When we first moved on board Wanderbird we began opening cupboards, cabinets and access panels and discovered years of parts and pieces squirreled away. A mysterious tab behind a bathroom shelf led to a cavern full of boxes, filters and spares. When Luke asked one day if I had seen a particular item – we both recalled having seen it; but was it behind the bathroom mirror or in bin number 6, deep within the center bilge access?
It became apparent we’d need to track all this inventory. After a brief search turned up nothing much better than a simple database I started writing a vessel management application. As we experienced life aboard we identified many other areas where an app could help. Maintenance schedules were high on Luke’s list, a proper travel log were on mine and it was clear that some financial tracking would interest Paul.
Three years later as we’ve refit our way through the pandemic, the application is beginning to show signs of life as a useful program. I often hear of captain turn over, or boats transitioning from one owner to another and a package like this could really benefit any vessel of substantial size. There are countless extensions from expansion into charter operations to data sharing between vessels with like missions.
Hopefully we’ll be wrapped up with the mechanical refit in the next few weeks and we’ll be back to more adventurous posts, but for now, it’s back to programming.
A boat’s pedigree typically refers to the yard where it was built and the craftsman and artisans who contributed. There may also be predecessors: namesake vessels who came before. The Wanderbird has a rich lineage in the namesake of the Wandervogel, translated to Wanderbird and also known as No. 5 Elbe.
The No. 5 Elbe was built by Gustav Junge in 1883. It served for 41 years as a pilot schooner before it was sold in the 1920s to American journalist Warwick Tompkins. Tompkins made several transatlantic passages with the renamed Wander Bird before he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. In the 1930s, the Tompkins family sailed the Wander Bird around Cape Horn — going the “wrong way” from east to west. He later chartered the boat for trips to the South Sea islands.
George Baker spent more than 5 years planning and building the Trawler Wanderbird. He had a unique vision of an ultra-efficient, 65 foot boat, able to travel the world with the assistance of headsails. As we’ve learned about the history, we have come across others whose stories are intertwined.
Once, while anchored in the Exuma islands, a small craft approached and a man named Stephen announced he had worked on the boat when it was built. Imagine that, thousands of miles from where it was constructed, off a remote island! A week later we helped the Navyman-turned-captain-turned-biologist catch and tag sea turtles for research.
I recently had an email exchange with Brooks Townes in Port Townsend who worked on an earlier refit of the Elbe. He tells me that there seems to be a robust demand for the necessary type of Oak used in her hull.
Had lunch while back with a group of international wooden vessel restorers who expressed concern for the yard in Denmark’s ability to locate the proper oak for her repairs as the same hard European oak is being gobbled by the restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Personally I’m not sure how pure they need to be in using the same oak. There’s plenty of suitable purple heart about if they can veer a bit. (The yard, we’re told, used up its considerable hoard of the right oak in the schooner’s earlier restoration.)
From Brooks’ correspondence
Brooks sent along a photo of this print he recovered from the bilge of the Elbe.
While reading the comments section on the an article about the sinking of Elbe No 5, I came across a post.
I live next door to the house that Hal Sommer lived in before his death. It’s a long story but I have the original bronze metal lettering WANDER _ _ RD. I am not sure what to do with them other than donate them to the Sausalito Historical Society. Unless someone else has a better idea.
After some email exchange Steve promptly shipped the letters he was able to recover. Presumably, these bronze letters adorned the stern of the wooden schooner as she sailed around Cape Horn in 1936 and criss-crossed the seas in many voyages. More recent photos from the 50’s show different lettering so I suspect these were removed in the bay area prior to Hayden Sterling’s ownership. It was at that time when the actor announced to his makeshift crew that they were bound for Tahiti, rather than Santa Barbara as planned. I suppose it’s possible the letters were mounted elsewhere. Perhaps someone will come forward with additional information!
Thankfully Steve had the foresight to collect and preserve them as they’ll make quite the historical centerpiece – ideally if we find a fine arts painter who could create a piece for the main saloon, we thought we could incorporate the letters into a custom frame.
We went into the yard in early February for two weeks of repairs, what is now eight months. Some minor repairs turned into a major, mechanical refit.
Some things were in desperate need of attention, but we waited until we had time to do them the way we wanted. We were given quotes for our ‘brightwork’ – the exterior woodwork on the railings, which varied widely and went as high as $55,000. Most of the vendors also wanted to do it their own way and Luke was insistent on stripping everything back fully and using many coats of All Wood.
We had one group even go so far as to treat one of the boarding gates and now that we’re done, by comparison, it looks like it was painted. The end result is quite spectacular and as long as we apply a new coat every six months or year, it should last a very long time.
Design began on this boat in the late 90s and was finished right about 2004. At the time the systems were exceptional for a world cruiser and she was loaded with spares of everything. Now however, with connectivity and electronics being what they are, we were struggling with some issues tied to antiquated systems.
When the Pandemic hit, the boat was ‘on the hard’, out of the water and in the shipyard. The shipyard was deemed ‘an essential service’ so we were able to continue working.
With the new Maretron electronics and remote monitoring we hope to never come back to her from a few days away to find the power entirely shut down and the batteries wrecked. Instead, we’ll receive a text message as soon as the power is cut! We can monitor things remotely and program safety systems to prevent flooding and other disasters. These updates make the boat considerably more manageable for a small crew or owner/operator.
The list of improvements includes updated refrigeration, navigation systems, autopilots, air conditioning, radar, battery banks, rebuilt alternators, a new hydraulic cruise generator, refreshed bang irons, LED conversion and much more.
I’ve been grabbing bits of video here and there, so there may be a video coming soon to show the work we’ve been doing.
A recent inquiry about the fate of Elbe No 5, the original Schooner Wanderbird, or Wandervogel as it was originally in German, left me searching for information, after she sank in June of 2019. This video from October of that year, shows that she’s been pulled up and sent to a shipyard in Hvide Sande, Denmark. As I read, no shipyard in Germany has the ability to repair a wooden vessel of her size so she was shipped up and appears to be floating on her own. It looks as though she’ll sail again thanks to Hamburg Maritime.
We’re happy to see that after 137 years of sailing, she’ll continue to sail. We’ve been searching for an artist to paint the original schooner rounding Cape Horn, for our salon. If anyone knows a skilled nautical artist, please pass long the info.
No, not us, but our namesake, the beautiful sailing schooner Wanderbird, also known as Elbe No 5, was struck by the 465-ft container carrier Astrosprinter on the Elbe river near Hamburg in Germany last June in 2019.
We often check in on the old wooden boat, to see if she’s had any work or a change of ownership. Hamburg Maritime Foundation, the most recent owners, had recently completed a $1.7million refit at a Danish yard and she was enjoying work as a tour boat when the unfortunate incident occurred.
We had always dreamt of sailing our little sister to meet the noble schooner and while she rests just underwater, chances grow slim as she’s consigned to the briney depths.
As for us, we continue to make preparations during quarantine. After more than two months, the boat is back in the water while we wrap up the repairs and improvements.
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Two years into this adventure and things are a little repetitious. Last year we began making preparations for Cuba when we had a major hydraulic failure. Now, back in the yard, we make ready to voyage out further from the safety of U.S. coastal waters and all the amenities that Florida affords.
We began by hauling out at Lauderdale Marine Center in Fort Lauderdale and having the Hundestead prop and shaft inspected. It was determined that the prop needed to be dropped, which is a chore. While this is being done Luke is making efforts to improve the cooling systems to limit marine growth as well as catching up on servicing the life rafts, installing a new barbecue, touching up some paint and many other projects.
While these chores aren’t as fun as my usual posts, I’ll include a video of our run up the new river and the haul out at LMC. I upgraded my GoPro to the new Hero 8 black and the timelapse up the river was greatly improved over the old camera functions.
With all this going on I’ve continued working on an app for managing the vessel. I just migrated to a platform called Quasar which will allow me to develop a web-based app and extend it to a native mobile app. I have the task manager pretty far along and still need to move inventory, equipment, systems and all the other facets I created in the earlier, strictly web-based version.
After the yard we plan to travel down the Exumas and jump out to Turks & Caicos. The crossing from Long Island to the first of the Caribbean islands is a little rougher from my observation of the data, so we need all systems in top shape!
After five weeks in Manhattan we departed in the late afternoon for Norfolk. The 40 hour journey a familiar one at this point. The conditions were favorable and I passed the time experimenting with some fashion photography with our friend Anderson who Luke had invited along. It was later in the evening by the time we reached Fort Mason and because of an approaching Tropical Storm named Nestor, we ducked into Mill Creek and dropped the hook.
It was a good spot to weather the heavy winds and rain for the following day with gusts hitting 35 knots. The following morning we were faced with an armada of snowbirds in the intracoastal. The first railroad bridge out of Norfolk there were about 15 boats of various types and sizes all jockeying for position.
When we finally reached the great locks it was a similar pile-up and it wasn’t until the second round of passage that we were able to make our way through. While hovering well in the channel we ran aground for a few moments so for anyone southbound, keep slightly to the port side on approach to the locks – there’s shoaling about 200 yards out. Fortunately great lock is less than two feet drop and it takes less than 15 minutes for the drop, however they have to time it with a subsequent bridge making for a real mess with so much traffic.
Quite a lot of negotiated passings in narrow canals followed until we reached Coinjock where the staff was wonderfully accommodating as usual, getting us fueled up almost immediately. It was so busy boats were rafted up; double-parked yacht-style. The next morning we didn’t bother rushing out and by the time we were up at 8, most of the dock was empty.
We motored all day into the darkness until we were just before the second to last unlit channel where we anchored just a lightning storm grazed us to the north. The next morning was bright and fresh in the North Carolina waters and we passed through Goose Creek and into Beaufort, passing some sailboats and being passed by faster motor yachts. As we approached town we realized conditions had improved on the Atlantic and it made sense to revise our plans and head immediately out to sea and make for Charleston. Fortunately we were able to get a reservation across the bridge at Patriot Point, since the large downtown docks were full up.
Sunset was as glorious as the sunrise as we approached the frying pan shoals. Just after midnight as I stood watch, I made the mistake of assuming the red light in the distance was the shoal channel marker and continued to look for the green light. Upon closer examination of the charts I realized the channel markers are not lit and the red light was a marker much further south. Using the spotlight and radar I was able to locate the green can and erring towards port, slipped through the very narrow passage unscathed.
We dropped Anderson in Charleston and waited again on some heavier winds offshore. An acquaintance from Provincetown was moving an 80 Hatteras and after chatting about the conditions made his way to meet up with us for a drink at the Harbor Club. While we run around 8 knots, burning about a gallon per nautical mile, he moves at around 20 knots, burning 140. We left Charleston in the evening on Sunday, staying close to shore out of the gulf stream and ran the next 50 hours to Fort Lauderdale, non-stop.
Greg ran from Charleston to St. Augustine on Monday, stopped for fuel and a night’s rest and then passed us in the evening on Tuesday as we approached Lauderdale. We weren’t at the dock on the New River until around 3AM, which is fine by me – running the river in the wee hours means less traffic and a very chill arrival.
Now begins some repairs and upgrades. The brightwork (exterior, Mahogany railings and rub-rails) need refinishing, a new WiFi system, batteries and soft-goods are all in the plans.
People often ask if we pass through storms. Like inquiring a solider if they’ve seen any action. The first storm we passed through on the Atlantic, which I had watched brewing for some hours, was anticlimactic: hardly any wind, placid seas with perhaps the largest rain drops I’ve yet to witness.
Tonight, along the same northbound route up the Eastern seaboard, we could see lightning storms brewing to the West, over Georgia and South Carolina and to the East over the open Atlantic. As we made our way towards Beaufort, NC, I took watch from Luke at 1 AM, and the Western front was upon us.
The sails were up as the prevailing winds were as predicted, from the south, shifting around from the west, filling our starboard headsail and adding some much needed stability in a mixed port-side, following sea. My mom and aunt were not faring as well as we’d all hoped and the seasickness patches were compounded with Dramamine to keep them in a deep sleep as we rocked and rolled northward in a classic, dark and stormy night.
As we entered the tempest, the winds worked their way around to the bow, climbing from relaxing 7 knots to guest nearing 30, the shifting direction luffing the sails, but a slight course correction allowed me to keep them somewhat to port. At one point there was a loud thud on the upper deck and amidst the rain and lightning I cautiously climbed past the tender to secure the main boom shackle which had come loose – a dangerous thing, having a massive steel boom swinging about the deck while the ship pitches nearly ten degrees each side.
Earlier in the day we did our best to stay in the gulf stream, using the current to increase our normal 8-10 knot speed to nearly 13. The navigation computer doesn’t seem to take into account the fact that this boost doesn’t stay with us and arrival predictions are modified as our speed slows. A teasing mid-day arrival shifts into the night the next day and I feel for our ladies hunkered in the belly of the ship, perhaps second-guessing this particular voyage.
By evening we were approaching the coast of North Carolina and began to feel it’s protection from the northerly wind. While checking the upper deck for loose lines following the heavy winds, I spotted a distictive fluke in the distance, headed our way. I called to Linda and Mom and despite their weakened state, they rushed with me to the bow to watch two, small, spotted dolphins enjoying the energy put out by our bulbous bow. This was the first time I’ve seen this particular behavior. The larger animal rode steady while the smaller swam circles around its cohort. The evening light, clear Atlantic waters and these beautiful creatures made for a magical moment. [see the end of the included video for a clip of this]
Everyone was happy to have a good night’s rest and we left about 9AM, considerably later than our previous trip, after sleeping in a bit. Following the same route, we ended up anchoring in a shallow tributary of the Pungo river. I wasn’t sure we’d be into Coinjock in time to fuel that afternoon but arriving about 3:30, there was plenty of time for 2,600 gallons of diesel and some world famous rib-eye, plus a case of mango salsa. We followed two Flemings out the following morning and made our way into Norfolk in the early afternoon, docking at Waterside marina for an early dinner.
The next 36 hours we ran up the coast. Leaving early put us into the Hudson well before our intended dawn cruise past the statue of liberty. Thick fog blanketed the coast, but fortunately the harbor was fairly clear and we all agreed the run in at night, with the Statue of Liberty and city lit up, was magical, more so than it would have been the following, grey and rainy day.
This winter passed quickly, as the summer once did. Growing up in the NorthWest I was always biding time through the cold months and longing endlessly for summer. The first day of frost in fall left me in a funk, in contrast to those late winter, early spring days that would tease the long, warm days of summer, spent exploring the creek or driving the jeep into the mountains.
After our first trip out and the mess with the hydraulic lines, we were looking forward to some spear fishing and visits from a few friends. Paul and Tyler flew out we staged at Las Olas Marina in Fort Lauderdale for the crossing. We had hoped to leave earlier, but as it has become the norm, we were scrambling with last minute repairs and provisions, knowing we would be away from American supply chains for at least a month and with many hungry mouths coming and going.
Tyler and Mike were to meet us in Nassau, but with a one-day weather delay, I was able to stall their flight from Grand Cayman at no charge, which was perfect. It seems no trip can be without some sort of issue, and on the way over the diesel fuel lifting pump, which draws fuel from the main tanks for the generators, decided it had enough of its mundane task. We docked at Atlantis and Luke booked a flight back to Florida for the emergency replacement part. The rest of us did our best to manage this trial with a visit to the water park and aquarium.
Then we were off across the banks where we spent the better part of a week anchored at Bitter Guana, tendering to our favorite local activities and charging up the dive tanks for some cave diving.
The next week Pat, Lisa, Todd and Donna flew directly into Staniel Cay. The weather for their annual trip was less than perfect but fortunately they are the type of people to find joy in any activity, even if it’s moving the boat to avoid an atypical southwest wind. We did get out to a reef on the banks for a day for some spear fishing but the wave action was a little rough, making it a challenge to free dive and limiting our catch. Luke found two massive lobsters and I had great luck with the lion fish, so there was plenty of seafood for a decadent night of surf and turf with our favorite from Bush Brother’s Provisioning: the Wagyu strip steak.
A couple of days were optimal for the Hobie Tandem Islander and it was a real experience watching the couples sail down the coast in azure seas, propelled solely by a light, Bahama breeze.
Next on the docket, my best friend Joe modified his return from New Hampshire to stop off for six days. We immediately had him in a wetsuit, snorkeling in sub-optimal condiitons, which made subsequent snorkels seem comparitively simple. We enjoyed Thunderball Grotto at high tide again – not something recommended for the novice or anyone who isn’t substantially athletic. The cave ceiling is sharp and precariously low at high tide, resulting in dangerous surfacing if you dive below. A couple were shooting very unique wedding photos in full dress and tux in the deep blue cavern.
One evening a small sailboat anchored nearby and we were hailed by voices with thick french accents. A group of recent college grads from Quebec were on a week long sailing trip and had scored a Mahi Mahi earlier in the day. They invited us over for a meal and we all agreed that Wanderbird’s kitchen and dining area would be more appropriate for 7 people. Luke and I prepared the fish in a light, white wine reduction and we enjoyed regailing tales of sailing and other worldly adventures.
After Joe’s visit Luke had a couple friends from Florida visit and we continued to explore, moving around just north of Big Major, otherwise known as the famed Pig Beach. While lunching at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, our friend Miguel introduced us to Misha and Brennan from Seattle, who he had met on the plane. They were traveling on a vacation they had won on a TV show and we enjoyed hosting them for sunset cocktails and dinner on the Wanderbird. Leery of motoring back between the islands in the dark, we prepared a guest cabin for a good night’s rest before their long trip home.
We worked our way back to Florida stopping for a night in Nassau and a night at the Berry Islands in a tumultuous little channel conveniently just south of Hoffman’s Cay, where we explored the large, inland blue hole and relished jumping from the cliffs and swimming hte warm and surprisingly salty water.
The trip west was smooth, with a night’s stop in Bimini and smooth crossing with 3-4 foot, short period waves typical in the Gulf Stream. Back on the New River I prepared for a trip out to California and Dallas for work and wedding, while Luke settle into Southern Florida life: a balance between minor ship repairs and socalizing.
Luke carried on for several weeks with the air conditioning compressor project – we had to remove the new compressors to install a new rack as well – apparently they don’t make the 4 ton any longer, so they sent us three 5 ton compressors which called for a different mounting rack and manifold.
Paul, Jacob and Tyler came into town for the holidays and we spent some time entertaining with Luke escaping to the engine room whenever he could and I at my desk catching up on programming work. We locked onto a weather window to cross the gulf stream and it was the usual scramble to prepare: running around town buying parts and provisioning for 6-8 weeks in the Bahamas.
At around 2AM on the 8th we cast off the lines and made our way down the New River. The stretch of river that once brought me to a borderline breakdown with it’s narrow, winding waterway, has become a pretty relaxing cruise, particularly in the quiet hours of late night or early morning, depending on your perspective.
We crossed to Bimini, arriving at 10AM and anchored just south of South Bimini, given the swell from the north. Luke took our passports in to clear customs while Jacob and I had a swim around the boat and made breakfast. We immediately headed north to round Bimini to the bank and make our way across the shallow waters, past the Berry Islands and around the west side of Nassau then along it’s south coast to cross the White Bank for the Exumas. Evening was upon on by the time we could see Norman’s Cay so we anchored just south and in the morning, traversed the cut to anchor near the plane wreck.
We geared up and took Jacob and Justin to free dive the downed drug plane, then over to the pristine beaches on Norman’s, which Jacob refers to as ‘fake beaches’ – due to their postcard-perfection.
We moved south to Shroud Cay and were delighted to find deep enough water to get within a few hundred yards of shore. Luke jumped on the radio to arrange for a mooring at Warderick Wells the following morning. The weather was a slightly cooler but still comfortable enough to take the tender to explore the tidal river that cuts through Shroud and Jacob and I enjoyed swimming with the current back to the sea.
The next morning we motored another hour south and began to negotiate our way into the narrow channel at Warderick Wells, littered with a few sailboats on their assigned moorings. I stood on the bow with the hook ready to fish the mooring line when Luke called down that the bow thruster was not responding. I raced to the lower helm to see if the controls there would illicit a response. Nothing.
Now at the stern, I watched the shallows behind us as Luke negotiated a tight turn with only the single prop and rudder, around a larger sailboat and back out to open waters. Upon investigating the forward bilge, a hydraulic line to the bow thruster had given out, dumping nearly 50 gallons of fluid into the bilge and rendering our hydraulic driven systems offline. No anchors, no crane to the pick the tender, no bow thruster, no windlass winches for docking. Fortunately the steering is on it’s own hydraulic system or we would have been hand tilling the hefty bird!
We radioed back to the Exumas National Park office and they suggested a first-come-first-served mooring back at Shroud. Upon approach we could see that these tie-ups are another 100 yards closer than we had anchored the night before. Those further out were already taken by very shallow-draft catamarans, but the charts indicated similar depths, so we carefully worked our way in and secured to a mooring within 50 yards of shore.
Luke spent that afternoon on the phone with his hydraulics contact back in Fort Lauderdale. He decided we needed to remove the hydraulic pump and seal the opening that would be left. The next morning Luke manufactured an aluminum plate and gasket and we used a come-a-long to hoist the heavy pump off the engine so we could get the engine running without ruining the expensive pump and avoid the $7,000-$10,000 towing back to Nassau.
It was late by the time we had everything ready and crossed the banks. The hour made it challenging to watch for coral heads – a required duty when crossing. Typically one makes this move in the mid-day, with the sun high, so these massive coral out-croppings are clearly visible, as dark black areas below the surface. With some luck and a keen eye, we made it into Nassau around 7pm with dead calm conditions, perfect for docking sans bow-thruster.
Two weeks in, the hydraulics are adequately repaired for now. A local outfit created new hoses, cleaned up the bilges and loaded new fluid. The weather was initially near perfect and then turned quite intense, with strong winds and in the meantime Luke cut the end of his thumb off testing a generator fan he was replacing.
Today we wait for UPS to deliver a final generator part and then.. south to Georgetown.