Return to Sea

While out in the Bahamas last winter I took to trying to collect a bit more video to put together some stories about our times cruising the islands. It’s such a wild and unique experience. In my work I normally film and pass off the footage to the production and so I’m not burdened with the consuming work of editing. With this project I have to put in the time to tell the whole story. To collect the sound, choose the music, create narration.

It’s a highly self-reflexive process and one that takes me far too long to complete. As it is now July and here we have Episode 1: Lost Stabilizer in Bahamas Wind Storm.

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

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.

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Preparing for Further a-foot

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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!

Keep Calm and Repair Hydraulics

This winter passed quickly, as the summer once did. Growing up in the NorthWest I was always biding time through the cold months and longing endlessly for summer. The first day of frost in fall left me in a funk, in contrast to those late winter, early spring days that would tease the long, warm days of summer, spent exploring the creek or driving the jeep into the mountains.

After our first trip out and the mess with the hydraulic lines, we were looking forward to some spear fishing and visits from a few friends. Paul and Tyler flew out we staged at Las Olas Marina in Fort Lauderdale for the crossing. We had hoped to leave earlier, but as it has become the norm, we were scrambling with last minute repairs and provisions, knowing we would be away from American supply chains for at least a month and with many hungry mouths coming and going.

Tyler and Mike were to meet us in Nassau, but with a one-day weather delay, I was able to stall their flight from Grand Cayman at no charge, which was perfect. It seems no trip can be without some sort of issue, and on the way over the diesel fuel lifting pump, which draws fuel from the main tanks for the generators, decided it had enough of its mundane task. We docked at Atlantis and Luke booked a flight back to Florida for the emergency replacement part. The rest of us did our best to manage this trial with a visit to the water park and aquarium.

Then we were off across the banks where we spent the better part of a week anchored at Bitter Guana, tendering to our favorite local activities and charging up the dive tanks for some cave diving.

The next week Pat, Lisa, Todd and Donna flew directly into Staniel Cay. The weather for their annual trip was less than perfect but fortunately they are the type of people to find joy in any activity, even if it’s moving the boat to avoid an atypical southwest wind. We did get out to a reef on the banks for a day for some spear fishing but the wave action was a little rough, making it a challenge to free dive and limiting our catch. Luke found two massive lobsters and I had great luck with the lion fish, so there was plenty of seafood for a decadent night of surf and turf with our favorite from Bush Brother’s Provisioning: the Wagyu strip steak.

A couple of days were optimal for the Hobie Tandem Islander and it was a real experience watching the couples sail down the coast in azure seas, propelled solely by a light, Bahama breeze.

Next on the docket, my best friend Joe modified his return from New Hampshire to stop off for six days. We immediately had him in a wetsuit, snorkeling in sub-optimal condiitons, which made subsequent snorkels seem comparitively simple. We enjoyed Thunderball Grotto at high tide again – not something recommended for the novice or anyone who isn’t substantially athletic. The cave ceiling is sharp and precariously low at high tide, resulting in dangerous surfacing if you dive below. A couple were shooting very unique wedding photos in full dress and tux in the deep blue cavern.

One evening a small sailboat anchored nearby and we were hailed by voices with thick french accents. A group of recent college grads from Quebec were on a week long sailing trip and had scored a Mahi Mahi earlier in the day. They invited us over for a meal and we all agreed that Wanderbird’s kitchen and dining area would be more appropriate for 7 people. Luke and I prepared the fish in a light, white wine reduction and we enjoyed regailing tales of sailing and other worldly adventures.

After Joe’s visit Luke had a couple friends from Florida visit and we continued to explore, moving around just north of Big Major, otherwise known as the famed Pig Beach. While lunching at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, our friend Miguel introduced us to Misha and Brennan from Seattle, who he had met on the plane. They were traveling on a vacation they had won on a TV show and we enjoyed hosting them for sunset cocktails and dinner on the Wanderbird. Leery of motoring back between the islands in the dark, we prepared a guest cabin for a good night’s rest before their long trip home.

We worked our way back to Florida stopping for a night in Nassau and a night at the Berry Islands in a tumultuous little channel conveniently just south of Hoffman’s Cay, where we explored the large, inland blue hole and relished jumping from the cliffs and swimming hte warm and surprisingly salty water.

The trip west was smooth, with a night’s stop in Bimini and smooth crossing with 3-4 foot, short period waves typical in the Gulf Stream. Back on the New River I prepared for a trip out to California and Dallas for work and wedding, while Luke settle into Southern Florida life: a balance between minor ship repairs and socalizing.

Intentions and Hydraulic Fluid

Luke carried on for several weeks with the air conditioning compressor project – we had to remove the new compressors to install a new rack as well – apparently they don’t make the 4 ton any longer, so they sent us three 5 ton compressors which called for a different mounting rack and manifold.

Paul, Jacob and Tyler came into town for the holidays and we spent some time entertaining with Luke escaping to the engine room whenever he could and I at my desk catching up on programming work. We locked onto a weather window to cross the gulf stream and it was the usual scramble to prepare: running around town buying parts and provisioning for 6-8 weeks in the Bahamas.

At around 2AM on the 8th we cast off the lines and made our way down the New River. The stretch of river that once brought me to a borderline breakdown with it’s narrow, winding waterway, has become a pretty relaxing cruise, particularly in the quiet hours of late night or early morning, depending on your perspective.

We crossed to Bimini, arriving at 10AM and anchored just south of South Bimini, given the swell from the north. Luke took our passports in to clear customs while Jacob and I had a swim around the boat and made breakfast. We immediately headed north to round Bimini to the bank and make our way across the shallow waters, past the Berry Islands and around the west side of Nassau then along it’s south coast to cross the White Bank for the Exumas. Evening was upon on by the time we could see Norman’s Cay so we anchored just south and in the morning, traversed the cut to anchor near the plane wreck.

We geared up and took Jacob and Justin to free dive the downed drug plane, then over to the pristine beaches on Norman’s, which Jacob refers to as ‘fake beaches’ – due to their postcard-perfection.

We moved south to Shroud Cay and were delighted to find deep enough water to get within a few hundred yards of shore. Luke jumped on the radio to arrange for a mooring at Warderick Wells the following morning. The weather was a slightly cooler but still comfortable enough to take the tender to explore the tidal river that cuts through Shroud and Jacob and I enjoyed swimming with the current back to the sea.

The next morning we motored another hour south and began to negotiate our way into the narrow channel at Warderick Wells, littered with a few sailboats on their assigned moorings. I stood on the bow with the hook ready to fish the mooring line when Luke called down that the bow thruster was not responding. I raced to the lower helm to see if the controls there would illicit a response. Nothing.

Now at the stern, I watched the shallows behind us as Luke negotiated a tight turn with only the single prop and rudder, around a larger sailboat and back out to open waters. Upon investigating the forward bilge, a hydraulic line to the bow thruster had given out, dumping nearly 50 gallons of fluid into the bilge and rendering our hydraulic driven systems offline. No anchors, no crane to the pick the tender, no bow thruster, no windlass winches for docking. Fortunately the steering is on it’s own hydraulic system or we would have been hand tilling the hefty bird!

We radioed back to the Exumas National Park office and they suggested a first-come-first-served mooring back at Shroud. Upon approach we could see that these tie-ups are another 100 yards closer than we had anchored the night before. Those further out were already taken by very shallow-draft catamarans, but the charts indicated similar depths, so we carefully worked our way in and secured to a mooring within 50 yards of shore.

Luke spent that afternoon on the phone with his hydraulics contact back in Fort Lauderdale. He decided we needed to remove the hydraulic pump and seal the opening that would be left. The next morning Luke manufactured an aluminum plate and gasket and we used a come-a-long to hoist the heavy pump off the engine so we could get the engine running without ruining the expensive pump and avoid the $7,000-$10,000 towing back to Nassau.

It was late by the time we had everything ready and crossed the banks. The hour made it challenging to watch for coral heads – a required duty when crossing. Typically one makes this move in the mid-day, with the sun high, so these massive coral out-croppings are clearly visible, as dark black areas below the surface. With some luck and a keen eye, we made it into Nassau around 7pm with dead calm conditions, perfect for docking sans bow-thruster.

Two weeks in, the hydraulics are adequately repaired for now. A local outfit created new hoses, cleaned up the bilges and loaded new fluid. The weather was initially near perfect and then turned quite intense, with strong winds and in the meantime Luke cut the end of his thumb off testing a generator fan he was replacing.

Today we wait for UPS to deliver a final generator part and then.. south to Georgetown.

Yard work

We had planned to have some work done on the boat in Norfolk, on our way up to spend the summer in the Northeast. The yard, which we’d heard good reviews about from multiple people, seemed to be stalling and my friend Jonathan gave us the real story, apparently a wooden boat had come apart on the rail system they use for haul-out.

We started looking around locally in Fort Lauderdale and the big yard right up the river, Lauderdale Marine Center was able to schedule us in. It’s quite a circuitous and narrow trip up the river – the reason we see so many boats under tow headed that way.

Their massive Travel-Lift used to haul us out, named Brutus, got the boat a few inches out of the water when it refused to go any further, demanding an additional strap for the 115 plus tons of Wanderbird.

For the past week we’ve been ‘on the hard’ having the bottom painted, the keel coolers ‘speed-propped’ along with the propellor, repairs to some leaky windows, fiberglass repairs to the bow and Luke has been working long days repairing hoses and fittings in the cooling and refrigeration systems.

We were scheduled to be back in the water Wednesday the sixth, but they’re wanting to push us to Thursday or Friday – has any shipyard project ever finished on-time? We’re anxious to head north, the plan now being a push directly to NYC where we’ll pick-up Paul, then a week there for pride and on up to Provincetown for the fourth.

Here’s hoping the weather is cooperative once we finish the yard work.

Wanderbird on the hard - at Lauderdale Marine Center  The variable pitch propellor cleaned and ready for speed-prop  Photo of Fiberglass work