Working on the boat

I think next time I start a series of boat projects, I’ll bring JUST what I need for ONE project aboard, do that project, then go on to the next. Why? I seem to spend a lot of time moving all the stuff from HERE to over THERE so that I can get to THIS part, only to find that I have to move all the stuff from THERE to THAT OTHER PLACE so that I can get at one of the fittings, then move it all to HERE so that… etc. There’s just too darn much stuff aboard right now to get much of anything done.

Still, slowly, progress is made.

I had come back to a deflated dinghy. It took a while to find, but I think I have that fixed. I’ve also started to try to sort “stuff” into “things to keep aboard” and “things that are just taking up room at the moment” in an effort to pare down what’s aboard and actually try to get it into a shape that is usable.

Oh, yeah, and I scrubbed the decks.

And started repairs of the cap rail split. This is involving making a set of dams and then epoxying the cap rail down. After that’s done will come the sanding to smooth everything out. The dams are going to be made of painter’s tape and I’m hoping I don’t make a botch of it, getting epoxy all over the fibreglass, where I don’t want it, as it oozes out of the cap rail where I do want it.

I’ve also been working on the plumbing a bit, though as I alluded to above, it’s slow going as I keep having to move so much stuff around. The main thing I want to figure out is what the proper position of all the valves for the head are so that we can use the head and not run afoul of fouling a harbour.

Other than that, been helping another boat diagnose electrical problems with their GFI plugs, and apologizing to some other boaters. You see, the pedestal at my slip doesn’t seem to be supplying power. I didn’t expect anyone to be at our dock this weekend, so I simply plugged in to the pedestal for the slip on the other side. This, unfortunately, puts my power cord at about waist height. No big deal if there aren’t other people on the dock. Unfortuantely, 3 other boats came in. So now my electrical cord is in their way. Fortunately, they’ve been good sports about it, but probably tomorrow I’ll move the boat (or get the pedestal fixed) so that I’m not creating a hazard for others.

I have a whiteboard full of boat tasks to do, again. Once I clear these, I’m sure it will fill up again, but it does feel good to clear a whiteboard once in a while so that I feel like I’m making progress.

An unpleasant set of surprises

Last night was my first night back on Opus after needing to go home for a bit to deal with things like doctor appointments, renewing my driver’s license, and my birthday. UUpon returning to Opus a bit over a month later I found some unpleasant surprises.

The boat yard had not fixed the heater on the boat. Apparently, in the confusion of the boatyard changing ownership, that work had not been done. They had, however, moved my boat over to the dock closer to the boat yard. Unfortunately, when they plugged Opus into the dock suupply, they had not truly checked that power was coming into the boat. In their defense, the only way to truly know is either to try to run the microwave or, alternately, there is a single, small, LED on the panel that will tell you. instead, they looked at the battery voltage levvel, saw a high number, and assumed that the shore power was working.

It wasn’t.

So when I got onto the boat, the batteries were being slowly drained. They weren’t in terrible shape, but it could have been much worse. Considering they are brand new batteries, I don’t want to subject them to the abuse of overly discharging them. We caught it in time, fortunately.

It turns out that the shore power at my temporary slip isn’t working. Right now I have an electrical cord strung across the dock to an empty slip’s power, but that’s not a good solution. Also, at the moment, I’m not comfortable moving Opus by myself. It’s been a month and I hadn’t had that much practice with her beforehand. I want someone there to catch lines and right now there isn’t anyone.

It’s not a good situation as the power line is across the dock at about thigh level. It’s a danger, but I don’t have a lot of choice at the moment. I’ll have to hope that the dock continues to be deserted over the weekend.

Today was searching for the leak in the dinghy. No luck so far. The search continues. Also accomplished putting up the sail cover on the foresail, which has been exposed to the UV abuse all this time. Now it’s safe and secure inside its coccoon. I’ll have to work with the system a bit more before I can say that I’m “fluent” in the cover. however, once it was on, it cinched down nicely.

Working ashore

Part of the work to do in preparing for the racing season is to get a rating from one of the big origanizations – ORC or PHRF. Several members of the team got together to measure sails, which is part of the numbers that PHRF needs to set a handicap. The sail measurements coupled with measurements of the boat itself are run through a handicapping program that yields a theoretical speed for the boat. That is then used to decide the handicap.

The handicap is set so that boats of different design and lengths and sail plans can compete with each other. For instance, Opus could not hope to compete against an IMOCA or a foiling sailboat in a head-to-head race. Some of those boats will do over 40 knots in the right conditions whereas Opus is unlikely to break 10 or 12 knots. The handicap is expressed as a certain number of seconds per mile of race course that is subtracted from our elapsed time. So if a boat, say a foiling boat, is expected to finish a 100 mile course in about 4 hours, averaging a little bit less than 2 1/2 minutes per mile, Opus would be expected to cover that same course in about 12 1/2 hours, averaging 7.5 minutes per mile. Our handicap should be in the neighbourhood of 5 minutes per mile.

Of course, we all want to be the first over the finish line – what is called “Line Honours” in racing.

You may notice that there are two more timers running on the pages now. They are both estimates, but tell us how much time until our first “big” races – SwiftSure and Southern Straits. We may do some racing before then, but those are the first goals we’re really aimed at and training for. I’ll be firming up the timers once the race organizers announce the actual dates of the races.

Those are the two big races for us in 2022, though I have my eye on a few other ones such as Malaspina Straits. We’ll also be doing some long-duration sails on our own over weekends and perhaps even take a week to do a whirlwind circumnavigation of Vancouver Island.

Busy Days

Not everything that we do is related to fixing up the boat. Sometimes the vast majority of the work is not boat related. This has been the case since our last blog post.

Racing is, generally speaking, not a one-person sport. It’s a team competition in which the individual skills come together to make something better than each individual. However, these individuals must work and live together in a confined, uncomfortable, potentially rolling and pitching, potentially hazardous, environment. It’s important to get the right people.

Crew selection has been occupying my time – recruiting, interviewing, and vetting crew. Yes, there are people that, based on a simple interview, I’ve had to decide were not right for the crew. It might be some lack of skill, though those can often be corrected. More importantly is that they have to be the right kind of person.

What is the right kind of person?

They have to have primary qualities, the loss of either of which is an immediate disqualification. The first of these qualities is a respect and willingness to work with others. A racing boat is no place for someone who will be derogatory or negative about a team member. There is simply no way to get away from such a person other than to have left them on the shore. The second is a willingness to commit to the team — to work hard to improve themselves and the team. Racing is hard work. It alternates boredom, excitement, terror. Somewhere in there we also find it fun. Ok, I suppose that implies there’s a streak of masochism in us somewhere. I’ll leave that to the shrinks to figure out.

Since this is a multi-year campaign, we know at the outset that there will be people that will drop out of the team. Life circumstances change, interests change, we discover that what we thought we wanted to do isn’t what we actually want, we find that there’s something about the team that isn’t right for us. All of these are reasons to leave, and that’s OK. What it means, though, is that we have to start with a roster that’s bigger than what we expect to end up with. Partly this will cover the inevitable drop outs and partly this will cover the people who can’t make a particular race for one reason or another. For example, the Van Isle 360 and the Vic Maui races are long races, taking weeks to complete. People might not be able to take that amount of time off of work. It’s tough to tell your boss you need a month off to go sail racing. Not many bosses or customers are that understanding.

We now have a final list and I’d like to welcome the following people.

Alexis Baker, Alex Brydon, Kevin Diakiw, Wayne Foulds, Lee-Ann Hollander, Gunnar Jonsson, Kevin-Neil Klop, Cliff Lieuwen, Fraser Mah, Bruce McGarvie, John Mitchell, Nigel Phillips, Aren Tulchinsky, Ada Yim, Boris Zanic

In the days to come, I hope to be adding a bit of a biography of them to the website for them to shine!

A Tale of Two Cities

First, apologies for the delay in posting this. The internet has gotten a bit sketchy lately on Opus.

As with many buyers, before our purchase we saw a number of boats. Much like the three bears, some were too big, some were too small Some were too fat, some were too thin. etc. We did make an offer on two boats, only to have them rejected, so those were too expensive.

One of the boats we saw was a steel-hulled expedition-class sailboat, built to go through the northwest passage (thought it never did). At the time it was still “winterized” with tarps over the deck that we had to crawl through. Other people were interested in it as well and we were informed as we boarded for our inspection that a couple from Texas were very very interested in it and were going to be making an offer. After going through it, we decided that, though it was interesting and checked a large number of boxes, it wasn’t the right ship for us.

As I’ve been on Opus, I’ve been using the shore facilities such as bathrooms. As such, I walk the length of the dock several times per day. Lately there’s been a boat that’s caught my eye. A pretty boat, blue hull, ketch rigged (two masts instead of the more common single-mast sloop rig). Saturday night there were, for the first time, some people on it and, even more importantly, dogs. So I went to say hello to the dog… um… people.

We got to talking a bit and I found that they were new owners as well. Since I’m a new owner on my boat, there was a bit of instant cameraderie and we got to telling each other the story about how we had come to own the boats that we did.

They had bought Alioth unseen — which is a very brave thing to do, especially as they don’t have any sailing experience. That’s a lot of trust in the broker, so I was naturally curious about who their broker is. They mentioned a name and I was surprised and pleased – they used the same broker I had.

Meanwhile something began jangling in the back of my head.

They described how they had pretty much settled on Alioth and were paniced when the broker informed them that another couple was coming out to see the boat and might be offering on it. They had a heart to heart discussion amongst themselves and made an offer that night.

You probably have guessed by now. Alioth is the steel-hulled, expedition-class sailboat that I had gone to inspect, and these were the couple that were “highly interested” in it. Now, here they were, docked 5 slips down from where I am.

It can sometimes be an amazingly small world. So tomorrow (the 7th) we’re going to take Alioth out and do some exercises to start teaching them how to work Alioth.

In other news, I finally got my COVID test and will be able to cross the border and go home on Wednesday!

Windy night

Last night was a bit windy. There have been other windy nights, but last night was different.

Every boat “talks” to you. It has its own vocabulary of squeaks, grunts, bangs, creaks and ticks that she uses to tell you what’s going on. Unfortunately, each boat’s vocabulary is quite different than another’s, and it takes a while to get to know how your, particular, boat talks. Last night was a long, dreary, lesson in that vocabulary.

It started out with the “bang! bang! bang!” that is also known as halyard slap. That one is pretty common on sailboats and is caused by the wind making a halyard flap in the wind, kind of like a finger across a guitar string. Since halyards lie against the mast, for the most part, they bang the mast as they flap. The cure to that is either to take the end of the halyard and fasten it well away from the mast or, if that’s not possible, to use a bungee cord around the halyard and one of the side stays, thereby pulling the center of the halyard away from the mast.

Because of how the sail cover is done, refastening the halyard was not going to be feasible in the dark. It would involve taking two covers off, moving a halyard, and then putting the two covers back on, requiring two precarious partial climbs of the mast (because the covers extend higher than I can reach from the deck). So I went with the bungee – which only required one precarious partial climb of the mast so I could place the bungee higher than the sail cover.

I suppose I could have waited for the morning, but there is no sleeping through halyard slap.

I had just dropped off to sleep when I was woken by a “creak.. ick ick ick creeeeeeeaaaak ick.” sound, which is new to me. I got up and moved to the center of the cabin to try to isolate the sound. It sounded like it was coming from forward, so I took a step that way. Now it was sounding like it was coming from the stern, so I took a bunch of steps that way. Further towards the stern.. another step. Towards the bow… move that way… this chase of the sound went on for about two hours until I figured out that it was the boom that was moving side to side in the wind. This, in turn, was pulling on the main sheet, which is fastened to a metal beam running across the boat midships. So why wasn’t the sound coming from there?

Because in making the beam vibrate, it was making the whole cabin roof into one sounding board, so the sound was coming from everywhere.

The solution was to go outside and lash the very end of the boom to the far sides of the boat, like making a triangle. That stopped the wiggling of the boom back and forth, and back to sleep.

To be woken up by more sounds, which get located and silenced, and back to sleep. To be woken up again by sounds, which get located and silenced, and back to sleep.

You get the idea.

So today was a really lazy day as I was groggy from sleeping in 2 hour increments. Tonight should be better so that’s where I’m going – to allow myself to be rocked to sleep tonight and hope that Opus is done talking in her sleep too, at least for tonight.

Oh, and remember my previous post regarding eagles? Well, found some more pieces of the wind instrument on my deck. I’m going to have to replace those instruments, but first I need to figure out a better way to keep the eagles from breaking them before I spend a thousand dollars on replacements.

Addendum, June 2

Eagles, as a symbol of the United States, are majestic, awe inspiring, birds.

Real life, though, not so much.

Although my wind instruments weren’t actually sending information to my chart plotter and other displays, there was always the windex up there – the simple windvane-like device that told you the apparent wind direction. I could rely on that at the very least.

Until today, when an eagle broke it off and then, as if to add a final “F_ you”, dropped it onto the deck right next to the helm.

Gee, thanks, eagle.

The faster I go, the behinder I get!

Took Opus out yesterday for a bit of a shakedown. I even single handed getting the sails up and taking them down again – and did some sailing. It was a bit of a circus act, jumping around from place to place to get stuff done but, at least in a light wind, I managed to do it – without the use of an autopilot to hold things steady. How was this done?

First note that Opus has a rolling furler on the foresail, which makes the foresail relatively easy to furl. Secondly note that a sailboat with the mainsail tightly sheeted displays “weather helm” meaning it wants to point its bow towards the wind.

So here was the process after removing all applicable sail ties and covers:

  1. Turn Opus into the wind and cut the motor into neutral.
  2. Run up to the mast and start raising the main sail.
  3. Run back to the helm and turn Opus back into the wind
  4. Run back to the mast and raise the sail a little further.
  5. Run back to the helm and turn Opus back into the wind.
  6. Stay at the helm and untangle the running backstays from the leech of the mainsail
  7. Turn Opus back into the wind
  8. Run back to the mast and raise the mainsail some more, untangling it from the lazy jacks where it caught.
  9. Finally the mainsail is raised enough to weathervane the boat into the wind and things get a bit easier.
  10. Finish raising the sail and go back to the cockpit.
  11. Let out the foresail and trim that approximately while still holding a reasonable course.
  12. trim the main sail approximately, while still holding a reasonable course.
  13. Trim the foresail closer to properly, while manually holding a course.
  14. Trim the mainsail closer to properly while manually holding a course.
  15. Say “Good enough”

Did I mention that I still have my bicycle, granny bars, and dinghy on the foredeck, all of which make great things for foresail sheets to get caught on?

However, the important thing is that I proved I can do it, at least in light winds.

Due to the lazy jacks and roller furling, dousing the sails was a bit easier, though still not easy. However, I deem it a success as I did manage to do some sailing and nothing went wrong.

After returning to the dock, I went to make myself some dinner – spaghetti – and tried to fill the pot with water. Doing this involves going to the navigation station and turning on the fresh water pump. The moment I did, I heard a strange noise and no water came from the faucet. Then I realized I was hearing a hissing – almost like something shorting, plus the sound of running water from somewhere. Immediately shutting off the power to the pump, I went to investigate. At the same time I noticed what seemed like smoke in the cabin.

After a bit of investigation, I found that a PVC conduit had slipped off a fitting even though it was fastned there with a hose clamp. Another important piece of data is that running the engine also gives us (some) hot water. In this case the pipe that had slipped off was the one carrying (very) hot water. Anyway, a few minutes with a screwdriver and the pipe was back in place, tightened down, and all things working.

Of course I did say a few choice words, and I could imagine the boat craning its (imaginary) head around to look at me with a bland and innocent expression as if to say, “What did you expect? I’m a boat.” with the unstated, “Of course something was going to go wrong.”

Headed home soon

There are still a lot of things left to do on the boat, but we’re almost done with the things the insurance company needed us to do. It’s not been for lack of trying to get them done, stuff just takes time.

The most recent task completed was replacing the batteries in Opus. Previously, she had lead-acid batteries. They are fine for many things, but they do require maintenance – refilling with distilled water and they aren’t sealed. This means that the could tip over and spill acid in the boat, which is bad. Even worse is that they can offgas during charging and that gas is a combination of oxygen and hydrogen. You know, the stuff that caused the Hindenburg to burn? It’s combustible with the slightest of sparks.

So we replaced them with three “AGM” batteries. This had several advantages. The first is that one of the old batteries was going bad and would soon need to be replaced. We could have replaced it with another lead acid battery, but those are “old technology”. You shouldn’t mix lead acid with AGM batteries because of differences in how they like to discharge and charge. Before I go any further, I should explain how the batteries on Opus are set up.

There are three batteries. Two of them are hooked together to act like one. These are “deep discharge” batteries, aka “house” batteries. They aren’t intended to output a lot of power in short bursts. They are the “slow and steady” batteries that take a long time (relatively speaking) to discharge and are used for most of the electrical stuff in the boat such as lighting, the solenoid for the propane system, the radios, the chart plotter, etc. The third battery is the “starter”. It is used to run the starter motor for the engine. It has to output a lot of power, but only for a short time (10 seconds or so).

The starter battery is like a sprinter, the house batteries are like marathoners.

And that’s why we couldn’t do something smart like put in an AGM battery for the starter battery and move the old starter battery to replace the house battery that was going bad. Further, our battery charger doesn’t have one setting for the starter battery and another setting for the house batteries. It wants them all to be the same type.

So we decided to replace all three batteries with AGM batteries, which are sealed batteries. No maintenance to speak of. They had the further advantage of larger capacity, so we can go longer between having to charge them up (though it then takes longer to charge them again, too. Nothing is free).

You would think that this would be an easy matter. Disconnect the old batteries, pull them out, put the new batteries into the battery cabinet, reconnect the cables, and voila! Done. Nothing is ever that simple on a boat.

How many cables do you think goes to the batteries? It would make sense that there would be one for the positive terminal and one for the negative terminal, right? multiply that by three batteries and you’d expect a maximum of 6 cables. Further, the “rules’ say that one cable is red (the cables that go to the positive terminal) and one cable is black (the ones that go to the negative terminal). How difficult can this be?

Except… there are 10 cables in there. 3 of them are red, the rest are black, which makes no sense because I know all 3 red cables go to the house batteries. Where are the red cables for the starter batteries? (if you’re curious, the 3 red cables that go to the house batteries are one cable from the charger to the battery, one cable from the battery to the rest of the boat, and the third one is used to tie the two batteries together to make them act like one, larger, battery. The same is done for three of the black wires). Ok, the house batteries are hooked in, but why are all the starter battery cables black? At least ONE of them has to be going to the positive terminal or else the starter won’t work.

We eventually were able to determine what was the function of 3 of the black cables. Two of them were, indeed, SUPPOSED to be red. Another, was definitely supposed to be black. That left us the fourth wire and we couldn’t figure it out. So, we made the assumption that it also was supposed to be black. However, not being complete dimwits, we turned off every bit of power in the boat, disconnected shore power, turned off all the switches, and then connected the cable. Nothing bad happened, so that was promising.

One person positioned themselves next to the batteries and the other person went to the control panel and turned the switch to the “1” position (which connects ONLY the engine battery). Almost immediately I heard “OFF! OFF! OFF!” Yes, I was the dummy at the control panel and I turned it off immediately.

We had guessed wrong. the last wire was ALSO supposed to be red.

So the configuration for the house batteries makes complete sense. 2 red cables plus the jumper cable on the red terminals of the house batteries, ditto for black on the house batteries. The starter battery is ONE cable on the negative terminal and THREE cables on the positive terminal. Those three are SUPPOSED to have red markings on them, but all four are dark black.

Oh, why was he yelling OFF OFF? He could hear the sizzling as the short started to fry insulation and wiring. Fortunately, we were fast enough to prevent anything truly bad from happening. If I had been by myself, it would have been a lot, lot, worse. The sequence would have been connect up the wire, walk through the doorway to the nav station, turn the switch on, run back to the battery, hear the sizzling, run back to the nav station, turn the switch off. By that time, there’s a good chance we would have had an electrical fire on board.

Fortunately, the batteries are all sorted out. We have boots on order to cover the terminals so that they can’t be shorted as well as strapping so that they can’t move around on a pitching boat.

The only other real job to do for the insurance company is one that I’m still waiting for the proper parts for. I understand it’s on back-order, so after a bit over a month of living on Opus, I think it’s time to go home this week for a month.

Opus may be the new lady in my life, but I really miss the important lady who’s been keeping the home together. It will be good to see her.

Once upon a day so dreary

While I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door…
— from “The Raven” by E.A. Poe

It truly is a dreary day. The skies are grey and fat raindrops hurl themselves in suicidal fervor upon the decks and windows. It’s a good day to be doing cabin chores, to whit cleaning up the place. However, like the erstwhile protagonist in Poe’s immortal poem, things seemed to hound me today.

I started with doing dishes, and promptly spilled some dirty dish water over the counters. No sooner had I cleaned that up and continued in cleaning my few dishes, when I spilled dirty dish water on myself. And that set the tone for the day.

So it’s through a plethora of boat bites and scrapes that I slowly straightened up some of the cabin which had, once again, fallen into some amount of disrepute while I was chasing down the battery charger. Unfortunately, the battery charger still eludes me, so likely the cabin will be straight for only a short time while I go looking for it again.

Meanwhile, with the cold and dreary day, it was a fine day for chicken soup, though honestly the noodles and chicken sounded far more appetizing than the soup until I sipped some and realized a hot liquid was exactly what I needed, though I could have done with less salt in it.

Anyway, back to trying to hunt down the battery charger after spending the day straightening up, cleaning up, and neatening up some cables. Perhaps tonight will be straightening up the nav station, temporarily.