It was a dark and stormy night…

Ok, actually it was day time, and the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day, but that doesn’t set the ominous mood that we need for this tale.

3 crew and I had brought Opus up from White Rock to Vancouver’s False Creek to position her for the first crew sail. The crew sail had gone off swimmingly, with 5 crew taking part in the sail from Thursday evening and into the night, returning to the Granville Island dock at 10pm. After a quick jaunt across False creek to the Yacht Club and one fine morning there, I set out to single-hand Opus back south to White Rock so as to have her near home while doing boat-puttering chores.

Opus can be a handful to singlehand, especially as she doesn’t currently have a working autopilot. Thus, putting up the sales involves setting her on course, running up to the mast, cranking the sails up a bit, then running back to the helm when she starts to fall off course. Put her back on course, run back to the mast, etc., etc. etc. until the mainsail is up. Once the mainsail is up, the rest can be done from the cockpit and is a bit easier. Owing to that, plus the weather conditions, I had decided to motor Opus most, if not all, the way home. As a sailor, that galls me, but sometimes it’s the best decision.

The wind was blowing in from the west and Opus was doing a bit of pitching as I motored out of False creek and English Bay towards the Georgia Strait – straight into the “teeth” of the wind. The chop was steepening, making me even more happy that I wasn’t running back and forth on the foredeck to crank up the sails.

Eventually I rounded Point Grey and pointed her nose south for the 12 mile run south to Roberts Bank, after which I would head south east for another 17 miles until I was able to hook around Point Roberts and enter Boundary Bay for the last 8 miles to home.

During the trip from Point Gray to Roberts Bank, the weather had become more mild. The engine was pushing me steadily along and I was throttled down to about 2200 RPMs. The steep chop that had been pitching Opus was now from my beam, but it had abated somewhat so that Opus was pleasantly rocking side to side.

And then the engine stopped all on its own.

My first thought was fuel starvation – that somehow I had run out of fuel even though all my fuel calculations told me that I had plenty. Still, I keep a jerry can of fuel aboard just for these sorts of circumstances. On the other hand, I had a more important problem. I was close to shallows and (slowly) drifting into them. I had a choice to make — either put fuel into the engine and hope that would solve the problem so I could motor onwards, or forego the engine and instead get at least one sail up and hopefully sail away from the shallows. I elected to go for the sail and after a bunch of back and forths had the mainsail up and was once again making way. Once I was sure that this was working and that I had sufficient room from the shallows, I added the foresail into the mix and now I was sailing.

If I knew the engine was OK, I’d have been a happy camper, as sailing is the reason I have Opus. She’s a sailboat, not a motorboat, after all.

Once all was sorted out, I hove to and proceeded to add fuel to the tanks. This, as later thought and experience would show, was a mistake, but we’ll get to that later.

The engine started right up and I figured we were good. I had a working engine and my sails were up.

And then the engine stopped.

I could get the engine to run for about a minute before it would stop.

There really is no place for a sailboat to put in along that stretch of shore, so my next plan was to start sailing, but which way? My choices were, basically:

  • Continue southwards and then into Boundary Bay
    • Advantages to this is that I know the waters well – that’s my home grounds, plus Opus is normally berthed at Point Roberts, so that’s where I have all my support.
    • Cons are that sailing through the dogleg into Point Roberts would be tricky single-handing and docking under sail on her is a maneuver that would be fraught with possible problems as I’m not yet familiar enough with Opus’ sailing characteristics.
  • Turn around and head back towards Vancouver
    • Advantages are that there are an abundance of Marinas and services there, including the marina where we bought Opus. Plus I had just come from there and so I knew the areas current conditions pretty well.
    • Cons are the same docking under sail problem. False creek is far too busy for me to risk sailing into there, which means sailing into anchor in English Bay or else taking her up to North Vancouver and trying to find a place to put her there. In addition, I don’t really know any of the businesses and waters very well there, and single handing means being a bit too busy to be studying charts as I approach.
  • Head west towards the channel islands
    • Advantages are lots of anchorages and marinas there, though I’m not sure how many of them have services for the motor
    • Cons are the big barrier island pair that I have to get through via either Active Pass, which is busy with big ferries who have the right of way (and Active Pass has steep enough sides that I’m not sure there would be wind) plus a strong current unless I get through it at the right time. Alternately I could go through Georgeson Pass, which doesn’t have super strong current nor ferries, but is narrow in places. fortunately, I’ve been through Georgeson often enough that I don’t need charts. I would still be concerned about being shadowed from wind, though. Last possibility would be to head south until I could get to Boundary Pass and use that, but that’s a long sail and takes me further south than trying for Boundary Bay.

Even if I made it through Georgeson or Active Pass I’d still be faced with the question of where to go after that. This made the “head west” choice the least palatable. In the end I decided to press on to Point Roberts and Boundary Bay. I also radioed the coast guard to let them know the situation, but that I was proceeding under sail at this time.

The sail south to Point Roberts was pretty uneventful, though the winds were pretty light. One of the reasons we had bought Opus was that I had seen that she could sail in pretty light winds, so though more slowly than I had planned, she and I were still making progress at speeds ranging from 3 or so knots up to about 5.

All this came crashing down as I turned eastwards. The wind started to wane and as I came near the “Bell Buoy” off Point Roberts, it died completely. I had given the land a wide berth as I didn’t want it blocking my winds, but apparently didn’t quite give it enough, or the evening doldrums had set in. I was basically adrift.

Fortunately, I have a C-Tow membership and I decided enough was enough, it was time to call in the cavalry. They connected me up with a tow captain, who runs one of the whale watching services. He was currently conducting a tour and would be a few hours, which was understandable – he can’t just sit around waiting for some hapless boater to get in trouble. Besides, I was in no danger at the moment. I was caught in some swirly bit of current and basically drfting in slow circles near the Bell buoy.

After a couple of hours, the C-tow captain passed by with his boat still full of tourists and said he would drop them off then come back. He and I had a bit of a chat and then he roared off.

He never came back.

He did call, however, and we had more of a conversation which came basically down to, “He can’t tow me into any of the ports for the United States. Opus draws too much water to be towed into Crescent Beach, and he refuses to tow me to White Rock where I could anchor or even potentially tie up to the dock. Basically, after a number of hours of waiting for his help, he wasn’t going to do anything.

Side note: The above is NOT the fault of the C-Tow organization and when I related to them the above story, they were quite unhappy. They have provided me with sufficient assurances and compensation that I’m fairly certain they are a good organization and trying to do the best they can with coordinating independent contractors. DO NOT condemn the organization for what happened above.

By now I had managed to drift/sail into an area with a bit more breeze and continued sailing towards White Rock. I was concerned about the crab pots, especially as it was now getting dark. However, I decided that the crab pot floats and lines were better risked than my other choices — although heading in towards Blaine Harbour and dropping the anchor in Drayton Harbour was a distinct possibility. However, with weather forecast being for calm winds for the next several days, I decided that the shorter trip to White Rock was the best choice.

And so there we went, sometimes as slowly as .1 knot (that’s 1 tenth of a knot). 20 hours after leaving Vancouver, with the tide turning and the current starting to push counter to the direction I wanted to go, I dropped the anchor about 1 mile west of White Rock, shut down Opus, and went to sleep.

I didn’t talk about the wonderful support my Wife was giving me on the phone through a lot of that – she was instrumental in being a person with whom I could discuss plans, and who just plain kept me cheerful. I didn’t talk about the support of both the Canadian and USCG, both of which were ready to get me what I needed.

In the end, though Opus’ engine let me down, Opus herself did not. She was managing to make way in winds so light they could barely be felt. She kept me safe and, even when adrift, she would respond (sluggishly) to the helm so I could at least point her in the direction I needed.

Earlier I said that pouring the fuel into the boat’s fuel tank was an error. What I should have done is disconnect the fuel intake hose from Opus’ internal fuel tank and stuck it into the jerry can fuel tank, kind of like an outboard engine on a dinghy gets its fuel from a jerry can. Noted and I, hopefully, won’t make that mistake again.

We managed to get Opus back to Point Roberts where she’s undergoing mechanical fixes to her fuel system. In addition, during a test, her V-drive broke. The V-drive is what connects the propeller shaft to the engine. So even if the engine is running, with a broken V-drive, it can’t transfer the power to the propeller.

Hey, it’s a hole in the water into which we pour money, right? right.

At anchor – follow-up

Conditions continued to deteriorate with winds getting up to 30 knots. The waves continued to get worse, topping 2-3 meters. English Bay was completely exposed, not a good situation. However, I have confidence in Opus and her anchor which turned out to be well-placed.

Other boaters, however…

About 11:30 or so I went upon deck to check the anchor set. “That boat looks closer than it did earlier this evening,” I thought. 1/2 an hour later it was definitely closer. A LOT closer and I realized it was dragging.

I immediately started preparations in case they hit me – which they did. Simple preparations such as putting a few more fenders over the side (a compromise since they can also cause entanglement), putting on a PFD and tether in case I needed to work on the pitching foredeck, getting a headlamp ready and making sure I had a knife and tools at hand in case I needed to drop the anchor.

Now they were dragging me along with them towards the shore. It’s times like these that single handing becomes really difficult as there was no one to helm while I pulled up the anchor and, as the anchor is pulled up, the drift accelerates. So now I had a few problems. First is deciding whether to pull up the anchor, cut it away, or hope that it would snag and hold. That last seemed like a bad idea — hope is not a plan. I decided to try bringing it up, but be prepared to cut it away.

with engine started, both to provide more power to the windlass and also so that once the anchor was free, we could maneuver, the next step was to bring up the anchor. During the process, I saw the only sailboat that was between me and the shore go by, and started thinking it was time to cut the anchor free… and then I saw chain coming up.

Opus has 40 feet of chain connected the anchor and then 160 feet of line. With the chain appearing, i knew I was close, though bringing more aboard meant I would no longer have the option of cutting it loose. A knife does very little good against anchor chain.

The drag from the other boat had me broadside to the waves and wind, also not making it easy.

I did, eventually, get the anchor free from the bottom and left it hanging while I piloted away from the danger zone, then rushed back up to the bow to finish bringing it aboard. During this time, I discovered I could only turn to starboard. Something was jamming my rudder.

So, in a lurching sort of manner, I made it into False Creek’s more protected waters and made for the point of safety I knew best – Granville public dock, arriving here cold, wet, barefoot, bedraggled, sweaty, and all together shaken. Though you’re only supposed to be here for a few hours, and certainly not over night, I feel that whatever financial penalty there might be is worth it.

I called into security and told them the situation and they okayed me staying at the dock overnight, asking that I call into the business five in the morning.

Today will be assessing damage and figuring out what to do now – after I have some breakfast.


I’ve called the business office several times today to no answer. I’ll keep trying. Meanwhile I’ve been trying to find a diver to examine the prop, prop shaft, and rudder, plus find a better moorage for Opus.

I can, now, turn both ways as I was able to free a line that was wrapped around my rudder. I think Opus is ok, other than a scuff, but want her inspected before saying she is.

At anchor

We transported Opus to Vancouver this past Thursday. After a group dinner and bidding the, all goodnight and in the darkness of full night, I moved Opus out to the mouth of False Creek. I took an OK anchor spot because I didn’t really want to putt about the anchorage in the dark for fear of snagging some unmarked buoy. Setting anchor in 27 feet of water, I closed my eyes and to sleep.

Unfortunately, the predicted bad weather moved in. Between leaks in the deck hatches, a fluttering forestay, and a few nightmares, very little sleep was had. I was awake just about every hour to check the anchor. I knew I had set it well, but there is always the concern and trepidation of anchoring in a new place.

All day today it was gloomy and drizzly – the kind of weather that makes even a well-rested person tempted to put off chores. For one who is bleary with no chore being a “have to”, the temptation to doze the day away while doing just the inside housekeeping was overwhelming.

the sun did come out for a short time, but that was “the calm before the storm” so to speak. Tonight the wind is blowing over 20 knots, causing the forestay to vibrate like a guitar string. I’ve attempted to put a damper on it, but so far unsuccessfully. Meanwhile the chop is building and Opus is bouncing up and down and sailing on the anchor. It is going to be a long night again, I think.

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.”

A day off?

It’s been a whirlwind of a week with making an offer, getting a mechanical inspection done, a Marine Survey complete, contemplating the results of those and whether we wanted to make a lower offer for the boat or not. The pace of things to do is only going to increase now as we need to do the Sea trial get an inventory of the bits and bobs that go along with the hull, procure insurance and a place to keep her.

So, today was sort of the “calm before the storm” day. We did some talking about things that need to be done, plans, work. Anne dreamed about how she wants to decorate. I did some trip planning. These are the things that will keep us motivated as we do the grind of fitting out the boat the way we wish it to be.

The boat is a cruiser-racer. As such, her interior is more austere than, say, a Hunter or Beneteau sailboat, or even the Hallberg-Rassy that I’ve crewed on. So, compromises need be made. If we were in a position to have two boats, I’d probably keep this one stripped down and ready for (comfortable!) racing. However, we don’t. Thus, it’s important that this boat be comfortable for extended periods of cruising – and comfortable by both our definitions of comfort. Because I’m into the sailing part of the adventure, I’m willing to put up with a bit less comfort because my reward is the sailing. Anne is not as much into the sailing, so the comfort needs to be higher. We’ll manage, though. She’s a trouper for sure.

We did do some catalog browsing though. The exciting thing to look at are fenders, fender covers, and fender racks, with a spot of research to figure out what size is appropriate. Ah, the glamorous life of a boat owner!

Marine Survey

Today was the Marine Survey. This is where you pay a person to convince you not to buy the boat. If they can’t convince you not to, then you’re pretty assured that you’ll buy it. Oh, and the report from the person is used, by you, to convince an insurance company not to insure you.

Ok, it’s not quite like that, but it sort of it. You’re paying a Marine Surveyor to go through the boat and find all the things that are wrong with it so that you can make an intelligent decision whether to go ahead with the purchase.

The boat has some deficiencies, but that’s not unexpected. It is, after all, 40 years old. At 40 years of age, I had a few dings and deficiencies myself, so I can hardly blame a boat for being in the same manner. However, in aggregate, there was nothing on the boat that gave us pause to say, “No, this isn’t the boat for us.”

The previous, mechanical inspection had us concerned about the engine. However, we have decided that the concerns were not sufficient to prevent us from buying the boat. Further, we think that the current owner’s good will and his continued involvement with the boat while we get to know her is invaluable. Thus, we are not going to try to renegotiate the deal.

There are only two more “speed bumps” remaining. The first is the sea trial. That’s where we take the boat out and put her through her paces. If something happens during the sea trial, we can still back out of the deal. The second is the inventory of sails and other bits and bobs. If those are not as advertised, then again we can back out of the deal. And, of course, if the condition of the boat materially changes for some reason (for example it catches on fire, or is involved in an accident) then we can back out of the deal.

Assuming none of those happen, we are going to be the owners of a boat some time this month!