Thursday, March 27, 2014


   I was never much of a morning person on land. My twenties and thirties were more often focused on staying up late in to the night, and mornings were more synonymous with hangovers than sunrises... Then came my forties and a different approach to life, and with that a sailboat, and with that... mornings. Mornings as I had never known them before.
   Pre-sailboat mornings were the alarm clock going off before dawn, and after a quick shower and coffee, a mad race on the interstate, along with all the other hundreds of thousands of people, all vieing to be the first person at the office, or on  the construction job site to outwork all the other men, for this is the metric upon which men are measured. Or it was the intrusion of a blaring sun on perfectly good sleep, neither of which were to be relished, they simply existed.
   On a boat, mornings are different.I generally leave the curtain off the window I sleep under, preferring to be awoke with the first gentle reddish-yellow light of the sunrise. A little frost on my breath making the covers seem all the warmer.. The smell of coffee and the feel of the beans crunching as I turn my hand grinder, and the welcome heat coming off the stove.
   I like my first cup off coffee in the cockpit, sipping as I watch the sun rising, and the harbor seals that come to investigate the boat.
   I have always loved sunsets. A time to relax and think on the day that has passed. But sunrise signals a new day, a new beginning. When on land it was time to contemplate work strategies, but on a boat it a whole different contemplation.. It is time to look at the clouds, feel the wind, and decide how to enjoy the day. A time of infinite possibilities and wonder, to contemplate what magic the new day will bring.

Some interrior pictures

   It has been a long time since I have made a post.. Since my last update I have been sailing my arse off. I had planned to take the boat out of the water at the end of summer, but instead have been having too much fun around the Puget Sound. I have put close to five hundred miles under my keel, and learned a vast amount about sailing. I will try to post excerpts from my ships log as I find the time. In the meantime I thought I would post a couple pictures of the inside of my vessel. The Aquarius (Later became the Balboa) 23 has been called the "biggest little boat on the water" for good reason. Not often do you find a 23' vessel with a galley, enclosed head and room to sleep five. It has been the perfect vessel for teaching myself how to single hand.

While I have not been truly "living aboard", I have come close, and spend more time in the boat than at my house. While sleeping five people is a bit of a stretch (you can do it, if you do not need to store much in the way of provisions) it is a perfect boat for one to two people for an extended trip, possibly even to live aboard if you are a fan of minimalist living.
   I generally sleep on the starboard bench. At 6'5" I can surprisingly sleep comfortably in the forward double berth in the bow, but find when by myself (the vast majority of the time) It is easier to use the double berth for provisions, and sleep aft where I am closer to the companion way and cockpit if something goes bump in the night.. LOTS of things go bump in the night on a sailboat.. and after a while you are in tune with your boat and the noises it makes. I have learned to get up to check any noise that is not familiar, because it is usually something that needs attention.. I almost lost my dinghy this way. Had I not gone to check on the "new" sound, it would have drifted off in to oblivion..

Monday, August 12, 2013

Back in the Water

   After a couple days of working with the keel, it became obvious that what I really needed to do was raise the boat up high enough to force the keel down completely, then grind it down to bare metal, fair, then epoxy it. When I bought the boat my only self imposed rule was that I would not start any repairs that would make it unsailable this season, and keeping with that I jacked the keel back up from underneath, reserved to let it stay that way for the rest of the waning summer, and work on the fiberglass repair where water was leaking in at the former rudder trunk, a common problem for these boats. The Aquarius is one of the very few boats with a swing keel that is self righting with the keel in the up position.
This eight inch protrusion under the boat is encapsulated lead. 
Termed a "skiff keel" by the builder, its six hundred pounds
provides righting momentum even with the cast iron keel raised,
while only drawing twelve inches of water.

   The Eejit was fine while floating, leaked a couple cups an hour while under sail, and about a gallon per hour while under power. This is because when motoring, the outboard pushes the stern of the boat down as a function of moving it forward. What used to be the rudder trunk in the cockpit was now a removable plug, and had been replaced by a swing up after market rudder on the transom.
Fiberglass work is not as complicated as it seems. I used to do a fair bit of it keeping my surfboards floating back in my twenties, and decided to put those skills to use on the Eejit.

    I took a grinder to the trunk, and sanded it down to clean fiberglass along the complete top edge all the way around. I pre-cut the fiberglass cloth to fit, overlapping at least two inches on either side of the seam. Next, donning disposable gloves, mixed the fiberglass resin. I usually mix my resin a little hotter than it calls for. I find I generally do not need the extra working time, and having it kick off a little earlier keeps the resin from dripping and sagging as much. I usually use an old soup can to mix it, and a disposable paintbrush to apply it. First painting the area liberally with resin, then pressing the cloth to it, and finally “painting” on more resin until the cloth is saturated, and smoothing the cloth by hand and brush. It is important to watch the repair as it cures. Often times (on a corner or curve) the cloth will lift away from the repair leaving an air bubble underneath. Be sure to take the brush and apply more resin as necessary, pushing down and working out any bubbles that form. With the resin mixed hot this process is both quicker and easier. Remember smoothing before it dries is much easier than sanding and re-coating with resin later.

ground down, and fiberglass matt cut to size
Repair cured

    After dropping it back in the water and sailing for four days (Including a few hours motoring) I am very happy to report I have a dry cabin floor! About the only downfall I have found with this boat (design wise) is that is does not have a bilge. While the cockpit is self bailing, any water coming through the hull or deck ends up on the floor just in front of the kitchenette. In one sense this is good, because while you expect a wooden boat to take on a little water, a fiberglass one should not, and you will notice it right away.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Up on the hard

   In order to get the keel down, I sailed the Eejit from where she is moored in Carr Inlet, to Home (The actual name of the town, not "my" home) where my step father was waiting with a trailer. We towed it back to my mothers where I am working on it now.
   The previous owner said the last time it was down was a few months ago, and it has been in salt water, so it is stuck good. I applied a bar and sledge hammer to it from the top, and managed to get it down as far as the trailer allows, but it was NOT an easy effort. I used a hydraulic  jack to get it back up. In the process I managed to break the shackle that attaches the cable from the winch, so I will end up cutting the fiberglass to drill a hole through the keel and attach another one, then repairing the fiberglass. I filled a squirt bottle with mineral spirits and soaked her down good from above. It will be a night of love taps with the sledge alternating with more paint thinner as penetrating oil. I will have pics up of the process as I go.
   I hope to have it back in the water in the next couple days. In the mean time I am taking advantage of having the boat near power tools!
   I will post more about the trip to get here later. the weather was nice so we went the long way and took a couple days. It was a beautiful trip including briefly being followed by a pod of porpoises which do not often make it in to Puget Sound.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Three Hour Tour... (Insert Gilligans Island theme music here)

   I got to the Bremerton Marina about seven o'clock at night with a couple hours of daylight left to work. I started by setting the boom on the mast, hooking it to the topping lift, and going below for the main sail. Having never raised a sail before, It took a few minutes before I had it attached to the halyard and raised, lightly lufting in the still air. I then  rigged the main sheet (On sailboats, ropes are called sheets.. I know, counter intuitive. Unless they are attached to the anchor, then it is called "line" or "rhode") to the boom and smiled, quite pleased with myself, and went below and grabbed the Genoa, and did the same. Content that all was well I smiled and started going over the smaller details of the boat, and the morning tides for my departure the following day.  Just as I was starting to bask in the feeling of contentment, Rocky, the previous owner, walked by on the way to his new boat. He started laughing as he looked at my rigging job, and told me that might work fine for a dinghy, but I needed to use the pulleys if I planned to handle a sail of the size I had. He spent an hour going over the rigging with me, and told me to leave the Genoa for after I had some time under my belt because it was a bit more complicated, and tangled easily.
   A friend stopped by to see the boat and made me dinner, and we enjoyed a nice meal that night before she left. I lay down that night in my bunk with dreams of full sails, knowing the sail home was going to be challenging, but that I had the 8 horse outboard if things got too confusing.
   The next morning I was up promptly at six, making my morning coffee and munching on some peanut butter crackers for breakfast, waiting for the tide. I walked to the end of the dock to look at the entrance of the marina and the current. It is a narrow opening, and a couple tight turns to get to it. The current can be very strong there, so I wanted to be sure I hit the slack tide. I noticed the current had shifted, the tide was going out an hour earlier than my table indicated. No problem I thought. I was prepared to leave early. I went back to my boat and got ready to depart. My plan was to motor out of the marina, quickly cross the ferry lanes, then stay close to shore through the twisting Rich Passage until I emerged near Blake Island and was clear of the ferry traffic. Then I would raise the main sail (leaving the genoa for later once I was familiar with the boat) and finally be traveling by wind power!
    I made it out of the marina uneventfully, and looking to make sure there was not a ferry coming, and turned sharply to cross the ferry traffic lanes. This is when things started to unravel... I got halfway through the ferry lanes, and the motor died. I tried to pull the starter rope and it would not budge. It was seized up. A moment of panic started to creep in. I was stuck in a dangerous position, and while there was no ferry in sight, I could see one at the ferry docks getting ready to leave. I thought of calling the Coast Guard... then took a deep breath. People have sailed boats for two thousand years without a motor I reasoned... Columbus didn't need an outboard! Then I remembered Columbus lost two of his three ships... ok, Magellan didn't need a motor!
    I took a deep breath, raised the main sail, held the tiller, and felt the boat move. I pointed the bow directly across the ferry lanes, and thirty minutes later was safely across the traffic area. I then aimed for Rich passage. By the time I got there the current had changed, and I was fighting both current and sailing up wind. I made several runs at it, each time I would get to the first bend, the wind would die, and the current would push me back and in to traffic. Finally I realized the point was blocking the wind, and the current seemed strongest on the south side where I was trying to punch through. I sailed back, completely around the bay, and came at it from the other side.. it worked. There was just enough wind on the other side to push me through. (Although at one time I almost went up against the rocks when the wind died and the current pushed me to shore. With the help of a long paddle and a boat hook to push off I avoided them and got back to deep water) By the time I got through Rich Passage it had been six hours of constant running without time to so much as think. I aimed my boat at Blake Island, a state park where I could see several boats moored in the afternoon sun. Then the wind died... Completely. Every once in a while the slightest breeze would come along, and almost fill the sails, then die out again. I was in danger of drifting back in to the ferry lanes from the current, so I would paddle for twenty minutes, and rest. Rinse and repeat. By eight o'clock that night it was quite clear I was not going to make it to Blake Island, so I pointed toward shore and put my paddling efforts toward anchoring anywhere. Finally, around midnight, a slight breeze came up. It was only a half knot or so, but after the day I had it was a God send. I finally got to water shallow enough to anchor around 2 am. Exhausted, I tossed out my anchor, and dropped my sails. I stayed up for another hour, watching my anchor and making some desperately needed food before turning in. I set my phone alarm to wake me every hour so I could check on the anchor, and make sure I was not dragging.
    The next morning I slept late, waking up around 10 am. I decided I would fix my outboard regardless of how much time it took. By about six pm I had the problem solved. The thermostat had been corroded shut with salt. I simply removed it, put everything back together, and ran it in neutral at anchor for 45 minutes to make sure all was good. I pointed the bow south down Colvos Passage, and motored to Gig Harbor, arriving around ten pm. A call to Amanda brought food, water, and companionship to the dock. I was sore, crusty, and tired but in good spirits as the motor seemed to have all the kinks worked out of it.
    The next morning was an uneventful motor trip through the Tacoma Narrows, around the back of Fox Island, and down Carr Inlet where I moor the boat.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

   Most of my life I have dreamed of owning a sailboat. The freedom to travel anywhere in the world (as long as it is connected to an ocean), unencumbered by the trappings that most consider a necessity in life, using only the power of the wind and my wits. For the most part it was only a vague dream brought on by old Jimmy Buffet songs and accompanied by an overindulgence in rum, or more often scotch.
   Over the past few years the dream became more vivid. Perhaps brought on by turning forty, or because my son is getting a bit older and in a few years will be off to college. I started looking closer at sailboats, and reading everything I could get my hands on that dealt with sailing.
   The generic, vague dream became more specific. My time line was determined by my sons graduation from high school (perhaps accompanying me for a part of the journey before he leaves). I have four years until I leave. In the whole scope of things it is not a long time to buy a starter boat, learn how to sail, scuba dive, trade up to a bluewater vessel, and live on it for a couple years while getting to know the vessel and outfitting it for the type of cruising I intend to do.
  Six months ago I began seriously looking for a boat. Low on actual cash, I would need to barter for one. I scoured Craigslist daily, looking for a seaworthy vessel with an owner that was willing to trade for what I had to offer. The boats I looked at were basically stripped of everything but sails, rigging and hull.
   I almost had a deal consummated for a Columbia 22. It was laying over on it's keel on the owners beach. Not much to look at, but it was solid, and he was willing to trade. It would be two weeks before the tide came up high enough to float it free, which was fine, because I had a wedding to go to in Montana, and I would not have the time to sail it back until I returned anyway.
  When I returned, I texted the man, then when there was no response left him a voice mail. I knew he had a laid back personality, but after I did not get a response for almost a week I considered the deal dead and kept up my search. This is when I found the Eejit.
   The Craigslist ad was not very descriptive and there was no picture, so I expected to find a boat that was gutted with a lot of deferred maintenance. It was the norm for my price range. It had a swing keel (which I did not like) and Rocky (the owner) told me on the phone it was stuck in the up position.
    I got in the car expecting to see a real mess that was on par with the other vessels in our price range.
   When I arrived at the marina and met Rocky, I looked to the end of the dock and saw a dilapidated sailboat. As we made our way to it, Rocky stopped halfway there and looked at me..
"Here it is" he said, gesturing toward a boat at our side. I tried not to show my surprise as I looked at the boat he gestured to. It was not a complete piece of crap like the one at the end of the dock, but actually looked great!
   On close inspection, not only had it been well maintained, but had many upgrades done to it. The standing rigging was new and stainless steel, it had a backstay and extra sidestays added, all lines had been run aft for single handing, the sails were virtually brand new, it had new winches, and an aftermarket swing up rudder that hung off the transom instead of the original in the center cockpit rudder that had to be pulled up and removed for shallow water. It was a far cry from the boats I had been looking at.
   Not only was it in great condition, but Rocky was willing to trade for what I had. I had found in my previous efforts, that “sailboat” people were not necessarily “gun” people, and what I had to trade was my hunting rifle and sidearm. It probably helped that Rocky's wife was out of town, and told him she wanted the vessel gone before she returned. They had just moved up to a different boat and were paying moorage on both. We went to his new boat a few stalls down, inspected the items I brought for trade, and the deal was done... I was now a member of the sailing fraternity!
We made plans for me to return the next day to go over the boat, stay the night on it, and sail it home the next morning with the tide. Little did I know the eight hour motor home would turn in to a three day sailing adventure.