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End of the year thoughts and decisions going forward

After a long gap in the late fall filled with seemingly endless paying work (as opposed to boat work), holidays, birthdays, familial stuff, and extremely prejudicial weather from a boat-fixing point of view, I am back with some final thoughts of 2008. Yesterday I was down on the boat in blowing wind retarping the pilothouse. Much on my mind (besides hanging on for dear life as my fingers gradually froze) was the likelihood that the best thing I could do for our plans would be to keep the boat on the hard this summer instead of launching. When I suggested that the need to weld, to paint, to replace tanks, to sound proof, to replace plumbing, exhaust and part of the electrical system, to pull the rudder and shaft, and to redesign and rebuild the aft cabin might be better accomplished ashore in 2009, my wife's face fell. On some level, she understands that having the boat in a parking lot instead of a dock will make many tasks easier (not even taking into account the proximity to the club's well-equipped workshop), but the prospect of a second summer without using The Main Ship is disappointing to her, as it is to me. The presence of a functioning dinghy on board, plus access to the old boat at a nearby club, should help make the prospect of labouring in a gravel parking lot while obtaining sculpted calves via ladder climbing more palatable. So to any readers of this space (are there any readers?), the possibility of fewer sailing shots and more grainy pictures of various marine nooks and yes, even crannies grows stronger in '09. As may be slightly apparent from the rather sad picture above, we got a bit of rust busting, MetalPrepping and two-part epoxy painting done in the very few non-cold, non-raining, non-blowing or -snowing days we had this fall. The silver streak below the waterline is anti-rusting undercoat put on in a hurry after we noticed after we had done the major touch-up work. It seems that someone dinged our boat, likely with a crane spreader, when retrieving a boat to go on a trailer. The lists of "suspects" is short, and I am confident that this was simply an unnoticed scrap by a club member and that I'll get some free barrier coat out of it at some point.

Recently, I read an account of a big yacht delivery (see ) in which the jocular crew recounted all the various "conveniences" that had gone horribly wrong on an ostensibly new, and by any measure, high-end boat. One comment, which seems to typify for me the state of modern cruising, went as follows: "About 200 miles off Hatteras, the feed pump to the Spectra watermaker died… It had worked fine until that point, but we were now suddenly quite low on water a LONG way from our destination, thanks to the fact that the electric toilets on this globe-girdling BOTY require fresh water to flush… Classic example of where modern kroozing has brought us, one has to run a generator to run a watermaker to run the toilets… LOL!"

It's not the freshwater head I object to, it's the need to
make freshwater for the head. I am quite comfortable with the notion of using surplus freshwater to flush heads from a raincatcher or a watermaker or if you've got the complimentary tap at the Port Captain's personal dock. That's great and a rapid application of even an occasional fresh water flush (or a vinegar flush or some other kind of "treatment") is going to do any shipboard plumbing a world of good by killing critters in the works. But the thread of utility and systems simplicity grows thin indeed in my view, particularly if you have the usual flat-bottomed hull of modern "performance cruisers" and maybe 50 gallons of water tankage to play with, and if you have to have a series of electrical pumps to make it all work just like in your shoreside condo.Now, I have 200 gallons of water tankage, and if I throw a small watermaker in there, I might be one of "those guys" who can use a diverter valve to have a freshwater head, if only to cycle through "older" water in designated tanks. More likely, I would keep 50 gallons as "semi-potable rain water" for washing up, showers and yes, even luxury flushing.
Everything on our boat, with the exception of certain navigational and communications gear, is moving in the opposite direction of this particular example of modern comfortable cruising. I have pressure water, but I am going to a second set of taps for foot-pump water. I have a wired hot water heater, but I am plumbing it into the heat exchanger so that we will have "bath day" on "motoring day". I have A/C, but because the amperage to start it exceeds what I can make with inverter and Honda 2000 (well, it might kick, but that remains to be seen), I will generally not use it. The windlass is manual first, with electric backup, and so on. A huge Patay manual bilge pump has its screened pickup lower than the electrical Rule bilge pump, and so on. Keeps the crew fit, I say.

All this isn't a Luddite impulse, but an attempt to have more than one way to accomplish onboard tasks, particularly ones that involve electricity. The reason for this is that without exception in my experience, cruising narratives and boat delivery stories tell of the gadgets that didn't work due to lack of robustness in design, the harshness of the saltwater environment, or because the wiring was just too damn complex to service properly in a pitching boat.

If it is a matter of throwing a few switches and turning a few valves to turn our passagemaker from a muscle-operated workshop to a gently humming den when the appropriate power and water manifest at a dock, why wouldn't we build these options in? It seems quite apparent to me that I can avoid a world of maintenance hurt thereby at very little "inconvenience".
Also recently (what is it about spending the winter on the hard that gets the mind thinking so much about sailing?), I replied to a question asking whether it was possible to be both a cruiser and a racer, as the questioner's experience had led her to believe them to be two separate and borderline hostile tribes.
Now, I have raced, and hope to race again, on other people's boats, as has my wife, but on our old boat (a classic '70s racer-cruiser), and my new boat (a bulbous full-keeler of less-sprightly response), I cruise as if I am racing. In other words, I don't see any dichotomy between racing and cruising, but do see a difference between sailing effectively to the limits of the given design and sailing less than effectively. A lot of cruisers, to put it kindly, don't seem to fully know how to sail, or, if I am to be generous, may know very well but in fact choose to sail in a manner that gives the impression of partial knowledge of the skills to sail well.
I have tacked more rapidly in my full keeler than have sleek fin-keelers nearby, much to the horror of sporty racing types, because I know how to run my boat and because I have a great big rudder and oodles of foresail to use to bring her head around effectively, unless it's dreadfully light air. Will I win races? Hardly. Will I get the most out of the boat and belay the impression that she's just a fat barge loose in stays? I certainly hope so. Any time I hear the crew on an obvious cruiser shout "Ready about?", I know I am in familiar company.

Nonsuch 30s, 33s and 36s (heavily built cat-rigged cruisers, for those unfamiliar with them) are regularly raced around here and frequently win or otherwise rank highly after the PHRF ratings are applied. Go below, and they look like nautically themed rec rooms, however. But their owners know how to squeeze potential into kinetic in their boats, and thus win races. Racing exemplifies sailing at its highest pitch of skill. We can't all possess those skills, nor would we in many cases want to. It seems to me, however, that learning to sail better means the motor stays off that much longer, and to me, if you don't want to use the sails, why did you get a sailboat?
Happy New Year, ye salty dogs.


Engineered: A Fuel's Paradise

Responding to a post on a sailing forum recently, I had a chance to sum up my thoughts, such as they are, on the question of what spares, tools and strategies to bring on passage, by which I mean oceanic sailing beyond easy or timely reach of mechanics, service depots, parts vendors or English-speakers.
What to bring to keep the diesel engine in good order? I would encourage the following ideas: Six months before you go on passage install a new starter and a new alternator. Seal the old, working ones in bags with dessicant and store in a dry place. Six months with a new alt and starter should reveal any issues, like whether you need to upgrade your belt to something of better quality or heftier construction. As for the old, if working, bits, I am a big fan of the "drop in/bolt on" solution: Even in my Lake Ontario Viking 33, I preferred to swap out the water pump entirely than to try to remove an impeller with the aid of dental mirrors and contortion. It is far simpler to carry an entire spare and gasket, ready to go , than to try to do some jobs at sea. This is just my opinion and rule of thumb, however; were I a diesel mechanic, I might have a different viewpoint.
If your diesel is old and has been run seldom, consider a "prophylactic overhaul" whereby the cranks, rods and journals are inspected, the bores observed for scoring, and so on. Boat diesels can and do die from underuse, not overuse, usually...something common on Lake Ontario where the time spent "winterized" greatly exceeds runtimes during the sailing months.
Replace (or have replaced) anything that looks off-spec, and sail away secure knowing that the odds of throwing a rod, etc. are very much lessened. This is also an opportunity to service engine mounts, paint the bilges and to derust and paint the engine a light colour that will show oil leaks.
Impellers can and do fail. Bring several. Consider switching your raw water pump cover to "Speedseal" or something similar that will allow you to avoid bending into a pretzel during a gale. Consider also a high-temperature alarm and a low-oil pressure alarm to warn you if you aren't in the habit of staring at the gauges. I am, and I keep an hourly log of my readings. You might not have an hour, however, if either the cooling or the oil failed.

Bring engine zincs, another "consumable" that can be hard to source.
Bring at least enough hose for a complete replacement, and bring enough hose clamps (aka "jubilee clips") for two complete replacements.
Consider a beefed-up fuel filtering system, as in one with its own pump to pressurize the fuel side without the engine running or one which can polish fuel BEFORE it goes to the daytank.
Invest in a Baja-type filter for your deck fill to get dodgy particulates out before it reaches your tanks.

Consider a daytank, perhaps gravity fed. Rig your fuel and return lines so that the daytank contains x litres of "certified clean" fuel, even if your main tanks are filled with dirty goo.

Consider rerouting the fuel and water vent lines away from the topsides/under the gunnels to higher and drier in the boat. The first three causes of diesel death are water in the fuel, from what I've gleamed. Hence, its primacy over some other concerns, like "bring spare injectors". Sure, bring one, but injectors are not a job I would handle myself...aligning them and calibrating them strikes me as a specialist job.
Consider getting rid of the spring-loaded plunger in the exhaust loop and simply run an open hose high into the cockpit or someplace where the occasional spurt of water will PROVE the pump is working and which cannot fail, sucking water back into the manifold.
Bring spare gaskets, gasket goo and gasket paper of different thicknesses. Frequently, a gasket will fail slowly, leading to a weeping pump and partial loss of pressure. To you, it looks like your diesel's running 10 degrees hotter. Look in your bilge and/or keep oil pads beneath your sump. The location of water or oil will tell you where to look for problems.
Figure if there is any method that will start your diesel with zero battery volts. Practise this method, if applicable, a few times.
Go over the entire engine in situ and figure out how you would remove parts for a regasketing, say, when the engine was cold, hot or when you were in heavy weather. Picture the tools you would need and the steps it would take to do these things. Type up the procedure and put them in laminated pages in your maintenance log. You will find a reason to buy fairly esoteric tools, like right-angle screwdrivers, crow's foot wrenches or socket ends and other single-use, frustration relieving devices.
Start a maintenance log!
Get a single-volume book, like Calder's Mechanical and Electrical, that covers basic to intermediate maintenance of diesels and electrical topics.
Take a basic diesel course. Read and bring this book:

Do all these things, particularly the bits about keeping your fuel free from dirt and water, and you will avoid 90% of the common dead diesel issues. I'm newer to this aspect of cruising than I would prefer to be, but these are my strong impressions having already had to solve a few problems to my satisfaction.


Out and At 'Em

Yesterday was "Haulout 2008", the painful ritual in which one's vessel is hoisted high into the hostile element of air and rudely plonked onto a device with the comforting name of "cradle".

Ours was very nearly the first boat out, being at one corner of the yard, as I had requested proximity to both the crane and the workshop (newly rebuilt and visible in the background of this otherwise grim scene of para-wintery grey.

Oh, how it rained and later, how it rained and blew. Only half the boats got out Saturday, and the crane crews and boat owners stopped hauling Sunday at 11 am when the wind hit 25 knots and stayed there, kicking up three to four foot waves in the channel from which we haul the southernmost two rows of boats (and they tend to be the bigger, heavier, more deluxe models. Tanks like ours are tucked in the back!).

Seen here is the rudder providentially hanging out over the walkway, making it easier to remove it for painting and checking the welding. The other reason to remove the rudder this winter is to pull the prop shaft so that it can be checked for straightness and so that a thrust bearing can be welded for the universal coupling and so the prop can be more easily mounted.

The nuts on the mounts look rough and I might as well have the thing off while I can. I will also debate the merits of plugging the rudder holes: currently, the rudder fills with water that is dramatically shed when the boat is hauled (why is the boat peeing, Daddy?), but it can be left optionally empty or filled with oil. I have heard both things are done, but am unclear as to the reasoning of one method over the other.

During haulout, I got to drive the club's "crash boat", a 20 foot f/g fishing boat with a 90 HP Suzuki on the back. Used normally at race marks or as a base from which to pluck junior sailors out of the drink should a gybe go wrong, at haulout it's used to circle in the Western Gap on the south perimeter of the club, watching out in case people pushing boats away from the unforgiving sea wall (they use long poles with carpet squares) while waiting for the crane slings take a tumble. Yesterday demanded a measure of attention, as the waves were making the boats buck in the slings until they cleared the water, and the crash boat doesn't have any keel to speak of, making the ride rolly indeed.

I've offered to help next Saturday, and so may ride that pony again.


Provisional Thinking, or Your Boat is Ajar

Recently, the question came up on another forum about how to stow food aboard and what food to stow. I have read a great deal on this topic and had many an interesting discussion, many of which centered on "if only we hadn't bought 80 pounds of hamburgers a week before the reefer blew". Anyway, here are some current thought, pun partially intended.

Methods of preservation and stowage vary. Given that provisioning in many places is a bit of a crime of opportunity when it isn't a complete crap shoot (there should be a pictorial dictionary of food in PDF form), you have to be ready to buy not only what you can eat at once, but to preserve what you might fancy more of a month later.

Some favour vacuum sealers, not only for food meant for the fridge or to keep cooked food in suspended animation, but also for spares, gaskets, etc. to keep them free from rust. Others favour "home canning" in Mason jars, with such little tricks as blocks of cheese in olive oil in sealed jars, stowed with plastic dividers in Rubbermaid snap-lid bins. You eat the cheese and then use the cheese-flavoured oil for cooking or salad dressing. Other tricks are using rice grains in spices and salt as a desiccant, and having a 12 VDC cooler for beer/pop/cold water when motoring to save opening the fridge. Not everyone has the space for these Peltier-fan-driven wonders (which frequently heat food if you reverse the plug), but if you use it as a clothes crate when it's not a cooler, you can do the sensible thing and add warm drinks from the stores, sandwiches from the galley and then
fill the day's drinks one time from the fridge, and then put other warm drinks in the fridge. The fridge is then shut for eight hours, you motor along for three, maybe, and the cooler is cold for 24 hours and the fridge is only warming the next day's drinks. The cooler can be made more efficient at the cost of space with 1/2" closed cell foam inserts. Four amps out of the alternator isn't going to kill your battery charging regime, and the key to a low draw fridge (beyond insulating the hell out of it) is to have the contents memorized and arranged so that the lid is open for as few seconds as possible.

Regardless, there are a range of snap-lid bins (you can label them with "dry" or erasable marker) that will more or less fit stringers and frames, and if you look for wide and long spaces with only a few inches of height, you'll find plenty of space aboard. Keep a log or diagram of your stores, and try, as always, to keep the heaviest loads near the middle of the boat, and to organize meals ahead of time so that a week's food is in the topmost, accessible bin. The other thing that seems to be important is treats and snacks...if you have an evening ritual of a hot coffee and a bit of chocolate, for instance, get really good examples of both. This makes the occasional "stew three nights running" periods bearable, and takes you well away from the feeling you are on an endless camping trip. Likewise, choose meals that can be prepared in one pot or pressure cooker for those times underway when cooking is problematic and you just want to add hot water to a package of soup. You can even pour boiling water into thermoses if you expect a bad spell.

Not exactly as pictured!

I've purchased a couple of used Forespar Mini-Galley-type gimballed cookers, one of which I expect to use in the galley and the other in the pilothouse, close to the companionway. Hot fluids of a nourishing or reviving nature seem critical to deck watch effectiveness and happiness, and yet there will be times when galley work is difficult or even dangerous. These will provide safe heating at severe heel, and the smell of hot coffee on a dark foggy night in the pilothouse will be welcome indeed.

Unwanted visitors can be a huge hassle, and short of the obvious screens, mosquito coils and netting, there are the little bastards that get a free ride thanks to land-based assumptions inappropriate to tropical shopping.

Cruisers may want to consider the possibility of weevil, bugs or vermin brought aboard and how to a) prevent that and b) fight it if it happens. The biggest offender here is apparently cardboard boxes in the tropics. I have read in several books that cardboard is left on the pier and goods are brought in ziplocs held in string bags as a weevil/roach deterrent. Others also use "Chinese hat" conical line barriers on dock and even mooring lines (rats swim quite well).

Don't rule out canned goods, but be aware that the glue on the labels will both melt and be eaten by bugs. The traditional method is to strip the label, write the contents and date on the lid with marker, and then varnish the can to reduce rust. Such cans will survive even damp bilges undamaged, although really it's the humidity you should worry about and keeping the boat vented.

There's many books on food prep and storage aboard. Most favour the fairly Spartan approach in that the fridge is something you should keep for specialities, as they can and do fail. Better a small fridge/freezer with a high turnover than something that if it goes, rots a few hundred bucks worth of steak.

Wow, I wrote more than I had intended. Apparently, I've been visualizing my own passagemaker as a vast storehouse of calories. I find it interesting that while cruisers seem obsessed with food, most of them are in pretty good shape, perhaps in part to the calories burned keeping current and archived information handy in one's head as you try to stay aware and afloat.


Farewell to Silverheels III

Ken and Lynn and I met in 1999 taking Canadian Power Squadron courses, of all things. Ken had the experience actually sailing, mind you...he owned a 19-foot Sandpiper named Shortwave that he didn't get to sail enough. Long story short, the pair hooked up (after school studies?), changed Shortwave for Silverheels III, a 35 foot Niagara 35 and when Ken retired in April after decades working at Ryerson University fixing audio-visual equipment and assorted electronics, Lynn had little problem "retiring" in her 40s so that they could take their boat south, date of return indefinite.

While not quite "gone" yet, they plan in the next couple of weeks to dismast at Oswego and take the canal system down to New York City and then to go via the ICW south to Florida and the Bahamas. They have worked exceptionally hard and long to make this dream happen and I wish them, my inspirations, fair winds.

Read all about them here:

Roundabout minus the Red

It will have occurred to anyone with a world map and the meanest intelligence that there are only a few ways in which a sailboat can get around the world and stay in liquid without an ice axe, a parka or a shiny set of deck-mounted missiles. The first two would involve a circumnavigation via Cape Horn, or the Northwest or Northeast Passages, once frozen, now less so, but seas poorly charted and not, as they say, to be trifled with.

Panama, the Cape of Good Hope and the Red Sea are pretty well the remaining choices. The Red Sea has in the last few years been subject to increasingly vicious piratical activity, emanating from either Yemen or Somalia, or some days both.

Transiting this area is dangerous: Yachts travel in convoy and keep the Western navies that cruise these very warm waters apprised of their locations...which is probably quite helpful to the pirates, but we'll leave that to one side.

To miss plowing up the Red Sea, however, means likely foregoing visiting the Mediterranean Sea during the voyage, but I would rather face the storms at the south end of Africa than a bunch of ruthless bastards pointing AK-47s at me and my family.

Because the situation is too fluid to predict for us, who are, in fact, planning a five-year circ, I can't say how omitting the Red Sea as a cruising ground will play out, but my thoughts run along these lines if the area is still dangerous by the time we leave the South Pacific.

Provisional Toronto-Toronto Circumnavigation Route

Year 0 (summer prior to leaving): Shakedown cruise to Nova Scotia in the early summer. Deliberately look for heavy weather in my own "home waters", so to speak. Break things. Fix things. See what works, what doesn't, and get needed sea hours for everyone (me, wife, nine to 10 year old son).

Either overwinter in Halifax to dash south in the spring, or return to Toronto to overwinter aboard (while ensuring the "tenant mix" in the house is correct and I don't need to pay for a new roof or plumbing...).

Year 1: Leave either Halifax or Toronto in early June. Head to Western Caribbean before hurricane season spins up. Try to transit Canal into Pacific by September/October.

Head south via Cocos, Galapagos, Marquesas, Cooks, etc. No need to rush.

Year 2: From Fiji or Tonga, head to New Zealand. Probably stop for six months to explore, coastal cruise and haul out for repairs.

Year 3: Australia/PNG/Torres Strait/South Indian Ocean. See Maldives before they sink; consider Sri Lanka. Go in Mauritius or Madagascar, and if able, finish year in Cape Town.

Year 4: South Atlantic Islands...possibly divert to Argentina/Falklands, more likely go Tristan/Ascension, etc. to easternmost Brazil and then into Caribbean for the leisurely look we missed the first time. Haul out in Trinidad.

Year 5: Head north in spring and do a trans-Atlantic circ after "crossing the outbound path" off New York or Halifax. Go to Ireland, Wales (relatives) and then the Bay of Biscay down to Lisbon to show Alex how proper sailing is done (the odd thing is Fred would be about 19 at this point...). Then to Gibraltar, Spain, Madeira, Azores and across the Atlantic to Bahamas and then back north to New York and up the canals to Lake Ontario and home. Inform one set of tenants that it's time to go, and keep the other set for "cash flow".

Year 6: Haul boat, repair, repaint and remove all personal gear and broken hardware. Sail out the St. Lawrence and trans-Atlantic to Europe (France, Holland, northern Germany), where they appreciate steel boats that have done this sort of thing. Sell the boat, return to pay off the mortgage (I may do this ahead of time just to be done with it, but that means relying more on tenants to supply working money), and either retrieve my classic plastic 33 footer currently on loan, or sell it and start shopping for a Lake Ontario cruiser.

Of course, if I can make money while sailing, I might never return. But I'd probably go funny in the head. Some would comment that this entire enterprise is solid evidence that said head is already in sad shape.


Using the lake as a testing tank

Low-res Wikipic because I can't be bothered to run through my own photos.
I did some "tender testing" today by putting my 10-foot Portabote into the water and putting on the 2 HP 4-stroke Honda (the 12-kilo wonder). I went out into a 15 knot easterly producing both the typical Lake Ontario sloppy lumps and the less common 1 metre rollers due to the longer fetch down lake and the weird waves that curl around the eastern end of the Toronto Islands.

For those in the Toronto area, I went from the Western Gap to the little bay just west of the Humber Bridge, about 4 NM, and back.

I learned that the Portabote "takes the waves" unlike other boats and is pretty stable and surprisingly dry, but that I think it wants a bit more of a load to be more comfortable in a "sea". This is fine because it's the "cargo" tender: my F/G nesting sailing dinghy for rowing one or two people and little gear, while this is a sort of station wagon.

I also learned that the Honda will get me to six knots if I lean forward enough and the waves are assisting. I learned that it will struggle to make four knots into a stiff wind, but it seems torquey enough to plow through the greater than 1 metre waves I was encountering at the mouth of the Humber, as lake rollers met river current to create some fairly impressive wave action from a little 70 pound folding boat with a putt-putt motor.

I also learned that the integral 1-litre gas tank of the Honda will last about 45 minutes (with a 10 minute cushion I wouldn't like to test again) at full throttle. I bought a 10 litre jug of gas, and I refilled twice. The first time, I had just gone in behind the breakwall at the Humber River Bridge, because it was frankly getting a little hairy for me due to the "lake versus river" wave patterns.

Overall, my impressions of the combo were good. The Honda runs like a clock...a small clock, obviously...but it drives the Portabote steadily in conditions I would consider problematic in an anchorage if I had to go more than a NM. The Portabote was great, and tracked well, even if the flexing of the various panels feels odd and I have to get a cushion on the plastic benches. I shipped about a cup of water, and most of that was sluicing off my PFD when I got smacked by enthusiastic lake.


Thoughts on Heavier Weather

Work on Alchemy and work on the house and working for a living have kept me from posting (not that this is a huge priority, frankly), but some recent sailing in the old boat in rather fresh air made me consider how my young son might be acclimatising to the sailing life.

I was out a few nights back in strongly variable winds in the old 33-footer, Alchemy being mastless, engineless and purposefully immobile this summer, and I had a lot of main spilling and gybing to do, as we were just playing with the wind to test out a recut Dacron main, not going anywhere except "five miles that way, and then back the way we came". There was probably the biggest crew (eight in total), I had ever had aboard, thanks to "the steward's" large complement of racing buddies.

I take a sort of pride in gybing the main smoothly in concert with the helmsman's actions, and if you have a lot of crew (like we did), there is no difference from a tack. Not in my view, anyway, excepting of course the possibility of being brained if you are insufficiently attentive.

By contrast, in lighter air a couple of days previous to this trip, I was using the old, crumbling main in lighter air going nearly dead downwind. I used the opportunity to demonstrate to my six-year-old son a "crash gybe" by saying "look at the windex, look at what I'm doing with the tiller, and listen to the mainsail". I showed him the boom gybing out of control (I could basically give it a slap to slow it down), and showed him it at the edge of control, and showed him how to sheet it in to the centerline as I gybed. This was in about eight knots of wind.

Then he tried it and screwed it up, and did it again and did it pretty well. Being about four feet in height, he can't easily see forward without standing on the coamings and using a tiller extender, so conceptually he has some way to go, but he's well-co-ordinated for his age and shows at least some of my ambidexterity, so I would imagine he will put it all together sooner than later. Next year, he'll go into Optimists, as he turns seven next week.

Prior to going downwind, however, we had a bit of fresh air, and he complained a bit about feeling a little seasick and "tired" and basically flaked out in the cockpit. It reminded me that "crew", particularly non-active crew, can find a sailboat's motion disagreeable.

Of course this is always the variable. In 2007, we had a day in Alchemy when we beat to windward in about 24 gusting 28 knots from the east, I estimate, with four- to five-foot seas from the south-east (bending around the Toronto Islands and the artificial peninsula to their east), which is about as close as I get to "rollers" in Lake Ontario as that gives over 100 miles of fetch.

My wife and I enjoyed the ride, because it was stable and dry (even if it revealed the lack of baffles in the water tanks...boom! boom!). But my son puked up his strawberry yoghurt, and I realized that maybe a judicious application of motor might "level out" our rolling about. We only had a 10 mile passage (barely breakfast to lunch, really), and it occurred to me that as much as I would have liked to have gone five miles south into the lake to find some harder wind, it wasn't entirely fair to my son to subject him to nausea so I could push my skills with a new boat that is really made for ocean conditions.

We don't get a lot of "ocean conditions" hereabouts, so I like to slam about when I can. But I don't need to make my son associate heavy weather with throwing up...and that would be entirely counterproductive, given our long-term plans.


Watts Up, Dock?

Funny how plans evolve. Above see the latest iteration of "mein elektromechanischer Rahmenplan", because everything involving monomania and solder sounds better in German, I think. Note that despite the superficial similarity to the charmingly naive schematic of some months ago, the needless complexity and verminous profusion of self-referential symbols, colours and lines continues apace, creating an almost cuneiform effect of bafflement and dire foreboding.

Really, this diagram is a help. No, I'm not kidding. Our goal is to run more or less self-sufficiently with a minimum of noise and exhaust apart from that caused by unfamiliar, local foods. This is why we have various devices to create electricity (wind, solar and small generator, in addition to the usual alternator on a diesel...the part we want to avoid using unless we are actively moving the boat under power); to regulate electricity (various devices to turn loads of volts into the number and amperage batteries will accept); to measure electricity (so we are aware of both production and consumption and can spot shortfalls at either end); and to store electricity (in the form of a honking great bank of stolid batteries weighing in at several hundred kilos).

Now this thingie is an Air-X Marine 400, a smallish wind generator as seen in its unnatural environment of a dock. I picked it up still in its original packing at a local yard sale thanks to the alert eyes of a fellow cruiser preparing to head south. Captain Ken Goodings, we salute you!

This is where the wind generator and solar panels will go. I am going to have made a sort of bimini-arch that will support a small amount of cloth by way of a sun and rain shield (there's not a lot of cockpit to cover on the aft deck) but mainly will carry four135 watt solar panels, running about five feet long and nine feet wide. All this has to avoid the wind generator and the wind vane and the crew. The solar panels paradoxically will provide the largest area of shade on deck, unless we deploy big awnings in quiet anchorages. But mainly, they and the wind generator will keep about 840 amp-hours of golf-cart batteries filled with yummy sparks that will keep me in ice cubes for my end-of-day, self-congratulatory rum-based beverages.

Ignore the visual crudeness...those are real numbers, all to scale.

Sailing it old school

This is the view on Canada Day, 2008 from the aged but reliable deck of Valiente, our older, slightly leaky Viking 33. Currently under the care of Capt'n. Tara (see keel caulking activities below), Valiente is docked a few miles west of our largely dissembled "main ship".

Upon learning that Tara wasn't using the boat this week (and I've been asked to unravel the mysterious of mast wiring on her), we decided to take her for a spin. Tara hasn't brought down the full suit of sails, and the Mylar No. 1 would have been more sail than I wanted with 20 knots gusts and no place special to go, so we kept it simple. After all, what with Alchemy in pieces, it's our first sail of the season. Why push things? We had a lovely sail, and look forward to a few more.

Lots more going on the main ship...will post that soon.


Crew leave

Last year, I went to Portugal for a few days to crew on a 12 metre race boat that spends its summers as a cruiser on the south coast (winter is apparently the windy time in Portugal, even if it's pretty nice for winter by frozen Canadian standards).

This year, in a quest to keep our family's sailing experience at a rough par, and by way of an early birthday present, I sent the missus on the same trip.

Unlike my trip, Becky and friends (American catamaraners who, like me, knew Alex the skipper from the internet) had some intervals of decent wind, enough to blast along under an asymmetrical spinnaker and to practise the old racing tradition of "washing the boom in the sea".

I'm glad she had a good time on a well-run boat. Thanks to "Chuckles" and "MMR" for the photos.


Vaneous Transfusion

Peter Tietz and Jim Whitred of Voyager Windvanes of St. Catharines, Ontario, came by today to drill holes in my stern for the purposes of mounting, a typically dirty nautical term that actually means they attached our new windvane to Alchemy's rudder regions.

On the way down to the club, I had what I thought was the rather clever idea of not using my possibly uninflatable and small and wobbly and elderly Zodiac as a platform from which to do the fairly extensive measuring and drilling and grinding required, but instead to use one of the club's Boston Whaler-type boats...flat, heavy and stable like a raft, but a raft with an outboard. This proved to be the best idea of an admittedly unambitious week, inspiration-wise.

Peter, the vane's designer, builder and primary installer, seemed to appreciate being able to drop things without hearing splashing, a real change from the usual outcome, apparently. Quick access to my horde of obscure if essential tools smoothed the mood of all, as well. The 25-knot north-east gusterlies, less so.

First off was figuring out if the measurements I'd supplied and the modifications they'd performed made any sense whatsoever when confronted with the steely, baby's-got-back stern of Madame Alchemy. Mostly, they did.

Then came some extensive "dry fitting" in which the vane and bracket (about 25 kgs. all in) were moved about in order to get the right clearance around the rudder post and tiller head.

This was followed by lots of drilling and, when it was found that the servo-pendulum bit would graze the ambitiously designed if materially superfluous tiller head, quite a bit of grinding in which yours truly did some mischief (to a good end, however...). Further and better smoothing will be required, as will a "final fitting" in which the vane is taken off, the mounting boltholes primed and perhaps "bushed", and the various moving bits kept from corroding with the wax from the ring used to keep toilets from leaking. Think "Tufgel" at 0.001% of the price, and easier than squeezing a sheep.

Jim, the business end of the operation, didn't mind getting his hands dirty, as befits someone considering the purchase of a Southern Cross 35, a non-trivial boat in a world of tatty dock jewellery. Jim seemed to like the look of our club, as well. Asked a lot of questions, and I hope I represented the concern fittingly.

Peter does final assembly of the vane. There's a few blocks and a tiller lock to put it (the tiller lock they brought committed suicide by drowning, but I know some men with face masks that might perform some "retrieval"), but when we finally get the stick in, we will have the ability to self-steer using zero amps. Peter's product isn't cheap (neither is the electric type of autopilot, nor are most things in the "presumed rich" world of boating), but it's stoutly made and custom-manufactured, and I think it will see several tens of thousands of nautical miles of use when we head for the horizon in a couple of years.

The vane will stay on until we a) put in the mast, b) restore the overhauled engine after having c) redone the water tankage and d) redone the fuel system and tankage OR e) designed and installed an arch-bimini thing that will both shade the sailing helm and support (eventually) an array of solar panels without interfering with the operation of the wind vane.

Which is why a wind vane went on an otherwise engineless, mastless, going nowhere, half-dead and partly dissembled boat today. It. Is. Necessary.

I'm Fixing a Hole

This is the bilge of Valiente, the “loaner” Viking 33 mentioned below. The flung-aside sole boards, the splayed wet-dry vac and the sheen of water on the inside of the boat all speak to the presence of lake where it shouldn’t be.

Valiente flung briefly into the air indicates the scope of the problem. Tara, sailor extraordinaire and designated steward for this good old boat, reported that her pre-launch crew, with all good intentions, either ground open a previous (crappy) keel-hull joint repair, or said repair’s time had, after many a dry season, finally arrived. The resultant 15 litres a day contribution to the cabin’s water feature isn’t wildly dangerous, but in the absence of a bilge pump of the automatic variety (the bilges are flat where the sump isn’t very narrow) mean that about two sinkfulls of H20 every two days must be dealt with.
Here’s the semi-cheap (the haulout cost $230) and mostly cheerful quick fix for "unwanted moisture": Find cracks, grind cracks delicately with a Dremel tool, and fill with “5200”, a tenacious black goo that seals and glues and gets everywhere you don’t want it. Of course, the proper way to do this job is to haul the boat for days, not 60 minutes, in order to grind away the entire hull/keel joint, to dry it out, to tighten the keel bolts, to fill the gap with thickened polyester-vinyl fiberglass goo, to fair it like a baby’s bum, and to put on barrier coat, and then anti-fouling. But this may serve until October…maybe.
We had an hour, so we pretended the keel was a cracked driveway. Tara found several spots where age and (probable) prior impact to the big lead bit had caused separation anxiety.

Oh, yeah, baby. Squeeze it good. Woo-hoo!

Then…splash! Back into the drink for a quick trip to my club to drop off all the hardware I’d brought from Alchemy (after a U-turn to get the ladder we’d left by the TraveLift…yes, that is the name of the giant’s truss device), and then Tara sped westward solo to her dock.

Two days later I checked Valiente’s bilges. Water, but no worse, and possibly better in terms of less of it, greeted me. The 5200 may not be entirely “set-up” yet, so Tara will keep an eye open and we’ll figure out if a bilge pump will suffice, or whether we need to get a cradle over to another club with a TraveLift that will let us do the job the correct, if tediously season-shortening, way.


Anchors Aweggs, or What They Rode In On.

As if to underline our boat's current engineless, mastless state, a local duck has pushed some coiled-down nylon rode in the anchor well into a semblance of a nest and deposited five eggs:

My darling wife, a biologist and by trade a wildlife rehabilitator (and therefore duck-positive in a big way) figures they might not hatch until mid-June. I have sagely pointed out that several trips to the club crane to haul large, heavy objects out of the bowels of the boat are in store by that point or sooner, and while I will not deliberately disturb the next generation of avian flu vectors, if the tow line snaps when no engine's aboard, I'm chucking the anchor with a quickness.

Nature is a cruel mistress, indeed.

You're So Vane

These grotty little graphics are just a couple of many I sent to the nice people at Voyager Windvanes , whom I hope will make as functional a product for us as it looks to be robust. They need the measurements to essentially custom-build a windvane for Alchemy, one upon which I will be relying to steer the boat when on passage or under sail for more than a couple of hours.

Why a windvane? Because one of the dirty little secrets of cruising any sort of distance is that actually standing or even lying down at the helm, steering 15 tons of moving vessel is tiring, exacting and, well...boring. My time would be better spent looking around for other boats, sleeping whales, rogue shipping containers and things that could be sucked into the seawater intake.

A windvane both obviates and compliments the more popular electric or electric-hydraulic, super-duper, GPS-guided, amp-eating autopilot. Yes, I will install one of those as well, but the general idea is that the autopilot will steer while we are motoring (sails down) or motor-sailing (sails up but engine on in order to maintain a certain speed. With the engine on, particularly in calm seas, there is no problem in making the amps necessary to power the autopilot, and the same is true of the array of electronics gadgets that help us navigate and help us communicate with the outside world. Generally, we would have AIS, GPS/plotter and probably would actively monitor certain VHF/SSB frequencies. The kid might be watching an education DVD, also. The combination of alternator, solar panels, and towed generator would more than take care of the energy drain during motoring or motor-sailing.

Sailing (to be preferred), it's a different story. Depending on proximity to shipping lanes, land, known fishing grounds, the time of day and the weather, we might switch to just AIS, handheld GPS, radar on low-power "guard" mode (more on this later), and only switching on the SSB at certain times for "cruiser nets". I would likely keep a VHF on low if close to land; otherwise no.

The fridge would thus be the biggest draw. Again, I would hope that the solar panels, the wind or towing would more than compensate the reduced draw-down, plus the fact that I intend to have more than the usual battery capacity for calm, cloudy days when the engine's not working...

The windvane works on servo-pendulum principles, a sort of mechanical feedback effect akin to a see-saw or a gyroscope. The course made good tends to resemble a sort of very elongated letter S, whereas the autopilot will attempt to steer directly at the desired waypoint or compass course. Frequently, an odd wave or wind shift will push the boat off-course; this will cause the autopilot to use a lot of power to compensate. The windvane does this using the wind itself, and ends up in many situations doing not only a better job of steering than a human helmsman, but a better job than the autopilot on which so many cruisers rely exclusively.

Here's an interesting head-to-head by Tony Gooch, a long-time solo sailor from Canada with more fastidious observational skills than myself.


The economy drive

Two posts in one day: almost unprecedented!

It strikes me that those who read about a family with two sailboats planning to go around the world might easily assume that these were people of some means. While far from poor (along with the vast majority of people in the Western world tonight), we aren't rich, either. But we've bucked the consumerist trend fairly consistently over the years, and it's allowed us to scrounge finances for things that matter to us, like boats and boating and self-employment and extended, slightly under-financed sabbaticals.

Evidence of this is found in this photo, showing the 9.9 HP outboard I took off Alchemy, as the RIB is going into retirement, in order to make room in the "garage" for the 2HP Honda, which my wife successfully put on its dedicated motor mount in the forepeak.
Giving it the gears.

That motor's about at the limit of what I care to tow behind my bicycle (although I've done more and in dodgier weather), but it illustrates that not owning a car is no true impediment to the movement of even semi-massive goods. It looks funnier when I take seven or eight sailbags down in one go. Very Mumbai-lunchtime.

The motor (which is a lightly used and reliable Mercury 9.9 HP short-shaft two-stroke) will appear shortly on a Craigslist near you.

Tender moments

After a winter fraught with family trouble, loads of work and, even for Canada, ridiculous amounts of work-suspending weather, we got the vessel launched. The engine is disconnected at the moment, awaiting further ministrations with a sabre saw to get the pilothouse roof off. The original owner, apparently convinced that 40-odd SS bolts, nuts and washers didn't quite do the trick, put a bead of what I assume is 5200 or some equally tenacious sealant around the inward steel flange of the pilothouse.

This means it isn't coming off easily. The insulation and ceilings and cherry battens and wiring came apart easily, but the roof itself? Not so much. Hence the sawing.

And why do I wish to do this? Well, the engine's coming out for "prophylactic servicing". More exciting than it sounds, really, it will just be a complete going-over to determine what damage, if any, 20 years of minimal usage (and winterizations of unknown skill) has done to the engine...if anything...and to remedy it. Because I wonder rather pay a mechanic a few thousand today in Canada than to throw a rod in Fiji once I start running the thing several hundred hours per year. Currently, it has 1,300 hours on 20 years, this is nothing for a diesel...and I've put on 200 hours in the last two years. So out she comes, and to do this, off comes the roof.

The roof needs to come off anyway, because the 2 x100 gallon stainless steel tanks slung under the side decks are coming out in favour of 4 x 50 gallon HDPE tanks I will secure to the frames about a metre lower down in the hull. This will "stiffen" the boat a fair bit, I believe, as well as will taking a currently unused 40 gallon SS former holding tank under the engine and using it as a diesel "day tank" containing only heavily filtered diesel from my soon-to-be-installed FilterBoss dual Racor set-up.

And I haven't even vouchsafed my latest plot for the Herculean battery banks....

Yes, it's not about what you do on boats, it's the order in which you do them. Basically hauling out the middle of the boat allows a lot of rationalization of the plumbing, tankage and probably the last opportunity to lay down thick coats of paint in very dark corners.

Speaking of rationalization, behold the ten-foot Portabote.

Looks like a surfboard, doesn't it? Well, it cleverly becomes, in a fashion that resembles origami but with considerably more grunting, a reasonable rowboat of some 55 pounds/24 kg. in weight.

When appended with the little Honda 2HP seen below, it goes about five knots hither and yon on a few tablespoons of gasoline. It will be our "cargo tender", and the rather more handsome nesting dinghy below will be our "people tender" for when we just want to row in or have a quick sail. Having two tenders, both reducible in size, made more sense than the standard Zodiac-style RIB or even an old-salt-approved rowing dinghy of the Fatty Knees type. My wife has to lift this gear solo for it to make sense, really, and that means thinking a bit more deeply about our off-boat transport.

A last and unexpected bonus was that the Portabote is pretty close in colour to Alchemy's livery.

The name of the tender is the previous owner's; the new name was selected by my wife, while my son decided to name the nesting dinghy. Me, I designed the logos that will shortly adorn them.
I like bad puns and I cannot lie.


Boat Show 2008: Fresh Acquisitions

Consumer-oriented boat shows don't hold a lot of interest for me these days: the kind of voyaging we are planning demands the type of gear more commonly found on fishing boats and the smaller sort of commercial vessels than Lake Ontario recreational boats.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. I do get a little sniffy, however, when I see new boats classed as "ocean-capable" with few of the seaworthy attributes and design touches I think essential for potentially heavy weather situations. And the boat show wants every weekend warrior to think that his slick-looking bar with a keel can cross oceans. The good news? It probably can. The bad news? He probably can't. He'll break his skull getting thrown across the condo-like cabin, or get washed over the insufficiently high lifelines, or simply get battered into submission because light boats get whipped around in big seas.

So I go these days to get bargains on stuff I was already going to buy, but mostly to talk to the vendors and installers with whom I need to develop relationships in order to not only book them to do work I can't, but to have nice secure feelings about that work, and about the products I've researched with, I hope, a measure of diligence and discernment.

Anyway, here's a couple of new items arriving before spring launch:

It's a Honda 2 HP four-stroke, all of 28 pounds in weigh. My wife, who is height-challenged, can hoist it in one hand, and it should be enough to move out nesting dinghy (see below) and the new-to-us PortaBote. Add a lifting sling for insurance, and getting it on and off should be much easier than the current 9.9 two-stroke, which is great for planing the Zodiac RIB we aren't taking, but is overkill (and over-spec) for both tenders.

This is a gas-powered generator that, at 42 pounds, is "luggable" to shore and easily lashed on deck. After wind, solar and alternator, it's a way to charge the batteries should all else fail, and if the inverter fails (or I am wanting to dedicate "ship's amps" elsewhere, like to refrigeration, I can use this on deck to power hand tools, paint sprayers, power washers, or to charge isolated stuff like the windlass battery (see electrical schematic below).

Anyway, I got half off on the delivery, and I look forward to using the gas generator on board after the engine's out for service (thanks to Mazda fancier John Ousterhout for providing missing pieces of the "is it a Mazda or a Perkins?" debate) in order to power stuff where running an extension cord is problematic (like the currently power-free forepeak that requires a full repainting before I hook up AC and DC circuits).

That's all for now. Next up: how to haul a small diesel from the bowels of a big boat in the dead of winter.