Cars–What are they Good For?

Posted by John

This post has been difficult to write. Every time I think I have something to say, it changes. Every time I think I’m ready to post it, I have no internet connection. When I do have a connection, I want to change what I’ve written. This is the last planned post before we find our way to San Francisco.

In our story so far, preparing for cruising has gradually relieved us of the daily obligations of our normal life on land. The last thing to go was our cars. One day we had three. Forty-eight hours later we had none. Our transition from land to water was complete.

So many people, including family, friends, neighbors and even people we just met and hardly knew, helped us get through this transition. Often, offering just what we needed at just the right time. Our primary car expired a few weeks too soon. Our backup car was already a big oil loser with several additional problems. When our third, backup to the backup car, gave up and wouldn’t move any more, I really felt that, suddenly, they all were good for absolutely nothing. But then, our favorite mechanic not only said he could fix that car in one day, he offered to buy our nearly 280,000 mile, 24-year old oil loser, “Whenever we were ready.” The primary car made it to the scrap yard under its own power without catching fire, but there was smoke. The mechanic bought the backup car. And the third car, with one promising buyer changing her mind and backing out, went to auction. Finally, our attention could be placed entirely on us and the boat.

With no car, our neighbor loaned us her truck, and we were able to move the last of the boat stuff out of the transitional “safe house” and onto the boat. It is all still a mess, with every conceivable gap of a space getting something squeezed into it, but at least we’re gradually reducing the number of things stacked on the deck. We know we have everything we’ll need somewhere onboard, but finding it will be the problem. I’m sure we’ll have time to organize later.

In spite of the complications caused by the cars, we managed to get away from the Port Ludlow area for a while last month and run up to the San Juan Islands for a few days. (I guess it was a vacation.) We did it as an overnight trip, leaving Port Ludlow on a Saturday night and motoring non-stop to Sucia Island, arriving Sunday morning. We wanted to see how prepared we were for running all night. I’d forgotten how different everything looks when you can’t see it.

While in the San Juans, we spent a night at Blind Island State Park. What appeared to be a baby seal, looking and sounding like you’d think a distressed animal would, tried to climb over the transom of our inflatable dinghy (see last month’s post). Maybe our dinghy smells like seal, and the little one thought it was his mother? Perhaps inflatables are easily confused for seals by other seals? Whatever the reason, the thought is slightly disturbing.

After the San Juan trip we had a final tune of our rig done, which was never completed last year when the boat was re-rigged and we had to have a new bowsprit built. Our SSB/Ham radio antenna is finally installed, but the wind generator we bought a few months ago is not. We did a quick haulout at Port Townsend to touch up the bottom paint, which was thin in places. We took advantage of being on dry land in the boat yard to load more heavy items, including six golf cart batteries we bought from Costco to beef up our energy supply. We hoisted them aboard with one of the new mizzen halyards. In last year’s re-rig project, we put in multiple new halyards, long enough to at least reach the water, if not ground level in the boat yard. The old halyards barely reached the deck. The new batteries are in the boat, but not wired up yet. This is one more thing to do, hopefully before we go. We’re getting used to living on the boat, but living on water is one thing, living on a boat propped up by sticks on land is something else again, unless, of course, you have a tree house fantasy.

We spent a night and a day at Shilshole Marina in Seattle to pick up mail for the last time and say good-bye to family. Our stay there included running power tools and bright lights late into the night. If you were on one of the boats near us, we’re sorry, but we have to take advantage of shore power when we have it.

Thinking we should check our fuel before leaving Shilshole, we were shocked to see the gauge on “E.” Was it broken? No, we’ve just used a lot in recent months and we weren’t keeping track. (The tank gauges are on the tanks themselves, under the floor, and are not easy to keep an eye on.) It was late in the day, but being summer, the fuel dock was fortunately still open on a Sunday evening.

We’ve activated a SPOT satellite tracker to update our current position on a viewable web map once per day. There should be (or will be soon) a link on a new page called something like, “Where are we now?” or “Finding Mysticeti.” But since it may not be posted at the same time as this post, it may not be up yet.

From Shilshole we motored to Port Townsend, arriving after 11 PM. We anchored on the downtown waterfront, within a cluster of barely visible sailboats. We slept in the cockpit in case we had anchored too close and had to move quickly. One of those boats was s/v Slainte. We should be sticking fairly close to them from here to Mexico.

Our preparations for cruising are done. Our journey southward begins now.

Sucia Island; entrance to Echo bay from Johnson Point; a nice hike around the south side of the island.
Sucia Island; entrance to Echo bay from Johnson Point; a nice hike around the south side of the island.
Snoring Bay, from the trail to Johnson Point.
Snoring Bay, from the trail to Johnson Point.
Just beyond buddy boat Slainte, and the Port Ludlow totem pole, lies an extensive fog bank where we tried the automatic foghorn for the first time.
Just beyond buddy boat Slainte, and the Port Ludlow totem pole, lies an extensive fog bank where we tried the automatic foghorn for the first time.
Early morning at the Port of Port Townsend boatyard, with its always eclectic collection of projects and interesting characters.
Early morning at the Port of Port Townsend boatyard, with its always eclectic collection of projects and interesting characters.
Painting day.
Painting day.
I guess it's more of a stilt house than a tree house, but a little odd to have cars and voices below you at night.
I guess it’s more of a stilt house than a tree house, but a little odd to have cars and voices below you at night.

Living on Water (Mostly)

Posted by John

The plan for the first leg of our sailing journey is to leave Puget Sound mid-August, with the first stop in San Francisco. We expect to stay there about a month. Following the Bay Area Westsail rendezvous the weekend of October 1st, we plan to continue to San Diego and join the Baja Ha Ha cruiser’s rally to Cabo San Lucas. It leaves on Halloween. We’ll be doing the rally with s/v Slainte, crewed by Joe and Cathy from Kingston, WA. After that, we’ll probably spend some time exploring the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) before making detailed plans for the second leg.

We’ve spent every night on the boat since June 7th, mostly at anchor in Port Ludlow Bay. Our re-glued, formerly-leaking inflatable is kept in the water next to us. Almost every night after dark, a seal tries to climb into it. He attempted and failed for several nights, causing a commotion of splashing, and leaving us wondering what just happened. One night he finally made it up onto the thing. It’s not just ours he’s after, but any inflatable tied to any anchored boat in the area seems to be an obsession. So far he hasn’t caused any major problem, just an annoying curiosity.

Having retired in order to do this, and then being delayed a year, non-boat diversions gradually filled more and more of my newly-found free time. One of those diversions was the rediscovery of evening television, and the concept of having favorite shows. Slouched on a couch in a warm and comfortable house watching TV in the evening, thinking that I had worked my whole life to get to this point, including the several years of weekends it took to build the very house I was slouching in, I would wonder why we were working so hard on making this sailing trip happen just so we could leave the house we had just finished building.

Then the next morning I would realize, again, that it wasn’t so much the trip that mattered; it was the entire process of the journey. It was using all of the skills and resources of experience that we had acquired during our lifetimes, in all of our individual endeavors, and combining them to accomplish one, grand, complicated, adventure. What else do you do with everything you think you’ve learned?

At the start, our questions ranged from our ability to sail a boat hundreds, or even thousands, of miles in the open ocean, to our ability to leave our house, family, friends and lifestyle for an extended time, and then return in the future to pick up where we left off, if that is even possible. For our daughter, it meant questioning her decision to break from her friends and delay going to college so she could gamble on having an experience with her parents that she might not otherwise get the opportunity to have until much later in life. Even the one year delay changed that equation and added new factors to consider. These questions have not been easy to find answers to. The process has, at times, been difficult and frustrating.

It is clearer now, at least, as to how we will transition from a lifestyle of living on land to one of living on water. The change is not yet fully complete, but is mostly complete. By sharing a few details, perhaps our experiences so far will help to provide perspective to some of those who come after us, just as we’ve gained insight from those who have gone ahead of us.

The last day in our house was hectic and weird. After breakfast, the coffee maker was carried out and put in the garage. It was an odd feeling knowing that our normal morning routines would never be the same again. We disassembled our bed and carried it outside, too. The house sitters were moving in their own.

It was our last chance to empty what remained of our familiar life at home. Most things with no clear destination were temporarily put into the garage. Some were staged in the yard. We would need to figure them out in the following weeks. Most problematic were the things still in the house that would be going onto the boat, but for whatever reason had not been taken there yet. They kept getting mixed in with the things going elsewhere, and it was hard to visualize how much we were actually planning to take.

We realized, rather suddenly, that we had a staging area we could use in the form of a currently unoccupied nearby mobile home owned by a relative. Since this revelation had not been previously mentioned to anyone, I started thinking about it as a kind of secret safe house (I did watch a lot of TV over the winter, after all) where we could, without outside distraction, deal with boat stuff only. The safe house idea, borrowed from cop shows, completely fit with all the paper shredding and burning we’d been doing, and the whole sense of starting a new life. Having this space to store and sort was a real lifesaver. I’m not sure what we would’ve ended up doing without it.

Finally, we loaded the deflated dinghy into the car and drove down the hill to the beach near the boat, which had been out on its mooring since early April. A dinghy ride was between us and the start of our new life of living on water. But being exhausted from the hectic day, we could not raise the energy to haul, assemble and inflate the dinghy. We spent the night in a motel instead. Being in a ground floor room that looked out to the highway through motel curtains, the feeling of running and hiding from something was quite clear. This step in the process, transitioning from our house to our boat, was not at all like what any of us had imagined.

After resting for a few days on the boat, going back to the safe house and seeing everything we planned to take spread all over the floor produced another round of feeling overwhelmed. How would it all fit? But just as overwhelming was the logistics of getting it to the boat by dinghy trips. Although theoretically possible, a fully loaded, little, patched-up, flat-bottom inflatable like ours is not the easiest thing to launch at low tide when the beach is wide and the water is shallow for some distance out. For that matter, it’s not that easy to launch at any tide. We knew from experience that we couldn’t leave a dinghy, no matter how old and beat up, on that particular beach and expect to find it again after returning with another car load of gear. Deflating the dinghy and carrying it around in the back of the car meant that virtually nothing else would fit at the same time. It didn’t take long for all three of us to agree that the task was too difficult with the boat tied to the mooring. We decided to take Mysticeti back to the Port Ludlow marina and get a slip for a week.

At the end of the week, which seemed to pass exceptionally fast and did not result in everything being loaded onto the boat, we moved out into the bay and anchored. It turns out that it is remarkably pleasant to live on water this time of the year. The only downside is we still have more equipment to load, house (and boat) projects to finish and errands to run with the car. We’re sharing rental of a marina dinghy slip with Joe and Cathy from s/v Slainte, and keeping our car in the marina parking lot. The dinghy slip gives us a secure, dedicated space for the dinghy during the day, while we are off doing other things.

With daily trips to shore, we don’t feel fully detached from land yet. Maybe it’s kind of a trial arrangement for living on water; one more step of the process.

Our ride to and from shore -- so far the glue is holding
Our ride to and from shore — so far the glue is holding
Our home, anchored out in the bay
Our home, anchored out in the bay
Baja buddy boat s/v Slainte, anchored near us in Port Ludlow
Baja buddy boat s/v Slainte, anchored near us in Port Ludlow

Point of No Return

Posted by John

In April we gave up our marina slip. Now we’ve taken the next step and given up our house. Committed to living on the boat, it is a point of no return.

We put our house under the control of trusted house sitters. In almost every way imaginable, this transition from land to water has been the hardest part, so far, of preparing to cruise. Not so much giving up the comfort and convenience of the house itself, but clearing out enough of our belongings, and ongoing projects, so that someone else could move theirs in.

We built our own house. At the time, it consumed most weekends, vacations and holidays for a period of years. Each major transforming milestone was worthy of celebration. But, like so many do-it-yourself projects, our house was never fully finished. We had no final task after which we could pack up the tools and declare success. There was no project completion celebration. Instead, as the house gradually became our primary residence, the amount of effort we applied to finish the cosmetic details not required for legal occupancy tapered off. We knew it would need to be finished someday, but we also found it easy to start reclaiming our weekends.

By the time we began planning how and when we would do a major cruise, we were so fully moved into our house that the idea of moving everything out again, with no new place to take it, was almost too much to think about. It wasn’t until we found potential long-term house sitters that the process could even be envisioned. But what was envisioned was overwhelming.

We work best under pressure of a deadline. That deadline came into focus when our potential house sitters turned into actual house sitters. They had their own deadline to be out of their current place. Their deadline became our deadline. Their house full of possessions needed to be moved into our house full of possessions. But first, we needed to finish a few things, such as flooring in one room, and bathroom tile in another. Finishing as many house projects as possible, and sorting and moving everything in such a short time, is where the process got difficult.

I suppose we could categorize the things in our house. We could put the things we want to keep forever, old photos and family treasures that have been handed down, as one category, for example. And the useful things that we can’t easily replace again as another. But somewhere on the list must be a category for the tons (I’m almost positive) of everything imaginable that has collected over the decades and now just needs to go. There’s all the old check stubs, bank statements and other papers that were filed away that should’ve been cleaned out and shredded years ago, old magazines that were set aside because of some article we wanted to reference, receipts, books we’ve read in the past, or books we had good intentions of reading but haven’t yet, clothes we no longer wear regularly. But there’s also little unexpected things not previously given any thought, like, for example, unused toothbrushes still in the packaging, given to each of us every time we go to the dentist, that now have multiplied into handfuls sitting in a drawer that needs to be emptied.

In past moves we would dump such drawers into a box, move the box to the new house, and dump it into the new drawer. Sometimes, boxes might get moved and put in the garage and not opened, as new toothbrushes (or whatever) slowly fill a new drawer. But this time there is nowhere for the box to go. We are moving onto a boat that must hold everything we need, or might need, for the next few years. Space is extremely limited, and already spoken for. It seems such a waste to throw out perfectly good, never opened, toothbrushes, which are, in fact, little pieces of plastic that I’ve been told will one day possibly end up floating around in the middle of the ocean.

And so it is with so much of what’s in our house. From the tiniest little memento, yard tool, or left over building material, all the way up to the largest pieces of furniture. We can’t afford to ever replace it all again. We can’t afford to pay to store it. Some must stay. The rest must go somewhere. Do I really need to keep souvenirs of life in 1973? I give myself about three seconds to reminisce, decide, and move on. I wonder why we didn’t complete all of this months ago.

I used to not think twice about giving up such generic things as yard tools, or a desk chair, or a small kitchen appliance. I would figure that I could always get another one when and if I wanted to. But life is different now. I no longer have a steady income. The things we have took a lifetime to acquire. I don’t know what I will do when we are finished with cruising.

When we started preparing for cruising we knew it would be a big, difficult project with many unknowns. But I don’t think we had any idea just how complicated it would become, and where these complications would be the most difficult. A year ago, we were putting all of our energy into refitting the boat. How, exactly, we were going to get out of the house and onto the boat full-time was difficult to comprehend. So we didn’t. We just had a vague idea of some potential options.

Now we know. And now that it’s done, there’s no going back to where we once were. Instead of sitting on the couch watching TV in the evenings, we sit in the cockpit, watch the sunset and talk.

We have become full-time liveaboards. A transformation truly worthy of celebration.

What About That Thing? (More Amp Hours, Part 1)

Posted by John

Part way up the mizzen mast, just below the spreaders, is a curious “L” bracket thing. It was on the boat when we bought it.

phone photo L bracket

No one has ever questioned it, but I can imagine somebody wondering what it is. It’s a mount for a wind generator, and we’re finally putting one up there to supplement the electrical power produced by the solar panels.

To me, when someone mentions wind generator, I immediately think of a small, wind-powered turbine used to generate electricity. I probably first became aware of such a device in the 1970’s when I noticed ads for them appearing in certain magazines. I had a friend at the time who looked at the picture and the price, and said he could build one for nothing from junk he had laying around. I told him I bet he couldn’t. We moved on to the next thing, but I’ve remembered the exchange ever since.

Preparing for mast and rigging removal
Preparing for mast and rigging removal

More recently, I’ve learned that not everyone conjures up the same image. If you mention the term “Wind Generator” to some people, and then point out the bracket located behind the mainsail, they might, without a lot of thought, jump immediately to the conclusion that it is a device that somehow fills in for the natural wind in its absence. Like a fan—a wind maker—aimed at the sail to push the boat along. I can see why they might make that assumption even though something about it doesn’t seem quite right. Newton even made up a law about it.

Our main source of day-to-day electrical power is the solar panels mounted over the cockpit. When we use the boat for a week or two on summer vacation, whatever power we use onboard at night is usually easily replaced the next day by the solar panels. I suppose it helps that summer nights are short, and we usually sleep through the dark part. But soon we will be moving onto the boat full time, and power demand will increase. The thought of sailing down the coast at night, potentially in fog, with lights, radio, radar and whatever else turned on, concerns me with the unrealistic demand that might put on the solar panels the following day. I’d rather not have to rely solely on the engine’s alternator when the solar panels aren’t enough. With that in mind, we put a wind turbine generator on the wish list. Installation should be easy because the mount is already there.

When we bought our boat it also had a tow generator mounted on the stern rail. The concept is similar to a wind generator, except that in place of turbine blades attached to the generator’s rotating shaft, there is a long rope with a propeller on the other end. While underway, the rope and propeller are dragged behind the boat, it all winds up and turns the shaft of the generator. As long as the boat is moving at normal cruising speed, and a large fish doesn’t mistake the towed propeller for food, it will produce power day and night. We never found the propeller that was supposedly on the boat somewhere, and the actual generator was so corroded and frozen up, I gave up trying to salvage it.

I personally like the idea of a prop shaft generator. I’ve seen pictures of them on cruising boats, but never talked to anyone who actually uses one. It’s a lot like the tow generator except that instead of dragging a propeller on a rope, you use the one you already have in the boat. An alternator is driven by belt from the freely spinning propeller shaft when the boat is moving under sail (doesn’t work with feathering props). When I hear our shaft turning, I can’t help but think of free energy going to waste. We have enough space in the bilge. I know it’s been done on a Westsail 42 before.

When I asked a marine installer if he’d ever seen a shaft generator, he said he couldn’t recommend it, saying that keeping the necessary tension on the belt puts sideways stress on the shaft coupling and transmission, and can cause excessive wear and misalignment. Last year, when we replaced our stuffing box and cutlass bearing, I momentarily considered putting it all back together with a pulley and belt around the shaft, just in case we decided to try a shaft generator in the future. But I didn’t do it, and we’re not planning to pull the shaft out again anytime soon.

Looking around online, I’ve seen many variations on the towing or shaft generator idea for getting electrical power from boat motion. But in actuality, we spend a lot more time with the boat not moving, than when it is. We want power when anchored, too. Just because the wind isn’t being used to push us along doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be working for us in the form of generating electricity. A wind generator installed on the existing unused mount was therefore the choice for a means to supplement the solar panels. However, the decision was not made without consideration for noise, vibration, and wildly spinning blades snagging lines and ripping sails.

Allotted work area for the mizzen mast
Allotted work area for the mizzen mast
Our first close look at the "L" bracket
Our first close look at the “L” bracket

Last year, with the boat in the yard and the masts off for nine weeks, we got our first close-up look at the mizzen mount bracket. For ten years we’d gazed up at it, studied it from afar, but never went up to look because we only had one halyard on the mizzen and nobody wanted to be hauled up there without a safety line. When the masts came down, we took the mounting bracket home and cleaned it up and repainted it. After making measurements and comparing online images, we determined that of all the wind generator models we had previously considered, there was only one that would fit the existing bracket. It was the Ampair 100, made in England.


Due to size and shape, any other model of generator would require a different bracket, possibly even in a different location. That would require much more work, time and rethinking of the whole thing.

On the last weekend in June, with the boat scheduled to go back into the water the next week, and the masts going back on a day or so after that, we scrambled to finish up everything that needed doing before launching. This included getting the new wind generator wiring in now, while it was easy. It would be much more difficult if we waited until later, after mast reinstallation.

Pull rope for wind generator wires
Pull rope for wind generator wires

Running the wires was harder than we thought, and would’ve been nearly impossible with the mast stepped on the boat. For a small mast (32 ft), it has a lot of wires crammed into a PVC conduit inside it. The conduit was already jammed with wiring for the radar, AIS antenna, a cockpit floodlight and mast-top emergency strobe. To that, we were adding wiring for another light, a loudhailer, and the future wind generator.

The masts and the boat were in two different boatyards in Port Townsend, at opposite ends of town. Time could be dedicated to either the mast or the boat, but we couldn’t work on both at the same time without packing up our tools and getting in the car. We spent most of a very hot, sun-scorching day trying to pull a 10 gauge, two-conductor cable through a hole below the mounting bracket, into the PVC pipe, and out the bottom of the mast. We gave up, stripped the outer jacket off the cable, and tried again. We gave up again, defeated. Then we set out in search of advice. The advice we found was to use a larger pull rope than the string we had, and use copious amounts of Wire Lube. We also decided to use smaller 12 gauge wire, instead of the 10. I’m not sure which of those things made the biggest difference, but something worked. I’m pretty sure it was the lube.

The difficulty with the wires cost us a day, and prevented us from finishing up the boat itself. We were forced to reschedule our launch time. With Fourth of July vacations being taken, and high demand for the travel lifts, our next opportunity wouldn’t be until July 2nd. At some point I remembered that I actually had a job to go to, and physical deadlines for projects at work. Mentally, I realized, I had already made the transition to cruising.

With the generator wiring finally in place, the masts back on the boat, and three brand new halyards installed on the mizzen, I was already thinking about a future sunny day in Mexico, hauling a wind generator up to the mounting bracket and plugging it into the wires that had been so frustrating to install. But then, we learned that Ampair had been bought by another company, and the Ampair 100 was no longer being made.

The thought of starting over with a different model and different bracket was not only discouraging, but wasn’t going to happen. We had other problems that were more pressing, so the wind generator project was put on hold, along with, ultimately, the idea of being in Mexico by Christmas. We missed our planned late summer departure.

Over the winter we learned of two Ampair 100’s in a warehouse in Renton (near Seattle), at the ABS Alaskan company. We periodically checked the website to make sure they were still available, and thought that if the opportunity came up, and we had some money, we should grab one before they were all gone. The speculation was that the new company, Seamap, primarily involved in deep water oil production technology, would start manufacturing them again, but it was hard to say when, or if, that would be. The more time that passed, the more risky that option seemed to be. So, in late April, we called ABS Alaskan and bought one of the Ampairs.

Our new wind gen out of the box
Our new wind gen out of the box

Down the road, in Part 2, we’ll tell how it all worked out. But first, we have to figure out how to get our unexpectedly heavy wind generator up the mast and onto that “L” bracket thing.

Giving Up the Slip

Posted by John

We originally planned to quickly swap a daily-commute-to-work lifestyle with one of cruising endlessly (endless for maybe two years). This was supposed to happen about six months ago. It didn’t. The change is now less of a hot swap, and more of a power down and reboot.

We’ve taken small incremental steps over the winter, many of which have taken some getting used to. We’ve given things up, sold possessions and thrown stuff away. But we’ve received nothing new in exchange yet, certainly not that endless summer of cruising. When I went down the hill to do some yard work where we used to keep the goats, I half expected them to come running out of their barn, ears flopping and stubby tails wagging, just as always. Instead, nothing.

Over the winter we worked on the boat and the house, at least as much as we had energy for in the wind and rain. We also spent a lot of time involuntarily testing what it means to maintain an official permanent residence in one location, receive mail in another, and physically be somewhere else. It’s a good thing we had this trial run. A lot of time has been spent waiting on hold for customer service, and then even more time trying to clear up the confusion. You’d think that what we were trying to do was unique and unheard of. For future reference, the key word to use with government, banks and insurance companies appears to be “Snowbird.” That seems to be a lifestyle that they recognize and can work with.

With the winter dark days done, it was time to take the next step: give up the slip. So it was with high optimism that we told the marina staff not to charge us for the month of April, or any other month after that, because we would be out of there at the end of March.

Taking the boat out of the marina doesn’t just mean giving up a comfortable and familiar slip. It also means giving up the shore power connection, easy access by car, and dock carts to move stuff back and forth between car and boat. On the upside, we won’t be paying monthly moorage fees anymore. We’ll keep the boat on our mooring buoy until we’re ready to head south.

Ten years ago we had a mooring buoy installed near our house. For several years we kept the boat on the buoy during the summer, then took it back to the marina for the winter. For those months on the mooring we paid no marina fees. But the buoy was never as convenient as it sounds since it required shuttling people, the dog and gear to and from the boat in a small dinghy which we kept chained to a tree just above the high tide line on property we own. It was a workable option for the non-stormy months, and fun for a while. A few years ago someone stole the dinghy. For anyone who might think that this dinghy was a random treasure washed up on a public beach and free for the taking, the damaged lock and hacksawed chain said otherwise. It was outright theft.

We had obtained that dinghy in the 1990’s for $50. We fixed it up and used it for years with our previous sailboat. We’ve been looking, but haven’t been able to find anything that worked as well for quick trips out to the boat. Certainly not for that price, anyway.

About a year ago we bought a used inflatable for $500. It doesn’t row well, but can take a small outboard and carries more people and gear than the beach dinghy did. However, it’s even less convenient than the old dinghy. We won’t be leaving it chained to a tree or dragging it across a beach.

On April 1st we loaded the inflatable, deflated and packed into as small a package as we could, onto Mysticeti’s deck and backed out of our slip for the last time. With a slight north breeze, we unfurled the jib and sailed slowly away for an extended weekend.

The next day we decided to go to Poulsbo, on Liberty Bay. Having something from Sluys’ Bakery while reading the Sunday paper at a sidewalk table in the morning sunshine sounded good. As a bonus, it would force us to try inflating the dinghy on deck, get it into the water, mount the outboard on the transom, and get all three of us to shore and back again. After all, we had never tried that with this inflatable. The calm water of a lake-like bay would be the ideal place to do so.

We anchored just outside the public marina among several other anchored boats. It was quite warm, and the activity and atmosphere of it all felt a lot like summer. It took a bit of effort to roll out the inflatable on deck and assemble the rigid flooring. Eventually we got it inflated and over the side and ready for an excursion to shore the following morning.

Sunday morning the floorboards looked damp. I told myself it was just dew—perhaps a lot of dew. But as we lowered the outboard into place and put more weight into the dinghy, it became obvious that water was coming in from somewhere. We bailed it out, but more came in. We all got in and made it to the dinghy dock on shore, but the boat was definitely filling with water. When we had tested its air holding ability at home, I had just assumed it would hold water. I was wrong.

A few hours later, when we were ready to return to the boat, we seemed to be providing fine entertainment for a group of park-goers watching from the shore-side railing as we bailed many gallons of water. It was coming in almost as fast as we could get it out. Finally, we fired up the motor and went for it, back to the privacy of the mother ship. It wasn’t too bad. We managed to keep the newspaper and box of bakery goodies dry. We put the dinghy up on deck and didn’t use it again for the rest of the weekend.

When we arrived back home to our mooring on Monday evening, we took just the essentials with us to shore, taking everything and everybody to the beach in just two dinghy trips. Water was really squirting in now from somewhere under the flooring. We deflated the dinghy and took it home. Inspecting it the next day, I discovered that a seam near the transom, where the floor is glued to the flotation tube, was pulling apart.

The internet assured me it would be easy to fix with the proper glue. It also gave me about a 60% confidence level that our inflatable was made of PVC, as opposed to Hypalon. There’s a different glue for each.

We went to West Marine and bought a tube of “Inflatable Boat PVC Glue.” Except for saying it was Polyurethane MEK, no instructions, such as cure time or surface preparation, came with it. Inside the West Marine package, the tube itself is labeled with “Avoid Prolonged or Repeated Inhale Action While Using,” and “Chemical Glue For Repair of Boat.” Other than a few other phrases of questionable translation, mostly concerning eye contact, hand washing, and statements against smoking and against vomiting if swallowed, no other instructions were available.

I glued it, gave it 24 hours, and then filled the boat with water from the garden hose. None leaked out. After the fact, I looked up polyurethane MEK glue and found a site with instructions for inflatable boat repair. (Of course, after I’m done I find it.) Except that all of the instructions were for a two-part contact cement and the tube from West Marine was only a single part glue. Oh well, it stuck. So I’m calling it good. For now.

Liberty Bay Castle
On the south side of Liberty Bay there is a house that is built to look like a castle. It blends into the trees, but in the right light, if you squint just so, you can imagine it to be an old-world castle on a hill with a village at its base.

Goats go for a Boat Ride

Posted by John

Well okay, the boat was a Washington State Ferry and the goats were in the back of the family van, but the title is still accurate.

When categorizing those who cruise for longer distances than that which can be achieved on a weekend or annual vacation, there seems to be two types: those who live aboard with no other home, and those who maintain a separate home on land.

I envy those whose only home is their boat and the possessions which will fit inside it. However, for so many reasons that seem right at this point in life, we have chosen to keep our home and property and a lot of our things in waiting for our eventual return. At least that is the plan for now.

A few years ago when we first started formulating our cruising plan, we were responsible for a dog, a cat, two goats, fifteen chickens of various breeds and probably tens of thousands of honeybees in wooden hives. All of these creatures earned their keep, whether it was scaring bears away and chasing deer from the garden, or keeping the mouse population in check, or eating weeds and bugs, or eliminating blackberries and other invasive plants, or pollinating the fruit trees; or even just barking, crowing, clucking or bleating to warn us when something was amiss. Even a few well-placed bee hives will keep strangers from wandering around too much. But they all, including the honeybees, require at least supplemental feeding and human interaction. Not something from which you can just one day turn your back on and sail away.

The dog, the cat, most of the chickens and all of the bees were gradually lost through natural attrition. But what do you do with a couple of 175 pound pet goats originally purchased by a little girl with her own money, raised from babies, named by school children and shown at the county fair as a 4H project? When the goats first came to our house to live, we were told that we might as well sell our boat because we were now tied to the land more than we realized. So true. And that statement has echoed in my head for years.

For the past year we’ve searched for a new home for the goats, hopeful we had something lined up, only to then have it fall through time and again. Thoughts of where and how they might end up, and what happens if we can’t find them a new home, are the kind of thing that can keep you awake at night.

As a kid, while sailing with my dad on Lake Washington and watching boats coming through the ship canal from Puget Sound, I learned to recognize the differences between the bigger boats that were sailed mostly on weekends, and boats of the same size that were much more far ranging. The local boats had clean, white decks, everything neat and tidy, while the cruising boats had old jerry jugs and rope spools lashed to the rails, and self-steering gear mounted on their sterns where the local boats had swim platforms. The local boats appeared mostly of form, while the cruising boats seemed more of function. I used to think that a few chickens running around on deck would complete the image of the far-ranging live-aboard.

So yes, late at night I more than once gave some consideration, at least mentally asking myself the question, of what if we found a way to carry the goats with us on deck, perhaps lashed to the rail like jerry jugs? But of course, not a serious question. However, it points out that the process of just getting away from home for a few years is much more difficult than we originally had anticipated.

We finally found a new home for our goats but it meant transporting them from our home on the Olympic Peninsula, across Puget Sound by ferry, and north to Anacortes to a family that already has dogs and cats and llamas and sheep, each species with its own purpose. And now they also have a couple of goats whose job it will be to help keep the blackberries and other invasive plants in control.

Two big goats stuffed behind the back seat of a passenger van for a three hour road and ferry trip. What could possibly go wrong?

It turns out nothing went wrong, in part, I like to believe, because of thorough planning and preparation based on asking ourselves the very question of what could go wrong. The same approach we are using to get our lives, home and boat in order so that we may enjoy a few years of extended cruising.

If the window opened, he'd stick his head out
If the window opened, he’d stick his head out
Goats: the new kids in school; meet the guard llama
Goats: the new kids in school; meet the guard llama
Exploring their new home, while we say good-bye.  Have fun guys.
Exploring their new home, while we say good-bye. Have fun guys.

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