Smoke and brushfires: summer 2018

Sooke in September

If the BC Gulf Islands are a shimmering hippie bead collection of sunsets, arbutus bark and sunburn (they are), then the Straight of Juan de Fuca is a frosty glass of “where the fuck are we,” and “are we moving forward?”

Island Girl lives — temporarily — in Victoria now. We talked and talked smack about trying living aboard, and here we are. Sharon and Adam generously gave her up for us to have a temporary home in September — nestled up by the interior wall of the Coast Hotel. 

More ought to be said about that adventure — I’ll get to that. Last weekend we met the family and plotted a course for somewhere reachable in a day. Upon consideration, that left us Sooke and Sooke only. Would that we had time to get to the J de F islands — another bag of marbles — but that will have to wait for another year.

The last time we were this far South, the boat was four feet narrower, Adam had more hair, and Jedd was hanging off the backstay, whooping with cheer and taunting the Pacific swells to do us harder. Now, both of us have less hair, and I’ve apparently lost my invincibility at sea. I don’t yearn for blue water challenges the way I used to; indeed Sarena has more interest in that than me. Vacation time is hard to come by — give me a hammock and a sunset any day. Davy Jones is best viewed from afar, perhaps trying to retrieve his heart from Johnny Depp.

No matter, this time: just like our crossing down to Victoria, there was nary a lick of wind. The seas were mostly velvety smooth. However they were not still — far from it. Legendary are the currents in this Straight, and on the way West, we had the full advantage of them. Island Girl has a hull speed of around 6.6 knots by the math — a little faster in practice, in my opinion. With a following current in, say, the Georgia Straight, we might run along at a tidy 7-7.5kts, no problem. However I have never before maintained a steady 9.5kts over ground for the better part of an hour.

ZOOM

At the time, this was a little difficult to appreciate, with the rain coming down in peals, almost entirely occluding the candy-striped stalk of Race Rock. Still, that misty landmark slid by awful fast, delivering us to the entrance of Sooke harbour by early afternoon.

Have I mentioned we’d never been up to the Sooke basin before? Normally I’d not think much of this. Just go over the chart on our various screens, and check it out. Sooke is a little trickier than that. Essentially a protected bay feeding into a lagoon, the harbour is a barely stirred pot of sandbars, rocks, reefs and tangles of kelp, seldom actually revealed by the tide. Navigating it essentially means flying by wire, in these scroll-y modern times. One could do this with a paper chart — indeed perhaps one should — but we were all pleased to not have had to rely on paper. A difference of datum-depth calibrations between our plotter and Adam’s Navionics made this passage especially interesting.

A few hairpin turns back from hidden mud-bars gave us new-found confidence in our instruments, and we played it as safe as possible navigating the deep(er) NE channel into Sooke Basin. This wide tub is itself relatively deep, though you can’t see a thing through the turbid water, which was a nasty brown from stagnation.

A beautiful sunset evening, a great dinner, and a new barbeque for my birthday made the stressful entry worth the trip. I recommend the location with a high-resolution chart and a stiff drink after the anchor is down.

Happiness is a new barby

Uncommon activity

For once, a lack of writing in this poor blog isn’t for lack of activity on Island Girl, but instead for business on the water! We actually used IG this summer, and we’re proud of it.

After several weekends in Howe Sound, Adam and Daniel launched in July for a week mid-channel. We picked her up in Nanaimo to take her home. The following week we returned across the Straight and met up in beautiful Ruxton island — one of our new favourite spots. Much crab was feasted upon, and we tried our best to hunt for more in bathing suits with barbecue tongs. Two weeks later, we took off for another week in the Gulf Island — embarrassingly, the longest we’ve taken out IG since getting her.

In addition to Ruxton, we fell in love with Wallace and Prevost islands. We’d heard great things about Portland island, though by the time we got that far south, we were in the middle of a busy August weekend. Never mind cruising in late August — you must find your spot *early*. The neighbours arrive early and stay late.

S’s new birthday hammock answers quite well hanging off the boom. My original plan of hanging it behind the steering post is looking to be a little more tricky than imagined. Another foot above and behind and it would be easy. I know it can be done.

Next weekend, the real adventure starts: IG is moving to Victoria, to be our floating home for all of September. Who said you can’t liveaboard two people on a 31?!

Maintenance

The seacock by the head still isn’t working — we’re feeling dear about going back on the hard for a second time during the season. It is neither entirely broken nor fixed — it will do for the month we’re living aboard. The autopilot is starting to misbehave — some strange gradual misdirection that only kicks in after engaging the unity for a few minutes. Strange indeed. I have no doubt that living on board will introduce all sorts of opportunities to work on these issues in my spare time.

Fair head-winds

What a joy it is to have a (mostly) working boat. IG sailed out last Saturday with all owners on board, without a complaint, and indeed with only the slightest wake of displaced water off its sleek, clean hull.

Negligible winds for much of the trip up Howe Sound, which gave us plenty of time to discover the head wasn’t working.

Oh come on

New problem for us: the head dry-pumped fine, but on the “wet-bowl” setting, the handle would resist going back down from a raised position, as if (at first blush) it would not pump out. We put into Mannion Bay for lunch and crappalogical investigation. Took apart the top of the pump, which is a little daunting if you haven’t done it before: if the wet/dry bowl switch is not in the right position, it tries to lift off the valve assembly with it, implying that the structure is integrally linked.

It is not. We fretted that we’d made it worse, and struggled for a bit to reassemble it. We also discovered that the opened pump assembly let water into the bilge whether the seacock was on or off. Huh?

We elected to leave it be for our short weekend trip. The wet pump in fact operated OK by *slowly* pushing the handle back down, and moreover since the dry pump worked, we could always use a cup or the shower nozzle to fire a little water in the bowl. Some hypothetical and real-world testing ensued, and we elected to carry on.

Port Graves is always welcoming, particularly in the start of the year, before the masses start their sailing season. We all felt pleased indeed to be out there, with the sun breaking out in the afternoon, and the hammock nice and dry from packing away last season. Sharon & Adam put on a barbecued lamb dinner that couldn’t be beat, and we even put a steady support on our cockpit dining table with a little duct tape, which will allow the table to be used without threatening to buckle & launch nibbles into the vee berth.

We even caught a crab that would have exceeded the size restriction, who managed during his stay to claw up the bait can on our trap something fierce — not easy to do. Between that and the barnacles on his shell, we gave him his remaining time — that meat would have been tough. Evidently lamb scraps make for suitable bait.

We took the long way home around Bowen, again in light to nonexistent winds. However a light but steady breeze gave us a few lovely tacks past Pasley island. There are light to moderate wind conditions where Island Girl, on a starboard tack, can run on autopilot with a loose helm. It is a glorious thing.

Adam and I have yet to fix the head, though internet research and philosophizing have drawn up a battle plan for how to proceed… 

I need you blogging

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of having a blog, nor is it that I don’t spend a lot of time writing for the internet at my desk. I like it, and I do. It’s that time becomes a rarified thing in retrospect: un-recountable and elusive; eluding capture and reckoning.

So anyway, we had a sailing season last year, following that brief post last April. It was relatively short and sporadic; run apart by the usual exciting summer diversions that crop up quickly in the scant 2-3 months we have to call summer. We sailed almost exclusively in Howe Sound, aside from spending the July long weekend in Bidwell Bay with Marci and Chris. I love that spot. During that trip, the alternator stopped working shortly before, so we spent 3 days carefully using little power, relying on our solar panels to top up the batteries. They work!

Never better boat envy than a firework night

So much said for the weather, though S and I went up to Port Graves in October to meet commodore Benjamin up at the camp for thanksgiving. The wind bullied us something fierce on the way up, blowing 30+ in our face and whipping the jib sheets so badly that they broke apart one of our dodger windows. We put in, tails tween legs, in Mannion Bay — never a choice spot to stay, but the best areas are always taken up. We had the good taste on that occasion to look for an empty buoy and call its owner, pleading fatigue. He of course was amenable to us staying overnight. Must do that more often. Interesting event late that night: what we think were otters were skittering and scraping along the hull — we assume eating the mussels off the bottom.

Sweet winter sailing

That was probably indeed the case, because we had a good look at the bottom last month. This was a haul-out year. It doesn’t feel like all that long since we had George S redo our bottom, but indeed that was 2014, and that ablative paint doesn’t redo itself.

2 years is (apparently) OK for that paint; 3 is not. Our bottom was fouled. Small wonder we had little luck racing Arabesque out of Port Graves last summer (a dinghy full of water didn’t help either). CSC micron antifouling does not last 3 years.

We had a short panic when the surveyor noted major flaking and oxidization on the keel, with a seam forming along the edge. We consulted our man George G and determined the keel had been anodized — there was a ground going to a keel bolt — and some superficial factory voids had opened up along the keel joint. We ground it out, dried it out, tightened bolts — looking good. Pleased to have a calm contractor with a solid back at hand. George, a pedagogue, showed me how to restore gelcoat. It’s a long process that would require some serious Sitting on the Dock, but hopefully I’ll put in a little time over the season to restore it up past the waterline, which Sarena and I buffed up to a dull shine. Most crucial is the wax on top, which will hopefully keep it nicer longer.

More soon. The four of us are leaving the dock for Port Graves this weekend.

Surfacing

April rises, the sun teases through the clouds, and our minds go back to poor Island Girl, used precious little since late last summer.

So it goes. She is remarkably well-preserved from when we last left her. A well-maintained boat is a beautiful thing. There are a couple minor deck leaks from likely years past that are coming to our attention, but one is already fixed! A markedly productive work weekend at the top of April has kicked us off in good form.

Priority one is the engine cooling circuit. I look back at my flippant comments last year about the high engine operating temperature with patient forbearance. If you take the time spent worrying about a component of your boat, and consider instead spending it on investigation or repair, I am convinced you would come out ahead. Of course our suspicions were right all along: the raw water cooling circuit has been underperforming for years. It came to a head when we tried to take Evan and Kaylen on a short day cruise at the end of March. The thermostat went up to its higher working range during a low-RPM putt around the Creek. Then higher…higher…I don’t want to think about it. We got it home asap; Dylan and I stuck our heads in the engine compartment and fumed for a bit. Nothing to it: the raw water system had to come apart. This we did last weekend, and it went remarkably well: the thing was done in less than two hours. Every bolt is stubborn in that area, likely moreso than usual because the raw water pump was throwing some water into the mix. Indeed there is some impressive piles of salt just below the pump. More difficult than seized bolts is the lack of access to anything but the most afterparts of our engine. This is the curse of a vee-drive in a smallish boat. We knew this when we bought it, and by god I’m paying the price, being the strongest candidate who can also fit in the cockpit lockers. No matter. All these components require overhauling to really understand how they work, and that understanding is vital. It’s an excellent crash-course in engine maintenance.

The biggest challenge was the bolts which hold the pump assembly to the engine—due to their positioning, they must essentially be attacked blind with creative ratchet architecture. Also the pivot bolt for the alternator is remarkably oxidized and stiff. Again, a working pump ought to keep the scene drier. And indeed, the raw water impeller probably needed replacing well before we bought the bolt. It ought to have 12 fins; when we pulled it out, it had about four.

Answers! Solutions! In a sense, the time spent last year gazing anxiously over the transom at our engine exhaust was merited. The problem was not invented. We’re waiting on replacement impeller parts from eBay. Then we’ll see how quickly it comes back together.

We got Régis to scuba dive and scrape our hull—particularly to verify that our raw water intake was not blocked (it was not). We’re all pleased with our choice of ablative paint on the hull—there was really not a lot of growth on the bottom at all. Barely needed to be done. Next year we will be due for a haul-out to put on fresh paint. But three years of service from one paint job is a handsome deal to us that hauled out and re-painted Velocitas yearly since time immemorial.

We recommend Régis G.--he takes scuba photos while he's down there

August and everything after

Huh? November?

Almost. Time goes by fast in the fall. Island Girl hasn’t gotten a lot of love over the past few months, but I thought I’d fill in the long blog gap.

Late July/August was almost devoid of maintenance and full of trips! This was good. Notable excursions included Jedd and Carl reaching out around passage island for a long and spirited jaunt in inclement weather, following by a slow evening bbq in the Creek. After several false starts due to general electrical chaos (more on that another time), Sarena and Jedd got out to Bedwell bay for an excellent birthday celebration. Mid August saw Jedd and Adam sailing south through the gulf islands during the Worst Storm of the Season, at one point trying to beat down the west side of Saltspring with 35+ kts in our face. Blerg. Haven’t seen those numbers since Kandur in the Adriatic, on an unforeseen storm day (whereupon this author earned his stripes, piloting through grey squalls above 40 kts for 8 hours or so). This proved especially challenging while trying to reef the roller furling jib, which is a bit of a challenge with only two cockpit winches on a windy day (the furling line needs to grind in and then anchor in such a way that it can come off the working winch without unfurling). We didn’t pursue that course for very long, though after a few wet days we made it to Saturna island for a visit with Jim and Janet. That night, we put up in the lee of Saturna, observing other apparently salty dogs doing the same. But that night, the devil storm wind kicked up again and actually dragged our anchor, to the extent that a friendly neighbour hailed us around 7 in the morning to inform us we were approaching the wharf. Oh. Then we tried to tie up to a float in the even windier cove nearby, which was highly unsuccessful and almost ended in disaster. Eventually we were able to feed ourselves to the extent that we were prepared for the journey back, which was done entirely with the jib, the winds again kicking past 25, but this time nicely abeam of us, and sent us all the way home in high and rapid style.

Next weekend, Adam, Sharon, Sarena and Jedd all made it out for a proper owners’ jaunt, going to Halkett and Keats for some lovely local expedition-ing. 

The following weekend, we made it out AGAIN, this time Sarena, Jedd and our friend Elise. We went back up into Howe Sound for another night at Halkett, this time standing to proudly near our friends on Arabesque. A lovely evening. It was slow going on the way up, but those heavy winds found us again, this time choosing to reef modestly and blasting all the way home with the spreaders nearly in the water. Arabesque was impressed. They’ll probably live longer.

Precious little maintenance done during the home stretch of summer. Mostly those energies were spent on paranoia over our engine temperature. No real reason for this, other then that the cruising RPM tends to send the thermostat to the upper level of normal—about 180 degrees. This actually wasn’t of particular concern for us until Sarena and I came back from one outing to meet general panic and concern from a neighbour, who was convinced that our raw water output was drastically low in volume, and we were spewing out smoke.

This is actually not so. While we do shoot out less raw water than some, the only other exhaust is steam, though again at 180 degrees, this output is considerable. Not smoke though. Anyway, Adam and I spent many hours looking over the edge and at our thermostat, but not to any particular conclusion. The engine is full of coolant and the replacement belt is working just fine.

We spent my birthday aboard in late September, just hanging out in False Creek; eating delicious things and reading (for my part) copious amounts of Aubrey Maturin. Just the thing for the closing season.

Sarena and I got out just once in October, but we saw the transient grey whale that was hanging out in English bay! Sarena’s first whale sighting aboard any craft. Lovely.

Which brings us to now, full of grey skies and falling temperatures. Priority number one is to get a cover sorted out for the winter months—probably a couple tents made out of fresh tarps, sealed tight but hopefully loose enough, should the sun shine and temp us out of hiding…

Belts and Beverage

Solved the sheared nut issue over a stuffy Monday afternoon in the engine compartment.

Dad’s summation of the problem was 99% correct—the nut at the back of the tensioning bolt, though unnecessary, actually came off fine. However the bolt itself had become corroded and seized in the alternator, carrying off not only the bolt head in my ratchet, but breaking a rock-hard extractor that we hammered into the bolt.

 One rusty bolt

At length, we needed to progressively drill into the bolt with bigger bits until the thing was literally a hollow shell of its former self. Once it was reduced to about a millimetre in thickness, it came out rather well. Shockingly, the thread of the alternator wasn’t damaged, and we were able to thread in the new bolt without issue!

Drilling tinsel out of the bolt; trying to leave some of it outside the alternator

Bolt holed 

We had a spare belt of dubious origin to put onto the assembly—it slips a little upon startup—but it will do for the time being until we can get a couple of spare Westerbeke parts. Sure enough, after the belt caught hold, the tachometer and voltmeter worked without issue, and the engine remained cool after cruising around False Creek.

Victory. This came after a mildly eventful weekend aboard with Laurel. We went out for a day-sail, which was the first opportunity to get IG to speed after dad’s gift—a scuba man scrubbing down the hull and knocking the barnacles off the propeller. Holy smokes, that boat does better with a clean bottom. Back to >5kts at 1800 RPM, and sustained speeds of 7.5kts under moderate wind and reduced sail.

I cut our run a little short, noting both that the tachometer had died and our engine water temperature was apparently off the gauge. I put this off to a short in the instrumentation, but nonetheless I suggested we put into False Creek for safety.

We had another great visit with Dylan and Sarah—moored most handsomely for the work-week in the creek—and most of the party went ashore to David Lam Park for the Jazz fest. I stayed aboard to tighten the way-too-loose stuffing box (way easier than last year! A few little ball peen hammer taps to get the lock nut going) and to consider the connections behind the engine instrument panel. All looked ok at first glance, and I elected to call the evening a victory and put up the hammock. The team came back from shore; tea and hot chocolate was served; much enjoyment all around. 

Next morning after coffee and hammock I reviewed the tachometer connections and emptied the starboard cockpit locker to inspect the alternator. Sure enough: the belt was in tatters. Drat. Well, a complete explanation. So I got motivated after my successful dance with the stuffing box, brought out the ratchet set, and you know the rest…

All said and done: a good learning experience. I was too busy to look closely at what the Stem to Stern guy did with our alternator last year, and I now know exactly what’s going on down there. Chalk up one more lesson at the mere expense of six hours or so sweating buckets next to the engine.

Tightened up the frighteningly loose bolts under the rudder post too. That ought to avoid a proper cock-up later in the season.

How the screw does NOT turn

(thou shalt not bolt and screw the same fastener…)

Today the belt driving the alternator and the fresh water pump broke. This, in it self, was a BUMMER. But shit happens even (more often?) in a boat. What followed was a needless day spent by Jedd in the locker. Thus this cautionary tail about trusting “professionals” to look after your boat. 

As I said, the belt broke. Jedd, being a responsible Cap’tn, descended into the tightness of the locker and did what was reasonable; put a spanner on the bolt head and tried to loosen the alternator and replace the belt. (Yes, we carry spares.) He tried, and then tied harder, and the head of the bolt sheared off. He consulted his land bound partner (me) and we both puzzled over this strange thing; why should a bolt shear off when at its other end the nut seem to (when recovered) come off so easily?

We made plans to drill the piece stuck in the alternator and extract it tomorrow, but it just did not make sense until I recalled:

A year before we called Stem to Stern to help us fix the RPM gauge. After spending 6 expensive hours (@ $110/hour) in fruitless labour, he decided that our alternator which supposed to send the signal to the tachometer was at fault.  Luckily (?) the boat came with a spare alternator, the mechanic installed it, but this did not work either. Folks at S & S suggested that we take the alternator to Michael Island to get it fixed. The alternator folks at Michael took a look at our gear and chuckled; the mechanic was trying to connect the wrong lead! But, they said, that the alternator was showing its age, and they sold me a guaranteed rebuilt item. (Who was I to argue and suggest an alternative motive on the part of these kind folks?) 

We took our purchase to the boat and S&S re- installed it “free of charge”. —Well, actually they did try to charge $400 for their time, but we talked them out of this. 

What I did not realize at the time was that the mechanic, for reasons only known to himself, put a nut at the end of the bolt that treaded into the belt tensioning mechanism on the alternator. So, to look at it, the tensioner comprised of a bolt passing through the alternator flange, then the slotted tensioning strut, and ended in a bolt thus pinching the alternator tightly to the tensioner. Who would suspect that the bolt was treaded into the alternator? As it was, of course you could not possibly unscrew the bolt -as soon as you tried the nut on the other hand locked the whole set up irrevocably!

So, back to the beginning: Unsuspecting, Jedd tries to unbolt and, since the bolt now cannot turn it shears off. There goes Jedd’s day with his friends. We are left with having to drill out the bolt stub; not a fun job considering the lack of room down in the locker, possibly having to tap the alternator flange (if we damage the thread whilst drilling) and at least another half day spent “not sailing” in a locker. 

And to think; all that was required in the first place was to attach a loose lead to the alternator. But we paid our tuition: in money (i’d put it app $500) and time. Wisdom costs!

Day by Day…

Checked out the West marine store in Richmond; hoping to pick up some sale items. Yes, the sale is on (30%) but the store is well picked over. The only thing of use was a tube of bedding compound and a LED light for the burned out unit over the sink. (of course I picked up some “bargains” we really don’t need.)

Dumped our genny at Steveston, to fix the patch the came loose, and looked for some fairleads for the furling set up. None to be found, will need to shell out $22 apiece for a small bit of plastic at Western Marine. 

Down to our favourite girl and managed to hoist the jib on my own -felt good. the replacement of the burned out light unit in the galley proved to be a royal mess; the old one had galvanized mounting screws that sheared off rather than unscrew, and I had to break up the old unit and extract it piece by piece. 

The wiring was strange! Two blue lines joined to a black one, and two red wires joined to a white. After some testing, it became evident that the two blue + black wires were the positive lead. We surely need to clean up the whole patchy mess of the wiring harness and make a diagram of how things are done! —job 999. 

Trying to mount the new unit was, well, trying! Had to twist myself into a pretzel to drill the pilot holes for the mounting screws into the liner. The liner is rock hard and brittle and the new unit has limited room to accommodate the double leads that I could not push back. I kind of got it all in before my back screamed: Halt!! Will need to go back and finish this project.

But found that the old sub-panel next to the windlass toggle was not connected, thus we can customize it to deal with all the new instruments.Took it out and have it in the garage; to clean, re label and re-calibrate.

Still need to do something about the loose screws at the top of the rudder tube, seal the wood inserts in the cockpit and, most of all, install the new heat exchanger cap. Not to mention tightening the faucet nut, replacing the down spout in the head, and tidying up the electrical disaster in the Port locker. 

Oh well, each day a little step in the right direction, if we are lucky!

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