With the engine installed and the FlexOFold prop dialed in I finally managed some time to take the Far Reach out on a four day cruise. It had been nearly two years since I had spent any significant time on the boat while underway. I needed to check the engine and the overall condition of the running and standing rigging as well as op-check the boat’s systems, simple though they are, before making the long sail to the Virgin Islands in November. On 10 August I motored the boat down the ICW from the Neuse River to

Morehead City (adjacent to Beaufort) NC–about 28nm. The engine worked perfectly. I admit it felt strange having an inboard engine on the Far Reach. We powered down the narrow Adams Creek at 2200 RPM making about 6 kts with the current. Once I arrived at at the turning basin, used by freighters, in Morehead City, I hoisted sails and we beat out to the Bight, part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore.

From the marina at the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station to the Bight at Cape Lookout is about 30nm.

I am not a fan of sailing in the southeast US in the summer. It is true I grew up sailing in south Florida but having enjoyed the cool dry weather of Southern California and Montana summers I no longer care for sailing in blazing oppressive heat while fighting off swarms of kamikaze mosquitoes and vicious no-see-ums. So, I try to dodge around the worst of the the southern summer when it comes to sailing. However, I needed some time with my sleek spirited magic carpet to make sure she would be ready for my planned late fall voyage back to the West Indies.

On the Neuse River about to enter the ICW.

I spent the days anchored in the wonderfully protected Cape Lookout Bight. I did a little swimming, launched and recovered Sweet Pea, our 9′ Fatty Knees hard dinghy we have had for 18 years, and generally reacquainted myself with the Far Reach after she had sat on the hard for nearly two years.

I have been to the Bight at Cape Lookout many times yet it never seems to lose is charm or beauty. There is no denying the Far Reach looks much better without the outboard engine.

After sailing back from Cape Lookout on 14 August we worked our way west up the Neuse River in a flat calm. I noticed during our sail out to Cape Lookout earlier in the week the wind vane was not steering well. I could not diagnose the vane without some wind though. I would need to get the windvane sorted out before any more extensive sailing as it is an integral part of the the way I sail the Far Reach.

Complicating my preparations for a return to the West Indies in November, Gayle and I had planned for a month long fall overland camping trip through the upper Midwest in our Jeep. Our final destination was the eastern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan’s upper Peninsula. After our escape from the wrath of Hurricane Florence in Sept 2018 I thought it unwise to leave the Far Reach in the water and unattended during the worst month for hurricanes in NC. So, we hauled her out and secured her on the hard for what turned out to be three months.

Hauling out for the worst of Hurricane Season.

Though I had planned to relaunch her in late October it was not to be. There were some compelling personal reasons to wait until we were sure the planned voyage would in fact be possible. In the meantime I continued to complete a number of small projects on the Far Reach, such as building an adjustable divider system for my chart table book shelf; a custom moveable binocular box; fabricating a new solar deck connector; and upgrading my single 30 watt flexible solar panel that had served me so well for five years to two 45 watt Zamp Obsidian panels.

I refined the chart table book shelf with adjustable juniper dividers.

I built a teak box to hold the binoculars and incorporated leathered bronze brackets that allowed me to hook the box over the cockpit coaming should I desire to have them on deck.

I refined the deck connectors for the solar panels and added a connector for the second panel.
I up graded the solar system from a single 30 watt panel that served me well for five years to a more capable system of two 45 watt Zamp Obsidian panels each on flexible cords and each with their own independent Genasun MPPT controller.

I don’t think we could have waited another day. We launched the FR on 17 November and immediately went about trouble shooting our much loved Cape Horn Windvane. It had given me trouble holding course in light air during my sail to Cape Lookout but I could not troubleshoot it till the boat was back in the water. I spent several days trying to understand the problem. If the vane would not steer reliably there would be no voyage to the West Indies.

I removed the vane from the boat and brought it home. I rigged it up in the shop and manipulated the mechanisms to see what ailed it. Yves Gelinas, the designer and builder of the vane, and I emailed back and forth a few times. He asked a few questions and told me what to look for. None of those problems were detected. I did not know what else to do, so I took it apart like an assault rifle examining its components for anything that could be amiss. Once I had it in pieces I was stunned and maybe even a bit awed at how simple its design and construction and all the more impressed with Yves’ genius. It is a marvelous piece of simple engineering.

I set the vane up in the shop and manipulated it every way I could to see what could be causing it to suddenly perform so poorly in light air. But, everything seemed perfectly fine.
This is the guts of the Cape Horn vane. There are no gears. It is a marvelous piece of simple engineering.

I could not find a culprit and was stumped. I put it back together, reinstalled it on the boat, and went for another light air sail. It still would not hold a course in winds under 10 knots. Yves and I discussed it some more through email. I sent a couple videos of the vane under sail. I was getting frustrated. Then eureka…the problem was revealed. Yves figured it out. It was so simple and obvious I should have seen it right away, Occam’s Razor and all that. When I told Yves the vane was behaving like it wanted to turn left all the time he said “take the servo blade off and sight down the leading edge and see if it is warped.” That was exactly the problem. The blade was warped about 5/16″ over its length. I had never noticed and stupidly it had never occurred to me. In light wind the warped blade was being pulled off to the right steering the boat to the left and the air blade could not overcome the more powerful force of water gripping the servo blade.

The source of the problem turned out to be a warped servo blade.

I took the servo blade home, slapped a straight edge on it, drew some lines with a pencil, and started planing it flat with my smoothing plane. In 45 minutes all that aggravation was behind us. I reinstalled the blade and went out for another short sail in light air. The vane steered perfectly.

With some lines drawn on the servo blade I was able to quickly plane the blade flat being carful to maintain the foil shape.
With the blade straight it I reinstalled the vane on the boat and we tested it sailing in light wind. The problem was solved. The vane (Gordo Cooper) was back to his old self–“the greatest pilot anyone has ever seen….”

Tick, tick, tick–the time for a safe voyaging window was marching past us. While troubleshooting the vane I had been inspecting the boat and loading provisions and the mountain of tools and parts I always take with me when out voyaging. It is critically important to me to be totally self sufficient. I built the boat, maintain the boat, upgrade the boat–that’s how I can afford the boat. Plus, I think I do a better job than anyone I could pay to do it. And, truth be told, I wouldn’t let anyone else work on her even if I could afford it. That’s just not how this sailor-boat relationship rolls.

My departure window had been pushed back into early December. The ideal November departure window was history. It was now December and I needed to find a decent window to cross the Gulf Stream and sail southeast to the West Indies.