Ten Years

We have owned Questeria, our 37′ 1976 Irwin, for ten years now. On November 18, 2005 we signed the papers and purchased Questeria from George and Nancy.

How it All Started

A few months earlier we had no idea we would be buying a sailboat. It all started in our living room in Raleigh, NC…

The only time we used our living room in Raleigh was on Sunday mornings. The sun would shine through the front window and we would read the paper and drink coffee.

On one of those Sunday mornings we were sitting in our living room, drinking coffee and reading the paper. We saw an article saying that you could get tax breaks by owning a boat. If the boat has a head (bathroom) and galley (kitchen) you can call it a second home and take deductions from the loan. We thought we could use some tax breaks and it might be fun to have a sailboat.

A few weeks later, on another Sunday morning, we were sitting in our living room, drinking coffee and reading the paper. We saw an ad for a Caribbean cruise and decided we should go. After booking a cruise we started thinking about shore activities that we would like to do. One of the activities that caught our interest was a scuba diving trip. I should say Ron was interested because Fran had no interest in scuba diving at that time. Ron had not been scuba diving for many years and decided to take a refresher class. After the class he was reminded of how much he enjoyed diving and wanted to go visit Fran’s Uncle George in the FL Keys.

We never did take that cruise.

Keys Vacation

We went down to Marathon, FL for a week vacation. It was Ron, Fran, Mildred (Fran’s mom) and James (Fran’s brother). We had a great time diving swimming and sightseeing. George and Nancy were looking for a bigger boat and Questeria was for sale. We left for home and hadn’t even made it out of the Raleigh airport when we started negotiating a deal to buy Questeria.

Marathon 2010
Marathon 2010

Diving Right In

There was a steep learning curve. Neither Fran nor Ron had ever owned a boat and now we had a 37′ sailboat. Fortunately George knew the boat and is a very good teacher. Ron also started taking online boating classes. One Sunday morning, after drinking coffee and reading the paper we went to the boat show and found the Raleigh Sail and Power Squadron. We signed up for their boating safety class and made lots of new friends while learning boating skills. We would eventually join the squadron, go on many cruises and take most of the classes they offered.

Between November and May we made several short trips to the keys to visit our sailboat, which was anchored in Newfound Harbor. We were both employed. Fran was working for SAS and Ron was working for IBM. We had both been working for our respective companies for a while and enjoyed lots of vacation time. We used this time to learn the boat and how to drive it.

Questeria‘s New Home

In the spring of 2006 it was time to take Questeria to NC. We called this “The Big Trip“. It would not be our last time taking Questeria between FL and NC. We learned a lot making this trip; 1) we had a lot more to learn about boating, 2) we could live on a boat for three weeks without killing each other, and 3) We really like the FL keys. The important thing was that we made it from FL keys to New Bern, NC and we had a great time doing it. (Click here to view photos.)

Now that Questeria was in NC we would spend most weekends working on her. At first we would hire people to do the work, but eventually we tried to do as much for ourselves as we could. There were very few Sunday mornings spent in the living room, drinking coffee and reading the paper. We continued to take classes with the Raleigh Sail and Power Squadron and we read many books about boating and boat repair.

We were spending almost every weekend on Questeria in New Bern (about two hours from Raleigh). We seldom had time to use our living room on Sunday mornings.

We started making short cruises by ourselves and with the power squadron. We also continued to make improvements to Questeria. We took Questeria to Duck Creek and had the standing rigging replaced. We replaced the Kenmore dorm fridge with a 12v marine fridge as well as many other projects.

All this time while we are enjoying cruising and working on Questeria in North Carolina, we are thinking of how much we like the keys. In September 2009 we got the opportunity to take a boat from NC to the FL keys, not Questeria, but Fran’s uncle Ben’s boat Molly Marie II . (Click here for photos.) It wasn’t the same as taking our own boat, but we were still working and felt that we were at least a couple of years away from retirement – or so we thought.

Liveaboards

When we get back to Raleigh Fran finds out that her company’s plans to cut some medical insurance benefits unless she retires by the end of 2009. That is what she does. Ron is not ready to retire but IBM has a much more liberal attitude about working remotely than SAS. This sets us up for selling our house in Raleigh and becoming liveaboards in New Bern, NC.

We easily adapt to living aboard, but realize that winter in North Carolina may be too cold for us. We decide to take Questeria back to the keys for the winter. We take Questeria to Bonefish Marina in Marathon and spend the winter in the keys. We are not quite ready to stay during hurricane season so we make our way back to NC in May 2011.

There were no hurricanes in the keys that year, but on August 27 hurricane Irene came through New Bern, NC. Questeria was in Northwest Creek Marina and had no damage. We stayed in Adam’s house in New Bern and were also undamaged. In October we head to the keys again. We decide that we will not leave the keys next summer and become Florida residents.

Keys Disease

If you come to the keys you take a chance that you might catch something called “Keys Disease”. The symptoms may cause you to never return to work. Instead you will have strong urges to go fishing, diving or just hang out at the sandbar. On June 30, 2012 Ron gets a bad case of “Keys Disease” and retires from IBM. This sets the stage for planning longer cruises like the Bahamas.

We plan to go to the Bahamas in Spring of 2013. Instead we go to NC to watch Jackson while Alicia and Jeff go to Hawaii. In 2014 we drop our Bahamas plans because Alicia is expecting our fifth grandchild. Instead we plan to go to NC. In early April we make it to Fernandina Beach, FL and we get called up to NC to help. Oliver is born on June 3 and we have to decide which direction to go. We can continue to take Questeria north to NC or turn back to the keys. We decide to take Questeria back south to the keys.

Boat projects continue  between cruises and our list seems like it is never ending. But Questeria is looking better every year with improvements like new bimini/enclosure and counter tops.

In 2015 our Bahama plans come to fruition and we make it to the Exumas. It was a great trip and we promise ourselves we will do it again. (Click here for photos.)

It’s Been a Great Ten Years

I’ve just scratched the surface describing the last ten years on Questeria. We’ve made mistakes, but we have had a great time and learned so much. When we sold our house and moved aboard we agreed that we would give it a year and if we were not happy we would go back to living on dirt. That has not happened and we don’t see it happening for a while. We spent six weeks in the Bahamas and wish we had been there longer.

Yes, we’ve spent a lot of money making Questeria what she is today. She serves us well and takes us to places we never thought about ten years ago. We expect that she will continue to take us on amazing adventures.

Weather, Part 7

Marine Forecasts

Previously in this BLOG I talked about weather services we use while cruising. The most basic service is the marine weather forecasts from NOAA’s National Weather Service. The marine forecasts are categorized as Coastal/Great Lakes, Offshore and High Seas. These are further subdivided into areas and zones. Each zone has a unique Zone ID. Coastal/Great Lakes forecasts are broadcast on VHF radio and Offshore and High Seas forecasts are broadcast on HF radio. All of them are also available from the internet and email as well.

In The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South: The Thornless Path to Windward, by Bruce Van Sant, he talks about using the NWS offshore report exclusively to watch and plan for weather. He recommends a short hand notation for copying the HF broadcasts, but we find it easier to have them emailed to us. The NOAA website explains how to get the email, but we have found an easier way using SailMail.

Finding the marine forecast when connected to the internet is pretty straight forward. You just enter a location or click on a map. When you are planning to cruise offshore, you need to know which zones you will be cruising in. It’s a good idea to start looking at the forecasts before leaving so you are familiar with the conditions.

Marine Forecast Zone IDs

I will explain how we used marine forecasts for our recent Bahamas cruise. We started by finding the zone IDs for the Bahamas by going to NWS Offshore Marine Forecasts page and clicking on the Tropical Atlantic link to get a clickable map.

Tropical Atlantic Zones
Tropical Atlantic Zones

Zone IDs are six characters; two letters, the letter “z” and three digits. The numbers for each area are closely grouped. In this case 111 to 127. Each area has a synopsis, which is not shown. The synopsis is the lowest number in the group. In this case it is amz101.

The Bahamas zone ID is amz117. Clicking on it will give you page http://forecast.weather.gov/shmrn.php?mz=amz117&syn=amz101. It has a synopsis for the Tropical Atlantic area and a five-day forecast for the Bahamas including Cay Sal Bank.

You might notice that the offshore zones don’t cover the Gulf Stream crossing that we need to cross from Molasses Reef to Gun Cay. In this case we go to the Coastal/Great Lakes forecast by Zone page and click on South, followed by Miami to get the following clickable map.

Miami Forecast Zones
Miami Forecast Zones

Click on amz671 Waters from Deerfield Beach to Ocean Reef FL from 20 to 60 NM excluding the territorial waters of the Bahamas and you will get to http://forecast.weather.gov/shmrn.php?mz=amz671&syn=amz600. It has a synopsis of amz600 and a five-day forecast.

Now that we know the zone IDs we can get access to the data directly. Each forecast and synopsis is a .txt file stored on the NWS website. Start by going to http://tgftp.nws.noaa.gov/.  Click on data, then forecasts, marine and either coastal or offshore.  Next click on the directory with the two letter name that matches your zone ID, such as am. You will see a list of .txt files. Click on amz101.txt to see the synopsis and amz117.txt to see the five-day forecast for the Bahamas.

These files are updated periodically to contain the most current forecast. We like to look at them each day at about the same time. It’s a good idea to look over previous forecasts to see how they change. We could make copies each day, but we find it easier to write it down in a small notebook. Also make sure to check the date and time in the file.

Getting Forecasts by email

You can have the forecasts and synopses emailed to you. Here is the way as described in the NWS website. Address your email to nws.ftpmail.ops@noaa.gov.  The subject is ignored and you put commands in the body similar to below:

!REM send to nws.ftpmail.ops@noaa.gov
open
cd data/forecasts/marine/coastal/am
!REM Atlantic Coastal Waters Synopsis
get amz600.txt
!REM Atlantic Coastal Waters Forecast
get amz671.txt
cd ../../offshore/am
!REM Bahamas Synopsis
get amz101.txt
!REM Bahamas Offshore Waters Forecast
get amz117.txt
quit

It uses the FTP protocol. The lines starting with “!REM ” are ignored and can be used as comments in a file that you copy and paste into your email. The biggest disadvantage with this is that it is very easy to make an error and all or part of your request will fail without explaining why.

An easier way is to use SailDocs . Send your email to query@saildocs.com. The subject is ignored and the body looks as follows:

send amz600
send amz671
send amz101
send amz117

This format is easier to write and you can change the word “send” to “subscribe” to get an email everyday. The default subscription is for 14 days, but you can change that.

subscribe amz600 days=7
subscribe amz671 days=7
subscribe amz101
subscribe amz117

Some of the zones are not supported by SailDocs. In that case you can format your email as a webpage request.

Send http://tgftp.nws.noaa.gov/data/forecasts/marine/coastal/an/anz152.txt

Note: The above email is formatted as a single line. You can substitute “Subscribe” for “Send” and get a file everyday for two weeks.

We use AirMail, with SailMail on our SSB while cruising, but you can use any email service to get these forecasts from SailMail.

Using Marine Forecasts

The format of the marine zone forecast is pretty obvious. It goes out for five-days, or ten 12 hour periods. We like to compare them to other weather resources that are labeled by hour so we note the days and hours when we copy it. Times are noted in local time of the reporting office, which is EST or EDT for all Atlantic zones. Some other weather resources are in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time), but we have gotten used to converting.

The format of the forecast is straightforward. Both the synopsis and five-day forecast  have dates and times, descriptions of what they are and the area covered. They use a limited set of characters – all uppercase letters, numbers and very few punctuation marks. This is a holdover from years ago when there were devices that could not display all the characters.

The synopsis has a few sentences, describing current patterns and what’s expected in the next coming days.

Synopsis amz101
Synopsis amz101

We use the synopsis to verify our analysis of weather faxes and other weather resources. The weather faxes are like snapshots that are 24 hours apart, the synopsis explains what happens in between. If you want more detailed information about the forecast, look at the discussion for the area.

Five-day Forecast amz117
Five-day Forecast amz117

The five-day forecast has wind direction, wind speed, sea height and precipitation forecasts for five days. Wind speeds are in knots and seas are in feet. We copy the forecast to a small notebook along with notes from weather faxes and other resources. We have one page a day and generally go back to see how forecasts change. We also compare actual conditions to what was forecast.

Weather Log
Weather Log

Here’s a page of our weather log. It starts out with the date and location. Next are notes from the Surface Analysis and 24, 48, 72 and 96 hour Surface Forecast weather faxes. Refer to Weather, Part 6 for more information about weather faxes.  Next is the five-day forecast. When we are actually cruising there will be more on this page, such as observed conditions and notes from Chris Parker and other weather resources. I will discuss our weather log in more detail in future posts.

Summary

In this post I discussed different ways to get marine forecasts. The method we use depends on whether we have access to the internet. When we are cruising in the Bahamas we use SailMail to get our forecasts by email, otherwise we access them directly. Some cruisers prefer to listen to the broadcasts on their HF or VHF radio. Whatever you decide, you can’t say that marine forecasts are not a valuable weather service when cruising.