It’s a New Year

So Christmas came and went. Then New Years came and went. Heck, all of January came & went according to our new 2016 calendar.  We are still quite busy at work on all kinds of fun stuff.  Sadly, that stuff is not actually being out sailing.  Some good news is that most of it is happening out of the rain where the temperature is not below 45 degrees.  Some new stuff will get posted here any day now to let you share in the adventure… Promise! And to those of you who have asked what happened to us and why no posts for a bit,, Thank You! for the interest and the reminders.

The Pros and Cons of Missing the Window

It was with a tiny sense of relief that we reluctantly accepted the idea we were not going to make it out of Puget Sound before the weather window closed.

I sleep better since I stopped waking up at 2 AM worrying about 20 foot waves, and then lying awake thinking about all the things left to do and how it all needed to be done that day if we were going to have any chance of making it.

The alarm that I had set in my phone calendar months ago for a date when I’d hoped to find myself anchored in a warm bay somewhere went off and I was still at home.

We have time now to start some of the projects that we were putting off until we were down the road somewhere, maybe while sitting out a storm season. Things we knew we needed someday but hadn’t put energy into working out the details yet. A proper table to sit at for meals, for example, and more battery Amp-hours and the energy sources to recharge them.

We also have time for projects we didn’t plan to do until much later, like getting our cabin heater operating. But, as every step forward is also an opportunity for failure, so too is playing with actual fire on the boat. Setting the boat on fire before we even left the dock would be a negative.

When we bought the boat it had no source of cabin heat. Having lived it’s life in some of the warmer places of the world there would be no need. One of the very first things we did was to buy and install a Sigmar 170 diesel cabin heater. That was ten years ago. We tried it out then, but never seriously used it. We didn’t spend much time on the boat during the cold and wet time of the year. At the dock, with shore power, an electric space heater was all we ever used.

In our setup, the Sigmar is gravity fed from a small diesel day tank. This is the simplest arrangement. The heater has a metering valve at the inlet to control how much fuel flows into the burner before a float valve shuts it off. I never really thought much about how this worked, or what it even meant. I understand better now.

The heater is lit by pre-warming it with burning alcohol. One ounce of alcohol in the base of the burner will heat things up to vaporize the diesel. After about 15 minutes, when the ounce of alcohol has been nearly exhausted, opening the metering valve will start the flow of diesel. If done right, the diesel will vaporize due to the heat and be ignited by the waning alcohol flame. The diesel flowing from the day tank will continue to vaporize and burn until the fuel is shut off or the tank goes dry. Turning the metering valve to “OFF” will stop the flow.

But here is where I think we went wrong: we burned all the fuel out of the day tank and let the heater go out, but didn’t turn the metering valve to “OFF.” A few days later, I refilled the day tank but did not try to light the heater. I didn’t realize that the burner had filled with diesel. Another day or two after that I tried to light the heater by pre-warming it with alcohol. The alcohol I poured into the stove was in addition to the full load of diesel apparently already in the burner.

I lit the alcohol, not realizing that it was overflowing from the burner. Fireballs of flaming alcohol came out of the overflow tube and onto the floor. I stepped on them to put them out. Flames began burning on the outside of the metering valve and the heater. With one hand on the fire extinguisher, I waited for the alcohol to burn itself up. At some point the diesel began to burn, with billowing clouds of black smoke pouring from the chimney up on deck. According to the manual, black smoke means raw diesel is burning, not the vapor.

As things heated up, the flames became more fierce. The damper control on the air inlet was on the bottom of the heater and had been on fire moments before. I didn’t want to touch it. The flames roared like a blowtorch. The heater started to glow. A deep red at first, it became bright orange. I waited for it to melt. I thought our big trip was going to be over before it started.

Eventually, it all calmed down a bit and I was able to disconnect the fuel supply (we need to put a valve on that) and close the damper. It continued to burn, much more calmly and without any smoke, for a while longer until all the remaining fuel in the burner was gone.

I had intended to warm up the cabin and do some work, but after all that excitement I just went home instead.

The heater no longer looks new and unused, but we’ve learned more than we knew before. We know to make sure–like the manual says–that the burner has no fuel in it before pouring in the one ounce of pre-heat alcohol. The heater has been through a good stress test, and I now have the Heater Operation box checked on my training form. It’s just that we hadn’t planned on needing to use the heater anytime soon. And that just makes me a little more frustrated that we missed our schedule.

I tell myself that we are merely sitting out a storm season, something that would happen eventually, somewhere. But it also means we’re spending down the cruising kitty while not actually cruising yet.

Such are the pros and cons of missing the window.



November 1st, 2015

When we started telling people about our upcoming plans to go sailing we were intentionally vague concerning dates and destinations. Not because we were trying to be secretive, but when you tell people exactly where you plan to go and how long it’s going to take you to get there it just seems that you are asking for trouble. If you don’t leave on the date you stated, or have future obligations scheduled, or worst of all–and I have heard of this–have already made moorage reservations in a city 800 miles down the coast, then you have created pressure for yourself to meet this schedule. This is rarely a good thing. You can’t schedule the sea conditions.

I suppose the stories of people who made sailing plans and were able to follow through exactly as planned do not spread as easily as those who were pressured and rushed, made bad decisions, and ran into trouble.

You do, however, need to elaborate at times whether you want to or not. For example, my dentist insisted that I needed to make an appointment for some necessary work. My vagueness and hesitation confused him. I finally promised to call and schedule as soon as the boat was secure in San Diego. We also told others of our tentative plan to leave Puget Sound before mid October, aim for San Diego, leave the boat there and return home for a month or so to wrap things up before returning to the boat to continue sailing into Mexico. Making it sound like we had thought things through seemed to help make others more comfortable, rather than telling them we just planned to sail away.

We’ve been even sketchier when it comes to discussing our ultimate destination. Again, once you tell people where you plan to go it becomes set in your own mind. You imagine all these people wanting to know what happened when your timeline slips. This can unconsciously create immense pressure on yourself to meet those expectations.

Last April we began pouring time and money into the boat at an accelerated rate. As with any older boat, one thing leads to another. We’ve heard plenty of stories, which is why we gave ourselves “plenty” of time. The bowsprit replacement seemed like it was the biggest stumbling block, but not really. We were never sitting around waiting for it.

I have had the luxury of working full time on the boat for the entire month of October. Almost done, it seems, but then there’s more. Hundreds of feet of old, previously abandoned wire has been pulled out. Hundreds of feet of shiny new wire has gone in to replace wire too corroded to continue to be reused. The entire circuit breaker panel has been completely replaced, with all its underlying wiring organized and labeled. What the delay in the bowsprit did do, however, was delay the completion of the rigging. And this caused discontinuity in the project with everyone involved moving on to other things, and months passing before getting back to it and trying to pick things up where they were left off.

More than a day was spent trying to figure out why the staysail furler could not be completely reassembled. A gap between the torque tube and the drum could not be closed. Without closing the gap the screws could not be put back in, and without screwing it back together, it would not work. These were screws that were kept for months in a little plastic bag. There were dozens of such little plastic bags containing small parts removed from the rig at the start of the project. These were the last few reusable parts to go back together.

It didn’t help when I was told to just tap it with a hammer to get it to move, and then told to use a bigger hammer when it still didn’t move. It ultimately took a mirror, a very bright flashlight, even a fiber-optic borescope to determine that wedged inside the torque tube was a pebble, the likely result of the furler spending several weeks in a gravel boatyard following mast removal. The more I hammered, the more wedged it became. Once the jagged little pebble was located and removed (a project in itself) and the screw holes aligned, a bent helicoil prevented one of the screws from going in. It would need a new helicoil inserted to fix it. I do not own a helicoil insertion tool.

And so it is. Almost done, but then there’s more. One little problem after another. All while every day gets darker earlier, and the sun shines less brightly.

I stopped watching the ocean weather. I didn’t want to know.

Putting so many new things into the boat all at once creates a whole different set of problems. The old, corroded cassette tape player no longer has a purpose and so is removed, while the new digital media player needs to be figured out after searching for a detailed manual online. A new VHF radio with all the bells and whistles fails after only a few hours of operation. When something like this happens it requires first figuring out if it really is a solid failure or can be fixed with a simple software reset as suggested and explained by the operator on the technical help line. Then comes the job of convincing the dealer that the best option would be to just let you return it for a refund, rather than wait weeks for a repair. The updated HF SSB radio and associated antenna tuner, email modem and controlling software is not a trivial matter to install. Then there is the task of learning to operate it and how to retrieve weather charts, forecasts and wind/wave analyses. Even the little hand-held satellite tracker has an account to set up, figure out and start an annual subscription to.

On top of it all, you told everyone that there would be a blog with location tracking. As if blogs just magically appear by themselves.

To be fair to ourselves, the expected September/October favorable weather pattern never really developed this year. The first big storm of the season came in August instead of November. To remind us, we still have a downed tree to cut up as soon as we aren’t working on the boat so much.

Our plans still remain the same but delayed from the original schedule which didn’t really exist anyway. We’ll continue working on the boat and working on getting organized enough to be able to spend extended periods away from home. We’ll also be sailing locally, getting through the learning curves of our newly remodeled boat, and establishing sustainable routines for long distance sailing.

And we’ll be ready for the weather window so that when it does open, we can go.


2015 – Late October

With the bowsprit mounted to the boat we could finish the summer’s rigging project and get under way. The next steps are to attach the bobstay, and then the forestay.

The bobstay is a heavy steel cable that runs from the waterline below the bow, up to the end of the bowsprit and serves to counteract the upward force on the bowsprit caused by the forestay, which in itself helps to keep the mast from falling over backwards. Without the bobstay holding the bowsprit down, the force on the sails, and therefore the force on the forestay, could bend the bowsprit or even rip it off the boat.

The bobstay was disconnected when we removed the bowsprit in April and was one of the few pieces of rigging that was deemed appropriate for reuse. It spent some time riding around in the back of the car before being taken to the rigging shop to be stored with the rest of the parts removed from the rig.

At some point in time its whereabouts became unknown. It was likely accidentally recycled along with the rest of the wire rope from our rig.

Without an existing bobstay to simply reattach and tighten, a new one needed to be measured, cut and assembled. The boat was in the water at our “home” marina, at least twenty miles from the rigging shop. This meant scheduling and travel time away from the shop for the rigger to make measurements, and then again to actually replace and adjust the bobstay. Frustratingly, this took longer than expected with unforeseen problems.

On the first drive-by while working on another boat in the area, Brion immediately noticed that the hole for the bobstay attachment on the underside of the bowsprit was in the wrong place. What should’ve been a 3/4 inch hole was swapped in position with a 5/8 inch hole normally used for an anchor snubber. The bobstay fitting would not fit in the 5/8 hole. We rechecked our email to the bowsprit builder and verified that we had specified the holes correctly.

Over the next few days the options were discussed by phone and email, with the decision made to enlarge the 5/8 hole to 3/4 inch.

It took two additional trips from Port Townsend to Port Ludlow to enlarge the hole, two more trips to get the bobstay attached, and another trip to get the forestay, with jib furler, properly attached and adjusted. In total, almost three weeks elapsed from the time the bowsprit was finally bolted to the hull to the time the bobstay and forestay were attached. And the weather window to leave Puget Sound and head south this season is rapidly closing.

At least we have a shiny new bowsprit on the boat for the first time since April, and we can finally get to work installing the new lifelines.Bowsprit rail copyright

Pre-Departure — Final Boat Preparations

October 2015


We finally got the replacement bowsprit mounted on the boat. The bowsprit on the Westsail 42 is a stainless steel appendage, roughly triangular in shape, protruding from the front of the boat and serving the purpose of extending the forestay and jib sail beyond the deck, giving a longer base for the fore triangle and making possible the cutter rig on a 42 foot-long hull with a 55 foot-tall mast. Also, it gives the anchor something to hang from so it doesn’t smash against the hull as it is raised and lowered. As an added bonus, the bowsprit serves as somewhat of a battering ram when maneuvering in close quarters, such as a marina. (This is not something one would normally use it for on purpose.)

It was not easy getting the new bowsprit installed. We had ordered it from the Westsail parts supplier, Worldcruiser Yacht Company in Newport Beach, California with the hopes that it would be an identical replacement to the original. But with the original being forty years old now, perhaps those hopes were unrealistically high. Bud emailed us a simple drawing with the dimensions between the four mounting pads. Those dimensions were a bit off from the old one which was now sitting on a trailer in our driveway. We corrected the dimensions and emailed it back. And waited.

The original was removed in April, at the beginning of our pre-trip boat “refresh” project. Since we were pulling the masts anyway, we thought it would be easy enough to also use the crane to just lift off the bowsprit once it was unbolted and set it on the trailer to take home for storage. It was the bowsprit mounting brackets bolted to the hull that we were after. A rust stain running down from one of the bolts had caught the attention of a surveyor a few years earlier and we needed to investigate.

It was not easy to get it off. With the boat still in the water, and the crane attached to the bowsprit, the mounting bolts were removed from the tabs but the bowsprit did not move.
It took the efforts of several people, hammers and pry bars and everything else we could think of that was available, but mostly it took time that had not been scheduled. Finally, slowly, it began to move, then came free. The crane operator placed it on the ground and went home. Everybody else went home too. It was late. We managed to slide it up on the trailer ourselves.

Before our 2015 “refresh” was over, we had replaced nearly all bolts in all parts of the rig, including all sixteen for the bowsprit mounting brackets. But it was the bowsprit itself that was the unexpected surprise. While cleaning and polishing it, and after having a broken weld in the pulpit rail repaired, we discovered a couple of small cracks in one of the mounting tabs. Closer inspection by a stainless steel expert revealed many very small cracks threatening the structural integrity of the whole thing. The decision was made to replace it. Little did we know we would still be installing it in October.

When the bowsprit finally arrived in late August, it was boxed in two pieces. This was a change from the one piece original. The pulpit was now a separate assembly from the main structure, which made it easier to handle. We unwrapped the main structure and measured the distance between the mounting tabs. As far as could be determined with a tape measure stretched over a three-dimensional surface, the dimensions looked good.

The original bowsprit had teak decking that was nice, but a pain to maintain. So we didn’t. With the bowsprit off the boat, we removed all the teak so we could sand it down and refinish it with “Honey Teak,” a hard acrylic finish that should last longer than varnish or teak oil. Once refinished, the teak would be installed on the new bowsprit. However, the new one was missing the extra internal frame that the teak had been mounted on. Without those cross pieces there was insufficient support to mount the old teak on the new bowsprit.

The next thing we noticed was that the steel plates that the port and starboard running lights mount to were much smaller on the new bowsprit than the old one. A quick check proved that our Aqua Signal running lights were too big for the welded plates. This would require cutting out some teak backer boards, sanding and finishing them, and bolting them to the stainless plates. The lights could then be mounted to the boards, with the wiring run through the pulpit rail, as before. Meanwhile, we thought maybe some trampoline material from Seattle Fabrics, stretched across the open bowsprit, could serve much the same purpose as the teak decking had. However, it would not be the solid surface we were used to.

We took the main frame of the bowsprit to the marina without really knowing how we were going to get it in place on the boat. It was heavy and awkward. We rolled it down the dock on a small mover’s dolly. The original plan was to reinstall the bowsprit using a forklift while the boat was in the boatyard. Even though the boat was in the yard for nine weeks–three times longer than planned–that opportunity passed two months before the bowsprit had worked its way through the fabricator’s project queue. However, we found plenty of willing and eager help in the form of several admittedly bored guys standing around on the dock. A bowsprit installation was the best thing they had going at that moment. They made short work of simply picking it up and holding it in place while the bolts were dropped into the holes. One, two, three, but not four.

We tried for a long time, loosening, wiggling, retightening, but the best we could do was get three of the four holes to line up. Suggestions were many. None really possible or practical or quick. We went home with no answer, just a question as to how bad could those cracks in the original really be?

The solution that worked its way to the top of the list was a shim. We could cut it out of 3/4 inch thick Coosa board and place it between the hull and the bracket that would not line up. This would move the bracket outward and the holes should align. They did. We worked hard, squirming through small openings, over the holding tank and into the anchor chain locker to barely get access to the nuts on the bolts. It worked. But it’s now well into the first week of October.

Below: the rusty bolt on the bowsprit mounting bracket that delayed our plans.

The Rusty bolt

So why aren’t we already out there sailing?

There is a lot of work that goes into maintaining a nearly 40 year old boat… from bottom paint to mast-top lights & antennas, and stem to stern boat bits that all need their fair share of TLC.  And sometimes you discover TLC won’t cut it and you just have to go with a replacement project  Putting things all in order for cruising has been going on for many months now but soon we expect to turn the corner and start writing about more fun things.