Tuesday, May 18, 2021

No Ship

A ship arrived yesterday, as scheduled, but it will not be stopping in La Paz. So, from my perspective there is no ship.

I am told that another ship is scheduled to arrive on May 30.

I now have to make a decision. Do I continue waiting here and being taunted by incomplete, incorrect and last minute information regarding ships? Or do I give up and make a new plan?

I have to factor in that hurricane season is drawing near, officially beginning on June 1. My insurance excludes coverage for named tropical storms beginning July 1. One of my personal rules of sailing is, "Don't be in the wrong place at the wrong time." Being afloat in Florida or the Sea of Cortez in June would violate this rule.

My initial reaction is to give up on shipping the boat. I'm reminded of a quote (mistakenly?) attributed to Albert Einstein, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." A pattern has been established: I'm told a ship will arrive on a certain date. A few days or less prior to that date, I'm told there is no ship or the date is pushed back. I wait. And the process repeats itself.

I cannot understand why the shipping company does not either have better information to share or won't simply tell me, "Steve, we hope one day to transport your boat to La Paz, but we have no idea when and can only provide three days notice when we do know." I believe that the latter case to be the truth. If I'm right, then I would choose not to go on indefinitely. I would need to figure out how to get Intermezzo to La Paz on its own bottom. Or sell the boat.

I have considered selling the boat, but I'm not ready to do that right now, so I'm tabling that option.

So, what's involved with sailing Intermezzo to La Paz?

Here's a summary:

  1. Re-commission, fuel and provision the boat for ocean sailing.
  2. Sail north out of the insurance company's Tropical Storm Zone to a good hurricane hole.
  3. De-commission the boat, haul out and lay-up on the hard for hurricane season.
  4. Re-commission and launch the boat after hurricane season (November).
  5. Muster crew, fuel and provision the boat for ocean sailing.
  6. Sail to Panama.
  7. Leave the boat in Panama to wait for the Pacific's prevailing northerlies and Tehuantapeckers to subside (March).
  8. Muster crew, fuel and provision the boat for ocean sailing.
  9. Wait and pay for a Panama Canal transit.
  10. Sail to La Paz.
  11. De-commission, haul out and lay-up on the hard for hurricane season.

So, basically a year's worth of logistics and sailing, plus inevitable gear failure, repairs and wear-and-tear.

The decision I need to make now is to wait another two to four weeks for a ship to possibly materialize or to cut and run, committing to a year's "work" getting Intermezzo to La Paz.

I did a back of the napkin economic analysis of the two options, taking into account all the costs I could identify, travel costs to and from the boat, the cost of a month's dockage while waiting for the ship or the costs of wear-and-tear from sailing to La Paz. I also included a 20% contingency factor for difficulties and uncertainties associated with the sailing option.

It turns out that the total estimated cost for each alternative is roughly the same. However, since sailing back to La Paz is not how I would choose to spend a year of my time, I need to include the opportunity cost of that option. Even a low-ball estimate of that opportunity cost easily makes waiting longer for the ship (that may never materialize) the better choice.

So that's what I have decided to do. I will wait up to another 30 days, docking Intermezzo so that I can take a break from the boat. If the ship materializes, great. If it doesn't, I head north to find a hurricane hole and prepare myself to set sail for La Paz in November.

I hope I am avoiding the definition of insanity.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Ship Transport Update

I received somewhat encouraging news today. A ship is scheduled to arrive on May 17 and, if it will be calling at La Paz, we may be able to load Intermezzo sometime between May 20 and 23. That ship is scheduled to depart Port Everglades on May 25 with an estimated arrival date in La Paz of June 8.

Less uncertainty, but still uncertain.

If we can't load on this ship, I am told another ship is scheduled to arrive on May 25 and depart around June 2.

So, worst case is we load onto the second ship.

I really, really hope we get on the first one.

Resetting the countdown clock to May 20. Nine days and counting.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

May 8th? Nope.

Well, my May 8th date for loading Intermezzo onto a ship to La Paz isn't happening. Seems it never was.

The local sales manager for the shipping agent seems to be doing her best, but couldn't provide me with any meaningful information, so I contacted Peters & May's CEO, explained my circumstances and asked him to look into the situation here. This is the email I got back:

Hi Stephen,

I have spoken to the relevant parties involved. I don’t know where the date of 8th May came from but I can say with some certainty that shipment will not be prior 15th May. At the moment there are two possible vessel candidates out there with May dates (1 due w/c 17th May, the other towards the end May) and it may be that actually both these vessels are of interest. I see no reason why you would not be on first sailing. There are plenty of other yachts booked for La Paz hence this is simply a matter of holding out for a little while longer. I would expect that situation will become clearer within the week.


Simon Judson​
Chief Executive Officer

I am, of course, bummed. Feeling downtrodden and tired. But I'll deal with it.

I will hold out for a little while longer, restarting the countdown to May 17th.

Twelve days and counting.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Eleven More Days?

Some modest developments here in Fort Lauderdale as I wait for a ship to arrive to carry Intermezzo back to La Paz.

The loading window of May 1 to 10 has now progressed to a tentative loading date, May 8. Unfortunately, towards the later end of the range and I'm really not sure how certain the date is. Still, I'm using it as the basis for counting down the days left; 11 as of today.

I managed to get my first Pfizer covid vaccination. It was relatively easy to schedule an appointment with CVS and they didn't care that I wasn't a state resident, although I used my Merchant Mariner Credential (captain's license) as ID rather than my California driver's license so as to not press the issue. I used public transport to get to and from my appointment and the whole process went smoothly and quickly. My only side effect from the vaccine was a slightly sore arm for a day and a half.

I've been cleaning and waxing the boat every morning. Some sort of mold/algae had bloomed and was spreading over the nonskid deck. It was difficult to remove. I tried a variety of cleaning products and mixtures of them, finally discovering that a 20 percent bleach solution worked best. I don't like using bleach on the boat because it is corrosive, but I was careful to just apply it sparingly to the fiberglass deck and not let it run where I didn't want it. I also continued to spot treat the WD40/rust stains from the riggers with oxalic acid. They are much reduced in number but stubborn ones keep reappearing; it's like playing whack-a-mole.

I'm using cleaner/wax product from 3M to clean and wax the fiberglass topsides. It's not a hard job, but it is tedious to do it by hand. I'm breaking the boat into sections that I can do in a morning or two and just settling in to getting each day's work done. I follow up the cleaner/wax with a second coat of liquid wax. My objective is to seal the gelcoat as best I can to prevent it from getting stained by soot, rust and other stuff during the journey on the ship and make the post-transport cleanup easier.

I finished my old 3M Cleaner Wax and am now using the company's new Perfect-It Light Cutting Polish and Wax. I'm really impressed, it's a significant improvement, easier to work with and better results. If it performs well over time, I'm going to use the Perfect-It medium polish/wax, followed by a final coat of wax when I put the boat away to try and restore the gelcoat's luster and hopefully get it so that I can maintain the finish by just waxing in the future.

Nothing else to report. Eleven more days...

Tight quarters in the Las Olas anchorage

Great stuff (if it holds up)!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Waiting in Fort Lauderdale, Sweltering

Intermezzo is lying in the Las Olas anchorage in the middle of Fort Lauderdale, one of only a few places where boats are allowed to anchor here, waiting for a ship to transport back to La Paz, Mexico. I'm on my own now, Robin having returned home to North Carolina on Monday.

I received somewhat encouraging news from the shipping agent. A ship has been "nominated" and the current loading window is from May 1 to May 10. That means I have between 10 and 20 days to sit and wait. I can deal with that. But what if transport on this ship falls through, like my original one in March and the last one this month? That would be really, really inconvenient, with the hurricane season approaching and nowhere to put the boat. I'd be nearing my wits end, I think. So I'm not going to worry about it, figure the ship will materialize on schedule and if it doesn't, deal with it then.

We're riding at anchor about 200 feet from a sea wall at the end of Sebastian Street and the elegant boutique Pillars Hotel. There are another 10 boats anchored around us, a wide range of size, age and condition. A few are unattended and somewhat neglected looking. Sloop du Jour is a modest older 35-foot Beneteau that is home to Forrest, a nice guy who "used to work in the movie industry, Hollywood and all that", but left it for a simpler life afloat during Covid. There is another catamaran and two large monohulls, well-kept boats, transients like me, who want to avoid the high cost of dockage. 

It's a relatively peaceful anchorage, well-sheltered and in a No Wake Zone off the Intracoastal Waterway. It gets noisy on the weekends with music-blaring boats on the water and noisy sports cars and motorcycles on the seafront road. The near shore is lined with high- and mid-rise condominiums, illuminated at night. On the far shore, across the channel, are multi-million dollar waterfront homes.

It's only a few blocks from the end of Sebastian Street to the ocean beach. Securing the dinghy to the seawall and getting onto land is a bit tricky. The seawall is rough concrete, covered with sharp oysters below the high tide line, not friendly to inflatable dinghies. There's also a jagged corrugated metal storm drain pipe outlet to be avoided. The urban location makes it prudent to lock the dinghy up. I tie a long bow line to the base of a street sign in the middle of the wall and then run a short stern line to a piling to hold the dinghy off the wall. Once properly tied off, I loop a steel cable around a wooden dock beam and lock it to the stern of the dinghy.

At high tide, getting out of the dinghy requires just a big step up from the bow and onto the top of the seawall. At low tide, I have to grab the top of the wall and hoist myself up about four feet. No matter the tide, the face of the wall is crawling with dozens of what I call sea-cockroaches, creepy little buggers that I don't want getting onto me as I make my landing.

From the end of Sebastian Street, I can walk to the beach, a bakery, bars, restaurants and liquor stores. I've been running along sidewalk along the seafront and back along the beach for exercise. On weekdays, there aren't many people. On weekends, it's mobbed.

My other dinghy landing is about a mile up the Middle River at George English Park where there is a nice floating dock with no sea-cockroaches. A Publix supermarket, a mall, Home Depot, CVS, a laundromat, and a good Italian restaurant are all within a short walk from this dock. 

The weather has turned hot and humid. I'm sweltering again, like I did in Costa Rica, Chiapas, and when I was "Stuck In Lodi Again" in El Salvador, like I am here.  I tried to avoid sweltering this time by scheduling ship transport for March, but was foiled again. Since I'm anchored out, I can't use the little air conditioner I purchased in Charleston which has offered welcome relief from sweltering when we can plug into shore power. Fortunately, afternoon thunderstorms have accompanied the hot humid weather, which cool things down for a couple hours.

I'm trying getting into a routine of getting up early, working on the boat in the morning when it's cooler out, having quiet time during the afternoon and going to shore to exercise in the evening. So far so good.

My main boat work is to get a good coat of wax on the topsides to protect the finish from whatever airborne substances- soot, salt, rust- to which they will be exposed on the ship. I haven't waxed the boat in over a year so the gelcoat is pretty porous and easily stained, as I discovered when the rigging was replaced. The riggers, Nance & Underwood, arranged to have the spots removed from Intermezzo's at the Leopard docks in Dania Beach last Thursday, a job that required application of concentragted muriatic acid. Quite a few faded spots remain that will require subsequent treatments. I want to try and avoid difficult cleaning problems after I unload the boat from the ship in La Paz.

Finally, a bit of good news: I'm getting my first Covid vaccination tomorrow! I managed to schedule an appointment at a CVS in Pompano Beach, about five miles north of the dinghy landing at the park. Officially, there is a state residency requirement but I think I can skirt around it by showing up, using my USCG Captain's license as identification and stating that I'm a captain of a yacht anchored in Florida and don't have a land address. I'm pretty sure that, even if they care about proof of residency, they won't know what to do in my situation and it will be easier just to give me the jab and get rid of me than hassle me. 

We'll see how it works out tomorrow.

Intermezzo anchored off the end of Sebastian Street, Las Olas anchorage, Fort Lauderdale


The dinghy tied off to the nasty concrete seawall

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Storm, Rescue, Fast Sail and Disappointment

Quite a bit has happened since my last post on April 11 from Linderman Key.

At the end of that post I mentioned that the thunderstorms that were forecast had not yet materialized. Well, they did. Suddenly and with gusto!

We watched dark thunderclouds move across the horizon and tracked the storms north of us all afternoon. In the evening the dark clouds came closer and we started seeing lightning bolts five or ten miles away. Then, while I was cooking dinner, all of a sudden a vicious wind started blowing from the west. It rapidly built from 20, to 30, to a steady 40 knots with gusts up to 47, and with the wind, heavy rain, some hail, thunder and lighting.

Our anchor started dragging, so I started both engines to keep the boat pointed into the wind and take some load off the ground tackle, while preparing to cut and run if needed. Fortunately our trusty Rocna anchor bit hard into the grassy sand after dragging only about a 100 feet and held is firmly in place for the rest of the storm. 

I captured the following image of our track before, during and after the storm.  The bar showing 98 feet of distance at the lower right hand corner provides a sense of scale. Not the seven foot depth sounding near the center; we were in pretty shallow water. The water stippled with red dots to the right is only two to four feet deep (the lines are one foot depth contours). The arrow head at the lower left corner points north.

Position 1 is about where we originally dropped the anchor and let out 100 feet of chain. Position 2 is where we were swinging with southerly winds before the storm. Position 3 is where we swung during the blasting northerly winds during the storm. Position 4 is where we ended up after the storm passed and the winds resumed blowing from the south. Our anchor had dragged about 100 feet from Position 1 to midway between Positions 3 and 4. 

While the storm was blowing, VHF Channel 16, the international hailing and distress frequency, was going crazy. Boats running aground, boats taking on water, capsized boats...it was small boat mayhem out there. Boats from the Coast Guard, Miami-Dade Fire Department, National Park Service and the private rescue service, TowBoat U.S. were scrambling all over the place.

The TowBoat U.S. skipper alerted all the emergency services of the boat he considered to be in the most danger, a 19-foot Mako open center-console boat. It had been blown into the shallows and run aground with eight people on board, including two children and an infant. That type of boat provides virtually not protection from the wind, rain and hail, the air chilly from the cold front causing the bad weather. 

The boat in distress was only about a quarter mile from where we were swinging at anchor. The fire department scrambled a helicopter and we watched as it lowered a medic to provide assistance.  Neither the /Coast Guard, the fire boat, nor the TowBoat could find a way through the shallows to help. But the National Park Service ranger, who probably knows the shallow waters better than anybody, managed to thread his way to the Mako, transfer the two women, two children and infant to his boat and bring them to the larger fire boat which had a warm cabin for them. The two men on the Mako, which was now drifting with the rising tide, stayed on board with the Coast Guard standing by until storm calmed and the TowBoat was available to tow them home.

It was quite an amazing rescue to watch and listen to. We sat by wondering if we could use somehow use the dinghy to help but quickly decided it was too dangerous and we could end up becoming part of the problem rather than the solution. We were happy it all turned out well in the end. Kudos to the ranger who persevered to make the rescue and essentially coordinated all the other services by radio.

After all that excitement, we spend the next day in the same spot in nice, but breezy weather.

On Tuesday (April 13) we moved to anchor off Elliott key and walk more of the "Spite Highway" a nice trail which runs the length of the island down its center. The trail got its name as a result of a real estate developer bulldozing a 125 foot wide swath through the island's forest in 1968 just before the island became part of the newly created Biscayne Bay National Park. The key was previously destined to become the City of Islandia, but preservationists saved it from such a fate, obviously pissing off the developer.

Wednesday we had a fast sail from Biscayne Bay to Fort Lauderdale, the wind blowing a steady 15-plus knots from the east, putting us on a close reach the whole 40 miles. We caught the north-flowing Gulf Stream, which boosted our speed to over eight knots, sometimes nine, making for a fast trip.  We anchored in Lake Sylvia, a crowded little anchorage ringed by very expensive homes. Some of the boats anchored with us were pretty nice and in good shape, many others not-so-much. Multi-millionaires looking across their waterfront backyards at a motley band of marine nomads.

During our sail to Fort Lauderdale, I received a call with bad news. The ship onto which I was scheduled to load Intermezzo on April 19 has been delayed. There is a ship leaving on April 25, but there will be no boats on it going to La Paz, so it won't be stopping there. The agent doesn't know when there will be space on a ship going to La Paz, maybe late April, maybe early May. Maybe.

So I am stuck in Fort Lauderdale for an undetermined period. Docks are scarce and very expensive here so I can't leave the boat. I have to sit at anchor in a place I don't like very much for at least 10 days, probably two weeks, maybe longer.

I am feeling very disappointed. It feels like a bit like a short prison sentence, mostly in solitary confinement.

It's not really that big a deal and I absolutely acknowledge that my plight pales laughably compared to the too many who are truly suffering. But, I'll express the reasons for my disappointment, just to get them off my chest: I miss my family and was looking forward to seeing them. I was looking forward to getting off the boat for a little while, after living on board, on the water, for 98 days straight. And I would like to get vaccinated against Covid and I can't while in Florida as I'm not a resident.

There. Done complaining. Now I'll just make the most of however many days I need to wait until my ship comes in. Chalking each one off, like a prisoner in a cell. A nice, comfortable cell.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Linderman Key, Card Sound FL

Yesterday we moved the boat about 12 miles southwest from where we were anchored off Sands Key in Biscayne Bay to anchor off Linderman Key in Card Sound, passing through the narrow channel across Cutter Bank.

We spent five days on the hook at Sands Key, getting boat chores done and exploring nearby waters and small keys.

Cell reception there was not good, either weak or no signal even though the Miami skyline was in view, less than 20 miles away! Sometimes I would get a signal inside the boat, other times we had to walk around the decks holding our phones out like Mr. Spock held his tricorder out in Star Trek, trying to pick up service. The limited connectivity had the benefit of being less distracted from the beauty around us.

Our steaming light, halfway up the mast, didn't work during our night passage from Lake Worth, so I rigged up my ATN Mastclimber bosun's chair and inch-wormed my way up the mast. The bulb was blown and shattered as I tried to remove it, leaving small shards of glass on the deck, a small one making its way into Robin's foot. Sorry. I managed to extract the root of the bulb from its fixture, installed a new bulb and had Robin switch it on so that I could make sure it worked before I descended. It did, so I made my way down the mast and packed up all the gear, satisfied with another job completed. 

Until I switched on the light myself to admire my work and the bulb didn't light. Ugh!! It was up the mast again the next morning to clean the fixture to get the new bulb seated properly. Now it's fixed.

I also did some research and troubleshooting on the Wakespeed WS500 charge regulators (see my final boat project update), which did not seem to be playing nicely with each other. It turns out that when you connect the two regulators together, the master regulator LED flashes green status codes and the slave regulator LED repeats these codes in orange. I had mistook the orange flashes for red error flashes and thought something was amiss when in fact everything was working fine. It would have been nice if the documentation for the regulators mentioned this, in my humble opinion.

The irony of completing the engine charging upgrade now is that, with winter behind us, the days are now long enough and the weather has been clear enough for the solar panels to keep the batteries fully charged! I have to purposely run down the batteries to test the engine charging system!

After completing boat work in the morning and eating lunch, we've been enjoying our afternoon excursions.

We kayaked up a narrow channel into a circular pond among the mangroves in the interior of Sands Key, encountering a large manatee along the way which swam under Robin's kayak and lingered there for a bit. The gentle, slow-moving creature was over five feet long and I'd estimate weighed over two hundred pounds. Robin was glad it was gentle and slow-moving.

We snorkeled along the mangrove roots at Sands Cut, which leads out of Biscayne Bay into the ocean. We lots of fish enjoying the shade and protection of the mangroves, but what was most amazing were the number of lobsters hanging out there. Dozens and dozens of them, peeking out of holes in the sandy coral or from between roots. The bottom was literally crawling with them. I've never seen so many lobsters in one place. I checked and discovered that lobster season in the Florida Keys closed on March 31 and doesn't open again until August, so I was out of luck, dinner-wise.

We took the dinghy to a beach on nearby Elliott Key and discovered a trail that led to the "Spite Highway", a narrow unimproved road that runs the length of the key. The "highway" is about eight feet wide, covered with leaves and goes through what I would describe as dense tropical hardwood forest, though that is probably not the proper ecological term. In any case, it was nice walking along the trail, shaded by the trees, no sounds except for birds and our leaf-muffled footsteps, smelling the organic, musty smell of the forest, a cool breeze filtering through the foilage. And, believe it or not, not a single mosquito! Everything I had read about hiking on these keys mentions them, often in tales of hikes abandoned due to dense clouds of the beasties. We have been very fortunate, none on our hikes, none while kayaking among the mangroves, none in or around the boat. I think there hasn't been much rainfall here.

Our new anchorage is off the shores of a large key, Palo Alto Key, that is chopped up into pieces by narrow channels than run through its mangroves. It is great for kayaking as most of the small channels are within the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge and are off limits to watercraft with internal combustion engines. Robin was a bit worried about exploring a place called Crocodile Lake in an inflatable kayak, but we didn't see any crocodiles or alligators. (It reminds me of an Australian joke: What to salt water crocodiles call inflatable dinghies? Answer: Teething rings.)

Today the weather forecast threatened thunderstorms with high winds and lightning, so we decided to stay put on the boat. The haven't materialized yet, although it has been pretty windy. It looks like they won't arrive until tonight and might miss us completely.

Only a few more days before we need to turn around and head to Fort Lauderdale and begin getting the boat ready for loading onto the ship. That is, if the August 19 loading date still holds.

Mostly-lazy days in the Keys