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Garage sail

For those interested in the decision to opt for a nesting dinghy instead of the usual cruiser's choice of a RIB and a 9.9 HP outboard, here is the Niccollslite NN-10 nesting dinghy I ordered a couple of months back. It's made from Barry Niccolls in British Columbia.

It arrived last week and now that I am recovering from a nasty head cold, I decided to put it together in the garage.

It is a relatively simple operation. The whole boat weighs under 100 lbs., and both ends can float by themselves. Four large screw-in fasteners do the trick, and the two pieces more or less "click" together under a fibreglass lip. I have a three-piece mast, and a main and jib, as well, but as it's taller at roughly 5 metres than my garage ceiling, I've left it packed until I go sailing.

As you can see in the pictures, it has a centreboard with sail controls mounted, bronze tholeplates, several small cleats and a nice kick-up rudder and sturdy tiller. I suspect I will sew bags so I can lash all these pieces into the nested boat.

It's easy for me to handle: in fact I attempted to walk it home using a hand truck (I don't own a car), but my cold was rotten so I ordered a taxi van and stuffed it in the back.

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How to haul a boat properly

This little sequence illustrates something unusual, at least for us this year: How to remove a boat from its natural element without damaging it.

As the photos clearly show, it takes a large number of middle-aged people with sticks, a very large crane, a minimum of A.M. alcoholism, and a steady hand on the digital camera.

1) Deep heavy is it? (The answer turned out to be 29,500 lbs., 500 lbs. less than the skipper had guessed to satisfy a space on a form.)

2) You don't say? This calls for more deep thought.

3) Right. Raise high the chalice!

4) A quick look confirms the anti-foul seems to have worked.

5) The push-stick, the steel boat and the tourist trap: A senseless conflation of photographic composition, really.

6) This single individual is doing almost none of the lifting. Quite something, physics, isn't it?

7) Safely down, and nothing damaged. Anxiety....receding....


Latest issue of Power Boat Illustrated!

Here's a provisional (updated May 15, 2009) plan showing my current ideas (no pun intended) on redoing Alchemy's electrical system.

Missing are some of the various conduit runs and any learned suggestions cleverer sailors than me care to make.

Some of this is already in place. Some (like the inverter, the genset, the solar panels, the wind generator, the isolators/combiners, the DC outlets, and the controllers and displays) are yet to be purchased, or yet to be installed.

The location of the bulkheads is accurate and to scale. I am leaning toward installing two 75 amp alternators (I have a two-groove power take-off) because that provides quick bulk charging plus redundancy when I actually run the engine to make power (which would usually be only when motoring). A general sense of physics as it applies to diesel power take-offs leads me to believe that two belts pulling opposite to each other might be easier on the crankshaft.

Some points of interest, for those tedious drones who like this excruciating level of detail:

The overarching goal of this set-up is one week of energy independence from either shore power or the need to run the engine merely to supply power. Pollution, cost and noise concerns aside, running a diesel at anchor to charge batteries is wasteful, inefficient and wearing on the diesel, which "likes a load on"...don't we all? Far better to schedule a reason to run the engine while pushing the boat once or twice a week for a few hours. Keeps everything lubed and cleaned out.

The start and the windlass batteries will be the standard deep-cycle flooded cells. The house bank will be AGMs, approximately 840 amp/hours in capacity. I'm leaning toward those Northstars, but, like the NN10 dinghy (see upcoming post), we seem to be rather lonely in that opinion. UPDATE 2008.02.03: Popular and generally expert writer Nigel Calder waxes poetic on new breakthroughs in AGM-style design that allow for rapid charging and greater cycling. Click on "Breakthrough" at this link:

The start battery will be charged by the alternator(s), but switched to draw down from the house bank or to be charged from the Honda EU2000 I will purchase. I do not know yet if I require separate regulation for each alternator.

The house banks will be charged by the solar panels and the wind, but will draw from the alternators directly or via the Xantrex RS 2000 inverter charger when the start battery is at capacity.

My solution to the problem of never dipping below 80% capacity on the house bank is to a) ensure that my refrigeration is extremely well-insulated (I believe it is quite good already), and b) to throw as much capacity as required to accomplish this. The house banks are out of the engine compartment due to cooling, wire length and access concerns. I am prepared to alter the saloon companionway stairs to create a large battery box. A simple cross-brace and block and tackle can then lower the batteries directly into the compartment, which will be positively vented.

I have yet to decide whether charging the windlass battery should be done via a charger plugged into the inverter (wasteful but convenient and avoids a 25 foot wire run), or via the generator directly. How to "patch in" this isolated deep cycle battery well forward is still a question in my mind, as is the proper way to distribute power from multiple sources (such as wind, sun and alternators simultaneously when motorsailing).

Any suggestions are welcome before I go spending more money and electrocuting myself.

It's good to have friends with a nice eye for a photo...

Almost looks seaworthy
This is our baby at dock. You can hardly tell I haven't powerwashed her in six weeks...Shot by David George of Somersault I


Not even at sea yet....

...and already the mutinous behaviour begins!

The sort of things you discuss with a boat's designer

Northstar AGM battery usually used for telecom backups, but a nice form factor for me.

Below is an edit of an e-mail I sent to Phil Friedman, the designer (some 25 years ago!) of Alchemy and exactly one sister boat, which P.F. kept for himself. It gives a sense of what we've been up to in the planning and gear departments, and some queries that I am making regarding some physical changes I wish to make.

Mr. Friedman:
I thought by way of piquing your interest in your now 19-year-old "baby" that I would give you periodic updates as to our modifications and our observations.
We are enjoying the boat and are in the process of making many changes in preparation for distance cruising, among which are the cutting of a hatch in the forward collision bulkhead at the foot of the starboard sea berth in order to pass into the "workshop" without going on deck. This hatch will be as high as is practical, and will be fully gasketed and dogged, so as to preserve the watertightness of the bulkhead once plugged at the limber holes, which would be standard practice on passage.

A box aluminum engine room hatch with a gas pivot, multiple SS and brass grab bars, mounting chocks for a nesting dinghy, a "Dutch door" companionway hatch upgrade, a set of dorades, a Charley Noble for a diesel heater, gasketed hatches for the saloon and aft cabin, a head sump, a helmsman's seat and the replacement of most of the carpet in favour of teak and holly flooring is also going to happen.

Perhaps the most radical idea I've had, although I have since learned that it is not a new idea, is the construction of a pair of vent manifolds, one for the diesel tanks, one for the water tanks/anti-siphon loop break, tapping into vertical brass poles terminating at pilothouse roof goosenecks. Both manifolds would have stopcocks and drain plugs for maintenance and isolation. The logic of this is not just because we need handhold in the pilothouse, but because so many ofthe problems I note with engines and water supplies on long-distance cruisers are traceable to downflooding of the tank vents when heeling. This makes me question the wisdom of having vents anywhere near the rail as is customary. I noted in Ian Nicholson's book,
Small Steel Craft, that running the vents "high and centered" was at one point quite common, as was the practice of shutting off the exhaust outlet to the sea when not under power.

I am also running 120 VAC/12 VDC forward and will be installing a Xantrex RS2000 inverter this winter just below the saloon stairs. In the electric systems line, I am upgrading to a 130 amp alternator to replace the stock 55 amp Motorola, which I will keep as a spare. I am also having a bimini/arch constructed over the sailing helm in order to mount three 130 W Kyocera or BP solar panels, and to provide much needed shade. Also much needed here is a second throttle/shifter, as pilothouse-run dockings are a tad tentative.

To this end, and because the aft cabin design you specified was not followed closely, we will be rebuilding the aft cabin this winter to put the double bed athwartships, rather than fore and aft on the port side. This will free up space for communications equipment, a small library and some built in cabinetry, and will obviously allow use of the bed on either tack. Taking down the "ceiling" will allow access for autopilot installation, throttle cable installation, SSB antenna tuner installation, 12 VDC and power conduit to and from the sailing helm, and finally, the installation a six-foot Garhauer triple-block traveller to replace the inadequate Harken version with "car stops" instead of blocks and line. I will have to have the Garhauer "I-beam" carefully bent to match the camber of the deck, and will have to through bolt the existing holes carefully to maintain the current water-tightness of the deck.
I will be purchasing three or four 8D "slimline" AGM batteries

provisionally these puppies:

and will be putting them under the saloon floor very close to the CG point of the hull (more or less just below the mast). These batteries have a form factor akin to that of a "tower" PC, but narrower, and will give about 630-840 AH of capacity. I feel getting all but the start battery out of the engine room will keep them nice and cool, and I don't think the weight down there will hurt at all, a point I will return to shortly.
We will haul the engine this winter for an evaluation for a top-end rebuild. Too little use, rather than too much, over the last 19 years is the issue, as some of the rocker and valve components show signs of corrosion. This engine has a mere 1300 hours on it, 250 put on my us in the last year as we have used the boat a great deal more than the previous owners, who seemed a tad "dock-bound".

I am installing soft mounts and a universal coupler and am having a thrust bearing welded in to reduce vibration and to lessen the shock of shifting with our new 19 x 15 four-bladed VariProp, which I hope will lessen prop walk, gain us some speed under sail, and will exploit the diesel's power band more efficiently. The VariProp can be pitched differently for both forward and reverse operation, which I hope will be of use in tight docking situations.

We have also ordered a Voyageur Wind Vane, giving us both a "motor autopilot" with a ComNav head and hydraulic ram, and a "sailing autopilot" that is purely mechanical and uses the tiller head.
We are doubling the plumbing system in the same spirit, with Whale footpumps to supplement the Flojet pressure water system. We feel this will save amps and wastage offshore.

Regarding the water tanks, I have a question: They are (reportedly) 100 U.S. gallons each and are currently mounted beneath the pilothouse deck on either side, with approximately 20 or so inches of space to the turn of the hull beneath them and perhaps one foot of space either side of the engine compartment hatch.

I have noticed a couple of issues and I would like to solicit your feedback, if I may: 1)
Alchemy seems "tender" at dock and heels perceptibly when boarded amidships. I have found that this is directly related to the fullness of these tanks. 2). The tanks flex audibly in a seaway. I filled them prior to leaving Port Credit Yacht Club on Thursday, and on starboard tack in six-seven foot waves, they "rumbled" when motorsailing with staysail only off waves and pitching some 20 degrees with 15 degrees of heel. While I don't think this is dangerous (the tanks are steel), I think it may indicate they are not internally baffled. Another piece of information: There is a SS 40 gallon "holding tank" keel mounted directly beneath the engine that is not currently in use (a 40 gallon HDPE tank is under the nav station cabinetry just forward of the head instead), nor is it currently filled.

While I intend to install a purchased Filter Boss dual Racor system in the compartment in order to convert this otherwise superfluous tank to a 40 gallon "polished" diesel day tank (and thus to increase my total fuel capacity to 140 gallons), could it be that part of the perceived tenderness of
Alchemy is due to the missing 40 gallons of ballast at this point? As I am removing the engine this winter anyway in order to change the fittings and access at this tank (and to make it pristine, frankly), I have no problems filling it with water ballast in the meantime. My question regarding the water tanks is this: Given that there is a lot of "dead space" beneath these tanks, is there any designer's objection to having them dropped to the frames directly beneath them? The tanks would have to be remade to conform to the curve and chine at this spot, but I would both feel more comfortable with the tanks fully supported on the frames, accessible from the top for inspection, and to remedy any missing baffle issue. Also, I suspect lowering them would increase initial stability and stiffness. The freeing up of usable space for spare chain and gear ABOVE the tanks would be icing on the cake, as it is diffficult to access the space below them now. Sorry for the length of this, but frankly you are the best person with whom I can discuss this. and I would appreciate your thoughts on this if you care to share them.
I think I'll follow up with a phone call. These decisions require some professional insight: I'll pay him or another designer to get it right if I have to.

Damage report

Scroll down a bit and you'll see how a procedural error at my launch from a public marina nearly cost us the boat. We didn't find this damage until late June, accessing a rarely viewed locker. I believe this impact evidence corresponds closely to the position of the cradle pad that took the brunt of being dropped, avec bateau, on the road back in May.

I am "in negotiations" to have what I hope is merely fractured paint surveyed and remedied. I want to make sure that if the plate itself was damaged or weakened structurally, I don't learn of it falling off a Southern Ocean wave.


Certain objections to our plans...

It's come to my attention that some fairly experienced sailors of my acquaintance hold that taking children out of their shoreside routine of friends, schools and society may be detrimental to their development. While this may be true in some cases, particularly where the parents are, to be frank, self-centered, I hope this isn't to be the case with my wife and myself. In many respects, our proposed trip is as much about what we hope to provide our young son with by way of worldly experience as it is for ourselves and our own ambitions.

To reiterate: My wife and I are in fact proposing to do a circ during the five-year stretch (2009-14) when our boy will be between the ages of 8 to 13. If we were to find it detrimental to his development...or even if we just found we didn't like it...we would stop, but whatever the outcome, we would plan to be quite sociable with other cruising families. In fact, we will seek them out. We also intend to stop once or twice for school terms in foreign countries so that our son can retain a sense of what a typical schoolroom is like. We understand that after two to three hours of "boat schooling" per day, one-to-one, he may find this a bit of an adjustment, but we hope that the cruising lifestyle will accustom him to the two-headed beast of both routine and novelty.

It must be noted that even though our boy is currently just short of six years of age, he is very aware of environmental issues. We have discussed fairly frankly, if by necessity in a simple way, our desire to show him the world before it changes, which we believe will happen in our lifetime, and his. He is aware that we are going as a family, not that he is going on Mum and Dad's adventure as spare crew.

Yes, he will not have a "typical" North American upbringing. Neither my wife and I had a particularly typical childhood, and we have some strong, if sometimes differing, criticisms of how our society (Canadian, comfortable, conformist) elects to raise kids, particularly children coming from the upper middle class to which we belong.

We hope that being able to dive on a still-living reef, being able to fish and cook his own dinner, being able to speak other languages, being able to see how other peoples live and being self-reliant enough to help his folks run a small voyaging boat will compensate, if only in a small way, not knowing the latest Nintendo games, not getting driven in an SUV to soccer practice, not getting barraged by commercials on TV and not rotting of boredom in a classroom where the aim is not to convey knowledge, or to even learn how to think critically, but to "feel good about oneself" and to "cherish diversity". Meanwhile, we keep our children infantilized with crap merchandise and crap ideas, until puberty, at which point we bombard them with sexual imagery. Either way, I think this is a culture that hates its youth a little bit, and that this hate is expressed through marketing-driven morality.

We are stupid and literal parents, really: We think the best wayfor our son to learn about "diversity" is to expose him to diverse things, places and people. We think the best way to teach him to think critically is to get him to make the wind and the waves and the creaks of the boat his mentors in judging when to reef and when to run off. We think the best way to learn of the world is to travel it, and we are working extremely hard to achieve that goal as a family.

I am shortly purchasing a sailing dinghy that a nine-year old will be able to assemble and sail. I am doing this in part because I suspect that by the age of nine or ten, my son will be responsible and mature enough to visit other boats by himself, and to stand a half-watch in the daytime. By 13, assuming we haven't killed him and ourselves through our horrible and abusive parenting, we may have a decent, self-reliant and confident young man, who can make a case for leaving the boat, or for continuing with his tedious and foolish parents. We'll just have to see, I suppose, if we can wring a few minutes of actual fun from this Voyage of the Damned we have planned.

My kid is learning to swim and to speak Spanish...more or less. His nautical terminology is improving. Next summer, he'll take Junior Sailing courses in a fleet of Optis. He already is "personalizing" his sea berth and is showing a great deal of interest in helming. He is starting to "own" the idea of world cruising, which is gratifying and terrifying, because he has a vague but persisting expectation that we will leave shortly before he turns eight. Daddy has a lot of work ahead of him.

Whether he'll survive his parents' neglect and abuse by absenting him from the rich pageant of affluent first-world culture is another matter, I guess.


A salt-water virgin no more

I recently had an opportunity to crew on a short delivery from one part of Portugal to another. As I was completely lacking in salt-water sailing experience, and as the brevity of the trip fit into my schedule, I went to Portugal to get on a custom 12 metre (40 foot) racing sled...only to find less wind than on a typical Lake Ontario summer day.

This is offshore from Cascais, Giulietta's home port, looking east "up" the river to show the nearly continuous development of the coastline from Cascais to Estoril to Lisbon. Alex, the skipper, kept saying that Portugal was a poor country, but it's hard to tell looking at this stretch of coastline. You can just make out that all those beaches are blanketed with large-breasted young women eager for "English lessons".

Alex is a man of contrasts. These shrouds are possibly thicker than the 5/16th 1 x19 ones on my steel cutter, but his backstay is a 1/4" of Dyneema. Alex should buy shares in the company that makes the stuff.

Note the prebend: it didn't really come into play on this light-air sail day.

Everyone works on Giulietta, especially the children. Here we see the nine-year-old Fred, Alex's Optimist-sailing son, putting in a reef line that, in the nature of things, turned out to be utterly unnecessary. Note that Alex is not only a fine engineer, but a handy stepladder.

This is fairly typical of the Portuguese coastline: high, vertical and twisted by glaciers and seabed uplift. We passed this cape (which begins with "E" but I can't remember the name) and the more famous Cabo Sao Vincente/Cape St. Vincent, scene of a Napoleonic sea battle second only to Trafalgar. These would not be friendly waters to a ship-rigged man of war: the whole coast is rocky, subject to currents and usually a lee shore. Alex commented on how unusual it was to have such benign weather...and by "commented" I mean muttered curses in fast Portuguese and tiny tweakings of obscure sail control lines, of which there appear to be 20 or 30 on his boat.

This is Sines, our first overnight stop, or "nap", considering how we worked until 1:30 AM and left at 5:30 AM. It's a traditional fishing village (with a huge set of refineries nearby!) built into the side of the cliffs with a big and clean marina in the harbour. Vasco da Gama was born here, and a few days later I touched his sepulchre for sailors' luck in the chapel of Geronimos in Belem.

I recommend the restaurant we found, and can confirm that Alex can demolish a half kilo of barnacles in ten minutes and still promote the virtues of Portugal without chipping a tooth.

A grainy but representative shot of Giulietta by night at Sines. This is when we all thought we were going to bed. Little did we know that Alex's concern for his wife's night vision meant we were going to help him install spreader lights for the next 90 minutes. Any man willing to cut off the circulation to his legs and genitals to bring light to his wife is very much in love, I think.

The other Alex, aka "Lead Head", here shows that while the typical Portuguese crew has little use for PFDs and harnesses and other wimpy North American affectations, nothing is more important underway than good grooming and a fetching pair of clown pants.

This is the former "end of the world": Sagres, where Henry the Navigator planted the seeds for a brief but memorable phase of Portuguese world domination. This place is so critical to the Portuguese psyche that they named their best beer after it. Alex promised us "a washing machine" of rough seas here, but to his infinite disgust it was more like ginger ale bubbles. We did touch 20 knots of wind briefly, and the swells were three metres here. That got the kinks out of my back.

A fleeting episode of real, engine-off sailing occured south of Sagres. We finally got the foredeck wet and hit 11 knots of boat speed, but it didn't last long and Alex ended up using a fair bit of the excess diesel the dock guy put into his tanks at Cascais (pronounced "Cash-ki-eesh" with a very long "i", by the way..Portuguese vowel sounds are tricky!).

Vilamoura Marina: 1,000 boats and dozens of hotels and hundreds of luxury condos. It's a hard life, but someone has to live it. Tom, an American who also decided that hooking up as crew with Internet acquaintances wasn't completely insane, and I wore out a lot of shoe leather around here walking from the town up and to the east down into this swanky place. For a sailing man, he's got beautiful legs.

Giulietta's summer dock. Note the comparative shortness. I think the Portuguese consider long docks somewhat unmanly, because they don't allow strangers to properly admire one's polished bows. Alex got a double slip to himself, because the original assignment was 10 cm. narrower than his beam, or so it seemed to me, acting as a human fender. Anyway, it's a sweet place to hang out in the summer and is surrounded by restaurants and good looking people with nice manners.


Misanthropic musings on technology and its discontents

On a message board I frequent, one poster was commenting on the increasing isolation he feels in his small town due to technology, or rather, his failure to participate in the broader culture because he and his family don't watch television. Being not much of a "joiner", I could sympathize, but I don't necessarily buy into the vaguely Luddite sentiments expressed.

It's not so much the tools as the toolmakers, or probably the job site. The creation of post-war suburbia, and the cessation of walking most places, has fostered this sort of isolation. I live in the middle of a large city, and I don't own a car. I have a TV, but it has "rabbit ears" (I used to be a TV critic, so I do know what I'm missing, if missing is the right word). I have purposely limited the normative exposure to certain technologies (car, cable TV) in favour of different choices. While this was once driven by sheer financial strictures, now it's primarily a straight-ahead decision not to participate in "car" or "TV" culture.

These decisions can easily lead to both social isolation and smug bastardry, I will freely admit. I bicycle or walk or take the streetcar (trolley to some) that stops outside of my house. I work alone from home, so I try to chat with people if only to get out of my own head occasionally. In fact, my wife calls me one of the friendlier misanthropes she's ever met, not that one gets to meet many misanthropes, I suppose. But I like people one-on-one, but I tend to want to avoid "humanity", particularly the band leaders in the parade of stupidity, ignorance and factionalism that constitutes a lot of what we laughingly call public life in North America.

But it's an effort for me, although I doubt that would be obvious if you met me in person. And I think it's an effort for a lot of people, because (and this may seem a strange observation) of the decline of formality in social interaction in the last 100 years. I'm all for a blurring of the social distinctions that used to see poor people "tipping the hat" to their "social betters", but these days everyone is on a first-name basis and one is expected to immediately go to an informal mode of speech and to pretend that strangers are in fact dear old friends. The use of "Mr." and "Mrs./Ms." to refer to business acquaintances, one's childrens' teachers, service people and social contacts is nearly extinct, except with health professionals and in law courts, and I think this paradoxically isolates people by forcing an artificial intimacy at times.

I would argue that technology, on the other hand, when actively and creatively used, is a great tool for communication. I have, for instance, filed copy to magazines and newspapers for nearly 20 years now, and done so from home since 1990. It's been a very productive choice for me to work from home, because working in an office can be a bit of a waste of time. Frequently, I find time at the oddest spots in the day (I am writing this at 0600 hours on a Saturday morning), and am able to knock off in two hours the work that would take me a full day in a noisy office. And if we factor in the cars I haven't bought, and the gas I didn't burn running them, I feel better about the occasional motorsail with the 50 HP diesel!

I used to be a letter-writer, as in pen to paper. Now I use e-mail and I've started this blog to keep track of my progress on getting our boat ready for long-term cruising. While it may serve only as a warning to others, the fact is that I've read so much useful information online from other cruisers, either preparing to go, underway, or recalling their adventures, that I felt obliged to "give back a bit". Also, the proper use of communications technology will allow me immense latitude while on board to receive helpful information, such as GRIB weather files, chartplotting information, e-mails, educational materials or "distance learning" for my child, and to stay in touch with my rather modest family "back home". It will also facilitate making a living while underway, as well as the usual financial transactions that are hard to imagine doing via stamps and paper these days.

I would say, therefore, that the technology is not at fault so much as our inability to edit the gush of information those technologies bring. Choosing active (like message boards, web pages and e-mail) over passive forms (TV, movies) helps, as does a willingness to "turn things off" and an ongoing engagement with the natural world around one. As another poster pointed out, achieving a balance is the goal, and although this balance point will vary from person to person, it's pretty clear when it's been reached.


"The Loaner"

Here is the dilemma (and I am painfully aware that my dilemma of "one too many sailboats" is absurdly trivial): I have, with my wife, a new sailboat. See below. If it is not destroyed and our health, will and money hold out, we want to go to sea as a cruising family.

Nice, eh?

I had a boat already, a boat suited not for cruising the South Pacific independent of marinas and fuel pumps for weeks at a time, but a classic plastic racer. Think "MG ragtop" versus "Land Rover equipped for safari". This boat I had bought myself, and largely repaired myself, and certainly sailed alone a fair bit. And, sentimentality aside, it was and remains a near-perfect boat for the sort of short-haul cruising and daysailing I have tended to do on Lake Ontario. The new boat has attributes of a different, more oceanic kind: it needs more than 10 knots to get going, and points less well even as it goes downwind rather better.

So I thought: "Well, the sensible thing would be to sell it. You can get a nice radar and a pair of those purple Crocs for the new boat."

But when has owning a boat been about the sensible thing?

So I thought further, and realized that if planning for a five-year circumnavigation represents the victory of hope over experience, I might as well emulate the late Chairman Mao and harvest crops not yet budded. I decided to keep the old boat, but to give it away.

Quite the head-scratcher, isn't it?

Here's the plan: I find a person willing to take on the running and storage costs of the boat (club fees, dockage, insurance, winter storage and its maintenance chores), and sell the boat to him for an agreed price. Then I don't take his money. Instead, I become a lien holder for the entire amount, and for a fixed term (until my projected return). He becomes the go-to guy for insurance and fees, and in return gets the use of a boat he can race cheaply. At the end of the term, I can reclaim the boat, sell it to him for the previously agreed price, or if he doesn't want it, sell it on the open market and give him a commission of that price.

This allows me to maintain a real hold on a boat that I am essentially loaning without the difficulties of being called back from the ends of the earth if a crane drops it on someone's head, which would be the case if I were a co-owner, and not a lien holder. As a lien holder, if an insurance claim is made, the cheque goes to me. On the other hand, if the fellow who's borrowing the boat tires of it or want to bail on the deal, I can simply take it back or attempt to replicate the deal elsewhere. It's "please drive my car while I'm away" writ large, or a type of lease of the "no money down" variant.

The fellow in question is a decent sailor who already owes an eight meter race boat, and who also happens to be our general contractor. I have no fear that he'll maintain the boat. I also intend to maintain it myself (protecting my interest, so to speak) in the two years until we go. I also intend to keep sailing her on occasion, just so I remember how to work a tiller now that I've got two hydraulic wheels with which to play. There goes Valiente now, the wee boat in the to a new berth three miles west. Mixed feelings, yes, but relief also that keeping two very different boats won't play havoc with our finances and divide quite so radically my boat-altering attentions.

My hope is to eventually get Valiente back in 2014 or so, and to sell Alchemy in Europe as a "proven design". My fellow cruisers think I'm delusional, anticipating that I will ever go from a comfortable pilothouse cruiser back to a cramped and frankly Spartan racer that will be over 40 years old. Perhaps my fellow cruisers are right. I spent several years getting Valiente the way I like her, however, and I feel she's an ideal boat for the kind of sailing we do around here. So this is a blatant attempt to have it both ways, I suppose, and hinges on an improbable set of circumstances.

In this way, it's quite like the idea of encompassing the world.


The old girl

While both myself and my wife need to acquire salt-water sea time before we depart (as crew, probably on deliveries...more on that later), we aren't entirely new to the sailing game.

After adventures in the world of the late '90s, I unexpectedly fell prey to a management change and lost my job. This wasn't the tragedy it might have been, as I also had a pretty decent freelance designer and writing business on which to fall back. And the compensation, or "go away and shut up" money was generous, so much so that instead of doing the sensible thing of someone rounding middle age might do, such as buying a mini-van or paying 9.2% of the remaining mortgage, I bought an old sailboat.

This is Valiente, a 1973 Viking 33 cruiser-racer built by Ontario Yachts. I bought her with my "compensation" on August 31, 1999. The next day, we learned of the death of Doreen Valiente, a British author my wife and I admired. Add to that the fact that Valiente is Spanish for "brave" and also is easily understood over the radio, and the choice of name was easy.

This boat, while a year older than the missus, is quite fast and is strongly built. I've had her out in 40 knots of wind, and we've cruised Lake Ontario in October in 25-32 knots of steady breeze with a four-year-old on board, so we've had some experience.

I had, purely due to my own mechanical ignorance, some engine problems that led to replacement of Valiente's "Atomic 4" gas engine in 2005. I eventually figured out that the exhaust system, and not the engine, was at fault, and replaced that as well. I also hit on the idea of "recycling" modern sails from racers, who will frequently find minor flaws in a sail used to race that won't bother the economy minded cruiser.

So by 2005, I had an old boat with a rebuilt engine, refreshed sails, a new fuel tank, new exhaust system, new batteries and several modifications only of interest to the obsessive-compulsive sailor.

So naturally, we got Alchemy and the process began all over again, although with the new boat (1988), there is much less to redo and undo than on the old.

Still, the fact remains: I own two boats, and yet am not twins. More on how I'm trying to resolve this embarrassment of nautical riches in the next post.


It's not a great day when... slave over your boat all winter and the "B-team" at the marina decides to test the laws of gravity using 15 tonnes of steel cruiser.

And it started out so calmly:

It appears that the trailer guys...who did a great job in the fall...are now DIFFERENT, LESS EXPERIENCED trailer guys who take turns a little wide. I would suggest boat owners never do this. It makes a bad, bad, heart-crunching sound when a loaded cradle falls off a trailer and toes six inches into the road.

You can just make out the touchdown point here:

Eventually, after removing the forestay and about two hours of deep thought and dancing with melonoma, the TraveLift is made to do its thing.

...which it can only do by lifting the cradle with the boat...

Amazingly, no actual boats were harmed in the performance of this stunt (although, my cradle got a bath). After checking for leaks and for engine/shaft misalignments, we proceeded four hours late to our home club.

And now, if you will excuse me, I am going to have a jumbo-sized Dark and Stormy. My nerves are shot.


How to spend a boatload of money

A mere portion of what I decided was necessary to purchase this winter for future installation on the vessel. As previously mentioned, while there is plenty to do (and to buy, evidently), there is not a great deal to undo, as the boat simply lacks some things to make it more than a really overbuilt lake cruiser.

1) Xantrex RS2000 inverter/charger. This is sized to handle the output of any combination of solar panels, wind generator and Honda 2000 genset I might decide to employ to charge a prospective three 8D size AGM battery banks.

2) Lofrans Tigre windlass: This will go in the anchor well on a steel mount, and has both enough pulling power and the manual option to handle all our current ground tackle. It will be powered by a separately charged flooded cel battery I am going to install forward, not only for the shortest possible run of wire, but because I like the idea of recycling the "nearly new" current house banks, and a flooded cell of sufficient capacity for a windlass would make a good start battery should the AGM system back in the engine room fail.

3) The third photo shows the anchor well wherein goes the windlass. I am leaning away from my original (and more common) plan of cutting a hawse pipe into the forepeak so I can stow chain below. I like the idea (and it's a drier one) of simply flaking the chain into the well, which makes it easier to see and to clean. I am debating putting some sort of clamshell doors here to give me a place to stand that isn't on the chain in fair weather. In foul weather, the anchor well increases safety when working forward on either of the forestays.

4) This is the new prop feathered, a VariProp D-107 19 x 15 feathering model. I won't even tell you how expensive it was, other than to allude to the fact that friends with steel boats and AutoProps (more on them later) swear by them for low-speed control of the boat, optimal engine performance, and the gaining of precious knots under sail (when feathered, the drag is minimal, gaining in particular boat speed in light air...a sore point in a metal full keeler loaded with provisions!). I also chose the VariProp because you can change the pitch in the water without dissembly, and you can select differing pitches for forward and reverse gears, allowing maximum stopping power, if desired. Having seen boats similar to Alchemy get docked with the sort of precision seen with minivans snagging narrow mall parking slots, I was persuaded...

5) Same prop in all its glory. My mind rejoices, but my wallet aches.

Rust never sleeps on a steel boat, part 2

We launch Alchemy May 7, and there's some stuff yet to do to the hull. Some "rust bubbles" have appeared where the barrier coat seems to have failed. While I intend to have the entire hull laid bare and fresh primer and barrier coat put on before we go, there's no reason not to fix these particular spots now with a grinder, a "flapper disk" sanding wheel, and some rust-binding primer.

We will be using this stuff on the recommendation of the previous owner and others: (you can download the PDF if interested). Three tacky coats of that later, we'll apply Pettit Premium ablative's only good for a season but suits Lake Ontario until we redo the bottom entirely and switch to a "hard" antifouling for tropical waters.

I'm actually looking forward to this job as it's been difficult to do much on the boat over the winter due to the distance (by bicycle at least) to the storage yard, my work load, and the fact that the weather has been fine when I've been working and awful when I've been free.


Why the Business of Sailing is Unlike Others

I was down at my boat a couple of weeks ago in one of the fleeting moments of neither winter nor spring that has left the local climate and boat maintenance jobs in a bit of a holding pattern. I was there to measure the boltholes in my old and troublesome Harken traveller. There's nothing wrong with it, really, aside from an awkward, peg-style design (see photo), which I dislike and is why it's getting replaced by the estimable people at Garhauer with a continuous block and tackle, "variable" traveller set-up. I may recycle the track as a pole lift for the front of the mast, which is currently so free of penetrations as to be considered virginal.

Garhauer is a relatively small company that makes very good and comparatively cheap blocks and tracks and other deck gear using the oddest business model I have yet to see. And if standing on a cradled boat with a tape measure in a late winter Toronto half-gale isn't romantic, I don't know what is.

Anyway, I had ordered a new traveller in January at the boat show from an elderly, mumbling gent with no signage over his meager booth aside from a tiny piece of card with the word "Garhauer" on it. This was loosely lashed over a church basement type of folding table covered in shiny blocks and beckets and complicated, spinny things that make sailors go "ooh". And the prices are half that of the "big names". So this old fella is Bill, the president of the company, and he takes my order on a carbon copy form of the type I last saw in the '70s. I suspect there was a wee tray into which the scrawled orders were stowed until the exodus for California was over.

Six weeks later, I get a call from Guido, the man who will actually fabricate the traveller. He says, in an accent that is more Milan than New Jersey: "You have four-inch centers on a six-foot track listed...but how far in should the first bolt hole be?" "I dunno...good question", I reply, hence the bicycle trip some miles away to the dank and muddy marina.

I phone back to California and ask for Guido, who is busy polishing something large. Eventually, I give him the required information. He *then* says: "So, do you want quarter-inch bolt holes or 5/16ths?"

Jesus feck, I'm not going back again until Monday. "Make it 5/16ths", I say, "Bigger is better and as I can drill a bigger hole if needed, I can't go wrong with 5/16ths. We are intending to go offshore..." Guido seems on his game. It's certainly the personal touch, all this carbon paper and Guido-quizzing. And I suppose it's why I keep buying their gear. Hence the provisional endorsement (I haven't seen the traveller yet!):


Navigational musings, or "spot the sailor"

A clever, prudent navigator of the old school recently posted on a sailing forum that "generally, it is assumed a given that ships do not go down in benign conditions". To which I replied that "Greek cruise ships in broad daylight in flat seas mowing down reef-mounted fixed nav aids excepted, I guess". Excuses? While it's easy to play at Armchair Admiralty, this sounds weak even to a freshwater sailor:

The difference between a navigator and a navigational aid is profound and vast, and I suspect that sometimes our reliance on admittedly wonderful and convenient technology causes us to fail to "internalize" what might be described as a "positional sense" (where am I? how far am I from other objects? how long will it take to get from here to there?) that is critical for real-life navigation. Coastal pilotage, celestial, DR plots, LOPs and just looking out the damned window occasionally engage us physically with our surroundings, whereas an over-commitment to graphical displays with no reference to the vast hull filled with machinery and passengers below us can divorce us from such useful instincts.

Boats can be made safer and navigational aids are now many and in the main, accurate (until the power goes out). But can skippers be made smarter? The test cases are sometimes discouraging.


Rust never sleeps on a steel boat

...but I knew that going in, didn't I? Although this shot was taken in November, 2006, the boat looks about the same now that winter is largely past, save for the sub-zero nights. Launch is May 7th, which means we have about five weeks to tend to certain jobs that fall under the heading of "periodical maintenance". A steel boat is a wonderful thing, and is more dynamic that you might expect something so seemingly inert to be. Part of that dynamism is expressed via corrosion: steel boats want to rust, and the only way to fight the rust is to attack it directly via grinding and removal, chemically via special primer paints and epoxy barrier coats, and protectively via bottom paints that act as much to protect the barrier coat as much as to keep the boat from being an increasingly sluggish mobile home for barnacles, weed and terribly misguided remoras.

There are small, orange rust bubbles on certain spots on the hull. My friend and in a way my sailing mentor Capt. Matt, who also has a steel boat and a usually well-informed opinion on such matters, is suggesting that it's a "gas bubble" caused by a chemical reaction of the zinc-based galvanizing of the bare steel. The solution is to grind the coatings off, to reprime and to recoat with epoxy, essentially sealing the surface in a sort of plastic coating. You lay the barnacle-discouraging paint atop this epoxy coat.

I had planned to repaint the anti-fouling this year anyway, but now is as good a time as any to get on with what will be the price one pays with a steel boat: keeping on top of the rust.

Suggestions and techniques and secret recipes are welcome. I probably won't get at it for another week or so until the daytime temperature favour the "kicking" of the barrier coat.


View from the Sailing Helm, July 2006

A day of dubious wind and my first solo sail in Alchemy. I was very much still "checking things out" and so kept the main sheathed for a very basic motorsail.


Lost and Found at Sea...or at least Lake.

I said I wouldn't succumb to the temptation of starting a blog, because the potential for self-indulgent wankery and time-wastage is high. But it did occur to me that not only would it be handy to have a place to record my thoughts as me and my family prepare for a life at sea, but getting feedback from others on this very topic might be....educational.

I've also come to the realization that I personally have benefitted from reading of the experiences, trials and hard-won knowledge of other sailors who have already boldly gone, etc. etc. So this is a way to participate in that process, and perhaps to give something back.

So when I have spare moments, I'll attempt to explain to whoever dares read this just why we are bent on taking a mid-life sabbatical without benefit of years of salty seamanship, or the plush excesses of a lottery win, or with little prospect of employment underway.

I'll try to explain why we are taking our small son, and what we hope to show him of a world that has the potential to rapidly change during his lifetime.

And I'll try to give the benefit of my small but growing experience on how those who stumble onto this site can consider this life path for themselves. Hint: Bring money. There is plenty to do, but thankfully, not a lot to undo. The boat is sound and up to the task, we sincerely hope, of travelling the world's seas in a measure of comfort and in a good deal of safety. The rest, of course, is up to the crew.

Details of the boat:

S/V Alchemy is a Canadian registered yacht of steel construction, with a pilot house and a cutter rig. She was custom designed by Phil Friedman, N.A. as a "Kodiak 41" and is hull no. 1. Phil himself has hull no. 2 and that's all that have been built.

We are the third owners. The fellow who had her built in 1988 sold her in 2002 to a fellow who worked in a chandlery and used his employee discount to good effect. We bought her in July, 2006, when changing life circumstances put paid to the previous owner's dream of going south. Unusually for a vessel so obviously constructed not for freshwater daysailing, but rather for the open ocean, Alchemy has never seen salt water, having spent her 18 year existence on the Great Lakes.

Length: 41' 10" feet LOA, 31' 6" LWL
Beam: 12 feet six inches
Draft: Five feet, eight inches.
Displacement: Approximately 29,500 lbs. light load (full fuel tanks, empty of water and much gear), probably 33,000 lbs. fully loaded (Metric to come).
Engine: Westerbeke W-52, 52 HP engine.
Prop: 18 x 13 three-blade fixed...shortly to become a 19 x 15 four-blade feathering.

That's all for tonight. More to come.