Welcome to Ken’s Blog!
Greetings! My apologies for this report coming out weeks after when I should have sent it. You may have heard that the Cabo San Lucas area, where Roberta and I live four to five months a year, had a direct hit by a Cat 3/4 hurricane. I am the President of our homeowner’s association in Cabo and over the last week I’ve been consumed by coordinating our community’s disaster recovery effort and getting information out to homeowners. This particular blog entry is being rushed out and probably isn’t as good as it could have been, but… it is what it is.
No worries though. The blog will be back next year, and it should be a very good year for the blog, and a very good year for Roberta and I. I have lots of ideas for ways to make the blog more fun and more interactive, and some cool surprises for the blog that I just never had time for this year.
Our 2014 cruising season has now ended.
Roberta and I flew home to Seattle last Saturday and (excepting the incidents in Mexico) we are enjoying being back in America. For the first time in months I had fast internet! Roberta couldn’t wait to go to Starbucks! There are no words to describe how it felt to go into Costco here in Seattle. There is nothing on a similar scale that we saw in Croatia, Montenegro, Malta or Italy. The selection and quality of the vegetables, meats, and food is shocking when you’ve been out of the country for a while. It isn’t like we were traveling in third world countries, but.. America is unique in the world, and that fact is really driven home once you’ve been out of the US for a while.
Wow, what an incredible year this was!
We moved the boats over 2,000 miles and had some great times and we also had some challenging times. It was a year with high-highs and low-lows, that sometimes felt more like an advanced Captain’s training course than a vacation.
Here’s a quick map showing the route we took this year:
These maps show the over 2,000 miles that Seabird and Sans Souci covered this summer season. It’s hard for me to imagine that we did all of this in just a few months, but we started in Croatia, cruised down the east coast of Italy, explored the east and southern coasts of Sicily, cruised Malta, returned to Sicily, then out to the Aeolian islands, back to the west coast of Italy, out to the island of Ppnza, past the island of Capri, northeast Sardinia, the east coast of Corsica, past Montecristo, cruised Elba, returned to the mainland, visiting the Cinque-terra region of Italy, and finished in San Remo, on the border with France.
That’s a lot of paddling!
NOTE: CLICK ANY OF THE PICTURES IN THIS BLOG TO GET AN ENLARGED VIEW
At the end of my last blog entry, we had put Sans Souci into the Mirabello marina in mainland Italy, in the town of La Spezia. We had scheduled a date for some boat-mechanics from France to meet us, to accompany us on the last leg of the voyage. The boat was running fine, but I liked the idea of having someone in Europe who knew how to run the boat, just in case it would need to be moved for some reason.
Unfortunately, the guys who were supposed to accompany us were sidetracked, and wouldn’t be available for a week. We were fine with waiting, but were worried the weather, which had suddenly turned nice would turn nasty again. Our last ride would be a long one; over 100 nautical miles of open sea.
Roberta and I watched the weather reports closely, and when we saw a day of dead-calm seas followed by several days of bad weather, we decided to just go for it.
Roberta and I had planned to have crew along for our final 100 nautical mile cruise to San Remo. However, a couple of days before our planned departure a beautiful weather window opened and we decided to jump on it. The flat seas you see here were as rough as it got. It was a perfect way to finish the trip!
Roberta’s and my final trip was eleven hours long, on dead calm water, in perfect conditions. I had been dreading the trip, knowing that we were close to finishing the year with zero serious mechanical problems, and that it just felt like we were overdue for some crisis. I was confident that something would go wrong. Afterall, what are the odds that we’d get through an entire season with no major mechanical issues? As it turns out, the odds were 100%! We arrived at the boat’s final resting place for the 2014 season, at the Portosole marina in San Remo, without incident.
Several people we have spoken to, who have reading our blog entries have said, “It doesn’t sound like you had much fun this year?” I apologize for sending that impression, although I must admit that this was not our favorite year. It actually wasn’t so bad, and when we think back on it, there were some incredible highlights.
Perhaps part of the problem was that the last few years have been so incredible. We have been spoiled by Turkey, Greece, Montenegro and Croatia, all of which had spectacular anchorages spaced close together. This year we had long stretches where there weren’t really good places to anchor, and we also had a summer which was so bad that it made headlines in Europe. I read one article in the French press talking about this being a year where the luckiest vacationers were those who vacationed in September, after the summer was over. The weather finally stabilized and they were able to take advantage of the lower off-season rates. July and August were miserable at times.
Before you feel too sorry for us; keep in mind the old saying that goes something like, “The worst day on a boat beats the best day on shore.” I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I would say that if you watch this slideshow that I quickly threw together you’ll agree that if this was a bad summer, can you imagine how awesome a normal summer is?
Click the link below to see a slideshow highlighting the summer. I think you’ll like it!:
A warning before you continue reading…
The balance of this blog entry summarizes the effort to close up the boat for the winter. Some of it gets a bit techie. I did what I can to make it comprehensible to non-boaters, but … it is still stuff that some of you might be bored by. Form your own opinion. My feelings will not be hurt if you skip some of what follows.
With our journey finished, I was curious to analyze our fuel consumption and see how we did. The spreadsheet above shows that Sans Souci, our Nordhavn 68, consumed a whopping 3,600 gallons of fuel! Given that fuel costs around $9 per gallon in Europe you can imagine why it was important for us to fill up in the country of Montenegro where duty free fuel was possible.
Steven Argosy, on the boat we spent the summer traveling alongside, had to rub it in a little, as to how efficient his Nordhavn 62 is, by sending me this email:
“…I did some rough calculations. I averaged just over 5 GPH for the summer so far not including generator use. I used 1253 gallons so far on the main since Montenegro and 377 gallons on the generator. It works out to a bit more than 1.35 nm per gallon. – Steven”
While I am talking about the Nordhavn 62, I should probably mention something sad. Although the Nordhavn 62 is one of greatest boats ever built, it has been superceded (if not equalled) by newer model boats, and years ago, the molds from which it is made were literally put out to pasture. Finally, after years of the molds getting moldy, Nordhavn decided to permanently retire them. This article talks about the history, and end of the line of this phenomenal boat: http://www.nordhavn.com/news/headlines/rip_friend/
The topic of where to winter the boats became a soap opera that spanned the whole season.
We only cruise four or five months a year, which leaves seven or eight months when the boat is alone. One would think that the solution is to just put the boat into a marina, turn everything off, and then fly home.
I wish it were that simple.
On a boat as complex as Sans Souci, there is much that needs done during the off-season.
- Zincs need checked. The zincs are small chunks of metal attached to various places on the bottom of the boat (propellors, shafts) that are meant to be “sacrificial”. They are intended to be absorb the deterioration from electrolysis in the water, before it eats surrounding metals
- Start the engines periodically. Sans Souci has four diesel engines (two main engines, two generators). These engines should be started once a month, just to keep them in good working condition and the starting batteries charged up
- Wash and wax the boat. Keeping the boat clean is important to keeping the finish looking new for years to come
- Wipe off the bottom. The bottom of the boat collects barnacles and other crud. It needs a diver to go down periodically to wipe it off
- Check the lines. Over the winter there are a series of storms. The lines loosen and chafe. They need checked constantly and occasionally need tightened or replaced
- Check the power. Sans Souci has power going at all times, even during the winter. The batteries need continual charging, and some electrical items, such as the bilge pumps, should always have access to power. Dock power is always unreliable during storms. There are power outages, power surges, even times when voltage sags. All of these can trip breakers and wreak havoc on the boat’s electrical system
- Accept parts. Receive parts and put them onboard. I will be sending mechanics over at the start of the next year’s crusing season. They will need parts of various sorts, and those need to be shipped. There will be a series of shipments this winter headed to the boat.
- Assist technicians. I will have various technicians on/off the boat over the winter. Someone needs to watch over them, and get them on/off the boat. I always want all work on the boat to happen while I am away. My goal is to fly home at the end of the season, leaving behind a list of work to be done, and then return at the start of the following season to a boat that has been restored to “new” condition.
Think of it this way…. Let’s say you had a million dollar bill, and were told you had to leave it lying somewhere in a foreign country, somewhere you had never been, and that you’d need to trust someone you’ve never met, and who doesn’t speak your language, to watch over it, and care for it, for seven months. You would want to be very careful about who you pick and where you place it. And the truth of the matter is that this analogy is not a good one for several reasons: 1) The boat costs more than a million dollars, and 2) A million dollar bill would be easy to care for and secure. Boats are complex!
Our search for a marina started months before this summer’s cruising even began. Moorage in Europe is not always easy to find, particularly when you are seeking moorage for two fairly large boats (Sans Souci and Seabird.) In some countries, such as France, there simply isn’t moorage available. To get a slip you have to know someone, have lots of money, and wait a very long time. Italy is easier, but even then, there is a bit of a game of musical chairs that goes on. During the summer slips are easily available for short-term moorage, as all of the boats are out cruising. At the end of the season, when the music stops, everyone returns to their home ports and the boats scramble to find moorage.
Before our search could begin this year, we had to determine where we would finish the season. That was a battle in itself, but resulted in us deciding we wanted to be somewhere near France. I then studied dozens of marinas, with only the information I could find on the internet to work with. There wasn’t much information. I wound up writing to many marinas to get pricing and availability. It was a long process with lots of back and forth.
We finally settled on a marina called Imperia, in Imperia Italy, about 50 miles from the border between Italy and France. I chose it because it was new, which would hopefully mean that the electricity was stable, and that there might be good wifi internet. It was also recommended by several other cruisers. Imperia required a $6,000 USD per boat deposit to hold space for our boats, and both our traveling companions (the Argosys, on Seabird) and ourselves wired money.
Months later, as the cruising season was starting, I stumbled onto a new article saying that the Imperia marina was filing bankruptcy! Emails to the marina went unanswered. I called them, and they assured me we would have moorage, but meanwhile their website disappeared, and emails continued to be unanswered. I received mixed reports from the cruising community. Some people said the marina was alive and well, while others asked me questions like, “Can you be certain that the security will be good? Or that the power will stay on?”
We spent most of the summer worrying, and hoping that someone would give us definitive information. I even paid some guys from France to drive to Imperia and have a look. They said good things about the marina, but we were still nervous.
To make a long story short… The marina continued to refuse to respond to emails, and we decided we couldn’t trust them. We bailed, forfeiting our deposits. We notified the marina and asked for refunds. The marina responding saying there were lots of creditors ahead of us, but that they’d tell the lawyers who would add us to the bottom of the list.
Midway through our season we stayed at a very nice marina, called Ragusa, on the southern end of Sicily. They offered a price for moorage for the winter that was roughly the same as the deposit we had paid at Imperia, and a lot less than we still owed Imperia. It was too good to be true, but was true. Even better, Ragusa is close to Tunisia where cheap fuel is available, and outside the EU [Note: For tax reasons we need to exit the EU every 18 months] and close to Malta, where we found great cruising! They also had a good shipyard, and offered dry storage on land if we wanted it. The downside was that it was 700 miles from where we had planned to finish the year. Steven said, “It’s only 700 miles, let’s just backtrack.” I said, “I don’t backtrack.” It would be 700 miles south, and then another 700 miles north. The savings just weren’t worth it to me, and I didn’t believe the savings were as big as Steven was thinking. It would be another 1,400 miles on the boats, and there is both a time and money cost for that distance. I didn’t want to split our two-boat group, but both Steven and I dug in our heels. I started the search over, finding it a little easier with only one boat to find space for, and settled on Portosole in San Remo, while Steven committed to Ragusa.
As I am sitting typing this, I know what happened after our two boats parted company, and it isn’t pretty. Seabird did make it south the 700 miles to Ragusa, but it was not a perfectly smooth trip. Steven and Carol have their own blog, and whereas my trip was boring, they will have a much more interesting end-of-season blog entry. I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but registering for Seabird’s blog at: www.seabirdlrc.com could be worthwhile. I have mentioned in the past that I always consider the blog a bit of a battle. When good times are happening, my blog is boring, and readers lose. When things go wrong, and I am least happy, the blog gets exciting! Steven’s blog (when he gets around to writing it) will win the competition between us for best final blog entry this year.
The town of San Remo turned out to be a wonderful surprise. From the marina to town is an easy walk, and there is all of the shopping and restaurants we could want. We drove over one afternoon to check out the other marinas that I had contacted, including the Imperia marina, and there was none I would have rather been at. We had somehow stumbled into a marina that was everything we had hoped for.
Our final days on the boat were more work than I had expected. Jeff Sanson, from www.pacificYachtManagement.com flew over for our last week, to help tuck the boat in for the winter. Jeff is a whirlwind of energy and whereas my plan was to relax and let him do all the work, that is easier said than done. We all stayed busy during the final week readying the boat for the winter.
One of the first things Roberta and I did after arrival was to look for someone to wash the outside of the boat. I found a local company who would wash the boat but they wanted to inspect it first. Their proposal surprised me: Five hundred euros (around $700 USD.) I didn’t love the price, but the boat was in desperate need of a good washing so I said, “Sure” and we headed off to lunch while they got started.
On return to the boat we were somewhat shocked. The cleaners had removed all the cushions, and basically everything outside the boat that wasn’t nailed down, and strung it all along the dock. The canvas you see dangling from the passarelle of the sailboat on Sans Souci’s port side comes from our boat! This picture shows only some of the “stuff” that was strewn down the dock. I can’t imagine what other boats thought. Perhaps they were thinking, “Oh look. Sans Souci is having a garage sale!”
It all turned out well though. The cleaners were unbelievably efficient and did an incredible job. They had a team of six people who brought their own hoses and brushes. The entire wash, which normally takes a full day was done in about three hours. The wash was well worth the money, and I tipped them well. Later, I went to thank the agent who arranged the cleaners, and he said they had been shocked by the amount of salt on our boat, and couldn’t imagine how we had gotten salt spray all the way up on the radar arch. Never under-estimate a Norhavn!
We were safely in port, but that isn’t the end of the story…
When I first spoke to the marina about a reservation they said they had no slips available for a boat my size. But then, minutes later, they wrote back to say that they had another large boat needing space, and could possibly wedge our boats into THREE slips on a dock meant for smaller boats. They needed me to commit within minutes if I wanted that option, and I took it. Why not? Well .. I was soon to find why not.
Access to the slip, and tying up at the dock were easier than expected. The three slips our two boats were sharing had all the space we could want, and then some.
We were delighted to find that our moorage at the Portosole marina, in San Remo Italy, was wider than our boat. It is very common for boats to fib about the width of their boat, because moorage rates depend on how wide your boat is. This means that you are often asked to back into a slip which is narrower than your boat, and you have to proceed backwards slowly, hoping that your boat will push aside other boats without causing damage. At some ports, such as St Tropez in France, this is a spectator sport. Huge crowds line the dock, particularly when there is a little wind to add to the “fun” as multi-million dollar boats struggle to shoe-horn into impossible places.
One of the many challenges with Med Mooring is the tying off of the bow line. The boat is tied at the bow by two lines which extend to the bottom of the marina, and at the stern (back) to two bollards (cleats) on shore. Because we would be leaving the boat for seven months, during which there would be heavy storms, we used the boats windlasses to make the lines tight at the front and the back of the boat. The bow line you see here, tied to a cleat at Sans Souci’s bow was trickier to tie than is apparent. That rope line you see is actually tied to about twenty feet of very heavy chain. The windlass is required to lift the chain off the bottom, and once you do that, you somehow need to get it off the windlass and onto a cleat. If you leave the line on the cleat a sudden surge from a wind-produced wave can wreck the windlass, meaning an expensive repair.
The only slip available for our boat was actually one and a half slips. This sounded fine at first, but then I discovered that there were complications. The bollards (on shore cleats) were positioned assuming a boat smaller than ours. We needed to center the boat by tying to bollards that were spaced incorrectly for our boat.
Because the bollards behind the boat were spaced for normal usage, and Sans Souci was spanning one and a half slips, there was no way to tie the boat correctly. We needed bollards in places where there weren’t any. We had two that were much too far apart, plus one that was in an awkward place centered behind my boat. Another concern was chafing. The lines will take a beating over the winter and whatever we do needs to hold up to extremely strong winds and surge. The first couple of pictures above show how other boats on the dock were using chain to tie up, and gave me the inspiration for what I should do on my boat. I drew the picture on the right to show how I could use chain to simulate having two different points to tie to behind the boat.
The drawing went through a number of iterations as I spoke to people in the port. The original version had shock absorbers on the lines, and I received a bid for $7,000 USD to put it together. I quickly removed the shock absorbers and simplified what I was trying to accomplish. My final solution still involved writing a nearly $3,000 check. Argh.
Tying the boat was a challenge, and then I hit an electrical surprise.
Because Sans Souci was tied up on a dock normally used by smaller boats the electrical power was also sized for smaller boats. We had three slips being shared by ourselves and a 100′ sailboat that was on our port (left) side. We moored within an hour of each other, and discovered simultaneously that the shore power wasn’t going to work. It was the wrong kind, and there wasn’t enough of it. [Note: Sans Souci is moored at a dock with 32 amp single phase 230v shorepower, whereas the “big boat” dock has 380v 64 amp 3-phase power.]
The joys of shorepower
We knew when we equipped Sans Souci that we’d be cruising around the world. One of the many challenges of world cruising is that different countries have different electrical standards. When we are away from the dock, it is irrelevant. We generate our own electricity. However, when we are in a marina, we usually try to connect to whatever shorepower the marina has to offer.
At most marinas you are not permitted to run your generator and must connect to shorepower. Running a generator while tied up within a few feet of other boats will make you extremely unpopular. Modern generators are very quiet, but they still have some noise and exhaust. No one wants to smell my generator exhaust all day.
Sans Souci gets around this by having a huge, heavy, expensive and fragile device called “The Atlas” which converts virtually any dockside shorepower into the same type of electricity (voltage, frequency) that we have at home in America. I am sure that the company who makes my Atlas would disagree with my calling their device “fragile” but I’ll stand by those words, and have the long history of repairs to back up what I say.Despite this, I would install an Atlas again today, and consider it a must for the kind of world cruising Roberta and I have been doing, but the flexibility it offers does come at a price.
Actually, I’ll back off a little on my comment. In a “normal” environment, I am sure the Atlas is fine. However, we travel to places where the power is not only different than US standards, but often different at different parts of the day. We have been many places where voltage at the dock is best described as “random.” The voltage rises and falls based on events well beyond our boat. If someone in town runs their dryer, voltage can drop at the dock. We’ve been in marinas where the marina staff thinks nothing of turning off power to the dock several times a day. And, then there are the winter storms. These can create major power surges and long outages.
Another major disadvantage of the Atlas is that it consumes some percentage of all the electricity it is given, and has a fairly high minimum power requirement just to be operated. In some marinas electricity is very expensive, and the electricity consumed by the Atlas, even with virtually nothing on the boat using electricity, can cost a thousand dollars a month or more. We’ve also had issues with heat generated by the Atlas. When we are in extraordinarily hot places, such as when we were in Hong Kong, the Atlas was throwing out so much heat that my lazarette (where the Atlas lives) was overheating, causing problems with other electrical components, like my inverters. Luckily, I have good air conditioning in the lazarette and could bring the temperature down to a reasonable level, but the incremental air conditioning also cost electricity, and reduced my cooling capacity. In addition to heat, when the power at the dock is severely limited (not many amps available), the amps that the Atlas pigs for itself doesn’t leave many for the boat.
To make a long story short, I’ve decided that the right answer for when we are not on the boat is to run the boat off of the batteries. The boat has inverters which convert power stored in the 24v batteries to US-standard electricity. I should have done this years ago, and just didn’t think of it. The inverters only power the 120v appliances and electrical outlets. The heavy appliances on the boat, such as the washer, dryer, dive compressor, and air conditioning, aren’t used during the winter, so I don’t need to think about them, and the safety electronics, such as the bilge pumps run off 24v, so as long as the batteries are charged, they will operate.
To run off the batteries, I need a way to charge them, and I have a battery charger which is very flexible. Like the Atlas it can accept virtually any electricity thrown at it. This is fairly typical of most battery chargers. I am guessing that power surges and frequent outages can also “blow up” a battery charger, but instead of a $50,000 highly complex specialty item (the Atlas) needing repair, it is a $1,000 battery charger that can be found and replaced fairly easily.
For more than you ever wanted to know about how Sans Souci is wired, and how I’m running from shorepower, this is a slideshow I put together mostly for my own use. I tend to forget how these things work from year to year and need to leave myself some degree of documentation: http://tinyurl.com/ke9zwp4
Ordinarily I have no problem attaching to shorepower, but at the Portosole marina we were at a dock intended for smaller boats with lower power requirements. We battled for nearly a week to get shorepower working, and even brought over a specialized electrician from France on three seperate trips. But, finally, we did it! We got it working just in time to turn it all off, and stop using my fancy international power transformer (the Atlas), as we put the boat into winter-mode running off a battery charger.
See those silver buckets? They are each full of five gallons of 15-40w motor oil. I purchased five of them in order to change the oil on my two main engines, and two generators. You will be shocked by the cost: $1,100 USD! Gas, oil, diesel, and electricity are all much more expensive in Europe than what we pay in the United States.
Some of you may recall that earlier this season I had an oil hose pop off while changing the oil and manage to spray myself, and the entire lazarette, with dirty oil. I swore that I’d never do it again.
However, as this picture shows, my resolve not to spray oil didn’t last long. Jeff, my US mechanic who flew over to help me put away the boat for the season, asked me to start the pump so that we could test that it was working. He was holding a hose we were using to drain the starboard engine and thought only a trickle would come out. As you can see in this picture, it was more than a trickle. I can confirm that the oil pump was working quite well indeed.
Our final days on the boat were spent cleaning and packing. Here’s a picture of Roberta cleaning out shelves in the master bath while wearing headphones to listen to music. She has a pad of paper in her hands. One of the last tasks she does on the boat is to go through everything and make notes about what we need to bring back to the boat next year.
She won’t be happy I put this picture into the blog, but I thought she looked cute!
Just hours before we left the boat for the final time, the toilet in the master head broke. Someone (who shall remain nameless) was cleaning the toilet and had a brush down the throat when the ball valve at the base closed around the brush, stripping the gears. We carry lots of spares, and here we see Jeff being an incredibly good sport about swapping the guts of the toilet just hours before departure. (I was conveniently elsewhere at the moment)
Our final days were not all work. Our good friends from Cabo, Ray and Karen Hoffman, were on a small cruise ship that docked at San Remo. Interestingly, just before their arrival in San Remo, their cruise ship traveled to the south end of Corsica. This is noteworthy because at the time there was a huge mistral wind blowing. The mistral wind is a fierce wind (typically 30-60 knots) that can last for days in the Med. It was a good day to be in a marina, but their cruise went anyhow. They had an uncomfortable ride, but I guess cruise ships operate on a schedule, and have to move regardless of conditions. I prefer how we do it on Sans Souci. If the wind is blowing we sit still.
And, we didn’t know it at this time or we wouldn’t have been smiling, but wind was soon to play a larger role in our lives. Our homes and community in Cabo would soon be seeing winds over 100 knots.
This has nothing to do with my blog, but I found it interesting…
Our favorite cruising ground thus far has been Turkey. This puzzles some people, and we often get questions about, “Why Turkey?” The answer is: “Great anchorages, great people and the chance to see history close-up.”
I mention that because of a thought-provoking email I was sent earlier today. It was sent by a cruiser to everyone who receives his blog, and is somewhat self-explanatory.
Thanks for listening.
Lee and Zehra Myrina Limnos Gr …”
And, this has nothing to do with boating, but I have to say a word about Cabo before closing…
The media has not said much about the hurricane that struck Baja California, where we have owned a home for nearly 17 years. Our community in Cabo is approaching two weeks now with no water or power. We are in Seattle, but I speak with people in Cabo many times a day. I would like to share that the devastation was much worse than you have heard, and that the recovery is happening much quicker than anyone would ever have thought possible. I already had tremendous respect for the people of Mexico before the hurricane, and far more than that now.
Below are links to two longish, but quite compelling, videos that tell a bit more of the story than you may have heard. One shows the destruction, and the other shows the clean-up that is already happening. My prediction is that within a few short weeks tourists will start arriving back in Cabo and for most it will feel as though nothing ever happened. However, if you view these videos, you’ll know the rest of the story.
Video 1 – Hurricane Odile and the aftermath: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqwwTwuTNTM
Video 2 – The reconstruction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evgvoy_ZyR4
And in closing…If you missed the prior blog entries from this season, you may view them here:
If you haven’t been receiving my blog entries via email, click this link to register. It will be many months before I send another blog entry, but… why wait until the last minute:
That’s it for the summer 2014 cruising season. Another year has come to an end. Thank you all!
Ken and Roberta Williams
MV Sans Souci