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Old 29-12-2013, 16:34   #1
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1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

Hello community! Hopefully some old sea salts who have travelled from Florida to Trinidad/below the hurricane belt can help me. I'm a 24 year old liveaboard who wants to see the world but doesn't want to risk his life to do so.

I've been living aboard my Catalina 27' (1973, standard rig, 4' draft on the fin kneel) in Tampa Bay for nearly a year now and am feeling increasingly confident in our abilities. I recently did my first solo overnight and it went well (ran aground, but tide was rising and got off without swearing TOO much heh). My obsession for quite a while has been to make it to Trinidad/the SE Caribbean solo before hurricane season (so Mayish/Juneish). In my head, I leave St. Pete in March, giving me a 2-4 month voyage on my hands.

I know this route includes the "Thorny Path", but techniques by Van Sant in his Thornless Path: The Gentleman's Guide to Passages South build my guiding philosophy right now (day-long legs with the assistance of my 8hp outboard as needed, wind <15 knots, etc). I have a 20 hp, 3 cylinder diesel inboard... that doesn't work. It doesn't turn but I haven't put oil in the injectors yet, so maybe it will? My budget is small, but I don't mind living like stray dog for a while.

Anyway, I plan to conduct a few solo, red-eye overnight circles in the Gulf of Mexico and a trip or two to the Keys and back before I go to make sure the boat and I don't break down. I'm eager and ready, another solo overnight in Tampa Bay is scheduled for next weekend (thinking about anchoring in Manatee River).

Are there any thoughts here on my plan? What should I be most ready for? What would a green skipper like me forget about? Most importantly, if you had to bet on me making it in one piece, would you? Like I said earlier, I'm obsessed with doing this solo before I have to be a "grown up" but I don't want to pull a Chris McCandles and die alone in some god-forsaken place. I'll probably show these comments to my folks, they are supportive but naturally as curious as I am for the wisdom of seasoned travelers.

I will reassess post-multiday voyages out of the Bay, I have 2-3 months until possible launch. Do I sound like a dumbass or am I onto something?

Cheers mates and Happy Holidays!
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Old 29-12-2013, 16:57   #2
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

Sounds like fun. Keep practicing. Let us know how it goes. I wish I had headed out when young.
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Old 01-01-2014, 08:15   #3
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

Well if the weather was not too stinky you'd probably be OK but when your sailing a marginal boat you want to make up for it with a superior skill level. Only one way to get that so sail and practice all the skills as much as you can.
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Old 01-01-2014, 09:03   #4
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

A sense of adventure is great, but you need a few other things.
I would want a GPS, paper charts, all USCG mandated safety equipment, a VHF radio etc.
Bruce Van Sant's Thornless Path (which works well if you follow what he says) involves waiting for weather windows, which involves listening to the offshore weather forecast, which involves something beyond a VHF, such as SSB or ham radio, or internet connection for your computer, said connection being difficult to come by in some areas. An alternative could be acquiring a sat phone and paying a weather router, such as Chris Parker.
You will need a self steering device of some sort, either an autopilot or a wind vane.
All this (except the wind vane) requires electricity. You need a large enough battery bank to power at least nav lights, vhf, and autopilot throughout the night. This means you need a way to recharge the batteries, probably a couple of good sized solar panels.
Your family and friends will probably insist on an EPIRB, unless you have really irritated them lol.
If the engine has sat locked up for a year, you may have difficulty freeing it. I would try, though, it would be better than the outboard.
You're going to need some sort of dinghy and good ground tackle, which I assume you already have.

I know you are fixated on Trinidad, but you could reduce the scale of things. You could do small hops down the coast to the keys, go north to Angelfish Creek or similar, hop over and explore the Bahamas. That trip you can do without an SSB, even without an autopilot, which means only one solar panel. I personally would still want an autopilot, but you're younger and tougher than I am. Experiment with sheet to tiller steering, bungee cords, etc. And buy some polarized sunglasses!
At the risk of being yelled at, I think you will find that the Bahamas has a much smaller crime rate than Trinidad.
Hope this doesn't discourage you, but if you're going to take big bites you need the equipment.
Go, have fun, and stay safe.
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Old 01-01-2014, 10:20   #5
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

What fsmike says.

And consider first making short hops around the keys and through the bahamas before committing to trinidad.

But first and foremost I would check the boat itself. Probably haul out to check throughhulls and rudder. Check all rigging and components. Check sails. Check keel and keelbolts.

Having a sense of adventure is great; having a sense of reality, even greater....

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Old 01-01-2014, 10:48   #6
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

Godspeed, Copias! Sounds like you've got a pretty good head on your shoulders. And with any luck, the trip will dissuade you from actually growing up when you get back!

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Old 01-01-2014, 14:15   #7
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

Thanks for the replies everyone!

Trinidad is sort of the summit of the mountain, I know that the only mountaineers who live to an old age are the ones who turn around when they're supposed to. Worst case scenario (besides death I guess, but that is true with just about everything awesome) is that I limp into the Bahamas or something. Oh darn. What was that about Angel Creek? Never heard of that place before, where is it?

Trinidad has an appeal because it is South of the Hurricane Belt. Is taking on the Thorny Path more or less dangerous than sitting around during the summer storm season in the belt? Or is that a question only Poseidon can answer? New Jersey used to be a safe place to be, then Sandy happened...

As far as the boat, she has two deep cycle batteries (85 and 115 amps). I inherited a rat's nest of wire for an electric system, but I've gotten my VHF, power outlets and two bilge pumps complete with float switches online. I'm still working on my running nav lights (using Home Depot solar powered garden LEDs for anchor lights right now). Are there affordable, railmounted red and green nav lights that are solar powered directly? Or is that just a neat idea for an invention?

Solar power seems the ideal choice to keep batteries topped off underway, budget is the only thing stopping me at this juncture. Same limitations with getting the inboard fixed.

I've been using the GPS and the Navionics app in my ipad so far in the bay and has been great. Can anybody fill me in on the limitations at sea? Or do you think an ipad can function as a GPS/chartplotter? I am a paper chart kind of guy and always have the tools for that. I'm in the habit of keeping a Captain's Log in which positions, weather, etc are noted every hour while underway.

HAM radio has always intrigued me, I suppose I should look into it. I'll let you know how that front evolves...

And a good point was brought up about pulling her out and having a look. A diver who scraped the bottom of my boat also scouted things out. He replaced the sacrificial zinc on the prop shaft, he said it looks good. He noted some corrosion on the rudder shaft though and suggested putting zinc on it (maybe that is why the tiller is so squeaky!). I definitely don't want that to snap... I also wonder about my mast, how does one do quality control on that?

I think some of the most important things I have to do before departing are (NOT listed in order here):
1- Sail solo to the Keys and back
2- Sail overnight in a big pattern in the Gulf of Mexico
3- Get her pulled and make sure the hull and rigging integrity is good. Painting the bottom would be nice... but money again...
4- Establish a means to charge batteries while underway, either by getting the inboard roaring again or solar panels
5- Running Nav Lights, preferably without using battery power.
6- Auto-pilot, although that will assuredly be a non-electric, low budget affair
7- DINGHY! I don't have a good one. Right now my dinghy is an inflatable Seahawk with paddles meant for goofing off in a lake. I'm hunting for something that can hold my 8hp outboard.

There is more of course, but what else do you think should be on the list? I'm hoping somebody will have some advice on the actual route from Florida to Trinidad as well.

Thanks for the support, both in the form of advice and encouragement!

PS Instead of spring $1,000 for a compostable head, I'm going to attempt to make my own. Wish me luck and I'll post my findings if it turns out to be postworthy!
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Old 01-01-2014, 14:43   #8
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

copias -
Angelfish Creek (I think that's the name) is one of several places in the northern keys that people use as jumping off places to the Bahamas, far enough south so you don't fight the Gulf Stream.
Solar powered nav lights with no battery won't work when the sun is down.
Much as I like the concept of composting heads I think I'd have a regular head with holding tank on your boat due to space limitations.
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Old 01-01-2014, 16:48   #9
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

Thanks for the location tip! I'll look into it. Any opinion on being there during the summer storm season?

The nav light device I have in my head would have a small battery involved. It'd operate like the Home Depot lights, where they turn on automatically when dark and store enough charge to last through the night. Modern, cheap LED lights should be powerful enough. Seems like something that should exist...

We'll see where this head adventure leads, the boat had the old fashioned, illegal system when I got her (water in, sewage out). It even started to leak and that was the closest this boat came to sinking! I had to swim under and ram some bungs into the through holes. Replaced the valve and she no longer leaks or has a head. Composting heads look awesome and simple (fancy bucket with peat moss and a vent), maybe I can make one and not spend $1,000?
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Old 01-01-2014, 19:15   #10
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

Capias,

I have to admire your sense of adventure, but I question your judgement in the condition of your boat.

You have a rats nest for wiring and are using solar garden lights for anchor lights?

The auxiliary doesn't run so you have an outboard on the stern? What else is jury rigged on the boat that you are going to trust your safety to. You're actually going to use a bucket and some peat moss for your head? Why bother with the peat moss?

Please tell me this is a joke.
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Old 01-01-2014, 19:59   #11
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

January marks one year aboard my boat, she had problems like the head when I first got her. Like I said earlier, I overnight solo sail with her now and we'll really go through our paces over the next few months. She has performed without hiccup so far, we were pulling almost 8 knots in 10-15 knot wind. I'll toss in the towel if something major goes amiss during our prep work and apply to grad school or something instead. I'm mostly reaching out to preempt anything I haven't thought of and learn more about the dream route.

Look up Nature's Head compostable heads, the peat moss definitely isn't something I made up hehe. Home Depot lights are temporary, but I didn't invent that trick either.

We'll see how she holds up as we practice together in the coming months! Ever read Farley Mowat's "the boat who wouldn't float"? Definitely a favorite of mine heh
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Old 01-01-2014, 20:28   #12
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

Storage of the ding can be problematic. On our 27 has an outboard we keep a 8 foot Achilles stored under the companionway (were your diesel is) most of the time. When we are away from the slip traveling and using the ding ends up rolled up on the fore deck with its 2hp outboard on the stern pulpit. It can be a bear hoisting the ding about solo but can be done.

Your 27 is a good little boat, ours was taken by a previous owner to Puerto Rico and back so what you want to do can be done. Just take your time and don't force the weather and enjoy the trip..
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Old 01-01-2014, 23:23   #13
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Capias View Post
Thanks for the replies everyone!

Trinidad is sort of the summit of the mountain, I know that the only mountaineers who live to an old age are the ones who turn around when they're supposed to. Worst case scenario (besides death I guess, but that is true with just about everything awesome) is that I limp into the Bahamas or something. Oh darn. What was that about Angel Creek? Never heard of that place before, where is it?

Trinidad has an appeal because it is South of the Hurricane Belt. Is taking on the Thorny Path more or less dangerous than sitting around during the summer storm season in the belt? Or is that a question only Poseidon can answer? New Jersey used to be a safe place to be, then Sandy happened...

As far as the boat, she has two deep cycle batteries (85 and 115 amps). I inherited a rat's nest of wire for an electric system, but I've gotten my VHF, power outlets and two bilge pumps complete with float switches online. I'm still working on my running nav lights (using Home Depot solar powered garden LEDs for anchor lights right now). Are there affordable, railmounted red and green nav lights that are solar powered directly? Or is that just a neat idea for an invention?

Solar power seems the ideal choice to keep batteries topped off underway, budget is the only thing stopping me at this juncture. Same limitations with getting the inboard fixed.

I've been using the GPS and the Navionics app in my ipad so far in the bay and has been great. Can anybody fill me in on the limitations at sea? Or do you think an ipad can function as a GPS/chartplotter? I am a paper chart kind of guy and always have the tools for that. I'm in the habit of keeping a Captain's Log in which positions, weather, etc are noted every hour while underway.

HAM radio has always intrigued me, I suppose I should look into it. I'll let you know how that front evolves...

And a good point was brought up about pulling her out and having a look. A diver who scraped the bottom of my boat also scouted things out. He replaced the sacrificial zinc on the prop shaft, he said it looks good. He noted some corrosion on the rudder shaft though and suggested putting zinc on it (maybe that is why the tiller is so squeaky!). I definitely don't want that to snap... I also wonder about my mast, how does one do quality control on that?

I think some of the most important things I have to do before departing are (NOT listed in order here):
1- Sail solo to the Keys and back
2- Sail overnight in a big pattern in the Gulf of Mexico
3- Get her pulled and make sure the hull and rigging integrity is good. Painting the bottom would be nice... but money again...
4- Establish a means to charge batteries while underway, either by getting the inboard roaring again or solar panels
5- Running Nav Lights, preferably without using battery power.
6- Auto-pilot, although that will assuredly be a non-electric, low budget affair
7- DINGHY! I don't have a good one. Right now my dinghy is an inflatable Seahawk with paddles meant for goofing off in a lake. I'm hunting for something that can hold my 8hp outboard.

There is more of course, but what else do you think should be on the list? I'm hoping somebody will have some advice on the actual route from Florida to Trinidad as well.

Thanks for the support, both in the form of advice and encouragement!

PS Instead of spring $1,000 for a compostable head, I'm going to attempt to make my own. Wish me luck and I'll post my findings if it turns out to be postworthy!
You should be able to find a used inflatable on the cheap without much difficulty. It seems there are always a few tired but repairable little buddies floating around marinas or boatyards which you could ask about. Give it a good name so it won't let you down.

My only real suggestion for you would be to get proper anchor and nav lights. Don't skimp on this, particularly single-handed. And make sure the wire runs from your positive batt terminals are fused.

Re: composting, I'm in the process of fitting one as well. Ripped out the holding tank, all the stinky hose runs, the complicated marine head with a million moving parts...got rid of all the stink and half the thru-hulls on my boat!

If your head is located far enough aft, you might be able to fit a C-Head (smaller, simpler and cheaper than the Nature or Air-head). If you gotta go custom, you can also buy whatever pieces will work for you from C-Head. C-Head portable composting toilets

I know there are some out there, but I've yet to meet a cruiser with regrets about having gone this route. They are definitely becoming more common and make a ton of sense IMHO.

-Ryan
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Old 02-01-2014, 04:51   #14
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

Solar powered garden lights are a great invention but are generally used where you don't have wiring or don't want to put it in. I would think your nav light location would already have wiring so the next best bet would be to install compliant LED nav lights. (or replacement bulbs).
If your solar powered nav lights aren't connected to a battery that can be charged by alternator then after a couple of overcast days no nav lights.
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Old 02-01-2014, 05:40   #15
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Re: 1973 Catalina 27' and green skipper: Florida to Trinidad?

Quote:
Originally Posted by laika View Post
You should be able to find a used inflatable on the cheap without much difficulty. It seems there are always a few tired but repairable little buddies floating around marinas or boatyards which you could ask about. Give it a good name so it won't let you down.

My only real suggestion for you would be to get proper anchor and nav lights. Don't skimp on this, particularly single-handed. And make sure the wire runs from your positive batt terminals are fused.

Re: composting, I'm in the process of fitting one as well. Ripped out the holding tank, all the stinky hose runs, the complicated marine head with a million moving parts...got rid of all the stink and half the thru-hulls on my boat!

If your head is located far enough aft, you might be able to fit a C-Head (smaller, simpler and cheaper than the Nature or Air-head). If you gotta go custom, you can also buy whatever pieces will work for you from C-Head. C-Head portable composting toilets

I know there are some out there, but I've yet to meet a cruiser with regrets about having gone this route. They are definitely becoming more common and make a ton of sense IMHO.

-Ryan
We're going the same or at least very similar route this year (Bahamas for a while, then on to destinations south of the Hurricane Belt). We've lived aboard on and off for quite a few years now; cruising the east coast and Keys. This past year and a half, our focus has been on southern destinations.

We have a Composting Head aboard, and though I have no serious complaints my wife is not so pleased but makes due. As for the C-Head it looks like it's a good solution. My Natures Head did cost a few more bucks but in my opinion is worth it for the solids capacity. Either way I'd recommend the composting solution over anything else if it is in anyway possible for you. In fact we've decided to increase our battery capacity as a result of removing our holding tank.

That said, it seems like you're working at this in a smart way. I'll offer three general bits of advice;

1 - where possible don't skimp on safety gear, including lights... it may mean you need to get creative, scour consignment stores, marina dumpsters, DIY yards where people are doing refits and upgrades, etc... Just don't skimp, get the very best you can come up with or afford. In this same train of thought, become very familiar with your boat. Someone mentioned keel bolts; Just before heading to the Bahamas with some friends last month, I noticed an increase in the frequency of my bilge pump cycles... I suspected (not having pulled the boat in a couple years) I should bite the bullet and do a quick haul out (could have just the same done a quick check, diving the boat). Not so surprising to me, we had a crack at the aft end of the bolt-on fin keel. Opinions in the DIY yard began streaming in, some would have frightened less sturdy hearts. I took all opinions with a grain of salt; extracted a completely rotted keel bolt (all of which were replaced 4 years ago by a "Professional"), and installed a new Stainless bolt with generous helpings of 5200. Additionally, used a donated product from Petitt to seal and re-fair my keel joint from the outside. It's been nearly a month and I have a very dry bilge. The point is, don't skimp, and do what is necessary to ensure a safe and sturdy boat.

2 - educate yourself using every means possible. This means books, forums, dock walks, etc... just keep in mind, there are a variety of opinions and every situation is a little different. As with navigation; use all available input, but in the end it's your own eyes which prove to be the best and most reliable tool.

3 - don't have a schedule. Sounds like you're young enough and are not otherwise encumbered, so go when you can, keep the end goal in sight, and when you need to wait just wait and enjoy where you happen to be (in fact these times may be good for the cruising kitty, and a way to pick up a few bits of information, or good deals on what ever it is you might need for the boat).

Fair winds!
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