sailboatbliss

Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW


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How to Stern Tie Without Drama

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I was looking at my WordPress stats and noticed that there were a number of visitors looking for advice on stern tying.  Based on the myriad of techniques we’ve seen – some good and some really bad – this is a great question…how do we stern tie?  This might sound flip, but for the most part, we don’t.  We much prefer to swing free and avoid tying ashore if we can.  We dislike (hate?) tying a line ashore for a few reasons:

  • It’s extra, usually unnecessary, work.
  • We think it is often less secure than swinging free due to the potential of having wind on the beam.
  • Wind or current can make tying back difficult.

That said, sometimes a line ashore is a necessity.  In tight or crowded anchorages a line ashore keeps you from swinging into the shore or your neighbours.  In deep anchorages such as Teakerne Arm in Desolation Sound, , a stern line might be the only thing keeping your hook attached to the bottom.  And for a great raft-up, tying ashore is the easiest way to minimize the possibility of fouling each other’s anchors when setting multiple hooks.

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Over the years, we’ve developed the following system that works well for us and requires only two people :

  1. Get your stuff ready.  You’ll need a way to get ashore and a long floating line ready to go.  We use an SUP about half the time, and find a dinghy without a motor is a bit easier to deal with than one with a motor.  Our line is 200′ of 1/2″ polypropylene single braid, flaked into an IKEA bag.  Flaking your rope instead of coiling it is a climber’s trick – if you flake the line into the bag, it should come out tangle free, BUT, this only works with braided line.   200′ is a bit on the short side for a stern tie line, but it works most of the time.  Being ready means that your dinghy is in the water and your line is in the cockpit ready to deploy tangle free.
  2. Pick your spot with care.  Preferably, you are looking for a spot with fairly deep water right up to the shore, with plenty of room on either side.  A good spot will put you in a protected little nook that will shelter you from the worst of any strong winds.  The perfect spot will put you in a little nook AND line your boat up with the prevailing winds.  Perfect spots are hard to come by, especially in the Gulf Islands where many of the anchorages are lined up with prevailing SE and NW winds, but are too skinny to permit tying ashore with your bow facing in either direction.
  3. Identify a suitable shore anchor.  The best anchor is a purposely placed stern tie ring.  Second best is a dead tree or large log that is firmly attached/stuck in it’s current location.  Third choice would be a live tree – pulling a line around a live tree can kill it by removing bark around the tree’s circumference so we avoid doing so if at all possible.
  4. Line your boat up with your stern pointing at your target stern tie anchor and your bow over your desired anchor location.  For us, this is the hardest part: judging the distance to the shore isn’t easy, and the fact that the depth decreases as you near the shore complicates scope calculations.  Usually, we would prefer a scope of at least 4:1, and in a typical stern tying situation where you are just trying to limit your swinging room, this calculation is easy and identical to a calculation that you’d make if you were swinging free.   But in an anchorage where the depth increases rapidly, you might drop your anchor in 70′ and be lying in 20′.  The thing to remember in these locations is that it isn’t the scope that is important, it is the angle that the anchor shank makes with the bottom – a lower angle is better.  In almost all anchorages, the slope of the bottom works to your advantage when your butt is pointing at the shore, and against you when it’s not.  A stern tie in a rapidly shoaling anchorage makes sure that the slope of the bottom is always working to advantage, and in some cases, might be all that keeps the hook engaged.   Judging the best place to drop the hook in these more extreme cases can be challenging.  Generally we avoid these anchorages, but when pressed, we look for to drop at least 2:1, and back down hard to make sure we are well set before running the line ashore.  In the above example (70′ deep at the anchor location with the boat lying in 20′), we’d want to drop the anchor at least 225′ from the shore, and we’d put out at least 150′ of rode.
  5. Drop your hook.  This should be the easiest step.
  6. Back down on your hook.  Set your anchor as you would if you were going to swing free.
  7. Keep some tension on your rode.  Lower the engine RPM to idle, but generally speaking, do not take it out of gear.  This step is our secret sauce and makes the rest of the process as painless as possible.
  8. Take the line ashore.  When you get ashore, be sure to secure your ride back to the mother ship – watching your dinghy float off while you are running a line around a tree will be unpleasant at best.  If you have 3 aboard, the third crew can help by piloting the dinghy and standing off the shore while you work.  This makes the whole process a little bit easier and is a great job for a child.  Steps 6, 7 and 8 need to be done as quickly as possible.
  9. Run your line through or around your anchor point.  If you have any doubt about the quality of your anchor point, give it a good test first.
  10. Pull enough line to make it back to your vessel.  Be generous here as it’s easier to straighten up extra line later than it is to let out extra line so that you can reach the mother ship on your way back.  Have the crew fasten their end of the line to a cleat.
  11. Pull your boat into line with the anchor.   On our boat, prop walk moves her slowly to port, and if it takes too long for me to climb ashore and put the line around / through the anchor, she’ll need a little tug to get her back where I want her.   This is an important step important as it will minimize the amount of line needed to get back to the boat.  It is better to do this step after running the line through or around the anchor point – the extra friction that the shore-side anchor provides means that once you’ve re-positioned your boat, it’s not that hard to keep enough tension on the line to keep her in position.  Having the crew take the boat out of gear at this time will help pull the boat into a straight line, but once the boat is lying where you want it, be sure to put the boat back into reverse – it makes the next step easier…
  12. Throw the line you’ve pulled into your dinghy and get back to the boat.  You can row or you can just pull your self back using the line you’ve just run.  If I’m using a SUP, I just let the extra line I’ve pulled float and only take the end back with me.  Sometimes, you won’t have enough line to reach all the way back to the boat.  If this happens and depth allows, move the boat closer to the shore by putting the boat into neutral, letting out more anchor rode, and then putting the boat back into reverse.  If you can’t move the boat closer to shore, you’ll have to tie the line off to itself.  In these cases, we always pull out all of our line so that the knot you’ll have to tie will be as close to the boat as possible.   Most of the time, our line is long enough to make to the shore and back.
  13. Hand the end of the line to your crew and have them cleat it off.  The boat can be taken out of gear now and the engine shut down.
  14. Adjust your lines and set your snubber.  In the absence of wind, we like to have our stern line slack enough that it is mostly floating.  Sometimes we let out more scope, sometimes we put out more stern line, and sometimes we do nothing.
  15. Check your work.  It’s like a high school test – you’re not done till you check your work, only this time the results really matter.
  16. You’re done.  Go ahead and celebrate.

The meat of this system is that it is methodical – we always do this job the same way.  This consistency means that we are efficient.  The secret sauce is to keep the engine running and in reverse for most, if not all, of the operation.

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Weighing anchor is usually pretty easy.  Start the boat, and then let the stern line go.  Often there is no wind and we can pull in the line, flaking it into the bag as it’s pulled, and then haul the anchor as per our normal routine.  If its blowing on your beam, these jobs will need to be done somewhat simultaneously, but a floating line will buy you a little breathing space as it can be trailed behind you while you weigh anchor without fouling the prop as long as you don’t get crazy with the reverse.  Beware of the line getting caught in rocks or a branch ashore as you retrieve it – you might have to jettison the whole length and retrieve it with the dinghy once your have navigated to a safe location.

What not to do…

We’ve seen people try some crazy stuff in an attempt to stern tie.  More often though, we just see people working inefficiently or without a plan.  Here are a few things that we’ve seen that don’t work.

  1. Dropping the anchor before you have everything ready to go.  Just don’t do this…it’s silly and usually doesn’t end well.
  2. Tying ashore in a strong cross breeze or current.  This is possible if you’re both practiced (fast) and have everything ready before you drop the hook.  But, it’s really hard to do, especially in a crowded spot where you might be trying to slot yourself between two boats that are already settled.  Our own biggest stern tying dramas have resulted from attempting to do this.
  3. Using the outboard to pull the mothership into position.    This is a regular thing for some people, and with the rope trying to pull them out of the dinghy as they hang on to it for dear life with one hand while controlling the dinghy with the other, it always looks difficult, uncomfortable, and dangerous.  Pull on the stern line to put your boat where you want it while your are standing firmly on the ground – it’s easier and safer.
  4. Tying the line ashore before dropping the hook.  I’ve read that this is a real technique and have seen people pull it off.  We’ve also seen a couple of disasters, including one that required efforts from multiple boats in the anchorage to get the newcomer settled.  Drop your hook first.
  5. Yelling complex directions at each other.  This one usually works, but at what cost?  Having a plan will minimize the need to communicate as you complete the steps.

Tips for being the second anchor down in a rafting situation:

  1. Anchor as you would’ve if you were the first to anchor, but be very careful that you are not dropping your gear on top of your rafting partner’s tackle.
  2. Put out the scope you think you’ll need and back down on your anchor to set it.
  3. Once your anchor is set, let out 30 or 40 more feet of rode to give yourself some slack in you system.  This will allow you to maneuver into position far easier than if your rode is tight.
  4. If possible, back up a little too far beside your rafting partner.  If you’ve done a good job of positioning yourself, you should be able to drift forward and alongside fairly easily.  If you haven’t, power forward and try again.
  5. Once you’ve got your boat secured with bow, stern and two springs, haul in the extra rode you let out and snub your anchor.  Ideally, you want the load shared equally between the two anchors.

If we’re the second both in a raft of two, we don’t usually put out a second stern line – having less gear out makes getting away in a hurry easier.  If it’s blowing enough that we’re worried about the stern line, we will sometimes add a second.  If it’s blowing enough that this is still not enough, it’s time to move.

I hope these tips make your next (first) stern tying experience the low stress routine experience that in can be.  If your experience isn’t routine or low stress, practice will improve your skills and confidence.  Fair winds!


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Our Boat Shopping Checklist

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This post is for sailboat geeks – you know who you are.

I was just doing some tidying up to my old posts – it’s amazing how many typos I find even after proof-reading before publishing – and was struck by a fairly obvious omission to the topics I’ve written about.  I got to the “Selling Palomita” post and noted that it mentioned a list of desirable attributes that our next boat would have without mentioning what any of them were.

I love this topic, so it’s a bit strange that there is pretty much nothing in any of our posts that spell any of our ideas out.  This post is a list of things we looked for when we were searching for our boat, along with a look at how we did when we bought the Sabre.  Our base search was for a sloop or cutter rigged boat in the 40′ – 45′ range for less than $100000 CAD all in. The list will focus on items that are not easily changed.

Of course, these are just opinions and are based on my reading along with our roughly 22000nm of coastal cruising experience (and 0 nm of true bluewater experience) , cruising style, and intended use.  I will freely admit to being heavily influenced by John Kretschmer, so if you’re looking for rationale for any of these decisions, he’s a good place to start.

Long fin keel with moderate draft (max 6′).

This requirement was the one of the hardest ones on our list to meet in a 40′ – 45′ boat.  We ended up a centerboard boat with minimum draft of 5′ and a maximum draft of 8’6″.  The centerboard is complexity we didn’t really want, but the windward performance is excellent. The centerboard does make a clunking noise when sailing downwind if it is partially down, but is quiet if it’s all the way up.  Overall, based on 4500nm of sailing so far, we currently think of our keel arrangement as a great compromise.

A lead keel with a swept back leading edge and a ballast ratio between 40% and 50%

These requirements are easy to rationalize, but also hard to find.  The Sabre is has a ballast ratio of 41.5%, meaning 41.5% of her displacement is in her keel when she is dry.  This number will go down marginally as we add stores because the displacement will go up, but the amount of ballast in the keel won’t.  We wanted a swept back of lead keel rather than an iron keel or one with a plumb leading edge because characteristics create a keel that will take the ground better if (when?) we touch the bottom.

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A skeg hung rudder

We wanted both the protection and the tracking a skeg can provide.  The Sabre is a total miss here.   She has a huge, powerful balanced spade rudder  She is very easy to steer and tracks well.  Hopefully, we never see the day when we wish it was protected by a skeg.

A SA/D ratio higher than 16

This one is basically a power to weight ratio.  Too low, and the boat won’t move in light air, too high, and she’s tough to handle short handed.  The Sabre is just about perfect for a cruising boat at 17.15.  She is easy for the two of us to handle and is fun to sail in lighter winds.

Moderate shape

This one is hard to quantify, but basically, we wanted something that wasn’t optimized for dockside living nor designed as a slave to a rating rule.  There are a bunch of details that fall under this topic such as the bow and stern overhangs, the shape of the transom, but the easiest quantifier that I can think of is length to beam ratio.  Palomita is about 3.25, which means she isn’t overly beamy.  Given our budget and the necessity that we’d by default be looking at older boats, we were also looking to avoid the worst excesses of the IOR era.

Slab Reefing

We didn’t want the performance sacrifice and increase in complexity that comes with in-mast furling.  This item was non-negotiable, and surprisingly hard to satisfy; when we were looking for a boat, I went so far as to price out a new mast for one boat that otherwise fit the bill.

Inline spreaders

Sabre 42’s have a keel stepped, robust mast section supported by twin, inline spreaders and rod rigging.  I’d have preferred wire rigging, but like that the boom can be let out when running because the spreaders aren’t swept back.

Mid boom sheeting

Not the best for sailing, but so much nicer for living with.  Check.

Small companionway suitable for offshore work

The Sabre 42 has a great companionway from a safety at sea perspective, but there is one more stair than I’d like…we’ve both fallen down the last stair and will have to take care.  The bridge deck is super handy as an extra seat or buffet during happy hour.

Wide sidedecks to make access forward safer

20190730_112638You could land a plane on them. Check

New or dead engine

It was dead, now it’s new.  Check.

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Deep anchor locker

I’ve seen better, larger anchor lockers, but ours is adequate.  We currently have 275′ of chain plus a spare rode with 50′ of chain and 200′ of 5/8″ rope, so there is room.  We’ll probably take some of this out in an effort to lighten up the pointy end of the boat.

Adequate tankage.

This is our boat’s Achilles heel.  Our water and holding tank volumes are good – 120 gal. of water and 40 gal. of black water – but she only carries 44 gal of fuel.  We are constantly thinking of solutions and haven’t figured this one out yet.

Comfortable cockpit with good storage

Our Sabre’s cockpit is a little large with drains that are a little small, but it is also one of our favourite features.  The drains can be modified.

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U or G shaped galley suitable for cooking while underway

The Sabre’s G shaped galley is huge, but it is the right shape and there are spots to wedge yourself into.  Hopefully the large galley isn’t a liability at sea – it hasn’t been yet and we’ve used it underway regularly in all conditions including a multi-day ocean passage.  It should go without saying that it is fantastic at anchor.

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Good sea berths

There are two 7′ settees with square corners.  No complaints here.

Two heads and an aft cabin

We wish that the saloon was a little smaller with a little more storage behind the settees, but overall, we really like our layout. Aside form maintenance, we like having two heads, especially when there is company on board.

Good ventilation

With 10 opening ports, 4 dorades, and 6 hatches, it’s easy to keep air moving through the cabin.

Affordable

Yeah right…it’s a boat.  We weren’t even close to our target price, and the spending never ends.

 

 


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Westcoast Shakedown – Sailing Non-Stop Down the West Coast of Vancouver Island Part 2: The Passage

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It was sometime last spring when we first proposed the idea to do a 3 or 4 day “practice passage” down the west coast of Vancouver Island at a Bluewater Cruising Association meeting.  At the time, we didn’t think much of it – it just seemed like a good idea.  As the end of July approached, it seemed so much more, especially with the unstable weather we’d had through the first 3 weeks of the summer.  However, in spite of this dodgy weather and our apprehensions, by the time we tied up in Shearwater on Saturday July 27, we’d gotten a 3 day usable weather window and were mentally committed to doing the trip.  The nervous energy of the last few days didn’t disappear, but the pointless hand wringing did and was replaced with a fevered effort to get stuff done as fast as possible so that we could get underway: recycling, last minute grocery shopping, diesel, propane and laundry…all in just over an hour.

We started motoring south down Hunter Channel, next stop Sooke, just after noon, in gentle southerly winds and mostly overcast skies.  We could’ve beat down the channel, but our schedule and the light winds kept us motoring.  Eventually, we exited the very tight archipelago at the south end of Hunter Channel and motored into the open water of Queen’s Sound.  Surprise, surprise, the weather was still not quite as promised.  Instead of sun and a glorious reach, we got clouds and a motor in the sloppy leftovers from the departing south-easterly.   Not very exciting, but the monotony was probably good – it turns out that it’s just as hard to stay nervous when you’re bored doing the activity that was making you nervous in the first place as it is when you’re busy running around preparing for that activity.

We motored for quite a while, choking down what should have been a wonderful meal along the way.  Eventually though, our patience and faith in the forecast was rewarded and we were able to sail in light winds on a close hauled course straight at Cape Scott.  Fortunately, Palomita sails very well in these conditions and we were happy to trade the din of the engine for the satisfying swish of the water.  By 9pm, we were doing 7 knots on a close reach.  We were 32 miles north of Cape Scott and it was magical.

Before we left, we’d decided on a formal watch schedule starting at 10pm and ending at 8am.  Our plan was to do a 3 hour watch each, and then a 2 hour watch each.  We figured we could manage the daylight hours on an informal basis.  With a little tweaking over the two nights we were out, this system worked really well for us, and unlike our previous experiences sailing through the night, neither on us really got to the point of total exhaustion.  The first watch on Saturday night was mine, and it was a highlight.  The night was pretty much perfect for sailing to weather: Palomita rose to the gentle seas with enough wind to keep her moving fast, but not so much that we were on our ear.  The ride was so pleasant that we both spent our off watches in our regular bunk.  At midnight we were 11 nm from Cape Scott,  still on a close reach doing 7 knots, and it was still magical.

We rounded Cape Scott – which is really a 5nm wide pass between Vancouver Island and the Scott Islands – at about 1:30 in the morning, where we decided to turn the engine back on for 20 minutes to power through the wind shadow of the Scott Islands.  My watch had ended at 1:00, but because we weren’t sure what we were going to find at the cape, I stayed up until we were clear of the pass.  We’d never done this long of an overlap between shifts before, and we really liked the time together – so much so that we think it should be a regular part of our night watch routine.  Along with breaking up the monotony of sitting alone quietly while on watch, it gave us an opportunity talk about the conditions, other vessels, our location, our course and our sails.

I turned in when we were able to sail again.  Unfortunately, Lori’s watch lacked the sailing perfection that mine had.  The wind continued to veer into the west, but it didn’t build.  When you are sailing into the wind, the wind speed the sails feel is a combination of the true wind speed and the boat’s speed.  Palomita will sail quite well in 8 knots of true wind speed as long as the wind is coming at her.  As you turn to have the wind behind you, the wind in the sails drops.  If you are sailing dead downwind, the wind you feel is the wind speed minus the boat’s speed.  We don’t sail downwind very well at all in 8 knots, especially if there are waves.  As the wind shifted aft that night, the wind across the deck fell to the point where Lori had to fire up the motor for another half hour just to keep the boat moving at a reasonable speed.  By the time I got up at 4:30, reality finally started to catch up with the forecast, and the wind had risen enough to keep us moving well as we sailed towards Brooks Peninsula on a broad reach.  It was the beginning of a remarkable day.

Albatross

After going off shift, Lori managed to sleep for a couple of hours, but the by the time she got up, I had no desire to lay down.  The cloud cover was still close to 100%, but we were moving well and I was having fun sailing.  We also had lots of wildlife to enjoy: albatross, petrels, and shearwaters in the air, and multiple humpbacks in the water.  The whale sightings sound great, but having a humpback surface or breech right beside your boat can be a little nerve racking.

The morning progressed, and the wind built as forecast.  By the time we were rounding Brooks Peninsula, 50nm south of Cape Scott and commonly regarded at the most demanding headland on Vancouver Island, we’d pulled the main down and were running under jib alone.  It was only blowing 20 kts, and we could have left some of the main up, but the boat goes fine in that much wind with only the genoa out, and it’s safer -we can run almost dead downwind without having to deal with poles or boom preventers – and we were expecting the wind to keep rising through the day.  As an added bonus, the sun started to make an appearance.

It’s hard to describe our day running between Brooks Peninsula and Estevan Point in a way that adequately describes our experience.  Pictures can’t really show what we saw, never mind what we felt.  It was at times awe inspiring, amazing, monotonous, and exciting.  Rounding Brooks had been easy – the wind and seas were was still moderate – but the conditions built steadily through the day as we made our way south until winds were blowing a steady 28-30 kts, gusting to 35, with an average seastate of  2-3m.  This means that the odd 20 footer rolled under our keel.  Spicy, but not scary.  In fact, this time was some of the most amazing sailing that I’ve ever done – just us and our boat doing hull speed in big waves and sunshine.  It’s amazing what being in the midst of “it” does to your mind – the positive effect of actually being fully engaged in an activity instead of just thinking about it.  This is a lesson I have to learn over and over again.

 

The fun lasted until the wee hours of the next morning during Lori’s watch.  It’s not easy to sleep with the sails slatting as they alternately filled with air and then lost it as the boat rolled.  Lori kept heading up – turning into the wind – in an effort to increase the wind over the deck, but by 4 am it was pointless – we were on a close reach doing 4kts and pointing right at Hawaii. We were 15 miles off of Ucluelet when we fired the engine back up and turned the boat 90 degrees to port to get us pointing back at our destination.20190729_060417

Day three was pretty mellow compared to the day before.  We motored for quite a while, a couple of hours of which were in the fog.  Gale force westerlies were forecast for Juan de Fuca Strait, but these usually fill in early in the afternoon, so we motored on, anticipating a great sail to finish the trip off.  Juan did not disappoint…by noon we were sailing again and by three we were running under foresail only.  We’ve done this stretch under these conditions before, so this sail had a distinctly laid back feel compared to the day before.

We finally pulled into Sooke Harbour at seven.  It was blowing pretty hard over the spit, and we spent quite a while poking about looking for a good spot to drop the hook.  In the end, we settled in a tight spot just off the spit near the entrance to the harbour.  We were the second boat in, so our tight spot was really tight..not the best, but the winds were supposed to stay out of the west all night so we hoped we’d be fine.  We were, but the wind and tight spot didn’t inspire the confidence I need to sleep well.

We arrived in Victoria at about noon the next day after another great sail through Race Passage.  The sail was absolutely fantastic, but even so, the difference in our stress levels when we tied the lines to the dock was palatable.  We were supposed to meet friends on the dock, but they were a day late.  Good thing – we spent the afternoon tidying up the boat and hit the sack early. We would’ve been terrible company.   

It’s been a month and a half since we arrived in Victoria which has allowed plenty of time for reflection.  Lori maintains that she had “type 2” fun – the kind of fun that is better in hindsight – but that she’d do it again “for a purpose”.  I get it.  There is no doubt that the time leading up to us getting underway was fraught with needless angst, and that living on a small boat at sea is tiring and uncomfortable.  But I’m having trouble 20190730_151035squaring up the time frame of my fun.  I missed being out there almost immediately – cruising in Desolation Sound just wasn’t the same after the high adventure of surfing down 10′ waves for hours at a time.  Three days is just a small taste, and it’s highly likely that  sailing like this for days on end would grow to be routine and might (would?) eventually become tiresome. The bottom line is that, regardless of how we handled it or felt about it, the trip was totally worth it.  There is no other way to test yourself, your boat, and your systems other than to get out there and sail, and I’m happy to report that we passed this test.

I’ve created a companion video for this post.  You can view it at https://youtu.be/KzFp5lLq6Dg

Some of what we learned:

All of our little steps over the years have lead us here with confidence.  I’m pretty sure the next trip like this will be much easier in terms of pre-departure anxiety.  Everyone who wants to head offshore would benefit from a trip like this.

The autopilot (Raymarine Evolution EV200 with a linear drive) can handle fairly challenging conditions, but oversteers using the settings we were using.  We will have to tweak these to try and get it to steer a more consistent course, especially when the boat starts rolling in cross seas.

Our modest 160W solar array kept up with the demand over 24 hours no problem with no engine run time.  I’m hoping that by expanding it considerably – we’re thinking of adding another 400W – this will remain true in lower latitudes.

5 miles is not enough sea room off of either Estevan Point or Brooks Peninsula when it’s blowing.  More is better.

Shorter watches with a scheduled overlap made the night watch go so much faster.  The trick is to sleep as much as possible during the day to stay rested.  We’ve sailed overnight a grand total of 10 nights – I think that it’s likely that longer watches would become easier with more experience.

We’re both pretty immune to seasickness, but there is a limit.  Neither of us really felt like eating for the whole trip.

25 – 30 kts behind you in the ocean is still fun, but I wouldn’t want to have to sail into it.  30 – 35 is doable, but is pushing it as far as fun goes.

Our boat is fun and easy to sail, even shorthanded.  We already knew this, but we appreciate it more as we learn more.

 


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Westcoast Shakedown – Sailing Non-Stop Down the West Coast of Vancouver Island: The Go / No-Go Decision

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Sleep deprivation…check.  Lack off appetite…check.  Exhilaration…check.  Scary…well maybe a little. Rewarding…absolutely.   I’m not sure how we ended up committing ourselves to a multi-day non-stop voyage down the west coast of Vancouver Island, but we did.

It’s not really a big secret that we have spent a huge amount of time and money refitting our boat with designs on going further afield sometime in our future.  For a couple in our situation, the reasons to do a trip like this are pretty simple: how else can you see how you, your boat, and it’s systems handle being underway in a true ocean environment over multiple days other than going out and trying it.  We weren’t really looking for fun; we just wanted to test ourselves and our boat.  So we decided to sail as much of the BC coast as we could over a 3 or 4 day period at the end of July.

We chose this itinerary – as opposed to just sailing out into the ocean for a couple of days – for a few reasons: the prevailing winds in the summer are NW, so we could reasonably expect to have a predominately downwind sail with conditions similar those found sailing south down the west coat of North America, or westward in the trades.  Secondly, the five sounds on Vancouver Island’s West Coast are all fairly easy to access, even in bad weather, meaning that we’d have the psychological crutch of shelter if the weather turned bad. Lastly, it seemed like a really good way to get south and back into reliable summer weather quickly.

vancouver island

But like so many other things, there’s so much more to a trip like this than just picking a a destination and going sailing for a couple of days.  In addition to planning around the weather, provisioning, and setting up the boat for being underway for multiple days, there is dealing with your brain.  I wish there was an app for that.  My brain isn’t always my friend.  In fact, it’s often my nemesis.  When we’re doing things that are bigger than things we’ve done before, my brain likes to fire up my imagination, making up lists of possible maritime disasters and other unlikely catastrophes.  I’ve figured by now that these imaginings are pretty much a waste of time and energy, but it still sucks being anxious.  My hunch is most people are no different.   

Our singled minded commitment to our boat over the last 3 years also added an extra dimension that, unlike our entirely predictable pre-departure jitters, I didn’t anticipate: what if we decided not to go at the last minute – would our excuse hold up to scrutiny? Would a bail this time mean that we’d always bail? What if we went and hated the trip?  For me, there was way more at stake than just a 3 day sail – in my head, this would either be a vindication or a condemnation of all the blood, sweat and tears we’ve poured into Palomita.  Like I said – my brain isn’t always my friend.

We left Ocean Falls on the morning of July 27 in a downpour.. things looked kinda grim.  Even if the rain stopped and the sun came out as advertised, the weather window was tight with a new low pressure system due to pass over the coast in only 3 days.  And as is so common when a system moves on to be replaced by high pressure, the winds were predicted to swing strongly into the north-west.  The last forecast on the night of the 26th called for winds to 35 knots south of Brooks Peninsula.  We could manage the shortened schedule, but 35 knots was way more wind than we’d like.  So we motored south with some serious doubts.

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As we neared Shearwater, the rain slowed and patches of blue arrived.   We tuned in to the 10:30 forecast sure that it would just confirm that the winds were going to be heavy over the next few days, and at the very least, we’d  postpone our trip for another week, and maybe scrap it altogether.  No such luck – the new forecast called for the wind to build to a westerly breeze of 15 knots (perfect) over the afternoon, swing to the northwest through the evening, and finally build to NW 20 – 30kts the following day.  Strong, but within our comfort zone.  The forecasts from both Windy and Predict Wind were even better with winds to only NW 20kts as long as we stayed fairly close to the shore.  With these forecasts, any reasonable excuses for bailing disappeared…we were going to do our third circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, this time without stopping on the West Coast.

 


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Commisioning Our ECHOTec Watermaker

filters

I promise to lay off the gear geek posts for a while and get back to some sailing after part two of our water maker install – the commissioning…

We’ve been waiting for this weekend with a lot of anticipation and a little consternation.  When I installed our watermaker, I was a little overwhelmed with how something so simple in theory could grow to become so complicated by the time all of the different plumbing circuits were included.  Salt feed water, brine discharge, pickle, sample output, fresh water flush…valves and hoses everywhere, any and all of which could (would?) leak.  Oh, but the payoff: endless fresh, clean water.   Anticipation and consternation.

We picked this weekend for a couple of reasons: we planned to cross Georgia Strait, a relatively open body of water with relatively clear water on the western side, and the proximity of our summer vacation.

Our commissioning started as soon as we left the murky waters of south-eastern Georgia Strait.  The Fraser River is a silty river, and the cloudy water extends far out into the strait.  By the time we were in clear water, the wind had filled in and we were under sail.

My first step was a refresh of the system knowledge and an inspection.  This would’ve been easier at the dock where the boat is level and stationary.  Regardless, I immediately  found a couple of issues that needed attention..loose hose clamps and incorrectly installed filter elements being the most egregious.  I also set the various valves in what I thought were the correct positions for system start-up.

Once I’d given the system the once over and figured out what all of the hoses and valves were for, I turned on the pumps and tried to purge the air from the system.  This step is pretty important as I’d been told that the high pressure pump – the single most expensive part of the system – did not like running dry.  This process wasn’t completely without issue as the high pressure pump was very reluctant to prime.  I ended up using the fresh water rinse circuit to push water into the high pressure pump and help force the air out of the system.  This circuit uses the ship’s fresh water pump to move water, which is much more powerful than the watermaker’s boost pump.

You can tell when the high pressure pump is working when water starts flowing out of the brine discharge through-hull.  Once Lori confirmed that we had a stream of water coming out of the side of the boat, I started to slowly bring the pressure up. And then I stopped as some doubt set in.  Had I really set the valves correctly?  A mistake here would be costly – mostly in time and effort.

The membrane is shipped “pickled”.  This chemical preserves the membrane for long term storage by keeping it moist and free of biological growth.  While the pickle isn’t poison, it will make you sick – not the best stuff to be pushing into your water supply.  In order to flush the pickle from the membrane, you are supposed to set a diverter valve to “test” and run the system for a half hour to flush the pickle out of the membrane.  The test circuit sends product water to a spigot that drains into the sink in our forward head.  If I’d mistakenly set that diverter valve wrong, it would’ve sent the tainted product water to our water tanks.  If I’d noticed this mistake, we’d have had to empty and flush our tanks.  If I hadn’t have noticed this mistake, we’d have gotten sick and then have to empty and flush our tanks.  Unfortunately, the instructions for the “test/tank” diverter valve are not clear – the instructions say “turn to the left”…the arrows on the control panel imply that the valve should be turned counterclockwise, which would put the lever to the right.  Hmmm.

I decided to end the ambiguity by disconnecting the hose that feeds water into our tank and then turning the pressure back up.  Sure enough, I’d set the valve wrong, and water started to trickle out of the disconnected hose.  Crisis averted, but definitely a close call!

I switched the diverter valve, and watched with satisfaction as water started to flow out our test spigot and into the sink.  I reconnected the tank fill hose and checked all of the plumbing…no leaks.  A half hour later, we took a drink.

It’s not that often that I get excited about drinking water.  This occasion was an event.  Eau d’Georgia Strait.  Wonderful.  With that out of the way, I tried turning the diverter to “tank” and checked that water actually made it into our tank.  There wasn’t really any doubt, but it was still very satisfying to hear a tinkle of fresh water run into our tank while underway.  The sweet sound of success!

Our system is a DC system that makes 13 gallons per hour at 40 Amps.  We ran it for 45 minutes, and were down 35 Amp hours when we shut the system down.  We tied up in Nanaimo at 14:00, still down, but were back at full battery capacity by 17:00 hrs.  All of this with almost no motoring.  We are pretty pleased with how the system looks like it will fit into our current systems set-up and our cruising lifestyle.  Having a surplus of fresh water without having to worry about motoring excessively to make power is the ideal – our short test shows that when the sun is shining, this is possible, even with our very modest 180W solar array.   We are looking forward to using it more and coming up with more substantive data to fine tune these systems so as to be self-sustainable over longer stretches at sea.

Lessons:

  • Installing the watermaker in the winter was a great idea – I could take it slow and enjoy the process as much as possible without any time pressure.
  • Double check everything before running it the first time – even if you’ve already done a double check.  I found a hose that wasn’t attached, a wiring problem, and 2 filters installed in the wrong order.
  • Labels and checklists go a long ways to clarifying the operation of any gear that is left dormant for long periods of time.  Label everything…wire, hoses, switches and valve functions.

 


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You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone…The Dreaded Haul-Out

lori stripping bottomJust to be clear, all haul-outs are dreaded, some more than others.  Going in, we knew that this one was to be a “more dreaded” affair…a complete strip down to gel coat or barrier coat or whatever was there.  We also wanted to get a close look at some repair work that we found during our first haul-out in 2017.  The intrepid previous owner forgot that he owned a boat and tried a little rock crawling outside of Pender Harbour in 2015.  The resulting damage was not disclosed or discovered during our sale, and was an unpleasant surprise when we finally found it.  Despite the assurances of the insurance adjuster who surveyed the damage and the guy who did the repair, we wanted to know what the real story was.  All this uncertainty was our main motivation – just what was all that paint hiding?

But wait – there was more.

Our boat has a centerboard.  This is controlled by a cable that runs from the centerboard, through a turning block mounted over the keel and finally to a winch in the cockpit.  The cable is housed in a stainless steel pipe as it runs aft.  Most of this mechanism is below the waterline, and represents a substantial risk as it cannot be protected by a sea cock.  The system must be maintained and – big surprise – ours wasn’t.  The turning block in the bilge was leaking, and there was some evidence that the aft turning block was too.  At there very least, we needed to pull these parts and have them re-welded.

We hauled on a Monday after returning from an amazing week in the Gulf Islands on Sunday.

 

This was a pretty rude transition – from sitting on the beach to scraping goo off the bottom.

Getting started…

We had her pressure washed and had a good look at what we were starting with.  Welcome to our first surprise – hull delamination.

repair delamination

Now normally, this would’ve been a major shock, but we’ve dealt with so many boat surprises over the years that it was all pretty humdrum.

“Hey Lori, check this out.  The repair they did when Bill hit the reef is delaminating!”

“Nice…What would you like for lunch?”

I ripped as much off as I could and had a good look.  Fiberglass over bottom paint, applied by a “professional”.

After lunch, we started ripping out the centerboard mechanism.  This was also worse than we thought – Sabre decided that it was a good idea to put a bronze sheave in the submerged stainless housing and the resulting galvanic corrosion took out portions of all of the metal involved.   Over the next week, we stripped all of the conduit out of the boat, re-designed the system to eliminate the dissimilar metals, metal conduit and stainless cable, and hired a fabricator to make new turning block for both ends of the conduit.

centerboard sheave

We started the stripping the bottom on Tuesday.

We decided to to use a chemical stripper called DeFOUL by Protocol Environmental Solutions.  This is a water based non-toxic product that claims to remove multiple layers with one application.  The instructions were simple: spray it on with an airless sprayer, let it sit overnight, and scrape.  Looking at the thickness of the paint build up at the waterline, we anticipated needing at least two applications.

We suited up and started scraping Wednesday morning.  What a terrible job!  The DeFOUL did exactly what it was supposed to do, but the sludge that we scraped of got everywhere.  Shoes, hats…everything covered in a gooey, sticky, toxic (the paint is toxic) sludge.

 

 

A terrible job, but compared to the alternatives, relatively easy.  I’ve sanded and scraped before.  It’s is very physically demanding and time consuming.  It’s also dusty, even with a vacuum, and noisy.  Using DeFoul to soften the paint saved tons of time and effort. We started scraping at 9am and had the first 10 years of paint off by 3pm without the noise and dust of sanding.  In some areas, we were able to strip all of the bottom paint off with that first application.  That’s pretty remarkable.  Really messy but remarkable.

The rest of the paint wasn’t quite as accommodating – ultimately, it took two more applications to get through the next 10 years of paint.  I have no idea what it was, but that red paint was far more tenacious than the more recent paint.  Still, we had the boat mostly down to fiberglass and surprise number 3 by Saturday.

Surprise number 3 and a questioned answered…

Surprise number 3 was the composition of the bottom: bi-axial cloth set in epoxy over a peeled bottom.  No gel coat.  Somewhere in the sales literature, we’d read that the boat had a barrier coat.  We didn’t expect to find a new layer of glass.  This layer, which should’ve been extended a little higher up the hull, explained the absence of blisters everywhere except the waterline.  Clearly the boat had had a fairly bad blister problem that some previous owner had peeled off in the distant past.  This is almost exactly what we’d done to our last boat and was a good surprise. Finally.

Things are looking up…

Spring break ended and the weather became unstable.  This required a certain amount of luck to get dry weather windows to coincide with our work schedule..we were lucky.

  • We ground off all of the repair work that had been applied over bottom paint and faired what was left.  The quality of the work done does not inspire confidence in our marine tradespeople.  How would one choose a contractor and ensure quality work?  I hope that I’m never forced to find out.
  • I ground out and laid up a patch for a small void that penetrated far into the laminate in front of the keel.  My hunch is that the boat came down hard on a rock in this spot when it was grounded.
  • I removed two unused thru hulls and patched the holes.
  • We replaced the bolts attaching the strut.
  • We put in a new depth transducer (why we did this is a tale for another day)
  • I ground out all of the gelcoat blisters at the water line and faired with epoxy filler.
  • We replaced the fairing at the hull / keel joint.
  • We applied 1 coat of Clovamastic epoxy barrier coat under 2 coats of Jotun Seaforce 200 bottom paint
  • We replaced the entire centerboard pendant system.
  • I polished and waxed the topsides

 

22 days with one Friday night off.  Haul-outs aren’t fun, but the feeling of relief and satisfaction when the boat went back in the water was.  As an aside, we are lucky to not only be competent enough to do this work (we actually got a job offer!), but also to have the opportunity to do the work.  Not all jurisdictions allow DIYers to work on their boat for fear that they will not be responsible.  In fact, there is at least one yard in Washington State that won’t even allow owners to change their own zincs in the name of environmental protection.  Not only do I doubt that hired guns would take the care that I do to do quality work on our boat, but we couldn’t afford our boat if we had to pay someone else to work on it.  I guess that this means that those of us that are still able to find places where we can work on our boats have a duty to work as neatly and responsibly as we can in order to put off the long arm of bureaucratic overreach as long as possible.  Happy painting!

 

 

 

 

 


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Who Doesn’t Like a Kitchen Reno?

lori in the galley

Plastic laminate – Arborite – is a pretty amazing material.  Our galley is thirty years old, and until this winter, everything was still original and looked to be in reasonable shape.  A few chips, but no burns or big scratches.  Impressive for a thin layer of paper and plastic.  The fridge and sink not so much.  Both were showing their age and in need of an update.

The fridge was our main concern.   The freezer would frost up so badly that the lid would get frozen shut as the frost worked its way up and out past the lid.  The lids themselves were heavy and held up by a spring that would drop the lid on your head if you breathed too heavy while rooting around for a cold beer.  To add insult to injury, the freezer itself didn’t even work well – it refused to get much below freezing in the bottom.  Upon further inspection, we found that this poor performance was due to water making its way into the insulation from the fridge drain.  The whole thing really needed to go.

The sink was mostly just ugly.  We decided early on that we wanted an undermount to make clean-up a little easier.  I could’ve built a counter using plastic laminate and dealt with finishing the edge at the hole for the sink, but chose to use a solid surface – Meganite – instead.  This material is easy to work with but has a reputation for cracking if it is installed incorrectly…time will tell if this was a good decision.

I find that many seemingly easy jobs have a way of getting complicated as you start making decisions about details.  If you aren’t careful, one choice early on can push you into a corner that is hard to get out of.  The big decisions for this project all required more consideration than one would think.  Just finding a sink that would fit was a nightmare…

  • what, and how much insulation material?
  • what would the box be lined with?
  • how would I fabricate proper lids with a latch and two seals on each?
  • how would I mount the sink?

We decided to go with 5 – 6″ of polystyrene insulation – the pink or blue boards you can get at a home improvement store.  The other easily obtained choice – polyisocyanurate – is more expensive and has been shown to have an R value that decreases as the temperature decreases.  Not good in a freezer.  I lined the box with epoxy and glass and didn’t include a drain.  This one piece liner can’t ever leak into the insulation.

The openings for the fridge and freezer were the biggest challenge.  I replaced the massive teak structure that defined the original openings and the lid insulation with styrofoam assemblies covered in fibre reinforced plastic panelling (FRP).  I attached the FRP to the styrofoam with thickened epoxy.  The lid insulation rests on teak trim rings in each opening.  These rings support the lower seal and gas filled support struts.  The lid insulation is in turn affixed to the Meganite lids with silicone.  I added a small step around the top edge of each opening for a second seal. We’re super happy with the results – it all looks like it came from the factory.

I sourced the sink through Amazon.com and had it delivered to a friend in Anacortes.  Amazon .ca didn’t have it and the RV shop I called in the valley wanted double what I paid.  Sometimes shopping here really sucks.  The counter material is not designed to support the weight of a sink, so I build a frame to rest the sink edge on.  This also serves to support the counter as required by the installation instructions.

The counter itself was fairly easy but time consuming and stressful.  It required a huge amount of planning, prep, and travel to make sure everything lined up correctly.  The most important step was to build templates for everything.  Essentially, this meant building, testing and trimming an entire counter out of MFD before starting on the Meganite; working on the finished product using only the old countertop and measurements as a guide likely wouldn’t have produced the same results.  I did almost all of the fabrication work after hours in my shop…every test fit required driving to the marina and humping the piece in question out to the boat and back before proceeding.

The counter is held in place by a few blobs of silicone to allow the top to move as the temperature changes – not really the most secure method, particularly if we’re knocked down, but it’s the the only one recommended by the manufacturer.  Putting screws into the counter is a guaranteed way to induce cracks.  To add some structure to the assembly, I am adding a fairly substantial fiddle around the front edge edge and a moulding along the back edge that will be screwed to the cabinetry to clamp the counter down.  This should allow for regular movement and help secure the counter against irregular movement in the event of an “accident”.  I would’ve liked to use the original one piece laminated fiddle, but didn’t think there was enough meat to make it robust enough for a worst case scenario.

counter done

Aesthetically, we’re both really pleased with the results.  It looks new and fresh.  But more importantly, it is also functionally superior to the original.  The undermount sink makes wiping the counter down a treat, and the fridge should be far more efficient with dry insulation, a reduction of wood in the top assembly, and proper seals on the lids.