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2013-12-23

On the rocks on the hard

Those of my readers in the tropics: I can hear you laughing in an most un-Christmas-like fashion. And volume.

So, we had a spot of weather over the weekend. As can happen every decade or so, warm air met over the Great Lakes with cold, and fat droplets of supercooled water fell all around, snapping tree branches and pulling down wires with crusty, tenacious ice.

A frickin' winter wonderland, alas.
Mrs. Alchemy had kindly plugged in the boat, if only to keep charged the sole little Group 24 battery that runs the bilge pump (not a lot to do for that pump unless the roof blows off in a rainstorm, in which case we have Other Problems). It occurred to me that it would be best, and in conformance to club rules, if I went down and unplugged it, particularly as every plug and outlet was likely encased in the suddenly popular ice-crust motif.

Post-hull cleaning and the bottom paint looks pretty reasonable.
 Alchemy, the boat, was no exception. While the constant friction of tires on salt (Torontonians are too full of self-regard to actually cease driving during adverse weather events, and I am no exception) made the main roads passable, if tricky even for this elderly former bike courier, the club itself resembled an ice rink prepared by a drunken Zamboni driver.

No, I did not go up on deck. I've nearly killed myself in the past trying to walk up there with a cm. of ice.
A quick look confirmed that, insofar as the minimal melting was concerned, all scuppers were functioning as icicle jumps, and that there was nothing superficially amiss.


The inner part of our club's basin is beginning to freeze ahead of the rest of the harbour.
Were I not overly concerned at the time to keeping my footing and avoiding sliding into the lake, I might have produced more artistic shots of the ice festooning the boat. It was, in the way of these things, pretty, even under a rapidly darkening Solstice sky.
 
Said sky and the dim alley between stowed boats called for a spot of flash.
The plugs and outlet were, predictably, both live and icebound. Disconnection was swift and merciless. I never want to be "that guy who burnt down the yard full of boats".

When I need to run a heater AND a power tool, it's best to run two lines.
The vinyl mermaid novelty fender seemed extra-perky as I had a last look around. All was silent, if not quite night. Our power was mercifully uninterrupted and our heat remains calorific, which is better than a large percentage of our city's inhabitants, for which I am grateful, although I feel that having a working Honda 2000 and a week's worth of gasoline may have some sort of talismanic effect in warding off disaster...I may be taking the sailor's black box theory a little too far.
♫ I saw my ship not sailing in on Christmas day in the morning...♪
On the other hand, there are still hundreds of thousands of cold, powerless homes in the surrounding urban and rural areas. This is, by any measure, a major event that is going well beyond inconvenience and property damage to actual danger of exposure, injury and perhaps worse. We had an unexpected guest in the form of a friend show up to couch-surf last night, and her story of a near-freezing, dark house at the edge of the city, with no landline, no genset, truncated and stuffed public transportation and no easy means of communication with the outside world (some cel systems are malfunctioning, as well...so much for "package deals") made me consider once again not only the utility of having a backup to the backup (like freshwater supplies, and like solar, wind and genset for the boat, in addition to alternators on the diesel), but to have things like candles, oil lamps, small camp stoves and plenty of blankets. Hundreds of people are abandoning their condos for "designated warming centres" today because they do not have an alternative or have no means to care for themselves the way we do...or would have to if we (fingers crossed) lost our own power.
Yikes...but how are you supposed to report an outage when the router's dead?
We may have more refugees from the fragilities of 21st century infrastructure this evening...it remains very much a last-minute thing, which is fine, because we wish to extend to our friends not only the physical warmth of an unstricken house, but the social warmth of having our friends literally at hand over these holidays. As as I tend not so much to shop but to opportunistically "provision", there's no shortage of food. I find that in this way, the knock-on effect of planning for the liveaboard life has produced some habits of preparedness which, while very minor compared to those of some armed survivalist in one of the more libertarian parts of this continent, seem to be serving us...and some shivering pals...well.

Ice-pan Gap: At least on the upside, very few Porter planes are roaring away next to the club.
I wish my readers, wherever they are, happy holidays and fair winds, and may the most ice you see this Christmas be in your beverage of choice.


4 comments:

Ahmed Khalid said...

Dear Mister Alchemy, sailing expert:

I found your website by Google. You are very experienced in sailing boats and
world travels and I have a question for you.

First: background about us: My wife and I sail at the Conestoga Sailing Club
on Conestoga Lake, Ontario, which is water reservoir. The club has many
boats, including 420 and Wayfarers. We are now Cansail 2 and we are able to
sail very well.

We decided to take off time and we plan to use redundancy payment to buy a
sailing boat. We want to make an offer on a 32 foot sailing boat for world
travels. It's a "blue water boat", which means it is good far away from
land. It's called an Allied Sea Wind Ketch. It's now at dock in Havelock,
NC, USA.

We plan to sail to Cuba and then to the Pacific, going in the Panama Canal.
My wife's parents are Japanese and we want to visit them in Kamakura in
Kanagawa Prefecture and then visit India and all Africa. We'll go for a year
and then I have to find a new job.

We have two young children, a girl and a boy, age 6 and 3. They will be
coming with us.

This is my question: What do you think we should bring with us for that
cruise? We already have lifejackets and sailing instructional books. This is
the sailing boat's equipment that I copied from sales listing: VHF with
remote cockpit mike, Lowrance chart plotter, Sea-222 Single Side Band radio,
Depth sounder, Knot meter, Alpha 3000 autopilot, Furuno radar. The boat also
has cooker and storage for supplies, such as food and spare clothing.

Thank you and best regards,

Ahmed and Chihiro Khalid

Rhys said...

Ahmed, I'm no expert, and there are very few people who are. Like you, I am trying to avoid getting killed through ignorance, and the key to that is to keep asking questions. The key to asking the sort of questions that lead to constructive improvement is to have a wide range of experiences at sea in boats of various types.

Unfortunately, your question is far too broad for me to answer. A trip to Cuba and then across the Pacific is extremely ambitious, particularly with young children, and no amount of equipment list evaluation would constitute good advice without knowing of your skills and experience.

I would say that sailing 420s and Wayfarers have as much to do with crossing the Pacific in a 32- footer as being four years old on a tricycle has to do with being the captain of the Space Shuttle in that in both cases, movement is accomplished in a forward direction.

Beyond that, it gets complicated!

I would suggest you crew on bigger boats on more significant bodies of water. I have been in worse weather on Lake Ontario than I have on the Atlantic, but on Lake Ontario, it was over in 15 minutes. On the Atlantic, the winds can blow for days, making for seas higher than the boat is long.

I would also suggest that to go from North Carolina to Cuba and then to Japan and back in one year would be an accomplishment for someone in a race boat, and the Allied Sea Wind Ketch, while a perfectly adequate old ketch, is not a racer.

The most supportive thing I can say here is to keep sailing and to try to get as much experience on as wide a variety of boats as you can find. Cansail 2 is a good start, but is utterly inadequate a level of preparedness to take a "new-to-you" boat to sea with children, particularly if none of you have actually experienced what life on a small boat on the ocean feels like.

You could, however, buy such a boat and practice for a few seasons with it on Lakes Huron, Erie or Ontario. A ketch is an excellent and often overlooked choice as a cruising boat, and would be a good platform on which to gain the sort of sailing hours you would need to attempt such an ambitious trip. When it's too cold to sail, I recommend taking classes on radio, first aid, diesel repair and navigation, and to read, read, read!

I hope this advice helps and does not discourage you.

Ahmed Khalid said...

Dear Mister Alchemy, sailing expert:

My wife and I are very grateful of your reply, thank you very much.

We will follow your guidance but first we have to buy the Sea Wind. I am pleased you say the Sea Wind is a good boat. Our 420 sailing instructor said that too. We need to have survey on the boat soon and agree price. To follow your words, we need to bring the boat back to Ontario and find a port to anchor it, but I now worry that I cannot sail such a big boat after what you told me. Is the wind stronger on the Lake than inside a small reservoir? I do not know. How do we bring a boat to Ontario?

I tell you I was made redundant from a large phone manufacturing company located in the Cambridge area that I am not allowed to name. I do not understand why I was to leave, I have two degrees in electronic engineering and I always worked hard at my job, often more than 10 hours a day. I am sad about that but I hope our cruise will make me feel better. My wife Chihiro is sad too.

I was given severance pay that was very good, so please tell me if my wife Chihiro and I could come to your boat to receive good cruising education from you. We are willing to pay good money for cruising lessons. As you are master, you tell us what money you want and we will pay.

Before that, also please tell us which good books to read. Chihiro does not read English very well and we ask if there are cruising educational books in Japanese or in Korean. She also speaks and reads Mandarin(Chinese).

If you cannot provide education as you cruise the world, could you tell us where we should go.

Thank you.

Chihiro and I are very grateful for your knowledge.

Ahmed and Chihiro Khalid

Rhys said...

I'm afraid I am neither qualified nor have the time to give sailing lessons. I suggest you investigate local sailing clubs or continue with CYA courses, or join a local boat club and try to crew on a variety of boats in a variety of conditions.

As for books, a good starter book is the new, fourth edition of The Annapolis Book of Seamanship:

http://www.amazon.ca/The-Annapolis-Book-Seamanship-Edition/dp/1451650191

It will be released next week. I've reviewed the author's other works and have met him. He's one of the few "experts" I know of.

I know of no Japanese sailing books, sorry, but I imagine a Japanese native would have no problem contacting Japanese sailing organizations to learn of Japanese-language resources.

Good luck, but remember as you learn that on the ocean there will be no instructor and no nearby help. You must learn to sail in all conditions, and that means getting off the reservoir and onto less predictable and sheltered waters. Luckily, it's a good time to buy a smaller boat on which you can improve your skills. I wish you well.