This post was written in July. Since then there has been some editing, and checking in with this friend about revisions to get things right. I’m happy to say that the overall situation has lately been looking like a much longer-term process!
Birch Island, in July
A dear, dear friend of mine has had a progressive, seriously disabling illness for all the years that we’ve known each other, now nearing 20. From walking with some difficulty, and scooting up stairs backwards, things have moved to significant adaptive equipment, and various complications. Not too long ago she said to me that, although in some ways things are getting better, she can also feel her systems gradually shutting down. She is in her 50s, formerly a Buddhist with a dedicated spiritual practice, and now someone who says of herself that she “just tries to be awake.” She said to me that she is welcoming the opportunity to stay present through this experience of her body closing down, simply noticing what is happening, and embracing joy. Approaching dying with consciousness and a sense of well-being.
The second time that we talked about this, I could feel that her groundedness had deepened further, and her sense of peace about both the process and the prospect was strong, and centered. I, on the other hand, while listening gently on the phone, was later bereft, filled with grief at the loss to come. Wondering how I will go forward here on the planet, without her steady, supportive presence.
Then a funny thing happened. I on the boat, she called me on the cell phone. I knew it was her because the caller ID showed her number, but when I said hello there was no answer. The phone had not hung up, and the screen showed as if there was a call in progress. But no sound on my end. After a few moments of saying that I couldn’t hear her and that I was wondering if she could hear me, I hung up, and a few moments after that she called me back, this time with a regular connection, saying that she could hear me in the previous call, even though I was hearing nothing. Later I thought that oh, this is the universe telling me how this communication thing works. Somebody crosses over, leaving this physical time on the planet, and it’s not so easy to hear them. But they are hearing you just fine. I thought about this, but my friend and I didn’t talk about it, and then over the next couple of weeks we had phone calls that went through with no problem.
The day before yesterday (end of July) she called me again, while I was sailing, and again there was no sound, but the caller ID showed that it was her. So I spoke to her, saying that I couldn’t hear her but I was thinking that she probably could hear me, and then explaining that I was sailing into a harbor at that very moment and thought that it would take me about a half an hour to get anchored and be able to call her back. Anchoring accomplished, and a couple of other delaying events (lobster dinner – thank you Reilly!) and I called my friend back. Indeed she had heard everything that I had said on the silent (on my end) telephone.
This experience with the telephone has not happened with anybody else in all the many phone calls I have received over this almost 2 months of sailing. In my grieving, by myself, about my friend approaching dying, I had asked “how will I know where to find you?” And later I had, in fact, told her that I was struggling with this question. And then the universe said here, let me show you. It’s as simple as this: You can’t hear me, but I can hear you.
This is why I go sailing – to hear the most important of messages.
November 29, 2013 – In all the time on the water, this year and last over a total of 11 months, with that same phone, this is the only time that I received calls that went through in this way.
Today we put the winter cover on the boat. I neglected to get a photo of the giant green tarp with little tidbits of trailer noticeable under the bottom edge, but you can see the frame in the photos above. Now with the tarp on, when we start getting snow it will fall right off, and it’s all very satisfying.
In the previous two weeks, the boat and trailer went up on the winter blocks. This keeps the tires off the ground, and makes it possible to turn them now and then so the brakes don’t lock up with rust. Normally the boat is not so high off the ground, jacked up just enough to take the weight off the tires. But this year one of the big projects is rudder repair, so the cribs that support the trailer are built higher, and last week we let the rudder down and completely off the boat.
Originally I had the silly idea that the rudder repair would be quick, the rudder would be reinstalled, and we would put the boat back down in its normal lower winter position. Alas, as these things often go, more is going to be involved to put the steering right. With the prospect of the boat staying up high for the winter, catching wind on the giant tarp, we added those extra supports made out of two by fours that you can see nearer the front of the trailer. Now the boat is much more solid all the way around, so we should be good even in the winter storms, while still being able to fuss with the rudder.
The tarp frame is made from inch and a quarter PVC pipe, using some special fittings made specifically for building frames out of PVC pipe, rather than for plumbing. These fittings come from Peaceful Valley, and the really special ones are called “slip T’s” which mean that you can have one very long ridge pole, with easy connections for vertical supports. The tricky thing is that it works best if you get inch and one half slip T’s, if you’re using 1 1/4 inch pipe, so the slip T’s can really slide easily. Otherwise, they freeze in place over time, and it’s really hard to take the frame apart and reassemble it the following year with any new adjustments. (Yup, that would be the voice of experience…) Using the larger ones, they are a bit loose, but it’s easy enough to tie some lightweight line to anchor them in place. Here’s what they look like: http://www.groworganic.com/slip-t-1-1-2.html
And then there are these, after the tarp is on, which make a real difference in keeping the tarp and the ridge pole from shifting around in relation to one another: http://www.groworganic.com/rowcover-clamps-1-1-2.html
(same as always, these references are included for folks’ convenience, and I am not receiving anything for posting them.)
Meantime, the rudder project will get its own proper post, as we make more progress. Digging into this has been inspired by deterioration at the top of the wooden stock, and the discovery of a farm for marine growth, from barnacles and mussels to tubeworms, inside the rectangular well that serves as a rudder tube. Between the farm, and the wear taking place on the lower part of the stock and on the epoxy/dynel/plywood where the stock passes through the bottom of the boat, adjustments are in order! Additions of copper may be involved…
Anyway, for now the boat is snug. I miss getting to see its details out the window, but am delighted at the thought of watching all the snow slide to the ground, all by itself. We have lately been having some really cold weather – one night with single digits, and incredibly cold wind – so I’ve been particularly happy to be home!
On the subject of staying warm, here’s the other thing that has made a revolutionary difference for me: hot packs, the commercially available kind that are made of very basic ingredients that heat up when exposed to air. They don’t get prizes for sustainability or minimal cost, but they’re also not horrifying on either count. For me they’ve made the difference between shivering and being comfortable, over and over.
There are at least a couple of different brands of these things, but the basic ingredients are similar, and simple: iron powder, water, salt, charcoal and vermiculite. These materials are combined in individual packets sealed in plastic wrappers, and when opened, the contents begin oxidizing and producing heat. Apparently the technology has been known for many decades – I believe since the first world war. But prior to the widespread use of plastic it wasn’t practical, because once made it was almost impossible to store completely airtight, and in large quantities became a serious fire hazard. Personally, I’d prefer to have a world with no plastic and to live without these hot packs, but since plastic is everywhere anyway, the hot packs sure are nice.
My preferred brand is “Hothands Body & Hand Super Warmer,” which has virtually no odor, and heats for well over 12 hours (the package says 18). Another brand, which is what one gets if ordering from Campmor, is called “Grabber MyCoal.” This one also works, but it has more of a smell, and the old ones I used to get from these folks didn’t last nearly as long. The Hothands version is available on the Internet, and the cost comes down if you get a case of 40. http://www.amazon.com/HeatMax-Hand-Body-Warmer-Count/dp/B0007ZF4Q8 (Including this link for convenience, because the array of choices can get confusing. Like always, I am unaffiliated and not receiving anything for the reference.)
The packs can get quite hot – enough to get burned if you leave one against your skin – so it can be a good idea to put the packet inside a fleece sock or hat, and to pay attention to not leaving it against your skin if you’re going to be sleeping. Speaking from experience, it’s possible to wake up with a burn if you’re not careful about this!
Being a chemical reaction, it is sensitive to conditions, and its performance will vary accordingly. Mainly, it’s initially surprising how much air is stopped by various pieces of clothing. I once put the little handwarmer version inside big ski mitts with shells, whereupon the warmers stopped working completely. And when Dave and Anke were on the boat last year I carefully warned them about not getting burned, and then Dave said that his was just nicely warm, but not hot enough to think that there might be a problem. I puzzled over this, and later realized that the pocket where he had the hotpack was underneath an outer layer of coated nylon rain pants – apparently relatively air-proof! Those pants are the same ones I was using this year, and I had the same experience. Placed with better air access, the hot packs heat right back up.
Because of the air issue, it’s easy to “turn off” these warmers, to save them for future use. I have often started one in the early morning, and once the sun has been up for some time everything (including me) is then comfortably warm and it’s no longer needed. (AUKLET’s windows are outstanding for passive solar heating.) In order to get a good seal for “turning off” the warmer, I save one of the original packaging envelopes, put the warmer back in, fold the top of the envelope over carefully three times, pressing out the air, and then keep it closed with 2 or 3 paper clips. Once the pouch has cooled down, it then goes inside a Ziploc bag, also sealed, so there aren’t any slow leaks. I’ve come back and used these again, after storing them this way for weeks, with total success. The Ziploc bag is handy for storing the paper clips and all, along with spare new hot packs, so it works out pretty simply.
These things are normally about a dollar apiece, and I used to think of them as extravagant, buying just a few, and saving for emergencies, or for times of serious discomfort. Eventually I thought “what would this look like, if I used them at will, whenever I was cold? How many would I go through?” So I bought a case of 40 last year, and tried to relax my inclination to hoard and save for more dire situations. Gradually I got the hang of that, and it was nice to be warm, especially in the middle of the night and early morning when the fire in the stove was long gone, or it hadn’t felt cold enough to start a fire in the first place. Sometimes I even used two – one for cold feet, and one at my belly for overall warmth. They were especially useful during times of having been out in the cold for ages, and getting warmed up again. Eventually I learned to put one in the foot of my sleeping bag while I was still out, so there would be a warm place to come back to for cold feet.
Surprisingly, even with all this extravagance, and last year sailing long into the New England fall, the most I’ve gone through is about a case and a half in a season. This year I started with one case on the boat, and another stored at home. Only being out for four months, and much of that in the summer, I came home having only used a bit more than half of what I brought. As far as I’m concerned, this is a complete success. In the big picture, for four – or seven – months of onboard comfort it’s been quite worth it. Even when I choose not to crack one open, there is relaxation in knowing that I could. It’s just not necessary to be so cold.
Quite a number of years ago – 25, in fact – I lived outdoors in the US southwest, during the winter. This was because of chemical sensitivities, in combination with lack of resources, and it didn’t always go so well. For one thing, the desert can be quite cold at night in December and January. Outside of Tucson, where I was for one of those winters, the temperature went into the low 20s. For occasional winter backpacking, this is nothing. But it’s a different story when you live with it, and have been chilly day after day.
One particularly cold night I was in my sleeping bag under the crazy shelter that was serving as home, shivering. I remember telling myself that even though I was shivering uncontrollably, which meant that this was the beginning of hypothermia, that nobody dies of hypothermia inside a dry sleeping bag, out of the wind, with the temperature in the 20s (turns out it was 13° that night). Nowadays I wonder if that was true, that nobody dies in that situation, but the thought comforted me at the time, and in fact morning came and I was still there.
This story is a tangent – obviously not sailing – but I think it’s the reason that I am so utterly devoted to these little hot packs. With a good stash of these things on board, there will be no repetition of that kind of night. It’s nice to be warm.
On a boat in the cooler weather, it’s nice to have some kind of heater for warming up the cabin. There are quite a number of ways to achieve this, from stoves that burn diesel, to charcoal, to tea lights, among others. And there are safety considerations, also worth discussing. Following is a rundown of a number of those boat-heater choices, along with my experiences with some of them.
When I sailed the Falmouth cutter, NEW SALT, it had a marvelous Dickinson diesel stove. It was a cook stove with a cast iron top and an oven, and a slow drip diesel firebox on one side; the whole business fit right into the spot where people often put a propane stove on a Falmouth cutter. You could cook on this stove, but that only made sense when the weather was cool, because it threw a lot of heat, which it was after all supposed to do. The boat had a 3 gallon diesel “day tank” installed high on one side of the stern locker in the cockpit, with a fuel line run forward to the stove.
When I got the boat there was no fuel pump, but the stove didn’t run well at all. Studying the manual, there wasn’t enough “head” from the fuel tank, and the manual suggested that if raising the fuel tank wasn’t practical (which it wasn’t) then a pump would be necessary. I wasn’t too happy about this, but wanted to be warm! In the end, the small 12 V pump was fine, with infinitesimal draw on the battery. It made a clicking sound as it worked, which increased in frequency from every several seconds to quite a bit more often as the stove started burning more enthusiastically. As it turned out, the pump noise was great, because it let you know how the fire was doing without having to go open things up and actually look. The fuel use was tiny – I think that I only refilled that tank once, sailing spring and fall up to Maine and back for two years. Being cast iron, the stove held lots of heat for quite a while after the fire was put out.
I’m going into this in such detail because I’ve been reading an interesting blog lately, http://www.artofhookie.org done by a man who’s been living aboard a Falmouth cutter, and he’s been writing about being very cold! Since heaters have been on my mind anyway, it seemed like a good time to write about them.
On the Chebacco, AUKLET, I considered a diesel heater, but in the end my priorities were smallest size and least smell, which took available diesels out of the running. Light weight figured into the wish list also. The heater with the smallest footprint turned out to be one that burns lump charcoal – not briquettes, but the stuff that people use for fancy barbecuing, that is made of actual chunks of wood turned into charcoal. When burning well there is no smoke at all, and it uses a very small diameter stovepipe. There is a company in England called Bengco that fabricates these from stainless steel sheet, and it seemed worth the fuss, and the expense, to get ahold of one.
With this stove, in addition to the narrow stovepipe on the inside of the boat there is a special fitting that goes in the cabin top. The interior stovepipe connects to this fitting, and then on the outside there is a removable cap. When you’re going to make a fire you take off the cap and replace it with a short section of exterior stovepipe. Underway, the cap is back in place, lower than the boom and keeping out all water.
For starting the fire, Bengco makes a fancy wick holder that’s built into the removable ash pan on the bottom of the stove, and they suggest that once you’ve put charcoal into the hopper, you get the charcoal burning by putting alcohol in the wick, lighting it, and replacing the ash pan, so the alcohol flame comes up through the grate under the charcoal. It seemed like it was going to be hard to do this as a regular thing, especially with the stove mounted low the way it is in AUKLET. And I wasn’t wild about the alcohol, both burning and not. Instead, we decided to try long-burning firestarters, or a variation on that idea.
The firestarters that you can buy are pretty smelly, mainly because the reason they work is that they’re made of wood with a lot of pitch in it. But a lot of years ago, when I used to heat with wood stoves all the time, a friend told me about a recipe for homemade firestarters: cardboard egg container, with all the little cups for the eggs, lint from the clothes dryer, and melted paraffin wax. Pack the lint into the little cups, pour in the melted paraffin (in the US, “paraffin” means hard wax, like for making candles or sealing the tops of home canned jelly jars – I’m NOT talking about pouring what we would call liquid kerosene into the egg cups!) After the wax hardens, you cut the egg container so you have separate lint/wax-filled cups, and when you want a fire you light one with a match or a lighter, and put it into the materials that will become your fire.
It turns out that one of these lint and wax balls works great for lighting charcoal. The only thing we changed was that we added a cotton string about 6 inches long, placing it in the cup along with the lint before pouring the wax. This is not a wick – rather, it’s a handle. Charcoal goes in the stove; firestarter goes in the hopper while still holding the string; long lighter, like for barbecue grills, is used to light the firestarter; and once lit, the whole business is dropped down onto the charcoal and the hopper is closed. The string burns away along with the firestarter, and most of the smoke from the whole process goes up the stovepipe. It has worked really well.
People complain about the bulkiness of fuel for solid fuel stoves, but that’s another reason that I’ve liked charcoal. It’s compact compared to wood, for the amount of heat produced, and not terribly heavy for its bulk. We’ve been getting the 7 pound bags and then repackaging them in gallon Ziplocs, which makes things less messy and easier to manage, as well as keeping the charcoal dry. A hard-to-reach locker is mostly dedicated to charcoal storage, with a couple weeks worth (about a half a bag a day, or less, when it’s chilly but not seriously cold – more when it’s colder) kept where it’s easier to get at, which has worked out fine. It’s not a smelly liquid that could spill, nor a gas that could explode, a characteristic that I’ve found very relaxing.
This stove has worked, in general, quite well. It has a well done vent on the front side of the bottom ash pan, with a threaded cover, so the airflow can be completely controlled. The hopper has a gasket, and the theory is that it’s an airtight stove that can be turned very low and will hold a fire overnight. In practice, those gaskets are fragile. The photo above shows tinfoil being a temporary gasket section, but this year I have learned better. After replacing the broken gasket last winter with a new one from the manufacturer, even with careful attention I broke the new one pretty early on in this trip.
This time I decided to try using the stove without the gasket at all, and it actually works pretty well. I made another tinfoil piece that goes over most of the top and the upper front of the stove, easily removable and covering the face of the hopper. It’s not a gasket; rather, it slows down any airflow that makes it past the ungasketed but fairly tight hopper door. It’s been satisfactory, and is easier to do than another gasket replacement. With the tinfoil cover on and the lower vent completely closed the fire will go out entirely, saving charcoal for next time. The glue-on gaskets that you get in the hardware store could be worth a try also, but I haven’t wanted to mess with the process of the glue burning in.
This stove is also useful for heating water, and food. I have a tiny teakettle for heating water, and a 7 inch diameter pot that will also perch on the top of the stove. There’s a propane camp stove on the boat for when the weather is warm, but the charcoal stove does a great job whenever the temperature is cold enough for wanting heat.
Nowadays, I have rather wished that I had put in this other version of charcoal stove: http://rwrope.com/davey/stoves-and-stove-fittings/davey-company-hot-pot-stove.html (nope, not receiving anything.) I considered but rejected this stove originally both because of weight and because of its somewhat larger size. Also, it needs a larger diameter stovepipe. But that larger stovepipe seems more doable now, and the trade-off for all of these issues is a stove that can burn several different fuels, including charcoal, wood, and real coal. It might be worth a look, if somebody is considering the possibilities.
There are other, lower tech options too, especially in very small boats. Candle lanterns – the kind that include three candles, like this: http://www.campmor.com/outdoor/gear/Product___80350 – throw a surprising amount of heat along with their light, and don’t spill when the boat rolls. I used two of those in the Falmouth cutter, but I’m not good with the gases from burning candles, and ended up with a pretty intense ongoing cough until I figured out that the candles were actually the problem. I considered making a vented “candle lantern box” for AUKLET, but decided that the charcoal system was easier. Still, it can be done! I was intrigued with the idea of a double vent system – intake and exhaust, one inside the other, made from flexible truck exhaust pipe – maybe one of these days.
Now there’s a whole series of stuff on the Internet about using tea lights and inverted, nested clay flowerpots. This is cheaper than the candelier lantern above, both originally and for ongoing candle supplies. And I think that the flowerpot system would be more effective for feeling warm because of the radiant heat from the terracotta, in addition to the overall space heating that candles do. The flowerpot folks talk about getting tea lights by the hundred, at very low cost, and that they burn for four hours each. This still doesn’t solve the problem of combustion gases, but with a little thought one could work this out. I especially liked this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzKbFzUEWkA because the nested flowerpots are both held with a bolt. But it would still need more work in order to be safely restrained on a boat.
Another alternative that is used by quite a few boaters is to simply put an inverted clay flowerpot over the burner on the propane or alcohol cookstove, held in place, and therefore quite stable, with the usual potholder for cooking. I think that this is probably effective for heating because, like the tea light system, it is changing a good bit of the heat from convective to radiant, so you feel warmer for the same amount of minimal fuel use. But you still have to watch out for carbon monoxide, and oxygen depletion, when running the stove for so long.
In NEW SALT, I originally thought that “adequate ventilation” was achieved by cracking the sliding hatch two or 3 inches, so this is what I did when I was running the diesel stove. At the time I was also using a kerosene lantern for light, and one evening the flame kept getting lower. I kept turning up the wick, and much too soon, the flame would get lower again. I finally put together the information in front of me and tried letting in a bunch of fresh air, whereupon the flame shot right up, now having way too much extra wick. That was a sobering experience, and from then on if the diesel stove was running I left one of the three drop boards out of the companionway. That was enough that there was never another problem with the lamp flame.
Nowadays I don’t use a kerosene lamp, or candles, and have tried to be particularly careful about ventilation, since there’s no handy flame indicator. I invested in a handheld replaceable-battery carbon monoxide tester (Testo 317-3), and have been happy to see that it stays on zero consistently. But you still have to keep enough oxygen not to pass out…
Another safety consideration is heat shielding. In the photo above, if I was doing it again I would extend the back heat shield further to the left – that bulkhead can get overly warm. Regular aluminum foil works well for temporary heat shields, and when the stove is running nowadays I put a piece of foil in front of the tool bag and water storage that are somewhat near the stove, also to port. On NEW SALT, tinfoil was good behind the stovepipe, where there was a hotspot when the stove ran for quite a while. Then it was easy to remove the foil when the stove wasn’t running, and have easier access to the storage space back there. Heat shielding is incredibly important – and fortunately, it’s also easy!
All in all, I still sort of miss the diesel stove, but I don’t miss the smell of burning diesel coming out the stovepipe, and anyway the diesel stove was never going to fit aboard AUKLET. The charcoal stove has been a good alternative. When the weather is cold in the spring, and again in the fall, whatever stove that’s on the boat is my very best friend!
Yesterday Kate was visiting, here in Holyoke. I told her that I had been thinking about writing a blog post about hot flashes, but had been hesitating because after all the blog, being related to sailing, has a pretty substantial male readership, and it seemed like thoughts related to hot flashes could seem non-inclusive – or something. She asked, “Do you know any man who has hot flashes?” To which I answered, well, one, who was having hormone treatments for prostate cancer. And then we both thought, well, bingo – we’re all getting older, and some of the men who I don’t even know about might be having the same experience. So here you all go: thoughts on hot flashes.
The reason I have anything to say about this at all is because it in fact relates to sailing, and living aboard in cold weather. Of course now I’m on shore, but it was true before I came home, both last year and this. Besides, it’s helpful at home in the cold weather also, like for sitting outside with Kate in the blustery fall.
Hot flashes are one of my best friends. This is partly because I spent a lot of years being consistently cold. Now in my 50s, for the last two or three years it’s finally easy to get warm! You just do things that you know trigger hot flashes – eat foods that fire them up, and then when cold, either temporarily wear some extra clothing, or drink a few sips of a hot drink, and bingo, instant sweats!
This works while sailing – or even better, in a snug berth that you know you have to get out of shortly. You pile on an extra blanket, maybe fleece over your head, and next thing you know jumping out in that nippy cabin looks really appealing. If you postpone too long, the flash goes away, but the good news is that they’re cyclical, so if you wait another few minutes, the next one comes right down the track. It’s just a matter of jumping onto the warm conditions bus at the right moment. Getting out of a cozy berth to start the charcoal heater – or to get up and go sailing – has gotten a lot easier.
I’m not quite sure why it’s a good idea to write this up and put it in a post, except for that I think it’s really, really funny. You have to get used to sweats, and nowadays I’ve resigned myself to a certain amount of damp clothing. But contrary to all that backwoods training about never letting yourself sweat when you’re winter camping, it doesn’t seem to be the end of the world. Maybe that’s because the next hot flash will just warm you right back up! Nowadays I’m really trying to tune into the ability that my body has to do this – I’d like to preserve this capability, preferably a little more at will. One woman I know is now 86 years old, and her hot flashes never stopped – this could be me! Because I like them so much.
So for all those who are worried about getting old enough to have hot flashes, or are looking for a bright side to the utter unpleasantness and distress of a nasty diagnosis and treatment, I’d offer you this: hot flashes come in really handy for sailing when the weather gets chilly. Some foods trigger them (different for each person, I expect) and refraining from those foods can make the flashes go away. Personally, whenever the weather starts getting chilly I’m reaching for the crackers and the beef stew. If I’m really serious, it’s break out the chocolate. What could be better than the ticket to warmth being to eat more of my favorite foods…
Next time I’ll write a bit about the charcoal stove, which has also been really helpful for keeping warm.
A couple of articles have appeared in print magazines this year related to these trips in AUKLET. Each has been reprinted in another publication (including with a photo on the cover, for one!) and as a result the articles are presently both available electronically as well as in the print editions of the magazines. There was a fun letter to the editor that just appeared in one of those print magazines, the November 2013 issue of Messing about in Boats, and with the publisher’s permission I am copying that letter here. Following, I’ll add the links to the electronic versions of the articles and where they can be found on actual paper.
Hats off to Her
When I saw that dumpy looking boat on the September cover I thought, here we go again! After reading about its skipper I then thought, quite a lady, made her coastal cruise seem like a trip around the harbor. Hats off to her. Most guys would write about aches and pains and DANGER. She was relaxed, made it look like child’s play.
The boat fascinated me. 19′. You owe your readers a page showing Bolger’s plan, making a silk purse out of what looks like a mishmash.
– Stan Markocky, Port Washington, NY
[MAIB] Editor Comments: We showed the plan in our November 2012 issue, page 41, in brief article about meeting Shemaya in Gloucester, “Glasshouse Chebacco Shakedown Cruise.”
I do feel compelled to respond to the part of the letter referring to “that dumpy looking boat … looks like a mishmash.” I take full responsibility for the mishmash part of that – I think he’s really referring to the rig. The mizzen mast and sail are as designed by Phil Bolger, but the mainmast and mainsail are not. The mainmast is short, and the sail is the design for Paradox, done by Matt Layden for that boat. This is explained in the article.
Further, the two sail colors are my responsibility, but there is a reason! Tanbark sails are much more visible, during daylight, than white sails are, especially when the boat is out at sea and surrounded by whitecaps. But then in the dark, you want some white sail area so that, in addition to navigation lights, you can shine a strong light on the sail and make sure that surrounding traffic is noticing your tiny boat. Aesthetically I would love to have both sails tanbark – but every time I’m out at night and there is traffic approaching, I bless that white sail as I’m shining the floodlight on it.
This same article was reprinted under the title “An Extraordinary Voyager” by W. R. Cheney (with cover photo by W. R. Cheney) in the September 2013 issue of Messing about in Boats.
In the January 2013 issue of Messing about in Boats there was an article by Dave Zeiger, titled “The Able Bodied Sea-Person: Expanding the Notion.” This article (with photo by Bob Hicks) has since been reprinted in the online magazine Duckworks, and can be seen here: http://www.duckworksmagazine.com/13/outings/shemaya/index.htm
Both of those articles are about the trip in 2012. Word has it that there will be a bit of an article about the 2013 trip appearing in an upcoming issue of MAIB.
Messing about in Boats is a monthly print magazine published by Bob Hicks, with information available at: http://www.messingaboutinboats.com or by contacting Jane Hicks at: firstname.lastname@example.org. As these things go, MAIB has a small circulation, but its readers are devoted. Up and down the coast I met individuals who were familiar with AUKLET as a result of this publication. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing a treasure!
The following question was posted in a comment. Since the answer turned out to be substantial, I’m putting the whole thing up as its own post…
One question (more to follow I’m sure): what was your biggest/most worrisome anticipated breakage problem? What precautions did you take in regard to it (them)?
The biggest worry was myself breaking down, physically. Precautions included careful judgment about what to do when, prioritizing boat/gear arrangement, and having a plan for if, regardless of best efforts, it happened anyway. My solution for repercussions due to exceeding physical limits is to stop, and wait for things to get better. The post titled Kneeling Camel, from August 4, is partly an example of that process. If something happened involving myself breaking down while I was on one of the big (for me) passages, my plan was to manage to fully reef the sails, once, and proceed toward a harbor at whatever speed the boat would do without my attention, strong wind or light. Or if the weather allowed, since I was completely supplied for many weeks, to stay out in a restful mode until things were better. Fortunately I didn’t have to put either strategy to the test.
As far as mechanical equipment, I was most concerned about the autopilot, and as mentioned sometime before, I carried a spare. There is a problem in the plug/socket for the autopilot, with an intermittent loose connection that I thought we had fixed before departure this year, but it turned out that it still wasn’t right, but responded to jiggling the plug. I carried electrical tools, including marine crimp-on connectors and a ratcheting crimp tool, so that if that plug had completely given up I had the materials for a tight hardwired connection into the electrical system. That intermittent issue surfaced repeatedly, and was becoming more troublesome by the end of the trip, but I didn’t have to resort to Plan B, which I was glad to avoid because it had its own problems. The real solution is a more reliable plug, and driveway time for sorting it all out.
Being prone to worry, and in a small boat with a half an inch of plywood between the inside and all that water, I carried quite a bit of stuff for emergency hull repair (besides having a sturdy, well-built hull to begin with): Pieces of plywood with holes drilled for lines to hold them against the hull, and two-part putty (“Splash Zone”) that can be applied underwater to layer on together with the plywood, or for use by itself for smaller issues. Also a tarp that did different jobs, but was available for sliding down the outside of the hull to stop water while making repairs. And one of those squishy orange cones designed for stopping up holes in boats. I also did “preparedness drills” in my mind, keeping track of locations of rags for quick stuffing if water was flooding in through a crack or break, and how to quickly get access to any part of the hull, or to block off an area so that only that section would flood. There is a range of bilge pumps on board as well, including electric and high volume manual. None of these strategies were put to the test, I’m happy to say. The trailer for that movie “All is Lost” that’s presently making the rounds scares me to bits, regardless, even though that guy is making so many obvious mistakes, and the movie is obviously set up to scare people.
One of the things that gave me more immediate, real-life pause was the unstayed mainmast and the lightweight yard. Both held up fine, but I occasionally did practice runs in my head about what I would do if one of them, or the boom, were to break. I had the 12 foot push pole aboard, which with gentle use could temporarily substitute for the yard – and two masts, which were unlikely to both break, so there would have been someplace to carry some sail, to get over to shore. There’s calling Boat US/Sea Tow, being almost always relatively near shore, but how tacky! As it was I almost always reefed quite conservatively, partly because of these concerns. Gybing with too much sail area was another practice that I tried to avoid… I wasn’t always perfectly successful with that, and apart from general alarm, it was both interesting, and then heartening, to see that the spars all held up through a small number of pretty energetic clunks. At home in Holyoke we had both a replacement yard and boom, built at the same time as the ones I was using, in case they were needed.
Sail chafe was a problem, particularly with the reefed sail rolled around the boom and then rubbing against the mast on a port tack. I carried sail repair tape, and used some. When I realized what was happening (after the first HOLE in the sail) I started varying the number of turns around the boom by a little bit every so often, to spread the wear. After two seasons of hard sailing, the mainsail is in serious need of attention (including a reinforcing strip where it presses against the mast), which it will get before any further sailing.
Navigation lights… these were a problem last year, and a new tricolor was installed this year, but after the trouble in 2012, and less than satisfactory battery backups, I had limited confidence. The new tricolor worked fine for the whole trip, but I also carried a new version of LED battery powered nav lights, with lithium batteries, and mounting plates already installed on the boat (the new lights come with strong magnets for mounting when needed). The wired in anchor light at the top of the mast did quit, with evidence that the problem was at the top of the mast, so not easily accessible. I carried a battery light suitable for an anchor light, just in case, which I then used, and then Bill at Swans Island sent me off with one of his solar yard lights that also works quite nicely, and has the lovely benefit of turning itself on and off.
I guess this response to your question includes at least as much about problems that actually happened and their resolutions, as it does about worries and precautions – that’s probably because it’s being written after the fact!