26 December, 2013

Merry Christmas To All

Location: Manjack Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
Position: N 26 49.318 W 077 22.079

We crossed over to the Bahamas from Ft. Pierce, FL on Sunday December 15th. It was a less than ideal weather window but our boat jobs were done and it looked like the best opportunity for at least the next week. So off we went, hauling anchor 3:30 am, slack tide at the inlet. The winds were a bit' on the nose' so we pounded our way across the Gulf Stream taking lots of water over the bow. Mark spent a lot of time down below feeling ill and Julie hunkered down under the dodger and tried to stay dry. 

We got onto the Little Bahama Banks before sunset. Then the winds died down, and we were treated to an amazing light show, thunder and lightening, beautiful but a bit disconcerting as we were the only tall 'tree' in a 20 mile radius! Nothing close enough to be worrisome, but a bit nerve wracking when we discovered our radar (we often use to track storm paths) had quit working. Around midnight the storms left us and the wind filled in from the North. After that we had a wonderful sail the rest of the way, arriving at Green Turtle Cay around 9am.

We've spent the last week walking, resting and generally enjoying ourselves. Hanging out with old friends and meeting new ones. Cruising is great for meeting people. This was what we really missed on our camping trip this summer. We just didn't meet as many people camping. When we're anchored, we'll dinghy by a boat and if people are sitting in their cockpit, we'll stop and strike up a conversation. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know we're having happy hour, going for a walk, playing music, and we're all the best of friends. Not with everyone we meet, but I guess we do all have this bond of being a bit intrepid, being out here, and relying on each other in hard times for a specific tool, advice, borrowing an item for a recipe, etc. After all, it's not like we can just look up stuff up on the internet or pop over to the corner grocery.

Manjack Cay is one of our favorite stops in the Abacos. An American couple, Bill & Leslie, own quite a big chunk of the island. Over 22 years they have built a lovely home, established extensive trails and gardens, and they welcome cruisers to come ashore and share the results of their efforts. We've made it a point to anchor here for at least a few days each time we've come through the area, and, along with other cruisers, gone ashore for walks during the day and happy hours on the beach in the evenings.

We were pleased when Bill & Leslie invited us to share Christmas dinner with them and about 30 other people at their home. We had a delicious meal on their big wraparound porch. Everyone had a wonderful time and we met many new friends. Of course, we were all missing our families, but the camaraderie here was the next best thing. 

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, a Cheery Boxing Day and a happy and fulfilling New Year

28 November, 2013

Now we're talking

Location: Vero Beach, Florida
Position: N 27 39.709 W 080 22.359
We escaped from the dock last Sunday and the past week has been awesome. We've been moving some and exploring some. Hanging out with some of our favourite cruising buddies and having quiet time alone. Exploring new places and visiting old favourites. All in a week. Now we're talking...this is cruising and why we love it.

We left the dock in Green Cove Springs timing it perfectly to get to the Jacksonville railroad bridge in time for it's 2pm afternoon opening. We were tootling along the St John's River enjoying being back on the water and finally moving again, when we heard a boat call the Coast Guard asking about the bridge opening times. The Coast Guard told them the bridge would be open from 10am to 1 pm. Huh? This was completely different from the info we had. Apparently they had changed the schedule just for that one day because there was a Jaguars football game downtown! Yikes! This made a huge difference in our plans!

We figured out that if we hightailed it at near full throttle we'd make the 15 miles in time to get there BEFORE it closed from 1pm to 4pm. Well, we did make it, thank goodness, by about 8 minutes, and even got to see the beginning of the game from the river! With a 2 jet flyover, cannons, fireworks, and a view of the huge TV screen in the stadium showing opening ceremonies there was lots to see. We caught the outgoing tide down the St John's river making 8 knots at times and luckily had no big boat traffic to worry about. The St John's is a major shipping river with massive freighters bringing cargo to and from Jacksonville, it can get pretty scary, especially with the strong currents.

We spent a lovely, quiet, full moon lit night anchored by the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) just off the St John's and the next day traveled down to St Augustine, one of our favourite stops. Being the oldest city in America, you can imagine there is lots to see and do there and especially when you get to do it with good friends you haven't seen for a while. So we spent 2 days socializing and exploring then we were off again down the ICW. We spent 3 long days motorsailing in cloudy, sometimes rainy, weather which wasn't very fun but hey, we were on the water, moving, and we were happy.

We stopped at a new-to-us anchorage near Melbourne, Florida called Dragon Point. There used to be a huge sculpture of a dragon on a spit of land at the mouth of the Banana River, it is now a crumpled pile of concrete and chicken wire, but the spot still holds the name. We had friends who just spent 10 days there and sang it's praises so, as there were big winds forecast, we decided to hunker down there for a couple of days with our good friends on Barefootin. And we were able to get some cleaning done on the decks as we were enjoying sunny 80 degree weather for a day before the winds picked up.

We explored the area by dinghy and afoot, socialized, and while it was windy and rainy, even got to spend some time reading and relaxing. Aaaah, sweet!

Yesterday we moved down to Vero Beach, another favourite stop. Lots of cruising boats are rafted up on moorings and there'll be a huge pot luck gathering with over 100 cruisers for Thanksgiving on Thursday. We know lots of people here and we're sure we'll know lots more before we leave.

Happy Thanksgiving,

13 November, 2013

One step forward …

 Location: Green Cove Springs, Florida
Position: N 29 59.325 W 081 39.657

Rachel's been back in the water for, let's see, two weeks. Wow – just two weeks? It sure seems a lot longer than that.

After getting launched we moved ½ mile to Reynolds Park Yacht Center. It's a little more expensive but much cleaner and nicer. We still had many jobs to do that we needed to be on a dock to accomplish, so we figured this would be a great place to do them. A good decision, as it turned out, since it seems like we've been taking two steps back for every step forward.

For example, Mark needed to align the new prop shaft, which turned out to be a much bigger job than anticipated. One of the rear engine mounts was rusted and, try as he could, he could not adjust it, so he decided to replace it. This meant raising the back of the engine a couple of inches so he could slip the old one out and the new one in. Good thing he did, as the mount was broken, too. One thing led to another, blocks and tackle tied around the boom and led to a winch, crank crank, only 1/8” left to go, and CRACK. Huh?? The boom gallows shattered (this is a curved piece of wood that the boom sits on when not in use). It was dry rotted. The good part is that he did finally manage to get the engine mount installed and the engine and shaft aligned.

While this was going on Julie established herself in the lovely big lounge with her sewing machine for a few days to work on a new bimini, the shade cover for the cockpit. With two big tables, lots of floor space, and ample lighting the space was much better suited to her needs than down below in Rachel's salon. A lot of cutting and sewing, a couple of test fittings followed by a final fitting, and we now have a nice new bimini. With the bimini on, Mark was then able to reinstall our second solar panel.

The next step was to cut and sew the piece of canvas that goes between the bimini and the dodger called the connector. The dodger serves as the boat's windshield and the front of the connector attaches above it to – you guessed it – the boom gallows. Which was in many small pieces.

Now, what to do about the boom gallows? We went to a local sawmill and, as luck would have it, there was a big chunk of cypress sitting there. The owner cut a 1.5” thick board off the chunk, squared it up, and cut the board into several 1/2” thick strips with his band saw. All for only $10, wood, labor, and all – one of the best deals we've ever lucked into!!

After a stop at a lumber yard, where we bought some clamps and a piece of plywood that we then had cut into three pieces, we headed back to Rachel. We screwed the three pieces of plywood together to make them thick enough, then cut out an arc with the same radius as the old boom gallows. The plan was to use the two plywood pieces as a press to curve and clamp the wood. After a bunch of epoxy and 3 days clamped in the form followed by a couple hours of sanding – voila – we now have a nice new curved boom gallows made of laminated cypress. Sorry we forgot to take a picture of this process.
So now that we have something to attach it to, Julie can finish the connector.

Then yesterday, right after we released the boom gallows from the form, we ran out of water. Okay, time to fill the water tanks. Starboard first, then move on to the port tank. Julie opened the deck plate, put in the hose, and waited. Okay, it's full...OH NO!! That wasn't the WATER deck plate, that was the FUEL deck plate!! We now had a fuel tank that was half full of water and half full of diesel fuel!! What a mess!! Just when we finally felt we were starting to make progress.

After everything else we've had to deal with, all we needed was another major task. Needless to say we were both pretty upset. After learning that it would cost over $300 to have a fuel polishing service handle the problem for us, the folks at the marina said they'd deal with the contaminated fuel for free if we could get it out and put it into containers. So Julie went to Home Depot and bought ten five gallon buckets with lids. Mark hooked up an old oil change pump and we proceeded to fill the buckets. Luckily diesel fuel floats on water, so by pumping the water out of the bottom first, we were able to salvage about 20 gallons of fuel. We'll still have to run it through our homemade water separating filtration system a few times before we can put it back in the tank, but at almost $4 / gallon that will save us a few bucks.

And then, to top it all off, a cold front comes through and we find ourselves sitting down below this morning while it blows in the high 20s gusting into the 30s and the mercury falls so far we're wearing fleeces and slippers!! At least we're able to plug in our little heater to take off the worst of the chill. Can't do many boat jobs in this weather, but at least we're getting some time off and you are receiving this update.

We need to get off the dock and get moving further south so we can return to fair weather, fun, and friends!! Hopefully we'll be on our way in the next few days.

10 October, 2013

Full Circle

Location: Green Cove Springs, Florida
Position: N 29 59.091 W 081 38.894

After a great three months of visiting family and friends up and down the eastern US Wanda has finally delivered us back to Rachel. It's been a great summer filled with spending quality time with our grandkids, families and friends interspersed with sightseeing. 

Wanda has performed beautifully, carrying us and all our gear over 14,000 miles this summer with no breakdowns and no problems at all. What a great car she's been – we couldn't be happier with her!
 We watched Jeseph, Tigerlily and Baylen surfing, and we all had fun camping. We got to see Alex AND Emma play football and took them for an overnight sailing trip visiting at our old haunts on Claytor Lake. We enjoyed a nice long visit with Mark's mom and some of his New England family and hooked up with a high school buddy of Mark's who he had not seen for about 15 years. And we met up with some Canadian cruising friends in Niagara Falls.
We did a couple of house sitting stints, too. One in Blacksburg giving us chance to spiff up the garden at our house, and one in Floyd County near the Blue Ridge Parkway, where Mark used to live, giving us the chance to re-connect with old friends there too. When it was time to head south from Virginia we meandered our way back down to Florida taking 3 weeks and visiting Mark's brother & sister-in-law and numerous cruising friends along the way.

We were rather apprehensive about how Rachel would look after sitting in the yard in the hot, muggy Florida climate all summer. We're happy to report that she fared very well, looking only a bit scruffy and with only a bit of mildew down below. So now we're up to our ears in boat jobs getting her all spiffed up and ready for our next adventures. We're hoping to be finished with our below the waterline jobs by midweek - then we'll at least be back in the water to finish up. We won't bore you with our long list of jobs, a picture tells a thousand words.
Julie was on a scaffolding scrubbing and waxing Rachel the other day. A guy who was working on his boat next to us said to her “I wish my wife would work on our boat” Julie's reply “I wish she'd work on our boat too” . 

31 August, 2013

Flower Power

Location: West Hartford, CT
Position: N 41 47.08 W 072 45.66

One of the best parts of our travels this summer has been the profusion of wildflowers we've encountered. Spring in the Pacific Northwest lags a bit behind the Southeast, and we unwittingly managed to time our visit there for the height of wildflower season. Everywhere we went there were beautiful blooms. Some were familiar and some were new to us.

In our usual “always prepared” state, we managed to leave our wildflower books on Rachel. At a bit of a loss without them, we found ourselves taking a lot of photos to help us remember them and identify them later. Whenever we remembered to bring the camera, that is ....

We still haven't looked them all up, but we thought we'd go ahead and share them with you, anyway. We'll keep this short to spare you a lot of silly text and just let their beauty speak for itself.

Peace and love,

Mark & Julie


20 July, 2013


Location: Blacksburg, VA
Position: N 37 16.292 W 80 24.938

Wake up! I hear something outside!”

Huh? What? Gnrff...”

It's June 17th, the morning of our first night of “dispersed camping” and just getting light outside. We drove miles up a forest service road in Dee, Oregon to get here and we aren't sure what to expect this far from civilization. There HAVE been a lot of signs around about being “bear aware”….

In the course of our travels we've discovered that there are several kinds of camping.

Campgrounds (whether private or public) usually have “RV” and “tent” sites. RV sites have a place to park an RV, a picnic table, and electrical, water, and often sewer hookups. Tent sites usually have a place to park, a picnic table, a fire grate, and a spot to pitch a tent. RV sites are understandably more expensive than tent sites, so we always take a tent site when given the choice. They usually cost between $10 and $30 a night.

We've found there to be very little privacy in most campgrounds. It can be pretty difficult getting dressed lying down in the back or sitting up in the front seat of our minivan. It's hard to stay in bed when there are kids playing around outside. The toilets can be occupied at inopportune moments.

The US Forest service adds two other types of free camping into the mix. “Dispersed camping” is defined as “camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means there are no toilets, no picnic tables, no trash cans, no treated water, and no fire grates”.

And, finally, “primitive camping” is defined as "overnight camping where all equipment is transported in limited trips by non-motorized vehicle methods and where a motorized vehicle is not located near or part of the camping experience”.

So far, we've been staying in tent sites at forest service, state, and county campgrounds, but have been wanting to give dispersed camping a try.

I hear it again! Wake up!”

Snork. Okay, okay.”

Last night we really enjoyed our solitude. We had a nice, quiet dinner, played some cards, and went to bed early. It was quiet, there was no traffic, and we were warm for the first time in a week.

We slowly pull the curtain aside and see three deer grazing right outside Wanda. With our tinted windows, they don't know we're inside and we get a real closeup view. We stay in bed for about 30 minutes whispering, watching them wander around us, sometimes looking right at us. This dispersed camping thing isn't so bad....
Since then we've camped for free every chance we get. Most of the time this involves driving up a gravel forest service road until we find a place to pull off. Once we get Wanda as level as possible so we can get a good nights sleep, we pull out our card table, set up the galley, make dinner, do the dishes, re-stow everything, have a glass of wine, maybe play some cribbage, and then back inside Wanda to our comfy bed for the night. And the price fits right in with our budget .
We never know what we'll see – or won't see. Just outside Missoula, MT we found several huge, long-clawed grizzly bear tracks just outside the van in the morning – thank goodness we slept right through that visit!
Another time we stayed for free at a truck stop just outside Indianapolis, Indiana. Little Wanda held her own, shoehorned as she was in amongst big, manly trucks with names like “Peter Bilt”, ”Ken Worth”, and just plain “Mack”.
Dispersed and diggin' it,

26 June, 2013

Movin' along

Location: near Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Position: N 43 56.122 W 103 24 043

After 3 weeks, 3890 miles, 6 states, 4 National parks, 21 nights of camping and many scenic highways – we're heading back east.
It's been a great trip, not exactly what we'd planned but awesome all the same. Due to limited time to see our granddaughter, Tigerlily, and the cold weather we decided to forgo Canada and instead spent some quality time in the NW US exploring places we haven't been before.

We've had an amazing time and Wanda has performed fantastically. 
In our last khronicle we talked about being cold. We'd hoped that this would improve, but unfortunately it didn't. We worked our way up the spectacular California and Oregon coasts, we've never seen coastline quite like it. Huge rocks just sitting offshore, rivers flowing out to sea in competition with the incoming tides and currents cause enormous sand bars which the rivers wind through trying to make their way out into the ocean. 

We decided to head inland and spent the night near Crater Lake National Park. With morning temperatures below 30 degrees F we got up early and headed up to Crater Lake. Due to low clouds making it virtually impossible to see the lake down inside the volcanic crater, high snow banks and ice covered trees it didn't take us long to 'explore' the park. We were cold and definitely underdressed. A stop at a thrift shop in Bend, Oregon was in order where we purchased more warm clothes, socks and an additional blanket. Being in the van at night wasn't too bad but the evenings and mornings when we were cooking and eating outside we just weren't having a lot of fun. 

Good friends who used to live in the Mt Hood/ Columbia River area of Oregon had sent us a list of their favourite hikes, drives and stops. We spent 6 warmer days happily exploring. What a magical place, we see now why they love that area so much. The most spectacular hike took us up through dense forest, suddenly bursting out onto a very narrow path that skirted the slope of Bald mountain. Steep on both sides, one up, the other down, abounding with wildflowers. We rounded a bend and in front of us, so close we could almost touch it, was Mount Hood, shrouded in snow. Breathtaking.

The drive down from Mt Hood National Forest into the Columbia River Gorge took us quickly from dense forest to a lush valley filled with orchards and then we spilled out into the Columbia River. Our friends had said we should stop at every waterfall along the river. We're glad we did as they were all different. A lovely evening spent in Portland visiting with our friends family, they were so welcoming and we were treated to “Pacific Northwest fish and chips” consisting of grilled Columbia River salmon with baked sweet potato home fries – delicious!

Our next stop was Mt. Saint Helens in Washington to see the devastation and change caused by an eruption in 1980. The visitors centre looks right into the cone of the volcano and has a great film depicting the eruption and how the vegetation and wildlife have slowly recovered. We spent the night in a dispersed camping area nearby. Luckily there wasn't another eruption.

Next we took another scenic route past Mt Ranier, then down out of the mountains to the wheat filled high plains of east Washington state and into Idaho. We drove up the Lochsa river for 100 miles winding up through this amazing gorge, a favourite spot for white water rafting and kayaking. It's amazing how much water is transported down these rivers in the spring from the melting snow above. Over the top of the Lolo pass, 10,000 feet elevation into Montana. We certainly have a heart felt respect now for the pioneers who travelled through these mountains on wagons.

Other friends from Missoula, Montana had sent a list of places to visit there. Julie especially loved the carousel. 

After stopping at 3 historic ranger stations and the fire jumpers museum we feel like we've expanded our knowledge and appreciation of forest fire fighters.

Next it was south and east to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, the weather was finally warming up and we were much happier. Yellowstone was the first national park. Created in 1872 it covers 3,472 sq miles. We spent 4 days exploring and didn't even start to see everything. Of course we covered all the high spots Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake, more “geothermal features” geysers (geysers including Old Faithful and many hot springs, mudpots, and sulphur springs) than you'd want to see in a lifetime. But we also managed to get off the beaten path and enjoyed hiking and wildlife spotting. The amazing part is that even though 3 million people visit the park each year as soon as you get off the main roads and the most popular tourist spots you can really be away from it all and enjoy the park as it is meant to be.

We left Yellowstone and spent another spectacular day driving over the scenic Beartooth Pass back into Montana. The 70 miles of switchbacks took us to an altitude of 11,000 ft, luckily the pass had just opened up the week before. We made many stops to fully appreciate the breathtaking and varied scenery.

Our last stop was Mt Rushmore, South Dakota. Not what you would call a natural beauty but we couldn't pass by without missing this American shrine.

So you can see we've driven a lot of miles, seen amazing and varied scenery and lots of sights. The best part is that we've spent almost 95% of our time on scenic highways, passing through small towns, stopping to see as many scenic views and points of interest, like the Teapot Dome Gas Station in Zillah, Washington, 
and the St. Ignatius Mission, Montana. 
We can't possibly tell you everything but we're posting lots of pictures on the blog for you to enjoy.

The varied scenery, the wildlife and the profuse spring wildflowers have both taken our breath away and filled our hearts with joy.