sailboatbliss

Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW


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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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Installing an ECHOTec Watermaker

panelLori and I have always maintained that a watermaker is completely unnecessary when cruising the BC coast – so what changed?  Well…we spent some time on a boat with one.  We still don’t think we “need” one, but the freedom of just using clean, fresh water whenever you want is very alluring.  Every swim can end in a fresh water rinse, dishes get a thorough rinse, and water shortages aren’t an issue like they were on our cruise to Haida Gwaii in 2015.  They come with a number of costs though: space, maintenance, energy, money – lots of money, and the effort of a significant install.  I tend to gloss over this cost over when I take projects on; this time was no different.

We started by doing tons of research.  I started by assuming that my search would lead inevitably to a Spectra simply because of their incredible efficiency.  But there are more things to think about than litres per amp hour.  After a lengthy detour to an AC system that we could design ourselves, we eventually decided on an 50 litre/hour ECHOTec DC system for a few reasons:

  • It will run off our existing DC system.  We didn’t want to rely on extra gear like a generator (ugh) or an inverter.  We normally have an excess of electricity, but will eventually upgrade our solar and alternator to ensure that we’re never short, regardless of the weather.
  • They are very simple – the system is essentially a DC motor, a plunger style high pressure pump as used on a pressure washer, and a membrane.  Nothing is automated.
  • They are a little less expensive than a Spectra – but not enough to be a major factor in the decision.
  • It should produce 100% more water in one hour of run time than we currently use per day when we’re being fairly liberal with our water use.  We figure a couple of hours of run time every second day will more than meet our needs, even if we turn into water pigs.
  • The vendor (Hydrovane) is local and well established.

We haven’t used our watermaker yet, so we don’t know for sure if we made the right call, but the logic and numbers still make sense to us.  We’re pretty confident that we have the right system.

The Purchase

We started by having Will and Sarah from Hydrovane visit the boat.  Not only are they the vendors, but they are also experienced bluewater sailors with experience living with the ECHOTec model we were considering.  We had a great morning talking about their adventures and our plans, along with a thorough look at our boat and the spaces we could use for the various parts of the system.  There are a number of large parts that needed a home:

  • The motor and high pressure pump.  The
    watermaker crate

    Pretty exciting – new boat toys are always fun to unpack.

    pump doesn’t reliably create the lift required to suck water – even with a boost pump to feed it water, it is best to locate it as low as possible.  The pair is also big and heavy.

  • Pre-filters.  These consist of a pair of domestic 10″ housings, plumbed in series.  This assembly is fairly large and needs to be easily accessible
  • The pressure vessel for the membrane.  It can go anywhere, but it’s long.

Will and Sarah brought a pressure vessel along as they believe that this is normally the most problematic component to fit due to it’s length.  We tried under our V-berth – it’s tight but it fit.  We measured out potential locations for the other major components and placed our order.  A month later it arrived in two large wooden crates.

The Install

We unpacked the crates and laid out all the parts on our living room floor to check them against the parts list.  Everything was as advertised, but the mountain of individual pieces was more than a little overwhelming.  Despite the simplicity of basic water making process, the addition of alternate circuits for testing, flushing, and pickling (preserving the membrane from biological growth for long periods of downtime), requires a significant selection of fittings and hose to figure out.  Thankfully, the relatively well written instructions helped to clear up some of the questions before we set to work on the boat.

I tackled the major components first: the high pressure pump and motor, pre-filters, pressure vessel, and control panel.  We originally planned to put the pump/motor assembly on the cabin sole in the V-berth, but this area was also a prime spot for the pre-filters due to its accessibility.  The filters won that tug of war.  We settled on sacrificing a difficult to access drawer and previously unused space under the v-berth for the pump/motor assembly.

This installation required that I replace the drawer with a strong shelf to support the substantial weight of the pump and motor and cut an opening for access to the space from above.  I glassed the shelf to the hull and painted the compartment before bolting the pump motor assembly in place.  I finished this step by using the old drawer front to cover the hole that the drawer used to occupy.  I cut a hole in the old drawer front to make room for the motor and provide ventilation, and hinged it to the cabinetry so that I could access the compartment from the side as well as from above.

 

 

I finished the pump installation by running a #2 wire from a breaker near the positive bus at the battery box all the way forward to a terminal block.  This run will power both the high pressure pump and the feed pump.

The pre-filters and pressure vessel were both easy to fit, requiring only a few holes for plumbing.

The control panel was another matter.  We paneloriginally decided to install it in a new cabinet on a small counter at the head of the v-berth.  I even went so far as to drill holes through the counter and fabricate a teak cabinet.  However, the number of wires and hoses connected to the back of the panel ultimately made this location unworkable.  We finally settled on sacrificing a small but useful storage space near to the cabin sole and adjacent to the pump / motor compartment.

Plumbing

I thought that the rest of the installation would be pretty simple – it’s mostly plumbing.  But there were also two more filter housings to install – one to filter chlorine out of a fresh water rinse circuit and one to house a water hardener – along with the boost pump and a water strainer.  Like the pre-filters, the rinse water filter housing and water hardener housings are both domestic 10″ housings and require accessibility and a bit of space.  The other issue we were starting to think about was how many spare filters we’d need to buy and store plumbingto fit in all of these housings; along with the domestic water filters under the sink, we were now 5 housing all requiring regular maintenance.  We thought about this for a while, and finally decided to re-plumb the pressure side of the entire cold water system in order cut that number by one.  This was a lot of work, but was worth it as it improved our existing system and cut the number of requires spares by 20%.

The rest of the water-maker plumbing was straight forward, but tedious.  Cutting the high pressure hose with a zip disk was easy, as was installing the fittings.  Much of the low pressure plumbing is routed from the control panel via 3/8″ hard plastic tubing and compression fittings – I used brass compression fittings and hose barbs to connect them to the boat’s systems.  The product water is sent to the tanks by tying the water-maker output line into the vent line – we’ll see how this works – and the raw water is teed into the wash down pump through-hull fitting, thereby reducing the number of needed through-hulls by one.  The water strainer and boost-pump are in the same compartment as the associated sea cock, and required a bit of wrestling to hook up.

hoses

The sea-cocks for the forward head sink, holding tank, wash-down pump and watermaker, along with the boost pump and strainer.  This compartment will have a shelf installed over the plumbing so that the through-hulls are protected and the space usable.

The test water line – you’d hate to inject bad water into your tanks – is teed into the foot pump spigot in the forward head with check valves in both lines to ensure the the foot pump and the watermaker can only send water out of the spigot, and not back into the system.

There’s more of course, but this covers the majority of the work required for the water maker to function.  For now, the feed water through-hull is still closed and, except for the membrane, the unit is dry.  I’m a little apprehensive about firing it up – there are tons of fittings and I’m sure some of them will leak.  I’m hoping for the best, and will post a report after we have some time living with the system.

 

 

 


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Other People’s Problems or Why Boat Maintenance Means More Than Changing The Oil

Campania Island

Yes, the work is all worth it.

The guy who owned our boat for the 9 years before us either didn’t know or didn’t care. There are so many things – simple things – that went undone.    One of our talking points during the sales negotiations was the lack of cruising gear aboard – no solar power, watermaker, self-steering etc.   Based on the condition of the gear that was on the boat, this lack of fancy toys was a good thing – it means the list of things we’ve fixed or thrown away and replaced is relatively short.

garbage windlassTake our windlass.  We left it by the dumpster so it wasn’t hard to find.  It was a good piece of kit in its day, but we knew it had to go when we first saw it.  Our biggest complaint?  The lack of an integral hawse pipe; while the windlass seemed to work fine, the thing just dumped the chain onto the deck.  It had to go.

Then we took it off.  It’s surprising that it even worked.  We’re definitely very happy that we didn’t settle with the minor inconvenience the lack of a hawse pipe represented and dug further.  Starting at the top:

  • the capstan was seized to the shaft.
  • 6 of the 8 fasteners holding the contraption to the deck were broken.  Yes that’s right, it mostly stayed put because of caulking and gravity.
  • the gearbox was full of water.
  • a heavily corroded casting – part of the deck attachment assembly.
  • heavy corrosion on the entire motor housing.
  • An unsealed deck core that required replacement – I’ve been to this dance before and didn’t like it much.

In short, unless you are one of those people you enjoys bringing uncared for equipment back from the dead, it was garbage.

And then there was our headliner under our port-side deck.  Much like the windlass, it looked OK.   On our first viewing, there was evidence of a small leak below a window, and we just assumed that the drip coming from the headliner was a bad window seal. Wrong.

rotten headlinerThe leak took a break for a couple of months during a cold snap, but when it came back, it came back big.   Dogging the window tighter made no difference; it wasn’t a bad seal.   So I pulled the headliner down.   It’s didn’t go back up.

Why do people let things go?  Both of these issues – just a couple in a long list – are simple routine maintenance.  A windlass only needs some love once or twice a year.  Take it apart and grease it – 15 minutes if you’re wearing a blindfold.  The windows – all of them – needed to be caulked.  This took half a day and stopped the leak.  The damage from not doing these things is just under $2000 IF you can do all the work yourself.  The previous owner went on at some length about the frequency of his oil changes, but clearly, did nothing else.  Thank goodness the boat wasn’t filled with neglected cruising goodies; I’m not a big fan of fixing other people’s problems.