Browsed by
Tag: Boat projects

Age Is Just a Number – and So Is Boat Size!

Age Is Just a Number – and So Is Boat Size!

Maybe you’ve heard the saying about the right length of boat – that it should be the wife’s age in feet. I’m the wife in this story, but I was the one who chose our boat, and I laughed at this rule and decided to ignore such stupid nonsense.

I was a precocious child, probably to the point of being annoying, but ever since becoming an adult I’ve always felt younger than my years. When I was buying the boat I was feeling so young and excited and enthusiastic that if the boat’s length really had matched my mental age  I would have ended up with a 12 foot dinghy instead of the 25 foot sailboat that I eventually bought.

But lately I’ve had to admit that I wish I’d been a little more honest about my age… I’ve caught myself thinking our boat is too small. The size doesn’t matter when we’re sailing, particularly as our boat performs like a much bigger boat under sail, but doing any kind of refit and renovation in such a small interior space is a pain in the – well, everywhere, really!

Working on our boat this spring, evenings and weekends on end, meant a few hundred times of climbing up a ladder to get to the deck of our boat that stood in our backyard. And climbing down the companionway stairs to get inside the boat. Now she’s back in the water but the refit is still ongoing, and so is the climbing – only now it’s different kind of climbing, up and down over the bow pulpit.

There’s no room to stand up inside the boat. Stooping kills your back in the long run. All the existing systems have been installed with a great deal of imagination into the tiniest and most remote nooks and crannies of the boat. I’ve spent countless hours in the depths of the pipe berths tightening bolts and untangling bilge hose. Torture on your elbows and knees! It’s dark and cramped – but at least now I know I don’t suffer from any degree of claustrophobia! There’s very little space to store any tools or parts, so you have to keep going back and forth to fetch them, only to realize you still forgot something and have to climb back to get it.

After a couple of weeks of intensive work I started to notice a strange grinding sound every now and then while climbing the ladder, but figured it was the screws, nuts and shackles rattling in my pockets that I was always carrying around. But one evening I was climbing the stairs in our house, wearing only a bathrobe, and I yep – I could still hear the rattle!

Turns out the sound comes from my knee. A really funny sound. There’s no pain whatsoever, that’s why it took me so long to locate the source.

Having owned several old cars I’m familiar with the funny sounds they develop over the years. Perhaps I’ll apply the same approach to my knee that I used to those cars – wait if any other symptoms appear, such as blue smoke or loud bangs, otherwise keep going just like before. Except in this case, I can actually take it a little easier than before. Remember, we now have a roller furling genoa, and there’s no need for me to crawl on my knees on the deck anymore! 

The boat projects will soon be completed. The interior still looks like a ground zero but all it needs is a little tender loving care – just to hide the ugly hoses and pipes that seem to fill the entire boat. And maybe throw a few nicely coloured cushions around! 

I bet my recent birthday inspired me to write about age and boat size. Having just heard my first squeaks and creaks I’m starting to learn what the saying “old age does not come alone” means. But I’m pretty sure that by the time we get to do our first test sail I’ll be feeling like a 25-year-old again, and the boat will be just the right size and shape for us. Then maybe one day in the future I will pretend to be, well, say 36 or 38 and choose our next boat accordingly!

Sailing Season Begins – She Floats!

Sailing Season Begins – She Floats!

Yesterday our precious little sailboat found her way back where she belongs. And yes, she floats!

It’s been a long and hard wait, but finally the new sailing season is here. Not that our projects are finished – far from it, but we can continue on the water. We managed to complete all the things that had to be done while on the hard, pushing 12 to 14 hour days during the weekends before launch. We’re exhausted, but happy!

This evening we motored the boat to her home marina, a couple of sea miles from the launching spot. It was still cold, but the sea was deep blue and the sun was shining. I docked the boat into her slip. It was my first time at the helm when docking, and I did it with a slightly different sort of a remote control than most – mine was a husband squatting inside the boat, in front of the engine, pushing and pulling the throttle and shift levers to my command.

It all went well, the sea was calm and there was hardly any wind. I don’t know what I’ve been afraid of about docking, but I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot more of it this season, and hopefully with a new mechanical remote control. Part of the excitement of sailing surely comes from knowing that something’s going to break, but you never know what and when! The good thing about it is you no longer feel like it’s the end of the world after it’s happened to you a few times. The bad thing is it usually costs money, but all in all sailors seem to be a resourceful bunch who will find a way out or around most troubles. I hope to become one of those sailors one day, and docking the boat with a human remote control was clearly a step in that direction!

Ready for Launch! …Not!

Ready for Launch! …Not!

Spring is late this year. Really, really late. Not a bud in a tree, not a green blade of grass.

Our sailboat’s spring refit is running late too. We’ve been held up by very cold weather. We’ve been dodging hale storms and taken a beating from angry northerly gusts. And today, just as we thought the worst would be behind us as it’s almost May, we’re having this great big snow storm. Everything is covered in snow – insolent, inpolite, unenvited snow!

Don’t get me wrong, I like snow. When I was a kid we always had those beautiful, snowy, fresh white winters full of skiing and sled rides and ice skating. Lately, not so much. This winter we hardly had any snow at all, just ice all around so you couldn’t really go for a walk without ice spikes on your boots. And we had strong winds, from all the different directions but all equally unpleasant. A bad, bad winter. The kind of a winter that really makes you desperate to be somewhere else. Anywhere else really, but if I could express a wish, turquoise water would be nice. Now we seem to be getting that snow we’ve been waiting for all winter – but I don’t want it anymore! 

Many of our projects require working with epoxy, paints, glues and sealants – all of these need temperatures at least a few degrees above freezing point in order to dry and stick. There hasn’t been a single day warm enough so far. This will delay all of the following steps in the project. We have a very sad little sailboat in our backyard with two holes in her bottom and an exploded interior. She really must be wondering what’s going on – what’s going to happen to her? Is she going to slowly wither away? Will she ever get to float in salty water again?

Sailboat Projects – The Big Bang!

Sailboat Projects – The Big Bang!

We’re back from the beautiful shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s officially spring – never mind the snow that stubbornly keeps falling and the freezing northerly wind that blows your hat off and makes your limbs stiff. It’s spring, and like I said in my last post, time to get our hands dirty. And dirty they are!

I’m going to make a series of neat before & after picture pairs to demonstrate our progress as we install the new head also known as the toilet (if you’d like to read more about luxuries aboard a sailboat, read my earlier post about them) and other projects, but decided to publish a photo that shows the starting point. Yes, our boat refit has started with a big bang, a real explosion, and this is what it looks like now. Not much hope, is there..?

I started the project by eagerly stripping the head area from old vinyl lining that seemed to come off almost by itself. I soon found out that some parts were indeed easy to remove, but the rest of the lining is glued on so tightly that there’s no way it can be removed without some gadget that comes with a power cord. Time to go shopping… Another proof of how easily and ever so quickly a boat owner can get rid of their money – no effort at all!

Then there are certain engine related projects, which I will not discuss in detail as they don’t interest me as much as they probably should, but also because my vocabulary is rather limited when it comes to engines and other techy stuff like that. I’ve just recently taught myself the basic sailing words, both in English and in my native language, as I had very few of either, so the techy stuff will have to wait. 

Looks like it’s going to be a busy Easter with a lot of boat yoga. I’ve only just started but I have a feeling I will know a large number of tight space asanas by the time I’m through with removing the lining. After that, some plumbing poses in equally cramped areas of the boat – which is pretty much the only variety of space aboard our pocket cruiser. But this is the sort of pastime I’ve been longing for – it takes my mind off work and other such trivial matters, and propels me right into next summer’s sailing trips. My head is just full of plans for places to sail to! And sail we will – with a real toilet belowdecks!

Sailboat Projects – DIY or Pay a Pro

Sailboat Projects – DIY or Pay a Pro

I was recently talking to a person involved in research on boating and boat maintenance. We discussed the usual boat stuff that one does every spring – or otherwise on a regular basis – like bottom paint jobs and engine maintenance, but also about bigger projects like the ones we are currently planning: upgrades for sails, rigging, and the sanitation system. One of the questions I was asked was how much of it we are going to do ourselves, and what are the sort of things we would have a boatyard do for us. 

I think this is an interesting topic. I’ve done some boating and sailing myself and know quite a few other boaters and sailors – and have read and watched a lot of sailing related blogs and Youtube channels as I believe a lot of other sailors have done – and I’ve come to the conclusion that boats need a lot of work. A lot. In some cases it seems that the actual sailing plays a very small part in the whole business of boat ownership. 

The question of whether to do it yourself or to pay a pro, to put it simply, is an equation of three basic factors: time, money and skill. Most of us don’t have all three, but if you have two out of three, that’s still pretty good. If you only have one out of three, then you’d better hope it’s money, otherwise it’s not really going to work. 

Of these three factors, time and money often seem to be mutually exclusive. If you have a lot of money, you seldom have much time as your time is mostly spent making that money. And if you have a lot of time, it often means you don’t have a job and therefore don’t have money – or at least not enough to pay for expensive boatyard projects. If you do have both time and money, you will already be sipping your gin and tonic someplace where the water is turquoise, with your boat projects taken care of, and these equations don’t really concern you. 

We have neither a lot of time, nor a lot of money to spare on a boat refit. But if we plan things carefully, we may just make the ends meet. When it comes to skills, however, we have quite a few. I believe we can make something out of this equation. All the things we know we can do ourselves, we will absolutely do ourselves. The things we think we can do ourselves, we will do ourselves. The things we’re not sure we can do ourselves, we will try to do anyway. And finally, the things we absolutely know we can’t do, we will hire someone else to do. 

This might sound a little foolhardy, since we are very fresh boat owners and neither of us has ever worked on fibreglass, boat plumbing, rigging or many other such things. But my husband has operated a pair of 1000-horsepower engines on a Search and Rescue vessel so I believe he can figure out his way with an 8-horsepower Yanmar, and I have painted a large farmhouse so I think I can manage the antifouling paint job on a 25 foot boat. Together we have spent almost a decade renovating a 100-year-old house from top to bottom without much prior building experience, and by now we know how to operate a myriad of hand tools and power tools and to handle many different materials – and most importantly, we are already familiar with the fact that every project will turn out to be more difficult and time consuming than anticipated. 

Many of the house building skills translate effortlessly into boat fixing skills. But any skills in the “clever with your hands” category will help, whether sewing, knitting, woodwork, drawing and painting or other handicraft. Nowadays it’s easy to find how-to guides and tutorials for just about anything you want to do. For example, I have found excellent step-by-step Youtube guides on how to splice double braided lines or service the very same model of winches that our 1972 vintage boat has, and several really good instructions on various websites for plumbing the head and the holding tank and installing thru hulls so that your boat will not be flooded under any circumstance, on any degree of heel. Not flooding the boat is paramount – I guess we all agree on that! 

But no matter how handy you are, some things still call for a pro. Making a new sail is not something we would attempt to do ourselves, so that’s definitely something we will let professionals take care of. But for future adventures, being able to fix a wear or tear in a sail is a skill worth acquiring. 

Even if we did have the money to pay a pro to do all our maintenance and refit work, I think we would still do the most part ourselves. There’s more to it than getting the things done – it’s knowing how they’ve been done, and being able to do them again if something should fail at an unexpected moment in some far corner of the world where you might not find a pro to do them, no matter how fat your wallet was. Although it’s unlikely we’ll end up in a very far corner of the world on our tiny little boat, all the work we learn to do will benefit us in the future, on our future boat and future travels. It will also benefit the next owner of our little boat, because we will be able to provide a very detailed description of all the maintenance and refit we’ve performed on her. When buying an old boat, the condition of the boat is more important than the model and vintage, and the more you know about the boat’s service history, the better. 

Next week we’ll take a little break and travel in the direction of 180°. Unfortunately not yet on a sailboat – but we will see the Ocean! After that, it’s time to finally dig into the boat work and get our hands dirty.

Sailboat Projects – Luxuries Onboard

Sailboat Projects – Luxuries Onboard

If you’re a sailing woman, you’ve probably heard it. If you’re a man, you’ve probably heard it too, but quite possibly coming from your own mouth.

“Sailing was so simple and easy before the woman came aboard.”

Before that, a simple, fast boat was all that it took to keep a bunch of guys happily sailing along. Mod cons? Well, maybe one battery to keep the beers cool in the box, but unless you’re sailing in the tropics, the bilge will do just fine.

A galley? Not many simple, fast boats have anything you can call a galley. If it’s a cruising boat, it might have one of those – a handy place to cook your instant noodles and eat from the pot. Who wants to do dishes anyway?

A toilet? The shrouds support the mast, but they’re also good for holding on to while taking care of the business number one. And for the number two, well, you can always find a bucket on a sailboat.

A shower? Oh boy, this list is really getting absurd! How will you ever become a salty sailor if you keep showering all the time? 

Now, enter the woman.

Simple days are over – she’s going to need all sorts of creature comforts. Or is she?

I guess I was thinking like one of those guys when I bought the sailboat. Frankly, my whole idea was to get a small, inexpensive boat to practice sailing with. Just sailing – you know, upwind, downwind, reaching, running, tacking, gybing – the rest didn’t seem so important. We would buy a real boat to take us to real adventures one day, but this was not the real boat yet.

For my original purpose the boat seemed almost luxurious. It had a galley – well, a cooker and a sink, anyway. It had a head – a porta-potti – and four comfortable bunks to sleep in. It had an inboard engine. There were two batteries, solar panels and even an autopilot – what else could you possibly wish for?

Now, enter the man.

Stepping onboard for the first time my husband was holding a fishing rod in one hand and a barbeque in the other. It’s hard to say if it was him or Weber that got there first, but it was very clear from the start that we would not be living on instant noodles on this boat. Refrigeration was sure to follow, naturally. How else would you keep all those juicy steaks and fish fillets fresh on a trip?

My husband has always been the chef in our family, and he was determined to stay a chef while onboard. Which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense, since fresh provisions will preserve a high morale among the crew. You can live in close quarters and with simple means but the grub will be haute cuisine, if you ask him. 

Suddenly we had this fairly well equipped cruising boat in our hands. After a few weekend cruises we realised she was not just a small, simple boat – she was tough and reliable, and we had great confidence in her ability to sail across an ocean – or the Gulf of Finland, at any rate!

So that’s what we did. During that trip we learned a lot more than we could ever have learned while tacking and gybing in our home waters. A lot of it had to do with the sailing itself – which I discussed in my last post –  but some had to do with the accommodations, and how they could be further improved before our next season of adventures and exploration. Yes, we had been bitten by the adventure bug, and although this was not the real adventure nor the real boat, small adventures are good practice while waiting for the big ones to happen. (And if, for some reason, they should not happen, at least you’ll have the small ones to look back on.)

The inevitable discovery of our holiday trip was the issue with the toilet also known as the head. A porta-potti will be ok for an evening sail, when you hardly need to use it, and it may be ok for a weekend trip, when you only use it a couple of times. You can fairly neatly get it out of the boat and empty and clean it at home without too much fuss.

But on our three week sailing trip the nasty thing filled up every second day, which meant we found ourselves in many awkward situations in many exotic locations. Firstly, it was very difficult to get the thing out of the boat once it was filled up to the “full” mark. Because of the keel stepped mast there’s not enough room to get the potty tank out of its closet and to the companionway in a horizontal position – I won’t go into any detail as to why this is desirable – so the only way to get it out is through the deck hatch right above the toilet. The problem with this is that the potty is exactly the size of the hatch. It fits through, but there’s no room for fingers on any side. So it can only be supported directly from the bottom by one crew member – usually me, as I fit slightly better into confined spaces – and caught from above by the other. And in the midst of this transaction there is often a very frail moment during which the potty hangs in mid air and even the slightest rocking of the boat might set it topsy-turvy. Not a nice thing to happen while you’re squatting right below.

Secondly, there was the disposal. For subtlety, we would wrap the tank in a large rubbish bag and carry it ashore. And then discreetly smuggle it past the waterfront restaurants hoping not to cause loss of appetite in any of the customers… and equally discreetly try to empty the contents at the marina’s convenience building, which was often easier said than done. If there’s no designated collection for it, use the gents, not the ladies, that’s all I have to say about that.

No more of this s*** job, said my husband. I couldn’t agree with him more. So, we now have a proper toilet system on our shopping list, along with a holding tank big enough to allow us a comfortable passage between pump out stations – a much more sophisticated way of dealing with the issue.

One more thing. I have heard the words pressurized hot water and shower mentioned in our conversations about the boat upgrades. They have not been spoken by the woman onboard. I intend to become a salty sailor, so this is as far as I’m willing to go:

Sailboat Projects – Handling Sails the Easy Way

Sailboat Projects – Handling Sails the Easy Way

At the moment, we have three healthy arms between our crew. As I happen to be in possession of two of those arms, the duties requiring brute force naturally fall on me. So I do all the sail handling, going on deck, jumping onto the dock. Unfortunately, I missed out big time when qualities like coordination, agility and sophistication were being dealt. I fumble through these duties as well as I can, painfully aware that I’m not the smooth, well balanced, cat-like creature I’d like to be.

When I started sailing I was often part of a bigger crew. It’s easier to disguise your shortcomings when there are several people onboard to share the tasks. And mostly I did pretty well, even as a bowman in charge of changing the headsails (despite hoisting my boot up the mast once, along with the spinnaker). So when we were buying our present boat, I didn’t think twice about the selection of hank-on headsails that came with it. Surely we could manage with those, just like I had done before.

I found out quite soon that we weren’t really managing. Arranging the foresail on deck ready to be hoisted is easy enough, while the boat is still nicely anchored or tied to its slip. We have the halyards lead to the cockpit so hoisting the sail while underway is still a relatively easy task. But when the wind pipes up and you have to change the sail into something smaller, I found it terrifying to make my way to the bow while it’s being tossed up and down in big waves. And even in lighter winds the large genoa can be a handful to keep from falling overboard and swallowing a ton of seawater. 

Mostly it was a struggle to get the sail down, and I was reluctant to change it into anything at all in less than perfect conditions, so we would often end up sailing with just the mainsail or even motoring the rest of the way. After three weeks of sailing in the mostly open waters of Estonia I was absolutely ready for a roller furling genoa. I am aware that when reefed, it will not point as high as a similar sized hank on sail – but if the alternative is motoring, it will point just fine.

Another problem was not having a topping lift to hold the mainsail boom up. This meant that whenever I lowered the mainsail the boom would come crashing down on the cabin top – unless stopped by the third healthy arm. But the third arm was often occupied elsewhere such as steering the boat into the wind, cranking the engine, reeling in the fishing lines that we had forgotten about and other things like that – a very busy arm you could say! The hanging boom would then jam the sliders in their track, which meant that I had to crawl to the mast and pull the sail down with my hands, holding a bunch of sail ties between my teeth while trying to grab the angry masses of canvas flying here and there.

So the sail manouvres on our boat were always a bit of a spectacle. But next summer they won’t be! Just think how easy it will be to casually roll in the genoa, then briefly point the bow into the wind while the mainsail drops down and neatly folds itself into its cradle… And all the while I can stay safely in the cockpit. No more crawling on all fours!

While these great improvements are being sewn at the sail loft, we are planning for more wonderful things to make life onboard easier. Here’s one upgrade we already made last summer, to keep our precious third crew member from falling overboard. See the miserable guardrails before…

…and after. They look great, don’t they – and our sails manager can lounge quite relaxed on the deck now!