When Dave and I began toying with the idea of getting a boat and going cruising, we had so many questions about what it would really be like. We imagined the lifestyle but had no idea how the reality would stack up to the dream.
“Cruising Stories” are little glimpses of the cruising life, some written by me and others by friends and TBG readers. They’re not how-to’s or travelogues. They’re emotional and raw, hitting both the beauty of this life and its ugly side. Above all, they’re real.
Melody & Charlie Cook, aboard No Worries — I met Charlie and Melody as they passed through Marathon (July 8, 2017 — exactly one month after purchasing their boat) and took us to dinner. They’d had their rough patches as they’d begun cruising and we were able to give them a little encouragement that it was all typical for adjusting to a brand-new life. Since then, I’ve been following their trip from Tampa, Florida to Boston, Massachusetts and now south to Florida again — and they’re preparing to set off for the Bahamas shortly. All that in just over 6 months of boat ownership!
With their permission, I excerpted the following from their Facebook posts, telling of their first months on the boat — both the frustrations and the triumphs. You can follow their journey at Melody-Charlie Cook on Facebook.
April 2, 2017
The plan: Sell the house, buy a boat, sail into the sunset, boat drinks in hand; or at least into the Caribbean for the winter.
What really happened:
The house has sold, we are waiting on a closing date at this point.
We have physically looked at one boat, not quite what we were looking for.
We are hoping to spend this coming winter in the Bahamas with potentially a trip to Puerto Rico. There is a long list of things on the East Coast that we’d like to see either on the way south in the fall or north in the spring.
So, hang on tight, keep your arms and legs in the vehicle at all times and most importantly “Hold my beer and watch this.”
April 24, 2017
It’s official. We are homeless. Not only that, we have completed the first 114 miles on the way to “Sailing off into the sunset”. We’re currently hiding out in one of the kid’s yard. The journey continues.
May 20, 2017
It’s official! We have an accepted offer on a 1988 Morgan 41′ Out Island Classic.
Part three of “The Plan” is coming together.
June 8, 2017
It’s official! The s/v No Worries now belongs to Captain Melody and Deck Monkey Charlie. Adventure and boat drinks await!
June 12, 2017
The Plan: With the two of us aboard, we’ll take the boat to the pump out station to get the black water tanks emptied. One of the things we purchased with the boat was full tanks. After that, we intend to take No Worries out on Tampa Bay for a ride. If there is enough wind we’ll even get the sails up. This is expected to be a learning ride with lots of learning.
. . .
So here is what really happened. We waited until the tide was nearly as high as it would get as we were warned the marina approach might be a little shallow. Getting the boat out of the slip for the first time didn’t go as well as we hoped. We had just enough breeze to push the bow the wrong way and then every time we reversed, the phenomenon known as prop walk carried the stern to the left. Literally, I could not back the boat up in a straight line, nor swing the stern to the right. There is going to be some learning curve there.
We attempted to follow the directions to the other marina where the pump out is but very quickly learned that navigating on water is tremendously different than on land. We did not find the other marina and we did not get pumped out. The positive is we didn’t run aground or hit anything. I’ll spend a little quality time with the manuals and chart plotter and then we’ll try again tomorrow.
Getting the boat back into the slip was also a challenge. It took four tries but we finally got there. No Worries is much bigger and handles differently than the boat we learned on.
Things to keep in mind:
1. Learning something new means making mistakes and not being perfect until you have learned it.
2. Patience is a great virtue and I could use a lot more of it.
3. Outdoors in 90 and high humidity tires you out.
So, you could be here learning something new too.
June 30, 2017
We did it! We cast off the mooring lines and set sail. Well, we motored because there was no wind. We left the marina, crossed Tampa Bay, passed under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, avoided the 800 foot long freighters that frequent this area and are pleasantly anchored on the east side of Egmont Key. We can see the Gulf from here (with a little imagination).
Tomorrow we enter the Gulf Intercoastal Water Way (GIWW). We’ll spend the next three days in canals and bays on the way to Sanibel Island where the GIWW runs out. We’ll go through three drawbridges tomorrow and a dozen more before we reach the end of the GIWW. The benefit is that it’s all very protected water, shielded from weather and waves.
Yes, it’s still hot. You bet, I got in the water to cool off. No sharks and I still have all my parts. We saw dolphins today, a large ray that jumped six feet out of the water and a plethora of birds.
You could be here too.
July 7, 2017
That was a long two days. We did 62 miles from Marco Island to Shark River in the Everglades, then 40 miles from Shark River to Marathon.
I was specific about being in the Everglades for a reason. When you think of millions of acres of swamp, what comes to mind? Alligators? Nope didn’t see any. Mosquitos, oh yeah. These guys make Dracula look like a piker. We anchored more than a mile from land and mangroves but they still found us. I thought the UP in mosquito season was tough but Shark River is tougher.
No incidents, no excitement these past two days beyond our mosquito donations. My mission for tomorrow is to get engine temperature gauge fixed.
Other than that, you could be here enjoying two nights of air conditioning before we continue.
July 9, 2017
Today was another day of firsts. First day in the Atlantic. The waves were a little bigger than in the Gulf and since we have rounded the first corner and are now moving mostly east, from a little different direction as well.
First time really sailing for a couple of hours. We had enough wind from a usable direction to boost the engine for a while.
First item lost overboard. My hat walked the plank and is now sailing the Gulf Stream north without me.
First crab trap attack. In miles and miles of empty ocean, we found a crab trap. We dragged the marker buoy and a hundred feet of line for a while before we realized it was there and took action. Melody is near tears with anxiety that I’m going in the water, 20 feet deep water, very clear water. I tied a line around my waist so she wouldn’t worry about me floating away. She ties the line and has a death grip on it, blinking back tears as I submerge. When I come up, mind you I can’t hold my breath all that long, there’s Melody with her phone making a video. Anxiety? I think she wanted to document the whole thing for the insurance.
Anyway I got us untangled and we continued on. Once we anchor for the night I’ll make pasta, or we might just eat big salads.
You could be here too feeling sorry for a crab fisherman who is now short his trap, float and line.
July 13, 2017
Long, long day yesterday. We made about 30 miles on the Atlantic, motor sailing, then another 30 on the ICW after we motored into it at Port Everglades.
The wind yesterday was from nearly the same direction as we wanted to travel so we had to run the engine. We had the mainsail up and it helped but couldn’t carry us on its own. Because of the way No Worries is designed, we could not pull the headsail in close enough to be helpful.
With storms predicted we wanted to be in a sheltered area for the night. The first two anchorages we tried didn’t work out. Too shallow. We made it to the south end of Lake Worth, found a spot there and rode out some gnarly thunderstorms. They were the remnants of Tropical Depression 4 that broke up over the past couple days. The weather for today is still a little unsettled so I am undecided.
I know I did love the blue of deep water offshore.
You could be here studying the weather too.
July 20, 2017
Probably the greatest benefit of 3 days in St Augustine was the huge boost on comfort levels. We found a generator so now on those hot, miserable nights we can cool the cabin down. We can charge the laptops, etc.
We acquired appropriately sized shackles to replace the swivels the previous owner installed in the anchor chain (3 possible points of failure and probably the weak point) so that I’ll sleep easier on anchor.
We got the dinghy registration in the mail so now we have a legal means to access shore, stores, etc. It’s sort of like having a car again.
All in all I’d call the visit to St Augustine a rousing success.
You could be here enjoying the results of a visit to St Augustine too.
July 20, 2017 [another post for the day]
Wooooo Hooooo!!!!! We made it to Georgia!!!! One state down and a bunch more to go. [This comes in the middle of their first overnight passage — 34 hours, 175 miles offshore from St. Augustine, FL to Beaufort, SC]
July 23, 2017
Let’s talk about learning from the mistakes of others. More to the point, a really dumb mistake that I made so that none of you repeat it.
We had a very leisurely morning today as we wanted to wait for slack water to pass through the Ladies Island Swing Bridge. I really didn’t want to do a bridge transit with 2.5 knots of current pushing me toward the bridge supports so we dawdled until 0930.
So with all this time to work with, I checked the engine oil, checked the transmission fluid, checked the fan belt tension and looked around the engine spaces for leaks. All was well, no issues noted.
Now it’s time to check and clean the raw water strainer. For those not expert in marine diesel engines, raw water is drawn in from the sea and used to cool the engine via a heat exchanger. It’s not at all dissimilar to air passing through your car’s radiator. The strainer catches stuff you don’t want going through the heat exchanger, like sticks and seaweed.
So, I go through the procedure to check the strainer:
- Close the engine intake thru-hull so water doesn’t flood in when I open the strainer.
- Take the top off the strainer, pull the basket out and empty it.
- Put the basket back and put the top on the strainer.
- Go merrily on my way.
Did you catch the step I missed? Yep, I forgot to reopen the thru-hull. That’s a DA Award for the week.
We made it through the swing bridge before we got the over temperature alarm. As soon as I saw the light, I shut down the engine, flew below and got the thru-hull open, then restarted the engine. We were cooled back to operating temperature in under a minute but it could have been a disaster.
For the boaters who wonder why I didn’t check my exhaust for water at startup, the boat is a Morgan 41 Classic. The exhaust exits below the waterline.
Today’s other new experience was no water speed indicator. When I pulled the transducer to see what was wrong, we had a pretty good crop of barnacles trying to grow on it. I persuaded them to abandon my transducer.
So, I’m wearing a pointy hat the week and trying to recover my ego from such a dumb mistake. Don’t any of you forget to reopen your thru-hulls after maintenance.
You could be here feeling terribly embarrassed too.
PS. If your unsure what a DA is, ask any old soldier.
July 24, 2017
More learning from the mistakes of others. Here goes.
We are on the ICW in South Carolina. It has been often very narrow and shallow. I seem to have found one of the narrow shallow parts. While watching dolphins I allowed the boat to wander to the right edge of the channel and now we are thoroughly aground. The self-rescue techniques that I have seen written about and you tubed were tried, without success. The last resort was put into play.
Yep. I called the insurance company. Huge embarrassment. So here we sit, waiting for a knowledgeable young man in a grossly overpowered boat to come drag us bodily off this oyster bank.
As revenge on the oysters, I think I’ll order 2 dozen at the next opportunity.
You could be here warring and embarrassed too.
July 26, 2017
Today was a heck of a day. The initial plan was to do a short, 20-mile day, find fuel and water while emptying the bad tank.
In talking to the Wacce Watche Marina, they said they had diesel and a pump out. Cool, we’ll stop there I said. The dock master told me to come on in, there was almost no current, no problem. I knew we had a 2-knot current out in the ICW channel, but I figured the dock master had a clue, maybe he was in a sheltered area. During my approach to their face dock, like pulling your car up to a curb, the dock master kept asking me to slow down. Can’t, I thought, the current is moving me. Melody threw the mooring lines to the dock master and his assistant, I put No Worries in reverse and ran the rpms up, and we finally stopped. Almost no current, my ^$!#/.
So I pump my diesel and ask for pump out. The dock master tells me I have to pull into the marina off a 50′ wide channel. It’s a place a 41′ sailboat has no business going. Oh, and he doesn’t know how deep the channel is. We got in and got pumped out. At least the bad tank (black water, said in a tone of extreme dread) is empty. Now to get out.
One of the techniques we learned in Florida is a standing turn. Essentially you use all the boats bad habits, prop walk left in reverse and wanting to turn right in forward gear to your advantage to spin the boat without really moving frontwards or backwards.
Melody held our bow to the dock while I walked the stern out and left. She released the bow and we slid back another six feet to be clear of the dock and I performed a standing turn. Then we got out of there. I think I got lucky. We were close but we didn’t hit anything.
So now it’s about two in the afternoon and we have reached the last place we can anchor for the next 30 to 40 miles. It’s beautiful in mosquito-infested sort of way. Melody took one look and said flatly “No!” We continued on to Myrtle Beach while she looked for a marina for the night.
Now it’s 4:30 in the afternoon and we are almost to the marina. They have a berth on face dock for us for the night. As we approach the dock master tells us he has a 55′ space on the dock between a new 1.5 million dollar motor yacht and a more modest pontoon boat. Oh $!#//^, No Worries was born 41′ long but now has 2 additional feet of bowsprit and 6 feet of dinghy hanging off her stern. That’s nearly 50′. I also still have that 2-knot current pushing me. Essentially between the dock master’s excellent line handling and my slow-as-possible approach, we parallel parked No Worries without incident. The dock master deserves a lot of credit.
So today has shown me that my boat handling skills are improving. I’m still not really confident in my ability to maneuver the boat in close quarters. I hope my skills and my confidence continue to improve.
If all goes well we’ll be in North Carolina tomorrow.
You could be here with me trying to move too much boat in too little area too.
August 4, 2017
We fueled, dumped and took on water this morning. That’s not really notable except Captain Melody docked us. It’s the first time she has docked since we left Tampa. She did a good job, no bumps, no bangs. So let’s hear it for Captain Melody!!!!
August 8, 2017
Melody and I returned from grocery shopping today in time for Melody to find the refrigerator not running. After careful consideration, we agreed this was a bad thing. I looked at the refrigeration unit in the engine spaces as I remembered seeing a couple fuses on it and found a troubleshooting guide printed on the side of it. It read something like “If the red LED is blinking”, it was, “the problem may be one of the following four items:
1. Low voltage.”
Wait, let me check the battery monitor and see what the voltage is. As I turned to climb out of the engine space, WHOA, hold on, there is a red wire with a blue tape label that says fridge coming out of the Battery 1 box. That shouldn’t be there.
A quick description of sailboat battery setups. Battery 1 is generally a single, 12-volt battery that has no other purpose than to start the engine. In our case, Battery 2, the House battery is four, 6 volt, deep cycle batteries that provide 460 amp hours of service for our lights, water pump and stereo. Battery 2 can be used to start the engine if Battery 1 fails in some manner. Battery 1 can be used as the House battery, BAD IDEA.
So we’ve spent the past two days at anchor, waiting out bad weather running off Battery 2, using both the solar panels and the wind generator to keep Battery 2 charged. There should be no draw on Battery 1 since it is isolated from all services by the battery switch, right?
I finish climbing out of the engine spaces and check both batteries, Battery 2, good, and Battery 1, RED LIGHT, LOW VOLTAGE. So now I know that Battery 1 is low and needs charging and my beer is getting warm. I can fix both conditions be using the battery switch to bring both batteries on line to run the fridge and starting the generator to carry the load and charge Battery 1.
But now I have to ask:
Why is the fridge wired directly to Battery 1 rather than to a circuit breaker on the DC panel? I have four open breakers.
Why didn’t I catch there was no fridge breaker?
What other surprises am I going to find?
Now I have another priority job in Boston, fix the refrigerator wiring as well as the air conditioner wiring. I am so glad Uncle Sam taught me about electricity. [Ed note from a comment: “In a previous life I spent 9 years fixing helicopter electrical/electronic systems for the United States Army.”)
End of rant.
August 12, 2017
Sort of an offbeat thought. Melody’s Facebook tells us that two years ago today we were learning to sail (about sailing, cause I’m still learning) on Lake Superior.
Today we have traveled upon No Worries more than a thousand miles in the past two months, some of it sailing.
I guess the biggest takeaways are:
- Experience is important. But the only way to get it is by doing.
- Find your adventure and go. Watching it on TV will help you find it, but you have to actually go out of your comfort zone and do it.
- Even the clueless (me) can have fun adventures.
August 13, 2017
We headed out this morning excited for the trip to Annapolis. I was excited that I would see good friends and see the Naval Academy. With winds on our nose and higher waves it was a no progress to very slow progress forward. These are the days I don’t like. So we headed back to protection. I guess that’s a good thing but still sad. Sitting and waiting is not my forte. I get bored and flat spots. Some of us do much better than others.
August 17, 2017
Today No Worries put on her teacher hat and took me to school. I believe she taught me more about sailing her today than I have learned since she joined us.
We spent most of the day with headwinds and an adverse current making 2 to 3 knots. Not going anywhere in a hurry. No Worries taught me how to get forward effort from the mainsail with the wind as close as 20 degrees off her nose.
Later, between the channel changing direction a little and the wind clocking around a little, No Worries taught me how to set the genoa to add forward effort with the wind as close as 40 degrees off her nose, called close hauled by sailors.
With the wind at 60 degrees off her nose, called a close reach by sailors, No Worries taught me how to get her up and cruising. We had mostly flat water and a steady 10 knots of wind giving us 5 knots of forward motion.
Then she clapped me on the shoulder and gave me a treat for being a good student. As we rounded Cape May and entered the Atlantic, we found 15 knots of wind right on our side, 90 degrees to our direction of travel. Sailors call that a beam reach. I call it intoxicating. We hit 7.5 to 8 knots. We had 2- to 3-foot swells, spaced well apart also on our beam. You’d think that would be an uncomfortable ride but it wasn’t. The wind in our sails smoothed the ride out very nicely.
Man, I’m still stoked after a five mile run on a beam reach like that. I sure hope we can continue it up the coast.
So, while today was a long day, 13 hrs of travel, 58 miles on the water, it was a productive one. I even managed to polish half of the stainless on the starboard side.
August 21, 2017
Anchored at Robert Moses State Park area at the boat basin in Fire Island, New York.
This afternoon was challenging as we went soft aground at low tide as we were looking for another anchorage. As we waited for the tide to rise several boats stopped to check on us. One family of New Yorkers asked if we were ok and we all laughed as we stated we were waiting for water. They came back a second time to check on us and wished us safe travels. Then a towboat came by and asked if we needed anything, we showed him our insurance and he said ours was different then what he takes but he would point is in the right direction by pulling us around so that when the water was high enough we would be able to go. NO charge!. We have been fortunate to have met some very kind people. That could have cost 600-1000$. We were just gonna wait it out.
Yes there are kind people in the US. Life is good and we have moved to another anchorage.
August 22, 2017
Today was a day of great highs, sailing fast for most of the day. And it was a day of great lows, 25- to 30-knot winds and two-meter seas, a failed bilge pump and mast head lights.
Where to begin? Weather, it’s always important to us. The increased winds and waves were forecast. I expected them to make their appearance about the time we arrived in Shinnecock Bay. They showed up early. We sailed uncomfortably in big waves and higher winds than we wanted to see.
Upon arrival in Shinnecock Bay, we discovered the failed bilge pump. We found it in the usual way, the floor was wet. We used the emergency hand pump to clear the water in the bilge, because it seemed like an emergency. Then I went looking for the leak. It was the packing gland, my fault. The locknut was apparently not as jammed on the gland as it should have been.
Okay, the anchor is down, the bilges are pumped down and the leak has been stopped, turn on the anchor light and we’re good, right? No anchor light. I turned on the Luci light we have in the cockpit for those raw occasions we stay up past sundown then went looking for the problem. I found a broken splice at the bottom of the mast with a label that read Anchor Light. Hmmmm, seems too easy. I replaced the broken splice with a waterproof splice and guess what. The anchor light works.
So there you have it. You could be here too. I’ll even make room for you.
August 23, 2017
[Written by Melody] My take on yesterday. I brought us out from Fire Island yesterday. I didn’t like the channel out. It was narrow, busy with fishing boats and a turn where two churning areas of water come together. I misjudged my turn, forgetting wind was pushing me and as I turned it pushed me into the red buoy. No damage but sure made me nervous as the port rear quarter of the boat hit the buoy. Then it was a very long channel before we got out to deeper waters. I survived it, damaged confidence. We had a good day sailing. The winds and waves picked up throughout the day and by late afternoon it was tough. But again, No Worries brought us through like the fat bottom girl she is like a pro. I brought us into the channel of Shinnecock Inlet. Charlie was worked up about it but I didn’t think that was so bad.
The super stress came when he went below just as we got inside and I wasn’t clear on where to go. We had water on the floor which meant the bilge was full. As he was dealing with that and using the emergency bilge pump it was gushing up into the cockpit. He didn’t explain to me, just started pumping and I have water 2″ deep in the cockpit…..coming out of one drain and over to the other. Meanwhile, I’m trying to stay out of shallow water and moving around a fishing boat near dusk. Panic affected both of us. We were able to anchor and then address the issues. Things settled down except for the winds which continued at 30 knots most of the night.
Yes, we survived. In hindsight, we can now realize that it had been a long day and we need to check the bilge more often. Nothing that can’t be fixed.
So today, in my opinion, we deserved to go to lunch. We are at the Oaklands restaurant at the marina in Southhampton, New York. I had chefs tacos, which had grilled shrimp, salmon and halibut and a great salsa. So yummy. Charlie had swordfish sandwich and delicious sea salt fries. We each had a cup of clam chowder…..yum. so I had enough leftovers for supper tomorrow. This will be good as we are planning an overnight.
August 24, 2017
OH YEAH, OH YEAH, cave man dance. I am victorious. We have landed our first edible fish on No Worries. We brought in a small Atlantic Mackeral. More cave man dance.
August 25, 2017
We’re in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. We made it to New England. It’s about a 100 miles yet to Boston. I am hugely stoked. We have managed to travel with No Worries nearly the breadth of our nation. I might make a sailor yet. Captain Melody just carries me through.
This calls for a more sophisticated celebration dance. Energizer bunny dance!
August 29, 2017
Yeah!!! We made it! We are on a mooring ball in Salem, MA, scheduled to talk to the Yacht Yard writer tomorrow.
So, what sort of firsts does that get us?
Successfully completed the first leg of our journey, Tampa, FL to Boston, MA, just a hair short of 2000 nautical miles in 60 days. That’s definitely a first.
Mother Nature smiled upon us today. We had more and better wind than predicted and sailed, that’s right, no diesel, for more than four hours, more than half of today’s mileage.
By way of celebration, Captain Melody took us out to dinner. All I can say is WOW. The food was great. Of course, the feeling of accomplishment didn’t hurt either.
- Spend more time on the ocean and less motoring on the ICW.
- It’s okay to sail at two or three knots.
- Take the forecast as gospel, expect it to be worse than forecast and be happy when it isn’t.
- No Worries will look after me if I let her. Relax, let the boat do the work.
I am so looking forward to the trip south to the Bahamas. We’ll do a lot more ocean sailing on the way.
You could be here enjoying the success of the first leg of our journey and planning the second too.