Steve Butz

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The Alyosha Report

According to WordPress, it has been over 6 months since I posted on my personal blog page- I figured I would use this extended layover in Gladstone as a chance to catch up.

Since arriving back on the boat on March 28th there has been a list of things to do on Alysoha that seems unending… First, at the Boat Works (Australia’s greatest shipyard!) I worked to arrange vendors for various services (mostly engine maintenance) while trying to take advantage of the amazing resources available onsite. It was easily one of the most impressive service centers I have ever been to, reminding me of Fort Lauderdale and the massive marina where I spent a week out of the water. I handled many little projects myself. Some of the things knocked off “the list:”

Finally fixed a problem with the swim ladder, which was allowing a slow stream of water into the boat. This caused the port bilge pump to routinely fire off (about once an hour, but more frequently in heavier seas). Not a big deal during the day, but certainly annoying at night!;

Installed a bracket in the cockpit area for a hanging hammock chair. A real night watch qulaity of life game changer!;

Replaced the failed bilge pump on our dinghy;

Got all Alyosha crew berth fans working again;

Installed a new outdoor speaker and upgraded the other outdoor speakers (more quality of life stuff);

Replaced a dead led light in the galley area with a nice, new, overhead led with on/off switch;

And so on, and so on…

So basically, for a week @ The Boat Works, while Lisa and the kids went to multiple amusement parks and explored the area, I helped Alyosha recover from 4 months on land AND worked to “get things sorted” for the next 4 months at sea. Having wifi and being able to broadcast the Orioles games while I worked was priceless… (it was the beginning of baseball season, lol)

The engines have now been serviced, and everything seems ready to go. Or at least that is what I thought. Until the fire.

We were at anchor in Wide Bay and it was time to start heading towards the Great Barrier Reef. I fired up the port and starboard engines, something I have done hundreds of times at this point. But something went wrong. There was an alarm on the starboard engine and I was unable to shut the engine down. When I went to check it out, there was smoke coming from the engine and I will admit, some panic ensued! We got the fire alarm and I shut the engine down locally. Still sparks. The starter motor had cooked. I got the engine isolated from the starter batteries, and was able to finally get everything (including myself) under control.

I know this is cliche but what a difference today’s technology makes when you have this kind of issue!  We were only about 8 hours from Bundaberg (although we would have to transit through the Wide Bay Passage- nobody’s favorite) but as we started to head north on one engine I was able, in about 45 minutes, to:

  • Call a Volvo Penta service shop in Bundaberg to assess the chance of getting serviced there on saturday (nope);
  • Call another service shop in Gladstone, send them my engine model number and pictures on the burned out part, and schedule service for Monday morning as a new starter motor was overnighted from Brisbane;
  • Call another vendor- this time an electrical shop- and have them order a dimmer switch (for another issue that came up on the instrument panel.

All sorted, as they say down here!

So right now, I am waiting for another two parts to come in from Brisbane and for the replacement of the failed control panel solenoid on both engines. (Clearly Volvo has had some problems with this part before- they are on version 6 now!

And yes, of course, our generator failed while out on Lady Musgrave reef. So I spent a good chunk of time yesterday troubleshooting that… (bottom line, need yet another new part, this time will have to wait until Cairns!)

It is fair to say that Alyosha is starting to feel the 25,000 nautical miles I have put on her.

Captain’s Log: An Alyosha Update

Sitting here in Queenstown, New Zealand, where we have been for a week now, has not necessarily helped bring any perspective to the situation on our boat. The best term I can offer is “disconnected”- certainly not how one wants to feel about their home of the past 3 1/2 months…

We left Fiji after deciding that spending two weeks in resorts to wait for Alyosha to get fixed was just not the best way to proceed. Better to get down to NZ- where we intend to spend the Nov-April time period- and start setting up shop.

Most of the time I am the primary blogger for our website and I have provided a general overview of the family adventures. But this time I wanted to focus a bit more on Alyosha and detail our struggles over the past month.

On strictly sailing terms, things had definitely been looking up after our first major transit this past summer, sailing from Bora Bora to Rarotonga. The first two days of that 3 day trip were fairly rough, but day 3 included some fantastic trade wind sailing with the screecher being put to great use. Things were looking up.

Then we hit the Cook Islands. We had planned to maybe spend 10 days there- and our early enthusiasm for the island certainly warranted the time- but we ended up getting hamstrung by the weather (too much wind, with very big seas forecast. Piling on to that situation was an increasingly uncomfortable berth in Avatiu Harbor, which I already documented. And then, after spending a couple of long days on Alyosha, not even getting off on land, I noticed our missing starboard rudder.

The missing rudder was a game changer in so many ways. First, we have really had to change the way we have sailed through the Pacific islands, constantly balancing the weather helm created by strong winds/seas on the aft quarter with some prop power from the engines. On our first major passage to Nuie, some 4 days away, I struggled in the middle of the night on watch with an auto helm that was unable to keep course with too much weather helm and port engine. (It was actually a pretty harrowing hour- I was certain we had lost the other rudder!) This experience really kept me exceedingly conservative for the remainder of our passages.

Niue to Tonga was uneventful, but we kept the engines going just about the entire time, always working to balance the load on our rudder. Ditto for Tonga to Fiji. We have had some excellent windows to use our spinnaker, but I have not completed the repairs to the snuffer and so have left the spin “on the shelf.”

And now, a ton of work on Alyosha is happening: we are finally getting blinds made (I am sure this will make some of my past crew smile as they recall my struggles with velcro shades!), the spinnaker snuffer should be repaired, plenty of work has been done on the hull (gelcoat repairs AND erasing some of the scuffing from the Cooks) AND most importantly, we should have TWO NEW RUDDERS.

I am in the middle of a large number of emails between the boat’s manufacturer and our current contractor, etc… and the verdict about what has caused this problem is still out. One of the first things I will do when I return to Fiji is oversee the shipping of the second failed rudder post to South Africa for further analysis.

It is hard to be too upset, however, with what are most certainly a slew of “first world” problems. Everyone is happy, healthy and really does look forward to sailing! And of course, there have been some really severe incidents this summer, with two different catamarans with sailing families hitting reefs and losing their boats completely! So I am not complaining too much 🙂

Later today and over the next few days, I will begin planning the resumption of our trip with a focus on getting safely to Australia before the cyclone season begins in November. We have joined a “Go West” rally and will now sail into Vanuatu and New Caledonia before sailing on to Australia. If all goes as planned (which it won’t!) we will get to spend a little time exploring Australia before we return to NZ.

Captain’s Log: One month in…

I have been pretty good about blogging once a week to keep those of you who are following us up to date about our whereabouts and activities.

I thought I would use my page to just write a little about some of the other aspects of the trip: keeping Alyosha running and living with our kids, 24/7…

The boat has held up well, and I thank Joanne Norton and my father for taking care of Alyosha in the spring. Every single day brings a new set of issues, whether it be maintenance or something broken or just a small improvement in the boat. I have spent hours fixing bikes which all rusted, cleaning bilges, replacing hatches, and just about every other task one can imagine. Definitely a known part of life on the boat.

Currently, Lisa and I are having just a banner day, (July 17th, at a mooring off the town of Fare, Huahine island), the kids dug in and got their schoolwork done early and then were off with friends to go explore the nearby beach and to visit some other boats. I spent the entire morning- 3+ hours) cleaning out the grill. And after a quick run into town for some groceries, I have been swimming and cleaning up the boat all afternoon. Lisa even got a chance to color her hair.

Make no mistake, not every day is this good out here. (and with lobsters sitting in ice for tonight’s dinner, life really is particularly good right now!) The monotony of constantly fixing things with a never ending list of things to do does wear on the spirit. And being with the family 24/7 brings all kinds of challenges. But on the whole, this first month has been exactly what we signed up for, with plenty of spectacular highlights.

I do wish we had some better internet connectivity, as we have great video footage to share with friends and family. So far, I have knocked out three novels (currently trying to close out “To Kill a Mockingbird”) and Lisa and I have used our evenings to finish “The Keepers” and the latest season of “Orange is the New Black” from Netflix.

We will leave tomorrow for another short jump back to Raitea and Tahaa (3 hours) and after a few days there- hopefully picking up our fixed spinnaker- we will spend 2 hours getting over to Bora Bora for a week. After that, our first big test is upcoming: 3+ days sailing to the Cook Islands. I am very much looking forward to that.

 

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Crossing “the Pond”

Well, we did it… 9 1/2 days after departing from Bermuda we pulled into Porto das Lajes on the island of Flores. What a magnificent place this is- a beautiful, small fishing village that seems to welcome in long distance sailors from all over.

I will send a video of the trip featuring the Cinnamon Bay crew of John Payne, Adrian Bordone and Dave Crocetti when I have a faster internet connection, likely not until the Butz family sails Alyosha to Horta, the next island to our east. Everyone did really well and other than the four days we spent motoring into the teeth of an east wind it was a great ride.

I did more fuel calculations than I have ever done but we had enough diesel to get through the southern end of the Azores high.

A couple of quick highlights from the trip: seeing multiple whales spouting, an almost nightly dolphin show on our bow, Dave Crocetti’s “chicken with rose’ sauce”, a nightly game of Texas hold ‘em with the crew, being guided by the “strawberry moon” for the first 4 nights, the underwater light show (if you have seen Life of Pi, it was exactly as magical) and plenty of sea turtles and Portuguese man o’ wars.

I was able to complete a video of the Bermuda experience that I will post as well. (small fishing villages just don’t have the best wifi…)

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The Annapolis to Bermuda Race

This leg represented the kick off of what I hope will be a three year circumnavigation aboard Alyosha.

After wrapping up some work commitments on May 31st, it was all preparation, all the time for the week leading up to our planned departure on June 9th for Annapolis. Each day flew by as we provisioned the boat (a big old order from BJ’s) and got the final few things fixed and ready. (The wind vane and anemometer- still can’t say that word properly!- were a particular issue this week, finally got everything squared away the morning of June 8th.)

Many thanks to the family and friends who came down on a very windy night in Baltimore for our Bon Voyage party.

And then we were off!

It was surreal on Thursday morning, June 9th, as we gathered the lines, the electrical cord, the hose for the long trip…. The dock master at Harborview marina came down to say goodbye and said- “would love to know what goes through one’s mind when casting off the lines for such a big adventure….” I answered him pretty honestly, I think about the storms most of all, knowing that I will remember “cast off” day when things get tough out in the ocean.

We sailed (actually flew!) down to Annapolis and arrived by 2pm. We participated as best as we could with all of the pre race activities (but definitely paid attention to the weather briefing!) and then left the Eastport Yacht club early so that we could explore some of Annapolis by dinghy. We saw another St. Francis 50- Guinevere- anchored out in Spa Creek and visited Cindy Wallace on her St. Francis 44 on Back Creek. All in all a good time in Annapolis.

On Friday, Race Day, we ate a final breakfast at Miss Shirleys (Lisa wanted everyone to get some exercise before spending so many days at sea, and then we participated in the “pre-race parade” around Annapolis Harbor before the start.

Things were crazy at the start, with a ton of wind and me trying to maneuver Alyosha through the field of 25 competing boats. (not helping the situation: we snagged a crab pot on the rudder putting up our sail)

We had a reasonably good start and stuck to a strategy of heading down to the western shore (where we could fly our screecher). The first few hours of the race gave way to lighter and lighter air, soon shifting from the south- our worst fears realized. And so, we spent the next 20 some hours tacking down the Bay, with a light wind on the nose- not our multi-hulls best set of circumstances!

By 2:34pm the next day, with some 40 miles still to go to get out of the Chesapeake, the family voted and we dropped out of the race, turning the engine on to make Bermuda in a reasonable timeframe- it really wasn’t that hard of a decision.

Our first day in the Atlantic brought out the absolute best in Alyosha: we started things off with a 226nm day and followed that up with 204nm. Our second night at sea- Sunday night- brought some tremendous thunderstorms, with winds gusting to 40+ knots and visibility at zero because of the heavy rains. Quite honestly, it brought a right-sized bit of fear into the equation, but mostly because of the lightning and thunder crashing around us. Somehow, we weathered that storm- which seemed to be something cooked up by a special effects team in Hollywood- and everyone was drying out and sailing fast the next day… We spent the remainder of the trip trying to make Alyosha go fast and get to Bermuda, working against the clock to get into Bermuda’s reefs before nightfall set. It was a very fast (9.5 knots average) run into Bermuda!

We checked into customs and immigration, and incredibly found a free place to dock for the night AND found ourselves right next to a bar still serving food (it was 9:30pm by the time we got tied up).

What a phenomenal end to our time at sea!

 

 

Just trying to add a few videos on this page- we have a long way to go in understanding word press and this website…

Incredible run from Nantucket to Woods Hole- 25 knots steady winds with gusts to 32 knots- we had two reefs in the main and about 20% of genoa up and hit 12 knots!

Also- video below on another St. Francis 50, Guinevere 5, pulling out of Block Island after visiting for a night- we ended up with three St. Francis 50 boats (#15, #17, #18) in the harbor in Newport, RI…

Wanted to also share a quick little video I made of a recent trip to the Bahamas

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