And This Too Shall Pass…

Isaias, that is.

We are in a marina in Hampton, VA hunkered down for the arrival late tomorrow of the latest tropical storm of the season. Right now Isaias is forecast to run right over the top of us on Tuesday afternoon. The boat is tied up in a cat’s cradle of lines, and we have removed anything loose or vulnerable from the deck. Once we finish our last minute preparations tomorrow morning we have a local hotel room to check into.

The good news is the storm has never really developed into a large and extra powerful storm. No local evacuations or other serious precautions have been called for. Despite all this, a storm like this is still worthy of respect. Right now, we are probably the best tied up boat in the marina!

When in a marina, the most dangerous thing that boats experience in a serious tropical storm is the rise in water level. In the most severe case, this can actually lift the docks up off the pilings that hold them in place. The forecast storm surge for our location is minimal, only a foot or two, so we’re pretty comfortable that we are safe and secure.

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Going South to Go North.

Geography requires us to head 150 miles south down the Chesapeake Bay before we head north. We are currently anchored in Fishing Bay in Deltaville, VA. This is a very convenient anchorage for any boat transiting either north or south in the Chesapeake. It is also pretty, and well protected. We arrived about 48 hours ago, shortly after dark. We found “our spot” in the dark with our radar, and settled in uneventfully.

Yesterday was a success story on with an ongoing problem we have had with a coolant leak from the generator’s engine. The leak only happened when the engine was running, and was on the back side of the engine, which is hard to visually inspect when the engine is running. I set up our GoPro camera there with a light, and once I had a chance to review the footage, the answer was obvious, and easily remedied. So that’s all good!

As the day ended yesterday the cicadas were singing in the trees, clouds were rolling in and the sun was setting with a blaze of bright colors.

The dark clouds off to the Southeast were nasty looking, and rolling quickly toward us. It wasn’t long before bolts of lightening were lighting up the sky.

The storm arrived with buckets of rain and a blast of wind. Nothing TOO bad, maximum of 35 knots or so for no more than five or ten minutes, but that was enough to cause a bit of drama in the little bay. There were three other boats anchored here. One had a sail unroll and shred in the initial gusts. We couldn’t see how them got that under control, but it was an expensive lesson. The other two boats dragged their anchors. Not too far, but any is enough to be scary. We didn’t even think this was all that much of a wind event!

There might not have been all THAT much wind… but there was a pretty spectacular lightening show. The image to the right is a frame grab of real time lightening strikes over 10 minutes within five miles of us! Who needs fireworks?

It was all over in 30 minutes, and calm returned.

Tomorrow we will head further south toward Norfolk. The plan is to pull in there, and spend the night, then head out to the ocean on Friday.

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And… GO!!

We cast off our lines from Herrington Harbor North yesterday at 10AM and, on a mostly calm and windless bay, motored south, ending up at Solomon’s Island, a major boating center on the western shore of the central Chesapeake.

It is still hot and humid, and should continue to be until we reach the ocean in two days or so.

One thing that never ceases to amaze us is the frequency with which we run into other Amels. We left Harrington Harbor where there were three other Amel boats, and get here where there are three more! One (Loco Lola) that we know from the Bahamas, one new to us anchored right next door (Jackster) and one that lives here as its home port.

We did discover yesterday that out satellite phone battery had failed. It wasn’t immediately obvious, since we keep it plugged into power all the time. Turns out the battery is needed for it to get a connection to the satellites. Until we can get a replacement shipped in, our constant position update will be down.

What is supposed to be a sealed plastic case broke apart as the internals of the battery inflated, generating a lot of pressure! Luckily, the internal seals held and no leakage or other disaster resulted.

The unit is about 6 years old, so the operative lesson is: Chnage your Iridium Go battery when it is no older than 5 years!

Today’s assignment is to fill the diesel tank, and head further down the bay!

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And We’re Off!

Well… almost!

We have been here at Herrington Harbor North Marina in Tracys Landing, Maryland for a few months. It’s a beautiful and well run marina, but it is time to move on. The weather here on shore in July is pretty oppressive, and we need cooler climes to be comfortable! By way of example, we just finished three days in a row with a “Heat Index” of greater than 105ºF!

Our intent is to meander north toward Maine. Some places are more “open” than others, so we’ll stop at places where we are welcome, and pass by those where we are not. We will stop and fish where we want, and stop and explore where we can.

In a day or two we’ll be underway. Not in any rush, or with a specific destination. Just the way we like it!

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My last post here was about the dangers of a full time connection to dockside water, and the measures we take to mitigate those risks. I have always taken those risks seriously, but never actually had a plumbing failure that could have put the boat at risk.

The Three Fates weave human destiny.

Until—today. I mean really? Was my last post offensive to the Fates or what?

We finished dinner, and Karen was just finishing the cleanup when the piercing alarm that indicates a high level in the bilge sump went off. We can see that the pump is running. How can there be water there? What’s going on?

Once up in the cockpit, I can hear a noise… something is running but it is not a sound that I recognize. When I open the engine room to access the bilge, I see water spraying everywhere. AH-HA! The sound I hear is water rushing through the hose connection. Turn off the water, and everything settles back down. It only takes a few seconds to find where the hose has pulled apart from its fitting.

A couple new hose clamps, and we are back in business. Although the engine room received a good soaking, is all fresh water and in the summer heat it will all be gone quickly.

On the bright side, we were home and able to immediately respond to the situation. The bilge alarm was very important in alerting us to the issue quickly before the issues grew.

If we had been away, the water would have shut itself off after 200 gallons, and the bilge pump would have cleared that out in about 10 or 15 minutes. Nothing highly water sensitive is on the floor of the engine room so no serious damage would have been done.

If we had been away, and did NOT have a water timer on the inlet, we could have been looking at a serious, and expensive issue…

A tentative inspection shows that the hose clamp had corroded and broken. Of course they always seem to rust on the bottom where you can’t see. I have been replacing hose clamps around the boat as I see a problem, but it seems it might be time to be more systematic about that and just change all the old ones.

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Keeping the Water Out

When tied to a dock for an extended period it is really handy to connect the local city water supply to directly to your boat, and bypass the tanks. It is convenient, no running out of water in the middle of a shower, and in our case it also is advantageous that we can keep chlorine out of our main water tank. This is important because we use that water to flush our watermaker’s reverse osmosis membranes which can be destroyed by the chlorine added to most municipal water systems.

Do NOT be this guy!

There is a potentially serious downside to this plan. Connecting to the dock water like this means we have an essentially infinite high-pressure supply of water coming into your boat. If any hose or fitting was to fail while we were away from the boat, water would keep flowing, possibly overwhelming the bilge pump, and sinking the boat. In my years around boats I personally know of two boats that have sunk at the dock because of a city water connection. Even though this risk might be small, it is not worth taking without figuring out some way to mitigate it.

One solution is to have a convenient valve in the water line that you shut off every time you leave the boat. This is a perfect solution, except for the one fallible part: ME! I forget.

Fortunately, there there is a simple, and unusually affordable, solution: a sprinkler timer. A small device gardeners use to automatically turn off water after a suitable amount has been delivered to their plants. Most of the mechanical ones are not “timers,” they do not count elapsed time, but rather they actually count the volume of water delivered. When the amount of water selected on the dial has been delivered, a valve closes, and the water is shut off.

We set ours for about 200 gallons. If we were away from the boat, and a plumbing failure occurred, that is the maximum amount of water that would be dumped into the hull. Certainly more than we would like, but not enough to create a disaster. With this addition, we feel safe enough to leave dock water connected when we leave the boat for short periods.

The fitting on the hull the hose attaches to incorporates a pressure control valve that reduces city water pressure to 50 PSI, something more typical for boat water systems. The inlet fitting is mounted under our helm seat where it is out of the way, and yet has easy plumbing access to the engine room.

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How Fast Am I Going?

For most landlubbers, most of the time, this is a question that is quite simple, and a variety methods will all give you essentially the same answer. When you are standing on, or rolling over, the ground, the ground is always your reference point, so measuring Speed Over Ground (SOG) is pretty much the only thing that makes sense. It is unusual that you would even think of something else.

Sailors have a much more complex relationship with the word “speed.” They certainly understand the concept of a “Speed Over Ground” (SOG), but until the widespread use of satellite navigation systems, SOG was only available intermittently, and rarely accurately. The information that was available was “Speed Through the Water” (STW). Sometimes, these numbers are the same, if there are no currents in the water, other times they can be different. Sometimes very different, if the current speed is more than a small fraction of the boat’s STW.

The modern sailor has both SOG and STW easily available. SOG from the GPS satellites, and STW from a number of mechanical or ultrasonic methods.

Sailing along the east coast of the USA we have to contend with one of the largest flows of water in the world. Parts of the Gulf Stream move over 2 cubic miles of ocean water every minute to the north and east. Surface speeds of three, four, even four and a half knots are common.

As the Gulf Stream moves along the East Coast of the USA it twists, turns and wiggles. The fastest water is not in the same place from week to week, or even day to day.

Four knots is a significant fraction of most sailboat’s speed, so no matter if you are headed north and looking for an extra boost, or headed south and trying to avoid bucking the strongest part of the current, knowing what the current flow is can be a really important navigation tool.

Given a Course Over Ground, a Speed Over Ground, a Heading, and a Speed Through the Water it has always been possible to calculate the speed and direction of the local current–if you were handy with vector arithmetic and trigonometry. Modern sailing instruments can, of course, do this in real time and present the data to the navigator as it happens both graphically and numerically.

To me, this data is worth a LOT while making a long distance ocean trip. If I only know the Speed Over Ground, or only the Speed Thru the Water, I feel very under informed about my situation. Not knowing how the water I am sailing in is moving is missing a key piece of the puzzle.

Playing the currents can make a big difference in how long a passage takes. As an example, last year while we were migrating north, we had stopped off the coast of South Carolina to fish. While we were there, a much larger, and theoretically much faster, sailboat passed us heading north. That was the last we expected to see of them…

We used what we knew about the expected behavior of the Gulf Stream, and what our instruments were telling us about the current speed and direction, to stay in the fastest currents we could find. Three days later, as we approached Cape Henry at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, who comes up on us from behind, but our bigger, faster friend. They actually called us on the radio, “How do you get here so fast?” Karen was impolite enough to laugh…

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Now this is a fine mess!

An unfortunate sailboat plays dining room for an osprey while he finishes his menhaden lunch.

We have surely mentioned it before, but the Chesapeake Bay is Ground Zero for Ospreys, aka “fish hawks.” They are far more common here than seagulls. Within site of where Harmonie is docked right now there are at least four nesting pairs preparing to raise this seasons chicks on the huge pile of sticks they call “home.” Their screeching cries are the common bird call here.

There are a few unfortunate boats that for one reason or another become a favorite perch for these fish eating machines. Guts, bones, fins, and other smelly debris rain down on deck… Yuck.

Other birds are more broadly welcome visitors. The marina has a large metal “tree” hung with gourds to attract nesting purple martins. Up until yesterday, the birds were conspicuous by their absence. Suddenly, the whole colony arrived at once in a chirping, bug eating, horde. Each pair claiming their own nesting gourd.

Fortunately for the purple martins, this neck of the woods has lots of bugs. Mostly non-biting midges that appear every evening in huge swarms, and a few scattered mosquitoes. On calm, windless evenings, (like last night) the evil, nasty, blood sucking no-see-ums can appear in horrifying numbers.

They look a lot like mosquitos, but are not. Midges swarm the dock lights.
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Compare and Contrast: The Amel 54 vs. the Super Maramu

After our recent delivery of the Amel 54 we have been asked to give our impressions of the differences between the Amel 54 and her older sister, the 53 foot Super Maramu. We were only aboard the Amel 54 for a week, so our impressions are not comprehensive. Also, it is just natural that we would prefer the way we have become accustomed to doing things onboard our Super Maramu, to the point we might look askance on things that are different. Hopefully I have avoided overt prejudice, and gave reasonable rationales for my conclusions.

The Super Maramu was certainly Amel’s most commercially successful design to date. Introduced in 1988 and produced until 2006 well over 400 were made over 18 years. I would guess the gross sales of this model approached half a billion dollars. When Amel 54 was introduced in 2005 as the successor to the Super Maramu it certainly had big shoes to fill. Although it had a shorter production run of 6 years, several people who know the Amel line intimately described it as the best world cruising boat Amel ever built–strong praise indeed.

Right now, an Amel 54 in good nick will run about US$500,000 to $600,000. The prices for a Super Maramu will vary more, since they cover a wide range of ages, but for a well maintained example $230,000 to $350,000 would be a reasonable range to expect.

Both of these boats share the same “DNA.” They have a similar visual design, and incorporate many of the same features that have always made Amel yachts stand out as premium world cruising boats. They share enough features, it would make a very long article to list them, so I will focus on those things that are different. Every evaluation I express is strictly my own opinion, and I am sure there is no one else who would agree with everything I write here. Hopefully, even in disagreement, it is helpful.

At first glance, not a lot distinguishes an Amel 54 from the older Super Maramu.


Both boats are ketches, and are more similar than different, but there ARE real differences. The largest and most obvious difference on casual examination is that the 54 was designed with an inner forestay that carries a staysail. Some Super Maramus have been modified to carry a staysail, but most of these modifications are weakly implemented. Our experience with using the staysail on the 54 in strong winds is that the boat balances nicely, and it is an improvement for heavy weather sailing.

The Super Maramu was not designed to carry a spinnaker, although it is easily modified so it can. The 54 was built to carry a spinnaker. We didn’t get to use one on our trip. The down wind poles on the 54 are longer and heavier than those on the Super Maramu, although the rigging of them has been well thought out and doesn’t require a lot of man-handling. Both boats can utilize the Amel twin headsail downwind rig.

One of the most significant changes we made to our Super Maramu’s sailing performance was the addition of cockpit control to the mizzen traveler. It means we can adjust the mizzen traveler without having to go out onto the aft deck. We use the mizzen sail a lot more, and get more efficiency out of it. Making such a modification to the 54 would not be impossible, but is more complex since the mizzen traveler is down on the aft deck, not up on the coachroof.

The sail furling gear for the mainsail and mizzen are essentially the same on both boats. The Super Maramu uses an Amel designed furler for the genoa that is robust and reliable. The 54 was built with Bamar fulers for the genoa and staysail that were very problematic, to the point that Bamar offered significant discounts for redesigned units. Different owners addressed this problem in different ways. The success of the alterations will vary from boat to boat.


The most obvious change in the deck arrangements of these two boats was the change to flush locker hatches on the 54. This is certainly better esthetically, and offers less opportunity for tripping and toe-stubbing for the crew. On the downside, the hatches have a much higher tendency to leak. You win some, you lose some.

Super Maramu #160 on the left, Amel 54 on the right.

The changes in anchor handling from the early Super Maramus to later models and the 54 are significant. The early Super Maramus have a functional anchor handling system, but this is taken several steps up on the Amel 54. Twin windlasses, and a more flexible and robust set of rollers represent a significant upgrade. Unlike the Super Maramu, the chain lockers for the Amel 54 were designed with a removable bottom grate to enable easier cleanout of the inevitable mud that will accumulate. But nothing comes for free. The windlasses of the 54 are further forward to make more room in the bow locker. That means the space available for chain storage is shorter and narrower. While retrieving 100 meters of chain all in one go we had it pile up high enough that it jammed the chainpipe and needed to be manually cleared. This has never happened to us on our Super Maramu

The Super Maramu has twin bow lockers that are relatively shallow in depth, but useful none the less, easily holding spare sails, and other gear. The single bow locker on the 54 is certainly voluminous, but smaller items might get lost in the depths. It’s also a mixed use space with access for some electrical panels and bow thruster. If it is packed with sails and “stuff” access to those systems are compromised.

The Super Maramu has a passeralle that is 100% manual. It is stored on the starboard quarter rail , and put into place on the stern when needed. It doubles as the gunwale mounted boarding ladder. The 54 was equipped with a hydraulic passeralle that is very cool and awesome–when it works. It has a reputation for constant mechanical problems and serious corrosion issues.

Power Train

The engine rooms on these boats are very similar, and are truly one of the great features. Essentially identical, they are fully isolated from the living spaces, they are spacious and easy to work in.

Amel never really found the right engine for the 54. Most of these boats were equipped with the Volvo D3, which has been a source of trouble for many owners. On the Super Maramu both the Volvo and the Yanmar engines have been reliable workhorses. Although as time passes more and more of these have been repowered as the original engines age into third decade of life.

The Super Maramu was equipped with a custom built retractable bow thruster of Amel’s own design. These were designed back when bow thrusters were still unusual on yachts of this size. Robust and powerful, they have been reliable tools–when well cared for. The 54’s bow thruster was built for Amel by Sidepower, and is even more powerful. If the forward locker where the bow thruster lives can be kept dry, it is a great tool.


The interior design of these boats is where they differ the most. The 54’s hull is a more modern design for a cruising boat. She is much broader in the aft sections than her older sister. This results in a significantly larger interior volume that the designers took excellent advantage of.

The biggest changes are forward and aft. The aft cabin on a 54 is much larger than on a Super Maramu, and the bed changes from one pushed up against the port side, to a full walk around bed. The head has also been reworked with a separate shower stall.

Almost as dramatic are the changes in the forward cabin. Instead of the traditional v-berth, there is a port side pullman cabin, and on the starboard side a pair of bunks. The head was moved to the bow peak.

I think of the changes as a bit of a mixed bag, but mostly better. The aft cabin is a huge improvement in utility and comfort. The heads on the 54 are much nicer at anchor with separate shower stalls, and more amenities, but we found them less advantageous underway. Fewer appropriate handholds and brace points, and a good deal less storage. Not a disaster, certainly, but not as easy to use as those in the Super Maramu while the boat is in a seaway. Since boats spend a much greater percentage of time at anchor or in the marina, this might be a reasonable compromise.

With the 54 Amel moved away from solid wood leeboards for all the berths, and went to lee cloths. Both are well designed and comfortable.

The Nav Station is much improved on the 54. Usable as a desk for routine work on paper or keyboard, where the Super Maramu Nav Station doesn’t work for more than a few minutes at a time.

The 54 is equipped with much larger freezers than the Super Maramu, and they seem better insulated. The 54 galley is set up for a wider four burner stove, instead of the smaller 2 burner model installed on most Super Maramus.

The 54 has many more opening hatches than the Super Maramu, partly because the space it divided up a bit more and more points of air intake are needed, and partly to improve the amount of air flow. Neither boat has any passive ventilation available when underway.

Utility Systems

Here the boats are way more alike than they are different. Most of the utilities are served up in similar ways, sometimes even using exactly the same equipment.

The electrical system on the 54 is beefed up some, but the general philosophy is the same. Amel has moved toward a more modern setup for the electrical distribution in the 54, but still retained some of their unique quirks–for better and worse!


These boats are both very similar and very different. After a week aboard, we decided that we wouldn’t, ourselves, want to trade up to a 54. But we certainly understand why other people would. It’s a bigger boat, within almost the same footprint. It’s newer. Amel redesigned many parts of the boat, with mostly good results, although they swung and missed on a few.

It is a rule that no boat is perfect for everybody–and no boat is perfect for anybody. All boats are compromises. Is the Amel 54 a better set of compromises for you? or the older, cheaper, Super Maramu? Only you will know!

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Back Home Again!

We open our last Florida drawbridge for a while!

We are landed again back aboard Harmonie at Herrington Harbor North in the bustling metropolis of Deal, Maryland. Our delivery of the Amel 54 went smoothly, a few mechanical glitches, but nothing of great import that couldn’t be sorted out.

We had a slower trip north than we did on Harmonie, mainly because we had a couple weather related stops. We were on a bit of a schedule, so we powered on through a couple of light wind spots rather than relax and sail slowly.

I have been teasing Karen about how very quick it was that she switched from fussing about the Florida heat and humidity (it has been a very HOT spring in south Florida) to complaining about how COLD it is here. It has been a very cool spring here in the Chesapeake Bay area. The morning of our arrival it was in the high 30’s. By the end of this week, we are expecting 80’s.

The local marina is pretty much operating normally. They have been launching boats from winter storage pretty much on schedule. Within the last few days, the state of Maryland has officially opened up recreational boating. With that official release, and the warm weather coming up, and the number of people with cabin fever, I am expecting quite the crowds on the water here next weekend!

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