Sailing Tranquility

Idle Queen. Sailing on the Neuse River near Oriental.
Sailing on the Neuse River near Oriental.

Everything that was changed during the refit seems to be working as it should. There hasn’t been much wind to get out for a spirited sail yet, but I also enjoy floating peacefully on calm waters and working Idle Queen into places under sail. It’s like a meditation for me. I have time to watch the jellyfish, the birds, and the reflections in the water. Dolphins surfacing or pelicans diving are loud enough to be startling. Such quiet moments are precious. There will be plenty of wind on other days.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen. Calm sailing
Not much wind, but moving faster than the jellyfish.
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen New Town dock, Oriental, NC
New town dock, Oriental, NC
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen Town dock Oriental, NC
At town dock in Oriental
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen Whittaker Creek
Sailing in Whittaker Creek
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen ICW day marker
ICW day marker
Idle Queen sailing
First sail after the refit. Not much wind…

The Importance of Access

Broken Through-hull
Okay, that’s bad… Now, how tough is it going to be to work on?

Many do-it-yourself boat owners joke about “boat yoga”, which is the act of contorting oneself to try to work on otherwise inaccessible parts of the boat, but good access to everything is vital. It’s not the sort of feature that attracts crowds at a boat show, but there are few things more important on a serious cruising boat than easy access to every corner, every fastener, and every component of all the systems. The more a boat gets used, and the older it becomes, the more this holds true. The ideal would be some sort of access for every square inch of the inside of hull. Planning for access when designing and building something as complex as a cruising sailboat is is not always easy to do, but every hour spent ensuring that an actual human being can reach and work on everything inside that boat is time well spent.

I can’t count how many times a small task–one that should have been simple and easy to accomplish, like replacing a hose or a fastener–became a difficult slog simply because the components were difficult or impossible to access. I have spent many hours squeezing into cramped engine compartments, reaching into bilges or behind cabinetry, cursing glassed-in fasteners or hoses, and trying to pull wires through spaces that were never designed to be accessed once the factory had closed them up. As a boat ages, eventually every system and most every fastener will need to be serviced if one wants to keep that boat in good working order. If that boat sees a lot of ocean miles, all of the mechanical systems will need regular service, possibly under conditions that are less than ideal. For example, if a fuel filter can’t be accessed quickly enough it could easily mean serious damage, or even loss of the boat. That’s no exaggeration. It has happened many times.

Most of the time I spend on boat projects is spent dreaming up ways to actually be able to get to the part that I need to work on. The task might be simple–replace a y-valve, for instance, but the space too small to even allow me to see the mounting screws, let alone give me room to try to wrestle the stuck, old hoses off the piece before trying to get in there with a new one. What might take less than an hour with easy access to the part can easily turn into a long, frustrating battle.

Contessa 26 Cockpit engine access
Engine access on a Contessa 26 is mostly gained by taking up the cockpit floor. This can be a problem in rough weather!

Considerable time is spent maintaining a cruising boat if one wants to keep things in top condition, and occasionally major repairs to systems and structure are necessary. Easy access can make this work, if not a pleasure, then at least straightforward. Even simple maintenance tasks are complicated when access is poor. How many boat owners are ignoring things that they know need service simply because poor access make working on those things a burdensome task? Many seacocks, for instance, die prematurely because they are difficult to reach, so they don’t get opened and closed regularly. It used to take me more than an hour to change the impeller in the raw water pump of the engine on my old Contessa 26 because I had to take the entire water pump off in order to have enough room to pull the impeller. I had to remove the cockpit floor to change the oil. Needless to say, I didn’t check those things as often as I would have if the access had not been so demanding.

Engine fuel is filtered through oversized dual Racor system for dependability

The primary fuel filter for this engine can be reached through a cockpit locker. 

Good access is about more than making a job easy–there is a safety factor as well. I have already mentioned the importance of being able to quickly get to a primary fuel filter, but there are many other things that need at least reasonably good access even if they aren’t frequently serviced, such as the shaft packing. It doesn’t happen often, but neglected shaft packing has caused boats to sink. Through-hull fittings–even ones above the waterline–should be placed where they can be reached because hoses can crack, and through-hulls can fail. That easily-forgotten little drain fitting near the waterline might become a real problem if the hose breaks. Many chainplates–those very important parts of a sailboat that transfer all the rigging loads to the hull–are neglected until they fail, simply because they are located where they are difficult to inspect or replace.

If the hull is breached for whatever reason, the chances of being able to effect some sort of repair are greatly enhanced by simply being able to get to where the leak is. Even finding a leak can be troublesome on some boats. I once sailed on a boat that began taking on water from an unidentified source when we were almost 100 miles from the nearest all-weather inlet. By the time we made it into the harbor I was pumping every 30 minutes to keep the water below the floorboards. The boat had a structural grid fiberglassed into the hull. Water could flow under this, but there was no access to the space between the grid and the hull except through a small hole where the bilge pump was placed. Though I had spent hours searching, I couldn’t find the source of the leak until after we docked and a strong wind blew up a chop from astern. A locker drain in the swim platform had cracked between the locker and the hull, and I could only see it squirting water into the boat when the short waves from the harbor slammed forcefully under the counter. The clearance was too tight between the bottom of the locker and the inside of the hull to even reach my hand in from inside the boat, so I had to put some waterproof epoxy over the crack as a temporary measure and then wait to repair it from the outside after the boat was pulled out of the water.

Engine access. Alternator replacement
Repairing the systems is a fact of life on a cruising boat. It’s best if they’re easy to get to!

How to access the systems is always one of the first things on my mind when I inspect a boat. How easy is it to access the service points on the engine?  Is there somewhere, if not comfortable, then at least manageable to sit or lie when working on the engine? (This is something that needs to be doing regularly, so it’s worth taking the time to try it out rather than just looking in and thinking, “Well, it looks a little tight in there, but it’s probably not too bad…” I’ve thought that before, and then later found that I had to modify tools to fit those awkward places.) Can I easily reach all parts of the steering system? Are the important parts of the electrical system easy to reach for inspection and service? How difficult is it to inspect the bilge pumps? Tanks? Hoses? Can I follow the propane line from tank to stove and reach all the connections? If there is a cabin liner, can I still get to deck fasteners and backing plates? Can I get to the fasteners for the chainplates? Has provision been made for removing the engine? How about cleaning and repairing the tanks? Can the bulkhead tabbing and hull/deck joint be inspected? Centerboards and daggerboards can be difficult and expensive to service on any boat, though they are wonderful for reducing draft. The hinge pin and lifting mechanism on a centerboard will need attention eventually. There are many more things that could be put on this list, for sure.

Certain construction methods naturally leave better interior access than others. Fiberglass boats with individually glassed-in bulkheads, screwed or bolted cabinetry, and removable ceilings and overheads with no fixed liners are relatively easy to work on when it comes time to repair them, whereas boats that are built with full liners can be a nightmare when it comes time to service certain systems or fittings if the liner was not designed with adequate access points. A full fiberglass ceiling liner is easy to keep clean, but might mean cutting a lot of holes when the deck fittings begin to leak, for instance! Even a partial liner can be a problem. Here’s a common one I see:  showers built in such a way that the drain fittings and hose are not accessible.

Metal boats built with flat bar or plate stringers, rather than “T” shaped, allow one to reach all interior surfaces. Interior accommodations on steel boats are ideally demountable for interior inspection, painting and repair, as steel usually rusts from the inside out…

Wooden boats need good air circulation throughout their interiors to avoid rot, and should to be built so that all corners are accessible for cleaning and inspection.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen anchor locker
Idle Queen’s anchor locker access just didn’t cut it.

On my own boat, the Dreadnought 32 named Idle Queen, there is good access almost everywhere. This is something I was looking for specifically when I decided to buy her. Idle Queen was in need of a major refit when I found her, so I knew I would be inspecting and probably working in every nook and cranny. There were only a couple of square feet that I could not easily reach when I bought herjust the farthest forward part of the anchor locker. I can’t quite squeeze past the Sampson posts to reach the inside up there at the very point of the bow. Well, it came as no surprise to me that during her refit I had to get into that space in order to remove the fasteners that hold the gammon iron to the stem. After some reflection, (and some time spent trying to tape the nuts to my wrench, which was in turn taped to a boathook in an effort to start threading them onto their bolts without being able to get my hands in there), I ended up putting an inspection plate in the deck to replace the port chain pipe to solve the problem of how to access that small area. This change allows future access to the space as well as giving me a place to put an extra ventilator when in harbor. Whenever I work on something that didn’t have good access, I always try to allow for future service.

Idle Queen has a few unusual features that make her most-serviced systems easy to live with. She gives up a lot of interior space to her engine room, but that makes working on the engine a breeze. Changing the oil takes all of ten minutes, including cleanup. All of her tanks are placed far enough away from the hull that it is possible to get behind them, and every tank can be removed by unbolting the tie-downs. Pumps are placed where they are easily removed for service, and hoses and wiring run where they can be inspected and replaced if needed.  She has insulation throughout most of her hull, but holes have been cut to access fasteners. I can reach my hand into every corner of the bilge, even the deepest part, and I can physically climb into the lazarette. Hiding systems took a backseat to serviceability when they were installed. I actually appreciate Idle Queen’s utilitarian finish.

Easy access to most everything aboard Idle Queen has helped to keep the number of enjoyable hours spent aboard ahead of those spent contorted and frustrated at having to spend a lot of extra time doing something that is only difficult because it is problematic to reach. Of course, I still tend to underestimate how  many hours will go into my boat projects on Idle Queen, but at least it’s not often because I can’t figure out how to access what needs to be worked on…

Small is Beautiful

Wayfarer lunch
Time for a picnic lunch! Tied to the dock at a deserted town landing in Orleans

I love small boats and believe that, for the most part, one shouldn’t choose the biggest boat that one can handle or afford, but rather the smallest that one is comfortable with for the intended purpose, whether it be for daysailing or cruising all the oceans of the world.

Wayfarer Arey's Pond
Sailing the creek to Arey’s Pond
Wayfarer Chatham Harbor
Foggy Chatham Harbor

I was reminded of my affection for small boats when I visited New England this past December. There was a stretch of beautiful, unseasonably warm weather, so naturally I wanted to get out on the water. The 15′-long Wayfarer sailing dinghy I keep at my parent’s house was put away for the winter, but that was no problem. It took all of a couple of hours to take the tarps off the boat, dust things off inside, fetch the mast and rudder from the garage, and gather the rest of the sailing gear. My floating home, Idle Queen, at 32′ long, would have taken days to ready if she had been similarly put away.

Fishing boats in Chatham harbor
Fishing boats in Chatham harbor

The Wayfarer is a small boat, but one that has long been noted for its good sailing and seakeeping abilities. Designed by Ian Proctor in 1957, she is stable enough to be a training boat, fast enough to keep experienced sailors interested, and seaworthy enough to take on the open ocean. Indeed, Wayfarer dinghies have even made long voyages, like all the way up the east coast of the USA from Florida to Canada, from England to the Faroe Islands, and even from Scotland to Norway and Iceland! The stout little Wayfarer is one of the boats that helped spread the idea of “dinghy cruising”–sailing and camping in small open boats. Sailors like Frank Dye and others have written entire books about cruising in their Wayfarers. Far from sailing across the North Sea, I just wanted to enjoy some quiet daysails on Pleasant and Buzzards Bays, but it was nice knowing that the boat was up for anything the weather might throw at us.

Seals in our wake near the Chatham cut
Seals in our wake near the Chatham cut

As long as the warm weather held out, I went sailing every day. The waters were deserted except for the seals and birds. I didn’t even see any fishermen while I was out. The navigational markers had mostly been removed for the winter, leaving me to pilot by eye and memory. This was a fun exercise, as the Wayfarer only draws about 6 inches of water with the centerboard and rudder up. I enjoyed seeing the waterways with fewer signs of civilization.

Monument Beach Sunset
Monument Beach Sunset. Time to head back to the boat ramp!

I didn’t bother to take the engine, as the Wayfarer could be easily moved with paddles if the wind died, further simplifying setup and reducing the number of things that would have to be put away later.

Sailing near Pocasset Harbor
Sailing near Pocasset Harbor just before sunset.

Each day at the beaches and boat ramps where I launched I was greeted with envious comments by people who had already put their boats away for the winter. With air temperatures nearing 70 degrees Fahrenheit on a couple of the days, they missing out on some truly beautiful sailing. The wonderful memories I made that week that were only possible because of the ease of setting up the little Wayfarer. When the freezing weather returned, I washed everything down (admittedly no fun task in those temperatures!) covered the boat, and contentedly put all the gear away, ready for next time. That surprise winter sailing fix was just what I needed to carry me through ’till spring.

Wayfarer on the trailer
Wayfarer on her trailer–ready to head home after another beautiful winter sail.

Starlight’s Voyage: The Finish Line

Boats returning from evening races in West Haven marina, Auckland
Boats returning from evening races in Westhaven marina, Auckland

Although I felt like the voyage was pretty much over when we arrived in Opua last week, the real goal and final destination for Starlight was Auckland. This is where the owners will make their new life, having left their home country in search of greener pastures.

Now I can finally say that this voyage is complete, almost exactly 9 months after I first set foot on the Beneteau 445 that was named Livin On De Edge at the time. Along the way we have sailed from the freezing temperatures of the east coast of the US in winter down through the tropics all the way to cool weather again south of the equator. The boat’s owners have gone from having zero offshore experience to having thousands of bluewater miles on their sailing resumés. I don’t think they really knew what they were in for when they started this voyage, but they stuck with it and shared a rare experience together as a family that they will remember for the rest of their lives.

It is good to be in Auckland, but I won’t be staying long. Idle Queen has been waiting a long time now for me to finish her repairs and refit.

West Haven Marina, Auckland
Starlight will stay here until her owners find long-term berthing
Race boats, Auckland, New Zealand
Sunset and the end of the day’s racing
Skyline of Auckland, New Zealand
The city of Auckland as seen from the water

We’re Here!

Port Opua, New Zealand
We made it!

We’ve arrived and checked in. Starlight is currently docked in Port Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. The boat’s in one piece and the crew are all accounted for and in good shape. I’ll count that as a successful trip. We enjoyed a bottle of bubbly while waiting for customs to arrive, and are now looking forward to clean laundry, hot showers, and a full night’s peaceful sleep.

We’re in New Zealand, but there’s still a little farther to go–we have to move about one hundred miles farther south to Auckland once the owners have paid the import duty on the boat. But, New Zealand is our destination country, so in a way it already feels like the voyage is over. I’m already thinking about what comes next…

Scenes From Around Rarotonga

Rarotonga Palms
Beachside palms are a common sight here
Rarotonga Beach
A little slice of paradise
Rarotonga Beach, Fossilized coral
Fossilized coral on Black Rock Beach
Beachside schack, Rarotonga
Beachside shack, Nikao, on the west side of Rarotonga
Sculpture outside the National Auditorium. Avarua, Rarotonga
Sculpture outside the National Auditorium. Avarua, Rarotonga
Rarotonga Fern
Unfurling Fern
Mountain Path, Rarotonga
A scene from the Cross Island Trail
Rarotonga Mountain view
The view from the base of “The Needle”
Rarotonga Mountain view
Another view from “The Needle”
Rarotonga goats
Goats on the Cross Island trail
Whale Art, Rarotonga
Artwork on the wall of the Whale Center
Rooster Portrait, Whale Center, Rarotonga
Rooster Portrait, Whale Center, Rarotonga
Church light, Rarotonga
Sunlight on the wall inside a church in Avarua
Rarotonga Church
Thick limestone walls have kept this church standing through numerous hurricanes
Muri Lagoon
Muri Lagoon, looking out towards the reef
Catamaran, Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga
Hokulea catamaran on Muri Lagoon
Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga
Traditional style catamaran, Hokulea on Muri Lagoon
Muri Lagoon
Another scene from Muri Lagoon
Rarotonga Sunset
Sunset over Black Rock Beach

Arrival in Rarotonga, Cook Islands

The Avatiu harbor front in Rarotonga
The Avatiu harbor front in Rarotonga

Starlight is moored stern-to the south wall in Avatiu harbor, Rarotonga. We are all checked in and free to explore.  Receiving our biohazard clearance meant giving up the last couple of oranges and some taro bought in Tahiti as there have been problems in these islands with fruit flies brought from elsewhere in the Pacific; a real threat to the local crops. The officials here were good-natured and friendly. They all negotiated the long step down to the boat from the concrete quay and conversed in the cockpit while we completed the required forms.

After paying our harbor dues a set of portable steps reaching down to the water appeared on the quay behind the boat to make going ashore easier. We have the boat pulled out from the wall about 4 meters and so must use the dinghy to get back and forth from boat to shore. This is necessary because the harbor is open to the north and can let in swell from the open ocean. Since our arrival it has been calm, but a swell can come up without warning, so we can’t rush having the boat too close to the wall. Even now, the boat surges between the tension in her stern lines and the anchor though we are only rising and falling a bit less than one foot (30 cm).

Boat work that needs to be done before striking out for New Zealand besides taking fuel and water includes adjusting the steering cables and checking and lubricating the autopilot drive, replacing the alternator belt, making some small changes to the tuning of the rig. Halyards, sheets, and other control lines will be checked for chafe; in particular, the outhaul needs to be checked and the main halyard and topping lift may need to be shortened or moved again due to chafe. The constant movement while at sea takes its toll on everything. There are a couple of rainy days in the forecast for boat work, though. Today’s sun will be better enjoyed while exploring a little.

Maururu, Tahiti

Marina de Papeete
Starlight is a small fish in Papeete.

Time to go. Our clearance formalities have been completed, the boat is loaded with water and food, and I just loaded the latest weather forecast. We need to stop at a nearby marina to fill our fuel tanks before heading back out on the sea, but we are otherwise ready to go.

Papeete is not a very scenic city, and I spent most of my time ashore here either in the industrial parts of town or in the marina. One thing that was very nice about this stop was the excellent new facilities here at Marina de Papeete. The staff was very kind and helpful during our stay, and the location was great. It was nice to be close to the municipal market, and a short walk to marine chandleries and groceries.

The winds look good for our trip to Ratrotonga. The first couple of days will probably be a little rough, but the direction is fair so that will speed us on our way. The forecast is indicating that the wind will die off as we get closer to Rarotonga. We’ll head south of the rhumb line (the straight line to our destination) at first to position ourselves more favorably for the light wind we expect towards the end of the trip. I expect that this trip will take 5 or 6 days.

Marina de Papeete
The new marina offers some welcome separation from the busy waterfront street.

 

Crossroads of the Pacific

Tahiti Sunset
Sunset over Tahiti’s neighboring island, Moorea

The last days of the trip here from the Marquesas were made mostly with the aid of the auxiliary engine beating away the miles, as the wind was too light to keep the sails full, or even to maintain steerage at times. We ran low on fuel towards the end of the trip, but still the wind barely ruffled the surface of the water, adding at least 24 hours to the passage.

We tied up to the excellent new marina facilities in Papeete’s harbor yesterday. The marina was a pleasant surprise, as I had been expecting to have to med-moor to a wall. Instead, we have brand-new floating docks with wide fairways. The separation from the traffic is welcome, as are the heavy barriers with card-access doors to reduce the risk of uninvited guests relieving the ship of the burden of having to carry so much gear. The rates are reasonable, and checking in with the marina office takes care of the compulsory notification of the Papeete harbormaster for clearance of visiting yachts.

I was happy to discover that at least some of Tahiti’s famously high prices are not as bad as I had feared. Only a 5-minute walk from where the boat is docked it is quite easy to buy a breakfast or lunch from one of the many food stands at the municipal market for as low as 250 francs, or about $2.50 USD. For that amount you can get a couple of pastries; or a sandwich made from 18 inches of baguette; or a crêpe; or a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches, for example. For the equivalent of a couple dollars more, there are then many more things to choose from. In the evenings the food trucks, or roulottes, set up in a park that is also only minutes from the yacht harbor. There, it is possible to buy enough delicious food to fill two hungry sailors for less than 1500 francs. There are many choices, from fresh local dishes to different styles of international cuisine. It’s true though, that if you want to go to the restaurants or out to the bars the prices are quite high, with a bottle of domestic beer running around the equivalent of $7. I haven’t been to the supermarket yet…

Before we leave, I need to take care of some minor maintenance chores, including a routine engine oil change and giving the rig and steering gear another inspection. Hopefully we can also find a nice place to give the bottom another scrub before heading towards the Cook Islands.

Papeete's Waterfront
Papeete’s waterfront, as seen from where we are currently docked.

Atoll Idyll

The pass at Ahe, Tuamotus
Looking out the pass at Ahe, Tuamotus

We didn’t have much time to explore, but we made a quick stop at the atoll of Ahe to at least have the experience of anchoring in a Pacific atoll once on this trip. We were there for almost exactly 24 hours after transiting the pass in calm conditions on a rising tide.

After dropping the anchor we put the dinghy in and made a quick trip ashore to stretch our legs, check in, and have lunch at a snack counter. The local police officer warned us not to leave the boat or dinghy unattended, as theft could be expected. We didn’t have much time available to spare anyway, so we didn’t linger ashore for very long.

Ahe shoreline
Ahe shoreline

The officer also reminded us that cyclone season would be arriving soon. I already knew that from the calendar, but I could also feel it in the hot, heavy, windless air. The only breeze stirring that afternoon was under the squalls that drifted across the lagoon, as the southeast winter tradewinds had dropped to nothing. The water out on the ocean was very warm—a fuel stockpile for tropical storms in the near future. We can’t forget that we have the advancing season close at our backs.

After our lunch of toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and ice cream bars we all headed back to the dinghy. The lagoon was the real reason we were here, after all. The family headed out to take the girls swimming in shallow water by the beach while I decided to remain aboard with Idoia and take care of a few boat chores, including checking the engine over and changing the zinc on the propeller shaft.

Once the boat work was done, we headed out to explore the coral fringing the deep part of the lagoon with masks and snorkels. The coral here is not in as good health as what we saw in the Marquesas, but was better than what I saw in the Bahamas. There were some giant clams, a couple of rays with spans as wide as my open arms, and some beautiful reef fish, but unfortunately there was also a lot of dead, algae-covered coral and wide areas littered with only sea-cucumbers and discarded shells.

Squall over Ahe
Squall over Ahe

Everyone enjoyed a peaceful, full night of sleep that night after the long afternoon of swimming. The next morning we put our remaining extra fuel into the main tank and began to haul anchor as soon as the sun was high enough to reveal the isolated coral heads that dot the lagoon. We only hauled a few meters before the bow dipped and the windlass was stopped short. The chain was hooked under a rock or piece of coral 40 feet beneath where we stared down the bar-taught chain. I had feared that this might happen as the wind had switched 180 degrees during the night. Fortunately, we could see the chain on the bottom, as visibility was very good, so I could see where the chain took a 90-degree turn under the edge of a rock. I loosened the chain a bit and gently motored forward and to the side of the rock where the chain was hooked. Idoia began hauling the chain in again when she could see it had cleared. I hadn’t thought we would be so lucky as to get it on the first try, but we didn’t have to resort to further tricks to free the chain. The anchor then came up without any more problems. I was happy enough that there was no forced morning swim for us that day, as I wanted to be through the pass before the inrushing current got too strong.

We motored back across to the pass and out onto a Pacific Ocean that was almost as calm as the inside of the atoll. We have been motoring since then, with at least one full day to go before we reach Tahiti, The wind is not forecast to improve before our arrival… At least we have enjoyed beautiful skyscapes with moon shining on silver clouds at night, and reflected colors on calm water at sunrise and sunset. The family was particularly excited to see calm water this morning. They are enjoying the relative lack of motion, for sure. This sort of weather always makes me keep one eye on the fuel gauge, but we should be okay for the rest of this leg. If all goes well, we’ll be in Papeete tomorrow.

Dark Squall over the lagoon at Ahe
Dark Squall over the lagoon at Ahe