31 May

Easy Lessons in Boat Ownership

We just completed a circumnavigation of Vancouver Island aboard Tim Melville’s Baltic 42. This is something he has done the last couple of years with his wife Donna as crew and cook and a select few, paying passengers/students. It’s a whirlwind trip around the island done in only two weeks. We had booked the trip well before *Never Forever* came into the picture and while I might cringe slightly at the cost now that I have a boat of my own, I learned a tremendous amount that will serve me long into the future.

You can read a day-by-day account in my blog (macblaze.ca) but I thought I would sum up the more boat-ownership type details here for posterity.

The relationship between captain and crew

I’m not really captain material. In fact Leslie has more leadership skills (kind of obvious given her experience). With just the two (or three…sigh) of us it is no big deal, but it gets important when a coordinated effort among new crew is necessary. Things like tacking and gybing can be done half-heartedly in most scenarios but docking at night or in crowded situations, keeping a lookout, reefing etc. all work better and safer if the responsibilities and relationships are clear. And that takes communication. And good communication, much to my chagrin takes a reasonable amount of leadership. You need to clearly and effectively outline goals, tasks, responsibilities and outcomes before you start, not trust that it will all come together. This is a flaw in my leadership style I have always known, but on a boat, the potential outcomes of my laissez faire, come-what-may, we’ll-deal-with-it-later style becomes a bit scary.

But I did score well on the “not getting too excited” side. While my inside voice may have said jesus-muther-f8ckin-christ more than once, I don’t think it slipped out even in my demeanour. Or maybe I am fooling myself.


Diesel engines

Diesel engines are simple. They say they need only two things: fuel and air. Having said that there seem to be a lot of ways that those two simple things can be a problem.

We ran out of fuel by accident; we had switched to the small tank and forgot to switch back. This meant the old Perkins needed to be reprimed which entailed opening valves all along the fuel system and bleeding the air out of the fuel lines. If that sounds complicated, well it was. At least on a Perkins. The key factor we learned was that once you get to the the other side of the injector pump you are in a high pressure system and you need to crank the engine to force the air out; there was simply no way to do that by hand. And if you have run your battery down by trying to start it before the injectors are bled, well, you should thank your lucky stars you are a sailboat. It didn’t get that far with us and after a lot of consultation we got the system bled and the motor restarted but still…


The spring that reset the shutoff solenoid also broke at one point. This meant when we went to start the motor the next morning it wouldn’t. Tim traced all the systems until he reached the broken spring. It hadn’t disengaged the shut off solenoid and so no fuel was reaching the engine. a manual reset, a pair of pliers and some wire bending and it was good to go. Simple, if  you can find it.

Tim had also recently replaced his 55 amp alternator with a 100 amp Balmar. It was 100 amps because that is all the single v-belt on his engine could handle. In reality, with 6 people aboard and a lot of power use  it turns out the single belt couldn’t handle it. The alternator’s regulator would demand all the power the alternator could churn out right on start up and the belt was slipping or wearing or something until it finally gave up. As a result we ended up blowing the belt. The big deal there was Tim’s spares were all for the old alternator, which with much effort he was able to make use of until we hit a town with spares.

A later phone called revealed a belt saving setting that controlled the load that the regulator demanded upon start up. Things worked better after that and we eventually switch back to the original spec belt.

Since I also want to add a 100 amp alternator, this is good stuff to know. The other solution is to change out the pulleys and use a serpentine belt that is better able to handle the load. This of course adds big $$ to the project.

Sail repair

Most boats I have sailed on came with a sail repair kit, at a minimum some sail tape but sometimes thread, awls, palms (big leather thimbles for your palm) and glue. The genoa’s leech was rubbing on something — although it simply could have been the horrible way his beginner crew were treating the poor foresail — and the stitching around the leech line had started to go midway up. We dropped the sail and performed a tape job to put it back into shape for the rest of the voyage, but Tim’s said it need the tender ministrations of a sail loft as soon as we got back.


So I guess all that’s all stuff I will need to add to the list.


R Shack Island has had an odd issue with her racor (fuel filter) for a couple of seasons and Dave has told me stories of all the times she has needed a tow back to the docks. It never really struck me how terrifying that must be until we also needed a tow after running out of fuel. Luckily we were towed to the fuel dock at Blind Channel which is out in the open. The tow boat just swung around like a ski boat and let us loose. Our speed was a bit high but there were quality people on the dock to catch the stern line and get a few wraps to bring us to a halt before we had to bail or hit something.

Not a skill I want to practice but I am beginning to believe it’s not an uncommon one amongst sailors.

Rapids & tides

Take them seriously. But not too seriously. If you are going with the tide, tidal rapids of up to 5 or 6 knots are not actually as scary as all that. Or at least some of them aren’t. Up until this trip I have been meticulous about avoiding current except the few times Tim has been with us. But now his respectfully cavalier attitude is beginning to rub off; a current isn’t always your enemy if you give it the right amount of respect.


 Check the tables, know your currents, access the risks and then enjoy the ride.

Keel depth and scope

Northwest Passage had an eight-foot keel. Eight feet plus four feet to the bowroller added twelve feet right off the top to any scope we were allowing for when anchoring. With a 5:1 scope in 20 feet of water that meant we needed 160 feet of rode out. But since a lot of the anchorages were small and the rode was all chain we often left it at 40 meters (130 feet) or less. Chain counts for a lot.

Charts vs chart plotters

It’s official: I like charts. I like north-up. And I like to know where I am. At one point Tim turned off the chart plotter for the rest of a leg and I was 100% more comfortable with the whole process. A chartplotter has too many toys and lulls you into relying solely on it. In fact I think it makes using a chart harder. I am much more comfortable relating the chart to what I see around me than trying to interpret the pixels on a small 6-inch screen. And when sailing around in a fog, tacking back and forth, using course-up gives you no sense of heading or any deviation; the chart plotter is continually spinning. At least (to me) north-up relates to the psuedo-reality of the familar map/chart system.


No one else on the trip agreed with me, although Tim was a big advocate of using the charts for practice. The chartplotter is great, essential even, for negotiating narrow or rock-filled channels in low visibility, but I continually felt without having studied the route on paper, I was still flying blind. Personal preference I guess, but I will stick with the old technology and use the new as a back-up.

Swell and Fog and Night

Ocean swell is a thing. Even with no wind and no waves we were often rising and falling 10 feet in sets of 2 or 3 with smaller swells in between. Depending on what the orientation of the boat to the swell was, this could range from being hardly noticeable to downright uncomfortable. Following seas were definitely the most enjoyable. It also affected visibility in some interesting ways.


Fog is both no big deal and a huge big deal. Going slow, using the light and sound signals and a constant eye on the chart plotter, AIS and radar makes fog a snap. Of course that’s if there are no other small boats out there. They are the wild card because they won’t have AIS, might not make a big blip on the radar and might or might not be sounding their signal. Exciting stuff that keeps you on your toes.


The other thing about fog and about sailing at night is that it is four bazillion times as hard to keep a steady course and so very easy to go off it slightly without noticing. One day in the fog I was sailing according to a shifting wind and ended up pointing a completely other direction than I thought I was. If the chartplotter is zoomed in too much or zoomed out to much it is easy to miss the long slow curve. Maintaining a course was easier at night because we were more paranoid and there was the occasional light showing to orient yourself to; just be careful it it isn’t a ship that is also moving.


And docking at night in a strange harbour is a whole ‘nother thing that must be experienced. A powerful light used sparingly so as not to destroy night vision and an attentive crew are musts.

Keeping a watch

In the Gulf Islands it is really important to keep a good watch as there are logs and crab traps everywhere. Keeping a watch at night is more of a crap shoot and I guess you just pray you miss things. Going back to my first point, you would think a crew of six would be able to miss everything, but with all the distractions involved, if there are no clear instructions to keep watch or sing out when you spot something, the risk of hitting something goes up a lot.

Luckily for us, when I did finally run over a crab pot, the engine wasn’t running and the line only tangled around the rudder which we were able to eventually discern and thus confidently cut the line, freeing ourselves. But in retrospect that incident and some of the other near misses are borderline unforgivable. Still, if you listen to the stories, it happens to everyone eventually.

And so…

I realize two things now that perhaps weren’t as clear before our trip. First, I have a lot to learn about the details. There is minutiae that can make the difference between a confident decision and wild-ass guess work and not knowing a crucial fact can turn an oops into a disaster pretty damn quickly. The second is that I know a lot. The trick, it seems to me, to learning the minutiae is to already know the broad strokes and then refine and repeat over a lifetime of experiencing. Every time I go sailing I cut a wider swath through my ignorance and the small things then come as they may. I will never know everything — Tim certainly didn’t and he has decades on me — but eventually I  might get to his level where I might be able to figure out just about anything the boat throws at me.

I am sure there will be times in the next year I will be absolutely terrified and lost, but this trip has filled out my tool kit a bit and hopefully I will be able to work through whatever the fates (or my own stupidity) has in store.


11 May

The first night

Although we still haven’t technically taken possession of our new boat, since we were stopping in Vancouver overnight anyway we decided to see if we could stay aboard Rainbow Hunter (which is what she is still called until we can go through some sort of renaming ceremony). We checked with Lawrence and he said sure.

We are in Vancouver on our way to join Tim and Donna Melville to sail around Vancouver Island on their Baltic 42. Hop over to macblaze.ca to read the ongoing report.

This was Leslie’s first actual experience with our new boat. But after 2 days of traveling and negotiating Vancouver traffic and then facing Granville Island on a gorgeous Mother’s Day stuffed full of people, we were a bit frazzled.  So I’m not sure there was any immediate emotional response one way or another. But she didn’t frown so that was good.

Lawrence (our broker) was off on a sea trial so we got someone else to open up the cabin and we snooped around a bit. I found the DVD player that the surveyor had noted but no one else had seen. We read through the old charter manual and generally tried to look like we belonged with little success. Finally we gave up and skipped out for lunch just as Lawrence was coming in, leaving him with a promise to catch up with him after we were sated.

Unfortunately fighting the crowds did little to calm our nerves, but even so we eventually convened back on the boat and Lawrence went over the progress. The water heater had been repaired, most of the rigging done and the Yanmar guys were due Monday.  The webasto guy had the parts but no time so that was starting to look like June. The lift also hadn’t been scheduled yet so that was likely June as well.

We ok’d the bottom paint and discussed the leaky hatch in the head. I was inclined to live with it. After all it was leaking in the room with the drains. But we talked it over and Lawrence invoked the possibility of the water making its way into the core, which is kind of a sailboat bogeyman. So I caved. I’m actually pretty afraid of that particular bogeyman.  That settled, we discussed moving the boat to Mosquito Creek and potential dates for the official transfer. Since we are coming out for the Hunter Rendezvous in June it’s likely we will just come out a few days early and do it then. After that Lawrence turned over the keys to their washroom and the marina gates. He also lent us his parking pass so we could save a few bucks. Then he bid adieu and attempted to escape to his own Mother’s Day proceedings.

So Leslie and I moved the truck and picked up a chilled bottle of Riesling at Liberty Wines and sat back to try and unwind. We broke out the cockpit cushions, a couple of wine glasses and some of John’s oatmeal cookies and broke in our new boat.

The massive binnacle on the 386 is not a plus in my mind, but there’s lots of space to sprawl out and it’s pretty comfortable. We flipped up one wing of the table which should be good enough when there is only two of us.

I’m still puzzled by the mesh sides in the enclosure, but I am guessing Larry (the previous owner) had it done for his Alaska trip to keep the bugs out. But it’s definitely something we will have to do something about before winter. The forward side panels are also a bit awkward since they come back almost to the arch and exiting the cockpit into the side deck is difficult unless they are half undone. No problem when we are stern-in but a bit of an issue if we are exiting or boarding  over the side.

The cabin, which is pretty spacious looked cramped and crowded with all our stuff piled willynilly. We’d brought some pillows and an afghan as well as some sheets. Leslie made up the bed and I tried reorganizing. I guess we’re going to have to learn to put things away. It’s amazing how so little clutter can change the nature of a small space. Something to remember.

Then we went off to dinner. We hit the washrooms in the way back and bumbled off the walls of the boat for a while as the sun set. The water tank was full so I fired up the waterheater and decided to have a shower. We spent some time searching the head for the switch for the shower sump. The manual insisted it was by the bathroom sink but neither I nor Leslie could find it. Eventually I pulled some floor up and found the pump. By running some water down the drain I figured out the sump was on a float switch, so as long as the breaker was on the pump would automatically run. Cool.

Then we hit the huge berth in the aft cabin to crash for the night. My only complaint is that the only lights (out of more lights than you can shake a 10′ pole at) that are useful for reading are way out of reach from anything other than an upright position. Although we have a bad habit of sleeping with lights on, this will be a non-starter when trying to conserve batteries.

Sleep was elusive, between squeaky fenders and too much tension, but we were warm and comfy. That cabin is a great luxury.

Morning had me figuring out the propane system and boiling some water for tea while L tried out the shower. Then we packed up and clicked off all the breakers before disembarking.  See you later.

It was a good first night. And it’s good to learn in small bits. Now we just need to actually leave the dock. I guess that’ll be June.


05 May

Anchors away…

There are three things you shouldn’t talk about in public if you aren’t prepared for a rousing discussion: religion, politics and anchors.


Never for Ever currently has a 33lb Lewmar claw anchor with 105′ feet of chain and 295′ of line, as well as a Lewmar electric windlass (the turny thing that lifts and lowers the anchor).



We’ve chartered a couple of boats with Rocna anchors while staying in windier anchorages and have convinced ourselves a new generation anchor is a must. A new generation anchor is loosely defined as one that:

  • always positions itself correctly — if it falls upside down, it automatically turns over under natural conditions.
  • turns with the wind and tide without pulling free.
  • offers good holding power and will not pull out.
  • will grip on to rock and coral if at all possible.

Older anchors tended to be much more specialized for different types of bottoms e.g. sand, clay, rock, etc. That doesn’t mean they are bad but that they take more skill and judgement than a n00b like me usually possesses. Or so I am telling myself because I want to buy a new anchor.

The main contenders in today’s market place seem to be the Rocna, The Manson Supreme and the Mantus but there are others like the Ultra, SARCA and Kobra.

Now we haven’t made up our minds on which to choose (although I am leaning to the Mantus based entirely unscientifically on this thread over on Cruisers Forum, but the sizing has me baffled. For example if you go to the manufacturer’s websites :
• Rocna recommends the 20kg (40lb) all the way up to the 33kg (73lb)
• Manson recommends 30lb to 40lb
• Mantus recommends 45lb to 65lb

So how do I figure out which is appropriate, and more importantly, what fits?

Anchors Online

I’ve asked around, which as I mentioned, is not the best strategy if you want a simple answer and not an argument full of digressions and anecdotal evidence about the time they were anchored during the meltemi in the winter of ’94 etc. Many old salts still default to the old standards and won’t acknowledge any advances and woe if there was ever a documented or even rumoured case of any particular brand failing in some way. It can be pretty amusing. But in the end it seems that the answer, like in all things boating, is it depends. The range of bottom types, depths, protection from winds seems to be infintie

Still my unscientific bias towards the Mantus doesn’t seem to have any detractors and a few other 38-footers out there went with the 45lb version so I am 95% sure I have made my choice. Our bow roller (see pic above) is pretty open so I don’t think there will be a fit problem. Mantus does have printable templates so I will likely print one out and check it on the roller. We do have dual rollers, so I might even keep the Lewmar there as a backup. It runs around $400, but I have yet to find a Canadian distributor  for Mantus not  based out of Quebec. It might have to be mail order; what the hell, it’s only 45 pounds :-)


The System

Of course the anchor is only one part of the anchoring system. As I mentioned I have 100′ of chain which is pretty good for the area we will be sailing. The chain itself basically acts like a weight to keep the rode (all the stuff attaching the anchor to the boat) laying flat on the bottom. An anchor works by pulling it parallel to the ground and allowing the tip to dig down; the weight of the chain helps ensure the shank of the anchor does not lift. Incidentally, that is also why you usually put out so much rode (5 to 7 times the depth of the water); you don’t want the the rode pulling straight up at any time: that’s what will break the anchor’s hold on the bottom.

Watch this (admittedly biased) video to get an idea of how anchors dig in.

If you read the discussion I started here: Living aboard in the PNW in Comfort, you will see there are many advocates for an all-chain rode of 300′ or longer. But that adds weight to the bow and costs dollars, so I think I will let it pass for now. And my electric windlass will relieve me of any possibility of having to strain my back (surprisingly many cruisers don’t have electric windlasses; I think it must be a power thing).

The only other thing I will need is a snubber. In depths of 15′ or so we will only have about 100′ out so that means it will be all chain. Chain has no elasticity and so the action of wind and waves can shock load the system and apply disproportionate forces on the static chain and on the anchor with the potential of disastrous consequences — that’s the same reason why we climb with a dynamic rope. There are all sorts of fancy rubber dohickys but the simplest system is to use a chain hook attached to a length of line and to use that to take the tension off the chain.


Anchor snubber line


Never for Ever also comes with a secondary anchor to use in an emergency and in situations where two anchors might be advisable (to keep the boat from swinging or pointed into the waves etc.). It’s a 16lb fortress with 10′ (I think) of chain and the rest rope. The great thing about the Fortresses are they are light, store flat and dig in well.

Boat aluminum anchor


The whole kit is in a tidy package in one of the rear lockers.

Marking the rode

The other thing I will likely have to do is mark (or re-mark) the rode in increments. Since when anchoring, we are trying to lay out a specific length of rode it is useful to mark the chain every 10′ with paint or some other type of marker so you can count out the length as it disappears into the water.

Yup, there is a lot of math in anchoring; that’s why it’s generally Leslie’s job. For example if you decided to anchor in 15′ of water according to your depthsounder, you need to check the tide charts and see the maximum high and low tides—they can vary by 10 feet or more. The low tide show if its safe to anchor there at all and the high tide is to calculate the maximum depth. Let’s say the  high tide adds another 5′ so you are actually anchoring in 20′ of water. Then you add the height of the bow roller off the water —usually another 4 feet— and the difference between you depth sounder and the water level (sometimes this is adjusted for in the depth meter and sometimes it’s not).

So you have a total of 24′ and you only want to lay out 5 times that since it’s a pretty protected anchorage. That means whoever is letting out the anchor needs to count the number of red marks going by so they can stop around the 120′ mark. It’s easier if you have the 100′ marked in yellow or some other colour. And of course I know we have 105′ of chain so when the chain runs out you know where you are. Math. Yuck.

But anyway, I am going to buy a new anchor. Yea!



01 May

Radio Ga Ga

Never for Ever (I suppose I should start calling her that) came with a VHF radio. In fact, it came with a Standard Horizon Matrix AIS GX2150 VHF with a remote mic. The radio is both DSC capable and has an AIS receiver. Simply put, DSC stands for digital selective calling and provides a way to communicate digitally between two or more stations without tying up any VHF channels, which—if you have ever listened to the inane chatter on some of the public channels like 66— is a good thing. AIS stands for automatic identification system and is something that most (all?) bigger ships use to track each other. We won’t have a transmitter so we can’t be tracked, but the AIS receiver provided an easy way to keep a look out for big, fast moving ships, especially in fog or at night.

Our radio is black, not white.

Our RAM (remote access microphone) is white, not black.

The RAM mic allows you to use the VHF from the cockpit and has most of the functions of the main station. This is handy so you don’t have to keep ducking down into the cabin to chat with a fellow boater or the marina you are entering. The last boat we chartered didn’t have a RAM and it was often a bit of a pain to carry on conversations while steering the baot and you had to keep the radio turned all the way up to hear it.

The Radio Law

In order to use the DSC, your radio has to have an MMSI (Marine Mobile Service Identify) which acts as your ID and your ‘phone number.’ These are supplied free by the federal government and are good worldwide.

The Restricted Radio Operator Certificate is required to operate a marine VHF. See Radio Communication Regulations para 30-33 at http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-96-484/ in regards to certification requirements. 

Legally a ROC(M) with an DSC endorsement is required to operate a marine VHF in Canada. That means technically any individual cannot use the radio in your boat until that person has taken the proper course and passed the test; a regulation I think is often ignored based on the typical radio traffic you hear.

As per the Radiocommunication Regulations section 15.2 (1), radio operators are required to licence their radio If the radio will be installed and used outside Canadian water.  For more details on that regulation, please refer to the Radiocommunication Regulations SOR/96-484 located at http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-96-484/page-6.html#h-16 and Radiocommunication Act at http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/R-2/FullText.html.

A station license for the radio itself is no longer required for use within Canada, supposedly to save on paperwork, but if you are leaving the country you must obtain a station license.

We got our ROC(M)’s a few years back when we did our PCOC (Pleasure Craft Operator Card) which is also a requirement in Canada. There are a lot of dubious purveyors of this certification as the Federal Government decided it was best handled by private companies (wtf?) but we did ours online through the Canadian Power and Sails Squadron who are a national organization dedicated to boating and safety. They also administer the ROC(M) program so getting a membership there is a great idea. And you get a subscription to Canadian Yachting West!

The ROC(M) class was two days and you also learn about most of the radio-based equipment potentially found in a boat like epirbs and SSB radios that are usually only found in offshore boats. You also have to learn the phonetic alphabet: alpha bravo charlie delta…

The radio in our boat already had an MMSI number so I submitted a CPC-2-3-07 Annex B  to change the registration over to us (you can view it here w00t!). The old registration for our radio also listed a call sign so I figured it had already been licensed — so I contacted the Calgary office who processed my MMSI application to enquire. We want to go down to the U.S. and explore Puget Sound so according to the law, a license is a must. Turns out the Edmonton office does the licensing and they were already processing it. I have to pay a $36 annual fee to keep the license up-to-date but other than that we are good to go.

More on AIS

AIS is cool. I am tempted to get a transmitter (upwards of another $1000) just so we can be in the system. As it stands now the AIS receiver in the radio is (at least I am pretty sure it is  — now that I think about it, I forgot to check) tied into our chart plotter. That means I should be able to bring up a display that looks a bit like the one below that will show all the ships in the area and also display their MMSI and basic facts about them.


If we got a transmitter then all the other ships would see us as well. The other great thing about AIS is that you can use one of many tracking services like VesselFinder.com to track traffic or even individual boats. One of the bloggers I follow (Life Aboard Gudgeon — a young fellow living in Victoria Inner Harbour) just recently installed his AIS system so if you go to VesselFinder and type in the name of his boat or his MMSI you get his most recent location—zoom out to see nearby boats as well. Or you can just snoop around and see what all the ferries or warships are doing. So cool!

The vhf at our nav station with a small handheld vhf in a charger to the right as a back up.

The RAM mic on the binnacle with the rest of the cockpit instruments