Sporty Day on the Neuse River

Started: Beaufort Town Dock, 30°40.24′N 081°28.17′W, ICW mile 204

Anchored: Bonner Bay, 35°09.61′N 076°35.65′W, ICW mile 159

Log: 45 mi. Time: 8 hr. Engine: 4 hr. 

The rain was real “wrath of God” rain. Not figuratively, but literally. Later, we found three frogs on Red Ranger. Like the story in Exodus, chapter 8, the rain included frogs. This was one of our most amazing days of sailing ever. 


The wrath of God rain was a blinding storm. Again, we’re not talking figurative blinding; we’re talking literal blindness. We couldn’t see anything because the wind was blowing at over 30 miles per hour. The rain lashed at our faces: CA could look that way without risking injury because she had glasses. I squinted into the rain once.

The winds were sporty all day. Too sporty for folks like us. But, there we were. Sailing in what may have been a gale.

How was this day amazing? Let me count the ways.


Let’s begin with a 10:23 departure from Beaufort town docks. We chose slack tide, but the breeze was a challenge. The dockhands there helped us pivot around the end of the finger pier and launch out into Taylor creek without a serious problem. 

Over the last two days, I had disgnosed the fuel tank sender problem. I changed the engine zinc and replaced the oil in the fuel injector pump. We’ve broken a fair number of things on Red Ranger. It’s amazing to have things in reasonably good working order. 

We had a great motor up the Adam’s Creek Canal into Adam’s Creek. After five days at sea, and two days in town, the North Carolina country-side was a delight. We were amazed by trees, vacation homes, creeks and birds.

The Neuse

We expect problems in the Neuse River. We’ve never had a good passage of the Neuse. Today, the winds were forecast to be heavy — 20 knots of the S or SW — the kind of conditions that made a lot of people stay put in Beaufort.

Since we found a great anchorage in the South River (34°58.22′N 076°34.74′W, across the Neuse from Oriental, NC), we have two strategies for going N out of Beaufort.

  1. Duck in to South River if it’s crappy.
  2. Run the whole way to Bay River at the north if it’s less than crappy.

We don’t have a good set of strategies for going S. The problem here is that you have to get well out of Bay River to discover how bad the Neuse really is. By the time you’ve seen what you’re up against, you don’t want to turn back. Even though you should do.

Today, the wind was 20kt gusting to 25kt as we entered the Neuse. Depending on the direction of the wind, this is likely to be hellish. Turn back. 


Wind from the S (180°) is the perfect direction to push Red Ranger on a broad-reaching course of 060°: right up the river. We can’t emphasize that enough. The. Direction. Was. Perfect.

There are really three kinds of wind: too much, too little and the wrong direction. In this case, since the direction was perfect, it had to be too much wind. 

We saw too much wind: 20kt gusting to 25kt is where fun sailing ends and serious wind starts. Those are wind speeds where reducing the sail area is essential.

At about 35kt the situation moves from serious amateur sailing to professionals only. Technically, this is a “Fresh Gale” on the Beaufort wind scale, level 8. Not really for the likes of us. Or so we thought.

At 41kt it’s a “Strong Gale” and no one wants that. At this level, it devolves to craziness trying to keep things from breaking.

We rolled out our smallest sail, the stays’l, turned off Mr. Leham, and cruised up the Neuse at a respectible 5 to 6 kts in blissful, amazing, pure sailing. The Neuse was heaped up into 3’ and 4’ seas with breaking waves. But, since we were running with wind and wave, it was delightful under our little scrap of sail.

Heading Up and Falling Off

Heading N on the Neuse, you have to round the Gum Thicket Shoal, Piney Point and the Maw Point Shoal. These shoals extend a mile and a half from shore. They’re marked by obscure, little dayboards. If you steer by the obvious lay of the land, you’ll plow straight into a shallow shoal.

The wind from the S had been building. To round Gum Thicket Shoal, we had to head up to a beam reach under just our little stays’l. By now, the wind was gusting into the 30’s. The tiny sail made us very happy. It also left us amazed that we could make a respectable 6 knots. 

And we were amazed that we were handling wind of 30 gusting to 35 safely and sanely. We were having a great trip. We handled the boat competently. Nothing was flying about below decks. Neither of us got injured.

The good news was that we weren’t trying to prepare meals or sleep. That would have been awful. But we could comfortably loaf in the cockpit. 

Once around Gum Thicket Shoal, we could take a turn away from the wind. After passing Piney Point, we could fall off even further. This put the wind back at 150°, which slowed us down to just 3 knots. Barely limping along in the big breeze that was available.

This isn’t unexpected. A sail slicing through the wind (beam reach or beat) generates a lot of power. A sail pushed by the wind (broad reach or run) doesn’t really do all that well at generating aerodynamic lift.

We unrolled the big yankee and speed jumped to 6 knots. For about half an hour.

Blinding Rain

As we entered the Bay River under yankee and nothing else, we realized that the hills ahead of us — Sander’s Point, specifically — were obscured by rain. And this wasn’t just “rain”: normal rain viewed from the water is some darkness under a rain cloud. This was a wall of fog. The water was dark. The clouds were dark. The space between was filled with a gray void we couldn’t penetrate.

The Commodore ordered all sails furled and Mr. Lehman started up. 

This, it turns out, was amazingly brilliant.

About ten minutes after we got the yankee under control, the wind slammed us hard. It was gusting to 45 knots, pounding us with horizontal rain. If we’d had sails aloft, we probably would have been knocked nearly flat. Sideways in the water. Horrifying to contemplate.

As it was, we could see nothing. Rain hammered the dodger, rain filled the air. Rain slapped us in the face. I spent a tense 20 minutes staring only at the chart plotter hoping to get past the Green #3 dayboard in the Bay River.

Once we got into the Bay River, the worst of the storm had raced past. The wind subsided back into the 20’s and the rain let up enough that we could see where we were going. We put the hook down in Bonner Bay and cracked some beers to celebrate.


For three hours, the wind was flat. Nearly zero. See the picture above from just after sunset. Flat. By 21:00 it had picked up to 20kts again.

Today, we passed the Neuse, one of the big open water stretches here in North Carolina. Tomorrow promises to be a copy of today. With wind from the S again, we’ll tackle a short stretch of the Pamlico River, and the entire Pungo River, and drop the hook at the north end of the Pungo River.

Friday we can tackle the Alligator river, possibly parking in South Lake at the north end of the Alligator.

Saturday we may make Coinjock, NC. Then Great Bridge. Then Norfolk. 

The Fuel Tank Sender Problem

We’ve lost our fuel tank sender. It doesn’t report anything below about ½ tank. It simply drops from ½ to “not working at all” mode. I looked at it with my trusty multimeter. It is dead.

It’s a standard Teleflex sender. Nothing special; easy to replace.


Until we replace it, do we have a fallback? 

Duh. It’s a sailboat. 

The first fallback is to sail and stop using fuel. Tank level doesn’t matter anymore, right?

But sailing isn’t always the best choice. After making two long motor-sailing passages along the US East Coast, we’ve found that we like motor-sailing a lot. A real lot.

I’ve just finished working on a book about computer programming. During the long night watches, my brain continued to spin in “author mode”. This blog post will involve code. I apologize in advance.

Additional Workarounds

One workaround is never enough. Not for something as important as the distance we can cruise.

The second fallback to no working gauge is our “magic fuel consumption number” and a log. Based on data from Epic Northbound Voyage, Part I, combined with Epic Northbound Voyage, Part II, we appear to burn about 6×10-4 gallons per RPM-hour. Multiply hours at a given RPM to figure out what fuel was burned.

Previously, I had computed   for leg 1. The leg 2 data, including an estimate for failing to fill the tank to the top the second time, gives a slightly lower burn rate of  . We use a weighted average because leg 1 was 83,600 RPM-hours, and leg 2 was 88,700 RPM-hours. This is  , which is so close to 6 that I’m going to use that value. 

The third fallback is to open the inspection port and use a stick. This is annoying because we don’t really have a suitable inspection port. I have to remove the fuel level sender to “stick the tank.” The sender is held on with five screws, and an awkward shape to remove.

The design for the Whitby has 3 tanks: port and starboard are 75 gallon tanks. There’s a keel tank that holds something like 100 gallons. Red Ranger has no port tank and bilgewater leaks into the center tank. We’re focused on the starboard tank. 250 gallons. At 2000 RPM, you could go, well… How far could you go?

Sticking the Whitby Fuel Tank

The saddle tanks have a profile something like the following. This is the view from aft looking forward on the starboard tank. It seems to be about 32″ fore-to-aft; but it’s deeply buried inside the cabinetry, so it’s hard to be sure.

I figure that this shape is just a hair over 75 gallons. I get 17,472 in3; 75 gallons is exactly 17,325 in3.  Lacking better information, I’m using this as the size and shape.

The vertical 21″ line shows the depth when I drop a stick straight in. The sloping 31″ line shows the depth when I slide the stick down to the deepest part of the tank.

I did these two measurements yesterday by sticking a dowel in the tank and marking it with sharpie at the top. I then divided the space into quarters to help gauge depth. Since the existing sender is in the way, using a stick on regular basis to gauge fuel depth isn’t really practical.

Since the stick is at an angle, the marks on the stick aren’t directly indicative of gallons. You have to use two bits of math to get some meaningful accuracy. First, the correction for the offset stick:

This converts stick inches, s, to vertical inches, d, down the front of the tank. Here’s some Python programming to confirm this formula.

>>> cos(asin(12/28))*31


>>> cos(asin(12/28))*15.5


31″ on the stick is 28″ vertical inches. 15″ on the stick is 14″ vertical inches down the front of the tank. Not a huge difference, but it could mean three gallons of error.

The “cos(arcsin…)” expression reduces to the value of 0.9035. I prefer to show the whole formula rather than replace it with a mystical constant.

Depth To Gallons

The irregularity of the tank, however, leads to an important question. How to we convert stick or binnacle gauge readings to actual gallons? When the gauge reads ½ or the stick reads ½, how much fuel is that really?

We have a rather complex, two part formula to compute volume given depth. The bottom 14″ and the top 14″ play by different rules: the bottom is a triangular prism, the top is a simple rectangular box. Here’s the version in cubic inches, to show in detail how the triangle bottom and rectangle top work.

Ugh. Not really very useful in that form.

Here’s a simplified version that also includes the conversion from cubic inches to gallons; 231 in3/gal.

We can use this to create a handy stick-to-gallons table.

Here’s some Python programming to create the table. We’ll break this down into three separate very simple functions: stick_to_depth, depth_to_in3 and in3_to_gal. We can build a single stick_to_gal function that combines these into a single answer.

>>> def stick_to_depth(s):

...     return cos(asin(12/28))*s


>>> stick_to_depth(15.5)


>>> def depth_to_in3(d):

...     if d <= 14: return 5600*d/14

...     else: return 5600+(d-14)*832


>>> def in3_to_gal(d):

...     return d/231


>>> def stick_to_gal(s):

...     return in3_to_gal( depth_to_in3( stick_to_depth(s) ) )


>>> stick_to_gal(15.5)


Given our stick_to_gal function, we can produce a table with 9 steps, from 0/8 (empty) to 8/8 (full), showing the stick inches and the gallons actually in the tank.

>>> for i in range(9):

...     print( i/8, 31*i/8, stick_to_gal(31*i/8) )


0.0 0.0 0.0

0.125 3.875 6.062498915598007

0.25 7.75 12.124997831196014

0.375 11.625 18.187496746794018

0.5 15.5 24.258172795957233

0.625 19.375 36.86817054040109

0.75 23.25 49.47816828484494

0.875 27.125 62.088166029288786

1.0 31.0 74.69816377373266

The unformatted output is really hard to work with. We can clean that up like this.

>>> for i in range(9):

...     print( "{:d}/8 {:5.1f} {:5.1f}".format(i, 31*i/8, stick_to_gal(31*i/8)) ) 


0/8   0.0   0.0

1/8   3.9   6.1

2/8   7.8  12.1

3/8  11.6  18.2

4/8  15.5  24.3

5/8  19.4  36.9

6/8  23.2  49.5

7/8  27.1  62.1

8/8  31.0  74.7

That’s much nicer. As a fall-back measurement, this works out nicely. 

It would work out even more nicely if the fractions were properly reduced. We should use the fractions module to clean this up a bit.

>>> from fractions import *

>>> for i in range(9):

...     d= Fraction( i, 8 )                                                     ...     print( '{:3s} {:5.1f}" {:5.1f}'.format(d, float(31*d), stick_to_gal(31*d)))


0     0.0"   0.0

1/8   3.9"   6.1

1/4   7.8"  12.1

3/8  11.6"  18.2

1/2  15.5"  24.3

5/8  19.4"  36.9

3/4  23.2"  49.5

7/8  27.1"  62.1

1    31.0"  74.7

That’s really nice. When we’re forced to stick the tank, we can not only see how much fuel we have, but we can convert it to a precise number of gallons. Exact gallons translates to engine run time. From there, based on wind and sea, the distance that can be safely covered.

Teleflex Gauge to Gallons

Because sticking the tank is messy and awkward, we will replace the Teleflex sender with one that works. This leads us to a conversion from the Teleflex 24″ depth gauge to actual gallons. We want to know how much fuel we have; we also know how much we’re going to buy when we fill the tank for the next leg of a long voyage.

Gauge Inches Available To Fill
E 4 7 68
1/8 7 12 63
1/4 10 18 57
3/8 13 23 52
1/2 16 32 43
5/8 19 43 32
3/4 22 54 21
7/8 25 64 11
F 28 75 0

Note that the Teleflex sender only measures the top 24″ of the tank. Therefore, there’s a kind of reserve of 7 gallons even when the gauge reads empty. 

The conversion from Teleflex gauge reading to inches is relatively simple.

>>> def gauge_to_depth(g):

...     return 4+g*24


>>> gauge_to_depth(0)


>>> gauge_to_depth(.5)


>>> gauge_to_depth(1)


What’s important is that the ½ line on the gauge means there’s closer to 31½ — not 37½ — gallons in the tank. 

Here’s the programming.

>>> in3_to_gal( depth_to_in3( gauge_to_depth(.5) ) )


Creating a gauge_to_gal function and using it to produce the table shown above is left as an exercise for the reader. If you don’t have Python3 on your computer, you can download it from

Gallons Burned Per RPM-Hour

Here is the more useful calculation: Gallons per RPM-hour. The table shown below is used to convert gauge readings to available running time at a given RPM level.

The table is based on this process.

1. Convert gauge reading to gallons.

2. Use 6×10-4 gallons per RPM-hour to determine how far we can go at various RPM levels. 

Fuel level to Hours of run-time at a given RPM

Hours at RPM
Gauge Gallons 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000
E 7 9.7 8.3 7.3 6.5 5.8
1/8 12 16.7 14.3 12.5 11.1 10.0
1/4 18 25.0 21.4 18.8 16.7 15.0
3/8 23 31.9 27.4 24.0 21.3 19.2
1/2 32 44.4 38.1 33.3 29.6 26.7
5/8 43 59.7 51.2 44.8 39.8 35.8
3/4 54 75.0 64.3 56.3 50.0 45.0
7/8 64 88.9 76.2 66.7 59.3 53.3
F 75 104.2 89.3 78.1 69.4 62.5

(For other boats, 7×10-4 gallons per RPM-hour might is a more useful number because it doesn’t involve Red Ranger’s peculiar alternator setup. Our RPM numbers are higher than the engine is actually turning.)

Here’s how we use this table.

1. Given a level of fuel in our tank. Say it’s ⁵⁄₈.

2. Given an RPM. Say 1600.

We have 44.8 hours of motoring until the tank is empty. Bone-dry empty. Figure in safety margins and one should probably figure on 30 hours motoring keeping 15 hours of reserve fuel.  

15 hours of fuel (at 1600 RPM) will read below ¼, close to ¹⁄₈.

Generally, we make about 7 knots at this RPM, so we might be able to go 210 nm. Speed and distance vary with wind, current and wave conditions. Fuel consumption doesn’t.


We can apply this to the theoretical Whitby design. 

a) 250 gallons of fuel, at 1600 RPM at 7×10-4 gallons per RPM-hour means what cruising time?

b) If 1600 RPM leads to cruising at 7 knots, what’s the cruising range?

c) How far from Norfolk, VA, can you get with that much fuel?

Epic Northbound Voyage, Part II

Started: Fernandina Harbor Marina Moorings, 30°40.24′N 081°28.17′W

Anchored: Fort Macon, near Beaufort, NC, 34°42.10′N 076°41.14′W

Log: 358 nm. Time: 60 hr. Engine: 60 hr. Fuel 36.7 Gal.

Part I — except for the fuel gauge — went flawlessly. Since we took on 56 gallons of fuel for 60 hours of motor-sailing, we can confidently predict our fuel consumption is just about .933 gal per hour. This isn’t the final word, but it’s a handy way to start the morning in Fernandina.

Part II went even better, if that’s possible.

Fuel Consumption

Here’s what we think about on those long night watches. We can — in our heads — do the math to get to the following magic number. 6.66×10-4. What’s magical about a four hour watch is the time available to do the math and check it carefully, entirely without paper or calculator. 56 gallons is 60 hours at 1400 RPM. 

(Also, having an iPhone with a star chart app. I’m slowly learning my constellations.)

The 6.66×10-4 is the gallons per RPM-hour. Multiply by RPM and hours to get projected gallons used. 

Here’s actual Python programming code for 60 hours at 1400 RPM.

>>> 6.66e-4*60*1400


At 1400 RPM, we’d use 56 gallons. At 1600 RPM, it would be 64 gallons. At 1200 RPM it’s only 48 gallons. 

Important Note. The RPM’s we use aren’t truly Ford Lehman RPM’s. They’re the RPM’s for Red Ranger's out-of-calibration tachometer. Engine RPM’s are closer to 1020, 1190 and 1370. For a properly calibrated tach, use 7.84×10-4 as the gallon per RPM-hour. 

In flat seas, with a 7 knot beam-reach breeze, we motor-sail at 7.0 knots with 1200 RPM of engine. Without the engine, we barely make 4 knots. I’ve tried this experiment a few times during this voyage. We’re slowly coming to grips with the motor-sailing vs. pure-sailing aspect of the US East Coast.

This second passage leg could take 69 hours at 5 knots. Close to the edge of the envelope when we have a 75 gallon tank. But, with 25 gallons in jerry jugs on deck, it seems like we might make Beaufort if the weather continues to be polite.

We’ll be able to confirm our fuel numbers when we get to Beaufort. 

[Update. We only took on 36.7 gallons, but I suspect that we could have taken on as much as 47 gallons. The vent line burbled fuel, so we stopped filling prematurely. I opened the tank, and we’re about 6” below full. That’s perhaps 10 gallons more.]

Day One: Flatish

The departure from Fernandina on the 25th was glorious. Except for the fog. The St. Mary’s River is well marked and the dredged channel runs at a remarkable due East-due West course. 

We had an ebb tide and went roaring out into the Atlantic in fine style. The wind picked up. And — Bonus! — it was from a useful direction. We motor-sailed along the coast at amazing 7 to 8 knots. The seas were flat and it was glorious for a while.  We stuck with the jib and jigger arrangement from the last three days. Motorsailing with mizzen and yankee gave us good speed and a comfortable motion.


Then the wind died. 

So we furled the yankee, sheeted the mizzen amidships to slow the rolling and motored over the oily-calm waters.

The night was clear. CA had to deal with Savannah shipping. This means a lot of judging lights and AIS tracks as she worked her way through the freighters and the fishing fleet. 

Day Two: Flatter

The morning of the 26th — around Charleston — the wind perked up again. We’re learning this about calms: a flat calm really means two opposing winds that have met at the spot where you are. Eventually, the old wind will be replaced by the new wind, which has to be going in the exact opposite direction.

Good wind direction yesterday, followed by flat calm overnight, means opposing wind today. 

And that can also bring rough seas. So we bounced along outside Charleston in 3’-4’ waves, bucking a headwind. After yesterday’s epic speed, we were barely making 4 knots this morning. The forecast was for this wind to clock slowly to E and maybe even SE. All we can do is chug forward and wait for the weather to improve.

During the afternoon, the wind dropped away and we were able to make better time. Because the seas were flatter. Much flatter.


The lack of wind meant we were making only 5 knots under power.

At 17:00, when writing the log entry, we crossed 33° North latitude precisely. 33°, zero point zero zero zero minutes. Cool.

At the midnight watch change, our ETA in Beaufort had slipped to after 20:00, too close to sunset for our comfort. We added a few RPM’s (moving from 1400 to 1700) and reduced the ETA to 17:00 — a more useful time of day to enter the channel for Beaufort.

Day Three: Perfect Sailing


On the 26th, the morning wind was perfect — again — for banging along at well over 8 knots. Occasionally. It’s rare enough that I took a picture of it.

We spent the morning on very lumpy seas with the wind at our best sailing angle, 120° off the bow. From this quarter, the mizzen and yankee can work effectively so that we could reach great speeds. 

With Mr. Lehman thundering along, we could match our speed to the 4’ seas from astern and ride in comfort. 

Then the wind died. And we chugged along.

Then the wind picked back up about about 16:00. The last 2 hours were boisterous sailing with 15 knots of wind from just about 45° off our bow. Red Ranger was rocking and rolling with spume flying up in the air. When we crashed through a big wave salt rain spattered down on our dodger window.

At just about 17:45 we went roaring up the river on the flood tide. Nothing is saltier than leaving on an ebb and arriving on a flood. If only I could plan for that.

We dropped the hook near the Fort Macon Coast Guard station. The better to motor over to the town docks in the morning. The idea is to maximize dock time by arriving first thing and using the amenities all day. Arriving late at night, bedraggled and tired means you pay big bucks to sleep there. Arriving early, means water, laundry, showers, shopping, eating and drinking.

Bottom line: 660 miles. 6 days. Probably 110 gallons of fuel. 

Mizzen sail cover ripped. Fuel gauge not working.

Looking forward to changing the engine zinc and the fuel injector oil in Beaufort. Then diagnosing the fuel gauge issue. Topping off the fuel, and heading into the wilds of North Carolina.

Epic Northbound Voyage, Part I

Started: Coconut Grove  near Dinner Key Marina, 25°42.92′N 080°13.63′W

Moored: Fernandina Harbor Marina Moorings, 30°40.24′N 081°28.17′W

Log: 304 nm. Time: 60 hr. Engine: 60 hr. Fuel: 56 gal.

Even when stuff started breaking, this was still an epic passage: the first phase of an epic voyage. The big question is this: do you know exactly how much fuel you burn per hour? Are you willing to bet your life on that number?

We’re trying another experiment in seasickness meds. How does Stugeron™ stack up against Bonine™ and Dramamine™?

Off-watch Comfort

CA built a lee cloth for the saloon settee. 


Then she tested it. For the rest of the afternoon.

When Red Ranger is heeled over, it’s difficult to really relax on the settee; when you do, you roll off it.

On previous passages, we’ve slept in the aft cabin, but it’s LOUD back there. Mr. Lehman and Mr. Benmar do not work quietly. Every time Mr. Benmar moves the wheel, he groans. Loudly. 

On the passage S from Vero to Miami, CA tried napping on the settee, and found it was much quieter than the aft berth. Adding a lee cloth makes it more secure.

Rough Waters

We left on Tuesday, the 22nd, bright and early. We bashed around in slip 18 at Dinner Key Marina to top off our water in both tanks.

Emphasis on “bashed around”. I gave the pilings a good working over with Red Ranger’s bang rails and bow pulpit. We found splinters on the foredeck. I struggle with close maneuvering.

The seas were — as predicted — 3′ to 4′. This means we were rolling around quite a bit. It was unpleasant. 

Note that seas in the open ocean are often bigger than this. 6′ to 9′ are quite common. However. Open ocean waves tend to have a frequency on the order of 20 to 30 seconds. There’s not as much bashing and rolling. Near-shore waves include tidal effects and an actual reflection of the energy from the land; the period is 5 to 7 seconds and the direction is inconsistent, leading to a sloppy, twisting motion.

For this trip, CA tried Stugeron™ as the anti mal-de-mer med of choice. Not available in the US. You have to mail-order them from Mexico or Canada. 


On most of our previous off-shore passages, she’s been really sea-sick. Puking multiple times on each four-hour watch. Fortunately, those bad passages have all been just one long, ugly night.

This time, we’re planning a two-night or three-night passage. If she can make it.

She felt really bad Tuesday, but… She wasn’t heaving over the side. That’s a plus. It’s the first day, which is always more difficult.  The conditions were pretty bad during her afternoon watch. By the end of my evening watch, they had settled down to flatter seas and nearly non-existent wind.

We were scooting up the inside edge of the Gulf Stream. Some lumpiness was expected. We wanted a few knots of push from the current, since we knew the winds would be flat.

Also, we were motor-sailing in “jib and jigger” configuration. We had the mizzen and the big yankee working to hold the boat steady and provide some speed. Mr. Lehman provided the rest of the speed. Adjusting the RPM’s, we found a comfortable place where we could make 7 (instead of 8) knots, but the motion was pleasant.

Cockpit Napping

Wednesday, the 23rd, got rough in the afternoon. Seas were at least 6’ with a few waves even higher. 

During the roughest part of her watch, CA found something that worked well for her.

She tried laying down in the cockpit. She brought a pillow and sort of napped during her watch. Eyes Closed. Flat On Back (ECFOB). Every 10-15 minutes, her phone alarm would go off. She’d sit up, check all around carefully and then lay back down ECFOB before feeling too sick. She was able to keep up her log entries, and even cook in spite of the snotty conditions. 

Reading and writing require the kind of narrow focus that brings on seasickness for a lot of us. I’m often okay until I have to stare at the compass or chartplotter for a while. Then. Ugh.


The seas died down to flat during my next watch so the sunset picture shows flat and calm as if nothing had happened in the morning and early afternoon.

(The little hemisphere below to to the left of the sun is a consequence of using a waterproof Otter Box — there’s an extra layer of plastic over the iPhone camera lens, which leads to odd artifacts like that.)

On Porpoise?

We watched a pod of spotted dolphins on Wednesday. We tried to shoot some video, it’s not clear how much will show anything. 

These were spotted dolphins, not the more common plain gray bottlenose dolphins. They’re a little smaller with prominent spots and longer beaks.

After my watch — after sunset — CA saw them leaving phosphorescent wakes as they chased flying fish (or maybe squid) for their dinner. In the deep darkness of night at sea, a fish (or squid) leaping out of the water is remarkable. She almost woke me up to let me see it, too. Wisely, she left me to sleep. There’s only four hours, and we need every minute.


Thursday, the 24th, remained flat. We were starting to feel great: two flat nights and now we’re starting a flat day. The day also started with an alarming system failure. The fuel gauge read empty. Actually, it read below E — like it wasn’t working.

We log details every hour: position, course and speed, wind, sea state, engine,  and fuel. The previous fuel level had been ½. The bilge was not full of fuel, the engine was still running. Jumping from ½ to broken appears to be just gauge failure, nothing more. 

Each hour, BTW, rarely shows much change in the fuel level. You can sort of judge the gauge down to the 16th of a tank: divide the space between ½ and ¾ into quarters. We log these fine gradations ½, ½+, ⁵⁄₈, ⁵⁄₈+ and ¾; each step is about 4.5 gallons. 

We expect to see a minute ¹⁄₁₆ change in the gauge over a 3 or 4 hour period. But let’s not read too much into these details. The tank is not a perfect rectangle; the sensor may not be linear; the gauge may not be linear.

This raises big questions. How do we judge our safe distance-yet-to-go without a working fuel gauge? If we’re reduced to fuel-per-hour, how well do we really know our fuel consumption per hour?

If we burn 1.0 gallon per hour, we have only used 48 of our 75 gallons. No real problem.

If we burn 1.5 gallons per hour, Red Ranger's tank is almost empty. Was the gauge really that far off? Why did it get stuck at ½ for so long? 

The Commodore Says: “Get to shore and fill the tank.” 

We’re at 30°03.385′N 080°14.385′W, 55 miles off shore. (It’s 50 miles from West Palm Beach to West End on Grand Bahama Island.) We decided to top off the fuel tank by making a 75 mile, 12 hour run to Fernandina. 

We have 25 gallons of diesel on deck, for an emergency. 

The question amounts to this: How much will we sail between this point and Charleston, 160 miles away? If we could sail the whole way, we’d use little fuel (two gallons coming in the channel and reaching a dock.) If we have to motor or motor sail the whole way, we’re talking about 26 hours, which could be… well… 26 to 39 gallons of fuel. Do we really have 40 gallons? 

We get two things out of this diversion.

1) A full tank.

2) A precise measure of how much fuel we burned since filling them in Florida. Since we've motored at just about 1400 RPM for the entire time, this will give us a more precise fuel-per-hour number that we can use in the future.

Staying or Going

Plus there’s an option for a night at anchor (or maybe a $20 mooring ball.) However, the weather Thursday night looked like it would be fine to continue sailing. A very real possibility was just hitting the fuel dock in Fernandina and then pressing on to Charleston ASAP. If the weather remained clement, we could make Cape Fear or even Cape Lookout in good order.

Stay the night? Press on?

Before The Commodore can make that decision, we have to get to Fernandina Beach. Did we burn 72 gallons already? Or did we only burn 48-odd gallons?

With hearts in throats for the next 12 hours, we chugged to Fernandina Beach.

Meanwhile, we can look at our alternatives.

The chart plotter shows a 68 hour sail from Fernandina to Beaufort at 5 kt. If we motor, that’s pushing it. That would leave us with just 7 gallons in the tank and 25 on deck. 

If we motor the entire way.

Since we really like flat seas, we can see the advantage of motoring the whole way. It’s expensive, but it’s much nicer than feeling sick all the time. And it’s much nicer than juggling wind that’s too strong or the wrong direction.

The Commodore Says: “We’re taking a mooring.” We can press on in the morning, ready for two or three more days of what might be really pleasant passage-making.

If the weather remains settled.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

“...That I shall say good night till it be morrow.” 


Today: laundry, last-minute supplies, weather.

We’ll miss Miami. In particular, the last two nights were beautiful. The three of four days previous, however, were gusty and crappy. The Dinner Key Mooring field is a world of extremes: flip-flopping between right awful and beautiful.


We are looking forward to leaving. We’re excited about early summer in the Cheasapeake: 1000 nm away: a big trip. 

We’re thinking about late summer (July and August) in New England. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We have to get the the Cheasapeake, first.

Just read this in Salon, Sunday: “My generation, living on the road”. Captures a great deal of the cruising lifestyle nicely. Replace “tires” with “zincs” and it applies to us.

We have three likely scenarios for our Voyage to the Chesapeake:

  • Steady winds plus Gulf Stream. A mixture of motoring and sailing at over 6 kt; we make the entire thing in four days.
  • L&V (Light and Variable) winds. We motor around the clock. We’ll have to stop in Fernandina Beach for fuel. That will turn the voyage into two three-day passages. At least a week of elapsed time.
  • Sea-sickness. We’re force to bail out in any of the various navigable inlets along the easy coast. That will stretch the passage out by one or more days.

The more days we take, the more likely we are to encounter the next weather system spinning off the Atlantic Coast. Currently, our weather window closes in Saturday. In which case, the trip could become three weeks.


Here’s some locations tracked by

Departing on Tuesday:

Wednesday, Cape Caneveral:

Thursday, (possibly) Fernanina Beach:

After that, we’re too far into the future for meaningful forecasts.

We’re waiting for our daily email from Chris Parker at to (hopefully) confirm our Tuesday departure.


We create a fairly detailed float plan. It’s emailed to a number of family members. The Venerable Great Aunt Diane is our designated worrier. She gets the Spot Tracker messages at noon and midnight. (There may be no displayable messages on our public page if we haven’t moved in a week.)

She can also monitor our progress on our new Spot Walla trip page. We’ve closed out our winter migration southbound trip and opened a new northbound trip.

We’ve found that four-hour watches work for us. CA gets 04:00, noon, 20:00. I get midnight, 08:00, 16:00. It’s a little difficult to take my after-lunch nap on the first day out, but it’s really important for me to sleep from noon to 16:00 so that I get start the 4-on/4-off rhythm as soon as possible.


CA has been rearranging the galley. Cooking underway is quite different from cooking at anchor. She’s decided to make some stowage optimizations. The fancy sauces and condiments are not what we reach for underway. The snacks and easy-to-prepare Rice-a-Roni variants are what we want.

We’re going to empty the Nature’s Head one final time and put in a fresh coir brick. We’re also going to fill the water tanks. This is done by pulling into the temporary slip that the Dinner Key Mooring Field maintains for this express purpose. We’ll do that Tuesday morning as we depart.

45 kt Wind Gusts

We had an amazing storm this morning: 45 kt gusts. Quite alarming to hear that racket inside Red Ranger. The mooring lines held: Dep Chief David gave us some old firehose which we cut up to make chafe guards. Nothing on deck was damaged: we try not to leave things lying around. The rigging moans at those wind speeds. The flash-and-immediate-bang of lightning is unnerving.

Our neighbors on Blue Heaven had their dinghy painter part. There was a bunch of radio traffic this morning as people fanned out looking for the lost dinghy. They were relatively lucky: it had piled up on a mangrove island close by; the port tube was punctured, but it was otherwise intact.

Tuesday, the 22nd, is the limit of the reliable forecast window, so we’re starting to see the real data.

> TUE22… Strengthening LO 34N/67W with all significant wind well offshore / next LO Lake Erie trails FRONT along Appalachians (FRONT exits Coast Tue22 night) / most areas catch a nice break from wind (though maybe not seas)...while SW wind builds briefly along US coast ahead of FRONT.

> WED23...LO shifts E of New England trailing ColdFRONT thru waters between US and Bermuda...and begins to merge with/incorporate the LO which was previously offshore NW/N of Bermuda...this results in strong NW wind (to Gale force) N-and-E of Hatteras Wed23 night-Thu24… But only a brief shot of modest NW-N wind S&W of Hatteras to about 28N during the 1st half of Wed23, followed by light wind in all areas CpLookout-Bahamas-Florida later Wed23, but may be a (brief) surge of N<E wind E of ChstnSC Wed23 night-Thu24 morning.

We’ll be far “S&W of Hatteras”; We’ll also be S of “CpLookout” (Cape Lookout) the entire passage. Cape Lookout is close to Beaufort, NC, where we enter the ICW. 

We have a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that the seas are flat. The bad news is that the winds are so light we have to motor. 

Here’s the wind and wave analysis for the 22nd. This is the entire North Atlantic; it covers about 25 times more ocean than we care about.

We’re focused on the SW corner. We like the 1m and 2.5m wave height numbers near the coast of Florida. The wind arrows show little single blade hockey sticks; those are good. The long blades each stand for 10 kt of wind. Two long blades is 20 kt, about our limit. 3 long blades is almost gale force winds (gales start at 34 kt.) We prefer to be anchored or moored under those conditions. 

Monday, we’ll get the last of our forecast data for the various offshore zones. These are the links from S to N along our route.

We have another bunch of links for weather offshore of GA, SC and NC.

Counting Down

Thursday the 17th WX info:

--N-bound vessels Bahamas-Florida and the long US ECoast should enjoy benign weather beginning Mon21 or (may be more likely) Tue22 With benign weather (either little wind or maybe modest favorable wind) thru about Sat26 or Sun27.


This doesn’t go as far into the future as Chris Parker’s forecast, but it shows what we’re trying to avoid.

The weather on the 20th shows 4m seas (12′) in the area we’ll be traversing. We’ll be watching that very closely as we close in on the 22nd.

The wind arrows show winds from the NE, which is what causes hellish 12′ seas in the Gulf Stream. If we went 600 miles off shore, we could get much nicer conditions. 

Sometimes We’re Not Completely Stupid

Sometimes we do things that are completely stupid. Sometimes less completely stupid. And once in a while, we make something good out of something abysmally dumb.

The filler for the fuel is in a low-spot on the starboard side of the deck, almost as low as the scupper drain. That means that fueling when there’s anything like rain in the air will introduce water into the fuel tank. Of course, we don’t fill the starboard water tank while fueling; this should prevent getting water into the fuel.

These precautions — of course — don't prevent all the stupid ways to get water into the fuel.

Today’s job was to siphon the 25 gallons of fuel we carry on deck into the main tank. We’ll refill the deck jugs prior to going north. The on-deck fuel dates from last August, more-or-less. It’s not that diesel goes bad as quickly as gasoline. But there’s no reason to let it degrade by storing it for too long.

So the procedure is this.

  1. Move the jug from the storage position lashed to the lifelines into the cockpit. (They’re 40 pounds; some care is required.)
  2. Drop the siphon hose into the jug. Put the other end of the siphon into the fuel filler on deck. 
  3. Squeeze the pump bulb a few times to get fuel flowing.
  4. Go do something else for 5 minutes while it siphons.

However. (And this is a big however.)

Salt and dirt collect under the fuel jugs. 

What to do while waiting for fuel to transfer?

I’ve got a brilliant idea. Brilliant. (Really. Brilliant.)

I’ll wash down the space under the fuel jugs.

Where does that wash-water go? It flows down the deck to the scupper drains. The scupper drain which is just a few inches from the fuel filler hole.

After a few buckets, I look at the water is cascading down the deck.

And — I realize with a shock — the fuel tank cover is open. (Ahem. I was transferring fuel, right?)

Water. In. The. Fuel. Tank.

Water in the fuel is the first thing that’s Immediately Fatal to diesel engines. 

The second thing that’s fatal is particulate crud; that usually gets caught in the filters. Water is a bit more pernicious than particulate crud and can wind up going through both sets of filters and killing an injector. The Racor filters we have should do enough water separation, but… Prevention beats cure. Every time.

Diesel = Air + Fuel + Compression. Air is difficult to cut off. Compression can be compromised through blown rings or valves: the kind of serious mechanical problem that is rare except when you take the damn thing apart. Fuel is the biggest concern. Water and Particulates in the fuel being very important considerations.

And I’ve put water into the fuel tank.

Breathe: Stop Screaming

Okay. I’m breathing. What do I do?

It turns out, I’ve already solved this problem.

When we first got Red Ranger, I needed to see what was at the bottom of the fuel tank. So I bought some fuel hose and a fuel pump squeeze bulb, and a big old brass bushing that was heavy enough to pull the fuel hose out straight.


That’s the exact hose I’m currently using to siphon fuel from the jerry jugs on deck into the fuel tank. I can use this hose to sample the bottom of the fuel tank.


Once the siphoning was done, I did this: take the inspection port off the tank, drop the siphon hose to the bottom, and use the squeeze bulb to see if there’s water in there!


Well. Let’s not be too hasty.

Pumping up fluids from the tank into a handy clear glass jar, I got 20 oz. of water decorated with two oz. of fuel. And it’s mighty clear-looking water. 

Clear water is what I just slopped down there. Perhaps this is to be expected. The real test is to taste it to see if it’s as salty as Biscayne Bay. Thanks no. Not doing that.


Checking the fuel is something I should be doing annually. Or, more accurately, something I should have been doing annually. I’m doing it today. So that’s an improvement, right?

The second jar turned up about 10 oz. of water and 10 oz. of fuel. Less water is good. 

Also, this water seems to be somewhat darker. More crud coming up, maybe? 

Getting all the water out is challenging because I can’t reliably toss this piece of hose into the tank and have it actually find the deep spot. I have to assume that there’s always some residual water below my sampling hose. The trick is to keep the water level below the actual fuel pickup.


The third jar turned up about 4 oz. of water. The rest of the jar filled with fuel. I watched the meniscus between fuel and water stay down at the 4 oz. line on the jar as I pumped up 16 oz. of additional liquid,  which was almost entirely fuel.

Maybe it’s just the light in the picture, but that water looks even darker still. Is this the last of the crud?

Okay, then.

Some part of this stupidity may have actually been good. 

Let’s pretend that there was already some water in the fuel. I certainly splashed some water in. But maybe there was already some water there.

Dialing down the panic (and the cursing,) maybe this was simply a maintainance chore that was on the annual schedule. Maybe I was just doing what needed to be done.

That’s the ticket. I was just doing the needful: removing water from the fuel tank.

The Prop and Zinc Inspection

Another semi-annual task is checking the prop and zinc. CA tracked down my snorkel gear and I dove the prop to check on the zinc.

Here’s the unretouched photograph of the prop shaft. (Go Pro Hero3 video frame capture. Very handy to document this sort of thing.)

Notice anything wrong?

Look again.

See it?

More accurately, you don’t see it, roight?

There’s no sacrificial zinc in that picture.


Not a corroded zinc, barely hanging on by a few threads. Not a ball of zinc that’s half gone, but should still be replaced.

No zinc. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Zero Zinkage!

That means that Red Ranger’s below-the-waterline metal bits are all slowly doing their little galvanic dance and leaching important metals into the seawater.

No zinc!

I called Fredy at A1 Boat Care (786-985-7361) Tuesday morning. He called back Tuesday noonish. At 13:00, he was at the Dinner Key Mooring dock with his tank, tools and zinc. By 14:00 Red Ranger had a zinc on the shaft doing what sacrificial zinc anodes are supposed to do — giving up metals more quickly than the other metals exposed to salt water.

The normal schedule is to check the zincs every six months. Previous zincs lasted more than six months. Last year, for example, I changed the zinc myself while we were at Staniel Cay in the Bahamas; it was just over six months old and perhaps only half gone. 

No idea what went wrong with this one. We put it on in the boatyard in Deltaville. “Amazing Progress, How Sweet the Sound”.

The good news is that the propellor is very clean. Not a lot of barnacle growth there. The paint seems to be holding up well. We could use a scrub. Perhaps I should have employed Fredy to give the hull a good scrub. But I was too panicked about the zinc issue to think the whole thing through.

Day Sailing

I think we’ve done our last Biscayne Bay day sail. Our next sailing day(s) will be our passage north.

Here’s the video of this week’s outing: Sailing Day II.

Here’s a video from last month’s outing: Sailing Day.


Here’s the weather forecast summary that we’re looking at:

--N-bound vessels Bahamas-Florida-US ECoast probably do not see any opportunities to move (except in ICW) until about Mon21 or Tue22, depending on evolution of LO/FRONT, and the next LO which may exit mid-Atlantic states about Tue22... But I continue to have high expectations for the balance of next week (about Wed23-Sat26) -with benign weather, but not certain whether it will be sailing or motoring conditions for most of this interval.

This is from the service we use: We get a daily email; plus Chris Parker has several daily radio nets that he runs to provide weather forecast and routing to folks without reliable email.

For now, we’re leaving Miami on Tuesday, April 22. Of course, things may change.

Northward Migration Challenges

We’re closing in on time to start migrating north for the summer. We have to be north of Cumberland Island, GA, in about six weeks. The Commodore has said that we’ll be leaving Miami in about three weeks. We’re looking at several big challenges on this voyage.

The leg to Cumberland Island, in principle, is 3 days. We’re going from 25°43′N to 31°N.  As the crow flies, this is just 317 nm. (1° of latitude is 60nm.) We’ve done two days at sea. Adding a third day should not be too bad.

We make 5-6 kt: that makes it 52 to 64 hours: 2 to 3 days. It’s slightly safer to leave early in the morning, hold the speed down, push the time back to 72 hours, and arrive early in the morning on the third day. This approximately the limit of our range with 75 gallons of fuel.

However. A nicer stopping place is Charleston, at 32°49′N. This is 512 nm: 85 to 102 hours: 4 days at sea if everything goes well. But it requires that we maximize sailing during the daylight hours and limit our motoring. That creates two challenges for us. The first challenge is four days at sea. Four days in which things can go wrong.

We have a number of “duck in” locations along the way in case things to go wrong.

  • 24 hours away is 84 to 144 nm. Beteween 27°42′N and 28°06′N — from the Sebastian Inlet to Port Canveral. We’ve been to a few of these places, we’re pretty sure we know what we’re doing.
  • 48 hours away is 240 to 277 nm. Between 29°42′N and 30°30′N — St. Augustine to the St. John’s River near Jacksonville. We’ve found a really great spot on the St. John’s River, so we’re happy with this.
  • 72 hours away is 360 to 432 nm. Between 31°42′N and 32°55′N — St. Catherine’s Sound to Charleston. We’ve been into the Georgia and S. Carolina coast, before to bail out.

We’ve always had bailout plans. We were not really confident that a bailout could really be a sensible course of action. Everyone tells you to have a bailout. And we had them. But… Is this really going to work?

Last year, we did two bailouts: the first was a run to Manatee Pocket to fix the engine, another was to hide out in St. Simon’s, Georgia when the off-shore weather turned nasty. This year, the first day out of Charleston was too sporty for us so we bailed out. See “Bail Out — Plan B — Abort Abort”. 

Having done three bailouts so far, we’re much happier with the idea of sneaking into some unknown river with our tails between our legs. Our crusing guides are quite clear on the navigable inlets.


The Motor Sailing Challenge

Another challenging part of this trip is limiting our motoring. Almost all of our previous long off-shore legs have involved extensive motoring. Sometimes we've motor-sailed, but we’ve done a lot of motoring without the benefit of the sails at all. We conservatively state our motoring range as 375 nm. 

We can probably motor-sail at least 450 nm. At low idle, Mr. Lehman doesn’t use much fuel.

“But what about purely, simply sailing?” we ask ourselves. Frequently.

It boils down to a safety consideration. The more we're at sea, the more we’re exposed to the risks of something going wrong. The safest passage has the shortest duration.

If we were crossing an ocean, of course we have to sail. There are no choices. (The Whitby design called for something like 250 gallons of fuel; a motoring range of 1500 nm. That’s a complete oil change with each fill-up. The designed motor-sailing range is on the order of 3000 nm! Red Ranger doesn’t hold that much fuel.)

Near shore, we have a choice: we can reduce the duration of the passage with judicious use of diesel fuel. The trick is to conserve as much as we can consistent with a short, safe passage.

Charleston and North

Once we get to Charleston, we plan to sleep for a few days. Then we can top off fuel and water, and get fresh fruits and veggies. And wait for the weather for one more 24-hour run to Beaufort, NC.

Or a three-day slog up the ICW to Beaufort, NC.

Venerable Great Aunt Diane may want to join us for this leg. While it’s easy for her to get to Charleston, getting back to her car from Beaufort would be a bit of a logistical challenge.

The idea of crew for a 24-hour offshore is very appealing. Very appealing. With staggered 4-on/4-off watches, we can have two people on duty. We can have a 6-hour cycle of CA & VGA for 2 hrs, then VGA and SFL for 2, then SFL & CA for 2. 

If we stretch this out a bit, we might do a 9-hour cycle that amounts to 6-on/6-off. With the crew changes, 6 hours on isn’t so bad, since it’s 3 with one person followed by three with someone new. 

After Beaufort, we’ll take the ICW from Beaufort to Norfolk. This should be less than a week. Last year, we did it between April 27th (“Week 32: Northbound Through North Carolina”) and May 1st (“Week 33: Closing the Loop in Norfolk”).

Once in Norfolk, we can breathe a sigh of relief. Red Ranger's summertime cruise in the Chesapeake is all simple day-sailing to well-known anchorages.


Instead of summering in the Chesapeake, we’re looking at Maine. Yet another challenge.

Visiting SF Bay

We flew to the San Francisco area this week. The trip is epic because it reflects some of the decisions we made before buying Red Ranger. It illuminated some of our previously dim understanding.

Some years ago — never mind how long precisely…

The full quote: “Some years ago--never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

Some years ago, the Commodore and I were discussing what to do with a big, empty house, two kids who lived on the West Coast, and parents who were reasonably well set up with our various sisters.

My sister had given me a cruising guide to the Northeast. We bought cruising guides to California. We read.

We’d been to Annapolis many times. I’d chartered boats in SF Bay, San Diego Bay, and Long Beach. The Commodore had sailed in San Diego and Long Beach, but not SF. (My “Sailing Resume”; some old Sail Travel notes.)


And this is a big “however” — perhaps deserving a different font.


A cruising guide in the hands of a n00b could be as much harm as good. If you’re at all interested, you read with “happy glasses” and see only the good bits. If you’re worried or concerned, you put on your “bitter shades” and see all of your worries and concerns maginified and reinforced.

There’s little “objectivity”. Indeed, there’s no real need for objectivity. This is a lifestyle choice. It’s not climate science or public policy. It’s a pair of personal decisions that we hope will coincide and properly enmesh.

Or not.


The point is not that cruising guides are useless or even questionable. We’ve met Mark and Diana Doyle, we’ve seen a little bit of what goes into the OTW Chart Guides. These books are essential; they're thorough and objective. But. Each reader has happy glasses or bitter shades planted firmly across their nose. As Nilsson said “You see what you want to see, you hear what you want to hear.” 

The Big Choices

Once we made the essential gateway decision, this let us into a place with a million more decisions. The gateway decision was this: Do we want to “sail about a little and see the watery part of the world”? Once past the threshold of who and what, we have to decide where, when, how. There’s no good answer to why, so we won’t go there.

“When” was easy. See “Preparation”: while we’re still young and good-looking.

“How” was not as easy. It was plenty scary to consider quitting our jobs, selling a perfectly good house, buying a boat, and sailing until we’re broke. Or family obligations catch up with us. But it looked like a good idea at the time. We read Beth Leonard’s Cost of Cruising on the three classes of cruising budgets: Simplicity, Moderation and High Life. Like a lot of people, we hoped we could live on the budget of Simplicity

Which leaves us with “where”. Where exactly do we want to buy this mysterious boat and sail around?

  • East Coast
  • West Coast
  • Gulf of Mexico

East could mean anything from Maine to Florida. Since we’re talking about living aboard, we know that south is better than north. Since we’re also talking about hurricanes, there’s a limit on how far south. We were vague on the details, but the Chesapeake Bay seemed reasonable. 

[Insurance companies tend to provide the final words on this decision. N of Cumberland Island Georgia from June 1 to November 1 is typical.]

West Coast meant choosing between SF, LA and SD. There are waiting lists for slips at many of the west coast marinas. Waiting lists. Strike 1: lots of boats, too few marinas.  

The California cruising guide was thin. Strike 2: remarkably thin crusing guide. Compare California with Northeast Atlantic, Southeast Atlantic and Chesapeake guides. Not to mention the ICW guide which is it’s own two-volume set. Two volumes! (Norfolk to Florida and Florida are separate books!) Strike 3: California’s coast is challenging for n00bz.

The East Coast isn’t perfect. The hurricane, snow, and Cape Hatteras issues are profound.

The Lens of Experience

In the ensuing years, we refit Red Ranger and cruised 3,000 or so miles (and counting) on the US East Coast.


Going to San Francisco this week made us very happy with our decision to start out in the Chesapeake. This trip brought the advantages into sharper focus. Starting with marinas that don’t have waiting lists and destinations without number.

The main part of SF bay is about 12 miles wide by perhaps 60 miles long. Since not all of it is navigable by deep-draft sailboats, it’s more like 50 miles long.

Compare this with Chesapeake Bay which is as much as 30 miles wide and 200 miles long. The widest part navigable by Red Ranger is closer to 20 miles across. This is at about 37°43′ N, between Dividing Creek and Onancock on the Eastern Shore; just south of Tangier Island.

When we Circumnavigated the DelMarVa Peninsula in 2011 we were very much anticipating the 400 mile journey spread over two weeks. It was an important shakedown for us (and Red Ranger.)  

One of the high points of summering in Annapolis is the first four days of the annual southward migration. Here are the stops we made this season:

That’s four full days sailing (and motoring and motor-sailing) from anchorage to anchorage. No docks. No moorings. Free anchorages each night.

As the crow flies, we only covered about 120 nm. But our distances run each day (including up and down various creeks and rivers) totalled 181 nm.

Beyond our limited experience, we’ve met other cruisers who keep their boats on the East Coast because it’s so much fun to cruise the Chesapeake in the summer. We’ve also met folks who keep their boats further south so that they can cruise Florida and the Bahamas in the winter. In the Chesapeake, folks will put the boats on the hard for the winter, launch them in the spring, and spend parts of the summer cruising. 

We can see that we did The Right Thing™ learning to be liveaboard cruisers on the US East Coast. The sailing here looks to be actually ideal. 

The Phases of Moving In

Learning a new place is exciting. Indeed, when living on a boat, it’s an essential skill. But it’s also a ton of fun. How do we learn a place? I think there are a few phases. 

Phase I. Find Something. Anything.

You don’t know where things are. You don’t even know what you’re looking at. You need to find something to cling to as a point of reference. It only takes one thing to act as a center of focus.

Is that the dinghy dock?

Is that the fuel dock?

Is that the mooring field?

It’s important to have just one point of reference to avoid too much of “What’s that?” and “What’s over there?” 

Once you have some point of reference, you can spread out.

Where are the GSL — Grocery? Showers? Laundry? 

Where is the good coffee shop?

Depending on the scale of the place, this can pass in a few days, or it can last a few weeks. For a smallish and highly walkable city, like Annapolis, it doesn’t last very long at all. For a large and less walkable city, it can talk a long time.

Phase II. Building A Routine.

We think that an improtant part of learning a place is building a routine. Same coffee shop. Same bar. Same GSL.

In one sense, it seems limiting — same coffee shop? — but what’s important here is not that we’re immediately making a lifetime committment to a particular routine. We’re moving from place to place. It’s important to use a routine to get a grip on the place.

Once a routine is built, it’s easy to change.

Until a routine is built, the confusion (and stress) of tracking things down can be tiring.

Having a usual coffee shop is an anchor for the next wave of exploration. It’s important to have a starting GSL before moving out to GSL’s that have different features. Finding the cheap places that’s further from the waterfront is far easier when you have a fallback place that you know.


Phase III. Digging In.

You’ve dug in when your coffee shop knows your order.

You’ve dug in when the other folks in the mooring field stop by for information or tools.

The neighborhood starts to shrink. The effort required to get to a place that’s 8 blocks away can be daunting during Phase I. Since you don’t know where anything is, getting from a place you don’t know to another place you don’t know is difficult. 

Each twist and turn of the path — crossing this street — down that street — right at the light — left at the surf shop — across from the other place I can’t remember — begins as a big burden on the brain. 

Then the burden shrinks. “Oh, across from the bakery.” The path reduces to an end-point. The brain burden reduces to something more manageable. You can walk further afield and know where you are and how you’ll get back.

The first few trips on the 25¢ ciruclator to the 37th street station and the train to downtown or the airport were filled with details to get right. Then they were just trips. Then they were just waypoints in a larger trip.

Phase IV. Moving On.

And there’s the wrench of moving on. It’s a bitter-sweet thing. It’s pleasant to dig in to a place and grow comfortable. 

At some point, we realize that the algae and tbe barnacles are starting to grow. The seasons are catching up: the cold has moved down from the north, or the hurricanes are heading up from the south.

It’s to to move on and start the cycle again.

That Range Light

Coping with operator error is difficult.

The ColRegs (The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) are required on boats. Rule 20 describes when lights must be used (sunset to sunrise and restricted visibility). Rule 25 describes lights to be used on sailing vessels.

We have both version of the running lights — deck-level and masthead. We also have the necessary inverted cone to be used when motor sailing.

When operating under power at night, we also have to exhibit a forward range light. This has been a problematic little thing. Even replacing it this week was a pain in the abdomen.

A few years ago, we replaced the bulb and the lens in it. And that was a right awkward job. The fitting is smallish and fussing around with it hanging from the mast is a recipe for dropping it or parts of it. It’s a very popular fitting, however, because it’s small and rugged.

Operator error is a big part of this light’s life. We have “ANCHOR LT”, “RUN LTS”, “SPOT LT”, “RANGE LT”, “TRI” and “MAIN SPRD LTS” on the circuit breaker panel. Which one is this forward running light on the mast?


I decided to replace the old range light with a bigger (but hopefully easier to maintain) fixture. What we give up in rugged, we hope to make up for in ease of support. 

In the picture, you can see the old space where the light used to be. There’s a special-purpose pad welded to the mast just for the old light.

Above it is the new fixture with a cone that illuminates the deck (“MAIN SPRD LTS”) and the lens that provides the necessary forward range light.

The installation required — I think — six trips up the mast one day. Six. And a final trip, today.

Why so many? Wrong size drill bits. I have a habit of using too small a bit for a given screw. In wood, this occaisionally leads to a crack here and there. But for the most part, I get by. 

In aluminum, though, there’s no “getting by”. The hole has to be the right size or else. For the #10 screws, it’s ¹¹⁄₆₄″ or nothing. It took four tries to get to that realization. 

[Yes. Four.]

Then the ¹¹⁄₆₄″ bit broke. Leaving a chunk in the mast.

So I had another trip to get a smaller bit to drill the broken piece out. Then I used the smaller bit to make a starter and the broken bit to ream it out to the right size.

Aluminum slivers raining down everywhere. Hopefully, they’re all cleaned up. 

Then I had to switch tools one last time to actually put the fixture up. Yes, you can send stuff up in a bucket, but it was a lot of change: drill, screws, TefGel, electrical tools, etc. Easier to go down, switch tool bags and go back up.

By the time I had the minimum done, it was 6-ish, way too late to really finish the job. The wind had picked up and my energy levels had ebbed right away.


There’s a profound “droppage” worry while up the mast. You have to work slowly and carefully because you can’t drop anything. If you do, it’s eitehr going to hurt someone, damage the boat, or fall into Biscayne Bay. The trifecta would probably happen if you dropped the drill into the head of the person holding the safety line. 

The worry factor saps the energy required to juggle the TefGel (1) container, (2) lid, (3) brush, (4) screw and (5) screw-driver.  Five Things. Two Hands. When you start getting the shakes, it’s time to come down.

Sadly, it didn’t seem to work. CA hit the switches. The deck light worked. The range light didn’t.

She checked carefully. The ammeter showed that current was flowing. Something was getting switched on. Not a short circuit. Not an open circuit. 

But I saw no lights.

After dinner, I realized the problem. 

I told her to hit the “RUN LTS”. That thing is the “RANGE LT”. A quick check showed that — indeed — I had done enough correctly that it was working. 


Today, I put on the final twist of heavy-duty self-sealing silicone tape and cable ties. I also reseated the fixture’s lens to get all of the screws firmly tightened.

Hove To

It’s time for our weekly sailing outing. Questions were raised. Answers, however, are not forthcoming.

The winds from about 120° (something like ESE or maybe SE by E) at 10 to 11 kt here in the mooring field. Once out in the bay, the winds were actually 15 kts gusting higher. Great conditions for Red Ranger. Or were they?

We were able to race S (about 210°, SW by S) at well over 6 kts. We were flying mizzen, main and yankee and roaring along sweetly.

Or were we?

Was it really that sweet?


We passed two boats who were beating to weather under reefed main.

Reefed? In 15 kts of wind? What’s their problem? Don’t want spill the olives out of their martinis? What a bunch of babies! The real salts on Red Ranger don’t reef at 15 kts.

But should we?

Around lunch time, we tried something we’ve only done once before. We hove to. Different boats have different ways of handling this. On a sloop, it’s kind of complicated. On a ketch it’s easy.

We furl the headsail, ease off the main so it’s not working, and trim in the mizzen amidships. Once the mizzen’s all the way in, we settle about 45° off the wind and drift very slowly. We have some forward way, but so little that we essentially hold our position.

Heaving to is a great way to straighten up the boat, eat a civilized lunch, and decide what to do next without handling the wheel, food and the chart plotter all at the same time.

We decided to head in and make an early day of it. Yesterday, I climbed the mast to repair the range light. Today I was very sore.

As we started heading in, CA reached a speed of 7.1 kt. Let’s call it a 10% increase in speed over her previous best of 6.5 today.

Partly, that’s due to her skills at the helm. Partly it’s due to running a bit further off the wind. We had a relative wind angle of 100° instead of 60°. Clearly that wider angle of sail is something Red Ranger prefers.

What’s weird is that Red Ranger was sailing flatter — less heeling — than she was earlier today. More speed. Flatter. Flatter. More speed.

This requires some thinking. 

It appears that we really should be reefing at 15 kts. With a single-reefed main, she’d be flatter. And maybe faster, too. Perhaps a single reefed mizzen, also? Recently, (Another Day Sail) we had an outing in sporty conditions that caused us to start to rethink our reefing strategy.

I had allowed both our main and mizzen sails to sag so far off that the top two or three battens were doing nothing. Only the lowest sections of each sail were working. If I’m letting the sail twist at away the top — spilling wind — losing power — then perhaps I should have reefed. There would be less sail and less twist; this might mean more effective use of the wind.

Important things to experiment with next week.

Today we put in about 15 miles in almost exactly 4 hours with only 1 hr or so of engine time. 

Sunny Day Chores

Yes, we’re wintering in South Florida. But no, every day is not sunshine and beaches. Most days. Not all.

When the sun shines and the wind is light, there are a few sunny day chores that need to be done.


Today, for example, it’s laundry day. Two loads of laundy fit into a 55L SeaLine dry bag. We take the dry bag to shore where we can use the marina laundry machines. And then back to the boat.

Sometimes the shore dryers aren’t very good. And there’s a line. So we take damp laundry back to the boat to use the CA’s patented Low-Cost Solar Drying System™ to finish the Solar Drying Process™.

(Interestingly, this is actively discouraged in some areas. Check your neighborhood association or condo rules. Can you hang laundry out to dry? If not, why not?)

Today is also recharge the backup computers day. Rechargable batteries in general don’t like extended storage. Without controlled experiments, we can only guess that three months is the limit.

Laptops become particularly grumpy when their batteries go dead: they seem to have trouble rebooting after a sustained period of actually having no power. I know that many computers have clocks that run even when the power is off so that (when you turn it on) it has some vague sense of what day it is. If that clock stops, the laptop turns argumentative. Spinning Beach-Ball of Death.


We recently got a new backup disk. So now we do two backups of the main laptop: one on each disk. This doesn’t take much power, so it’s done twice a week when I remember.

We worry about the saltwater environment eventually destroying a disk drive. So far, nothing to report, but it’s only been a year and a half on the boat.

We really don’t need three laptops. The white one is the 4th backup to the chart plotter. If the main Standard Horizon fails, and the iPad fails, and the main MacBook Pro fails, and the backup MacBook Pro fails, we have the white MacBook. It has reasonably current charts and (I think) can connect to the Bluetooth GPS receiver.

(You see, we haven’t even tried it to see if it would work.)

Until we ditch that computer, I figure that I can leverage the Florida sunshine via our solar array to keep it charged.

Another periodic job is winding the clock.


We have a nice Wempe clock that has to be wound periodically. I think it’s a 2-day kind of thing. I’m trying to be a bit more assiduous about winding it daily instead of noticing that it’s stopped and then winding it.

It seems happier and seems to tbe tracking the time much more accurately now that I’m winding it daily.

© Steven Lott 2021