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Seeking an outlet for the bright ideas, some of which are in my head

The new galley light

Because seeing how much bitters and nutmeg is being added to the rum is essential
I acquire boat gear when I see it on sale like cat ladies hoard...well, cats. Genco Marine had a few shelves of superannuated stuff off their main floor and I got this SS gooseneck halogen for five or ten dollars, I can't remember. Installing it in the galley with a few millimeters to spare for the microwave door was pretty straightforward: I just tapped into the existing 12 VDC panel in one of the galley cabinets and tidied up the run with a few hangers.
There a few of these around the boat. It makes things easier if I only have a short run to do.

The new tool

Electric screwdrivers: I've had a few, and they've often been a disappointment due to either weak motors or poor endurance on the batteries. So far, this one from Home Hardware is a light-duty champ. As will be seen below, I've been doing a lot of wire runs and fastener work in tight places, and this has been very handy. It's got a lithium-ion battery that charges rapidly as well and despite its paltry 8-volt motor, it's got reasonable enough torque to drill brass screws into solid wood.
More moves than a caffeinated gymnast.

Head games

I was asked recently by a fellow sailor about our Lavac head. Frankly, I haven't paid much attention as we winterized it some time ago and haven't been using it.
Rest, my precious! Soon, soon...
When we last did, however, deploy it in earnest, we were reminded it's a very nice bit of kit. The key is its simplicity: its only moving part is the Henderson pump mounted on the bulkhead: do your business, shut the gasketed lid, and pump; a vacuum forms and empties the bowl either to the holding tank or overboard.
The handle points away from the direction of the flow, so it's set, as is required, to "holding tank".
Water is then drawn in from the sea. You have to get the hose heights right, i.e. know where your waterline is, but that's straightforward, and if you are on the lee side, you can draw in less water for less dramatic pauses.
The head sea water feed is teed off the standpipe seacock and up to the waterline, The level of the bowl's contents matches it. Five strokes of the pump does the rest.
Now, the previous (or original) owner cable-tied some AC conduit to the water feed for the Lavac. I find this slightly dodgy and when we update the hose, I will reposition and separately mount the AC wires above the hose. Peace of mind, and all that.
The rarely viewed head exit port and Marelon seacock.
It's good to see the more-or-less hidden parts of the boat. The paint looks pretty good and while I've found some rust in spots, it's minimal and will be dealt with when it's warm enough to paint, which I hope is in a month.
It strikes me that now that we are sailing, I might wish to surround that rather critical hose with some sort of anti-chafe where it passes through that counter.

'Peak power

A long-time ambition to supply both AC (for tool use) and DC (for lighting) to the forepeak workshop has seen some progress despite some inexplicable previous owner finds and a lot of deconstruction. Another long-time ambition, as some of these photo will reveal, is to get a small inspection camera with a fibre-optic lead. If I can see into the multitude of nooks and crannies on our steel boat, I can spot spots of rust before they take hold and can better plan future wire or hose runs.
Overexposed (well, you try taking a decent shot inside a dark cabinet at about 25 cms. without being able to see the viewscreen), but you can just make out some previously run 10 ga. AC conduit to the forepeak, untimely cut some time before us.
It's nice, frankly, to be getting started on the optional stuff, like lighting in lockers and inside cabinets. I'm finding work that is clearly adequate, but which I may gradually upgrade to what I think will last longer at sea and for the duration. Here's an example:

Overkill on the gauge to the terminal strips, underkill on the crimp quality.
You might assume from the colour of the wire (and its relative beefiness) that this is an AC lead. It isn't: It's mismatched DC leads that are powering a fluorescent 5 watt seaberth light. It's very low-draw, but I dislike the decision to have four crimps in what should be a 45 cm. run to the terminal strip.
No, sir, I don't like it, even for a fixture I will retrofit with LEDs the first time it flickers funny.

I would also customarily sleeve any crimp connectors like this which I did need to make with adhesive heat-shrink tubing to minimize moisture ingress and to strengthen the crimping job. Lastly, I would tie this off to both better support it and to act as strain relief; it needn't be elaborate That lead's just waiting to fail.
Good: Foam-glued closed-cell panels and intact paint. Less good: Grandpa's speaker wire, interrupted.
In order to get at the AC line that manifests in the forepeak, I had to see where it went. That involved disassembly of the starboard seaberth surround. The condition back here, which I've never explored, is generally sound; cabling is partially tied to small-diameter grey PVC pipe lengths (containing some 'orphaned' DC runs as well as the DC runs for the saloon forward bulkhead lights) and clean installation of panels and decent, thickly applied two-part paints. Which is nice for us. I will leave this open until I've finished the DC runs, which may involve fishing new, smaller gauge wire (thanks, LEDs with tiny draws!) in case closer inspection reveals places needing paint.
Usually, this is very shippy cherrywood slats.

The AC-to-forepeak saga involved crimping 600 voltm three-conductor, stranded and sheathed 10 ga. marine grade cable to the end of the existing run, for which see above in a cabinet looking futile. I emphasis the "marine cable" part because I still see older boats with Romex house-grade cabling from the '70s. Here in Toronto, we are in fresh water; odds are it will work, but tinned, stranded marine wire can take a lot more flexing than cheaper solid wire that is fine for houses (you'll know what I mean if you change a wall outlet in an old house), but will tend to harden and fracture (and corrode) on a damp, moving boat. As for crimping, I follow the guidance of the recognized sage, "Maine Sail", on the topic, as budget allows. I have some of the tools pictured here and I use them all the time. Anyway, I stripped and crimped new wire to that found in situ, and puzzled over how to get it through three bulkheads to the relevant AC panel in the pilothouse.
The nature of a custom-built boat is always going to be a little ad hoc, but labelling these leads would have saved me some trouble.
Job one is to exit the new lead out of the cabinet above the holding tank to the space behind the cabinetry in the head. It holds towels and related shower stuff, but there's an access panel and two terminal strips on the back of it. The work is tidy and confused and nothing's labelled. That will changer. It's a busy area: the black hoses are the fuel tank vents, which will eventually be rerouted to the centerline onto pilothouse rooftop goosenecks. As for the wire lead itself, it got secured via cable tie and hanger to that wood panel in the upper right of the photo when I had tested the circuit.
The metal pipe is the duct for the heat pump that does cool and warm. That DC lead is not secured properly.

There's some sketchy decisions in view here: The anti-chafe hose for the AC is OK, but I don't actually know how hot that pipe gets and I wouldn't want to risk melting it. The DC run looks both prone to chafe and unsupported. The nylon hose acting as a support for the AC is just jammed into the hole in the bulkhead that contains the heating/cooling conduit. The good news is that the lower hose can take the "new" run from the forepeak and that the rust I can see here is minimal and easily reached with a paintbrush.
This is behind the starboard cabinet in the head. That wire just visible was also hung.
The access panel in the head, plus the slightly dubious if convenient hoses plonked in the holes made for the A/C pipe, made pushing the AC lead fairly straightforward, even if I was working by feel. One of the upside of our boat is that for all its eccentricities, and there are quite a few, access is generally easy and logical. Removing this panel revealed a few rust streaks, but again, nothing not easily fixed. It is about the most damp part of the interior, after all.
At last, the pilothouse: At least the A/C pipe is insulated here, quite close to the MarineAir unit.
I had about three feet to spare, some of which I was later able to pull forward into the forepeak. I shut down all AC shore power, snapped off the charger/inverter and got to work. I started at the "far end", because while cool today, the light was ideal. Recall the forepeak earlier today didn't have light save for what fell down the hatch.
I try to be careful not to nick the interior wires. I am not always successful.
I started by stripping the outside cover and the individual wires to the lengths specified for the 20 amp GFCI outlet. I spec'd this for 20 amp 120 VAC, because it's conceivable that I will do some light welding in the forepeak and the inverter can handle it.

I then labelled the run and put the plastic outlet box with its own strain relief over the run. After securing the wires to the outlet, I would back off the white-covered part outside of the box.
While this outlet isn't "marine", I doubt any of the outlets are, you know, stainless steel. In this box, however, it's protected and non-conductive, which is nice on a conductive boat.

I continued by putting heat shrink over the end of the white cover and clear heat shrink over the paper Dymo label. So far, this has had good results elsewhere aboard.
This is one of those times I'm glad I run a separate 12 ga. 50-foot extension cord to the boat's deck. I walked it forward and was able to run the heat gun without an issue. On Valiente, I had to run the Honda 2000.
I then attached the wires. Two holes are provided, but really, the way the screws turn, you should use the lower on the left-hand side and the upper on the right (hot) side, or so it seems to me, if you want it to curl around the bolt shaft and then get clamped down.
Why, yes, this is my filthy cycling in winter boat coat now 20 years old.
Connected up and shrunk down....

This is connected to the "line" side. Were I to have for some reason a second outlet off this one, I'd use the "load" connectors down by that yellow strip.
...and boxed up. Back to the pilothouse, heat gun and extension cord in hand.
In addition to finding an appropriate spot for this, I may box it in wood to make it look less crappy. I'm only a part-time barbarian.
I removed the appropriate panel. Previous owner work with nasty crimps, mine with heat-shrink crimp bodies and further heat shrink. The last "15A" breaker was available. If I want to go up to 20 amps, I have a breaker for that, but I don't really need to do that unless I really want to weld. I have no power tool aboard that draws more than 10 amps, so this will do.

This is when kneepads come in handy. Write your own jokes.
Same strip, crimp and shrink process, only here I use fork terminals.
That extra three feet of lead meant I could do this part standing, which was nice. I'm working on the helm seat.
Yes, I know "red" is a DC positive colour (or used to be) and "black" is DC negative, but who cares? It's what I had and that's the limit of my wiring OCD.
Crimped and shrunk and ready to be screwed down. Note that I need considerably more uncovered wire here to maneuver around the back of this fairly crowded panel.
Ignore the awful sole. It's getting replaced with teak and holly Lonseal or equivalent.
Done. Before screwing it back, I had to test the circuit. On with the shore power and on with the AC master switch. Then, the fatal flick...
And it was good.
Success! About two hours of wire securing, clean-up and restoration followed and this is still somewhat provisional.
Yeah, you try to find a label that says "forepeak"!
I have some slack I can use to bring the outlet over to the port side, but for the present I'll just tack it to the bulkhead until I can better secure it before launch. I hope to solve the DC issue by then, too, and then I can really start using the workshop as a workshop and just a place to throw fenders and stow line.
Now that I can see down here, I see it's a mess.

Bonus deal!


Thanks to BD Jones of the Dock Six media empire, I heard of a great deall on stainless steel shackles at Lee Valley, of all places, I'm happy to share to my Canadian readers. I went to the downtown Toronto outlet, as one does, and got two rings of "D" shackles and one of the horseshoe type....and the guy at the counter said "wait a minute". He brought out a second horseshoe type (top of photo) that had one shackle missing and...just gave them to me. So "free SS shackles" was worth the pedal to King St. West. At these prices, I can use them for lanyards on favourite tools, flag pennants and the biggest ones are fine for dinghy painters. SCORE! (Also couldn't resist the Soviet-era-looking padlock at the's got such a weird key it might just work!). I later ran a magnet over them and they are definitely stainless steel. To quote Seinfeld, they're real...and they're spectacular.Thanks again for the tip, buddy!


Handy dandy

The skipper has treated himself again.
Over the years, I've had impressively consistent results from Standard Horizon equipment. The original nav station VHFs on both Valiente and Alchemy were ancient, sticky-keyed and staticky relics and, although I replaced the radio on Valiente with a perfectly good, if non-DSC, ICOM M45 unit, (it's still working well and was sold with the boat), my subsequent desire to have a handheld VHF led me to purchase a Standard Horizon HX260S shortly thereafter. I hadn't heard of the brand when I started sailing back in the waning days of the 20th century, but I liked two aspects of 260S model that were relatively new at the time: it could be submerged thanks to a screw-down gasket and it could operate on either NiCad batteries or a supplemental AA "battery tray" one could keep in the "ditch bag". That tray corroded years ago, however, and the now over-15 year old 260S barely keeps a charge. But it still works, and, as most boaters on the Great Lakes will admit, they tend to use a handheld, five- or six-watt VHF in the cockpit to monitor Channel 16 to a far greater extent than they transmit on the more powerful (25 watt on the high setting) usually kept down below.
Simple but rugged and took a number of direct splashes with no ill effects.
So while there are cheaper VHF handies, and the brands Uniden and Cobra come to mind in this regard as decent "budget" options, I haven't found ones I like better in actual usage than Standard Horizon for thir combination of ruggedness, performance and feature-sets, which admittedly is a matter of taste given that almost all the major brands work well as VHF radios.
Apparently, this is still being sold. It's perhaps the funkiest of our VHF handies, given its size and random functions, like tinny classic rock reception.

I realized at some point that I wanted each member of the crew to have a VHF, and, at the time, that just meant Mrs. Alchemy, as the Cabin Boy was too young to muck about on air. Digital Selective Calling (DSC) was coming in, and although it would be some time before I got an MMSI assignment and started to explore this way of making a radio into a sort of phone as well as a greatly improved way to issue a distress call, I thought having a DSC handheld would eventually prove a plus. Standard Horizon obliged with a puny powerhouse, the multi-band HX 471S model. It seemed fearsomely advanced to us at the time, as it received AM and FM, Aircraft and WX bands, and transmitted on VHF, MURS and FRS (Family Radio Service). While I've never had a use for MURS, which seems dead in the water in Canada, I have used the short-range, low-powered FRS in conjunction with a pair of Cobra FRS units we got for anchoring practice. There's no radio etiquette demanded of this band that I know of, and unless you are a few docks over, it doesn't travel very far, unlike VHF, which I have managed to get six to eight NM of range with handheld to base unit. Anyway, the tiny 471S, while it didn't float, could take a splash well enough and was compact and light enough to be the handheld of choice for clipping to PFDs and taking into tenders. It's still working and will be gifted to Cabin Boy this season, who will need to take his Radio Operator's Certificate soon, as well as get his (mostly symbolic) PCOC.
Came with a strobe function, another nice add-on I hope never to use beyond "test mode".

Speaking of which, as he is now 15 and taller than his mother, the crew complement is now three, which argued a few years back for three VHF handhelds. Enter the SH HX 850, and back to floating handhelds, a real advantage if you've dropped the radio in the drink even once. Larger even than the old 260S model, if lighter, this featured a basic lat/lon GPS unit aboard, which I have used to report from the cockpit  to the Coast Guard various hazards to navigation, such as trees in the water or other debris. Even the 471S had a limited, charging cradle method of getting GPS info into its DSC distress calls, and I find this a useful and prudent adjunct to our handheld VHFs. This unit has seen the heaviest use aboard, as on Alchemy we are generally either on the aft "sailing" deck, or, when motoring or in pelting rain, we're in the pilothouse using our base unit VHF, of which I've given details before. Despite its girth, I have liked the big clear screen and (to me) simple menu options. I also like that Standard Horizon's "high power" setting is six, not five watts, which has never seemed to drain the battery faster, but has given slightly improved range to judge from anecdotal evidence and a bit of field testing.
And it's got the alkaline battery pack option.

With the "retirement" of our oldest handheld, however, we were down to two, although both were now DSC-capable. The Toronto Boat Show incented me to pick up Standard Horizon's latest whizbag model (ably reviewed here), the HX 870S, which was not only a great price, but which offered a $40 rebate. The screen is bigger and brighter, and the GPS is far faster to acquire a lock than the HX 850S, the strobe appears to be able to be seen from orbit, and so far, I think the sound quality is better. The GPS function is enhanced beyond lat/lon; you can use this unit as a compass and can easily note SOG and COG and distance to waypoint and can easily enter marks, such as harbour entrances..quite "handy", indeed. While this is admittedly little better than my still-functional Magellan 315 handheld GPS I got circa 2001, it's a great thing to have in a VHF, and the 66-channel GPS receiver is superior to the dedicated GPS. Even walking around my house, I can see I'm making one knot to windward. Another nice aspect is the waterproof USB port: you can download a program and input or extract data from the radio or use it as a GPS. Given we are going to be using PC-based navigation at least in part, this is another "belt-and-suspenders" navigation bonus. Interestingly, whereas the old 260S's optional alkaline battery pack took six AA batteries (adding greatly to its weight), this model takes just five AAAs...and still floats! The only downside is that on alkaline batteries, the transmit power is restricted to "low" (one watt). Otherwise, it's fully functional. Here's a better "unboxing review", courtesy of Waterfront Vacations, than I could have made:
So now all the crew have VHF-DSC handhelds. All are from Standard Horizon. I seem to have developed a preference.


Achieving attainable cruising and obstacles to that goal

Yacht piracy, 2016: Down, but not out.
Is cruising getting easier or harder? That depends on where and how one cruises.

In terms of rescue technology, safety at sea and tangible benefits such as making one's own power,  the sailing is fair, indeed. In terms of the chance that your vessel will be dogged by red tape, corrupt officialdom and crime, kidnapping or piracy, not so much. The high seas may be free, but clearing in and out of countries can still be a bureaucratic nightmare...and may be, in a world growing more hostile, be even harder ranging to impossible.

"Hot spots" for crime against yachts and yacht owners in the Caribbean in 2016 (c)
In a recent post on Attainable Adventure Cruising, site owner John Harries penned an opinion piece on clearing customs and immigration, a process mostly orderly in his experience as a cruiser, but one, in light of certain political developments he sees as turning nationalities against foreigners, can cause foreigners to become
"...vulnerable to the bad-apple Immigration officer whose worst instincts are encouraged by arbitrary orders and rhetoric from on high. For in places where people with perfectly valid documents, including visas, are being turned away simply because of where they were born, we can never be sure that we won’t be similarly singled out for some arbitrary reason."
Although Harries received some pushback from what I perceived were politics-weary Americans, he's got serveral trenchant points when it comes to visiting countries with law-dodging, authoritarian regimes. We are daily seeing how xenophobia and bureaucracy are self-reinforcing tendencies, and that even the properly credentialled can be dealt with arbitrarily and seemingly on a whim when confronted by an overly zealous border guard. Or, one presumes, customs official or port authority functionary. Like the Canadian of evidently insufficient paleness stopped at the U.S. border, we are not Christians, nor would I surrender the contents of my phone to some functionary were I sure it was not required of me by law. Word get around about such places. They are better avoided than debated with, even though I would hope their own citizens challenge the erosion of the rule of law, if they are able to do so.

For services rendered? Some places, this is the reality of cruising.

To fail to consider both the politics and societal factors of a country to which one intends to sail one’s home (and, often, one’s dearest possession) seems to me unseamanlike, unwise and willfully naive.
Unless cruisers intend to go non-stop, the quality of the stops will be largely determined by such issues as the rule of law, the rate of crime/social disruption, and the level of tolerated or institutional corruption.
Collect the entire set while the data therein still holds.
We are already planning our circ and hope to leave June, 2018. Firstly in the planning stages, we consult Cornell and the Admiralty pilots to determine favourable times for passage. Sadly, climate change (which is felt often more keenly in the tropics than in, say, Canada) is gradually making pilots less helpful as “unseasonality” picks up.

Don't leave port without it.
After that, we read and other resources that gauge the parameters discussed in Harries' article, including degree of corruption, xenophobia, and unreliable application of the country in question's laws. Too many “fails” means we won’t be going to a chosen port or country by boat because (mainly) of the perceived lawlessness of the country or related issues with crime. I choose not to be a victim, but rather than the “showdown” approach evinced in some cruisers' minds, we simply won’t stop at some places. Nor will our dollars. That, in some places, is part of the problem: in poorer countries, a yacht, even one of modest proportions and kit, is a bobbing pleasure dome compared to the squalid conditions ashore. Resentment of affluent sailors is nearly guaranteed. How one wishes to deal with that is an individual choice, as the decision to visit an interesting place as a rich (everything being relative) Westerner is going to be tricky in many places.

Realistically, this conclusion increases the need for independence from the shore: energy, food and spares storage and meticulous maintenance gain in importance when one cannot take for granted the civility or safety of every port available. I doubt it will actually shorten our plans for a five-year circ, but it will likely increase the time we spend between longer passages; New Zealand looks good on a number of points in this regard, particularly as a place to haul out for service “mid-circ”. The shortwave radio and occasional internet access will be of great help in speccing out the next area or countries we visit. It’s not all glum news, mind: a sharp reduction in Red Sea piracy has restored the option of “South Africa around the Cape or the Med via the Suez” to our prospects. But we remain watchful. A lot could change by the time we are, say, reading pilots in Galle, Sri Lanka.

We also believe that it is very possible that deteriorating political, economic and climatic conditions will make world cruising in the near future perhaps too difficult for the person of only average affluence to contemplate. Fixing up a boat, selling up and sailing will persist in places like the Caribbean, but we suspect we might be in the last cohort to actually be able to do this at a parsimonious price and as a family. Which means what people like the Smeetons and the Hiscocks pioneered in the 1950s and '60s, when cruising in small yachts was a far less supported pursuit in nearly every respect save for the ease of sourcing tinned butter, may be drawing to a close as a lifestyle, which I find sad, frankly. Bribes we can tolerate to a point, but a country that abandons its own laws will not see out sails on their horizons.


Space, the final two floors and time, for some more changes

The stairs less travelled. While I had my office up here during a brief window of tenantlessness, we've never actually lived in the top two floors of the house. We sure have laboured up there, however.

Well, the last tenant has moved out and dust bunnies remain. We wanted to give them their notice in March or April, but they jumped the gun on us and gave their notice for the end of January. So at the cost of a prospective two or three extra months of rent, we get to move upstairs in winter instead of right at boat launching time (end of April, 2017). Frankly, I would have preferred the money.

This is a boat-refitting blog. Why am I discussing a house, and not, say, the recently past Boat Show? Well, it's simple. I took no pictures at the Boat Show, because there was very little worth recording. I went twice for a total of five hours, and while I bought the new almanac, as one does, it was mostly a reconnoitre operation to determine some purchases I could soon make. Reasonable terms were secured, delivery to come.
Acquired, reasonably, and with a $40 U.S. rebate, which is nice.
I ordered a Standard Horizon HX-870 handheld VHF. We have three crew on the good ship Alchemy, and we should all have our own handhelds, given the double tender configuration. Mitch Kitz, the wunderkind electronics guy from Genco Marine, where Mrs. Alchemy was working for the duration of the Boat Show, was of the opinion that the ICOM M93D was superior, mainly due to the more straightforward interface. But it was well over $100 Canadian more expensive; featured no rebate; had a smaller, not as crisp display; could transmit on six, not the standard five, watts, which I have field-tested with the mothership and have obtained seven miles or so of range; and had no included second battery tray (a feature I like should we have to take to the life raft). I am familiar and undaunted by any SH interface I've yet to encounter (this is my fifth SH VHF of both fixed and handheld varieties in 18 years); and the radio can be PC-programmed via a mini-USB port and software downloaded from Standard Horizon. Given that I would much rather input my MMSI and make other changes via a computer keyboard than by mashing soft keys on the radio in the correct sequence, this was the lock on the deal for me.
The upper galley: compact yet functional. Note departed tenant crap left behind in the derapturing.
Back to the house: While I rarely touch on the topic of finances, it's of great interest, naturally, to many considering pushing off from a dock with intentions of staying that way. Our house has been a key component of that equation from the financial side, and it's probably helpful to potential cruisers to understand in what manner and in what form that may continue. Perhaps a timeline conflating house and boat affairs, also known as a "highlight reel", will help:
  1. August, 1998: During the only year in which we had three incomes (my wife's job at a charity for wildlife rehab and my two as a graphic designer by night and an internet service provider marketing manager by day, we bought a semi-detached, late Victorian house bigger than we required and the lot of which opened onto a park with the intention of renting out half to pay down the mortgage. We had about a 25% downpayment in hand and we suspected we were at the bottom of the market as the price changed from $199,500 to $214,500 during negotiations...heh, I nearly walked away. Would have been an error, that.
  2. April, 1999: Management/ownership changes find me out of my Internet job. I get $15K in "shut up and go away" money. Great job, Internet! I have my graphics gig, my wife's income, which is paltry but helpful, and tenants' rental income on which to fall back.
  3. May, 1999: The future Mrs. Alchemy and I join the National Yacht Club on an eight-week "learn to sail/introductory crew" course. We enjoy it so much that later that summer...
  4. September 1, 1999:...we buy a Viking 33, changing the name from Dolphin to Valiente, for occult reasons. Sailing in earnest and in Lake Ontario commences.
  5. Summer 2000: I blow up my first Atomic 4 engine by neglecting to open the seawater inlet. An odyssey commences of small engine repair, rebuilding and installing. Much is learned and some cost is dodged. We continue with what will be five years of crewing on club race boats. I learn many sailing tricks and tactics that we incorporate into our cruising, which gets considerably more efficient. Meanwhile, I have two Atomic 4 engines rebuilt and installed. Don't ask.
  6. September, 2001: Our son the Cabin Boy is born. Terroristic acts of appalling brutality follow. I try not to draw any false corollaries. We take him out on his first sail at the age of five days.
  7. November, 2001: My mother dies at 68. My father, 10 years older, is devastated. Life is short, but can still surprise with its capriciousness and brevity.
  8. Summer 2003: The 1940s-built (insulated with newspapers, which is how I know) "mud room" off the kitchen starts collapsing in earnest. We pop for a replacement and I act as a labourer and stupid-question generator for our contractor. That and spacing out the build over bits of his spare time mean we come in at budget of under $10,000 for our "breakfast nook" and I learn a great deal about wood, cement and triple-glazed windows. More sailing happens.
  9. January, 2006: Thanks to the mysteries of double mortgage payments (most of our income blended with most of the tenant rent income), we retire our house debt. We note that our house is now valued at approximately twice what we paid for it, but as we have no plans to sell (I dislike the house for its age and layout, but like it for its vast brick garage (a former stable in which we have chosen not to keep cars) and its central location, but with a park adjacent, which has been very nice in terms of natural cooling (we have chosen not to have air conditioning, or cable TV, or vacations other than on Valiente). A pattern is noted of purposeful thrift established not only because of relatively modest upbringings, but also because we never really stopped living like students, even with a child, and we had both declined to participate much in the consumer economy. Our house, save for the modern computing gear required by my trade, is filled with castaways, hand-me-down and elderly tech, although the wine cellar's pretty first-rate. Over said excellent wine, a plan forms in our seventh season of sailing: should we go long-term cruising? Perhaps even around the world? Despite describing it as a "fiscal and learning sleigh-ride", I obtain agreement from the future Mrs. Alchemy and the search for a suitable vessel begins.
  10. July, 2006: After plenty of review, contemplating and searching in places as separated as Washington State, France and Panama, we locate a custom-built pilothouse cutter in steel named Alchemy. We mortgage the house afresh in an environment of further declining interest rates and learn in the process that it's now worth nearly three times what we bought it for. Our mortgage is therefore only 40% of the house's value. With most of that, we buy Alchemy. We now own two sailboats and no car. How silly of us. We return to having tenants. They pay, as has been the case for most of the time in this house, the mortgage payments. We, having the boats in hand and big plans for one of them, cease to double the mortgage payments, but still do a lump-sum, end of year payment when we can.
  11. October, 2006: My father dies at 81, ostensibly of cancer, but observably of a broken heart. He was a professional sailor, and I am a recreational one. He started in war at just short of 16 years old because his home had been blown apart by bombs; I started at 38 because of reasons of fun. So the link is a touch tenuous; nonetheless, I claim it. Dents are made in the mortgage.
  12. March 21, 2007: I'm a writer and a sailor, so I start a refitting blog. Frankly, I was hoping to have left by now. Because the blog exists, I can skip large chunks of the intervening years. Those interested can simply consult the list to the right.
  13. June, 2007: I spend a week in Portugal, of which two and half days are spent crewing on a coastal delivery from Cascais to Vilamoura. This is my first delivery, and my first sail in salt water outside of Channel ferries and other nasty vessels smelling of duty-free booze. My skipper is Alex K., one of the finest sailors I've ever met, even if he is a racer. I learn a lot and value the opportunity, even if hand-steering, alone, under power around suspended fish nets at dawn with a three-meter keel and bulb in unfamiliar waters was nerve-wracking. It was also seamanship building.
  14. January, 2008: The first of many "big ticket" purchases necessary for the refit of Alchemy are made, including a four-bladed feathering prop, a windlass and a FilterBoss Racor fuel setup. The dilatory nature of my refit has been discussed elsewhere; in my defence, I will note that a paucity of mechanical skills have had to be overcome, and, at the risk of tempting hubris, my installations to date remain fully operationable. Not bad for a guy who took poetry instead of shop. Only the windlass is still in its box and I expect to install it prior to April this year.
  15. June, 2009: Mrs. Alchemy does the same Portuguese delivery trip, but has livelier weather. We have done deliveries separately for some rather hard reasons: if things went pear-shaped, they wouldn't leave our son an orphan.  We also believe that it's important when co-owning a seagoing boat to maintain parity in our skill sets and seamanship, while (we hope) having some differing experiences that expand our collective knowledge.
  16. November, 2009: I crew on a 12-day delivery from Virginia to USVIs aboard a loaded Bristol 45.5. The weather is, shall we say, lively and I learn first-hand about staying tethered, interesting ways one can use an SSB, the notion of "clear-air squalls", how to use radar to see rain bands and many other points of interest I use to the present. First encounter with the irrational officials keeping the U.S. safe from personal flotation devices.
  17. July, 2010: I crew in the Lake Ontario 300 race. Successively stronger squalls plaster the fleet and do damage, leading to about a third of the participants retiring. I see 68 knots for the first time, which trumps the high 40s I saw on the Atlantic. Can't say I enjoyed it, but the seasoned crew helped and no one panicked. In fact, a crew of skippers was funny in that the first thing all of us did at dawn was to circle the decks, looking for damage to the stays, cast-off cotter pins or other signs of imminent failure. It was the only time I've enjoyed mime.
  18. December, 2010: Having noted that the cost of the rebuild of the 25-year-old Westerbeke W-52 that came with the boat would exceed the cost of a brand-new Beta 60, we opt for the latter, despite the cash hit. While there was more expense in the form of AquaDrive, various custom weldings and fabrications, and a shaft and its accessories, the entire re-engining came in under $20K Canadian, with which I am well-pleased. And, having grounded hard last fall and redlined this thing successfully to get off a silty sandbank, it was money well-spent. I have a great deal more confidence now regarding motors and their care and feeding.
  19. May, 2011: After a ridiculous amount of labour to get the aluminum pilothouse roof unstuck from the steel pilothouse flange, because it had been glued there with evil 5200, the old engine and water tankage is hauled out and the new Beta 60 engine, which was ordered with some custom features, is lowered down into the boat. A great deal of further effort, fabrication, measurement, more fabrication and assembly required follows in order to make it live.
  20. June, 2011: Mrs. Alchemy does a delivery of an Ontario 32 from Bahamas back to Lake Ontario. Huge mechanical failures means the trip ends with a tow into Charleston Harbor. Many lessons are learned: as they say in science, an experiment which disproves the hypothesis (in this case, I would argue, that one can cruise without refitting for 11 years and expect major bits of the boat to still work) is as valuable as a proven one. 
  21. August, 2011: A stainless steel "solar arch" is fabricated and is hoisted into place. Later, I will learn that I made an error and only two of the four solar panels will fit when the mast is actually back in. 
  22. Winter/spring, 2013: In several discrete steps, the engine is brought to life and hooked to a spinny thing at one end. A temporary diesel source provides the not-to-code means to run the engine.
  23. April, 2013: I learn that the ability of a running grinder wheel to negotiate a curve in a steel keel tank top is limited at best and my left leg still has some interesting dings to prove it. This is simply the most vivid of the many self-injuries I have incurred over the last 10 years. To me, the most annoying thing about my own blood is how it makes the pliers it tend to coat harder to work. You've got to stop and find a length of goddamned gauze.
  24. April 28, 2013: After a few years cradled in a parking lot, Alchemy takes to the water, without, gratifyingly, taking on water. Further and only apparently endless improvements follow at dockside.
  25. November, 2013: Underprepared due to work, I take an RYA Yachtmaster course in Brittany. Informative and intensive as it is, fatigue and a blithering moment that has me confusing European buoyage means I don't pass, which is disappointing, but I resolve a) to study more now that I know the nature of the training, and b) to not try to skip rungs on this particular ladder.
  26. December, 2013: I put Valiente up for sale. More futility and cost will follow.
  27. September, 2014: After several months of spare time devoted to cabling, fuel issues and electrical connection, I start the Beta 60, in place, in the water, three years, four months after first lowering in into the boat.
  28. October 22, 2014: First dynamic test without the mast in. Flying colours are passed. The engine works gratifying well. I drive the boat into the slings at Haulout a week later and note the more superstitious sailors of my club crossing themselves at the miraculous sight of a self-propelled Alchemy.
  29. Late October, 2014: I take a less-ambitious RYA Dayskipper course in Antigua and pass, even though the first day was postponed due to a surprise hurricane during which those present had to try to fend off and secure leaping sailboats. New record set of "winds experienced" of 88 knots. That wind is enough to knock me, a man of substance, to all fours, but the real danger is flying debris capable of braining the unwary.
  30. Winter, 2015: The services of a yacht broker are engaged to sell Valiente. Result: zero. Annoying, that.
  31. May, 2015: Launch. Ability to motor retained. Still sailing Valiente while trying to sell Valiente. This encourages me to keep her appearances up. An estimated 40 separate visits will be made to check out the boat. Despite some enthusiastic chats with potential buyers, nothing is concluded.
  32. July, 2015: Fuel system redone. Fuel filters installed and tanks inspected. Old diesel found still usable. Gratitude is expressed.
  33. September, 2015: After another summer of labour, installation, sail repair, wiring and prepartion, the mast goes in, the sails go on and sailing operation are resumed successfully. Felt very good, it did.
  34. Winter 2016: A new mainsail is ordered and is fitted in the spring. Works as advertised. We find ourselves thinking of reefing lines for the first time in ages. Valiente's skinny IOR-style main never seemed to call for reefing.
  35. April, 2016: The mast is put in right after launch. Sailing commences in between multiple other improvements.
  36. June, 2016: The last of the Return of the Mortgage is converted into a line of credit at a low, favourable rate (the bank loves us because we keep coming back). Said line of credit is being paid off at a lower rate than the mortgage was to a) free up a few hundred a month and b) in anticipation that it will be brought to zero after the sale of the current house yields funds. 
  37. Summer, 2016: Six big batteries are lowered into a new space made for them and are installed. Much crimping. Forearms expand and heat gun blisters multiply. Nav lights, dead for years, obligingly glow.
  38. December 2016-January 2017: A proper welder/fabricator having been (finally) found, a new engine bay hatch is delivered and a new companionway hatch and alterations to the solar arch are discussed. Further wiring run. New traveller installed. A decision on the radar is made.
Man, what a list. Looks vast when I just touch on the more significant points, doesn't it? The sharp-eyed will spot that the pace has quickened. This is a natural outcome of the hard work put in but also a token of the time I've needed apart from a freelancer and a father and a landlord and a husband to work, largely alone. But I can't complain. My son's now a teenager about six inches taller than his mother and therefore of greater use aboard than had we left sooner. Also, he doesn't need glasses (yet), which is fairly unusual in our collective gene pool.

My god, it's full of bedrooms!
Anyway, after a very digressive few paragraphs, back to the house. Paying off our mortgage via tenants has meant we've lived in a more compact space (ah, but the garage!) than was strictly necessary. But it's made us selective about the furniture and frankly, tight quarters has "pre-trained" us for the eventual liveaboard life we will pursue. 
You will know your tenants by what they leave behind. This will be my son's Fortress of Voice-breakage
Such fiscal liberation has kept me from pursuing a day job even through some lean times, and even at full bore on the freelance front, I have more hours to spend aboard than I would in just about any office gig. That's been worth a great deal to me, and not having to commute (save by bike and cart to Mississauga for boat things) has no doubt kept my questionable sanity from further erosion.
Life with closets, instead of IKEA armoires or racks, will be something I haven't actually had since 1993.

The plan now is to clean and occupy these top two floors in order to buff, sand, tile, polish, plaster and paint the dreadful area in which we've lived for 18 and a half years and which, being occupied by us, has seen little care, either tender or loving. It's not a slum; I've always been on top of needful plumbing, heating and electrical repair, but decor has not been seen as a pressing need. But it shall be, because as part of the Drive to the Sea, we want to sell this place and move elsewhere.
Useful, but aimed at the child-free, pre-aged crowd.
Now, the "sell up and sail" option is so prevalent among the cruiser set that there's even a book (well, there's more than one) about it. But we've concurred several points (oh, Neptune, not another numbered list!):
  1. We want to maintain a foothold in local property, despite its currently ridiculously bubble-like cost.
  2. We want to do this so we have a pied-à-terre here in Toronto, consisting of a basement flat and nearby garage in which we can store our pared-back possessions and movables, and have a place that isn't a hotel in which to stay as needed. Mrs. Alchemy's parents are both alive and in their 70s, but we are talking about sailing for five years starting in 2018. We may have reasons to "drop back in".
  3. We have a perfectly good house from which to extract the rent from two flats already, but that means no pied-à-terre, and no place to store our stuff. Well, maybe the garage, but it's hardly four-season-ready and there's no plumbing and rudimentary electricity.
  4. We determined that less rent, but from just one tenant or pair of tenants, would be easier to manage. We also determined that a smaller, newer house with a separate entrance to the basement and some form of lightweight property management would be the least painful way to get a couple of grand a month to pay for rum and diesel.
  5. We've determined that the arbitrage between our current house and our prospective house in the inner suburbs will yield a nice cruising kitty, which means we will be less reliant on rental income while on passage.
  6. So tarting up this place for sale means moving upstairs. That starts today. I will need a lot of boxes for my books.
The sleigh ride is picking up speed. One's allowed to shriek. Thank you for putting up with the long read, those who've gotten this far.


Wind, light, time and warmth

The view from the side deck, Jan. 22, 2017: This is the opposite of usual and even the waterfowl seem nervous.
I'm not sure I'm the only Great Lakes sailor to be baffled by the absence of ice in a protected basin on January 22nd of any given winter. This is usually thickly iced, often to 30 cm. or greater, if also often cracked from the surge of the lake coming through the gaps in the sea wall into large pans.

Last night I hoisted a pleasant beverage or two with fellow sailor and blogger Brian Jones (Dock Six Chronicles) in the context of his amusing yet helpful Facebook group, The Low-buck Yacht Club. It's a place to exchange tools, tips, techniques and gear choices with other sailors who concur that the second-worst thing after abandoning ship is parting with money. That doesn't imply the neglect of mandatory purchases, or even choosing the cheapest (so rarely the best) option; it does suggest that boat gear and hiring others to install it is expensive, often unreasonably so, and alternatives to just raising the cost of cruising per mile to thin-air levels involves both constant vigilance and crowd-sourced wisdom. Hence, Low-buck YC, your virtual talking shop for smarter-assed cruising.

It did occur to me, however, as I cycled down to the waterfront pub in which Brian had convened about a dozen Toronto International Boat Show attendees, that I was wearing a T-shirt, a pullover and my somewhat venerable boat club fleece jacket. No windbreaker, no toque. My concern while cycling was fog, not cold. This is uncustomary for the third week of January in Toronto.

Typical local winds. Image (c) Meteoblue.
Speaking of odd weather, anyone else notice the excessive number of days with east wind, sometimes strong, over Lake Ontario? The prevailing W to NW wind is there, all right, but I have (without verifying this through research of the historical wind roses, mind) noticed, as one does on a steel deck, a greater incidence of easterly winds year-round than I once noticed. I will research this further and report back, not just in the context of this lake which we will leave behind, but in the context of world oceanic weather, which is recorded in pilot charts going back centuries. They can't predict the weather, of course, but they do given historical probabilities of how much wind from what direction may be expected at any given time of the year. They aid the cruiser in making broad planning and routing decisions, but, being an average of decades and decades of recorded data, if the last 20 years or so were at strong variance with the pilot chart's cumulative data, it would take decades for the numbers to reflect, say, a seasonal wobble in the trade winds, or the failure of monsoon seasons to establish themselves, individual years being such a small part of a pilot chart's assumptions.
A light to guide me.
From pilot charts to pilothouse, the not-wintry, if not exactly shorts-wearing weather did prompt me to spend my Sunday afternoon wisely, i.e. boat jobs. I like to charge the battery bank as often as I can in the winter and I always have something I should be doing; today was no exception. While rooting around in the fall at Genco Marine's bargain shelves on one of my frequent bike trailer expeditions to Mississauga, I found some discounted lighting fixtures, including a warm white LED array on a gooseneck for $10. So, to the sound of classic rock, which I only play while splicing, heat-shrinking or bolting things together, I ran some 12 ga.from a spare circuit breaker up the wire loom that supplies the VHF and, some modding with a Dremel later, I had a not-overbright, amp-sipping helm light bright enough to also illuminate the battery box and the engine bay. If I change my mind about the LEDs, there's an identical 10W halogen-bulbed fixture I got at the same time, although I'm thinking that would suit in the galley.
I'm quite pleased with this, as its appearance in subsequent blog posts suggests. Note the temperature on the baro.
I next mounted the clock I bought last week. It looks very fine to my eye, ticks not loudly but pleasingly and we'll see if I can further zero in the rating as it was running slightly fast in my "home" test. The venerable Speedtech barometer, seen here but long discountinued, has been reliable as hell over the decade-plus I've owned it, and reported 9C/48F in the pilothouse this afternoon; I didn't bother to run heaters for the first time since haulout. Less reliable as previously reported have been the battery clocks this one is replacing. Fingers crossed, we'll have a good time together.

Next up: the boat show. I made quite a dent in the installation list this year, but there's more yet to do before casting off in earnest.