Shake Down

With our three year refit coming to a close, we’re finally reaching the point where Wanderbird is ready for sea trials. The shake down cruise was under debate. The Bahamas were calling to us, but finally it was decided it was better to remain in easily towable waters, in proximity of all that Lauderdale has to offer for parts and repairs. 

After an intense scramble to finish a few essential punch list items, provisioning and welcoming a few guests to help out, we had a smooth run out the New River on a busy ‘News Years Day observed’ Monday and down the coast to try to catch up with our good friends Chris and Amanda Weingarth, talented woodworker and canvas maker/yacht repair specialist respectively. They have both contributed to Wanderbird over the last few years and are the most upstanding and reputable in their fields with their company Weingarth Customs.

Having never taken Wanderbird south of Lauderdale along the Florida coast we were happy to have Chris and Amanda’s guidance and as we passed the unmistakable ‘Stilts-ville’ at the entrance of Biscayne Bay we were pleased to see a tender approaching fast, with open, welcoming arms, ready to pilot us into the anchorage.

No shake down is official without some issues, and they started as the anchor was set, thankfully in calm and serene conditions. The chain drive on port windlass made a loud ‘bang’ as a link decided it had simply had enough of this world. Fortunately we carry spare linkages and after an hour of greasy work, we were saved having to haul 300 pounds of anchor and 75 feet of very heavy chain by hand… again – which is a story from another trip, for another time.

After a restful evening and pancakes and coffee with the Weingarths and their friend, they headed north and we motored 12 miles south to Elliott Cay at their suggestion. With the tender in tow, we we dropped the hook just outside of the no-wake markers off the national park and I free dove to inspect the new raw sea water intake covers and running gear while Luke and Dave continued with projects and Justin reorganized the Galley.

In the morning we ran Paul to shore to get steps around the lovely national park while Dave, Luke and I went for a quick exploratory swim. We picked Paul up and in the small vessel harbor at the park when something erupted like a M-80 in the water, just behind the tender. We realized the harbor was full of Manatees and we were relieved that our inboard tender was merely a nuisance and not a danger to the beautiful animals as we moved carefully away to leave them to their grazing. []

By mid-day we were cruising north again, dead calm until we rounded out of Biscayne Bay and into some easterly winds that kicked up some mild seas on the beam, reminding us of all the little things that need to be secured to prevent clinking and clunking inside cupboards. 

Up the new river in the evening, making the usual radio calls and hearing no reply, we encountered a water taxi passing the gondola on a blind corner, neither of which had responded to our security calls and Luke had to back down and hold to allow them to complete their maneuvers. It’s always shocking how few vessels monitor the essential channels 16 and 9 on the winding New River, particularly commercial vessels. The water taxi captain did come back and apologize saying his radio was ‘out of reach’. Best to keep that within reach when running on a river with sections with names like ‘Danger Bend’.

Back in Lauderdale we went back to work, preparing for the next adventure, further afoot, further afield.

Wanderbird at anchor in Biscayne Bay
Exploring via tender

Go for Launch

We joke about the two week project that took two years. Two years and a month, to be exact.

On February 1st, Steel Tow pulled the catamaran out from in front of us and we took a moment to reflect on the many, many changes made to the ship’s systems. Luke considered the changes in the hydraulic system, the new navigation and autopilots and all new engine monitoring, alarms and sensors. Finally, he took a breath, checked the bow thruster one last time and called ‘I think we’re ready’ into the radio mic.

You think? Good enough for me!

No one knows better than Luke. Over the past two years he had worked on nearly every system, replacing major components on everything from refrigeration to navigation. Even the dock lines I was casting off were new. We wouldn’t need those until we reached the New River just a few miles away, but we would need that bow thruster.

A little breeze had kicked up and that thruster seemed to be slightly beleaguered, perhaps not getting enough hydraulic flow. Something for the sea trials. We eased out of that muddy hole we’d been in since May 2020, and out into Dania cut, announcing to the world with a loud blast of the horn that Wanderbird was back under way.

We made our way past the port into familiar waters, under the 17th street causeway and up the New River to a beautiful and more bustling spot in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Now, to finish the repairs and make way for the open sea – or at least the Bahamas before hurricane season comes.

I found time to start a GoPro on the flybridge, if you’d like to see the short transit:

Wanderbird running from Harbour Town Marina to New River, downtown docks, Fort Lauderdale

Improving a Boat with Software

When we first moved on board Wanderbird we began opening cupboards, cabinets and access panels and discovered years of parts and pieces squirreled away. A mysterious tab behind a bathroom shelf led to a cavern full of boxes, filters and spares. When Luke asked one day if I had seen a particular item – we both recalled having seen it; but was it behind the bathroom mirror or in bin number 6, deep within the center bilge access?

It became apparent we’d need to track all this inventory. After a brief search turned up nothing much better than a simple database I started writing a vessel management application. As we experienced life aboard we identified many other areas where an app could help. Maintenance schedules were high on Luke’s list, a proper travel log were on mine and it was clear that some financial tracking would interest Paul.

Three years later as we’ve refit our way through the pandemic, the application is beginning to show signs of life as a useful program. I often hear of captain turn over, or boats transitioning from one owner to another and a package like this could really benefit any vessel of substantial size. There are countless extensions from expansion into charter operations to data sharing between vessels with like missions.

Hopefully we’ll be wrapped up with the mechanical refit in the next few weeks and we’ll be back to more adventurous posts, but for now, it’s back to programming.

A Long and Wandering History Preserved

A boat’s pedigree typically refers to the yard where it was built and the craftsman and artisans who contributed. There may also be predecessors: namesake vessels who came before. The Wanderbird has a rich lineage in the namesake of the Wandervogel, translated to Wanderbird and also known as No. 5 Elbe.

The No. 5 Elbe was built by Gustav Junge in 1883. It served for 41 years as a pilot schooner before it was sold in the 1920s to American journalist Warwick Tompkins. Tompkins made several transatlantic passages with the renamed Wander Bird before he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. In the 1930s, the Tompkins family sailed the Wander Bird around Cape Horn — going the “wrong way” from east to west.  He later chartered the boat for trips to the South Sea islands. 

Pilot Schooner No. 5, Old Salt Blog

The schooner was struck by a freighter and sank in Hamburg and has since be righted and shipped to Denmark for repair.

George Baker spent more than 5 years planning and building the Trawler Wanderbird. He had a unique vision of an ultra-efficient, 65 foot boat, able to travel the world with the assistance of headsails. As we’ve learned about the history, we have come across others whose stories are intertwined.

Once, while anchored in the Exuma islands, a small craft approached and a man named Stephen announced he had worked on the boat when it was built. Imagine that, thousands of miles from where it was constructed, off a remote island! A week later we helped the Navyman-turned-captain-turned-biologist catch and tag sea turtles for research.

Tagging turtles in the Exumas with the Bahamas Sea Turtle Network

I recently had an email exchange with Brooks Townes in Port Townsend who worked on an earlier refit of the Elbe. He tells me that there seems to be a robust demand for the necessary type of Oak used in her hull.

Had lunch while back with a group of international wooden vessel restorers who expressed concern for the yard in Denmark’s ability to locate the proper oak for her repairs as the same hard European oak is being gobbled by the restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Personally I’m not sure how pure they need to be in using the same oak. There’s plenty of suitable purple heart about if they can veer a bit. (The yard, we’re told, used up its considerable hoard of the right oak in the schooner’s earlier restoration.) 

From Brooks’ correspondence

Brooks sent along a photo of this print he recovered from the bilge of the Elbe.

Watercolor by Bill Gilkerson of Elbe No. 5 and a sistership – at work off the Elbe, c/o Brooks Townes

While reading the comments section on the an article about the sinking of Elbe No 5, I came across a post.

I live next door to the house that Hal Sommer lived in before his death. It’s a long story but I have the original bronze metal lettering WANDER _ _ RD. I am not sure what to do with them other than donate them to the Sausalito Historical Society. Unless someone else has a better idea.

Steve Fabes, Commented on the Sinking of Wander Bird article

After some email exchange Steve promptly shipped the letters he was able to recover. Presumably, these bronze letters adorned the stern of the wooden schooner as she sailed around Cape Horn in 1936 and criss-crossed the seas in many voyages. More recent photos from the 50’s show different lettering so I suspect these were removed in the bay area prior to Hayden Sterling’s ownership. It was at that time when the actor announced to his makeshift crew that they were bound for Tahiti, rather than Santa Barbara as planned. I suppose it’s possible the letters were mounted elsewhere. Perhaps someone will come forward with additional information!

Thankfully Steve had the foresight to collect and preserve them as they’ll make quite the historical centerpiece – ideally if we find a fine arts painter who could create a piece for the main saloon, we thought we could incorporate the letters into a custom frame.

Some of the Bronze lettering from the original Wanderbird

Minor Repairs/Major Refit

We went into the yard in early February for two weeks of repairs, what is now eight months. Some minor repairs turned into a major, mechanical refit.

Some things were in desperate need of attention, but we waited until we had time to do them the way we wanted. We were given quotes for our ‘brightwork’ – the exterior woodwork on the railings, which varied widely and went as high as $55,000. Most of the vendors also wanted to do it their own way and Luke was insistent on stripping everything back fully and using many coats of All Wood.

We had one group even go so far as to treat one of the boarding gates and now that we’re done, by comparison, it looks like it was painted. The end result is quite spectacular and as long as we apply a new coat every six months or year, it should last a very long time.

Design began on this boat in the late 90s and was finished right about 2004. At the time the systems were exceptional for a world cruiser and she was loaded with spares of everything. Now however, with connectivity and electronics being what they are, we were struggling with some issues tied to antiquated systems.

Fresh bottom paint before splashing back down at Lauderdale Marine Center

When the Pandemic hit, the boat was ‘on the hard’, out of the water and in the shipyard. The shipyard was deemed ‘an essential service’ so we were able to continue working.

With the new Maretron electronics and remote monitoring we hope to never come back to her from a few days away to find the power entirely shut down and the batteries wrecked. Instead, we’ll receive a text message as soon as the power is cut! We can monitor things remotely and program safety systems to prevent flooding and other disasters. These updates make the boat considerably more manageable for a small crew or owner/operator.

The list of improvements includes updated refrigeration, navigation systems, autopilots, air conditioning, radar, battery banks, rebuilt alternators, a new hydraulic cruise generator, refreshed bang irons, LED conversion and much more.

I’ve been grabbing bits of video here and there, so there may be a video coming soon to show the work we’ve been doing.

The refreshed brightwork (Mahogany Wood Railings) on the bow

Wanderbird Schooner looks to be Restored Again

A recent inquiry about the fate of Elbe No 5, the original Schooner Wanderbird, or Wandervogel as it was originally in German, left me searching for information, after she sank in June of 2019. This video from October of that year, shows that she’s been pulled up and sent to a shipyard in Hvide Sande, Denmark. As I read, no shipyard in Germany has the ability to repair a wooden vessel of her size so she was shipped up and appears to be floating on her own. It looks as though she’ll sail again thanks to Hamburg Maritime.

We’re happy to see that after 137 years of sailing, she’ll continue to sail. We’ve been searching for an artist to paint the original schooner rounding Cape Horn, for our salon. If anyone knows a skilled nautical artist, please pass long the info.

Sinking of the Wander Bird

No, not us, but our namesake, the beautiful sailing schooner Wanderbird, also known as Elbe No 5, was struck by the 465-ft container carrier Astrosprinter on the Elbe river near Hamburg in Germany last June in 2019.

We often check in on the old wooden boat, to see if she’s had any work or a change of ownership. Hamburg Maritime Foundation, the most recent owners, had recently completed a $1.7million refit at a Danish yard and she was enjoying work as a tour boat when the unfortunate incident occurred.

We had always dreamt of sailing our little sister to meet the noble schooner and while she rests just underwater, chances grow slim as she’s consigned to the briney depths.

Article on Latitude 38
Wander Bird’s last moments afloat

As for us, we continue to make preparations during quarantine. After more than two months, the boat is back in the water while we wrap up the repairs and improvements.

Subscribe to be notified if you are interested in a video of the work from the recent projects.


Preparing for Further a-foot

A little business first, I added a subscribe for anyone who wants to keep up with us when we post new entries on this blog.


Two years into this adventure and things are a little repetitious. Last year we began making preparations for Cuba when we had a major hydraulic failure. Now, back in the yard, we make ready to voyage out further from the safety of U.S. coastal waters and all the amenities that Florida affords.

We began by hauling out at Lauderdale Marine Center in Fort Lauderdale and having the Hundestead prop and shaft inspected. It was determined that the prop needed to be dropped, which is a chore. While this is being done Luke is making efforts to improve the cooling systems to limit marine growth as well as catching up on servicing the life rafts, installing a new barbecue, touching up some paint and many other projects.

While these chores aren’t as fun as my usual posts, I’ll include a video of our run up the new river and the haul out at LMC. I upgraded my GoPro to the new Hero 8 black and the timelapse up the river was greatly improved over the old camera functions.

With all this going on I’ve continued working on an app for managing the vessel. I just migrated to a platform called Quasar which will allow me to develop a web-based app and extend it to a native mobile app. I have the task manager pretty far along and still need to move inventory, equipment, systems and all the other facets I created in the earlier, strictly web-based version.

After the yard we plan to travel down the Exumas and jump out to Turks & Caicos. The crossing from Long Island to the first of the Caribbean islands is a little rougher from my observation of the data, so we need all systems in top shape!

Southbound between winter storms

After five weeks in Manhattan we departed in the late afternoon for Norfolk. The 40 hour journey a familiar one at this point. The conditions were favorable and I passed the time experimenting with some fashion photography with our friend Anderson who Luke had invited along. It was later in the evening by the time we reached Fort Mason and because of an approaching Tropical Storm named Nestor, we ducked into Mill Creek and dropped the hook.

It was a good spot to weather the heavy winds and rain for the following day with gusts hitting 35 knots. The following morning we were faced with an armada of snowbirds in the intracoastal. The first railroad bridge out of Norfolk there were about 15 boats of various types and sizes all jockeying for position.

When we finally reached the great locks it was a similar pile-up and it wasn’t until the second round of passage that we were able to make our way through. While hovering well in the channel we ran aground for a few moments so for anyone southbound, keep slightly to the port side on approach to the locks – there’s shoaling about 200 yards out. Fortunately great lock is less than two feet drop and it takes less than 15 minutes for the drop, however they have to time it with a subsequent bridge making for a real mess with so much traffic.

Quite a lot of negotiated passings in narrow canals followed until we reached Coinjock where the staff was wonderfully accommodating as usual, getting us fueled up almost immediately. It was so busy boats were rafted up; double-parked yacht-style. The next morning we didn’t bother rushing out and by the time we were up at 8, most of the dock was empty.

We motored all day into the darkness until we were just before the second to last unlit channel where we anchored just a lightning storm grazed us to the north. The next morning was bright and fresh in the North Carolina waters and we passed through Goose Creek and into Beaufort, passing some sailboats and being passed by faster motor yachts. As we approached town we realized conditions had improved on the Atlantic and it made sense to revise our plans and head immediately out to sea and make for Charleston. Fortunately we were able to get a reservation across the bridge at Patriot Point, since the large downtown docks were full up.

Sunset was as glorious as the sunrise as we approached the frying pan shoals. Just after midnight as I stood watch, I made the mistake of assuming the red light in the distance was the shoal channel marker and continued to look for the green light. Upon closer examination of the charts I realized the channel markers are not lit and the red light was a marker much further south. Using the spotlight and radar I was able to locate the green can and erring towards port, slipped through the very narrow passage unscathed.

We dropped Anderson in Charleston and waited again on some heavier winds offshore. An acquaintance from Provincetown was moving an 80 Hatteras and after chatting about the conditions made his way to meet up with us for a drink at the Harbor Club. While we run around 8 knots, burning about a gallon per nautical mile, he moves at around 20 knots, burning 140. We left Charleston in the evening on Sunday, staying close to shore out of the gulf stream and ran the next 50 hours to Fort Lauderdale, non-stop.

Greg ran from Charleston to St. Augustine on Monday, stopped for fuel and a night’s rest and then passed us in the evening on Tuesday as we approached Lauderdale. We weren’t at the dock on the New River until around 3AM, which is fine by me – running the river in the wee hours means less traffic and a very chill arrival.

Now begins some repairs and upgrades. The brightwork (exterior, Mahogany railings and rub-rails) need refinishing, a new WiFi system, batteries and soft-goods are all in the plans.

Northern Migration

People often ask if we pass through storms. Like inquiring a solider if they’ve seen any action. The first storm we passed through on the Atlantic, which I had watched brewing for some hours, was anticlimactic: hardly any wind, placid seas with perhaps the largest rain drops I’ve yet to witness.

Tonight, along the same northbound route up the Eastern seaboard, we could see lightning storms brewing to the West, over Georgia and South Carolina and to the East over the open Atlantic. As we made our way towards Beaufort, NC, I took watch from Luke at 1 AM, and the Western front was upon us.

The sails were up as the prevailing winds were as predicted, from the south, shifting around from the west, filling our starboard headsail and adding some much needed stability in a mixed port-side, following sea. My mom and aunt were not faring as well as we’d all hoped and the seasickness patches were compounded with Dramamine to keep them in a deep sleep as we rocked and rolled northward in a classic, dark and stormy night.

As we entered the tempest, the winds worked their way around to the bow, climbing from relaxing 7 knots to guest nearing 30, the shifting direction luffing the sails, but a slight course correction allowed me to keep them somewhat to port. At one point there was a loud thud on the upper deck and amidst the rain and lightning I cautiously climbed past the tender to secure the main boom shackle which had come loose – a dangerous thing, having a massive steel boom swinging about the deck while the ship pitches nearly ten degrees each side.

Earlier in the day we did our best to stay in the gulf stream, using the current to increase our normal 8-10 knot speed to nearly 13. The navigation computer doesn’t seem to take into account the fact that this boost doesn’t stay with us and arrival predictions are modified as our speed slows. A teasing mid-day arrival shifts into the night the next day and I feel for our ladies hunkered in the belly of the ship, perhaps second-guessing this particular voyage.

By evening we were approaching the coast of North Carolina and began to feel it’s protection from the northerly wind. While checking the upper deck for loose lines following the heavy winds, I spotted a distictive fluke in the distance, headed our way. I called to Linda and Mom and despite their weakened state, they rushed with me to the bow to watch two, small, spotted dolphins enjoying the energy put out by our bulbous bow. This was the first time I’ve seen this particular behavior. The larger animal rode steady while the smaller swam circles around its cohort. The evening light, clear Atlantic waters and these beautiful creatures made for a magical moment. [see the end of the included video for a clip of this]

Everyone was happy to have a good night’s rest and we left about 9AM, considerably later than our previous trip, after sleeping in a bit. Following the same route, we ended up anchoring in a shallow tributary of the Pungo river. I wasn’t sure we’d be into Coinjock in time to fuel that afternoon but arriving about 3:30, there was plenty of time for 2,600 gallons of diesel and some world famous rib-eye, plus a case of mango salsa. We followed two Flemings out the following morning and made our way into Norfolk in the early afternoon, docking at Waterside marina for an early dinner.

The next 36 hours we ran up the coast. Leaving early put us into the Hudson well before our intended dawn cruise past the statue of liberty. Thick fog blanketed the coast, but fortunately the harbor was fairly clear and we all agreed the run in at night, with the Statue of Liberty and city lit up, was magical, more so than it would have been the following, grey and rainy day.