waves over the bow, and the ride in the cockpit under the bimini, while dry was a bit, exciting. What we where amazed by was when you stepped below, just how comfortable it actually was. Of course you still knew you where on a boat but both Kara and I where easily able to sleep that first night in our off watch periods. After about 24 hours of motoring (minus a brief stop to top off the tank) we passed Cape Henry to starboard, and turned to follow the coast down towards Hatteras. Making the turn allowed us to do a little sailing and I don't mind saying that first night of sailing in 25 knots heeled over a bit more than I was comfortable with in a beam sea was...exciting to say the least. 

As we went the coastline fell away and we just continued SE as much as the wind would allow. We crossed the Gulf Stream a couple hours before sunset (thankfully and by design...thanks Blaine). That was a memorable part of the trip as I was on watch and the current was making for some fairly uncomfortable beam seas.  The water sure was pretty though. A very VERY deep blue, as we finally got out of the stream the seas calmed a bit and the next morning we found ourselves cranking up the motor again due to very light winds. If it had just been Kara and I, we'd have been content to sail at 3 knots or so until things picked up, but this was a delivery and as much as possible, we had a schedule to keep. So we motored, we actually ended up motoring through the better part of 4 days since the wind had all but abandoned us. We had amazing, clear blue skies and beautiful clear stars each night until the moon came up and then that was pretty impressive as well.   During all that motor sailing we realized the outhaul was probably 2 sizes to large. This meant it bound up at each block, making it very difficult to unfurl the sail and putting a ton of strain on the boom car, which we noticed was tweaked a bit. We spent a couple hours working to bandaid it and replace the outhaul but the car did eventually fail (broke free of the boom track). We where still able to use it, but now someone had to go forward to free the line when unfurling or reefing. I'm actually working on a finding a replacement now.

This outhaul car should be attached to the boom instead of hanging as you see here.

Anyway, the rest of the trip was probably nothing special for folks who are used to offshore sailing but for me, they where truly remarkable.  The water was amazingly blue and calm, our boat was comfortable and spacious and took amazing care of us.  We cooked every single day, including baking 3 meals because it was so calm and, well...we wanted to.  My wife and I enjoyed a (single) sundowner each night (capt Blaine chooses not to imbibe while at sea).  We each did a 4 hour watch during the day and 2x 2 hour watches each night.  When we weren't sleeping we either read, or talked or just sat and enjoyed our peaceful surroundings. Tracked ships as they passed and checked our course every hour or so to see if we needed to adjust the autopilot

On the last day Sunday the 12th, we finally found the trades and with a steady 10-15 knots ESE we shut down the motor and enjoyed a nice 6-7 knot sail into Abaco.  We made it into Marsh Harbour around 10PM that night, docked the boat at the marina and celebrated like sailors of old....with plenty of RUM. Got up early the next morning and cleared into the country at the airport since it was a holiday and we couldn't get customs to come to the boat as is the norm in Abaco.  Then Capt Blaine jumped ship to catch a flight to his next delivery (an IP 370) leaving the Annapolis show for charter in the BVIs.  Kara and I spent the next 36 hours cleaning and prepping the boat for our extended absence, so she'll be ready for our return trip, to enjoy a little Holiday cruising around the islands.  Followed by the slog across the Gulf to Kemah.

So in early January we'll be freezing our butts of bringing her around Florida and across the gulf to Texas and her new home...for the next few years. Where we intend to get her ready for a more extensive and hopefully much more leisurely journeys.
But damn, I'm tired and those are stories still waiting to be lived.

Sunset off the Starboard bow.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

We bought a boat

As of the beginning of October 2014, we're the proud owners of a 1999 Island Packet 40, currently named Baboo.  After our long road trip through the gulf coast to Florida and a trip to Maryland we knew this was the boat for us and agreed on a purchase price with the previous owner.

In the water Friday afternoon when we arrived and first stepped aboard.

We actually did all of this working purely from pictures and videos. So the first time we saw her was a trip to Oxford for the survey and sea trial.  This was a little stressful since the process of surveying the boat means we had to pay about $375 to have the boat hauled out of the water and the bottom pressure washed so she could be properly inspected by a professional marine surveyor.  The surveyor came out to just under $1000 (or 1 boat buck).  The reason this was so high, was that we opted for an engine oil analysis and a rigging inspection which added just over $200.  We figured the more info we had before committing to such a large purchase, the better.

So, we arrived on a Friday afternoon and where able to squeeze in a quick walk/crawl through the boat to make sure she was in as nice a shape as the pictures indicated.  Fortunately the previous owner proved to be very meticulous and BABOO (for now) appeared to be in truly excellent shape for a 15 year old boat.

Early morning and ready for the survey.

Saturday morning we met our inspectors (father and son team) and after a bit of the typical gloom and doom warnings about the types of problems they where looking for and problems that can occur on older boats, we let them role up their sleeves and get going. They spent the whole day crawling through the boat from stem to stern.  Since we where there for the entire process they where able to point out the issues they found and in general point out the good and bad in real time.  In the words of the primary inspector, the only issues they found where "Mickey Mouse stuff"...which was nice to hear.

Inspecting plumbing under Starboard Settee

The folks at the yard where nice enough to come in on a Saturday to haul and pressure wash the boat for us. Here they're positioning the slings to prepare to lift her out.

Seeing a 25,000lb boat lifted out of the water with nothing more than a few old canvas slings is a bit unnatural.

The previous owner was kind enough to instal a bow thruster for us.  Should make maneuvering much nicer for us in the future.

Kara checking out the prop and rudder.  Notice the rudder on an IP is attached to the keel but is also balanced. This is fairly rare in a full keeled boat.

Me (Erin) pretty happy with what we've seen to this point.

After the primary inspection was complete, the yard lowered the boat back into the water for us.  We spent the next 1.5 hours out on the water for the sea trial.  We made sure the motor ran up to full throttle smoothly and without overheating, verified the boat speed was good (cruising speed of about 6.5 knots) and then raised all the sails and made sure they where serviceable. The sails are fairly old but workable.  They're fine for now but will need to be replaced before we can leave for any real cruising.  We did notice the main which is an in mast furling sail, was very difficult to unfurl (hard to crank).  Wish we'd paid more attention to this, more on that later.

Kara during our sea trial.  Of course it decided to rain for us while we where out, but the bimini kept us nice and dry.

Finally got a chance to raise all the sails (Main, Jib and Staysail)

Rigging Survey to end the day, in the rain.

Our surveyor was very thorough and based on his very positive feedback "You're buying a Mercedes, and it's been very well maintained" and our gut feeling... we bought the boat!  The other great thing is that the previous owner (who had the boat built new in 1999) has been extremely helpful and stays in touch to ensure we learn how to best take care of his "sweet Baboo".

 Now, we just have to get her home to Texas but...more on that next time.