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Rabbit at rest, and the dartboard weather report


Because my two sailboats (made possible not by Midas-grade wealth, but by forgoing a car and being thrifty/cheap and not having vacations and cable TV) are quite different in terms of design, materials and intended usage, it's only natural to me that I reach for a metaphor or perhaps a simile to distinguish them in my mind.

Rabbit and tortoise will do.

Without belabouring the old fable, the smaller boat, the "rabbit", is generally the faster, although in a real blow, the "tortoise's" longer waterline would allow a faster top speed, and under generally more comfortable and specifically drier working conditions. Still, the tortoise is built and sailed in as undramatic a fashion as possible, because it's a house and a little world on the seas...or will be. The rabbit, by contrast, is all about the fun, "laying her down" and getting, if it seems like it might help, green water over the winches in quest of that perfect, howling ride.

Feelin' hot, hot, hot

That howling ride might come early this year. Environment Canada, a government agency of which could be said they are "no worse than most" and "occasionally useful", have taken to issuing three-month temperature and precipitation forecasts. The one above indicates their view that we are going to continue to have an unusually balmy winter, straight onto spring.

I have foulies and thermals and sea boots. No biggie.
The second chart indicate normal precipitation. We've had very little snow this winter here in Toronto. I think I've shovelled, in a fairly disinterested way, about three times, and that could've been done with an angry broom. There's been plenty of rain, however, and the lake retains its brimming aspect, which is welcome to fin keelers everywhere.

That said, this "forecast" is barely above random chance in terms of accuracy. The last three months were supposed to see us buried under Eastern Front levels of snow and ice, signalling for the army that never comes, but in fact I've been riding my bicycle nearly every day. It's been windy as hell, on the other hand. If snow had been in it, we would have had several severe blizzards. But that hasn't been the case. I've had to replace a few cheap tarps, and I spent today pumping out the rainwater from Valiente's icy bilges, but that's a small price to pay for keeping the mast in. So far, I like that decision. So far, the inch of ice that formed in the harbour during a brief cold snap would not have even caused me to worry about failing to haul at all. I could have sailed all winter, had there been facilities (and insurance) to do so. I can't recall a winter in which that was predictable or even possible. La Nina, you're a sexy beast.

If this not-cold winter weather persists, it will not only argue for an early April launch for Valiente (assuming the marina will let me in early), but easier work aboard a less-frosty Alchemy, the tortoise will a new heart, awaiting a load of suturing and a decent cardiac massage.
Obviously, today was windy. Less obviously, the boat to the left has slapping halyards and a bad case of the tinks.

Ionosphere, beware!

I now possess the tools to conquer you!

Yes, I will at some point actually open these boxes. Soon, my precioussss...

Not really, but after some delay and misunderstanding, my SSB gear arrived this morning.

Now all I need is a functional boat, with upright mast and working antenna included, in which to put it. Further purchases, labour and tweaking will be involved.

I may attempt "listening only" from home just to get used to the rhythms of amateur radio coverage and fiddling. I can't transmit (legally) from land (I think) or physically (lack of proper antenna, counterpoise or dummy load), but I think I can LISTEN without breaking the warranty, and I have an existing length of copper I can rig as an antenna. Unlike some devices, RTFM is the operating principle here. I don't know what I don't know about putting together a functional amateur radio aboard a boat, but at least I know I don't know. Much study lies ahead.

The role of SSB radio in modern cruising is quite similar to the role of the sextant or even the windvane (see "GPS and autopilot good; old mechanical things bad"). Why, goes the logic, in the days of  satellite phones, widespread wireless and phones of smartness do you need a RADIO? Isn't that a touch retrograde?

Well, no. I did run the numbers on this, and, more trenchantly I think, saw an SSB rig in full functional use on my Atlantic delivery in 2009, and the ability to send and receive voice and e-mails and receive GRIB files offshore is very, very comforting and useful. So are cruisers' nets. A phone call, even via satellite, is point-to-point. If no one answers, or if "the system's down", you are, to use the sailor's term, S.O.L. A radio might be considerably more finicky and subject to vagaries of tuning, sunspots, the state of the ionosphere and so on, but it's essentially broadcast, meaning any number of people can hear you and in the case of the emergency frequencies, will be actively listening. And you've got a very wide spectrum of frequencies from which to choose. And, for the moment, there is still a worldwide community of shortwave radio broadcasts, so the SSB/shortwave set can be a source of information and even entertainment. And education: I will to some extent rely upon the SSB-mediated SailMail service to communicate my son's high school subjects to and from the Toronto school in which he will have a truly virtual presence.

And Herb H. Let's not forget the extremely useful service rendered to the distance cruising community of Herb and his forecasting kin in giving us the "turn left to avoid cyclone" information that keeps us, for the most part, from being the snack bar at the new artificial reef.

Besides, I have expert friends who look out for me and want to save me money (the crew of Silverheels III in Grenada). I have been told that I can install this myself (I built a CB radio system when I was a teenager, so I'm not completely at sea, so to speak, with most of the concepts and avoid licking the contacts, generally). I have also been told that a boat with a nice, cambered steel deck and a nice, tuned antenna suspended between my twin backstays will likely make me an excellent transceiver.

So, ionosphere, you've been warned. Radio Alchemy will at some point in what I hope is the near future be on the air.


From flipping lids to downing hatches

Today, as they say, was a good day. Beset by the need to make money to support my boat addiction, plus the fact that I have customarily shared the parenting duties with a formerly working and currently school-attending spouse, I have not always worked to a schedule when it comes to the boat, and have certainly not advanced as rapidly as I would have wished.

The fact that the URL of this blog starts with "alchemy2009" is mute testament to my molasses-like progress.

Part of this slowness is due to my own ignorance on how best to do boat jobs, or even how to do them at all. I find that it pains me to admit it now, but my high school years might have profited me more with less chasing skirt and more taking shop. I'm handy, or handier than I thought I was, but I simply lack the experience of doing jobs in an efficient manner. I don't have a "manner" to contrast it against.

Still, I learn and absorb and carry a stupid amount of information in my head. Bursts of activity occur (followed or preceded at times by bursting wallet contents). Today I finally got the new engine down the hole.

Said hole
Said hole required temporary clamping of 2 x 4s over the now-bare engine stringer mounting bits (the "motor mounts" will go in later). Easy peasy, this bit. Note freshly galvanized paint areas. More will be done in warmer weather.

You can see your face in it, but it's not that great a mirror

The engine, tarped, tarped and tarped again against the elements on the foredeck for too long, is still shiny. Ooh, shiny.

I am a jealous god.

Revealed, it's practically modern art. It exudes raw industrial-grade purposefulness. It squats like a barbaric deity, or a sort of mechanical toad, the sort capable of taking you on a memorable trip. Mmm, toad.

That pallet has a lot of salvageable wood it in, include long carriage bolts as mounts.And thus the noted cheapness of the prospective cruiser manifests in the same picture as a five-figure diesel toad god.

Jeff practising the oblong discus throw. Note the author's crappy bike trailer and feeble "don't kill me, SUV lady!" flag

An example of doing things the hard way is how I used to lift off the pilothouse roof only to stash it on the deck, "in case it rained". A better solution is to put it on the flippin' ground while you futz around with the load to be placed oh-so-gently below.

Whither a sawhorse, or lengths of lumber?

This is my friend and fellow boater Jeff Cooper doing his Superman routine. Actually, thanks to the expert manipulation of Henry Piersig, who is not only surgeon-like in his ability to work a crane, but is also my club's Commodore three years running, we clipped along quite efficiently. Everything was done in about one hour, and the weather, while usually warm for right after a snowfall, was calm in wind and bright in sun. Bit slippery on deck, is all. Thanks very much to Jeff and Henry for their skills, speed and helpful suggestions.

Something quite similar to my club's "Polecat Crane Truck", a Very Useful Piece of Equipment

My one bright idea of the day was to bring handheld radios so we could advise Henry on "one inch, one inch more...STOP!" Very handy, that was. Even given that if Henry can play darts like he can place a crane hook at full boom extension, and out of visible range, I'm going to owe him more pints than I already do.

Welcome to the Melanoma Deck, S/V Box o' Tools
As I said, not raining and 8C on January 31st. The sounds were "up, up", accompanied by the constant sluicing of meltwater, and the grumbling of a truck diesel that probably thought it was going to be recycled into Chinese cookware by now. Oh, blown ring, rust-speckled Polecat, I still think you're great!


The actual set-down was a little iffy as it looks as if that honking ZF25 hydraulic transmission wants to crunch a transverse support. So Jeff, who dove down the hole voluntarily, blocked up the engine to keep it from being damaged until I can raise it and get measuring. Which I will do anyway as there is welding to get down back there for the thrust bearing/Aquadrive/PSS/shorted shaft assembly.

Nonetheless, in general dimension, if not exact final Place of Great Functioning, the new diesel fits quite well. I think it's smaller than Ye Olde Westerbroke that it has replaced. It's certainly lighter, while being "eight horses" more lusty. I think I will call it "The Red Lusttoad". No, wait. That's an anagram for "The Led Rusttoad", and that sounds unchancy. Sailors and their superstitions!

I will be leaving these shackles on for the moment, Mr. Bond.
The engine will require a gantry of sorts to be built so that it can be raised and lowered easily in order to position the mounts, move it fore and aft as needed and to get a fellow and his welding gear down there, not to mention the new tanks.

The perhaps-overthought gantry started looking like this:

...and currently looks like this:

I need more stability or a second beam to keep those triangles from wobble or shift. I wanted something collapsable that I could stow and bring with me, but I may just have something welded. I judge that there is insufficient strength to run a beam across the pilothouse roof without possibly flexing the structure, which could break the windows, so I prefer to work entirely inside. More on this to come.

The restoration was straightforward. I updated the tarps (lots of rain is coming), cleaned up, disposed of disposables and admired the (fractionally) new view forward.

The engineless foredeck is a nice change, no?

Yes, a good day, indeed. Thanks for everything, Henry and Jeff, and to Mr. M. Bird for getting me the proper lifting eye, which, aye, lifted.