sailboatbliss

Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW


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Back to the Sea of Cortez: An Offshore Experience

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I took lots of sunrise and sunset shots.  Way too easy to get great colours!   These two booby birds hitched a ride on the bow pulpit for quite a bit of our crossing.

We loved cruising in the Sea of Cortez in 2016, so when Dennis asked if we’d like to return, we accepted without any hesitation.   Sailing in shorts and tee shirts is always appealing, especially in March.  Add in some adventure, good company, and Mexican culture, and the decision to go made itself.  A couple of significant differences meant that this trip wouldn’t be a repeat of our adventures in the Loreto area: our intinerary and the crew.

Dennis has been cruising in Mexico since 2015, Dennis and Gerriwith significant diversions ashore during hurricane season, first in the Sea of Cortez, and then along the west coast of the Mexican mainland.
In 2016, he found a partner to join him on these adventures.  Gerri’s home is now Ultegra, and she was graciously inviting us to share it based only on Dennis’ experience with us two years ago.  Wow.

Second – the itinerary.  This trip wasn’t to be the pleasure cruise of 2016.  Instead, Dennis and Gerri have been working their way north from their southernmost point of Zuhuatanejo to La Paz, and asked us to join them for the offshore portion from Puerto Vallarta.  As the crow flies, this is 360nm (648km), all against the prevailing NW winds.  With a couple of zig zags in our course, we could cut the longest leg down to 170nm – at least one night at sea, maybe two.  Speaking to those cruising in Mexico, this crossing sounds pretty routine, but for Lori and I, doing this trip would be it’s a step up in terms of length at time at sea and would be an opportunity to get some more offshore experience in a small, bite sized chunk.

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Chartplotter showing our track as far as Los Frailes on the Baja peninsula

We arrived in Puerto Vallarta on Wednesday, March 21, made our way by taxi 25km to the small town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and joined Ultegra as she swung on the hook in the bay just off of the beach.

La Cruz is on the north side of Bahia de Banderas, and is wide open to the Pacific, but the brisk thermal wind held the boat into the prevailing swell making the boat motion bearable.  We did our introductions, stowed our stuff, had a drink and headed in for dinner.  The town itself is ridiculously cute with cobbled streets, narrow streets and good restaurants.  Our meal at a small cafe on the street – literally – was a highlight.

 

Thursday was very busy – provisioning, clearing out of the port, and moving to a quieter anchorage 10nm closer to our destination.  Lori and I love provisioning in new places – there is no easier way to get a feel for a place than to go grocery shopping with the locals.  La Cruz is too small for a proper market, but a short ride into Bucerias gave us access to a huge supermarket that carried everything from tires to Tequila.  The bus ride was a lot of fun too, but it was a good thing that Gerri knew what she was doing, because the buses in Bucerias don’t work quite the same as they do here.

grocery bucerias

Bucerias isn’t a big town, but it sports a huge, well stocked “grocery” store that also caries tires, BBQ’s and clothes.

While we shopped, Dennis cleared out of the port.  In la Cruz, this involved a trip to the port captain’s office with our passports in hand.  This process in not consistent throughout the country and one needs to rely on cruisers already in port to determine the procedure in each new place – we cleared into La Paz on the radio.

Friday began with a series of boat jobs including a good bottom scraping and the installation of the still broken hydraulic backstay adjuster.  We weighed anchor at noon and motored out of the bay bound for Isla Isabela, a small island 70nm north.`

The first night only confirmed our previous experience with exhaustion, and as we approached Isla Isabela at 2 in the morning, I needed sleep badly.  Unfortunately, the favoured anchorage – a small bight behind some pinnacles – was occupied by three cruising boats and a number of fishing lines attached to floats.   As we bobbed around looking for space, I began to hope that Dennis wasn’t just stopping here because Lori and I wanted to see the island, but couldn’t find the will to say anything.  We should’ve kept going but I just wanted to sleep.  In the end, we found a safe spot in the less desirable southern cove and grabbed a few hours of rest.

 

Isla Isabela is quite astonishing in the daylight.  In particular, the pinnacles on the eastern shore are very dramatic.  The underwater scenery is also supposed to be very good, but unfortunately, our schedule dictated that we move on without a swim.

The next 48 hours were almost everything Lori and I could have wished for: sailing, fishing and getting into the rhythm of being at sea.  Immediately upon leaving Isla Isabela, Dennis put out the fishing gear, and not long after, had a Yellowtail Jack on the line.  These are prized game fish with dark flesh and a mild flavour.  Box ticked.

 

The forecast winds were supposed to be out of the north, building up to 20kts for the days we’d be crossing.  We didn’t really get these winds until we were withing sight of the Baja Peninsula on Tuesday morning.  Instead, we got light, variable winds for the first two mornings, building to 10 from the NW in the afternoons. Despite these contrary winds, we managed some wonderful sailing, motoring for less than half the passage.  Our strategy under sail was to point as high as possible while maintaining boat speed.

Ultegra is a racing boat at heart, and sailing her in the light and variable conditions was an enjoyable challenge.  We followed some advice I’d read about passage making and focused on keeping the boat moving in the right general direction, not our rhumb line (direct course), figuring that eventually the wind would shift in our favour.  Our first tack took us north towards Mazatlan, and the second across the sea.  Our passage ended early on our third day with our promised 20kts from the north: a favourable shift and strengthening winds on the starboard beam, giving us 8kts of boat speed and huge smiles all around

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Lori watching the sun come up on our last night watch, on a fantastic beam reach in 20 knots of wind.

We landed at an open anchorage not far from San Juan del Cabo called Bahia de los Frailes at 9 am.  The winds remained strong, but the anchorage was very comfortable with minimal swell.  The dinghy stayed deflated and stowed, but after a long swim with a challenging exit in the surf, Lori and I managed a short walk on the beach anyways.  The next day was another long passage to windward, bound for a bay called Bahia de los Muertes, but Ultegra was built for this kind of work, and despite the rough conditions, performed beautifully with a couple of reefs in the main and full 135 genoa.

 

We spent an extra night at Bahia de los Muertes, hoping the strong northerlies would ease.  The break meant that we could put the dinghy back in the water and go ashore.   Finally!  This is a beautiful spot with a sandy beach and a couple of beach restaurants.  The highlights here were a bocci ball game, drinks in a posh resort with the crews from two other boats, and a fine meal out at the restaurant at the other end of the beach.

The winds didn’t die early enough to make our next passage easy, but we were feeling a little pressed for time and left anyways.  This stretch, between the mainland and a large island – recently re-named Jacques Cousteau Island – has a reputation.  The pass has currents up to 2.5 kts and the wind can howl.  Fortunately for us, the high tides were in the morning, so the ebb current and northerly winds were going in the same direction.   Even though they were contrary for our direction, the fact that they agreed laid the seas down a bit and made the passage smoother.  As the day wore on, the wind gradually eased, and by the time we neared the northernmost point of our trip and stated to turn south into the bay La Paz Bay, the wind had died completely.

The difference in marine traffic around La Paz was astounding.  All of a sudden, we were worried about room in the anchorage.  We managed to find a place in one of Dennis and Gerri’s favorite spots called Caleta Lobos, and spent a quiet last night in the wilderness before returning to civilization.

 

A short sail the next day put us anchored off of La Paz at about 2 in the afternoon, thus completing our transit of 430nm in 8 days.

 

We’d pushed hard to get to La Paz on Friday so that we could explore the city all day Saturday before flying out Sunday afternoon.  It wasn’t quite what I expected.  It is a cruiser’s resource center, with tradesmen, chandleries, a sail loft and access to materials. None of this is apparent from the waterfront.  In addition, the downtown core is suffering from big-box-itis – as has happened in many other places (hello Nanaimo), the proliferation of big box retailers farther out of town has left many storefronts in town empty and in disrepair.  We saw evidence that this is slowly changing – there has been a large investment in the seawall path (The Malecon), along with services that cater more to tourists, such as restaurants and coffeehouses.  With its beautiful location, I can envision a day when the seaside is once again thriving.

Lori and I love sailing here, and this was a great trip to expand our experience.  Thanks for the invite Dennis and Gerri!

Lessons we learned:

Sleeping during the day, even with the engine running, isn’t an issue.  All it takes is a little sleep deprivation to get you in the mood, and then its lights out.  As for the engine noise, well it might even help.

We enjoyed being at sea for more than a day.  There was was plenty to do, and tons of wildlife to watch.

Comfortable watch keeping seats are a must.  My back was killing me after sitting for most of two days, and I hand steered almost all of the passage from Los Frailes to Los Muertos – 60nm – just to be doing something while standing.

Overall, Predictwind.com was only marginally better at forecasting the weather than using a “tomorrow will be just like today” methodology.  It was wrong all the way across the sea, but did accurately predict the wind going from strong to light as we neared  La Paz.

Under sail, unless you are close to your destination, boat speed trumps a rhumb line course in light winds or head winds.  This has been borne out repeatedly on our trips.  The wind always shifts.

 

 

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Hanging out in the Discovery Islands

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Anchorage in a nook in the Cordero Islands

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the different strategies for navigating the tidal rapids north of Desolation Sound.  In that post, I mentioned that we always time our journey to coincide with the ebb while going north, and the flood going south, even if it means leaving in the dark.  As entertaining as that sounds, leaving at 2am to catch the tide isn’t super high on my fun list.  Thankfully, there are alternatives.

Over the last 3 or 4 years, we’ve managed to approach our passage through the rapids on dates with no great morning departure times – they’ve either been crazy early, or a little too late.  This, along with our increasing desire to limit the early morning heroics, forced us to re-examine our passage planning for this stretch of water.  These ideas all work best on the inside route through the Yucultas, and are as follows…

Idea #1 – Arrive late.  Who said that you need to be in Forward Harbour by 2 in the afternoon?  We’re talking about summer travel here; the sun is out til after 9pm!  As ridiculously simple as this sounds, it took a few years for us to really look at this as an viable alternative to leaving early.  The key is that it’s only 30 miles from Yuculta rapids to Forward Harbour.  Even at only 6 knots, that’s only 5 hours; with the tide behind you it’s more like 4.  If you transit Yuculta Rapids at 3pm, that puts you in Forward Harbour at the still civilized hour of 7pm.

Idea #2 – Hang out between the rapids.  You don’t need to spend the night between rapids to make this one work, just patience.  The plan is to catch the last of the ebb through Yuculta, Gillard and Dent, and then relax as you poke your way north.  Go for a walk at Shoal Bay, fish at Hall Point or just bob along slowly and enjoy the scenery.   There really isn’t that much current to fight for the first 12 or so miles after Dent Rapids, and you will have about 6 hours to kill before running Greenpoint Rapids.  Besides, there is something really powerful about surrendering your schedule to the turn of the tide.  Be sure to time your transits so that you are at Dent at slack and are pushing through the last of the flood at Greenpoint.

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Heading north

Idea #3 – The obvious one – spend a night at one of the many cool places in the Discovery Islands.  Some options that we have used (there are many that we haven’t):  Big Bay.  It’s always abuzz with activity, has a dock, reasonable anchoring, and a great walk to Eagle Lake.  Big bay is a little like a toilet bowl with a rock in it – watch both the shoal area and the currents.  Shoal Bay.  Also a busy place, but with a more laid back atmosphere than the bustle of Big Bay.  Thurston Bay Marine Park.  Quiet and a little off all of the the main tracks north.  Cordero Islands (Greenpoint Rapids).  A very pretty anchorage right on the main channel.  There is room for eight or nine boats in the two nooks between the islands.  Blind Bay.  An upscale marina (but not too upscale) with a great walk and a good restaurant.  The current at the dock can be tricky, but the staff are eager to help.  If you want to continue north via the inside route, you’ll have to time your departure for the end of the flood as the currents in Mayne Channel and Greenepoint Rapids run opposite to each other.

Despite the cold water, the channels north of Desolation Sound offer a laid back experience that is significantly different from the crowded waters in northern Georgia Strait.  If you’re in a rush to get north but the tides don’t allow you to blast through, take the opportunity to slow down and explore.


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The Shake Out Cruise – A Review of Our Sabre 42 CB and Some Pictures From Our Summer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally!  After all the work we completed in the first 6 months of 2017, we relished the opportunity to stretch our legs over a couple of months of cruising and really see what we had.  Our original plan was to spend our first week in the Gulf Islands to test our new systems and get familiar with them before setting off north for more ambitious destinations; we thought that the comfort of knowing that we’d always be close to help and supplies would take the edge off.   However, after a fun and relaxing first weekend near Silva Bay, we decided to head north to cruise with friends using the logic that everything seemed to be working fine so far and that Desolation Sound isn’t really that far from assistance if we ran into a problem.

Our first real test came on our 4th day out on the passage from Silva Bay to Pender Harbour.  This is a 33nm run to the north, and can be a challenge in a strong northwesterly – the prevailing wind here in the summer.   It was in blowing in the low to mid 20’s on this day, and Georgia Strait was in a bit of a mood with a steep 3′ chop.  Period is everything when it comes to waves, and Georgia Strait is notorious for generating waves with a short period.  It was 4 seconds on this day – short, steep and wet.  Perfect weather for learning!

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Hard on the wind in Caamano Sound

We got our first “new boat” lesson when we went to put up the main.  The halyard on the Sabre is wire, and it has considerable mass.  As soon as I attached it to the headboard of the main, it started to flap all over the place, and in short order, had wrapped itself around the steaming light. With the boat bouncing and the spray flying, I gave up trying to free it pretty quick.  The day would be a headsail only affair!  The lesson?  Put the main up before it’s too rough.

Turns out we didn’t need the main anyways.  With the 130 genoa all the way out, we took off like a freight train – doing up to 7 knots at 40 degrees apparent, straight through the waves.  Fast, fun and wet.  We could’ve pointed higher with some main up, but the wind built and eventually we had to reef the 130 down, so perhaps having the main up would’ve been too much.  Regardless, the speed and comfort in difficult conditions were impressive.

We got our second lesson soon after setting sail.  However, this one was more of a reminder of something we already should’ve learned: make sure the hatches are dogged BEFORE setting sail.  Not long after settling into the groove, we took green water over the deck.  A good portion made it over the dodger and right into the cockpit.  A short while later, it happened again.  Wondering about the integrity of all of the window seals etc, I asked Lori to see if it was dry below.  It was not.  Just as she descended into the cabin, we went through yet another wave; the cascade of water down the fore-hatch was clear evidence that it was not dogged down tight.  Oops…The lesson here is embarrassingly obvious.

We learned our third lesson after docking in Pender Harbour : it’s probably a mistake to ignore a  leaking fuel tank.  (Yes, I know the “bad things happen in 3’s” thing is a cliché, but it really was the 3rd and final major lesson for the summer.)

We’d discovered the leak a few months earlier, but decided to ignore it as it was only leaking a teaspoon or so every week.  We put an oil sock in the bilge and a pad under the tank and moved on.  The rough crossing disabused us of this notion.

Soon after docking, I checked the bilge only to find the pad and sock quite heavy with diesel.  We debated leaving it, but decided it was now too much to ignore.  The next day, I emptied the tank and pulled it out.  Upon inspection, it was clear that the hole was always of a significant size, but had been partially blocked with diesel sludge.  The agitation from the rough sail changed all that and turned the small drip into a cascade. Although a new tank is on this winter’s boat job list,  I’m happy to report that the temporary patch I put on at the beginning of July is still drip free; JB Weld is amazing stuff.

The rest of the summer was relatively uneventful.  The 2 systems that I was most concerned about both worked well: we put 180 happy hours on our new diesel with no significant problems, and the electrical system worked as designed, with full batteries every day thanks to our new solar system.  I’m also happy to report that by August, I was spending almost no time doing maintenance or improvements; things just worked!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome thoughts on the Sabre 42 and some comparisons to our Mariner 36

Overall, we are very happy with her; she’s roomy, fast, and comfortable.  The cockpit is wonderful for entertaining, and has plenty of places to brace yourself when it gets rough out.  We weren’t sure how we’d like the sail plan with it’s relatively small head sail and large main, but we’ve found the boat easy to sail and the smaller foresail an asset when beating to weather.  Down below, plenty of hand holds make getting around fairly easy, and the large galley is a delight to work in.

Sailing:

  • With the main up and centerboard down,  she’ll point quite high and makes very little leeway.  We raced her in June, and were pointing as high as our friend’s C&C 33 – around 30 degrees apparent.
  • Our trip across Georgia Strait was fast but wet.  She tended to sail through the larger waves (6′) without slowing down.  This is partially a product of the shape of the chop in Georgia Strait.  A 3′ significant wave height means we saw the odd 6′ wave.  All of them had a 4 second period.  These are steep waves that didn’t really allow the boat to rise to them.   We’ve only really had this one day of beating into strong winds and we looking forward getting out in the strong stuff again to learn more.
  • When going downwind under all whites, her best VMG is dead downwind, even in fairly light winds.  We’ve rigged permanent preventers, so sailing deep is pretty stress free.  In really light winds, we still tack downwind flying the asymmetrical spinnaker, but we seemed to need this extra power less often than we did with the Mariner.  In heavy winds, her longish keel means that she tracks quite well.  In contrast, the Mariner sailed so much faster on a reach that we often tacked downwind in light to medium winds.
  • There are genoa tracks and cars on the toe rail; moving the sheets outboard for downwind work dramatically improves sail shape and provides chafe free leads. We tried all kinds of things to achieve this on the Mariner; none of our efforts were as satisfactory as the outboard leads on the Sabre.
  • She stands up to a breeze, despite the fact that the keel is only 5′ deep.
  • The helm is super light.  After 13 years of sailing with an unbalanced rudder hung off a skeg, our new spade is almost too light.  On the bright side, it’s not tiring and the autopilot doesn’t really ever work that hard.

Motoring:

  • We replaced the Westerbeke 46 with a Beta 50.  At 2000 RPM, she’ll do 7 kts on roughly 3 litres/hour (just under a gallon).  Max RPM is 2800.    This efficiency is similar to the Mariner, which is fantastic considering the Sabre is 6′ longer and 2000 lbs heavier.
  • She doesn’t pound when sailing to weather, but does when motoring, especially when compared to the Mariner with her v sections forward of the keel.  Bottom line; she’s designed to sail, not motor.
  • The cockpit is super quiet!  The motor is under the sink, not the cockpit, making conversation under way a pleasant, no shouting, affair.  As an added bonus, the noise below is about the same as the Mariner.
  • She turns in her length, and backs up fairly straight.  I was worried that the distance between the prop and the rudder would mean that slow, close quarters manoeuvring would be difficult, but this hasn’t been the case.

Miscellaneous

  • The quality of the glasswork is excellent, even in out of the way corners.
  • Access to almost everything is good.  The diesel tank was a piece of cake to remove and reinstall.
  • Cabin stowage is good, but for my tastes, the cabin could’ve been a little smaller and the storage behind the settees bigger.
  • Cockpit storage is excellent.  The two lazarette hatches provide access to a massive space that holds our cabin heater, fenders, paddle boards, fishing gear, stern line, dinghy wheels,  and dinghy pumps.  The sail locker is equally impressive.
  • The side decks are like runways, and provide excellent access to the foredeck.
  • The original install for the windlass was problematic.  The biggest issue was that the windlass didn’t drop the chain into the anchor locker; the previous owner actually hand bombed the anchor down when setting it, and peeled it off of the gypsy and flaked it by hand when weighing anchor.  I’ve since installed a new windlass and provided a lead for it to drop into the anchor by itself.
  • The bilge sucks.  There is a reasonably deep but small sump aft of the engine, but otherwise the bottom is flat.   I didn’t like it when we bought her, and I still don’t like it.  Unfortunately, most modern boats are built the same way.  The Mariner had a keel stub that would hold a significant amount of water and prevent it from sloshing around under the cabin sole.  Yes, I know the bilge should be dry, but that is pretty much impossible with a keel stepped mast.
  • The cabin top winches, clutches and cleats are just silly.  Not only are they toe killers and tripping hazards,  their location means that it takes 2 on the deck to take down the asymmetrical spinnaker.  With 2 of us on board, that means nobody is in the cockpit.  This is getting fixed this winter.
  • The anchor locker divider is also silly.  The top edge of the plywood divider is exposed to falling chain and moisture meaning that it will eventually rot out.  We took ours out and replaced it with a shelf.

Our Summer Route:

This year we were focused on learning the boat, so stuck mostly to places we’ve been before.  Most of the pictures are from the area north of Bella Bella – our favourite stretch of the BC coast.  Our route took us north around Cape Caution, up past Bella Bella and Klemtu via the Inside Passage, and finally up Laredo Channel  to Campania Island.  Our route south was similar, but we stuck to more open waters on the outside wherever possible to take advantage of the strong north westerlies that established themselves early in August.  Our best sail was a 45 nm run down Laredo Sound into Hecate Strait, around McInnes Island and into Queens Sound.


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Almost There

Wow, what a crazy 6 months.  1200 hours and lord knows how many dollars later, and Palomita is ready to go.  As in fuel and water are topped up and the fridge is stuffed ready to go.v  We are too – ready that is, not stuffed.

We’ve been asked how the boat is going many times over the last half year, and we always kind of roll our eyes before saying something non-committal like “OK”.  It hasn’t been “GREAT!”.  The second question usually is “why it only OK, shouldn’t it be GREAT!? – it is a new boat after all”.  “Well”, we say, “there were a few large issues we did know about, like the engine, and many small issues we didn’t know about, like the rot in the floor stringer.  Our surveyor kinda sucked”  Of course, the next question is “so, what have you done?”

Well…

Build house battery box and secure batteries
Varnish floor
Build  cockpit table
Replace windlass and patch holes on foredeck
Move combing winches
Install davit lift points in dinghy
Build and install bulkhead bookcase
Install engine fan temp control
Kiwi grip foredeck
Caulk head
Install cabin lantern
Install fishing gear – downrigger and rod holders
Install shelf in anchor locker
Replace both anchor rodes
Remove divider in anchor locker and glass all surfaces
Rig Preventer
Wash mast
Replace sliding door track
Replace spigot for galley footpump
Replace Genoa
Replace running rigging
Replace engine
Clean oily mess from bilge and paint
Replace water heater
Install inspection port and clean fuel tank and fuel
Replace fuel filters
Hook up fuel
Replace footpump in forward head
Wire new bilge pump switch
Free and service all sea cocks
Re-plumb propane locker
Re-build floor stringer forward of engine
Re-pitch prop
re-plumb galley and aft head / install water filters
Buff topsides
Plug holes in transom
Extend blower vents
Build instrument housing & install new instruments
Wire holding tank pumps
Install USB outlets
Install new battery switch, main busses, breakers, and echo charger
Move and wire start batteries
Soundproof
Reinstall galley
Install engine blower fans
Rig inverter shut off / bypass
Replace dodger windows
Re-rig spinnaker pole – topping lift shock cord lost inside pole
Replace cockpit speakers
Clean out old electrical gear and unused wires
Clean up electrical panel
Replace diesel heater
Remove rotten divider in anchor locker; reglass locker
Service all winches – many currently are non-functional
Fix leaking hatch and ports; replace fixed ports
Install Cir-clip on steering axle
Install new instrument transducers – speed, depth, wind
Install dinghy davits
Install Solar panels and charge controller
Install LED masthead lights
Fix steaming light and bow nav light
Replace all interior lighting with LED
Re-plumb holding tanks for overboard pump-out
Replace mattress (es)
Cut down fridge lid – make it thinner
Remove A/C unit and ductwork
Fix holes in deck
Build new clear companionway doors
Replace screen in screen doors
Replace compass light

Now for the real work…sailing her.  We’re almost there!


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The Refit

in slings2 months in, and we’re still plugging away; during spring break, it was a full time, 12 hour a day job.  Both of us have questioned our sanity, but are working hard to look forward, not back. Bottom line, she will be a beautiful boat.  She’d better be;  neither of us ever want to do this again.

When we decided to move into a larger boat, we anticipated the need to do a substantial refit.  In fact, it was an important part of the whole equation – buying a used boat is largely an exercise in buying someone else’s problems (or sometimes even worse – their solutions).  bilge2Every boat has its issues and idiosyncrasies that the owner either fixes properly, comes to terms with, or screws up royally; our old boat was no exception.  The trick is figuring out what these idiosyncrasies are and what, if anything, should be done about them.   and the only good way to really know this is to tear the boat apart and start over.  This was part of the plan.  Really.

OK, so we knew some of the issues going in.  We even made a list and thought we were prepared to check the items off in an orderly fashion.  New windlass, new heater, new dodger windows, new mainsheet, and new mattresses.  These were the biggies, but new gear that works had been our norm on the old boat, so we couldn’t imagine spending a summer making do with old worn out gear.

Then we added an engine – we got a chunk of change back from our agreed purchase price to deal with this and will have a brand new engine as a starting place, so not really a bad thing  Then it was new instruments, some solar panels (don’t forget the controller), dinghy davits and a new genoa.  Okay, its starting to hurt now, and we haven’t even turned a wrench or climbed the mast yet.   Breathe! we told ourselves – its only time and money!

Finally we got down to the business of actually doing the work, and we all know what happens to plans once they are implemented. filter In our case, we got to add a new Racor filter housing – the inside of the old one was a shocking mess –  fuel tank, structural stringer, battery wiring, leaky hatches and new reefing lines.  On top of these jobs, there is the little scheduling rules that states that every thing will take at least 3 times as long as you think it will.  If you try to cheat this rule by being overly optimistic, the the powers that be note this and add a substantial penalty in both time and money.  Turns out that I’m very optimistic because  I’m still working on February’s jobs and its the beginning of April.

 


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Fun with decks

When we bought our Mariner 36, the surveyor made it pretty clear that our decks were wet and needed work.  Lori and I were pretty bummed to hear this and were ready to walk away from the purchase, but after spending the cash to take a day off, driving to Seattle, hauling the boat and hiring a surveyor, the least we could do was take her for a sea trial (we have a little rule about turning down a nice sail on a sunny day).  This, alas, was our undoing.  One pass across Lake Union, and we were sold.  She sailed like a dream.  Deck, shmeck…we decided to reduce our offer and walk away happy.  The seller didn’t hesitate. hmmm…

We happily ignored the wet deck for the next 6 years, sailing and growing on a boat that also needed pretty much everything else fixed too.  The deck, while wet, didn’t really feel spongy, and aside from constantly resealing the chainplates to stop leaks,  it was fairly easy to pretend that it was fine.  And then Jeff ( a very good, but overly observant friend) said “feels like you have a soft spot here”.  Damn.

There are a few schools of thought on fixing decks, but in my humble opinion, all but two are nonsense.  These two schools both require the removal and replacement of all of the wet core material; one through the top skin, and one up through the bottom.  Any suggestion that a satisfactory long term repair can be done without removing the core is wishful thinking.  Any rot in the deck will spread, maybe slowly, but surely as long as there is there is water in the core.

We tackled our decks both ways.  Our first effort was the foredeck, and this we did from below because of the easy access.  The job was unpleasant, but not overly difficult.  First DSCN1464we cleared the boat in anticipation of the fibreglass dust that we’d create, and did what we could to contain the mess with plastic.  I then removed the headliner and cut the deck open with a 1/4″ straight bit in a trimmer (a small router)  attached to a shop vac to minimize the dust.  While much of the core came out as a black paste, I was surprised by the amount of structurally viable but wet core I had to remove around the void to find dry core.  In the end, the hole I created was about twice the size that I’d anticipated.

Next I cleaned the area up with a sander and 80 grit paper.  This is required to get a good clean surface to bond the new material too.  I cut new core material to fit the irregularly shaped hole I’d created, and rigged up a clamping mechanism before breaking out the DSCN1466epoxy.  I borrowed an idea from guitar making to do the actual clamping: I cut many thin sticks of maple just a little longer than the space between the v-berth and the underside of the deck.  These were to act as legs holding up my work; the extra length meant they had to be bent.  The result is a nice dependable spring that will accommodate irregularities in the surface such as deck camber.

I did the layup in two stages – first I bedded the core in a thickened epoxy paste and clamped it overnight.  Then I laid up the bottom skin with rovings, biaxial cloth and unthickened epoxy.  I thought that doing the glasswork overhead would be a huge hassle, but it wasn’t.  I was well covered with protective gear, and as long as the pieces were not too large they were easy to put on by myself.  The biggest benefit of this approach is that as long as there is a headliner, there is no reason to try and make anything look good – the finish can be terrible as long as the quality of the layup is adequate.

Our next deck project was much more difficult.  Our side decks, particularly the starboard deck, were rotten in significant portions.  Due to the location of the cabinetry and the chainplates, doing the work from below would’ve been possible but very difficult.  The big advantage would be that the deck would remain fair and the nonskid would be fine; going in from the top would destroy the non-skid, but the interior could stay in place, the space to work in would be less awkward, and gravity is an assist.  I thought about this for a long while, and finally decided to go in from above and use Kiwi Grip to replace the missing non-skid.

This work was accomplished in essentially the same manner as the foredeck.  The two big differences were that the edge of the top skin needed to be beveled to create a strong joint to the new glass, and the whole thing needed to be fair.  Both were accomplished with the judicious use of a belt sander and angle grinder.  Thankfully, my experience in the wood shop really paid here as it is actually quite difficult to create a large fair surface with a small belt sander.  The other major challenge was weather, and in this we were ridiculously lucky to start the work at the beginning of one of the driest springs in Vancouver’s history.

This job was an incredibly intense process, and I would not tackle it again unless I really had too.  Certainly, sound decks were a prerequisite as we searched for our new boat.  Between Lori and I, we estimate that there are close to 500 hours in the job, including stripping the deck hardware, doing the deck work, painting everything, and finally re-bedding all of the deck hardware.  Given my background, much of these are at a professional’s pace.  None of it was easy work, as it is all in an awkward place given the shape of a boat.  We are very happy with the results – the deck is solid, straight, and free of the crazing normally found on an old boat’s gel coat.  In addition, we raised all of the stanchion bases off of the deck with solid glass spacers and removed the core everywhere a fitting penetrates; the new deck should be far better than the original.   The real irony is that we’re selling her after enjoying the new decks for only 2 years.  Word on the street is that I like projects; I’ll pass on doing another deck thank you.

 


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Willywaws

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“Holy crap that was a big gust!” (My dad was there – I had to keep it PG)

After a long but eventually fruitful day of fishing in the drizzle, we pulled into Matheson Inlet in Haida Gwaii for a quiet night.  Our weather pattern had changed a couple of weeks before as the abnormally strong Pacific High of spring 2015 regressed into something that we think resembled normality for BC’s north coast- regular dousings interspersed with frequent but short lived sunny stretches.  In Haida Gwaii, these low pressure systems were textbook: sunshine slowly disappearing into the gradually thickening cloud bank of the warm front, drizzle followed by a short stretch of unsettled weather, and then the thick, wet cumulus of the following cold front.  The passage of these systems never lasted long, and were always followed by a day or two of warm sunny weather before the next system arrived.  In addition, none of the lows to this point had been were particularly deep or violent.

This changed in Matheson Inlet as the next low moved though the next day.  Nothing too extreme, just enough to remind us of the value of good ground tackle and conservative procedures.  We were also fortunate to be sitting alone in completely enclosed bay with lots of swinging room.  We had 7:1 out, 100′ of which is chain: it pays to be prepared to sit out a blow.

The thing I found most interesting about the day is that I’m convinced that the wind was far less strong outside the bay.  The topography of Moresby Island – relatively tall peaks on a very thin stretch of land – lends itself to places where the wind is accelerated as it moves through the passes between peaks and down the valleys.  Environment Canada’s excellent resource on coastal weather explains it like this:

The narrowness of Moresby Island allows southeast winds along the east side of the island to flow over top and hit hard onto the waters of the inlets on the west side. In strong wind conditions, this makes it difficult to anchor or find shelter. The southernmost part of Haida Gwaii is particularly difficult in this regard, with Gowgaia Bay and Tasu Sound two examples of places where gusty winds come down off the mountains.

I can attest that the above is also true, but in the reverse, when strong SW’ers blow.  For us, these gusty winds meant sustained winds of 25 kts, with gusts to 46, or almost double the sustained speed.  The worst winds were during daylight and our situation was very secure, so we relaxed and enjoyed the spectacle.  Thank goodness for good anchors!