Thursday, March 18, 2021

Sail out to Ship Island

 When we first arrived in Gulfport, we knew we wanted to sail out to the barrier islands that make up the gulf side of the Mississippi Sound. We had sailed along them on our trip to Gulfport from Mobile, and they looked beautiful. We have made a number of day sails out to the water around the islands, but the conditions have never been right to drop the hook and spend the night. 

We have been warned by many sailors in the marina that the islands can be treacherous. They offer no protection from the wind and waves other than a south wind. I have been waiting for warmer weather, good wind during the day that would drop off overnight, and out of the south. The forecast for March 12th and 13th, was for exactly those conditions. The only problem is that Ship Island is directly SE of Gulfport. That was the direction of the wind, which meant we could not sail directly there. We would have to make a number of tacks to get to our target. 

We left the marina at 10AM. I almost made a major mistake as we left, by getting in a hurry and missing a major item on my checklist. I forgot to open the raw water through hull that provides cooling water to the engine. I caught it in time and all was OK, but it still bothered me all day that I would make such a significant mistake. I have since added some additional safeguards to reduce the chance that I would make such a mistake again. 

As soon as we were in open water, we had the sails up and headed out in the direction of Cat Island. The wind was strong at about 15 knots and we were moving at 6-7 knots under full sails. We made it to Cat island in less than 2 hours. That anchorage looked a bit rolly with the strong wind, so we tacked and headed in the direction of Biloxi. That was a long leg at over 2 hours and almost 15 miles. The conditions were perfect. That is when I recorded the first part of the video below:

Click this link to see a short video about our trip: Sail to Ship Island

Sometimes video just captures the scene better, but here are a few shots of our sail:

We are showing 6.8 knots on the GPS. We saw over 8 a few times this day.

Cat Island off the port bow.

SHIFT in her element! Cruising along with good wind.

As we approached the beach in Biloxi, we could see people on the beach and tell what brand of car was on Beach Blvd.. We then made another tack and headed back SW. We sailed all the way out the pass between Cat and Ship island into the open Gulf of Mexico. We then tacked back two more short ones and then motored the last half mile to the anchorage. The wind was dying off throughout the afternoon, so the anchorage was reasonably calm. We dropped the hook in 24 feet of water and settled in for the night. 

Our view of the fort and pier on Ship Island

A view without the sailboat hardware. 

We had the anchorage all to ourselves as we settled in for the sunset. Just as the sun was going down a catamaran joined us, but dropped the hook a good distance down the beach. 

Nice Sunset at Ship Island

Our neighbor for the evening

The wind died of to nothing as forecast. We had a very restful night. When we awoke the next morning, we were in a thick fog. It was so thick we could not see the island or pier.

Thick fog, no island. 

Around 9 am the fog lifted enough for us to get the dinghy down and put the motor on and make the short trip to shore. It has been since last summer that we had used the dinghy, but I have done the maintenance and it ran perfectly. 

SHIFT at anchor shrouded in the fog

Just another shot of our home

Our little dinghy tied to the pier.

Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island.

This is the main entrance to the fort, but it was closed.

Lots of damage from hurricane Zeta, that is not being repaired.

These Redwing Blackbirds were very friendly and followed us around as we explored the island.

There is a significant amount of infrastructure on this island. There are bathrooms and rangers quarters and even a snack bar. All were damaged by hurricane Zeta. The strange thing is there is no work going on to repair the damage in preparation for the coming summer season. I am not sure what is going on, I plan to do some research to better understand why.

There is a boardwalk across the island to the gulf side beach. Much of the walkway was destroyed, but previous visitors have found planks and laid them across the supports to make it possible to visit the beach. We all know that one of the main objectives was for Kim to take a walk on the beach. On this day we had the beach all to ourselves. It was foggy, but still beautiful.

Kim is never happier than when she is on a beach.

The view down this empty beach. The only footprints were ours. There are plenty of beautiful shells, but you shouldn't take them, it is a National Park.

Nice shore break on the gulf side. I want to surf fish there one day.

There is a big cannon up there on the top, I wish we could have gone inside to look around. 

We went back to the boat and I fished for a couple of hours. I caught 4 fish, but all Gaftop Sail Catfish, which I don't eat. It was then about 1 PM and even though the wind was still light, we pulled the anchor and started our sail back to Gulfport. The good news is the light wind was right behind us for a downwind sail back to the marina. As we went, the wind picked up a bit and we had a fun sail until the fog rolled in. At one point we could not see more than 100 yards. I was able to use by instruments to make the approach. We made the channel in the dense fog and felt our way to our slip. As luck would have it, a half hour after arrival the visibility was about 5 miles. All in all it was a great trip and we can't wait to go back out see some of the other islands. The problem will be waiting for the perfect forecast. 

We have had a warm week here in Gulfport with some highs in the low 80's, but last night that all changed. We had a strong line of thunderstorms hit us at about 9 pm with 45 knot gusts. It reinforced our thinking that we don't want to be out of the marina when the storms are around. That will influence our plans over the next few months. In my next entry, I will talk about our plans.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Champagne Sailing

 For the most part we have had a very relaxed time here in Gulfport, Mississippi. We have had cool weather that makes sailing a bit cold. We have decided we prefer to have more than 70 degrees, but not more than 85. It would be great if someone would tell me where we can see a nice 10 to 15 knot breeze and temperatures in that range all of the time. Oh yeah, and nice warm water. That would be good also. 

The boat work is never done, but SHIFT is ready to sail and so are we. It had been very foggy for about 3 days. 

SHIFT in the thick fog.

No wind, but thick fog.

When we got up on Sunday, February 28th it was no different. I went for my morning walk, but cut it short when I saw the fog lifting and the sun warming the air to over 70 degrees. We had a nice 10 knot breeze. I got back to the boat and asked Kim if she would like to go sailing. Sure! was her answer, and in 30 minutes we were off of the dock.

I recorded this video after we were under way: Sailing Mississippi Sound

(click on the link to watch the video)

As we approached Cat Island, we started seeing dolphins breaking the surface of the water. Before long there was a large pod of them all around the boat. We saw birds swooping down to the water and baitfish desperately trying to escape.   We saw dolphins jumping completely out of the water. We also saw some slapping their tails on the surface. It lasted for about a half hour.   It was quite a show. It was easily our best dolphin show yet. I shot some video, but it is not that great. I will do some editing and see if I can do something with it. 

We ended the day with some sailing with two other sailboats from our marina. They say that whenever there are two boats out on the water it becomes a race. So, we all raced back to the marina. We had to make one tack, but SHIFT did very well going upwind. We did have to wait for a large ship that was coming into the commercial port. We ended up second.

Large Ship coming down the channel at about 14 knots.

We held up and let him go in front of us. 

It was a great day sailing and we can't wait to go again. 

This past weekend we had our first dock party of the year. I understand that our pier is known for their dock parties. It was great! We had two live bands and plenty of food. 

I have been doing some crabbing and fishing here in the marina after I have seen some others doing very well. No luck yet, but hopefully soon. 

I have been keeping up with my daily 3 mile walks. I love to check out the birds in the area.

Four Snowy Egrets on this dock.

This Blue Heron and I have become friends. He hangs out on the jetties and is quite bold. He will stand right behind a fisherman waiting for a handout. When I walk by, he comes over and looks for food. When I show him I don't have any, he leaves to beg elsewhere. 

The featured boat this week is this beautiful little sub 30 foot Ketch. The masts on this boat are made of Sitka Spruce. The Teak is all being replaced by a master ship builder. I had a nice conversation with him one day about his project. Another labor of love.

Beautiful little Ketch.

Now that it is March, we are planning to do much more frequent sailing and some anchoring out at the islands that lay offshore. I am hoping to write about that in coming entries. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Surviving a Polar Vortex on a Sailboat

 It has been a few weeks since I have written in this blog. To say I have been uninspired, would be an understatement. I have always said that I never wanted to feel like this was a "job", so when I don't feel like writing, I don't. 

As we all know, the week of February 8, 2021 was one for the record books. It was record setting in coastal Mississippi also, but it was very mild in comparison. We saw the coldest recorded temperatures in over 100 years. My family reported power outages in Texas that lasted a few days while temperatures were in single digits. There was snow on the beach in Galveston. It was colder than minus 10 degrees F in Missouri at the ranch where pipes burst and created quite a mess. The good news is that our son Scott was there to shut off the pump and then fix the pipes. 

We only saw one night that got down to 20 degrees. The marina staff opened all of the water spigots at each slip, so we had some icicles, but that is the only ice we had. Gulfport was one of the few places in the country, other than Florida, that had no snow or ice. We have a small electric heater that kept us nice and warm during the worst of it. We never lost power. SHIFT did fine and has no issues as long as we keep it warm inside. 

I did not have any problem keeping busy during the cold snap. We were still testing the new holding tank with just fresh water when I found that the system was leaking. I spent two days taking the tank back out and replacing the fittings with brass and using a different pipe thread compound. While I was doing that, I tried to evacuate the water in the tank with our macerator pump. Well, the pump did not work. I did some troubleshooting and determined the pump was bad. The good news is we have a brand new spare. In the process of installing the new one, I found a bad hose and clamp that could have burst and leaked a nasty mixture into the boat. I think SHIFT was just trying to tell me that I wasn't done fixing her yet. 

The brand new macerator pump on the left and the old one on the right. 

 Since this refix, all seems to be good and we now are using it again. Boat life...

After the cold front passed we were eager to find a day to go sailing. The forecast for February 22nd was for sunny conditions with 65 degrees and wind of 10 to 15 knots out of the NW. We tossed off the dock lines and headed out into the sound. We put up the sails and then as we rounded the end of the jetty, BAM! we got hit by 20 knots and gusts over 25. Hello! oh well, it is always good to get some heavy weather sailing practice in. We furled the Genoa and sailed on the Main and staysail. SHIFT was in her element. It was a comfortable ride. We stayed out there for about 5 hours enjoying the fast ride and sunny day. The cool thing about sailing here on the Mississippi sound is even with the strong wind,  there were flat seas.

SHIFT cruising along at 4.9 knots on just a staysail up front. Notice the flat seas.

Kim doing what she does. Coiling lines and organizing the cabin top.  

One of my favorite activities when we are not working on our own boat is walking around the docks checking out the other boats and talking to other boaters. There is a very special boat that is sitting about 100 feet from ours. She is a 1929 Red Banks. She was made in New Jersey and was originally a passenger carrying boat around the bays there. We have met the owners and they are in the process of varnishing the exterior, which looks like a monumental task, but it is so cool to see her survive and be cared for. 

1929 Red Banks

Those are stained glass windows on the back of the cabin.

A nice shot on a sunny day.

 It is now March and we are ready to really step up the sailing and adventurizing around this area. We had one of our best sails ever this past Sunday. I will tell you why it was so awesome, in my next entry. Maybe it will not be a month from now. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Boat Repairs Completed and Why Are We Here?

 I am sitting here in SHIFT in the Gulfport Marina on a rainy, but warm day. It is very cold up north with high temperatures below freezing. We are very comfortable here with temperatures in the mid 60's. It was about 75 yesterday and sunny. I should have been out sailing, but yesterday was the big day. We have been waiting over three weeks for this day. This was the day our new holding tank was to arrive!

 It has been three weeks without a functional head on the boat. We have enjoyed our evening walks to the marina bathrooms, but it was time to get the boat ready for cruising again. 

I started the day by walking the 1.5 miles to the local marine store. Ken's is a local chandlery that is a candy store for a mariner. I enjoyed walking around and checking out all they had and now know if I need anything while I am here, this is the place to go. I bought what I thought I needed for the installation of the new tank and then walked back to the marina. Just as I arrived at the office, the UPS truck pulled up and had the tank. That was a great start!

I got the tank back to the boat in a dock cart and then as boat projects go, I found that the fittings I had, would not work, so back to Ken's to get the right ones. 

I spent the next two hours doing boat yoga. Getting by body into the correct position to reach the hose clamp or bolt that needed to be tightened. I have to say that even after the rough start, all went well. We then tested with fresh water and there were no leaks. Yeah!!

Here is a shot of the new tank installed. The poly tank should last much longer than the previous aluminum tanks. 

That is one major project completed. I have spent the past few weeks doing a number of other projects on the boat. I have been doing some reading about my engine and found that the valves should be adjusted every 500 hours. I had no idea when they had last been done, so I went after that project. All was going well until I had to move a coolant hose out of the way to remove the valve cover. The hose broke getting coolant all over the place. The hose was old and it obviously needed to be replaced. It was good that I found this problem while we were here at the dock with my truck ready to take me to the parts store, rather than out on the open water. It was still an unplanned part of the project. It seems all boat projects have those unplanned parts. The good news is the valve adjustment was very similar to the valves on my KTM motorcycles, so I knew exactly how to do it. I found that both the intake and exhaust on #3 were out of adjustment. I completed the adjustment and then put it back together and it seems to be running great. We will see how she runs under load on our next outing. 

This past weekend we had a beautiful day, so I decided an outside project was in order. I know you should clean and lubricate your winches about once a year. We have 7 of them on the boat. We use three of them each time we sail and the others are rarely used. I decided to rebuild all three of them. The project took me about 6 hours, but I was very happy with the result. They do work much smoother, but the best part is that I did not drop any parts or tools in the water. 

This is a picture of one of our Lewmar 16 self tailing winches. This one is used to raise the Mainsail. You can kind of see one of our Lewmar 43's in the background that is used to manage our Genoa sheet. 

I do believe that it is important to do your own maintenance and upkeep if you plan to be an offshore sailor. First, you know the job was done correctly and second you need to know and understand all of the systems on your boat. I get a great deal of satisfaction getting these jobs done and find it an enjoyable part of this lifestyle. 

 I have been asked, why are you staying in Gulfport, Mississippi? Well, the answer is a combination of many things. 

When our plans to go to the Bahamas changed due to the hassles of travel in COVID times, we started thinking about where we could go this winter. We were going to be in the Mobile, Alabama area after coming back down the river. Sailing to Florida is what most boats do to get to warmer weather. We thought about that, but we learned last year that winters in south Florida mean high costs for marinas and plenty of other boats. Staying on the hook is ok, but you will see plenty of passing storms with strong north winds. That makes for sleepless nights watching the anchor. We thought we would like to try some time in a marina along the gulf coast that will give us good protection from the north and easy access to water and electricity. The cost of the Gulfport Municipal Marina is less than half of most marinas in south Florida and one third of a marina in the Keys. Going back to Boot Key Harbor was on option. We loved it there, but we like to try new things and go to new places. 

We have seen some cool weather here in Gulfport, but there have been plenty of nice days mixed in. Sailing out of this marina is easy. You only have to motor about a quarter mile to get to open water, where you can put up the sails and then head out into Mississippi sound. That is the other thing we like, the open water just outside the jetty's is not the open gulf. There are a line of barrier islands that start off Louisiana and go all the way to Florida. These create the sound and reduce wave action significantly while still not interrupting the wind currents. So, we have the wind without the waves. That makes for some very pleasant sailing.  We have been told that March and April is a great time to visit the islands and stay on anchor. We will hold on to our slip in the marina because it is cheaper by the month and then just come back here when bad weather is approaching. So far, we really like Gulfport.

One nice thing about this marina is there are a few liveaboards here. They have been great. We spent the evening getting to know Bill and Annie last night. There is nothing better than sharing sea stories and talking about future plans. 

  I will finish this entry with one of my favorite things. We get to enjoy some amazing sunsets on the water. A few nights ago we had a special one. Enjoy!

Monday, February 1, 2021

Boat Problems and January in Gulfport

 We arrived back in Gulfport on January 6th. It did not take long to settle into life aboard SHIFT. January can be cool, but we have not seen any freezing temps this winter. We have seen periods of settled weather with high temps in the 60's F, and lows in the 40's F. We have also seen some northern fronts come through with winds over 20 knots and cold north wind. On those days, we hunker down inside the boat. We turn on our little ceramic heater and are perfectly warm and comfortable. It is no different than staying in an RV park with electric. 

The one thing that happens when we have a strong north wind is the water leaves the marina. Our normal depths of 9 feet go to as low as 6 feet. This requires us to adjust lines and it makes it difficult to climb up the 3 feet to the dock. 

It is kind of hard to see in this picture, but the deck of the boat is about 2 feet below the dock. We have seen the deck 4 feet below the dock at low tide with a strong north wind. 

 In the picture above you can see the chafe guards that Kim made for our dock lines. We were gifted the material back in Palmetto from our boat neighbors on Oo La La, and it has worked out great to protect our lines as we rise and fall with the tides. 

A couple of times when we were out and about we saw dolphins in the marina. They swim around and catch small bait fish for a nice meal. They will swim right up and look at me as I stand on the dock and take their picture. 

A momma and her baby

All was going along well until one day about mid month, I entered the boat and noticed a strange smell. Upon further investigation, I found a leak in our holding tank. The good news is that the holding tank is in a separate compartment in the bilge of the boat. That contained the leak. The bad news is the only way to clean it was to get the pump-out hose down in there and pump out the disgusting/ smelly mess. I then removed the tank. I was guessing it would take about an hour, but as boat projects go, it took all of 6 hours and a few swear words to get it out. 

This is the aluminum holding tank for the boat. I could tell by the date code on the tag, that it had been replaced once before in 2002.

Kim went to work doing a deep clean and disinfect on the compartments that hold the tank and the macerator and Y valve. They then got a fresh coat of paint. 

This is in the lazarette just below my "spot". The tank goes in the compartment on the right.

I then ordered a replacement tank. I found a company in Florida that builds custom poly tanks. They had all of the specifications for this tank. It only costs a little over $400. We have to wait 3 to 4 weeks for delivery. This whole problem means we have no working head on the boat. We have to walk to the marina office to use the bathrooms. Oh well, such is boat life. 

We did celebrate our 41st anniversary during January on the 19th. It was a beautiful day and we decided to go for a sail. We had light winds, but we made it out to Cat Island and back.

Kim at the helm on this cool day. My partner in crime for 41 years. 

Flat water and calm seas. Cat Island off the bow.

Very relaxing day on the water going about 3 knots. 

All in all it has been a good month. We are leading a very relaxing life that includes a daily walk of about 3 miles for me. It is beautiful around here with nice sunsets and plenty of wildlife. Here are a couple of bird shots from a few days ago.

A Blue Heron

A Snowy Egret standing on one leg.

That is about it for January in Gulfport. We are already seeing the weather warming a bit. It was in the high 70's yesterday. We hear that February brings some nice sailing days. We are looking forward to sailing out to the barrier islands and exploring them by dingy. I will write about that in my coming entries.