This season was full of big changes aboard Strathspey. First and most importantly, we left Strathspey down in Green Cove Springs, Florida over a pretty hot, wet summer; locals tell us that the summer of 2013 was one of the wettest on record. Arriving back in Green Cove Springs in late December we felt guilty when we saw Strathspey’s green, algae-covered decks to say nothing about the heavy grime from the dirty boatyard. After installing all new electronics, a new water maker, a new holding tank and radar and buying a new dinghy we realized our late launch had effectively shortened our cruising season and, most importantly, our cruising range. So, here we are, back in Green Cove Springs, at the end of a cruising season and we take stock….what worked, what didn’t and what would we do differently. It’s mostly good, some bad and some a little downright ugly.
Leaving Strathspey in Florida was good because it meant we didn’t have to slog south for over a thousand miles before finally getting warm. But, and this is a big bad but…..the heavy summer rains in Florida combined with the humidity turned Strathspey’s decks an emerald green. Even uglier, a less than perfect seal in our companion way caused water damage to our beautiful teak and holly floors down below.
Our late launch was good because it meant we spent a fun Christmas with our children back in Ottawa. But it was a pretty bad time trying to get Strathspey ready to launch in Florida in January. Sure, it was measurably warmer than Ottawa but it was still cold to be on a boat when the outdoor temps sometimes hovered just over the freezing mark. On top of that it was hard to get a good weather window to cross over to the Bahamas at that time of year. It was a good thing to spend the winter in the Abacos and explore all sorts of new (to us) neat little anchorages and harbours. But it was a bad thing that the Abacos in the winter is soooo windy because you really aren’t far enough south to avoid the continuous cold fronts stretching south. In fact, there were a few fronts where our weather guy, Chris Parker, actually said it was gonna get ugly.
Our new instruments were an absolute necessity because our chart plotter had failed us in Cuba last year and, given that they were almost 13 years old, it was time to replace them. The bad (well…not really bad but definitely not good) was that there was a big learning curve with these instruments. When we crossed onto the Bahamas Bank and Blair lay down at the end of his watch, I ended up hand-steering for almost three hours in the middle of the night rather than disturbing his desperately needed sleep. I knew how to do a Heading Hold on our new instruments (just continue on this heading forever) BUT I couldn’t figure out how to do a GO TO (pick a point on the chart 20 miles ahead and trust the auto pilot to take care of drift and current and correct your headings accordingly). That meant I had to keep correcting my Heading hold every 10 minutes or so as the current pushed us North. Another good thing about staying in the Abacos for the winter was that we had lots of easy sailing from one anchorage to another rather than a season of destination-driven sailing of long distances. This gave us time to really familiarize ourselves with our new Garmin instruments. Oh and yes…I now know how to do a Go To!
Our new dinghy was a big Ugly disappointment. There is no Good aspect to it. We purchased an Achilles Hypalon soft-bottomed dinghy and, despite our best efforts, we struggled all season to keep that sucker inflated. Blair pumped the air floor up almost every day and the days that he didn’t, we really knew it; the dinghy would go squirrely and cavitate until we would almost come to a complete stop before it recovered. It had a pair of snap-apart oars that were great to store down below in one of our lockers until one of the oars finally seized up and would not come apart at all, making for a big storage problem. The D-ring on the bow actually started rusting after one week of use, which was really surprising. After using our dinghy for this past season, we don’t think this particular model is well-suited for life in the Bahamas or any further south. So, back here in Florida, we’ve returned it to an Achilles repair shop and are hoping to trade it in on a hard-bottomed AB dinghy.
Our water maker is good, all good. We love this new addition to Strathspey and can’t imagine cruising without it. We have a Spectra 150 that is rated for 8 gallons an hour. Realistically though, we think it is closer to six gallons per hour. We swim more often, knowing we can have a fresh water shower. We anchor in more remote areas knowing a lack of drinking water won’t drive us back to town. We even, on occasion, before we got sensible, used it to give our toilet a fresh water flush. Now that it is properly plumbed into Strathspey, it’s even better.
Adding two new solar panels was all good as well. This doubled our power to 340 W and, most importantly, put power consumption way down the list of things to worry about aboard Strathspey. We had purchased a Yamaha 2000 diesel generator and tucked it down below in our starboard locker in case the solar panels couldn’t keep up with our power usage but we only dragged that thing out twice and only because we wanted to make water while sitting at anchor. Also, on the power end of things, we replaced all five of our AGM batteries this year and are happy to report that they held a charge without issue, unlike last year when our seven-year old AGMs would not stay charged.
Our new holding tank and new waste plumbing system was sort of good….and sort of not good. The persistent eau de sewage smell from last season was eliminated immediately with these new installations. However, later in the season, it re-surfaced and Blair spent many hours trying to determine where that smell was originating from. He tightened clamps, he applied silicon gel to all fittings, he even spread soap on the inspection plate of the actual holding tank to see if it was leaking. Now, here we are ready to haul-out next week and the smell is completely gone. A mystery to us and here’s hoping it stays gone.
Communications was sometimes good and sometimes bad. Number one on my list of pet peeves while cruising on Strathspey is Communications or rather the difficulties of Communications; it’s important that I can stay connected with our children. We wistfully remember our first cruise South in 2007/2008 when getting emails was as easy as hoisting our wifi antennae up the mast and logging in via un-secured routers. Not so anymore. It was easy, albeit expensive, to stay connected while in the USA – we have a pretty rudimentary cell phone on which we can receive phone calls and texts and we purchased a Verizon MIFI, a wireless hotspot, so as to receive emails while in the US. Once we crossed to the Bahamas, we inserted our Bahamian Batelco SIM chip into my iPhone and purchased a data plan and a voice plan. So, I can happily confirm that we stayed connected to the kids but the cost was pretty ugly. Blair always tells me that in the future, Internet will be the highest priced utility for Canadians and I definitely agree after totaling up our Communications bills for this past season and seeing that we are close to $700.
We’ve spent the last week readying Strathspey for another summer in the South. We’ve stripped the canvas off, applied a final, protective coat of wax on her topsides, off-loaded anything that can be damaged by mildew, made trip after trip to our storage locker and are about to do a final wipe down of the interior with a mild bleach solution. Strathspey will be hauled out on Monday and then we start heading home to Ottawa. A great season!