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2008-05-17

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.


2008-05-13

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.


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 it...in 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.