Last May, we took a shake down cruise for 10 days. See the previous post for the itinerary. The goals were to play, identify what worked and what needed more attention. Here are five things we learned/verified:

1) Be careful who you invite.

Four people on the bow.

Phil and Jackie with us on the bow at Dog Island. Photo by Phil Werndli.

Phil and Jackie were perfect companions for 10 days. We’ve traveled with them for long trips before so we knew we’d get along great. Jackie and I alternated meal preparation so we were not in the galley together. Phil and Scott worked together on anchoring, engine issues and trouble shooting other systems. We ate, drank cocktails, played dominoes and window shopped in two towns. Both were able to assist and offer valuable suggestions. It was great and we appreciate their company, their expertise and their friendship.

2) Our solar panels kept us off the grid — mostly.

Two solar panels.

Two solar panels on the radar arch of Island Time.

In recent months, Scott installed two 150-watt solar panels on the boat. He also replaced the refrigerator/freezer combo on the boat. The test? Would the solar panels keep up with all the demands of four people and two dogs? It performed well, despite some cloudy days. Between running the diesel engines and the solar panels, our batteries stayed charged and covered all the electrical needs, including powering the refrigerator. The 12-cubic-foot space was filled to the brim when the journey began. As each meal was prepared, the contents slowly diminished. On the days when we knew we would be motoring, we let the crock pot do all the work — pork roast and pot roast. That’s good eating on a boat.

3) Four people need a lot of mixers for 10 days on a boat. Boat drinks are important. Soda Stream to the rescue. We kept cold water in the refrigerator, added the appropriate flavoring and whirled up tonic, lemon/lime and ginger ale on demand. No hauling cans and bottles to the boat and no hauling away the garbage. It worked great and kept us singing along with Jimmy Buffett the whole trip.

4) Ground tackle matters. On the first night, we anchored in Tyson’s Cove at Dog Island. We know from experience that the bottom there is sandy and that most anchors simply don’t hold without the weight of chain to hold it in place. Our new Mantus anchor with all chain rode did a fabulous job. The anchor held great and we all got a good night’s sleep. Of course, Scott was still up every couple of hours checking on the position of the boat.

Because of the sandy/silty/muddy bottom, Phil had the job of rinsing the chain as Scott used the windlass to lift the anchor. Phil had a cloth bucket on a rope that he lowered to the water, filled and lifted to pour over the chain to remove the black mess. Phil filled, lifted, and rinsed while Scott raised the anchor. This was hard work for Phil for more than 30 minutes. Lesson learned: install a fresh/salt water pump on the bow. Scott’s still working on that one.

5) You never know who’ll you’ll meet or meet again. After we docked at the marina in Port St. Joe, another boat came in a little bit later. We assisted with tying their lines. The woman on board and I started chatting and both kept saying, “We know each other. How?” After we chatted for a few minutes, we figured it out. We had met at the St. Petersburg GAM reception for the Seven Seas Cruising Association the previous November. Gary and Shirley are now full time cruisers and we are excited to join them on the water.

Bonus lesson: Keep both engines running. Motoring into the wind with one engine means little progress. Early in the trip, we noticed that the starboard engine was spitting black gunk. Scott turned it off and we decided to proceed with one engine. On the way to Apalachicola, we were going about one knot into the wind. Unacceptable. We started the engine and motored along, taking it easy for the rest of the trip. When we got back to home port, Scott replaced both exhaust elbows (one for each engine). As it turns out, this is a routine maintenance item and it was due.

Scott and I are working to move from the house to the boat so we can begin our adventure on the water. Next post: transitioning from house to boat. What to keep? What to donate? What to store?