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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.


the captain said...

Great trip plan! I really hope you succeed in your cruise and continue to post about it along the way.

I, too, like to "race" while cruising and seem to be at my happiest when getting any additional speed from constant little tweeks, even if I'm only going 2 or 3 knots.

Good luck with everything and I'll be catching up on and following your blog and circumnavigating vicariously through you. Ha!
-Greg (soulesailor)

Rhys said...

Thanks for the comment. You'll have plenty of time to read, as we aren't likely leaving until summer 2011...