'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch


The first week aboard

The first week back is bound to be interesting.
Realistically, you can’t expect to walk away from something like a boat or a house for five months, in a hostile climate, and not have a few issues to deal with when you start to use it again, so we expected a few surprises.

But what’s been most surprising to me – in a good way – is how few and how minor those surprises have been. A couple little leaks to deal with (like that Dorade box, above), a few sticky, corroded bits of metal that didn’t move when they should, a leaking urine holding tank… 

Basically, though, Sionna woke up and went right back to doing what she does best – taking care of us.

So in the week or so since we launched from the boat yard, we’ve slept every night and eaten every meal aboard, plus we’ve sailed a grand total of 27 miles – from the yard in northern Charlotte Harbor to an anchorage called Pelican Bay, just off Cayo Costa State Park. That week has confirmed one critical, enormous, wonderful fact: We love our boat!
After we were launched last Thursday, we filled up the water tanks at the dock, (the diesel tanks were filled in the spring for storage, and the propane tanks were topped off before we re-installed them in the yard) said goodbye to Nicki’s incredibly patient and helpful parents, (who hosted us in their home and loaned us their car for the 8-days of recommissioning work) and motored out the canal from the boat yard to the man-made lake that feeds the canal – about 3 miles. There we set the anchor and settled in to re-learn boat life. How to move, how to sleep, how to cook. All the little peculiarities of living in a tiny home afloat came back surprisingly quickly.

And with those skills came contentment. We were home.
Oh, a word about sunsets. It’s possible that those of you who’ve never lived on a boat may not understand my obsession with sunsets, and I get that, I really do. I even had someone comment recently: “We have sunsets here regularly, you know.”

Yes, I recognize that the sun also appears to settle below the horizon where you live too. But sunsets on a boat are different. They last for an hour, sometimes. They begin in the west, but then they spread across the sky, until frequently we have a 360 degree sunset, like this one. Oh, and don’t forget the second sunset! Just as the initial glow is fading, round two kicks in. Pour another spot of wine and relax – you’ve got nowhere to go.

Anyway, after a couple days there, and having done all we could think of to make the boat ready to sail, we hoisted the anchor again and started north to exit the canal. We actually managed to sail a good portion of that trip, the wind being favorable, and discovered immediately that our one major purchase of the summer was totally worth it. The new sail ROCKS!

Two years ago we were told by a sailmaker back in Rockland that our headsail (or “Genoa”, because of its size) was on its last cruise. The fabric was too stretched to hold a proper shape or to be repaired should it rip. 

“One more year” he said, “Especially if you take it south for the season – the sun will eat it up.”

And sure enough, by May when we left the boat, you could see daylight through every stitch, and we were moving slower and slower in a given wind… our 13 year old Jenny was tired.

So we worked overtime during the summer, and had a brand new replacement sail made in Indonesia, which we brought with us on the trip back south. When the wind settled down briefly one evening while we were anchored out in the lake we installed and rigged it, and once we started moving, we unrolled that big piece of expensive cloth into a fresh breeze, and Sionna stepped out like a scalded cat. Marvelous! 

And that’s how things are, so far. Little steps, one day at a time, and face the tasks as they arrive. We’ve made a list (a rather long list) of food and condiments and such that we wish we’d brought aboard already, so the next time we have a chance to provision, we’ll do better. My list of projects to tackle isn’t getting shorter yet, but it isn’t getting longer either.  
I’m holding my own against entropy, so why complain? 


1 Comment

March – the month in Numbers

Yes friends, it’s time for everybody’s favorite game show, “Where did it all go?” And where the heck are they, anyway?
We spent most of March on a mooring in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida. It’s a pretty nice place if you like company – LOTS of company – and if you enjoy having continuous excuses for spending money. 

As planned, we dropped the mooring on the 25th (Well, one day late, but that’s as close to a plan as we get these days…) and headed west. We stopped at a number of lovely island anchorages, got hoisted up the mast to recover a broken halyard shackle, chilled briefly in Key West (City slogan: “You Can’t Afford It.”), then jumped off for the 26 hour passage to Fort Myers Beach before mostly motoring north to the Bradenton area – which is where we are now! 

So with March well behind us, let’s take a peek at the events (and expenses) that kept the crew and the boat happy and mobile during our month’s travels.

Here, presented in no particular order, are some numbers that I found interesting from March, 2017 or – where so noted – since we left Rockland In August. Enjoy!
By The Way: If you want to see where we are at each stop, look us up on Farkwar. It costs nothing and won’t try to sell you anything – it just lets your know when I post a new location. Follow along!
1 – Significant equipment breakages (Main halyard shackle. I had a spare)

27 – Nights in port(mooring) in March

225- Days since leaving Rockland

4 – Days underway in March

93- Days underway since leaving Rockland 

26.5 nm (nautical miles) (30.5 statute) – Average miles covered per day underway

Current Location – Manatee River, FL. (N27 31.8208/W82 37.8887)

188 nm (216 sm)- Miles covered in a straight line in March

327 nm (376 sm) – Miles actually sailed in March

1188 nm (1366 sm) – Miles from Rockland in a straight line.

2461 nm (2830 sm) Miles actually sailed/motored from Rockland
22.4 gal. – Diesel fuel purchased in March

163.4 gal – Diesel fuel purchased since leaving Rockland

*819 amp/hours – solar electricity produced in March
**$426.77 – Provisions purchased

$89.97 – Personal care. Haircuts, replace a skirt or shirt, etc.

***$40.00 – Cash/Misc.

$18.00 – Laundry ($6.00/load!)

$0.00 – Coffee/pastries purchased (There are NO good coffee shops until Sarasota)

$126.76 – Dining out. 

$0.00 – Propane for cooking purchased in March

$31.12 – Propane since leaving Rockland

$0.00 – charcoal for heating the cabin (It’s been warm!!)

$20.67 – Boat parts (spare belts, filters, etc)

$65.00 – boat maintenance (Diver to clean bottom)

$321.43 – Mooring/dinghy dockage fees for March

$393.06 – Diesel purchased since leaving Rockland

* 28% increase over February!

**Includes food, toiletries, paper products, booze, etc. 

***That “dark money” category. Who knows where it went?


December – The Month in Numbers

It’s that time again!  We’re snuggled into the anchorage in Fort Myers, Florida, the weather is generally warm (though today it’s 60 degrees and blowing stink), and we’re staying put for a few days. Now that December is history, let’s look back at the milestones and expenses – both routine and non – that marked Sionna’s progress toward warmth and sun. 

Here, presented in no particular order, are some numbers that I found interesting from the month of December, 2016 or – where so noted – since we left Rockland In August. Enjoy!

1 – Number of collisions with errant boats suffered by Sionna, causing significant but easily repaired damage to her mizzen boom. (Hint: Avoid marinas!)

1 – Number of mechanical breakdowns that required quick thinking, nerves of steel, and anchoring in the MIDDLE of the channel on the Intracoastal Waterway.

14 – Nights in port in December

17 – Nights at anchor (free!) in December

135 – Days since leaving Rockland

79- Days underway since leaving Rockland

22 – Days underway in December

24.7 nm (nautical miles) (28.4 statute) – Average miles covered per day underway

1216 nm (1398 sm) – Miles from Rockland in a straight line.
331nm (381 sm)- Miles covered in a straight line in December

1950 nm (2243 sm) Miles actually sailed/motored from Rockland

*493nm (567 sm) – Miles actually sailed in December
40.1 gal. – Diesel fuel purchased in December

127.5 gal – Diesel fuel purchased since leaving Rockland

**15.3 nmpg (17.6 smpg) – Sionna’s average fuel consumption in December

13.9 nmpg (16.0 smpg) – Sionna’s average fuel consumption since leaving Rockland

***$376.77 – Provisions purchased (Now includes booze, as separating that out was embarrasing)

$40.50 – Coffee/pastries purchased (which comes with Wifi!)

$260.00 – Dining out. It was a rough month.

$15.91 – Propane for cooking since leaving Rockland

$0.00 – charcoal for heating the cabin (It’s been warm!!)

$321.50 – Boat parts purchased in December

$345.05 – Mooring/slip fees for December (when we can’t anchor)

$294.04 – Diesel purchased since leaving Rockland

374amp/hours – amount of solar electricity produced in December

* This is more than twice the mileage we clocked in November.

** A 6 mpg improvement from November. We had better winds to help the engine.

*** Includes food, toiletries, paper products, booze, etc.


That old devil Sound

Ah that old devil, the Long Island Sound. There must be a song about that.

Not that Buzzards Bay, Rhode Island Sound, Block Island Sound and Long Island Sound aren’t – in their own right – beautiful stretches of water. They most certainly are. But for a boat – particularly a sailboat – with a desire to actually go somewhere, they are proving to be a most challenging and awkward set of mini-seas.

We are so done with the Sounds.

The reasons we’re ready for something different are Three: Depth, current, and population. Let me explain.

Depth: This area between Cape Cod at the east end and New York City to the west is, on average, very shallow. In Buzzards Bay we found depths less than 35 feet in areas where we were nearly out of sight of all land, and there are much shallower areas – sometimes alarmingly shallow – out in what we Maine sailors would think to be “safe” water. 

This isn’t a safety issue, as we have good charts and maintain a watch on our position as a matter of course, but shallow water has other vices, particularly when combined with:

Current: We have currents in Maine, but not like they have here. In Maine waters, there are generally two currents in a day – in and out – and they follow the rise and fall of the tides within an hour or so. 

(A brief aside to define terms: Tide – the cyclical increase and decrease of water depth caused by the gravitational effect of the moon and – to a lesser extent – the sun. Current: the movement of water horizontally through an area as a result of the change in the tide and – less often – the effect of wind.)

But not so in the Sounds, where each tide change seems to be nearly divorced from the current it produces. The current charts in my “Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book” look like a pot of pasta gone bad, and reference a tide as much as five hours prior or hence – madness!

But in addition to dictating our movements (it’s not worth sailing against a current over a knot – you get nowhere), current over a shallow bottom crates waves and rips and eddies that make life miserable, rough and wet, and current against the wind creates waves completely out of proportion to the wind itself. You can quickly find yourself at a complete standstill as each wall of water slams the bow of the boat and reduces your speed over the ground to a crawl. It’s just not pleasant, though the resulting salt bath can be very refreshing!

It was never like this back in dear old Maine.

Population: There are people down here. Lots of people. And power boats. Lots of power boats. They all seem to want to go from point A to point B very fast, and they almost never seem to think about what the wake they’re creating is going to do to other boats and people on shore. 

Now I recognize that this is something I’m going to have to accept, or at least learn to deal with – the ICW is chock full of boaters who’s total knowledge of nautical lore and boating etiquette is how to turn the key – they’re completely clueless. Are powerboaters truly a lower form of life than sailors, as many suggest? Well, the jury’s still out on that one. I hope not, but some days I wonder…

So the last four days have consisted of lots of motoring. Depart the anchorage at a time that should give a favorable current, sail as long as there’s wind AND the wind against current hasn’t created a ludicrous chop, then give up and motor straight into the chop to the next anchorage. In the process we’ve discovered a slow leak from the raw water pump for the engine cooling system that’s going to require a replacement pump. Getting parts to a yacht in transit is the subject of an entire post, but we’re hoping to rendezvous with a new pump in Manhasset, NY in a few days so we can install it before our transit of the East River and New York Harbor. With luck, the new pump will also cure the old ones habit of eating drive belts – a maintenance two-fer!  

Fingers crossed.


“Storage” – the A to Z Challenge

A2Z-BADGE 2016-smaller_zpslstazvib

“Storage”, in the context of cruising, gets divided into two major sub-issues.

First, there’s the issue of owning a boat, and where you’re going to put it when it’s not in the water. The other quandary is what to do with your “stuff” when you move out of your house/apartment/hovel and onto the boat.

For anyone not familiar with boats, the question of where to put it when it’s not in the water might come as a surprise. I mean, it’s a boat, right?  So… it’s meant to be, like, in the water, right?

Well, yes and no.   At the moment, we live in Maine. We have this thing called “winter” up here, and during the winter water does this weird thing where it gets stiff and sharp and unpredictable…  You can leave a boat in the water here, yes, if it’s a sheltered location, but the risk of damage to the boat is significant, so as a general rule no one does – boats are hauled out when it gets too cold to be comfortable on the water (usually sometime in October, depending on the year) and stored ashore, hopefully under some sort of shelter, or at least a tarp to keep the snow and rain off.  The picture above is of Sionna in our greenhouse-style boatshed. (We closed off the end of the shed after putting her inside.)

But we’re leaving this rental house in July this year, taking Sionna down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to Florida, and next summer will be leaving her in Florida while we come back to Maine to work for the summer.  Oops, storage again!  Where do you put your boat when you’re going to be 1500 miles away for the 5 months of summer?

And what about your stuff? Furniture and clothing and knick-knacks and tools…

That’s where the storage unit picture comes in.  We don’t have a whole lot of stuff, really, (see “D” – Downsizing) but we have some, and we’re hoping we can wedge it all into a 5′ x 10′ storage unit in town. Except for the tools and boat parts, which will be packed into a 7′ x 8′ utility trailer and parked at a friend’s house.  For free – but he gets to borrow my tools any time he wants.

As for Sionna, she’ll be staying in a boat yard in south-central Florida while we’re gone, out of the water, and we’ll be watching the weather forecasts and praying no hurricanes decide to make a Florida landfall.  Cruising does have its share of worries, just like real life.

1 Comment

Maintaining old boats

(Things that go “Tunk” in the night)

“Tack. Tack. Tack. Tunk…”

“Tunk” is a sound no boat owner wants to hear – at least no fiberglass boat owner. It’s a sound which invokes images of unknown weakness, possibly extensive and expensive repair work, and just generally bad things. Maybe. In any case, it’s a sound that rates right up there with “Plunk”in our book, which is the sound made by a dropped, expensive tool as it takes a dive for the freedom of the deep.

Good, solid fiberglass laminate (the alternating and intermingled layers of fiberglass cloth and plastic resin that make up a boat hull) makes a very clear, sharp “tack” sound when you gently tap on it with a light hammer or the handle of a screwdriver. It’s what you hope to hear when you’re inspecting the condition of a boat, whether you already own it, or are thinking of buying it.

But fiberglass has a serious weakness, which is that it’s not really waterproof. It’s very water resistant, yes, and if properly maintained will act waterproof, but if water does find its way into the laminate, it begins to migrate… The result can be a release of the bond between the layers of glass, or the wood core used between major layers. That break in adhesion creates a hollow, and that hollow results in the “Tunk” sound that brings despair to the boat owner.
…And joy to the boat repair shop. Delamination repair is labor-intensive (and therefore expensive), though it’s not particularly difficult.

Because boats have fittings and hardware and holes throughout, it’s a constant battle to keep the water out; both the water she’s sitting in, and the water that falls from the sky. Fittings on deck and through the hull must be regularly inspected, and not infrequently those on deck must be removed and re-bedded in sealant to assure that leaks don’t start, or don’t progress beyond the initial stage of “nuisance drip.”

When we were buying Sionna last year, we had a pre-purchase survey done by a very thorough fellow, and received a recommendation that we remove and inspect a couple of the chain-plates (which are original 1963 equipment), as well as repair a mild crack in the surface on each side of the deck near the aft end of the cockpit.

Starboard forward chain plate removed, which pulled up the surface of the deck.

Area just outboard of the cockpit’s aft edge, starboard side, after grinding
partway down, showing cracked surface and dark moisture staining of wood core.

These were both “You might want to look at these areas someday” recommendations from the surveyors point of view, but because the boat is insured, the insurance company gets to decide what THEY think is important – and those items got flagged.

So (being a staunch DIY kind of guy) I pulled the two forward chain-plates at the main mast for inspection. Both bronze castings passed inspection with flying colors, naturally, but not so the deck through which they had been pulled! A significant bit of the upper deck pulled away during the removal, revealing discoloration – a sure sign of water intrusion. I was about to have my first lesson in deck laminate repair.

On Sionna the decks throughout are a sandwich of ½” marine plywood, with a 1/8”-3/16” layer of fiberglass on each side. This is a common construction technique, though frequently balsa wood is used for the core, and in modern boats it’s now often a plastic honeycomb material instead of wood. In our case, because the damaged area was quite small, the answer was to grind out the fiberglass around the area to a shallow slope, and then use epoxy and glass cloth layers to fill in the resulting void, sand it out fair with the old deck, and then repaint it. With luck you’ll hardly know there was ever an issue, but more importantly, it won’t leak!

100_3376After grinding, the required number of layers of glass cloth are laid out, largest first, providing about 1” of under-lap all around where feasible.

100_3388The epoxy is then applied to each layer so everything is well saturated, and allowed to harden, with the chain plate in place.

100_3392Once the first layer is set, a form is created around the rough shape desired,
and filled with thickened epoxy to create the shelf around the chainplate.

100_3433The shelf is then filed and sanded to it’s final shape and smoothness.

100_3435And finally, paint is applied to protect the epoxy repair.

Once the repair and painting is complete, the final step is to bed the mating surfaces with a sealant, so that when there’s standing or flowing water on the deck, there’s no where for it to flow but AWAY. This I generally accomplish with a 3M company product known as “3M 4000” This is a very tenacious sealant and adhesive, so you want to be very sure it goes only where it belongs AND that you’re unlikely to need to take things apart any time soon. At least, unlike its sister product – “3M 5200” – it CAN be removed, though with difficulty. 5200 is permanent. (I’ve heard rumors of a solvent for it now, but I’ve never tried it.)

100_3466The chainplate cover, installed with 3M 4000 sealant, and four screws.
Strong, and waterproof!

And that’s really all there is to it. A rather dirty job, what with the grinding, but not hard, and once accomplished, it should be better than new for many years to come – which in my book is a perfect boat project!