Monthly Archives: November 2015

Cumberland Island

CI Horse

One of the famous wild horses of Cumberland Island, grazing on the south lawn of Plum Orchard mansion.

Madge is still on her mooring ball in the St. Marys River, and we haven’t moved aboard full time yet, but we’ve started our exploration of the Georgia barrier islands. Our first destination is pretty close to home. Cumberland Island, a national park and seashore, is just across the sound from St. Marys. It is the southernmost of Georgia’s barrier islands. As I mentioned in a previous post, Suzy and I volunteered to help the Park Service decorate Plum Orchard mansion on the island for Christmas. While we’ve been to Cumberland several times, we’ve never been to Plum Orchard. The mansion has recently been restored, and is the only Carnegie mansion on the island that is unoccupied and open for tours; however, it’s hard to get to because it is 7.5 miles from the northmost ferry dock, and the road is little more than a washboard dirt track through the palmettos. Years ago, Suzy and I anchored our previous sailboat, Skitso, in the Brickhill River at Plum Orchard, but that was before it was restored. We could only see the outside. We’ve wanted to return ever since.

Wednesday was a warm, windy, overcast day. We left Madge at rest and took the ferry with the other Park Service volunteers we’d be helping (about 20 of us, total), then hopped in a van for the slow, bumpy drive from Sea Camp dock to Plum Orchard. We didn’t mind that we wouldn’t get to visit the beach or the Dungeoness ruins on this trip — we’d seen them before. We immediately went to work, but it wasn’t so frantic that we couldn’t take a minute here or there to look around and appreciate the place. We had to take a break when a tour came through, so we grabbed our phones and started taking pictures.

Plum Orchard Full Front

The south-facing front of Plum Orchard overlooks a spacious lawn.

Plum Orchard Interior

The mansion features oak floors and mahogany workwork. This hallway runs from the Library, just off the main foyer, to the Music Room, which opens to the west portico.

Plum Orchard Side w Suzy

The west portico, off the Music Room, overlooks the Brickhill River, which runs along the west side of Cumberland Island.

Plum Orchard Anchorage

The old ice house sits atop a new sea wall along the bank of the Brickhill River. Years ago, we anchored our boat, Skitso, at a spot about in the center of this picture.

At the end of the day, heading back to Sea Camp dock for the ferry ride home, we encountered more horses and a lot of turkeys. Deer and wild boar are the only hunted animals on the island — and then only under limited and strict conditions — so the turkeys have no fear of humans, even this close to Thanksgiving.

Moving Right Along

Live oak trees and palmettos define the Cumberland Island interiorThings are finally starting to move ahead a little better now. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. We are still in St. Marys and cruisers are starting to trickle in to the anchorage at our fair village. I hope we have a good crowd for our Thanksgiving pot-luck dinner next week.

I was finally able to get the refrigerator properly charged (after some help from my boat guru, Tom), so now it is chugging away keeping the freezer box at around 18 degrees, with the refrigerator part between 30 and 40 degrees — good enough for our purposes. I spent last week doing daily tests of the compressor, trying to assure myself that the problem was solved and we’d be able to count on the reefer to keep running. I have my fingers crossed that our woes are behind us. However, after my last check — which required running the reefer on batteries alone without the solar panels or wind generator — I decided the batteries needed a good recharge. When I turned on the wind generator, it started vibrating violently as it spun up, then it shut itself off. After a moment of rest, it would attempt to start again, only to vibrate and shut itself off again. Bummer. Will we ever be able to get out of here?

Another call to my boat guru — who actually had installed practically all of the complicated engineering systems on Madge in his professional capacity as Renewable Systems Engineering (shameless plug) — got us started on diagnosing the problem. I figured the wind turbine must have a bad bearing, or the blades had somehow become unbalanced. I envisioned having to dismount the unit from its mast on the back of the boat, ship it off to the manufacturer for repair (thankfully, it’s still under warranty), wait a month to have it repaired and returned, then having to remount and reconnect the unit. Tom informed me that something as simple as a loose wire could cause a problem similar to what I was experiencing. He came out to the boat on Tuesday and started checking the wiring. In about five minutes, he located a bad selector switch on the control panel. We put a jumper around the switch, and the wind turbine worked perfectly. Replacing the switch is a $15 fix. The new switch should be here Monday. It’ll take two minutes to swap out the old switch.

Happy, happy, joy, joy!

In other news, we’ve decided to replace our soft bottom inflatable dinghy with a rigid bottom inflatable (RIB) of roughly the same size. This should provide better stability transiting rough anchorages, now that we have a bigger outboard and can go faster. Before I could even order the thing, I got an offer to buy our current dinghy — out of the blue! I was dreading the hassle of selling the old boat. Problem solved, miraculously! The new boat should be here next week. One of the features of the new boat is a folding transom, so when the boat is deflated and stored on deck, it has a lower profile, making it easier to see over it while steering Madge on passages. I’m really looking forward to having an RIB dinghy.

Snowbirds and Turkeys

The annual southward migration of snowbirds is underway as we approach the end of the official Hurricane Season and the arrival of cold weather in the higher latitudes. Those cruisers heading south along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway will pass right by St. Marys, while those heading south offshore can duck into Cumberland Sound and the St. Marys River for a well-deserved rest along the way, if they so choose. The concurrence of the weather, routing and holidays usually means that a number of cruisers stop over in St. Marys at Thanksgiving. A number of years ago, a local restaurant owner (a former cruiser, I believe) decided to provide the space, table settings and some turkeys for a Thanksgiving dinner, asking the cruisers laying over in our fair village to bring dishes of whatever they could for a potluck, covered dish feast. Several years ago, someone claimed to have counted upwards of 200 boats in the river, though the number fluctuates widely each year. It’s a great time to meet up with old friends or to buddy up with other cruisers heading to similar destinations. We hope to meet some who are heading to the Keys and the Bahamas.

In the 10 years we’ve had a home in St. Marys, Suzy and I have only been around for three Thanksgivings. This year will be our fourth. Local boaters, including the St. Marys Yacht Club — of which we are members — pitch in to provide assistance to cruisers stopping in. We’ve added our names to the list of drivers willing to provide transportation to groceries, drug stores, laundries, hardware stores, and even to some of the chandleries as far away as Jacksonville. We’ll help with the dinner as well. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the Yacht Club will be hosting a social for cruisers at the Club’s house boat in the marina.

If you are a cruiser, or know of any who may be heading south about now, who might be in the area of St. Marys around Thanksgiving Day, please let them know they are welcome to stop by and join us for dinner.

Reefer Madness

Madge on Ball - 110815Here’s Madge back on her ball in the St. Marys River, wondering why in the world she’s here and not heading somewhere fun.

It’s the refrigerator’s fault.

Now that the dinghy motor is working reliably, the only thing keeping us from leaving is the “reefer.” Without it, we’d constantly be buying blocks of ice and pumping out the box — and I don’t intend to do that unless I absolutely have to. So, until I can figure out what’s wrong, we’re staying here.

In the meantime, Suzy and I are brushing up on our navigational skills in a night class with another couple of couples from the yacht club; we’ve volunteered to help next week in decorating one of the mansions on Cumberland Island for Christmas; and we’ve offered to provide transportation for cruisers in town the week of Thanksgiving. During the days, we dinghy out to Madge and work on the refrigerator. I bang around and curse for an hour or two each morning, and then we come back to shore and I go buy something else in an attempt to find a solution to the “working fine but not getting cold” problem. I’m now wondering if there’s a problem with the low pressure quick disconnect port, since the refrigerant I keep trying to add just doesn’t seem to be getting into the system.

I think it’s time to call in some knowledgeable friends.


How Do You Eat an Elephant?

One bite at a time.

That’s what I would tell my students when I taught a Project Management course, about how to handle a big or complex task. You break it down into smaller pieces and tackle them one at a time. Eventually, you’ve eaten the whole elephant.

I’m going after my to-do list with Madge the same way. First, I have to be able to reliably get back and forth from the dock to the boat. That means the outboard for the dinghy is my most pressing concern. The refrigerator is the next priority. It doesn’t make any sense to take an extended trip if you can’t keep at least some of your provisions cold. Did I mention that the new tachometer is acting up? I’m hoping it’s just a loose wire, but I’ll need to figure out what’s causing it to cut out every now and then, and get that fixed. The speed log is a lower priority, though it needs fixing, too. I’m hoping the paddle wheel just needs a good cleaning. Then, there’s reinforcing the hoist for the dinghy motor, for when we have to raise it up to the block on the rail for long trips, and figuring out a rig for lifting the entire dinghy/motor assembly nightly to get it out of the water – for both security and to keep the nasties from growing on the bottom of the dink.

I spent an hour and a half yanking on the starter rope for the outboard Sunday morning before giving up and rowing the dinghy out to Madge, which was only possible because the current was moving in the direction from the dock to the boat. Fortunately, a helpful neighbor in the anchorage gave us a tow back to the dock as I rowed back in from the boat (after about a half-hour of yanking on the starter rope). I was rowing like crazy and hardly making any headway at all, this time against the current, when our Good Samaritan showed up. (Thanks, Kevin. I owe you one.) I spent Sunday afternoon and evening online reading every cruising forum discussion of Tohatsu  outboard problems, and pouring over the Service Manual. The take-away was that these motors sometimes have a hair-trigger deadman switch, and that they also require a kid-gloves break-in period. So, Monday morning I headed down to the dock and scrupulously followed the starting procedure specified in the manual, as well as pulling out hard on the deadman button and making sure the stop key was fully wedged under it. The motor started after four or five pulls. I let it warm up at idle for about five minutes, then let it run for a long time at the dock at slightly more than idle speed, before finally shutting it off. I let it sit for about three hours. I was careful to make sure the deadman switch was blocked open, and the motor started on the first pull. I let it run for a while at just over idle speed again. Tuesday morning, the motor started on the first pull. It seems the trick to starting the motor and having it stay running is to make sure the deadman switch isn’t killing off the starter, and then to let the motor warm up at idle for at least three minutes before putting the motor in gear. And it only took me three days to figure that out.

I’ve swallowed the first bite of my elephant. My shoulders should recover from all that yanking and rowing in about a week.

Ah, the cruising life

 In the two months since my last post, we’ve completed our upgrades to sails, covering canvas, standing rig, running rigging, fresh water system, sanitary system, propane system, and new bottom paint. It eventually did stop raining so much. We finally put Madge back into the water last Thursday morning, at high tide on a beautiful morning – “only” two months later than originally intended. Our plan was to splash on Wednesday, but Mother Nature decided we needed yet another reminder of who was really in charge, so we had a weather delay day.

We immediately began our first short shakedown cruise, motoring north about 40 nm on the ICW to Saint Simons Island, where we were to have some new equipment installed. We passed lots of boats heading south for the winter, and encountered three pods of dolphins behind Cumberland Island. At one point, riding with the outgoing tide, Madge hit 9 knots. She rarely tops 5 knots. However, not much later, we turned against the tide, and our speed dropped to just over 2 knots. It took us a long time to pass behind Jekyll Island, where we touched bottom a couple of times in the narrow channel near low tide. After a long 8 hours of motoring, we reached our destination just before 5 o’clock.

Our water-cooled refrigerator – which had been working fine when we pulled Madge out of the water – didn’t start working again when we put her back in. Fortunately, we had few perishables requiring refrigeration. Anticipating a busy Friday, we bought a block of ice from the marina, dropped it in the fridge and turned in early.

It’s been a while since I’ve slept on the boat, and I’d forgotten how small the berths seem. Suzy didn’t have any problems, but I couldn’t get comfortable, and had a restless night.

We started early Friday morning on our to-do list. Our new equipment includes a new VHF radio (standard marine two-way radio) with the added feature of having an AIS receiver. The AIS receiver connects to our chartplotter (electronic GPS chart screen) to show any large commercial vessels within a certain range of us. This will help us avoid getting run over by freighters and such. In addition to the VHF/AIS, we added a masthead wind speed/direction instrument, which ties into the chartplotter and autopilot. I had scheduled two days for the work, but since we couldn’t travel on Wednesday, we had to get it done in one. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but Madge doesn’t have a lot of room and is already stuffed with equipment. There were several items that would have to be reconfigured in order to make room for the new stuff. Our installer was Steve from Dunbar Sales, who has done a lot of work on our boats in the past. He’s always done great work. Steve worked steadily beginning at 8 am, and finished just after 6 pm. That could not have been done had Suzy and I not pitched in and routed the cables through the boat while Steve worked in the cockpit and at the nav station. In the end, it all looks great and works great.

I had hoped to work on the refrigerator while Steve worked on the electronics, but I didn’t get the chance. Since our block of ice was still hanging on, and we knew we were headed back home the next day, we let it go. Suzy and I sneaked off to the dockside bar for a brief respite before having dinner on the boat. We cleaned up the mess from the day’s work and collapsed into our berths late. We had an early tide to catch in the morning.

The trip south back to Saint Marys was almost the same as the trip north, except we kept the current with us practically the whole way. We entered Saint Andrews Sound at the head of a line of about six southbound boats. Within about 5 nm, they had all passed us, even though we were making over 6 knots. As we entered the Cumberland River, I noticed our speed log was reading 0.0 knots. The speed log is a little paddle wheel on the bottom of the hull that tells us how fast Madge is going relative to the water. The chartplotter tells us how fast Madge is moving across the Earth’s surface. The difference between the two tells us what the current is doing. I’m hoping it’s just a case of the paddle wheel being clogged – but that’s now something else I have to fix.

We got back to our mooring in the river in the late afternoon. Madge hadn’t been on the ball for three months, and the pennant was heavily encrusted with barnacles and seaweed. More to clean. I can only imagine how bad it will be after we’ve been gone for 8 months.

Once on the ball, we lowered our new outboard motor from its travel bracket on the aft rail to the transom of the dinghy for its maiden voyage ashore. I cranked it up and zipped around the mooring field to test it out, then returned to the boat to load up for going ashore. I should not have shut off the outboard, because once I did, it wouldn’t start again. After about 20 minutes of pulling and cursing, I gave up and rowed the dink, Suzy and a few essentials to the dock. Fortunately, the tide and wind were going the same direction we were, or I’d have never made it. Another thing to fix.

So, now Madge is back in her spot in the river and Suzy and I are home. I’m exhausted, and I have to fix the refrigerator, the speed log and the outboard before we can venture out again.

When does the fun start?