January 13 – A winter re-fit in coastal Carolina

Jan 13, 2023

January 13 – Beaufort, North Carolina

“This town sorta sucks you in” is a fairly common sentiment among people who live in Beaufort, North Carolina. And it does. It’s pretty ideal and a bit perfect in many ways. Quiet, safe, beautiful… lots of inland waterways and coast to explore. People are friendly, weather’s nice enough. There are worse places to get sucked into. As my race to the starting line of the Global Solo Challenge continues, this small and unassuming town of Beaufort, North Carolina has now officially become my winter re-fit and training base. The original plan was to go on down to West Palm Beach, Florida and do a two-week refit in the boat yard down there and then go training in the Caribbean. Once the boat yard cancelled my haul-out due to lack of space and lack of tall jack stands available however, things began to make less and less sense to head south. There were very, very few docks that could handle Sparrow’s 12.5′ keel and as a result they were extremely expensive.Furthermore, I couldn’t even get people to return my phone calls when I was trying to have them do work on the boat; apparently everyone is super slammed with work down there due to hurricanes, excess demand after COVID and more. And when you do find someone to do work for you, you’re competing with super yacht owners for those same resources. Whereas in Beaufort, I basically have everything that I need and I have a very affordable dock here in the off season. One thing led to another, and I have decided to base the campaign out of coastal North Carolina until about March 31. I guess Beaufort sucked me in 🙂

Probably Sparrow’s last sail for a while, a delightful light air day sail on New Year’s Day with friends and some crew who flew in for the delivery to Florida, which ended up not taking place.

As soon as I made the decision to keep the boat here longer, I began taking on some big projects that need to be done while also making arrangments for others. The three biggest issues right now that prevent me from doing some proper training and preparing to cross the Atlantic are as follows: a.) my masthead wind instruments don’t work and haven’t worked since I got the boat. b.) my diesel motor has some deficiencies and recently developed a ticking noise. c.) the stem fitting (bow chainplate) has been in the boat for a very, very long time and hasn’t been pulled for inspection or replacement in probably decades as it is very hard to access.

To rectify those issues, I began this week by cutting into the bow and accessing the stem fitting (bow chainplate) and then removing it and taking it to a local machine shop to have them build a new one. It’s quite a big job as Sparrow has a bit of a false bow that is designed to impact stuff without destroying the boat structurally. As a result, you have to cut into the bow to access the secondary bow where the stem fitting rides. And once you get in there, about half of the chain plate and the bottom three of the six bolts that hold the piece in were glassed over; not for structural purposes but apparently for the purpose of preventing water ingress and therefore corrosion. (And it worked! The bottom three bolts came out looking amazingly good, despite being extremely old.) Whoever installed that piece didn’t really think about the mental health of the person who would one day have to pull it for inspection and/ or replacement. Oh well. I did manage to get the piece out of the boat and over to a very reputable local machine shop who can build a new one. I hope to have it back within a week from now.

Sparrow’s stem fitting out of the boat and at a local machine shop for replacement.

One of the next big jobs was to remove the 20 horsepower Beta diesel engine for some repair work. Removing the engine isn’t always necessary but in this case it was. The motor developed a ticking noise, and after much mental stress related to this new noise, and after much investigation including having a mechanic come adjust my valves, we deemed that the noise was coming from the engine drive plate that lives between the motor and the sail drive unit (transmission). The only way to get to that piece is to pull the motor, and so we did. I got it all ready to pull and then we yanked it out yesterday with a couple of buddies. It was clear to see the spot where the drive plate was contacting the bell housing, as it was shiny and had rubbed away the paint. The good news is that I don’t think this was doing any real damage and we could have probably let it live like that for a very long time without blowing the motor up. The bad news is that I don’t know what would have caused this noise to occur, and I don’t quite know what the solution is. Somehow the motor to the sail drive became mis-aligned and began making the noise. I don’t think that throwing a new drive plate at the problem will fix it (that’s more good news as well, purchasing less parts), but I also don’t quite know what the solution is yet. At any rate, it’s a pretty simple piece of equipment and Beta Marine USA is based about an hour away here in Carolina, and they have been extremely helpful on the phone.

The third major issue delaying my progress has been not having working masthead wind instruments. After much investigation, I personally think that the wand itself and the cable have some issues. I have had electricians down to the boat and things have been somewhat inconclusive due to the fact that we are dealing with a cable that’s inside of a tall mast, which makes it less easy to diagnose at ground level. When I first got to Beaufort, I did pull down the masthead wand and it sort of appeared to work at deck level when wired directly to the NKE junction box, but not fully. Also, the cable appeared to test well but this test is inconclusive for a variety of reasons. I put the wand back aloft and then cut off the connectors and hard wired the cable to the wand to rule out having a bad connection or a bad connector. When I did all of this, I eventually got the same static 5.1 or 5.2 knots of wind speed reading and a wind angle that jumped around without any rhyme or reason. Not the kind of stuff you want to steer your sailboat by. For the purpose of testing and for getting ready to sail down the coast, I installed the small stern mast and the new NKE standard mast instrument and cable, and voila!, it works!

In working with my electronics supplier, Jerome Sammarcelli and his company Sailutions in Southern California, I have opted to order a new mast wand and a new cable, and also a new ‘standard’ mast wand and cable. I will then pull the mast out here in the nearby commercial port of Morehead City for some mast wiring work. Once we put the rig back up, it will have two brand new cables in it, and two new masthead wands installed for redundancy in this regard. Also, the old masthead wand is super expensive and probably still good, but it needs some service. These units are expensive enough that you service them and repair them rather than just replace them. With about 20,000 miles on the odometer including a trip around the Horn with Whitall Stokes, the NKE wand needs some well-earned servicing. There are some other wiring issues as well that I want to tackle, and a few jobs we can tackle on the mast as well, but hte primary motivating factor in pulling the rig is in getting the masthead wind instruments working properly, as this is just incredibly vital and important to going solo sailing. The first ~1,500 miles of sailing on Sparrow have been less than stellar with no wind instruments. Having them working properly will be such a huge and necessary upgrade.

In addition to these three big projects that are aimed at getting the boat working properly so that i can go sail it with more confidence and begin doing some actual solo training, I am working on a bunch of other smaller projects as well. Our new sail inventory is being designed in Denmark and Maryland right now and we have had a couple of meetings in regards to their design. I just shipped the hydrogenerator bottom end out to France for servicing and re-building with a new cable after it had a little adventure in the South Atlantic which severed the old cable. Unfortunately, there are zero DIY resources on working on those units online, and everyone just says to send it back to France for service. 🙁 I am about to order a lot of solar panels, and we will also be replacing 1-2 of the 16 lithium cells that comprise Sparrow’s lithium battery set up. While here in Carolina, I also intend to add after water ballast to the boat, and I intend to do it in a pretty simple and creative way using water bladders and pumps, and some removable little bulkheads in the back of the boat. We have also been pulling other chainplates for inspection and doing some small fiberglass repairs and other work, as well as all manner of small maintenance jobs. In short, I am hoping that by mid to late February, Sparrow is fully ready to rock and go do some real sailing.